If on a short weekend trip it’s often best to divide and conquer when it comes to visiting London. Here are four top hotels in prime locations …
Chateau Denmark, Denmark Street
Music fans will know all about Denmark Street – the London equivalent of Tin Pan Alley, where Chateau Denmark opened in April. It’s where The Rolling Stones recorded their first album, the Sex Pistols and Bananarama lived, Elton and Bernie wrote “Your Song”, Bowie and Hendrix hung out at the café in no. 9, and the place many believe Ziggy Starbust was born.
The hotel channels the street’s rockstar status in its 55 “session rooms” located in 16 buildings around Denmark Street. Guests are assigned their own flamboyantly dressed butler (they have fabulous New Romantic-style purple coats that look as if they are straight from an Adam Ant video). The rooms are in four different styles – from charming “Vintage Gothic” to Victorian-inspired “Timeless Grandeur” or “Modern Psychedelia” taking inspiration from 1960s and 1970s London, and “Punk Now.” Check in and channel your inner rock star – luxuriating in the opulent details (signature rooms have double showers with Soapsmith bath products, huge copper baths, maxi bars rather than mini bars) and deciding when and from where you would like to order breakfast. The overriding idea is that you decide how and where you want to spend your day and the butler will facilitate any whim (there is no fixed breakfast room or time).
For shopping, Chateau Denmark could not be more ideally situated – minutes from Oxford Street and next to Covent Garden (do visit make-up guru Lisa Eldridge’s fabulous pop-up shop which remains open until January). It’s very close to the iconic milliners Lock & Co. As for music purchases – especially vinyl souvenirs – try Jack White’s Marshall Street Third Man store, Sounds of the Universe on Broadwick Street and Sister Ray, a Soho staple and for dance music Phonica.
Guests staying at Chateau Denmark will no doubt be distracted by The Now Building, a four-storey gold and black campus-style edifice on the hotel doorstep billed as an immersive entertainment district with 360-degree, LED screens and multiple facilities on offer including three music venues, access to a recording studio, (www.outernetglobal.com). For more traditional cultural pursuits don’t miss the Photography Gallery, the Sir John Soane’s Museum and the Wallace which are within walking distance.
For dining, there’s endless choice. For superior cutting-edge Chinese feasts Tattu, on the sixth floor of Chateau Denmark, is reminiscent of Chinese courtyard houses. Other restaurants to further luxuriate in the rock star vibe are Bob, Bob Rickard (of “press here for champagne” fame), the OTT trattoria Circolo Populare or the lively Mexican den of La Bodega Negra; www.chateaudenmark.com.
Rubens at the Palace, Buckingham Palace Road
Located in one of my favourite areas of London, within what I call the rarefied Golden Triangle of Victoria, Pimlico and Belgravia, Rubens at the Palace is easily accessible if you fly into Gatwick and get the express to Victoria Station. It couldn’t be better placed for seeing attractions such as Buck House or Westminster Abbey – combining culture with some retail therapy.
The Rubens is part of the Red Carnation Collection and like its sister hotels – Ashford Castle and The Milestone being two – it is very traditional, with top hatted doormen, silver trolley service, a resident jazz singer and lots of red and gilt décor in the communal restaurant areas. The rooms are much more muted and very comfortable. There’s a sense of occasion when dining at either the English Grill or in the Curry Room which has interesting thalis and is one of the best Indian restaurant experiences. Afternoon tea, overlooking the Royal Mews will appeal to The Crown-obsessed; window-facing seats and sofas look directly into the Royal Mews.
For shopping, I recommend making a beeline to Elizabeth Street. It’s home to Summerill & Bishop, a favourite with tablescapers, Les Senteurs and Jo Loves, for perfume addicts, and for fashionistas Me + Em: I a fan of Clare Hornby’s timeless contemporary clothing range. Other residents on Elizabeth Street are Irish milliner Philip Treacy and Peggy Porschen Cakes, whose pretty patisserie is one of London’s top Instagram backdrops. You’ll notice that there is a Belgravia Christmas trail, a self-guided tour of the neighbourhood’s festive windows. You can vote for your favourite and the winner will be announced on Monday, December 19. Irish florist Neill Strain always does well in this competition with his flamboyant displays.
