x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Hotel insider: The Wellesley, London

Ex-tube entrance an elegant gateway to London on an elegant Knightsbridge terrace, with view across Hyde Park.

The exterior of the Wellesley Hotel, London. Michelle Chaplow for The National
The exterior of the Wellesley Hotel, London. Michelle Chaplow for The National

The welcome

The doorman - top hat, navy blue overcoat, gold epaulettes - tells us that the hotel has been open for three months and one day as he walks us to the reception. "Not that I am counting," he says jovially. At the desk there is no record of our booking, but no sign of panic either. "Sit down and have a coffee whilst we sort this out," says the young girl directing us through to an open-air cafe area. It's the coldest March on record in London but the heaters are pumping out warm air at such a rate that we take our coats off. At the other side of the hedge the buzz of Hyde Park Corner is palpable. Ten minutes later the receptionist appears, all smiles with the butler who escorts us to our room.

The neighbourhood

The hotel was built in 1906 as the entrance to Hyde Park tube station, which explains the arched inky red brick façade above the entrance. The only building between The Wellesley and Hyde Park Corner is the five-star Lanesborough Hotel, which, until about 30 years ago, was a large hospital. The Wellesley next door was bought by Pizza Express in 1978. Its current incarnation as an upmarket townhouse hotel is far more suited to the elegant Knightsbridge terrace.

The rooms

The hotel has 36 rooms, of which 29 are suites. All are named after authors and actors. We are in the Evelyn Waugh suite, a sort of cosy regency drawing room with views of Hyde Park. The bedroom is separated by doors that open up to make one larger room. Gold and yellow dominate most of the hotel with occasional strong splashes of colour. In our room, aubergine cushions and a sofa give it warmth. The bathroom is superb, a self-standing Edwardian-style bath mixed with the modernity of a TV screen at the end.

The scene

The Yemeni owner has a couple of smaller four-star hotels, but recreating this townhouse into a fabulous glitzy hotel has been his life over the past few years. Much if its individuality comes from the cigar room. The owner was a friend of Castro's personal cigar maker and he has created the biggest hotel humidor in Europe with the largest number of single sticks on sale in the world. Prices vary from £12 (Dh67) to £3,000 (Dh16,773).

The service

Faultless, from the doorman to the butler and from the receptionists to the restaurant staff. They were all polite, charming and helpful. Pasquale, head of food and beverages had made the short walk across from The Lanesborough, possibly tempted by the added responsibility of flying around the world every three months to negotiate for cigars from private collections.

The food

There are two areas to eat, neither large. The Oval has 28 covers and serves exquisite food cooked by an Italian chef, whose burrata ravioli with tomato sauce and pesto (£13 [Dh73] for the starter size, £21 [Dh118] for the main course), and tiramisu (£12.50 [Dh20]) is to die for. I had their most talked-about speciality, wild sea bass in salt crust with fennel and Jersey potatoes (£40 [Dh223]), and it didn't disappoint. My husband said the same of his saddle of venison with pumpkin, cabbage and blueberry (£34 [Dh191]).

Loved

The combination of location, glamour and intimacy. My bedroom in particular was one in which I wanted to spend time.

Hated

The security system means that you need your room pass to get to your floor. I got out at the wrong one and then had to walk down four flights of stairs to start again.

The verdict

A classy, intimate, hotel in one of the best locations in London.

The bottom line

A double room costs from £550 (Dh3,075) per night, including taxes. The Wellesley London, 11 Knightsbridge, SW1 (www.thewellesley.co.uk; 00 44 207 235 3535).

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