Before I begin, I have a confession to make. Mr Smith and I are not coming to the Knightsbridge Hotel in London as wide-eyed tourists, easily impressed by all the style flourishes on display. We live in the city, not far from this boutique beauty; and this townhouse hotel, built in the early 1800s, is going to have to work hard to impress us.
The hotel has retained a classic feel, despite its contemporary English conception, and when we walk into the small main lobby, the first thing I notice is the immaculate level of tidiness and freshness. The place feels as though it has been completely redecorated the previous day. I find myself wanting to run off with the clever ‘Scottish dogs’ artwork that hangs among the custom-designed furnishings – all selected with designer Kit Kemp’s usual gifted eye for detail. I adore her African-style chairs, made from authentic Malian fabrics (in fact, I love them so much, I buy one).
As you’ve probably guessed from Ms Kemp’s involvement, the Knightsbridge Hotel is part of the illustrious Firmdale Group – synonymous with a refreshingly bold design aesthetic. As we walk through to the drawing room, where light jazz tinkles in the background, I am immediately drawn to the roaring fire. Warming my hands above its cosy glow, I’m struck by what a cute and welcoming spot this would be for an afternoon tea or a rummage through the papers. I make a mental note to drag Mr Smith back here later for scones and Sunday supplements.
Compared to some of the other hotels in the Firmdale portfolio, the Knightsbridge Hotel, with its 44 rooms, is on the large side. This doesn’t mean that the group’s policy of redesigning rooms on a rollover basis is ignored here, though. If the carpet gets snagged or the drapes start to stick, then they immediately get replaced. In fact, why not do as I do when staying at Firmdale property, and always request a newly refurbished room?
This time, Mr Smith and I are in Room 202 – and it proves to be something of a favourite. Initially, I was a little worried about how noisy it would be (the hotel sits just off the busy Old Brompton Road), but the soundproofing was clearly well done and we sleep like rocks in our fine-sheeted, perfectly firm bed.
The next morning, we order up room service, which arrives within 15 minutes of me replacing the receiver on the bedside phone. Mr Smith and I (both exiles from the US) are delighted to find some seriously great American-style pancakes served as part of the fresh and well-presented breakfast. Also incorporating made-to-order smoothies, fresh juices and several different types of yoghurt, the menu is clearly aimed at a health-conscious crowd.
The Knightsbridge is not a spa hotel, but it may as well be for all the serenity it offers. The strangest thing, though, is that its relaxing ambience and laid-back interiors lie just minutes from the bustling shop floors of Harrods, Harvey Nichols and all those other crowded, credit card-melting emporia. Much as we love to shop, Mr Smith and I eschew our usual retail pursuits in favour of a morning browsing the antiquities at the V&A, and looking at dinosaurs and giant whales at the Natural History Museum – both equally close by.
There may be no restaurant at the hotel, but this hardly matters when so many shining lights of London’s culinary scene are within a mile of your front door. We indulge in some high-end but refreshingly low-fat contemporary Japanese cuisine – miso-marinated foie gras for Mr Smith, crispy fried lemon sole with spicy ponzu sauce and green onions for me – at the wonderful Zuma on Raphael Street, before escaping the din of passing cars on Kensington High Street in the peaceful environs of Hyde Park. It’s a beautiful day, and we find ourselves wishing we’d bought some provisions so we could have a picnic on the grass.
All in all, we loved our stay at the Knightsbridge Hotel. Are there any areas for improvement? Well, as there’s no gym or spa, and I’d love it if they gave guests passes to the nearby Peak Health Club (which has both). But it’s a pretty minor complaint really. I’d happily come back here to hole up if I wanted to escape from the many duties of ‘home’ in South Kensington. And I’ll also tell friends visiting from abroad to stay here – especially if, like me, they love picking up interesting things on their travels. Where else could you check into in London and leave with an authentic Malian chair? It’s beyond our Ken.