Bedding down for Britain
Author: FRANCES HIBBARD, KENDALL HILL & PAT NOURSE
Photography: Getty Images
The British statesman Benjamin Disraeli once described London as "a roost for every bird", a description that seems more apt now than ever. The British capital, flush with the jubilation of the Queen's 60th year on the throne and the heady expectation of the Olympics, is in full renaissance mode. The city's rich hoard of hotels is leading the resurgence - ambitious new properties have hung out their shingles while stately dowagers have nipped and tucked themselves back into gold-medal contention. We've grazed the pillow menus and counted the threads at some of its latest and greatest hotels to help you navigate London's lavish array of accommodation. Here we present our picks of where to bed down for the best of British service and style.
Europe's oldest grand hotel is fresh from a facelift and looking more majestic than ever. The Langham is all class but never flaunts it. It sits right in the heart of the West End, a stroll from royal parks and the retail temptations of Oxford and Regent streets. Beyond its marble foyer lie 380 rooms with light-filled, posh residential interiors subtly accented with The Langham's signature sugary pink. Particular standouts are the service - assured and prompt - and the amenities. Demanding guests will struggle to find fault with the room inclusions, which range from shoeshine to iron, even a (pink) guide map to Regent's Park. Dine at the legendary Palm Court for London's original afternoon tea (founded 1865, the same year as the hotel), or at Roux at the Landau where Michel Roux protégé Chris King presents Le Gavroche-inspired menus - also available in the private Postillion dining room, one of the most scenic in the city, with views to the graceful All Souls Church.
Checking in Tycoons and titled foreigners.
Room to book Upper-floor rooms with views of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
1c Portland Pl, Regent St, Marylebone, +44 20 7636 1000; rooms from $450
Spencer Tracy once quipped that he didn't want to go to heaven; he wanted to go to Claridge's. And indeed, the hotel routinely referred to as the art-deco gem of London offers one of the city's most precious experiences. Individuality is the true badge of luxury in this homogenised age, and so it's the lack of consistency - in the best possible way - that sets a stay at this Mayfair landmark apart. Guests glide through the revolving doors (installed to replace the original carriageway entrance) and into a world of gilded pleasures, from the jewel box of a lift, complete with its own operator and banquette, to the Thierry Despont-designed Fumoir bar, a dimly lit, desperately glamorous parcel of Lalique crystal detailing. No two bedrooms are the same, a result of the hotel's fusing of two buildings in its early years. The art-deco suites have been restored to perfection by David Linley while the quirks of the classic rooms - some with powder rooms, some original curvilinear closets - only add to the hotel's myriad charms. What is never in doubt is the service on which Claridge's stakes its reputation: accomplished, inclusive, and inherently British. When people fall for Claridge's, they fall hard.
Checking in A-listers, actors, old-money and royalty.
Room to book Fashion fans can opt for the penthouse, reached by its own spiral staircase, where model Kate Moss toasted turning 30 with a masquerade bash. But any room will provide you with the London of your mind's eye. Just be sure to ring for tea, a silver-service production replete with smiling butlers, tea-cosies from Fortnum & Mason, and house-made ginger biscuits.
Brook St, Mayfair, +44 20 7629 8860; rooms from $685
This red-brick Victorian beauty swiftly became the playground of Mayfair when it opened in 1897, with early press reports describing it as "the very focus of elegance, fashion, taste and hospitality". The description remains apt 115 years later as The Connaught settles back in after a $112-million renovation, which added a four-storey wing designed by interiors guru Guy Oliver and the world's first Aman spa outside the brand's own resorts. The Connaught is renowned for being run like a stately private home. Indeed, it's in the heart of Mayfair but the soul of discretion - a meeting place for the elite where the likes of Stanley Tucci, Steven Spielberg and Bette Midler can mingle in the bar (as they did during US President Barack Obama's state visit to Britain last year) with not a paparazzo in sight. The hotel's 121 rooms are split between the glamorous Edwardian wing and the sleek contemporary addition but are united by the hotel's signature service and sophistication. Facilities are first-rate, from the clubby Coburg and Connaught bars to the two-star Hélène Darroze restaurant, where the three-course lunch is an haute-cuisine coup at $67.
Checking in The great and the good.
Room to book Each has a distinct personality, but for the ultimate London stay, the library suite is yours for $7195 per night.
Carlos Pl, Mayfair, +44 20 7499 7070; rooms from $727
The Dorchester has dominated Park Lane, that busy throughfare that marks the divide between posh Mayfair and similarly posh Knightsbridge, for more than 80 years. But the scene was shaken up late last year when little sister 45 Park Lane opened on the site of what was London's original outpost of Hugh Hefner's Playboy Club. That American link underpins the 45 experience, with LA-based chef Wolfgang Puck packing them in at his first European restaurant, Cut, and New York architect Thierry Despont presiding over clubby, masculine interiors that are Mad Men in both spirit and style: dark woods, whiskey decanters, and the blokey pleasures of Puck's in-room dining menu (his Black Angus burger with Ogleshield cheddar and shallot-jalapeño marmalade is worth staying in for). But this is not one endless retrospective. The hotel sets its sights on a future perfect via gadgetry (everything from blinds to lights to heating and TVs are operated by the multiple phones found in the rooms) and the "hosts" dedicated to each room. It's an impressive package, with the hotel's intimate scale and London views only adding to the charm.
