Queen Mary 2 Transatlantic Crossing – Day 0

At One With One Aldwych in London

Overlooking the Lobby Bar at One Aldwych, London. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Overlooking the Lobby Bar at One Aldwych, London. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

“We’re here.”

The driver puts the Mercedes-Benz in park. Its windshield wipers beat furiously against the downpour of rain that has turned London, England into one heck of a soggy mess.

I look out the window at a beautiful but nondescript stone building that vaguely resembles the famous Flatiron Building in New York. “Are you sure?”

The driver gives me a wayward glance. “Of course,” he says, “this is it.”

One Aldwych, seen on the left, doesn't make any huge announcements like most high end hotels. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
One Aldwych, seen on the left, doesn’t make any huge announcements like most high end hotels. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Instead, a simple entrance - adorned with the word "One" - serves as the gateway to this fantastic London hotel. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Instead, a simple entrance – adorned with the word “One” – serves as the gateway to this fantastic London hotel. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Subtlety isn’t the strong-suit of most hotels. Typically, they’ll boast a huge backlit sign proclaiming their allegiance to chains like Marriott, InterContinental or Hyatt. Branding is everywhere. The building’s function as a hotel is unmistakable.

My home for the evening – London’s One Aldwych hotel – thinks differently. On the eve of my Westbound Transatlantic Crossing aboard Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2, I’ve come here in search of a pre-cruise stay that can match the grace and elegance of Cunard’s flagship. And I’ve found it in One Aldwych.

If there is a single word to describe One Aldwych, it would be “subtle.” A set of nondescript glass doors boasts the word “One” stenciled above it. This serves as the entrance to what is one of London’s leading West End hotels. Over 20 theatres are within a 10-minute walk of One Aldwych, not to mention Covent Garden (less than a two minute walk); Trafalgar Square (a ten minute walk); and Big Ben – a 20 minute walk. The River Thames is 60 seconds away. There’s a Starbucks across the street, and a Café Nero (go to Café Nero!) on the opposite laneway.

London's Covent Garden is an easy two-minute walk up the street...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
London’s Covent Garden is an easy two-minute walk up the street…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...and Trafalgar Square isn't far behind. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…and Trafalgar Square isn’t far behind. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The nondescript entryway leads into what has to be one of the most spectacular yet understated hotel lobby bars I’ve ever seen. Appropriately known as The Lobby Bar, this cozy watering hole oozes romance and intimacy. It’s small, not sprawling; anchored by a beautifully curved wooden bar that anchors the western edge of the property. Flanked by high arched windows that date back to 1906 when the building was commissioned for a newspaper, this is the place to be for the theatre-set.

With the weather outside turning nasty...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
With the weather outside turning nasty…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...it's better to stay indoors and sample some cocktails at The Lobby Bar. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…it’s better to stay indoors and sample some cocktails at The Lobby Bar. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Purely in the name of research, I took some time this evening to sample the cocktail libations available at the Lobby Bar. One Aldwych has all the usual suspects, but you can get those anywhere. Gin and Tonics are great, but they’ve been done. Instead, I’d recommend flipping the page to their Explore creations to try some of their hand-crafted drinks. Like this one:

Le Fizz Du Jardin

Grey Goose L’Orange, Saint Germain infused with grapefruit, lime juice and ginger syrup. Topped with Champagne. Served in a chilled coupette glass with golden leaf.

If anything has inspired Ernest Hemingway-like qualities in me, it’s this drink. Sure, it’s £16 a hit. Just don’t think about the exchange rate and hope you pen the next Old Man and the Sea.

My other favorite of the evening? Most certainly this absolutely stunning drink concoction:

The Fusion Garden

Metaxa 12, sake infused with seaweed, Kamm & Sons, homemade rice syrup, lemon juice and aromatic bitters. Served in a rice bowl over ice.

Le Fizz du Jardin. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Le Fizz du Jardin. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The unassuming Lobby Bar also plays host to a Roald Dahl-inspired Afternoon Tea, based loosely around the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Starting at £37.50 per person, or £48 per person with a Cocktail Charlie or a glass of Lallier Grande Reserve Champagne (you know you want it), this afternoon tea service combines home-spun candy floss, golden chocolate eggs with vanilla cheesecake filling, miniature bottles of chocolate carmel milk, and the tea of your choice, this is English afternoon tea as you’ve never seen it before.

