Albemarle St, Mayfair, London W1S 4BP
T: 020 7493 6020
Browns is situated just north of Piccadilly on Albemarle St, right in the heart of Mayfair, and an easy stroll to most of the West End and the Theatre district. It’s a moderately busy street, and we were a little later than anticipated arriving, but it’s the mark of a truly good hotel that you can almost instantly find yourself immersed in a different world as soon as you pass through the door.
Top establishments eschew automatic doors for uniformed staff that can spot a guest who might need a little help, a suitcase transported, or in our case two slightly stressed gourmands who are very much looking forward to chilling out and spoiling ourselves for the night. Reception? “Follow me sir. Michael, can you look after Mrs Hepburn whilst I show this gentleman to reception. Lady Astis will be arriving shortly, I’ve just had a call to say she’s on the way. Here we are sir, is there anything else I can help you with?” It’s actually quite hard to resist palming out tenners to all and sundry, but I remember just in time that I’m not an Arab potentate, or the chairman of a Footsie 100 company. There’s a bit of country house hotel old-world charm to the interior; acres of polished wood, immaculate mirrors, and the odd bit of quirky artwork that speaks of tradition and permanence in a sometimes perfidious world. Check-In’s a breeze, and we slip off to our third floor suite to grab a slice of luxury.
I appreciate a good bed, but my darling companion can on occasion be quite forensic; the linen was first, and enjoyed more than a couple of oohs and ahhs. This is from an ex-fashion buyer who knows her fabric. At a guess, I’d say you’d be best off using an electron microscope to deduce the thread count; its burnished sheen had a fabulous softness that you just don’t get unless it’s finest Egyptian cotton woven way tighter than a duck’s bottom. An exploratory bounce on the bed confirmed that beautifully supportive marshmallow embrace that requires thousands of tiny springs and a good couple of weeks work to put together. Less flatteringly, it was noted that I would be consigned to a far corner if I started to snore. I sought refuge in a glass of Champagne, and boned up on a bit of history.
Browns was the first hotel to open in London (1837) and has hosted, amongst others, Agatha Christie, Roosevelt, Napoleon III and Rudyard Kipling who reportedly wrote the Jungle Book there. I imagine he was a pretty quick writer, a good friend of the owner, or fairly well off. Alexander Graham Bell also made the first telephone call from here. Fascinating stuff, but I was reminded that our booking for Charlie’s restaurant was imminent. I think her exact words were, “get changed, NOW!” I was happy to comply.
After a not completely successful time with Heinz Becks Italian, Adam Byatt took over, installing Matthew Starling to lead the kitchen. Both have earned Michelin Stars in the past and the menu is now firmly seasonal British/modern European in focus, which is a much better fit. The interior, freshly kitted out by designer Olga Polizzi, marries bold botanical wallpaper, classical columns, wood panelling and plush velvet, with huge poppies in perfect bloom providing a splash
of colour and life on the tables. On the waiters recommendation I started with some freshly sliced Moxon’s smoked salmon from the trolley, and my companion had the Kingfish ceviche, pickled rhubarb and blood orange. Warm rolls had been provided for the table, and some soda bread
for the salmon, which had an intense smokiness that didn’t play second fiddle to anything. The Kingfish had an interesting subtlety, the blood orange being the first and purest flavour, followed by the beautifully prepared Kingfish lingering slightly longer on the palate.
My rack of Cumbrian Lamb with aubergine, artichoke and green olive was supplemented with Cornish new potatoes and was a satisfyingly hearty plate, as was the thickly cut calves’ liver and bacon resting on a pillow of creamy mash on the other side of the table. We had come to eat, and we did well, washing it all down with a bottle of Rock Angel. Never one to dodge a dessert,
I ordered a rather delicious Crème Caramel that allowed us to linger a little longer before coffee and a return to that fabulous bed. I was in a different world to that slightly ansty chap who had stood at the hotel entrance just a few hours earlier, and I didn’t want to go back!
Go for: high end luxury and old world charm.