An elegant hotel only a stone's throw from Westminster
Located in the heart of upmarket St James, a stone’s throw from Westminster, the facade of The Conrad St James is elegant and distinguished - a clear indication of its former incarnation as Queen Anne’s Chambers, which was built at the turn of the 20th century and used by those who needed to be near the seat of power. Later in its history, the Treasury Solicitor was based here.
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.
The Rooms at Conrad St James
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.
Indulging in some refreshments in The Executive Lounge
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.
The Blue Boar Restaurant
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.
Breakfast at The Blue Boar
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
A Summary of our stay at Conrad St. James London
The perfect hotel for a London staycation
There’s something incredibly indulgent about a staycation in your home city. We’ve reached the time of year when holiday allowance is running low and that cheeky getaway you so longed for is slipping ever further from your grasp. While a real break might not be feasible, one shouldn’t underestimate the restorative powers of a night of rest and relaxation in one of London’s plethora of luxurious lodgings.
Shepherd’s Bush might not spring to mind as the first port of call for a night away from home, yet stepping through the doors of the Dorsett, you may be pleasantly surprised. Tucked next to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire (I must have walked past it a hundred times and yet never noticed its presence), the subtle addition as it is to the Green, it’s the perfect spot for those wanting to escape the town centre, while keeping a lower profile than in the West End.
Despite its seemingly inconspicuous profile, the hotel features 317 Chinese-inspired bedrooms and suites along with two sumptuous restaurants and a distinctive bar, plus a spa - just the ticket for a night away from home. Upon arrival it’s impossible to not be wowed by the impressive central atrium with its smooth wooden curves and luxuriously inviting velvet sofas; if one were to take afternoon tea this would be the location. Nevertheless, with an evening of much anticipated alone time stretched ahead of me, I headed straight upstairs to my suite.
The Dorsett is undoubtedly designed for the technological traveller in mind; with complimentary internet access, a ‘Handy’ phone in each room (acting as a tour guide and local directory), a work desk and docking station, all useful additions to make your stay easier.
While Shikumen serves a menu of elegant and creative Asian cuisine, including authentic Beijing Peking Duck, a range of Dim Sum and fresh Scottish seafood, Pictures is a contemporary brasserie style restaurant offering a European menu.
I began with delicious beetroot-cured Lock Duart salmon, accompanied with dill cream cheese, a hearty rye bread and a delicate dose of tarragon oil. A plate of braised Irish ox cheeks followed, so tender they disintegrated on first bite, served with a creamy earl grey-smoked mashed potato, oxtail croquette and winter vegetables. My choice of dish proved quite the remedy for the grey autumnal drizzle, further justifying my reasoning to batten down the hatches and have a cosy night in…
Supper complete, I retired to my room for a bubble bath with a view overlooking the rooftops of Shepherd’s Bush thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows. After donning the prerequisite bathrobe and making a pillow fort on the king size bed, a night of Netflix chick flicks sent me off into a peaceful slumber, only to be roused by my pre-ordered breakfast tray arriving the following morning.
Half the fun of a hotel stay is ordering breakfast in bed and the Dorsett didn’t disappoint. Fresh fruit salad, a pot of hot coffee, toast and jam and a hot plate of scrambled eggs, tomatoes, potatoes and sausage (the breakfast of champions), was enjoyed even more while luxuriating in bed wrapped in a bathrobe.
Along with its beautiful interiors and tasty cuisine, the other star attraction is SpaMika, which offers both guests and London locals four treatment suites and a variety of holistic treatments, as well as a sauna, aroma steam room and an infra-red cabin. Note to self: there is no better start to a Monday morning than all the above.
The spa has selected its product partners with the utmost care, choosing brands that reflect the holistic nature of their offering including vegan brands and those which use only botanically sourced ingredients.
In keeping with Dorsett’s underlying ethos of blending the best of the East with the West, Spa Mika’s therapies have been inspired by the orient and western philosophies. Treatments range from Hot Bamboo and Jade Stone massages to a Strawberries and Cream natural body polish and Fig & Vanilla body mask with the signature treatment a popular Shambala's Pan Asian Face & Body Ritual.
