St James's Hotel & Club
Bond Street, Park Lane, Mayfair. All of the coveted properties of the London Monopoly board line the path to our hotel. As a child, you just knew that you were a winner if these cards were in your hand, and as an adult it’s no different. With each passing street and landmark, we realise we’re in for something very special.
As we approach a quiet cul-de-sac just off St James’s Street, we catch our first glimpse of the elegant St James’s Hotel & Club. The red façade of the imposing townhouse, against the backdrop of snow flurries, seems quite perfect for a Valentine’s weekend away.
As we step inside, friendly faces, warm glowing lights and silk-lined walls await our arrival. The receptionist shows us to our room, and forgoes the standard room tour (at our request), allowing us to explore the nifty gadgets and opulent surrounds ourselves. Later, though, we realise we should have had her identify the little knob in the bathroom that we never quite figured out.
Before heading back out into the horizontal pelting sleet and snow, I pour two glasses of cognac and Mr Smith slips the iPod in the Bose SoundDock. The melodic voice of Jason Mraz infiltrates the space and we survey our rooms. Yes, rooms – a living area, bedroom and a fabulously appointed bathroom.
Both the bedroom and sitting room are illuminated with Murano glass chandeliers and swathed in sensuous materials – velvet, silk, leather and cashmere. Carefully curated art pops against a soothing palette of taupe, cream and steely grey. Modern aristocracy with a wink and a nod to contemporary style best sums up the vibe.
Before I make my way into the next room, Mr Smith summons me with these words, ‘The bathroom was clearly designed with Mr & Mrs Smith in mind!’ He’s right of course, and for a moment I am enthralled by the massive tub, L’Occitane toiletries, heated towels, a built-in LCD television and fluffy robes. Not to mention the large glass rain-head shower with a granite bench. I love the Mr Steam unit that allows us to turn our shower into a personal steam room. A clever touch.
I refrain from filling the bath and diving in until after dinner. We grab two umbrellas and make our way towards Covent Garden for dinner. Mr Smith and I have a rule about dining and local cuisine, one should usually avoid ordering ‘non-indigenous’ meals. The corollary to the rule is don’t order blackened catfish outside of Louisiana. We know this lesson far too well from experience, and almost always end up disappointed.
However, ask any Texan expat what cuisine she misses most, and the answer is usually Mexican (purists will say Tex-Mex). So you can imagine our excitement when we heard about a fabulous Mexican restaurant in London. Clearly we have decided to throw all rules out the window for just a weekend. Plus, it is London. If you are going to find decent Mexican food in the UK, it’s going to be in London, isn’t it?
Apparently we are not the only ones to hear of Wahaca. A long queue of fashionable diners, also desperate to get in, lines the long staircase leading to the large, modern restaurant and bar. Being in no hurry, we make our way to the bar and order mint-infused mojitos concocted with tequila rather than traditional rum. One word: yum! The heart of the menu is hispanic street food of the type one would find from local vendors in Mexico City. We order slow-cooked pork corn tacos, Mexican noplaito (cactus) tostadas, smoked mackerel with black beans and chipotle mayonnaise and, of course, refried beans. The cards continue to stack in our favour. We leave full, happy and satisfied.
Tired from a wonderfully late night, I find it difficult to rouse myself from our blissful, palatial bed the following morning. The promise of a hot shower, a smoked salmon omelette and super-creamy brie make waking up more bearable. The St James’s Seven Park Place restaurant, headed by William Drabble, manages to combine the right mix of contemporary surroundings, ‘proper’ jazz (Miles, Chet, Ella) and sumptuous breakfast. Even Mr Smith’s porridge seems somehow decadent.
The London weather co-operates with us on our second day. Though it’s difficult to fight the temptation to spend the entire weekend in our room, Mr Smith and I decide to set out and take in some of London’s sights and offerings. Leaving the St James’s Hotel & Club, we are immediately met with St James’s Palace and, right around the corner, Buckingham Palace. Not bad neighbours to have for the weekend.
We decide to play tourist and wander the streets on a brisk but sunny day. In a leisurely fashion we take in everything from the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and Trafalgar Square. We stopped in to visit the Van Goghs, Cezannes and Monets at the National Gallery, and make a quick trip to Harrods Foodhall for pantry provisions.
Back in our room I reluctantly pack my luggage and opt for one more well-earned soak in the bath before setting off for home. A perfectly quixotic weekend.
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Smith extra at St James's Hotel & Club
A bottle of house white wine