The Full English: London's hippest new hotels
Author Stacy Gregg takes a whirlwind tour of London’s hippest new hotels.
I shudder to think what the weekly florist's bill is at the Corinthia - the lobby of this hotel is fairly groaning with exquisite arrangements of the most perfect flowers - chic bouquets of citrus green and vermillion hydrangeas and elegant stems of white and purple orchids. No wonder Gwyneth Paltrow instagrammed the ones in her bedroom when she stayed here.
Gwyneth is exactly the sort of guest you can imagine sashaying through the elegant marble corridors of the Corinthia. This is a very sleek and groomed establishment, and a little bit starry too. Although on the night I ventured down into the Northall restaurant for dinner it wasn't Gwyneth I bumped into, it was Warwick Davis - the star of Ricky Gervais' Life's too Short (or Professor Flitwick/Griphook from theHarry Potter movies).
What to eat: This is one of the liveliest hotels in London for afternoon high tea, when the lobby positively buzzes with conversation and everywhere you look there are waiters pouring Champagne and dishing up delicate plates of tiny cakes.
What to drink: Prosecco, with oysters while propped up at the bar at Massimo, the hotel's incredibly stylish casual restaurant.
What to wear: Channel Gwyneth in a body con dress and heels if you can pull it off. You really cannot overdress for this hotel.
In the neighbourhood: All the classic tourist destinations are nearby - Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, The Royal Opera House and Trafalgar Square.
Remember to ask for: Access to the hotel spa with its moodily lit swimming pool and elegant white leather lounge space.
Location: Whitehall Place London. Beside Embankment Tube Station. SW1A 2BD
THE ST PANCRAS RENAISSANCE
Internationalists love the glamour and ease of arriving at the St Pancras Renaissance on the Eurostar from Paris. Admittedly it is pretty luxurious to have the train pull up right at the back door of your hotel and be greeted on the platform by hotel staff who fast-track you through the passport queue.
All the same, for my money I would rather arrive by the conventional route of the front door, because that way you get the full force of the utterly awe-inspiring neo-Gothic hotel facade. Created by architect Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1873, the hotel's style was deeply out of vogue by the 1930s and it was left derelict for many decades, frequently on the verge of being torn down.
Two years ago it was taken over by the Renaissance hotel group who played up the hotel's strengths - the incredible location right next to St Pancras Station, and the beauty of the building. It is such an amazing structure that guided tours are given to non-guests for £20 ($38); for hotel guests the tour is free.
The most stunning space is the enormous lobby, which was once the train terminal. Hidden glories include the Moroccan-theme retreat rooms and swimming pool. For most guests the staircase will seem familiar - yes, it's the one the Spice Girls danced on in the Wannabe video.
What to eat: Celebrity chef Marcus Wareing is in charge of the menu at the glorious Gilbert George restaurant in the front of the hotel. Order the Dorset snails with bone marrow and garlic parsley, the quail mulligatawny, and have Mrs Beeton's Snow Egg (a steamed meringue with custard and marmalade in the centre) for dessert. Don't forget to say hi to the restaurant's glamorous general manager, Chantelle Nicholson, a New Zealander from Dunedin.
What to drink: Infused gins and gin cocktails are the height of hip. The Booking Office, the hotel's second-tier restaurant, does a formidable selection of Victorian gin punch cocktails served in a copper punchbowl for large parties, or in single serves.
What to wear: The hotel clientele is tres transatlantic and the cool crowd have majorly moved in on the newly invigorated Kings Cross district - hipsters be warned: you may wish to start growing your beard in advance of a visit.
In the neighbourhood: Go for lunch at the Grain Store for divine and delicate haute vegetarian food. And check out Shrimpys - a bar built in the shell of an old petrol station.
Remember to ask for: The Chambers Suites - there are 38 of these spacious and incredible rooms at the front of the hotel. The rate of about £400 is almost twice that of rooms at the rear, but you get so many added extras it is worth it.
