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Dukes Hotel Review – Mayfair, London

I only became aware of Dukes Hotel recently from following The East India Company Gin page on Instagram, after seeing they were doing an afternoon tea with mini Mar-tea-ni’s at the hotel.

I was in the process of pairing up a 5 course Indian food tasting menu with gin’s myself as part of Cardiff Gin Club for The Purple Poppadom Spirit menu they’ve recently launched, so I was intrigued to see what they were doing with the menu.

It was only after this that I did a bit more reading about Dukes Hotel, that I learned about the history of the historic building that had played host to many famous faces throughout it’s 110 years of being. These included Winston Churchill, whose blue plaque I also happened to notice next door to Dukes, where he was born and lived for his first few years on this earth. The other notable figure to favour the little gem of a bar nestled in a quiet side street adjacent to St James Park and just around the corner from the Ritz Hotel was the original bond author Ian Fleming.

Winston Churchills Old House

You see, Fleming was a fan of Dukes and it’s now famous Dukes Bar for it’s specialty, which happened to be the classic Martini cocktail. Can you see the connection? Yes, Dukes is noted as being the main influence behind James Bonds’ insatiable appetite for the gin laced cocktail.

Well I love a good Martini and where better to try them than the venue that gave way to the most famous Martini fan the world has ever seen. It so happened that the most spectacular festival to hit the shores of Britain was due to take place on the weekend of 1st September, “Meatopia” at Tobacco Dock. A three day celebration of the ultimate summer get together, The BBQ. With 20 of the best pit masters and meat smoking magicians on the planet driven, flown and shipped under one sun drenched canal side location in London’s historic docklands each day to show people how to really appreciate our four legged farm friends.

I thought why not kill two birds with one stone as I’d wanted to attend the festival for about three years now so I booked two tickets for the festival followed by a luxurious stay at the London hotel, which is just a short stroll from Queen Liz herself at Buckingham Palace. Whilst I was at it I also thought I’d throw in a booking for lunch the following day at the Michelin starred Indian restaurant Gymkhana in Mayfair, just because.

The Hotel

The hotel is not much more than a mile from London Victoria, so it’s quite a nice walk up the mall especially during the change of the guards if you arrive around that time. Sadly we were pushed for time with the thought of smoked, caramelised 70 day salt aged beef flying off the bbq and running out by the time we go to Meatopia so we grabbed a taxi to the door, which cost us around £8.

Outside Dukes Hotel London

Turning down the street just after The Ritz and taking a small opening in the road to the left, you could walk past and not even realise this little jewel of a hotel existed. You soon know it’s there though with it’s own little courtyard, shielded by buildings on either side with the British flag draping down outside the door and beautifully constructed and preserved Victorian Facade to welcome you into the quintessentially British luxury hotel.

Checking isn’t usually until around 3ish at most hotels so instead of lugging our overnight bags around London, we thought we would see if they would keep them until check-in as it was only 11.55am. Luckily for us the room was free and they let us check in there an then after reception gave us a guided tour of the facilities and our room.

Hotel Facilities included:

  • Steam room and fitness suite (unfortunately we didn’t have time to use these)
  • GBR restaurant and bar open from 7am for breakfast till late evening for dinner.
  • Meeting suites
  • Drawing room used for afternoon teas
  • Cognac and cigar terrace (Open 8pm)
  • Outside seating at the front of hotel for smokers or catching up on emails
  • The Famous Dukes Bar serving the best Martini’s in London

Onto our rooms. We only ordered the standard room as the price for some of the more luxurious rooms started around £500+ per night.

The standard rooms weren’t the largest I’ve stayed in but for the central location in Mayfair, it had everything we needed and more. I’ve stayed in a lot smaller rooms in Cardiff too.

