Thursday, 20 October 2011 10:50 AM
A good location for a London hotel is, for most travellers, a prerequisite. Arriving in at Kings Cross with East Coast from Edinburgh, we hopped straight on the Piccadilly Line to South Kensington and after a short three-minute walk were at The Kensington Hotel , a property in the portfolio of Irish hoteliers: The Doyle Collection.
Situated in the heart of one London’s best areas (and literally around the corner from the world-class trio of Science, Natural History and Victoria & Albert museums), The Kensington Hotel earns a measure of approval before you step through the doors of this multiple townhouse.
The immediate feel is one of a boutique hotel. With 160 rooms, it’s big by those standards, but you wouldn’t know it. The reception area lacks the freneticism of larger hotels but does not lack for speed of service which had us in our room rapidly. It’s nice to be able to flop down on a bed less than 25 minutes after arriving at a station on the other side of town. Better yet when that bed is an enormous four-poster affair…
The room wasn’t huge but used cupboard space well and had a lovely high ceiling which boosted the area. A bathroom with a powerful rain shower sat atop a couple of steps. There was a large wall-mounted flatscreen TV facing the bed, which was handy for late night viewing.
All good upstairs, then, so it was with optimism we headed down to breakfast the following morning in the hotel’s ‘Aubrey’ restaurant. The rooms had a traditional ‘drawing room’ feel to them, lots of wood, bookshelves and leather. A cold buffet of all the usual choices could be augmented, if required, by something cooked to order from the kitchen. This was our choice on all three mornings by dint of the fact that on this first morning I ordered Eggs Benedict which were top drawer. Service was quick and efficient.
A day’s sightseeing and, naturally, a night at the theatre (Yes, Prime Minister, at the Gielgud Theater until November 19th – amusing viewing) there was time for a nightcap in the Aubrey Bar, and the hotel really came into its own in here. For me, the Beck’s Bier on draught (£5/pint) was proper but the other half fancied a cocktail. Just pick one and drink it, right? Wrong. The charming, Italian head barman (Alessandro) is at your service to discuss what flavours and constituents you’re looking for, before making a recommendation and mixing your drink. A great level of attention to detail and service, though at £12.50 a pop, that should be a given!
Aubrey Bar (photo: John Hunt)
The ‘vibe’ in the bar is very chilled. Big, deep sofas, low lighting and an oversized chandelier combined with the service and the products to make for a really relaxing experience. Behind the bar sits the Galvin Cup, Alessandro’s prize for being the best ‘mixologist’ in London this year. Good hotel bars are few and far between; this is certainly one of them.
We had dinner the following night, back in the restaurant. Starters were fresh goat’s cheese, beetroot and baby spinach salad for me, and seared scallops with pea puree for her. Mains were corn-fed chicken breast with fat, hand-cut chips and basil hollandaise for me and sea bream with crushed potatoes and lobster sauce for her. Sweets were homemade ice-cream and a chocolate and pistachio mouse, which were shared. Overall, it’s hard to overstate how good this was from start to finish; it was flawless in service, presentation and taste. Memorable and good value at £75 including two drinks. Oh, I asked for the coconut ice-cream trailed on the sweets menu but they’d run out, so I had another flavour. I suppose I should say ‘almost flawless’ then…
Grilled chicken with chunky chips (photo: John Hunt)
The hotel also has a small but perfectly-formed gym in the basement. Free weights, multigym equipment and a couple of treadmills – all brand new – with a couple of wall-mounted televisions with the obligatory music channels on them. Also a fridge full of complimentary bottled water, which is a nice touch.
I think ‘almost flawless’ sums the hotel up reasonably well, as there were a couple of small flies in the ointment. While WiFi was free throughout the hotel, the speed was only 1mb, but the main issue was the poor reception in the room. On the fringes of the range of the wireless modem, perhaps? There was a pair of free-to-use Apple Macs (and a printer) in a little alcove across from the lifts though.
Another small gripe was that the end of the hotel we were staying in was above a private members club in the same block. Nothing to do with the hotel, but early on Sunday morning we were awoken by loud music in the early hours. The hotel is aware of the issue, and understandably keen to keep an eye on the situation.
This hotel is superb overall. It has the lot – professional and friendly staff, opulent surroundings and a solid food and beverage offering – only the minor gripes above prevented perfection.
by John Hunt
A double room with breakfast at The Kensington Hotel costs from £195 per night. We travelled to London with East Coast Trains. Advance return fares, booked online, start from £33 for standard class or £95 for first class.