Pet-friendly holidays are on the rise. So what’s it like to check in with a pooch for a staycation at London’s five-star South Place hotel? Olivia Palamountain reports
I’m not usually one for following rules, but this summer, while friends and family slipped off to warmer climes, I’ve been a very good girl and done what the government advised: stay at home.
I haven’t got a medal – or a suntan – for this act of altruism, however, I have had the opportunity to try being a tourist in London, during a mini “pet-cation” at South Place hotel, a boutique retreat in the heart of the City.
Just a 40-minute walk from my place in Hackney, it’s hardly an exotic destination, however, there will always be something glamorous about spending the night in a hotel near home – company dependent, of course.
As a newly single 30-something looking for a sure thing, I’ve got the perfect date lined up: my dog, a two-year old staff called Luna. Yep, South Place hotel is pet-friendly (the small print says “well behaved” dogs only) – an unexpected and very welcome touch for a luxury, urban hotel.
Any fantasies of sweeping elegantly into the foyer with an adorable dog are dispelled when the reality of travelling with my tiny tank on legs dawns.
En route, the sun decides to come out of isolation for the first time since last summer and with the world (and its dog) now out enjoying the weather, the casual stroll I envisioned becomes a hectic, sweaty march through the masses.Check-in is a nightmare. I am, quite literally, a hot mess. Limbs flailing, I am balancing a bulging tote bag on my knee looking for my credit card (and passport!) details while my miniature muscle Mary pulls me every which way and the front desk do their best not to notice. Somewhere behind me is a lovely seating area – it would have been prudent for the team to direct me there immediately, rather than after the five minutes I’ve been wrestling with my dog whilst wrangling with my personal effects. Still, it’s not their problem that Luna is a beast.
Once upstairs, it gets better. The suite is minimal and monotone in that streamlined 90s style that’s now back in vogue (South Place hotel opened in 2012), invigorated with pops of the hotel’s signature canary yellow.On the floor in a corner of the room is a mat laid out with one bowl and a bottle of still water (the housekeeper clearly doesn’t have a pet) and a cute dog bed that Luna sniffs then shuns before taking up residence on my king size pillows.There’s so much more on offer at South Place Hotel than just a bed for the night. Guests are given unlimited use of the hotel’s canary yellow bicycles for exploring London, upstairs lies a Michelin-starred seafood-focused restaurant, Angler, plus there’s a wellness centre (treatment room, a gym, sauna and steamroom) for pampering or working out. A revolving art exhibition on the ground floor is another good reason to visit.Since I already know this part of town (and cycling isn’t exactly dog-friendly), I skip the bikes and luxuriate in my suite’s whopper of a bathroom before dinner.
There’s a slate shower big enough for an orgy and a tub perfect for a foam after-party – coming from a flat the size of a postage stamp, it’s a treat (despite the fact Luna tries her best to join me in the bath).
Love my dog as I do, her tastes are more feral than fine dining so I leave her to drink the minibar dry and trash the room, rockstar style, while I head to dinner at Angler with an old family friend, known affectionately as the “Duke of Positano”.
I try to creep out of the room without making a fuss. Too late. She tracks my movements like a sniper aiming for a clean shot and, as the door closes behind me, the whining begins.
I leave with a guilty conscience and a heavy heart. It’s easy to forget that while the experience of a night in a five-star hotel is a little bit of a luxury for me, for her it’s just a strange space that doesn’t smell like home.By the time I’m settled at a corner table on Angler’s covered al fresco terrace, with the first sip of champagne coating my mouth in a million bubbles, Luna and her anxiety are history – I guess that’s the beauty of owning dog versus having a child. Service is snappy and on point. It’s moments before a trio of amuse bouche are presented with a flourish, the best of which is a feather-light squid ink cracker, enriched with an orb of silky cod’s roe and refreshing slivers of lemon zest.
Angler’s executive chef, Gary Foulkes, is a seafood maestro, creating menus that celebrate taste and texture dictated by the finest seasonal produce.
Fish lovers will be in heaven here: each of the six courses are interesting yet accessible – there are no achingly hip or self-conscious fripperies, just fantastic flavours brought together with confidence and panache.Angler’s signature dish – a seabass tartare bound in a velvety oyster cream with acidic and green accents from apple and shiso – is an absolute stonker, but the menu continues to wow.
The likes of roast scallop enriched with roasting juices, chanterelles and the natural sweetness of corn proves a deliciously unusual way to serve everyone’s favourite mollusk, while a crowd-pleasing quartet of crab, avocado, wasabi and finger lime more than justify their reputation.
The only meat on the main menu is a beautiful piece of lamb with summer courgette, aged balsamic and garlic. Delicious as it is, the fish courses steal the show, while a forgettable dessert of figs with fig leaf ice cream, honey and olive oil is… I can’t remember.We end the evening with a post-dinner snifter in the Secret Garden, the hotel’s enchanting outdoor terrace, complete with waterfalls, palm trees and seasonal installations. On a cooler evening, South Place’s buzzing cocktail venue 3 Bar would make a better bet.
Flopping straight into bed after a boozy dinner is a perk of hotel life – now made sweeter by the fact I know Luna is waiting for me. But as my room clunks unlocked, no wagging tail or sloppy kisses appear: she’s lying on the bed in a mood – and she wants me to know about it.
Thanks to a quick walk around the block and lots of attention from pissed up revellers, it doesn’t last long and she snuggles down in her usual position, curled between my legs: bliss.
The day after the night before begins with breakfast at South Place Chop House. In order to enjoy a peaceful workout, steam and sauna in the gym and wellness area before my bacon and eggs, I decide to walk Luna home first thing – and leave here there – while I head back to the hotel. According to the charming hostess at Chop House, dogs are welcome in this restaurant. I hadn’t appreciated that but it’s for the best she’s not here – there’s meaty temptation everywhere and she’s bound to be a nuisance. If I’ve learned one thing from staycationing with my dog it’s this: she’d rather stay at home and I should have got a cat.
An overnight stay costs from £226; The tasting menu at Angler costs £110 or £210 with a wine pairing. Southplacehotel.com