IT TAKES A LOT to make a little buzz in the London hospitality scene, but the Rosewood London made a bignoise when it opened late last year in Holborn. It may not fall in the most convenient of locations (that said, it isn't inconvenient, either, being a 10-minute stroll from Covent Garden), but even if it were placed in the furthest extremities of this planet it'd still be worth the commute.
The hotel is one of those instantly impressive structures, sitting in the 1914-built former headquarters of Pearl Assurance, a neoclassical structure protected by Listed Building status that was revamped by the Marriott group and run as the Chancery Court Hotel. In 2011 it became the first new project under Rosewood Hotels & Resorts after its acquisition by Hong Kong-owned New World Hospitality (which, in 2013, officially changed its name to Rosewood Hotel Group).
The Rosewood properties built or run in days past have always been fairly flawless facilities, but the new ownership has injected a next-level wow factor that's evident in the new London outpost. Tony Chi of Park Hyatt fame was charged with executing the revamp, taking an £85 million budget and turning that into 306 elegant rooms brimming with personality, with public spaces that command attention and interest. There's also a bar and a restaurant, each with clear identities and worthy of stand-alone respect, conceptualised with cheek and colour by Martin Brudnizki, the go-to guy for restaurant design, having done up Wild Honey, quite a few Jamie's Italians and Hix.
Arriving at the hotel is a pretty fun affair, if you roll in, as we do, in a London cab (or just a regular cab, I suppose, to Londoners) through the Edwardian carriage arch to land in a majestic courtyard surrounded by a beautiful Belle Époque structure. The porters who swiftly descend upon our vehicle to whisk our luggage and worries away are decked out not in hotel black, but in a dandy tartan and tweed combination, with a happy attitude to match. We could be arriving at Downton Abbey rather than downtown London, depending on how fevered your imagination is.
The lobby, however, is quite the picture of modernity, lacquered and mirrored and somewhere between designer living room and posh cocktail lounge, as is the vogue nowadays. Black leather sofa sets flank shelves laden with knick-knacks that read British: a set of Penguin Classics or a mini Austin-Healey in a clear display case, or a life-sized bulldog figurine. The rooms, while less overtly glamorous, are so plush and comfortable you won't ever want to leave. Location? Who wants to grumble about where you are in relation to everything else when where you are is already the best place to be?
Ours is a Premier Suite, which comprises a giant living room, bedroom and one-and-a-half bathrooms, though that one full bath is so well-equipped it makes up for the missing half. Two sinks receive a vaguely Oriental treatment, there are separate cubicles for toilet and shower (with the shower opening into another anteroom for the bathtub), closets for your clothes are built in to the same area, and there's a desk with drawers and a lid that opens to reveal a mirrored dressing table, complete with Czech & Speake toiletries that are replaced efficiently on a daily basis, whether it's body lotion or a fancy hairbrush. Forget the rest of the suite; the bathroom is officially my favourite part of the property.
That, or the booze cabinet that holds court in the living room. The Rosewood London has wisely dispensed with the grating presence of the automated weight-operated minibar (“I'm sorry,” is the refrain. “I did not drink 10 overpriced waters, I merely removed them temporarily to make room for my own refrigerated items, thus triggering the ultra-sensitive self-activating mechanism that added the cost to my already astronomical room tab.”) In its place is a fully stocked liquor cabinet with two refrigerated drawers, each brimming with alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks, and a top level of spirits, which includes a surprisingly well-curated selection in addition to three vessels of homemade brews: vodka, gin and sloe gin. Much of it is free, which is a little detail that gives big pleasure, because even the kiddies' section features posh beverages like Fever Tree Ginger Ale and coconut water. A book of cocktail recipes sits alongside it all for the avid DIY-er.
Those not so apt at the mix and match can mosey down the iconic seven-storey Pavonazzo-marble staircase that runs through the building to Scarfes Bar, which is named for the illustrator Gerald Scarfe, who did the manicpsychotic artwork for Pink Floyd's The Wall album, as well as regular political cartoons for The Sunday Times and The New Yorker. Scarfes serves as his “personal art gallery”, with canvasses that feature some of Britain's most beloved and disparaged in caricature form, from PMs Cameron, Blair and Thatcher to celebrities Charlie Chaplin, Mick Jagger and David Beckham, and even to the fictional Harry Potter. The reigning royals are there, too, spouses and/or corgis in tow. The drinks list focuses on Very Serious Cocktails – nothing tikki or tropical, but things like Thyme Out (Bombay Dry Gin, Chartreuse Yellow, lemon juice, thyme and orange bitters) or Bubble & Shrubs (Sipsmith, elderflower, berry shrubs, orange bitters, Nyetimber Demi Sec NV). There's food, too, like fried lobster momos and club sandwiches, though for a full meal it's best to head over to Holborn Dining Room, the hotel's English brasserie.
The latter's an expansive venue, with lots of red-leather banquettes, oak and industrial-chic copper fittings. The food isn't as worth commuting for as the hotel proper, but offers a solid effort at your gastropub classics – roasts, fish & chips, pies and whatnot. That said, if you can't be bothered to leave the premises, there's also the all-day dining lounge Mirror Room, though you might as well stay put in your room and order from the 14-pagelong room-service menu. The hotel is also happy to tailor-make dining experiences, whether it's a barbecue on the terrace (if you're lucky enough to snag the Garden House Suite) or a canapé picnic in bed. In fact, our personal butler is happy to tend to our every need, over the phone or in person, appearing via his secret door when summoned – just another downtown Downton detail that makes the Rosewood London experience so worth having.