Wine List Confidential: The Game Bird at The Stafford

Douglas Blyde is game for a visit to The Game Bird at The Stafford Hotel in St. James’s Place. While there he tastes everything from Junmai Daiginjo sake to Burgenland Blaufränkisch, but it’s the staff’s ties that particularly catch his attention.

“What you get for your money is a guarantee – if you come this way hoping for elegant, comforting food in luxuriant surroundings,” assured Square Meal of The Stafford’s restaurant, which gained its candid name from the strapping, omnipresent, Blackburn-born chief operating officer of The Stafford, Northcote, and Norma, Stuart Procter.

Design

Envisioned by Rosendale Design, which also conceived the scheme for Norma in Fitzrovia, original marble pillars from when this was a private des res, flank a bijou bar counter adorned with a miscellany of sculptural decanters. Adjacent, table eight offers a semi private vantage from which to spot politico regulars. Art in the hotel includes a glittering Damian Hurst, and a floral study by Anna Maria Zanatta Pozzebon, the grandma of sommelier, Davide Santeramo, who previously worked here as a sommelier. Huge splays of real flowers, thankfully reticent of scent given the focus on wine, separates the dining room from the promenade. Trolleys laden with smoked salmon or cheese, sweep across polished parquet or the herringbone carpet towards marble-topped tables gilded embellished with single roses. The soundtrack includes A La Mode by Wayne Shorter, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers

Drinks

Head sommelier and wine buyer, Eugenio Egorov, took over the mantle of head of wine from revered master sommelier, Gino Nardella in 2021. Born in Ukraine to a master upholsterer mother, and a world champion ice-skater father, Egorov was “grafted onto Italian rootstock” at age four, growing up in the Dolomites. After hospitality school, he became a pastry chef, responsible for morning croissants, à la carte desserts, and wedding cakes. Segueing to front-of-house, he helped open Italian wine bar, “Tutto Gusto” at Epcot, Disney World Orlando, followed by Cut by Wolfgang Puck, Da Terra “when they won their first Michelin star”, and The Dorchester in London, “where I put my own stamp on the list as part of the relaunch of The Grill.” More recently, the Master Sommelier student completed harvest at Château Mouton Rothschild, and undertook a sortie to Piedmont with Pio Cesare. His upcoming honeymoon to Kyoto and Tokyo will also take in liquid escapades to sake breweries.

Of some 580 bins, with the target set at 650, Egorov, who endeavours to provide “alternatives to classic prices”, offers a third of his list at below £100 a bottle, of which a handful of sub £50 options include Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon, Escudo Rojo 2018 at £45. Indeed, Egorov hopes to run a cellar event with owner, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, including the wines of Château Clerc Milon. The next will feature Giovanni Gaja (4th March). The highest ticket bottle is Domaine Anne Gros’ Richebourg Grand Cru 2009 at £3,526, representing approximately thrice retail price.

By the glass, options drawn from thirteen countries include Savage Wines’ Salt River Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2023 at £13 per 175ml, climbing to £84 for a 125ml portion of Krug 170éme Édition via Coravin, this being such a devoted Coravin account that Junmai Daiginjo sake is even preserved via the system. The probing sparkling selection, displayed in glass-fronted cabinets which were once home to strung game birds, also includes growers such as Egly-Ouriet, and the prism that is Salon Cuvée “S” Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 2012 at a respectable £1,599. And in the guest rooms, Egorov prescribes half bottles of Henriot. Homegrown collections are drawn from six English wine producers over four regions. From Egorov’s “rootstock” in part comes DUBL Falanghina, a sparkling lovechild of sorts from an Italian winery in undulating Avellino and their French significant other, Anselme Selosse.

Egorov oversees up to five wine events weekly within Lord Francis Godolphin’s four-century old candlelit cellars. This was deployed as an air raid shelter by American and Canadian officers during the Second World War, and now encapsulates 10,000 bottles at slumber as well as an evocative wartime museum.

Available at The Game Bird or at the famous American Bar, be sure to partake of sophisticated drinks created by The Stafford’s director of mixology, Salvatore Megna. These include the sheer, Chablis-inspired “Golden Harvest”, and, served in a glass featuring remarkable, slender bird-like feet, the “Nemesis”, a take on the Margarita including red wine tannins and umeshu.

