Anthea Gerrie reviews the trendy Blakes Hotel in London’s Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Blakes exists in a glorious 70s time warp which seems delightfully exotic and eccentric rather than dated in an era of austerity. It may no longer be in the ownership of designer Anouska Hempel, who created the South Kensington bolthole as London’s first luxury boutique hotel in 1978, but she still oversees the design, and has kept it theatrical, Oriental and thoroughly over the top.
Clearly, the approach work, as Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke and a newer, cooler Bratpack continue to patronise the premises, a favourite of creative industry types.
A recent refurbishment means some rooms are relatively pared back and western when compared with, say, the Cardinal Suite which is oppressively old-school Chinese, but an awful lot of the rooms and suites are still, as they were, back in the day, resolutely black.
Fumbling in the dark has been compounded by a tricksy new room lighting system which leaves even staff struggling to show guests how to get the bedside and dressing area lights on and off.
There can be no more individual and quirky hotel rooms in town, so it’s best to take a good look at the website before booking (you can get a white room or even a red one if you don’t dig dark and womblike).
Most bathrooms feature roll-top tubs with rainfall showerheads above them, though some have walk-in showers as well. There are Molton Brown toiletries and Kleenex so artfully displayed (out of the box and tied with ribbon) you may find yourself, like this writer, calling for tissues under the impression none had been left in the room.
Dinner in Blakes Hotel’s basement dining-room, a sumptuous Oriental fantasy in itself with many appealing discrete and intimate little areas, is a high point. Chef Neville Campbell serves dishes with strong Oriental accents, like a wonderful deep-fried soft shell crab with an exquisite Thai sauce, while other dishes like burrata served with fresh figs and tortellini of foie gras are thoroughly and decadently European. A signature dessert is the astonishing caramel souffle – actually a tower of uncooked meringue over which caramel syrup appears to have been blowtorched – a dish to make at least eight people with a sweet tooth very happy.
A short wine list has been imaginatively chosen and includes a great gewurtztraminer from Michel Wust in Alsace which perfectly matched with both the foie gras and the souffle. Breakfast was equally good, with excellent eggs Florentine among the offerings, freshly squeezed carrot, as well as orange and grapefruit, juice and properly-made bichermuesli.
If there are any drawbacks, one could cite slightly over-casual reception staff and a less than central location. But the folk who can afford these pricey rooms would almost certainly arrive by taxi or limo.
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