That it was tasteful and luxurious was no surprise. That a doorman or bellhop appeared before I even knew I needed him was expected. That there was not a whiff of obsequiousness and that everyone—everyone—at this landmark Mayfair hotel was friendly, quick to chat or make a joke and genuinely seemed to be having a good time on the job? Now that was a surprise.
My stay at Brown’s Hotel London ranks among my most pleasant experiences in a luxury city property. I’ve stayed in hotels that were every bit as deluxe and filled with any number of dazzlingly posh amenities. But for out and out pleasantness, Brown’s takes the cake—the cute, petit-four tea cake, that is.
THE PACKING EDIT
Brown’s bills itself as the oldest hotel in London, having served the beautiful and high-borne since 1837, the same year Queen Victoria was enthroned. In the nearly two centuries since, it has hosted an international slate of intelligentsia, royalty, politicians, authors, and celebrities, including Vic herself, who used to take tea in The English Tea Room, now a London landmark and special occasion destination.
Today, Brown’s remains one of London’s most distinguished hotels, rich in history and pedigree. Yet it’s definitely not a property living in the past. Instead, at the Brown’s of the 21st-century, now part of the Rocco-Forte family of hotels, I found a classic hotel with modern attributes, a staff who are enthusiastic and obviously proud of their place of work, and a high level of service that was seamless, courteous, yet never obsequious.
Room to relax
Designed by Olga Polizzi and decorated in stylish taupe, chartreuse, and eggplant, our apartment-sized classic suite was the perfect refuge during a busy few days of meetings and networking in London. The expansive living/dining room featured a sitting area with a sofa, chairs and a fireplace, plus a dining table, a desk and a flat-screen TV. A bottle of champagne, as well as soft drinks from the minibar are standard complimentary amenities in classic suites.
The adjacent bedroom was equally roomy, outfitted with a king-sized bed and two lounge chairs, plus a separate study area, dressing room and closet with slippers and bathrobes. A marble bathroom offered double sinks, a bathtub and walk-in shower, and luxe bath amenities including nice extras like bath salts and a relaxation candle. With insulated windows and our bedroom set well back from the street, we slept well. Requested extras from housekeeping—like a flat iron—appeared instantly. Mornings saw my travelling companion and I going our separate ways to meetings, and the roomy bathroom, bedroom and dressing area meant we could get ready without stepping on one another or vying for space in front of the mirror.
All day dining
Brown’s has dining covered from daybreak to way past sunset. Breakfast is included in some room rates and is served in Charlie’s, the swanky hotel restaurant, and includes a cold buffet and cooked-to-order items from a separate menu.
Afternoon tea in The English Tea Room is a nearly obligatory experience for visitors to London. I recall going there on my first trip to London years ago, when the pricey tea was a splurge for my modest budget. And it still feels indulgent. Silver teapots, china cups, and tiered serving trays stacked with finger sandwiches (because it’s not afternoon tea without those, right?), mini pastries and of course, scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. It’s hard not to feel like a little bit of a princess with that spread and in a setting where real live royalty have sipped tea—and this time I ordered the champagne.
Though Charlie’s was not yet open during my stay, its setting is certainly elegant enough, in a wood-panelled dining room festooned with tropical murals and bright flower-print banquettes. The kitchen, led by star chef Adam Byatt, offers a menu that cuts a wide swath across modern British cuisine, offering new twists on the familiar and comforting, such as a terrine of partridge, pear and pistachio with duck liver or veal loin with creamed potatoes, walnuts and sage. Whenever possible, meat, game and cheese are sourced from Britain.
Tucked behind the tea room, chic Donovan’s Bar is helmed by legendary barman Salvatore Calabrese, who is credited with creating the world’s most perfect dry martini. There’s a fun menu of bespoke cocktails, many named after London icons of the 1960s, plus a menu of mostly light bar fare.
“Is the Bentley available?”
One of Brown’s most high-profile perks is the use of a chauffeured Bentley Mulsanne, with complimentary rides within a 2-mile radius of the hotel. Despite her protests, I insisted to my friend that we take the Bentley to an Indian restaurant in adjacent Marylebone where we were meeting friends. “Is the Bentley available?” I asked the concierge, with as little irony as I could muster. Because when life hands you the opportunity to cruise through the streets of London in a Bentley, you take that ride. We chatted the entire short ride with our driver, James, who waxed on the merits of Bentley versus Rolls Royce (the previous Brown’s courtesy sedan) and seemed to be having almost as good a time as we were.
While the Bentley might be Brown’s flashiest amenity, there’s also has a hidden-away spa in its lower level, with three treatment rooms and a line of Mediterranean-inspired treatments and products from Rocco-Forte Hotels’ Verdura Resort in Sicily, as well as products and techniques from Irene Forte Skincare. Beauty salon services and men’s’ treatments are available, and the gym is open 24 hours a day.
In the Neighbourhood
Travellers to London who wish to be in the heart of it all yet have a friendly, luxury base would be well-served at Brown’s. The hotel is a 4-minute walk from Green Park station on the Piccadilly, Jubilee, and Victoria lines, putting the best of London’s shopping, attractions and neighbourhoods just a short Tube ride away. Within easy walking distance are Carnaby and Oxford streets, Hyde Park, St James’ Palace and, a bit farther afield, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the British Museum.
A hotel that has hosted kings, queens, prime ministers, presidents, Noble laureates and rock stars. What kind of experience does that promise for us untitled commoners? Given the hotel’s legacy as one of London’s best addresses, I might have had reason to be apprehensive prior to my stay. Instead, I learned what everyone who’s stayed at Brown’s already knows: the secret to the hotel’s long success is in giving guests a pampered sojourn that is above all friendly, good humoured and never feels pretentious. And that combination works at any price point.