When last were you a tourist in your own town? It’s funny how we are always off being tourists in other towns and cities, eagerly getting to grips with new and unfamiliar metro maps, learning how to order a beer or a coffee in a foreign language, or marvelling at the architecture of a foreign city. And we never find it an annoying chore – it’s always charming and exciting. But tell a Londoner that the Jubilee Line is closed for engineering work on a Saturday and that they have to use the Tube map to figure out an alternative route; or that nobody working in their favourite coffee shop is a mother-tongue English speaker; or to look up at the lovely buildings all around them rather than angrily at the pavement, and I can assure you that you will be met with morose annoyance.
But the truth is that there is no better way to rekindle your love for your city than to play the role of a tourist – and that’s precisely what I did when I stayed at the One Aldwych hotel, slap bang in the middle of London’s theatreland. Instead of spending a Saturday afternoon doing the grocery shopping, washing the car or doing the laundry, we packed our overnight bags and headed down to the western end of the gentle smile of a curve that is Aldwych, specifically where it meets The Strand. One Aldwych is a boutique hotel and a member of the Leading Hotels of the World affiliation, and the grandness of the building itself is the first thing that strikes you. Designed and built by Charles Mewes and Arthur Davis, the Anglo-French partnership responsible for the Ritz hotels in London and Paris, it was originally commissioned as the home of the Morning Post newspaper and was completed in 1907. Its distinctive features include curved corners (notably the one at the corner of Aldwych and The Strand), female head carved keystones, a coppered cupola dome and a very Parisian mansard roof of Westmoreland slate. Subsequently the building housed the headquarters of Illustrated Newspapers Limited, the Prudential Assurance Company and Lloyds Bank and it is a grand banking hall that springs to mind when you enter the impressive high-ceilinged, light-filled lobby. You are also immediately aware of the hotel’s impressive 400+ piece private contemporary art and sculpture collection which includes Boatman with Oars (a large-scale bronze by André Wallace in the Lobby Bar), and the ‘Beano’ dog (a chicken wire frame covered in plaster and pages of Beano comics) by Justine Smith who greets you at the reception desk. There is also a piece of original art in every guest room.
The hotel offers three types of rooms (Aldwych and Executive both at 24-27 sqm; Deluxe at 34-36 sqm) and three types of suites (Studio at 48 sqm on the rounded corner of the hotel overlooking Waterloo Bridge; Executive at 65 sqm with a sitting and dining area, views along Aldwych, and the option of 1, 2 or 3 bedrooms; and 3 Deluxe at 72-74 sqm, with private gyms and some with private roof terrace). We stayed in a Deluxe room overlooking The Strand which featured a small sitting and desk area; king-sized bed; and a large bathroom with separate bath and walk-in shower. We liked the minibar stocked with London-centric goodies such as Bombay Sapphire Gin, Fevertree tonic, Luscombe juices and Tyrells crisps (although the prices for mini-bar items were pretty eye-watering). I was also pleased with the fluffy towelling robes and slippers and made sure that I spent as much time as possible in them. The bed was fabulously comfortable and the linen of excellent quality, and we both appreciated the nifty fibre-optic reading lights and the electrical sockets for phone charging which were integrated into the headboard. The bathroom was stylish and understated and featured under-floor heating, mist-free mirrors, a power shower, bath products from Plantation, and even a mini-TV so that you could watch your favourite show while bathing or brushing your teeth. Bonus points also for the full-size powerful hairdryer (coincidentally the same one I use at home) rather than one of those useless wall-mounted hotel specimens. There was no shortage of technology in the room either, from the flat-screen HD television to the Sony CD player sound system to the wireless keyboard, Bowers & Wilkins iPod docking station, digital on-demand entertainment and complimentary wi-fi. But it was the little touches that I particularly appreciated, like the cloak-and-dagger room safe hidden behind a picture on the wall (see video below!), the weather forecast card that was left in the room in the evening so you knew what to wear the next day, and the sturdy resealable plastic bag provided for travellers who might be heading for the airport after checkout and need to bag their liquids.
Take the lift a few floors down (a fun experience in itself as the lifts are lined with a checkerboard of mirrors and lit in various different neon colours by day and by night – like your own private nightclub!) and you will emerge in one of my favourite parts of the hotel: the health club. The most striking feature, given that you are in the middle of central London and space is at a premium, is the 18m long chlorine-free subterranean swimming pool. The pool is set in a serene space with colour-changing mood lighting, underwater speakers and a projection of fish and dolphins swimming on the far wall. There are also some very comfy loungers so that after swimming a few laps and enjoying the rain showers, you can relax in your fluffy robe. The changing rooms are also surprisingly attractive with the best-looking lockers I have ever seen, showers, towels, hair dryers and toiletries (including trusty Elnett hair spray!). Next door is a spacious and well equipped gym with state-of-the-art treadmills, cross-trainers and Concept II rowing machines, as well as s free weights area. After gym, there is also a sauna and steam room, but I chose instead to visit the spa.
