This is an updated article about the Conrad St James which includes my visit a few months ago as well as the new content about my experience at The Pem, the new fine dining restaurant, the new cocktail bar and the refurbished Blue Boar Pub. I have also updated the lounge situation.
You may have read about our new partnership with Debonair which gives extra perks such as free hotel credit and upgrades. Most major hotel chains have these special schemes that you can only book through agents. Hilton’s scheme is called Impressario.
I booked with a Hilton Impressario agent and got a fantastic deal. Normally the base rate at the Conrad is around £230 a night. The deal was for 3 nights for the price of 2 and with $100 credit, an upgrade, early check-in and late checkout. This meant that for £240 per night I could get the Duplex suite, which looked really nice. I was also hopeful I may get an upgrade to a one bedroom suite. The rate was also cancellable until the last minute which was handy since I did have to move my dates at the last minute.
The 3 for 2 offer is still available until the end of 2021 plus you get the Impressario perks
- Complimentary Breakfast for two
- 100 USD hotel credit per stay (or local currency equivalent)
- Room upgrade (subject to availability)
- Complimentary Early Check-in (subject to availability)
- Complimentary Early Check-out (subject to availability)
The location of the hotel is handy for Westminster and easily accessible to the rest of London with the St James’ Park on the District and Circle line tube just across the road. There are also plenty of casual dining places nearby if you don’t fancy using the hotel.
As usual, the hotel had emailed to ask what time I was checking in. I arrived before standard check-in at around 12.30pm and the room was already ready. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful on reception throughout my stay and always said hello as I was passing. This is another advantage I have found of staying when it’s quieter. It allows hotels to offer a more personal touch.
I was given a double upgrade to a Deluxe One bedroom suite. This may have been due to the agent requesting it or due to the fact that I was entitled to an upgrade from my Hilton Diamond status as well as from the Impressario rate. I was escorted to my room and told about how the hotel was currently operating with the Covid situation.
I had some lovely welcome gifts on the table of fruit, chocolates and macarons.
The room was large with a corridor leading to the bedroom and lounge areas. Given the current circumstances, it was great to have a proper dining table as I was allowed to have my free breakfast on room service. In the lounge was a smart TV where you could access the menus for room service. There was also a Nespresso machine and a kettle for making tea. If you were doing a long stay, this would be a great room to have.
As you entered the bedroom area there was a large walk in closet with safe, ironing board, iron, bathrobes and slippers.
The bedroom was large with another TV and a separate desk if you didn’t want to work in the living area. This was one of my few complaints, the desk had a glass top which made it difficult to use mouse on – and most of the available work surfaces in the room were all the same. Apparently, you can request a mouse mat.
By the desk was a media hub where you can hook up your laptop or device to the TV. There was also a Bluetooth iHome clock radio, which seemed a bit odd given how far it was from the bed.
As you would expect from Conrad, the bed was very comfortable with high-quality linens and the room was super quiet. Turndown was available daily with water placed by the bed but I didn’t seem to get it every night.
As with the other rooms, the bathroom was great. There was a large separate bath, shower, and a dual vanity sink area with plenty of storage space. Toiletries were the standard Conrad Shanghai Tang Mandarin which I really like with its tangy fragrance. The tubes were a good size and there were extra amenities such as mouth wash and a loofah as well as the standard shower gel, shampoo etc. Next to the sink was a lit magnifying mirror.
I also really liked the fact that there was a proper sit-down vanity area with a plug nearby for using a hairdryer. Having somewhere with a plug close to a mirror where you can sit down is something that far too many hotels do badly! It was also good to have the little drawers if you wanted to store things at the table.
The Executive lounge
Most hotels seem to have closed their lounges and some offer a fairly paltry compensation for this in the bar. The Conrad has tackled this extremely well after initially having an offering in the Blue Boar bar that was a little more hit and miss.
Most of the suites come with lounge access but I would have been entitled to use it anyway due to my Diamond status with Hilton Honors. The Executive lounge is a lovely space but was only open for self-serve soft drinks during my visit. For the evening drinks and canapes, they are now serving them in Emmeline’s lounge which is quite well hidden next to Emmeline’s bar on the ground floor. One night they also served them in the Blue Boar restaurant as they were using the lounge for a private event.
