I usually spend the first few weeks of autumn (and the whole season of winter) complaining about the uninvited chill. After a while, I start to love the fresh smell in the air, roaring fireplaces, cosy corners, burnt colours from the leaves scattered across the streets. But best of all, the food with its rich flavours, sweet spices and enormous portions. The Game Bird is thus everything I adore about autumn in London.
Located in The Stafford Hotel, which dates back to the 17th century, The Game Bird only opened in 2017, with Executive Chef Jozef Rogulski now at the helm. This is a restaurant that does British classics brilliantly. As I wait for my companion to arrive, I sit in the bar area and sip on a Negroni eavesdropping on the affluent Americans that surround me. Some are meeting long lost London friends and their grandchildren, others are gathered in big groups drinking cocktails together. Directly in front of me, the most elegant of women sits at her table drinking a martini, sporting black lacquered glasses and soft black cashmere. It feels like a place I will never bump into anyone I know; yet I feel at home here. If home wasn’t a tiny one bedroom flat in south east London, but a marbled, velvet, sophisticated, festive dream in Mayfair.
We move to the restaurant and are sat at a round table for two, big enough for four, and draped with cloth. Large menus are handed to us and we are shown the salmon trolley; this place does service perfectly; as if they have been working here for years. They are proud of what they do without being arrogant about it, and it shows. Looking through the menu we notice something most unusual: actual full-sized plates, courses and classic dishes. Oh joy. Ironically, we actually end up sharing everything, perhaps we have become so accustomed to all the small plates served around London that we panicked when faced with an actual plate of food.
To begin, dressed Devon crab was glorious. Served in its shell, and filling the whole thing, I began to detect that this isn’t the place for those who believe in portion control. The sweetness from the crab meat prevailed under the creamy texture of the dressing. We also tried all three of the oysters – Colchester Rock, Porthilly Rock and Oyster Rockefeller, all served in their individual silverware, miniature Tabasco, red onion dressing and a muslin cloth-covered lemon. Pretty damn fresh. The sommelier served this with a glass of Nyetimber, one of my favourite sparkling wines available.
For mains, we shared the venison Wellington for two, which could absolutely feed four, with braised red cabbage and autumn truffle mash. The venison, perfectly pink and tender with a rim of herbaceous stuffing all encased in crispy pastry; the cabbage tasted like it had been cooked in mulled wine, and I mean that in the best possible way. The mash was pure indulgence, salty and buttery, with a heady taste of truffle. This course came with a spicy Marqués de Murrieta Rioja with bursts of cherries and plum.
For desserts we decided upon two of their classics, the Crêpes Suzette and the dark chocolate soufflé, served with pistachio ice cream. The soufflé was the only let down of the evening, with somewhat meek flavour of chocolate and overcooked sponge like consistency. But let’s move on to the Crêpes Suzette, with a dramatic table-side show; booze splashing, zesty orange being squeezed and sizzled as the powerful little flames erupt evoking memories of being a child on holiday and watching this beautiful little display of theatre for my mother as she ordered this almost every mealtime. As I watch it now, I am pretty sure she placed this order for the moment of drama. It was tangy, boozy and sweet.
After dinner we asked our waiter to show us the hidden wine cellar, this one is hundreds of years old with a magnificent array of old-world wines, the bottles are sprinkled with dust, encased behind iron bars. The cellar smells like old pages from a book, its dark and romantic in a way that makes you feel as though you are in the Tudors, with a large banquette style table in the middle, set for guests to book out privately.
The Game Bird can be found at The Stafford London, 16-18 St James’s Place, London, SW1A 1NJ.