THE BILTMORE MAYFAIR
The Biltmore opened after an 18-month closure and £60 million refurbishment that transformed the former Millennium Grosvenor Square into only the second of Hilton’s new luxury hotel brand, LXR. It joins the Habtoor Palace Dubai (the former St Regis), with a third property also now open in Anguilla.
The hotel has two entrances, one on Grosvenor Square and the other around the back on Adam’s Row, where valet parking is available and from where the event facilities can be accessed directly. The property is in a rough T-shape, with the top of the T facing on to the square. It looks very luxurious, with a liveried doorman waiting to welcome you in. From the main reception you can see the entrance to the Pine Bar, plus the Tea Lounge and the Betterment restaurant and bar.
The 307 rooms (including 57 suites) are set over seven floors and are in three main colour schemes – blue, green and rust red. All feature pale block flooring and a décor of neutral opulence, with natural, hessian-style wallpaper, painted wood panelling and Chinese-style etched mirrors. There are 17 categories at present (I was told these may be reduced to make booking simpler), which range from the 22 sqm Double Deluxe room to the 160 sqm Presidential suite. Some suites on the eighth floor are duplex.
The large sash windows of our 43 sqm King Grand Premier with View room overlooked Grosvenor Square. It had a wooden-framed super-king bed, a sitting area with a brown velvet, art deco-style sofa, and a desk with power and USB points. A curved cabinet housed a minibar, Nespresso machine and kettle. The marble bathroom had a tub, a power shower, a Japanese-style toilet and Penhaligon’s amenities.
The Betterment is by Jason Atherton, who is in charge of all of the hotel’s food and beverage, including banqueting and room service. The restaurant is excellent – quite a stark space in terms of design, but the food is top notch. The Pine Bar offers more than 100 whiskies, and the Tea Lounge is a relaxing spot that we used after our meal.
The Biltmore has one of the best hotel gyms I’ve seen in central London – large and with great technology, such as an exercise room with a TV wall where exercise classes are beamed through for you to join in. The meeting facilities are extensive and include a 500 sqm ballroom that seats 320 people for dinner.
The refurbishment has upgraded the hotel to a new standard, and the food and beverage help it to stand out from some strong competition, as does the service. Highly recommended. Tom Otley
Internet rates for a flexible midweek stay in March started from £465 for a Double Deluxe room. thebiltmoremayfair.com
GREAT SCOTLAND YARD HOTEL
Open since December, this five-star property is the first of Hyatt’s Unbound Collection in the UK, joining five others in Europe. While it is in a central location just off Whitehall and only two minutes from Trafalgar Square, it is off the main roads so is quiet and feels like a secret find.
Behind the attractive, if not outstanding, façade of Edwardian red brick and Portland stone, the building’s history has been used to create a whole design theme. Until 1890 it was the HQ of the London Metropolitan Police and so there are references to everyone from Sherlock Holmes to the Kray twins. From 1910 it housed the British Army Recruitment Office and Royal Military Police, and more recently it was used by the Ministry of Defence.
Look up as you enter and you’ll see a sculpture of a deconstructed clock with the time stopped at 6 o’clock, which apparently is the time that author Lewis Carroll was interviewed here as a suspect in the Jack the Ripper case. Down some stairs are comfy sofas and one of more than 600 artworks in the hotel – a large piece by Nicola Green made up of silhouettes of people whose lives have been touched by or passed through the British criminal justice system.
Glass cabinets in the lobby house a police helmet, old truncheon and whistles, as well as a barrister’s wig and mug shots of criminals from yesteryear. It’s interesting in a bizarre sort of way.
The 152 rooms are on five floors, with more than a dozen categories, all gathered around a courtyard and offering a variety of views. Few are large; entry-level King rooms are 16 sqm and have good-quality furnishings, a neutral colour palette and quirky design, including doors with the Met crest on them and blue veneered nightstands (another reference to the police). Some have wall-mounted bottle openers in the shape of a moustache or wardrobes concealed behind book-clad doors. Bathrooms feature art deco detailing and amenities from the Scottish Fine Soaps Company.
For a relatively small property, there is a wide choice of food and drink options. The Yard restaurant, under Robin Gill, serves excellent modern British cuisine, while the 40 Elephants bar is named after a 19th-century gang of female robbers and has a cocktail menu inspired by William Terrington’s Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks, dating back to 1869 and believed to be the oldest book on British cocktails. The service in both is great. There’s also speakeasy-style whisky bar Sibin, and the Indian-inspired Parlour tea lounge.
The hotel has a well-equipped basement gym, although there isn’t a spa. Also on the lower level is a meetings area called Grace and Favour.
This is a superb five-star luxury hotel with staff who provide attentive service, a lovely choice of bars and a must-visit restaurant. Tom Otley
Internet rates for a flexible midweek stay in March started from £330 for a King room. hyatt.com
THE STANDARD LONDON
Hip US brand The Standard opened its first overseas outpost in King’s Cross last July. It has hotels in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, and has since launched in the Maldives.
