The Athenaeum: a warm welcome in the heart of London

The historic hotel is no longer all about the glitz — and it’s all the better for it. (Supplied)
Updated 18 October 2019

The Athenaeum: a warm welcome in the heart of London

LONDON: One of the best things about visiting London is learning about the remarkable stories associated with many of its buildings and neighborhoods.

Take The Athenaeum Hotel and Residences. Its address — 116 Piccadilly — used to be known as Hope House, the swanky private residence of British MP Henry Hope, built in 1850. The interiors were so extravagant that they reportedly caught the attention of the author Charles Dickens.

Going into the Victorian era, Hope House was sold to the Junior Athenaeum Club, a gentlemen’s club open to the crème de la crème of London’s society, particularly those in science, art and literature.

The building became The Athenaeum in 1973, and the five-star hotel has been family-run since the 1990s.

History will tell you that The Athenaeum used to be all about glitz and glamour; exuding a grandiose air fit for its clientele of Hollywood celebrities and global politicians. In fact, film director Steven Spielberg once installed an editing suite in the residences, where he worked on “Close Encounters,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “E.T.”

In recent times, the property has been given an overhaul and is now more understated. It’s gone from a ritzy hotel to a boutique one — cozier, friendlier and certainly a breath of fresh air in Mayfair, an area that’s full of big brand accommodation.

Welcoming is the word that comes to mind when describing our recent visit. From the greeting at the entrance (look up Jim Gardner Burns, who has been a doorman at The Athenaeum for 26 years) to the friendly staff at reception, check-in was a breeze — and we were upgraded to a spacious suite, overlooking Mayfair. The open-plan room featured a double bed with living room area with sofa and TV. Meanwhile, the classic marble bathroom feels just as big, with probably the largest walk-in shower we have ever seen. No exaggeration, it could easily fit more than six people.

What stands out about the room is how accessible everything is. Lights can be controlled from the bedside tables, and all the functions actually work properly (how many times have you fiddled with the master switch in a room only for it not to switch off all of the lights?). One feature that could prove split opinion —  you’ll absolutely love it or loathe it — is that the majority of the walls are covered in mirrors. It’s great for lighting, but it also means saying hello to reflections of yourself everywhere.

Outside of the room, there are several highlights too. The hotel’s spa is comfortable and well-appointed. It’s also home to a decent-sized gym.

When it comes to dining, a stop at the property’s signature Galvin at The Athenaeum is a must. Created by chef-restaurateurs Chris and Jeff Galvin — who also own the Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows at the London Hilton on Park Lane — it marks the first time the brothers have moved away from their trademark French-inspired menus to create modern takes on British classics. Sadly, we were short on time and didn’t visit restaurant for lunch or dinner, but the breakfast was enjoyable, combining buffet staples with an impressive à la carte menu.

One area The Athenaeum’s staff seem to take huge pride in is The View, a lounge that occupies the entire top floor of the hotel, and offers panoramic views of London’s cityscape. The space offers books, games and snacks, and is great should you need to do some work. The only downside is that the balcony, which overlooks the great views, is closed as a security precaution when we visit. And that’s a real shame, as the view would no doubt be 10 times better without the obstruction of the glass doors.

All in all, this property is definitely worth considering, providing strong competition in a saturated area of London. And with it being a short walk away from landmarks including Knightsbridge and Buckingham Palace, you’ll save a lot of time on transport. Hello, West End.

Top tip: Book via the official website to take advantage of a number of deals, including Gourmet Getaway — a five-course tasting menu, plus overnight stay with breakfast — as well as discounts on additional nights or complimentary night packages.


Everything you need to know about Saudi designer Tima Abid’s Paris Haute Couture debut

Tima Abid Spring 2020 Couture. (Instagram)
Updated 20 sec ago

Everything you need to know about Saudi designer Tima Abid’s Paris Haute Couture debut

  • Saudi couturiere Tima Abid presented her first-ever collection during Paris Haute Couture Week
  • The collection boasted a lineup of show-stopping couture gowns mostly dreamed up at the designer’s Jeddah atelier

DUBAI: On Jan. 23, Saudi couturiere Tima Abid presented her first-ever collection during Paris Haute Couture Week. The Jeddah-born designer, who founded her eponymous womenswear label 16-years-ago, debuted her glamorous Spring 2020 couture offering during a candle-lit dinner held at Paris’ the Four Seasons Hotel Georges V, in the presence of her private clients, which included the royal family and Syrian singer Assala Nasri.

The show was set against the soundtrack of Tunisian singer Omayma Taleb’s soothing vocals, who serenaded guests for the first few looks of the 50-piece offering, which was a year in the making.

The indelible collection boasted a lineup of show-stopping couture gowns mostly dreamed up at the designer’s Jeddah atelier.

Featuring luxe fabrics such as crepe and tulle, embellished with gold and silver embroidery, beads, molded sequins and plumes, Abid’s range of body-hugging eveningwear is a true testament to the ability and skills she and her petit mains are undoubtedly capable of.

Standout pieces included a metallic skirt that ropes up the shoulder like a braid, another skirt made entirely out of metallic sequins and red and blue feathers as well as a wedding dress with bejeweled silk panels. There was perfectly-executed tailoring aplenty in Abid’s Spring 2020 couture collection, as well as waist-cinching corsets and embellished bolero jackets.

Indeed, Abid may be a newcomer to the couture week schedule, but she’s already proving to be a force to be reckoned with.