The Stafford Hotel is an out-of-the-way gem in the London hotel scene and is situated off St James’s Street towards Green Park. You can walk to it easily from Green Park station by walking down the side of the park and through a little-known passageway that connects to St James’s Place. Once you find the hotel you may never want to leave.
Inside the old building you’ll find a modern restaurant called The Game Bird which is overseen by executive chef Jozef Rogulski with chef Ben Tish providing consultancy. The cooking is classical using modern methods, the ingredients first rate and the overall atmosphere is refined yet casual.
I explained to Jozef as we sat down to chat in the courtyard that despite all the years I have spent in kitchens and reporting on chefs and restaurants I had never been to The Stafford. Jozef trained with Michel and Alain Roux at The Waterside Inn and then at Cliveden House and was classically trained.
He was excited that we had come to visit and keen to talk about a game dish that he had been working on. It was a loin of venison cured in treacle and thyme and then roasted until it was “a point” or perfectly medium rare. He made a sauce out of the bones which was flavoured with anise and cloves to accentuate the meat and served it with a pressed potato and truffle slice and some Savoy cabbage purée and girolle mushrooms.
What was interesting to me was the way he cooked the venison loin. This was first butchered and trimmed much like a fillet of beef until it was free of fat and sinew and then was fried gently in butter with garlic and thyme.
Jozef wanted to achieve a good colour on the meat without getting too much heat into it. The treacle helped with this. At this stage it went into what would have once been called a medium oven – 160º until it reached a core temperature of about 35º. It then sat and rested while Jozef cooked the mushrooms in the sauce with some added butter. The whole process was like watching an old-school chef.
“The point is to retain classical methods but update them,” he explained. “I don’t like to cook at high temperatures. BY cooking more slowly the meat rests and doesn’t get tough. The muscles relax. What you have to remember is that although the meat came out of the oven at 35º it will continue to rise.”
And that was what happened. By the time the meat was ready to be carved and the dish plated it had risen to 55º. The meat was perfectly cooked, tender and the balance of all the flavours was delicious and very well judged.
Game can be difficult to cook because of its leanness and Jozef’s use of lower oven temperatures and gentle pan roasting was inspired.
“I didn’t want to use a water bath,” he said. “I’m not against them but in this instance I wanted that roast flavour to come through but done more slowly.”
Written by Chandos Elletson
Editor, The Great Game Guide