In the heart of London’s lawyer district, and a short walk from theatre-land, sits one of the coolest, classiest multi-venue hotels in town. The Rosewood London, just a few steps from Holborn tube station, hosts the Gin Bar, the Dining Room and Scarfe’s Bar, which has become a destination in its own right.
Let’s save the best (Scarfe’s) for last. Head straight up to the copper-topped Gin Bar, where you’ll be handed the gin library – a book listing 400 different gins by country, along with 27 branded tonics. Someone with far too much time on their hands has worked out that the barman can mix more than 14,000 different combinations of the classic G&T. It is easily London’s largest gin collection with an emphasis on both large and small producers. Snug, red leather seats line the bar where we’re advised the award-winning scotch eggs and the lightly dusted calamari are the best accompaniments. They’re not wrong.
Dining at The Rosewood London
The Holborn Dining Room carries an air of New York – it’s all brassy, clubby, all-day dining. It’s one of few hotel restaurants that don’t actually feel like a hotel restaurant. Nor, is it a place so super-cool that one feels uncomfortable dining alone. There’s a busy-ness to it, even when half-empty. The menu is classic British comfort food – fish and chips, a modern take on a chicken pie, Cumbrian lamb saddle and a lobster Thermidor tart so lusciously large it must be shared or taken as a main, rather than a starter. I haven’t seen a pint of prawns on a menu for years, and what a welcome sight it is. Nothing epitomizes ‘clean’ eating more than a hefty pot of unfussy shellfish. Updated sides include a crisp fennel, apple and pomegranate salad and the devil over your shoulder: Parmesan truffle fries.
Scarfe’s is the real prize
After dinner, take a short stroll across the courtyard to the Rosewood’s real prize: Scarfe’s Bar. Named after legendary London cartoonist and illustrator Gerald Scarfe, who is often ‘in residence;’ marble walls are covered in alternating dark wood panels and Scarfe’s caricatures of celebrities from the world of politics, sports, Hollywood and rock and roll. The ‘living canvas’ makes for engaging conversation and a perfect excuse for a wander through the room. It’s like stepping into a private members club: velvet and leather armchairs, a grand piano, a roaring fire and plenty of private nooks. Over a thousand vintage books, hand-selected by an antiquarian from Portobello Road line the bookcases of the lounge.
Clientele is a healthy mix of City boys and lawyers mid-week, joined by the media crowd, thanks to it’s proximity to ITV. It’s also a welcome choice for theatregoers fatigued by Covent Garden and the mostly mid-market chains that populate it.
More than 200 single malts stand behind the bar and our Italian waiter knows the attributes of each and every one. He’s passionate about his trade, and flatteringly asks the elder in our party for his views on particular whiskies, honed from decades of regular practice.
There is live music six nights a week, with the real charmer a Sunday night cabaret. It’s a brilliant way to make use of a beautifully curated bar on a typically quiet night of the week. We catch only a glimpse of the beginning – actors who appear to have come straight from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel and blend in perfectly with the surroundings.
The best way to sum up Scarfe’s is by sharing a personal anecdote. I was first invited to meet a business colleague for a short interview there. He was, in his words, holding court, starting with meetings at lunchtime. When I arrived at 5pm, many of his jesters were still in attendance. It took a few hours to clear the executive’s ‘court,’ as Scarfe’s is very much a place one feels at home, albeit to the manor born, rather than that of famed sitcom Cheers, in Boston. That intangible feeling is hard to replicate and equally hard to quantify, but it’s what makes Scarfe’s a place many of us would like to regularly join its namesake ‘in residence.’ Reader, I must confess, I’ve lost my impartiality at Scarfe’s. It has become one of my favourite haunts in a city famous for fabulous hotel bars.