When it comes to name-dropping, you can’t beat Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair. Since opening its doors in 1837, what was then known as the ‘Brown Private Hotel’ expanded over the course of 184 years to become an icon of British hospitality. Astonishingly, London’s first hotel managed to stay open in the midst of two World Wars while playing host to a multitude of distinguished guests, far too many to mention – noblemen, statesmen, artists, writers, scientists, explorers, and, of course, London’s high society. President Roosevelt stayed here during his honeymoon, and a framed copy of his marriage certificate hangs on the lobby wall.
In 1877 Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful telephone call from Brown’s all the way to the home of the then owner, James John Ford, in Ravenscourt Park. The room where that momentous call was made is named after the inventor, and the phone he used still adorns the wall to this very day.
Notable authors such as JRR Tolkien and Agatha Christie stayed at Brown’s too, but the literary legacy that resonates most with guests is the hotel’s association with Rudyard Kipling, who penned The Jungle Book during his frequent visits. Paying homage to the author is The Kipling Suite – the largest room in the hotel, which opened in 2016.
The Brown’s Hotel we see today comprises 11 original Georgian townhouses, which have been seamlessly amalgamated into one establishment. Since my last visit many moons ago, the lobby and reception lounge have undergone a dramatic transformation. Hand-painted on the walls is a tableau depicting an English garden of trailing wisteria and native birds, with subtle shades of teal and white engaging the eyes without overwhelming the senses.
The botanical theme extends to Charlie’s restaurant, where the space between the oak panels and the ceiling is covered in wallpaper from the Adam Ellis interior design collection, featuring an array of bold tropical plants and soaring birds. Foliage in muted tones of blue-grey and orange Bird of Paradise blooms transports the visitor to a tropical nirvana reminiscent of the Kipling classic. Semi-circular sofas in teal velvet complement the concept, and brass chandeliers from Florentine designers, Chelini, blend in beautifully. The overall mood is that of warmth and unpretentious elegance.
The hotel rooms’ interiors were designed by Olga Polizzi, Sir Rocco Forte’s sister and Director of Design at Rocco Forte Hotels. She also collaborated with interior designer Inge Moore to inject more style and glamour into the Donovan Bar, which is dedicated to renowned fashion photographer Terence Donovan, who also photographed Lady Forte.
Brown’s occupies practically an entire block – one side facing Albemarle Street, and the other, Dover Street. The hotel houses 115 spacious rooms and suites, and if they could talk, what tales they would tell. Each room has its own distinct personality, embellished with works of art, antiques and bespoke furnishings that blend the old with the new.
My suite on the second floor spanned the length of two sprawling rooms split between the lounge and bedroom, both featuring large sash windows that allow plenty of natural light through even on a grey day. Brooding brown dominates the colour palette, but the piece that stood out was the contemporary red velvet armchair that added an eclectic twist to the overall conventional style.
There is so much space here; even the mirrored corridor connecting the bedroom, walk-in dressing room and bathroom could double as a mini catwalk. I usually take my favourite toiletries when I travel, but there was no need to. The Irene Forte Skincare range, a labour of love from Sir Rocco Forte’s daughter, combines natural properties backed by scientific research. The Apricot Shower Gel enriched with soothing aloe leaf juice is delicately scented yet formulated to be kind to the skin, and the same goes for the Prickly Pear Shampoo, Almond Conditioner and Citrus Body Cream – all of which can be purchased from the Irene Forte Skincare online shop.
DINNER IS SERVED
Back in the day, hotels didn’t have restaurants, and guests dined in their suites. Brown’s changed all that when it opened London’s first public dining room. At the helm is Chef Director Adam Byatt, whose credits include stints at Claridge’s, Berkeley Hotel and The Square, plus his own ventures, among them the award-winning Thyme and Michelin-starred Trinity in Clapham. Head Chef Matthew Starling brought his culinary expertise all the way from Australia to London to work at Roganic and Fera before joining Brown’s. Together, Adam and Matthew deliver a modern twist to British and international favourites.
The menu changes with the seasons and last summer’s stand-out starters included a refreshing salad of Cornish lobster, crab and heirloom tomatoes, while a main course of tasty Cumbrian lamb served with artichokes, roasted peppers, tapenade, and aubergine was certainly a winner. An indulgent dessert of chocolate crémeux with malted milk ice cream and hazelnuts was decadent but not too cloyingly sweet, while the Amalfi lemon tart with hibiscus syllabub had just the right amount of delightful mouth-tingling tartness. An extra treat was a wine pairing to complement the dishes, expertly recommended by the restaurant’s sommelier. This autumn’s menu looks equally enticing, featuring scrumptious classics, such as a plum fool with shortbread and a blackberry tartlet.
The Sunday roast is a celebration of British culinary heritage, and at Charlie’s, this traditional feast gets the royal treatment. Served from a gleaming silver trolley is a mouth-watering choice of Herdwick lamb, Lake District beef, baked Cornish hake or a mix of brassicas, plus all the trimmings, followed by a choice of dessert or cheese plate. And speaking of special occasions, Brown’s Hotel is world-renowned for its Traditional Afternoon Tea. Read about this special experience here.
SANCTUARY IN THE CITY
London may be full to the rafters with five-star hotels. But when you whittle it down to one that’s steeped in history, heritage, character, style and prestige, Brown’s Hotel ticks all the boxes. Moreover, its close proximity to art galleries, designer shops and cultural attractions makes it an ideal base from which to explore the capital in style. And when it’s time to escape the city’s hustle and bustle, it’s nice to come home to an intimate retreat like Brown’s Hotel.
Images © in order of appearance: Rocco Forte Hotels; Rocco Forte Hotels; Rocco Forte Hotels; Charlie McKay; Janos Grapow; Rocco Forte Hotels