Checking in Confident city types and professional 30-somethings pretending they're Don Draper at Bar 45.
Room to book The corner-dwelling suites, which take in Knightsbridge, St James's Park and Hyde Park from their curvaceous windows. Watch the runners doing laps alongside the Serpentine from your bathroom window and then lapse back into the silk velvet sofas to decide which of your two Bang & Olufsen televisions you're going to watch.
45 Park La, Mayfair, +44 20 7493 4545; rooms from $755
Trace a stiletto heel between two of London's most admired retailers, Harrods and Harvey Nichols, and you'll find The Levin, conveniently located bang in the middle of the action. This small hotel is ideal for fashionistas, polo widows and anyone after a pied-à-terre in the clothing capital of the universe. The Levin's 12 bijou rooms blend vintage and contemporary touches with striking colour themes (rose, turquoise) to distinguish it from London's crowd of boutique offerings. Drinks cabinets stock a range of Champagnes - Krug to Billecart-Salmon, Ruinart to Henriot - and the requisite ingredients to transform them into cocktails. Toiletries are Kiehl's and Bulgari. Lighting is gentle and flattering. And, in case you missed it the first time, the location's fabulous.
Checking in Retail investment experts.
Room to book 46, the highest of the deluxe rooms.
28 Basil St, Knightsbridge, +44 20 7589 6286; rooms from $413
COVENT GARDEN HOTEL
It's not the largest of the Firmdale group's hotels (that would be the Soho), and it might not even be the most centrally located (it's a toss-up with the Haymarket, off Trafalgar Square). Heck, it's not even the most established of Kit and Tim Kemp's very highly regarded family of properties, which, certainly for London, redefined the notion of the boutique hotel. And yet there's no question that it's the one. Its large, comfortable rooms are decorated in Kit Kemp's instantly recognisable style. The rich overlay of textures - contrasting expanses of printed silk, felt and wool - frames the essential big bathrooms and high, deeply comfortable beds. Details such as the screening-room program, the dazzlingly up-to-date "London Now" in-house shopping and dining guide and the minibar are curated with unusual care and wit. And what of the star-spotting? The boldface names often seem to outnumber the merely good and great on the guest list - they too can't help but fall for a hotel that just gets it so very right.
Checking in Not for naught is it called Hollywood's home away from home.
Room to book The loft suites are hard to trump, but if the weather is uncharacteristically clement, make the most of it with the terrace suite.
10 Monmouth St, Covent Garden, +44 20 7806 1000; rooms from $500
The landmark 1889 hotel, built in opulent style to house patrons of Richard D'Oyly Carte's neighbouring Savoy Theatre, emerged in 2010 more glittering than ever after a three-year, $352-million restoration, one of the largest undertaken in British history. Its 268 suites and rooms span a gracious Edwardian wing, all Murano chandeliers and silk wallpapers, and a more modern art-deco section with geometric lines and individual layouts. Everything is impeccable, from flawlessly shining silverware and bouquets of fresh flowers to the rose-scented Le Labo toiletries standard in all rooms. The storied American Bar remains the place for classic cocktails, the new Beaufort Bar has one of London's largest Champagne selections, and Gordon Ramsay orchestrates the best of British menus at the Savoy Grill.
Checking in Culture vultures and visiting royalty.
Room to book Anything overlooking the Thames, preferably a suite in the Edwardian wing.
Strand, Westminster, +44 20 7836 4343; rooms from $670
Hotel? Sort of. "Rooms" was the term preferred by management when this unique proposition opened in early 2011. The titular St John here is the mini-restaurant empire owned by chef (and GT columnist) Fergus Henderson and restaurateur Trevor Gulliver, and the small-things-done-well common-sense approach that is the pair's hallmark is much in evidence on these premises. The location, in the centre of theatreland, is handy for just about everything. While the rooms are small and decorated in St John's signature white-on-white, there are riches to be found here. Open the minibar, and alongside the obligatory Toblerone you'll find bottles of Krug and Billecart-Salmon rosé, not to mention Calvados, vieille prune and multiple miniatures of Fernet-Branca. "A real chef offering a real service is in the kitchen," reads the note accompanying the room-service menu, and the words are borne out by the quality of in-room Welsh rarebit, the buns served in the bar, and the devilled kidneys on toast, grilled razor clams and sea purslane and other delights served for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the restaurant on the ground floor.
A must for any hungry (and thirsty) traveller.
Checking in Chefs and hard-core foodists making the St John pilgrimage.