I found the staff generally good, but there was one waiter, Lee who excelled. He was happy for me to sit in the bar area and keep popping out to top me up as I was trying to work and needed a higher table than they had in the lounge.
There was a choice of sparkling wine (which was a rather nice Prosecco), spirits or beer plus soft drinks. The drinks were available 5.30-7.30pm and they were happy to top up. At the weekend the service was a little slow at times due to the number of people in the lounge.
I was offered a selection of canapes which you could request more of after the initial serving. The quality was high and the portion was fairly generous. I thought they were well presented too. When the canapes were brought to your table, the server gave you an explanation of what each one was. I thought the menu choices were innovative with canapes such as ravioli, smoked salmon with caviar, samosas and charcuterie.
Overall, I actually enjoyed this more than the usual self-serve scenario. It’s often quite a scrum when it first starts, so this felt more civilised and upmarket.
UPDATE: August 2021 – The Executive lounge is now fully open with a full range of canapes and drinks in the evening. Like my experience, it is not self-service, canapes and drinks are brought to your table. However, there were some drinks left out which people were helping themselves to.
Food and drink
Blue Boar Bar – December 2020
I ate in the Blue Boar bar a couple of nights and the food was pretty good. Here is the room service menu which is pretty much identical to the bar menu apart from the late night dining part. You could access it all via your phone if you wished by scanning a QR code.
I really recommend the vanilla cheesecake – it was very decadent and delicious! While prices are not cheap, I of course had the $100 hotel credit to go towards the meals.
Blue Boar Pub June 2021
I have since revisited the Blue Boar Bar and the menu has been updated. I thought the quality of food was slightly better and we had a great evening there.
I had the Potted Cornish Crab with cucumber jelly and grilled sourdough toast to start which was delish and fresh tasting with the cucumber tempering the sweet crab.
Then I had the enormous burger which was great along with some crisp, light onion rings. It was well cooked but not overcooked and the beef still had just enough texture to it.
The Hedgerow August 2021
One of the things the Conrad previously lacked as well as a fine dining restaurant was a decent bar. Previously the lobby bar was very lacking in atmosphere and not somewhere I would go. Now I would go even if I wasn’t staying at the hotel. The now glamorous cocktail bar offers a taste of the countryside with drinks inspired by nature, hence the name. The menu uses British botanicals and fruits, for a collection of cocktails created by top mixologist Gregorio Soriente.
The decor is modern and sophisticated with cocktails to match. We found the staff very attentive and we were given rather too plentiful supplies of the moreish bar snacks before our dinner!
Our favourite cocktail of the evening was the slightly Pina Colada-esque A Sage told me which was deceptively light and refreshing. I felt I should have been sitting by a pool!
The Pem August 2021
The Pem is the brainchild of Sally Abé who you may have seen on Great British Menu. Emily Wilding Davison, who was affectionately nicknamed ‘Pem’ by her close family, was a prominent suffragette, well known for her impact she made toward equal rights for women in the UK. The Pem believe that they have those same qualities towards food – Dedication. Commitment. Passion. Care.
The first thing that struck me was the decor which felt quite decadent but modern with its burgundy tones and muted lighting. The host who took us to our table was wearing the most beautiful burgundy gown as well. It all felt very glamourous but not intimidating with the friendly staff’s care.
After some fiendishly good warm crusty bread with what was called whipped cream but was just verging on butter but lighter, we were presented with some melt-in-the-mouth canapes.
Our favorite was the very clever cheese and onion tarts that were in edible glass-like cases made from onion gel.
To start I went with the Seared Cumbrian Rose Veal with Violet artichoke, nasturtium, green peppercorn. This summed up the cooking here for me, nothing groundbreaking in terms of technique or flavours but amazing quality food in thoughtful combinations cooked perfectly. The dish was basically like a beef carpaccio but made with veal which had a more delicate taste and melted in the mouth. I loved the green peppercorns for their instant burst of flavour against the tender veal. Katie also loved her Wild Mushrooms with Herb mousseline, truffle velouté, St Ewe egg, celery leaf.
The sommelier was knowledgeable and not pushy, allowing us to order by the glass and to taste the wine before committing. We had started with a glass of Hambledon ‘Classic Cuvée’ and then I moved on to a white South African blend called the Rocking Horse.
