So, we arrive at our hotel and the first member of reception staff we meet is fast asleep at her post.
Blonde, with a silky coiffure, Pearl is snoozing after a light lunch, weighed down no doubt by her responsibilities as Director of Canine Relations.
No one minds, of course, because Pearl is a pooch: a debonair Golden Retriever named after Pearl Assurance, the mighty financial giant of Empire, whose staff once scribed in the counting halls and offices now home to the elegant Rosewood hotel.
The luxuriously-converted Edwardian stone edifice looms over London’s High Holborn. It is 10 minutes’ walk from Covent Garden but far enough from tourist London to feel like the crowds are far behind.
Passing through the carriage entrance, a friendly and nattily-attired doorman greets us in what’s a surprisingly light courtyard even on a grey afternoon.
Understated elegance is the hallmark of the Rosewood and meets you in full in the glorious lobby. In keeping with the rest of the hotel, it is rich and luxurious with black and white marble mosaic flooring and gilded glass partitions filled with quirky art and books.
Dividing the two reception desks is a huge and beautiful painting by Chilean artist Eduardo Hoffmann, displaying the rolling countryside surrounding an English country estate.
Rosewood prides itself in a “sense of place” aiming to ensure the design needs of the hotel sit harmoniously with the original building.It does this beautifully because wander out of reception and you find yourself in the magnificent marble and mahogany global headquarters of Pearl Assurance, preserved and restored to how the original clerks and directors would know.
Our suite on the fifth floor was vast. It simply went on. Acres of lacquered wood and mirrors led from the living room, through the bedroom (an achingly comfortable king-size), then right to a dressing room and into the marble bathroom beyond.
There was room for a dance in the rainfall shower and a TV was embedded in the wall at the head of the bath.
(Interesting fact. Rooms on upper floors have lower ceilings because that’s where Pearl’s clerks worked. In the days before lifts and escalators, the grander, higher-ceiling directors’ offices were near the ground floor. Less distance to walk, old chap.)
There are smaller rooms than ours, of course, but much bigger ones too. The highlight is the Manor House wing.
Billed as one of London’s most exclusive residences, the single-level wing not only welcomes deep-pocketed guests through a private entrance and lift but is the only hotel suite in the world to possess its own postcode. There are seven bedrooms and six full bathrooms.
Complimentary nibbles and soft drinks were available from our room’s not-so mini-bar but for dinner we headed to the Holborn Dining Room.
It sits at ground-level in what must have been one of the public spaces in the original Pearl building. Lots of original features are complimented with reclaimed oak, antique mirrors, red leather banquettes with tweed detail, and two copper-topped bars.
If you wish, you can order from The Pie Room next door.
It’s the Rosewood’s own takeaway and chefs put on a show for passers-by each day as they make the more than 200 pies customers consume.
From pork pies to beef wellingtons and pate en croutes to complex pithiviers, it’s a pie purists’ paradise. There are even pie-making classes available for the passionate pastry crimper. *
A good pie deserves a good walk and there’s a great one nearby.
Ten minutes from High Holborn is 40 Doughty Street where Charles Dickens lived when he achieved international fame as the author of Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby.
It’s a small museum now on a quiet residential terrace from where Ben’s City Tours does a regular walk, Twists and Turns, and explores the places that inspired Oliver Twist.
You don’t need to know anything about Dickens to be gripped by Ben’s tales of the grinding poverty and social injustice that characterised mid-Victorian London.
It all ends at the Old Bailey, site of the former Newgate Jail, where Ben vividly describes the hangings which were a public spectacle in the street outside until 1868.
We finished the day at Scarfes, the bar across the Rosewood’s carriage entrance from the Holborn Dining Room.
It’s named after and decorated with the works of artist and caricaturist Gerald Scarfe. Older readers will know his work from the animated titles to the 1980s TV series Yes, Minister.
Scarfes is reminiscent of a London private members’ club you might imagine from a post-war period TV drama – even down to the jazz singer and her band playing that night.
The vibe, however, is bang up to date, the service terrific and the people-watching unmissable.
Like the Rosewood, you could say we were inexorably drawn …
* Jay Rayner, The Guardian, food critic wrote a terrific review of Holborn Dining Room after our visit.
Diana: Her Fashion Story
More than 20 years after her death in a Paris road accident, the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, casts a continuous and endlessly fascinating shadow. Even in today’s celebrity-obsessed world, it’s easy to forget the worldwide enormity of her fame.
To paraphrase Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond, Diana was big – it’s the celebrities that got small.
Diana: Her Fashion Story, at Kensington Palace traces the evolution of Diana’s style from the demure, romantic frocks of her first public appearances to the glamour, elegance and confidence of her later life.
Among the highlights is the ink blue velvet gown worn at the White House when the Princess danced with John Travolta and the “revenge dress” she wore to a party the night Charles admitted adultery in a TV documentary.
For the price of the same ticket, there is also Victoria: Revealed, a portrait of the Queen-Empress, told through extracts from her journals and personal belongings.
Not to be missed (and for my money better than the Jewel Room at the Tower of London) is a collection of Victoria’s jewellery.
Take your sunglasses.
This is a longer version of a feature published in Reach plc regional titles.