News & Reviews Europe England Review: The Peninsula London

Let’s talk about what everyone wants to talk about: the price.  It was easily the story of 2023.  Blah blah blah missing submarine near Titanic, blah blah blah Chinese spy balloons.  No, the real blockbuster was the opening rates for The Peninsula London.  It’s what 2023 will be infamous for, mark my words.  Now, allow me to unveil my exhaustive, deeply analytical take on this: I have no issue with it.  I was interviewed for Bloomberg about London’s new hotel openings, now regularly starting at over £1,000 per night, and I stood up for Peninsula because their rooms start at 51 sqm.   Fifty-one square meters – in London, we call that a nine-bedroom mansion.  For a similar price, you would barely get a 33 sqm room at The Connaught these days – trust me, I bothered to fact-check myself, which makes me a national hero in today’s media landscape.

There’s no story here about the price.  The real story is about a new luxury London hotel that cost over £1 billion.  Breaking away from London’s beloved tradition of refurbishing historical buildings, Peninsula opted to build it from the ground up.  No constraints, no “we’ve always done it this way” nonsense.  Just pure, unadulterated architectural freedom, resulting in a 190-room property that looks absolutely astonishingly….normal.  It’s not my money, but for all that cash, I would be checking the receipts.  I would either audit my accountant’s bank account to make sure some of the budget didn’t take a detour into his savings or praise him for the massive tax write-off he created.

When Peninsula Paris opened, it was to similar fanfare.  The opulence was cranked up to eleven – particularly their breathtaking lobby – and a financial philosophy that seemed to laugh in the face of annoying things like maths and common sense.  It’s like they threw so much cash around in Paris that by the time they got to London, they peeked into their piggy bank and thought, “Maybe let’s go back to regular toilet paper instead of liquid gold?” Seems like their ‘spare no expense’ mantra had a bit of a hangover, leading to a more economical philosophy in London.  Maybe they’re so worried about it failing they created it as generic as possible so someone else could take it over at a moment’s notice.

Getting there

It’s in Knightsbridge, my second favourite part of London.  But it’s quite a distant second to Mayfair, like a binary choice between breathing or not.  It’s right beside The Lanesborough and beside a busy roundabout where most of the views are of the traffic, and the hilarity of watching people get deeply confused by which lane they should be in.  It has to be commended when hotels combine luxury with entertainment – I suppose that does warrant some premium.

We arrived in their courtyard, were immediately greeted, and had our luggage taken.  Hats off to the Peninsula because most properties would have rammed some more rooms in this space, but they carved out an inner courtyard that makes drop-offs a breeze.  It does have the added downside that when you leave the hotel, it’s likely via the courtyard, too, and it needs its own traffic warden.

We were then escorted to reception, where we spent about 20 minutes waiting for them to check us in because anticipation makes the heart grow fonder.  The other entrance to The Peninsula is their restaurant, aptly named The Lobby.  Besides, it is a confusing set of desks, one for the concierge, opposite one for the restaurant, whilst reception is tucked away in another area.  Live music often plays throughout The Lobby, but that is perhaps the most interesting thing about it.  Peninsula Paris, it is not.  Instead of impressive chandeliers and art, you have wireless phone chargers.  After faffing around with god knows what, we were taken to our room.

Room

Ok, I’m not going to blame my wife, particularly as we were there on Valentine’s Day.  So I’ll just say this: someone forgot to send the stay list.  Still, it made it interesting to see the default amenities, which turned out to be a bowl of rotting oranges, four chocolates and a dark chocolate figurine in the style of their “pageboy” uniforms.  It looks cool, but let’s face it: Big Dark Chocolate and their cartel must be stopped.  Otherwise, it felt very much like the room: soulless.  It’s like the room had its personality vacuumed out; like we checked into the Smeagol suite, minus the laughs.

The Peninsula does not allow more than two people in a room until you get to a suite category, which is unusual.  So we had two Premier Rooms connected via a corridor and an outside door that could be shut.  The doors would not stay open, though, requiring a door stop, but only one of them worked, meaning we had to do a makeshift door stop using our luggage to keep the door open.  One room was facing the courtyard; another had a view similar to Baccarat in New York, which is to say some pipes, the top of a building and a side street.

