Age: The Bloomsbury Hotel itself is a youthful (for London) 90 years old, built in 1928 by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. The Grade-II listed pile was recently transformed following a multimillion pound investment programme.
Where exactly is it? As its name suggests, Bloomsbury. Although moments from Tottenham Court Road with all its attendant craziness, Great Russell Street has its own particular feeling of serenity, partly to do with the hotel’s proximity to the hoary old British Museum, but also the area’s unique literary history. Close your eyes and think of how many notable intellectuals, philosophers and artists, buzzed around these parts, from Virginia Woolf to E.M. Forster and Lytton Strachey.
Wow. So what goes on there now? Well, what doesn’t? Ascend the newly restored original entrance to The Coral Room, a bar within a double-height space whose original panelled walls have been given a high-gloss lacquer finish in vivid, um, coral. Make sure you clock the rather lovely bespoke Murano glass chandeliers, art by British illustrator Luke Edward Hall and elegant marble-top bar – while sipping a potent negroni, of course.
And can you eat? You can, although for our dinner we headed out to the reason for our visit: Dalloway Terrace, a cleverly all-weather alfresco dining hotspot named after the eponymous character created by Woolf in 1925. Fully heated and offering the rather unlikely charm of a secluded garden in the West End, the space in fact changes every season: until the end of February it’s adorned with champagne-hued foliage and frosted magnolia flowers, with cosy touches such as hot water bottles and blankets to keep diners warm in the hopefully not too frosty surroundings. On a mild night it was boiling, in fact.
What should we order? On the menu there’s a Januaryish balance of cockle-warmingly indulgent fare and healthy new-year-new-you options. For starters, gossamer-thin coins of octopus carpaccio came livened by a fiery piquillo pepper salsa, the delicacy of the fish slightly overpowered by whorls of rich avocado mousse. Better was a texturally interesting white crab and apple on – surprisingly effective – Guinness bread, livened further by a squeeze of lemon.
And for mains? A vegan dish of ubiquitous cauliflower was blackened pleasingly on one side, smeared with vivid turmeric sauce, toasted cashews for crunch; only a mountain of puy lentils proved a tad superfluous. Iberican pork – from pigs who roam wild on a diet of acorns – arrived just overcooked, yet its juicy flavour remained unsullied: together with sweet wedges of roasted apple, tenderstem and hispi cabbage – not to mention deeply savoury juices – it proved a solid plate of juxtaposing flavours (as it should be for £26). Only truffle fries yielded a cartoony excess of the over-used fungus.
Is it worth ordering desserts? We dithered, but turns out here it’s a 100% yes. A circular, moist carrot cake, smothered in cream, was topped with crystallised walnuts, coriander and the cold soft hit of carrot sorbet. But the surprise of the night? Pumpkin pie, an air-light vivid orange mousse in a bed of chocolate pastry with candied pumpkin and cinnamon chantilly. If in doubt, just swing by after the sales this weekend and order it with a coffee.
What do I drink? A versatile Beaujolais seemed right to accompany both our fish and meat dishes. But – for these parts – house wine isn’t too extortionate either, at about £25 a bottle. We also enjoyed dessert vinos of Tokaji (its crispness apposite with the pumpkin) and an East India sherry, with the carrot cake.
What’s the service like? Really lovely: friendly, informal and chatty – especially considering how crazy-busy it was on our Thursday night visit just before Christmas.
Do say: ‘This really is something of a bucolic treasure in W1.’
Don’t say: ‘Virginia who?’