The Halkin, London is a glamorous base in the heart of Belgravia
The night I stayed, the hotel was celebrating its 20th birthday and Aston Martin had supplied a bunch of cars and chauffeurs to ferry guests around. So the journey from the airport was stylish, if slow (in the rush hour traffic I could have walked some of the way faster).
The only clue that you have arrived at the Halkin (or Halkin, as it likes to be called) is the doorman. The exterior is that of an elegant town house. Inside, Armani-clad staff (black suits, no ties, no shirts) welcome me and take me upstairs where the corridor impresses. Gently curving walls made of black-painted, pleated wood stretch ahead. Downstairs there was a party going on, but up on my floor it could not have felt calmer.
This was London's first boutique hotel and it boasts one of the best addresses in the city. A stone's throw from Hyde Park corner and in the heart of Belgravia, it is the most exclusive residential area in London. The hotel arranges walking tours that explain the history of the area with its grand Georgian buildings and beautiful squares. The tour also takes you to specialist local shops; William Curley, chocolatier; Carolina Bucci, jeweller; David Linley, furniture maker and Christian Louboutin, shoemaker.
The large house opposite Halkin has just been sold to a gentleman from Abu Dhabi, according to Paulo, the Milanese concierge, who has been there since the start and has his ear to the ground.
The rooms, like the rest of the hotel are effortlessly chic: white walls, beige and cream fabrics, large soft beds, dimmer lights everywhere, marble bathrooms and Como Shambhala Estate bath products. Nothing to frighten the horses, just an oasis of calm. There are 41 rooms in total of which 17 are suites. Some of the newly refurbished Belgravia and Como suites have balconies. The doors are barely visible save for a discreet handle and an even more discreet number. My room was large, and had its own dressing area with a three-corner sofa.
Nahm claims to be the first authentic Thai restaurant in London. The dishes come from old recipes and dinner is based on an à la carte menu costing £60 (Dh337) per head. Guests select one dish each of salad, soup, relish, curry and stir fry, and all the dishes are put in the centre of the table to be shared. A single course of grilled prawn and banana blossom salad with chilli jam costs £18.50 (Dh104).
Basic English fare, plus pasta, salads and sandwiches, are available all day in the lounge. The new attraction introduced is "Couture Chocolate Afternoon Tea" for £37 (Dh210). There are 11 different items, including chocolate financier with passion fruit curd, sea salt caramel and raspberry tart, chocolate macaroons and smoked salmon sandwiches. I didn't actually try this but, judging from the appreciative noise coming from a party of six women tucking in, it doesn't disappoint.
The staff look as if they have been hired from a model agency, but thankfully they also know how to do their job and could not have been more attentive. As soon as I produced my iPad in the lounge, a waiter appeared unprompted with the wireless password. Upstairs, in what is described as the business centre but is actually just a couple of computers and a sofa in the corridor, I called for IT help and Paulo came immediately, fixed the problem and chatted about the neighbourhood.
The hotel is owned by Christina Ong, founder of Mulberry (among her other luxury retail stores), and was a gift from her husband 20 years ago. It led to the creation of the Como brand of hotels worldwide. Julia Roberts and Lewis Hamilton are among those who stay, and the groups that dominate are Middle Eastern, Russian and American. While those who want to be seen stay next door at The Lanesborough, the guests who check into the Halkin are after privacy.
The Assouline Lounge to the left of the reception. The French publishers have teamed up with Halkin, and it is part library, part cafe. Coffee-table books on Cecil Beaton, Chanel, Proust and Capri fill the shelves, and elegant women eat cucumber sandwiches. One imagines Audrey Hepburn will walk in any minute soon. The partnership runs until April after which the lounge will get a new partner, a new name and a new look.
The only things that upset me during my brief visit was the traffic getting there that made me late, but that was compensated for by the mode of transport. The slowness of the computer was frustrating, but I guess most guests have their own.
If you like calm, it's hard to think of a more spoiling, glamorous London base. It is timelessly stylish, though a bit pricey for my budget.
Double rooms cost from £302 (Dh1,728) per night, including taxes. The Halkin, Halkin Street, London (www.halkin.como.bz/; 00 44 20 7333 1059).