Why stay at the Richmond Harbour Hotel?
For an on-the-fringes-of-London escape, where a stomp in Richmond Park wearing provided daffodil-yellow Hunter wellies is followed by a few hours in the soon-to-land upscale spa and rounded off with a low-key but trendy supper (a cocktail or two will really open your eyes to the awesome artwork peppered throughout) – all for under £150 a night.
Hotel address: Richmond Harbour Hotel, Richmond Hill, Richmond upon Thames, Surrey TW10 6RP
Phone number: +44 208 940 0061
Price: from £140
Set the scene
Richmond has, in many ways, remained almost totally unchanged for years. It relies on its established upmarket South-west London reputation, meaning there’s been a slight lack of innovation in its hotel and restaurant scenes, with properties remaining classic but slightly stagnant. This spot is a great reminder of what can be done when new owners come in to shake up a building and inject some youth and fun. As it’s only been open a matter of weeks at the time of writing, the crowd is still rather silver-haired, but fashionable international couples and local friends in their late twenties and thirties are starting to gather.
This brilliant-white Georgian property was a much-loved hotel for many years. In fact, I met a couple on my stay who had married here in 1973 and returned several times, a testament to its happy guests over the decades. However, like a few others in the area, it had become sadly stale, so it was a blessing when Harbour Hotels came in. Slowly but confidently, this group is opening spaces across the UK with a very precise concept, in which cracking design doesn’t mean a hike in price, eating is about being as relaxed as possible – but spa-going is taken very seriously – and guests are encouraged to truly experience the local area.
There’s clearly a considered formula for the rooms, consisting of exactly what you do need and nothing you don’t. There are no freestanding roll-top tubs or unnecessary scatter cushions – instead there’s a single, signature cylindrical cushion on every bed (monogrammed with the hotel’s initials) and a standard bath that fills up instantly. But that’s the point – you aren’t paying for all-out luxe, you’re paying for a good, comfortable space with surprising little touches thrown in. For example, the reading corner with its mid-century-style chair, chrome lamp and help-yourself gin and sherry decanters and the bold, textured Mulberry Home wallpaper behind each of the huge velvet headboards.
Our room perhaps had a little too much empty floor space, but the striking, colourful fox and deer prints (another surprise detail) visually filled it well. As it’s still early days, room categories are still being worked out, but currently a deluxe double in the new wing is the same price as one in the old building – and the latter is far nicer due to the soaring bay windows and natural light (request room 10 or 20). There are no interconnecting rooms, but families should choose 401 as it comes with a sofa bed for kids.
Food and drink
There’s just one restaurant, The Gate, that’s already doing incredibly well with bookings from locals. We visited on a Sunday night and it was still pleasantly buzzy, with one large table that had clearly been celebrating since lunchtime and a smattering of smartly dressed couples and older children being treated to supper by polo-shirted parents. The atmosphere and visuals seem to be just as important as the food here. There’s a hotch-potch of house plants and birdcage candle-holders clustered in corners; giant fringed lampshades hover above tables, and the electric-blue velvet bar stools give a great view of the busy open kitchen.
The playlist sounds as if it’s plucked straight from a Soho House members’ club and is turned up a notch or three at 8pm (regardless of the day of the week or number of guests). The team clearly wants it to be lively and youthful – nothing says that more than the double swing seat on the terrace wound with faux flowers for Instagram shots. It could look very incongruous set among the grown-up cream-parasol tables and chairs, but the hotel has managed to get this dangerous mix just right: cool without being too try-hard, classic without being at all stuffy. When it comes to the menu, it has got that just right too. It’s not aiming to be anything different and delivers simple but spot on burgers, fish and chips, mussels and more, plus comforting sides (the three-cheese macaroni cheese is a winner).
When it fully opens in September 2021, this is going to be the jewel in the crown. It’s all part of the brand’s ethos; that wellness and relaxation are king and should be treated as such. Where there used to be an extremely tired health club as part of the old hotel (many Richmond residents were loyal members), the entire space has been totally bulldozed and, in its place now resides a large indoor pool with a sauna and steam room, 13 treatment rooms, fitness studios, a gym, relaxation area, juice bar and spa garden with cedar hot tubs and a hydrotherapy pool. We had a peek and it’s going to be pretty special: a mixture of central London smart and Daylesford country with big name Temple Spa’s products used in house. It’s a game-changer in the neighbourhood – there are no other spaces like it. Pleasingly, the same therapists who will occupy the spa are already in the hotel busily working away on in-room massages and facials – if you request Silviya, for example, we can confirm that you’ll be very well looked after (she’s looking forward to having all-new treatment beds to work with as opposed to the creaky travel ones).
The hotel is set at the very top of Richmond Hill – turn left and it’s a 30-second walk to Richmond Park; turn right and there are the very best independent shops and pubs in town, all neatly tumbling down the hill. Grab a vegan coffee in the morning at organic café Bhuti and an afternoon pint at the Roebuck, which has the most fabulous view in South-West London, or the Victoria Inn, the smallest pub in Richmond, then pick up artisan cheese at Teddington Cheese and rummage for trinkets at Richmond Hill Antiques. There aren’t loads of standout places to eat in the area, but gloriously unique Petersham Nurseries is only a 15-minute walk away (ask the concierge to direct you through the cow field – it’s a prettier route). In terms of competition, upmarket hotels The Bingham and The Petersham are on the doorstep – the latter is a good example of a property in need of some modern love, while the former does a great job of continually refreshing itself to stay current.
Staff at The Gate restaurant are young and cheerful, wearing stonewashed jeans, crisp white shirts and teal aprons, and seem to know exactly when to appear and disappear. You won’t be over-serviced here as the kick-back-and-relax vibe is too strong, but you will be asked if you’ve had enough time between courses or if you want to take your pudding to the comfier Moroccan-style seats in the bar. Local experiences are very important to Harbour Hotels, so whether it’s tickets for Kew Gardens, Hampton Court Palace or a West End show, or you simply want to be shown the best market in town – Duck Pond on weekends is a great insider foodie spot – the concierge can sort it all.
Probably beginner level but the green shoots are there – no plastic bottles or plastic straws are used in rooms or the restaurant. There’s a key-card system in bedrooms that shuts off all electricity about 60 seconds after the card is taken out of the slot, which classifies them as energy efficient. Reusing towels and sheets is encouraged and there’s a recycling programme in place across all the group’s hotels.
Accessibility for those with mobility impairments
There are rooms with accessible showers that can be accessed via lift.
Anything left to mention?
The design and artwork deserves separate recognition – it elevates the whole property to create an experience in which the affordable price tag feels like an absolute steal. The scene is set in the lobby, where interior designer Anthony Rudolph has created a stunning tree installation using light bulbs and ferns (a nod to Richmond Park). His vision for the hotel was to capture the area’s historical boho spirit, and conjure a feeling of simply visiting a quirky friend’s house. Many of the prints on the walls are from London-based artist Kristjana S Williams, who likes to work with collage, while wackier pieces, such as the enormous 3D playing cards, have been sourced from vintage fairs and auctions (Kempton fair and Lots Road Auctions in London’s Chelsea).
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