It was not an auspicious start. We couldn’t find the Wellesley and spent more than twenty minutes trudging up and down the mews round the back of the hotel, wondering if it was designed with the cunning of Platform 9 ¾, so that only those in a certain wage bracket could see the entrance. Descending back underground to the Tube station, we then engaged in a particularly unenjoyable game of Russian roulette, trying out different exits until we came upon the correct one on the no man’s land of Hyde Park corner, where rings of traffic and dual carriageways merge into one big terrifying spot for anyone on foot. It turned out that it’s a lot easier to smell the hotel than see it, owing to the cigar terrace at the front.
Since the smoking ban came into play, it’s rare to find anywhere so singularly dedicated to smoking in London, hell, the whole of the UK
Hedged in from prying eyes, the terrace is ideal for nippy evenings: a fire burns at one end, and candle-lit tables toast beneath overhead heaters. Ideal, but only if you’re a smoker, which I am not, and I needed to inhale only once in the fog of Cohibas and Bolivars to feel my asthmatic lungs shrivelling with despair. Since the smoking ban came into play, it’s rare to find anywhere so singularly dedicated to smoking in London, hell, the whole of the UK. It suckles at the teat of the tobacco gods with such vigour that The Wellesley is practically a smoking terrace with a hotel attached: with its black leather armchairs, £3,000 cognac, 50-year-old Macallan, and a portrait of Churchill chomping on a cigar, this is not a place for ladies who lunch. Housing Europe’s largest cigar collection, it is however, a masculine, musky, man enclave, as I discovered when I was shown around the sweet-smelling Humidor by Giuseppe Ruo, who pulled open drawer after drawer of beautiful, hand-rolled Montecristos, much to the amusement of a group of tanned, blazer-wearing gentlemen with slicked-back hair and signet rings, watching me with my notebook.
Formerly an underground station, then Pizza on the Park, the hotel hosts live jazz during dinner, which sounded wonderful from across the corridor where I dined in the Oval restaurant, unable to get a seat in the lounge. Where the front of the hotel is dark and serious, the Art Deco interiors are light and lovely, with white columns, marble floors, and chandeliers, of course. Oval was awash with Wes Anderson pinks and gold with an unfortunate blue light round the edges which reminded me of an operating theatre. But dear god, the food was worth it. Often sticky enough to flick at the wall, my scallop ceviche was cool and cleanly shaved into ten-pence pieces, the burrata kissed with basil and wet with delight. Lobster linguine was tossed in the lightest of chilli oil with sweet chunks of flesh maintaining their bite. If I could read my notes clearly I’d know what kind of risotto we ate, but the sauce – which still smells divine – splattered across the page, and I’m none the wiser. I do know that we had antipasti, paste e risotti and secondi, because that’s the beauty of Italian menus: you order everything when you’re starving, forgetting that you’d never usually eat a plate of cheese and cream, followed by a plate of pasta covered in cream, followed by a glowing fillet of beef covered in slippery, salty marrow and a jus that you want to drink from a mug before bed. But we did just that. And we ordered the chocolate dessert – a gooey fondant with sliced strawberries and a little wizard’s hat of chocolate on the side. Knowing that our private butler – every room has one – was yet to be put to use, we decided it was time to call it a night and asked if our puddings could be sent up to our room where we could lie on the sofa and watch Pitch Perfect in our pyjamas.
Our 1920’s suite overlooked the park and was furnished with a big, gold, semi-circle of a sofa, velvety soft and perfect for curling up on in front of the telly under a blanket dragged in from the bedroom. The walls were hung with black and white photos of ladies wearing silk elbow gloves and pearls – the sort who would serve as a nice accessory on the arms of the men in the cigar terrace. The black-and-white marbled bathroom had one of those showers that almost hurts, and a standalone tub with a TV where my husband stayed for an hour in the morning watching Anchorman and wallowing in Hermes bubbles. Closed off from the living room with sliding doors, the bedroom had leather walls and a bed so comfy that I googled the brand of mattress the next morning. Pleased with the complimentary full-size bottles of Evian and free Wifi – how any hotel today justifies charging is beyond belief – we ranked the Wellesley in the top five hotels for a couple’s getaway, and that’s before we had the full English with both black and white pudding, at which point it moved into the top three. We might not have had an auspicious start, but we sure as hell had a fine ending. C
The Wellesley, 11 Knightsbridge, Belgravia, London SW1X 7LY UK
020-7235 3535; thewellesley.co.uk