THE FIVE- STAR BEDS TEST Rest easy in Lon­don

Su­san Kuro­sawa checks into the Hay­mar­ket Ho­tel near the West End the­atre district

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

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.

Check­list

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

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