Vicky Smith checks out Mama Shelter and quaffs champagne at Hyatt Regency London - The Churchill
Five-star yet unpretentious, classic but contemporary, Hyatt Regency London - The Churchill is a lesson in contrasts. Even its location is a happy oxymoron, a quiet pocket of Marylebone just minutes from bustling Oxford Street.
Having whizzed down from Manchester in just two hours thanks to Virgin Trains, I’m joining the likes of Barack Obama and staying in this great London institution following its multimillion-pound refurbishment. Sartorial elegance - fine fabrics, bespoke herringbone, tasteful furniture - reflect its namesake’s love of quality craftsmanship and celebrated British tailoring, while quirky local artwork nods to his witty sense of humour. This is the only hotel to work closely with the Churchill family and it shows.
As my tasteful king room overlooks the leafy canopy of Portman Square Gardens and features triple glazing for ultimate peace, it’s hard to believe I’m so close to Europe’s busiest shopping street. Add in the biggest bed I’ve ever seen and a Toto bidet toilet with heated seat, this is the ultimate luxury hideaway.
Now firmly ensconced, it takes the promise of good food and drink to draw me from my room: while the hotel has an extensive in-room dining menu, my companions and I are visiting its award-winning restaurant The Montagu Kitchen. Inspired by the gardens at Chartwell, the private home of Sir Winston Churchill, this British eatery reconnects diners with nature through seasonal produce and deceptively simple dishes.
We tuck into the likes of Gressingham smoked duck with slow cooked pears and homemade lavender vinaigrette; Dingley Dell pork belly with roasted heritage carrots, glazed apples and pork jus; and grilled North Atlantic Hake with leek, fennel and clementine salad (there are also options aplenty for veggies and vegans, as well as gluten and diary-free). Desserts are no less satisfying, horticultural delights like apple and black tea bar with cardamom salted caramel and parsnip, while acclaimed Chapel Down wines and a couple of signature Garden cocktails make for ideal drinking accompaniments. What a start to the weekend.
Somewhat inevitably, I can’t manage breakfast the next day - instead starting the morning with an explore around Marylebone. Also known as Baker Street Quarter, this area is perhaps best known for Madame Tussauds wax museum, as well as celeb restaurant haunt Chiltern Firehouse. But a mix of stunning residential streets and buzzing thoroughfares lined with indie boutiques, eateries and coffee shops also make it an enchanting place to wander.
Marylebone’s fascinating architectural medley, from eighteen and nineteenth century mews to stately Georgian rows and red brick mansions, is also well worth checking out. And as home of everyone from John Lennon to Dusty Springfield and famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, it boasts a vibrant cultural history too.
Our last stop before lunch is the Wallace Collection, one of the finest of its kind in the world. Built over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, it hosts unsurpassed masterpieces of paintings, sculpture, furniture, armour and porcelain in the family’s former townhouse. Not only is it one of London’s best art museums, it’s also completely free and our tour with the enigmatic Midori really brings this stunning bequest to life.
My appetite fortunately makes a reappearance just in time for our lunch stop; the Michelin-starred Locanda Locatelli, named for its celebrity chef Giorgio and renowned for its innovative slant on classic Italian cuisine. Handily adjoining our hotel, and arguably just as exclusive, it shares the same friendly convivial atmosphere and refreshing lack of pretension. With natural woods and leather booths, the décor is as understated as the dining; showcasing the best produce and execution with minimal interference.
A range of homemade breads to start, including regional specialities from the likes of Sicily and some dangerously moreish cheesy breadsticks, is followed by a diverse choice of seasonal starters, bowls of fresh pasta and pesce, carne and vegan dishes. I opt for chargrilled stuffed baby squid for antipasti and lobster linguine for main, accompanied by a house white. Full to the brim (almost), we round off by sharing the dessert of the day - a sublime raspberry and pistachio confection - before a mid-afternoon siesta.
As afternoon segues into evening, it’s time to try yet another of the hotel’s lauded venues; talk about having it all… The Churchill Bar & Terrace is famed for creative cocktails (many made with its very own craft gin) as well as homemade tonics, premium spirits, fine wines and wide selection of classics. Inspired by Sir Winston and his wife Clementine, the swish Art Deco interior also features bookshelves curated by Daunt Books, love letters and original photographs. Outside, guests can dine alfresco by a life-size bronze of young Churchill as they snuggle up on the heated terrace, and even purchase a selection of cigars by the UK’s leading Cuban cigar importer Hunters & Frankau.
