Signature checks in to … The Kensington, London
What could be more British than staying a short carriage ride away from the Royal family? Located in the heart of ‘royal London’, surrounded by leafy streets lined with quintessential white Victorian mansions, The Kensington is fit for a princess (or prince). With the best of London on the doorstep and the opulent, yet relaxed, atmosphere inside, it’s like staying in a posh London club without needing a membership.
Traveller: Jocelyn Pride
Room: Luxury Studio Suite
Address: 109-113 Queens Gate, South Kensington, London, SW7, 5LP
Date: September 2018
Best for: those who want to be treated like royalty in the grandest of London’s boroughs.
The Signature factor
The expectation of superb service is, of course, natural in a five-star hotel, however, it’s the staff here that make the experience extra special. A truly international group of people with interesting backgrounds who are proud to work in such a beautiful environment. Everyone is knowledgeable about the history of the building and several people have been with the hotel for many years. Connecting with authentic people is a luxury in itself.
As the flagship property of the privately owned Doyle Collection – which comprises eight luxury hotels across the UK (including The Marylebone), Ireland and in Washington DC – The Kensington oozes charm. Originally built in the 1770s, the hotel is a row of four townhouses reconfigured into one grand townhouse with a series of downstairs drawing rooms, 126 beautifully appointed guest rooms and 24 sumptuous suites. Both the major renovation in 2009 with a $300+ million price tag and the redesign in 2016 were totally overseen by chair of the board and part owner Bernie Gallagher, who personally selects everything in the hotel from the antique furniture down to each tea cup. The result is a traditional look with a playful twist: subtle tones accented with bold colours, antiques sitting beside contemporary pieces all with the feeling of being in someone’s home rather than a hotel. There’s absolutely nothing stuffy here.
From the moment I step out of the cab, the entrance makes a splash. Guido, the beautifully attired doorman, organises my luggage and I’m ushered past the terrace-style garden rooms and immediately enveloped in what feels like part country house, part palace, and all class. My eyes stretch down the length of the building where one antique-filled room flows into the next. Chandeliers hang from the lofty ceilings, vases of red roses sit on pretty tables and paintings in gilt frames line the walls.
Check-in is casual, yet totally efficient, and I’m handed a cool towel and lemon and mint spritzer before being shown to my suite.
In keeping with the Doyle Collection’s style, each room across the eight properties is unique in its look and feel. Overlooking the leafy Queen’s Gate boulevard with a Juliet balcony (perfect for people watching), my luxury suite is big, bold and beautiful. An elaborately decorated two-poster bed – complete with a carved, mirrored headboard – gives a sense of grandeur, but it’s the 1930s Murano glass chandelier centrepiece that’s even more eye-catching. A large vase of country garden-style flowers sits on an inlaid wooden table and two Victorian chairs and footstools upholstered in deep blue are perfect for sinking into.
Next to the desk is a wardrobe housing all the necessities like safe, mini-bar and luggage storage racks.
The bathroom continues the classic theme with a clawed bath with a second TV above, twin basins and a glass door leading to a separate toilet and shower that has a choice of a hand-held nozzle or my favourite type of glorious rain shower.
The ingenious configuration of the palatial Kensington Suite is in a league of its own when it comes to London hotels. With a massive 180-square-metre floor space, the total area takes in three bedrooms, three bathrooms, two separate living rooms … perfect for a family or a special gathering. But here’s the trick: with the turn of a key, the ‘secret’ doors can close and transform into two beautiful suites. The Victorian-styled Brompton Suite highlights include a four-poster bed, separate living area, a clawed bath, and the decadent Knightsbridge Suite is where classic meets contemporary. Even a sneak peek into the Knightsbridge Suite is enough to feel like a princess: the luxurious marble bathroom, circular daybed, the gilt mirror above the fireplace disguised as a large plasma TV and the perfect blend of subtle tones accented with the vibrant use of turquoise and duck-egg blue in the soft furnishings. A total wow factor.
On my plate
In addition to hotel guests, Town House restaurant is also loved by Londoners who pretend this is their ‘best-kept secret’. Well-spaced tables are dotted throughout several rooms surrounded by cabinets filled with antiques and shelves laden with books, it’s the type of restaurant that evokes curiosity and it’s fine to have a little wander; the attentive waiting staff will always find you.
