It was a foggy night in
London town. We weren’t low or down, but we were a bit soggy as we
made our way from a London taxi to the doorway of the Stafford
Hotel. We were here for dinner at the Lyttelton.
Part of the upscale
Kempinski chain, located in the heart of St James just off
Piccadilly and close to Green Park, the Stafford Hotel celebrated
its 100th anniversary in 2012. Lord and Lady Lyttelton resided in
the property during the 19th century; the restaurant is named for
||It was a few days before
Christmas, and all was aglow.
of poinsettas, red candles and red ribbons on the mantles,
glittering decorations on the trees.
A hand-crafted exquisite chandelier
hanging from the high ornate ceiling caught our eye as we
were escorted into the first floor restaurant-dining room of
the 105-room hotel. The mood was from another time,
Forstyle Saga-ish, Edwardian décor, lots of ivory, lemon
yellow and gray. Settling in in at our table, we took
note of the settings, the delicate English porcelain, the
gleaming silver, the damask linens were the color of
eggshells. We are long-time Anglophiles and suckers for
this kind of stuff.
Restaurant manager Andrew Smythe arrived.
He’d worked in London restaurants for the last two decades,
he told us, the past four years at this one and went on to
recommend the shellfish linguini with lobster, prawns,
scallops, clams and little tomatoes and string beans. Little
persuasion needed for one of us. For the other, an autumn
salad of arugula, goat cheese, sliced beets and a filet of
organic salmon seemed the better choice. Both proved
The time flew by, and we were about to collect our coats and exit
this charming place of respite and renewal when Andrew Smyth invited
to show us the “Downstairs” part of the property and experience some
things that are “quite wonderful and unusual.”
When he first began at the Stafford, he told us, he’d sometimes see
people going out into the little courtyard and through a doorway to
a staircase below ground. Something was going on, and one day he
decided to find out what it was.
“There was this whole world down there,” Smythe explained “It’s been
handed down from one manager to another. Now that I’m here, I’ve
taken the place under my wing.”
||We followed him down a creaky
stairway into a dimly lit underground tunnel that led to a
sizeable iron double gate. It was the wine cellar frequented
from 1939-1945 by Canadian and American officers. Some
valuable vintages were found down there. We were also shown
the American Bar. “Lots of places claim to have one, but
this is an original,” Smythe explains. “American soldiers
stationed nearby during the war hung out here. Today it
attracts a different crowd; there are the same faces every
day, regulars. Prince William is often here as well. He
comes with a couple of friends around 10-10:30 for a couple
of beers. The Palace is just around the corner.”
We followed Smythe through the American bar
to an arched room at the back of the cellar where the mood
suddenly took on a darker hue. This was an air raid shelter
during World War II, he explained. Now it’s a museum.
Artifacts remain: hats, scarves, even gas masks, pennants
from American clubs. Also newspapers from the times of the
Blitz. “Hitler’s Peace Terms Revealed” one headline says.
“Nazis Quit” says another. If the cellar walls could talk
what stories they would tell.
|We had come for dinner and
stayed for something more. Walking out of the Stafford, we
felt we had been witnesses to a part of history that is
still very close in the U.K.
Whether for a couple of beers or
much more, this is a property that deserves to be experienced. We
came for the food and got a London evening to remember.
Stafford by Kempinski
St. James Place
Phone: +44(0) 20 7493 0111