Proudly perched at one of the most desirable addresses in Mayfair since its Victorian heyday, Brown’s Hotel has undergone a renovation at the hands of Olga Polizzi that’s blended fresh colours, mosaic floors, and antique furnishings with the hotel’s historic wooden panelling, gilt mirrors and stained glass. Its ageless good looks, combined with the jazzy glamour of the Donovan Bar and a moving, shaking guest list, have made it one of London’s must-stays.
London’s oldest hotel in style-central Mayfair
Impeccably civilised afternoon tea
Jazz and cocktails in the Donovan Bar
A Hix Fix cocktail in the bar, a leather Rocco Forte luggage tag and late check-out until 2pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday; members booking suites will also get a bottle of Ruinart NV champagne
In the know
Also need to know:
No pets, but guide dogs are welcome. Book a Classic Suite or above and you and your other Smith will be able to bask away in twin baths, with TVs at the end of each tub. Guests staying in the Kipling or Studio Suite will be showered with gifts: a one-way airport transfer, a 30-minute massage each, a bottle of champagne, and a packing and unpacking service.
Bring your best threads. Browsing nearby Bond Street’s boutiques or dipping into the nut selection in the Donovan Bar loses some of its cachet if you’re just wearing your tracksuit.
There’s no dress code as such, but the smartly dressed staff and your well turned-out fellow diners might make you want to think about your outfit.
Mr and Mrs Smith reviews
Mrs Smith is certainly taking her time. I’ve been sitting by the oak counter in the Donovan Bar at London’s Brown’s Hotel for about half an hour now, nursing the same glass of wine and trying to look inconspicuous. Everyone around me is engaged in hand-waving and drink-splashing animated conversation, and even the bar staff are chatting merrily to each other as they mix cocktails and pop the corks from bottles of champagne. I silently curse my other half. How can I have arrived here first for our decadent weekend break in our home city? I’ve come in from Smith HQ in Chiswick. She works just around the corner.
Finally, just as I’m contemplating reading the newspaper I rescued from the tube from cover to cover for a second time, Mrs Smith appears in the doorway. She looks fabulous. I can see why it’s taken her so long to get here. All feelings of loneliness and frustration disappear, and I suddenly feel as though I have a right to take my place amid the blur of Savile Row suits and elegant Bond Street dresses that fill the dark and buzzing space. I stand up and lead her into a just-vacated alcove, and we sit, perusing the cocktail menu, surrounded by mildly erotic black-and-white Terence Donovan prints.
Our flat may only be a 20-minute tube ride away, but it may as well be in Adelaide for all the thought we’ll be giving it over the next couple of days. The plants have been watered, the timer on the cat feeder has been set and we’re affecting the air of a couple who regularly frequent this W1 grande dame. Well, Mrs Smith is. I’m still in mildly scruffy work garb. We down our drinks, and check into our Deluxe Suite, leaving instructions for a bottle of prosecco and an ironing board to be sent up.
Our beautiful suite – all subtle design flourishes and antique furniture – feels like the London pad of a fabulously wealthy gay uncle who subscribes to Attitude as well as The Stage. There’s a mahogany table for six over there, beneath an art deco mirror and shelves of what look like well-thumbed books; over there, there’s a B&O flatscreen TV and an enormous wall-mounted photograph of Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element. The decor is all cream and brown, and the overall effect manages to be both hip and homely. That’s just the living room. The bedroom comes with a bed that’s almost big enough to levy its own taxes, and the pale marble-and-mosaic bathroom with its twin sinks and two-person shower is one of the most decadent spaces in which we’ve ever washed our hands – next to each other. By the time the wine arrives, Mrs Smith is already slipping into the bath to watch EastEnders on the in-tub plasma-screen TV.
Downstairs in the oak-panelled Albemarle restaurant, we take our places on a semi-circular banquette and settle down for a spot of fine formal dining. I’m a big fan of chef Mark Hix’s traditional British cooking, so I’m really looking forward to tucking into the dishes that he and Lee Streeton have created here. So wonderful-sounding are all the options, though, that I’d have been perfectly happy if they just brought me the menu and let me peruse it all evening. ‘You’re being like Homer Simpson,’ Mrs Smith chides me. ‘You’re just reading out the names of dishes then going “Mmm” after them.’
Eventually, I settle on delicious, garlicky baked razor clams and a thick and tender slice of Aberdeenshire sirloin on the bone, while Mrs Smith goes for Dorset crab and a fillet of John Dory. It’s every bit as delicious as I’d hoped. We toy with the idea of dessert – ‘too full’ is the consensus – but decide, instead, to head back to the Donovan Bar for a nightcap. Livelier than when we left it, the bar is now home to a jazz duo, as well as some pretty florid foot-tappers. We find a table among them all and settle back with our single malts. The complimentary nuts and olives that we’re brought, though, remain completely untouched.
Later on, in bed, I call across to Mrs Smith, and ask her what she’d like to do tomorrow. Central London is our oyster: we could stroll across nearby Green Park to see if the Queen’s at home; we could wander into Soho for coffee at one of the last remaining Italian caffs; we could even make our way up to Bond Street and unfurl pieces of cashmere and silk. ‘Breakfast,’ she yawns. ‘In bed…’ And then promptly falls asleep. It looks as though we won’t be leaving in a hurry.
Albemarle Street, London, W1S 4BP, United Kingdom
0.9 mi / 1.5 km from city centre
- Onsite laundry
- Valet parking
- Complimentary in-room coffee or tea
- Exercise gym
- Internet services
- Room service
HIX Mayfair (formerly the Albermarle) serves brushed-up Brit classics (scrumpy-fried oysters with dittander mayonnaise) amongst Tracy Emin’s neon sculptures, traditional crisp linen-covered tables and oak panelled walls. Ingredients are seasonal – picked from local vendors by chef Lee Streeton – weekend brunch is offered and a carving masterclass (with Mark Hix, no less) teaches a savvier way to serve. Afternoon tea in the English Tea Room is widely renowned.
The fireside table is perfect for large parties and a great spot to eye up the artwork; or choose a window seat to watch Mayfair bustle as you tuck into your Dover sole.
Dinner is served between 5.30pm and 11pm; the bar keeps its shakers a-quiver until 1am (midnight on Sunday).
A wide-ranging menu of meals and snacks is available 24 hours a day.
The Bill Amberg-designed Donovan Bar is a buzzy hangout for both well-heeled guests and glitterati, who pour from Mayfair’s galleries and publishing houses to enjoy an intimate, convivial atmosphere and a live jazz soundtrack.