Review by Fiona Duncan, published 14th February 2012.
Here's a well-kept London secret, an old favourite of mine that combines the luxury of a top hotel with the intimacy of a bed and breakfast. Ladies, solo or otherwise, love it. Why wouldn't they when it's a designer shopping bag's swing from Harrods in one direction, and Harvey Nichols in the other?
The Levin is the baby sister of The Capital, almost next door. Despite having most of the attributes of a major London hotel (serious dining room, great bar, and a superb concierge, Clive), The Capital itself is decidedly small, but The Levin is tiny: just 12 bedrooms arranged around a staircase that spirals through five floors, with a dramatic, shimmering installation, mimicking a chandelier, that cascades down the stairwell from top to bottom.
The lobby has delicious pistachio-green walls, with a feel of the Thirties; the tiny lift is a nostalgic throwback; the rooms are suave, with particularly good lighting. Tucked away in the basement is Le Metro, the hotel's elegant, ladylike little bistro-wine bar that reminds me of an upmarket Viennese tea room. It has a miniature open kitchen where you can watch the chef at work and comfortable seating on banquettes and at wooden tables, and it's the sort of place where you know no one will find you.
The Levin hasn't always been named after its owner, David Levin, who acquired it in 1981 (he opened the Capital in 1970). Until its recent major revamp, it was called L'Hôtel and, true to its name, felt like a French country hotel, très rustique, très chic (David Levin has close ties with France, and owns an organic winery in the Loire Valley producing fine sauvignon blanc, gamay and rosé that is on sale in both hotels). There were naive paintings on the walls, wooden shutters at the windows, wrought-iron beds covered in white linen way before white linen became the norm, and countrified bathrooms. Le Metro was decorated in shades of red, plum and terracotta and known for its signature cheese soufflés.
Times, and tastes, change. This is my first overnight stay since the days of L'Hôtel and I find a place that's less characterful but more glamorous than of old, sophisticated and slick as befits its Knightsbridge location, with fabrics by William Yeoward and Designers Guild. The manager, Harald Duttine, is still in place, along with a close-knit staff of just four or five who know many of their guests – and their preferences – very well.
Talking of fellow guests, I never so much as glimpsed one. As soon as I arrive, I am whisked up to my room (standard rooms are small, but not alarmingly so; the largest is the top-floor junior suite) and once ensconced I do my very best not to leave it again. What's keeping me? The champagne in the fridge for a start, plus all the ingredients, including recipes, for the perfect champagne cocktail; and a brilliant selection of pristine paperbacks that you can buy for a modest price if you want to take one home. Shall I curl up with an old favourite likeTender is the Night or Any Human Heart? Or give Noam Chomsky a go?