While I was having my Royal Afternoon Tea (say that with a stiff upper lip) in London in early May, I was expecting to do my fair share of people-watching. Or rather “royals-watching” or watching people watching royals.
If that’s confusing, it’s just that the hotel I stayed at – The Rubens at the Palace – faces the entrance to the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace. The Mews is where the royal horses, coaches and livery are housed; its staff is responsible for all road transport arrangements for the Queen. I did see carriages passing through the entrance and also quite a number of the staff of the Royal household (it seems to double up as a staff entrance). The main entrance to the Palace itself is just around the corner.
Back to the tea at the Palace Lounge.
All that people-watching was turned on its head as the table I sat at faced a large window fronting the hotel. I suddenly became the “watched one” as pedestrians, people in cars and the London double-decker passengers gaped at the tall, three-tiered tray filled with scrumptious goodies and my flute of champagne.
It was quite amusing to see a special double-decker come to a halt at the nearby traffic lights, and the passengers onboard – also having English high tea – gaping enviously at the better spread I had in front of me! They gushed and waved, and I waved in return. I quickly perfected that wave (quite royal, I might add). I dare say I managed to “sell” quite a few bookings with my sudden “gracious salesman” role!
This was the spread I had (and at £39/RM221, in London, it’s a steal): A selection of mouth-watering finger sandwiches including Coronation Chicken Bridge Roll, Fillet of Beef Castle of Mey with Horseradish Cream and, of course, the classic Cucumber and Cream Cheese.
There was also a range of delicious sweet treats, including a selection of freshly-baked Orange Scented Scones served with Citrus Curd, and homemade Jam Pennies, one of the Queen’s favourites. Another of the Monarch’s preferred sweets, which is boxed up as a takeaway gift for guests, is the Chocolate Biscuit Cake, like the one that was served at William and Kate’s wedding reception.
I was royally stuffed by the end of it and had to have a takeaway, as I couldn’t finish it all (practically everything was delish).
This royal and luxurious feel of the hotel is seen throughout the building, from the lobby to the dining areas. After all, the history of the buildings (it used to be a row of shophouses built in 1762 to service the Palace) and their subsequent conversion to a hotel in 1912 lend them a certain pedigree.
There were a few management changes before the Red Carnation Hotel group purchased it in 1997 (and it became the largest hotel in the group). It underwent extensive refurbishment which was completed early this year, and the results show.
My room, the Royal Double Room, was an experience unto itself with its plush, updated, upscale, classic British-style fittings and furnishings. Mounted on the wall, in an expensive frame, was a giant portrait of a pretty young girl dressed very stylishly. She looked familiar; later, my suspicions were confirmed – it was the young Princess Victoria (that my room was named Victoria should have been the other clue).
It had all the modern amenities you could ask for, super-fast complimentary WiFi, and my window also faced the Royal Mews (so, more “spying” on my side).
There are a lot of options when it comes to rooms (10 types), suites (four, including a family suite) and apartments (three). If you’re planning for meetings or events, there are nine different halls or rooms to choose from.
Families would be happy to know that nanny services as well as children’s and baby amenities are available, and there’s also a dedicated “director of fun and adventure”. The hotel is pet-friendly, so Toodles need not be left at home.
Dining and entertaining options abound within the premises, too. There’s the opulent English Grill where a buffet breakfast is served (continental or full English, and even healthy options), which is also open for lunch and dinner.
Lunch, dinner and afternoon tea can also be had at the bbar & Restaurant next door.
The “b” in bbar stands for Beatrice Tollman, president and founder of Red Carnation Hotels.
The establishment is a huge nod to the South African heritage of Tollman, with vintage photographs of animals, African carvings, and leopard and zebra prints.
Even the menu has selections like beef biltong, bobotie spring rolls, grilled Boerewors sausages and peri peri chicken liver (which I had for starters, and it blew me away), many of them Tollman’s personal recipes.
I wanted something light for dinner so went with “The African” burger of wild boar and venison, fried quails’ eggs, cinnamon marog and Chakalak relish. I substituted the French fries with sweet potato fries. I found the meat a tad too dry but was happy that my favourite sweet potato fries helped me along. As did the fabulous cocktails I had from the bar.
There’s an extensive list from the bar but there are also bar options. You could check out their Cavalry Bar or the Leopard Champagne Bar. I hear there’s talk of a gin bar coming along.
One thing that seems to weave through every single component of the hotel is the very genial, pleasant and genuine service and hospitality from all of their staff.
Location-wise, the hotel is quite perfect. Victoria tube station and Central Station are just minutes away by foot.
Of course, there’s the Palace nearby and the glorious St James Park (my favourite park in London), the Green Park, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square and the Victoria Palace Theatre – all easily accessible.
And when you head out, do notice their side wall as it showcases the largest living wall in Britain. I also tip my imaginary hat to the fact that old mattresses, linen, duvets, towels and curtains are sent to Sierra Leone and donated to various women’s refuges.
Rubens at the Palace
39, Buckingham Palace Road
London SW1W 0PS, England
Tel: +44 (0)20 7834 6600