Both terrace and menu change theme with each season and, as we visit in the last throes of summer, still boast a Cuban theme inspired by Churchill’s travels in the Caribbean country. After perusing the charmingly illustrated cocktail menu, I opt for ‘Guantanamera’ - a gin-based confection inspired by the 1920s song - as we snack on nibbles like mini cubanito sandwiches and grilled gambas (if you’re feeling peckish, there are plenty more where those came from on the bar’s extensive food menu).
Our final destination for the day is Wigmore Hall, an intimate Victorian concert venue just minutes from the hotel and yet another of Marylebone’s lesser-known treasures. Featuring an Arts and Crafts cupola above the stage, this period stunner hosts over 460 concerts a year; from the Renaissance to contemporary jazz and new commissions by today’s most exciting composers. Ours is a baroque concert and, although no classical buff, I find it strangely mesmeric.
Alas, Sunday morning, our final day at Hyatt Regency London - The Churchill arrives. After a stroll around nearby Mayfair, we decide to round off our visit in suitable style - with The Montagu Kitchen’s legendary Sunday brunch. One of several offerings at the restaurant, from chef’s table experiences to special events, its bottomless champagne option makes for the ultimate weekend luxury.
To start, we take our pick from two huge tables, gorgeously decorated in autumnal foliage to mark the season and laden with titbits: British cheeses, homemade breads, dried fruit, massive prawns, fresh oysters, smoked salmon, mini quiches and more besides.
Seated by the dynamic open kitchen, where diners can see the chefs hard at work, we then take our pick of starter and main - I choose lobster eggs benedict and catch of the day (in this case trout) with root vegetables - before being presented with a display stand of desserts that look like tiny works of art. Inspired by Chartwell Garden’s flowers and large green spaces, these range from Bed of Roses (raspberry chiboust, rose brûlée and English shortbread) to Chartwell Green (Kentish sparkling honey, fig, sunflower cake and walnut mousse).
My most luxurious weekend ever? Undeniably. The only snag is having to return to reality at the end, but boy is this place worth it. Just bring your eating pants…
Vicky Smith travelled to London on Virgin Trains; journey times from Manchester start from two hours. Prices vary, advance booking recommended for the best deals.
Vicky stayed at Hyatt Regency London - The Churchill. With 440 sophisticated guestrooms including 50 suites, plus 11 distinctive meeting spaces and three acclaimed dining venues, this five-star hotel offers a full range of services tailored to serve the needs of business and leisure travellers alike. Rooms start from £350 per night.
From the Hyatt in Marylebone to Mama in Hackney…
During my extended trip to London, I also took the opportunity to visit what’s being touted as ‘the hottest hotel launch of the season.’ Opened this autumn close to trendy Hackney, Mama London is the newest addition to the Mama Shelter family; a Parisian company that’s disrupting the hotel scene worldwide with its eccentric, fun and accessible approach to hospitality.
Providing a ‘home away from home’ in East London, rooms at this affordable boutique hotel start from £99 and include an impressively current film selection. Typically eclectic, my room boasts cartoon Disney masks either side of the bed and a personalised ‘welcome home’ message written on the mirror. A ceramic pot reveals homemade shortbread biscuits (a more virtuous bowl of fruit sits alongside) while Mama’s own branded merchandise, organic toiletries and chic magazine reflect its now iconic status.
Styled by upcoming French designer Dion & Arles, the interior is delightfully eccentric. Think lace doilies, mismatched furniture, eclectic knick-knacks, vintage lamps, coloured macramé, bright Liberty prints and a graffiti chalkboard ceiling that took 45 days to hand-paint. Elsewhere you’ll find table football, giant Twister board, virtual photo and video booths…and even Japanese-style karaoke rooms. Complete with pinball machines, retro video games and and classic fifties-style microphones, these make for the ideal get-together with friends.
Mama London also includes a 100-cover restaurant, serving a mix of French Mama classics such as croque monsieur and duck parmentier and locally-inspired specialities like pie and mash with braised lamb shoulder and eel sauce. Reflecting Mama’s international outlook, you’ll also find dishes from further afield - from warm focaccia to lamb shawarma on stone-baked flatbread and hake ceviche - and drinks span classic tipples to characterful cocktails like Hackney Riviera and Sundays on Columbia Road. Our advice? Enjoy on the cosy terrace (don’t worry, there’s a retractable roof) and follow up with the aforementioned karaoke. What is life without a little frivolity after all?
Find out more about Mama London on the website