THE FIVE- STAR BEDS TEST Rest easy in London
Susan Kurosawa checks into the Haymarket Hotel near the West End theatre district
HE line-up reads like a blue-ribbon Monopoly board: Knightsbridge, Covent Garden, Haymarket, Soho, Bloomsbury and South Kensington. More than prestigious real estate, however, these are the locations of Firmdale Hotels’ London portfolio of six boutique hotels.
The privately owned accommodation group does what I like to think of as drawing-room hotels. Typically located in converted townhouses, with guestrooms of myriad configurations ranged along zigzagging corridors and tucked into corners, the Firmdale properties are so residential in feel it’s like pitching up at the London home of rich friends. And make that friends with the most impeccable taste — or at least with the nous to have hired a decorator with the credentials of Firmdale co-owner Kit Kemp.
On this visit to London I am at the West End’s 50-room Haymarket Hotel, in Suffolk Place, just off Haymarket, which suits my theatre-going, galleryhopping and shopping needs to the proverbial T.
Did someone mention tea? Within minutes of unpacking, I am off to my favourite hog-out shop, Fortnum & Mason, a five-minute stroll up past Piccadilly, to stock up on its house-brand Lapsang Souchong and such pukka comestibles as Brigadier Nicholson’s mango chutney.
If I were feeling fitter and less laden with bags, walks to, and around, St James’s Park and Green Park would be in order; the hotel is also close to Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards Parade and the elegant stores of Bond and Regent streets.
Later in the day as jet lag reduces me to a jellied mess, there could be no more convivial refuge than my room at the Haymarket complete with its starlet-worthy bathroom (blissful heated towel rails, anti-misting mirror and telly you can view from the deep tub).
The four-storey Georgian building was designed in the 1800s by John Nash, the court architect responsible for the Regency mansions of London’s Regent’s Park, Buckingham Palace and the symmetrical rows of townhouses in the fashionable seaside redoubt of Brighton, where he also designed the Royal Pavilion. It’s doubtful Nash could have conceived the luxuries that now lie within the restored Haymarket building, from a bold stainless-steel sculpture in the lobby to an 18m basement swimming pool glimmering under a fibre-optic ceiling.
Kemp’s style of interior design reminds me of that of Virginia Fisher, the Auckland-based decorator who’s the creative darling of luxury lodge operators, especially Alex van Heeren of Lake Taupo’s Huka Lodge fame. It’s a confidently eclectic signature that mixes the rustic and found with high-end contemporary and retro pieces, all delivered with punches of colour and those unexpected clever ‘‘ moments’’ that designers love. In Kemp’s case, her bedchambers routinely feature a dressmaker’s dummy done up with contrasting fabrics — polka-dots, botanicals, Regency stripes, paisleys — that are reflected elsewhere in each of her individually conceived rooms.
In my room, which opens via tall windows to an elevated courtyard terrace, all is pink and spring green stripes and florals, with an oversized padded bedhead, the squashiest of beds, Indian paisley fabric framed under glass as a gorgeous wall hanging, puce-coloured ottomans and custom-made furniture. The room is subtly scented with the spicy fragrance (lavender meets cardamom, I decide, with a detour via bitter oranges) of the hotel’s bespoke candles and toiletries by perfumer Lyn Harris of Miller Harris (whose Mayfair flagship store is within walking distance).
The Haymarket has the trademark Firmdale Hotels’ touches of a guests’ drawing room and well-stocked library (with around-the-clock honour bar); there are masses of original artworks, touches of Chinoiserie, textured oriental rugs and cushions and even Oliver Messel drawings of his costumes for a 1945 screen production of which starred Vivien Leigh as the cat-eyed queen of the Nile.
The Haymarket also features the Shooting Gallery, a splendid glass-ceilinged conservatory space with junglepatterned wallpaper. It seats 70 and is popular for private parties and events; worth peeking into, especially late afternoon if the long room is dressed with candles and fripperies for an evening function.
The only false note at this charming hotel is the blowsy colour scheme of the ground-floor Brumus restaurant, which is so trimphantly pink you wouldn’t want to venture down to breakfast with even the hint of a hangover. If you are feeling robust, however, there is even a porridge menu, a nursery-flashback special of boiled eggs and toast soldiers, and the smoothie flavours of the day can be as deliciously mad as peanut butter.
With windows to Haymarket, Brumus is a grand people-watching venue and perfect for pre or posttheatre dining as the Nash-designed Haymarket Theatre Royal is next door. The pink theme continues in its adjoining corner bar, which is a beautifully detailed affair with pewter-topped counter and comfy seating for about 45 people on cushioned stools and low chairs and sofas. The bar does fab cocktails, from chilli rose martinis to pear bellinis, and small plates. You could do much worse than sashay to any of the nearby theatres fuelled up on Brumus’s hoi sin duck spring rolls with plum sauce or mini lamb burgers with hummus, coriander and chilli.
The Haymarket was opened in May 2007 and in northern autumn this year the Kemps will launch the Firmdale Hotels brand in New York’s SoHo with the 86-room Crosby Street Hotel, which will have a 100-seat cinema and, uniquely for a hotel here, a courtyard garden. Of course, the design will be super chic and personalised, with (big) apple martinis and manhattans in the bar an absolute given. Susan Kurosawa was a guest of Singapore Airlines and Firmdale Hotels.
Singapore Airlines will begin Airbus A380 services to and from Melbourne on September 29. Melbourne will be the second city in Australia, after Sydney, and the sixth city in the airline’s network to be served by the A380. Singapore Airlines also flies A380s to London, Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong. For best deals on Singapore Airlines seasonal fares from Australian ports to London via Singapore: www.singaporeair.com.au. Double rooms at the Haymarket Hotel from about £250 ($500) plus 15 per cent VAT; there are seasonal specials but best rates generally are on weekends. Dinner at Brumus: about £50 for three courses for two people (without wine); there is also a two-course set menu, with plenty of choice, from £14.95 a head. More: Haymarket Hotel, 1 Suffolk Place, London. Phone +44 20 7470 4000; www.haymarkethotel.com or www.firmdale.com.
Confidently eclectic: In the pink at Haymarket Hotel’s Brumus restaurant; the breakfast menu is equally quirky with peanut butter smoothies a specialty
Make an entrance: An eye-catching stainless-steel sculpture dominates the Haymarket’s lobby