The Guinea Grill, Mayfair

I’ve been drinking in the Guinea on and off, for over 15 years, depending on where I or clients are based. It’s a small, gloriously old fashioned Youngs boozer that has (I think) the classic picture of the Queen Mum and / or Charles pouring a pint, all the Youngs beers you’d expect and a very mixed clientele.

I’ve drunk in there with working class sth London boys made good and not so good; aristocratic ex guards officers, oil and mining types, journalists, bankers, mercenaries and spooks. Basically it’s a local boozer that services a diverse community, and does so very well, providing a discreet boot hole for a swift pint or an all day session.

The light and bitter is very good, even if I’m the only person that drinks it. Well kept Ordinary that is always perfectly clear and if I’m lucky and get one of the new staff, I can persuade them to serve me an old fashioned measure. Sorry Osh. The Guinness is probably the best in a mile or so and at lunch they have truly exceptional old fashioned pies (steak & kidney/ mushroom) and an outstanding oxtail sandwich that has shaved horseradish that is a cure for the common cold.

It’s recently been taken over by a new guvnor, an Irishman who London is fortunate enough to have received some time ago. He used to have the Ship at Wandsworth which was always a grand place in the rugby season and has enhanced the Guinea with an eye for detail and a bit of spit, polish and staff training. Most professional reviewers say he’s good at his s job, I’m not arguing.

So far, this is a review of a seemingly discreet boozer (it’s in a sort of alley of Berkeley Square) that lots of people know about. It can be heavingly busy of a Thursday evening, Friday lunch or anytime around Christmas. The difference is what’s behind the pub.

If you are a few years younger than me, you probably can’t imagine London without Hawksmoor. You could be forgiven for thinking that they introduced the idea of a top quality British steakhouse to London. Their PR has done a good job in creating this perception, especially as previous and slightly less grand competitors such as Chez Gerrard bit the dust and Gaucho pushes the Argentine brand hard. I’m not complaining, I’m a big fan and I remain very grateful to them for many good meals and drinks. Particularly drinks, they do great cocktails.

However before Hawksmoor there was The Guinea Grill. It’s a singularly old school British / Irish take on how to serve grilled and roast meat, something they do as well as anywhere in London – with the benefit of the onsite pub as well.

Due in part to the location, there’s muted wooden panels, velvet cushioned chairs, silver service, buttered & creamed veg and a wine list hefty enough to facilitate GBH on either a fellow diner or your wallet. The list itself is what you’d expect; a top quality traditional selection. I tend to continue drinking beer as I’ll be going back to work, but there’s some good stuff on it, including a longtime personal favourite, Musar, which is a slightly racy but imaginative addition, not seen as much as it should be.

One’s fellow punters are almost all chaps; very old Mayfair, to the point my chippy sarf London half Irish persona gets turned up to 10. Every time I walk in, I feel like a bit of an outsider, then I realise I’ve worked in energy and capital markets for a long time and this is a community of which I’m part.

And then the food and drink starts and all my chippyness falls away because it’s so bloody good. The happy contended hum of a small dining room sharing a very good lunch is a great thing. Even the bread and butter is an exampler of what bread and butter is meant to be. Chewey and yeasty balanced by rich cream. Yum.

I’m yet to have a starter or desert, because I can’t afford to nap after lunch; but you come here for the meat. The steak is as good as it gets. The thing with this sort of food is there’s nowhere to hide. Source great meat. Cook it on a hot grill with necessary seasoning. Trad sides such as spinach and chips or even fried eggs must not trample over the main event, but must be simple and therefore they are either perfect or not good enough. The Guinea does it right time after time. I particularly like the bearnaise, which has a nice tang to balance the richness.

There’s pretty much all cuts available, and a wider menu that has more trad grill classics such as chops, a pretty hefty looking mixed grill, beef wellington and the same pies you get in the pub.

There’s also the best private room in London which would be great for big birthday party, or as I did a few years ago, a massive blowout following completion of a testing work project.

So, in conclusion, it’s a great little boozer with a very good old school grill room behind it, run by a talented manager and team who make sure you feel welcomed.

As an online sparring partner suggested recently with (I hope) more humour than snark, “why don’t you work remotely from there paddy?”

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