The decor was so uninspiring you could’ve convinced me I was touring The Beaumont or that I’d stumbled into IKEA’s venture into hotel design.  That’s not to say high-quality materials were not used or that they had not stacked the place with tech, often to an absurd level.  However, all the creativity appeared to have taken a detour, ending up exclusively in the bathrooms.  It’s as if they designed the bathrooms and were so smug with themselves they then took the rest of the year off, leaving the rest of the place with the allure of a waiting room.

The tech is sublime and equally annoying, as you might expect when it sometimes doesn’t work.  Every corner of the room has a touch panel to control lights, the fan and temperature – each extremely responsive, with the light dimming afterwards so it doesn’t blind you at night.  The bed has USB-C/A, plug sockets, wireless charging, and touch panels for curtains and lights.  There’s a Toto toilet with the largest touchscreen control I’ve ever seen.  There’s an abundance of phones in the room, all touch screen, extremely responsive…far more so than the people on the other end who sometimes don’t answer, whilst other times the phone doesn’t even ring.  In the bathroom, there’s a touchscreen system besides the bath for the TV/Music, but it also has a massive red button for emergency assistance, which was not designed to be childproof due to my one-year-old having called it at least eighty times.  Try changing the channel on the TV with their iPad, though.  Go on, I dare ya.  Luckily, a remote control exists if you go rummaging around for it in the cabinet beside the minibar, making it semi-usable again.  There’s even a printer in the minibar and a screen with a video on loop showing you how to use the coffee machine.

I’m interested in why they call their base room categories rooms when at 51 sqm, they’re at Junior Suite size and amenities.  Ours had a living area in the bedroom, including a sofa and dining table, whilst in the corridor was a separate wardrobe and changing area.  It’s a Junior Suite.  Some amenities were lovely, like the comfortable slippers, children’s bathrobes, and a nail dryer next to the hair dryer.  I have not stayed in a base room in ages, often staying in suites and villas, but functionality-wise it offers everything you could want and then some.

The pillows were awful, though, so I immediately rescinded their Junior Suite status to slum.  You play a game of “will it work” with the tech, especially plugging anything in and seeing if it charges.  The shower hangs on the wall, not on the ceiling, giving weak pressure, forcing you into a sad huddle beneath its meagre dribble, like you’re being sprayed down on your first day of prison.  No, only me?

We went to see a Garden Suite – it’s their top suite category before their premium categories.  The bathroom is almost the same as the base room categories, so your premium is the view, unsurprisingly, onto the gardens and the additional living area.  Of course, extra space and view could be said of many hotels, but they tend to differ in some way with different designs; here, it’s very generic.

Facilities

The fact that they had unlimited freedom makes it all the more bizarre how mundane everything feels, with the exception of the Brooklands and Canton Blue restaurants.  I revert to Exhibit A, your honour, Peninsula Paris.  Did they celebrate their architect’s legacy by letting his kindergartener take the reins in London?  They seemed to venture too far into the safe territory that they entered the land of bland.

But things do get better away from the rooms.  Found underground, a beautiful spa, gym and pool await.  They have done an excellent job with the pool, making it look like natural light is coming in and removing the feeling of being in a nuclear bunker.  There are no kids-friendly hours – they’re always welcome.  The 25m pool was heated enough that I got in it, meaning it must have been somewhere close to 30C; otherwise, my fragile body would have immediately rejected this.  There’s also a small, even more heated hydrotherapy area with some jets and bubbles to relax in.  A couple seemed to mistake Valentine’s Day for “do whatever you want in public day”.  My kids were in for a harsh lesson in what awaits them without proper protection.

The pool area boasts ample seating, and service is also there.  Each time we departed, someone very sweetly offered baby robes for my daughters.  But as much as I initially liked it, does it impress me as much as Cheval Blanc Paris?  Or even Bulgari London?  I don’t think so.  Like the rest of the property, nothing stands out here when you compare it to the already-established players in London.

The changing rooms have a sauna, steam room (which wasn’t working) and ice bowl.  There are also separate relaxation rooms for men and women and a hair salon.  The gym is filled with TechnoGym equipment – a weights area in one spot, cardio with eight treadmills, and other strength equipment in another that covers everything you need.  My favourite part was this weird unused area near the small weights, so if you’re using a 1 kg dumbbell, you are so ashamed you have to hide away from the mirrors and everyone else.  The best part is the view from the gym down onto the pool, but to do that, you have to use one of their two elliptical trainers, which I think are reserved for people over 100 years old.  Besides them is the one rower that’s basically in the hallway and looks like an afterthought.  The layout felt strangely displaced for a brand-new property.

