A sensitive restoration of this venerable hotel has returned it to its former glory, says Simone Kane

Hidden away in a quiet cul-de-sac just off St James's Street in London, this sophisticated yet unstuffy five-star establishment is surely the ideal stopover for those wishing to secure a spot among the throngs of spectators on the royal wedding route when the spotlight falls on the capital in April.

A recent two-year renovation programme, led by Berlin-based AMJ Design, has retained all the charm of this intimate Victorian townhouse hotel, as well as its heritage as a gentlemen's retreat for the English aristocracy. Its distinguished history dates to 1857, when it was opened as a club for travelling diplomats. Later, it became the venue of choice for film world parties, with Sir John Mills among previous club chairmen.

Today, it still counts an impressive roll call of celebrities among its guests, who enjoy the privacy and elegant surroundings. The interior design harmonises the contemporary and traditional, with wood-panelled corridors recalling the club atmosphere, and a modern palette of purples and yellows in plush, tactile furnishings in the bar and restaurant. It provides just the backdrop for the hotel's impressive 20th-century paintings, the Rosenstein Collection, which animates the walls of the public areas and suites, and features some fine examples of Impressionist, Expressionist and Cubist art from Europe between the 1920s and 1950s.

The rooms

The 60 guest rooms and suites range from Superiors to the Penthouse Suite (which takes up the entire top floor and has a large rooftop terrace with views across St James's). Large windows flood the rooms with natural light, making the best of the luxurious decor, which features handcrafted Murano glass chandeliers and handmade silk wallpapers in neutrals, offset with glossy, black lacquered furniture. Polished natural stone bathrooms – some with LCD TVs – are sleek and simple. State-of-the-art technology – including Bose or Sony iPod and iPhone docks – is standard, as are handmade Hypnos mattresses, which made for a heavenly night's sleep. The St James's, Westminster and Terrace suites – with separate bedroom and living areas – are also showcases for antique furniture and artworks from the hotel's collection.

The food and drink

The Michelin-starred ex-Aubergine head chef, William Drabble, is working wonders at Seven Park Place, the hotel's fine-dining restaurant, and it picked up three AA Rosettes three months after its relaunch. If the Menu Gourmand – with excellent wine pairing – is anything to go by, he'll soon be coveting another Michelin star for his achievements in this intimate, 26-cover restaurant. Service is impeccable – attentive, but not intrusive – and it deserves to be a destination in its own right. A three-course dinner without wine costs from £45. Alternatively, the more laid-back William's Bar and Bistro offers a menu of classic dishes for a light lunch or pre- or post-theatre dinner. This is also where guests enjoy their full English breakfast or take afternoon tea. In the evening, relax in velvet chairs or on leather banquettes and hope Joel Lawrence is on shift mixing cocktails – the friendliest head barman in town.

The extras

There's no on-site spa or gym, but the hotel has a partnership with the Elemis Day-Spa in Mayfair and guests receive a 15 per cent discount (0870 4104210). Keen joggers can use the "secret" rear door for easy access to nearby St James's Park – also the discreet exit for celebrity guests in the past.

The access

Children are welcome – they even get their own Kids' Concierge, who will suggest something to appeal to all ages. Pets are not admitted. There are no rooms modified for guests with disabilities and the lift is too small to take a wheelchair. The few front steps to the entrance could present difficulties to those with limited mobility.

The bill

The London Winter Sales package runs until 15 January and costs from £285 per night, including breakfast for two and a £50 Fortnum & Mason voucher. Otherwise, double rooms cost from £339, including full English breakfast for two.

The address

St James's Hotel and Club, 7-8 Park Place, St James's, London SW1A 1LS (020-7316 1600; www.stjamesclubandhotel.co.uk).

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