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 ancient profession.
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 London.
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 classic.
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.
Dial Restaurant opening hours:
Monday to Saturday: 7am – 10am
Sunday: 8am – 11am
Lunch: 12noon – 2.30pm
Afternoon Tea: 3pm – 5pm
Dinner: 5.30pm – 10.30pm
Bar: All day until 2am
Mercer Street Hotel – Radisson Edwardian
20 Mercer Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9HD
800 333-3333 US – Toll Free
0800 37 4411 UK – Toll Free
Phone: + 44 (0)20 7836 4300
Fax: +44 (0)20 7240 3540
Visit Mercer Street Hotel here
Hotel and Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018