One day all London hotel restaurants will be as convivial as The Game Bird: inviting, enticing and, most of all, surprising. It has none of the less agreeable elements one can often find in such establishments: lone travellers staring glumly into their smartphones, posh couples united only in contempt or the rigid charade of expenses-account lunches. Instead it is filled with comfortable family reunions, dates going well and friends meeting up informally. The premise is traditional British seasonal dishes rendered in luxurious fashion - if you want the country’s poshest chicken Kiev, a baked Alaska that went to Bedales or a venison wellington that summers in St Tropez, you’ve come to the right place.
Michelin-starred chef (and Great British Menu winner) Lisa Goodwin-Allen has been in charge since September, while retaining her executive chef role at Northcote in the Ribble Valley. Our waitress steers us towards a splendid signature cocktail: a ‘Spice Me Up’, featuring Talisker, Benedictine, fig and ginger. What she doesn’t say is that it glows neon under a bell jar and has a luminescent ice cube with the heft of the latest Jonathan Franzen novel. By contrast 'What A Game' is a Beluga and Lychee slip of a thing in a stemless glass: the sort of cocktail Tinker Bell would order after a bitter breakup.
There are so many tempting dishes but the starters are particularly agreeable: crumpets and Exmoor caviar, oysters, smoked salmon carved ostentatiously at table-side. The turbot had tendrils recalling either a creature of the deep, HP Lovecraft’s battered sausage or an egg besieged by spermatozoa. It did, however taste truly phenomenal, particularly when paired with an Alsace Riesling. The "Gala Pie", a delicate pressed piggy terrine with a crunchy topping, comes complete with a hand-made blob of brown sauce and quails eggs. Piquant and perfectly pleasant, it goes particularly well with Marlborough Pinot Noir. The “beer onions” offered a tart pairing that feel akin to swallowing contact lens dipped in vinegar - in a good way.
Mains were built for comfort rather than speed. The Jacobs’ Cross lamb cutlet was ruby red in colour, the belly meat served alongside in a dark sticky cube, alongside roasted leek and sheep's curd. The 'Game Bird' signature dish has been completely reimagined and now offers a masterclass in miniature bird butchery. Orkney Scallops and triple cooked chips will be ordered next time, as will the steak and ale suet pudding.
Desert came in the form of a soufflé the colour of Paisley Park wallpaper and a dark chocolate cylinder containing salted milk ice cream. The wine list is extensive but thankfully newly appointed sommelier Eugenio Egorov (who steps into the shoes of industry legend Gino Nardella) will guide you through the treasures of the 380 year old cellar. What's clear is that you are in very good hands: The Game Bird at the Stafford is an absolute gem. Unreservedly recommended.