A brisk five-minute walk from my office on Savile Row, through the crowds of meandering tourists gawping at the bright lights of London’s West End, and I’m already in the lobby of my stylish stay for the night, bang on Haymarket. This feels strange; I only live 10 minutes down the road. ‘Have you come far?’ enquires the smiling person at the Haymarket Hotel's front desk, glancing at my miniscule piece of luggage. Before I can elaborate with some convoluted story involving lost bags or builders, Mrs Smith arrives, carrying even less. Would we be using the same name throughout our stay? A ‘yes’ from me, and a ‘no’ from Mrs Smith induces a knowing grin from the receptionist, who obviously thinks we’ve only just met in an internet chatroom, and have decided right away that the most upmarket place to initiate an illicit affair is at this hip London hotel round the corner from Trafalgar Square.
A cursory tour of the ground-floor guest areas takes us through an airy, art?filled conservatory, a sultry, sofa-filled library and an elegant drawing room, giving us a chance to take in Kit Kemp’s signature classic-yet-quirky clash of fabrics and furnishings, before being escorted up to our suite. At this point I remember having heard the word ‘upgrade’ mentioned – and when I see the size of our quarters, I realise this actually does mean that we’re about to experience the hotel equivalent of turning left as you board the front of a 747. The simple fact that our new abode has four doorways indicates to us that it’s first class; add to that two bathrooms, a bedroom and a living room.
After a quick scoot around, deciding who’s having which bathroom, we collapse on a plump sofa to take in our breezy modern British surroundings. The view from our bed is of a timeless, distinguished London side street, a beautiful Nash building mirroring our own fine Regency dwelling. This is a place where country?house charm meets London sophistication, where the home?from?home atmosphere is a refreshing departure from the usual five-star offerings in this postcode. We concur it would be the perfect base for a Hollywood star staying for an extended period while treading the boards locally; a hunch that is later evidenced when we just catch a famous face dart behind the Tony Cragg sculpture in reception.
The 50-room Haymarket Hotel prides itself on all of its sleeping salons having a unique personality. This is no temple to minimalism: fresh colours and textures abound, not to mention old and antique furniture of various shapes and sizes. The super?high bed reminds me of the kind usually only experienced from behind a velvet rope, when you’re dragged around stately homes as a child. Among Mrs Smith’s professional accomplishments are fabric and textile design, and eyeing up the pretty, contemporary chintz of the curtains, with candy-striped cushions and boldly upholstered padded headboards, she declares it wonderfully cosy and comfortable. A compliment not to be sniffed at when delivered by a native of Sweden, where tastes lean towards a simpler, more functional approach to decor.
Sure, there are museums, theatres, shops and nightlife galore here in St James’s. But, by now officially in holiday mode (despite it being a workday on home soil), Mrs Smith and I forgo plans to see a film at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in favour of the novelty of slipping into swimwear for a pre-dinner dip. The pool is in the basement, and my initial fear of a glorified birdbath in a strip-lighting-illuminated dungeon couldn’t have been more misplaced. Its Yves Klein-blue 18-metre splendour sparkles under twinkling lights, flanked by a fully stocked bar along one wall and a sprinkling of gold chaises longues. This is a fantasy grotto for grown-ups and, amplifying the ‘Club Tropicana’ kitsch appeal, on our visit, half of it is covered up with a temporary dancefloor. Sadly, before we’ve a chance to wonder if the ‘drinks are free’, and just as we’re poised to plunge into the inviting water, someone pops their head round the door to apologetically announce that it’s reserved for a one-off event – a rarity, we’re told. Still, the needle on our imaginary Wham! soundtrack comes to a screeching halt, and we trudge back to our boudoir, plotting to return later.
As a decent alternative to splashing about in public, we decide that the marble bathrooms might compensate for our swimmus interruptus. Filling the bath, and pouring in a cocktail of the Miller Harris potions, we luxuriate in a haze of sweet scents for an episode of The Simpsons on the big flatscreen TV. Not quite as highbrow as the ICA documentary but, as the remote bobs in the water like a new-age rubber duck, we agree it’s probably a damn sight more fun.
As an aficionado of the Piccadilly locale, I’m familiar with what this well-trodden patch of central London has on offer. So, heading for the hotel’s own eatery, Brumus, suits us just fine. With its own potent colours and cunningly contrasting textures (but of a darker and richer variety), the restaurant has an intimate and, dare I say it, romantic feel. We’re shown to our seats by the window, and having briefly looked at the menus, we reach across the table to hold hands and simultaneously gaze out onto this famous London street – and note the less-than-starry-eyed souls queuing for the 159 bus outside.
As darkness falls, we become more invisible to the throngs outside and are soon entertained by the comings and goings of excited Phantom of the Opera ticket-holders across the road. The people-watching reveals more eccentricities than the international cuisine, which plays it a little safer than you’d expect in such a bold habitat. Still, that doesn’t stop us enjoying one too many glasses of something chilled and Italian in blissed-out comfort, and down the corridor we bounce towards our suite. We’re a little thrown by voices emanating from our room; a quick double-check – it’s definitely the right number. Ahh, the bedside radio has been tuned into something classical. ‘How cosy,’ proclaims Mrs Smith again. Although this time there’s a glint in her eye. I’m hoping that means the last thing on her mind is an appreciation of the upholstery…