I tried an express 25-minute facial and a 25-minute back, neck and shoulder massage, both perfect tasters of their longer treatments and yet just enough to set me up for a restful week ahead. Should it be of interest, there’s also a range of private couples’ treatments available in the double infra-red cabin Spa Mika therapy Suite, and you can also hire the spa privately for exclusive use.
It was tempting to spend all day alternating between the sauna and steam room and yet I somehow managed to tear myself away and drift back to real life. With the seasons changing and the days getting shorter, if a real break is out of reach then Dorsett Shepherd’s Bush is a great option for your next London staycation.
Dorsett Shepherd’s Bush
58 Shepherds Bush Green
Oh winter, you soul-destroying beast of a season. When storms are raging outside there’s really only one thing to do. Well actually there’s two; jet off to the Caribbean and wave goody to a soggy English winter or - if, like me, your budget won’t permit the former - hibernate. While I love getting cosy at home as much as the next person, nothing beats an indulgent night at a hotel, closing the world out, battening down the hatches, calling up room service and having a bit of a pamper. I think I might have just found the perfect London hotel in which to do just that…
Nestled in the heart of Belgravia, amid sweeping terraces and stucco mansions, The Hari relaunched at the end of August (you may remember its former incarnation as Belgraves). Despite its slick and modern design it manages to feel welcomingly cosy the moment you step through the door, with a lobby littered with enticing sofas and a glass fireplace. With 85 rooms this independent hotel feels compact and refined, despite taking up most of a city block.
The Rooms at The Hari
After a stressful week at work, checking in on a Friday evening was a dream come true. I headed straight upstairs to the room, the utterly dreamy King Studio Suite; from the moment we met, it was love. From the perfectly sized curl-up-with-a-book velvet sofa, which fit snugly into the bay window, to the Nespresso machine ready for the morning, the pile of glossy magazines begging to be read and the fresh robes and slippers laid out for us, it was a room that screamed hibernation in every one of its 44 square metres.
The bar at The Hari
We did, however, first manage to nip down to the bar for a cocktail or two; I heartily recommend The Lady Is Not For Turning, with Bulleit bourbon, rosemary, lime juice and egg white. No big, brash, ballsy hotel bar here - the vibe is relaxed, refined, refreshing - think armchairs and sofas, bookshelves around every corner and soft lighting. Everything about this place screams chill time. We settled in one of the velvet-lined booths next to the bar and savoured our drinks, accompanied by some rather tasty onion rings and crispy squid before heading back upstairs to make the most of the night of R&R, though there’s also a rather lovely looking garden terrace open should a nightcap under the stars be more your thing.
I always find it’s the little touches that truly make an experience and The Hari was no exception; bikes are available for guests who want to explore the local area, each room comes with a pre-programmed mobile device, packed with things to do, places to see and local recommendations and in an adorable finishing touch, a lucky penny was left on the bed. Everything about the rooms and the hotel’s offering has been well thought through to ensure a truly memorable experience.
For me, it was the bathroom that sealed the deal. Coming from a rented flat with a slightly minging tub, the sheer indulgence of having a bubble bath in a spacious marble tub, set in a bay window overlooking the rooftops of Belgravia was worth its weight in gold; what a showstopper of a tub. Bubble bath complete, robe on, Veuve Cliquot popped, I settled down to watch Graham Norton with a face mask on - even though the rain was lashing at the windows, such a star of a suite made the outside world disappear.
Of course, no hotel stay is complete without breakfast and if there’s the option for breakfast in bed, who am I to resist? We ordered the night before, hung it on the door and hey presto - at 9.30 there was a knock at the door with a tray of eggs, coffee and juice (though I must say I was tempted by the peanut butter and jelly French toast with strawberries and cream…). Nothing beats a lazy breakfast with a spot of Saturday Kitchen - the absolutely perfect start to the weekend.
London has a lot of hotels, granted, but few have what The Hari does; it really does feel like a home from home. Quiet, elegant and polished, it’s almost anonymous - in a good way - a far cry from some of what this city has to offer. If you’re in for a cosy winter night somewhere, make it the top of your list.
