Just east of Kensington High Street, opposite Hyde Park, the Baglioni offers a location as desirable as London has to offer. The room we stay in gives us the best view imaginable: not over the park, which some enjoy, but across to the Thistle Hotel – the sort of establishment I usually stay in. I imagine its residents dreaming of one day making it across the road.
My knowledge of London boutique hotels doesn’t extend much beyond the Park Lane strip where I perform as a comedian – a corporate sphere apart from the intimacy of the Baglioni. Speaking as someone whose only Italian trips have been for skiing, this temple to restrained extravagance offers the kind of luxury preferred by Rome’s beautiful people, or perhaps the image-obsessed Milanese. And now us.
The hotel doesn’t have the glitzy façade that some insecure five-star hotels cling to. There are none of the flags or huge signs sported by the neighbouring hotels. Clearly, Baglioni’s clientele is sufficiently in the know to be aware of its presence, because the Georgian building, although respectable and impeccable, doesn’t allude to the over-the-top grandeur that awaits inside. A cascading water feature, stone floors and oversized gold vases spilling enormous white roses create a suitably classy entrée to our new world of care-free indulgence. I feel myself happily slotting into this new lifestyle (at least until the morning, when we’ll be asked to leave, albeit politely). Back to a life of using towels for weeks, and trying not to cry as the kids continue on their mission to devalue our home.
It seems fitting in such opulent surroundings, that the staff are also beautiful. My wife and I are accompanied to our bedroom by one of the polished receptionists, via a lift with its own plasma TV. Did this imply that the elevator is going to take an especially long time? Fortunately not, and within seconds we’re outside room 307. (Maybe they just ordered too many plasmas.) By now fully acclimatised to the luxury that characterises the Baglioni hotel, we expect our room to be exquisite.
It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, when it is exactly that. Purple and gold is the daring colour scheme for the fabrics and carpet, which doesn’t stop at the floor – nothing as humdrum as wallpaper at the Baglioni. (Outside very secure prisons and police stations, I imagine, this quality of hotel is the only place where padded rooms and bulletproof glass – a feature of the VIP suites – are appropriate.) In the plasma-screen department, my over-ordering theory is borne out; we get two.
I race to check out the ensuite. It’s stunning: marbles, slates and chromes, and a pair of beautiful his ’n’ hers copper bowls, with an array of luxurious hair and body products on offer. I react badly. ‘Bloody hell! Mrs Smith, check this out! This is much too beautiful a place to have people doing what people do in bathrooms,’ I shriek. Our managerial escort excuses herself (perhaps twigging we’re not the most sophisticated guests to cross the hotel’s threshold) and informs us that our butler will be up shortly to demonstrate the espresso machine. I think better of mentioning the fact I’m more of a Rosie Lee man; it would seem sacrilegious in this temple to Italian elegance.
An hour or so into our stay, and all the facilities that the room has to offer have been well and truly tested. Shortly after, another member of staff calls round to see if she can turn my bed down. But it’s a special night for this couple; I explain that I’m hoping there won’t be anything turned down in my bed tonight, thank you. (The kind housekeeping lady returns later to make our room immaculate again, and light candles throughout.)
Even though the Natural History Museum and the V&A are a stroll away, we’ve opted for pure R&R during our South Ken one-night stand. Watching one of their Hollywood classics is just as commendable as viewing any number of Assyrian bas-reliefs and, what with a sortie into the park for a stroll along the Serpentine, come the evening, we’ve worked up quite an appetite.
As swanky as the hotel restaurant is, with its central glass bar and sumptuous dining space, all velvet armchairs and black Murano glass chandeliers, the chef of Brunello is facing a very real challenge. I am a dedicated Italian-food sceptic, having only experienced lower-rung establishments where the dishes are dressed up with glugs of oil and delivered with dubious accents. Imagine my delight when I am brought my starter: a warm mushroom salad with aged balsamic vinegar and shaved Parmesan. A lifetime of overcooked ravioli is forgotten in moments. It is so delicious that I consider cancelling my halibut in favour of another.
My knowledge of wine extends to knowing that it comes in two colours, but I like an impressive list. (Little comes in at under £30; judging by the gloss of our fellow diners, that isn’t usually a problem.) After dinner, we fancy a nightcap, and we have been recommended the cocktails in Isola, a two-minute cab ride towards Knightsbridge. But given our exquisite surroundings and the impermanence of this lifestyle, it seems crazy to leave, so we stay in the bar, sipping martinis made with gold.
As tempting as it is to spend a lazy morning taking advantage of acres of comfortable bed, or exploring Ken Gardens, we have to be up at 7am to catch a flight. We’re the first breakfasters of the day. Then it occurs to me: Baglioni residents don’t work – they lounge and shop. And the nearby retail temple that is Harvey Nichols is, like them, still sleeping. Who could blame anyone for wanting to stay cocooned away in this urban palazzo? Ultra-modern and super-cool, it plays out like a scene from an advert pushing aspiration and success. I feel tempted to give my fellow residents a congratulatory pat on the back for having made it. I suspect I’m the only one who even knows there’s a hotel chain that shares its name with a prickly Scottish plant.
As we leave the hotel, reality feels harsh, unpolished, inelegant. We make for the Tube; we’re not on expenses any more. Shut-eye in such a wonderful environment has been an eye-opener. Thanks to the Baglioni, we’ve had a taste of the high life, and the wife has loved every minute. She remarks that we should use our home town more adventurously, and stay in hotels like the Baglioni regularly. I’ll have to become funnier, I tell her. ‘Yeah right,’ she sighs. Note to self: just how many reasonably amusing gags equal another night at the Baglioni?