The Stafford is a property steeped in history. Its working wine cellars date back nearly 400 years and the Carriage House rooms overlooking the courtyard at the back were once stables used to house the thoroughbreds of 18th-century nobility (the half doors on the ground level, which bear the names of famous horses, hark back to these times). These rooms, which were converted by the Stafford in 1990, still feature original timber beams, and have been refreshed and refurbished annually.
Also facing the cobbled courtyard (known as Blue Ball Yard) but separate from the main hotel, is the new six-floor, all-suite Mews development that opened in May 2007. It is a luxury complex fitted with a small reception (guests have independent key access if they arrive when the front desk is closed) and features more contemporary design and fittings than those of the rooms in the other areas of the Stafford.
The main part of this quintessentially British hotel was originally built as private residences for lords and ladies in the 1600s, and has since changed hands many times, finally becoming the Stafford hotel in 1912. After it was bought by Daniel Thwaites (of Thwaites brewing) in 1995, it underwent major refurbishment and expansion at a cost of £24 million.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Once you have found the hotel, you will immediately notice how quiet it is, the roar of traffic from Piccadilly barely audible. It feels almost quaint, with a traditional English drawing room serving cream teas in the afternoon, a Union Jack flag draped beneath a television, the cosy, dimly lit American bar, and the concierge desk with a wall of chunky gold keys hanging up behind. (No plastic swipe cards here.)
It is distinctly five-star, with excellent levels of service and accommodation. The courtyard out the back is one of the highlights, especially in summer, when it is lined with colourful pot plants and chunky wooden tables and chairs.
WHERE IS IT?
The Stafford is a discretely positioned hotel in Mayfair, near Green Park tube station and the Ritz hotel. It can be accessed from the back via Blue Ball Yard, which is off St James’s Street, or from the other side where the main entrance is on St James’s Place. Here, there is also an alleyway leading directly to the park.
I was staying in a fourth-floor Master suite (60-80 sqm) in the new Mews development. Along with a bedroom complete with dressing room, flatscreen TV, Bose CD/radio alarm, and soft king-size bed dressed in Egyptian cotton sheets, it featured a bathroom, a guest washroom, a limestone entry hall, and a spacious living room featuring neutral contemporary décor in pale moss greens, beige, cream and white.
The room is well suited to business travellers who could easily host meetings with clients in the living room. There was free wifi and soft drinks in the minibar, a sturdy workdesk with book shelves either side of it, a small dining table in the window and a sofa and coffee table in the centre of the room facing the fireplace. Other amenities included a Bose iPod dock, personalised stationery, a trouser press, a DVD player (the hotel also has a DVD library), air conditioning, Juliet balconies and double-glazed windows that open to let in fresh air, umbrellas to borrow (£30 if you want to buy them), American and UK plug sockets, and safes. A free newspaper and nightly turndown service is provided, and in-room dining is available 24 hours a day. (Picnic hampers from £28 and a take-away breakfast are also on offer.)
The bathroom was fitted out in chocolate-brown Italian marble, and featured huge, white twin sinks, a separate bath and walk-in rain shower, speakers for the TV, dimmer lights, a shaving mirror, scales, robes, and chunky bottles of Stafford hotel-branded cleansing products.
Décor in the main part of the hotel and Carriage House is more traditional and varies from room to room, but amenities are, in general, the same. An added bonus for guests staying in the Mews or Carriage House is that they have more privacy as you don’t need to pass through reception to get to them as they have separate entrances. Lowest category rooms all come with Bose CD players, turndown service, free shoeshine, air conditioning, daily newspapers and wifi access as standard.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS
The drawing room on the ground floor serves afternoon tea from 3pm-6pm and is a pleasant place to relax with a cognac after dinner. The American bar next door was so named in the 1930s in an attempt to woo visitors from the US when trans-Atlantic cruises reached their peak, and it has proved a popular spot ever since, with officers stationed in the capital during the Second World War frequenting it and, more recently, with business travellers and tourists.
It’s smart (men need to wear jackets) and yet full of character – hundreds of old ties and flags hang from the ceiling, and hats, medals and faded photographs line the walls, many of which are gifts to the hotel from previous guests. The outdoor terrace has heaters for when the evenings turn chilly, but in summer, it’s the perfect place to unwind with an aperitif before dinner.
The restaurant is opposite the lounge and features grandiose table settings and furniture, and stuccoed ceilings painted like the sky. It’s a little dark as there is not much natural light but this can add to the ambiance. When I ate here on a Saturday evening it was quiet, but the waiting staff were top-notch – proficient yet smiley and cheerful, if ever so slightly too keen to keep my water and wine topped up.
There is a good selection of meat and fish dishes plus one vegetarian main, although it clearly states on the menu that the chef is happy to prepare anything diners want, ingredients permitting. I had a terrine of goats cheese, tomato and basil (£14) to start, followed by John Dory fillets with haricot beans and mushrooms (£28) – an unusual combination and one that I was not 100 per cent convinced worked. However, the recommendation of homemade fruit sorbet (£9.50) was a winner. There is no denying that the food is a little on the pricey side (starters go up to £20 and mains to almost £40), but it is of a very good quality and for an eatery of this nature in central London, it is to be expected.
Breakfast is served here 7am-10am Mon-Sat and 8am-10.30am Sun, as well as tea, lunch and dinner.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES
There are four private dining rooms for banquets of up to 50 people. The vaulted wine cellars beneath Blue Ball Yard house about 20,000 bottles, and can be used for events of up to 44 delegates. Gino Nardella, master sommelier for the Stafford, also offers candlelit wine-tasting tours to suit people’s level of experience, and preference for certain grapes, regions and countries. There is a PC in the lobby with free internet access and printing for guests to use.
LEISURE FACILITIES There is a modest-sized gym, with no pool, on the lower ground floor of the Mews. Alternatively, guests can make use of the Third Space, a high-tech fitness centre ten minutes’ walk away, which does have a swimming pool. A tour guide is on hand 24 hours a day for sightseeing excursions around London, and guests also have access to private members’ club Fifty on St James’s on an introductory basis, which means they have access to all the club’s facilities except the gaming floor. Details can be found in the workdesk drawer in the bedrooms.
A top-class London hotel with a very British flavour – luxurious, regal and exuding historical charm. The modern amenities and central location make it ideal for corporate guests.
HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 105 bedrooms in total, including 67 in the Main House, 26 Junior and Master suites in the Mews development, and 12 Carriage House rooms and suites in what used to be the stables opposite.
ROOM HIGHLIGHTS The well-appointed bathroom, views of the pretty courtyard, the free wifi and soft drinks from the minibar, the Bose iPod dock, and the dressing room were all welcome additions.
PRICE Internet rates for a midweek stay in July started from £229 for a Deluxe Queen Double room.
CONTACT The Stafford hotel, St James’s Place, London; tel +44 (0)20 7493 0111; thestaffordhotel.co.uk