A multi-million-pound project and authentic Japanese touches make this new central London hotel the perfect place to see the sun rise, writes Alex Smith
In September 2019 the Prince Akatoki opened on Great Cumberland Place in Marylebone, on the site of what was Arch London. Taking its name from an ancient Japanese word for dawn (暁), the new hotel is the product of a multi-million-pound refurbishment that has transformed the space, updating the 82 bedrooms with Asian aesthetics and importing the traditions of Japanese hospitality along the way.
As soon as we arrived, on a particularly wet and windy night, we felt at ease. The Prince Akatoki’s signature scent (a combination of Bergamot, Juniper Berries and five other notes) filled the air and the open fireplace helped to warm us up.
Any doubt about the authenticity of the hotel’s Japanese influence was soon dispelled when our impeccably polite host, Simone, showed us up to our room for the night. As we entered the lift, she pointed out that the fourth floor was missing from the control panel. The Japanese word for four, ‘shi’ (四/し), closely resembles the word for death, also ‘shi’ (死/し), making it an unlucky number in Japanese culture. It’s one of many little touches seen throughout the hotel, highlighting a design with meticulous attention to detail.
According to Ben Miles, executive creative director of the Prince Akatoki, the team based their design philosophy on fusuma panels, traditional Japanese sliding doors that redefine spaces and help to create ‘a quiet mindfulness.’
Nowhere is this more evident than the bedrooms. When we entered our suite, we first noticed the uwabaki (slippers) on the floor, followed by the traditional yukata (casual, light cotton kimonos) in the cupboard and a Japanese tea set in the kitchenette. The Prince Akatoki aims to provide guests with the chance to ‘slow down, breathe and wake up feeling re-energised’. Spear’s was helped in this regard by being treated to the most commodious of the hotel’s 82 rooms: a luxurious suite complete with a separate sitting room, kitchenette and bathroom with a rain shower.
After sinking into the plush king-size bed and enjoying a second rain shower of the evening (much warmer than the one supplied by the dark clouds over London), we made our way downstairs for dinner in the new TOKii restaurant. The eight-course tasting menu – a whistle-stop tour of the very best in Japanese cuisine – was extraordinary. After dishes of kinoko mushrooms in yuba; scallops ceviche with orange, spring onions, chilli and sesame; and shrimp and shiitake mushroom tempura had come and gone, our waiter stopped by to ask how everything was going. My companion – who, like me, is an Otaku (someone obsessed with Japanese culture) – gave her verdict: ‘sugoi!’ (amazing). But there was more to come.
A few minutes later he was back, this time with a platter of sashimi and nigiri: tuna akami, king prawn, salmon belly, seabass. The courses increased in complexity, but the sushi remained elegant in its simplicity.
Next was the jewel in the Prince Akatoki’s culinary crown: the grade A5 Japanese wagyu beef. Famous for being the most expensive beef in the world, wagyu’s grading system consists of a Yield Grade and a Quality Grade, from C-A and 1-5 respectively, making this the best grade available.
It was no surprise, then, when the beef exquisite. (At £72 per 150g, it is the most expensive dish on the superb menu.)
Suitably stuffed, we retired to the Malt Lounge & Bar to select a nightcap from a collection of 65 Japanese whiskies, including a rare 2010 chichibu chibidaru and a 1984 Karuizawa sherry cask, priced at £7,400 for the bottle. We settled on a crisp, clear Yamazaki single malt, followed by two cocktails: ‘A Reason For Being’ – a heady blend of tequila ocho blanco, homemade kumquat wasabi jam, yuzu juice and umeshu – and an ‘Old Kodo’ with cocoa butter fat washed copper dog whisky, tonka maple syrup and geinmatcha green tea-infused blend vermouths. We brought our drinks over to the fireplace, chatted with the bar tender TImo for the next hour or so and, before we knew it, it was time for bed.
As promised, we awoke feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to start the new day – even the clouds had cleared. So if you ever feel like taking a trip to the East, but would rather stay close to home, rest assured: The Prince Akatoki is king.