Sofitel St James London, at the junction of Waterloo Place and Pall Mall, is a classic bank building that you could pass many times without realising it is one of the city’s most enjoyable luxury hotels. It is, indeed, a former bank, built 1923 for Cox & Co. Typical of the culture of the place, says the gal, details of its history are engraved on a glass wall just inside the main entrance. Overall, the 186-room hotel combines English heritage with a very noticeable French flair, thanks not only to its brand but also to its Parisian GM, Nicolas Pesty, one of the funniest hoteliers on the luxury circuit.
And he is detail-obsessed. He shows me how the five-room SoSpa – street entrance, Carita and Cinq Mondes and hammam – has been built, theatrically, within the heritage-protected framework of the original building. The 1923 ceiling cornices are visible up through the open tops of both the lower and upper floors of the spa. Next to the upper floor of the spa is the 24/7 SoFit gym, with well-chosen Technogym bits, some walls lime green and some holding, behind glass, living-wall areas. Thoughtful details show everywhere. In suite 311, themed for acting legend Dame Peggy Ashcroft, the night tray bears not only local tourist information but a pristine copy of the current Economist.
This is a hotel for culture-lovers. The location is theatre-land, and it is handy for Buckingham Palace and St James’s Park, and Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. After a busy few hours’ foot-slog, relax over afternoon tea in the Rose Lounge, an inner room that has been made so attractive through a profusion of blooms, painted on wallpaper and in reality in vases, that it is only later you realise this is an interior space. Go the other direction from the lobby and you can go into the busy-busy bar, and on through this to Balcon restaurant, or go directly into the restaurant. This is a double-height eating space with another, Pall Mall street-set, entrance, and double height windows, a reminder that this was formerly a banking hall. It is such an attractive venue that only later do some realise this is a hotel restaurant (Balcon is about to be re-done, but its new name and concept are not yet known).
That notwithstanding, of course having a Frenchman in charge, and one who has an ‘F&B background’ as well, food at this luxury hotel is superb. My dinner was a sorrel, goat’s curd and beetroot salad, with some dandelion and walnuts throw in for good measure, and a whole lemon sole meunière, with a glass of Côte-de-Brouilly Les Volcaniques 2015 Beaujolais Jacques Charlet. And there are happy breakfast memories too. The menu has a whole section of ‘eggs from Clarence Court’, the dark-yolked eggs I use at home – I could have the Feel Good items, say crushed avocado with Cornish crab on an ‘activated’ charcoal waffle, I could have paid £20 extra for a Moët split. As always, it seems, I saw something new, at least to me: long baguettes are placed in a wooden trough with diagonal slits, making it easy to cut exact portions. My life in luxury hotels is continually fully of surprises. NOW ENJOY THE PEGGY ASHCROFT SUITE