Hospitality: Dukes opens cognac & cigar garden
Author Ian Fleming knew a thing or two about living well - his James Bond novels are a handbook for the classy bon viveur.
Although he was a cigarette man himself, he would have doubtlessly approved of the latest addition to Dukes, St James's, the discreet hotel near Green Park where he was a regular visitor.
For Dukes has just launched its Cognac and Cigar Garden, a newly refurbished outdoor area off the Drawing Room, dedicated to the luxurious indulgence of the senses.
General manager Debrah Dhugga said: "The inspiration for the garden came from our guests asking for an area where they could enjoy a cigar and nightcap whilst continuing to socialise in comfort and style.
"The Cognac and Cigar Garden is an example of how Dukes upholds tradition, but in a way that is welcoming and appealing to all our guests."
The garden provides a picturesque space for 20 guests and boasts new furnishings, seating, lantern lighting and decking. A feature of the outdoor space is the handmade wooden brandy cabinet, which has been fitted into the corner of the garden and displays the hotel's full range of cognacs.
The preferred house cognac is Martell Cordon Bleu with cigars supplied by Hunters and Frankau, the UK's sole importer and distributor of Cuban cigars.
The cognac theme also extends to Dukes' Martini menu, with the newly created fruity and bold Ruby Windsor cocktail.
Of course, Bond's tipple of choice was the vodka martini and Dukes' best-selling drink remains the Vesper Martini, sipped in the comfortable surroundings of the hotel bar.
Dukes Hotel, where Mayfair meets St James's, is surrounded by select boutiques and specialist shops, many boasting the royal crests of its near-neighbours the royal family.
The hotel itself displays its history. The walls are lined with oil paintings and watercolours and its velvety comfort, marble decor and grand fireplaces gives the air of a traditional club. Centred on a courtyard and tucked away from the main thoroughfares, its compact design disguises its Tardis-like size. It has 90 rooms including 11 suites and a Penthouse Suite with views over Green Park.
The rooms themselves are a mix of the classic and contemporary and are a world away from chain hotel by rote service. Flowers and hand-made chocolates greet the weary traveller. Meanwhile, modern spa and health facilities include a 24-hour gym and steam room.
For women who feel this is all a bit old-school male territory, Dukes also offers Duchess Rooms, a discreet service tailored to female business and leisure guests. Feminine touches include female attendants handling all room service and house-keeping requirements.
Dukes has been a high-class hotel in the heart of royal parks for more than a century, but the history of the place can be traced back further to the 16th century.
King Henry VIII built St James's Palace as a hunting lodge and an escape from the politicking of the court.
But it was during the reign of Charles II that the area became highly fashionable , with the growth of coffee shops and grand parades.
During this time the courtyard around Dukes led to the house occupied by Barbara Villiers, the Duchess of Cleveland. She was one of the King's mistresses who bore him three sons - the Dukes of Cleveland, Grafton and Northumberland.
The courtyard was known as Cleveland Court and became a small inn. These buildings were demolished in 1885 to make where for a building used as the London Chambers for the sons of Britain's aristocracy, finally becoming Dukes in 1908.
My companion and I visited on a quiet Sunday evening and half a dozen or so diners were dotted around the neat, low dining room providing a gentle lull of easy conversation.
A last minute change meant that I opted for the duck confit. I had initially wanted to show loyalty to east London smokery Forman's, but my choice of main put paid to that notion.
My companion opted for the plump scallops and together we enjoyed a bottle of Chablis (£39). We had previously taken cocktail apperitifs earlier in the bar - a Wild Flower and a Classic Champagne - both of which were zesty and rich.
The mains were impeccable. I chose the poached smoked haddock, bubble and squeak with a poached egg in a herb butter sauces (£16). I am something of a nut for smoked fish and this was cooked to perfection, falling away in chunks and packed with nourishing flavour. The egg and the bubble and squeak were inventive accompaniments.
My companion had a more muscular main, with the slow roasted fillet of scotch beef, spinach, beetroot and truffle mash (£19.75) which was grounded in earthy flavours and much to her liking.
Replete from our ample choices, we opted to share the British farmhouse cheeseboard with chutney (£9.50). The flimsy chutney was not to our taste but the cheeses were solid and flavourful. All told the meal came to £133.26.
The breakfast menus offered English (the works at £21.75), Continental (£16.75) a "light and healthy" option at £15.75, breakfast canapes at £18.75) as well as mix 'n' match options.
- Dukes has three meeting rooms - the Sheridan, the Montrose, and the Marlborough with full day rates ranging from £475 to £675.
- AV equipment is available to hire, there is access to wifi and a "working lunch" menu is offered including sandwiches, finger buffets, canapes and deserts.
- Private dining menus can be arranged with photographers, entertainment, table decorations and a menu worked through with the head chef. Prices per head range from £40 to £58.
- The Marlborough is licensed for weddings and civil partnerships.
Dukes, St James's Place, London SW1
Go to dukeshotel.com