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Mercer Street Hotel –
The neighbourhood belongs to the Worshipful Company of
Mercers. A mercer was a dealer in textiles and The Mercers’ Company is
one of the 108 Livery Companies of the City of London, established
around 700 years ago. These days the organisation is known for its
charities and schools but Mercer Street still bears the name of that
Mercer Street Hotel enjoys a prime site at Seven Dials. Yes, there
truly is a monument sporting sundials in the centre of this busy
junction. The untutored will be driven to assume that there would
indeed be seven dials crowning the column but there are in reality only
six. Nothing to do with our shrinking economy or even government
cutbacks though; it’s the result of the original pillar being
commissioned before an eleventh-hour alteration of the street plans for
a junction of six roads. This isn’t a recent cost-saving measure: we
are talking about the 1690s.
The first sundial column was removed in the 1700s. The replacement
column was erected in 1989, to the original design with still those six
dials. It was unveiled by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, to
commemorate the tercentenary of the reign of William of Orange and
Queen Mary; the area was developed during their reign.
This corner of London hasn’t always been trendy. The area was once described by
Charles Dickens in his collection Sketches by Boz: “The stranger who
finds himself in the Dials for the first time...at the entrance of
seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around
him to keep his curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time.” No need
for the modern tourist to feel alarmed by unwanted attention – this is
no longer the den of iniquity that it once was; there are now plenty of
boutiques and stylish eateries. Seven Dials has become a destination in
its own right.
Well, if that column is going to be a pivotal point of your visit then
you will need a smart place to lay your weary over-shopped and
all-museumed-out head. The Mercer Street Hotel has its front door
opposite the Dials and that hotel offers character, comfort and
ambiance that are usually hard to find in large chain hotels. It gives
the impression of being a high-end boutique hotel with all the charm
and individuality that the title affords. However, 137 air-conditioned
bedrooms in this newly refurbished establishment have everything you
would want of a 5-star hotel but it is labelled only 4! iPod-, iPad-,
iPhone-docking, DVD-playing facilities, along with a huge flat-screen
TV help to entertain those technophiles while the rest of us sink into
cushions and luxuriate in steamy-bath ecstasy.
Each room is sumptuous and different from its neighbour. The
furnishings are bespoke and tasteful encouraging you to linger for just
a while longer in fluffy, and in our case pastel pink and pale caramel,
cosiness. The street views are more absorbing than the moving wallpaper
of the telly: cafés with tables of fellow people-watchers, cycle
couriers risking lives of the unwary, and tourists wandering with
fascinated faces as they discover this truly iconic corner of old
So you have watched the passers-by while sipping on a cuppa (Union
Jack-emblazoned fridge in dressing room with some necessary teabags and
a Nespresso coffee-maker), and it’s time for dinner. The ground-floor
restaurant is called Dial. Well, if it wasn’t that I guess it would
have been called Seven. It’s a contemporary and intimate
space which adjoins its popular and buzzy bar. A simple menu of modern
European fare with the emphasis on freshness. The original Covent
Garden is just a short distance away and for centuries that supplied
the whole of Greater London with produce. Dial continues that theme by
offering its guests the best of seasonal and local ingredients.
The food here is just “right”. One orders a dish and it is just as one
hopes, nothing over-fussy or inexplicably exotic. The chef seems
confident and competent and manages to add a few flourishes that are
perfectly in keeping with the dish and show his culinary credentials.
My first course was a Parfait of Foie Gras; very simple and
traditional. One slice of the light terrine, a slice or two of toasted
brioche and a garnish of fresh figs. But the fig chutney alongside was
a stunner. A rich and firm aromatic relish that I would have happily
eaten with nothing added other than a big spoon. (Mental note to
oneself: Ask chef for recipe).
My guest hankered after greens and so settled on the Salad of Roasted
Butternut Squash and Yellow Peppers with a strewing of broad beans and
toasted pumpkin seeds. This was a considerable plateful of colourful
crispness and melting sweetness.
This same companion remained noble with his choice of fish
as his main course. Sea Bass Fillets with young spinach
and a clam sauce was visually striking and delicious. The seafood
rested atop a bed of smooth mash surrounded by the bejewelled sauce,
clam shells adding a bit of seashore drama. Fish cooked with crispy
skin and creamy flesh.
We in the UK are famed for our lamb and that offered at Dial was always
going to be my choice. Pan-fried Rump of Salt-marsh Lamb graced a mound
of garlic mash (not at all gluey as is unfortunately sometimes the
way), a tower of delicately-charred Mediterranean vegetables and a
dressing of rosemary sauce. This needed no additional side and was a
showcase for the best of British food. The meat was tender and just
past pink, the sauce was a light gravy with plenty of herby impact. A
It’s been a good year for apples so it was no surprise to find them on
Dial’s menu. Here they were offered as a tart. Made fresh for each
guest, allow 20 minutes for it to arrive hot to your table. The tart in
question was a disc of light and puffy pastry with slices of fruit
baked into the base. The toffee sauce was rich and sweet and it always
goes well with apples ...or bananas ...or ... A comforting pud to round
off a delightful day.
Bad planning on my behalf meant an early check-out the next morning. A
bit of personal pampering with the complementary toiletries and we were
down for breakfast. There was the usual international buffet of fruit,
yoghurt, pastries and cereals awaiting the morning crowd but hot dishes
came individually plated (when the nice waitress says “Mind – the
plates are hot”, believe her). I had the full English and it truly was
“full”: bacon (2 rashers), sausage, black pudding, scrambled eggs,
mushrooms, potatoes and a ramekin of baked beans. All this stayed
piping hot till the last bite. The bacon was particularly good: back
bacon and tinged with brown round the edges. A bacon sandwich will be
my choice on the next visit, for return there surely will be. This
hotel is just such a gem of almost hidden yet accessible luxury.
The Mercer Street Hotel ticked all the boxes for me. The location is
unbeatable, the accommodation was as good as I have found in many a
5-star hostelry, the food was sensible and memorable. The staff are a
cut above the average. They were knowledgeable (well, that comes with
training), but they seemed genuinely enthusiastic and proud ...and you
can’t teach that.