x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Venerable London luxury hotels resplendent once more

Hotel Insider From historic luxury to modern elegance, Clare Dight discovers all the things that make five of London's great hotels a worthy splurge.

The Massimo Restaurant and Oyster Bar at Corinthia Hotel London.
The Massimo Restaurant and Oyster Bar at Corinthia Hotel London.

St Pancras Renaissance Hotel

You can't hear the guard's whistle inside the lofty halls and corridors of what is surely one of the capital's most memorable buildings, the restored and newly opened St Pancras Renaissance Hotel that towers over St Pancras International railway station on the Euston Road. Designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the gothic revival style, the Midland Grand Hotel originally opened in 1873, but quickly fell victim to its own grandeur: too expensive to heat, it closed in the 1930s. The poet Sir John Betjemen, who led a campaign to save the building from demolition in the 1960s, called the enormous red-brick edifice, with its gilded spire and huge clock face, almost hopelessly romantic, and walking down the famous vaulted staircase with its blood-red and gold walls, and painting depicting medieval courtly love, it's hard to disagree. Younger guests will opine that it reminds them of Hogwarts, complete with 5.5 metre-high ceilings and endless corridors.

The St Pancras Renaissance self-consciously retains the feel of a railway station: the main hotel lobby is a large and drafty station forecourt with a curving glass roof held aloft by decorative wrought-iron beams just like the platforms outside.

Guests turn right to check in for the Chambers, 38 suites with a butler service and private dining area, that have been created in the original building. It's these few privileged guests who get to sashay up and down that jewel-like staircase and enjoy spotting original fixtures such as the brass and wooden doorknobs. Guests turning left for Barlow House, the hotel's modern extension of 207 rooms, are in for a treat of a different sort: the spacious and well-designed rooms overlook the Eurostar platforms. Of course, whether you find a 7am station announcement romantic depends on personal taste.

As befitting a modern five-star hotel, Marcus Wareing is the big-name chef behind the hotel's new brasserie and bar, the Gilbert Scott, serving up a classic British menu with dishes such as Tweed Kettle and Manchester Tart. A luxury spa and Victorian tiled plunge pool completes the story of this truly great British hotel's revival.

A double room at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel costs from £294 (Dh1,767) per night, including taxes (www.stpancrasrenaissance.com; 00 44 207 841 3540).

 

The Savoy, WC2

When I turn off the Strand into the small crescent that houses the Savoy, one of London's most cherished and well known hotels, there is a middle-aged, elegantly dressed woman sitting on top of a five-foot-high champagne cork. Hotel guests pass by looking somewhat bemused but the doorman, in top hat and tails, politely greets me as if this is just another day at this five-star, very British institution.

The hotel itself has much to celebrate: it finally reopened last October after a three-year restoration project costing £220 million (Dh1.32 billion) to revive its jaded looks. At the heart of London's social scene since it first opened in 1889, the guest register is a roll-call of fame: Katharine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill, Princess Elizabeth, the Beatles and Bob Dylan have all been welcomed in their time. A museum now houses memorabilia such as Marlene Dietrich's guest card requesting 12 pink roses and a bottle of champagne be in her room on arrival.

Fans will be delighted that the new-look Savoy retains the restrained opulence of the original: the Edwardian and art-deco aesthetic of the richly furnished 206 rooms and 62 suites; the tiny red and blue hand-painted and hand-enamelled lifts; Bertram Pegram's classical frieze still decorates the imposing lobby. What's new is also reassuringly old-fashioned, glamorous not gauche: a winter garden gazebo sits beneath the newly glass-domed Thames Foyer and the new Beaufort Bar, astonishingly decorated in burnished gold and jet black, is surely set to be the social backdrop for a younger, but equally starry crowd.

Upstairs in my suite, which overlooks the National Theatre and Royal Festival Hall just across the Thames, my personal, tailcoated butler offers to unpack my bags as we take a tour of my new home-from-home with its sitting room, walk-in wardrobe, and marble-lined bathroom. Classical music is playing softly beside my ludicrously high, wonderfully comfortable bed and personalised stationery awaits my signature on the desk. The crisp white notepaper announces that I am "in residence" at the Savoy; the only problem is going to be willing myself to leave.

A double room at the Savoy costs from £420 (Dh2,525) per night, including taxes (www.fairmont.com/savoy; 00 44 207 836 4343).

 

Corinthia Hotel London, SW1

The next expensively turned out contender on London's by-now crowded luxury hotel scene is the Corinthia in Whitehall, which opened its doors in May. On the surface Whitehall, where the cogs of government turn inside countless anonymous ministry buildings, is a rather unglamorous location for a £300m (Dh1.8m) five-star hotel, and yet the Corinthia is near some of the capital's most famous landmarks including Buckingham and St James' Palaces as well as the national art museums near Trafalgar Square, theatreland and the South Bank.

A once-grand Victorian hotel, laid waste by years of occupation by the ministry of defence, the building has been transformed by an impressive alliance of designers, architects and brands: designer David Collins fashioned the bar, Bassoon, and Massimo Restaurant and Oyster Bar run by chef Massimo Riccoli; Michelin-starred chef Garry Hollihead will be serving up British cuisine in the Northall restaurant; hairstylist Daniel Galvin is the name attached to the in-house hair salon; and, the formidable spa, all 3,300 square metres of it, arranged over four floors, is managed by Espa and opens next month.

