Luxury can also encompass family, discovers Angelina Villa-Clarke to her delight on a rare weekend away in the capital…
Despite all of its glorious must-sees, it’s very easy to overlook your own capital city in favour of different, undiscovered destinations. But, ironically, it took an exotic hotel brand – namely the Taj Group – to tempt me and my family to experience London anew – through the eyes of a tourist.
Better known for its sumptuous hotels across India – many of which are carved out of palaces – the Taj Group’s presence in London, at the flagship Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences, is equally as impressive as its home-grown properties. It turns out, surprisingly perhaps, that this gem, hidden away behind ornate, wrought-iron gates close to Buckingham Palace, is also eminently family-friendly. Luxury can often mean exclusivity but the group is keeping abreast with a new way that modern hoteliers are approaching five-star luxury these days (currently emerging at top-end, independent hotel brands) by introducing its Kids at Taj program. Offered at 51 Buckingham Gate and its second London property – St James’ Court, A Taj Hotel –this incentive actively welcomes little ones with a bespoke programme of child-friendly treats, custom-made activities and practical offerings. Taj, it seems, is savvy enough to know that if the young ‘uns are kept happy, then parents will keep returning.
Consequently, despite the opulent interiors, your welcome is less of the formal and more of the friendly. The property is made up of a series of three impressive Victorian townhouses and situated around a pretty courtyard complete with tinkling fountain and the world’s longest sylvan Shakespearean frieze. Liveried doorman swing open doors before you’ve reached them and whisk away your bags before you’ve given them much thought. Check-in is pleasingly casual, quick and the right side of personable. Impressive still are the suites and residences (85 in total).
Each are designed like exclusive private apartments – with separate kitchen and living areas (there’s also a butler service for those who want to leave the kitchen work behind), making for a practical, not to mention beautiful, place to stay for families. Our three-bedroom version was expansive and elegantly decorated. A palette of ochres, taupes and magentas gave a pared-back regal feel, heightened by the deep carpets, fine linens and glossy bathrooms. After a few moments of haring around, the kids were of course nonplussed about all of this.
As I continued to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’, and take mental notes on home improvements to do on my return, their enthusiasm lay instead with their welcome bag, stuffed with goodies, such as a guardsman teddy bear, a ‘Taj passport’, stamped by the hotel with your dates of stay, a hotel registration card and key card holder, sketchbook and journal with crayons and postcards. Meanwhile, in their bedrooms bathrobes and slippers (impressively in the correct sizes) were discovered. The home-away-from-home feel continues with the special Kids’ Dining Menu, available for room service or in the in-house restaurants, as well as bedtime cookies and hot chocolate. The attention to detail was impressive.
Being so central, it was easy to wander around places of interest. Our children are no strangers to London so taking an easy approach, we decided to simply meander around, taking in the sights and sounds. China Town for dim sum (parents’ choice), a trip along Regent Street to visit M&M World (childrens’ choice) and a river-boat trip down to the Tower of London (unanimous), meant our first day was delightfully full.
We later dined at Kona, the hotel’s contemporary dining room (there are three restaurants to choose from), which boasts a fresh Mediterranean menu. Very much a grown-up space, we wondered beforehand if this was the best choice but I’m glad to say it worked out wonderfully. The children were brilliantly looked after and put at ease – even being allowed to order off menu, which pleased them no end. We were all delighted with the exceptional cuisine. The simple names of the dishes – Lobster Bisque, Seabass and King Oyster Mushroom, for example – belied the layered, complexity behind them. Reasonable prices (mains were around £15) were a surprising bonus.
The next morning, after an indulgent breakfast, we set out again for a day of sightseeing, starting off by catching the Changing of the Guard at the Palace, just a few minutes walk away, and finishing with a stop-off at St Paul’s Cathedral. The day was rounded off by a Taj cookie lesson taken by two of the hotel’s chefs in our own kitchen. Donning their aprons with personalised name badges, the kids were in their element and were soon whipping up a batch of sweet-smelling biscuits. Meanwhile, us parents were left to put our feet up and plan when we were returning.
Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences, 51 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6AF. A Two Bedroom Suite at Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences (suitable for a family of four) is £600 per room per night. For further information visit www.taj51buckinghamgate.co.uk or call 020 7769 7766.