This review of Bingham in Richmond is taken from our latest guidebook, Mr & Mrs Smith: Hotel Collection – UK/Ireland Volume 2.
When your other half suggests an exciting weekend jaunt, my inner spoiled brat jumps up and down, thinking: ‘Goody… Will it be a boutique hotel in the Cotswolds – or maybe somewhere super-glam like Cannes?’ When we jump in the car and the SatNav announces ‘seven miles to your destination’, my hopes aren’t at their highest. Then Mr Smith mentions that he has another fantastic surprise. His eyes wander down to an envelope at my feet. Oh no. I’m sure I can make out ‘Twickenham Stadium’ through the address window. A rugby match in southwest London isn’t exactly my dream date. Fantasies involving oversized Gucci shades on La Croisette and cream teas in the genteel hills evaporate, replaced by chanting, beer-swilling blokage…
Richmond has never been my top choice for a weekend escape but, winding our way through leafy lanes, we feel as though we’re visiting a country village without even having to leave London, and we like it. As we pull up at Bingham, I’m back on track towards those hopes of boutique hotel-based shenanigans. This is a stylish hotel. Inside, the style roll call of chic is answered in full: droplet chandeliers, mushroom-hued Farrow & Ball paint, bespoke art deco-inspired furniture – the works.
We’re led up to an attic room on the second floor, which is a little light on vistas, owing to the angle of the windows, so staff very kindly redirect us to the best room in the house, named after the poetess Sappho. (If you know your Greek history, you'll realise this lady hailed from the Isle of Lesbos; if I ever switch from a penchant for Mr Smiths to Mrs Smiths, I'll know where to take them.) With an unadulterated river view over the lawn, through huge floor-to-ceiling French windows, it is along far more romantic lines. Weeping willows, rowers on the water – who needs the South of France after all? We head out for a stroll. A small festival is underway on the grassy knoll in front of the full deck of Slug & Piano-type bars, which gets packed in the summer months. A live band is playing, and lots of happy souls are whiling away their weekend afternoon, drinks in hands, swaying to music.
After stocking up on some bathtime treats from the L’Occitane on the high street (I spied a Jacuzzi just about big enough for two back in our bathroom), we treat ourselves to souvenirs from a delightful chocolatier, William Curley, hidden on a little lane off the main drag. It’s definitely starting to feel like a holiday. We retreat to Bingham for an evening cup of tea on the lawn. In a few seconds our landscape switches from pushchairs and M&S carrier bags to something lot more Swallows and Amazons.
After a pre-dinner freshen-up (if an hour-long soak in the tub with the crossword merits the description), voices outside suggest that a private party is getting underway here at the hotel. Mr Smith takes a look out of the window to investigate, forgetting he’s fresh from the bath, much to the horror/delight (my words/his words) of a group of girls walking past the river, who happen to glance up.
I investigate the party and find I recognise some faces – what fun! (Thank goodness it hadn’t been them admiring the black wrought-iron balconies on this fine Georgian property minutes earlier.) Holidaying in your hometown is even better when you return from dinner next door to the hotel to a shindig with friends. After our delicious meal around the corner at riverside restaurant Canyon and, more noticeably, a fantastic bottle of Montrachet, the temporary dancefloor back at Bingham is unavoidable. After a little bit of Saturday Night Feverishness, Mr Smith decides a more civilised end to our evening might lie in a nightcap and a game of chess in the hotel’s upstairs lounge. But about two moves in, it’s clear I’m as much a threat to Kasparov as Mr Smith is to John Travolta – the only king I care about is the mattress awaiting us in our spacious river-view room.
After a prize-winningly peaceful night’s sleep – it really is like being in the countryside – I take a look out the window to see it’s the kind of overcast day you’re always secretly grateful for, because it gives you an excuse to stay holed up in your big bed with fluffy cushions and widescreen TV. I phone down to reception and ask if they might be able to rustle up eggs Florentine and toast for breakfast, and my high-maintenance needs are greeted with surprising warmth. Pretty soon, a couple of baskets of bread and pastries sufficient to feed a rugby team is with us. Which reminds me… What were those tickets I spied?
Fast forward a few hours and we’ve dozed off again, only to be woken by housekeeping knocking on the door. Oops. We’re still in bed. The good ol’ English embarrassment gene kicks in. ‘Oh no, I hope they don’t think that we’re up to mischief,’ I say, blushing. Mr Smith sighs. ‘We’re in a hotel – they don’t just suspect it; they expect it.’ We finally emerge about lunchtime, and I try to carry off the demeanour of someone who’s well-rested but, at the same time, doesn’t have too much of a spring in her step.
We’ve decided on a Richmond Sunday roast in the restaurant, where we discover that we’re not just getting fed, but that there is also a guitar-strumming Jose Feliciano-alike chanteur to treat us to some live music. Should I ask if he’ll play some Rolling Stones, suggests Mr Smith? Then the penny drops – that’s what the tickets are for! There was I, wishing for an out-of-town escapade, when he’d got a fantastic adventure planned in London. You can’t always get what you want – but in this case, what I got turned out to be better than what I thought I wanted.