The Kimpton Fitzroy is a central London hotel full of history that's perfect for an opulent weekend in the Big Smoke. Kathryn Bradley-Hole paid a visit.
If you’ve ever strolled across Russell Square, in London’s Fitzrovia district and wondered what the magnificent and exuberant terracotta-coloured building is, rising loftily out of much of the square’s east side, it really is worth taking the trouble to find out.
With its decorative arcaded balconies and magnificent statues of four English queens presiding over the main entrance, here is one of Central London’s best kept sleepover secrets: an architectural gem of the Victorian age, built with all the confident grandeur bestowed by Empire, which also happens to be that rare thing: a dog-friendly luxury hotel. Its location, just a short hop across the square from the British Museum, sets it apart from the long list of well-known swanky hotels in and around nearby Mayfair. Yet the Kimpton Fitzroy is actually within easy walking distance of more of the capital’s sights, treasures and entertainments than you could comfortably explore in a year of weekends.
Opened in 1900 as The Russell Hotel, it was one of several large establishments built in the age of steam, to serve the capital’s great railway stations. When it launched, the press marvelled at its opulent interiors with its ‘gorgeous marble entrance’, magnificent banqueting hall, extravagant lighting and luxurious furnishings. Somewhat surprisingly, its ensuite bathrooms attracted little attention, despite this being the first hotel in London to feature them!
Its architect, Charles Fitzroy Doll (1850-1929), consequently made a name for himself in creating hotels and hospitality. Notably, the dining room here was the prototype for one he was to recreate soon after: the First Class dining room for that most splendid of passenger liners, the RMS Titanic.
There’s so much interesting history to both the Kimpton Fitzroy and its immediate surroundings, but I need to tell you here about what you can expect today. Walk up the main steps into the entrance – and you are, indeed, still greeted by a wondrous Aladdin’s cave of colourful marble columns and inlays, gilded capitals, classical scenes in bas-relief and something else everyone pauses to gaze at: a mosaic marble floor colourfully depicting the signs of the zodiac around a blazing golden sun. Straight ahead is the Palm Court, a bright and spacious rendezvous; it’s updated 21st-century style, and now forested with great olive trees rather than palms.
Go down a passage to find Fitzroy Doll’s Titanic-blueprint dining room. Apparently, at least part of his original interior may lie beneath the present shrimp-coloured décor of Neptune, a themed fish restaurant. Bearing in mind the links with Titanic, you might wonder whether Neptune was entirely the right theme to pick for this eatery, but our fish dinner was certainly fresh and delicious and, under Kimpton’s continued refinements since their takeover and £90 million refurbishment a couple of years ago, Neptune will itself disappear shortly, to re-emerge this summer as a modern English restaurant.
Adjacent is Fitz’s Bar, a plush and darkly glamorous cocktail den, which cleverly combines hints of the Victorian heritage with modern art, a mirrored disco ball, sultry velvets and a blazing fire – an irresistible combination.
And so, take to the huge marble staircase instead of the lift, if you want to see more of the Victorian bones of Kimpton Fitzroy. It runs alongside rows of stained-glass windows, up numerous floors to the rooms and suites which definitely leave the 19th century behind in favour of modern deluxe. I love pared-down neutral, luxed-up by gorgeous fabrics, thoughtful touches and creative, versatile lighting.
It’s total relaxation up here, with views across the arcaded balcony to the shimmering greenery of Russell Square’s great plane trees. London’s second-largest garden square, originally designed by Repton, is a mosaic of lawns and trees, with playful fountains and a popular cafe. And if you happen to want to bring along your special pet, general manager Gareth Walsh suggests, ‘Animals are welcome here, as long as they can fit in the lifts!’
Special mention for infinitely helpful Harry, who sorted out a taxi problem, sprinting across the Square in bitter weather, to find a lost cabbie. Also to Thibault Marchand, whose pastry masterclass saw me creating Instagram-worthy choux pastries one afternoon. (Hey, he won Bakeoff: The Professionals recently, so I had some serious help here). This place is so discreetly interesting and enjoyable it’s tempting to keep it a secret; but that’s not good for any business, so I’m telling you about it now. And tell your friends; it really is one of the jolliest and most surprising secrets in Town.
Room rates at Kimpton Fitzroy London start from £309 per night. 1-8 Russell Square, London WC1B 5BE ;0207 5201800; www.kimptonfitzroylondon.com
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