Dukes Hotel London Reception

The specifics

  • The bed was a decent size and so comfortable, I had one of the best nights sleep in ages
  • Robe and slippers in the roomDesk side mobile phone allowing free calls to anywhere in the world that can be taken around the building and outside to receive internet connection
  • Fridge with 4 bottles of water. It wasn’t stocked with a minibar as we were told they are in the processes of changing the contents and menu
  • TV with internet
  • Security safe
  • Large bathroom with luxury toiletries
  • Combined bath and the most powerful shower I’ve ever stood in

After checking in and offloading our bags to head to Tobacco Dock we took the advice of reception to book a table at Dukes Bar as we were told it gets really busy on weekends and they like to offer preference to guests to the hotel. We booked ourselves in for 9pm to give ourselves time to get back from the festival and freshen up.

Getting Around

The hotel reception were very friendly and offered to make arrangements for taxis if you need one but as we were heading a few miles away it worked out cheaper to get the underground. The closes underground station to Dukes Hotel is Green Park on the Jubilee, Victoria and Piccadilly line so you can pretty much get to anywhere you need without too many changes.

As the hotel is quite central we decided to head out on foot the morning of our stay after leaving our bags with the hotel. It was less than 10 minutes to Gymkhana in Mayfair, where we went for a delicious 6 course tasting menu for lunch.

It’s also less than 10 minutes walk to the Ritz if you fancy something a bit more extravagant for lunch or you can do what we did and picked up a load of nibbles at Fortnum and Masons for the journey back.

Food and Drinks

Breakfast

As we were going to a food festival and had already booked lunch the following day for 12 o clock we skipped breakfast as it wasn’t in with the room. You can add it to your booking for £24 each for a full English, pastries, tea and juice or there are a number of smaller options from £6 for something lighter, which are all served in the basement GBR restaurant.

Afternoon Tea

We were hoping to grab a cup of tea sourced from my favourite tea importers The East India Company in the Drawing Room but sadly they had stopped serving afternoon tea and there wasn’t anyone taking orders when we popped in for a look.

The room was beautifully decorated though and would be a lovely spot to sample the afternoon tea that also has the option to include mini Mar-tea-ni’s using The East India Company Gin, which is how i’d found out about the hotel in the first place.

East India Company Gin Martini with Dukes London Afternoon Tea

The receptionist also informed us during our tour of the hotel that the late Lady Dianna was a regular at the hotel and would come in for tea in the Drawing Room. This is the reason they only have white flowers in the room and throughout the hotel as a tribute as they were her favourite.

We opted to head downstairs to the GBR restaurant for tea instead as they serve a selection of The East India Company Tea there all day too. I opted for a smokey GBR blend, which was a lovely change to my usual English Breakfast. The cost of two pots of tea was around £12 with the service charge of 12.5% automatically added to all orders, wherever you are in London.

Afternoon tea and East India Company teas at Dukes Hotel London

Dinner

Even though we didn’t eat at the GBR restaurant we did take a peek at the menu whilst having a pot of tea before we left.

There were only two dinning whilst we were there and the steaks brought out to them looked amazing. The menu featured a grazing menu with small and large portion of each. I was half tempted to have a burrata to nibble on with my tea.

GBR Restaurant at Dukes Hotel London

Dukes Bar

The dress code read smart casual and no sports footwear for Dukes Bar so I thought i’d put something half decent on for a change with some loafers, shirts and sports jacket.

The bar is very quaint and divided into two small areas by a dividing wall and the wooden paneled bar to the left hand side or the two. Dimly lit with a selection of two and four seat tables to choose. We were seated with two other tables but one left shortly after so we took theirs as it was under a bit more light.

The menu features a good selection of classic cocktails priced around £19 and the famous martini’s around £21.50.

Spirits came in double measures and ranged from £9.50 for Beefeater Gin up to around £15 for Kyoto Ki no bi Japanese Gin. I paid £8.50 for a single shot of Ki no bi with no mixer in Bootleggers in Cardiff not long back, so it wasn’t bad considering.

