London Hotels

Text Naomi Larkin Photographs Supplied 45 Park Lane Like youngsters with pedigree heritage or wannabe singers with rock-star parents, the path to success for 45 Park Lane, Mayfair, was already paved with privilege via its membership of The Dorchester Collection. The hotel group, with prestigious properties around the world, including the infamous The Dorchester across the road, has a ‘peerless reputation that continues to attract royalty, dignitaries, celebrities and an international set accustomed to the finer things in life’. So with that calibre of clientele in mind it’s a surprise to be greeted by name immediately as you cross the threshold – thanks to the Google skills of the fresh-faced young man from the Host Team. This kind of attention to detail and service (a Host member becomes your personal assistant) is all pervasive. Technology is big here, with iPads in every room, smart gadgets to control lights, blinds, aircon and mirrors, and, in some suites, TV screens bigger than the one in your local pub. It’s all wonderfully intelligent! Decor is sophisticated, a ‘glossy masculine style of intense, dark colours, contrasting with light and sensual textures’, which gives the overarching feeling of a private members club. Artworks bearing big-name signatures are displayed throughout the hotel, which is hardly surprising since the interiors were designed by New York-based Thierry Despont, himself an architect, curator, artist and designer. Its moderate size means all 45 suites and bedrooms, and the penthouse, have views over Hyde Park. This is a luxury in London, matched only by the hotel’s proximity to the shopping, restaurant and nightlife nerve centres of Bond and Oxford Streets and Piccadilly. However, the exquisite cuisine prepared by award-winning chef Wolfgang Puck at the hotel’s restaurant CUT (his only foray outside of continental Europe) will make it difficult for you to eat elsewhere. Toiletries: Aromatherapy Associates. Rough Luxe Remember that beautifully distressed wall in the film The King’s Speech and the rumpty, gilded couch in front of it where Colin Firth’s King George VI sat so often, his face a picture of pain as he tried in vain to shed his stutter? That vivid image best sums up what to expect from the interiors of Rough Luxe. This glorious quirkiness – and the fact it has a sister hotel in Cape  Town (Cape Heritage Hotel) – is reason alone to include it in our line-up. Those who enjoy the stylish individuality of the Cape Heritage Hotel’s interiors, best described as ‘contemporary chic and historic graciousness’, will fall in love with its London sibling. Located in the gritty yet up-and-coming area of King’s Cross – a stone’s throw from the legendary train station – Rough Luxe is a tiny historical house that was transformed into a boutique hotel in 2008 by Rabih Hage. The architect/interior designer says his aim was to ‘search for beauty in imperfection. Perfection is not beauty’. The result is a cleverly edited mix of antique furniture and modern fittings. Walls may be painted in bold red, brickwork exposed, or stripped of layers of wallpaper and deliberately left patchy. Floorboards are mismatched. Rabih describes his decor as allowing for the ‘patina of time’ to work its magic. Beginning with the large, staring portrait of artistic duo Gilbert & George that dominates the small confines of the reception area, there are contemporary works of art everywhere. The 10 rooms are unique in size and design. Some are small with tiny bathrooms, others, such as Room 5, are tiny bedrooms with bigger bathrooms. Daybeds that are couches by day fold out into surprisingly comfortable double beds by night, so don’t be thrown when you arrive and think, ‘How are we both going to sleep on that couch?’ This is all part of the charm, but not at the expense of comfort. Careful thought has gone into the selection of bed linen and fabrics generally, upping the luxe quotient. Bear in mind this is a heritage property, which dictates its skinny staircase and narrow doors can’t be altered or a lift installed, so wheelchair access is not possible and bulky suitcases are a drag. But don’t let these things – or its unassuming exterior – put you off. This is a darling of a place. Toiletries: Feel Good Formulas by Arran Aromatics. Blakes If you really want to impress the woman of your dreams, then take her to stay at Blakes. With an all-black painted exterior in a quiet leafy South Kensington Street, Blakes is the stuff of romance (and the other type) novels. It’s the kind of place Christian Grey – he of Fifty Shades fame – would hole up with his little Ana. Book the all-red room, the Cardinal Suite, with its four-poster bed and dramatic damask curtains, order up champagne, and voilà, you’ve hit the right spot! Or, if that’s not your thing, opt for the dreamy Corfu Suite. A favourite with honeymooners, it’s light and bright with white floors and mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture. With ‘an abundance of gossamer nets and white fabrics’ it has its own front door, opening onto a courtyard, and is simply lovely. If you believe you only live once and don’t want to blow it, then book the 007 Suite. In true Bond style it’s the largest suite in the hotel (you’ll need some assistance from M when the bill arrives). It has a kitchenette, making it popular for longs stays, big windows, a drawing room and fireplace. Its own entrance ensures absolute privacy. In fact, Blakes was created by former Bond girl Anouska Hempel in 1978. The actress, who appeared in the Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, dubbed it ‘the world’s first luxury boutique hotel’. On the website she says: ‘Blakes is a world within a hotel. It exudes luxury with imagination, and combines fine living with a sense of theatre and panache.’ The sumptuous fantasy worlds of the 47 suites and bedrooms are carried through to the public areas. Inspired by the exoticness of Asia, the Chinese Bar, aka the ‘Opium Den’, and restaurant are heavily decorated with a myriad of artefacts and orchids, and lots of gold and black. Toiletries: Molton Brown. York & Albany Gordon Ramsay’s tenure in South Africa with his restaurant Maze may have been brief but he’s still a familiar name, so we thought you’d want to know about his one London hotel, the  York & Albany. Ramsay’s hot temper and caustic tongue are legendary so you could be forgiven for thinking this would be one to steer clear of. It is, in fact, a congenial establishment that serves really good food. Located between Camden Town and Regent’s Park, the York & Albany is actually a townhouse so the formalities of a standard hotel such as a concierge or a butler are absent. However, staff, including the South African manager, Jeremy Gibbs, are friendly and helpful enough for it not to matter. Then there’s the food. The hotel boasts six eating areas – if you count the courtyard and the pavement – including the bar/dining room, main restaurant, pizzeria and the basement. The latter is about to be refurbished. The bar/dining room is where breakfasting guests rub shoulders with passersby who have dropped in for coffee or an affordable repaste. It’s also where much of the action by day and night happens. Traversed by a long bar, it’s an airy, open space broken by paired high wingback chairs offering discreet conversation spots and large windows that look out onto the street. You can eat here from the all day menu or move to the more formal restaurant area. Sample the roasted crown of grouse (when in season) or enjoy a fillet of seabass with Jerusalem artichokes and saffron butter sauce. The salt and pepper squid is unbeatable and the desserts are worth rolling back to your room for. There are only 10 rooms, with each individually decorated by English interiors specialist Russell Sage. The style is a mix of antiques, eclectic market finds, curios and modern design pieces, which amounts to a relaxed homely feel, despite being artfully chosen. Toiletries: Green & Spring. The Milestone A world of elegance, refinement and cosseted comfort, The Milestone is the kind of place that you really want to check into, but never want to check out of. From the warm welcome at the front desk to the unfaltering high level of service, it lives up to its promise of being ‘your home away from home’. It’s nice to believe this is due to the South African influence. (The Milestone is a member of the Red Carnation Hotels group – founder Bea Tollman is South African – which locally has The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa, The Oyster Box Hotel and Spa, and Bushmans Kloof Reserve & Retreat). Yet it’s a very British institution – in all the best ways. There’s the fabulous ritual of afternoon tea, with an assortment of brews including Bea’s own blend, cakes, sandwiches and, of course, freshly baked scones with clotted cream and jam. There’s nothing better on a bitterly cold winter’s day than to hunker down in front of a roaring fire in the Park Lounge, cup of tea in one hand, magazine in the other. Or choose a leather-bound volume from the shelves of books that line the walls – classics such as Lorna Doone, Robinson Crusoe and seemingly everything ever written by  Voltaire. Decorated in a traditional English fashion it’s a wonderful bolthole of overstuffed couches, dark wood panelling, floral patterned armchairs, silk-striped curtains with chunky tassles, all presided over by a painting of playwright Sir Noel Coward as a Spanish Don. If you’re looking for something a little racier head to The Stables bar. All tartans and tub chairs mixed with horsey paraphernalia, it’s a jolly spot for a pre- or post-theatre drink. The Conservatory with its bold black and white striped walls, diamond patterned floor, and photographs of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn adds a surprising touch of Hollywood to the mix. The decor in the bedrooms exudes the same attention to detail as the public areas. The interiors are lavish yet comfortable. The Matisse Studio, for example, is prettily decorated in powder blue and oyster colours, with prints by the French artist on the walls. There are easy chairs for the post-shopping slump, a sizeable bathroom and heavy curtains to ensure the world is blocked out when it comes time to sleep in the sleigh bed fit for a Queen. With views over Kensington Gardens, a short stroll to the shopping meccas of Knightsbridge, Harrods and Harvey Nichols and the Victoria and Albert Museum, it’s a no-brainer for repeat visits. Toiletries: Penhaligon’s. GETTING THERE There’s no point arriving at any one of HL’s favourite London hotels exhausted and broken from your flight. Avoid this at all costs by flying direct with Virgin Atlantic. The airline flies Cape Town to Heathrow from October to April seven times a week and from Johannesburg to Heathrow seven days per week all year round. Do everything in your power to nab an Upper Class ticket. The beds are the longest of any airline’s in business class which, combined with the on-board bar and state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment system, are guaranteed to remove the drudgery of long-haul flying. Your ticket is also your entry into the world of the Virgin Clubhouse (pictured). No ordinary business-class lounge, it promises gourmet food, great wines and cocktails, top business facilities, a hairdresser and a spa providing a full range of treatments, a poolside lounge, library and music room. Originally featured in the Jan/Feb 2013 issue of House and Leisure.