Room to book The post-supper rooms are really suitable only for very short stays (read: sleeping it off); opt for a regular room or the top-floor Long Room instead.
1 Leicester St, Chinatown, +44 20 3301 8069; rooms from $240
HOTEL & APARTMENTS
Just as Bethnal Green is a neighbourhood made dynamic by the tension between its heritage and the whirlwind of gentrification, the Town Hall marries the Edwardian architecture and deco detailing of a former council building with swags of installation art and very contemporary apartment-style rooms. This is not a hotel made for the Teflon traveller: its location, the eastern frontier of moneyed London hip, is on the opposite side of the city to Heathrow, which spells either serious traffic or multiple station changes on the way to the airport. On the plus side, as the East End's premier boutique property, it locates you neatly alongside the Shoreditch-Hoxton axis of awesome. And the hotel itself is home to Viajante, one of the more experimental new London restaurants, and its superb cocktail bar. Being outside the crush of the city centre, too, means many of the rooms can accommodate the swinging of a good-sized cat, and more still have kitchen facilities - something of a rarity in this part of the world.
Checking in Members of the creative set.
Room to book The top-floor studio apartments for space, the deliriously over-the-top De Montfort suite if you plan to entertain 20 for dinner.
8 Patriot Sq, Bethnal Green, +44 20 7871 0460; rooms from $345
In the hyperactive heart of London's media and advertising turf sits Dean Street Townhouse, the latest addition to the hip Soho House group of hotels, private clubs and venues. This pair of early-18th-century townhouses, once home to aristocratic families, was reconfigured into a 39-room hotel for the chattering classes. Rooms range in size from "tiny" (15 square metres) to "bigger", the most sought-after being "medium" rooms with their signature standalone bath in the bedroom. Leave the toilet bag at home - bathrooms are kitted with everything a global nomad could desire, from cleanser and toner to razors and mouthwash, plus a swag of toiletries from the Soho Group's own Cowshed spa range. Minibars are equally thoughtful (fresh milk!) and phone calls are charged at actual cost rather than hotel rates of hyperinflation. There's a super-cool bistro downstairs with art by Tracey Emin and Mark Titchner, and sister properties BKB and Café Boheme are nearby in Old Compton Street, so you need never leave the Soho House fold.
Checking in Media movers and shakers.
Room to book A medium room with bath, or the two-floor, 15-square-metre "broom cupboard", room 6.
69-71 Dean St, Soho, +44 20 7434 1775; rooms from $330
In the heart of Knightsbridge but far from the madding crowd is The Berkeley, a central London oasis where the delight is in the detail. Monogrammed bathrobes and slippers, personalised stationery and complimentary unpacking are a sample of the innovative extras in the hotel's polished guest rooms. The biggest surprise is on the eighth floor where a 10-metre rooftop pool with retractable roof and a health club with views to Hyde Park await. Back at street level, the smart set gather in the Caramel Room for Prêt-à-Portea, sweet treats inspired by the latest haute-couture collections and served on Paul Smith fine bone china (see page 166; Christian Louboutin heels never tasted so good). The David Collins-designed Blue Bar remains one of London society's favourite haunts as does Marcus Wareing's hot-ticket, two-starred modern European cuisine. Like a true Knightsbridge hostess, the hotel is constantly having work done to remain fresh and fabulous; its latest assets are the sixth-floor balcony king rooms with birdhouses on the terrace.
Checking in High society, from near and far.
Room to book A dove-grey Berkeley suite looking over Wilton Place.
Wilton Pl, Knightsbridge, +44 20 7235 6000; rooms from $650
There's something both likeable and immensely reassuring about the balance of old and new struck by this newest of old-new London landmarks. The Corinthia started life as the Hôtel Métropole in 1885, but its 50-year reign as one of the city's premier addresses ended when it fell victim to the Great Depression. Now, after decades in service as Ministry of Defence offices (yes, Churchill himself walked these halls), this grand Victorian building is home once again to a luxury property of distinction. Its size, neoclassical façade and army of staff give it big-city-hotel weight and substance, while the likes of 24-hour check-in, free WiFi, and little details such as copies of Monocle magazine in the gracefully decorated rooms locate it firmly in the now. The hotel is central and quiet, sitting snugly between Trafalgar Square and the Thames. It channels the site's inherent Britishness, using it as a touchstone rather than as a gimmick, right down to the use of Cumbrian beef and Lancashire cheese in the room-service hamburger. The other key distinction here is the ESPA Life spa - all four floors of it. It's the biggest facility of its kind in London, and offers a dazzling array of top-drawer treatments. Let the pampering begin.
Checking in No shortage of suits, but very much of the bespoke-with-exquisitely-knotted-tie variety.
Room to book The seven penthouses built in the building's turrets - multistorey affairs replete with butlers, private lifts, terraces; some with libraries, others with grand pianos. Or, failing that, any room with views to Nelson's Column.
Whitehall Pl, Whitehall, +44 20 7930 8181; rooms from $720