Strolling down Draycot Place, with its red brick, ‘Pont Street Dutch’ houses and neat window boxes, you could only be one place in London and that’s Chelsea. Passing two elegant Russian ladies, with child and nanny in tow, only goes to confirm the location.
Despite the late Summer sunshine the truth is I was just back from Venice and I was missing Italy already. Who could have know that I was just moments from being back in the ‘Bel Paese’?
There really should have been a clue in the name that told me “San Domenico House” was more of an Italian Job than Hotel Chelsea. A discrete flag, fluttering over the door was the only suggestion that there was a hotel on this mainly residential street.
Indeed from my first encounter I knew there was something different about this place. “San Domenico House” is formed form a pair of typical Chelsea townhouses. Like a house the front door is closed – you must ring the bell. Something I rather like. It seems much more ‘homely.’
Before I could press, the door was opened for me. ‘Welcome’ he said in an Italian accent. The room was not at all like a hotel. No lobby to speak of. No cold looking desk with over made up receptionist, just a room full of a rich array of clutter that I recognised as antiques!
In the bay window sat an antique desk and French ‘fauteuils’ . A smartly dressed man sat behind it and there was a laptop. In this discrete world this was check in! “Ah Signor Moore” he said. Another Italian I thought? (I’m not complaining) “We were expecting you. I’m sorry to say your room isn’t ready, but may I take your bag and offer you something in the drawing room?” Instinctively I replied “Grazie.”
There was a theme developing here. The staff are Italian (tick) The taste is Italian (tick). I am in little Italy and I’m loving it (double tick). Unsurprisingly, San Domenico House is the London outpost of a group of small select, yes, you’ve guessed it, Italian hotels which includes the famous Masseria San Domenico, near Brindisi.
The Drawing room was similarly furnished and it was clear that, unlike so many ‘cut and paste’ hotels who think expensive reproductions will do, this place valued the old, the individual and the tasteful. That’s not to say that there was not repro. There was. My eagle eyes spotted a few new pieces, but they were mixed in to the whole picture.
The mix was eclectic and clearly from a single hand. Big squashy sofas, Italian, French and English antique furniture all mixed with fine china and antique silver, with a good mix of antique and more contemporary paintings. There was even an old Naval uniform on a mannequin. I later learnt from the owners’ son that the furnishings were a mixture of family heirlooms and pieces especially chosen by his mother for the hotel.
A tray of tea arrived. The china – it was almost like they knew I was coming – was English. Sipping my tea it really felt like I was in a private and very comfortable home, not a hotel. So much so when another guest wandered in and sat down by the window, I felt a little violated!
Some more people arrived and checked in ‘antique style’ – it did make me wonder if my room was ready too. The truth is, not matter how comfortable the surroundings, when you arrive at a hotel, your room is what you want.
I venture over to ‘check-in’ and yes my room was ready. It did cross my mind as to why they hadn’t told me sooner, but perhaps I just seemed too comfortable to disturb?
My room was at the back of the property and on the first floor. It overlooked a very quiet street called Bray Place. The room was large and very airy. Almost the whole of one wall was windows, almost floor to ceiling. I was delighted to see that these were fully functioning windows. The décor was rich. Toile de Jouy covered the walls of the room which was split into two main areas. A sitting room with a table and chairs and a bedroom area. These were on a slightly different level, which, whilst emphasising their delineation, also meant that there was an annoying shallow step, which I did trip over a couple of times. A welcome letter and bowl of grapes is always a nice touch. Switching on the TV it came as no surprise that the channel that came on was Italian! The bathroom was as you’d expect was furnished with a good range of British and Italian toiletries. One thing I didn’t care for was rose petals in the lavatory! Im sure some people find a nice touch but I find them unnecessary and flushed them away, though one petal persisted!
Unpacked and conscious of my pressing schedule, I had a mooch about the place before heading out. The hotel has a small roof terrace, which has a fine view across the rooftops of Chelsea towards the Kings Road and the Royal Hospital. Evening drinks or breakfast here was defiantly on my list.
One thing I did want to check was the claim that the hotel was “three minutes from Sloane Square.” From the doorsteps to the front of Peter Jones is… well, yes, three minutes!
Returning to my room after supper in Chelsea with a friend, it was nice to see the window blinds lowered and the bed turned down for me. Thankfully no more rose petals! The bed and the bed linen were excellent and no doubt Italian!
So comfortable was the bed that I slept through 9am and woke feeling quite bright. Breakfast can be served in your room, but I wanted to see the breakfast room and ventured down to the lower floor. It was 10am by time I was dressed and the breakfast room was empty. Like the rest of the house, Italy was in attendance. Each table has unmistakably Italian linen, but was set with English blue and white willow china. The menu included what you might expect, but was perhaps more limited than I’d have imagined in an establishment like this. There were no pastries for example and nothing like kippers or ‘eggs Benedict/ Florentine.’ That said, the sausage, bacon, eggs and toast that arrived were excellent.
Returning to my room and faced with departure, it did seem much more like I’d stayed at a friend’s home and not a hotel and an Italian friend at that.
San Domenico House
29-31 Draycott Place
London, SW3 2SH