David Adamson lives the glamorous London life for a weekend
In recent years I've not had much occasion to go to London. Several of my friends moved down there after university, so I'd periodically jump on the Megabus for a weekend of pubs and parties before curling up gratefully on someone's sofa. Now that the majority of them are back in Manchester, I've even less occasion.
So when I was invited to stay in the five-star Hyatt Regency London The Churchill in Marylebone, where I was sure to be sleeping on something bigger and better than a charity shop sofa, I practically packed my bags there and then.
The Hyatt Regency London - The Churchill: there's a lot of grand words bustling for space in that name, and with good reason. Each of them is almost a byword for luxury of some sort or another. Hyatt is the name you see the world over, suggesting somewhere that doesn't just give you a key card and a bed, but a sense of living someone else's life for a few days, and that's certainly how I felt.
I'm surprised I even registered the feeling of immense satisfaction at this point, as it was something I had become dangerously accustomed to over my weekend spent here
I boarded the train to Euston, took my seat and felt that warm, slightly smug glow of a Friday afternoon with a weekend in London ahead of me. Nowhere to be seen was Anthony Burgess famous 'exercise in condescension' when travelling from Manchester to the capital. If anything, it felt nice to get away from the competitive coolness of 'the London of the North' to a place that would treat me with the blank-eyed anonymity of a global city - that is, outside of The Churchill, where I was Richard Burton reincarnate (including the bar bill).
I arrived at the hotel by walking alongside the gated Portman Square Garden, the sort of private garden you picture when someone mentions Peter Pan and rarely see in other cities. Naturally, access to this is granted to residents of the Hyatt Regency and, along with the area of Marylebone itself, feels like an oasis in amongst the slight madness of a city like London. Oxford Street was less than five minutes walk away, but if you hadn't told me I wouldn't have known.
The building's facade is something of a red herring, being built in 1970 and - in the words of Milvas, our trusty guide/babysitter for the weekend - "big and brutal on the outside, soft on the inside, like the man himself". I love a vaulted arch as much as the next man, and an art deco frontage gives me great joy, but I love the brutalist style of the hotel's front - unapologetic amongst the Georgian grandeur. Again, much like the man himself.
That's where the understatement ends. From the porte-cochère onwards (fancy, I know) you are in no doubt of the five stars assigned to The Churchill, built as these reputations are on the sense of walking inside a Swiss watch. I checked in and took the lift up to my room; 541, bringing to the mind of this sad little football fan the 'parking the bus formation', an easy aide-memoire for my soon-to-be pickled brains.
You could perhaps park a bus in the room itself, speaking as someone currently living a pleasant but spatially austere life in a shared house. Therefore I was almost embarrassed to have it all to myself, giddy at the sight of a double king size bed. I threw my bag onto it and went down to the lobby for our tour of the hotel.
Friday: A Tour of the Hotel
We began, naturally, in the elegant surroundings of the hotel lobby, an exercise in understated old world glamour that belies the building's 53 years. All tidy symmetry, pillars and marble, it's an ode to classical style with none of the dustiness (or draughtiness for that matter). At the end of the lobby sits the Montagu Kitchen and Lounge, an all-day dining room where we would later be taking our seats.
We were then shown the other rooms on offer, including the family option with adjoining rooms (complete with frankly adorable gifts for children). The other, grander option was the one of the suites, where the inclusion of things like a sofa, coffee machine and desk suggested somewhere you could - much like Churchill - stay longer than you expected.
A quick tour around the hotel's wellness centre, with massage room and salon, and the gymnasium (which was awash with natural light and almost made me want to exercise) and we then took a few hours to unwind before dinner that evening.
Friday: Dinner at The Montagu Kitchen and Lounge
Dressed for dinner, I headed down to The Montagu Kitchen and Lounge, where my friend and guest, Tom, was waiting. We were led to near the open kitchen, where Executive Chef Carlo Martino was ready to talk us through an enticing array of canapes and Roberto stood dutifully holding a bottle of Telmont champagne. Sometimes it's a hard life, this journalism game.
