The bright, feminine rooms at this well-groomed Kensington hideaway are as refreshing as a crisp cup of Earl Grey on a spring morning. Part of Firmdale Hotels, Number Sixteen stands seconds away from South Kensington's museums and the Old Brompton Road, yet its tucked-away, tree-filled terrace and trickling water features, makes you feel a world away. The art-lined, terracotta-toned Orangery restaurant shows off owner-designer Kit Kemp's signature interiors and Soholistic spa treatments are on hand in the comfort of your room. You'll feel like Number One in no time…
Forty-one (including Queen; Superior; Luxury and Deluxe Doubles).
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Check-outs later than 12 or 1pm incur the full room rate. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £215.91, including tax at 5 per cent.
Rates usually include a Continental breakfast (otherwise £12 a person); a full English breakfast is available for £14 a person.
At the hotel
Courtyard garden, conservatory; library, honesty bar, concierge, free WiFi throughout, laundry. In rooms: minibar, flatscreen TV, DVD/CD player, Tivoli radio, Frette bedlinen, Kit Kemp's range of Rik Rak bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Every room is uniquely decorated with a different mix of Kit Kemp’s trademark flirty florals and savvy colour combinations; rooms feel spacious thanks to high ceilings and plenty of natural light – even those on the lower ground floor have big windows – and twin-sinked bathrooms are all similarly clad in soothing pale grey granite and oak. Room 17 is a Wedgewood-blue themed Luxury Double on the ground floor, with striped walls and vintage floral fabrics; French windows provide a pretty view across the courtyard garden from your bed (although you may wish to draw the curtains if there’s anyone sitting outside). Room 3 is a Deluxe Double on the lower ground floor facing Sumner Street, with an open fireplace and a neutral colour palette of grey, putty and bone that will appeal to pastel-hating Mr Smiths. A first-floor Deluxe Double dressed in pistachio and lilac candy stripes, Room 102 looks down onto the courtyard. A tailor’s dummy covered in the same jaunty fabric as the bedhead and a beautiful antique wardrobe give this room a fashion-lovers vibe.
Wardrobes contain golf umbrellas for rainy-day strolling, so leave your brolly behind. Bring a spare bag to pack with your shopping treasures, and pretty ballet flats or brogues for striding through galleries and museums.
Welcome, although this is a very grown-up playpen. Extra beds (£50 a night) and cots (free for children two and under) can be added to most rooms; there’s no children’s menu, but the kitchen is very accommodating.
Overstuffed couch in the drawing room, so you can admire the quirky driftwood candelabra – some of the furnishings in here are more like installation pieces. In summer, choose one of the courtyard tables by the softly splashing stone fountain.
Cashmere and collars for him; London’s ladies who lunch for her.
There isn’t a dedicated restaurant, but there is an extensive all-day room service menu that can be ordered in the light and bright, Kit kemp-designed Orangery or the hotel's petite manicured garden. You can also take meals in the lounge or library (or in your room, of course). Choose between luxe takes on British classics from fry-ups to afternoon tea and international favourites including spag bol, hoi sin duck wraps and burgers.
A large cupboard hides an extensive honesty bar of beers, wines , spirits, soft drinks and coffee – just help yourselves. There are well-stocked minibars in every room, too – with Miller Harris scented candles and Dormen snacks for cosy nights in.
None – the full menu is available 24 hours a day, and a help-yourself honesty bar takes care of drinks in the small hours.
An extensive menu is available 24/7, anywhere you fancy from bedroom to drawing room – mi casa, tu casa.
London Heathrow is 15 miles from the hotel. Once you land, the Heathrow Express will take you as far as Paddington, from where you can get the Circle or the District lines to nearby Gloucester Road and South Kensington stations.
Victoria, Paddington and Waterloo stations are all less than a 10-minute taxi ride away. Between them, they'll take you pretty much anywhere you want to go in the UK. South Kensington (on the Piccadilly, Circle and District lines) is your nearest Tube station, less than a five-minute walk from the hotel.
Public on-street parking is available on Sloane Avenue.
Modern British brasserie the Ivy Chelsea Garden on the King’s Road is a sophisticated spot for mouthwatering all-day dining in leafy surrounds. The brunch offering is particularly tempting; dine on lobster Benedict and glazed-fig salad, washed down with a lavender-infused gin cocktail. Other options near the hotel include neighbourhood favourite Daphne’s, on Draycott Avenue for exquisite Italian; French restaurant Aubaineon Brompton Road; and for excellent Iberian tapas, Casa Brindisa on Exhibition Road. Sherry and ham take centre stage at Capote y Toros, too. There’s a well-curated wine list and inventive small plates, such as lamb sweetbreads and fresh garlic-infused artichokes mixed with mushrooms. Walls are lined with photos of bullfighters and candid family snaps.
It's probably a little bit insulting to call Tom's Kitchen on Cale Street a café, but this bar and brasserie is a mighty fine place for a long, late weekend brunch or lunch. The Hummingbird Bakery and its tempting array of pastel-iced cupcakes and sweet delights is a one-minute walk from Number Sixteen on Old Brompton Road. Hang out there while Mr Smith gawps at Lamborghinis in the showroom on the corner.
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.