I like to think that I have a relatively comfortable home. Sure, it’s no One Knightsbridge and nor does it have Carrie and Boris style decor, but it’s, y’know, got sofas and stuff. It’ll do. At least I thought it would.
Not any more, according to my three year old. We are now obligated to move into a suite at Brown’s Hotel. My bank manager might baulk at the £4,000 a night suite cost, but my toddler will be as persuasive with him as she is to us. Tooting ain’t cutting it, Daddy.
I bring up this slice of Clarke family realpolitik because we recently returned from Brown’s Hotel, the historic Mayfair five star on Albermarle Street. After a weekend in the hotel’s Hellenic Suite our two toddlers refused to cross the threshold of our actual home in South West London, violently demanding to be taken back to Brown’s hence-with.
At risk of spawning dozens of Veruca Salt clones among our readers’ offspring, I can’t recommend it enough...
And don’t be judgey, yours would too. At risk of creating dozens of Veruca Salt clones among our readers’ offspring, I simply can’t recommend it enough. Brown’s is the perfect place to take a family (preferably yours). It’s the ideal grown-up hotel, that’s also perfectly suited to children.
The hotel is one of London’s grandest and finest. Operated by Rocco Forte, with all the luxury that entails, the experience begins before you even walk through the front door. Not only was the smartly top-hatted doorman expecting us, he knew our names and expertly disarmed a suspicious three-year old with a handshake and more warmth than the top-right Aga oven.
Leading us to the front desk, we were met by manager Stuart, well built and certainly not the sort of man I would want to get on the wrong side of, but surprisingly he melted the moment two toddlers hoved into view. It clearly wasn’t an act, I would know because I’ve been doing the ‘ahh, you’ve brought your children’ patter for a decade or so now and never manage to make it look as though I take any joy in other people’s spawn. No, Stuart meant it or else deserves an Olivier award.
I’ve always thought of Brown’s as a very grown up hotel. Set in the heart of Mayfair, it’s hard for the Bond Street glitz not to rub off, and give you hoity toity ideas. Meanwhile the decor is beautiful, the work of Olga Polizzi a scion of the Forte family but incredibly accomplished in her own right, and world she’s created is high-end sophistication. At first glance it’s not the sort of place you want to set children loose in; more suited to a serious board meeting, or hammering out a multi-million pound deal or maybe booking for a big anniversary.
I’ve always thought of Brown’s as a very grown up hotel...
But there are playful touches that give away the big heart that lies beneath. It’s abundantly clear that the stiff-upper lip of this venerable hotel, oft visited by Queen Victoria, where Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book and Theodore Roosevelt spent his stag night, is nothing of the sort. It’s a facade. Because I dare any London hotel to be as child-centred as Brown’s.
Our suite, by rights, should be intimidating grandeur personified, with its 15-foot ceilings and oak floors. Set across a large sitting room, an equally spacious bedroom and adjoining bathroom suite the tone is modern, furnished with contemporary furniture and art. And from the colourful Peter Blake prints on the walls to the wooden carved fedora and hat stand in our sitting room to, it’s clear that this is a place designed to hold the attention of little people as well as adults.
The clues that this is a family hotel are everywhere, if you care to look. The thoughtful touches of a staff that clearly know children. The princess-themed duvet on my three-year-old’s bed (Little White Company, natch, and definitely not Elsa!) was a huge hit, the cot laden with goodies for our two year old a god-send.
The bathrooms are decked out with all the nappy changing bits and bobs you’d need, as well as children’s soaps and suchlike. Both children received personalised ‘hooded’ towels, their names embroidered in the corners (which they’ve been using every day since), story books and the hotel’s signature ‘Alby’ soft toy.
The hotel offers 24 hour baby-sitting and there’s even a teddy turn-down service!
There's even a teddy turn-down service!
‘Alby’, short for Albemarle (the hotel sits between Dover Street and Albemarle Street) comes into his own at bedtime, when the accompanying book, Alby’s Very Good Day, penned by Eleanor Trotman and beautiful illustrated by Shu-ti Liao, makes for the perfect bedtime reading.
And with the children magically and safely asleep, cuddling their Albys, you’re finally at large to venture down to Donovan’s, the dark and alluring bar inspired by iconic ‘60s photographer Terence Donovan. His black and white prints are scattered across the walls, giving the place an elegant old-school feel; like Alfie-era Michael Caine might be sat smoking a couple of tables down.
You’re finally at large to venture down to Donovan’s...
The drinks are all themed around icons of the 1960s, including the Sparkling Side Of The Moon (a 70s album, albeit from a 60s band Pink Floyd), the Swinging Sixties, celebrating Mary Quant, and the Madam Loren, a homage to Sophia Loren.
You could happily spend all night in this sophisticated drinking den but if you’re paying for childcare by the hour then there’s every reason to hit the Charlie’s, the restaurant from Michelin starred chef Adam Byatt.
The wood-panelled restaurant is refined and glamorous, but never dull. Doubling as the breakfast room the following morning, our children took huge delight in the wrap-around mural featuring exotic animals, motifs subtly repeated in the crockery. And by eventide candlelight they’re just as beguiling.
As, of course, is the menu. The British dishes are accompanied by Italian, French and Spanish influences. And dinner, again, was a perfect chance to put Brown’s child-friendliness to its test again.
When news came that our children were ‘royally kicking off’...
After a starter of Moxon’s smoked salmon I was waiting for my sirloin of Dexter beef when news came that our children were ‘royally kicking off’.
Sheepishly we asked if it would be okay to serve the main course in our room? No eye-rolls, no sighs or any of the panoply pass-ag English shorthands for expressing irritation. Instead a genuine sympathy and anxiousness to help.
The meal was adjourned to our room, the dining table hastily laid wine topped up and everything continued as before. The only downside to this arrangement being having to share my chocolate crémeux with malted milk ice cream and hazelnuts with a pair of second-wind toddlers.
Checking out at the end of our stay it was unclear who was sadder to leave, us or the children. We certainly felt that Brown’s had stolen a piece of all our hearts.
Of course, we were lucky enough to stay in one of the hotel’s best suites, and perhaps hotel staff feel they have to be extra nice to journalists to ensure that we write up lovely reviews like this one. ‘Not so’, reassured a good friend who is a regular visitor to Brown’s. She and her family might not stay in such a smart room or arrive with a copy of their publication under-arm, but even as Muggles they receive the same child-centred red-carpet experience we described every time.
I only worry that the bar has been raised impossibly high for every other hotel we ever take our children to. That and the fact we’ve clearly bred a pair of insufferable hotel snobs.