The AmpersandHotel draws on its South Ken locale: bird sketches that could have flown from the Natural History Museum, and musical motifs that riff on the Royal Albert Hall. The beds are blissfully comfy, and there’s an excellent basement restaurant with pretty cocktails, a tempting menu and an affable head chef.
Get this when you book through us:
A glass of champagne each and a box of petits fours in your room
Double rooms from £129.60, including tax at 5 per cent.
Rates are room only; Continental breakfast costs from £16 (there’s also a tempting à la carte menu, with options such as waffles with honeycomb and bananas – yum).
The hotel’s playful afternoon tea, served from 12.30pm to 9pm Monday to Saturday and 12.30pm to 7pm on Sunday and bank holidays, is inspired by the neighbouring Science Museum. Jams are served in petri dishes, chocolates are shaped like spacemen and dinosaur biscuits will delight would-be palaeontologists.
At the hotel
Gym, ping-pong table, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: minibar (with non-alcoholic drinks included), a flatscreen TV, an iPod dock, L’Occitane bath products and a smartphone with free calls to select countries.
Our favourite rooms
Do you like birds, botany, architecture, geometry, music or astronomy? Pick your room accordingly: each category has a different theme, inspired by nearby tourist-magnets: the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Victoria & Albert and the Royal Albert Hall. Some of the second-floor rooms face a primary school, and you may hear the kiddos at playtime; book one facing the front for peace and quiet (and the best street views). Coffee fans will be grateful for the Nespresso machines in suites’ kitchenettes.
Bring flat shoes for the museums and stilettos for South Ken’s drinking holes, but leave your slippers at home: the hotel’s own are foot-soothingly soft.
Small dogs and cats can stay in Deluxe category rooms and higher, at no extra cost; just let the hotel know in advance. Owners will also be expected to keep dogs in check: no running amok in the civilised tea salon, please. See more pet-friendly hotels in London.
Very welcome: cots and extra beds can be added for free to the Deluxe rooms and higher categories. Babysitting can be arranged (prices vary, depending on the time of day and number of children). Little Smiths are allowed in the restaurant.
Sit at one of the big round tables right by the window in the pretty tea parlour, so you can spy on London life between nibbles. In Apero, take a curtained basement booth and watch a procession of legs pass the poppy-red pillar box.
It’s pretty relaxed here, but dress up for afternoon tea (dizzyingly delicious cakes) with sherbet colours and a shot of silk. Dandies: sport a bow tie in custard-yellow, mint-green or violet, and flash some bold socks, in honour of the pretty patisserie.
There’s been a bit of a buzz around Apero, the Ampersand’s basement restaurant and bar. Looks-wise, Apero continues London’s love-in with NY: industrial light fittings, polished tiles, exposed brick, dark leather seating and wooden tables. The dining concept is more Mediterranean: a menu that leapfrogs from one small plate to another, rather than a stolid three-course approach. Waiters nudge guests in the direction of around five or six plates between two, but choose wisely, or some rather odd combinations could arrive at your table all at once: smoked cod roe on little toasts, plaice goujons with avocado mayonnaise, and a rich, creamy seafood pasta, for example. Head chef Alberto Pasqualin is an affable chap: tell him what you liked if you see him.
At Apero’s glittering bar, friendly barmen mix cocktails swimming with giant hunks of ice (for slower melting) and equally tasty mocktails. The drinks menu is inspired by the nearby V&A and its artists, as well as European philosophers and their Grand Tours. We recommend the vodka-spiked and jasmine-infused Eastern Dawn or the Picasso-inspired Saint Suzanne.
The barmen will keep you from thirst until 1am on Friday and Saturday; midnight during the week and 11pm on Sundays. The restaurant stops plating up at around 10.30pm.
The 24-hour room service includes items from Apero’s menu during the restaurant’s opening hours; after that, there’s a smaller selection of sandwiches, salads and snacks.
