If there’s one scent as alluring as that of fine Cuban cigars, it’s that of fine Italian pizzas. At the Wellesley hotel on Knightsbridge, just across from Hyde Park, one has replaced the other.
The Wellesley, which used to be Pizza on the Park, has the UK’s largest bespoke humidor, where eighteen temperature and humidity controls are fastidiously monitored and maintained by the hotel’s in-house aficionado, Giuseppe Ruo, via an app on his mobile phone.
He presides over a collection of cigars he meticulously pieced together himself, travelling around the world on behalf of the hotel’s owner, Khalid Affara of Arab Investments’ City and Country Hotels, to curate an assortment of cigars that are conservatively valued at over £1.5 million. That’s a lot of tobacco.
Encased in glass, the humidor’s air was perfumed with a distinct smell, one of richness and musk. In hand-crafted boxes with sumptuous lacquered detailing are sat row upon row of hand-rolled, rare and delicious cigars, patiently waiting to be enjoyed. What makes this humidor so special, I ask Giuseppe. ‘I have travelled the world and bought at auction some of the world’s rarest and finest cigars, for many of which this is one of the only places in the world you can sit and enjoy.
‘We have Fidel Castro’s personal roller Maria’s final edition of cigars. I bought them when they were released at $18,000 a box. Now, if you can find a complete box, each box is worth £150,000.’ As a regular punter, you can smoke the privilege, at £4,500 per cigar.
Giuseppe has fully appreciated that most will not smoke £4,500 worth of tobacco in one sitting, and therefore has helped the Wellesley to create the biggest collection of cigars sold on a stick by stick basis in the UK.
In one of the two luxuriously appointed cigar terraces at the front of the hotel, both with a view on to the park, I sit with Giuseppe enjoying a Cuban as a balmy London day draws to a close. The cigars are to be enjoyed with cognac, he tells me, and if you can, some chocolate truffles. As the cognac melted the chocolate, followed by a puff on the cigar, Giuseppe knew best.
The beautiful Crystal Bar, which we looked back into from the cigar terrace, houses some of the rarest cognacs and whiskies in the world, including a shipwreck-salvaged mint-condition 1890 Glenlivet. Worth an untold fortune, that bottle still had the original wrapper on.
What is the rarest bottle at the hotel? ‘The hotel has cognac dated from 1789, the year of the French Revolution, and I believe, certainly in London, [it is] the only place for consumption by the glass.’
The Wellesley is a temple to rarity, class and indulgence. The hotel restaurant, The Oval, serves delicate and imaginative Italian food, their signature dish salt cod ravioli. Rooms, akin to an Art Deco cruise liner, overlook Hyde Park, and if you need a ride, one of the hotels Rolls Royces are waiting. That’s a definite turn up on a calzone with a side of dough balls.