An elegant hotel only a stone's throw from Westminster
From these rather imposing beginnings, a hotel that’s wonderfully warm and welcoming has been created. Forget the stereotype of the stuffily suited, slightly disapproving doorman; here, staff are immaculately turned out, but incredibly friendly and engaging. Arriving from a sudden cold snap in London, into the spacious and brightly lit foyer in which various and diverse artworks are displayed feels like enough of a treat, and that’s even before the swift and seamless check-in. We were informed that we were entitled to executive lounge access and were escorted to the elevator with directions to our room.
Entering our room, we were greeted by chocolates fashioned into a shimmery, gold replica of Big Ben, and a red double-decker bus. Where else could we have been but in London? Accompanying them was a handful of Union Jack embossed macarons. Of course, no one was allowed to dig in until I took the perfect Instagram shot complete with the in-house magazine artfully appearing in the background!
The decor is luxuriously corporate - deep browns and crisp whites are in abundance - which makes perfect sense given the hotel’s location but it definitely isn’t the last word in romance. Even so, my partner dove immediately on to the broad, inviting bed - after all, it’s the ideal place from which to get to grips with the television, which was partly concealed in the wall and therefore intriguing enough to cause him to lose valuable time fiddling around with its remote. Like I said, the romance factor was lacking. In the meantime, I was happy to explore the bathroom, which was the size of a small London flat, complete with a walk-in rainforest shower, and well-stocked with Shanghai Tang toiletries and thick white towels.
Refreshments are available all day, but there are certain times allocated for the serving of drinks and canapes. When we arrived half way through the designated slot, there was a crowd akin to what you might see in an airport lounge: those who were determinedly guzzling beverages before the clock chimed on ‘happy hour’ and those who were taking it all in their stride with occasional sips of prosecco and a thorough read of the day’s newspapers. This dichotomy was mirrored in the self-service area, where provisions were greatly depleted and swooped upon when restocked. Given we were headed for dinner at the hotel’s Blue Boar restaurant, we didn't have the same level of urgency to refill our glasses as some of the other guests.
It was reasonably quiet at the restaurant when we visited on a Saturday night; I’d imagine that many of the guests were tourists, out to explore, as opposed to weeknights, when you might expect a more business-focused crowd. The standard of personal service is exceptional and there was a genuine friendliness in their approach that was a highlight of the evening.
An introductory glass of champagne with an amuse bouche that combined tomato and mozzarella in a way that’s as far removed from a pizza as possible set the scene for the starters. Between us, we scoffed a sweetcorn risotto (pleasingly toothsome and yielding) with charred courgette, toasted almonds and goat cheese, as well as a plate of gin-cured Scottish salmon, served up with salt-baked beets, pickled fennel and sunflower seeds.
Since the restaurant’s Josper Grill - the high temperatures and wood chips of which add a unique flavour to the meat - is such a feature of the restaurant, we decide to order a steak accompanied by triple cooked chips, a Portobello mushroom and vine cherry tomatoes. In a moment of madness, I ‘forgot’ that I don’t actually like pork and was swayed by the mention of scallops, salt-baked turnips, butternut squash and kale. After a mouthful or so, a swap took place and we were both pleased with our dishes. Sadly, we didn't have room for dessert, but if we had, it would have been the date and custard tart with almond ice cream all the way.
When we returned to The Blue Boar the following morning for breakfast, the frantic pace confirmed that the hotel is pretty much at capacity. There were a few hiccups with service at breakfast, however, everything that goes ‘wrong’ was rectified quickly. One highlight of the breakfast was the eggs, which were wonderfully, yolkily, runnily poached and the kiwi and spinach juice from the buffet’s juice bar was green enough to look saintly, but sweet enough to taste sinful.
A bit of inspiration when it comes to what to see and do
There are fitness facilities in the hotel, but on a bright, clear day, we recommend enjoying the charms of St James’ Park; which judging from the number of families and couples in the restaurant that were consulting maps and guidebooks, many a plan was being hatched to get out and explore. If decision-making isn’t your forte, the hotel also offers a range of 1,3 or 5-hour curated itineraries, which focus on the best local art, food, culture tailored to how much time you have to spare. It’s the ideal adjunct to their motto “Never just stay. Stay Inspired.”
Nightly rates at Conrad London St. James start from £249, based on two people sharing.
Conrad London St James
Best bits: The location is unsurpassable, and it was wonderful to feel so in the heart of, yet so simultaneously removed from, the break-neck pace of London.
Worst bits: Although the food was good, the restaurant lacked ambiance in the evening, and then was then a little too busy the following morning, which didn’t make for the most relaxing start to the day.
Most suited for: Business travellers or those looking to explore London from a central location
*During my stay I was hosted by the lovely team at Conrad St. James. All opinions are my own. Photos courtesy of Conrad St. James.
Our experience overall
Food & Drink ★★★★
Staff attentiveness/ friendliness ★★★★★