Luxury Hotels

The perfect luxury hotel stopover at Heathrow’s Terminal

Go down to Reception…

There are some pundits who feel that more luxury hotel companies should get into the airport hotel market. As more and more people travel, and weather and other hiccups cause what seems like an increasing percentage of delayed flights, a hotel right next to, ideally attached to, the airport terminal makes a lot of sense. The gal had three hours to spare so it seemed like an excellent opportunity to try a day room at Sofitel London Heathrow. The hotel is physically attached to Terminal 5: for Terminal 4, nothing beats Hilton London Heathrow Airport, and for Terminals 2 and 3 you might just as well get a bus to nearby Park Inn. Sofitel London Heathrow gives you a bit of a workout pre-arrival as it is a good 300 yards, in all, from the terminal.

.. and past an ESPA boutique…

Then, just before going down the entrance escalator, turn to your left to see the stunning Michael Speller bronze, on loan from the art gallery landside in the terminal – see it, above. The fact it is placed in front of the Sixt rental station, obviously bright orange as is anything to do with Regina Sixt and her car-hire operation, makes the sculpture even more strategic. At the bottom of the arrival escalator is an enticing ESPA boutique – does Surinder Arora, who owns this 605-room hotel, like partnering with companies which only have four letters in their names? The reception desks are staggered so, as customer, you never feel you are standing in a straight line. My arrival, indeed, was so quick there was barely time to give even a glance towards the many awards that stand on a low wall’s top, behind the agents.

.. to Reception, with awards behind

I can see why this does win a lot of awards. It is an ideal business hotel. Signage is good and there is no confusion finding the way to the room, which is definitely functional, in shades of beige and browns. There are plenty of sockets (only UK and US so take your own European), the desk is high enough, and the fridge is sensibly empty, other than water – a note asks you to call Room Service (which is 24/7) if you want it filled. I headed straight down to the upper basement, to the gym, which I think is also 24/7: the equipment is mostly Technogym, though the Pilates balls seem to have disappeared into thin air. I also headed to Club Millesimé, which opens from 6.30am: the breakfast, described as light, has plenty of cereals in kilner jars, and Tiptree jams, and good make-your-own Melitta coffee, in RAK china or paper cups.

The main ESPA, next to the gym

This is luxury from the business viewpoint, though if a high-powered executive is female she might just want to pack her frilliest pink nightie to inject even more of an element of fun into her stay at this luxury hotel. I loved the way everything worked so well, and the room and bathroom, with its wash line and deep plum-coloured robes, were faultless – anything in the room that you particularly like you can buy, at any time, from, which also promotes Karl Lagerfeld’s emblem for Sofitel So Singapore, Kenzo Takada cushions as at Sofitel So Mauritius, Christian Lacroix’s designs for Sofitel So Bangkok, and Jack Russell’s leather luggage. Then I headed down to the gym again, and passed more promotion for ESPA, and, as always, everything that ESPA founder Sue Harmsworth is associated with displays fun. Other than my visit to the Club there was no time to try any of this clever hotel’s dining facilities – the good-value set menus, with discounts if you dine before 6 p.m., are displayed in the elevators which are, futuristically, glass sided. I will be back, to eat a proper breakfast and, I hope, more.

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Luxury Hotels

An update on the luxury Savoy hotel

In the main Divan salon

The gal had not been to Simpson’s in The Strand for years, anytime this century, in fact, so it was a thrill to be walking along to the famous restaurant that is owned by, and run by, but operates separately from, the luxury Savoy hotel. The Savoy GM, Philip Barnes, was, in typical PB style, waiting outside the door of what is now called Simpson Divan Tavern. We went in, over tiles that are nearly 200 years old: that is how long this tavern has been here. Back in 1828 it was a smoking room, the Grand Cigar Divan. It got its current name because a caterer called John Simpson came in to run it in 1848 and he built its reputation to such a level that patrons included, at various times, Charles Dickens, Disraeli and Gladstone.

Breads, in a wood box

John Simpson had 21 staff to run the place, which was also known as home of gentlemen’s chess. Rather like gamers today they obviously did not want to stop for lengthy meals so Simpson’s introduced rolling trolleys, which are still in use today, elaborate silver chariots with bulbous shiny tops (today, lamb or Scottish beef, 28-day dry-aged, were on offer). We sat in one of nine historic divan double-banquettes, newly re-covered in green leather – freestanding chairs have freshly upholstered red leather, the four enormous chandeliers overhead have been painted, wall panelling and upper mouldings – like the ceiling, in what Farrow & Ball calls ‘hay’ colour – have been refreshed. Wood flooring now replaces the former carpeting.

