Reviewed by Howard Bernstein
City hotel bars can be full of lonely, wandering travellers – but they’re also ripe with possibility. Think Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation. Mrs Smith and I are relaxing in the Kensington Hotel’s amber-hued lounge, eyeballing a chandelier like a belly dancer’s belt, when I have my own Bill Murray moment. Instead of spying Scarlett Johansson lingering longingly, proffering peanuts and parties, I notice Erin O’Connor: she’s sitting right behind my beloved.
If I squeeze my left eye shut a little, and squint, I can transpose my lady’s head onto Erin’s limbs. Alternatively, if I wiggle my right eyeball, I can shimmy Erin’s sleekly coiffed head onto Mrs Smith’s body. It’s a visual bull’s-eye, either way. It’s also earned my unstinting loyalty to this hotel – going for cocktails and spotting someone Karl Lagerfeld describes as ‘one of the best models in the world’ is enough to keep me coming back.
Mrs Smith scrutinises me suspiciously. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ she hisses. ‘Your eyes are twitching!’ Deciding this is no time for subterfuge, I alert her to the presence of our model neighbour. She’s instantly enthralled. Minutes later, we’re sitting with Erin on a low-slung sofa, discussing politics over ghostly martinis and finger-thin rosemary grissini.
To the right of our VIP, a pair of sulky temptresses converse over dinner (Mrs Smith and I are booked in for food too, and the wafts from their plates are highly encouraging). To our left, an elderly German couple with gravity-defying hairdos and bandbox-neat attire are talking art, casting the occasional smile our way. It’s remarkably relaxed, more than a bit refined, and utterly cosy.
Sadly, our gazelle-like companion has a former engagement to attend, and leaves us basking in her afterglow. We’re more than happy à deux though, and enjoying the freedom to critique our surroundings. Check-in has made a good impression on me: warm welcome, citrus-scented towels, and instant upgrade to a Corner Studio Suite. My lady was also impressed by the lobby, with its red marble counter and Jan Pienkowski-style wall murals of trees. I rather fancy the light that mushrooms from the ceiling like a scrunch of giant bubble wrap.
Mrs Smith stretches out an impeccably manicured hand, pinches a hickory-smoked almond from the silver dish in front of us, and declares, through a nut crunch: ‘What I love about the Kensington is that it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. It’s a hotel, plain and simple, and a very good one at that. You can tell that from the reception: it’s not a secret bunker, or a robot-staffed techno den. It’s a hotel reception. Staff wear uniforms. None of this gritty urban twaddle, where a hotel needs sulky service and garbage bags for sheets, in order to be considered cutting-edge.’
I murmur in absent-minded agreement (disregarding the fact that we have never, to my knowledge, slept on garbage bags, or been checked-in by robots), and nibble companionably on lemon- and chilli-spiked popcorn.
My lady continues to wax lyrical. We both praise the drawing room, styled like an opulent clubhouse, with carefully curated artworks, heavy drapes and flickering fires. I’m already imagining afternoon tea here, when my stomach interrupts with a growl.
Luckily, it’s dinner time, so Mrs Smith and I abandon our snug corner for a prime spot in the masculine Aubrey restaurant, styled with toffee-brown wood panelling and chunky green leather banquettes (Murray could have filmed his Tokyo whisky ad here). We sit at the back, right by the window, overlooking the elegant chalk-white townhouses.
Following a ravishing meal – plump scallops with pea shoots and broad beans in a tomato broth, followed by a melting duck confit with peppery potato hash – we stagger back to our boudoir. Our glitzy gold suite ticks the boutique boxes: desirable mod cons (giant TV, iPod dock), and make-yourself-at-home luxury. Candy-coloured furnishings – lime-green chairs, violet lampshade, cherry-drop-red antique chair in the bathroom – have Mrs Smith reconsidering the complexion of our Stateside pad.
The outside of our suite is equally impressive: a balcony with views of Queen’s Gate, just blocks from Hyde Park (scene of my morning jog). Anyone familiar with suave South Kensington will know that’s as peaceful a respite from central London as you could find, and boasts the lion’s share of the city’s cultural Titans: the V&A and the Natural History Museum, with the Royal Albert Hall, Harrods, Christie’s, and the Serpentine Gallery within easy reach.
Tonight though, we’re staying put. As Mrs Smith sinks into a plush velvet armchair, and considers a bottle of room service red, I retreat to the bathroom, with a good old-fashioned soak in mind. Having previously encountered luxury hotels in Europe with showers the size of shoe closets, this palatial preening area has me purring (there’s even a TV above the bath, for chrissake). And let me tell you something: warm towel rack equals instant bliss. Rainy London days pose no threat, when there’s a steaming bath and a toasty towel beckoning in your hotel room.
The next morning, post-run, I make my final discovery: the fitness facilities. The Kensington Hotel has a full gym, with equipment that outshines most health clubs in New York. I’ve discovered the perfect spot in which to reverse the waistline-widening effects of last night’s dinner (I omitted mention of a mint and chocolate calorie-burst in my earlier account – put it down to denial). The memory of this sugar-hit keeps me thrashing around on the running machine for a good hour or so. Sweat-dripped and aching, I feel infinitely masculine. If only Erin could see me now…