45 Park Lane
Even the most devoted Londoners might one day leave; but whatever their motivation, they’ll never do it because they’re ‘tired’ of the English capital. Like a particularly creative lover, London always keeps you on your toes, surprising you even when you think you’re ‘over’ surprises. How can you ever grow weary of that? Nothing piqued this more potently than checking into the shimmering, sophisticated 45 Park Lane.
Having made the move to a sleepy seaside town on the South Coast a few years ago, I always felt a nagging temptation to fall back into bed with my hometown. When I carry out these affairs it is in a spirit of perpetual re-discovery, and my dear London never disappoints.
Sprawled across a triangular wodge of prime W1 real estate, there’s nothing subtle about 45 Park Lane. The doorman guarding the glass entrance is uniformed and immaculate; the soaring lobby with its ruby-red leather armchairs, draped curtains and lights fashioned from puffs of silver wire feels more like a member’s club than a hotel. Warm, with an art-deco gleam, this is a truly ‘outernational’ hotel with the added frisson of having a guess-the-provenance clientele and staff.
Our spacious fourth-floor room was elegantly woody and far from ‘girly’, replete with iPad and a bed that rates among my all-time most comfortable. In our Thierry W Despont-styled space Mr Smith and I giggled like a pair of wide-eyed provincial teenagers while we: a) failed to turn on lights; b) failed to tame the air-con; and c) failed open and close the blinds. And we even d) failed to locate a socket to charge our phones. Thankfully, we had our floor’s charming butler to come to the rescue.
While 45 Park Lane may look like a Bladerunner take on the glamorous 1920s, its heartbeat is definitively 21st century, so both humans and Replicants should feel right at home. Technophobes, beware: everything here is controlled via a touchscreen phone system (at least in theory – the paint was barely dry at the Dorchester’s little sis for our visit and we experienced some to-be-expected teething niggles).
Mayfair may not be my old ’hood but it soon had us feeling like there is no quarter of London we’d rather be in. Few addresses are better appointed than this Hyde Park-side spot when it comes to carrying on with so many of the city’s headline acts (including a flirt with my hairdressers, Susan and Joel, at John Frieda: there are some things a girl just doesn’t give up when she quits the city.) We were also just around the corner from one of the city’s loveliest ‘villages’: beloved Shepherd’s Market still has real shops and pubs – it remains a rare genuine urban community thriving discreetly and stylishly but a swerve from the bright lights of Piccadilly. Having that secret 18th-century enclave and the cosy-but-cool Curzon cinema on our doorstep easily kept us busy until bedtime.
After a delicious room-service breakfast in the morning (an error with our egg order was resolved quick-smart), Mr Smith head to a meeting while I kept a date with round-the-corner Selfridges. An eagerly anticipated lunch at CUT was about a good a reason as we could have to reconvene back at the hotel at 1pm. The first European foray for Austrian-born, American-by-inclination superchef Wolfgang Puck, it recalled memories of a fabulous meal at his Santa Monica Chinois a decade ago.
A gallery’s worth of limited-edition Damien Hirsts and the kind of sprauncy see-and-be-seen diners would normally distract us from the food had it not been so compelling. Thanks to bygone days as a restaurant critic, I can be guilty of being picky, but I couldn’t fault any of the three courses. Tuna tartare with wasabi, aioli, ginger and togarashi crisps (no, me neither – but these tasty capsimum chips are definitely not Walkers), was followed by a melt-in-the-mouth filet mignon (with perfect frites) and a scrumptious banana cream pie. Our set-menu feast came to £55 a head including a glass of wine; given the quality of the food and service, that seemed almost insanely cheap… 24 hours in Mayfair can do that to you.
Feeling light of head and comfortably heavy everywhere else, Mr Smith and I ambled up Piccadilly to see an exhibition at the Royal Academy. After that, I whizzed Mr Smith up to the top of the Hilton (right next door to 45), for a cocktail-with-a-view at Windows. It’s a little cheesy, sure, but Mr Smith had never been – and if there is one place guaranteed to give a very different perspective on the city we’d both called home, it’s up there on the 28th floor at dusk.
Back in the quiet comfort of 45, I realised this is no fly-by-night flibbertigibbet of a boutique hotel (I always think of hotels in the feminine, like ships) – no, this one’s a keeper. Just like her older sibling the Dorchester across the road (whose facilities you can fully exploit), you get the sense that 45 will be around for a very long time. When even iPads are techno-history and retro hand-operated curtains are back in vogue, she’ll still have those gracious view-blessed rooms and a twinkle in her eye. London may no longer be home, but thanks to our fling with 45 Park Lane she’s still the perfect place for an away game.
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Smith extra at 45 Park Lane
A bottle of wine selected by the head sommelier