There’s no feeling to match that of being slap bang in the heart of it all, with swinging London on your doorstep. The Covent Garden Hotel couldn’t be better located for every kind of West End experience: galleries, shopping, theatre, clubbing – or just watching the world go by. It’s a hop and a skip from the Seven Dials roundabout on Monmouth Street: an excellent vantage point for seeing all manner of London life strut or crawl past. Monmouth Street itself is on the edge of Covent Garden’s main shopping area, and has some very enticing shops, such as CoCo de Mer, Kiehl’s, I Love Voyage, Koh Samui and the Loft, just waiting to gobble your plastic.
Checking into a swanky boutique hotel in London is always going to have a touch of the film star about it; the wonderful thing about this hotel is that while it certainly caters for the well-heeled and deep-pocketed, it also works hard at a genuinely laid-back, home-from-home atmosphere. The entrance has a smart and formal English appearance, softened by down-to-earth staff (the concierge, Nicky, is a trouper who can sort out anything, from umbrellas to show tickets). The decor of our bedroom is more traditional than the lobby areas: tapestry and paisley fabrics, and the CGH’s signature dressmaker’s models feature in all the rooms – very Establishment, and charming for it. We find the usual facilities, from an extensive minibar to VCR, with unexpected touches such as the quintessentially English Roberts radio next to the bed.
Once checked in, we set off for lunch ‘all the way’ over in Marylebone, wanting to check out the Orrery – apparently the jewel in Terence Conran’s empire. It takes us barely half an hour to walk there; we Tube-dependent Londoners forget that so many areas are within walking distance of the centre – Hyde Park, Green Park, the Embankment. From Monmouth Street, you have the option of any number of outings, with the promise of a return, every time, to the calm sanctuary of the hotel (and the daily pick-me-up neck massage offered free to guests).
Before heading to the boudoir for a bath and a roll around on the very roomy bed, we drop by the sitting room for a G&T from the Honesty Bar. Mr Smith sorts out the drinks, and I sink into an armchair built for two to check out the company: foreign families, businessmen, fashionistas and media types – and, oh my goodness, it’s an actor from Hollywood’s A-list. I sidle up to Mr Smith as casually as I can and proudly whisper my celeb spot. We turn around slowly, looking at our shoes, the ceiling, in a vain attempt to conceal our true intent of celeb staring. Mr Smith sounds as though he’s having an asthma attack, and turns me back the other way, gripping my arm frantically. ‘No, it’s Boromir.’ I nod enthusiastically. Well, he has watched Lord of the Rings 16 times.
Once washed and coiffed, we proceed to the 54-seater private cinema (complete with state-of-the-art THX technology and vast cream leather seats). Saturday night is Saturday Film Club, which combines a two-course dinner with the film of the week for the bargain price of £25 a head – the fun bit being you can arrange your dinner around the film: starter beforehand; main course and pudding as a chaser. It was certainly an intimate affair – just six of us watching The Maltese Falcon. We ate in the hotel’s restaurant, Brasserie Max, which serves Modern British food in an airy art deco room.
Next we’re off out and about the buzzing streets of Covent Garden and Soho. The Lab bar on Old Compton Street is a great place with hip folk sipping swish cocktails, right in the thick of it all. After veering into Bar Italia on Frith Street for a steadying latte stop, we headed back to the hotel, picking up the Sunday papers on the way. We head straight to the honesty bar and, topped up with double vodkas, emerge into the smaller of the two lounge areas.
There’s a party of eight celebrating an engagement: will we join them? Smiles all round – yes – and, again, a sharp intake of breath from Mr Smith. Another great celeb spot. Twenty minutes later, and I am singing my heart out solo to ‘Streets of London’ (no reason, it was just that time of night) as a famous comedy actress hushes the ensemble with cries of ‘Go on, girl!’. That’s another great thing about this place – you never know quite who you’ll bump into next.