London is never predictable. She can treat you to a raft of sights, sounds and emotions that is entirely different to the next person on holiday at the same time, all depending on where you lay your head. Her beauty unfolds in a multitude of ways whether you’re east, west or north or south of the River Thames... And that is this city’s charm. Mr Smith and I had started our trip from Australia on the east, enjoying the galleries of Shoreditch and the archeological digs and grimy laneways of old London – but to restrict ourselves to this part of town would have done the capital an injustice. We needed to go west, my friend, to see how the other side lives… to breathe in its exquisite Georgian architecture and wander the green fields of Hyde Park. So we headed to the exclusive suburb of Belgravia, and our aptly named hotel.
Belgraves is bang in an area that is proper London posh. If you want to blend into this patch of Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, just for a minute, and pretend that you too have a butler and a Bentley, then pack your Sunday Best ladies and gents, and head to Belgraves. This is a land of some of the most expensive apartments in town and proud flag-bearing international embassies.
A hop and skip from the high-end designer shops of Sloane Street, housed in a building that contrasts starkly with the prevalent classic 19th-century architecture. Operated by the Thompson group, noted for outposts such as the famed 60 Thompson in New York, Belgraves is perfect for any Mr and Mrs Smith hankering after a little New York chic from their London lodgings. The Thompson Hotels group has cornered the market in boho-industrial chic across the pond, and its first London foray translates well: stylish, in a loose-collar, sneaker-clad way, fashionably arty – look out for the Natasha Law knicker prints in the lobby – and luxuriously indulgent.
Arriving at Christmas, we were impressed by a festive tree in the window constructed entirely of carefully stacked design books. A little like the pile of books that accumulates beside my bed, only far more attractively placed. Immediately, we knew that these were our people. With its exposed brick, walls of glass, sumptuous velvet midcentury modern couches and laid-back friendly check-in, we were sold.
Uniquely modern in design compared with the more traditional hotel options in this SW1 neighbourhood, the building’s refit was created by up-and-coming Brit interior-designer Tara Bernerd (a great local touch). Yet the overwhelming mood of the hotel is still very NYC – dark furnishings, animal-skin rugs, exposed floorboards and marble bathrooms. The roof in our suite was a little low, and lighting rather dim, but as Mr Smith made the point: everyone does look better in subtle lighting.
Off course there are no multi-print, factory-produced Turner-esque landscapes slapped on these walls, instead in our room there was a limited-edition Tracey Emin print hung proudly above our ruby velvet couch. I was tempted to ‘souvenir’ the art, along with the Ren lotions and shampoos… But I resisted.
Taking the concierge’s advice we made sure we had a drink at the bar upstairs –a hip cocktail lounge is often the heart of the sociable Thompson hotels. Mr Smith was impressed by the extensive drinks list and the young gent who had an excellent knowledge of the beers on offer. (I ordered a glass of bubbly but since it wasn’t quite true to its name, they were quick to fix this.) For tobacco enthusiasts, there’s also a stash of rare vintage Cuban cigars and the leafy little ‘cigarden’ which offers a place to puff without the need to go outside in the bitter cold in winter.
With cockles warmed by the champagne, we wrapped up for the short walk up to sprawling Hyde Park. From a distance, we saw an enticing world of enchanting coloured lights and rollercoasters. On closer inspection, the reality of the seasonal Winter Wonderland is beautiful carousels but also frightening carnival rides that leave teenagers screaming for their lost stomachs. For those with weak constitutions, I suggest sidestepping the fair and the carnival food, and taking a restaurant recommendation from Belgraves’ concierge. He even magicked us a table at a fabulous local (and, may I add, otherwise booked out) Italian restaurant, Zafferano.
As Australians in London, on our second day in this well-to-do ‘hood we feared it would be rude not to visit the Queen. Off we ambled to Buckingham Palace in 20 minutes. Oddly Her Madge was too busy for the likes of us, so we made do with a quick royal wave and lunch in a pub nearby. It being winter, and us doing all that walking, we didn’t feel guilty about coasting from meal to meal, and for our finale we dined at the hotel restaurant. On our visit it didn’t have that much fizz in terms of atmosphere – but we wanted to try the house contemporary European cuisine. We were back perched in a cosy booth for breakfast, when it was a full English for Mr Smith and crumpets for me.
Often this part of town is glossed over by tourists who are all too distracted by SW1’s haze of department-store shopping and iconic historical sites. Belgraves kindly let us dip in and out of the well-trod tourist trail at our leisure, but was far away enough from the madding crowds for us to still feel we were on a luxurious, exclusive trip within a trip. A design hotel with enough personality to make you feel as though you’re part of the neighbourhood... If only for a short time. Now, where did I put the keys to that Bentley?