London’s oldest luxury hotel is having a festive chocolate makeover care of Britain’s first luxury chocolate maker, which is on Old Bond Street. By Peter Howarth
There’s a lot going on this season at Brown’s Hotel, a Rocco Forte hotel in Mayfair. This includes a Christmas Fair on 20 November, at which a host of great names will be selling gifts, including jewellery, accessories, homeware and clothes, with 10 per cent of sales being donated to the West London Zone, a local children’s charity.
Then, from 16 November, to coincide with the new Wonka film starring Timothée Chalamet as a young Willy Wonka, Brown’s is partnering with what is said to be Britain’s first luxury chocolatier, Charbonnel et Walker, established in 1875. The confectioner’s original shop opened on New Bond Street at number 173, and it is still on the street – now at 1 The Royal Arcade, Old Bond Street.
The takeover sees the hotel transformed into a magical space worthy of Willy Wonka himself, all fairy lights and red ribbons, with chocolate seemingly at every turn. There are chocolate-themed cocktails, truffle trolleys, and a chocolate trolley in residence in the hotel’s restaurant, Charlie's (no connection to the titular character of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, just a happy coincidence). The new festive afternoon tea menu that is available in The Drawing Room will also feature – you guessed it – more chocolate, while the Brown’s decorative Christmas tree, which sits at the centre of the hotel, is surrounded by truffle boxes.
And if the pressures of the season all get too much for you, as they can do at this time of year, there’s even a chocolate-infused spa treatment: the Cocoa Calm Spa Package lasts for 150 minutes and comprises a Chocolate Hand and Foot Mask Treatment, a refreshing mani-pedi and finishes off with an indulgent Charbonnel et Walker hot chocolate.
Charbonnel et Walker owes its distinctive name to the partnership of Madame Charbonnel of Paris and Mrs Walker from London. The former was a Parisian chocolatier, the latter a maker of boxes for fine jewellery and hats. The result, naturally, was chocolate that was packaged in beautiful gift boxes. And if this Bond Street firm is the first luxury purveyor of chocolate, then it’s only fitting it should now be collaborating with Brown’s, which can lay claim to being London’s oldest luxury hotel. Founded by James and Sarah Brown in 1832, Brown’s has never been relocated, rebuilt or, indeed, renamed.
It’s a place steeped in history and, according to a forthcoming book, Brown’s Hotel: A Family Affair by historian Andy Williamson, is actually five years older than was thought. It turns out that the 185th anniversary celebrations for the hotel that took place in 2022 were actually five years out of date. Witness this evidence cited in the book: from The Morning Post, 12 March, 1832, under the heading “Spacious Apartments”, a notice reads, ‘To Families and Members of Parliament – J. BROWN begs to inform them that he has just fitted up the House, 23, Dover-street, Piccadilly, where he is confident every convenience and comfort will be found.’
Although Willy Wonka’s creator, Roald Dahl, is not listed as a visitor to the hotel in Williamson’s book, plenty of other literary names are. In 1905, American author Mark Twain wrote of Brown’s that it was a ‘homelike, old-fashioned English inn, a blessed retreat of a sort now rare in England, and becoming rarer every year’. Another fan was The Jungle Book’s Rudyard Kipling, for whom the hotel became something of a second home for 44 years – from his marriage to his death. For him it was: ‘our faithful, beloved, warm, affectionate Brown’s Hotel’. Agatha Christie, too, stayed, and her At Bertram’s Hotel is said to have been influenced by Brown’s. Other writers who have been guests include Joseph Conrad, Jorge Luis Borges, William Golding, Tom Wolfe and Arthur C Clarke. And the outline of Misery, Stephen King’s 1987 novel about an obsessed fan of a romantic novelist, was also penned at Brown’s.
So, if you want to curl up with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate for the weekend, simply book a room at Brown’s. Or just pop in at teatime to the comfortable and cosy Drawing Room.
Brown’s Hotel, 33 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4BP; the Brown’s Hotel Christmas Fair takes place on 20 November, 11.30am-7.30pm; Charbonnel et Walker, 1 The Royal Arcade, Old Bond Street, London W1S4BT; Brown’s Hotel: A Family Affair by Andy Williamson is launching in January 2024 and will be available to purchase at the hotel and on roccoforteshop.com; the Brown’s Hotel Cocoa Calm Spa Package is priced at £140; the hotel is offering a festive suite starting from £4,350 for two nights, valid for stays from 1 December 2023 to 3 January 2024
Peter Howarth is the former editor of Arena, British Esquire and Man About Town and is the men’s style writer for Luxx, The Times’ luxury magazine