When is a Hilton not a Hilton? When it’s a Conrad. There are 27 Conrads around the world and they are the cool, contemporary, even funky 5* brand of Hilton (their other 5* brand is the more classic Astoria). In keeping with this cool, even techie, image, Conrad have recently introduced their Concierge App that means you can get everything you need in your hotel room before you even get there. So, you can skip the boring check-in, order a drink or a meal to be delivered to your room for your arrival, select your favourite pillow (there are seven to choose from), get the concierge to order you some theatre tickets, open the door with your phone… You get the picture.
It’s quite a surprise that London has only now got its first Conrad. It opened in September in the heart of St James’s and beyond its traditionally clad doorman (who had the best taxi whistle I’ve yet come across), it definitely fits the contemporary style. It’s housed within a 19th century building but its marble atrium with its remarkable art (more of that later) betrays little of its origins. It has a row of three archways (filled with pleasingly symmetrical Christmas trees when I visited in December) and an air of luxurious efficiency – or is that efficient luxury? Either way, you can relax. All will be taken care of.
The bedrooms exude an aura of calm – quiet colours, marble bathrooms, vast beds – and more of that techie stuff. There’s a shiny black wall that turns into your television. The desk has a media hub and international plug sockets. The wifi is brilliant. There are, of course, meeting rooms, one of which is called Chequers. And here lies a clue to this particular Conrad’s character. All Conrads aim to pick up a local flavour and this one is both British and political.
In the bar – or the pub, as it’s called here – is a working division bell so MPs will know when to rush over for a vote. The pub is open to the street, so it has a bit more of a buzz than the usual hotel bar and it’s decorated with some great political art that includes caricatures by Gerald Scarfe, witty Westminster collages by artist Julian Bray, cartoons and statuettes and – my favourite – “The House Always Wins”, an incarnation of the House of Commons with a cast of 150 that includes everyone from the Simpsons to the Daleks and Guy Fawkes to Captain Hook. In fact, it’s an ideal MPs’ local.
All this Britishness extends to the kitchen. There’s a pub and a restaurant (the Blue Boar) and both menus focus on seasonal British produce – they’re particularly proud of the Aberdeen beef (I can vouch for perfect succulence) and their fish from Cornwall. They smoke their own fish, cook the meat on a charcoal fired oven, offer you a box of steak knives to choose from, and have a good all-Brit cheese board (Dorset Wookey Hole and Cheshire Drunken Birt recommended). They even specialise in local gin and beer.
Their other speciality is afternoon tea. This takes place in Emmeline’s Lounge and features a wall-size painting of St James’s Park that gives not just an illusion of depth but special effects – lights flickering in Buckingham Palace, flowers with winking eyes. The carpet is inspired by the moss by the park’s lake and the air is scented with cut grass and pomegranate. So, who was Emmeline? Mrs Pankhurst, of course.
Conrad London St James offers nightly rates from £299 per room on a B&B basis. For more information, visit www.conradhotels.com.