24-hour room service: The Arch, London
The shape of things to come
The tube is within spitting distance and nearly every bus in London goes via Marble Arch, but The Arch is the sort of hotel where they expect you to arrive, at the very least, by taxi. So it was a bit disappointing my cab driver had never heard of it. We spent the last leg of the journey kerb-crawling the length of Great Cumberland Place, our necks craning out like a multi-headed hydra shouting out the name of each hotel we passed.
I don't blame him – The Arch has only been open three months and lies in the area of Georgian terraces north of Oxford Street where every other building is a hotel. But this is no net-curtains-and-baked-beans affair: the Arch is a five-star luxury boutique hotel. A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group, it provides a cosy and discreet alternative to bigger names down the road on Park Lane, but offers similar facilities including a restaurant, gym and cocktail bar. Significantly, the rooms also cost less.
If Madonna didn't already live opposite (as the cab driver told me) I imagine The Arch might be the kind of place she would stay.
The design is a fusion of tradition with contemporary, equivalent to wearing a pointy bra over a pinstripe suit. It also shares the star's fixation with a certain kind of Englishness. Walls painted in discreet hues of Farrow and Ball cream/white/ beige are dominated by contemporary black-and-white photographs of London and bold bright pieces by rising artists such as Georgia Fiennes and Julie Cockburn. Lime-bleached wooden floors bathe in light from recessed spotlights, while stone fireplaces and heavy oak doors hint at the building's 18th-century origins.
The décor isn't perfect: I could have done without the mattress-sized plasma screen hanging over reception, which made it hard to concentrate while the receptionist began listing the perks available to guests.
Chief among these is the restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks through the night. It takes its name, HUNter 486, from Marylebone's old dialling code, a theme also used for the suites and conference rooms in the basement. Pretentious, possibly, but the food isn't: a reasonably priced menu includes classic dishes such as fish pie for £12.50, grilled sea bass, steak tartare and lamb shank. There are also more adventurous starters, such as celeriac soup with truffle oil and an excellent foie gras and guinea fowl terrine, as well as puddings that include cardamom panacotta with stewed rhubarb.
You have to pay for dinner, of course, but The Arch's enlightened policy means most other extras are free. So there's fast Wi-Fi everywhere, a frighteningly modern gym, hundreds of DVDs to borrow and all rooms are equipped with Sky TV, an iPod dock and 10,000 digital radio channels.
My cab driver might have known where to go if I had asked for The Bryanston, the three-star hotel that used to occupy this knocked-together row of six Georgian houses just south of Bryanston Square. It was arguably a more distinctive name, and one more evocative of its Marylebone location than The Arch, which takes its cue from the marble one at the other end of the street. But for anyone with business in central London this is an excellent location: Regent Street, Hyde Park, Piccadilly, Knightsbridge and Oxford Street are all close at hand.
Somehow they have crammed 82 rooms into the six townhouses and two mews houses, with little compromise on space.
Each room is white except for one wall covered in a beautiful patterned paper by the Milanese designer Fornasetti. The beds are vast expanses of crisp white linen crowned with plenty of plump white pillows. Although this means you can hardly stop yourself from leaping straight in, luxury can be oppressive: I woke several times in the night feeling I was drowning in swaddling. The room temperature can be adjusted at the press of a button – just as well, as the goose-down duvets are almost too hot.
Gadgets include an iPod dock, Nespresso machine, digital radio and plasma TV, but as I tossed and turned I wondered if all that electromagnetic fog was what was keeping me awake.
The greatest indulgence is in the bathroom, where a waterproof television sits over the bath, complete with a remote that you can merrily drop in the water. A late check-out of 2pm is available, and means there's plenty of time to enjoy all these little luxuries.
The Arch, 50 Great Cumberland Place, London W1H 7FD (020 7724 4700; thearchlondon.com )
Doubles start at £180, suites from £350, including breakfast
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