The Hari London
20 Chesham Place
There are some London hotels that are lovely. There are some London hotels that are really rather special. And there are some London hotels that simply transport you to a bygone era of refinery seldom seen in this day and age. King's Cross's Great Northern Hotel most certainly falls into the latter of those camps.
Tacked on to King's Cross station, one would be forgiven for thinking that a train station hotel would be a fairly simplistic stopover venue, but you couldn't be more wrong. From the moment you step through its doors you're whisked into a subtle, sultry world of refined luxury, a throwback to the golden age of steam, yet you’re mere seconds from the hustle of one of London's most thriving areas and just 25 metres from the Eurostar terminal.
This exquisitely designed space was first opened in 1854, designed by Victorian master builder Lewis Cubitt but has been lovingly refurbished of the finest luxury boutique hotel spaces in London. With a building so rich in history, it would have been a travesty not to restore it to its former splendour. It’s one of those spaces that makes you want to don a flowing gown and race down the staircase, a la Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face.
The rooms at the Great Northern Hotel
The 91 rooms within the hotel fall into three categories. The Couchette rooms are small but perfectly formed; an homage to the classic continental railway sleeper, featuring a Hypnos double bed within a leather-clad banquette, high ceilings, flooded with natural light and with cleverly designed bespoke bathrooms.
The Wainscot Rooms, located in the hotel’s eaves, feature striking decor with clubby dark American walnut panelling and rich shades of plum; the perfect cosy retreat for a romantic city weekend. Lastly, the Cubitt Rooms, named after the hotel’s master builder, offer views of King’s Cross through tall sash windows, king-size beds and bright bathrooms - eight of which feature a standalone roll top bathtub.
Dining at the Great Northern Hotel
Indulgent food and drink is at the heart of the hotel. Each floor boasts a help-yourself pantry with teas and coffees, cake, fruit and Tunnock’s caramel wafers - the perfect plunder for a midnight snack (or a raid in the morning en-route to work…ahem), though not that you’d need one after supper at Plum + Spilt Milk. A restaurant that’s long been on my radar, this is definitely one dining room that you ought to make a date with. Like stepping into to a classic dining car of the Flying Scotsman, Plum + Spilt Milk’s interior of cosy booths, floor to ceiling windows and gold accents oozes sophistication and charm.
Michelin star-winning chef Mark Sergeant’s menu is based on seasonal British ingredients, including beef from Mey Selections, part of the prestigious North Highland initiative launched by HRH Prince Charles, produced using traditional methods on family farms and crofts.
The menu is a smorgasbord of simple yet creative recipes, featuring sublime dishes such as steamed Wye Valley asparagus with poached Loch Duart salmon and wild garlic mayonnaise or Dressed Portland crab to start, Orkney scallops with roasted cauliflower, samphire and sherry vinegar caramel, grilled Cornish lamb chop and pressed shoulder, served with wild garlic and spring greens and Paddock Farm Tamworth pork belly with braised celery, baby turnips and mustard sauce. Simple, classic, wholesome dishes with standout flavours that have you begging for more. Leave room for pudding though; the signature Plum + Spilt Milk is a classic, but I can heartily recommend the iced peanut and salted caramel mousse, which was truly special.
The bar at the Great Northern Hotel
With a roll top bath and an entertainment package including 96 TV channels and 70 classic and new movie releases, one would be forgiven for retiring after supper for a night in one’s chambers (which, accompanied by a good book, I most certainly did), but night owls may be enticed down to the bar on the ground floor, a buzzing hive of activity with an unrivalled cocktail menu.
Despite being situated smack bang in the centre of one of London’s busiest areas, a night of slumber at the Great Northern Hotel was pleasantly peaceful and uninterrupted. Breakfast was certainly a highlight of our stay; for the health-conscious, the menu includes dishes such as quinoa and pumpkin seed granola with yoghurt, apples and golden raisins. If, like me, you feel that life is too short, there are also treats including smoked haddock kedgeree and brioche eggy bread with bananas, pecans, and salted caramel sauce to tickle your tastebuds. Do it; you won’t regret it.
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