"It's about simplicity - you have to let the quality of the ingredients sing for themselves," said Carlo, and here the canapes were in a wonderful chorus.
Each was beautifully simple; from the fresh and fragrant white crab and the moreish tang of the seabass ceviche to the scottish lobster and caviar blinis. The seafood and black squid ink arancini were a little more complex but no less delicious, and when you then add pork and kale battered dumplings and a row of pommes anna the feeling of being thoroughly spoiled washes over you. I tried desperately to save my appetite for dinner but simply could not stop myself.
We then sat down for dinner, which was once again a show of understated excellence, starting with surely one of the greatest examples of this approach; seared scallops with a seafood bisque and pickled apple. Seared scallops are a simple delight, especially when only barely shown a hot pan, and here they were perfectly done. The bisque meanwhile takes time, care and attention to create, and all three were present and accounted for in making a sauce with levels of complexity to match the scallops simple brilliance. Pickled apples for a touch of texture was a lovely addition.
Next was the salt marsh rack of lamb, a classic of British cookery. While it was accompanied by a familiar friend in the form of a parsnip puree, there was the welcome company of a braised lamb shoulder and bone marrow croquette, which was a delicious and delicate balance between those two joys of eating - not wanting a dish to end, and feeling utterly and beautifully full.
As always, there was room for dessert, which here was a pumpkin and maple mousse with maple ice cream. Subtly seasonal, it was a great example in the possibilities of lending earthy, squashy flavours a sweet tone, and the presentation like a fallen autumn leaf.
We then let the remaining hours while away in a pub round the corner, The Three Tuns, nominally a Greene King pub but so much more due to its clearly longstanding city centre status. Several pints of Guinness and the talking of some idle nonsense and it was time for bed.
Saturday: A tour of Marylebone
A quick breakfast and we were off into Marylebone. Such is the strange quirk of this part of London, we wandered out of the doors of The Churchill and didn't have the need to hail a taxi.
The first stop was Frameless, an immersive art experience in Marble Arch. I didn't quite know what I was walking into here, so just let the place wash over me as soon as I walked in the door.
We took the escalator down a mirrored corridor and into the main atrium of Frameless, a stylish and understated gallery with four rooms each dedicated to an immersive experience of different artistic movements: The Art of Abstraction from the likes of Klimt, Mondrian and Kandinsky; Colour in Motion, exploring Impressionists from Van Gogh to Monet; The World Around Us taking in the vistas of Turner, Rembrandt and Rubens; and Beyond Reality, a journey into surrealism via Dali, Ernst and Rousseau.
Much like the movements they explore, each of these installations was spectacular in its own way. The dancing peripheral colours and shapes of the abstract, the vivid and powerfully romantic palettes of impressionism, the bombastic and cinematic scenes of Turner and Rembrant and the lurid unreality of surrealism.
Admittedly I hadn't been awake all that long, so this was an especially heady way to spend a Saturday morning. Novel ways to exhibit art can sometimes be a bit overstated, when in reality it's the work itself that should be able to arrest and astound, but it can be hard to feel the force of art when it's stuck to a wall behind perspex. Here, although of course not in oil paint, the brushes and strokes and peculiar details of the pieces can be seen in an outsized, impressive scale, and the surprisingly subtle musical accompaniments - by Nick Powell and Benjamin Grant - helping to bring you into the world of each painting as if it were a three-dimensional place to explore.
It was also half term, so the place was filled with small children, all of whom seemed equally rapt with the surroundings, or at the very least not bored and impatient. Frameless is certainly a worthwhile visit in a part of the city that is trying to pull you in every direction to experience one thing or another. It was a heady and dreamlike delight.
We then wandered over to another gallery, The Wallace Collection, a free exhibition found in the grand townhouse Hertford House. In contrast to the subtle and more modern styles found in Frameless, this is a trove of high-minded, overblown and faintly ridiculous pieces of art, sculpture, ceramics and furniture that were collected by Sir Richard Wallace in the 18th and 19th centuries. It's a fun counterpoint and a great way to see how frankly insane the lives of the landed gentry were at one time.
