London hotels: new kips on the block

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Last year saw numerous new London hotels open in anticipation of the Olympics, a trend that shows no sign of slowing. Getting highest profile this year will probably be the reinvention of the venerable Cafe Royal (, due to reopen this summer. In 1865, a bankrupt French wine merchant, Daniel Nicolas Thevenon, fled to London to escape imprisonment. Missing the bars and restaurants he knew at home, he decided to create a little piece of belle epoque Paris on Regent Street. The result was the Cafe Royal, to which the beau monde flocked. And very racy it became. It was here that Oscar Wilde hallucinated on absinthe and courted Lord Alfred Douglas, boxing matches were fought in the ballroom before audiences in evening dress, and an unfortunate night porter was shot dead in the head.

Now part of the Israeli Alrov group (which includes the just-opened Conservatorium in Amsterdam and the futuristic Mamilla in Jerusalem), it's been transformed into a 160-room hotel by the architect David Chipperfield, whose essentially contemporary scheme (incorporating a not-quite-20m indoor pool, spa and hammam) sits comfortably with the original Grade I-listed Louis XVI and Empire-style conceit. Its restaurants will include a reworking of the famous Grill and once-bohemian Domino Room, where artists Augustus John, Walter Sickert, James McNeill Whistler and Aubrey Beardsley were regulars.

The forthcoming purpose-built Bulgari Hotel (, 020-7151 1010), which opens in April on Knightsbridge, is also likely to be striking architecturally, for it's the work of fashionable Italian architect Antonio Citterio, best known for his furniture and lamps for Flos, Vitra and B&B Italia. True to the standards of the jewellery brand behind it, it promises the last word in (commensurately expensive) luxe, with solid silver chandeliers in the ballroom – in recognition of Bulgari's origins as a silversmith – and woven-to-order Italian silk curtains, not to mention a substantial spa (with 25m pool tiled in green and gold mosaic), screening room, library, cigar shop and smart Italian restaurant and bar.

Still on the subject of revered architects, London also gets its first Norman Foster-designed hotel on 4 June, when the 175-room Me by Melia (0808 234 1953,, rooms from ?340), opens on the Strand. This redevelopment of what was once Marconi House incorporates its 1904 facade in an otherwise boldly contemporary building with a striking 11-storey round tower-like atrium.

Half a mile or so to the east, just off Fleet Street, the 184-room Temple Court Hotel (0845 365 0000,, rooms from ?129), opens in Serjeants' Inn in the Inner Temple on 1 March, the third London outpost of Edinburgh-based family-owned Apex Hotels, which specialise in contemporary, good-value hotels.

Also convenient for the City will be South Place Hotel (, which opens this summer near Liverpool Street, a seven-storey 80-room new-build boutique with Conran interiors and the first venture into hotel-keeping by the D&D restaurant group, which owns the Blueprint Cafe, Kensington Place, Le Pont de La Tour, Quaglino's, Skylon and more. Its roof-terrace bar and restaurant (one of two in the hotel) will be a welcome outdoor space in this high-density district.

Across town in South Kensington, the independent 110-room Ampersand Hotel (, due to open just before the Olympics, harks back to the 19th century both in its structure (it was built in 1888) and in its eccentric, eclectic decor, which takes inspiration from the area's great Victorian museums round the corner on Exhibition Road.

Z Hotels ( will open a second property on Lower Belgrave Street, near Victoria station, in spring. The well-designed rooms are compact and short on frills, but contemporary, chic and, with rates from ?85, very cheap for London.

A couple of blocks west, Belgraves (020-7858 0100,, rooms from ?301) opens on 1 February in what used to be the Sheraton Belgravia. Operated by New York-based Thompson Hotels, it seems to be striving to be more British than the British. Socialite interior designer Tara Bernerd has a taste for Union Jack cushions, and chef Mark Hix will oversee its essentially English restaurant.

But Thompson is not the only American company with designs on London. The uber-modish US hotelier Andre Balazs (The Mercer, The Standard, Chateau Marmont) has plans to convert a former fire station in Marylebone into a hotel. This is due to open next year, as is the 195-room Shangri-La ( on floors 34 to 52 of the still-some-way-from-finished Shard at London Bridge, which will start taking bookings in early 2013.

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