From the moment the uniformed porter waiting under the elegant glass portico took my bike into safekeeping, I felt myself relax into the environs of the Baglioni Hotel, 60, Hyde Park Gate, London SW7. It is one of a small group of Italian hotels, with others in cities such as Milan, Venice and Rome, and embodies the company’s intention to offer ‘luxury with an Italian touch’, at the same time as complementing and promoting its British location. The über-stylishness of the interior, with lots of gold leaf and black-and-white photographs, is matched by the friendliness of the staff, who are never obsequious but always ready to help.
Robyn, my floor’s butler, even managed to show me the rudiments of my room (espresso machine, safe, high-tech television) without sounding patronising or bored. Each floor has a dedicated butler, and room service is suitably comprehensive-in the larger suites, guests can even have their evening meal at their own table overlooking Kensington Gardens.
My room was more comfortable than one might expect from the modernity of the decoration, with a huge, welcoming bed and a richly upholstered sofa that proved the perfect place to flop and enjoy a glass of chilled Prosecco. The bathrooms are the most startling, and very Italian, element: all black with mirrored walls and a beaten-gold basin that chimes like a bell if you tap it with your toothbrush. The shower is excellent, but the experience of standing derobed surrounded by full-length mirrors is not for the self-conscious. Afterwards, things get more comforting, with a vanity mirror more softly lit, and perfect for titivating away from steamed-up glass.
The principal reason I urge you to visit this hotel, however, is its restaurant. New chef Moreno Cedroni has two Michelin stars, and it’s easy to taste why. He opened the restaurant that gained the stars, La Madoninna del Pescatore in Senigallia on the Adriatic coast in Italy, in 1984 at the age of just 20, and has since worked in on the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. He explains in the Baglioni menu that it was when ‘watching the waves of two oceans come together, I realised that this was the exact style of cooking that I was aiming to achieve: tradition and creativity coming together in each and every dish I conceive’. The result is subtle, unusual flavours, exquisite preparation and the kind of presentation that would have the Masterchef judges bubbling over with superlatives. With a reasonably priced set menu as well as the full-blown a la carte selection, the Baglioni restaurant deserves to be popular.
On the recommendation of the duty manager, I chose seafood lasagne for my first choice, and duly recommend its delicate notes of seafood, coconut and lime. My friend’s tempura scallops infused with cuttlefish black ink were even better – crispy batter melting to reveal the squidgy, sweet meat inside. Fillet of beef with black truffle sauce and carpaccio of seabass were full of flavour, but were trumped by the puddings: my profiteroles with Chantilly cream and tangerine sorbet were surprisingly light and my friend’s ‘Fragrance by Moschino’-pansy ice cream-was a scented delight. Proceedings ended with tiny morsels of chocolate placed on a map of Italy according to their origins, and it was all complemented by a deliciously bold Sicilian Planeta Chardonnay 2009, recommended by the waiter. The whole thing was clever without being pretentious, and I only wish I could have eaten more.
After all the wonderful food, happily Kensington Gardens just across the road are the perfect place to work off Signor Cedroni’s art – until you try the chocolate cake at the palace café. The recently restored palace gardens (Country Life, October 3) are a triumph, with planting that offers a splash of colour even on a dull autumn day and pergola-covered paths that lead the eye to beguiling vistas at every turn. Looking out across the Round Pond to trees and more trees, it is easy to forget you’re in the heart of London.
A word of warning, however, if you have a dog with you, keep a firm hold on the lead. There are grey squirrels, everywhere. They seem to know that they’re safe from leather-bound dogs and flaunt their tails enticingly under panting jaws from only a few feet away. A chance for a Kensington Palace Gardens Hunt, perhaps?
With the Royal Albert Hall a short walk up the road and the shops of High Street Kensington in the other direction, not to mention Piccadilly a 15-minute bus ride away and a spa back at the hotel to ease tired muscles, the Baglioni is the perfect place to base oneself for a weekend in town.
Baglioni Hotel London
60 Hyde Park Gate
ph: +44 (0) 2073685700