Winner: One of Resource’s top 12 London Hotels
Zen & The Art Of Hotel Design // The Hempel
Rachel Seed takes a lesson in timeless hotel design courtesy of Anouska Hempel’s 15-year-old minimalist grande dame, The Hempel
I am lucky enough to stay in beautiful hotels all over the world (it’s a tough job and those flights play havoc on my body clock and skin – there’s nothing more dehydrating than a long-haul flight). However, surprisingly, it’s rare that these five-star wonders that I call home on a temporary basis live up to expectations on every single level: service, design, food offerings, in-room amenities and those cheeky extras that make a great stay memorable… Sometimes the room is beautiful but the staff are uninterested. Other times the food is Michelin-star worthy but the room leaves something to be desired. Other times all aspects are below par and with others everything is just – you know – OK, but no one aspect outstanding enough to write home about – let alone write an engaging review about. You can never tell. Even when a hotel is lauded as ground-breaking or class-defining, I’ve felt that the manager or its designer haven’t actually stayed the night to see just how everything works. And sometimes it is, of course, completely subjective and all down to taste. At The Hempel however, I defy anyone, of any taste, not to love it. After 15 years on the London hotel scene, it’s had plenty of time to get it right. And boy has it got it right.
The location may seem bit odd, but being a little more tucked away than some London hotels affords it a level of discretion and privacy that others can’t match. It also feels less like a hotel and more like a luxury residence, giving non city dwellers the opportunity to experience what its like to live in London, rather than feel like you’re just passing through. Perhaps these are the reasons that Michael Jackson chose to base himself here during his last trip to London. And it is very pretty indeed, and very “London”: tree-lined streets fronted by grand white stucco Georgian houses and immaculate, tucked away, gated gardens. So London is it that the wedding scene in the classic Richard Curtis flick, Notting Hill, was filmed in The Hempel’s very own Zen Garden. Personally I can’t think of a better setting for a wedding. Hiding behind a six-foot hedge, the garden is a study in symmetrical perfection, with perfectly clipped box trees and slate-lined ponds. Our room overlooked the garden – and it was wonderful to wake up to it in its sun-dappled glory.
Entering the hotel itself, I felt real sense of calm wash over me. The lobby is one of the most unique hotel spaces I’ve encountered, with double-height ceilings, oodles of perfectly crafted light, sexy sunken seating areas and crackling fires. World-renowned designer Anouska Hempel’s homage to Zen Minimalism has resulted in a stylish, sleek space with overtones of the Orient, which carries through the hotel into the rooms themselves. Our little apartment (although not so little that I couldn’t have happily taken up residence permanently) was gorgeous: beautifully designed and despite its 15-year history, immaculate. If those walls could talk. It was uncluttered, yet successfully achieved a real feeling of warmth through great lighting, lots of natural materials and comfy soft furnishings. All of this was brought into the 21st century with the latest in technology, with wifi, huge flat-screen TVs and clever lighting panels. The little kitchen with a great selection of teas, coffee and fresh milk was an added bonus. As was an iron and board, which is so often missing in even the best hotels. The evenings outfit ironed, deep bath luxuriated in, body slathered in lovely Ren lotion and wrapped in fluffy bath robe, I settled on the sofa with a freshly brewed pot of tea to peruse the evenings menu and work my way through the pile of magazines laid out on the coffee table. Heaven.
However much I loved this hotel – and I really did love it – the food is what will stick in my mind for years to come. I was utterly and completely blown away by the cooking of Mike Carter, No 35’s talented Head Chef. The mait’re d, Martin Klein, was a joy, as were the rest of the staff. Everything about the restaurant strikes the perfect balance. It’s relaxed but formal enough to dress up without feeling out of place. The staff are friendly and attentive, without being overbearing. The lighting is spot on and the atmosphere is fantastic. Even the plates are worthy of a mention – beautifully illustrated with scenes from the kitchen and restaurant. Yours for £300 a set. Definitely on my Christmas list.
The amuse bouche of crab with cucumber and avocado puree with Greek yoghurt (above) was infinitely more delicious than it sounds and from there we were consistently wowed with every course. The pea salad with Parma ham and truffled egg (below) was one of the most memorable, more-ish, mind-blowing dishes ever to have been put in front of me. Then came huge, juicy, perfectly caramelised hand-dived scallops (why-oh-why do so many restaurants serve anaemic-looking specimens?) with carrot puree – an exercise in simplicity and purity. Lamb followed – wonderfully tender and pink with a depth of flavour that held its own against the rich jus, Parmesan polenta and artichoke. We had the tasting menu, and it kept on coming. A groaning cheese board with Alsace wine confit, strawberry cheesecake (not just any old cheesecake, believe me) and a sensational nougatine parfait balanced so deftly once again, with fresh and coulis raspberries. Wonderful stuff.
Unsurprisingly, I slept soundly between Egyptian cotton sheets on my oversize bed. Also unsurprising, to those who know me, despite eating until I was fit to burst the night before, I still managed to polish off a huge portion of perfect eggs Benedict for breakfast. Another box ticked: so often is the quality of breakfast overlooked in hotels of this calibre. The management clearly know what they’re striving for here.
The Hempel is hugely deserving of its place in our top London hotels and now has a place in my top ten hotels in the world.
The Hempel, 31- 35 Craven Hill Gardens, London, W2 3EA
Tel: 0207 298 9000