London does many things well – there are the titans of the art landscape, from Tate to… Tate; the music here continues to blossom and flourish, with new-wave artists forever pushing the needle; a rich web of restaurants spreads from W1 to the outer suburbs; and then there’s the hotel scene, perhaps the greatest expression of the city’s generous hospitality.
Indeed, there are international imports, such as the always superlative Mandarin Oriental, and Raffles, that much celebrated institute of Singapore, will soon open its beautifully gilded doors in Whitehall.
But, what we often return to is the quintessentially British bolthole – the one often signposted by its genteel doormen ready to whisk you into the marble-clad lobby, where the rooms are likely to showcase the best of local craftsmanship, and where, more likely than not, the afternoon tea is swell. If looking to hole away from the rigours of the outside world, here are some of the finest pillows in town…
For pure throwback pleasure, book a suite at The Dorchester
The chief task of any semi-respectable hotel is to relieve you of the sting of everyday life with its small, almost indiscernible details: the slight of hand as the lobby boy sneaks away the weight of the Globe-Trotter from your hold, like some backstreet pickpocket with a Windsor knot and frequently buffed Derbys; the heft of the heavy-set keys in between fingers and palm; the bed large enough to swaddle England’s forward pack; interiors flooded with more marble than that used for a Roman monument; and infinite supplementary hallmarks – the thickness of the bar tumblers, perhaps, or the purity of cotton weaved into the bathroom robes – designed to make you feel as though you warrant the service often reserved for a religious icon. And, The Dorchester – the Park Lane juggernaut where Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot once laid their heads on the soft, gentle pillows upstairs – offers a pretty fine release from your emails and your deadlines, less a building with rooms than a breakout from reality, even for just a fleeting night or two.
When you drag your case through the revolving door, the landscape in front is exactly what you imagine when you picture the high-art of London hospitality, a sort of Titanic on land, if you look at it a certain way: a lobby large enough to fly a kite under; the elegant flow of sharply tailored service people; and at The Promenade – the hotel’s spirited heartbeat and food-and-drink lynchpin – designer Pierre-Yves Rochon has scoured out the previous scheme of dark and moody hues and loaded the space with streaks of statement carpets; mirrored ceilings; unsparing splashes of yellow, pink and blue; glitters of gold leaf; important, naturalistic artworks; and seating that appears to have been lifted from a Marie Antoinette moodboard. At the back is Liberace’s mirrored piano, the ballroom is splendid, and the cocktails are good enough to make you forget their cost. It’s an old-crooner’s place, a black-tie sort of place, a place that’s more appropriate for young runaway lovers than corner-banquette business.
In the floors above are the webs of corridors and guest rooms: there’s the light, floral simplicity of the Dorchester Studio; the Belgravia Suite, dressed like a lush stretch of Hyde Park in front, offers a look on to the armada of Ferraris and Bugattis that pull up to the front entrance below; and with the Hyde Park Suite, perhaps the draw of the moment, you get the feeling as though you’ve stepped inside a bit of Wedgwood tableware, with the room’s interiors blasted with a Pantone book of blues. It is in the latter space where you get the perfect London view – not of the palace, or the skyrise cityscape, but of a few peaks of park trees – a floorplan that can easily host a quick game of five-a-side, and tables sizeable enough to play a few late-night card games. There’s much that can be done inside these attractive walls – but, often, the irresistible call of the deeply pleasant mattresses might limit your possibilities.
For an icon of hospitality, check into Claridge’s
There are few better places to start with than one of the finest five-star stays in the world. Claridge’s is the epitome of timeless elegance — a jewel in the crown of the already gem-jammed Mayfair. Though the rooms are incredible – likely trumping your own abode – it is the suites that you should plump for: while there are more pricey options — including The Octagon and the grand-piano-appointed Royal Suite — we’d recommend the Corner.
Sitting, as the name suggests, on the sharpest point of the hotel, this option features high ceilings, bay windows and enough Regency antiques to make nearby Sotheby’s seem a little sparse. Add to that an Emperor bed (it’s a touch bigger than a King, apparently), a personal butler and one of those futuristic Japanese Toto toilets, and you’ve got the ingredients for a pretty decadent escape. The subterranean spa is also a welcome addition, if you need a little respite from the high-cotton-count fixtures.
For a townhouse feel, make a beeline for The Adria
Set across a 19th-century townhouse, staying at The Adria feels a bit like owning your own London postcode. It’s a sizeable – but still intimate – space, its generous proportions shown in high ceilings and interiors whose space is maximised by a pared-down, clean design, its bijou qualities still shining through via the fact it hosts just 24 suites and rooms. Anchored by the Polo Lounge – in which you can imbibe a select few libations – and the Games Room, where hours can be lost to a few rounds of chess, the hotel offers a breather from the tourist hoards of the nearby South Kensington museums and galleries, and the fit-out eschews the highly art-directed visuals of big-chain counterparts, opting, instead, for a refreshed, homely look where original detailing – sash windows, cornicings, and, in some rooms, balconies – are allowed to sing on their own.