Among the hotel's very generously proportioned 294 rooms, there are 43 suites, including seven two-floor signature suites, one inside each of the building's turrets, with terraces offering astonishing views over the rooftops of the city. When it opens the 470 sq m, two-bedroom Royal Suite will be the largest in London and has its own gym and spa. The hotel's general aesthetic is more low-key and distinctly, tastefully European. Rooms are decorated in a muted colour palette accented with stronger, brighter tones but discreetly, comfortably furnished. The pleasure is in the quality of the fittings, and attention to detail in the few more extravagant finishing touches such as French oak and cowhide in the walk-in dressing rooms, and the striking black-and-white Italian marble bathrooms with the most enormous shower heads. Without doubt, the Corinthia will be where the nation's powerbrokers take time out.

A double room at the Corinthia Hotel London costs from £455 (Dh2,740) per night, including taxes (www.corinthia.com/London; 00 44 207 7321 3000).

 

W London Leicester Square

Dramatic ... exuberant ... and (whisper it) ever so slightly flash. Overlooking Leicester Square known for its movie-premiere, red-carpet parades, the chosen venue for film producer Harvey Weinstein's after-Bafta party which celebrated the early success of The King's Speech, is no shrinking violet. On a brightly sunny afternoon, I walk past the silent security guards and into a slick, black-tiled lobby area. I have no idea where I am going but by the time I reach the reception area on the second floor, decorated by a myriad of disco balls, I've experienced the "Wow!" factor that the W hotel brand seeks to cultivate.

The W London knows better than to try to compete with five-star heritage hotels, appealing instead to fun-loving, twenty-somethings that like to party on a Friday night. And party they do late into the night at the Wyld bar. All puns intended. There's also a 38-seater 3D cinema for private film screenings. Celebrity-spotters will be hopeful.

The design of the public spaces is unsubtle: gold-leather seating rings the private bar, a never-ending bookcase displaying porcelain plates printed with slightly fetishistic images decorate the lobby lounge, polished surfaces abound. Upstairs the 192 guest rooms are more space age; white walls and shining fabrics contrast with the intentionally gloomy corridors outside. There are touches of wit and colour here too: a cushion sitting on the bed reads "keep your wig on". Some guests may find the sink cum desk cum dressing table in the bedroom rather peculiar if not impractical: this is "studio living" in which "spaces flow into one another". It's also a clever space-saving device as the smallest, "wonderful" category rooms are quite snug. At the other end of the scale, there are three spa suites with a private steam room and a treatment table. The penthouse suite features a bathroom with a Jacuzzi, four-person shower and 62-inch television.

Downstairs at street level, the three-Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has opened a sister restaurant to the Spice Market in New York's Meatpacking District. London's version serves up a tempting South-east Asian menu in warmly lit surrounds decorated with brightly labelled bottles and spice jars. The chefs entertain in an open kitchen as fragrant wafts of spices tempt the tastebuds.

A double room at the W London Leicester Square costs from £323 (Dh1,957) per night, including taxes (www.wlondon.co.uk; 00 44 207 758 1000).

 

The Four Seasons Park Lane

Park Lane is one of London's most prestigious addresses and the new-look Four Seasons hotel, which sits just back from that busy thoroughfare that runs from the bottom of Oxford Street (where there's a Selfridges) to Mayfair, is practically on the Queen's palatial doorstep. The real draw, however, and why the hotel has been much missed during its two-year closure for refurbishment, is its proximity to one of the capital's most beautiful and greatest parks, Hyde Park. Guests who venture through its gates will be rewarded with full lungs of clean(ish), almost fresh air.

Designer Pierre-Yves Rochon, who has had a very busy year indeed with projects at some of the world's most famous hotels including the Savoy and George V in Paris, is also the name behind this grand re-opening. The results are striking: decadent red and black accented interiors bring a certain glamour to the public spaces and the 192 contemporary-style guest rooms, fewer than in the original hotel to make room for 45 one-, two- and three-bedroom suites and larger guest rooms, are characterised by a rather grand, very British sense of elegance. There's something of the hunting lodge about those green wide-checked curtains. What remains the same though, is the famously five-star Four Seasons' service.

The hotel's crowning glory is undoubtedly the spa on the 10th floor that promises to make guests feel like they are sitting in the clouds or at the very least settled into the treetops above Hyde Park, such are the views through the glass wall that runs like a ribbon around the top of the building. The Espa treatment menu includes the Hyde Park Awakening that consists of a lemon and bergamot foot soak, organic bamboo and calendula scrub, rain shower and back, neck and shoulder massage using St John's wort and rosemary body oil. There's also an ozone-treated vitality pool and each of the nine treatment rooms has a relaxation pod to help complete the transformation from tired shopper, stressed exec or jet-lagged traveller to serene being.

A double room at the Four Seasons Park Lane costs from £495 (Dh2,971) per night, including taxes (www.fourseasons.com/london; 00 44 207 499 0888).

 

If You Go

Etihad Airways (www.etihadairways.com) flies from Abu Dhabi to London from Dh3,505 return, including taxes