Discovering a hidden side to London at Starhotels
By Rebecca Legato
Walking down the streets of Knightsbridge and South Kensington, you can all too easily overlook a new collection of five-star hotels, that have been purposely positioned so that they blend seamlessly into the cityscape. Centrally located near to some of London’s most iconic landmarks, from Harrods to Kensington Gardens to the Royal Albert Hall, these hidden luxuries by Starhotels are the perfect base from which to explore the best that the capital can offer.
The Franklin is an elegant Victorian building located in the heart of Knightsbridge. The location is a perfect display of the London that most visitors tend to imagine – immaculate rows of townhouses paired with gated gardens and blossom trees scattering petals during the summer. The Franklin is a short stroll from South Kensington tube station and is within a 10-minute walk of some of the city’s best museums, including the V&A, the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum.
While it looks typical for the houses along Egerton Gardens from the outside, the inside of the hotel is anything but. Dark walls and muted aesthetics give it an air of the Gilded Age. The sleek interiors are the vision of award-winning hotelier and interior designer, Anouska Hempel. Her bespoke furniture is exceptional, with muted upholstery paired with the elegance of the rooms. Venetian stone floors and filigree silverware help to emulate this glorious era and yet create something uniquely modern.
Drop in for cocktail hour, and you’ll be taken on a mixology adventure with the new “Franklin Grand Tour.” Make your choice of one of four different ‘personalities:’ the Collector, the Early Bird, the Pioneer or the Escapist, and, based on the personality you choose, head mixologist Antonio Papariello will recommend the perfect cocktail for you. An extensive cocktail menu seemingly covers every region of Italy, with the ingredients for the drinks coming from across the country. Trust me, geography never tasted this good!
After drinks, take a table at The Franklin Restaurant, which offers high-end Italian cuisine, and is helmed by Michelin-starred chef Alfredo Russo. Highlights from the menu include the lightly steamed seabass with smoked leeks, and the gorgonzola ice-cream – a unique dish served as a pre-dessert. As odd as it sounds, it is a must-try, with the strong flavour of the gorgonzola paired with the sweet honeyed pears proving a perfect combination.
The following day, as hard as it was to tear myself away from the luxury of my room – think lush velvets and a duvet so soft it was like sleeping curled up in a cloud – adventure beckoned. In-keeping with the stylish surrounds of The Franklin, I defy anyone to come up with a better way of exploring London than behind the wheel of a Morgan. The British company boasts more than a century of history, and its early models have become icons of the classic car world.
The head-turning Plus Four (above left, with the Plus Six pictured on the right) is available to hire directly from the Morgan Motor Company, and represents the epitome of the brand. Despite the Plus Four having only been launched in 2020, this hand-crafted car retains the distinctive styling of its predecessor, the Plus 4, which was first made in 1950. For once, you won’t mind getting stuck in London traffic – not when it means you get to show off this beauty. As it happened, however, it was just a short drive to my next destination….
The Gore hotel is housed in a historical townhouse located in Kensington. It is rich with its periodic style and immense rock ‘n’ roll credentials, having hosted the Rolling Stones in 1968 for their Beggars Banquet album launch party. The Gore has collected a regular clientele over its 130 years, including André Simon, Tony Hancock, Dorothy Tutin, Lord Miles and Sir Malcolm Sargent, amongst others.
The interior of The Gore is the complete foil of The Franklin London, with deep regal colours and classical paintings adorning the walls. The atmosphere made me feel as though I was in a period drama, with original Victorian tiling and dusty tomes in the library which are occasionally used as the backdrop for BBC interviews and documentaries. The rooms are extravagant, and many are named after former famous guests, including the Judy Garland Suite adorned with her famous ruby red slippers and the Dame Nellie Suite, which is completed with gorgeous oil paintings and ornate golden furniture.
Head down to Bar 190 for some liquid refreshment and be sure to order Sympathy For The Devil – a cocktail created in tribute to the Stones and their impact not just on the bar, but on British music history as a whole. The tributes don’t stop there, as their infamous album party is immortalised on the wall of the bar, with a couple of paintings recounting the event.
The 190 Queen’s Gate restaurant is notable in its own right, located right near the Royal Albert Hall. The restaurant is run by Michelin-starred French chef Daniel Galmich, who modernises French cuisine by adding a contemporary British twist. Diners can choose between either a lighter ‘theatre’ menu or a full á la carte fine dining experience, but the food is absolutely exquisite, regardless of which menu you opt for.
The final stop on my itinerary was The Pelham, an elegant boutique hotel that integrates old-school British design with pops of colour and stand-out patterns. Wood-panelled common areas also make for a comfortable spot to relax after a day exploring the nearby sights of London, including Hyde Park, Kensington Palace Gardens and the Serpentine.
Kit Kemp has expertly designed the interiors to give it an eclectic feel. Wood-panelled walls adorned with grandly framed oil paintings, extravagant fireplaces, a glass cabinet filled with antique books, brushed metal, distressed glass finishes and vibrantly coloured furniture all contribute to the energy of the hotel, adding to the quintessential old-school British feel.
The rooms are a blend of vintage and contemporary, though each room has its own individual design, expressed through a unique mix of antique and modern furniture, and colourful patterns on the walls. Floor-to-ceiling windows lend light and radiance, and the Simmons beds are dressed in Frette Italian linens.
The basement restaurant is run by Alfredo Russo, the same Michelin star chef who runs The Franklin Restaurant. La Trattoria serves classic comfort Italian food – think lasagna, four cheese gnocchi, and slow cooked octopus – guaranteeing guests an authentic taste of Italy.
For the perfect base from which to explore the English capital, you can’t go too far wrong with Starhotels’ London properties. Whether you want to wind down where the Rolling Stones made music history, relax in a hotel designed by a former Bond girl, or stay just a stone’s throw from the official London residence of the Prince and Princess of Wales, there is a room with your name on it. Welcome to London….