Hotel Review: The Kensington, London: Boulevard elegance in the heart of Kensington
Nicholas Gibbons reviews the recently refurbished The Kensington Hotel, a welcoming 19th Century townhouse hotel set in the heart of one of London’s most desirable neighbourhoods.
When I got the call from the editor of Luxury Lifestyle Magazine to inform me that I had the opportunity to review The Kensington Hotel, I must admit I struggled to hide my excitement. South Kensington is one of my favourite districts in London and I had read online that the hotel had just undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment.
The four-star hotel is about a five-minute walk from South Kensington tube station. It occupies a prime location on the corner of two of London’s most iconic thoroughfares, Queen’s Gate and the Old Brompton Road. Its superb location means it’s just a short stroll to some of London’s leading cultural destinations like the Royal Albert Hall and Natural History Museum.
As well a perfect base for museum goers, it’s also pretty handy if you enjoy a spot of designer shopping as Knightsbridge and the world famous Harrods department store are less than a mile up the road. And if open spaces are more your thing then you’re also in luck as Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are just a short walk from the hotel. Unfortunately the nearest beach was over an hour away but then you can’t have everything I suppose.
I arrived outside the hotel at about noon, it was a warm autumn day and the sun was shining. The first thing I noticed about Queen’s Gate was its similarities with Paris. This was certainly London’s answer to a grand Parisian boulevard. Made up of a number of pristinely restored townhouses and surrounded by a large number of majestic Victorian properties, the hotel is built on a wide and impressive tree-lined street.
The Kensington Hotel combines traditional Victorian architecture with a contemporary and tastefully designed interior. The high ceilings and heritage decor evoke a sense of Victorian grandeur but at the same time the hotel has successfully managed to avoid feeling imposing or worse still, stuffy. In my opinion, luxury should be welcoming and above all, relaxing, and I feel the hotel has pulled this off quite nicely. When entering the building, it rather felt more like walking through the doors of a lovingly restored London mansion than a four star city hotel.
The marble lobby/reception area did have quite a formal appearance, but I thought its contemporary sculptures really helped to balance this out and create a relaxing environment. The lobby also connects onto a series of drawing rooms, which, while being impeccably decorated, are also wonderfully layed out. The majority of the ground floor reception rooms have beautifully presented open fires. The one thing I noticed was the amount of communal space, suggesting it would be a great place to unwind after a day of sightseeing or meetings.
I was greeted by the lovely and highly knowledgeable Esther Lapole (Director of Sales) who showed me around the ground floor, including the fine dining Town House restaurant and the very elegant, wood-panelled and well stocked hotel bar. Both, I was told, had been redesigned as part of the recent renovation.
Unfortunately, I had arrived a little too early to check in to my suite so I dropped off my luggage and started the relatively short journey into Soho for another press duty. I returned back into South Kensington at about 9pm and was showed up to my room for the evening. One of the best perks of being a luxury travel writer is the fact you are normally given the best room in the house, or perhaps better put, the best suite in the hotel. I was given the Knightsbridge Suite, which comprised of two impressive bedrooms with king and twin beds, two en-suite marble bathrooms, one separate living room and a spacious balcony which overlooked the beautiful neighbourhood of South Kensington.
The suite was lavishly decorated, spacious and airy and took full advantage of the enviable ceiling height of the lower floors. I would best describe the décor as classically elegant but with a slight contemporary twist (the modern art on show helped to achieve this quite brilliantly). It had a series of striking floor-to-ceiling windows, a wide selection of antique furnishings and a 1930s Murano chandelier. The spacious living room featured a beautiful cocktail cabinet and a decorative but modern fireplace. The money looked like it had been very well spent.
But the best bit of all had to be the champagne on ice. Unfortunately, I was staying by myself as my partner had a prior engagement so I was forced to drink the whole bottle on my own, well most of it anyway. It seemed rude not to.
