At times, the mere hint of it brings a rush of emotion that could be measured somewhere on a scale between minor annoyance and sheer terror. Sometimes, it is a beacon of hope, a sign that I shall soon be whisked home, away from the clamouring hoards on the street. Other times, it simply marks the start of an unthinking, trudging journey down into the darkness. More recently, it has heralded alternative experiences under the streets of London; firing rifles on a subterranean shooting range, tours of air raid shelters and film sets, or art exhibitions.
The first tends to be conjured on the approach to Covent Garden tube on a busy Saturday afternoon, where tourists are frustratingly unaware that their £4.90 cash fare is in fact a 260 metre, 20-second folly, both locations being visible by turning one’s head 180 degrees on Long Acre. The second: Oxford Circus at Argyll Street (which also summons the aforementioned terror). Gladly, on this bright but chilly day in October, the promise was of warmth, decadence, and jazz. The promisor? The Leslie Green-designed London underground entrances.
The approach was so unassuming, set back from London’s famed shopping street Knightsbridge, that I wasn’t quite sure that I was in the right place. Yet upon looking up, I spotted the familiar façade of burgundy tiles, the iconic face of London’s oldest underground stations that heralds the events I describe above. An art deco doorway hid the bright lights within. This was the old entrance to Hyde Park Corner tube station, now home to The Wellesley, an art deco-inspired boutique hotel, with just 36 rooms and suites.
More of a corridor than a lobby, the opulent, glittering marbled entrance greets you with a bar on either side, both with cigar terraces. Thus, the welcome was a strong cloud of wafting cigar smoke, which unfortunately lingers throughout the hotel – even on higher floors. Not ideal if you’re a recovering, or non-smoker. Or anyone with intact olfactory glands, really, where some other scent in the air could have easily fixed this.
Though the check-in was a little slow, I was welcomed by my (female) butler (butleress? Why isn’t there a word for female butlers in the 21st Century? Pleasingly, The Wellesley’s Chief Butler is female, French Anne-Claire Ravnic). I didn’t have the need to call on her services, but I was pleased she was there, along with the complimentary Rolls Royce town car.
My one-bedroom suite, overlooking Hyde Park, was spacious and beyond comfortable, decked with champagne and gold-coloured art deco touches, sensual curves, large windows, beautifully panelled wooden doors to the bedroom and a lavishly large marble bathroom with roll top bath and walk-in shower. Closeted from the streets of London and the Autumnal chill that was falling over the park, I was insulated from the noise of the busy road outside and transported to a time when…I didn’t want to go outside. The padded walls in my bedroom suggested that no one would hear me scream…should I want to, of course. This isn’t The Shining. It couldn’t possibly have been, with such a sublime in-room full English and Continental breakfast, the pastries in a warmed compartment until I was ready to devour their flaky goodness.
The details at The Wellesley are at times slick, and at others, a little confusing or lacking. Perhaps more technophile than their usual guests, I was disappointed not to be able to find a music system or iPhone dock to listen to Duke as I padded berobed around my suite; surprising in a hotel opened only just over three years ago. The extra bathroom amenities – toothbrush, shaving kit – were, for some reason, nestled in a draw under the TV in the bedroom. Perhaps that’s what the ice bucket was for…?
The Oval Restaurant was intimate, with only 28 covers. A romantic setting, sure, but my dining companion and I were quite bemused by the nightclub-esque music and rather garish purple lighting, which may have made more sense on a busy Friday night, but was quite peculiar on a quiet weekday when we were one of only two tables dining. The highlight of this meal was undoubtedly the tiramisu.
As well as a Tube entrance, 11 Knightsbridge was formerly acclaimed jazz club Pizza On The Park, which hosted jazz goods and greats over three decades, including British scat singing legend Dame Cleo Laine. In homage to the former, and beloved by many, venue and its jazz heritage, The Wellesley features the Jazz Lounge, and regular live performances. My stay didn’t overlap with a show, unfortunately, and should you also miss one of the weekly live performances, you can enjoy afternoon tea in the Jazz Lounge instead.
A contemporary mecca to art deco fans, The Wellesley provided me with a pre-winter haven with access to some of London’s finest culture and cuisine. As ever, for the best experience, one must opt for a room with a view.
Find The Wellesley at 11 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LY. Visit www.thewellesley.co.uk or call +44(0)20 3642 3803 to book your stay