South Kensington: Doyle Collection delights in London's Museum Quarter
The Doyle Collection's newly refurbished Kensington shines in London's Museum Quarter, says Pól Ó Conghaile.
Set the mood
With its toothpaste-white townhouses and rumbling Range Rovers, Kensington earns its status as the Royal Borough. As always with London, however, a deeper dive dishes up surprising goodies.
The Kensington, one of three Doyle Collection hotels in the city, is a case in point. Fresh from a 12-month reboot, its blend of members' club luxury, Mr & Mrs Smith-style sexiness and Bernie Gallagher's design savvy is the perfect setting for a lost weekend.
The 136 rooms crown a series of interlinked lounges that draw the visitor in with opulent art, tasteful fabrics and brass doors said to come from Dublin's GPO.
Push these open, and you enter its killer space: the K Bar. Order the Perfect Martini here, and you may skip the rest of South Ken entirely.
Elegant, urbane luxury is the Doyle Collection's thing.
As well as the Kensington's classy Victorian façade, delicious Alexander Waterworth interiors and dining room to die for, you'll find touches like Lemon Verbena tea at turndown, a fresh orchid overlooking your claw-foot tub, an in-house Juicery and purring staff that make you feel spoiled with a mere sideways glance.
Sensual tunes play during dinner, where dishes include a herb-crusted marsh lamb (£24/€31) and tiger prawns from the Josper grill. Irish touches - a Butler's chocolate on your pillow here, Guinness bread with your salmon there - add to the intimacy.
I heard tell of a gym in the basement. Ignore it.
Kensington ain't cheap, but you can eat like royalty for relative pennies when it comes to sweet treats. The Hummingbird (hummingbirdbakery.com, above) wows with American-style cupcakes, but I preferred the chocolate brioches and coated meringues (from £1.90) at Aux Merveilleaux (auxmerveilleux.com).
You may have to battle past a few buggies, but the syrupy French accents, open kitchen and fluffy, chocolate-flake-spotted meringues are magnifique. Seats are limited, so grab a takeaway for the Palace Gardens.
The queue for the Natural History Museum is as big a monster as the dinosaurs within. Skip it and see the free Science Museum (sciencemuseum.org.uk) instead.
A tantalising collection of clocks, massive steam engines and replica of the 'Eagle' moon lander are highlights, while the new Leonardo da Vinci exhibition brings the master's visions to life (to September 9, £10/€13).
The gift shop's a doozy, too.
The Kensington Roof Gardens date from 1938, and are now owned by Sir Richard Branson (virginlimitededition.com). You can visit the gardens for free (photo ID required), though the restaurant and club come at a price. Book before you travel.
The sterling/euro exchange is a real party pooper (every transaction hurts). In The Kensington itself, my refurbed room came with frustratingly patchy Wi-Fi, though staff assured me they would look into it as a priority.
Get me there
Rooms at The Kensington (doylecollection.com/kensington) start from £235/€304pp going to press.
Pól flew to London City Airport with CityJet (cityjet.com), roughly 50 minutes from the Museum Quarter by DLR and Underground trains.
Buy an Oyster Card or have it delivered before you travel (tfl.co.uk; £3/€4 plus postage) - they're cheaper than day travelcards. See visitlondon.com or follow #sliceofthecity for more to do and see in the UK capital.