This hotel reopened in June after a four-month closure for an extensive renovation, though the cost is not being disclosed (I asked).
I’m old enough to remember it opening in 1998, and it was a breath of fresh air for London’s hotel scene, with great service, a quirky design, a well-known and well-liked general manager – Simon Hirst – and the impressive Gordon Campbell Gray as Managing Director involved in buying art for the property and co-ordinating many aspects of the hotel (including the marketing) with the design of the rooms by Fox Linton.
I stayed in 2005, but in recent years haven’t been often – the last time was in the basement restaurant, which back then was Axis but reopened a few years ago as Eneko (see below).
When the hotel first opened in 1998, Campbell Gray said the hotel was about “stealth wealth rather than dripping deluxe”, and it’s the same today. It’s very expensive in a very tasteful way, and you could spend a useful few minutes just touring the hotel and treating it like an art gallery, checking out all the individual pieces.
Simon Hirst, the hotel’s opening General Manager for 10 years returned as Managing Director after four years managing Raffles Hotel in Singapore to oversee the renovation, and now Janine Marshall, previously the hotel’s Executive Assistant Manager, has been appointed General Manager in April 2019.
What’s it like?
From the outside, very grand. The hotel takes its name from its position on Aldwych, and was originally built in 1907 by the same architects, Charles Mewès and Arthur Davis, responsible for both the London and Paris Ritz. The hotel was once home to The Morning Post newspaper, and there are lots of quiet references to this in the tables of the lobby bar, for instance, or not so quiet in the pictures in the men’s toilets (they might be in the women’s as well, but I don’t know).
The artwork is very noticeable without being overpowering. There are (according to the hotel) 350 contemporary paintings and sculptures, displayed throughout the hotel. By reception you’ll notice Head of Dionysus by Emily Young, described by The Daily Telegraph as “Britain’s greatest living female stone sculptor” and as you come in the entrance you’ll see two papier-mâché dogs. These are by Justine Smith who has made a new puppy made from old English one-pound banknotes featuring Queen Elizabeth in its design to accompany the Beano Dog which Justine created for the hotel’s opening in 1998.
Where is it?
On Aldwych in Central London. The hotel now has the Me London property opposite and of course there’s the Waldorf Hilton nearby. The Strand isn’t the most upmarket area in London, but you are on the edge of Covent Garden with the West End only minutes away.
There are 86 rooms and 16 suites. The 86 rooms are in three categories: there are 20 Classic, 40 Superior and 26 Deluxe. Most of the Classic and Superior Rooms are shower-only.
British designer Robert Angell has redesigned all of rooms and suites aiming for a “timeless with a residential vibe”, which means they are “pared back, subtle, not overly designed, simple and elegant”. The brief was for them to be British, but also with Parisian touches with the colour scheme being coral, celadon green, soft blue and lavender along with the British-made furniture and the oak parquet floors.
As a final touch, there are throws made by Skye Weavers, a small weaving company on the Isle of Skye, that uses only Scottish and Kentish woollen yarns to create a variety of products on their bicycle pedal-powered loom.
All rooms and suites now have Nespresso coffee machines, kettles and a selection of coffees and teas. I liked the way the lighting was easy to turn on and off as well as adjust with light sockets finished in brushed brass and all lighting environmentally-friendly LED. There are nightlights to help you to the toilet in the middle of the night and excellent reading lights, with lots of places to charge devices, including USB by the bed.
There is unlimited free wifi, effective air-conditioning, and large flat screen Loewe TVs (ranging in size from 43 to 55 inches depending on the room category) offering 60 channels including international, BT Sports, Sky Sports and radio to choose from. There are also Bang and Olufsen speakers with bluetooth to connect to your phone for playing music, something I enjoy while working in the room.
The bathrooms and mirrors have underfloor heating and mirrors are heated from behind to prevent steaming over. The environmentally-friendly EVAC drainage system has been improved significantly and is now very quiet.