Elsewhere, there’s a flower shop, patisserie and thirty-nine billion jewellery stores.

Hassle

If you look up the word “hassle” in the dictionary, you will see it states: coming to The Peninsula London.  Stepping into this place felt like I was part of a beta test group that was being punished – a stark contrast from how right Bulgari Rome managed to open.  They have been open five months, which should be a suitable long enough time to get the basics right.  Instead, everything was a hassle.  Here, accomplishing anything felt like an Olympic sport: check-in?  Marathon.  Ordering a sandwich?  Decathlon.  Tracking down housekeeping?  The one with boats going through made-up lines that no one understands.  Trying to get someone on the phone was like attempting to contact the afterlife.  Even seeing another suite or getting a show around was a hassle.  They’ll fix it in time, but for now, it felt like a dress rehearsal where the actors were replaced with chimpanzees.

Lucie’s ex-Connaught training spider-sense was going into overdrive.  And so should a lot of the other staff, as some of the ex-Connaught staff recognised us and came to welcome us.  Lucie kept pointing out the numerous issues and how they should have dealt with them, but it kept eluding them.  I don’t know what the problem is here.  Well, I can outline some of them.  But whenever we spoke to people, they had excellent backgrounds across London’s finest, like Claridge’s, The Connaught, and The Lanesborough, suggesting we were in for quality service.  Instead, it felt like everyone was really passionate about doing absolutely nothing.  Our kids decided to redecorate the lobby with flower petals at check-in, and by the following day, it seemed the staff had decided to preserve the new decor as a permanent installation.  I suppose it did improve the blandness.

Clearly, the staff are not empowered to act in any way outside their remit.  Never was this more apparent than asking for a show around and being told we had to wait for this enigmatic Peninsula ambassador to do it, as apparently receptionists are not trained at opening doors and pointing at things.   So we waited for this ambassador to give us the show around…. and then they never bothered to call anyway.

We encountered indifference using their WhatsApp service, where urgency seemed as comprehendible to them as hieroglyphics, down to rudeness when a waitress yelled “What?!” to me as I requested bread.  Perhaps she thought I was asking if she’d be my beard.

Their WhatsApp service begs the question: is it really a service if it makes things worse?  We asked for some child-friendly amenities, and four hours later, you could hear the tumbleweeds rolling through our room—still no sign of them.  Our requested turndown arrived two hours later.  Phoning for assistance was like shouting into a well —except for the emergency line, which, surprisingly, seemed to connect to the living.

We wondered if they would do anything for Valentine’s Day, as they would at The Connaught.  Yet, here, Cupid must have outsourced it to the Peninsula ambassador, who, ironically, gave zero fucks.  To rectify their sins, housekeeping was requested to come at a specific time, then they showed up half an hour later, only to deliver a performance so lacklustre it made the bed look like a crime scene.

Every staff member we encountered was friendly and seemed to wear their care and concern like a badge of honour – right up until the moment action was required.  It was as if there was an internal competition for the “Most Surprised Yet Unmoved by Guest Feedback,” with housekeeping, front office, and guest relations all vying for the top spot in demonstrating the most bewilderment, followed by the least amount of effort.

Food

The Peninsula London offers three dining experiences: The Lobby is their primary offering with international cuisine, whilst also serving afternoon tea; Canton Blue is their Cantonese restaurant, whilst Brooklands By Claude Bosi is a two Michelin star restaurant.

We steered clear of Brooklands for a couple of reasons.  First, our kids have the uncanny ability to sense when we’re about to enjoy a moment’s peace and promptly put a stop to it.  Second, the chef hails from Bibendum.  I have been to hundreds of Michelin-star restaurants, most simply fading into memory, but I vividly remember Bidendum as one of the worst restaurants I’ve been to.  Hats off to Brookland’s design, though – very cool.  I can’t write a review scathing someone for something I didn’t try, but I think I just did.  Elsewhere on the 8th floor is Brooklands Bar, with views over the nearby park and London skyline.