The dinner menu features British produce with Josper grill-cooked meals a specialty. My seared tuna with soy and ginger dressing topped with pickled radish is perfectly presented and I follow with whole Dover sole (off the bone) served French style with a Meunière sauce.
The breakfast menu is extensive and full of naughty but nice options, and there’s also a full buffet set up in the bar. The colourful açaí bowl filled with berries, beets, coconut and almonds is a personal favourite as it’s not too heavy.
As popular as the restaurant is for dinner, it’s the afternoon tea that’s an absolute showstopper. Themed to fit in with an exhibition at the V&A, a new musical on the West End or a well-loved movie, the presentation of the afternoon tea is exceptional. I experienced everyone’s favourite, Tale As Old As Time, a theme based on Beauty and the Beast. Scenes from the Disney movie are acted out through the presentation of each decadent course, served on Mrs Potts and Chip Potts china.
From the chocolate Cogsworth clock tart to the spiced snowball macaroon (a nod to Belle and Beast’s snowball fight), every small detail has meaning. Be warned – book well in advance as securing a table is like winning the lottery.
I wish I could take home…
Ashley the mixologist in the K Bar, because I didn’t quite have enough time to work through the in-house cocktails with alluring names like the Brompton Tea Party, Lady Lavender and Queen’s Gate Orient.
It’s easy to while away a few hours simply curling up with a book in front of the fire in one of the drawing rooms. The library houses an extensive collection of antiquarian books, and with full bar and food service 24/7, why go out?
In the evening the K bar is a local haunt for Londoners with its clubby feel and extensive drinks menu (including an incredible whisky collection). Object of curiosity: two magnificent brass doors that lead to the bar. They’re originally from Dublin’s Post Office, the scene of the 1916 Easter Rising; look closely enough and a couple of bullet holes are visible.
There’s also a 24-hour gym, spa treatment rooms and complimentary Wi-Fi. The drawing rooms can be booked for private functions and meetings, and in-suite dining is perfect for an extra special occasion.
As homely as The Kensington is, with the best of London literally on the doorstep, it’s only a matter of choice.
Known as the museum quarter, three landmarks – Royal Albert Hall, V&A Museum and the Natural History Museum – are a short stroll away. For more of a country feel, Hyde Park is a quick jog, and then of course there’s Kensington Palace and Gardens just down the road.
South Kensington is also the home of icons like Christie’s auction house and The Conran Shop (housed in the magnificent former headquarters of the Michelin tyre company) together with exclusive fashion labels and cutesy shops to discover along and around Fulham Road.
On Saturdays, the South Kensington Farmers’ Market on Bute Street is abuzz with an extensive collection of organic produce from across the UK.
There’s no shortage of restaurants, cafes, bakeries and bars in the area; walk in any direction and you’ll find a treasure. As a blast from my time living in London many years ago, I return to Bibendum in Michelin House to double-check if the oysters are as sublime as I remembered (yes), and I also love the atmosphere in the savvy and popular French restaurant Aubaine in Brompton Road.
If you’re looking for a ‘like a local’ type of tour, the concierge team works with City Unscripted, an innovative tour group specialising in personalised itineraries throughout London (and other cities around the world). Themes for tailor-made tours include gourmet, art, family friendly, music and literary.
The Kensington has been recognised in many areas, from being voted as one of the Top 10 Best UK Hotels in the Condé Nast Traveller ‘Readers’ Travel Awards’ to being named on the ‘City Urban Legends’ list in the Sunday Times and on the Tatler Travel Guide as one of the top 10 hotels in London.
Town House restaurant was also included in the Standard’s ‘Best Sunday Roasts’ in London and the K Bar is on the Best 50 Bars in London list.
The Doyle Collection offers a free loyalty card called ‘Discovery’. Members can start earning points to earn rewards like upgrades on room category, late check-out and access to local experiences.
If only …
I could borrow Bernie Gallagher to come and decorate my house.
There’s no shortage of beautiful hotels in London, however, a lavish yet peaceful setting in the perfect location with staff who treat their guests like family members is a rare find.
Where to find The Kensington Hotel
The hotel is around 40 minutes from Heathrow airport and private car transfers easily arranged. South Kensington tube station is around the corner.
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