Marc Evans lives the life of a secret agent at a swish London hotel with an impressive history

The chances are that you will end up slurring your words at some point during a visit to Dukes St James, the boutique luxury hotel set in the heart of the elegant Mayfair area of the capital.

For a couple of reasons.

Reason number one – its world-famous Martinis. They are potent, and are reported to have inspired a certain Ian Fleming to give his most famous creation, James Bond, a taste for this particular cocktail.

Which brings us on to reason number two.

It’s almost impossible not to break into a cod-Sean Connery accent at some point while enjoying your Martini.

You’ll find yourself referring to the hotel as ‘Jukesh’, your companion as ‘Mish Moneypenny’, whatever their gender. But this is a small price to pay for what I found to be a memorable weekend break.

The hotel itself is almost hidden away, discrete rather than in-your-face. And it’s this cosiness that makes it such a lovely place to stay – that plus the warmth of the staff.

Indeed, so keen are they to make your stay as pleasurable as possible, they will do their best not to break bad news to you, even when you ask for it.

When enquiring if they happened to know my football team’s result, it was all we could do to drag the information out of them.

The fact that the news of an 8-0 home defeat did not ruin my weekend is testament to the hotel experience.

The rooms are everything you would expect of a high-end London establishment, with great attention to detail.

Indeed, they couldn’t stop themselves bombarding us with little extras – delicious chocolate cookies, oranges and hand-made crisps sent to the room as a welcoming gift.

And each guest gets a little cuddly toy of Duke the dog, the hotel’s mascot. Our kids starting fighting over ownership of it the minute we arrived home.

There’s also a health club, gym and steam room for those looking to improve their fitness, and a cigar and cognac garden for those looking to do the opposite.

The latter was so enticing I nearly considered taking up the habit myself, but be warned – only cigars bought at Dukes can be smoked there.

And they don’t come cheap, although they are Cuba’s finest.

If you’re staying here, you have to visit Dukes Bar, and indulge in the Martini experience. The preparation is pure theatre – white-jacketed mixologists wheel their trolley of goodies to your table to create whichever variety you have chosen.

We went for the Vesper, which involved top-quality gin, vodka, Vermouth and a twist of orange peel, to help you towards your five-a-day Interestingly, it was neither shaken nor stirred – the spirits are poured straight from the freezer, so there’s no need, apparently.

Goodness knows how 007 fights international crime after a couple of those – all I was ready to tackle was my meal at Dukes’ Thirty Six restaurant, where Nigel Mendham is the head chef, producing British food with a modern twist. The rustic menu barely hit a duff note, and provided lots of pleasant surprises.

A delicious pumpkin soup amuse bouche kicked things off, followed by the starters proper – a lovely crab, avocado and pink grapefruit dish, plus a pork terrine with the welcome addition of a sweet langoustine.

My Goosenargh duck was beautifully cooked, and provided the added bonus of a mini duck samosa, while my wife’s Salt Marsh lamb was accompanied by some superb sweetbreads. Two courses on top of the olives and nuts we devoured to soak up our Martinis meant my wife passed on dessert. But I struggled on, like Bond pursuing Goldfinger, and demolished my unusual but tasty dark chocolate pave with pumpkin and hazelnut praline.

Full English breakfast the next morning was equally superb, and is reason enough not to overdo the alcohol the night before. You don’t want to miss out on sausages of this quality because you’re hung over.

Dukes was very popular with Americans while we were there, and I do love watching them eat and drink. You have to admire the waiter who didn’t bat an eyelid when one of our friends from across The Pond ordered a cola with his breakfast.

A very civilized check-out time of noon meant there was no need to rush when the weekend of indulgence came to its inevitable end.

But as with every Bond film, you’ll already be thinking about the sequel.


* Nightly rates in a Dukes room at Dukes St James London start from £270 inclusive of VAT. For more information or to make a reservation at Thirty Six By Nigel Mendham please call 020 7491 4840 or visit 
* Dukes’ Christmas Sparkle Package is available from £295 per room per night;
* Tradition and Style Overnight Christmas Package from £320 per person; and the Christmas Family Package from £750 per family suite. 

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