Mark Bibby Jackson stays at DUKES London Hotel in St James and has a brush with 007 while enjoying a vegan afternoon tea.
One of the great features of staying in a hotel in London is that you can literally sleep in history. DUKES London hotel in the heart of St James is very much a prime example of this.
History of DUKES London Hotel
Henry VIII built St James’s Palace on the site currently occupied by DUKES London in 1532, shortly before he married Anne Boleyn. Prior to that the site had been used as a hospital for treating leprosy. The palace was apparently used for secret liaisons between the Tudor monarch and his queen in waiting, although its primary purpose was as a hunting lodge.
The hotel itself dates back to 1908. In the intervening period, nearby townhouses hosted the likes of Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron and Frédéric Chopin. The composer Elgar was a regular guest at Dukes in its formative years.
Lord Nelson Suite
After a seamless check-in when I was offered a choice of complimentary newspaper for the morning I walked up the stairs, rather than opting for the lift that dates back to when the hotel opened and has the original bench inside, to my Lord Nelson Suite.
Waiting for me was a bottle of prosecco and a toy DUKESY dachshund who invited me to take it on walks around town. Dachshund means ‘badger dog’ in German; it’s sausage like proportions presumably handy in accessing setts. The reference to Henry VIII’s penchant for hunting was clear.
My suite was spacious and well equipped, with sockets in appropriate places – something that you do not always discover in elderly properties. I also discovered that all the Noble Isle toiletries in my marble ensuite bathroom functioned, something I utilised to the full by taking a long and relaxing bath as I was still recovering from a week chasing reindeer and northern lights in Lapland. The marble interior was reassuringly luxurious.
I could have easily spent a week relaxing in my suite – the following morning I chilled on one of the two sofas in my chambers, admiring the rustic England prints in the wall such as The First Leap which fitted in with the grandeur of the place. This was somewhere I certainly could have entertained Lady Bracknell over cucumber sandwiches – perhaps this is how Wilde pictured it. However, I had already arranged to have tea downstairs in the drawing room.
Dukes Hotel Afternoon Tea
I must confess not to being a great fan of afternoon tea. I tend to find them a bit sweet for my tastes, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity of afternoon vegan tea with champagne.
The fizz in question was an eminently quaffable Pommery champagne, while for the tea I opted for a Snow White tea from Nepal, which kept with the vegan theme.
The tea was light and refreshing. It perfectly accompanied the range of sandwiches, scones and cakes. The curried chickpea egg and watercress on multigrain was particularly good, as was the beetroot humus on beetroot bread, which fortunately was not too beetrooty for those like me who are not a great fan of the purple root vegetable.
As for those with a sweeter tooth, I recommend the lemon drizzle cake and the raspberry cheesecake.
DUKES London Martini
The hotel is perhaps best known for one of its most famed guests who often used to frequent DUKES London Bar. Ian Fleming was a regular. It is said it was here that Ian Fleming invented the Vesper Martini, which consists of several measures of gin, one of vodka and half a measure of French liqueur Lillet.
It is also possible that the bar inspired the ‘shaken not stirred epithet’ to describe how James Bond likes his martinis. The bar has a wall of honour with a signed autograph of Sean Connery – Roger Moore is confined to the Great British Restaurant (GBR).
A Night in Town
Earlier in the day I had visited the excellent Alice Neel: Hot Off the Griddle exhibition at the Barbican Arts Gallery. In the evening I headed to the BFI Screening Rooms for a viewing of Nina Menkes’ documentary BRAINWASHED: Sex, Camera Power, which is released on 12 May in the UK.
The documentary develops the director’s talk on ‘Sex & Power: The Visual Language of Cinema’, and how films are shot and viewed through the “male gaze”. I think that 007 might have choked on his vesper martini in DUKES Bar if he had seen the documentary. I certainly will not be able to view many of my favourite classic films with the same distorted male eyes again. It really is a challenging and thought-provoking documentary that contextualises both the #MeToo movement and Harvey Weinstein.
After this I had some farewell drinks with a couple of good friends who are moving to Scotland, before walking back to my hotel through Soho’s deserted streets. There I discovered my bed turned and slippers waiting for me by my bed – something which seems to have fallen by the way in post-Covid, post-Brexit times, post-service times. The 400-thread count bed linen ensured a peaceful night’s sleep.
A Morning Stroll in the Park
I woke myself with a coffee from my expresso machine before heading for breakfast in the Great British Restaurant (GBR). Here I discovered pink grapefruit juice, and excellent coffee, while both eggs in my eggs royal were cooked to perfection. I really liked the copper mirrors, which provided the room with an earthy feel. With plenty of time on my hands I decided to relax and leaf through my Guardian, a pleasure I have not experienced for ages.
Checking out of DUKES I decided to take DUKESY, which later one of my young cousins decided to call Frances, on a stroll through both Green and St James Parks. Fortunately, we did not discover any badgers, only a solitary pelican – the descendent of a gift to King Charles II from the Russian Ambassador some 400 years ago.
That is the wonder of London – everywhere you turn there is a piece of history waiting for you to discover, or if you are fortunate enough to check into DUKES London, for you to sleep in.
Member of the Small Luxury Hotels Of The World.
35 St. James’s Place, London, SW1A 1NY