Blakes – the very name conjures up a whole era of modern London decadence. The first time I visited Anouska Hempel’s South Ken boutique hotel, it was to interview a famous film director who had decided to take a suite, with his glamorous girlfriend, for the filming of his new movie. The shoot ended up dragging on, unsurprisingly, for more than six months. I remember thinking what an indulgent gesture this was, but how he couldn’t have bettered his choice. From the moment you walk up the steps into reception (the subtle oriental decor sets the tone for the whole hotel), Blakes whispers seductively: prepare to be seriously spoiled.
Arriving for a weekend with my boyfriend, I tried not to dwell on the enticing scenario of a six-month check-in. The receptionist barely missed a beat when we owned up to a complete lack of luggage; he kept formalities to a minimum, handed over a reassuringly old-fashioned, clunky room key, and led us through a rabbit warren of corridors and stairways to our suite.
Simply put, the rooms at Blakes are the kind you never want to leave. Each has its own style, but all are inspired by various far-off lands: Russia, India, Turkey… The decor, while perhaps a little too redolent of the Eighties for some, is testament to Ms Hempel’s impeccable taste and astonishing attention to detail. You realise very quickly how Blakes earned its crown as the sexiest place in London to spend your wedding night (Patsy and Liam are just two of the hotel’s high-profile honeymooners).
Our room, in short, screamed hedonism. For a start, the walls were black: a colour guaranteed to conjure up a James Bond feel (there is actually a suite in the hotel called the 007). And then, there was the bed. What a bed. Four-postered, festooned with burnt-orange and black drapes, and set provocatively in its own darkened niche, it oozed sex appeal all on its own. The bathroom was equally lavish, a homage to black and gilt, complete with oriental-style blinds. So cocoon-like was the whole setting that we were never quite sure what time of day it was – what more can you ask from a naughty weekend away?
There are 52 rooms at Blakes, though the super-swift service and discreet atmosphere allow you to feel as though you are the only people staying there. With a visit to the dining room, on the lower-ground floor, we saw for ourselves that there were some other guests, not to mention chic diners from the outside world. Bamboo, walls of black mirror-glass and dramatic spotlighting set a rather theatrical scene for what was a delicious supper. The menu, as one might expect, has a strong Eastern influence, but there are Western dishes, too.
We opted for the Blakes blinis with caviar, and flirted with the excellent wine list before settling for a bottle of champagne. My one reservation is that women are still given an unpriced menu, which seems slightly out of touch, and could make the experience seem sleazy rather than romantic. The corner tables are intimate, but others are better placed for people-watching opportunities. The staircase down to the restaurant is a definite focal point; try as you may to concentrate on your food or, indeed, your date, it’s impossible not to wonder just who those slim Jimmy Choo-clad ankles could belong to. The dining room is also open for breakfast, but I advise the ‘in bed’ option. Nowhere have I tasted fresher orange juice or more expertly cooked scrambled eggs.
For those who can muster up the strength to escape from Blakes’ opulent clutches, there is plenty to do in the South Kensington area. The retail extravaganza of Oxford, Regent and Bond Streets is a 20-minute cab ride away, but the more villagey area closer to hand probably gives you more flash for your cash. The chic Brompton Cross area, where Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Joseph, Paul Smith and other designer boutiques cluster around elegant restaurants such as Daphne’s and Bibendum, is a 10-minute walk away, and Harrods and Harvey Nichols are just beyond that. We decided to go for a stroll in Kensington Gardens, and popped in to see the current exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, where there are free must-see shows all year round.
There is no lavish spa here, nor any business facilities of note but then, being healthy and businesslike just isn’t the point of a hotel like Blakes. If you want to feel like a film star for a weekend, though, or like a Bond girl/007 himself, then Blakes, with its superb suites and serious service, is the place for you. If there were ever a hotel for a lost weekend, then this, most definitely, is it.