WINNER: Top 12 London hotels
Step Back In Time // Blakes
Julia Pearson, Account Manager at The Massey Partnership and founder of Londontheinside.com time travels to the decadent, hedonistic eighties with a stay at the world’s first boutique hotel, Blakes.
Blakes has quite the reputation in London. It is credited as one of the first luxury boutique hotels in the world and was created by renowned hotel and interior designer Anouska Hempel. Back in its heyday, there were tales of decadent parties, bohemian guests and even oxygen canisters in the minibars, in place no doubt to revive you after a night of fine dining, cocktail-swilling and high-living. It may no longer be the cool kid on the block or have aged well – it has, perhaps, grown old disgracefully, the hotel version of Patsy in Ab Fab – but 30 years on it still strikes a formidable figure. After falling into something of a state of disrepair after Hempel sold it, it’s now back on track with new owners and a redesign overseen by Hempel herself.
Located in South Kensington, each of its 52 rooms and the public areas are individually styled, influenced by the countries Anouska visited on her many travels as a successful actress, before she turned her hand to design. Outside, the hotel is instantly recognisable thanks to its dark frontage, looking like a dirty, sexy, secret hidden away down a residential street nestled amongst luxury Victorian townhouses. Upon entering the reception the first thing you notice is the smell: dotted around in birdcages, bowls and on tables are masses of fresh oranges creating a citrus smell so strong it awakens your senses. Check-in is efficient and even the budgie says hello – yes, Blakes has a budgie, and it’s these slightly eccentric touches which make the hotel memorable.
Our room for the night was an Egyptian-style luxury suite with dark blue and gold detailing throughout and no less than 12 lamps creating the feel of a sexy Arabian den. The winning feature was the huge four-poster bed draped in silks and piled with cushions with a mattress so soft we didn’t want to leave the room – it’s quite possibly the biggest bed we‘ve had the pleasure of sleeping in. The room was also home to a small sitting area with a large sofa, antiques, artwork, a deep bath, small walk-in wardrobe and two TVs. The TV in the bedroom, which was hidden in a cabinet, was slightly pre-historic but people don’t stay at Blakes to watch TV, they stay here to be seen, to hang out in the Chinese Room and Bar or in the restaurant, which are destinations in their own right.
The restaurant, located in the basement of the building, serves up a mixture of East and West inspired dishes and has been overseen by Neville Campbell since 1994 – again, the menu is a nod to Hempel’s travels and loves. Don’t let the fusion fodder put you off, as Campbell’s deft touch is highly-skilled and his combination of flavours is utterly delicious. The décor, meanwhile, is a fairly simple colour scheme of red and black with an abundance of objects, furniture and artifacts lining the walls. As a fairly small space, even when the restaurant is quiet, it still manages to feel intimate and romantic.
First up we opted for the scallops with ginger and basil – three plump scallops cooked perfectly and presented in a way that made us almost feel bad for eating them. For main the black cod with miso and ginger sauce was a generous portion of beautifully cooked fish with flavours reminiscent of Asia, whilst the rack of English lamb served with rosemary and mint cous cous was a portion of tender, juicy meat which sat well with the minted cous cous – Middle East meets Middle England, if you will. The staff tended to our every need and helped create a memorable evening. As you’d expect from a hotel in this location and of this calibre, the menu’s pricing is reflected accordingly. The £19 set menu lunch dinner currently available is an excellent way to partake in some of Campbell’s acclaimed cooking without breaking the bank.
After our delicious meal, we retired to bed, noticing the distinct lack of white noise – no extractor fans or annoying air conditioning, just peace and quiet. That was until 2am, when we were woken with a start by banging house music. We couldn’t work out where on earth it was coming from at first until we decided to call reception who advised us it was the room below. After 30 minutes of phone calls back and forth peace was finally restored. Until 6am, when a repeat episode occurred. You can’t blame a hotel for its bad guests with no manners, but we were feeling, admittedly, a little rough around the edges.
So, still sleepy eyed, we checked out the pretty courtyard before heading back into the main restaurant for breakfast. The Changa Turkish Eggs managed to bring us round: two poached eggs with runny yellow yolks, chilli oil, spinach and yoghurt – not a dish for the faint-hearted. After fresh smoothies, toast and an omelette, we were ready to go.
Blakes is certainly worthy of its five stars. The service is exceptional, as is the food. Location-wise, it couldn’t be better, with two tube stations within walking distance. It’s a shame those other guests ruined it for us as otherwise it would have been one of the most peaceful night’s sleep we’d had in a hotel in a long time – thanks to them, there just wasn’t enough of it.
Blakes, 33 Roland Gardens, London SW7 3PF
Tel: 020 7370 6701