There’s a gentle tap on the door shortly before 8am. It’s a welcome change from a brutal, automated telephone wake-up call – especially when accompanied by a silver tray, on which sits a pot of tea, a white bone china cup and saucer, a silver sugar bowl and a silver milk jug. Pouring the tea and settling back into bed for a few more minutes, I take a long look at my surroundings as if working on a Visconti film set. The camera pans slowly from one corner to the next, past a pretty chest of drawers, a loose-covered sofa, a couple of mildly erotic 1930s prints of women, a bookshelf empty of books but housing a decanter of water and two glasses, and an antique full-length overmantle mirror. Two sheepskin rugs lie either side of the bed. Next door, the bathroom is enormous, with space for, in addition to the essentials, a proper chaise longue and a large battered cupboard. In hotel parlance, I am staying in a suite, and a remarkably private one at that because it occupies the whole floor of a Victorian stucco building in one of London’s most des res areas: just off Westbourne Grove in Nottinghill. But this isn’t a hotel. It isn’t even a bed and breakfast ( you get a choice of tea or coffee in the morning but nothing to eat). It’s simply a place to stay and it’s one of the capital’s best-kept secrets after enjoying its fourth year of business under the dedicated ownership of Caroline Main, who I’m told has worked variously as a commodities trader, horse trainer, safari guide, explorer, Mayfair club owner and DJ.
Both she and her young helper, Aimee, greet me when I check in. Caroline lives on the ground floor with her son and an Alsatian dog. There are four rooms available each night for as little as £55 per person. If I were a businessman in need of a comfy bed before a big meeting, this is where I would come; if I were a tourist in need of some bohemian vibes before setting off down the Portobello Road, this is where I would come.
Caroline tells me to shout if I need anything and soon I’m knocking on her door to ask for an iron. “We’ll do it for you” she says, and I skip off for dinner with the keys of the house in my pocket. It’s like staying at a friend’s except I don’t have many friends who live in such rarefied part of the town. When I get back at midnight, I notice that there’s a small television near one of the windows. But I won’t need it: this is a room where you curl up with Henry James, not Andrew Neil. The Main House, as it’s called, has a breakfast arrangement with at Tom’s (Tom Conran’s deli) around the corner. I pay £ 7.85 for a cappuccino, scramble eggs with Parma ham, roast tomatoes and toasted focaccia. What a trendy crowd! Everyone except me looks as if they’ve walked off a stage – or want to walk onto one.
Aimee sorts out the paperwork before I leave and thanks me for coming. I thank her for having me and ask her to send my best wishes to Caroline. It’s all frightfully British and I love it.