Increasingly, hotels in London are making a half-term trip to the capital as beguiling as going abroad. Rupert Uloth selects some of his favourites.
Shangri-La at the Shard (above)
Where: Up in the air. At 1,015ft, the tallest building in Western Europe gives quite extraordinary views of the capital and the hotel takes up floors 34–52. The Tower of London far below is like a toy castle and only from up here do you realise how wide the railway routes are as they carve through the suburbs.
Highlight: Lying in bed and pressing the button to raise the blinds on three sides, which leaves one with the sensation of reclining on a cloud floating in the air. The late-night bar, although not big, must be the capital’s buzziest place at altitude.
Food: The luxuriously roomy Ting restaurant is popular with Londoners who relish making sense of the jigsaw below and spotting where they live. The Chinoiserie touches hint at the Asian influences on the European menu. The lamb may be Welsh, but it’s glazed with mirin, sake and soy sauce. It’s difficult to concentrate on your companion as the setting sun (we visited in summer) throws shadows, glints on buildings and bathes some of the most familiar sites in the world in a wondrous bronzed glow.
Rooms: There aren’t many hotels in which your room is almost entirely glass and you can leave the curtains open all night if you like the sensation of twinkling lights on the horizon.
Cost: Rooms from £475 per person per night, not including breakfast (020–7234 8000; www.shangri-la.com/london). Special offer Country Life readers staying at Shangri-La at The Shard will be served Champagne on checking into a suite. Please quote ‘Country Life’ when booking. Offer available until March 31, 2016.
Where: In the heart of exhibition land, this is the perfect launch pad for a short break or school-holiday adventure. You’re within easy walking distance of the V&A and the Royal Albert Hall is just up the road.
Highlight: Its relaxed, chic and unstuffy atmosphere. The Town House restaurant is surrounded by bookshelves and the elegantly comfortable dining chairs implore you to linger over lunch.
Food: Formerly of Hix and Caprice Holdings, executive chef Steve Gibbs has created a wonderfully tempting menu bursting with fresh, seasonal and locally sourced goodies. The set menu is an absolute bargain and the à la carte offers quirky delights such as truffled macaroni cheese with Dorset lobster and leek. The poached eggs at breakfast were bulging with gooey yolk and there are worse ways to spend an evening than on a purple-velvet bar stool sipping the margarita to end all margaritas.
Rooms: We loved our rooms—it was as if the owner of a stately pile had started an interior-design business with his feisty Parisian mistress, with sumptuous double beds, immensely comfortable armchairs in beguiling velour and plenty of room in the bigger suites to make expansive museum plans.
Cost: Double rooms from £225, including breakfast (020–7589 6300; www.doylecollection.com/hotels/the-kensington-hotel)
Special offer: The Kensington is offering Country Life readers a special package in collaboration with the V&A. Guests can enjoy an overnight stay with breakfast, two tickets to the V&A’s ‘Bejewelled Treasures’ exhibition and two ‘A Taste of India’ cocktails at the Town House Bar. A copy of ‘The Fabric of India’ commemorative book is also included. From £280. Please quote ‘Country Life’ when booking. Available until March 28.
Where: A large town house in the heart of Chelsea, tucked away behind Sloane Square. From the hotel, it’s only a three-minute walk to Peter Jones, with a chance to meander down the King’s Road. It would be perfect for Chelsea Flower Show week.
Highlight: The discreet reception desk, cosy bar and homely feel created by oil portraits; the wood panelling on the stairway retains the charm of its Victorian patina.
Food: Tartufo is home to the best modern Italian food in central London, which is light but utterly delicious. We had the truffle tasting menu. The autumn truffle tortellini with fresh walnut and mascarpone floated in the mouth and tickled the tongue.
Rooms: There has been ongoing renovation and the result is an eclectic series of rooms and suites, each with its own character. Ours looked out onto the street.
Cost: Rooms from £295, not including breakfast (020–7730 7000; www.no11cadogangardens.com)
Special offer: Country Life readers can enjoy a complimentary Champagne afternoon tea for two when booking a minimum two-night stay. Offer valid until April 30. Please quote Country Life when booking.
Where: Overlooking Hyde Park Corner with views of the Duke of Wellington’s house, known as No 1 London, where he lived as Prime Minister and hosted his Waterloo dinners. You get two chances to see The Queen’s Life Guard resplendent in either red tunics (The Life Guards) or blue tunics (The Blues and Royals), as members of Her Majesty’s senior regiment, mounted on their distinctive black horses, cross the world’s most famous road junction.
Highlight: Dining in Céleste, the resplendently airy dining room with its magnificent glass-domed ceiling, comfortable seats and sofas and attentive staff. A pity it resembles the Mary Celeste some nights, as the food is superb (see below) and it’s fun to ponder where the operations took place during the hotel’s former guise as a hospital.
Food: Quite sublime, as you would expect from an establishment under the control of maestro chef-patron Eric Frechon, who has three Michelin stars at Le Bristol in Paris. Executive chef Florian Favario stunned me with his langoustine ravioli, slayed me with the delicate gamey-ness of roasted saddle and braised shoulder of hare with horseradish cream, then his inspired pastry chef extended the epicurean adventure with a handcrafted giant chestnut with beguilingly light walnut croustillant, fresh pear and sorbet within.
Rooms: Heavy wood panelling generates the snug sensation of residing in a giant humidor. Guests are given Sony tablets to control everything, from lighting to curtains, and it all seems to work. For the irredeemably tech-phobic, you only have to push one button on the wall for your own tailcoat-clad butler to appear to act as IT consultant.
Cost: Rooms from £650, not including breakfast (020–7259 5599; www.lanesborough.com)
Special offer: Country Life readers staying at The Lanesborough for two nights or more are invited to enjoy a complimentary three-course lunch for two (excluding alcohol) in the hotel’s restaurant, Céleste. Please quote ‘Country Life’ when booking. Offer available until March 31.