Review by Fiona Duncan, published 7th June 2009.
We are in the heart of "clubland". The Royal Over-seas is next door and other bastions of upper crust Britishness - Boodles, Brookes, Whites and the Carlton Club - are around the corner.
"Then why," asks my friend Charles, "am I reminded of Thirties Germany?" That, Charles, is because the glossy new interior in which you sit was designed by AMJ, a German company best known for the Adlon Hotel and the China Club in Berlin. And because the paintings on the walls are German Expressionist portraits from that era, part of an entire private collection bought by the hotel's new proprietor. And it – you guessed it – is a German hotel group, Althoff, who wanted a smart London address in its portfolio.
"Strange," says Charles. "I was expecting a comfy, English, clubby sort of place."
There was once, I explain, a gentleman's club called St James's in Piccadilly. It closed in 1978 and the name was sold to entrepreneur Peter de Savary who used it for the flashy hotel and club he opened here in Park Place. Now, after an 18-month refurb, it's been taken over by Althoff.
"I'm confused," says Charles. "Let's have a cocktail." We try the house speciality, a zesty mix of gin and Prosecco (with elderflower and pomegranate) designed to denote the Anglo-Italian associations of the former gentleman's club.
"And the pomegranate?"
Oh dear. Misgivings are ever present. In the intimate bar and restaurant, superb lighting shows off silk and cashmere wall coverings, black lacquer tables, velvet armchairs and huge pale green vases displayed between sheets of glass. Colours are subtle: taupe, olive and cream with touches of burnished gold, copper and aquamarine. And yet the sense of confusion persists. The designers' brief was to "capture the feel of an esteemed gentleman's club, combined with the comfort and professionalism of a prestigious boutique hotel". One or the other, I say, not both.
Much is in place for a successful luxury hotel but its raison d'être remains elusive, not helped by the fact that most of its bedrooms are disgracefully small for the price. Much is made of the hotel's penthouse suites, but the fact that ordinary mortals will sleep in rooms, albeit silk-lined, the size of rabbit hutches, is less trumpeted. The staff are efficient, the cocktails excellent and the food very good but again, confusing: "modern Mediterranean cuisine with a sophisticated Asian polish following the Marco Polo spice route". See what I mean?
The television in my room crystallises my ambivalence. "Welcome Mrs Fionna Duncan," it proclaims. That fatal second "n" ruins everything, plus I don't want to be greeted by a television in a so-called traditional club. I search through its "entertainment system", looking for Radio 4. Dozens of strange foreign stations are at my disposal but not, here in the heart of St James's, the BBC.
Park Place, London SW1 (020 7316 1600; www.stjameshotelandclub.com) Doubles from £345 per night; breakfast from £15. Access possible for guests with disabilities