Our multiple dining experiences in The Lobby were a hit, with live music regularly playing and enhancing the atmosphere.  Breakfast stood out, featuring a selection of fresh bread and pastries alongside a robust a la carte selection.  My anticipation for a unique pastry each morning was met with a sense of déjà vu when the same selections greeted us the next day.  However, patience was the secret ingredient not listed on the menu, as our food often took its sweet time arriving.  Portions were generous, though, except their Dover sole, which was the size of a half-chewed pencil.  I tried chicken tikka cos, with an 11-hour flight coming up, I like to live on the edge – it was pretty good, but my knowledge of Indian food is limited to Michelin-star restaurants in Mayfair.

They offer a dedicated kids menu, with the usual classics, like mac and cheese, cheeseburgers, and French fries.  But what they do, which I loved, is have separate kid-friendly plates and cutlery available in all their restaurants.  Less friendly was their patisserie, which is a squeeze to get into.  We tried some cakes and waited for something to kick in, some epic flavour, but the only thing that kicked in was my feeling I should have stayed at The Connaught.

I’m gonna be an arsehole (surprise, everyone, I’ve kept it hidden all these years) – I went for a free lunch at Canton Blue with some Peninsula bigwigs a few days after it opened, and it wasn’t great.  Ever the glutton for punishment, I decided to give it another chance, this time paying, so I earnt the right to be an arsehole in my review and conclusion: still not great.  Portions at Canton Blue are almost as small as the joy you will receive.  My experience of Chinese food is limited to Michelin-star restaurants in Mayfair.  I have a very diverse life.  Maybe this is how it’s supposed to taste, but I’m sure it’s supposed to be good, too.  On a brighter note, the service was really on it.

Competition

I found myself constantly drawing parallels to the Raffles, which also debuted last year to much fanfare because of its £1 billion cost.  You wait your whole life for a billion-pound hotel to come along in London, and two come at once.  Whilst I have yet to stay, I have eaten and had a show around – you can see where the money went (just as long as you don’t stay in a room or suite and go for a signature suite).  Everything from the reception to the bars, spa, and general facilities is more impressive, even if I can’t stand the location.  This sense of visible luxury seemed to elude The Peninsula.

Mandarin Oriental Mayfair opens later this year; The Emory is a few minutes walk away and opens in April.  I can’t help but feel The Peninsula will be a footnote in the London luxury market.

I tried to think of who would pick this over anywhere else.  The fact that the pool has no designated times for kids makes it very family-friendly, and they seem to go overboard for families with dedicated cutlery and plates for the children, along with providing kids amenities, assuming you request them, then chase them, then wait hours and complain again.

The Good

  • Pool
  • Food (kinda) – The Lobby impressed for breakfast, lunch and dinner, whilst Canton Blue is a hard pass.

The Bad

  • Poor communication between departments
  • Service felt like it was still in pre-opening
  • Better luxury hotels nearby

The Luxurious

  • Views from Brooklands Bar

Rating

Good

Conclusion

My feelings about The Peninsula London match their Paris property – it’s good, but there are better options.  It’s rarely on someone’s bucket list.  No one has ever said, “Upon receiving my unfortunate prognosis, my final wish is to stay at The Peninsula Paris”.  Paris has The Ritz, Crillon, Four Seasons, Cheval Blanc, or somewhere else I’m forgetting that will make someone angry.  In London, even their next-door neighbour, The Lanesborough, is a superior option, and The Lanesborough isn’t one of the best properties in London.

I tend to find that Peninsula’s London and Paris properties are good value for money when you look at them on a per-square-metre basis, but if that’s how you judge a hotel I think you’re doing it wrong.  Sure, I don’t want to spend my time in a shoebox room, sleeping upright like I’m Dracula, but those are not the decisions at play here.  You might gain ten sqm more at the Peninsula, but you don’t gain much else: no sense of place, no style, and certainly no better food, service or facilities than elsewhere.

It’s excellent the capital is attracting new luxury offerings, but sometimes the real treasure are the hotels we already made along the way.

In Summary

  • Rooms tip

    If you’re price conscious then strangely it’s a great place for rooms, but when it comes to suites you might win in the size department here, but if you want some joy in your life you're better elsewhere

Premier Suite starts from £4750 per night

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 19th Feb '24

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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