Gin menu at Dukes Bar London

Cocktail and martini menu at Dukes Bar London

Martini menu at Dukes Bar London

There were whiskies from some of the best distilling countries from a selection of Scotland from highlands to lowlands, Ireland, the US and Japan. What caught my eye was the now discontinued suntory Hibiki 17 year Japanese whisky. I’ve been hunting down a bottle for a while now as the price has spiked to over £900 a bottle online as the Japanese Whisky drought continues and has meant many aged expressions are no more.

The price on the menu didn’t reflect the shortage though as it was £27 for 50ml. Rude not to really.

Hibiki 17 Japanese Whisky at Dukes Bar London

Martini’s

There was none of the candyfloss, glitter or sickly sweet pre-mixed cordial bullshit going on with these bad boys. Pure alcohol lengthened with a splash of more alcohol, just as it should be.

I watched in awe as another guest asked for a dry Martini, to which the bartender shook a couple of dashes of homemade vermouth and i mean droplets from a bitters decanter and proceeded to top it up with the frozen gin of choice.

Dukes Bar martini trolley

The art of pouring the martini’s is like a ritual in itself here at Dukes with the orders taken by the bar tender, who then assembles the components of the crowning item on the menu, which are then wheeled over to the guests table and faultlessly constructed at the table.

As mentioned previously this is were bond got his love for the Martini here from his famous author Ian Fleming who was a regular at Dukes Bar. The vesper was also created here, which was Bond’s favourite martini with a mix of English Gin and Polish Vodka, Shaken not stirred of course.

Surprise, surprise I went all Japanese for my first drink with the Kissy Suzuki Martini featuring Ki no bi gin, Chase vodka, Clementi China liqueur and Griottine Cherry. The bottles came straight from the freezer and glistened with a sheen of ice on the trolley so no need to shake or stir with ice to cool it or for any unnecessary dilution. This was was the strongest martini to ever touch my lips, it was actual rocket fuel but it tasted divine

Kissy Suzuki martini at Dukes Bar London

I’d heard that head bartender Alessandro Palazzi served a maximum of two Martini’s to guests and now I can see why. Although £20.50 they don’t sound cheap, but when you factor in your probably getting close to 4 measures of alcohol per glass, that’s good going even at Cardiff prices for gin. It was all about the experience though as the bar has so much history and famous fans over the years.

The other half went for Martinez with Dictador Colombian Gin, Martini Ross, Maraschino liqueur, orange bitters, Griottine cherry and lemon twist. Also very potent, these were sippers for sure but sat nibbling on Japanese crackers and salty nuts taking in the ambiance I couldn’t think of anywhere better i’d want to spend a Sunday evening.

The Verdict

We both loved our stay at Dukes Hotel. The central location, the friendliness of the staff who couldn’t do enough and the hotel itself looked amazing from outside to inside with loads of character and history.

I loved the little stories about some of the past guests and you really felt like you were sitting in a piece of history sat sipping a Martini in the same bar former prime ministers, princesses, highly acclaimed authors and movie stars had done for over 100 years.

The hotel is worth the visit even if it’s just for a table at Dukes bar for a Martini and they really are worthy of the reverence.

It’s not going to be the cheapest hotel you can get in London but I’d say it’s my favourite so far and would go back in a heartbeat.

For the best deals on a stay at Dukes Hotel in London search on Trivago



Turtle Bay Restaurant Review Cardiff

Being a lover of independant’s it’s very rare I go to a chain restaurant these days let alone make a repeat visit within 6 months.

The restaurant in question is Turtle Bay, a Carribean themed restaurant located on St Mary Street next door to Kongs. If spice isn’t your thing you might want to skip this place as there are plenty of chilli’s of all varieties especially in the revered Carribean staple Jerk seasoning that pops up on many of the mains and sides with bottles to hand to smother some more onto the plate if you’ve not got enough heat to content with.

Turtle Bay is also a popular retreat for wetting the whistle as they are known for their cocktail happy hours offering 2 for 1 from open till 7pm then 10pm till close.

