Visiting London in the middle of summer is a melange of conflictions. From the scorching heat that radiates from grey skies above, to the lack of ducted air conditioning in almost every building (anathema in Australia, though it’s clearly never hot enough in London to warrant such infrastructure here, apparently), there’s something not quite right.
When the mercury tops-out in Australia, all of life’s problems can be solved with a cold tinny of XXXX and a trip to the beach. Alas, neither of these are readily available in Old Blighty; the closest one will find themselves to a coldie by the sea is a flat Foster’s in a pub with a name like “The Fox and Fisherman”, and the ubiquitous “Traditional British Fish ‘n Chips”, which is advertised just about everywhere you go.
So, to escape the heat in London, rare though it may be, one must find refuge somewhere with less sand and carbohydrates than the preferred Australian option. And what better way to do this than by getting a taste of some classic English interior design, and right next to Buckingham Palace, no less?
The Rubens at The Palace, a very traditional bastion of Englishness, is over the road from Buckingham Palace’s extensive mews, which here means: stables more luxurious than most of the surrounding dwellings. Right in the heart of London, it’s easy to find (this, in London, is not always a given), and also centrally located enough to make day tripping to and from your room a breeze.
Modern hotels tend to capitalise on two things: space and light. This building, however, does not have either in droves, given how old it is. Rather than fake it with fluorescent tubes and sacrificing walls for legroom, The Rubens capitalises on its biggest strength: English hospitality. Fittings are dripping with gold, mood-appropriate lighting is carefully curated throughout each space, and the rooms are dressed as though Queen Elizabeth II herself might wander in at any moment. From St George’s Cross laid delicately over each table in The Palace Lounge, to the sommelier in tails, flitting between tables at their first-class restaurant, The English Grill, The Rubens is a London experience which leaves an indelible mark.
Part of the Red Carnation Hotels group, the hotel-operating subsidiary of The Travel Corporation (a global luxury travel juggernaut) which operates properties in the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Switzerland and the USA, The Rubens is a formidable presence in terms of service in a highly competitive market. London boasts more hotels than a drawer full of Monopoly pieces, and the best ones can book out frequently, creating a healthy race between the different big names to secure visitors’ dollars. This is where truly exceptional service is paramount to any hospitality operation, and The Rubens dishes it up in spades.
The toff in the top hat that some hotels still prefer to display as the first point of contact is replaced by a friendly guest relations manager, one of a few modern touches in this beautiful old hotel, which proves that old-world class doesn’t have to be anachronistic. From the greeting at the door to the bags delivered to the room, this is everything you would hope in terms of being just-a-little-bit-posh, but in no way stuffy or uptight; the team here know that a hotel’s foremost function is to help you relax.
Dining options include The New York Bar, and The Palace Lounge–a perfect spot to enjoy that revered English tradition, High Tea, whilst overlooking the mews–but the real star here is The English Grill, a sumptuously decorated dining room with a menu to match. Given the Red Carnation Hotel group’s South African heritage, take the sommelier’s advice and drink a selection of wines from the company’s very own vines in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, where they produce Bouchard Finlayson, a new world winery with a vast range of grape varieties.
A deliciously fluffy and eggy Lobster “Arnold Bennett” is the omelette that’s been missing your entire life, and acts as a rich but well-portioned entree, before the mains. Despite the selection listed under the “Mains” section, an assortment of delicious sounding British stalwarts which draws the eye, this place is a grill after all, and this is where the kitchen really comes into its own.
The venue’s signature, a twenty ounce Aubrey Allen Tomahawk, is unlike any other steak. Rich fats streak through the meat and melt throughout the cut as it gets (surprisingly quicker than you might expect) devoured. Sides arrive, too, but there’s little room for greens with a steak like this on the table.
A sixteen ounce Barnsley Lamb Chop, with a fried kidney served atop the prime cut, is also an exercise in gluttony, but one which is highly recommended.
Each room at The Rubens has been designed according to its purpose. Low ceilings are endemic to buildings like this in London, and The Rubens embraces this fact. Narrow hallways look like they were surplus from the set of Downton Abbey, and everything from the light fittings to the door handles matches the theme. Rooms eschew the monolithic delusions of grandeur so commonly associated with this level of luxury, making up for lesser floorspace by offering absolute comfort, with interior design that ensures nothing has been left unconsidered, and sheets that make it nigh on impossible to leave in the morning.
Air conditioning in the middle of summer might be enough to want to stay in the room forever, too, but visiting The Rubens any time of year would elicit the same desire. This is a fabulous hotel: unique to London, leaps and bounds ahead of the rest in terms of service, and a joyously unpretentious slice of British hospitality.
There’s a feeling that everybody who’s ever come to London to visit the Queen has been put at The Rubens at The Palace , and if the walls could talk, they’d have a lot more to offer than tea and crumpets.