The king-size bed was exactly what the doctor ordered, spacious and extremely comfortable. The one down side to staying in a suite of this size and stature is the sheer amount of lights you need to work, and for a complete technophobe like myself, this can prove slightly tricky, especially after a few glasses of champagne. Eventually I found the right switches, but I’m not going to lie, I nearly gave up.
Breakfast was served in the recently refurbished Town House restaurant. The menu was impressive, so much so that I was nearly temped away from my usual pick of the Full English. After serious deliberation, though, I still opted for this 9am treat, with my excuse being that it would set me up for the rest of the day. Often I find the more expensive the Full English is, the worse it actually tastes. Fortunately on this occasion it lived up to its price tag (£14) and was absolutely sublime. I opted for two poached eggs, along with the advertised Cumberland sausage, dry cured smoked back bacon, Clonakilty black pudding, bubble and squeak, field mushrooms and roasted plum tomato. It didn’t just keep hunger locked up to lunch, but dinner in fact.
Other options on the breakfast menu included smoked Irish bacon with a soda bread roll, eggs benedict, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, waffles with a maple syrup and berry compote and pancakes with blueberries and crème fraiche.
My editor had already booked me in to review another restaurant on the night of my stay so I never had the pleasure of actually dining at the Town House. But from my 45 minutes spent there at breakfast it looked like it had successfully achieved a graceful blend of classic heritage and flawless modern style. Comprising three interconnecting drawing rooms with enchanting details such as fireplaces, wood-panelled walls, a smoky blue glass ceiling, a hidden whisky bar and a carefully curated library, it offers a cosy ambience.
The kitchen is supervised by Executive Chef Steve Gibbs, who trained under chefs such as Gordon Ramsey, Jason Atherton, Mark Hix, Des McDonald and Tim Hughes at Soho House Group and Caprice Holdings. His style of cooking is best described as modern British, but his menus also showcase a range of French inspired dishes. British highlights include a Yorkshire game pie and roast pheasant with a chestnut stuffing, while for those seeking something more European could opt instead for the coq au vin with smoked bacon and mushrooms. Steve prides himself on using only fresh, seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients. Food is served alongside a very impressive cocktail, spirits and wine list. Town House also has healthy options including a gluten-free afternoon tea and freshly made juices by The Juicery.
A quick word on the facilities at the hotel. These include a large gym, CD/DVD library, free WiFi, and laundry service. The three interconnecting drawing rooms on the ground floor are available for private hire, either individually or collectively, for meetings, private dinners, buffets or cocktail and canapé events. I must point out that the hotel does not have a spa or a swimming pool (I’m guessing this is why it’s 4-star and not five), but there is a treatment room next to the gym area and the hotel will happily organise for an outside therapist to come in and perform whatever beauty services you’re looking to book (so I was told).
The staff were incredibly welcoming during my stay; nothing was too much trouble and it’s easy to see why so much of the hotel’s custom is repeat business, both corporate and leisure.
I would say the biggest drawback to staying at The Kensington would be the lack of available parking nearby. This of course is common with the majority of central London hotels. And while it’s close to the park, the hotel doesn’t actually have any outdoor space of its own.
IN A NUTSHELL
An elegant and welcoming hotel situated in a fantastic leafy London district. Stunning architecture, light-filled rooms, an exquisite blend of period charm and modern comfort, stylish furnishings and helpful staff (especially Esther Lapole) all add up to create a very charming hotel with a personal but luxurious feel.
Unlike so many nearby Victorian townhouse hotels that look beautiful on the outside but are pretty dingy on the inside, once you’re through the front door you realise you’re in an upscale, sophisticated establishment that isn’t annoyingly stuffy or pretenious. It felt more like a refined luxury home than a hotel. Finally, the hotel has a strong identity that is closely connected to its location.
126, including 24 suites.
Sandwiches, burgers, salads and other light dishes – and, of course, drinks – are available 24 hours a day.
Midday, though this is flexible subject to availability; earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £245
OVERALL RATING 5/5
Address: 109-113 Queen’s Gate, London SW7 5LR
Phone: 020 7589 6300