Bayswater, with its "bewildering cosmopolitanism and faded mansions split into seedy hotels and bedsits" (as author Peter Ackroyd has penned), could never match the refined elegance and cachet of nearby Belgravia or Knightsbridge - or so it was said.
But Bayswater's time might have come (again), with an elegant secret weapon - The Lancasters, a piece of quintessentially English architecture for those who want the familiar comfort of a real classic.
The Lancasters, on the northern side of Hyde Park, aims to put the W2 postcode back to where it was in its Victorian heyday — a grand, glamorous location for wealthy types who wanted the best of it all — open green spaces on their doorstep and central London shops and restaurants at their feet.
At a time when property price predictions change daily, buyers are looking for a safe haven, and prime central London residential is a gilt-edged long-term investment.
One Hyde Park, the Candy brothers' glitzy modern development in Knightsbridge, was deliberately named to reinforce the exclusivity of its south-side location. But this rarefied air is for the few extremely rich at over £4,000 per sq ft and maybe just too flash (with its gold resin, black onyx, bulletproof glass) to cosy up to. It's hardly a place for community with its absentee owners.
Ed Lewis, of estate agent Savills, says The Lancasters is a counterweight to the Candy's project. Northacre, the developer, whose pedigree is posh flats including schemes such as The Bromptons on Fulham Road and The Phillimores in Holland Park, makes no apologies for the location, arguing this pocket of Bayswater is the most undervalued of all neighbourhoods ringing Hyde Park.
Not that any of the 75 apartments are that cheap - starting at £900,000 and rising to £16.5 million (based on square foot values, up to 50 per cent cheaper than One Hyde Park).
The glorious listed 1850s facade, said to be the longest in Europe, has been meticulously restored, for the joy of passers-by as well as buyers. It was originally a terrace of 15 houses, which was gutted in the 1970s and converted into a hotel, and is now new lateral and duplex apartments. Exact replica mouldings, cornices and fireplaces have been reinstated.
Grand reception rooms are 4.8 metres high with a line of tall windows facing Hyde Park. Double-height entrance halls have marble floors, while bedroom suites have embroidered silk walls, sumptuous marble-lined bathrooms and bespoke joinery walk-in closets. Corian kitchens by Boffi accentuate the classic-contemporary design theme.
The building sits back from busy Bayswater Road, and will be screened by planting to be finished on completion in autumn 2011. A wide landscaped forecourt is a buffer to traffic noise and acts as a driveway and arrival point for residents.
Valet parking is one of the round-the-clock concierge services. Below ground are two levels of parking and a luxury spa. Service charges for a 5,000 sq ft apartment will cost about £40,000 a year. Call 020 7402 8822.
Bayswater stretches from Marble Arch (by the Blairs' home in Connaught Square) to Westbourne Grove, taking in bustling Queensway. If Knightsbridge is "international", Bayswater is genuinely cosmopolitan; is home to more nationalities than you can count, and probably has the fastest population turnover in London.
Some shabby tourist hotels remain but in recent years gentrification has spread, especially towards the border with Notting Hill. The Hempel, a luxury boutique hotel on Craven Hill Gardens, is a telltale sign of the way the area is going.
Traditionally this side of the park has appealed more to bohemian and entertainment-industry types (among them Keira Knightley, Jeremy Clarkson, Mariella Frostrup and Blur's Damon Albarn) than bankers and businessmen, but the profile is changing. Ongoing regeneration around Paddington — with its fast Heathrow link — is helping with this change too.
Rediscovering Regent's Park
Outer Circle, which encloses the 487-acre Regent's Park, is another historic central London address being rediscovered. Originally there were 374 Outer Circle houses, but many were later converted or knocked together to form offices.
Cornwall Terrace (left) dates from 1820 and is the earliest of all the park terraces, with a Grade I-listed facade boasting magnificent full-height porticoes and classical columns.
For many years it was occupied by property company British Land, but the building has reverted to eight double-fronted mansions, launching next week. Each house looks out over the park and its boating lake.
Oakmayne, the developer, has been staking out the Regent's Park area for some time, believing it is undervalued. These ultra-luxury new homes range from 8,000 to 14,500 sq ft. Priced from £29 million, they more than double the previous going rate of £1,500 per sq ft, and put Regent's Park on a par with Chelsea and Belgravia. Call Knight Frank on 020 7861 5487.
This is a sheltered part of London, a place for ambassadors, which adds to the cachet. Any form of vulgar commerce - shops, pubs, restaurants - requires a trip into the workaday hinterland beyond this charmed world, to pretty Primrose Hill or St John's Wood.
Christie's Great Estates, part of the art auction empire and a joint agent on Cornwall Terrace, says there is a strong link, or "interplay", between high-end art sales and the purchase of trophy properties in London, with wealthy buyers purchasing precious artworks to adorn their new homes.
Oakmayne is making the most of this by opening up one of the mansions as a temporary art gallery during next month's Frieze Art Fair in Regent's Park. Other new addresses making a debut in central London this autumn include Chelsea Creek, a dockside development close to King's Road.
Sandwiched between Chelsea Harbour and the giant Imperial Wharf, it has the usual bells and whistles — luxury spa, concierge services — and all the riverside amenities. Two-bedroom apartments from £699,950. Call 020 7610 9693.
Chelsea Wharf is a boutique scheme of 12 riverfront loft-style apartments next to the soon-to-be-redeveloped Lots Road power station. Currently for rent, from £1,600 to £3,250 a week. Call 020 7266 8500.