St Martins Lane, London, review: Thoughtful, whimsical and joyful

THE LOCATION

Slap bang in the heart of the theatre district and a short stroll from Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and The Strand, St Martins is perfectly placed to make the most out of a stay in London.

THE SPACE

While it might be surrounded by West End stages, it's not just in those famous auditoriums that a sense of the theatrical can be found – St Martins is awash with it from the moment you pass through the lofty yellow glass revolving doors and are deposited in a foyer festooned with funky art and design.

Here there are golden seats shaped like molars, extravagantly long chaises longues, giant chess pieces and gilt armchairs placed strategically in random corners. Well, what would you expect from a hotel designed by Philippe Starck?

The 204-room St Martin's was one of Starck's first hotel designs outside the US, opening in 1999. It was refurbished in 2014 (opening again in 2015) and the building was brought up to date without losing Starck's whimsy and sense of style.

The man with the unenviable task of following in Starck's footsteps was interior designer Tim Andreas, who wanted to blur the lines "between baroque and minimalist, extravagance and simplicity". Which he has achieved quite admirably as this isn't just a boutique hotel, it's more of a stroll through a dream.

THE ROOM

We are in a large deluxe room, looking out through floor-to-ceiling windows onto St Martin's Lane itself. The decor is simple, the furniture smooth and white. There's the occasional splash of colour – one wall of the elongated hallway from the door is painted yellow (a motif that is echoed through the hotel) – but the rest of the suite is pretty low key. The carpet is a putty-coloured leopard print and in the lounge area there is a four-seat brown sofa which faces a flat-screen TV (one of two in the room).

Further on, above a white central console-cum-desk-cum-minibar with all the electronic plug-in doo-dads that the modern traveller needs, hang three stunning silver teardrops. That they are table lamps takes a while to work out but they are a perfect example of that thin nexus between design and practicality.

The bathroom is as well appointed as you'd expect – rain shower, deep free-standing bath, fluffy white bathrobes, Malin + Goetz toiletries – and the bed is as white and smooth as a soccer field under fresh snow. And about as big.

One big difference, though, is the ambient lighting system around the recessed bedhead which allows you to select different colours depending on your mood. A flick of a switch and the room is gently bathed in pink, blue, green or yellow.

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THE FOOD

Asia de Cuba is a popular in-house restaurant which serves Asian-inspired Cuban fare, inspired, says chef Luis Pous by Havana's Chinatown. Think shrimp churros, for example. There's also a ceviche bar and a plethora of rum cocktails to try if you want to go the full Hemingway.

The room is, in contrast to the rest of the hotel, an eye-wateringly colourful mishmash of Cuban travel posters and two large circular columns filled with hardback books and framed black-and-white portraits of Cuban natives. 

If snacking is more your thing, then there's always the Blind Spot, a "secret" bar whose entrance is hidden in plain sight in the foyer. Just look for the welcoming brass hand protruding from a wall and pull it to open the door into this dark and intimate speakeasy-style bar.

Here, the crispy chilli beef sliders are served in an old Cuban cigar box (with a jalapeno on the side) and wash down nicely with a Chilli Apple Bang Bang cocktail (don't ask, just drink).

Finally, if afternoon tea is your thing, then head to The Den, just off the main foyer. It's a classic oak-panelled snug that boasts a special gin and tonic menu and quirky art on the walls.

STEPPING OUT

As mentioned before, there's pretty much everything London has to offer outside the door – all the theatre you can poke a stick at, Trafalgar Square, Soho, Chinatown, The Strand etc. The National Portrait Gallery is always a must, as is lunch in the crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields church (there are often classical music concerts in the church, too).

Opposite the hotel is a laneway that cuts through to Charing Cross Road and is always worth a sticky-beak. This is Cecil Court, which is cluttered with little old shops selling everything from ancient maps to old manuscripts, first editions, war medals, car models, coins and paintings. One shop simply declares its name and adds: "Fine antique silver & objects of vertu."

THE VERDICT

Thoughtful, whimsical and joyful – it's a difficult thing for a hotel to do without tipping over into sentimental kitsch but St Martins Lane manages it in spades. The initial simplicity of the rooms belies the fact that nothing has been left to chance. 

ESSENTIALS

45 St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4HX, England. Phone +44 (0) 20 7300 5500, see morganshotelgroup.com

HIGHLIGHT

The quirky pictures on the walls of The Den are delightful; broken glass on a picture of cricketer W. G. Grace; the burnt frame on a painting of the Great Fire of London? Love it.

LOWLIGHT

Here's a plea to modern hoteliers – it's all very well having wonderful deep free-standing baths but can we have somewhere to put our book and beer?

Our rating: ★★★★★

TripAdvisor rating: ★★★★½

Keith Austin was a guest of St Martin's Lane.

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