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A Right Royal Welcome at London’s Dukes Hotel

A Right Royal Welcome at London’s Dukes Hotel

Dukes Hotel

Favoured by Britain’s foremost families

london
London

A Right Royal Welcome at London’s Duke’s Hotel

Favoured by Britain’s foremost families, Dukes is a luxury hotel that offers a rich but subtle blend of traditional and contemporary Britain.

I expected this legendary London hotel to be as grandiose as the original palace hotels in Paris, surrounded as it is by three royal homes. It’s less than a hop, skip and jump to St James Palace, the London residence of the former Prince of Wales, who, since his coronation as King Charles III, has taken up residence at Clarence House around the corner on The Mall. This neo-classical pile was the former home of his grandmother, the Queen Mother, who lived within a cooee of her daughter, the late Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, currently being renovated for King Charles and Queen Camilla.

The Dukes interior
The Dukes interior

The famous bar frequented by James Bond author Ian Fleming

So, it came as a surprise to find Dukes has a discreet entrance tucked away on a charming courtyard at the far end of a cul-de-sac. Aha, I thought, privacy has always been much favoured by the royal family and this explains why the hotel has so many royal connections. Its famous ‘Bar’ — a mosaic of blue furnishings in a series of snug, inter-connected rooms — is where several royals have enjoyed a secluded drink. There’s even rumoured to be a ‘secret tunnel’ between the bar and St James’s Palace. But more about the celebrated bar later.

Vesper Martini at Dukes London
Vesper Martini at Dukes London

Before I stepped inside this legendary hotel, I was reminded of its exalted location. The black cab driver became momentarily lost due to roadworks, missed the turn into St James Place and turning off the meter, drove around several blocks. It soon became apparent that Dukes is surrounded by every historic icon — besides the Tower of London and the eponymous bridge — you’ll find on a postcard flaunting the capital’s attractions.

It’s in the beating heart of the capital, where every lever of power is pulled, between Piccadilly and The Mall, close to Green Park, where nightingales have been heard singing after midnight.

Stroll to Fortnum & Mason

Dukes Hotel, London
Dukes Hotel, London

It’s within a stroll of Fortnum & Mason, the Burlington Arcade, the celebrated tailors of Jermyn Street and the emporia and the private galleries of Bond and Regent streets. Not forgetting, historic Hatchard’s, one of the oldest booksellers in the world.

On the other side of Piccadilly Circus is Soho’s restaurant scene, West End theatres galore and the National Gallery. Stretch your legs a little further along Whitehall (from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square) and you’ll come upon Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament on the River Thames.

Dukes London
Dukes London

Staying at Dukes means you can enjoy London’s most historic sites without jumping into a black cab and, if pressed for time, you can see most of them in a day.

Dating back to 1908, Dukes is heritage and history personified – from its aforementioned charming courtyard entrance to the original wood-panelled cage-lift (complete with cushioned bench) that creaks and squeaks between the hotel’s six floors.

At reception, they already know your name when you check in — it’s that sort of place — where your bags are whisked from your hands and the keys unhooked before you can sign the register.

Dukes famous portraits
Dukes famous portraits

Oil paintings, gilded mirrors and a grandfather clock adorn the walls of the lobby. Stone pavers underfoot add a touch of 18th century country-house refinement and an aristocratic ambience pervades the air.

At the end of the short corridor that leads off the foyer to the lift is a specially commissioned portrait of the late Queen Elizabeth II, whose warm smile greets every guests on their way to their rooms.

The luxury suites of Dukes

Dukes London suite
Dukes London suite

Across the 90 rooms and suites, pared-back luxury sets the tone. My Junior Suite came with an adjoining living room, a small balcony, with outdoor furniture, accessed through a French window that was adorned with floor-to-ceiling curtains, assembled from many metres of exquisite ivory fabric dusted with gold thread. A cosy sofa in soft sage green linen was partnered with an antique waiter’s tray-table and a fruit bowl, carefully selected for quality and ripeness. To one side of the sofa stood a desk with padded hard-back chair which gave the area the feeling I was in a well-designed private apartment.

