Words: Jamie Tabberer; pictures: Provided
What is London's most insufferable quarter? It was, hands down, Oxford Circus, until the implementation of a £5m diagonal pedestrian crossing made it, if no less congested - more people walked across it in its first year than live in the UK and Australia combined - somewhat more bearable.
For my money, it's now 1km to the left: Marble Arch, where the traffic is as monstrous and the footfall from Primark alone makes navigating its pavements an Olympic sport.
But in a city as strange and unpredictable as London, serenity lives right next door to chaos. Barely seven minutes' walk from the aforementioned hubbub, you'll find the serviced apartments of Native Mayfair, discreetly tucked away on the picturesque, car-free Shephard's Place.
During my recent stay, I was immediately struck by the lack of car horns and ambulance sirens. The silence was positively Victorian; fitting, as this charming redbrick townhouse dates back to 1890.
It is, in actuality, enviably-placed: Hyde Park, the Royal Academy of Arts and, yes, Oxford Circus are all easily accessible. As the glossy, user-friendly website puts it, it's 'located in a converted Victorian mews house on the historic Grosvenor Estate [...] you’ll discover tree-lined avenues dotted with fine gourmet restaurants, designer boutiques and elegant cafes.'
But what is it, exactly? Other than the likely future of hotelling? It's genuinely hard to explain. It's listed, rather confusingly, as a 'hotel' on Google; 'aparthotel', used elsewhere, is more apt. Although this is a clunky term, like 'serviced apartments', that doesn't do justice to such a slick operation.
It's certainly elevated beyond your typical Airbnb stay. For one thing, my (huge) premium one bed flat was almost preternaturally clean. Out of pure curiosity, I actually went looking for dust and cobwebs, but the entire property was scrubbed and polished to within an inch of its life.
The decor - all shoe-repelling, glossily-modern furniture and muted creams and greys - is pleasingly minimalist. A splash of colour here or there could be interesting - the bottle green wall in the bedroom is certainly gorgeous - but I get why it's uncomplicated: differentiation. After all, no matter how tastefully decorated an Airbnb, you never shake the eerie feeling you're interloping in someone else's highly personalised space. (There are nevertheless some nice, personality-adding touches here, such as a hardback copy of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities on the bedside table.)
Suffice to say, this is not your straightforward property rental. But it's also worlds apart from your traditional hotel experience too, which is why it's hard to settle on the right term to describe it.
There's no reception, for starters. I knew this upfront, and still arrived having not properly read the literature with thus no note of the customer safe codes (or the front door code...) As I fumbled, I momentarily longed for a kind, welcoming face to sort my life out for me - until I remembered how much I hate making small talk. Swings and roundabouts.
One minor vexation: as the delicious luxury toiletries in the showstopping bathroom came in glass bottles, I erred on the side of caution and didn't take them home with me... reluctantly upending an almost superstitious, decades-long ritual. There is a phone number you can call in case of emergencies, but who's going to bother with an enquiry like that? Thus, upfront clarification would have been welcome.
Nevertheless, having established I couldn't 'dial 1' to ask for an ironing board, it dawned on me I already had one - along with just about every mod con and amenity you could possibly imagine, from washer and dryer to walk-in wardrobe complete with safe. The kitchen boasted pristine, beautifully-presented utensils I couldn't even name, and I was enamoured with the marvellously neat and tidy three compartment recycling drawer, the kind everyone fantasises about getting but never actually gets.
Not long after 'going native', this Zone 4 Londoner moved house, and the endeavour of cleaning a flat half the size of this one from top to bottom, while hungover, was near-tear-inducing. So, again, special kudos to the Native Mayfair housekeepers.
I love my new home, but my night spent learning how the other half live - remember, Mayfair is technically the most expensive stop on a standard London Monopoly board - was certainly eye-opening.
Lead in prices for a one bed at Mayfair is £266. To book visit www.nativeplaces.com.