Room Service: Thompson Belgraves, London
Belgraves, which occupies the former Sheraton Belgravia, is the first European venture for Thompson Hotels, a group that made its name with a collection of boutique properties in Manhattan. Its US hotels are known for design-led chic, though they retain a level of affordability, and Belgraves follows the same model.
The lobby sets out the aspirations, with its contemporary furniture, artificial glass-enclosed fireplace and shiny modern art works. The effect is edgy with a hint of tacky, and the low ceilings make the lobby a touch claustrophobic, but this is all made up for by the generous proportions of the rooms themselves.
The overall vibe is similar to a W hotel, although the Belgraves is of a more manageable scale and feels less pleased with itself than a typical hotel of the bigger "lifestyle" chain.
Restaurateur Mark Hix has also ventured into new territory with his restaurant on the ground floor, though here, rather than signature British food, he draws on inspiration from his travels.
Housed in a drab 1970s building, the hotel's exterior doesn't quite fit with majestic Chesham Place and its upmarket residential blocks and embassies. The advantage of being inside the building is that you can't then see it, while the rooms on higher floors have beautiful views over the square and Belgravia beyond.
The location is fantastic if you have cash to burn in the boutiques of Belgravia, but given the kind of demographic Thompson is usually pitched at, the choice of district for its first London venture is a little surprising. Think youthful, edgy chic, and Belgravia, home to some of the UK's most expensive properties, is probably not the first area that comes to mind.
The African diplomats, large Saudi family and middle-aged American tourists that were in the lobby when I visited were slightly at odds with the target ambience. The decor says Upmarket Shoreditch Creative Set, while the clientele says Heathrow Business Class Lounge.
Staying at Belgraves is a pretty luxurious experience. The beds are blissfully comfortable, the room size generous, and the bathrooms spectacular, with a large bathtub surrounded on three sides by windows with a panoramic view over Belgravia, and a walk-in shower for good measure. The large number of windows and the dark purple and grey tones of the walls mean that the rooms can be as eye-openingly bright or as sleepily dark as your mood dictates, and the dressing gowns are comfortable enough that you may never want to leave the room.
Nevertheless, mixed up with all the luxury is a faint hint of Fawlty Towers: before I've managed to try out the bath, the sliding bathroom door locks itself shut from the outside and can be opened only by a handyman hacking at it with a hammer for a full 20 minutes. In the morning, I'm woken up by an ear-splitting fire alarm which goes off for two minutes, stopping only as I've thrown my clothes on and am leaving the room. A cleaner outside shrugs in confusion, but doesn't appear to be running for her life, so I go back to bed. An hour later, it goes off again while I'm in the shower.
Some of the fittings feel slightly cheaper than they look, such as the sleek window blinds that constantly stick when pulled. However, these are minor quibbles, and aside from what is to be hoped are teething problems with the locking doors and fire alarm, the experience is wholly a pleasant one. It is only enhanced by the staff, who are charm itself, even the French concierge who starts off rather moody but is soon going the extra mile to help me.
The same cannot be said for my experience in the hotel's restaurant. The food, traditional British fare with an international twist, is decent, but there are highs and lows. It is hard to concentrate on the food, though, as the service is inattentive, incompetent and downright rude. The frustrated shouts coming from other tables suggest I'm not the only one to think so. Given the restaurant bears Mark Hix's name, it is to be hoped he can sort it out.
While £200 is a major outlay for a hotel room by any standards, this is Belgravia after all, and genuine five-star luxury anywhere within a two-mile radius is likely to come in at a minimum of double the price. If you have the highest standards in bespoke pampering, it might not quite cut the mustard. But if, like most of us, you're more of an aspirational jet-setter, you would struggle to do better for the price.
Thompson Belgraves, 20 Chesham Place, London SW1X 8HQ (020-7858 0100; thompsonhotels.com)
Doubles start at £215, room only.
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