‘I’m taking us away for a romantic weekend,’ says pregnant Mrs Smith to her (not-pregnant) Mrs Smith. ‘Excellent, where?’ she replies, Parisian hideaways and Moroccan oases virtually visible in her thought bubble. ‘Regents Park!’ I say as quickly and enthusiastically as I can, watching her face crumple ever so slightly before regaining its usual glow. But Mrs Smith and I have indulged in away weekends in our hometown before and there are serious plus points... 20 minutes to pack, doing door-to-door in under half an hour, and locals who speak the same language.
Let me set the scene. We rock up at York & Albany about 7ish on Friday evening; it isn’t a spirit of adventure that prevails, more a couple of broken spirits the result of brutal work weeks for both. Opening the door to this boutique boozer, we’re bombasted by Camden trendies on their Friday night out. Mrs Smith’s eyes light up in a way that I’ve learnt means ‘martini!’. This worn-out preghead is more tempted to spray venom on the assembled crowd. Not the ideal start to a romantic escape.
As the bar and restaurant is all that most people know about Y&A, it’s with great delight that I'd like to nudge you beyond the Gordon Ramsay-polished front of house to the demure hotel part of this beautiful Regency building. Like Dorothy and Toto post-twister, we pass through to the other side, an entirely contrasting setting. Chatter is replaced by calm; where we saw trendies we see trees; and in place of rowdy comes roomy. Cue these Mrs Smiths find the ticket to their dreamy weekend away.
Food, as you can imagine, is important at this stylish London stay. So it is after regrouping in our attic room, we head eagerly down to supper. A table-booking tip: I say, book a table downstairs. The ground floor is a dining room in the usual Gordon group get-up (not that noteworthy, more indiscriminately posh); in the burgundy bordelloey space below diners can eat next to an open kitchen. Bringing colour and life to the dining experience, we think we’d have preferred the subterranean option. The culinary highlights for us? A raviolo with garlic potato puree and a poached hen’s egg inside. Silky spuds + oozy yolk = sexy plate of food. Other memorables are a great lamb dish with a prize-winning salsa verde – well, I’d have given it a prize if I’d had one to hand – and a salted caramel parfait accompanied by a pear sorbet that brings clarity to all senses.
Flanked by Grade-I listed buildings, Regents Park and a pretty canal, the York & Albany is situated on the crossroads of a somewhat sprawling London junction. So we’re not expecting such peace to greet us as we breakfast downstairs on Saturday morning. It is as though we’ve been transported from a corner of NW1 to a private lodge in the country thanks to leafy park views, minimal traffic and a wonderful sense of space afforded by the fine Regency architecture and its huge windows. Reading the hotel’s literature, I glean that this fine John Nash building was a 1820s coaching inn and for a moment I feel a world away from modern-day London. Over home-made yoghurt with seasonal fruit – for once, this word that’s lost meaning through overuse, applies to our strawberries and raspberries – and we plot the rest of our day in NW1.
Camden Market, with all of its bustle and people-watching, is a 10-minute walk away – perfect for those after the full-on London experience. Having done it to death as a teenager, I have different plans. A weekend this close to London Zoo surely has to incorporate a some gorilla gawping. So we stroll to one of my favourite foodie pubs the Lansdowne in Primrose Hill for some pre-primate Bloody Marys (for the missus) and a spot of lunch. Our afternoon of animal ogling is rounded off perfectly with tea and cakes back at our lodgings. This has honestly been one of our best Saturday afternoons in the city in a long time.
Now, a confession: we move room for our second night. The first was in a smallish boudoir right at the top of the building where we enjoyed gorgeous park views. And a game of ‘How on earth did they ever get that huge wardrobe into the room?' Also a round of ‘How many variations on beige can the decor include? (From walls to curtain, all trims are differently textured hessian hues.) Still, it isn’t taupe overload that drives us out, but the lack of a bath. This hippo-sized Mrs Smith (with nearly complete baby hippo inside) needs somewhere to wallow. And the move proves a good one: although we’ve lost the treetops, they’re adequately replaced with tub enough for a bloat of hippos – my new favourite collective noun. Plus the original Regency details in the ceiling and the four-poster bed win top marks. A bed that ends up playing a bigger role in our Saturday-night story than we were expecting.