Suites have televisions at the end of the bath so you don’t get distracted by your own thoughts, and all rooms have Dyson hairdryers, and curtains controlled by an electric switch, though if you give them a good yank they shut by hand. There are also 110v USA electric sockets and 220v European sockets
Bathroom amenities are the English Leaf range from Mitchell & Peach. You can request a complimentary international newspaper, and these are delivered to the box outside the room each morning. You can also have your shoes shined for free.
I was impressed that the hotel offers complimentary water, and they are in glass bottles rather than plastic, filled and then sealed by the hotel, saving single use plastic problems. This is consistent with the hotel’s philosophy, which even 20 years ago used an EVA system, which used only 20 per cent of the water needed by conventional systems at that time.
Bar and restaurant
The Lobby Bar is the rooms where The Advertising Hall was situated when the building was owned by The Morning Post (this was where clients would visit to place their adverts – how that dates it). It has a very high ceiling with arched windows and the original panelling.
The new design works well and has Art Nouveau and Parisian touches, with the fanlight above the hotel’s front entrance carried into the new wrought ironwork screens in the Lobby Bar and the copper and verdigris cupola cladding inspiring a new colour palette in the Lobby.
The flowers are by Flowers at One, led by the hotel’s award-winning florist, Mark Siredzuk. The Lobby Bar’s sculpture – Boatman with Oars sculpture by André Wallace is now on top of the bar itself, whereas before it was in the middle of the bar. The Lobby Bar serves continental breakfast, light lunches, afternoon tea and evening light bites. If you like cocktails, there is also a new drinks list called Spirit of Adventure: A Mixologist’s Journey.
There are two restaurants. One of these is Indigo which is on the mezzanine floor overlooking the lobby bar. A new design element is the addition of panelling here to make the restaurant feel more a part of the bar, and it gains from borrowing some of the buzz of the bar without being a part of it. The new design by Fabled Studio, (Tom Strother and Steven Saunders) has lightened the restaurant, and it serves a great breakfast (£22-32 depending on the option, or a la carte choices).
The second restaurant is Eneko in the basement (you have to either go outside to go down the stairs to it, or there is an internal lift). Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar opened in 2016 and was designed by Casson Mann. You can read a review of that here:
Devised by Basque chef Eneko Atxa, it “reveals a modern, relaxed and playful side to the three Michelin-starred chef’s cooking with a distinct Basque Country-meets-London style”. It’s a difficult space to make work for a restaurant, in a cavernous underground space beneath One Aldwych, but perhaps works better in the winter than in summer, where the bright evening sunshine could just be sensed far over our heads.
Business and meetings
A 30-seat cinema is available for private hire (it is opening after refurbishment in August 2019) and there are several meeting rooms, some with natural light looking onto Aldwych (all rooms have good sound proofing, something that is essential on this busy junction).
New (to me) is The Lounge at One which is exclusive for hotel guests (and health club members). It was created in 2012 because guests wanted a quieter place to relax away from their rooms than the Lobby bar. Designed by Fox Linton Associates, it has a choice of teas and coffees and windows looking out onto the surrounding streets, but is a lovely peaceful place to relax, with a menu of light dishes and snacks is available to guests throughout the day, as well as cocktails, wine and hot drinks, and complimentary croissants, juice, fruit, coffee and tea in the morning from 630- 8am, Monday to Friday.
There’s a good size, recently refitted gym in the basement with Technogym equipment, including Skillrow, Skillmill and Artis range of cardiovascular machines, as well as a free weights area. There is also an 18-metre (59-foot) chlorine-free swimming pool, a sauna and steam room and three treatment rooms with Spanish skincare specialist Natura Bissé and British nutritional skincare brand OSKIA the providers of treatments and products in the Health Club.
This is an excellent updating of One Aldwych while retaining the qualities that regulars liked about the hotel. It’s a top class luxury hotel, so if you want to treat yourself, this is a good place to start.
- Best for Luxury and great service in a true five star boutique hotel
- Don’t miss An evening swim in the basement pool, and a leisurely breakfast in Indigo the next morning as reward
- Contact One Aldwych, London WC2B 4BZ | T: +44 (0) 20 7300 1070; onealdwych.com