Peninsula London prepares to open after 30 years in the making

06 September 2023 by

The highly anticipated opening of the Peninsula London has been three decades in the making. Take a look inside

The build-up to the opening of the Pen­insula London on 12 September has been 30 years in the making. With an original projected completion date of 2021, the 190-bedroom luxury hotel comes with a price tag of £1.1b and room rates starting from £1,300 a night. And while the brand is a Hong Kong institution, the touchpoints for its London venue are decisively British.

A collaboration with leading artisans is central to the ethos of the newly completed hotel, which has established a firm sense of place in the heart of the capital, whether it is via the bespoke china and crystal in the restaurants, the original artwork in the bedrooms, the glamorous uniforms worn by the staff or the fragrance created for the bathroom amenities.

In the run-up to the opening, as much attention has been focused on these elements as it has on one of the most celebrated individuals involved: Claude Bosi, the chef of two-Michelin-starred Bibendum in London's Chelsea, who has been appointed chef director of the Peninsula's rooftop restaurant Brooklands.

"Working with British artisans is extremely important to us," says Sonja Vodusek, managing director of the Peninsula London. "Wherever we are in the world, we always like to be part of the local community, while honouring our Asian heritage. It is all about embracing and celebrating the homes we live in."


It is very clear that Vodusek prioritises support and encouragement for every team member. She manages the hotel by being present in the Lobby and walking around the property. "I hate sitting in my office," she says, adding that her leadership style stems from one she herself experienced as a young room attendant.

"I would love it when my manager came up, talked to me and showed an interest," she explains. "I randomly invite people into my office for a chat. I like to celebrate success. I don't lead by fear. You get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar.

"Of course, things go wrong at times, and when they do, you deal with it by communication. If someone is not performing, then we have to consider: how have we helped them? Being respectful will get things done and sort out any issues." Such respect clearly emanates from the top, with Vodusek stressing that staff have easy access to the chairman and chief executive of the company, creating something of a family atmosphere. Indeed, it is very much a family business, with the current chairman of HSH, Sir Michael Kadoorie, being the grandson of the founder of the company.

Recruitment has been positive, with around 35,000 applications pouring into the hotel, despite the current challenges facing the wider hospitality industry. Online recruitment site has offered the biggest reach, followed by LinkedIn, advertisements on the Tube and word of mouth. "As the Peninsula brand has become more well known in London, word of mouth has become increasingly important to us," Vodusek says.

Attractive salary packages have undoubtedly helped, with salaries for housekeepers, all employed in-house, starting at £28,000. A supervisory role for a shift leader in stewarding pays £32,000.

Around 40 staff have moved to London from positions at other Peninsula hotels around the world, at some considerable cost to the business due to post-Brexit immigration controls. "Bringing in a French pastry chef costs £12,000 for the visa before you even start thinking about the salary," Vodusek points out. "Imagine that multiplied 40 times. But it is the right thing to do in order to imbibe the culture and establish what we strive for: excellence in our service and perfection in our product." Meanwhile, 65 members of staff at the London venue have been seconded to other hotels across the Peninsula portfolio this year to allow for cross-exposure to the brand.

Sonja Vodusek's global experience

Vodusek arrived in London to take up her position as managing director of the Peninsula London in January 2020, with a view to opening the hotel in September 2021. The Covid pandemic and the delays to the supply of building materials which followed scuppered the original launch date.

Born and brought up on her parents' farm business in Victoria, Australia, Vodusek started her hospitality career as a room attendant at the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay hotel before returning to Australia for eight years. She left her homeland again 23 years ago, and has subsequently worked her way around the world, initially for Four Seasons and since 2010 for Peninsula Hotels. Her first job for the company was in New York as hotel manager before she moved onto her first general manager position in Manila and then to Tokyo prior to her current role.

