Review by Fiona Duncan, published 4th June 2006.
Mission impossible: to find a London hotel that doesn’t make you laugh out loud at the audacity of the bill. When I’m asked to recommend a feel-good place that’s also affordable, my heart sinks.
Meanwhile, I’m heading for an address that, despite the wicked bill, might just be worth every penny.
I should declare an interest here because its owners, Tim and Kit Kemp, have a home in the same charmingly oddball south coast backwater as I do. It’s a place where you either ride or sail: we usually meet trying to inch past one another in some narrow lane, Kit towing a horse, me a boat, a far cry from the Soho Hotel, whose guest list reads like the line-up at a Hollywood awards ceremony.
I’m in awe of Kit. With a large family and all those horses, she has somehow found the time to single-handedly design every inch of every one of their seven Firmdale hotels – which include the Covent Garden, Charlotte Street, and the soon-to-open Haymarket down to the smallest detail, including her trademark dressmaker’s dummy in each room.
It’s early evening and the BlackBerrying Soho film crowd are out in force in the hotel’s open-to-view restaurant, Refuel, with its dashing motoring mural (a nod to the multi-storey car park that stood here) stretching above the long pewter bar. Reserved for hotel guests only are the fabulous cerise pink drawing room and a calmer library though why not fill shelves with books that tempt, rather than the boring leather-bound volumes that are there just for decoration? That’s the bit I don’t like about boutique hotels: pretty but somehow not real. Both rooms, however (each with a log fire) have honesty bars so you can mix yourself a drink just how you like it, though there’s waiter service as well, and you can order dishes from the restaurant to eat there too. Everyone looks rather glamourous, and young, and a lot of them look American.
Before retreating to your room, you should take a look downstairs. As well as a gym and treatment rooms, there are two screening rooms, one with wacky cowhide and red Italian leather sofas and armchairs instead of cinema seats (Friday night is film night for guests).
As for the bedrooms, easily the best value are the mid-price rooms that share the fifth floor with the hotel’s enormous suites – and benefit, like them, from the views and wrap-around balcony. Kit’s forte is to reflect the current taste for restrained interiors without kissing goodbye to pretty things or daring combinations, and to put comfort and quality before complexity, hence door keys and old-fashioned light switches, sensible bath fittings, Tivoli radios, handmade beds and the softest of carpet underfoot. She makes bold statements: much at the Soho is oversized for effect, from the 10ft bronze Botero cat in the lobby to the headboard, sofa and pictures in our bedroom. It works for us: we feel good in this space, and at dinner in Refuel.
A few days later, I bump into Kit at our local farm shop. “What’s your philosophy when you create a hotel?” I ask pompously. “Oh, that’s simple. Just to make the guests comfortable”. She does, and a whole lot more. It’s not the inexpensive London address I’m searching for, but there’s no doubt that it delivers.
4 Richmond Mews, London W1 (020 7559 3000; www.firmdale.com). Double rooms and suites from £282 to £2,937 per night. Standard double £346. Breakfast from £16.50 per person.