Well, let’s make it official: we have now completely had it with so-called “boutique hotels”. From now on, give me comfort and service over style, every time. For although The Hempel was undeniably stylish to look at – in the main lobby, jaw-droppingly so – there was very little of any substance behind any of this. The staff were good on smiles and sartorial smartness, but fairly hopeless at actually doing what was required of them. And at these prices, I feel fully entitled to be pernickity…
Item: Part of the deal on our room meant that we would be greeted with a complementary glass of champagne in the so-called “Zen garden”. This was never offered. Eventually, after several requests and a long wait, we finally managed to secure a couple of glasses of indifferent fizz in the bar. Unfortunately, banging on about a couple of poxy free glasses of champagne in a “boutique hotel” is not a good look, and we should have been spared the humiliation.
Item: After half an hour or so in our room, we received a courtesy phone call asking if everything was all right, and whether there was anything we needed. All very impressive, except we made the mistake of actually asking for something. Firstly, where were our free glasses of champagne? Oh, you’d have to ask reception about that. Secondly, could we have an iron and ironing board (our finery needed a good zhooshing)? Yes, of course. Half an hour later, still no iron. Another phone call to housekeeping – would it be much longer? Twenty minutes later, a very un-Zen like iron and ironing board are delivered – both battered to buggery, and coated in black gunk. We leave the iron and board outside in the corridor when we’re finished. The next morning, fourteen hours later, they’re still sitting there, completely destroying the whole minimalist design shtick.
Item: The small hotel bar is one of the most uncomfortable places I have ever visited, and filled with the sort of shrill nincompoops that I would normally go to great lengths to avoid. It is almost impossible to get served. I ask for the hotel’s speciality cocktail: the Sakepolitan. The barman has never heard of it. Later, it is completely impossible to settle the bill, so K sorts it out at reception and we leave for dinner downstairs, already half an hour late. The barman catches up with us in the lobby, flustered and breathless with the exertion, to extract payment – even though we had already given him our room number when securing the glasses of cheap fizz earlier on.
The hotel restaurant is Italian/Thai fusion, if you please. It’s dark, uncomfortable and quite loud, with an annoyingly harsh acoustic. The service is big on smiles, but low on polish – our initial order for mineral water is completely bungled. The food is imaginatively and immaculately presented, but so rich that I am unable to finish my main course, and end up suffering from indigestion during the night. Credit where it’s due, though: the wine turns out to be excellent, and surprisingly good value.
And to be fair: the room itself is absolutely gorgeous (despite K’s initial plaintive wail: “I’m sure there are better rooms than this!”). In particular, the bed linen is a masterpiece of artful fabric folding, and the bed itself is one of the most comfortable I have ever slept in. However, the trouble with High Minimalism is this: it is also High Maintenance. If you’re not prepared to rigorously keep up that pristine appearance, then the ensuing scuff marks, chips and cracks are sadly all too obvious. Having said that, we actually quite liked the slightly faded, battered appearance. There was something a bit Raddled Seventies Glamourpuss about it, which seemed rather appropriate (all we needed was the suspended wicker basket chair). The bathroom was fairly grim, though. The shower was poky and claustrophobic, with one of those annoyingly over-friendly shower curtains which sticks to your skin, and the loo wouldn’t flush properly – at least, not without sustained and vigorous tugging.
In one of the cupboards, there are oxygen canisters. For sale. At twenty quid a pop. Fine, if you’re Michael Jackson. You can also avail yourself of the Hempel’s special “treatments” – aromatherapy, reflexology and the like – for eighty-five quid an hour. We are not tempted.
In summary? Superficial, pretentious, over-priced, and very slightly past its peak. But having said all that, quite good fun. I’m glad we had the experience, but we won’t be back.