Afternoon Tea is set...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Afternoon Tea is set…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...at the Lobby Bar. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…at the Lobby Bar. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Speaking of things never before seen, the Lobby Bar gives way to a very unique feature that’s actually tucked away off the entrance to the hotel: a private, guests-only bar that more closely resembles a First Class lounge at an airport. Quiet, subdued and relaxing, the general public is not allowed here – but you are. Full drink and meal service is available to every guest regardless of room category booked, and the lounge is stocked with newspapers, magazines and books by acclaimed publisher Rizzoli.

One Aldwych even has an on-site swimming pool and a 30-seat cinema, where they’ll actually show first-run movies that include a glass of champagne and a three-course dinner in Indigo for just £55 per person – which is a lot of bang-for-buck for London’s West End. Aldwych One calls it Film & Fizz, and it’s as popular as it sounds.

My room for the evening...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
My room for the evening…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...one of One Aldwych's Deluxe Rooms. Larger full suites are also available. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…one of One Aldwych’s Deluxe Rooms. Larger full suites are also available. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

For what is quickly looking like an all-too-short one night stay, I’m occupying one of the hotel’s Deluxe Rooms tonight. Measuring between 366 and 388 square feet (34-36 square metres), these rooms all feature unique layouts and designs, thanks largely in part to the hotel’s historic pedigree.

When I walked into my room, it took my breath away: it’s massive for a London hotel room. It’s also very well designed, with a corridor-mounted room number that also doubles as a mailbox; original artwork in every room, optical reading lights, dual vanity bathrooms that feature full-sized tubs and stand-up showers, not to mention plush beds featuring Frette linens and the single largest pillows I have ever seen.

Dual vanity sinks...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Dual vanity sinks…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...and a soaker tub and separate standalone shower. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…and a soaker tub and separate standalone shower. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Rooms also feature interactive video-on-demand, plush robes, slippers, and all the other things that will make you never want to leave and brave the torrential rains that have lashed London recently.

Some photos of my Deluxe Room in the heart of London at One Aldwych:

Fresh fruit. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Fresh fruit. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Comfy pillows and Frette linens never hurt, either! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Comfy pillows and Frette linens never hurt, either! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Tonight, I had the good fortune to dine at Indigo, the unassuming on-site dining venue headed up by Executive Chef Dominic Teague.

Tucked away on the second floor overlooking the Lobby Bar, Indigo offers up a blend of traditional English cuisine (yes, there’s fish and chips!), but with a modern twist. It’s reasonably priced for an upscale hotel restaurant, with most entrees priced in the £20-30 range. So I expected a reasonable, but not exceptional dinner.

Dinner at Indigo, overlooking the Lobby Bar. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Dinner at Indigo, overlooking the Lobby Bar. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

That was my unreasonable thought. Dinner at Indigo blew me out of the water, from the first salmon starter that was better than any salmon I’ve had anywhere in the world (and I am from Vancouver), to the forest-green watercress soup that was so tasty and delectable I could have just had a bigger bowl for my entrée. It was served with a poached hen’s egg, and the combination was unlike anything I’ve ever tried before.

Literally the best salmon I have ever tasted. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Literally the best salmon I have ever tasted. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Also in the vein of unique combinations was the dessert I chose. Being allergic to nuts and not a fan of heavy desserts, I normally skip the course entirely. But I was curious about the Pimm’s Jelly served with cucumber, melon and mint. It tastes just like a Pimm’s Cup (the drink), and it was light enough that I was able to enjoy it without feeling overly stuffed.

Although I went out and explored soggy London for a bit today, I really could have spent the day holed up at the One Aldwych without any hesitation. To me, that’s the sign of a great hotel.

Watercress soup with hen's egg...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Watercress soup with hen’s egg…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...and potato gnocchi main course. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…and potato gnocchi main course. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

They say you can be through with the past, but the past isn’t through with us. That seems to be very true tonight, as I prepare to lay my head down and instantly become one step closer to my Queen Mary 2 euphoria that is gripping me in the run-up to this Transatlantic Crossing.

My room at One Aldwych looks out over the Lyceum Theatre. They’re performing The Lion Kingjust like they did back in March of 2001 when my school travel club all gathered outside the Lyceum to see it. When I stood there on that rainy March day, I had no idea that on a rainy August day 14 years later, I’d be back in such opulent surroundings.

I felt the ghost of my former self pass me in the street this afternoon. I’m a very different person now than I was when I was 18. I get the sense that there is still more personal improvement to be done. But from my room at the One Aldwych, I figure I am on the right track.

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report continues tomorrow as we embark Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 in the port of Southampton, England! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

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