Quiet Luxury: Your guide to the new Knightsbridge
Quiet Luxury: Your guide to the new Knightsbridge
London's most expensive neighbourhood has had its contentious moments, but this home of glitz and glamour is now ushering in a quieter, gentler era of luxury
You might know it as Little Arabia.
Nestled amid the historical streets of central London, Knightsbridge has long been a bastion of opulence and refinement. This residential and retail district, located south of Hyde Park, is renowned as a hub for the world's foremost luxury brands, high-end boutiques, upscale department stores, fine dining establishments, and top-tier hotels. It is also where you will find the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Albert Hall, and many other world-class museums and venues.
Once an exclusive stomping ground for British high society, Knightsbridge’s character has changed over the last few decades, in part due to an influx of GCC nationals who brought with them their distinct outlook on life. While the area's reputation remains anchored in luxury, it has seen a significant shift – with Khaleejis now forming a substantial part of its discerning and increasingly diverse clientele. It wasn’t always so.
The Transformation of Knightsbridge
Until the 1970s, Knightsbridge was primarily for affluent Londoners. It was (and remains) the capital’s most expensive address, which was one of the draws for newly wealthy Arab investors looking to put significant sums of cash into stable and prestigious real estate.
This unprecedented liquidity came because of a sharp increase in the price of oil during that decade, following a US embargo and two energy crises – one in 1973 and the other in 1979. They were detrimental to most western countries, but ultimately led to huge sums of money accrued by the major oil exporters in the Gulf.
Arab investment stimulated London’s economy to some degree, attracting even more luxury retailers, restaurants, and hotels, which in turn created jobs. The growing number of foreigners in Knightsbridge were redefining the neighbourhood – as early as 1976, a New York Times article reported on the different spending, communication, and lifestyle habits many of the new residents displayed.
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By the 1980s, Arab investors were buying some of the area’s most important landmarks. Notably, the Fayed family acquired House of Fraser, a chain of department stores, including Harrods, for £615m in 1985. Qatar Holding LLC then bought the store in 2010 and it has remained a magnet for luxury shopping and dining until now.
Harrods, with its seven floors and 330 departments showcasing the best of top-end merchandise, the finest homeware, and the latest technology, has become a destination in itself. Set on a 2 hectare (5-acre) site with100,000 sq m of retail space, it is one of the largest and most famous department stores in the world. It has remained a luxury hub over the years and is still where you’ll find some of the area’s most exciting dining venues.
This includes the Prada Caffè, a lunch destination inspired by Prada’s first boutique in Milan (which will only be open until the end of 2023). Sweden’s most celebrated chef, Björn Frantzén, has also taken up residence here at Studio Frantzén, a buzzing rooftop restaurant serving world-class Nordic cuisine with Asian influences.
Plush Luxury Hotels
Of course, a lavish visit to London warrants posh accommodation. During the 1980s, dignitaries and royalty favoured staying at the Knightsbridge Palace. The hotel catered to its selective clientele with Michelin-starred dining and sumptuous rooms.
Upon entering the hotel's lobby, guests would be welcomed by a grand chandelier, lavish furniture, and meticulously curated art pieces, creating an immediate sense of luxury and indulgence. Heads of state, ambassadors, and high-ranking officials were among the distinguished guests throughout the 1980s, until the hotel closed its doors in the early 2000s.
By the 1990s, one of the most iconic landmarks was The Lanesborough.
Originally built as a grand home in 1719, the property was renovated into a luxury hotel incorporating as much of the original facade as possible, yet completely converting the interior into a luxurious “home away from home.” Barbara Walters, Madonna, Joan Collins, George Bush Sr, Bianca Jagger, Cher, Sylvester Stallone, Johnny Depp, Mariah Carey, and Pamela Anderson were among the many celebrities and dignitaries who stayed at The Lanesborough during its earliest days. And while Stanley Kubrick used The Royal Suite to shoot Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in the 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut, Stevie Wonder once played on The Library Bar’s piano.
With its Edwardian-inspired grandeur, the hotel has continued to enchant guests with its sophistication and bespoke experiences. It has 93 suites and bedrooms, and currently hosts one of the city’s most regal afternoon teas.
Designed in the style and manner of a grand 19th-century town house, the hotel’s interiors are adorned with gilded mirrors, brocade drapery, and intricately carved wood furniture that define that eclectic epoch. Think Queen Anne, Chippendale or Louis XVI, the jewels in the crown of Britain’s decorative arts history. The hotel’s acclaimed The Lanesborough Grill also epitomises classicism, serving a sophisticated take on British classics like coronation crab salad, beef wellington, and dover sole, served with theatrical grandeur, with all the markers of traditional luxury.
