One of the "Leading Hotels in the World" and celebrating it's 175th anniversary in 2012, this luxury 5 star hotel in London's Mayfair has welcomed Roosevelt, Kipling, Conan Doyle, Wilde as well as royalty from several nations. So, on our rather impromptu visit on a Saturday evening, we had expected a little better than a Fawlty Towers style welcome.
Intending to go to a nearby Jazz club and finding it fully booked (more of this later), we'd scoured the area for a decent bar to no avail and ended up in Browns Hotel. The Donovan Bar was crowded and noisy, so we opted to sit in the quieter, more comfy lounge area where some ladies were still enjoying afternoon tea at 9.15pm. Here, we believed we could chat, and enjoy a pleasant drink while waiting for some more friends to join us, and while we figured out what to do next.
A member of staff respectfully told us that if we were ordering drinks for the bar it would take "rather a long time because the bar is busy". Hmm, it's a Saturday night in the pre-Christmas rush, in Central London. Woudn't you just have more staff? Nevertheless, we had no intention of trying to find somewhere else. We took our chances, eschewed the cocktail list and decided to order a bottle of wine, figuring that this would be simpler and quicker. And here the story quickly descended to farce.
More time passed. A different waiter returned, with 2 bottles of wine. "I'm very sorry but we've run out of Shiraz, so can I suggest the Cote du Rhone, or the Cabernet Merlot". Erm, no. Yes, it's a nice service touch to present alternatives when a customer can't have what they want, but when you have 6 red wines on your list, is it really acceptable to be out of 2 of them on a Saturday night?
Anyway, after some discussion, he offered us the Malbec. Yes, the wine we'd originally ordered...
We advised that was what we'd originally ordered, by this time becoming somewhat incredulous that we'd ever quench our burgeoning thirst. A few minutes later he returned from the Hix restaurant (also in the hotel), with the bottle of wine we'd originally orderd some 15 minutes earlier.
Frankly, I was stunned. While this staff member made good with promises to only charge us for the Shiraz if this bottle was more expensive (it wasn't), I was irked by the lack of knowledge and ability to get it right at a peak time in such an exclusive hotel. Despite having left my career as a Customer Experience Consultant over a year ago, I still can't help working out what companies could and should be doing better...
Onto the wine at last, since that's what we're here for. The DoÃ±a Paula Malbec was a lot fruitier than expected, both from experience of Malbecs and from the bottle's own desription. Blackberry and dark fruits abounded with tiny hints of coffee (nothing of the cigar box boasted on the label). Perhaps it was the impact of too many mulled ciders, but my companiions felt a hint of cherry, morello perhaps, before deciding that Cherry Menthol Tunes was actually the key fruit flavour. I'm pleased to say that I didn't detect this, though it was a lighter malbec than I'd normally choose. It just goes to show that what you have on your palate will definitely influence your experience of wine, good or bad.
As for Browns, beautful as it was, I don't think I'll be rushing back. And as for the "jazz cafe" on Dover Street, when we finally did pay our Â£15 cover charge to hear the "funk and soul" band advertised, I was horrified to find them playing Dolly Parton's 9-5! The boys resolved to make the best of the evening, and knocking back some Cuervo Gold, set about achieving this by not letting blood dilute their alcohol stream. Fortunately, the occasional funktastic tune was spun later.
I kicked off the high heels and indulged in some "solo grooving" - it's been a while, and let's keep it that way!