Kettner’s famous neon sign in London’s Soho stood for dangerous liaisons, scallywags on the make and my-cheque-is-in-the-post diplomacy.
It’s where Oscar Wilde entertained; where Edward VII withdrew upstairs with Lillie Langtry; where dear old Winston would have felt positively abstemious compared to others propping up the bar.
Founded in 1867 by a German called August Kettner (rumoured to have been Napoleon’s chef), it is now — to cut a long and raffish story short — part of the Soho House group. And extremely pricey.
You don’t need to be a member to stay or eat here. And that is what you should do if you can because it’s a tour de force, evoking a mix of the 1920s and French boudoirs, replete with art nouveau lighting, William Morris wallpaper and, in the hall, the original tiled floor with a few missing little squares. ‘I don’t feel we are in a hotel,’ says my wife.
‘Well, where are we then?’
‘We are guests of Noel Coward.’
I wonder if Mr Coward dressed his beds with seven plump pillows. And would he have lined up 11 bottles of products (Cowshed) by the bath and a further ten by the shower?
Certainly, he would have loved our drinks trolley, laden with cocktail shakers, bottles of gin, whisky, vodka, lemons, limes and gorgeous glasses.
There are 33 rooms, starting with ‘Tiny,’ then ‘Tiny Plus,’ ‘Small’, ‘Cosy’, ‘Medium’ and so on until you get to the Jacobean Suite, which occupies what used to be the banqueting hall and has its own entrance from Greek Street if discretion is called for.
‘Everyone here is up to no good,’ I declare on ordering a negroni in the champagne bar, before we move through to the piano bar, where the marble top is almost the length of a cricket wicket. A couple of lotharios are perched at one end.
The dining room sizzles with intent and manages to be grand, camp and informal all at the same time. Come for the pre-theatre menu, and two courses cost £20. But you might not need more theatre after an hour here.
Kettners only opened in January and the food has not completely got into its stride. My Devon crab with apple is more apple than crab, but the posh burger that follows is top-class.
At breakfast, our table looks out at the Coach & Horses, next to a weathered boulangerie and coffee shop. Soho is slowly waking up — and Kettner’s is back at the heart of it.