4 out of 5
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The Trafalgar St James occupies a rare piece of real estate in London, sitting on the edge of the iconic Trafalgar Square. The famous spot, featuring Nelson's column, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, and far fewer pigeons than it use to, is the heart of London for many visitors. Leicester Square and the West End's many theatres are a short walk away, while the Queen is just a short stroll down Pall Mall to Buckingham Palace.
The hotel first opened in 2001, but was relaunched last year as part of a revamp to create a stronger focus on dining and drinking in addition to accommodation. The 131-room hotel offers a distinctly London vibe, despite aspects of the design reportedly influenced by New York, with the walls of the lobby and lounge featuring photography of iconic stars (though staff tell me these prints were sold at a recent auction and will be replaced by new works soon). The staff are friendly and attentive throughout the hotel, with a level of service befitting such a grand location.
My King Room features, as the name suggests, a king-size bed. I'm on the fifth floor, where the roof slants inwards slightly reducing the usable room space somewhat, but since it's a 35-square-metre space, it's not noticeable. What is noticeable is the lack of nature light in this particular room (515). A narrow window in the corner let's some light in, but in cloudy London there's not a lot of sunlight to go around.
There are two chairs and a small table, a sideboard featuring the mini bar (complimentary, but does not feature alcohol) and a narrow dresser-cum-desk (perhaps too narrow to be practically used as the latter). The furnishings, light and dark grey tones, manage to look sleek and modern yet there are minor retro flourishes, such as the sink faucets and bathroom tiles.
There are two dining options. The ground floor Trafalgar Dining Rooms offers modern European dishes with Mediterranean leanings, such as a pulled lamb burger with harissa and tzatziki, or grilled calamari with chorizo and mint gremolata. The restaurant also offers an excellent breakfast menu, with buffet and a la carte options, along with afternoon tea.
The Rooftop is a popular spot (reservations are encouraged) featuring, as it does, great views over Trafalgar Square and beyond. It can be a little chilly in those London winters (and, in my case, mid-spring) but heaters and blankets are provided to diners, along with a retractable awning to keep the rain off. The menu is focused on lighter meals and snacks such as breads and dips, sashimi, ribs and beef skewers.
The Churchill War Rooms are just five minutes' walk from the hotel at Whitehall. Since the release of The Darkest Hour last year (which won star Gary Oldman the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill), the historic site has become hugely popular, with queues stretching down the block. The best bet is to book your ticket online in advance, allowing you to join the priority queue. Inside, you can see where Churchill and the cabinet made the decisions that change the shape of the world.
Along the way, you'll learn some fascinating titbits – such as the fact that, despite being underground, the rooms were nowhere near bomb-proof, which most of the staff working there were not aware of. See iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms
It's hard to imagine a hotel that feels more like its in the heart of London than here. With its stylish design elements, friendly staff and gorgeous rooftop bar, it's a great base to explore the city from.
Rooms at the Trafalgar St James start from £315 per night. See https://trafalgarstjames.com
Staying right on Trafalgar Square? Locations don't get much better than that.
The lowlight is literally that – the small window means this room is quite dark, particularly in gloomy weather.
The writer stayed as a guest of Visit Britain.