The Kensington hotel hits the heights with the finest of London luxury
South Kensington is the best of tourist London, condensed - great culture, brilliant food and characterful shops, all within walking distance.
But where to stay? One hotel puts itself front and centre of the pack.
The Kensington, housed in a magnificent white stuccoed building on Queen's Gate, a street lined with equally grand properties, is a five-star venue that - in a city with some extremely stiff competition - does luxury very well indeed.
Part of the Doyle Collection group, the place blends modern sleekness with Victorian splendour. The 150-room hotel is made up of four 19th century townhouses, mixing high-ceilinged spaciousness with a certain intimacy, aided by crackling open fires and a surfeit of comfortable armchairs in the lounge.
South Kensington tube station is just 10 minutes away on foot - the stop is easily reached from the major London stations. Our journey was a pleasant, brisk two hours to Euston from Manchester Piccadilly with Virgin Trains, which has now handed over to Avanti West Coast following a franchise change.
If our trip was anything to go by, it's definitely worth upgrading to First Class as a treat - the quiet carriage, complimentary food, comfortable seats and relaxing passenger lounges were everything train travel should be.
The Kensington has a couple of special touches, one of which is its on-site juicery - according to the literature, leaders in 'nutrition, health, fitness, beauty and integrative medicine' were commissioned to come up with recipes for restorative drinks. Accordingly, while checking in we were served two glasses of a concoction called London Greens - a blend of pear, spinach, cucumber, basil, lime and coconut water, which certainly achieved the stated aim of 'recovery and rehydration'.
The staff were overwhelmingly helpful - from collecting, storing and carrying bags to supplying recommendations and fetching bottles of mineral water from a seemingly endless supply. The Kensington is such a well-oiled machine that a brief shortage of cereal bowls at breakfast, where every morning whim is catered for, generated the atmosphere of a small crisis.
Our studio suite - a generously-proportioned space with shuttered windows leading to a small balcony, where The Kensington's flag fluttered over Queen's Gate - blended classic English decadence and Far East exoticism, enlivened with a smattering of eclectic artworks. The bathroom had classy Malin + Goetz toiletries and an enormous freestanding roll-top tub as its centrepiece, as if to challenge anyone not to turn on its gold taps for a long soak immediately.
The streets around The Kensington are blessed with some fine restaurants, so the hotel has stepped up to the mark with its own venue, Town House. The clientele is a mix of guests and diners who aren't staying the night, which at a hotel is always an encouraging sign - the atmosphere is relaxed, well-stocked bookshelves line the walls and, next door, the oak-panelled K Bar is the ideal spot for an aperitif before taking a table.
Executive chef Adi Mandokhot's a la carte menu caters for all tastes, in the best sense. Starters of tiger prawns, harissa aioli and lime, and Dorset crab on toast with watercress and apple, were thoughtful combinations of saltiness and sharp fruits, while mains of heritage rib eye steak from the Josper Grill were deeply satisfying, unashamedly marbled with fat, delivering bold flavours and served with a superbly buttery Béarnaise sauce.
Desserts maintained the quality - a burnished apple tart tatin and a decadent chocolate bombe are some of the delights on offer.
The Kensington shares its Victorian heritage with the V&A, a short distance away from the hotel on foot. Simply one of the world's greatest museums dedicated to art and design, nobody need worry if they haven't bought a ticket to one of the blockbuster exhibitions - there are enough outstanding artefacts, from fashion to metalwork and beyond, to occupy anyone for days.
The Design Museum - easily reached via the tube to Kensington High Street - is a must as well, attracting its own sell-out shows such as the recent survey of director Stanley Kubrick's archives that wowed visitors with props and costumes from 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and the rest of the cinema pioneer's canon.
Kensington might just have the recipe for a perfect weekend.
The Kensington, 109-113 Queen's Gate, South Kensington, London, SW7 5LP. Rooms from £290 per night, call 020 7589 6300 or visit www.doylecollection.com/hotels/the-kensington-hotel to book. Direct rail services to London Euston from Manchester Piccadilly run from early until late every weekday and at weekends, with full breakfasts, brunch, lunch and evening meals available for first class passengers. See www.avantiwestcoast.co.uk for times or to book tickets.