The Drinks

I’ve popped in for a cocktail a few times of late to take advantage of the 2 for 1 drinks offer. As i’ve got older and after being a recent gin convert I find most cocktails very sweet and remind me of 18-30 holiday in Magaluf compared to the subtle neutral flavours of gin.

There’s a good selection of cocktails in the offer to be had but you do need to choose two of the same. My first choice happened to be a Carribean take on the classic long island iced tea.

Not a bad choice as the cola substitutes the overly sweet mixers of most cocktails and had a decent kick to it compared to some other bars offering 2 for 1. I usually find the 2 for 1 cocktails at most places just means you get the same amount of alcohol just divided into two glasses so really you’re just getting more mixer. So instead of having a double shot in one for say £7 you get two cocktails for £7 but you get a single in each topped up with sickly pre packaged mixers.

After chatting to the barman and telling him we popped over to see what the place was about after being served watered down 2 for 1 cocktails nearby earlier in the evening.

Secret Cocktail Menu

I was glad to hear that they had a secret cocktail list not on the main menu and this happened to include gin martinis.

You get a choice of vodka or gin Martini and also get to choose Tanquery I think it was or Sipsmith, which of course I opted for the more superior Sipsmith option. Unfortunately they didn’t have any olives or lemon rind to hand to make a dirty martini or just a bit of citrus touch as I would normally use. They did have lime but I don’t like lime in my Gin and I couldn’t complain for that price.

Gin Martini at Turtle Bay Cardiff

The measures were spot on with the Martini too with a double helping of Sipsmith Gin, shot of Noily Prat Vermouth. So for around £7 you get two double decent quality gin watered down with fortified wine, what’s not to like but it’s not for the faint hearted. I let a few of my mates sample a sip and all but one winced in horrified fashion to the strength of the drink. I think they just need more practice.

The Food

As we’ve dined her twice i’ll mention the plates ordered on both occasions.

Starters and nibbles

First choice whenever we eat out is calamari or squid in whatever form they specialise in if it’s on the menu. Here they offered crispy chilli squid, which was right up both our street as we both love a bit of heat with the squid.

crispy chilli squid at Turtle Bay Cardiff

Served as described, spicy and crispy in it’s panko breadcrumb crust with a cooling citrus blast from the mango, lime and corriander mayo.

Second visit we fancied a few different bits from the starter menu so opted for the Just Jerked sharing platter . This included pit jerked chicken wings, glazed pork ribs, jerked beef riblets, sweetcorn fritters, spiced popcorn, salad and something i’d been craving since passing a random Carribean hut on the way back from Cardiff Bay Wetlands reserve the weekend before a Jamaican beef patty.

Jerk sharing platter at Turtle Bay Cardiff

This is basically like a Jamaican version of Wahaca in my eyes with each course oozing with flavour with a good punch of heat and spice from every bite, just how I like. I couldn’t fault any of the platter, you can’t go wrong with spicy sticky wings, the meat just fell off the pork ribs with a rich, spicy glaze on the beef ribs. The popcorn didn’t really do much for me mind and was just there to fill the try a bit I think.

Mains

First visit we ordered the pork ribs with sweet potato fries. Decent sized tender ribs with a slight spice, topped with chutney paired with something i’ve failed to ever create at home a really nice crispy sweet potato fry topped with cheese and spicy jerk sauce.

Jerk ribs with sweet potato fries at Turtle Bay Cardiff

We both loved the goat curry so much we opted to have another plate on the second visit. Slowly braised and very tender morsels of goat in a thick, spicy curry served with coconut rice and peas, chutney and a portion of dumplings. The rice made a lovely change with it’s subtle fragrance compared to somewhat bland offering of plain white rice at some restaurants.

 

Fancying a one pot wonder too my eyes hovered over the Bajan beef cheeks. The menu read “Six hour slowly simmered beef cheeks marinated in Caribbean spice, okra, potato, garlic, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, coriander & toasted coconut.” I mean come on, how could you turn your nose up to that?