I then met up again with Tom and we went for a walk on Marylebone High Street in search of some lunch. That might seem foolish, you may think, that I'd be lucky to leave the place with a bank account still intact, but frankly the menus on the front doors of the many pubs and restaurants were no crazier than what you're charged in the more well-to-do areas of Manchester. After Friday's gorgeous but substantial meal we were happy with something lighter. We took a seat in The Marylebone pub, and ordered a pizza to share and a pint of Guinness for myself (can you see a pattern emerging?).
Also, I wouldn't be a northerner on a weekend in the capital if I didn't mention that I saw someone famous. As I stood outside by the pub facade, finishing my pint and having a cigarette, a man in a baseball cap and sunglasses walked past me. I caught his eye and knew it to be Clive Owen. So there you go. And if you're reading this, Clive, you didn't fool me.
Saturday: Drinks and a show…then more drinks
We met back at the hotel in the late afternoon and were due for cocktails in The Churchill Bar and Terrace at about 5pm. This was ahead of our trip to the Piccadilly Theatre to see Moulin Rouge! The Musical, a sentence I didn't expect to be writing when I took up my role with Manchester Confidential. Drinks and a show - I wore my best trousers.
We met in The Churchill Bar and Terrace, a slice of old world glamour with tasteful decor but enough pzazz to make Winston himself proud. We sat outside on the terrace, catching the last of the evening and tasting cocktails from the bar's Unity menu; a carefully curated menu taking inspiration from South American, European and Japanese drinks.
The cocktails were each a delicate expression of subtle flavours and were no doubt lovingly put together, and went down with worrying ease as we also tucked into some of the bar nibbles. At the table across from us, two well-to-do men took out cigars the size of femurs and one of the bar staff dutifully lit them with a blowtorch.
Our carriage arrived and we set off for the West End - sorry, 'London's Glamorous West End' - for an evening of song and dance. I must admit, musicals are not my thing, which is the polite way that people say they cringe themselves inside out at the sight of someone breaking into song. Such are the joys of being a journalist you have to throw yourself into things, including musicals, so I took my seat with an open mind. The first half took some getting used to, mostly the unending medley of popular songs crashing up against each other, but in a way like watching Shakespeare, you have to let it settle in. By the time the second act was in full flow I realised I was enjoying myself at a musical.
We arrived back at the hotel with enough time for a nightcap at the bar, and so sat with an Old Fashioned and nattered away on every subject under the sun until last orders were called and it was time to draw a busy day to a close.
Sunday: A roast and final thoughts
There was just time to do battle with the Montagu Kitchen and Lounge once more, and this time for a Sunday roast. Tom and I took our seats just nearby to a side of beef that looked as beautiful as any of the art in The Wallace Collection, if not moreso.
In reality, I'm surprised I even registered the feeling of immense satisfaction at this point, as it was something I had become dangerously accustomed to over my weekend at the Hyatt Regency London The Churchill.
It was London but not as I'd previously known it. I got on the train from Euston feeling like I'd lived someone else's life for the weekend, and would happily step into those shoes again.
Hyatt Regency London - The Churchill, 30 Portman Square, London, W1H 7BH
David stayed at the Hyatt Regency London - The Churchill, a luxury, five-star hotel located behind Hyde Park and Oxford Street in the heart of London’s West End. With rooms starting at £400, it boasts 440 upscale guestrooms, including 50 luxury suites, a contemporary and seasonal British all-day dining destination (The Montagu Kitchen & Lounge), The Churchill Bar & Terrace, a wellness centre and a 24-hour Fitness Centre featuring state-of-the-art equipment.
For further information and to book a room, visit their website
For those wanting to enjoy the luxury of staying at a Hyatt Regency hotel a little closer to home, there's the four-star Hyatt Regency Manchester just by the museum on Oxford Road.
55 Booth Street West, Manchester, M15 6PQ
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