Location: Beside St Pancras Station. Tube stations next door: St Pancras and Kings Cross. Euston Rd London NW1 2AR.
This is an exquisite gem of a boutique hotel that manages to do absolutely everything right. Travel website Tripadvisor recently rated The Ampersand the second-best boutique hotel in the whole of Europe (it was beaten by the Kempinski in Lithuania) and it deserves the accolade.
Unlike so many other boutique hotels that tend to be try-hard and gimmicky, The Ampersand gets it just right. The guestrooms have an integrity to their design, with high ceilings and luxe bathrooms and Miller Harris wallpapers, fragrances and bath products throughout. Extras include free wifi and a free, well-stocked mini bar.
In the communal rooms there are so many clever ideas, such as the games room (jenga, chess and table tennis) and the well-stocked reading room for guests at a loose end (A.A. Gill, Jonathan Franzten, Hilary Mantel). The Drawing Rooms, with their modern, vividly printed take on Victoriana, explore the five themes that drive the design of the hotel: botanicals, music, geometry, ornithology and astronomy.
What to eat: Even if you don't stay at the hotel, come here just to eat at Apero, the restaurant on the basement floor. It is my new favourite place in the whole of London with its modern Spanish-med decor and killer menu devised by exec chef Chris Golding (from Nobu and Zuma). Golding is a major talent to watch. His vegetable dishes in particular (beetroot risotto, deep-fried artichoke hearts) are a revelation.
What to drink: When did cocktails get so complex? These days no one in London would dare to ask for anything as simple as a martini or a whiskey sour. The cocktails at Apero all have at least a dozen ingredients: try the quattro fiumi which contains bourbon, cointreau, lychee, strawberries, rose syrup, lemon, black pepper and balsamico.
What to wear: The staff here look supercool dressed downbeat in dark denim jeans, but you wouldn't look at all out of place in a glamour cocktail outfit to take afternoon high tea with Champagne in The Drawing Rooms, where the sweet treats table is always groaning with amazing cakes cooked on the premises. There is a London obsession with meringues, and the ones at the Ampersand are undoubtedly some of the biggest and best examples you will find.
In the neighbourhood: Get some culture at the V&A, which is a two-minute walk from the hotel. You are also within walking distance of the Knightsbridge shops - Harrods and Harvey Nicks.
Remember to ask for: One of the three deluxe studio rooms with a free-standing bath - they are super-popular, so mention the bath when you book in advance to avoid disappointment.
Location: Harrington Rd. Beside South Kensington Tube Station. London, SW7 3ER
THE SHANGRI-LA AT THE SHARD
My plan to stay at the hottest new hotel in London was stymied by the fact that it hadn't opened by the time I arrived in the city.
If you are one of those people who insists on staying in absolutely the newest and most exciting hotel in town it doesn't get any newer or more exciting than this.
The excitement comes in the form of vertigo. The Shangri-La is on floors 34 to 52 of the Shard. The building has 87 floors and is Europe's tallest skyscraper: you can detect the curvature of the Earth from the top-level viewing platform.
What to eat: As well as the Shangri-La's multiple restaurants, two floors directly below the hotel are devoted to restaurants that do cuisines ranging from modern Brit to fiery northern Chinese.
What to drink: At the Aqua Bar on level 30, the smartest drinks come with tea and gin as their key ingredients, which seems suitably British.
What to wear: The whole building looks like a preposterous set from a James Bond movie so dress to fit the theme.
In the neighbourhood: The Shard considers itself to be more than just a building. It is a "vertical city". You can shop and drink and eat without ever leaving the building. However if you do decide to venture out you'll find yourself in the London Bridge district, where it's a quick walk to the Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre.
Remember to ask for: A room with a view. Just joking, obviously they all have them.
Location: Joiner St. Right beside London Bridge Tube Station. London SE1 9SPShare this: