It’s safe-to-say that 2020 has not been an easy ride so far. Aside from all the other awfulness that Covid-19 and Lockdown have wrought on every aspect of life, missing out on holidays and summer trips abroad has been an extra blow. There is only so much time you can spend in your own home and (if you’re lucky) garden, before going stir-crazy. With rapidly changing travel advice and restrictions though, a trip abroad is off the table for most of us this year.
Enter the great staycation! A change is as good as a rest, or so they say…
Working with that philosophy I took myself off, just a few stops on the Piccadilly line, for a holiday in my own city in one of Belgravia’s most beautiful hotels. The result? I was completely transported from the mundanity of everyday life; I saw my city through the wide-eyes and fresh perspective of a tourist; I had the best night’s sleep I’d had in months, and I returned to my life uplifted, rested and inspired. We may not be able to travel abroad, but with hotels like The Hari on our doorsteps, I’m actually not sure I need to.
The Hari, London Belgravia, is The Harilela Group’s first-ever brand and is “built around a heritage of impeccable hospitality bestowed by the Harilela family” and named after it’s founder: the late Hari Harilela, a hotelier and philanthropist known for his strong family values and generous contributions to various charities. The Harilela family’s story is a fascinating one, unfortunately beyond the scope of this write-up, but what shines clearly through from the research I’ve done is that The Hari (both the brand and the London hotel) are infused with the unique flavour of Harilela character and the kind of integrity that leads to a well-deserved admiration by patrons and competitors alike.
The hotel is described on its website as being “designed for those with a penchant for modern elegance, subdued luxury and a taste for the bespoke” and I would certainly agree. All accolades are, in my experience, well deserved.
The Hari has 85 rooms (14 suites and the rest twins and doubles). We stayed in one of the stunning Studio Suites (475 square feet) during our woefully short visit and were blown away by the attention to detail, the stunning design, and the sense of luxury that infused every element of our stay.
A huge super king bed fills some of the space in the room and is framed by pendant lamps hanging on either side. In one corner of the room is a modern perspex coffee table placed over a real cowhide rug. Ceiling to floor gauzy grey curtains hang in front of two alcoves framed by vast panoramic windows. When drawn back, one set of curtains reveals a cosy velvet sofa that nestles perfectly into the alcove space, and the other reveals a desk on which sits a Nespresso machine. Both alcove spots offer superb views of London (we are on the 7th floor), especially at night, and my husband and I have fun naming all the landmarks that we can see (all the way from Vauxhall to the City).
The walls of the suite are painted in rich plum, with just one print on the wall: a super-stylish, magazine-style shot of a woman seated in a wet top, nipples clearly exposed through the fabric, staring defiantly at the camera. I love the risqué nature of the art choice: it is a perfect fit. A large wall-mounted TV can be angled towards the bed or sofa and has a big selection of films included on the in-house entertainment system. On the coffee table sits a bottle of champagne on ice and a glass cloche containing strawberries and a white chocolate disk on which “Namaste” is written in artful calligraphy. I’m never leaving.
As if the bedroom/living space wasn’t delectable enough, the adjoining Arabescate marble bathroom further blows our minds. On the right, a spacious rainforest shower (perfect water pressure), on the left the usual sink and toiletries (Noble Isle), and straight ahead… the star of the show: a magnificent double-ended marble bathtub surrounded on three sides by ceiling-high windows with more spectacular views over the city, and by some stroke of luck a huge tree outside that offers a natural privacy screen from the surrounding houses.
I am utterly taken by the suite, and declare that I would like to live there permanently. It has the perfect air of boudoir-meets-social space; the epitome of bohemian luxury.
When bedtime comes, I slip between butter-soft sheets and sigh into the exquisitely comfortable bed. Every time I turned in bed (which is a lot these days at 8 months pregnant), I feel a warm rush of gratitude for such ridiculously soft sheets. I sleep deeply and wake late thanks to the very effective blackout blinds (although if you prefer to wake with the light you could simply pull the gauze curtains across and leave the blinds open.) Our marble bathroom looks even nicer than it the night before: London’s rooftops visible in every direction and sunlight bouncing off the marble. After a decadent rainforest shower, we head down to breakfast with a spring in our step.
Breakfast is a cook-to-order affair from il Pampero, the hotel’s onsite restaurant (which we also had the pleasure of eating dinner in the night before – more on that in a moment.) There’s a variety of cooked breakfasts (including all the egg-led classics), or you can opt for lighter oat dishes or pancakes.
I go for good old avocado on toast (I’m basic. I’m fine with it!) with a side of roasted tomatoes, a matcha latte, and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. The avocado arrives piled generously on top of sourdough toast, the matcha latte is smooth and moreish, and the freshly squeezed orange juice is delightfully tangy and flavourful.
My husband, Hal, has the full veggie breakfast: we both enjoy the visual vibrancy of the plate – whole universes away from the sad beige concoctions you sometimes have to face when ordering a cooked breakfast: bright yellow scrambled eggs, fire-engine-red tomatoes, perfectly ripe creamy green avocado – the prettiest plate I’ve seen in a long time.
