Chef James Durrant on his new restaurant The Game Bird

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Chef James Durrant on his new restaurant The Game Bird

Related tags: Restaurant, Gordon ramsay

The former Gordon Ramsay and Jason Atherton protégé is overseeing the overhaul of grand St James’s hotel The Stafford London as executive chef, and will re-launch its main restaurant as the The Game Bird early next month. He spoke to Restaurant Magazine about his upcoming plans.

This isn’t a hotel that we’ve heard much about...

A lot of people have said that. It’s a hidden gem; a beautiful hotel on St James’s Place with some amazing clients. The current restaurant is called The Lyttelton and it’s a standard hotel dining room. Breakfast is busy but lunch and dinner are quiet at the moment because the customer base is mainly hotel guests plus a handful of local businesses. In February we will re-launch it as The Game Bird in a bid to broaden our customer base.

So it’s a specialist game restaurant?

No. There will be a focus on game but there’ll be a lot more to it than that. The menu will be a celebration of the best of British cooking. There will be game on the menu all year round and during the season we’ll really go for it. The name is a reference to one of the hotel’s more famous previous guests – Nancy Wake, AKA the White Mouse, who served as a member of the British Special Operations Executive in France during WW2. She was certainly a game bird.

What’s on the menu?

Our launch menu will include Rhug Estate fallow deer tartare, wood pigeon pot au feu, and game pie with port and shortcrust pastry. There will be a dedicated oyster menu and we’ll also have a trolley of smoked and cured fish that will be served at guests’ tables.

How will it be priced?

It will be good value relative to the area. We want to ensure a healthy business from non-residents so we don’t want to price ourselves out of the market. We will offer an attractively priced Sunday roast and do a competitive set lunch menu. 

You come from a top-end background, is there pressure to win accolades?

That’s not where we’re pitching this. My days of chasing stars are long gone. The restaurants that do well in this part of town, such as Scott’s and The Wolseley, offer great ingredients cooked simply. That’s exactly what we want to do here. My brief is to deliver a busy dining room with a great atmosphere.

So no tasting menu, then?

Not in the restaurant. But we might look at doing special wine-matching dinners in the wine cellar, which doubles as a 40-cover PDR and houses an incredible selection of wine (8,000 bottles). We have a master sommelier who has been here for 39 years, which is quite extraordinary. We’re going to work together to devise special food and wine-matching menus.

You were most recently at Bluebird, but not for very long...

It’s a good restaurant and a great location but I just didn’t feel 100 per cent about working there. I was down to re-launch it but after realising I didn’t want to stay there long term I thought it would be fairer to leave it to someone else. I didn’t want to put my mark on it and then disappear.

Tell us about your background

I’m from Chester originally. I started out in a country house hotel as an apprentice. Luckily I had a chef who wanted me to progress my career, so after a few years he sent me down to London. I phoned Gordon Ramsay, Royal Hospital Road and spoke to [executive chef] Mark Askew. He said that Gordon didn’t care about CVs and that if I wanted a job I needed to turn up at the kitchen door and ask for a trial shift. So I did.

How did it go?

It went well. I spoke to Gordon afterwards and he gave me a job. I was pretty chuffed but about two weeks later I realised that everybody got a job. It was just a matter of who could stick it. It was a tough kitchen. Gordon had just won three stars, and I started a month after the Michelin guide came out. He had no other restaurants at that point and was in the kitchen every day. It was an amazing experience. To work under Gordon at that time was hard but ultimately rewarding. I worked at Claridges briefly with Mark Sargeant, then I went to Maze under Jason Atherton as head chef, aged 24.

Then you opened a pub in Hampshire...

I went out on my own, I’d been working for Gordon for the best part of a decade. The Plough was a great experience and my wife and I loved it to death. We worked really hard at it and we won some great accolades but it was very rural and the business was inconsistent. All the good PR in the world couldn’t fill the place on weekday evenings. Ultimately, it wasn’t giving us enough of a return to make all the hard work we were putting into it worth it.

Now you’re at the hotel, what other changes will you be making?

I’m tweaking all aspects of the F&B offer. It’s a big operation. There are four private dining rooms, a room service team and another dining area called the American Bar, in honour of the fact that 50 per cent of our clients are from the US. The menu at the latter will change to reflect what’s being served at The Game Bird. It will still be simple things done well – club sandwiches, a burger, fish and chips and the like.

Related topics: Openings, People, Profiles, Restaurant

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