Five star hotels are pure fantasy. The posh coffee maker I can’t afford advertised by George Clooney. The bed that feels like sleeping on a cloud compared to a bed of nails. And the monsters and robots in the lobby that remind me of countless movies.
Okay, you won’t find the latter in most hotels. It’s a sculpture that catches my bleary eye the minute my partner and I check into Conrad London St James.
It’s around 1am, and I’ve been looking forward to this stay for months: for a couple of nights we get to live like film stars.
Friday evening, and after finishing work, Rachel and I have jumped on a train from Howden, East Yorkshire and two hours later, we’re at King’s Cross.
After a late meal and evening of music in Belgravia, we’re dragging our case a mile up the road to one of the fanciest hotels I’ve experienced. I’ve stayed in quite a few in the capital, but never this good.
The last one featured a chunky TV with no reception, and a huge cigarette burn in the duvet.
No such problems at the Conrad London St James.
Gladys on the night shift is the personification of charm as we check in. The reception sculpture of a figure climbing a ladder going nowhere is certainly an eye catcher. As is that stunning piece of art as we head for the lifts. I spot Woody from Toy Story, but maybe I’m seeing things.
We find our room on the fifth floor and the reveal is not disappointing. A spacious, luxurious area with everything you’d expect. Clooney-endorsed coffee maker; supremely comfy bed; vast (flat screen) TV; glorious bathroom with TV volume control, and a spacious shower (a choice of standard or waterfall).
Obviously there’s all the facilities needed for business types, with ports for laptops and the like, and a cheeky minibar.
Hotel minibars are always a minefield regarding what’s free and what isn’t, so slotting a small bottle of wine and tub of Pringles in with the free coffee and tea is a clever move for the owners.
(It’s worth checking the handy in-room dining booklet to ensure you’re not paying a fortune for stuff that looks complimentary and isn’t).
I initially thought paying around £215 a night for any hotel room is extreme, but that’s pretty cheap for the location and calibre of room as a friend later reminds me.
And the location is perfect for those who want to be in easy access of key sightseeing locations. Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament are just around the corner.
After a good night’s sleep (once I’ve fiddled with the quiet air con), we check out the breakfast.
It’s already in full swing by the time we arrive and remarkably the gap between tables is pretty tight.
However, the food and service is excellent. Quality muesli and other cereals and a help-yourself hot and cold buffet ensure there’s plenty of choice.
I go for the full English: sausage, bacon, scrambled egg and hash browns, with a side of salmon. There’s plenty of croissants, pastries and other goodies, so little chance of going hungry.
As mentioned, that service is something else, even if it’s just a case of watching A-list hotel staff in action. One of the waiters looks like he was personally styled by Tom Ford, he’s so immaculately turned out.
Not that we’re desperate for more food, but we also have access to the executive lounge should we want it. It looks like a VIP departure lounge at Heathrow, but a nice retreat if you just want to chill inbetween meetings or shopping.
There’s no trouble finding the Tube when it comes time to head across town to Chiswick. The station is literally across the road.
Following an afternoon of fine dining six miles away, we return to freshen up and face a dilemma. We’re booked in for a meal (yes, another one) at the hotel restaurant, but want to see a West End show. The eatery opens at 6pm, and most big shows open 90 minutes later. What to do?
Thankfully we’re seated at 6pm sharp and order a ’quick’ meal. Carlos, our culinary guide, gives us a crash course in some of the hotel’s finest wines as we sample a selection of whites and reds.
I order a Blue Boar Burger as we’re in a rush, but am soon treated to a delicious bowl of cod in miso as well. Rachel samples a starter of sweetcorn, rice and asparagus with a hint of wasabi, followed by her main: Artichoke with Woodland Mushrooms, Ricotta, Spinach and Toasted Almonds.
We realise we’re not going to make that West End musical, but as none of the current shows really float my boat, I’m happy to sample the excellent food instead.
I’m stunned this restaurant is the same place where we had breakfast. Just a simple change of lighting alters the mood completely. It helps that we now have a spacious dining area of course, and I get a chance to soak up the elegant decor.
The place is spotless as you’d imagine, and though it’s still early, I love the atmosphere. Having a laugh with Carlos and our excellent waitress Marisa is that extra special ingredient not on the menu. Banter. It’s the difference between a good hotel/restaurant and a great one.
After successfully finding a good play in the West End, we return and soak up our last few hours in this extraordinary hotel.
I linger over that lobby sculpture – a stunning array of spray-painted action figures (including Woody from Toy Story, King Kong and many others) in an amphitheatre. It reminds me of the fantasy lifestyle all around me.
Our final breakfast on site is early, so there’s plenty of room at the table near where we had dinner.
After dropping our case at reception, we enjoy a brisk autumnal walk to Tate Britain, where a Ray Harryhausen exhibition pulls me in like a tractor beam. The surrounding area is a feast of landmarks, from Westminster Abbey to MI5. Along the way we see Ewan McGregor’s new film Christopher Robin in production, and are reminded of Samuel Johnson’s oft-quoted line “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
Case collected, we bid farewell to the mother of all hotels. The fantasy is over but it was terrific while it lasted.
As we both have big birthdays next year and fancy pushing the boat out, our days of decadence at St James’s Park’s premier hotel are now more of a new chapter than the closed book it once was.