Over breakfast, I spend most of my time admiring the design of the restaurant, the finer points of which were missed by me in the dim lights of the evening meal the night before. Beautiful leather and brass pipe mid-century style chairs are gathered around marble tables, with matching bar stools lined up at the bar, quirky photos of masked men on the walls, striking black and white geometric tiles on the floor. il Pampero is a feast for eyes as well as the belly.
We were kindly invited to dine in il Pampero the night before, so excuse me as I go momentarily back in time to talk you through dinner…
From the website: “Join us at il Pampero and experience exceptional Italian cuisine in a sophisticated setting, embodying Italian chic and vintage glamour. Under the direction of our Head Chef, Carmine Giannino, the team delivers traditional flavour combinations from a seasonal changing menu with a new twist of modern techniques, complemented with an impressive wine list and selection of inventive cocktails.”
Seating in the restaurant is either at round marble tables or in cosy leather booths that back onto the large glass front of the restaurant (which is covered in rich greenery). We snuggle into one of the booths and survey the menu (6 starters, 6 mains, 4 sides, 4 desserts). In true Italian style, bread and olive oil are bought to our table as we sit.
To start I go for the burrata with heritage tomatoes and basil olive oil (£14) and Hal opts for the rocket salad with artichokes, taggiasche olives, broad beans, almonds and mint pesto (£11). My burrata is creamy, soft, and perfectly complemented by the intensely flavourful tomatoes, the likes of which I usually struggle to find outside of the sun-drenched Mediterranean. Hal is not overly taken with his salad, feeling that it lacked flavour, but I disagree and enjoy the subtle earthiness of the broad beans complimented by the rich crunch of toasted almonds and salty little olives. It’s the kind of dish that reveals it’s flavour more and more with each chew, it needs time (and Hal is a wolf-it-down sort).
For mains, I choose the tagliatelle with tiger prawns, lime and courgettes (£18) and Hal goes for grilled sea bream fillet with braised escarole, pine nuts and taggiasche olive mayonnaise (£22). I’d expected the tagliatelle to be light, fresh and zingy by the description in the menu, but in fact, it arrives drenched in a very rich sauce (a seafood roux maybe?) that was a little too overpowering for me, and although the homemade pasta has a perfect bite to it, I’m unable to finish my meal and don’t much enjoy it. It’s only fair to say here that another diner would probably have loved it, the ingredients are obviously top quality and there was nothing wrong with the dish as such, it was just heavier and richer than this very pregnant lady could handle, and perhaps the menu description is a little misleading.
Hal’s sea bream, on the other hand, is an absolute delight. The fish flakes beautifully and melts in the mouth; perfectly cooked greens add a pleasing earthiness; pine nuts offer a welcome crunch. The whole dish is cooked and flavoured to perfection and we both enjoy it immensely (notice how I steal his food – like I said: I’m basic, and I’m fine with it.)
To accompany our meal Hal enjoys two exquisite glasses of the Pinot Grigio which I sneak a couple of mouthfuls of. I don’t know if it’s just because I haven’t drunk alcohol for over 9 months, or because the wine is absolutely exceptional, but I have to stop myself from carrying on past a couple of mouthfuls – it is smooth and incredibly drinkable.
To end our meal we go for desserts of honey-cooked peach with meringue and vanilla ice cream (£8.50) and Italian sponge cake with limoncello and lemon sorbet (£8.50). The honey-cooked peaches are juicy and sweet, and the ice cream sits on a seriously tasty disk of chewy honey-soaked cake. The Italian sponge cake is, indeed, soaked in limoncello and each mouthful is fresh and sweet without being sickly. The lemon sorbet is delightfully cleansing and fresh on the palette. Dessert is the perfect end to a wonderful meal – a “crescendo of taste” as Hal puts it.
Out and about
Located in the heart of Belgravia, The Hari provides the perfect base for exploring west London on foot or on one of the cute branded bicycles lined up in a charming little row outside the entrance to the hotel. Shopping lovers find themselves a mere 15-minute walk from Harrods or Harvey Nichols, not to mention the prestigious upmarket clothes shops on Sloane Street.
Many of London’s most famed attractions are within walking distance (Buckingham Palace, The Royal Albert Hall, The Science Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum) and the very helpful concierge are happy to suggest places to visit. I’ve lived in London for 12 years and am constantly berating myself for not making the most of what it has to offer. This staycation offered the perfect opportunity to go and soak up all that London has to offer.
The best thing
Visually The Hari is a treat: my eyes lapped up everything they saw and were delighted by the mix of quirky and refined decor. The sheets on our bed were heartbreakingly soft. Service was impeccable. We are lucky to have an escape like The Hari in London, it made for the perfect staycation in every way.
The worst thing
The Hari is a 5-star hotel which means that I can’t live there permanently. That distresses me greatly.
Double/twin rooms from £234 + 5% VAT, Suites from £424 + 5% VAT