Horseradish was really more-ish

Our Eastern European server was chosen for her charm, and skill – the young man who carved my beef, was, I think, French (he delicately presented it, with cooked garlic cloves, as a fan on the Wedgwood plate that was complemented by Mappin & Webb cutlery). Menus, called Bills of Fare, had come with simple boxes holding sourdough bread chunks. My beef came with roast potatoes cooked in duck fat, and two big individual Yorkshire puddings, and plenty of gravy, and slow-cooked carrots, and other root vegetables, all hay-coloured. Perhaps Victorian diners did not like green vegetables; I must find out. Yes, the fact that this is tradition, updated to 2017, is not only apparent but obviously really popular. Simpson’s re-opened, with a grand party for 400 or so, on Tuesday September 5th, 2017, since when it has more than doubled its pre-update business. It now regularly does a hundred or more just at dinner.

Elegant, and characterful, washrooms

Coming here in daylight the knowledgeable might well take a ten minute constitutional walk, before or after eating, to the Thames – The Savoy, right next to the restaurant, is London’s only luxury hotel that is right on the river, a fact that many Americans and apparently more and more Brits, really appreciate. I hope they all take time to do as I did, visit Simpson’s washrooms. The washbasins are clearly marked Crapper and the flushing mechanisms are operated by high-suspended long chains, as used by the Victorians.

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Luxury Hotels

An update on Mandarin Oriental’s luxury London hotel

Mandarin Oriental London front desk

Front desk

What does the word ‘town’ go with? ‘Town and gown’ if we are talking historic university destinations, say Oxford or Cambridge, for some reason always put in non-alphabetical order. ‘Town and country’ if we are talking an iconic US magazine, or even an outstanding luxury London hotel. Mandarin Oriental London has one facet that is town, directly on Knightsbridge: the other main facet of the H-shaped building is right on the edge of Hyde Park, the only one of London’s top properties to be in a Royal Park. The gal wanted to see the hotel’s new Joyce Wang look. The first part of the transformation, the Town side, is open, and it is SUPER. Arrive, and you are immediately aware that the eight steps up to the entrance have been whitened.

Sarah Cairns, Bar Boulud

Inside, up a further 13 carpeted stairs, instead of two Concierge desks, one either side, their backs to you as you ascend, now you have one desk set diagonally facing you forward-right. You still have to turn left to Reception, but then you turn immediately right to a high counter manned, sic, by charming ladies in chic deep plum dresses designed, I am told, by the hotel’s brilliant Da Vinci-like entrepreneurial GM, Gérald Sintès (look at the flowers, behind them, in the photo to the above left that looks like a Gilbert & George artwork). Where the old front desk was – stilted, masculine, 20th not 21st century ‘we do not want real daylight do we?’ – there is now a metrosexual comfy sitting area, masses of fresh flowers, and DAYLIGHT.

Ribeye at Mandarin Oriental London

A perfect lunch, away from vegan festivities in Hyde Park

My pal Sarah Cairns was not surprisingly smiling like a Cheshire cat when she showed it to me – this is the person who personifies letting real celebrities (not the trash wannabes) know what is top in London. She is big in all the LA red carpet galas, when she always wears Jenny Packham. She is big in London, where she works on behalf of the hotel with the BAFTAs, Harrods, the Royal Ballet, and a host of other names. Sarah Cairns is supreme when it comes to getting the message through to top international entertainment celebrities that THIS is London (yes, Sally Bulloch wore that garland in the last century, at the Athenaeum, but now we are talking 2017 and beyond). We met up for a Saturday lunch in Bar Boulud, one of Mandarin Oriental London’s two celebrity chef restaurants, both of which are packed out. I love BB for its perfect ambience – as long as there are no toddlers with powerful lungs – and because it is friendly, with an easy-read, easy-choose menu. There was a vegan gathering going on outside, in Hyde Park. That did not, however, affect lunchers (is there such a word?) in this luxury hotel. Both Sarah Cairns and I chose ribeyes, nothing to start, no dessert. Ribeyes, no sauce, side salads with olive oil, heirloom tomatoes, perfect. Yes, I could have had bite-sized gougères and two-bite baguettes in a paper-lined metal cup, but, you know what, I wanted to continue looking healthy. As I left Mandarin Oriental London I realised I felt better than when I arrived, particularly since the 24/7 gym, which I had used before lunch, has Citterio Technogym pieces, with Sudoku.

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