There's no accounting for taste. I've come to 41 because I'm intrigued to know what makes a London hotel remain consistently in the top three of 1,132 reviewed on Tripadvisor. What makes its reviewers (many of them American) literally gush with ecstatic praise?
Service, that's what, and lots of it, beginning with a guest preference form, sent in advance, that made me start wildly ticking boxes, just for the hell of it. "Which of the following may we place in your room?" An exercise bike? Why not. Humidifier? Of course. Not forgetting the yoga mat, neck support pillow and bed board. And who could resist a Romantic Turndown (candles and rose petals) or a box of Swiss chocolates? Why not go the whole hog and inform the management of your "hobbies/interests" and your favourite colours?
The raison d'être of the admirable hotel group behind 41 (as well as several other Tripadvisor top-10 hotels, including the Milestone and the Chesterfield Mayfair) is, first and foremost, to please the customer. Having stayed in other Red Carnation properties (Old Government House in Guernsey and Summer Lodge in Dorset), I know that this commitment, emanating from the caring hands of long-standing founder Beatrice Tollman, is at the centre of their operation. But where such all-encompassing envelopment can work in a roomier hotel, it's too cloying, for me at least, in this one.
As I dutifully fill in the questionnaire, I feel that old anarchy rising. My pen itches to confuse by requesting a bed board, a neck pillow and bed time Horlicks as well as an exercise bike and a champagne-fuelled Romantic Turndown, to state that my favourite colour is black and that my hobby/interest is trashing hotel bedrooms. That should keep them occupied trying to work out my personality from the form, which apparently is what they do, the better to serve. I fondly imagine the rictus smiles as the satanic hotel-wrecker steps from her taxi and sashays through the door.
The door in question is on Buckingham Palace Road, next to the Rubens hotel, which Red Carnation also owns. Although it feels separate, 41 occupies the Rubens's former offices on the building's top floor, and a lift from 41's striking black and white lobby whisks you up to its striking black and white bedrooms. Front-facing rooms look down into the Royal Mews opposite – heaven for American guests. The former boardroom of the Rubens is the heart of 41, a mahogany clad "Executive Lounge" with conservatory roof, honesty bar and complimentary light buffet 24 hours a day. Black-suited staff hover, with red carnations in their buttonholes. Yes, I did have a good journey, thank all of you who have asked me. May I go to my room now? I've got plenty to do there.
- 41 Buckingham Palace Road, SW1 (020 7958 7728; www.41hotel.com) Doubles from £235, including breakfast. Access possible for guests with disabilities. More hotel reviews by Fiona Duncan at www.thehotelguru.com
Rooms (out of five) TTTT
Black and white; stylish. Fabulous sky-view Master Suite with glass ceiling
Too solicitous for me, though otherwise faultless; excellent manager
Plenty, according to Americans and Tripadvisor reviewers
Food & drink TTTT
Complimentary snacks a nice idea; good breakfast
Value for money TTT
The enveloping service comes cheap at the price – if it's your bag