After all the evitable difficulties and restrictions set upon the hotel industry over the last couple of years at last the taxis are being summoned, the doors opened and the porters and bellboys are back in business. How reassuring to be reacquainted with all these familiar trappings and yet London has moved on and there’s nothing quite like the sensation of staying at a newly-launched hotel. In this 1st weekly series, Adam Jacot de Boinod experiences the pick of the latest crop.
The Guardsman is tucked away down a quiet street and is a treasured little hideaway. It has the unmistakably and quintessentially air of a British private members’ club, being boutique and suggesting exclusivity. Perfect for one-on-one experiences. It’s named after the soldiers who protect the Queen at Buckingham Palace literally just up the street with the additional local attractions of The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey all within walking distance and minutes from the connecting train to Gatwick Airport.
Along with its 53 rooms are six residences. Capitalizing on the daylight across the top three floors, these comprise a selection of one, two, and three bedrooms, along with sumptuous living spaces, dining areas, and fully-fitted kitchens. The Astor penthouse residence has a wraparound terrace, whilst two other residences feature a more expansive outdoor space. They’re named after female politicians such as Bondfield and Astor: the latter being the first female member of Parliament. Indeed the area is strongly connected with the Suffragette movement with its meetings and memorial in nearby Caxton Hall and Christchurch Gardens respectively.
The reception extends into the drawing-room and beyond a ‘gentleman’s library. The aesthetic is a sweet spot between modern and contemporary mimicking the Art Deco era with mirrors and brass, burnt orange sofas, and a decadent Carrera marble and leather-lined drinks cabinet. The décor is bespoke furniture with one sofa being an exact reproduction of the one used by Jackie Kennedy in the White House and with reworked Persian rugs.
The rooms have herringbone parquet flooring, there are carefully selected books and modern features – such as the TV converting into a mirror – and very evident is the creative and artistic use of space by design practice Tonik Associates.
Downstairs the dining room has less than a dozen tables. This space is characterized by dark wenge wood and glass, with deep olive green and gold repeated in the plants, and a state-of-the-art lit-up circular staircase that offsets the linear bronze anodized decorative metal grille that uses randomly patterned bars and is the hotel’s signature icon. So there’s an eclectic mixture of textures and patterns, deep color co-ordinations, and a combination of portrait and landscape paintings creating a real ambiance. The bar is funky with green tiles and a great music selection. It’s smart, glamorous, and, in a word, characterful.
Refreshingly there are no set times for service which is what we all actually want as guests. My dinner consisted of chilled pea and mint soup followed by a rib-eye steak with ‘beef dripping hand-cut chips, followed by a passion fruit cheesecake and mango compote! My guilty pleasure after a weekend online doing Zoom breathwork and meditation with Evolve. Both heavenly in their different ways. Visiting children get to keep a teddy bear Guardsman. Treat yourself like joining a members’ club without all the years on the waiting list. It’s rich, relaxing and luxurious and a nurturing and fun place to kick back after a day out sightseeing.
Less intimate than The Guardsman and, by contrast, vast in its foyer and in a buzzing area is Middle Eight. Unimposing down the street but the face on it has an impressive grandeur of its own that sets the tone for the treasure that’s inside. It’s banging in the middle of London’s West End, on the edge of Covent Garden, the heart of the city’s Theatreland, and a perfect base from which to catch a show or two.
As I entered the golden entrance of the lofty lobby I instantly absorbed an eclectic and exciting mix of organic shapes. I met head-on a splendid, large geometric centerpiece display of driftwood before checking in at the desk which was set behind an architectural backdrop of a wooden composition of great style and effect. Nearby, offering a welcoming warmth and along a curvaceous wall, there was a wonderful line of lit-up fires like beckoning beacons.
It’s all buttons, knobs, and swipe cards. Indeed everything is literally at one’s fingertips. But of all the electronic state-of-the-art gadgets and gizmos it’s the lighting that’s the icing on the cake, the highlight if you like.
A stunning lit-up staircase of glinting and gleaming golden rails and wooden steps took me down to QT, a speakeasy on the lower ground floor that from this autumn will be offering jazz, open-mike sessions, and theatre. It has an uber-cool ambiance with an industrial-chic mixture of terracotta and aqua set amongst concrete structures and marble tables. Both eclectic and funky.
I climbed back up two floors to a balcony on the mezzanine that’s both secluded and restful and was a welcome alternative to the buzz of the sleek and chic bar below. Sleek and chic as it has a wooden maple-leafed roof redolent of those New York lofts. It’s where I began my evening before moving seamlessly across to Sycamore, the open-planned Italian restaurant. I ate extremely well, sitting in my teal seat amongst the spacious setting of marble tables. Tempted as I was by the torched mackerel, I had burrata with heritage tomatoes as an antipasto. My primi was the Ravioli al Tuorlo: egg yolk, spinach, ricotta cheese, pine nuts, and lemon mint. All delicious and sufficient for me to skip the second and enjoy that fine selection of Italian cheeses comprising of both soft dolcelatte and the harder pecorino and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Some of the rooms and suites have names that jump out at you like Radar and Downtown. All in keeping with the trendy vibe. My suite was slick and tasteful with a stand-alone bath and decked in wenge wood with live walls of plants vividly suggesting an indoors/outdoors feel. It was all thoroughly thought through. My massive television pronounced this hotel message to describe its philosophy: “An immersive experience designed for those who want to live the city rather than just stay in it”. It continued with its appeal “for those who expect luxury and care about how it’s developed”. It certainly appealed to me.
THE PRINCE AKATOKI
A mere stone’s throw from London’s West End, the Prince Akatoki hotel is all you can want after perhaps an afternoon’s shopping on nearby Oxford Street. For it’s a sanctuary and “a place where East and West exist in perfect harmony” as the hotel declares. Indeed, as I walked in I felt an immediate and huge sense of calm. That stillness comes from the careful planning of light and space; those zen proportions within its minimal setting. And how pleasing it to be transported by the scented aroma, be satiated by the hibiscus welcome drink, and be warmed by the fire to visualize the stripped back organic décor.
The name Akatoki means sunrise and references the sense of awakening, relaxation, and rejuvenation. All 82 rooms and suites have this minimal aesthetic from the subdued and mellow elephant’s breath color and the uncluttered spaces. The beds are plush and the rain showers luxurious. Throughout are oversized wicker lanterns, ‘fusuma’ sliding doors with dark wenge wood, and screened wardrobes.
The Malt lounge and bar (offering Japanese whiskies and homegrown sake and spectacular cocktails) has burnt amber chairs in front of gold wallpaper panels depicting leaves and other organic shapes. There’s an eclectic range of woods from wedge to oak with real trees decorated with blossom. I felt an overall sense of sunset, of a cabin-like den in which night-time overrides the day. Next door the Tokii restaurant is a delightfully long room with a centerpiece of flowers. It has an open kitchen and sushi bar with slate-colored seats and tiles. There’s deliberately no artwork in order to draw attention to the activity of eating from the irregular organic-shaped glaze-finished plates and dishes. The precision in presentation is exquisite and the service is telepathic.
And the food is fabulous. It has a fusion cuisine and I thoroughly enjoyed lotus root crisps, edamame, miso soup, shrimp tempura, kinoko mushrooms, and a great variety of sashimi. The hot stone wagyu beef is totally fat-free and the yuzu and raspberry posset with pistachio shortbread was the perfect end to a perfect evening. For everything is exquisite down to the most minimal of details.