“Magnificent,” wrote the 13-year-old Queen Victoria in her journal when describing the house of Robert Grosvenor, the first Marquee of Westminster, built in what would soon become London’s Belgravia. While others noted the manor was “as extravagant and opulent as the very latest upholster-decorators could make it,” it was thanks to Grosvenor’s efforts that by the mid-19th Century, Belgravia contended with Mayfair in terms of prestige. With stucco mansions and sweeping crescents, Belgravia became a haven for dignitaries, landed gentry, aristocracy, celebrated poets, and renowned musicians. It’s little wonder that The Hari, a luxury boutique hotel, set its sights on this regal enclave.
A stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, Knightsbridge and Sloane Square, The Hari’s neighbors include everyone from embassies to London’s most noteworthy residents. Local history is rife with colorful figures that include everyone from Alfred Lord Tennyson to Noel Coward. As a lyricist arriving to London in the company of a very gifted Bulgarian composer, it was a different legacy, however, that drew us to The Hari. Just a few doors down from The Hari was where Bach, Mozart, and even Chopin had resided. And what better way to begin work at London’s illustrious SARM Studios than staying in an area where Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber continues to live today?
The Hari is a post-modern Sonata in five movements. In the vernacular of Wallpaper, Architectural Digest and the like, its style is “rough luxury.” With sandblasted brick walls and oak flooring juxtaposed with leather and bronze clad columns, the feel is one of vintage revamped with a contemporary edge.
The “first movement” is intimate and bold. There’s a charmingly eclectic allure to the lobby where thought-provoking art installations sit adjacent an expansive fireplace. With a library of design and art-related books, an Autoban sofa that renders long-limbed adults into a toddler-like state, and a quiet mezzanine with a lounge bar, the sensation is one of private club rather than hotel. Bespoke and simultaneously in-ya-face, The Hari confers a sense of “this is our own developed style and taste: like it or be damned.” We like.
Entering our room, the “second movement” begins. As a variation on the earlier timeless theme, silver-grey wooden floors with an idiosyncratic skin-like rug accompanies the aubergine-toned walls and natural textures while an inviting king-sized bed lays nestled between works of art and a large mirror. Cordoned off by brass-beaded curtains, one section of the room sits like some isolated balcony box in an opera overlooking the ever-changing proscenium of the city.
More enticing still, the same motif recurs in the marble bathroom where an ornate angular tub hovers directly over the park square. As faux exhibitionism goes, little compares with a sumptuous bubble bath behind large smoked glass windows. Though my colleague usurps the space for a private recital from which I’ve been barred, I’m certain the piece being played is inspirational. Thinking little of it but too much about it, I quickly take a complimentary bike to the Royal Parks for a workout before returning to the enclosed Garden Terrace for a whisky.
The “third movement”: il Pampero. Less a movement than a symphonic poem, the hotel restaurant, Il Pampero, is a journey in its own right. In terms of composition, Executive Chef, Claudio Covino, in the company of a highly talented sous chef, Carmine Giannino, infuse traditional Italian recipes with an ever-growing repertoire of nuances. As conductors into this underworld of hedonism go, the assistant manager, Vittorio Boano, makes the adventure for me and my partner both worthwhile and informative.
Paired with an exceptional selection of wines throughout, the meal begins with grilled seasonal Porcini doused with a light honey, mustard and lemon dressing. Accompanying the dish is a rocket and parmesan salad generously sprinkled with roasted hazelnuts and seasonal black truffles. As variation on this theme, Boano serves up a homemade Egg Pardelle complete with Porcini, naturally thickened Porcini cream, olive oils and a smattering of truffles.
For entrée, we try a taster’s combination of Tagliatara Di Costa Di Manzo (the 28-day aged rib-eye steak) with rocket salad, parmesan shavings and aged balsamic vinegar, Abbacchio (a very succulent slowly roasted lamb), and, the fish of the day, a Marinated Bluefin Tuna grilled and flamed with rocket and tomatoes. Though sated, we have difficulty resisting the pistachio and semolina tart with ricotta cream as well as the milk chocolate cream with cold tonka bean zabaione.
After a postprandial stroll through the tranquil district of Belgravia, the “fourth movement” begins. We spend the night in our room reviewing material from some of the artists we’ll be writing for. The large screen TV is fine for viewing, the desk easy to work at, and the smart lighting allows us to adjust the mood from work, to sensual. to sleep-inducing.
Well-rested the following morning, we shower and have a breakfast at il Pampero. Making our way to SARM studios, I have the uncanny feeling that I know just how Marquee Grosvenor felt as he made his way to Parliament some two hundred odd years ago.