When the offer arises to experience one of London’s most desirable hotel debutantes, I can’t resist – especially since it’s but a stumble from this couple’s Covent Garden office. But don’t let beaded curtains and neon adults-only signs creep into your imagination at the mention of Soho – Kit and Tim Kemp’s transformation of a former carpark at the end of a cul de sac couldn’t be any further from that ever-fading image. And though, just like the namesake districts in Manhattan and Hong Kong, it’s as bustling as neighbourhoods come, this chic-sleep sister to the Covent Garden Hotel is a bubble of cool calm amid a storm.
As we veer off Wardour Street and head towards a twinkly-lit porch, a sharply dressed doorman is waiting to welcome us to us to this extraordinary urban Neverland. A 10-foot-tall porcelain Botero cat sculpture, oversized plant pots and a clash of driftwood and neon-tinted Perspex are a refreshing alterative to the marble and brass lobbies of most hotels in this postcode. (And the pebble-adorned pillars must have fans of home-makeover shows scribbling in their notepads.) The only reminder at check-in of the hotel’s all-but-airbrushed motoring past is a collage of Botero’s puss comprised of tax discs and Monopoly board strips.
It’s only 6pm on a week night, but the tea-light-dotted lobby, and Refuel, the hotel’s bar and restaurant, are already buzzing. This is an establishment where the watering hole and eatery have independent allure; local folk flee editing suites and photography studios for after-work tipples perched at the long, pewter bar, under the deco-style auto-themed mural. As we pass Refuel’s glass front, we can’t resist craning to spy which famous faces are among the chattering masses tonight. (I spot a big-name DJ, and Mr Smith clocks an award-winning director.)
A magnet for movers and shakers, the pony-skin seats of the screening room downstairs regularly hold the derrières of the most high-falutin’, and a daringly decorated cocktail lounge and function room hosts endless star-studded launches. (And should guests who are less keen to see and be seen want to escape the media mêlée, there’s an elegant all-white, pink-lit library, and lime and fuchsia-accented drawing room on the ground floor to retreat to.)
The Soho Hotel is much bigger than you’d imagine, and we’re grateful for a friendly escort through the pretty paisley corridors. Our spacious deluxe digs are sunny and cheery – even though, outside, the weather is anything but. The fresh country-manor kiss to the decor of faded painted rustic furniture, and pastel- and bright-coloured prints, bedspread and curtains are, rather uniquely, the stuff that both Country Living and Elle Deco dreams are made of.
Sadly the photo-shoot feel doesn’t last, as I decide to unpack and get changed for dinner. (This Mrs Smith has a knack of transforming a showroom-perfect setting into a movie scene depicting a locale that’s just been turned over in a hunt for a top-secret microchip.) Clothes shucked and cosmetics strewn, and I’m prancing around, clad only in shoes, when the doorbell rings. I lunge into the respectable, roomy marble bathroom and grab one of the cotton-wool-soft Henry VIII-dimensioned robes.
Settling down with his room service-delivered Tanqueray and tonic, I wonder if Mr Smith has noticed my fresh purchase from around-the-corner shop Agent Provocateur. It proves challenging even for a beribboned cleavage to compete with such a perfectly mixed G&T and the enormous olives delivered with it. At least the guy sitting at his computer in the building over the road (provided he is extremely long-sighted) can appreciate my cabaret. Shame he’s not looking. I abandon my burlesque show and suggest we head down for dinner. At the mention of which my chap’s mouth is at long last watering.
It is when Mr Smith glimpses the wine list when I finally get the boggle-eyed, raised-eyebrows response that I’d hoped my lacy smalls might have achieved. ‘They do each one by the glass,’ he puffs, excited that he can have a Chablis with his foie gras parfait, a Mendoza with his Aberdeen Angus beef fillet, and a muscat with tarte tatin. Plans of visiting one of the many cocktail joints within stumbling distance start to fade, usurped by the desire to spend as much of our stay in situ.
After a fireside nightcap from the honesty bar in the drawing room, we return to a boudoir fresh from a magic turndown service. All traces of my Tasmanian devil tendencies have been tidied away, and rather wonderfully, mineral water and an aromatherapy spray labelled ‘sleep well’ have appeared on the bedside tables. The sheets have been folded back invitingly. Mr Smith collapses on the bed, smiling. ‘I’ve never known a post-work night out like it,’ he sighs. ‘And one I could get used to,’ I think to myself…