Brown’s Hotel – Mayfair
Choose a London hotel for under £100 a night and you are hoping the physical basics are covered and you can get some sleep. Have the sheets been changed? Is the shower tray clean? Is the carpet meant to be flecked or does it have crabs?
When you double that price, you’re sure the basics are right and you’re booking for some kind of style distinction: calm minimalism or late-Baroque curtain swagging, say.
Pay more than £250 for a basic room and you’re basically buying a guarantee that the hardware matches the living, breathing software; its unlikely you’ll want daren’t crack a smile haughtiness if you’re staying amongst Californian prints and flop chairs.
Browns knows what it’s good for. The hardware style of those eleven Georgian townhouses grown together over 200 years is classic English townhouse (wood, brass, shoes, all polished, polished, polished) and the software lives up to it: European, educated, empathetic.
I checked in at 4pm on the day when that lovely couple who were definitely going to exchange contracts on our house by the 5pm deadline had suddenly gone to ground; I had a meeting with one of London’s wealthiest operators the next morning (for which I still hadn’t done all my homework) and I was due out for dinner with someone I’d never met at 7pm. It’s one of those days when I daren’t take a drink because I know alcohol doesn’t mix well with adrenaline.
It’s always a good start when the front doors are opened in advance of your foot falling on the welcome mat – don’t you just hate that passive-aggressive, slightly-too-late opening of a door which is done to tell you that, Yes I opened the door for you but by making you wait just a fraction, I’ve reminded you of the service I was delivering? There was in-room check-in too which is good but to be honest, I was still looking to pick a fight over something as I left the lobby; possibly if the bellboy taking me up to the room pulled the same kind of matey stance his colleague behind the desk was, talking with a guest about his music collections.
Over the course of the five minutes it takes the bellboy to get me into my room he talks me down from my metaphorical rooftop. In the lift he waits to see if I’ll make a conversational move; when I do, he listens like the best private doctor to what I have to say, then he doesn’t flaunt his education in his reply and manages to mix in just the smallest hint of wit and flattery to make it all more enjoyable.
So when he opens the door to my room, I’m no longer looking for a fight but I am still wound up.
The best room in the house at Browns is probably the Kipling Royal Suite. The decor is calming, basically taupe (which will be the early 21st century’s answer to the 70s Avocado bathroom suite and the 80s pink dining room), with accents of deeper earth colours and good use of different textures: hardwood floors, deep rugs, starched sheets on the beds topped with fluffy angora throws.
The drawing room has 3 floor to ceiling windows (all triple-glazed) and working fireplaces with good open floor space. But the magic, the charm is in the flattery of the overall concept: you’re urbane, in London for business but elevated enough in your business not to be working 24 hours a day. So, there are shelves of box-fresh books – good ones too. I don’t mean the clever ones you think you should be reading and torture yourself with on a 12-hour flight. I mean the books you buy when you step off the plane and you want something you’ll enjoy. Theres PG Wodehouse, theres a poetry anthology, theres a life of Churchill. Even, by chance, there’s a book that’s going to help me with my preparation for the mornings meeting. Theres also a good balance between soft seating and functional desk space. There are flat-screen TVs, which are big but not dominant, a good variety of streamed music and room enough to avoid kneeing the furniture. Theres also an unpacking service which sometimes seems like an intrusion but today saves me the twenty minutes I need to get on with my preparation for tomorrow.
Theres water on the table. Better, there’s fruit. I don’t how little it costs to put a bowl of fruit into a room for a guests arrival, but if you’ve just flown across the Atlantic (or got stuck coming down Piccadilly, which can take about the same amount of time) it’s worth most of the extra cost of the room straightaway.
The walk-in wardrobes are getting big enough to be dressing rooms.
The bathrooms are what you’d expect limestone and mosaic tiled but have proper sized baths with a small TV in the wall at your feet.
The toiletries are, strangely, not the best or coolest on the market, but Fortes own label, which is a wrong note. I just don’t believe that if your expertise is in putting the best hotel together, you’re also going to be the best cosmetic scientists at mixing up bubble bath.
Just after 6 o’clock, I’ve had my emergency shirt pressing, I’ve eaten the fruit, I’ve calmed down. The phone call comes through and the exchange of contracts on the house somehow happened.
I shift down a gear, get in the bath, switch on the TV in the wall at my feet and give myself half an hours rest. Browns has a certain type of magic. Partially it’s the history of the buildings, partially it’s the history of what they’ve seen. The French government in exile during World War II stayed here, Churchill stayed here, and Kipling stayed here to write. They were always going to be able to cope with my temporary housing crisis. CHRIS WEST