James Durrant and The Stafford London have joined forces to take the humble hotel restaurant to a whole new level with the launch of The Game Bird. Here, the chef takes The Resident behind the scenes
Considering it has been in existence since 1912 in St James’s – with its story going as far back as the 17th century – it’s little surprise that The Stafford London has plenty of stories to tell. One, in fact, just so happens to have inspired the hotel’s newly relaunched restaurant.
‘Yes there is one tongue in cheek reason for it being called The Game Bird,’ laughs James Durrant, the Executive Chef behind the food offering. Nancy Wake was an eccentric female spy, a ‘game bird’, who frequented the in-house American Bar during WWII and who resided at the hotel during her final years.
‘Then obviously it’s St James’s, so we originally thought about gentlemen’s clubs, British tradition, and went down the route of having game on the menu. Through the shooting season we will really look at how we get as much game on there as possible and really showcase it. But there’s a lot more on the menu than just game.’
At the time of us speaking, the menu’s final touches were just being put into place, but what’s been announced so far acts as a wonderful appetiser. Durrant is keen to make use of the diverse produce of Britain, so expect dishes featuring Clarence Court eggs, Orkney sea scallops, Salt Marsh mutton and Lincolnshire smoked eel, with a dedicated oyster menu being created, alongside a changing selection of pies, puddings and stews (we can’t wait to sample the steak and ale steamed suet pudding).
‘Quality comes first,’ Durrant states about sourcing ingredients. ‘I have spent the last couple of months in the kitchen at The Stafford focusing on suppliers and trying to find the best. I don’t want to get lost in the romance and say it’s all local ingredients – for me it’s about quality ingredients.’
The Stafford marks a return to London for Durrant after a hiatus to Hampshire to open and run his own pub. ‘The London restaurant scene has changed massively,’ he says on the difference nigh on 20 years makes. ‘There is just so much more out there now. When I first moved to London in 2000 there were a handful of top restaurants and some OK places. I went to London to work for Gordon [Ramsay] and that was it. People have become savvier towards food and they have got so many options.’
Durrant has enjoyed stints at Ramsay’s Royal Hospital Road and Claridge’s, and for five years he was Executive Chef at Jason Atherton’s Maze and Maze Grill, before his own venture, The Plough Inn, called. ‘At the time my wife and I had been in London for 12 years,’ Durrant looks back. ‘Jason went on to open Pollen Street Social, but I felt at that point I wanted to do my own thing and he said “great, go for it”. We looked at restaurants in London, but we decided to see if we could find a different balance of life.’
Opened in Longparish in 2010, The Plough Inn was awarded a coveted Michelin Bib Gourmand and also had recognition in the form of Durrant’s main course being chosen for the banquet on BBC2’s Great British Menu 2014. ‘You feel a huge amount of satisfaction to create something like that from scratch and put everything into it,’ he reflects. ‘But it’s very stressful, you can’t have days off – it’s constant work to keep it afloat. Running your own business completely changes your whole perception of being a chef. I look at it not just from a chef’s point of view now, but the dining experience, the restaurant, the front of house…’
Rather than stick to the quieter life, London beckoned and, in particular, The Stafford. ‘For me it’s my first real restaurant on my own in London,’ he says on being lured back. ‘I fell in love with The Stafford as soon as I walked in. From a chef’s point of view you have an opportunity to do what you do, but you are not out there independently.’ Perhaps just like Nancy Wake, there will soon be a new legend etched into the history of The Stafford London.
16-18 St James’s Place SW1A 1NJ; 020 7493 0111; thestaffordlondon.com