As a smartly-dressed porter pulls open the glass doors for us, we stumble into The Athenaeum, windswept, soaked to the skin, and not feeling anywhere near five-star. Despite the fact that it was a fine, if blustery, day when we got off the train at Kings Cross, by the time we arrive in Mayfair the weather has turned, and we’ve run, suitcases dragging behind, through rain so heavy it’s bouncing upwards off the pavements.
Following a few minutes respite on an angular sofa in the airy, modern hotel lobby, during which we’re checked in, we have to head back outside in order to get into our room. Our hearts sink slightly at this, but it’s a short walk along the street which runs down one side of the hotel, and the rain has (almost) cleared up.
We’re staying in one of The Athenaeum’s luxurious Residences, which are set in a run of redbrick Victorian townhouses adjacent to the hotel. We enter through the impressive front door and head up in the lift to the second floor. Inside, we discover that our Residence is in fact a self-contained flat, with a huge living room, a compact but supremely well-equipped kitchenette, a spacious bedroom and an ensuite. It’s all decorated with exquisite taste (modern, yet in keeping with the building), and everything has been thought of – from USB charging points and docking stations, to non-steam mirrors in the bathroom and Joseph Joseph accessories in the kitchenette.
We’re only in the capital for two nights, and we’ve got theatre tickets for our second evening, so we’re determined to make the most of our night in The Athenaeum. We start with a drink in the downstairs bar before heading out into the now mercifully dry afternoon to explore.
Before dinner, we head to the top floor of the hotel to check out The View. Following the renovation of the hotel, revealed late last year, the floor which was previously the home of the hotel’s penthouse is now a ‘private members club, where your membership is your room key’.
Our host greets us with an open bottle of French Sauvignon, and continues to top our glasses up for as long as we stay. My partner goes as far as taking a picture of the bottle on his phone, swearing he’s going to look it up when we get home (he doesn’t, obviously). There are books to examine, snacks to enjoy, and the view from The View is… well, it’s no wonder they chose that name for the venue.
Panoramic windows make up one long wall of the rectangular space. From our elevated position right on the edge of Royal Green Park, we can see the London skyline silhouetted against the dark sky. There are lights twinkling on top of cranes, the London Eye shines in the distance, and we spend most of our visit discussing which landmarks we can spot among the jumbled cityscape.
At 8pm we hop into the lift and make our way down to the ground floor, a large part of which is taken up by Galvin at The Athenaeum, headed up (as the name would suggest) by the Michelin-starred Galvin Brothers.
To start; dressed Portland crab, Hampshire watercress and rye bread (£15.50) for my partner, and a delicately-flavoured dish of Galvin cured smoked salmon, Burford brown egg, sour cream and caviar (£12.50) for me. Alongside this, we have two glasses of Champagne, followed by another round of the French Sauvignon we so enjoyed in The View.
Next up, I choose a succulent dish of roast Everleigh farm partridge, with salt-baked celeriac and choucroute (£24.50), while my partner, unable to resist, has chosen the Rose County beef rib eye steak (£28) served with confit tomatoes, bone marrow, parsley and watercress, with green peppercorn butter (£1.50). There doesn’t seem to be much evidence of the green peppercorn butter when the dish arrives (we conclude that the steak has either been cooked in it, or it’s been melted into the top of the meat before serving) but no matter – they quickly bring us a little extra when we ask, and the meat has been cooked perfectly.
We finish our wine while picking at the selection of English cheeses we’ve ordered in place of dessert (£12.50), glad of the crisp freshness of the accompanying grapes and celery after our rich dinner.
In the morning, we’re able to enjoy a coffee in our Residence before we make our way through to the hotel (it’s raining again, so we take the shortcut through the basement of our townhouse, which bring us out neatly into the now-empty hotel bar, and on through to the restaurant). Breakfast is back in the restaurant, where we find an extensive buffet with fruit, cereals, cheese, charcuterie, bread and incredibly pretty, colourful pastries – decorated in bold, shiny colours like boiled sweets and stuffed with fruity fillings. There’s also a well-thought-out menu of hot breakfasts, and we enjoy eggs royale with endless pots of tea and a leisurely flick through the papers.
We’re planning to spend the morning in Soho and Covent Garden as we head towards the theatre for our matinee, so we don’t have too long to hang around. Before we leave for the day, we make sure there’s time for us to go back up to check out The View – in daylight, this time. The vista is no less spectacular by day, and after a few minutes exploring the skyline, we drag ourselves away and head out to explore it for real.
The Athenaeum Hotel and Residences
116 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London
020 7499 3464