With its prime London location, sitting at the top of The Strand and in the heart of Covent Garden, One Aldwych strikes an imposing figure of grandeur. Inside, the hotel is a perfect mix of cool contemporary interiors laced with classicism – and very friendly staff.
The large heavy door is swiftly opened by the smartly suited doorman, who ushers us in and immediately relieves us of our luggage. “Wow, cool bag,” he says to Joe, taking his MadPax backpack and looking slightly dubious about its protruding spikes. Registration, watched over by the impeccably behaved resident dog Spencer, was swift and we were escorted to our suite.
As we settle into our weekend home, I became aware of a steely gaze coming through the window that somehow brings to mind the eyes of TJ Eckleburg from The Great Gatsby. The owner of the sturdy gaze (not burdened by myopia like the good Dr E, so no need for spectacles) has a majestic aura and a hint of a sneer. Or is it a snarl?
One Aldwych is a cat’s whisker from the Lyceum Theatre where The Lion King has been roaring royally since its residency began in 1999. Now Simba’s proud visage was staring at us
from the giant posters
One Aldwych’s location is perfect for theatre lovers, with no less than 15 theatres within walking distance, as well as plentiful shopping and dining in Covent Garden, where the crowd gather to gaze at street performers. We are still trying to fathom out how the famous golden man was floating and levitating in thin air (Spoiler alert: you can find out his secret on YouTube – though we personally prefer to think of it as magic).
Design One Aldwych is the perfect marriage of Edwardian grandeur with splendid Parisian elegance. Designed in 1907 by Charles Mewes (often dubbed “the creator of the modern luxury hotel”) and Arthur Davis, the Anglo-French partnership responsible for the equally grand Ritz hotels in London and Paris, the building was originally commissioned as the home of The Morning Post newspaper for 20 years. After stints as both insurance company headquarters then a bank, One Aldwych became a luxury hotel in 2002.
The hotel’s most distinctive period features include curved corners, a coppered cupola dome and a mansard roof of Westmoreland slate, whilst decorative detailing such as female head keystones, cornices and low balustrade balconies, fashioned in Norwegian granite which sparkles in the sunlight as its mica flakes catch the light, add to the charming Parisian feel.
Another of the building’s notable aspects is its ‘flat-iron’ design, as it ingeniously fits into an odd wedge shape. Described as “a modern rendering of Louis XVI”, the original entrance was from the Strand, with a handsome circular vestibule, giving access to the wide expanse of the advertisement hall, with its magnificent high arched windows – now reimagined as One Aldwych’s impressive Lobby Bar.
“The interior of the hotel is luxury minimalism: chic and elegant with no fussy frills. As one of the first hotels to define the trend of lobby culture, the airy open space has soft sofas and armchairs creating a welcoming ambiance for coffee or cocktails, and showstopping floral displays”
Among the striking artworks – the hotel has a private contemporary art and sculpture collection of over 400 pieces and each guest room features at least one original work of art – is The Oarsman in the Lobby Bar, with paddles that stretch loftily into the air and the Beano-inspired pop art labrodor Spencer at reception. Colours are soft and subdued, with a palette of limestone, dark stained wood, polished stainless steel and glass highlights with dusky hued silks to form a crisp architectural backdrop to showcase the art and sculptures.
Rooms In keeping with the minimalist luxury theme, rooms have elegant decor, with plenty of home-from-home comforts, from iPod docking stations to Nespresso coffee machines.
Since our recent stay at the Bloomsbury Hotel, Joe’s benchmark for a thumbs-up is having a TV in the bathroom so One Aldwych scored here, though the television was on the bijou side, being a bit more like one of those pop-up ones you get on planes if you don’t have a seat in front of you.
We had a bit of a comedy moment when Joe and I tried on the one-size-fits-all dressing gowns and slippers. At 10, the children’s ones were a little on the skimpy side for Joe, and at 5ft 2in, I was positively swamped by the towelling robe for grown-ups, while the slippers – clearly not designed for a petite size three foot – left me with flappier feet than Daisy Duck.
What impressed us most were the thoughtful touches in the room service. There were chocolates and fresh fruits, and notes at bedtime to tell us what the weather held in store the following day (and the doorman will offer you an umbrella, if need be). I even got an email when we went out for the afternoon to ask whether I had accidentally left the ‘do not disturb’ light on (I had) and would I like the maid to make up our room (I did).
One Aldwych should also be commended for its environmental efforts, which include a comprehensive recycling scheme, an EVAC drainage system (which uses 80% less water than conventional flushing, though it is rather noisy) and LED lighted to reduce energy consumption. They were awarded the Green Business Award for the biggest total carbon saving in 2012, gold grading from the Green Tourism for London 2010, and the Luxury Eco Certification Standard (LECS) from Sustainable Travel International. Impressive going when you consider One Aldwych is one of only six hotels to gain the independent accreditation worldwide, and the first in the UK.
Health club When we ventured down to the swimming pool, we began to think that One Aldwych was designed for folk with longer legs than nature had gifted us. The gloriously enticing chlorine-free pool has a depth of 1.5metres, which means that neither of us could touch the floor.
All things considered, however, we both agreed that the swimming pool is a wonderful asset. It is so funky and sublime that it’s almost like a siren enticing you to into the deep. There are scenes of aquatic life projected on a giant screen (even if their graceful movements seemed to mock my inadequacies) and soothing underwater music.
On the downside, it is not ideal for families unless you are very confident swimmers (and children must be accompanied by an adult), though there are lots of floats and buoyancy aids available. We did get a few irritated looks from another guest when we got in the way (not deliberately, I might add) of a gentleman doing rather athletic lengths. It’s definitely more fun if you get there early in the morning when noone else is around (the spa receptionist suggested we give her a call before we ventured down in the lift in our comedy too-small and too-big outfits).
