db Eats: GBR

Mayfair’s new Great British Restaurant does exactly what it says on the tin, writes Edith Hancock.

The concept: From Gymkhana to Baltic, a glance at Google Maps shows London bursting at the seams with chefs peddling international and fusion fare, but with Brexit already hitting imported food prices hard, it seems fitting that more and more, restaurants are turning to local produce.

Enter Dukes Hotel, stage West. The St James hangout — where Ian Fleming famously coined the phrase “shaken, not stirred” — whipped up a storm over the summer when it launched GBR (that’s Great British Restaurant) to make the case for Blighty’s best, and has just revamped its menu for Autumn. Norfolk-born executive head chef Nigel Mendham comes from a pedigree of Downton Abbey-grade hotel restaurants, including the Randolph in Oxford, The Lyngon Arms in Worcester and the Lake District’s Samling Hotel, where his slick execution earned the place a Michelin Star.

The look: Slipping downstairs to the dining room feels just like, well, most established places in the neighbourhood. Intimate. Welcoming. Upscale, but ultimately identikit. Think plush banquettes, mirrors plastered around the room, sturdy silverware, a grand fireplace, well-dressed waiting staff. You get the idea.

The place was dead when we visited on a Thursday evening, but low-lighting and sensible background jazz more than made up for it. It’s far from drab, but neither is it overtly memorable. A patriotic take on the Wolseley, which incidentally is five minutes down the road. It’s your archetypal art-deco British restaurant, and it looks great. So far, it ticks the boxes.

The food: My starter of pressed rabbit leg terrine was a stroke of genius, carefully topped with sweet Dublin Bay prawns which paired well with the meat, and a side of three adorably small sweetcorn scones tied the whole thing together. A trio of North West Highland scallops were just as delicate, beautifully dressed with celeriac and truffle purees. So far, so Great and so British.

The lemon sole was flavour-packed, and elevated by a complex oyster mayonnaise, all topped with a sensible helping of spinach and samphire. The steak meanwhile was exactly as you’d expect: tender till the last bite with a creamy, old-school béarnaise, chiming well with our tenderstem broccoli and crumbled ham hock side. Red wine and a ribeye, what’s not to like?

But not everything hit the right note. My dessert — an apple crumble tart filled with something closer to applesauce than apples and topped with gingery hobnob-eque rocks— looked to be having an existential crisis. My dining partner’s orange and chocolate bread and butter pudding hit the spot much better.

Pressed English Rabbit Leg at GBR.

The drinks: It’s a great wine list, but “British” might be pushing it (just four native wines; three sparkling, two by the glass). You’re not going to find chianti growing anywhere far north of Tuscany, but they seem to be missing a trick by not including any reds. English wines only get a small, if any, place on most restaurants’ drinks menus, and if you’re celebrating indigenous food, surely the booze goes hand-in-hand. After all, Brits love an underdog.

The list features some great bottles from the continent and beyond. The highlight was a Chablis from Domaine de la Motte in Burgundy. Full bodied and creamy, it tied in with the truffle-dressed scallops just as well as it did with my rabbit.

Our server’s eyes lit up at the chance to guide us through the selection and suggest a slightly left-field pinot noir from New Zealand’s Sileni Estates with the sole (Red! Wine! With! Fish!). Fresh, lively and just a little spicy, it did the trick.

An Italian moscato also slipped down a treat with the bread and butter pudding. If GBR’s menu teaches us anything about Brexit, it’s that we need our European neighbours to make British food truly great.

Safe in some places, a little bit daring in others, and very, very edible. It’s not quite El Bulli, but it is a pretty great British restaurant. Go by all means, but take an older relative.

Who to know: Darius knows his wine and bends over backwards to provide a warm welcome.

Don’t leave without: Ordering a martini, obviously.

GBR, 35 St James’s Pl, St. James’s, London SW1A 1NY, For bookings: 020 7491 4840

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