There was a lion right outside my hotel room. Well, to be more accurate, a Lion King.
The Lyceum theatre in Covent Garden, which has been home to the hugely successful Lion King musical for more than 15 years, was about 10 metres from my bedroom window. I peered down on the crowds as people started gathering for the evening’s performance, safe and unseen in my warm sanctuary…that is, until I realised that I was being spied on in turn, by people peeping out of their window at the very top of the theatre. It was time to stop people-watching, and retreat to the spa.
One Aldwych hotel is situated right on the corner which marks the beginning of of the Aldwych semi-circle which also houses the Australian and India High Commissions and Bush House, once home to the BBC World Service. As a Central London location it is hard to beat, with not just Theatreland on its doorstep but Covent Garden, the Strand, Holborn, the South Bank and Somerset House all just a few minutes walk away.
In spite of being on the corner of one of London’s busiest streets, the hotel itself is an oasis of tranquility, particularly in its subterranean spa which includes an 18-metre swimming pool.
The pool was a cut above most hotel pools – not just due to the many loungers dotted around the edge which, together with a large selection of magazines made it an ideal place in which to recover from jetlag or a hard day’s shopping – but nice touches such as underwater music, which made me think of the mermaids in Harry Potter, and a massive video screen at the end of the pool which displayed footage of fish and other sea life.
After a very pleasant massage and several trips to the steam room and sauna, it was time to change for pre-dinner cocktails at the high-ceiled, old-style-glamour Lobby Bar, which is also a popular place for afternoon tea.
The cocktail list was extensive but not overwhelming, the service quick and friendly, and after very pleasant Martinez and Marguerita cocktails we were given dinner menus for the Indigo restaurant, which floats above the Lobby Bar on a mezzanine floor. (The hotel also has the Axis restaurant, several floors below.)
Located high above the bar, the restaurant gave great views of the roads surrounding the hotel, so as you watched the buses wend their way over Waterloo bridge you felt as if you were at the very heart of London but insulated from the associated noise and chaos.
The menu, along modern European cuisine lines, wasn’t the most innovative but all the classics were there, from smoked salmon starters to chocolate mousse to finish, by way of rib-eye steak, sea bass and lemon sole mains, ranging from £16-£27. It did also offer a ‘create your own salad’ option for £9.50 or £16 which was a nice touch.
In spite of there being just two four other diners as well as us, the service was really quite slow, the main courses arriving more than an hour after our initial order. There was also a bit of unnecessary kerfuffle over wine too. We weren’t given a wine list and instead the waiter stated loftily that once we’d decided what to eat, he would then recommend what wine we should have.
Now I don’t mind wine recommendations at all but I prefer to be asked if I want them rather than be told I’m having them regardless, and I also like having a look at the wine list, whatever restaurant I’m in. So we compromised: we were allowed to see the wine list, he suggested we have the Pinot Grigio and the Merlot, and we ordered a 375ml carafe of Chablis (£26) which was delicious, and a carafe of very nice Bordeaux (£18).
After starters of smoked salmon blinis (which came with a decent amount of salmon but just two tiny blinis which was slightly unbalanced) and an excellent Colchester crab bruschetta (both £13) we had the haunch of Highland venison (£20) and and the pot-roasted Yorkshire pheasant (£18).
The venison was perfectly nice but a little overdone and the pheasant was sadly rather bland and flavourless. The meal ended on a stronger note with a original-looking Creme Brulee and a Floating Island with pink praline and caramel (both £7) but it was hard not to conclude that hotel guests would be much better served by heading out to sample one of the many outstanding restaurants just a quick walk away.
What Indigo lacked at dinnertime it made up for at breakfast though, with the best Eggs Benedict I have tasted for years, with a deliciously light, toasted muffin and a superbly piquant Hollandaise sauce. Orange juice and coffee exactly how I ordered it were delivered promptly to my table, there was a whole selection of newspapers to choose from and I could see why it is a popular spot for breakfast meetings with the suited City types around me.
My room-with-a-theatrical view was immaculate too – lovely bed linen, a well-stocked mini bar and little touches such as reading lights, umbrellas, free sweets and a shoe-cleaning service which saw my boots taken away and polished in the time it took me to have a shower.
Afternoon tea is already booked solid right up until Christmas, the cocktail waiter told me, but for people looking for a quiet retreat or just some posh cocktails in the heart of the West End, One Aldywch will always be a firm favourite.
One Aldwych is currently offering its festive Christmas package of a room for two people including VAT for £395 a night from 27th November to 11th January. Deal includes full English breakfast, late checkout and a glass of mulled wine or Champagne per person with mince pie crumbles.