Again I’ve not had a piece of meat that wasn’t tender and disintegrating on contact with my tongue at Turtle Bay yet and this was still the case here. A good bit of heat yet nothing too crazy warmed my sinuses with a little trickle of a runny nose is always a good sign in my eyes. The plate also came with steamed rice and roti flatbread to aid my favourite past time…making a sandwich out of absolutely anything on my plate.

 

Verdict

I would definitely recommend Turtle Bay for food and a cocktail if you’re going for the Gin Martini on the secret cocktail menu although it’s a shame they don’t have any olives or lemon to garnish it.

All the food i’ve tried so far was packed full of flavour and just the right amount of spice for me anyway. The vibe is very relaxed and always see big groups of people for what must be birthday’s and work outings in town. The bartenders are all very friendly and happy to help you pick a drink or food item. I don’t actually think i’ve ever seen bartenders so happy behind the bar anywhere like there saying that.

Starters are around £5 and mains from about £10 coupled with some 2 for 1 cocktails it’s a recipe for a good night with friends, family or work colleagues for an informal shindig.

I’m ashamed to say i’ve been there for food twice and still not tried the dessert so sadly I can’t comment but I might just have a side of dessert with my next cocktail visit to see if i’ve been missing out.

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The Best Gin Martini Cocktail in Rome – Stravinskij Bar

Having tried the best Pizza in Rome and wandering around St Peter’s Basillica with a blistered and beetroot red scalp for a while with no hope of beating the qeueues into the Vatican before close there was only one thing left to do…rehydrate with a cocktail of course!

A quick scout online for the best places for a gin in Rome brought back some good results with a few hidden bars and speakeasy places coming out on top such as Jerry Thomas Speakeasy, Club Derriere and Spirito but none of them opened till around 10pm and it was just pushing 4pm.

One other place that kept coming up was the Stravinskij Bar at the 5* Rocco Forte Hotel de Russie. Aparently they do the best Martini in town and seeing that that’s my tipple of choice we were sold.

Roads were basically at a standstill at this time around the Vatican and google maps reconed it would only take an extra 2 minutes to walk the 1.3 miles from our location so thought this would be a good time to burn off the 3 million calories I’d consumed in the past 48 hours and seeing there was treasure at the finish line we set out on foot armed with my ever frustrating google maps on my phone.

The Bar

We arrived at the hotel after more than a handful of pit stops to browse at bloody crockery as usual. We walked through reception and headed to the back of the hotel where we guessed the bar might be. There were garden chairs and sofas nestled amongst heaters and unopened parisolls on a patio area in a courtyard between the hotel buildings but thought it looked a bit low key considering the reviews we had heard online.

I wandered over to one of the waiters to ask where the bar is and he said you’re in it to my slight dissapointment as we could see terraces overlooking the courtyard embellished in sunlight. Apparently that was the restaurant but the view looked so much better than the patio courtyard below and come on I’m from Wales who knowns when i’m going to actually see the sun again this year.

I wish i’d just ordered a plate of chips looking back now to sit up there with a dirnk but I was parched and needed to rest my little trotters. We pondered over the drinks menu whilst the waitress tempted us with an array of complimentary snacks from mixed olives, a variety of crisps and honey baked almonds. These got me pining for my first Martini of the trip with the tray loaded full of salty favourites and there were more concoctions on the menu than i’ve ever seen.

The Drinks

After some deliberating I opted for the Gold Bond Martini with both gin and vodka with a glimmering display of gold flakes swirling round in the martini glass. Pointing out the obvious it was a potent mix of alcohol, mixed with alcohol watered down with yet more slightly weaker alcohol pimped up with a healthy portion of gold flakes to jazz it up and lemon twist for extra zing.

There were a few others I was torn between but this was a good choice. It was a good job were were just sampling the one (at 22 euros a pop) we just thought we would see what the bar was like but I wouldn’t be steady on my feet after many that’s for sure.

Mwsh opted for a prosecco based fruity number although not of the martini variety. That was ok, had a slight Pimm’s feel to me and at that price I wanted a that hit of alcohol to headbut me in the face but it was a bit to reserved for my liking.

