24-hour Room Service: Dean Street Townhouse, Soho, London
The best of British in the heart of London
Saturday 12 December 2009
A recent survey of American tourists found that one in four US visitors to the UK would prefer the British to be more, well, British. When our transatlantic cousins fly east, they want Savile Row, not Starbucks; Marmite rather than McDonald's. It seems that an over-reliance on global brands is eroding our perceived heritage.
Perhaps this explains why the new Dean Street Townhouse, in the heart of London, has been almost fully booked since it opened just under three weeks ago. The hotel goes for sentimental Britishness in a big way, from the pair of Georgian buildings in which it stands, to the drawing-room ambience at reception, to the nursery-food menu and Brit-art in the restaurant. Happily, it does so in a way that also appeals to Brits – there is style and substance at the heart of this hotel.
The welcome-all-comers door policy and low room rates have helped, too. The hotel is the latest venture of the Soho House group, but unlike at its exclusive London members' clubs – Soho, Electric and Shoreditch House – you need not be a member to stay here.
Booked in advance, the smallest rooms start at just over £100, which is the average price of a London hotel room for above-average quality. (A £95 allocation-on-arrival rate is also often available.) They will even "endeavour to help with access to Soho House", which is just around the corner, though nipping round for a drink or bite to eat is on an "on request" basis – presumably as much to do with availability as to whether or not you possess the required glamour quotient.
The four-storey building itself has had several previous incarnations. Built in 1735, it once housed the Novello musical printworks, served as a venue for the Gargoyle Club (frequented by Henri Matisse, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud) and was later occupied by the post-production company that worked on the last James Bond film, Quantum of Solace.
Not so cutting edge was the former incarnation of the Dining Room, formerly a Pitcher and Piano. However, the artistic flame of the Gargoyle Club is being rekindled here with displays of a spattering of work by Tracey Emin, Gavin Turk, Peter Blake, Damien Hirst, Jamie Hewlett and more. The menu hammers home the nostalgic English theme: there's a high tea offering of things-on-toast, potted stuff and sandwiches. The all-day menu includes Scotch-egg and caper mayonnaise, fish and chips with marrowfat peas and mince with boiled potatoes. Don't worry, though: you haven't travelled back to the times of Dickens. There's also red-legged partridge, grilled squid and roast Banham chicken. The average main costs a palatable £18.
Dean Street Townhouse may not be a members' club but it is still rooted in luvvie-land, standing at the core of Soho's media scene and within stumbling distance of film production houses, the Groucho Club and some of the capital's best bars and restaurants.
It's a buzzy rather than scuzzy part of Soho, which also means that – despite the hotel's double-glazing – there is street noise in the front rooms, whether it's from late-night drinkers or twilight street cleaners.
The 39 rooms come in a variety of sizes, but don't be scared of the "Broom Cupboard" or "Tiny" labels of the smallest: they are still on a different scale to their equivalents in New York's own Soho. The categories run up to "Bigger" rooms, which come with lounge areas. All have the same design concept and amenities, which the hotel bills as "granny chic", but is in fact more New England-meets-middle England. There are Georgian-inspired hand-painted wallpapers in dove greys and dusky pinks set above buttermilk tongue-and-groove panelling, plantation shutters, bespoke furniture and tactile fabrics (a grey wool sofa, crisp linens, plaited jute carpets and Johnstons cashmere blanket in my "Medium" room). It's discreetly hi-tech, too, with TVs set in wall recesses, Bose iPod docks and digital Roberts radios that don't look out of place against the classic décor.
The bathrooms are lined with sparkling white tiles and chequered floors and come with elegant chrome fittings, enormous walk-in monsoon showers and – in some rooms – antique roll-top baths. Best of all, though, the group's Cowshed spa products are everywhere – lined up in the shower, crammed into the bath rack, by the sink – and in proper retail sizes, too. But before I could clear space in my washbag, I was informed that any missing products would be charged to the bill.
To make up for any disappointment, there's a tray of samples to take home, as well as a thoughtful collection of items you'd need if you decided to stay on the spur of the moment (deodorant, toothpaste and face-wash, for example). And reinforcing the British spirit of tradition, there are silver pots filled with complimentary tea, coffee and home-made biscuits in the bedroom.
Dean Street Townhouse, 69-71 Dean Street, Soho, London W1D 3SE (020-7434 1775; deanstreettownhouse.com ).
Double rooms start at £95, room only.
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