In this haven of tranquility, you can enjoy a facial or body treatment, massage, manicure/pedicure or waxing treatment. For facials, the products used are Oskia and Natura Bissé and the Natura Bissé goal is to offer the effectiveness of medical aesthetic techniques combined with the wellbeing of an urban spa experience. After some discussion I chose a skin-specific Natura Bissé facial (£100 for 60 minutes), a restorative facial using vitamin C and their Essential Shock products to brighten dull skin, replenish moisture, restore elasticity and repair damaged skin. In contrast to standard deep cleansing facials, this one involved a lot of massaging with a scrub which left my skin as soft as silk, plumped up and glowing. There was actually a visible difference by the end, to the extent that I was persuaded to forego make-up and go to dinner au naturel (from the neck up, that is)! The hotel is also home to a luxury private screening room (which I did not visit) which can be booked for private functions or visited on one of the hotel’s Film & Fizz evenings comprising a three-course dinner in Indigo restaurant, a film screening and a chilled glass of Champagne (£55.00 per person).
EATING AND DRINKING
The hotel has two public venues for eating and drinking. Start the day at Indigo (open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner) situated on a mezzanine level balcony overlooking the lobby. The hotel’s breakfast won a Visit Britain 2014 Breakfast Award so it’s not to be missed. Prices range from £19 for a Continental breakfast to £27 for a full English plus an a la carte menu for those who want to put together their own selection. We both enjoyed the excellent fresh juices, pastries and coffee before Nick feasted on kippers with grilled tomatoes and poached eggs (£18.50) and I could not resist my usual of eggs Benedict (£13.00) which were excellent. Other options include porridge with berry compote, smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, blueberry pancakes or French toast with streaky bacon and maple syrup. We did not have a chance to have lunch or dinner there, but executive chef Dominic Teague has created a fully gluten- and dairy-free menu focusing on British produce and classic dishes. Given its proximity to London’s theatreland, Indigo is also the perfect place to dine before or after a show and there is a well-priced pre/post-theatre menu available (£20 for 2 courses or £25 for 3).
For later in the day, there is the Lobby Bar, located (unsurprisingly!) in the beautifully proportioned wedge-shaped lobby with its high ceilings, columns and double volume arched windows on three sides. Seating is on armchairs or comfy sofas in warm earth tones and the bar occupies the apex of the room. Dotted between the tables and chairs, and the Boatman with Oars sculpture are impressive oversize floral installations, including some on perspex boxes inside which amaryllis blooms seem to be growing upside down. It’s a massively impressive space – with an impressive cocktail menu to match. Nick tried the For Love cocktail of chilli-infused Babicka vodka, ginger and lemongrass cordial, rhubarb liqueur and lemon juice, served in a mini shaker (£13.50). He loved the subtle spiciness and I loved the “smoke” billowing out of the shaker! My choice was the Catwoman cocktail (£13.50) which was spicy and citrusy, but most importantly, came served in a quirky port sipper glass with a spout rising from its base, making it resemble a cat. Genius! It was fabulous to sit back on our comfy sofa, side by side, sipping cocktails while watching theatre patrons pouring into the Lyceum theatre through the window on our left as red London busses zipped past the windows on our right. I can think of few better places for cocktails in London to really feel as if you are in the heart of the city. Although we did not try either, the Lobby Bar also serves a light menu of bar snacks, sandwiches, sharing platters and desserts; and it is the venue for the hotel’s afternoon tea offering.
Before I visited One Aldwych, all I had heard about it was that my high-flying corporate American friend who used to visit London regularly for business refused to stay anywhere else – and now I know why. In a world of faceless chains and cookie-cutter middle-of-the-road hotels, One Aldwych is a boutique hotel on a grand scale. Staff were all super-efficient and professional; the food and drink we had was excellent; the rooms were plush and spacious; the health club and spa were an oasis of calm; and the location can’t be improved. Whether you are a visitor to London or just wanting to be a tourist in your own city for a night, One Aldwych is the perfect place to stay for a bit of urban pampering.
The nearest tube station to the hotel is Temple. Deluxe rooms like the one I stayed in start at £665 per room per night without breakfast (Aldwych rooms from £540) but the rooms become cheaper per night if you book more than one night. As it is predominantly a business hotel, there are also discounts to be had over the weekend (Deluxe rooms from £580 or Aldwych rooms from £455). The hotel also runs various seasonal sales and festive discounts throughout the year so good deals are often available – keep your eye on the website. Off-site car parking is available offsite at £47 per night – please allow 10-15 minutes for the car to be brought to the front entrance.
Here are some other hotels that I have reviewed:
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed my stay as a guest of One Aldwych but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
One Aldwych Hotel
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