No. 131 Hotel Review in Cheltenham: Look for No. 131
An elegant and refined hotel that oozes charm without compromising on its original Georgian charm, No. 131 is located on the promenade in Cheltenham – one of our most elegant spa towns, says Paula Lister.
Although I’ve been lucky enough to go racing at the Cheltenham Festival several times, I’ve never ventured into or stayed in the town center itself. What a mistake that was. Because once I had the chance to visit, it was easy to see why since 1788 – when King George III came to drink – so many have been drawn to this Regency gem in the middle of the Cotswolds.
No. 131 is, as its name suggests, at the top of the promenade (so called because this is where the smartest Georgians of the city used to ‘stroke’ up and down the pier), and is situated in a peach setting overlooking the Imperial Gardens.
Given that the hotel is a combination of three elegant white houses redesigned by Julian Dunkerton, co-founder of clothing company Superdry, and his wife Jade Holland Cooper, owner of her fashion label, it is perhaps not surprising that the interior of No. 131 is more elegant, contemporary and lively than it is. Its classic facade suggests it. Think dark walls, modern artwork, and a gold-leafed ceiling in a luxurious Japanese restaurant that looks as if it were in Paris, France.
Since the pandemic, No. 131 has taken advantage of the innovative “camping” of its expansive wrap-around terrace, which has transformed the formerly al fresco dining and drinking area into a partially open-air bar and enclosed brasserie restaurant.
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All of the hotel’s 36 rooms (‘Comfortable’, ‘Very Good’, ‘Excellent’ and ‘Excellent’) feature Egyptian linen and Bramley and Acqua Di Parma products, with roll-top bathtubs or walk-in showers. Most of them – and my family room was on the top floor of The King’s House – have wood paneling, tweed headboards and spacious bathrooms.
In fact, in addition to a separate room with two separate beds, I had a bath with a roll-top discreetly mounted to the side of the bed, as well as a large Crittal-screen shower with two shower heads in which six of us could easily shower in comfort. There was also a marble-topped double sink and handy bags of toiletries we often forget, like toothpaste, razors and cotton wool pads. Given the bustling downtown location – and the tunes emanating from Gin & Juice – I wasn’t sure I’d sleep well; But fortunately, Room 36 was completely quiet.
Eating and drinking
The hotel’s lively 131 Terrace Restaurant surrounds the front side of the property and is cleverly separated from the rest of the wide sidewalk, so you won’t be disturbed by passers-by while you eat. Open all day and most of the night, it serves brasserie-style breakfast, lunch and dinner. Expect classic menu selections, from eggs Benedict and kedgeree to Cornish lemon sole on the bone and charcoal-grilled dry-aged rib-eye steak with hash browns and cherry tomatoes.
However, for a special occasion or intimate night, the hotel’s in-house sushi and Asian restaurant, Yoku (which translates as “the desire to do things very well”) will delight all your senses. I sat in a quiet corner, looking out of the floor-to-ceiling windows onto the bustling promenade beyond, and indulged in an eight-course tasting menu that began with a tuna tartare salad, followed by the chef’s choice of assorted sashimi — with wasabi, shoyu and pickled ginger — served atop a giant clam shell. , which was a stunning display of both appearance and taste, thanks in large part to the plumes of dry ice rising from beneath it.
The seared wagyu nigiri beef was velvety smooth, and the flavor of the black cod along with the fried rice and green peppers made it one of the most delicious dishes I’ve ever had. I also enjoyed learning about the selection of sake on the drinks menu which was not, as I had previously thought, terribly strong, and I was thrilled that I was able to master the use of chopsticks without downing too many delicious morsels.
How it will keep you busy
Since it’s located right on the edge of the city’s Montpellier district – home to many boutiques, jewelery stores and gift shops, and a short walk from the sophisticated High Street, where you’ll find Whistles, Hobbs and the White Company – No. 131 will be a great place. A great base for a shopping trip. If you book well in advance, it’s also obviously perfect for the Cheltenham National Hunting Festival in mid-March and the town’s Food and Drink Festival in June, as well as the Literature Festival in October.
What can you do while you are there?
Bicycle hire and picnic baskets can be arranged for those who wish to explore the desirable Cotswolds countryside, along with horse riding and fishing on the River Colne. (above) Or clay pigeon shooting lessons with an Olympic and game shooting coach, Ian Cooley.
For whom is this?
All ages, but the Mediterranean/Ibiza vibe of the outdoor bar and dining spaces, as well as the Gin & Juice Bar, featuring DJ sets and a selection of over 400 gins, below the hotel, make it more suitable for a younger crowd.
What gives it the “wow” factor?
Aside from the allure of the carefully restored rooms and the grandeur of the buildings’ period details – the curved wooden railing leading up the stairs to my room at The King’s House is a thing of beauty – the inviting opulence of the hotel’s chic Tokyo bar and Japanese restaurant Yoko Ho Feat of strength.
With deep black walls, touches of cherry red and a sleek bar, not to mention the wait staff’s expert knowledge of every delicious, exquisitely presented dish (there’s nothing Malani, the restaurant manager extraordinaire, doesn’t know) served under sparkling chandeliers, this is Asian food. Good at its theatrical best.
The only thing we have to change
Although my family room at The King’s House was quite spoiled, especially for a solo traveler, I wish I could open the window. I expect they will be closed for health and safety reasons, but I can’t be alone in preferring some fresh air (rather than air conditioning), especially at night.
Room rates at No.131 start from £135 per night, including breakfast. Call 01242 822939 or book directly on www.no131.com