Sat in my plush blue velvet banquet, gazing round at a magnificent display of flowers I feel the soothing contrast from the ritual crawl of commuter time traffic that I have just been battling with. From the opening of the front door, to the reassuring flight of waiters setting my first drink in front of me it’s taken less than five minutes to go from hectic hubbub to pleasingly chilled out. This is what 5 stars are all about.
M was halfway through an expertly crafted G&T when I arrived, and had already had a glance at the menu. There`s lots to tempt, but after a short debate she chose the Smoked Ham Hock, followed by Free Range Chicken Kiev. I plumped for the Dressed Crab and the eponymous “The Game Bird” which we backed up with a couple of side dishes of Spinach and Peas & beans.
The simplicity of the crab is its strength: super fresh, and with a delicate and unadulterated flavour that speaks of the clean cold waters that surround the best bits of our coast. The smoked ham hock is a slightly more elaborate dish, served with quails eggs, black pudding beignets and a truffle mayonnaise, which all disappeared before I had a chance to even put in a bid for a taster.
One of M`s favourite things is a good Chicken Kiev; it’s a retro treat that has never quite been away, yet somehow still seems associated with the 70s, when the great British palate somehow crossed over from thinking garlic was a bit suspect to embracing it. This one is (unconventionally) a log shape, and stuffed with truffle butter. Once again, my cunning plan to pinch a mouthful was thwarted, but the reports were very good. Not your usual Kiev perhaps, but an interesting and successful attempt to incorporate the truffle season.
“The Game Bird” arrives in 3 parts: on the plate resides the sliced breast, parsnip and cabbage, in a dish the braised leg, and in a hip flask the Bullshot, which is a mix of jus and sloe gin. It’s all rather artfully arranged with a couple of blackberries providing a bit of a counterpoint to the Bullshot and is melt-in-your-mouth easy to eat. The legs were phenomenally succulent, and seemed more like confit than braised. For those that don`t like to wrestle with their game, this is perfect, and very fine dining.
For desserts we mixed up sweet and savoury, M unusually taking the sweet path with the Lemon Meringue Parfait, complete with a fabulous basil sorbet. I was seduced by the cheese plate as it included warm mini Eccles cakes, an old Lancashire tradition which has happily been revived. I had saved a last sip of the excellent Douro red for this, and went from salty soft French cheese to currant rich Eccles in one mouthful. Everyone should try this blissful mix at least once in their life.
The Game Bird at The Stafford Hotel, £££ reservations on 020 7493 0111