I’ve made reservations at nearby restaurant Market on Parkway, but after the excitement of the day and the calming cake, a nap seems in order. You know where this is (or isn’t) going… Several hours later we come to. Befuddled by the fact it’s nearly 9pm, we apologise to the restaurant and order room service and a movie. This is no club sandwich scenario. Picture a full-on gastronomic experience thanks to an excellent bar menu; exemplary polpette and a stunning pinot noir from the cellar – all without leaving our bed. Lying under the canopy of our four-poster, I’m the antithesis of the person I was 24 hours earlier. I can’t remember being this happy and chilled – and certainly not in the Capital. So, in the words of Gordon himself… job done!
Anonymously reviewed by Allegra McEvedy (First lady of fast food)
Whenever you book a stay at a Mr & Mrs Smith, we'll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what real-life guests had to say in York & Albany's guestbook below.
I liked everything, especially the service.
If I'm really being picky, the bathroom sink plug was missing.
M A, BlackSmith stayed on 20 Aug 2013
We got an amazing rate at this hotel, and enjoyed the speedy check-in. Room 7 has an exceptionally comfy bed, a large bathroom with an excellent rain shower, and fruit and water in the room. The rate included continental breakfast, which was very good, and a Pimm's cocktail at check-in which was a welcome touch. It was a very comfortable stay and an excellent location for us, especially with the bar/restaurant downstairs that I used for a business meeting. There was good service to boot.
Only a very few slight touches could be improved: the door lock was broken, and the grate in the shower was slightly loose. I didn't see a lift, but the two flights of stairs were not a problem for us. Parking was hit and miss; there's a bay right across the road that's free on weekends. They're very minor issues; overall, the stay was excellent.
Lee, GoldSmith stayed on 8 Aug 2013
The rooms were tastefully decorated and the bathroom was amazing with lovely bath products to use. Additional touches like classy mags, bottled water and fruit also made the stay more special. We loved the fact we were treated to a glass of bubbly on arrival. Breakfast was gorgeous and service for this was great. Location: fab.
Check-in and check-out could have been quicker. Room service after a late-night concert would have been great.
karey, BlackSmith stayed on 15 Jun 2013
Staff incredibly helpful and accommodating. I was going to a concert in the evening, which meant missing the room service deadline. They arranged for a delicious seared tuna loin and other equally yummy bits to be in my room when I got back. Breakfast in the pub the following morning was pleasant and leisurely.
Next time I go, I'll ask for the room temperature to be lower as it was pretty warm!
Antonia, GoldSmith stayed on 30 May 2013
We visited the York Albany for a one-night break and had a fantastic time. Room 2 (a Superior room) was perfect for us – lovely comfy bed, and even a bath! The food was, as expected, fantastic, as were the cocktails in the bar. The excellent service from all the staff, particularly the bar staff, made our stay really relaxing, despite being just a few minutes away from central London! We would highly recommend it.
Quite small bathroom.
alice, BlackSmith stayed on 4 May 2013
The quality of the food, the comfort of the bed, the friendliness of the front of house staff, the quality of the champagne, the water pressure of the shower, the champagne :-)
The memory of the staff in the restaurant... wrong wine, missing side dish, forgot to bring the bill...
Ben, GoldSmith stayed on 13 Sep 2012
Very handy for Regents Park and Camden Town, with very friendly staff. Small hotel so need to book early if you want to stay. Good-sized rooms and a lovely location: I Would definitely stay again.
Violet, BlackSmith stayed on 20 Jun 2012
We enjoyed this hotel very much and the location near Regent's Park was superb. We had a quirky room and the reception staff were great. We have a few pointers for the hotel but don't take these as major complaints – hopefully it will just make the hotel better. The room had all the nice little extras we've come to expect like slippers and dressing gowns but NO SOAP or even handwash equivalent. Even if there had been some there was no shelf above the very trendy basin to put anything on. We were only there one night but the loo roll ran out and there was no spare. With no in-room tea or coffee it seems a little mean to supply little cups for £2.50 on room service. These are the same size cups they use in the bar/restaurant but while it may earn them a few extra pounds, it just makes you want to go elsewhere for refreshments. Finally I had to grovel on my hands and knees to plug the hairdryer in. They are all small points but they can make a difference.
Tony, BlackSmith stayed on 5 May 2012
My stay at the York & Albany is difficult to put into words. It was just so awesome and so special: the people, the ambience, the room, the food – just everything. The people who are working there made me feel safe and supported me as I was visiting London alone as a trial of courage. The food was excellent. For me it's definitively MY place to return when I visit the city again.
Rahel, BlackSmith stayed on 11 Apr 2012