As a born-and-bred Londoner I have often wondered what it must be like to view the city through the eyes of a visitor. Yet as with many other tourist experiences, like visiting Madame Tussauds and witnessing the changing of the guard, it has always been something that’s, well, been a bit too much grief. After all, why would I spend the night in a London hotel when I have a warm bed waiting for me at the end of a tube line?
Or at least that’s what I thought until I stayed at the Malmaison in Farringdon. To begin with the hotel is situated in a beautiful mediaeval square that’s tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby Farringdon Road and surrounded by a range of stunning Victorian and Georgian mansions. It even has its very own abbey to the rear.
Then there’s the fact that the hotel oozes style the moment you walk through the front door and discover a lobby of designer seats surrounding an enticing champagne bar. Draped in black fabrics and filled with soft lighting, it provokes an air of decadent indulgence – in short, the perfect atmosphere for a cosy weekend for two.
This licentious tone is continued though the mirror-paneled lifts, artwork and dark, silent corridors, which lead into modern, stylish bedrooms, with king size beds and equally large bathrooms. Should you need to wash the city out of your hair you have the option of an excellent power shower or a separate bath, making it ideal for a soak or a splash-and-dash.
Yet the star of the show has to be the downstairs brasserie, which serves a range of British classics in an elegant, sophisticated atmosphere that’s split into a number of different sections, making it simultaneously secluded and open. So even if the restaurant is full, you feel as though you’ve discovered your own little slice of sanctuary. There’s also a private dining room should you want to be yet more exclusive and the Butcher’s Block, where diners are screened from the rest of the room by a chain curtain.
Along with being excellent quality the food is remarkably good value: for just £30 a couple can enjoy two courses and a bottle of house wine. Which, given the size of the portions and the excellent standard of the menu, represents amazingly good value. It may be the only restaurant in London that doesn’t have you mouthing the words ‘rip off’.
Should that not entice you to the table, there’s a range of other fantastic eateries nearby too, with Masterchef judge John Torode’s Smiths of Smithfield little more than 100 yards away, and everything from French to Mexican easily discovered on a short stroll. The same applies to pubs and clubs, as Farringdon is a part of London that simply never sleeps. While it’s quieter at the weekend, there is literally no end to the hedonistic pleasures on offer. All you need to do is follow your nose and explore.
In fact, just about the only issue with the London Mal is that Farringdon Station is currently closed, which means it can be tricky to get into the West End without jumping into a cab or embarking on a 15 minute walk to Barbican Station. Then again, this also works in its favour, as it makes the hotel even more hidden, discreet and tucked away. It’s almost like a secret part of London, that even us locals don’t know about.
As a local the Mal also has one quality that renders all of this utterly meaningless too: after a night of revelry I was able to rest my weary, sozzled head on a soft, luxurious pillow without so much as thinking about catching a night bus or the last train out of Waterloo. Instead, I walked through Farringdon’s lamp-lit streets past an array of bustling nightclubs. The city was at its best: alive, happy, exciting and carefree. And that, surely, is what discovering London as a tourist is all about.
By Phil Boucher