Review by Fiona Duncan, published 29th March 2009.
The Nineties have a lot to answer for. Every age has produced its design eyesores, but the grandiose, vapid, as-long-as-it’s-shiny interiors of many of that decade’s public buildings really did seem to reach an all-time low. Built by Rank Hotels in 1965 on a prime spot between Millionaire’s Row and Kensington Gardens, the run-down Royal Garden was sold in the mid-Nineties to new private owners who reopened it as a five-star property, complete with interior so vapid, shiny and ephemeral that just a few years later it cries out to be replaced.
The lobby could be anywhere. Worse is the ground-floor Park Restaurant, where guests also breakfast, with inspiring views over Kensington Palace and Gardens, but without the smallest echo of its location. What are two huge, naked, faux classical statues doing holding up the ceiling? They look ludicrous, like those naff Queen Elizabeth Gates that were erected at around the same time across the park.
I hope that the overgrown stone men can soon let go of the ceiling: by 2011 the entire hotel should have been refurbished. Around 80 rooms already have been, to create relaxing, inoffensive spaces that allow the view to take centre stage. Perhaps this time the hotel will adopt a more timeless style that also reflects its location.
For it’s the location that really impresses. A third of the 400 bedrooms have stunning views of London’s lung, Hyde Park, and encircling landmark buildings, while the 10th floor contains the hotel’s best feature: its impressive new restaurant that vies only with Windows on the World at the Hilton for its dazzling panorama. It’s called Min Jiang and it’s something of a secret, much frequented by Chinese. In a bold red and black livery, it offers expert service and authentic dishes, including delicate won ton and whole crispy duck. The latter is ushered to the table looking like David Dickinson after a brush with a bottle of fake tan, then deftly sliced and bundled into neat pancakes. You eat shards of the skin separately, dipped in sugar to counteract the oiliness. At lunchtime you get the view.
I’d be tempted to choose the Royal Garden if I were with children, especially their very decent Easter family package which includes an Easter egg hunt. Children visiting London will have the park, with Princess Diana adventure playground and Round Pond, as their backyard if they stay here. The friendly staff lend toys and dole out bags of bread for the ducks. There are healthy kids’ menus and rooms with sofa beds and ones that interconnect. Splashes of celebrity glamour rub off on to everyday guests when nearby record companies use the hotel for their bands. Visiting football teams, too, have put up here since the 1966 World Cup.
From Easter, Peter Pan will be playing in a tent in the Gardens; shops and museums are a stroll away; and babysitting can be arranged, allowing parents to nip upstairs to Min Jiang while the children sleep.
2-24 Kensington High St, W8 (020 7937 8000; www.royalgardenhotel.co.uk). Doubles from £170 per night. Easter package: £499 for three nights b & b, two adults, two children sharing