At the heart of every great hotel is a great bar. And The Milestone, situated near the Queen’s Gate entrance to Kensington Gardens, is no exception.
In fact, when you first walk through the door of the five-star hotel, you may even catch a whiff of it.
Head barman Angelo Lo Greco’s showpiece is an Old Fashioned served from within a transparent cloche. In an insta-friendly act of mixological theatre, the cocktail is at first hidden beneath a swirling mass of white smoke; the cloche is lifted and the crystal tumbler slowly emerges from within. It’s a bit like Stars in their Eyes, but with more whisky and less Matthew Kelly. (A contemporary reference for you there.) Fragrant smoke disperses to fill the room with a perfumed scent – a mixture of citrus peel and molasses blended with leaf botanicals not dissimilar to shisha aromatics. Theatrics aside, it is a perfect old fashioned - and the mixture of scotch with the traditional bourbon gives it extra depth.
The Stables bar is decked out with various horse-related paraphernalia in an overt nod to its history. Rewind to the 1880s when the building was first built for a prominent society family, and this cosy room was where they would have kept their horses. Personally, I much prefer its current employment.
(The Milestone also offers a number of alcohol-based experiences – from learning to make the perfect Bond martini, to having a personal mixologist serve you in your room. You can even learn the art of sabrage – opening champagne with a sabre – if you really want to show off to your guests.)
Nextdoor to the bar is a deliciously deco conservatory – high glass ceilings and a black and white chequered floor. There’s no view, but the natural light is welcome and outside you might spot the small herb garden and citrus trees used by the bar and kitchen.
Although the buildings are Victorian, the hotel was founded in 1922 – its centenary celebrations already in planning for next year. Made up of three connected townhouses, there are 56 rooms and six apartments. One client enjoyed the hotel’s impeccable service so much she ended up staying in one of the apartments for 18 months while her house was renovated.
Each of the hotel’s rooms is totally unique – often taking inspiration from art and artists, eras and movements. Several embrace the hotel’s 1920s origins; I was staying in the recently renovated Ruhlmann Suite – a masterclass in art deco.
Original Erte art works hang on the wall. Above the bed is a five-foot square glass etching of a flapper girl that dates from the period, too. The fluted glass columns look like they were stolen from the Titanic. And in the bathroom, there’s enough marble to sink a ship. A wide desk sits at the end of the bed fitted with door handles from a vintage safe. And generally there’s more black and gold than a Sam Sparro song. (Another contemporary reference for you.)
Good hotels elevate themselves to brilliant hotels via the little touches. For example, there’s a book nightlight by your bed, so you can read while not disturbing your partner. There are regular little gifts – some cookies here, a bag of sweets there – little things to make you smile. The generous allocation of Penhaligon’s lotions help in that regard, too.
A quick tour of the hotel, and you’ll find equally impressive suites elsewhere. My favourite was the Hermès suite complete with 16ft-high ceilings and French doors leading on a private balcony. On the walls are the owners’ collection of vintage Hermes scarves that inspired the room’s decor.
The public areas of the hotel are less influenced by any one era – and are more a collection of characterful curiosities. There’s warm wood paneling, elaborate carpets, display cases of fine wines – it’s Pall Mall members’ club meets eccentric aunt – in a good way.
The restaurant, named Cheneston after the medieval name for Kensington, serves unfussy comfort food, which plays second fiddle to the impressive wine list. The hotel owners, the Tollman family, also own the Bouchard Finlayson winery in their native South Africa. The wines fuse new world characteristics with the French style. Its chardonnay is excellent – like a meursault but with more minerals.
Adjacent to the main dining room is the Oratory – once the chapel of the original family home, it is now London’s smallest licensed wedding venue, and also doubles up as a quaint private dining room that’s ideal for a small but romantic celebratory meal.
The Grade II-listed building was originally designed by architect TT Jackson. As it happened, he was intrigued by dragons – and all the windows are decorated with embossed cast iron versions. It’s another one of those characterful quirks in a hotel full of them.
With nearly a century of history, which it proudly shows with creative and artistic verve, The Milestone is the boutique hotel, before they even came up with the name ‘boutique’.
The Milestone Hotel, 1 Kensington Court, London, W8 5DL; 020 7917 1000; milestonehotel.com