Suite spot

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2008, 12:00am

Having shrugged off the cloying naffness of the 'Cool Britannia' era, London these days feels more mature and sure of itself. It's certainly well endowed in the style stakes, and the hospitality industry seems to have learned that bigger isn't necessarily better - and nowhere are these two qualities more obvious than in the city's boutique hotels.

The doyenne of London's boutique hotel owners is Christina Ong, one of the wealthiest women in the world. Married to Singaporean property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, she joined London's boutique hotel revolution in the 1990s and is especially fond of The Halkin in Belgravia.

The Halkin's lovely Georgian facade belies the fact that it was purpose-built in 1991, and inside it's all cutting-edge technology and inspired modern design. Each of the five floors is decorated to reflect a different theme - earth, air, fire, water and sky. Drop into Nahm Thai restaurant if you're homesick for Asian food.

The Egerton House Hotel in Knightsbridge, by contrast, could hardly be more English, which may be why it was snapped up by South African Bea Tollman, queen bee (so to speak) of Red Carnation Hotels.

Breeze into the Egerton's sumptuous drawing room and you're immediately immersed in the relaxed and convivial atmosphere of a house party hosted by friends of friends. Small but perfectly formed (there are just 29 rooms and studio suites), the Egerton is decked out with luxurious fabrics, oil paintings and fine porcelain. And the staff - butler, valets and housekeepers - are perfect charmers, welcome antidotes to the reputation that Britain has for shoddy service. Close your eyes and you may even find yourself humming Land of Hope and Glory.

The Egerton faces a tranquil, leafy garden, but you're close enough to Harrods to walk back with several well-stuffed shopping bags.

Disproving the notion that all London's hotels - and especially the boutique variety - are hideously expensive, The Hoxton is the brainchild of Pret a Manger sandwich sultan Sinclair Beecham. The earlier guests book, the cheaper their room, with rates starting at a mere GBP1 (HK$14.50) a night, rising to a maximum of GBP189. In return, they get pared-down luxury - a bottle of mineral water in the fridge, but no chocolates on the pillow; no mini bar, but a shop in the lobby selling everything from confectionary to champagne; and butlers won't be turning down the bed, but at least the linen is Frette. The fact The Hoxton, which bills itself as an 'urban lodge', is close to the City, as well as being snappily designed and fully wired, adds to the attraction of its bargain-basement rates.

If you fancy a walk on the wild side, try the Portobello Hotel in Notting Hill, which has been London's most alternative hotel for nearly four decades. It's in a neo-classical town house and it's where Johnny Depp and Kate Moss reportedly rose from their circular bed to fill the antique claw-foot bath with champagne, popped outside for a moment and returned to find a chamber maid had pulled the plug out. Alice Cooper kept his pet boa constrictor in the same tub.

Eccentrically delightful, each of the Portobello's two dozen suites is different: in one, steps lead up to a gargantuan Elizabethan four-poster bed, and in the basement, the Colonial Room's bathroom boasts a sunken jacuzzi.

And although the basement bar may well host the likes of Bono and Van Morrison in the wee hours, there's a spirit of egalitarianism, and everyone is served in the same cheery fashion. That's exactly the way managing partner Johnny Ekperigin, a chef turned hotelier, plans to keep it.

Getting there: Virgin Atlantic (virgin-atlantic.com) flies to London daily.

Boutique hotel room rates start at around GBP145 per night. For details, see: portobello-hotel.co.uk, hoxtonhotels.com, halkin.como.bz and egertonhousehotel.com.