Step out of the Earls Court tube station in Kensington, London and two things immediately hit you: Firstly, the Doctor Who police box right outside the station, and the polish and pedigree of the obviously posh neighborhood around it.
A short walk down any side street confirms the impression, in rows of handsome townhouses and apartment blocks, some surrounding private, fenced parks that don’t open to travel writers. Even houses that used to be stables or servants quarters look pretty swanky under coats of fresh powder pale rose, ochre, lavender, soft yellow, and celadon.
Behind the door of the flawlessly white building at 25 Courtfield Gardens, about a two-minute walk from the station, is the four-star Nadler Kensington hotel, one of a three Nadler properties in the UK (a fourth is set to open later this year). Previously part of the Base2stay brand, the hotels were renamed (or newly opened) after the group’s CEO, Robert Nadler, with the Kensington property relaunching in 2013.
As it bears his name, the hotels also reflect many of the CEO’s pet peeves about hotels. Firstly, he wants nothing to do with shaking every penny out of a guest’s pockets with surprise charges for roll away beds, phone calls (guests get 30 minutes of free national and local calls per day), early check-in or late check-out, or Wi-Fi. Neither is he a fan of hotel bars and restaurants, and prefers to set up partnerships with locals business to help the community on the whole.
Indeed while checking in early last March, I was handed a card promising 10-20 percent discounts at neighborhood outlets like Zizzi Ristorante, Brownie Box, Monsieur K, and New Lotus Garden. Two places, Franco’s and the Hollywood arms, also came with a free glass of wine each. A stay at the Nadler also earns guests VIP status and discounts at the Westfield shopping center in Shepherd’s Bush, one of the largest malls in the world.
But all that would have to wait until later, as I proceeded to room 204, a superior level (starting at $350 per night), to check out the Nadler’s definition of “boutique luxury.” Stepping inside at about 11 am, bright streams of sunlight poured through the two large windows, framed by orangey-tan curtains, onto the king-size bed topped with a sort of shag, faux fur throw.
One of the beams landed on the mini-kitchenette just inside the door. Always a fan of these, I was very pleased to see it stocked with enough glasses, cups, cutlery for a small dinner party, plus a sink with a Brita water filter tap, microwave, tea kettle, and Nespresso machine alongside the pods and bags of tea, including one “bespoke blend” just for guests, which was a nice touch.
The rest of the room’s technology hung from the far wall, as a flat-screen TV (reading “Welcome Mr. Mike Dunphy”) and below it in HDMI and USB plug points. A huge plus for business travelers is the Wi-Fi system at the Nadler, which gives each room its own virtual private network, accessed by a unique code generated for each guest at each stay, a plus for security.
For more natural elements, simply throw open the curtains and raise the blinds for a view of the back gardens of Kensington, which look idyllic enough to consider slipping out the window and onto one of the patios for an afternoon with a book and an iced tea, if it weren’t for the danger of arrest of assault from the owners.
Although rooms are very nice, clean, and subtly stylish, I’m not sure I can go fully along with the hotel brochure’s promise of “a relaxing atmosphere of originality and informal style.” Relaxing, yes, but originality and informal style, perhaps not, considering the mostly bare and colorless walls, apart from a few charming drawings by artist Ron Diennet over the bed. Actually, the most original aspect of the room was in the bathroom (stocked with lovely Gilchrest & Soames product), on the wall tile above the shower, where a sign promised a rubber duck to any interested guests; that was a first, for sure.
Waiting for my rubber duck at the reception gave me a bit more time to check out lobby, the only really public area of the hotel. It’s most conspicuous accoutrements, apart from black leather sofas reminiscent of the ones for bad kids outside my high school principal’s office, are the rare books on the shelves, apparently from Mr. Nadler’s own collection, and worth about £30,000 each, according the whispers of the staff, who rightfully keep a close eye on them.
Smartly dressed in semi-corporate black jackets, shirts, and name tags, staff members demonstrate clear dedication to the job, excellent training, and enough genuine warmth to step off script. Like the best service in restaurants, they are always close at hand when needed but an appropriate distance when not. However, with few public facilities in the building beyond the vending machines near the elevators, the only opportunities to take advantage of their talent are getting directions, food delivered, touring recommendations, and of course, rubber ducks.
That’s a real bonus, though, for some travelers (myself included), who tire of having to run a gauntlet of hotel workers to get in and out of a room. Indeed, the ease contributed much to the refreshed, positive feeling that I checked out with from the Nadler Kensington the following morning, alongside some regret at not having booked another night in the hotel, if only to enjoy the lovely neighborhood one more day.
Had the blue police box outside Earl’s court been an actual TARDIS, I might very well have been tempted to jump back one day and do it all over again.
Mike Dunphy stayed as a guest of the Nadler Kensington
All photos, apart from lead, by Mike Dunphy