For many, this still represents the top rung.
Taking on the Quiet Luxury Trend
Today, for a growing number of people, luxury is now less about grandeur and more about simplicity – sleeker design, efficient service that fulfils your every wish but without all the extraneous formalities, and quality over quantity. In recent years, the concept of luxury has undergone a profound transformation. The era of loud displays of wealth has given way to the enchantment of "quiet luxury."
This understated elegance emphasises exclusivity, privacy, and personalised experiences, aligning perfectly with the refined tastes of Knightsbridge's new generation of more worldly and discerning visitors.
Zuma London Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Restaurants in Knightsbridge have embraced the ethos of quiet luxury with fervour.
Michelin-starred establishments like Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and Zuma have redefined fine dining, offering intimate settings that elevate the act of eating into a sensory journey. The focus has shifted from flashy decor to attentive service and refined culinary craftsmanship, ensuring that each guest's palate is treated to a top-notch experience.
Hotels in Knightsbridge have also risen to the occasion, reinventing themselves as sanctuaries of tranquility. The Bulgari Hotel, for instance, has mastered the art of quiet luxury, providing guests with personalised experiences and eco-conscious offerings that embody the essence of refined opulence.
Meanwhile, The Berkeley continues to captivate visitors with its breathtaking views of Hyde Park and a seamless blend of modernity and tradition.
New on the scene is The Emory, which is set to open by the end of the year. With an understated entrance on Old Barrack Yard, it will feature 60 suites and a penthouse set over nine floors, with each floor set to showcase the aesthetic of a different contemporary interior designer. These include Alexandra Champalimaud, André Fu, Pierre-Yves Rochon, Rémi Tessier, and Patricia Urquiola, designers known for their modern takes on global design that reflect a new iteration of luxury.
In terms of restaurants, The Emory will host the first London outpost of abc kitchen, overseen by world-renowned French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Expect "fresh, local, and conscious cuisine" that caters to global, sophisticated tastes, the key words in today’s fast-changing restaurant industry.
An Enduring Cachet
Over the last decade, Knightsbridge has earned its title as an offshore “republic of the Gulf.” As affluent Arab visitors made their presence felt there, the streets came alive with the spectacle of supercars. Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Bugattis adorned the roads, proudly displaying the epitome of automotive excellence.
The luxurious vehicles garnered admiration from passersby and fellow travellers, creating an electric ambience in the otherwise serene neighbourhood. The narrow streets of Knightsbridge struggled to cope with the sudden surge in traffic. Roaring engines reverberated through the air, testing the delicate balance between the area’s historical charm and the modern allure of supercars.
But the story of Knightsbridge is one of timeless allure and enchantment, interwoven with the rich tapestry of Arab elegance and quiet luxury. As Arab travellers flocked to this iconic patch, they brought a touch of magic, transforming it into a vibrant hub of cosmopolitan experiences. As the concept of luxury evolved, Knightsbridge has gracefully embraced the changing landscape, offering intimate and bespoke indulgence.
Restaurant: Sumosan Twiga
This three-storey venue was born in 1998, founded by Formula 1 legend Flavio Briatore. It will be renovated from top to bottom, including the first-floor restaurant and downstairs club. The revamped space includes a striking geometric black and white tiled floor (Italian marble) in the restaurant, along with more monochromatic elements such as checked dogtooth curtains and impressive black marble fireplaces. Black picture frames on the walls that highlight a curation of objects and artwork from Africa and Asia are also set to enhance the space.
Hotel: The Hari
Technically in Belgravia, this five-star address seems to fly slightly under the radar, and it’s just a short stroll away from Knightsbridge’s shopping. The rooms at the hotel, which is known to have one of the best meeting spots, are being renovated.
Casual Dining: Mina’s
If you want warm and relaxing, with a humble yet refined menu focused on north Mediterranean plates to share, Mina’s is for you. Its terrace, facing Motcomb Street, allows for laid-back dining and drinking both indoors and out.
Pastry Shop: Cédric Grolet at The Berkeley
Former World’s Best Pastry Chef and Instagram celebrity Cédric Grolet blurs the boundaries between pâtisserie, restaurant, and chef’s table. A seven-course pastry tasting menu (£135) is served at a horseshoe counter at the swish Berkeley hotel; the view inside is of the chefs crafting their miniature trompe l'oeil masterpieces, most often made to look like flowers or fruit. With only one savoury course amid all the sweetness, think of this as a fine-dining alternative to afternoon tea.
There’s a pâtisserie, too, ideal for takeaway.