Nigel Mendham may have moved from the 11-bedroom Samling to the 90-bedroom Dukes hotel, but his menu is still built around the best British ingredients from small artisan suppliers. Janet Harmer reports
Relocating from the 11-bedroom Samling hotel in Cumbria to the 90-bedroom Dukes in the heart of London's St James's has been something of a culture shock for Nigel Mendham, but one which he is enjoying with relish.
"Dukes may be much larger, but it is still has the feeling of a boutique hotel with a strong emphasis on service," says Mendham, who won a Michelin star for the Samling in 2010 and 2011 when the property was owned by Von Essen.
Mendham's arrival at the hotel in September 2011 was an opportunity to create a new look and identity for Dukes' restaurant - hence the launch of Thirty Six, named because it is the number of the hotel's entrance on Little St James, it represents good luck in Chinese astrology and is associated with the "solar square" of ancient western tradition in which it represents the sun and warmth.
Whatever the origins of the name, there is no doubting the starting point for the menu - the best British ingredients from small artisan suppliers, many who Mendham built up a strong relationship with during his six-year stint in Cumbria. Today, for instance, he continues to buy his meat from Althams of Morecambe which sources much its meat from Cumbria, Yorkshire and Wales.
At lunchtime, Thirty Six offers a two-course menu for £21, with three courses priced at £28, when customers are eager to enjoy a swiftly served, top quality meal. Dinner is a much more relaxed affair with the diners often arriving in the restaurant after they have sampled one of the hotel's famous martinis in Dukes bar or a Champagne cocktail in the Perrier-Jouët lounge.
In the evening, about 30% of diners select the tasting menu at £75 for seven courses with coffee or tea, or for £105 to include matching wines by the glass. Meanwhile the à la carte menu, which has a choice of six starters, six main courses and five desserts or cheese, costs £49 for two or £60 for three courses.
Popular starters include pan-fried scallops served with smoked eel and a trio of cauliflower, served as a panna cotta, purée and in the form of a bhajee. "Cauliflower is a good partner to scallops and I like to be able to show different technique of serving cauliflower, with the spices in the bhajees working particularly well," says Mendham.
Meanwhile, the red mullet "all niçoise" highlights Mendham's ability to take a classic dish and give it a modern twist. The pan-friend fillet is served with a Heritage potato salad, green beans, deep fried anchovies, tapenade, soft-boiled quails' egg, a drizzle of tomato essence and a salad of micro herbs including red and green basil and amaranth.
The flavour of Cumbrian mutton is "awesome" according to Mendham and is used as the centre-piece of a main course dish in which a sticky rib and braised shoulder is served with a navarin of root vegetables (swedes, carrots, parsnips and celeriac) and purple-sprouting broccoli.
A version of "surf and turf" is provided in the form of brill and a rib of beef - braised, chilled and reheated in a jus until it is sticky - with oyster tempura giving some crunch to the dish.
Desserts include a refined version of rhubarb and custard incorporating rhubarb crumble pie, rhubarb ice-cream and rhubarb crisp, served with a ginger custard. Or there is the refreshing option of a blood orange terrine incorporating orange segments, accompanied by a blood orange sorbet and buttermilk panna cotta.
Sample dishes from the menu
(Two courses, £49; three courses, £60)
Quail, terrine forestiere, braised leg, quail jus
Dry-aged beef carpaccio, beetroot, horseradish
Artichoke warm salad, quails' eggs, warm mushrooms
Highland venison, butternut fondant, osso bucco, bacon spaetzle
Sea bass, taste of carrots, tomato lentils
Butternut squash fondant, savoury granola, caramelised onions, broccoli
Carrot cake, liquid carrot, iced cream cheese, spiced walnuts
Dark chocolate, pear panna cotta fondant, tea gelée
Ice coffee, orange doughnuts, parfait, liquid chocolate
Thirty Six by Nigel Mendham
Dukes hotel, St James's Place, London SW1A 1NY
Tel: 020 7491 4840