When it opened in 2001 as The Trafalgar, this was Hilton’s first unbranded hotel in the capital. It was completely refurbished and reopened in summer 2017 as the Trafalgar St James as part of Hilton’s Curio Collection.
WHAT'S IT LIKE?
The setting, right on Trafalgar Square, is unrivalled for leisure tourists. The impressive building, dating back to 1903, was formerly home to the Cunard Steamship Company and the sos message from the sinking Titanic was received in what is now one of the suites.
You can enter via the restaurant and bar on Cockspur Street, but the hotel entrance proper is round the corner on Spring Gardens. The reception is on the left, with a concierge desk up some steps, and comfortable burgundy velvet sofas and extravagant flower arrangements in the lobby. Art deco touches, such as elegant lighting, mirrored surfaces and painted panelling, reference the building’s heritage and immediately set a glamorous tone.
Check in is friendly and welcoming, despite some initial difficulty finding my reservation. Equally genial were the staff at the concierge desk as I passed on my way up the steps to the lifts. In fact, all of the hotel’s employees seemed to smile and greet guests as they passed.
London + Regional’s creative director, Mario Nicolaou, was responsible for the hotel’s new look. He appointed two specialist design partners – SHH Architecture & Interior Design and AvroKO – to assist with the redesign, tasking them with creating a London aesthetic in the rooms and rooftop, and a New-York-meets-London theme for the restaurant. The result is smart and sophisticated, particularly in the lobby and restaurant, but with a playful side in the corridors via quirky photography celebrating iconic London sights.
WHERE IS IT?
The hotel is on the south west side of Trafalgar Square on the corner of Cockspur Street and Spring Gardens. Charing Cross Underground Station is just a two-minute walk away, while Leicester Square station is under ten minutes.
There are 131 rooms, including 15 suites, several with views of Trafalgar Square. Sadly, from my room, a Trafalgar King, there was no view of Nelson, but it was impeccably clean and sumptuously turned out, with a palette of soft greys and neutrals enlivened by bolder hues on the bedhead and bespoke artwork on a London theme above bed.
A notable element of the redesign is a focus on using British manufacturers. So the carpet is by Brintons and draws its motif from the layout of Trafalgar Square, while cushions are by Glasgow textile designer Timorous Beasties with diffusers from Tom Dixon.
Beds are comfortable with crisp white bedding and there’s a seating area, with a chaise-longue style sofa and a small coffee table. A vanity can also function as a workspace, with USB points handily located. Other nice touches include Nespresso machines, wifi, free minibar (no alcoholic beverages though, these are ordered via room service), glossy magazines and hip books, all of which also feature in the smaller Trafalgar Queen Rooms. Windows are triple glazed, which prevents them from being opened, but the resulting absence of noise from the busy streets outside is remarkable.
The Trafalgar King and Queen Rooms don’t have baths but they do have walk-in showers with bathrobes and Molton Brown toiletries.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS
The redesign aimed to create somewhere that resident Londoners would want to use as a place for drinks or dinner, as well as somewhere with appeal for tourists. With the Rooftop Bar this has been achieved. Whether you are staying or not, it’s worth visiting to enjoy spectacular views over Trafalgar Square. A canopy ensures the bar can be used year round, with patio heaters and blankets for guests’ comfort. An extensive cocktail list includes a range of bespoke and classic drinks. Prices start from £8 for a 175ml glass of wine and £15 for a cocktail – not cheap but how many other bars offer this view from this location? Food is also served up here, though I didn’t try any, with a menu of small plates on an oriental theme – lamb cutlets (three), plum and sesame glaze costs around £13.
The main restaurant is the Trafalgar Dining Rooms on the ground floor, which was quiet on the January night I ate there. It’s a beautifully decorated space – the design and concept firm Avroko was briefed to reimagine the “New York restaurant experience” for London. Plush tan leather banquettes, teal walls and warm metallic accents are a modern take on art deco style. Tables are widely spaced and it’s easy to carry out a conversation, while soft lighting from pendants and wall lamps is subtle and relaxing. There is a bar area, where guests and visitors can enjoy a drink or more casual dining.
The menu focused on Mediterranean cuisine, which I found an odd fit with the décor and the hotel’s otherwise London-centric style. It also jarred with the cold weather outside. I’d have liked a more seasonal/location appropriate offering. For me, the appeal of dining here was in the setting rather than the food, but it’s a good venue for a business breakfast/meal, and given the other culinary options on Trafalgar Square itself, has little in the way of immediate competition. Meat eaters, pescatarians and vegetarians are amply catered for by the menu. Starters ranged from £8-12, while mains were priced between £14 and £34.
The hotel’s revamp predominantly focussed on reinventing its leisure, rather than business, capacity. As a result the meeting rooms of the hotel’s previous incarnation have been transformed into suites. Biblio, the hotel’s lower ground floor living area, has been designed with flexibility in mind, however. It has a welcoming members club feel, and is available for private functions, meetings and meals, with capacity for 40 seated and 80 standing. The rooftop bar can also be hired for private events.
There is a 24-hour fitness centre for the use of guests.
With a great location and glamour in spades, this is an excellent option for leisure travel in the capital, though for corporate trips you may not want to pay the premium that staying in this area, not a renowned business hub, inevitably entails. Rooms are beautifully finished, comfortable and staff friendly and helpful. The Rooftop Bar is the star of the show and a destination in its own right.
- CONTACT 2 Spring Gardens, London SW1A 2TS; +44 (0)20 7870 2900; trafalgarstjames.com
- BEST FOR Its unrivalled location on Trafalgar Square.
- DON’T MISS The Rooftop Bar with its superb views, whatever the season.
- PRICE From £325 for a Trafalgar King Room.