Spoiled for choice

Two Lon­don bou­tique ho­tels for lovers of chic de­sign

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Luxury - KA­T­RINA LOB­LEY

When I tell a Lon­don chum I’m bunk­ing down at the Hay­mar­ket Ho­tel, he says, “That’s where I in­ter­viewed Richard E. Grant.” The ho­tel is that kind of place. Its whim­si­cal yet el­e­gant sur­rounds would be per­fectly ac­cept­able to a celeb who’s more of an ex­pert than most when it comes to lux­ury digs (Grant hosts the tele­vi­sion se­ries Ho­tel Se­crets).

The Hay­mar­ket’s lo­ca­tion is so dis­creet — it’s a left, right, left from Trafal­gar Square yet not the type of thor­ough­fare to at­tract passers-by — that it’s easy to imag­ine Grant sim­ply saun­tered in through its front door, un­no­ticed ex­cept per­haps by a pi­geon or two. The ho­tel blends right in with its Re­gency-era sur­round­ings, per­haps be­cause the build­ing came from John Nash, the master ar­chi­tect whose projects in­cluded Buck­ing­ham Palace, Trafal­gar Square, Mar­ble Arch and the Theatre Royal Hay­mar­ket, close by. A strik­ing row of fluted Doric col­umns punc­tu­ate the Hay­mar­ket’s fa­cade; above the col­umns a del­i­cate black bal­cony rail­ing wraps around the first-floor win­dows.

Noth­ing about the re­strained ex­te­rior pre­pares you for the sin­gu­lar vi­sion play­ing out in­side. Kit Kemp is the cre­ative mas­ter­mind be­hind the Hay­mar­ket’s in­te­rior de­sign. She and hus­band Tim Kemp own Fir­m­dale Ho­tels, a col­lec­tion of nine bou­tique prop­er­ties. Kit’s aes­thetic mixes bold colour ac­cents and vintage pieces with con­tem­po­rary art, flo­ral prints and un­ex­pected de­lights such as dog-shaped ap­pliques on the back of the Hay­mar­ket’s res­tau­rant chairs and barstools.

Kemp likes to cre­ate a sense of ar­rival. I swan into her foyer, which feels more art gallery than bou­tique ho­tel. The space is dom­i­nated by a strik­ing piece from Turner Prize-win­ning sculp­tor Tony Cragg and a moody Lon­don land­scape from John Virtue, who paints only in monochrome.

I’m checked in, es­corted to my room and of­fered a pot of tea but don’t have time to wait for its ar­rival — it’s Satur­day af­ter­noon and I’m on a mis­sion to catch a mati­nee while in the heart of the theatre dis­trict. There’s a concierge down­stairs but I go straight on to a tick­et­ing web­site. It’s right on 2.30pm, when most mati­nees start, but there’s a 4pm show around the cor­ner that will do quite nicely. I race off to the ticket booth, a few blocks away in Le­ices­ter Square, and re­turn to ex­am­ine my room more thor­oughly. The first thing I no­tice is the tele­vi­sion perched at the end of the bath in the pol­ished gran­ite bath­room. I run hot wa­ter and line up Kemp’s own Rik Rak toi­letries range along a ledge.

Now I just need caf­feine to ac­com­pany my soak, which is when I re­alise the room doesn’t come with tea or cof­fee-mak­ing ac­cou­trements (caf­feine ad­dicts may find this a frus­tra­tion).

What I do en­joy about the gue­stroom is clam­ber­ing up on to the un­usu­ally high bed (more ath­letic types could lob them­selves with a Fos­bury flop). The bed is crowned with Kemp’s sig­na­ture over­sized padded head­board, sand­wiched be­tween two teapot prints. Tall win­dows let the light flood in, al­low­ing me to check Lon­don’s weather at any point. Break­fast is taken in Bru­mus res­tau­rant, which looks out on to Her Majesty’s Theatre (Nash also worked on that build­ing). I’m tempted by the fluffy egg­white omelette stuffed with goat’s cheese and roasted pep­pers, served on a bed of grilled as­para­gus (and it’s so good I or­der it again next morn­ing). Toast comes stacked in a sil­ver rack; pol­ished salt and pep­per shakers could dou­ble as hand weights. The buf­fet spread on a tim­ber ta­ble feels deca­dent, per­haps be­cause the yo­ghurts, fruits, nuts and mues­lis are cra­dled in gi­gan­tic bowls (Kemp’s own Myth­i­cal Crea­tures range for Wedg­wood).

Guests who want to work off all this in­dul­gence can head to the glam subter­ranean 18m pool re­flect­ing an ever-chang­ing light in­stal­la­tion. Un­usu­ally, a long pewter cock­tail bar flanks the pool.

It’s a wrench to leave the Hay­mar­ket — I par­tic­u­larly love how staff recog­nise me each time I re­turn and have my key at the ready — but I’m off to check into sis­ter prop­erty the Knights­bridge Ho­tel in a quiet residential cul-de-sac two blocks from Har­rods. The public spa­ces fea­ture what I now recog­nise as Kemp’s con­fi­dent mix’n’match style — cue draw­ing rooms where dog-em­broi­dered cush­ions sit com­fort­ably with an­te­lope wall sculp­tures and vi­brant tex­tiles that speak of Africa.

Un­der the gaze of an eques­trian print se­ries, I tuck into the Knights­bridge break­fast (smoked salmon with scram­bled eggs, English muf­fin with jams, juice, cof­fee or tea, and a flute of cham­pagne). At other times of the day, you can brew a Ne­spresso at the hon­esty bar or grab a pas­try. But for snacks, I can’t go past the daz­zling se­lec­tion within Har­rods’ food halls. It makes me want to pack a pic­nic of crab and ginger cakes, chicken tikka “naan­wiches” and morello cherry and pis­ta­chio baked dough­nuts. I could throw in a flat peach from Spain, a golden kiwi from New Zealand or a fresh co­conut from Thai­land. It feels like the whole world gath­ered in one place: a care­fully cu­rated cor­nu­copia. Like Kemp’s cre­ations, the ef­fect is greater than the sum of its parts.

Ka­t­rina Lob­ley was a guest of Fir­m­dale Ho­tels.

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