#review: Rosewood London, a manor presence in the heart of the city
By: Zaneta Cheng
February 2, 2023
Rosewood London has transformed an often overlooked corner of the British capital from thoroughfare to place to be. Zaneta Cheng reports back after exploring the award-winning luxury hotel’s nooks and crannies
To be quite frank, as someone who once lived in London, Holborn was not ever on the top of my list of places to frequent. Smack dab in the heart of Central London and walking distance to tourist spots like Covent Garden and Leicester Square, the district certainly has its merits but it hadn’t occurred to me that Holborn could be anything other than a thoroughfare. But that was before October 2013 and before Rosewood London had taken over the original headquarters of the Pearl Assurance Company.
Eighty-five million pounds later, though, the imposing 1914 Edwardian Belle Époque building has been sensitively and painstakingly transformed into the now seven-storey Rosewood Hotel. The original architectural features have been restored with exacting detail – you can tell because it’s given a huge sense of grandeur to the stretch of street on which it sits, and the district that was once just another set of roads to get somewhere else or an area where lawyers congregated at the local inns now boasts a pretty breathtaking Grade II-listed street frontage with an archway that harks back to the best of Great Britain.
In the early evening, which is when we arrive at Rosewood London, the arched windows of the façade light up with the warm glow from one of the hotel’s dining spaces. The car turns into the courtyard and it feels more as though I’m driving into a manor in the country rather than a hotel right in the heart of London.
We get out of the car and doormen in long blue coats with gold buttons and flat caps whisk away my luggage, pull open the doors and lead me into a foyer with squashy sofas and a lobby that’s clad in marble and mahogany – simultaneously warm and undeniably luxurious. Check-in is polite, soft-spoken and welcoming – while the whole thing is very much Downton Abbey, the hotel definitely knows how to deliver its mod-cons with flourish.
We make our way to our rooms through the carpeted hallways that can be accessed on one end from the foyer via lift and the other through the 166-foot cupola and grand pavonazzo marble staircase that reaches up all seven stories of the hotel. The rooms, for their part, are at once extremely spacious and luxurious yet contemporary, a slight adjustment to the heavier Edwardian and period focus in the hotel’s public spaces.
The bathrooms are clad in Rosewood’s signature marble – a familiar sight for those of us from Hong Kong who have had the privilege of soaking in the Tsim Sha Tsui hotel’s large tubs – with excellent water pressure and soaps and shampoos all from British skincare brand Votary. It’s also nice to have a reminder of home given it’s the first trip I’ve taken out of the city since the pandemic kept most of us grounded for the better part of three years. There are charging ports updated to USB-C for lightning speed charges.
There is a Nespresso machine and, more importantly, a kettle and professional hair dryer all stowed neatly in the mahogany cupboards. But we’re not just here to remind ourselves of home. We’ve been pointed to the Holborn Dining Room and Scarfes Bar – two establishments that probably played a very large role in establishing Rosewood London as a place to be for locals and visitors alike and solidifying the hotel, as well as the district it’s in, as a place to be.
The restaurant is done in grand brasserie style. It’s Art Deco with large lamps, large light fixtures, large open drinks cabinets and large red banquet seats around small wooden tables. Café society is rare in Hong Kong so the unapologetic brasserie is a welcome reintroduction to travel. On the menu is – what else – the best of British fare.
There are oysters from Ireland and Devonshire crab from the seafood counter and pork and white pudding scotch egg to start. They have grilled halibut, an excellent shrimp burger and roasted free-range pork chop. It’s good ol’ hearty English food and it tastes better getting to tuck into it in its country of origin. We also try the game pie. There’s an entire pie menu here and it’s a speciality because the restaurant houses an actual pie room that’s an extension to the kitchen where diners can watch chefs at work making pork pies and Beef Wellingtons by hand every day.
We skip Scarfes Bar, which is named after British artist and caricaturist Gerald Scarfe and whose work is still hung on the walls. Between jet lag and sampling a few of the libations at Holborn Dining Room’s Gin Bar, which I was told stocks over 500 gins and 20 tonics (the largest collection of gin in London), I’m very much fed and watered and ready for bed.
There’s not much to tell post-dinner as we head back to the room and slide into the large bed and its silky sheets and immediately fall asleep. Next morning, it’s straight back to the Dining Room for breakfast where we plump for a classic fry up and an eggs royale. There are myriad options for those counting their calories – maybe it’s the surroundings, but we decide life is too short and opt for indulgence.
After copious amounts of tea, we venture into Holborn or what is now called Midtown. The tube is just around the corner, on the Central and Piccadilly lines, but we decide to take a walk to Oxford Circus before heading back to Bloomsbury for lunch. It’s only after a long day out that the respite provided by the courtyard and the calm palatial interiors of Rosewood London really hits home.
As we turn the corner and the slabs of light grey stone that form the façade comes into view, I feel an unfamiliar sensation that perhaps, for the first time, I’m relieved that we’ve made it back to this safe haven on 252 High Holborn.
Photos courtesy of Rosewood London