The hotel’s location takes some beating: just a hop and a skip from South Kensington Tube station, which is on the District, Circle and Piccadilly lines (www.tfl.gov.uk), within walking distance of some of the city’s finest museums, shops and galleries.
Heathrow airport (www.heathrowairport.com) is 17 miles away – a 45-minute drive. You can take the Piccadilly line from the airport to South Kensington (a direct journey of around 50 minutes), or jump in a cab.
South Kensington is the closest Tube; London Victoria – a 10-minute Tube ride away – is the nearest major overground station, with services connecting to Kent, Brighton, Gatwick, Surrey and other UK destinations; King’s Cross is about 20 minutes away by Tube, with services to Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh and other British hubs. (St Pancras International is just across the road from King’s Cross, if you’re coming by Eurostar.)
Skip the congestion charge and leave your car behind: the Ampersand Hotel is perfectly located for getting around by bus, Tube or train.
Worth getting out of bed for
This is a location worth requesting a wake-up call for: you’ll need plenty of time to explore the tourist-magnets on your doorstep: the V&A, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Royal Albert Hall. Kensington Palace and Hyde Park (where you can also visit the Serpentine Galleries) are also close by. There's stellar shopping, too, with Knightsbridge and Kensington High Street nearby – so you can get Harrods ticked off your shopping-to-do list. It's only a short Tube ride into the centre of London, if you want to catch a show in the West End or explore Covent Garden's boutiques and markets. In nearby Chelsea, buy high-end wares along the historic King's Road and around Sloane Square, stop into the Saatchi Gallery, then head south to stop and smell the daisies (and the other flora) in the Chelsea Physic Garden.
Rocca, on Old Brompton Road, is an elegant restaurant (home to South Kensington’s only heated terrace) that serves classic Italian cuisine: octopus with black cassarecce pasta and paprika, lamb with aubergine caponata and thin-crust pizzas. London has a string of LebaneseComptoir Libonais cafés, and there’s one close to Ampersand on Exhibition Road. There are plenty of dishes to choose from – tagines, salads, wraps and the ilk – and part of this café/deli/canteen is set aside for covetable cookery ingredients, displayed with panache – expect to leave with some exotic tea or hot sauce. Service is brisk but friendly. Outposts of the Ivy and Dishoom are perenially popular, Maggie Jones's is a rustic-style eatery with classic Brit dishes and Wright Brothers in South Ken specialise in seafood. Claude Bosi fashions fine Continental dishes in Bibendum, but it's worth eating there just to appreciate the glorious stained glasses and art deco architecture.
The Kensington Wine Rooms close by offers oenophiles a more unique tasting experience, just pick up a glass, load up a card and take your pick from the enomatic dispensers. If you prefer cocktails, hit speakeasies Barts, a Twenties throwback, and Chelsea Prayer Room hidden in local-favourite restaurant Goat. Or enjoy playing gumshoe in the theatrical Evans & Peel Detective Agency. Or start your night with a passionfruit colada in the Botanist and end it dancing with giant Day of the Dead heads and watching pinata performances at Tonteria – order the Tequila Express to have your shots delivered by train. Dress to impress for a night at Boujis, a former favoured hangout for the younger royals.
The most effective method of looking young is to be photographed in front of a tyrannosaurus. A bunch of dinosaur bones certainly puts wrinkles into perspective. Which is why I like hanging out in museums. One of the best things about the Ampersand Hotel is its location, a stroll away from the Natural History, the Science and the Victoria and Albert museums. The Royal Albert Hall is also in the neighbourhood, which means that you can just absorb intellectualism and culture just by osmosis. (Boys, take note. The brain of course, is the only place where size does count. I do so love a man with a big, throbbing organ.) We have Prince Albert to thank for South Kensington’s monopoly of museums: in the mid 19th century, Albie put the profits from crowd-pleasing 1851 Great Exhibition towards enhancing the area’s cultural assets, resulting in a tract of land that’s veritably stuffed with exhibits. Now the area has another treasure: the Ampersand.