In the evenings, when the sightseeing is done and the Coutts card has taken its beating, consider retiring to your room and ordering in from the dining menu that calls upon local restaurants (Nobu, Gordon Ramsay outposts, and Dishoom among them). In the morning, when ready to go again, fuel up for a day of exploring with one of London’s best English breakfasts.
If you’re feeling especially exclusive, check out Rosewood
London’s Rosewood appears to have more suites and ‘houses’ than actual ‘rooms’. The number of beautifully bespoke, ludicrously appointed options is baffling, and perhaps also alluring is that the restored Edwardian Belle Époque edifice is just a two-minute walk from Holborn station, meaning that a beeline here is pretty straightforward.
Once inside — and if you can tear yourself past the red-leather banquettes, the 200 single-malts at the bar, and the always-tempting pies at the Dining Room — you’ll be faced with a seemingly endless network of doors and corridors. If you manage to find your way there, the Manor House is our go-to. With its own private foyer, eight-person dining room and even a library, it’s like a Cluedo board come to life (but without all that nasty business with Dr. Black). If you’re feeling really ostentatious, and want to book six extra connecting rooms, you’ll be the sole occupant of an entire London postcode, which, as a result, turns the whole place from Cluedo into Monopoly.
For a culinary getaway, head to The Berkeley
Like many of the best hotels on the scene, The Berkeley is minted with space, its warren of corridors long enough for you to hit a sprinting speed, the volume of its footprint comparable to that of a respectable Vegas casino, and even if you were a man who prefers creature comforts in moderation, the allure of its vast suites is too much to deny. Hotel rooms – at least the types that put a little strain on the Amex – are open expanses hankering to be occupied – with eating, with gossiping, with working, with decompressing, with sex and with Insta-scrolling – and, at The Berkeley, set in a one-time coffee house, The Grand Pavilion Penthouse is the blue ribbon of the moment, the dream of every singleton ready to escape the pains of office life and what every father lusts after when he fantasises about a night or two away from the kids: a terrace that hums with the gentle traffic of Knightsbridge below, a floorplan better than your own, views of great apartments and a beautifully vegetated stretch of Hyde Park, wool-covered chaise longues that seem to be whisked from an Architectural Digest centrefold, mattresses of pure bounce, a TV the size of your home bed, speakers as wide as a Land Rover wheel, and enough hidden corners for you to fade out of existence.
We bring this up by way of calling to attention the fact that The Berkeley is also one of the choice places of recent years for the food obsessed. If you glance at your social-media channels, you’ll know it’s the London home of Cédric Grolet – he’s the French pâtissier as obsessed with the flake of his viennoiserie as a journeyman cook is with the origin of the chicken he’s about to cook; the pastry chef whose fruit confections look more like the actual thing than the basketfuls of produce you’d find at Harrods’s food hall. There’s also Marcus Wareing, the prime-time chef whose clutch of restaurants has done wonders for British eating, and, at his own-named restaurant jimmied into the ground-floor, where his new all-inclusive package seems to be the move, you’ll be pummelled with a multi-course degustation that commands your concentration for the better part of an evening: a segment of chalk-stream trout – thick with flesh, as orange as a summer kumquat, exploding with a clean marine smack – is slicked with a bit of dill sauce; Cornish cod, cut to the size of an American biscuit, neatly collides with a sauce peppered with smoked roe and dulse; and Galloway beef is enriched with a bit of courgette and the kitchen’s take on a togarashi, its mineral-rich taste densely concentrated into a couple of bites of the brown-and-scarlet meat. Back upstairs, the shower, big enough to fit the Knicks’ starting line-up, has perfect jets of pressure to hose away your ailments; the fire on the terrace has been turned on; and a rooftop swim and a full English awaits you in the morning. All feels pretty good in the world.
For an oasis in the city, escape to St. James’s Hotel & Club
There are many benefits to holding a key to the St. James’s Hotel & Club. First of all, as its name implies, it’s a club — so you’re essentially guaranteed an exclusive stay without too many of the hoi polloi lumbering into the lobby while you’re trying to savour a nightcap. Second, it can be found in a secluded-away cul-de-sac, so there’ll be no blurting car horns or any of the city’s merciless traffic to keep you from deep, deep slumber. Also, it’s just a brisk few minutes’ walk to the shirtmakers of Jermyn Street, meaning that any accidental spillage of venison or pheasant during your lunch at the in-house Seven Park Place restaurant can easily be nixed with a quick nip down the road.
The Penthouse Suite — which takes up the entire seventh floor and is only accessible by private lift — is a pretty good move, but, when we’re looking to downscale and stop spreading ourselves too thin, we’d go for the slightly smaller Terrace Suite. One of the St. James’s signature offerings, it is rich in panoramic views of the old-English-style district, bespoke fixtures and a super-smooth Hypnos mattress.
Want more luxury stays? Cool down your new-year burnout with the world’s best science-led wellness hotels…
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