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The Rubens at the Palace has been a neighbor to Buckingham Palace since the 1700s. So, besides luxurious accommodations and amenities expected of the 21st century, guests of the hotel can expect to peel away layers of history, too.
In fact, the hotel overlooks Buckingham Palace’s Royal Mews (which provides road transport for Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the royal family) and the queen’s back garden. Guests can sit by a window at The Rubens and drink tea or champagne while watching the royal equerry and other dignitaries (even the queen herself occasionally) enter or leave the palace. Buckingham Palace’s entrance, with its traditional changing of the guard, is only a short walk away, too.
And after a five-year, multimillion-pound refurbishment, The Rubens at the Palace is fit for royalty more than ever before. Of course, The Rubens’ main attraction is the hotel itself. In 1997, The Rubens became part of Red Carnation Hotels, a family-run company that has restored 17 hotels with impressive heritages and turned them into five-star boutique hotels with contemporary conveniences. The Rubens has 163 rooms, suites and serviced apartments with decor in regal colors such as royal blue, red and gold. If guests look closely, they can even spot miniature golden crowns in the carpeting. More than 80 marble bathrooms were installed in the renovation, and 163 new chandeliers now adorn ceilings. I stayed at the hotel in late October, and my room featured royal-blue-and-white striped, padded fabric on the walls, a blue Murano glass chandelier and even a portrait of Prince Charles. (I actually would have preferred Prince Harry.)
To expand further on the royalty theme, there are 18 Royal Rooms that are cordoned off from the rest of the guestrooms. Each of these rooms is decorated in the style of a member of the British monarchy, and this room category also features the best views of the nearby palace and gardens.
The public spaces of The Rubens have been upgraded as well. The Cavalry Bar’s intense red color practically vibrates, especially during the nightly live music performances. Striking a different note is the Palace Lounge, where afternoon tea is served (and where guests can gaze at the Royal Mews). Adjoining the tea lounge is the Leopard Champagne Bar, which serves more than 20 different champagnes.
For a fine-dining experience, The English Grill features polished silver, classic leather banquettes, service from tailcoated waiters and traditional English fare with a modern twist. Dishes are created from ingredients sourced from top English producers, who also provide some items to the queen’s kitchen. I warily ordered the black pudding Scotch egg with watercress; I usually hate black pudding, but done this way it was delicious. For my main course, I had the Barnsley lamb chop, and dessert was an English cheese plate with treats including Wigmore English blue cheese, Rosary goat cheese and Stinking Bishop cow’s cheese.
The hotel’s newest eatery is The Curry Room, whose three-course, Indian- and African-influenced menu is made in collaboration with The Oyster Box Hotel, a sister property in Durban, South Africa. The intimate restaurant is located downstairs from The Cavalry Bar. For guests craving a burger, head to Bbar & Restaurant, which is situated next door to The Rubens and also owned by Red Carnation.
Outside, guests will find the roughly 1,150-foot-tall “Living Wall” that adorns a side of the hotel building. It has more than 10,000 herbaceous plants, which add color and drama while improving the surrounding area’s air quality.
Bea Tollman, president and founder of Red Carnation Hotel, says that her hotel design philosophy revolves around being welcoming to guests.
“There are so many different tastes in decor, and I like variety,” she said. “But the warmth of the staff is always the most important thing.”