With so many new hotels opening in London this year, it’s hard to decide on where’s the best place to lay your head.
To help, here’s my top three, plus a little insider knowledge for each.
Best for thrill-seekers: ST ERMINS HOTEL, ST JAMES’S PARK
When I was invited to stay in the newly renovated St Ermins Hotel, once the home of spies and espionage, I imagined dimly-lit corridors and dark corners to hide out in. Belting my trenchcoat, I snuck off to St James’s Park. All I was lacking was an illicit tryst.
But I couldn’t have been more mistaken. This may have been a hub for MI6 throughout the 1930s and 1940s, but without reading the history books, you’d never have guessed it. Prim government building it is not.
Stepping into the hotel entrance, I was bowled over by its sheer flamboyance. Originally conceived by a Victorian set designer, the lobby has now been reimagined by LA interior guru Dayna Lee. It’s a masterclass in theatrical design with its exuberance of rococo plaster-work, blinding white balustraded balconies and twinkling chandeliers. Centre stage is the grandest staircase I’ve ever seen – a Gone with the Wind style confection that you can’t help but sweep down. It’s clear where a large chunk of the £30m refurbishment price tag has gone.
If that’s front of house, then back stage had a more calming effect. My room perfectly blended the hotel’s sense of intriguing history with the now. Gorgeous framed origami clothes, made from maps of the local area, were hung on fabulous terracotta Vivienne Westwood wallpaper. The White Company bubble baths perched on my claw footed bath, in a chocolate marble bathroom. Mother of peal inlaid furniture, crisp bed linens and leather embossed wardrobes really ramped up the luxe factor.
While the lobby may shout hello, it’s these little details that will welcome you back. With a cool cocktail bar and innovative ‘field to fork’ menus in the Caxton Grill restaurant, St Ermins has a real buzz, and it’s not just from the 75,000 bees that are housed on the roof. Honey, I was at home.
0800 6350 438, Sterminshotel.co.uk
What’s near? Roux at the Pembury
In keeping with St Ermin’s history of espionage, this bar upstairs at Michel Roux Jnr’s understated eaterie, just off Parliament Square, is just the ticket for overhearing a secret or two. Named after the chef’s birthplace in Kent, it attracts Westminster’s movers and shakers. Soft leather Chesterfields and bulging bookcases give an elegant members’ club feel. There’s a menu of aranci nibbles and a three-course cocktail menu. How intriguing.
Roux at the Pembury, 11 Great George Street, SW1, 020 73343737, rouxatparliamentsquare.com
Best for languid lovers: BULGARI HOTEL & RESIDENCES, KNIGHTSBRIDGE
I didn’t need to know the name of London’s most glamourous new hotel to know that a jeweller was behind it. Shiny this and shimmery that – it was like stepping into a very expensive jewellery box. Bulgari has chosen silver as the central theme for the its swanky new Knightsbridge outpost, so you brush past hand-made silver silk drapes, sit on dove grey upholstery and look up in awe at solid silver chandeliers. It’s all a throw back to the brand’s origins as a silversmith.
This fourth hotel from the rather grand label (the others are in Milan, Tokyo and Bali) is also unmistakably Italian. I have to admit, I was at first slightly intimidated by the sheer sleekness of it all, but like any true Italian, it didn’t take long to reveal its charm.
First up were cocktails with the girls in Il Bar. I love it when fashion and food combine to heady effect, and we all were delighted to sample the fragrant gin and jasmine tea Au The Vert cocktail (it’s based on the Bulgari fragrance of the same name, natch). Nicely warmed up, we were tempted to stay on for supper cooked for us by head chef Robbie Pepin. My Sicilian red prawns served with vongole and squid was a stand-out dish.
Italian flair is all about doing something once and doing it well. It’s embodied here in its no-nonsense, albeit uber-luxe, approach – there’s one bar, one restaurant, one spa and, ok, even one cinema. But nothing tops the most extravagant mini bar I’ve ever come across. Shaped like a luxury travel trunk, mahogany doors glide open to reveal a classy range of nibbles and drinks. There are plenty of fashion designers lending their eye to hotels across the world at the moment, but this is the first one in London – and it’s a real gem.
020 7591 2442, bulgarihotels.com
What’s near? Penhaligon’s Peoneve Terrace
We love London in the summer, mostly because of its genius pop-ups. The most glamorous in town this year has to be the Penhaligon’s Peoneve Terrace on the roof of Harvey Nichols, just around the corner from Bulgari. Head up to the store’s Fifth Floor Terrace, which, from 16 July to 31 August, will be transformed into a multi-sensory garden to coincide with the launch of Penhaligon’s new fragrance, Peoneve. There’ll be cocktails and desserts inspired by the notes of the scent, as well as bottles of the sweet stuff to buy.
Best for cool hunters: DORSET SQUARE HOTEL, MARYLEBONE
Firmdale Hotels, owned by hipsters Tim and Kit Kemp, are slated as some of the coolest in the world. With the Crosby Street Hotel in New York and several in London (including the Charlotte Street Hotel, Covent Garden Hotel and The Soho Hotel), I was intrigued to see what mark they’d put on their latest opening in Marylebone.
As expected, the Dorset Square Hotel has Kit’s magic touch written all over it – she’s designed all the interiors across the group and really comes into her own with this one. Known for her English eccentric take on the traditional country style – it works a treat here in individually-styled bedrooms and elegant public spaces. Take my room, for instance, the décor was a surprisingly cheery grey (very Farrow and Ball Downpipe), livened up with a quirky, violet flower-print fabric used on cushions, day chairs and a huge headboard. It turns out that Kit has designed all the fabrics used in the hotel, in collaboration with textile designer Christopher Farr. Bubble-gum-pink peonies by the bed, original art and deep-piled Argentinean carpets added to the fabulous attention to detail.
The best thing about staying in a hotel, of course, is the amount of pottering around you can do. I spent hours in my oak and marble bathroom sampling the Miller Harris bounty, and hung out with the hubbie in the country-house style drawing room downstairs. Dining here is also relaxed with the Potting Shed restaurant open all day for whenever the mood (or appetite) takes you.
Dorset Square is an intimate little hotel, with just 38 rooms, but fits perfectly with the ‘upscale village’ vibe of Marylebone. While the Kemps have got impeccable taste, they also believe that hotels should not be ‘stuffy institutions’ and they’ve made their point here.
020 7723 7874, Designhotels.com
What’s near? LE LABO
Just off Marylebone High Street is this tiny little perfume boutique. Providing the antithesis of mass-produced scents, this edgy little shop custom-makes perfumes right in front of you. Its styled like an old apothecary, with rough floorboards, white tiles and metal shelves. You choose from a core choice of 12 fresh fragrances, and then your perfume is hand blended in a glass decanter, which is then stamped with your name and a ‘fresh until’ date. Seductive.
Le Labo, 28A Devonshire Street, W1, 020 3441 1535, lelabofragrances.com
Best for girlie get-togethers: THE TOWNHOUSE, FLEMINGS, MAYFAIR
I’ve never been keen on self-catering. In fact, the very words bring back memories of 1970s holidays that involved damp cottages, limp sandwiches and board games. Let’s face it, when it comes to mini-breaks, you want your destination to be better than where you came from.
It was with some trepidation then that the girls and I trooped off to The Townhouse, a new private house addition to Flemings, one of London’s oldest hotels.
My spirits soared when I arrived. This had nothing to do with the self-catering I had experienced, and everything to do with the sort of house you would buy if you won the Rollover.
Consisting of seven bedrooms across two apartments and two suites – you can hire them separately or, if there’s enough of you, as a whole house. There’s also a grand dining room, hi-tech kitchens and BBQ terrace.
This is the kind of place that makes girls giddy. Well, it did us – but then that could have been because we discovered the complimentary bar. We oohed and ahhed over the silver fern wallpaper, lounged lady-like on jewel-coloured velvet sofas, and gawped up at the Wedgewood blue ceilings. Best of all, we discovered, we didn’t have to, urghh, self-cater if we didn’t want to – guests can simply pop next door to use the five star facilities of the hotel (and if that’s too much trouble you can just order private dining from your armchair).
We nipped across to sample the Chocaholics Afternoon Tea (it would have been rude not to), followed by an indulgent afternoon movie back at home on one of the many 3-D TVs. The converted Georgian townhouse has been transformed with gorgeous design. In fact, it’s the kind of place you’d stay if you had a mini dog in your handbag, so I wasn’t surprised to see a special dog menu, doggy spa services and little blankets on tap. Simply darling.
020 7499 0000, flemings-mayfair.co.uk/
What’s near? BURGER AND LOBSTER
Why use your kitchen when you can dine at uber-trendy diner, Burger and Lobster? Found in a basement of ex-Mayfair pub, it’s as simple as the name suggests – there’s no booking available, you sit at bare wooden tables and it has quite possibly the shortest menu in London (there’s burgers, and there’s lobsters, both at £20). And it does a mean Martini, too. What more can a girl ask for?
Burger and Lobster, 29 Clarges Street, W1. 020 7409 1699, burgerandlobster.com
A version of this article was written by me for last week’s Stylist magazine, 26 June 2012 edition