Right in the heart of Mayfair, and yet tucked away into near obscurity on the east side of Green Park is one of London’s smartest and most classic hotels. Not as renowned as Claridges, The Savoy or The Ritz, the latter behind which it stands, The Stafford Hotel, by Kempinski hasn’t been lost to fashion or fad. It’s not too trendy: you won’t find pop stars with huge entourages rolling in at all hours.
It’s no less sophisticated or quintessentially British than the more famous five-star hotels in the capital – but it is more discreet. This is undoubtedly its selling point.
The Stafford was our base for a weekend of London shopping and theatre (with tickets to an evening of jazz at the newly built St James Theatre complex and dinner reservations at its own restaurant, Carrara) and we couldn’t have picked a more British treasure. A stone’s throw from Fortnum & Mason, The Royal Academy and Burlington Arcade, The Stafford is in such a traditional part of town – we actually saw an old-fashioned English gentleman taking a leisurely stroll down St James’s Street with a top hat on.
The feel of The Stafford, the former residence of Lord & Lady Lyttelton, is completely British. English afternoon tea was being served as we arrived. The décor in each of the 67 rooms in the main house is as elegant as you could hope for – there’s a smart mix of contemporary florals, nostalgic chinoisery and punchy tartans. Daffodils bloomed in the courtyard at the back. Floris or Molten Brown products made even the bathrooms a supremely British affair.
In the 18th-century courtyard, stables are now suites. Named after famous British authors or racehorses, including Red Rum, it’s a nod to a very British tradition. The American Bar really is something to see: so-called since the 1930s to cater for the increasing volume of business coming over from the US, it has become tradition for patrons to gift memorabilia to the bar as something to remember them by. There are boxing gloves nestled behind the rows of whisky and framed pictures of sailing boats, racehorses (and even letters from royalty) decorating the walls.
We were shown down to the 380 year old, but still functioning wine cellar, which is also a reception room for drinks gatherings and a banqueting suite for dinner parties, as well as being the start of a web of underground passages that connects the hotel to Buckingham Palace. We couldn’t have the full tour because in a little pocket of this little known underground hub of heritage – dimly lit by candles, a man was proposing to his partner.
The staff at The Stafford couldn’t have been nicer, friendlier or more accommodating – polite but without the sort of rigid, robotic formality that would make it impossible to have a comfortable two-way conversation.
Ten minute’s walk away from The Stafford is St James Theatre in the heart of Victoria – the first theatre complex to be built in London for 30 years. An off-Broadway style theatre, the auditorium is relatively small, with just over 300 seats. However there is also a basement studio space for more intimate performances like comedy, jazz and cabaret. Here, there is a separate bar, informal table layout, and wooden paneled walls, which served both acoustic and aesthetic purpose. An opulent, marble staircase specially made by artist Mark Humphrey takes guests up to Carrara restaurant; a white table cloth sort of place, that is both an eatery for theatre-goers or any customers who want top class food in smart surroundings. Dinner is served from 5pm to cater for pre-theatre diners. Carrara serves an inventive modern British menu, with an Italian twist – the tuna steak is a must and don’t say no to the sticky toffee pudding. Each course is linked to the theatre: starters are ‘Act One’, for example, while puddings are called ‘Finales’. Dinner was finished by 8pm and we went downstairs two floors to the studio. Friday nights are dedicated to jazz and roots. We saw Iain Ballamy’s Anorak: the British composer and saxophonist put on a relaxed show which is in keeping with the atmosphere down in the studio theatre. People tucked into gin and tonics or red wine.
After the show you can meander back to The Stafford, passing Buckingham Palace at night where there are no other tourists and you can take in this remarkable building peacefully and bathed in moonlight.
Getting into bed was a real treat (The Stafford will want prior instruction as to what thread count you like your sheets to have – which does make you feel very spoilt indeed) and we fell asleep dreaming of The Full English Breakfast, which we ate in the Lyttelton Restaurant. Everything on the plate was fresh from UK farmers and will set you up more than satisfactorily for a day’s shopping or sightseeing.
A perfect 24-hours in London.