It's safe to assume that when preacher Dr Alexander MacLaren laid the foundation stone for the Baptist Church Headquarters in London in 1901, he never envisaged it would one day become one of the capital's most decadent hotels. The imposing Grade II-listed building on Southampton Row has had many uses over the years – including office space and a homeless shelter – but in June it became London's newest five-star hotel after a meticulous 12-year restoration.
To say no expense was spared would be an understatement. L'oscar's interiors were styled by French designer Jacques Garcia, whose resume includes the Hotel Costes in Paris and restorations at the Palace of Versailles. Taking inspiration from the area's literary heritage, he set out to create something "profoundly English".
Guests are checked in on plush sofas in the library-like lobby, which is lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and writers' portraits. From here they're whisked to one of the property's 39 individually designed rooms.
My suite (303) is a riot of colour with light yellow walls, crimson drapes and an intricately stitched black and red headboard. Framing an original tiled Doulton fireplace are two red-backed velvet chairs while a chaise longue with scarlet tassels languishes invitingly by the window.
Many of the building's original features have been retained, so to reach my bathroom I pass through an imposing gothic stone archway. All the bathrooms have Lalique crystal taps and custom-made his-and-her toiletries by luxury perfumer Roja Dove. According to General Manager Michael Voigt, L'oscar is the only London hotel to feature towels rated at 750 grams per square metre. Imagine drying yourself with a section of thick pile carpet.
Almost every item in the hotel is bespoke and you can spot Garcia's trademark feather motif on everything from the cutlery to the bins. Of all the outrageously opulent touches, the most memorable is the bedding. Each doona is filled with Icelandic eiderdown that takes two and a half years to collect and costs a staggering £5000. It's like sleeping in a cloud.
While the overall tone is one of regal indulgence, there are several playful nods to the building's pious past. The cocktail menu is divided into the Old and New Testament, bills are presented on original church collection trays and the salt and pepper shakers are shaped like nuns and priests.
Unfortunately, the hotel's restaurant, Baptist Grill, is temporarily closed during my stay because of an airconditioning fault (which has since been resolved). Early reviews were promising with Michelin-starred chef Tony Fleming offering an innovative menu of seasonal British classics. The setting is certainly impressive given it's located on the gallery of the octagonal-shaped former chapel under a spectacular domed roof. The bar downstairs enjoys the same soaring aspect and is finished in dazzling cut glass. It's hard to believe Sunday school services were once conducted in the basement below.
Cafe L'oscar is the hotel's more casual all-day eatery, serving breakfast (try the smoked haddock and eggs) and light snacks. At night it morphs into a sexy lounge bar with plush purple banquettes, a mirrored ceiling and a glowing onyx bar.
The hotel is located in the heart of Holborn, a previously unloved part of London that's enjoying a renaissance thanks to new properties such as the Rosewood and The Hoxton. The area is well served by the Central Line and is a short stroll from Soho and Covent Garden. Despite all this, I suspect most guests will be reluctant to leave L'oscar's indulgent embrace. I know I was.
2-6 Southampton Row, London. Rooms from £399. Phone +44 20 7405 5555. See www.loscar.com
Rob McFarland was a guest of L'oscar and Visit Britain.