Christopher Jackson finds much to enjoy at the Marylebone – another excellent offering by the Doyle Collection
If I were forced to name my least favourite street in London I would answer without, I hope, any pause: Oxford Street. There nothing is good or fine or true or lovely – all is commerce, and stress: it is the dense agglomeration of the superfluous and the predominantly unnecessary.
But that only makes it more of a pleasure to tack away from: one feels the flames of the inferno lessen, its cries diminish. One direction to go is north, past the Wigmore Hall and towards Welbeck Street. There, you will find on a street of dentists and minor embassies, the Marylebone Hotel.
This is part of the Doyle Collection, one of three hotels by that chain secreted in central London, the others being the Bloomsbury and the Kensington. The Marylebone also bears some similarities with the Westbury in Dublin – that fine establishment just off Grafton Street – and the River Lee Hotel in Cork, which Michael Jackson reportedly once hired in its entirety, for one unimaginable night. There’s the same behatted doorman, looking reasonably Wodehousian, similarly friendly staff and the same snazzy carpets like a sort of stretched Bridget Riley you’re magically allowed to walk on.
Our room itself is a corner suite with a view of two pubs, a spire looking down in disapproval on all London’s atheism, and a cobble-street leading nowhere in particular – or just towards the next episode in the city’s vast unfolding. The décor is pleasant but not unnecessarily sumptuous: a mouse-brown corner sofa presided over by a photograph of ballet-dancers and an angle-poise lamp; a desk asking you to write a poem; and the mini-bar resides within a sort of mirrored island in the centre of the room, dividing the bedroom from the lounge space.
The design works – it is comfortable, and too much pizzazz wouldn’t fit the grey tones of London in any case. It serves as an agreeable oasis from the complexities of the city beyond. One slight criticism: the smoke alarm and thermometer, as so often in this century of bright lights, come liberally lit up with red dots. These would not prove restful when the time came for sleep. This particular insomniac had to resort to the dubious strategy of wrapping his eyes in a napkin in order to blot out the light.
This indignity was, however, in the future. Next up was dinner – it’s another happy feature of the Doyle collection that they come with excellent restaurants: one thinks of the Wilde in the Westbury or the Dalloway Terrace at the Bloomsbury. If you’re staying here you could easily enjoy an evening at the Wigmore Hotel, and dine out – but you’d be missing the many delights of the 108 Brasserie.
For starter, I opted for the Dorset crab with Guinness bread. The bits of crab – fresh and perfectly textured – sat atop the bread, like a perched celebration of St Patrick’s Day. The menu has its Irish themes here and there – the soup of the day comes with Irish soda bread – but the overall feel is British with a dash of European: Galician steak vies with Cornish hake; Iberico port cutlet with Cotswold white chicken.
For main, I opted for the fillet steak with a peppercorn sauce: my staple. This came with steamed spinach and mashed potatoes, and was a needed warmth in the unsurpassable cold of that February. A cheese plate capped the evening and led me on up towards a strange night of sleeping – or rather failing to sleep – blindfolded, like a strangely supine one-man game of blind man’s buff.
However, mornings at the Marylebone are just as civilised as the nights – there is a fine cooked breakfast available, as well as a juicery which sells thickly delicious glasses of fruit which seems hardly liquidised at all. The staff is polite and intelligent: my waitress traded impressions of Gogol’s Dead Souls with me.
This experience was especially agreeable after a swim and sauna: my experience is that the Doyle Collection always has such good gyms that its hotels tend to attract a surprisingly lively gym-going population. In the Marylebone, the pool is in the basement so that one can imagine that beyond one’s inept paddlings, people might be sitting on their poker-faced commutes.
And, of course, you’re not far from the full range of London’s attractions: the Handel museum is just nearby, as is the Wallace Collection, worth a visit alone for Hals’ magnificent Laughing Cavalier. We were laughing too as we left – this is a place to do something Londoners seem hardly to do at all: rest and relax.