Next up we both went for fish as the main course. My John Dory was cooked to perfection with a beautiful moist texture and I loved the buttery sauce offset with a hint of sherry and the burst of salty caviar. You can see more of Katie’s experience here.
Chef Sally came out for a chat with every table which is always appreciated. She was very down to earth and it was fantastic to chat to her. I asked for her recommendation for her favourite dishes on the menu and she mentioned the Black Forest Gateau. This for me was the only course where there was a slight stumble. It was beautifully presented and I enjoyed the cherries and in particular the cherry ice cream. However, the gateau itself I found a little too rich with chocolate and a bit monotonous in flavour. For me, it missed the essence of Black Forest Gateau in terms of the cake which I have always enjoyed as the whipped cream stops the chocolate from being so overwhelming. Funnily enough, someone else who had visited said the same about the dish. Katie’s apricot tartlet with plenty of creamy custard was a big hit and also with another friend that visited.
I thought this was one of the most perfect hotel restaurants you could ask for. A sense of occasion and wonderful food that it would be worth making a special trip for. Currently, I would say that will be in my top spots if I wanted a fine dining experience in London. The food is approachable for those that perhaps just wanted a meal in the hotel, but with good enough for any self-respecting foodie. Prices are not cheap but not so expensive it would put anyone staying at the Conrad off eating there with starters around £16 and mains around £30.
I will definitely be back and I think if you don’t visit while staying at the Conrad next it would be a crime!
Breakfast – December 2020
For breakfast, you could either have it on room service or in the Blue Boar. I tried both. Room service I just ordered by phone and it was pretty quick at under 30 minutes both times.
The room rate came with a complimentary breakfast, although I would have got it anyway from my Diamond status. There was a great choice and you could choose anything on the menu.
I tried a few different things including the mushrooms on brioche which was very tasty, and the avocado on toast (I know, I always order that!)
When in London…..
I thought that I would mention a few places that I visited while in London over the last 6 months.
Hélène Darroze at the Connaught
This is one of the best value lunches in London for Michelin star dining. There is only indoor dining at this restaurant.
You can usually get a 3 course meal with lots of extras such as bread with an amazing spicy butter, amuse bouche, canapes, and chocolates for £65 a head during the week. There is a choice of main course – mine was venison wellington which was stunning. The restaurant currently holds 3 Michelin stars.
Galvin Bistrot & Bar
If you enjoy classic French food, this is a fantastic option that is reasonably priced for its city location. It was also the warmest and most comfortable outdoor dining I found, even in December. I was joining my lovely friend Patrick Hoy, a fellow frequent traveller and TV presenter. You can read or watch my interview with him here.
This is a well-known and popular terrace, so if you fancy going make sure you book well in advance. It has a magical feeling to it, but it was a little chilly if you get seated on the edge rather than directly under a heater. Their mini fondue for one or two was great and very filling!
I was impressed with this stay. I did have a couple of issues during the stay and was very impressed with how they resolved them. One thing I accept is that there will always be issues when you travel – no system or human being is infallible. What matters is how they fix them. On both occasions, they were quick to react. For the more serious issue, I had the duty manager call me within a few minutes of reporting it to the front desk and I was offered a credit against my room.
I loved having such a large room since I was there for four nights and I thought that bathroom was also very well thought out.
I loved my recent dinner at The Pem and will definitely be back to both the restaurant and bar.
This stay definitely demonstrates the benefit of using specialist agents. Not only did I get a great offer of 3 nights for the price of 2, but I also got all the extra benefits of Hilton Impressario such as the hotel credit. With these sort of rates, you also get all your Hilton Honors benefits and points too which is definitely a plus versus booking with other travel agents.
If you want to pay cash, your best bet is to book through a Hilton Impressario agent. These are luxury travel agents who are able to give extra Hilton benefits and you still get all the points and perks as a Hilton member the same as booking direct which is not the case with most travel agents.
The rates are flexible and for most places don’t need payment in advance. The Impressario rates are available on Conrad, LXR and Waldorf Astoria brands.
The benefits are:
- Complimentary Breakfast for 2 people
- $100 USD hotel credit per stay, or local currency equivalent
- Next category upgrade, subject to availability
- Double Hilton Honors points for the clients
You can book Hilton Impressario rates with our partners Debonair who are part of Pro-Travel, one of the largest collections of independent luxury travel agents in the world.
You can find out what rates are available through Debonair here.