“What am I doing?” I muttered as I stared at the odd assortment of clothes and toiletries strewn across my bed. A leather tote lay empty on the floor.
I used to be quite good at this. Leaving my house. Visiting different places. A master of efficiency: never late, but no time wasted, breezing through airports and train stations on autopilot. But after a long winter lockdown, I was befuddled packing an overnight bag.
All I needed was a toothbrush; I wasn’t going far.
Over the past 18 months, with travel continually restricted, staycations were increasingly presented as the new holiday abroad. I had serious doubts. Could down the road be just as satisfying as somewhere over the horizon?
A new Oscar Wilde-inspired boutique hotel in Mayfair, however, felt like an appropriate place to seek enlightenment. So my partner and I plopped my poorly packed bag into a taxi — and set off for 24 hours in W1.
We arrived at The Mayfair Townhouse, the latest UK offering from Iconic Luxury Hotels (the group behind Chewton Glen, Cliveden House, The Lygon Arms and 11 Cadogan Gardens), who knocked together 15 Georgian townhouses to build it. The result is a 172-room property that takes up one side of Half Moon Street, an address famous from Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
As I entered the building, my eyes were drawn to the luminous cocktail bar at its core, which is exactly the point. Designers Goddard Littlefair, inspired by the colourful characters of Victorian Mayfair, anchored the hotel around The Dandy Bar, its heart and soul — a stylish and convivial space with Art Deco lighting, leather banquettes and other lush, jewel-toned furnishings. One can easily imagine Wilde’s cheeky Algernon Moncrieff, a Half Moon Street resident, flirting and downing drinks here.
The bar, however, could wait. Having socially distanced for most of the year, the sun had come out too. We took a stroll through Shepherd Market, an 18th-century square tucked behind Piccadilly with boutiques, restaurants and traditional pubs. A brass band entertained a merry after-work crowd while a mime in rainbow tights wandered around with a hula hoop. We felt further away than three miles from home.
We marvelled at blue plaques for Handel and Hendrix as we carried on walking through this part of London that was historically developed for upper-class housing. Mayfair remains one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in London and indeed the world, with property costing so much that it is unaffordable even on the Monopoly board. In recent decades, corporate headquarters, embassies, luxury hotels, designer shops, private members’ clubs and upscale restaurants have increasingly claimed prime real estate.
We wandered over to Hedonism Wines, a spectacularly impressive shop where some of the most sought-after wines in the world are available at your fingertips. We admired bottles of Dom Pérignon so old they might as well have been made by the Benedictine monk himself, and vowed to return soon to pick up something nice for a picnic in Hyde Park. We left empty-handed — and thirsty.
Back at the hotel, the clock struck cocktail hour. Piero Monaco, the head bartender who concocted a drinks list inspired by the dandies of Mayfair’s past, suggested a tipple based on a vesper martini. Named after Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, the writer best known as Wilde’s lover, the Mr Bosie was served in a martini glass garnished with edible paint. “A nod to the hotel’s artwork,” said Monaco. Bitters came in the form of a square jelly to be nibbled on with each sip. A dangerous start to the evening.
Mayfair houses hundreds of restaurants, from cheerful chains to myriad Michelin-stars, including the majority of London’s three-star establishments. The Mayfair Townhouse doesn’t aim to compete with neighbouring haute cuisine. It serves an all-day menu offering bar classics and greatest hits from Iconic’s coterie, including a Thai lobster curry that has featured at Chewton Glen for nearly 40 years. Rumour has it, nixing it from the menu once caused such furore among regulars that the hotel hasn’t dared try since.
I joined the curry fandom while my companion devoured a colossal serving of that day’s special: slow-cooked lamb shoulder that melted off the bone. Dessert had to be tiramisu: according to Monaco, the hotel’s Italian staffers held a competition to decide whose recipe would feature on the menu. The prize went to general manager Federico Ciampi for his mother Rosella’s recipe and, my God, it was well-deserved.
Before long it was time to hit the sack. Rooms at the Townhouse are chic, with velvet furnishings, extravagant bed frames and eccentric artwork. Some have private garden patios; ours offered views over Shepherd Market and a spectacular skylight.
Breakfast was served in a vast basement dining room decorated with leather-bound books, assorted curios and a bespoke mural with motifs from the hotel. The Townhouse diligently adheres to the Wildean theme: much of it overthought, but fortunately, not overdone.
I poked my head into its small, well-equipped gym, intrigued by the high-tech spin bike after most of the year without access to classes. The English breakfast in my belly (and Mr Bosie in my head) called for something less arduous: a wander around Mount Street, one of Mayfair’s original shopping districts.
Built in the 1700s and rebuilt the following century with uniform Queen Anne-style architecture, today its retail offering is largely designer fashion — Balenciaga, Oscar de la Renta, Céline et al. The less catwalk-enthused have plenty to peruse too: beautiful stationery at Mount Street Printers, rare timepieces at Pragnell and, at Sautter, a compact cigar shop that specialises in aged and vintage Cuban smokes, where you’re as likely to stumble over a few retirees or Alec Baldwin puffing away on cohibas.
For those with edible vices, across the road is The Connaught Patisserie, whose handmade delicacies are so indulgent you’ll want to return home and eat in private. With hedonism rapidly becoming the theme of our home-city holiday, we opted for a small box of Montecristos to share with friends later that weekend and pâtisserie to take away (a pretty blueberry pavlova and a chocolate dog — the “Connaughty Hound”, no less — a cocoa-dusted mousse with hazelnut praline).
Fortuitously, there was no better place to complete our mission than with a late seafood lunch on the terrace at Scott’s, a beloved London institution and the perennial answer to where to eat in town. Without work on the horizon or the need to operate heavy machinery, a couple of dirty martinis, a plate of oysters and a platter for two of prawns, scallops and lobster doused in garlic butter finished us off for the day.
Reaching the end of our 24 hours “away”, it was time to head home. There were no planes, trains or automobiles required. We walked back in an hour.
Niki Blasina was a guest of The Mayfair Townhouse. Double rooms from £252 per night.
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