The Sofitel has been open since 2002, when the existing Grade-II listed building was converted from the Cox’s and King’s bank, which at that time was run by Lloyds. It is now moving towards a refurbishment of all of its rooms (suites are yet to come) under the same designer –Pierre-Yves Rochon – who originally designed them.
What’s it like? Luxuriously grand in an understated way. At the time of our visit the Christmas decorations had just gone up (it was mid-November), but to be fair, the Regent Street and Oxford Street lights were being turned on. Inside staff were extremely friendly and professional, enquiring about my journey to the hotel, whether I need one key or two (two, for once, since I was accompanied by my wife) and what was my choice of newspaper in the morning.
The design of the hotel means that the lobby is a double height space with a balcony, and the bar, restaurant and lobby tea room are all visible from reception which gives the space an immediately understandable aspect, quite comforting when arriving at a hotel for the first time. The design in the public areas is quite restrained, and has some nods back to the buildings former banking history and, while we were there, an exhibition of artworks.
Where is it?
On the corner of Pall Mall and Waterloo Place, within walking distance of Charing Cross, Piccadilly Circus and Green Park underground stations.
The room count is now 183 (it was originally 166). There are six floors, and considering the location on a busy corner, the soundproofing is remarkable – in our fifth-floor room we couldn’t hear any traffic noise at all.
There are three colour schemes to the rooms, so you will get either a green one, a red one or a blue one. Carpets have a slight tartan pattern to them, but the shelves in each room are very French with ornaments and then books on designers – our red room had a book on Danish designer Verner Panton. There are eight Classic rooms (23 sqm), then Superior rooms (73 of them) are around 25 sqm and Luxury rooms (52) are slightly larger (25-27 sqm) and then Premium Luxury Rooms (34).
The concept behind the rooms is to ‘elevate the spirit of the building’s neoclassical exterior by infusing a more modern, yet distinctly British design’. That means ‘a bold British design scheme that recalls the creative dynamic feel of the 1960s and 1970s… Vibrant, edgy British design is conveyed through the use of striking colours, modern pop art pieces and whimsical accents and accessories. The pop-art style artwork is a mix of abstract pieces and iconic British celebrities of the 60s, such as Twiggy…”
I wouldn’t normally talk about design so much, but those design elements – including some distinctive chairs in some of the rooms – are mixed with art deco pieces, which is quite ambitious. And then you have the traditional bathrooms and the traditional corridors and public areas.
Design is personal, of course, and I think the hotel should get full marks for not treading the same design path as other luxury hotels, but I’m not sure all of these different influences gel and in places it jars. To take one example, having a giant portrait of Twiggy staring from the wall by the side of the bed was just odd.
Still, all rooms have complimentary wifi, bathrobes, a good size safe, an extensive minibar and very comfortable beds (Sofitel’s signature MyBed).
We found the lights confusing, though there is an admirable master switch by the bed allowing for total darkness (and blackout blinds behind the curtains on the windows), but few options for dimming the lights, and it wasn’t easy finding your way to the bathroom in the night without turning on either no lights or all of them. There are good reading lights by the bed, and a Roberts radio alarm clock with the ability to charge your iPhone or iPad.
The large flat screen TV had a wide choice of channels and also allows the playing of your own content, but you have to download an app to do that so I didn’t use it.
All rooms have Smeg kettles, Jing teas and Nespresso machines. In our Luxury Premier Room we also had large glass bottles of still and sparkling water but also smaller plastic bottles, which I’m sure will soon be removed. All rooms have both shower and bath, with the entry level Superior rooms having the shower over the bath, and all other categories having them separate. Toiletries are by Hermes. The bathrooms have double doors leading through to them and still have the traditional furnishings (very high end) and black and white marble floors.
The rooms have a good square work table with a leather top, lots of power points including for EU and US plugs, and lots of USB points as well for charging phones and other devices.
Food and drink
Over the last two decades I’ve eaten several times in the restaurant here, first under the Brasserie Roux brand, then when it was called Balcon, and now Wild Honey St James, an evolution of Anthony Demetre’s Wild Honey in Mayfair, which was just round the corner from our office, but closed in early 2019.
The new restaurant is very good, the food is tasty, in good-sized portions and with an imaginative mix of different ingredients and influences. The menu changes seasonally, but it isn’t huge, so there’s a confidence that the dishes have been mastered and real attention being given to them. There’s also a separate vegetarian menu. I had grilled Cornish sardines, salad of beetroot and green vegetables (£9) and for a main, English seabass, wild mushrooms, fresh white beans, cobnuts and thyme and lemon (£35). All delicious.
The bar is a stylish, dimly lit place with a wide choice of wines and also cocktails, including a journey round the world with the menu presented in a passport format – one up from the bar at One Aldwych which has the same idea but isn’t quite as thorough in the execution.
The Rose Lounge is very pink, and presumably an exercise in kitsch, though that doesn’t seem to stop people having afternoon tea in there and early evening drinks, accompanied by a harpist the day we were there.
The business and meeting facilities are on the basement level, and can be accessed by a separate door next to the hotel, as can the large Spa, which is over two floors in this separate building accessed from the lobby. The spa doesn’t have a pool, but does have a hamman.
There is a small gym on the first floor which does rather look like an afterthought, though it is stylishly lit.
This is a sumptuous renovation, but it is the service and the bar and restaurant which really makes the hotel stand out from the crowd.
- Best for the central London location a short walk from the West End, but with all the peace and quiet of a country house hotel
- Don’t miss a meal at Wild Honey, and then a post prandial drink in the bar
- Contact: sofitelstjames.com