A sleepover to savour
If I had a dollar, or more usefully right now a pound, for every time I've reached the end of a fine meal in a restaurant thinking "if only this place had rooms I'd check in immediately", then I'd have comfortably enough to cover my dinner and accommodation here at One Leicester Street.
It was only a matter of time before the concept that has swept the British countryside, with rural "gastro" pubs adding a few guest rooms within staggering distance upstairs, made it to the capital.
One Leicester Street, near Chinatown and Soho and within sight of West End theatres and cinemas, is an incarnation of this idea, the hotel website openly admitting the functionality of its Post-Supper rooms:
"Not so much a room 'with a view'," it states, "as a room with a window. These smaller guest rooms remove the need for a taxi home after dinner."
Perfect. You're sated on some interesting, reasonably priced fare, you may have had a few vinos and let's be frank here, you and your dining companion might be finding each other hard to resist.
Yet in spite of the hint of Parisian sexiness in the big "Moules" sign above its bistro-like restaurant, One Leicester Street is no one-trick petit cheval. For a start, it has 15 rooms across five floors of the corner Georgian building it occupies, a fair proportion of which are not reserved just for post-prandial relaxation.
My third-floor room is one such. It's light, white and with a bath and shower cleverly secreted to one side of its open plan layout. It provides me with a comfortable and surprisingly quiet central London home for nearly 24 hours, allowing me to look down on Chinatown's ever-changing drama while answering work emails on free Wi-Fi.
You enter One Leicester Street via a discreet entrance beside the restaurant and there, smiling at you from behind a small reception desk, is your one-person receptionist cum concierge cum on-site manager. For much of my stay it is the chirpy O'neill who looks after things.
O'neill is London funky in a way that suggests his other job is as a club DJ. He's not just funky but avuncular, in a way that some too-cool-for-you staff in uber-fashionable Sydney joints could learn from. He is simply an excellent introduction to the hotel.
Nor is he alone. Everybody working here seems to have taken a metaphoric happy pill. At breakfast there is this from the young waitress: "I haven't quite perfected my coffee-making so please let me know if it isn't right," she grins. "You're one of my first victims, I mean, guinea pigs."
Nor does it comes as any surprise to discover that the popular Talented Mr Fox bar upstairs holds master classes in bartending. Once again there is refreshingly little attitude in those pouring the drinks and a great deal of imagination going into them. Witness the TMF take on the classic Bloody Mary, transparent as gin and created from clarified tomato juice and vodka distilled with pig's blood and black pudding.
The food at One Leicester Street has the same combination of the classic and surprising.
At breakfast, I try the jasmine tea-infused "Lisle Street buns", which my waitress describes as "Chelsea buns with homage to Chinatown", and a Berkswell (ewe's milk) cheese omelette. Both are delicious.
At dinner I choose from a menu marshalled under the old-fashioned headings "Shellfish/fish, Meat/Offals and Puddings". There is nothing dated though about my devilled mussels, sea purslane and saffron starter or my kid (goat), red radish, barley and anchovy main. The appearance of underrated goat on the menu is particularly welcome.
But the best thing of all about dining at One Leicester Street, proving that innovative cuisine doesn't have to be exorbitant, is its prices.
A two-course pre-theatre dinner costs £16 (NZ$30.98), three courses £19, each with three choices per course. The most expensive a la carte main - roast middlewhite, lentils and mustard - is also £16.
It seems from this the cold winds of recession have blown some fresh air into the London dining scene, or maybe knocked some sense into its restaurateurs.
The only drawback with this is that, after dining at One Leicester Street, you might have money left for a taxi "home".
In which case you'd be missing out on a refreshingly unpretentious bijou central London bolthole.
The writer was a guest of Visit Britain and One Leicester Street.
GETTING THERE One Leicester Street is bang in the centre of London; the nearest Tube stations are Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.
STAYING THERE Rooms from about £265 (NZ$516.5). If you're feeling lucky, pre-paid Post-Supper rooms or "Treats" can be booked online for £138 on Sundays and Mondays, with complimentary upgrades. The top floor suite costs from £288.
MORE INFORMATION oneleicesterstreet.com.