London is well known for its iconic luxury hotels, but a new kid on the block is giving the grand dames of the capital a run for their money. Schön! discovers a boutique hotel that punches way above its weight.
When you walk through the doors of The Wellesley, you walk into a world of jazz age glamour. One can almost imagine passing Jay Gatsby as he makes his way down the glistening white marble lobby to the dark and decadent Cigar Lounge. Although a 21st Century addition to London’s hotel scene, this Knightsbridge landmark draws from a much longer heritage.
Named after Sir Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, whose former residence is just a stone’s throw away, the hotel is actually housed in a decommissioned underground station (the building served as the entrance to Hyde Park Corner from 1906 until the 1930s). It boasts a distinctive oxblood tiled exterior, the hallmark of architect Lesley Green, who also designed Covent Garden station. Later, the site was home to Pizza on the Park, the famous jazz venue which hosted artists as distinguished as Amy Winehouse, George Melly and Mica Paris.
Since December 2012, the building has been given a new lease of life in the form of this small, but super luxurious bolthole. The Wellesley aims to become London’s first six star hotel and it’s quite clear that no expense has been spared in order to achieve this goal – the restoration itself took over two years and cost £36 million – but it’s the highly rated service and those extra special touches that make a stay here so luxurious. “We go above and beyond for all our guests,” affirms General Manager Stefano Lodi. “The Wellesley now employs 105 members of staff to service just 36 rooms and suites.” Each guest can make use of the complimentary chauffeured Rolls-Royce and the 24-hour butler service, and even request a female butler if preferred.
If that’s not enough luxurious enough for you, book into the Penthouse Suite, which occupies the entire sixth and seventh floors. As one would expect, facilities include state-of-the-art technology and lavish bathrooms stocked with Hermès goodies. The hotel has gone one step further, adding a private staircase and terrace with incredible views over Hyde Park and a lounge area with not only a large table for private dining, but its very own humidor.
Cigars are passion for the hotel’s owner, Khalid Affara, as is apparent in the Cigar Lounge, an intimate space with a bespoke interior featuring artwork made from tobacco leaves in Cuba and specialist smoking chairs upholstered in fine crocodile leathers. At one end is a climate-controlled room showcasing over £1.5 million worth of the world’s finest cigars, making it effectively the largest hotel humidor in Europe. There are not only one, but two, outdoor heated cigar terraces with open fireplaces, making The Wellesley “an absolute haven for the cigar aficionado,” according to Lodi, and “a glamorous evocation of times gone by.”
The glamour of times gone by is evoked throughout the hotel. When restoring the building, interior designers Fox Linton took inspiration from its heritage, creating “an edgy, luxurious, 1920s Art Deco style,” according to Lodi. The Jazz Lounge features a grand piano as its centrepiece, opulent dusty pink curtains and a glamorous beaded crystal screen, inspired by a 1920s Coco Chanel dress. As well as fine dining you can also still enjoy live jazz performances here every weekend. For more details of the line-up, visit liveatthewellesley.co.uk.
The walls of the lavish Crystal Bar are adorned with glass display cases containing the hotel’s impressive whisky, cognac and Armagnac collections, including a couple of extremely rare bottles from 1770, which you can sample for £4,000 a shot. Meanwhile, at the intimate Oval Restaurant, which caters to a maximum of 28 diners, the intricate inlaid marble floor was inspired by an elegant luxury sunburst clutch by Judith Leiber. Here, Chef Michele del Monaco uses the finest fresh ingredients to create inspiring, seasonal Italian cuisine.
In fact, there seems to be a strong Italian influence at this London hotel: Lodi’s team includes Director of Food & Beverage Giuseppe Ruo, as well as other compatriots. “Our owner is a huge fan of Italian cuisine,” he explains. “It just so happens that many of our other key staff are Italian, but overall we’re an international bunch.”
It’s the efforts of this international bunch that are ultimately the key to the hotel’s success. “When it comes to the management of The Wellesley, it is easy,” says Lodi. “Every member of the team has a true passion for the luxury hospitality industry, which is reflected in the work they do. We are London’s first boutique-grand hotel – providing the opulence of a much larger hotel, but with the intimacy and attention to detail that only a small property can offer.”
If this sounds more up your street that the endless and anonymous corridors of the big hotel chains, find out more at thewellesley.co.uk.