After overdosing on dinosaurs and diamantes, I explored the hotel. The Ampersand pays decorative homage to the Victorian values of discovery and invention that dominated the age. To echo the arts, history and culture, which are the heartbeat of South Kensington, all of the hotel’s boutique rooms and suites are wittily themed around astronomy, botany, music, geometry and ornithology…
Cushions and chair coverings are a creative nod to the patterns and textures of the V&A’s exotic costume collections (including beaded Elizabethan bridal gowns, Russian Tsar’s garters and David Bowie’s futuristic fashion.) Bedspreads are adorned with flowers and ferns and other exotic flora and fauna of the Natural History Museum’s 70 million items. The hotel hallway wallpaper is an intriguing collection of blown-up prints of ornithological drawings, planets, phials and specimens. Other rooms boast clusters of notes dancing across musical staves on bedspreads and pillows. The drinks cabinet in the hotel’s drawing room displays all its beverages as though they’re magic potions in a sorcerer’s den. (Having increased my brain capacity by touring museums all day, I then destroyed them with alcohol. Oh, to be an aqua-holic.)
The whole hotel feels like a film set. First there are the ornate high teas offering cappuccinos brewed in a Victorian coffee press and fresh pâtisseries baked on the premises. (Do indulge in the cakes. Just remember that there are three billion women in the world who don’t look like supermodels. And only six who do. And how often do you get to eat almond parfait, espresso marzipan custard, almond crumble, caramelised almond and salty toffee, all in one bite?) Then there’s the games room and library, lined with artifacts quirkily displayed in a Victorian style. I kept expecting Sherlock Holmes to come striding in on the sniff for an evil genius fugitive.
Dining at the Ampersand is also an excitingly experimental experience. Apero’s open-plan basement dining room of white metro tiles and vaulted brick walls, serves modern tapas. The inventive chef Chris Golding creates inspired culinary concoctions. I nibbled on the most delectable mix of stone sea bass, sumac and beetroot risotto, meltingly tender grilled beef onglet, cavolo nero, onions and celeriac. Followed by autumn truffle croquettes and truffle mayonnaise and wet polenta with New Forest mushrooms.
The decor of the lounge channels Kit Kemp’s style in its mix of bright, clashing colours and antique furnishings, but it would be murder with a hangover. The place is so ‘hip’, at first I imagined being arrested by the chic police, with the line: ‘I’m sorry but you’re just not fashionable enough to rub shoulder pads with these people’. (Although thankfully none of the staff here carries a condescension chromosome.) If I were to split hairs, another observation is that the gym is small. Mind you, Hyde Park is only a five-minute jog away. As for the bedrooms that are not huge, let’s face it, you’re out most of the day at one of the many museums or shops, so who cares? (Thankfully the beds are big and swathed in marshmallow-soft linen and the humbug-coloured bathrooms are stocked with the most thoughtful of extras, including eye-makeup remover.)
Really London is all about conquering the Great Indoors. After we’d overdosed on the museums, I hit the department stores. Pretending to have a High Life Visa, I made for Harrods with its 300 departments, and Harvey Nicks with its fabulous Fifth Floor Café. To many females, Knightsbridge department stores are like Mecca. These shrines to fashion are only a hop, skip and well-heeled jump away. Back at base there are things to play with too: Ampersand’s basement den has a ping-pong table, vintage boxing gloves and a stash of books.
Come to think of it, typing this review is stealing away more shopping time. So, I’ll stop prattling. In short, the Ampersand is a chic, quirky hotel in the shopping and museum Mecca of the most fashionable area of London. And I mean really fashionable. Put it this way, the Science Museum was not the only place I studied the celestial firmaments – I saw quite a few stars on the streets as well. A stellar assortment of personalities lives in South Kensington. Strolling between shops, I glimpsed a couple of Oscar nominees and at least one Rolling Stone – proof that dinosaurs do indeed still roam the earth. Must tell the Natural History Museum.