Brown’s Hotel London is what one could call the epitomal English luxury hotel, with no arrogance and a lot of understatement. It is not even on a main street: its front and rear entrances are on two side roads at right angles to Piccadilly – it started, in fact, as two establishments, Brown’s on Dover Street and St George’s, on Albemarle Street. Go in to what is now one, 117-room, hotel and you are in a theatre of polished wood and glass, and tiles and lots of fresh flowers, says the gal. Go past the drawing room and, day long, local business people are holding meetings here, and, from noon on, the afternoon tea crowd takes over.
Generously, they now give you two hours for tea, and as well as the usual goodies on a curate’s stand (delicate crust-free sandwiches, scones and things like that), you choose pastries from a trolley. I did not do tea: I went up to 218, a really lovely suite designed, as with all Rocco Forte hotels, by Olga Polizzi, and I wished I had time to read some of the books, especially the William Shawcross biography of The Queen Mother. I was sidelined by reading an additional room service menu, with health dishes by nutritionalist Madeline Shaw, author of Ready Steady Glow, and then I had a session in the gym, where they thoughtfully offer coconut water and bottled green tea as well as water.
I DID do lunch, in Hix, by Mark Hix, and thank goodness we had a reservation, it was full – the draw is the very-English ambience, with modern art by the likes of Tracey Emin, plus the really attentive service, and the food. What better to choose, I thought, than home-smoked salmon, and a Dover sole, which I had chargrilled rather than pan-fried. They had a rib roast on the trolley that day, and as it was wheeled past I thought wow, to make an impact every restaurant should get one of those trolleys, with a bulbous shiny silver top big enough to have a whole roast hog underneath.
This addictive luxury hotel has been run for the last ten years by Stuart Johnson, as English as the establishment. Our lunch was the proverbial equivalent of a ‘last supper’ as now he has already handed the reins over (to an Italian, Marco Novella): Mr J is on his way, to Shanghai. He is going to open Sir Rocco Forte’s forthcoming hotel, as yet un-named, on the top of a 52-floor tower being built on the West Bund, near the new cruise terminal. Undoubtedly the talented Olga Polizzi – who happens to be Mrs William Shawcross, by the way – will work her design magic there, with a Sino touch. If you want to see what my suite at Brown’s looks like, see the video below.