The Goring is a tiny grand hotel near Victoria Station and the Queen’s garden wall. Victoria is not pleasant — traffic fumes —but this only makes the Goring more determined to be the grandest of all London’s tiny grand hotels. That it is in the wrong place — it should be in Mayfair in 1858 — makes it more histrionic. It is another daydream made of class anxiety; another hotel that voted for Brexit.
It was built in 1910, the first hotel, says the website, to be entirely ensuite. Did the Savoy use buckets? Its windows are fantastically clean, which must be agonising this close to Victoria Coach Station. It has two doormen dressed in red and gold, like Jewish sofas. The Goring is covered in bunting, like a fête that never stops. In the lobby there are mirrors and chequered marble floors, and cuddly sheep called Barbara. This is a family-run hotel. It is expected to be whimsical. There are weird murals of English forests and polar bears, and, near them, trippers paying £8,400 a night for the suite that contained Catherine Middleton the evening before her wedding. It should be a location for my unmade film Blue Blood, in which the royal family have been vampires since 1714, and Queen Victoria is undead and very angry. The Middletons requisitioned the Goring for the wedding. The Americans did the same in 1917 for the war. Both remain its target constituency.
The bar is insane: it is dedicated to the Queen Mother, who loved the Goring because it looks like her. It was her local pub, and the entire contents of her wardrobe are on the floors and the walls. Drink in the Goring and you spend more time in the Queen Mother than George VI did. The royal family do not live in such tiny splendour; Buckingham Palace is rather shabby from over-vacuuming. This homage to royalty is more ambitious than the original. For an evening, it is charming. If I lived here I might tear my eyes out.
The Goring’s new restaurant is called Siren. It is quite a sexy name, for a sexless hotel, and it lives in a posh conservatory overlooking the Goring’s gardens, which are large and beautiful. If you are not royal you forget there are gardens in Victoria. Siren serves Cornish produce in a very un-Cornish way; that is, with design. It is decorated like a Mousehole holiday let, all tin baths and Liberty fishing nets, an homage to what you say you love, but have destroyed. In Siren, a lobster pot is a light fitting; a glass lobster holds the bulb. The chairs are more floral than the actual gardens. The napkin rings look like Nero’s crown. Waiters wear paste jewels like tidy pirates. They should, because Siren is larceny.
The food — it is from Nathan Outlaw — is good, but it is hard to ruin fish. The best fish I have had was in Carr’s Fish Shack in Jamaica after a hurricane. Mr Carr walked out of the sea with a red snapper as his friends knocked the tap back into the wall and the wall back into the ground. He wrapped it in foil with scotch bonnet and grilled it on charcoal. He charged Siren prices but he risked his life, and his restaurant had blown down.
A tidy pirate brings a platter of uncooked fish on ice. It looks understandably depressed. My companion chooses a gurnard for £45. He says it is delicious. I live in Newlyn — I wonder if this gurnard actually passed my house on its way to his mouth — so I have a dull steak for £36. The puddings — vanilla cream and a raspberry choux bun — are glorious; you can expect that in a hotel dressed like the Queen Mother.