Withhold initial judgments when we say that the most memorable part of our stay at The Prince Akatoki was the smell (and we mean it as a compliment). Woody, warm and all-enveloping, the signature fragrance (a combination of juniper, bergamot and five other notes) is regularly spritzed into the lobby, the corridors, the restaurant and rooms of this understated London hotel.
A first foray into Europe by the vast Japanese hospitality company Prince Hotels, the sophisticated five-star pad opened in 2019, transforming a terrace of Georgian townhouses into a Tokyo-worthy design hotel with two leading tenets: mindfulness and minimalism. The smell? It's just one small thing the team behind The Akatoki hope will leave guests breathing a little deeper after their stay.
Pared-back, Japanese-influenced interiors are luxurious but simple.
Despite having been open for a few years, the hotel has remained under-the-radar. It's a sanctuary of sorts - a chilled-out bubble tucked into central London's hullabaloo; a detox for the senses. Inside, Japanese minimalism has been turned up to the max: the lobby blends into one calming blonde-wood blur. Rooms are designed to soothe, offering yoga mats, chamomile tea, complimentary pillow sprays and - in the bathrooms - detachable bath cushions for tired heads. Colours are mellow, clean lines abundant and, throughout the property, that soft, sweet, omnipresent fragrance gilds the air. If you're seeking a taste of London's characterful chaos, this isn't it. But if an escape from the city's electricity is needed, The Prince Akatoki delivers.
The hotel's 82 rooms and suites offer flawless minimalism. Forget the elementary efforts of Muji and its ilk; this pared-back Japanese pad feels loftily luxurious in its impeccable simplicity. Blonde-wood, clean-lined furnishings, warm lighting and unadorned, latte-hued walls inspire a sense of mindfulness and calm that we've not felt since enjoying a mini digital detox (something you might want to consider trying when staying, despite the Shinkansen-speed WiFi). Some original Georgian features have been incorporated into the design to soften the starkness, so you'll spot airy sash windows and, above some beds, traditional crown moulding and cornicing. We loved the softly lit Japanese-style screens behind the bed printed with blushing Fujisan silhouettes. Akatoki means "daybreak", so the wash of peach-pink dawn colour felt fitting.
The Dawn Suite, left, and Marylebone views.
All rooms have yoga mats in the wardrobes, Japanese tea sets, Nespresso machines and large TVs. Soft drinks in the mini-fridge, including Pago fruit juices, are complimentary, but the Sapporo bottles will cost extra. Fluffy robes are to be left in the bathrooms - wide-sleeved, traditional yukata gowns are provided for lounging.
Bathrooms are vast. Japanese toilet aficionados can rejoice: all have Toto models installed, complete with gently warmed seats, bidet functions and air-drying capabilities. You can also look forward to rainfall showers, baths fit for three (with TVs in the wall), and fragrant Malin+Goetz toiletries.
What's for breakfast?
An east-meets-west offering. Opt for the standard buffet - eggs however you want them, porridge and pastries - or a traditional Japanese breakfast of rolled omelette, steamed vegetables, a flaky grilled salmon fillet, egg tofu, and hijiki salad, all served in beautifully glazed ceramics on a table-filling tray.
Lunch and dinner?
Head back to TOKii, where you had breakfast. Though a touch austere, with minimalist shoji screens and dark-wood tables, the pre-theatre feel only emphasises the limelight-stealing elegance of the Japanese-influenced dishes on show.
The robata grill - sizzling with wagyu cuts - is the restaurant's speciality, but there's plenty more to explore on an expansive menu that tries to be strictly Japanese but sometimes forgets its mission (truffle fries, anyone?). Start with salted edamame, teriyaki-style pork belly skewers and Japanese pickled vegetables, before moving onto the likes of caramelised black cod, robata-grilled aubergine and generous fans of fatty tuna sashimi.
Is there a bar?
The Malt Lounge and Bar, a wood-panelled izakaya-influenced drinking den. Pretend you're the protagonist of Tokyo Vice and order in the Japanese whisky flight for a nightcap, or pick one of the minimalistic cocktails from the beautifully illustrated menu for something a little more Lost in Translation. A sparing number of Japanese ingredients are included in each drink, to better showcase their flavours. We ordered the refreshing shiso, a long drink of rum, sake syrup, fresh grapefruit and lime juice and shiso-infused soda.
Limited. The hotel is restricted on this front by its Georgian shell. The small 24-hour gym is furnished with cardio equipment and free weights.
What are the hotel's eco-credentials like?
Toiletries are mini and there was a touch too much single-use plastic for our liking.
What about accessibility?
A number of rooms are adapted for accessibility and there is step-free access to the lobby.
What's the crowd like?
Cashmere-draped, silver-haired couples visiting the capital and multi-national families waiting for the Marylebone townhouse works to be completed. Kids are welcome, but the ambience is a touch grown-up for wilder ones.
Within a short walk I can find…
Great Cumberland Place, where The Akatoki sits, is a sleepy relic of Georgian London tucked behind the icky end of Oxford Street, but the road is bookended by some of London's best neighbourhoods. We'd forgotten how compact this part of London is. Wander the Serpentine in Hyde Park, stroll across to the restaurants and shopping opportunities of Marylebone, or jump on the central line at Marble Arch to explore the rest of the city.
Hot tip, if you stumble back to the hotel late: a two-minute walk down Upper Berkeley Street will lead you to one of London's best Middle Eastern food halls, Green Valley, where chin-drippingly juicy shawarma wraps and lip-burningly hot kibbeh are available until midnight.
Things I should know
Those enamoured by their night in a yukata robe can buy one from reception. The signature scent is also available. Cue, liberal spritzing around our flat.
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