Review by Fiona Duncan, published 8th March 2009.
Can a hotel corridor be seductive? It could here. Leave the lift and you navigate a graceful arc of what looks like pleated slate (in fact black-painted vertical strips of wood) in which bedroom doors are all but invisible, identified only by a protruding handle and a discreet number. In a city centre hotel of just 41 rooms, built on a former parking lot, these gently curving walls give an impression of infinite length and create a mood of calm.
More than the Halkin's airy lobby, more than its soft-shoed, Armani-clad staff, the corridors define its atmosphere. You will tread softly here, your voice dropping to a whisper. Even when the hotel is full, it feels unhurried and those anonymous doors, some with red dots of light denoting "do not disturb", speak silently of privacy, contentment and calm amid the storm.
The Halkin (or "Halkin" as we are now told to say) remains, after 16 years, effortlessly chic. More than ever, those casting about for a spoiling, glamorous London base should give it serious consideration. Its design-conscious approach is not for everyone, but now that the Connaught, Berkeley and Claridge's have added pulsating on-street bars full of girls in spike heels, the Ritz is crammed with visitors taking tea in pack-'em-in, get-'em-out-quick sittings, and the Dorchester is full of gold-spangled foreigners, where else do you turn for real class? Only Firmdale's hotels (Covent Garden, Haymarket, Charlotte Street) can even attempt to compete, though in a way they're more young and fun than timelessly stylish.
Timelessly stylish exactly describes Halkin. It was conceived and created by Singapore-born retail mogul Christina Ong when she couldn't find a London hotel that suited her, and it became the first of her worldwide group of Como Resorts and Hotels, from Bhutan to Parrot Cay. Asian sensibilities are mixed with Milanese design; spaces flow one into another; bedrooms (deconstructed, apparently, along the same lines that Armani famously deconstructed the traditional men's suit) are pared down to white walls, warm veneers and pale cream fabrics. Bathrooms are heavy with marble and liberally equipped with Como Shambala products. Blinds close and lights dim at the press of a button.
I'm not entirely bouleversée. The Michelin-starred restaurant, Nahm, featuring authentic Thai dishes from expert chef Robert Thomson, is disappointingly bland, especially at lunchtime, and some bedrooms can feel too unadorned, verging on the corporate, for my English taste. And talking of English, while I love the unusual mood (for London) at Halkin, the hotel can hardly be said to echo its surroundings and give a sense of place. One guest apparently lives here almost full time; this wouldn't be for me but I would be happy to dip in whenever in need of Halkin's very particular brand of soothing service and quiet, contemplative style.
Halkin Street, SW1 (020 7333 1000; www.halkin.como.bz) Doubles from £390 per night, including breakfast. Access possible for guests with disabilities.