I felt a twinge of apprehension as I walked towards Treehouse in London for my first hotel stay since lockdown. Not because I was afraid of catching coronavirus, more because the thought that hotels, like the high street, would be condemned to a drab and depressing “new normal” had filled me with dread for weeks.
Treehouse, a relatively new hangout that opened in September last year, is just off a stretch of Marylebone that is usually heaving with students from the London College of Fashion, and BBC staffers nipping into Pret A Manger. But on this blistering summer’s day it was chillingly deserted, save for a few workmen digging up part of the road.
When I stepped into the ground-floor café – which, for the time being, doubles up as the check-in desk – it was as if I was both entering the post-millennial era and going back in time. From the distressed white brick to the vintage gas lamps, it felt like I had just sunk my feet into a comfy old pair of brogues after three months strapped into toe-pinching lockdown slippers.
However, much was alien: a receptionist clad in a floral Liberty face mask smiled at me with her eyes from behind a plexiglass counter; instead of the usual buzz of endless coming and goings, just a couple of guests sipped espressos in silence as they checked their phones at the socially distanced tables.
After receiving the key to my room, I headed to the lift, with a snazzy hand sanitiser machine affixed to the driftwood interior. The door to my suite was “sealed” with a sticker to show that it had been “decontaminated” for 48 hours following the previous guest’s checkout.
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Happily, everything in my room was as normal, save for the minibar, which was empty as a hygienic precaution. Five-star normal that is: I was treated to a 14th-floor view of the London skyline, with the BT Tower glittering centre stage; a king-sized bed, big enough to sleep lengthways; and a copper tub looking straight out towards the “Walkie Talkie” building.
Among the quirkier touches, I noted a telescope, at least two cuckoo clocks and even a Magic 8-Ball. (“Will there be a vaccine soon?” I asked the latter: “Don’t count on it,” it replied).
I was in the highest category of room, known as Clubhouse Suite, but even the entry-level offerings have bay windows with high views, rain showers and tastefully curated second-hand books. After a quietly captivating start, the hotel’s rooftop bar, The Nest, was a wonderful shock to the system.
The joint was fully booked (within the confines of social distancing). Sun streamed through the glass walls on to the succulents hanging from the ceilings, and thirtysomethings sipped cocktails as they laughed, gossiped and fiddled with the tassels on the Amazonian cushions.
Sitting outside with a blanket to keep me warm in the evening coolness (and ordering via the hotel app, rather than from paper menus), I sampled crowd-pleasers including a whisky piña colada and an avocado bellini (the fresh promise of Sunday brunch with an after-tang of clubbing in Clapham). First place goes to the strawberry wine, however, with calvados and chardonnay, full of the sweet merriment of an English summer.
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The Mexican restaurant, Madera, was again a sell-out, with tables filled on a Tuesday night. It was my first experience of an upscale restaurant specialising in that country’s cuisine and I was, unfortunately, a little disappointed.
Face masks and online menus seemed to make the naturally remote staff even more stand-offish. The ceviches didn’t live up to their vibrant visuals, flecked with pomegranate seeds and jalapeños, and the tortillas were on the bland side.
Far better were the signature “Rock” prawns served on hot lava stones, and the delicate but comforting apple pastry dessert (empanada manzana) – not to mention the deadly passion fruit margaritas.
After my best night’s sleep since the start of the lockdown, and a rain shower to remember in a glass cubicle looking straight out over London, I slouched back up to The Nest for breakfast. Guests who would rather avoid public areas can order room service at no extra charge, but those who venture out may be rewarded with yet more of those sensational vistas, while nursing a bowl of coconut parfait or tucking into eggs Royale.
Watching office lights flicker and cranes glide across the air in the distance, I felt the pang of something I hadn’t experienced in some time: the scintillating energy of the world’s greatest city as it struggles to regain its mojo. How wonderful it is to see the likes of Treehouse blaze a trail for the London hotel scene’s comeback.
• Read the full review: Treehouse, London