The hotel is housed in the former Camden Town Hall Annexe – a 1974 Brutalist office block opposite the St Pancras Renaissance hotel on Euston Road, although the entrance is on Argyle Street. It is steps from King’s Cross St Pancras and St Pancras International stations. The retro curves of its concrete façade are a striking sight. Three floors have been built on while a scarlet pill-shaped external liftto Decimo restaurant on the top (tenth) level has been added.
The bold, colourful interiors pay homage to the seventies period. At the heart of the ground-floor public area is the Library Lounge, a goodlooking, low-lit space with slouchy leather sofas and tables that attract laptop-wielding types by day and cocktail drinkers by night. This is the site of the former Camden Council Library, and the in-house librarian has clearly had fun sourcing books for the shelves, which are compiled under categories such as “Order” and “Chaos”, “Hope” and “Darkness”, and “Adult relationships”. You’ll find Sounds Studio here, too, a recording booth that hosts weekly live music, DJ sets and talks.
The 266 rooms and suites are in 11 categories, starting with 13 sqm Singles, 19-26 sqm Cosy Cores (windowless but well designed) and 16-19 sqm Queen’s Standards. The top categories are on the eighth and ninth floors and include King’s Terrace (28-37 sqm, with outdoor baths) and the 68 sqm Suite Terraces, which have a further 62-64 sqm of outdoor space with superb views. These floors feature light wood accents, while most other categories have red, blue and purple colour schemes and bed throws by Wallace Sewell, designer of the Tube seat fabric.
All have brown robes, Italian bedlinen, well-stocked minibars, Bang and Olufsen speakers, and desks or tables to work at. Guests in higher categories can avail of Stutterheim raincoats and turndown service.
The bed in my fifth-floor King’s Superior (33-37 sqm) was placed in the centre of the room, looking out at the neo-gothic St Pancras Renaissance, with bay window seating for enjoying the view. The open-plan bathroom had a walk-in shower and freestanding tub. Curves featured heavily in the design, reflecting the façade, and the soundproofing was excellent.
Food and drink is a big focus. All-day restaurant Isla and Double Standard bar are both led by executive chef Adam Rawson. The former serves an à la carte breakfast and seasonal British coastal cuisine, and has an outdoor terrace (with an original Banksy). The latter is a lively spot serving craftbeers, cocktails, pub fare and “NYC dive bar food”.
Decimo, led by Michelin-starred chef Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, cooks up live-fire Spanish and Mexican dishes in a large, glamorous space on the tenth floor with fabulous 360-degree views, partially obscured by swishing macramé curtains. We had a great meal here, trying sweet, smoky marinated red peppers presented tartare-style (£5), punchy crab and jalapeno aguachile (£22) and beautifully cooked monkfish (£18). The atmosphere was warm and social, and the service, as throughout the property, was friendly and helpful.
The gym has Technogym kit and Peloton bikes (a spare bike can be put in eighth- and ninth-floor rooms).
Fantastic to look at and fun to stay in, this is an excellent addition to the London hotel scene, and a good stopover for business travellers catching the Eurostar. Michelle Harbi
Internet rates for a flexible midweek stay in March started from £225 for a Cosy Core room. standardhotels.com/london
SOFITEL LONDON ST JAMES
Located on the corner of Pall Mall and Waterloo Place, the Sofitel has been open since 2002, when the Grade II-listed building was converted from a bank. It is now moving towards a refurbishment of all of its rooms (suites are yet to come) by Pierre-Yves Rochon, who originally designed them. The public areas are grand yet understated, and the staff extremely friendly and professional.
The room count is now 183 (it was originally 166), with entry-level Classics being 23 sqm. There are six floors, and the soundproofing is remarkable. Rochon has gone for “a bold British design scheme that recalls the creative, dynamic feel of the 1960s and 1970s” with “striking colours, modern pop art pieces and whimsical accents and accessories”. There are three colour schemes, green, red or blue. Distinctive chairs are mixed with art deco pieces, which is quite ambitious, while the bathrooms, corridors and public areas are traditional. I think the hotel should get full marks for not treading the same path as other luxury hotels, but I’m not sure all of these different influences gel.
All rooms have Smeg kettles, Nespresso machines, Roberts radio alarm clocks, very comfortable beds and good work tables. Bathrooms are very high end with Hermes toiletries.
Previously called Balcon, the restaurant is now Wild Honey St James, an evolution of Anthony Demetre’s now-closed Wild Honey in Mayfair. It’s very good – the food is tasty, in good-sized portions and with an imaginative mix of ingredients and influences. My English seabass, wild mushrooms, white beans, cobnuts and thyme and lemon (£35) was delicious. The bar is an attractive place with a wide choice of wines and cocktails. The Rose Lounge is very pink, and presumably an exercise in kitsch, with a harpist playing while people had afternoon tea and drinks.
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