Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hotel review: Mother daughter bonding at The Halkin, London

It’s weird living abroad. On one hand it’s quite useful being thousands of miles and five, sometimes eight hours out of sync from family arguments, squabbling infants and the overly familiar quotidian grind. On the other it is rather miserable not being able to give & receive comforting hugs. Playing on Facebook does not make up for proper face time.

So when I go back to England my first priority is to spend proper time with my family & see as many of my wonderful friends as I can possibly manage. There are always godchildren & bundles of new infants to prod, plus there’s usually a wedding I’ve missed or engagement to celebrate.

I’m like a bunny out of a trap as I land at Heathrow, usually whizzing straight to my sister’s house in Kentish Town for an intensive debrief, and then getting up at 7am to do a stream of breakfasts, lunches, coffees, drinks & suppers, all woven between meetings & work stuff. It's trickier seeing my parents as they don't live in London, (or together for that matter), so I have to grab any opportunity to see them.

Last month I landed in London the day before my mother flew in from Verona, so I persuaded her to spend the night in London with me before heading to the country. I always find it’s best to book a hotel together for the proper mother-daughter bonding experience; we always end up squabbling when together en masse in my sister & Posetta Baddog's one bedroom London flat.

My mother, being of the Birkin bag & Chanel pump-ed persuasion, doesn’t really do anything outside of London's W or SW postcodes unless forced so when I was offered a suite at The Halkin in Belgravia, just behind Hyde Park Corner, I jumped on it. I used to stay at its sister hotel the modernist Metropolitan on Park Lane when I was an NY magazine editor (convenient for 8am appointments to visa wrangle at the US Embassy), but had yet to experience the minimalist taupe experience of The Halkin.

And goodness, it is taupe. And beige. And sepia. And pale cocoa. And other synonyms I can’t be bothered to look up. From the Buddha in the entrance hall to the Como Shambhala aromatherapy products in the bathroom, it may well be the most calming environment in which I have stayed. It’s so tranquil that it’s the hotel equivalent of Prozac. They should have a Halkin in Milan or in Paris for stroppy fashion editors to stay in during the collections.

The calmness was equally good for a mother/daughter stay because we are quite capable of going from smiles to snarls to smiles in seconds. But we seemed unable to have one of our signature blow ups here. It probably helped that when the Front Desk rang to say she (& her luggage) had arrived, I poured us glasses of super chilled Champagne and drew her a deep bath using scoops of fragrant bath salts from the oversized jar in the oversized bathroom. I do find pre-empting maternal requests tends to diminish potential snappiness.

Lulled & cosseted into inertia, leaving the hotel was far beyond our capabilities. Not that this mattered: we had reservations downstairs at Nahm, David Thompson’s extraordinary Michelin-starred Thai restaurant (more of this to come later).

The Halkin really is a boutique hotel for grown-ups: it feels discreet, the scale is intensely intimate (but not claustrophobic), there are no spread out communal areas, soaring atria or chattering tourists, the service is beyond charming. The suite ticked nearly all my demanding boxes: the best soup-plate showerhead I’ve come across in a hotel anywhere, generous toiletries, a proper well-lit dressing table in the bedroom (as opposed to a mirror-free desk or expecting us to balance warpaint on the side of a basin) and plenty of cat-swinging space.

Sure the Asian chic interiors are a little disconcerting inside a Georgian stucco fronted townhouse, but somehow it all comes together. And, best of all, less than half a mile from Knightsbridge, Horrids & Harvey Nicks, cradled in our temporary taupe universe, we felt as though we were on holiday in London. And, as dyed in the wool Londoners, you can’t get better than that.

LLG was a guest of The Halkin Hotel (but if she thought it sucked, she would say so)