London's oldest hotel offers a quintessentially British experience with a fresh, luxurious feel
Hotel insider: Brown's Hotel, Mayfair, London
The mostly British doormen are alert to everyone going in or out. I’m welcomed and helped in with my baggage, which goes straight to my room.
The hotel is an impressive collection of 11 historic five-storey townhouses joined together, back-to-back, though it feels like one building. The central reception on the ground floor has a gas coal-effect fire and formalities are quick.
Situated on Albemarle Street in Mayfair, the hotel has a great central location for shopping (Bond Street, Regent Street and Oxford Street are all within a few minutes’ walk), visiting local high-end art galleries, Green Park, Hyde Park and museums, plus convenient access to Heathrow airport.
Most of the guests staying at the hotel are from the United States, Europe, United Kingdom and the Middle East. Although it’s London’s oldest hotel, dating from 1837, various renovations have made it suitable for either business or leisure. The main restaurant, Hix Mayfair, on the ground floor, fronts onto Albemarle Street and has a loyal local clientele, including bankers. Afternoon tea is served in the wood-panelled English Tea Room, and next to that is the modern Donovan’s Bar. The gym and spa are located in the basement. Original pieces of art and sculpture from well-known British artists such as Tracey Emin and Emily Young are dotted throughout the property.
There are a total of 115 rooms in the hotel, including 33 suites – mine is a large fourth-floor classic suite, with windows looking down onto Albemarle Street from the front and across a courtyard at the back. The decor is relatively neutral, with taupe walls, green and grey curtains and a brownish carpet. Double glazed windows means it’s very quiet. Everything works as it should, an impressive pillow menu is in place, and I really liked the interesting selection of books.
The large bathroom has a separate shower and bath, and there’s a double wardrobe. In the living area, there’s an ornamental fireplace with a lounge and a rather generous desk area.
Staff are friendly and obliging without being too patronising.
The hotel’s main restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, is Hix Mayfair, which focuses on quality British produce and the best of modern British cooking. The breakfast is one of the best I’ve had in a hotel anywhere, with the buffet offering a good selection of excellent quality items – including yogurts, fresh berries, cheese, cold meats and fresh, non-sugared fruit juice; and coffee or tea is served promptly at the table without fuss (£30; Dh145). The à la carte breakfast menu is one of the most imaginative I’ve seen.
Vegetarians are well-catered for generally, with a full meat-free menu available at dinner, and a mostly meat- and fish- based menu for everyone else. At dinner, the menu tends towards the rich and decadent – a friend and I tried the Loch Ryan oysters (£4.75; Dh23 each) and the baked scallops with whipped cauliflower, walnuts and garlic (£19.50; Dh94) for starters, and the fillet steak on the bone (£44; Dh213) and poached salmon with oyster mushrooms in a chilli and ginger broth (£26.50; Dh128).
The location and sense of history. I didn’t use it, but all rooms come with a free-to-use smartphone offering unlimited internet access and free calls to 13 countries, including the UAE.
I find the hotel unnecessarily warm and have to keep my bedroom window open and air conditioning on throughout my stay, and the windows were hard to open and close.
Having been asked when I checked in what newspaper I’d like the next morning, I’m surprised when it isn’t delivered. After pointing this out, it’s delivered on the second morning. The two computers in the small business centre are clunky PCs.
For a luxury base with a sense of history in a great location for a culture and shopping spree prior to your return to the UAE, this hotel is an excellent choice. Unlike many of London’s “old” hotels, which can tend towards the grubby, this hotel is both cosy and fresh.
The bottom line
Rooms at Brown’s Hotel (www.roccofortehotels.com) cost from £450 (Dh2,184) per night, including taxes.