The Verdict

After being a bit disheartened at first not having a seat up on the sun laced terraces I did enjoy the relaxing ambience of the terrace down below (after about 15 minutes of some devil child bawling uncontrollably till the Russain looking child bride and Oil Oliagarch handed over said child to the stone faced nanny who soon got it to sleep).

It was a far cry from the tidal wave of tourists within the Vatican, noisy car and motobikes weaving in and out of traffic and the relentless assault of sales pitches from street reps trying to sell you JUMP THE QEUEUE tickets for the Sistine Chapel.

Ok so 22 euros a pop for cocktails isn’t cheap but this was a 5* hotel and one of the best in Rome at that plus the snacks we got probably would of cost us around 15 euros in any other bar no doubt. If we weren’t so pushed for time and was celebrating a birthday or something I’d definitely stayed to tick off a few more of the Martini’s on the list and would encourage anyone to swing by if you’re in Rome even if it’s just for one.

Gin Sake Martini cocktail – sakitini

Ok so I’ve been a late adopter of the classic cocktail the Martini since sampling a bloody filthy one at Lab22 in Cardiff just before Christmas. Not being a fan of Gin till about a year ago and the idea of putting something salty in my drink never really appealed to me before as I thought it wouldn’t be too far away from dunking a packet of ready salted crisps in your drink.

Who would want those 45 organically farmed botanicals being sacrificed by a salty snack? Then coming to think about it a packet of crips, nuts or olives always taste better with a beverage of the alcoholic range hence why they’re called bar snacks in the first place!

So for those who don’t know what a Martini is it’s one of the most simple cocktails known to man with a shot or two of alcohol watered down with a shot or two of more alcohol with a garnish of your choice plonked in the middle of the glass. Oh and it’s James Bond’s tipple of choice and he’s a more of a British icon than the Queen.

So there’s a choice of base alcohol in the Martini you can either go for Gin or Vodka and then it’s paired with a measure of vermouth. I can’t stomach vodka since my early 20’s and abusing the vodka red bulls as a student so I’m on team Gin Martini. You can go dry, which tips the balance more towards the Gin in terms of ratio or wet means more vermouth in your glass. Gin Martini is usually served with an olive or two or you can opt for a twist of lemon. If you want it dirty then a drop of olive brine is added to the mix or if you want it filthy a good glug of the stuff.

The good thing about a Martini is you’re never going to get short changed for your measurements here as most cocktail bars fill the glass to the brim with ice leaving you with a watered down heap of shitty fruit and smallest drop of alcohol. The martini comes straight up, no on the rocks after being shaken or stirred with ice to get a crisp temperature. What I can only describe as to the taste of a good Martini is very clean almost like you’ve just had a sip of minty mouthwash but it’s so morish.

Anyway I fancied making a Martini at home to try and use up some of the recent Gin purchases over Christmas and on recommendation by the very helpful guys at Lab22 I needed a good vermouth to pair with my gin. The vermouth of choice at Lab22 is Noilly Prat but even trying good ole Wally’s deli in town I couldn’t find any anywhere in Cardiff.

I headed home defeated with blisters bubbling at the back of my feet from my new daps from mother dearest for Christmas. After deciding on what I was going to cook for the evening and tipping towards something chinese I remembered I had some Sake in the cupboard. Sake being a fermented rice wine i thought I wonder how much different this would be to vermouth a fermented wine so thought there’s only one way to find out so went about making a Sakitini a sake inspired martini.

Sake Martini cocktail recipe – Sakitini

3 x 25ml Gin – I used Portobello Road as it’s a great all rounder

1 x 25ml Sake

1 twist of lemon

Instructions

Two make two put 3 x double shots of gin and 1 x double shot of sake in a large tumbler with thick blocks of ice and stir for a good 30 seconds.

Take a potato peeler and peel a slice of lemon, cut in half length ways, twist and squeeze to release some of the oils and drop one into each glass and top divide the liquid between the two glasses.