In the bedroom, a super-king size bed was dressed in fine 400 thread-count sheets. The marble bathroom had both a walk-in shower and a luxuriously large bath, furnished with thick, fluffy towels, Turkish cotton bathrobes as well as Noble Isle toiletries. Note the embroidered dachshund puppy on the pocket of the bathrobe. On the bedcover you’ll find a soft toy of another dachshund. The dog is the hotel’s mascot and signifies that Dukes is a dog-friendly establishment. In the lobby, you can’t miss the fine bronze of another dachshund on an elegant console table under a ducal portrait.

Duke's daschunds
Duke’s daschunds

The martini shaken not stirred at Dukes

But back to the hotel’s celebrated bar. It was once a favourite hangout of Ian Fleming — the creator of James Bond. It’s where his penchant for a martini started (surely, it doesn’t get more British than that). Today, it will set you back £20. This may sound dear, but then the Dukes Martini might be considered a bargain given the showmanship and the size. As each martini has about 148ml of alcohol, you can be assured just one such cocktail will put you way over every drink-drive limit in the world. That, I presume, is why the bar has a two-martini per person maximum.

Diana, the Prince of Wales, was known to enjoy a Dukes Martini but the Queen Mother, an infrequent visitor, stuck to her favourite drink: a cut of 70 per cent Dubonnet with 30 per cent Gordon’s gin, with a slice of lemon, under ice. She once noted before a trip, ‘I think that I will take two small bottles of Dubonnet and gin with me this morning, in case it is needed.’

That’s history. If you want to make a Dukes’ Martini at home, here’s how.

Shaken not stirred
Shaken not stirred

1. Drop 5ml of vermouth into the frozen glass.

2. Top the glass up with 100 ml of the frozen gin.

3. Finish off with a large twist of organic lemon zest from the Amalfi coast, squeeze the lemon zest to extract the fragrant oils that make the Dukes’ Martini unique. Just remember, a martini should be shaken and not stirred.

The Great British Restaurant

In the hotel’s recently revamped Great British Restaurant (GBR), you’ll find a select menu. It champions traditional British dishes and is perhaps the most contemporary part of the hotel. The walls have Venetian-style aged mirrors and black and white fashion-led photographs. Many of the prints are striking, intriguing even, such as the one of an impeccably dressed woman peering into a shop window as a cheetah on a leash waits patiently at her heels. Then, there’s the wistful young woman, the spitting image of a young Brigitte Bardot, standing next to an imposing giant of man in a bowler hat who’s impervious to her sex appeal.

Dukes London
Dukes London

The menu features a tightly-edited choice of crowd-pleasing dishes of British origin yet boasting a continental flair. For dinner, I chose the Twice Baked English Pecorino Soufflé (£11), as a starter, followed by Monkfish Scampi in Curious Beer Batter (£30). Monkfish is rarely available in the Southern Hemisphere. Up north, it’s considered a delicacy and though one of the ugliest fishes you’ll ever see at a fishmonger. Serving such a delicacy with chips is a cheeky nod at the seaside fish bars throughout the UK that serve their fare on newspaper.

There are many celebrated restaurants nearby, such as the Wolseley on Piccadilly, one of the finest in the West End that’s only a five-minute walk away, but Dukes holds its own with its uniquely British menu.

Dukes famous portraits
Dukes famous portraits

Dukes is not like stepping into a museum. This establishment has subtly blended the best of today with the best of centuries past. A stay at this noble lodging offers every guest a glimpse of a bygone age and every guest is assured a royal welcome.

  • Two-nights in a Dukes Junior Suite at £1900 during summer high season.
  • Two-nights in a Dukes Studio Suite starts from £2050 during summer high season.

Website: dukeshotel.com

Address: 35 St James’s Place, St. James’s, London SW1A 1NY.

Telephone: +44 20 7491 4840.


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