Although focused on food and wine, Egorov, who, when asked, suggests Daniel Craig could play him in a Bond, film, “albeit asking for a glass of wine instead of a Martini”, is fanatical about fitness, uniting a “very precise exercise routine with a nutritious diet.”

Dishes

Dishes are refined by executive chef Jozef Rogulski, formerly of Cliveden, The Hand and Flowers, and The Waterside Inn, in collaboration with the Champagne loving, Lisa Goodwin-Allen of Northcote, a property famed for its annual “Obsession” festival, during which 10,000 plates are created over 17 days by the likes of James Knappett, Michel and Emily Roux, and Adam Byatt.

Biodynamic wines are unobtrusively woven into Egorov’s list, including the precise Charpentier Terre d’Emotion NV Blanc de Blancs from the Marne Valley, which dovetailed with a brioche-like roll pepped with lemon and wrapped in poppy seeds.

Offered with a trove of accompaniments including capers, cucumber, and dill, smoked salmon is supplied from the smokery of Lance Forman, a former Brexit Party MEP, and author of Forman’s Games: The Dark Underside of the London Olympics. These included a Cure in Orange featuring The Balvenie, further emphasised with a spritz of the single malt from an atomiser, and particularly delicious salmon pastrami. With this, Egorov, whose colleagues, Cesare Alessio Fiore and Lucia Santacroce are studying for the WSET level three sake award, poured a Junmai Daiginjo from Hokkaido into a frozen wine glass – a liquid which he also recommends with oysters and caviar.

Next, a marbled bar of subtle, ham-like, “guinea hen”, topped with contrastingly sharp pickled shallots, spun celeriac remoulade, and a textured garlic crumb, met another biodynamic wine, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht’s Roche Granitique, black mica-hemmed 2019 Riesling from plots skirting grander territories.

With a clearly hand-cut, subtly spiced grass-fed beef tartare featuring charcoal mayonnaise and triple-cooked chips, Egorov thought of pouring a Baden Pinot Noir, instead choosing Weingut Moric’s richer 2021 Burgenland Blaufränkisch rested in foudres with patina, having visited the producer with importer, Lance Foyster from Clark Foyster. “I have a more glou glou version in The American Bar,” he added.

And with roasted monkfish rolled in curry and served with Roscoff onion, finished with a sauce of golden raisin and almond, Egorov chose 2022 Assyrtiko from Santorini producer, Estate Argyros, which he discovered on holiday. “It may be entry-level, though it is still made from vines over a century old, phylloxera never having arrived here.” Egorov also showed a supple, successful Manzanilla featuring a playing card-like label, from Domecq NV.

Finally, with shared double chocolate soufflé so fluffy it gave the welcome illusion of lightness, with hazelnut and raisin ice cream, Egorov dispensed the last pour of his 2021 Bukkuram Sole d’Agosto Passito di Pantelleria from the property of the late Marco de Bartoli, which was mostly depleted faster than the stated twenty minutes which the soufflé took to puff into character.

Last word

On the face of it, The Game Bird has changed little since landing at The Stafford almost seven years ago. However, since Goodwin-Allen and Egorov joined the team in late 2021, subtle and far-reaching refinements have occurred, helping keep this all-day Mayfair stalwart relevant and busy. It helps that Egorov is largely able to maintain his selections with independence. However, freedom is not an attribute celebrated in the rather tired pink on grey, birdie ties which members of the restaurant team are forced to wear. One wishes, to signal that the team are not robots forced into an identikit look, that they could occasionally reach for the assortment of ties suspended from the ceiling of the American Bar, therefore…

Best for

  • Wine dinners in the candlelit cellars
  • Rhône, Burgundy, Bordeaux
  • High-quality baking, from lemon drizzle cake-like brioche roll, to soda bread
  • Trolleys

Value: 92, Size: 96, Range: 94, Originality: 92, Experience: 97; Total: 94.2

The Game Bird – The Stafford Hotel, 16-18 St James’s Place, London, SW1A 1NJ; 0207 493 0111; [email protected]; thestaffordlondon.com

This article originally appeared on the drinks business.

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