Anonymous review of Number Sixteen
It was one of those days that tends to make Londoners excitable: a sunny one. As Mr Smith and I exited the tube at South Ken, I thought for a moment that we'd stumbled across a public audition for the next GAP advert. Seemingly every young, tanned, beautiful thing in London with the big lion hair only good genes can give you, were spilling out onto the terraces of this upmarket neighbourhood’s restaurants and bars, shrieking with laughter at each others' jokes. 'Oh stop it, Hugo, stop it!' they barked as we walked past. Thankfully, we were en route to a rather more quiet corner of SW7. Just three minutes' walk from the the beautiful and the not very damned, tucked away in a quiet Mary Poppins-esque side street between the Fulham Road and Old Brompton Road is Number Sixteen. Blink and you actually would miss it – we nearly did – as it's like all the other mid-Victorian white stucco terrace houses in Sumner Place, with just a discreet sign above its door to indicate that it isn't a private residence. Lucky us.
With 42 bedrooms, it's the smallest member of the Firmdale group, home to the Haymarket, Soho and Charlotte Street hotels. But it would be doing Number Sixteen an injustice to describe it as their little sister. For a start, it doesn't really feel like a hotel, more the home of a flamboyant, and rather wealthy Great Aunt who brings back wood-carved treasures from her travels to the Tropics to sit alongside her forward-thinking Starburst colour furnishings. Co-owner Kit Kemp's trademark humbug colours of lime green and hot pink are definitely in evidence here in the great big marshmallow sofas of the drawing room, but the Lion King-like wood carvings, teamed with khaki drapes in the conservatory help mark it out as something a little different to its bedfellow behemoths. Number Sixteen's real pull is its courtyard garden, particularly for us on an evening so hot it felt as if London had been momentarily placed into a terracotta pizza oven.
First, which London hotels have any kind of grounds at all? Ask yourself that. And secondly, not only does this hotel have one, but it has a rather lovely one at that. It's the kind a Parisian would have, if there were any room in Paris. It's leafy and is divided into little Tuilleries-type sections, where you can get some private tête-à-tête time over an early evening G&T and under the trees, which we did, sitting on the delicate white wrought-iron chairs listening to the babbling stone fountain.
When we Googled restaurants before arrival, Gloucester Road's L'Etranger popped up as being a pleasant hop, skip and 'marvel at all these Porsches' 15-minute walk away. If you're going to do South Ken, you have to go the whole hog and L'Etranger is the whole hog with foie gras on the top. No, really, we ate that. Inside the restaurant it's as if the Eighties never turned into the Nineties turned into the Noughties. It's all streamlined grey, black and white leather and £400 tasting menus featuring reindeer. I was half-expecting to see Patrick Bateman and a blonde at a corner table. But we didn't, instead we sat gawping at the slick-haired, no socks, brogue-wearing brigade that voted this the Which? Good Food Guide's London restaurant of 2009. The silky-mannered restaurant manager looked no older than the cast of High School Musical but was charm in a suit, floating around the place delivering caramelised black cod with miso and tuna tartare with sevruga caviar to the cream of Kensington.
Sated, we made our way back through the balmy Kensington nightlife and kicked back in the high-ceilinged library, which, with its driftwood candelabra and insect-inspired art, makes one feel as if one has stumbled across an upmarket art gallery. As the hottest night of the year approached boiling point, we were thankful for the breeze through the floor-to-ceiling French windows and even more grateful for the help-yourself honesty bar – a walk-in cupboard treasure trove, that stocks beers, wines, spirits, soft drinks and coffee. Mr Smith is a biddable chap and served himself an Amaretto before cramming he and me into the teeny tiny lift and up to our bedroom, number 206.
Ours wasn't the largest of suites but it was, truly, perfectly proportioned, with enormous sash windows that looked down onto Sumner Place, a calming satin blue and cream colour scheme and a ship of a bed, complete with Frette bed linen, and the prettiest white embroidered quilt.
Our bathroom was a lesson in clever use of space, a twin sink job, clad in sophisticated grey marble and oak with Miller Harris toiletries to complete the ablution package. Indeed, if there wasn't so much to do outside – the Natural History Museum, V&A and Science Museum are two minutes' walk – this would make a gorgeous setting for a cosy night in: a DVD library and a beast of a minibar: Dormen's snacks of spicy peanuts and Belgian chocolate-coated raisins, Fiji water (is this allowed anymore? It does have a pretty bottle...) and Miller Harris candles. As we cuddled up under the Frette, Mr Smith remarked that, 'hotel rooms make everything feel right in the world'. Too true of this one, darling. For the purposes of this argument, though, let's ignore we ever stayed in that place off the M1 with the dirty sheets.
The next morning, the sun was shining so we took breakfast in the garden next to a family of excited Americans who we found wandering about the jardin taking photos of the exotic flowers and exclaiming, in between mouthfuls of sausage and bacon, 'This place is gorgeous, it's just gorrrrgeous!' But here even over-excited fellow guests are a pleasure, and as the Yanks, Mr Smith and I settled down to our breakfasts – a spectacular eggs florentine and The Times for me and a fry-up and The Telegraph for him – I couldn't help agree with my young man (for one night only, at least), Number Sixteen had made everything just right.