Moving to London has been a hotelier's dream, Vodusek says, partly because the competition at the luxury level is so great – "I love competition" – but also because it is a melting pot of cultures. The delayed opening of the hotel has allowed her time to focus on and get to know the local community, and partner up with many beneficial collaborators such as the Serpentine Gallery, the British Film Institute and Concours of Elegance. "It has been all about developing genuine relationships which will help bring the hotel to life," she says.

Designer uniforms, concertina china and original artworks

The collaboration between Jenny Packham and the Peninsula London is the first time the British fashion designer, best known for her dazzling evening and wedding gowns for royalty and red carpet events, has put together a wardrobe for hotel staff and designed a collection for men. With two Jenny Packham stores in situ at the Peninsula hotels in Shanghai and Beijing, she already had a relationship with the brand.

"The prospect at first was daunting," Packham admits. "When I'm designing a special evening gown for a client, comfort is always key for me, and that was just as important a consideration for the hotel staff."

For the Lobby, Packham took inspiration from British style icons of the 1960s, such as Michael Caine and Julie Christie, with the creation of sharp suits, sculpted shoulder lines and cinched waists. The wardrobe of staff in Canton Blue pays tribute to the films of Taiwanese film director Ang Lee, with sumptuous coloured clothes: gold brocade dresses for the hostesses and midnight blue stand-collar suits for the hosts. A nod to the aviation theme of Brooklands is reflected in the tailored suits in Air Force blue for men and sky-blue skirt suits with jaunty peplums and Concorde-inspired belt buckles for the women. Beaded belts and collars will be added in the evening for a touch of additional glamour.

Other British artisans working with the Peninsula London include Richard Brendon, a designer of bone china and crystal. His creation of a ‘concertina pattern' porcelain was inspired by the grand fluted columns and octagonal details of the coffered ceiling in the Lobby. Brendon's designs are used throughout the Lobby, room service and banqueting.

British-based perfumer Timothy Han has produced a unique fragrance for the collection of in-room bath products. Shea butter and sweet almond oil are among the key ingredients, which are all free of parabens and silicone, while packaging is 99.9% free of single-use petroleum plastics, in keeping with the Peninsula's commitment to sustainable luxury.

Each bedroom and suite features an original British landscape artwork by one of more than 40 Royal Drawing School artists. Founded in Shoreditch in 2000, the school is a not-for-profit body.

A dedicated plot at Zero Carbon Farms in Clapham supplies the hotel's food and beverage outlets with salad greens and herbs. Located in a disused air raid shelter 33 metres underground, the sustainable site operates entirely on renewable energy.

Located in Hampshire, wine maker Coates & Seely has selected two non-vintage cuvées – a brut reserve and a rosé – for the exclusive use of the hotel.

The Peninsula London

1 Grosvenor Place, London SW1X 7HJ

020 8106 2888

Owner Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels

Operator Peninsula Hotels, which also has properties in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Bangkok, Manila, New York, Chicago, Beverly Hills, Paris and Istanbul

Managing director Sonja Vodusek

Hotel manager Joseph Lee

Bedrooms 190 including 59 suites

Residences 25, 70% of which are sold – the penthouse reportedly went for £100m

Food and beverage Brooklands is a rooftop restaurant serving contemporary European cuisine from a team overseen by Claude Bosi, the chef at two-Michelin-starred Bibendum; Canton Blue is a ground-floor Chinese restaurant headed by chef Dicky To; the Lobby offers all-day dining, including afternoon tea; and the Peninsula Boutique & Café is a grab-and-go concept

Events St George Ballroom (up to 450 banquet guests" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">](

Establishing a new home in London for the Peninsula has long been an ambition of the exclusive brand, whose parent company is Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels (HSH). The business has never been one to rush expansion – London is the 12th destination to join the collection, which started off in Hong Kong in 1928. The steady growth of the company stems from an unwillingness to compromise either on the location or quality of each property. It has taken 30 years for it to find the right place in London, opposite Hyde Park Corner. It's a spot that Clement Kwok, managing director and chief executive of HSH, describes as "truly remarkable".

