For those who like cigars, it is hard to beat the humidor at The Wellesley, London’s newest luxury hotel (vintage December 14th, 2012). The cigar vintages in the walk-in humidor – temperature just under 20 degrees, humidity 65-70 percent – are pretty near priceless, as the hotel’s cigar concierge, Giuseppe Ruo, explained to the gal.
In the image he is holding a box, its cover sharkskin and mother-of-pearl, that contains Behike Cohibas. The price of each, yes each, is a mere £3,000. He recommends not everyday use, but special occasions. Smoke as far as the label and then frame it as a souvenir.
Some cigars in that humidor are 50 years old and still going strong, even if their skin has become just a little wizened. There are also private wood boxes where regular aficionados can keep their own supplies. Giuseppe and his ultimate boss, the charming Khalid Affara, go to Cuba regularly to visit the rollers and choose new brands for this superb collection.
Khalid Affara, a banker who owned the block best known for housing Pizza On The Park and the headquarters of the Pizza Express empire, here on London’s Knightsbridge, decided the building, once a tube (underground) station, would make a fine and unique hotel. In fact it is more like a cigar and bar emporium with rooms…
At ground level there are two bars, one to your left (Churchill Bar, with cigars) and one to your right (The Bar, with cognacs going back to the year 1770). Both bars flow on to the pavement, with 20 ‘outdoor’ seats protected by green hedges and a roof, and warmed by log-look blazing fires.
These seating areas are packed, every evening. But upstairs there are 36 rooms and, designed like the whole hotel by Fox Linton, they are stunning. Take 601, with rooftop views overlooking Hyde Park opposite.
Its interior is like a champagne and taupe jewellery box with leather lining, and Art Deco curves – even on its private humidor – and enigmatic retro black and white photos.
Back at ground level, behind the Churchill Bar is an afternoon tea room with strawberry fondant-coloured leather chairs. Live jazz plays Thursday through Saturday nights, a reminder that Pizza On The Park was THE venue for jazz in London’s Hyde Park Corner area, rivalling Ronnie Scott’s in Soho.
And, as a follow-on from the pizzas that obviously regulars used to eat in this place, before its transformation to luxury, you can even order pizzas in the elegant Oval Room, behind the main Bar (the chef, Stefano Stecca, not surprisingly mainly does superb Italian). As its name implies, this room is beautifully proportioned, and here strawberry fondant vies with the vanilla leather of the banquettes.
Oh Mr Affara, everything is so stylish here – I am told you do not have a fitness centre right here because there is not space ‘to do the best’, but you make up for that by having the Park opposite, and putting a complete set of mini ‘steps’, weights and Pilates ball, with yoga socks, ready for me in room 601.
Your china, specially commissioned, is by William Edwards, and your cutlery, by Studio William, is so covetable I want to return just to pick up one of your knives. Upstairs in the guest washroom of room 601, I have whisky-and-water handcream, from an Aberdeenshire distillery. The best, highlighted by uniqueness.
So I wash my hands, and wash them again in ‘ordinary’ Hermès soap so I do not reek of whisky, and head down to say goodbye. The team on the ground floor look like models, which they are – their work gear (cannot call these robes ‘uniforms’) are designed by a Milan-based company, Maurel, which also designs for Armani – and Four Seasons Hotel Milano and Royal Monceau Raffles, Paris.
The Wellesley’s general manager, Stefano Lodi, is also Italian, but I am escorted to a very English car, a Rolls-Royce that does courtesy trips for hotel guests, and a former English teacher, now the hotel’s doorman, is charm personified.
Actually if one had to describe this new luxury hotel in one word, it would be ‘charming’ – it DOES charm.