Later, I visited the spa for one of their signature facials. After listing my areas of concern (the usual dehydration, tiredness, wrinkles), the very lovely therapist – her luminous face devoid of any such ‘concerns’ – gave the perfect response: “Well, let’s fix that!” She also, very sweetly, said that my neck was amazing (Note to self: must try more giraffe like posturing to show what good nick neck is in).
The 60-minute Radiance Booster cleansed, buffed and puffed my skin using a collection of Natura Bissé products containing the purest vitamin C and Mediterranean citrus (you could almost drink in the zingy zesty fragrance, and I’m sure my thirsty skin did). Sixty minutes later, I emerged with skin feeling fresh and squeaky clean. Years younger? Well, I definitely had a youthful spring in my step and a smile on my face.
Eating Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in Indigo Restaurant on the Mezzanine level with a bird’s eye view over the Lobby Bar – you get a great view of the mixologist shaking cocktails Tom Cruise style. You can go the full works for breakfast, which is served at your table rather than as a buffet. choose from fruit, bread and pastries, cereal, cold meat and a trad selection of fresh hot dishes. I opted for Eggs Benedict one day, and Scrambled Eggs and Smoked Salmon the next, while Joe enjoyed the blueberry pancakes with Maple syrup so much that he had a repeat performance both days.
For lunch or dinner, the children’s menu features a variety of fresh, seasonal dishes using ingredients that are as local and organic as possible, and high chairs and children’s cutlery are available. From a choice of childhood favourites – Penne with tomato sauce; grilled free range pork sausages, mash and broccoli,; fish or mini burgers with hand-cut chips – Joe opted for fish and chips and a mixed berry milkshake.
After a slight hiccup where I was presented with another diner’s dish (and I had to think for a moment, did I order this?) I enjoyed a light and tasty Wye Valley asparagus with rapeseed mayonnaise and hazelnuts, followed by bavette of British beef with chips and a side of green salad.
I always feel it incumbent to leave space for pud.I could have gone for a healthy(ish) option of pineapple carpaccio or Pimm’s jelly but, no, I went the full hog (ahem) with a delightfully decadent Amedei chocolate mousse, honeycomb and almond milk ice cream.
If you like a dose of ‘delightfully decadent’, then the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-inspired Afternoon Tea in the Lobby Bar is a must.
Joe was especially delighted with the spectacle of his smoking cocktail, which arrived in a natty glass teapot with red juice that magically started smoking as the waiter poured. “How do you do that?” Joe asked, wide-eyed. The waiter would only give him a knowing wink, but divulged no secrets. I was equally excited by the bubbles in my champagne.
After a cursory munch on a smoked salmon sarnie, Joe turned his attention to the dippy egg – a clever concoction of a golden chocolate egg with vanilla cheesecake and mango. Joe followed that by a scone loaded with jam and cream and the lime, coconut and white chocolate pop that was deemed so delicious that he ate both of them. By now, it was beginning to feel a bit like a scene from the film, where gluttony gets the better of each child, and Joe – top button of his trousers now clandestinely undone – had to stop for a breather. Which was nice as it gave me a chance to try some of the sweet treats, too, whilst supping on an elegant organic lavender Earl Grey tea to aid digestion.
In the area There is so much to do and see in the area, the question is where to begin? Somerset House is just down the road, with its wonderful fountains in the summer months (bring spare clothes if your child likes to do battle with spouting water); there’s also a program of kids activities at the weekend.
Covent Garden has colourful street performers and shopping in the pedestrianised Piazza. Worth a visit for the kids is the wonderful Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop that sells traditional toys, play theatres and pocket-money price trinkets; there’s a bijou Disney Store, too. Fans of Tove Jansson’s whimsical creatures should head to The Moomin Shop, and lovers of old-fashioned sweeties must seek out self-professed ‘surveyors of splendid goods’ Hope & Greenwood on Russell Street for a kaleidoscope of kitsch candy.
The London Museum of Transport, situated in the Piazza, delves into the rich transport history of London from trams, trains and tube travel to the iconic Routemaster bus. It also has an excellent shop stuffed with all manner of toys, books and memorabilia, including cushions made from the distinctive moquette fabric that seats on the London Underground are made from. The London Film Museum, which is currently hosting the Bond in Motion exhibition with the largest collection of James Bond vehicles, is also in Covent Garden.
Design aficionados might just enjoy a meander along the Parisian boulevard style of The Strand and Kingsway, with their strong influence of the Beaux-Arts style and the architecture of the United States evident in several prominent buildings, including the grand façade of Bush House. Designed by American architect Harvey Wiley Corbett, this iconic building features a large Neo-Classical portico and was home to BBC World Service for 70 years until it moved to Portland Place in 2012.
You’re also close to Trafalgar Square and the National Portrait and National Art Galleries. Venture across the River Thames for all the excitement of the South Bank, which has a year-round calendar of events and festivals, and the London Eye.
Why go? For a chic city break in the heart of the action, with attractions and sights aplenty on your doorstep.
Who is it best for? Families with a theatrical or transport bent.
Our favourite bit For Joe, the swimming pool – like an oasis in the city – and for me, the divine facial at the Spa. For both, cocktail hour in the Lobby Bar.
Top Tip Head down the surprisingly quiet Drury Lane to discover a hidden gem, Drury Lane Gardens, a charming little playground with climbing frames, slides and plenty of benches.
Don’t go… If you’re afraid of lions.
While you’re there Skip lunch and (over)indulge in The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea.