The historic Knightsbridge property relaunched last year ready to reassert itself as one of the capital's great hotels
26 February 2020
A tale of two apartment blocks. Aesthetically speaking, there’s little to link 66 Knightsbridge with 100 Knightsbridge. They may share a plot of prime Monopoly real estate, but one is a soaring 19th-century chateau with turrets and chimneys; the other is a straight-lined, pre-credit-crunch shelter for the super-rich. Yet, when they were launched, both developments were billed as London’s most exclusive collection of apartments – and both elicited their fair share of controversy.
One Hyde Park, the modern complex at 100 Knightsbridge, has provoked classic Daily Mail moral disapprobation since it completed in 2009. The development’s flagship penthouse, the newspaper discovered, had been purchased by Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani, the project’s key financial backer, through a company based in the Cayman Islands. The sheikh paid £40.5 million for the apartment, almost £100 million less than the asking price. The Guardian, doing some digging of its own, revealed that almost 80 per cent of the development’s 72 apartments had been purchased through similar offshore entities (avoiding capital gains tax, inheritance tax and capping any tax paid on rental income at 20 per cent). Only a handful of flats had registered to pay council tax.
Hyde Park Court, seeking planning approval 120 years earlier, provoked reproach of a more aesthetic nature.
Plans to build a ‘residential club’ of 500 chambers received short shrift from local residents who argued that the proposed 100-ft building – one of the tallest in London at the time – would cast a shadow over the Serpentine Lake in neighbouring Hyde Park. To deter developers, detractors threatened to construct a giant wooden barrier that would prevent sunlight from reaching the mansion’s lower floors. When that failed, a bill was brought before Parliament, attempting to restrict the height of the building to 60ft.
Eventually, Parliament sided with the developers and, in 1889, Hyde Park Court and Club – ‘designed to meet the requirements of a large section of the upper classes, being men of first-class social standing, whose means may have not have permitted them to go to the great expense in housekeeping’ – opened its doors to London’s most eligible bachelors.
With its soaring spires, stepped gable and elaborate brick-and-stone façade, the building borrowed heavily from the Flemish Revival style – an architectural form that had found favour in Belgium and the Netherlands in the 1870s and ’80s. Despite the objections of some well-to-do NIMBYs, the building became one of the most unique and arresting in London. It remains so today.
In November 1996, Hyde Park Hotel – the mansion block, after filing for bankruptcy, had been converted into a hotel in 1898, operating, under various proprietors, as a hotel ever since – was purchased by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group for £86 million. In 2005 the hotel hosted the 80th birthday celebrations of Baroness Margaret Thatcher; in 2011 it welcomed the pre-wedding party of Their Royal Highnesses, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Had you exited Knightsbridge tube station from the Sloane Street side between 2017 and 2018, you would have been met by a colossal collage measuring the size of 38 double-decker buses. The artwork, designed by British pop artist Sir Peter Blake to conceal a top-to-bottom refit, enveloped the entire hotel. It featured the faces of 100 of its most prominent guests, including Sir Paul McCartney, Dame Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and Whoopi Goldberg. In June 2018 a fire interrupted renovations – forcing singer Robbie Williams and his wife Ayda Field to evacuate via an external fire escape – but, finally, in April 2019, a fully refitted Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park opened its doors, hoping to reassert itself as ‘one of the finest hotels in the world.’
Rooms reimagined by Hong Kong-based design doyen Joyce Wang are now brighter and lighter – all grey and gold and pastel and pretty. American Art Deco meets sleek Milanese appartamenti. All come with fresh fruit, GHD hair straighteners, Nespresso coffee machines, his and hers Miller Harris miniatures, Jo Hansford hair products and heated electric toilet seats that tickle your bottom. You’ll pay a premium for a room on the Hyde Park side of the hotel, but bird’s-eye views of the park’s stately plane trees make it a premium worth paying.
Downstairs, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – where, ironically, breakfast is served – remains an unspectacular space, despite being repointed by New York’s Adam Tihany, the original ‘restaurant designer’. Perhaps that’s the point, given the theatrics of the food that served there. Grab a window seat around 11 am for a chance to see members of the Household Cavalry ride out from their Hyde Park barracks.
The Rosebery is an extraordinarily pretty, light and airy emporium for afternoon tea. Daniel Boulud's Bar Boulud is a burgundy-and-coffee-coloured brasserie serving foie gras burgers and upscale croque monsieur. It caters to an extraordinarily international crowd, even for this part of town, and, judging by our visit, gets completely packed-out on a Saturday evening – when, somewhat bizarrely, the vibe becomes après-ski party in a buzzy Courchevel boîte, owing, possibly, to the crowd-pleasing uncorking of big-ticket jeroboams and methuselahs. (Back in 2011, when the Candy brothers launched One Hyde Park with a celebrity-packed lunch party, they employed Heston Blumenthal and Daniel Boulud to provide the catering. The hotel continues to service the neighbouring apartments.)
Super-CEOs, the sort who wake up at 5 am to crush a set of bicep curls before crushing the rest of their day, will be pleased to know they can pump and crunch in a comprehensively kitted-out fitness studio. (Why, in other flashy hotels, are gyms little more than converted cleaning cupboards?) Alongside the token assortment of Technogym treadmills and cross-trainers, there’s a decent smattering of dumbbells, a squat rack and one of those BMI machines that will analyse your wobbly bits and, for no extra cost, tell you you’re hideously fat. Down another level still is a spa, again rebooted by Tihany. It has 13 treatment rooms, apparently, and a slick, spot-lit 17-metre pool. There’s no Jacuzzi, though, which is a shame given how cold the pool is, and weird, given that the hotel has gone to the effort of installing a vitality plunge pool and amethyst crystal steam room.
It's clear that no expense has been spared in this Old-London-meets-New-Orient overhaul. From antique mirrors that have been artistically gilded and etched with feathers, to the heft of marble that flows from lobby to reception and into every guest bathroom via grand sweeping staircases. Wang and Tihany have created a collection of interiors that, in contrast to the building’s theatrical façade, are delicate and tranquil and subtle and light (marble-on-marble lobby aside). It’s a classy and cleverly contemporary redesign of one of London’s most singular and storied settings.