While you’re in the neighbourhood visit one of London’s best-kept secrets: Eccleston Yards (off Ebury Street) where there are courtyard restaurants, and a top notch Christmas market. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, Peter Jones is a ten minute walk away on Sloane Square, where the Duke of York Square is prime people watching territory. Look out for Trinny Woodall who films many of her videos in Zara there, or pop into the Saatchi Gallery where Bulgari is presenting “Refik Anadol: Serpenti Metamorphosis”, to highlight the 75th anniversary of its most emblematic icon; www.rubenshotel.com.
The Laslett, Notting Hill
Notting Hill, originally designed in the 1800s by James Ladbroke as a fashionable alternative to the more expensive Belgravia and Mayfair, is a great area to meander, shop and coffee, and is close to Hyde Park where its winter beauty is matched by the superior pooch and people-watching opportunities.
Make The Laslett in Pembridge Gardens, your base. It’s is an elegant boutique hotel spread over five Victorian mansions, a stone’s throw from Notting Hill Gate tube station. The hotel was named after Rhaune Laslett, a political activist from the 1960s, one of the creators of the Notting Hill carnival. A feature of the hotel is its interesting art collection by emerging and well established artists from the area. Its heated outdoor terrace overlooking the street complete with striped sofas and the cosiest of blankets is a great spot for brunch, though there are plenty of tempting coffee shops nearby including Eggslut (all about eggs), Granger & Co, serving Australian fayre and Farm Girl, offering health-focused menus.
As for boutiques, Westbourne Grove and Ledbury Road are lined with designer dens such as Matches, Smythson and Anya Hindmarch as well as independent stores. For vintage fans, it’s always worth a rummage at Portobello Market, especially for corsetry from What Katy Did and men’s tailoring from Adam of London. You’ll find plenty of shopping inspiration at Dinny Hall for wearable jewellery, Reformation for sustainable clothing, and Lutyens & Rubinstein for books.
Kensington Palace is a ten minute walk away, where Kensington High Street beckons. In the evening, treat yourself to dinner at Fiend, a dark and decadent spot on the Portobello Road, or Core by Clare Smyth – the Northern Irish chef known for sustainable dining in elegant style. Another gem is Gold, especially good if you like Mediterranean cuisine with a Middle Eastern accent; www.living-rooms.co.uk.
The Bloomsbury, Great Russell Street
Authors Virginia Woolf, EM Forster and Vanessa Bell were some of the members of the Bloomsbury Group who were united in their belief in the importance of the arts. Their London stomping ground was the leafy area surrounding The Bloomsbury hotel, which references the group in numerous artworks and portraits as well as in its interior design. The Bloomsbury set loved colour and their homes were a riot of dusky blues, burnt orange and aubergine. The hotel channels this exuberance, from the flamboyant Dalloway Terrace to The Coral Room bar, where the quote “Mrs Dalloway is always giving parties to cover the silence” adorns the entrance. The hotel feels like a modern literary salon, reinforced by the impressive wood-panelled Seamus Heaney Library on the first floor, filled with first editions and vintage reads, some still bearing the stamp of the YWCA Central Club Library which once stood on the site.
The 1928 Grade II-listed building by Sir Edward Lutyens was originally modelled on Queen Mary’s dolls house. That doesn’t mean the (153) rooms are small or inconsequential, rather they mainline style and are hard to fault. The twelve spacious Studio Suites have 1920s touches – elegant parquet floors, Colefax wallpapers and velvet chairs – with large monochrome bathrooms complete with Malin + Goetz toiletries. Top notch reading material, well-stocked minibars and tea and coffee-making facilities all mean it’s easy to linger. For added decadence, in-room spa and beauty treatments can be arranged. Breakfast is served in the Club Dining Room, while the flower-filled Dalloway Terrace is popular for brunch. For night owls, The Bloomsbury Club Bar is a seductive boîte, where a new tarot-themed cocktail menu references the Bloomsbury set’s exploration of spirituality.
The hotel offers historical walking tours of the neighbourhood and is near the British Museum and Somerset House. Bibliophiles have oodles of nearby bookshops to explore – from the London Review Bookshop on Bury Place to Persephone Books, which champions forgotten female authors, on Lamb’s Conduit Street, where you’ll also find Ben Pentreath’s interiors shop full of ceramics and nostalgic knick-knacks, as well Folk Clothing for luxurious laidback pieces, rather like the dress code of the Bloomsbury Group in its heyday; www.doylecollection.com.