This hotel has absolutely earned its rave reviews and recommendations and is the closest I have ever experienced to a "home away from home".
The Milestone hotel, London
My stay really started before I had even left the UAE, with an e-mail from the Milestone's general manager, Andrew Pike, asking if I would like any extras in my room. The guest preference form covered it all, even offering a menu of pillows and comforters. I found myself requesting a feather pillow and duvet, humidifier, yoga DVD, and a coffee and tea tray. And there they were when I arrived, in addition to a yoga mat and brick, which I hadn't thought to ask for and greatly appreciated. Neil Anderson, the cheery guest services manager, showed me around the hotel before taking me up to my room, where he offered up a basket of scented soaps, in addition to what was already in the bathroom, recommending Lily of the Valley and suggesting I take two.
The Milestone sits at the top of Kensington High Street, opposite Kensington Palace and Gardens. It is a pleasant walk or short taxi ride away from great shopping in Knightsbridge, as well as Mayfair and the West End. Some of London's finest Victorian architecture is just minutes away with the Royal Albert Hall and the parade of museums on Exhibition Road, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum.
The hotel takes its name from a cast iron milestone, which is still on the property in its original position, and dates back to 1689 when the building was a private home. In various incarnations, the location has been occupied by a Russian count, used as an academy for young gentlemen and served as a private mental hospital. The Grade II-listed buildings, which were badly damaged in a fire in 1986, were taken over and restored by Red Carnation Hotels in 1999.
When we arrived, a sumptuous late afternoon tea was being served in the Park Lounge, suitably furnished with wing chairs, settees and lush silk drapes in rich yellows and reds. A group of ladies had gathered for a bridal shower in the Conservatory, a bright room decorated in black and white, while next door, the barman was polishing glasses in the Stables Bar, decorated as you'd expect with horsey art in rich greens, leather and tartans. During my stay, the hotel drew a mix of well-heeled visitors and business travellers from both sides of the Atlantic, most in their 40s and above.
The Red Carnation Hotels' motto "no request is too large, no detail too small" was reflected in the staff's cheerful, concerned and can-do attitude. I briefly considered testing the promise, perhaps whining about how my bathrobe was too heavy, but I was distracted by a package of tasty lemon biscuits. And I had no need to anyway: the promise was kept during my two-night stay - there was even a note in my room offering to help me pack and confirm my flight information. The hotel also has a "pet concierge", including a pre-arrival pet preference form, food and water bowls and a special pet bed, with cushions, duvet and a turndown treat.
Each of the 63 rooms and suites are decorated by the owner Bea Tollman, in colour palettes and styles that vary from classic English to art deco. I loved mine: a restful blend of blue and white, with lots of mirrors, a king-sized bed, big drapes and fabric-covered walls. In the all-white bathroom, there was also a real plant which made me feel wonderfully at home - why don't more hotels do this? Double glazing on the windows provided blissful respite from the street noise down below.
Dinner at the candlelit Cheneston's was lovely, if on the heavy side. Even though I could not finish my tender assiette of White Park beef (£36; Dh205) it did not stop me from agreeing to share dessert, which including a yummy sticky toffee pudding with Devonshire clotted cream (£9; Dh51). There's also a lighter à la carte menu, dubbed Bea Tollman's Signature Dishes.
I welcomed the addition of a Temple Spa lip gloss in the hotel's toiletries package, an iPod dock (without having to ask for one) and a power strip with outlets from around the world. Heaven. Tollman's influence is everywhere: I kept finding strange gifts, including an individually-wrapped prune (with a brief explanation of the associated health benefits), a miniature book on lighthouses and a tiny reading light.
That there was no clock in the room. The blue night light in the bathroom that couldn't be turned off was, while thoughtful, out of place considering the decor. The "Miss McQueen" formality of a five-star hotel, which I normally love, turned out to be a little odd when a well-meaning waitress delivered my room-service breakfast. She said, "Yes, Miss McQueen," so many times during a very short exchange that it made me feel quite uncomfortable.
A warning: those used to the sprawling hotel complexes of the Middle East will probably find the Milestone, rooms included, quite cramped. However, this hotel has absolutely earned its rave reviews and recommendations, including the number one spot, which it has held for months, on TripAdvisor.com's user rating of 1,058 hotels in London. Although so many hotels promise to be, this is the closest I have ever experienced to a "home away from home".
Until September 30, the hotel is offering a three-night stay in a deluxe room, including an English breakfast and a Harrods' shopping voucher worth £75 (Dh429), for £525 (Dh3,010) per person based on double occupancy, including taxes. The Milestone Hotel, 1 Kensington Court, London (www.themilestonehotel.com ; 00 44 20 7917 1000).