Breaks: Going full English at the Proms with high tea at the Academy Hotel
Belfast-based English journalist Jane Hardy and her husband took a trip to the Proms this autumn, getting fully into the spirit with high tea and cucumber sandwiches in London's chic Academy hotel
WHEN Michael and I were invited to a recent Prom in London, we needed somewhere to stay. Family often provide a Waterloo billet but we wanted the freedom to go out afterwards, so the husband and I found a magnificent hotel in Gower Street.
The Academy is a five-star outfit made when five well proportioned Georgian town houses were sensitively pushed together some time last century. The first thing you notice is the calm – surprising as you're about 10 minutes' walk from Oxford Street. Like the decor dreamed up by an American interior designer, which majors in William Morris-style wallpapers and soothing cream-to-green palette, the customer service here is welcoming yet never in your face.
As was our incredible suite, a massively comfortable bedroom plus sitting room, which in high season retails at £420 a night, with breakfast.
The Academy, situated in the University of London area, is known for its high teas. Helpfully, they're served all day. When we supped the special blends, enthusiastically downed the platefuls of superb petits fours, amazing sandwiches (including, naturally, the cucumber variety), custard tarts and Chinese sweetmeats.
The service was equally top notch. Next to us a couple of elegant Singaporean 20-somethings tucked in too. We asked why they'd come to the Academy for tea. One woman said she'd spotted it on a food writer's blog and that "high tea is part of British culture, isn't it?"
Also at £25 very good value for London. You can, of course, upgrade by paying a tenner for some Prosecco or more adventurously, a gin and tonic.
What about the Prom, I hear you ask? Magic. I agree with Times music critic Richard Morrison who said he loved every minute of the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique delivered by the Aurora Orchestra who play from memory with no scores.
We were in the BBC Radio 3 box, thanks to the invite from the channel's brilliant rising star presenter Georgia Mann who manages to inject wit into the classical repertoire. You'll hear her on Breakfast as well as presenting the Proms.
There was a great view of the Royal Albert Hall which is more intimate than it appears on the box. We learnt about the composer's account of his passionate attachment to Irish actress Harriet Smithson. A pastoral passage was lit by kind of giant fireflies, in fact lights on the string players' bows.
The witches' sabbath movement was super theatrical with Satanic masks on the players. Georgia Mann broadcast just feet away from us. We even got to go backstage afterwards which was amazing.
This historic arena hosts an eclectic programme with Jools Holland on in November, Alfie Boe and the film about the Jimi Hendrix Experience also in the mix.
We returned to the hotel and the bottle of English bubbly the management had thoughtfully provided.
The Academy is owned by a Malaysian family concern, YTL, super-rich construction owners whose sideline is beautiful boutique hotels everywhere from the Far East to Edinburgh.
Outside the front door is London, which remains an exciting, world city. After an incredible genuinely Continental breakfast in the basement, including gorgeous cheeses, hams, fruit salad for diabetic Michael, and lovely toast, we headed out to the capital.
Shop till you drop, really. If you're here around Christmas there is ice skating at Somerset House on the Strand. You can enjoy yourself at free art galleries like all the Tate brands and the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square (Gauguin portraits until January) or just grab some fish and chips around Covent Garden. Enjoy.
:: theacademyhotel.co,uk; 0207 631 4115