Unlike the majority of luxury global hotel companies, HSH both owns and operates its properties. In London, it holds a 150-year-old lease on the Belgravia site; Grosvenor Britain & Ireland is the freeholder. Kwok says the £1.1b development cost of the hotel, which equates to more than £5m per room, is "the most significant investment" that has ever been undertaken by the company.

As well as securing the site, the money has been spent on creating a first-class luxury hotel that will provide stiff competition for the existing plethora of five-star hotels in the capital, not to mention the significant new openings set to take place later this year, including Raffles London at the OWO, Mandarin Oriental Mayfair and the Emory (Maybourne Hotel Group's first new hotel in the capital for 50 years).

Calm moments in a central London hotel

From the moment the guest steps off the street and into an inner cobbled courtyard garden – which is dominated by two 120-year-old Japanese maples, cascading jasmine and wisteria, designed by the landscape architect Enzo Enea – they are greeted by a calm that pervades the property. Despite the hotel's position on one of the busiest junctions in central London, the interior of the property, from its impressive main entrance via the inner courtyard through to the public areas and all 190 bedrooms, is exceptionally quiet.

The design concept of the stately property, created by Hopkins Architects on the site of an unremarkable post-war office block, is based on an Italian Renaissance palazzo, which is intended to harmonise with the surrounding heritage architecture of Belgravia.

Inside, the look of the main public areas, bedrooms and suites has been designed by US-based Peter Marino, best known for his work on retail outlets for Chanel, Bulgari and Luis Vuitton. While he has worked on hotels – the Cheval Blanc Beverly Hills project and Biltmore Four Seasons Santa Barbara – the Peninsula London is his first UK hotel project.

Marino compares his design in London to a Martini glass: two-thirds filled with his own contemporary design; one-third inspired by the English heritage interiors of nearby Apsley House, one-time home of the Duke of Wellington, the victor of Waterloo; topped with an olive in the form of a touch of Asian design.

Meanwhile, the Peninsula's Brooklands and Canton Blue restaurants have been designed by London-based Archer Humphryes Architects and the Hong Kong-based interior designer Henry Leung of Cap Atelier. Brooklands pays homage to the classic era of British aviation and automation with rare motoring memorabilia from Brooklands museum in Surrey as well as an overhead scale model of Concorde. Meanwhile, the rich jewel-like colours of Canton Blue were inspired by the Keying, a three-masted Chinese coastal junk that sailed from China to Britain via Cape Horn in the 19th century.

For Vodusek, the timeless design is part of the hotel's unique proposition, alongside the highest service levels delivered by staff who are focused on attention to detail. With the smallest bedroom measuring a whopping 51sqm, there was the potential to have a larger tally of bedrooms. But, Vodusek says this was never a consideration. "Peninsula is all about quality, not quantity. We're not a factory."

Finding staff for Peninsula London

When it came to selecting a team that met the Peninsula profile of providing exceptional service, Vodusek made sure she was fully involved in the selection process. She interviewed for every single position – a colossal task given the full complement of staff will rise from 600 at opening to around 700 in total.

"If I have been unable to interview at any time due to travelling, then my number two, Joseph Lee, who has been with me for six years, has stepped in," she says. "It is a huge undertaking, but the people side of the business is hugely important to me. I firmly believe in people first – profits follow. I'm not only interested in a candidate's qualifications, I want to know if the candidate is a conversationalist and is able to communicate."

![, Wellington Room (60 banquet guests), five meeting rooms and a 15-seat screenings room

Leisure Spa and wellness centre with seven treatment rooms, a fitness centre and two 25-metre swimming pools; in-room access to wellness programmes such as strength-training routines, aromatherapy self-care and audio meditations; and an arcade of nine shops including jewellers Asprey, Mouawad and David M Robinson

Room rates From £1,300

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