Review by Fiona Duncan, published 13th July 2008.
How often these days are you served in a restaurant by white-haired waiters, seasoned by years of experience in the same job, who are calm and gently funny and in complete control of the room? Hardly ever, sadly.
The pair of old-timers who took charge of us at Durrants were both from Spain, their accents still thick after decades of living in London, though they will happily fall to joshing one another about the merits of Burgos versus Santiago de Compostela if you give them the chance. They symbolise the hotel’s gentle charms and they set the tone for our evening in the appropriately dignified Grill Room restaurant: polished wood panelling, crystal chandelier wall lights, leather banquettes.
We chose the plainest, least fussy dishes from a short, mainly traditional menu: asparagus; pâté; cold salmon with mayonnaise; fillet of McDuff beef; lemon-scented crème brûlée. The salmon was thick and perfectly judged, the beef slightly lacking in taste. José, the maître d’ from Santiago, took charge of the wine and chose extremely well for us. Better than in the bar, where only two white wines are offered by the glass: hardly impressive when you can find an extensive range in almost any country pub these days.
The George Bar makes a cosy place to while away time, with the feel of a comfortable cubby hole courtesy of its compact size, leather tub chairs and intense coal fire in its original black iron grate. The panelled entrance hall, complete with Edwardian post box and traditionally uniformed staff flitting about with bags and messages, is a rare delight, while a long white-painted hall, lined with pictures, prints and engravings, links a series of intimate rooms for private dining as well as a residents’ lounge.
It’s been a refurbishment of the gentlest sort. Astonishingly, there are 92 bedrooms squirrelled away upstairs in what were four Georgian town houses, knocked together. Waking in our junior suite, well insulated against street noise, my customary confusion as to my whereabouts was compounded by the certainty that the room, with its green trellis wallpaper, alcoves filled with books, Staffordshire dogs on marble mantelpiece and antique writing desk, was in fact my mother’s sensible study at home, so similar do they look.
Durrants, let’s face it, is a bit stuck in its ways. But then, as one of the last remaining privately owned hotels in London, that’s its appeal, compounded by its excellent location next to the Wallace Collection. Its owners, since 1921, have been three generations of the Miller family who, unlike the Gorings at their eponymous hotel in Victoria, keep a low profile for themselves and their establishment. Indeed, a night at Durrants makes the venerable Goring feel like a disreputable starlet on the lash. Mr Durrant, who opened the hotel in 1790, stares contemplatively from his portrait. Doubtless the hotel was a quiet and respectable place then, and so it is now.
George Street, London W1 (020 7935 8131; www.durrantshotel.co.uk). Doubles from £195 per night; breakfast from £11.50. Bedrooms on ground floor for guests with disabilities.