You will be surprised by Durrants Hotel. Tucked away in the middle of George Street, at the bottom end of Marylebone High Street, with Baker Street to one side and the chic boutiques of Marylebone village to the other, it sits proud and genteel, in its own exclusive ivy clad terroir. From the moment the hotel doorman opens the front door you know you have arrived somewhere which is now nearly extinct in any metropolis, anywhere in the world: the private, family-run hotel.
The front hall could be straight out of The Old Rectory in St.Mary Mead, with wooden panelling and leather chesterfield sofa, the smell of beeswax polish and the tinkling sounds of tea being served in the drawing room.
Run by the Miller family since 1921, the 92 bedroomed Durrants Hotel is named after a certain Mr. Durrant who owned a row of three terraced houses here. As you walk from room to room on the ground floor you will certainly feel a sense of homely architecture: there are intimate reception rooms that lead off a central corridor and although the new refurbishments are very beautifully and richly done, comfortable, warm atmosphere has not been lost.
There is a very cosy “gentleman’s bar” with leather banquettes, a beautiful fireplace, comfortable chairs and brass tables. Men in suits tap on their laptops and ladies who lunch, in their pashminas and pearls, meet here for a chilled Sauvignon Blanc and a bar snack. The main reception rooms are very feminine and decorated in a “rus in urbe” style: soft, blush rose colours, silk flowers in small vases, gilt framed mirrors, scented candles and wicker log baskets. Once ensconced you will not want to leave: the outside world is so harsh and hurried compared to this salubrious, elegant cocoon.
You could sit in relaxed peace for hours on tartan upholstered divans reading, or playing scrabble or even looking out at the hustle and bustle of shoppers, the school run and traffic from Georgian sash windows. There is a hushed, respectful quiet in the air: from the porter carrying your bag to your room, to the smiling receptionist to the waitress in the bar serving sherries and gin cocktails, everything is done quietly, carefully and with old-world manners.
Some of the bedrooms are newly refurbished and some are not, and so do ask before you book. Yes, you are in central London, and the traffic noise is unabated, but the walls are thick and so are the curtains. The location of the hotel, right in the middle of one of London’s most popular foodie and shopping destinations, means that a little rumble of traffic is the price you pay for heavenly shops and restaurants a stone’s throw from the front door. La Fromagerie, Orrery Restaurant, The Ginger Pig, Divertimenti, Caldesi Cookery School and Le Pain Quotidien are all nearby.
The dining room is very old-fashioned and beautiful: there is a maître d’ from the old-school of restaurant management, Wedgewood porcelain, monogrammed cutlery, starched white linens and dining chairs with wooden swan backs. It is so much more preferable to eat here than on the high street, and so much better value. There is a daily carvery menu offering excellent food for outstanding value: 2 courses for £17.50 and 3 courses for £19.50. The cooking is simple, classical, well done and it is obvious that the ingredients are of the very highest provenance.
For breakfast do not miss the freshly squeezed juices, the full English breakfast, hot toasts on silver racks, big jars of Seville and strawberry jam and porridge served with runny honey. Eggs can be prepared any way you want them and even when the hotel is completely filled the yolks still arrive perfectly cooked. There is a great skill in achieving that in big numbers in a hurry.
All around you are international voices: the American pianist who is here to perform at a concert, the German businessman on holiday with the family and the Dutch writer who has come to see the museums. You will enjoy eavesdropping on the human stories that circulate in this room: the long, thin shape of the dining room leaves plenty of scope for people watching. Phalanxes of The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail copies arise, hiding those that do not wish to be part of the conversation flow. If I was an author in need of a good plot for my new novella, I would book myself into Durrants Hotel for at least a week: there are more potential plot lines here than all of John Le Carre’s works put together.
Particularly if you are a woman travelling on your own, wanting somewhere to stay that is good value, central and extremely well run, this is a strong recommendation. The concierge will risk life and limb to hail you a taxi; doors are opened in front of you and closed behind you; when you return after an evening out the barman will greet you with a warm smile and a hot chamomile tea; in your bedroom they have thought of every creature comfort your travel weary heart could possibly desire and then added just a few more.
This is the kind of vintage hospitality that is fast disappearing in the modern travel industry, where large hotel corporations chase maximum profit for minimum effort. Long may Durrants survive and prosper.
Durrants Hotel: www.durrantshotel.co.uk