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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Luxury Hotels

InterContinental London Park Lane previewed its sensational restaurant

Guacamole to start

Last Friday, September 15th, 2017, saw the launch of London’s latest must-visit restaurant, Ella Canta, and Alvaro Rey – seen above with two of the stunning servers – was pleased as punch. As GM of the luxury InterContinental London Park Lane hotel, he had been creating this restaurant for over two years, and the actual work, over the past 12 months, had caused continual headaches, notably because construction noise meant he had to cancel functions booked in meeting rooms above. It was he who found Martha Ortiz, chef-patron of Dulce Patria in Mexico City, and persuaded her to come to London to oversee Ella Canta. (It should be noted, however, that this is not a ‘hotel restaurant’, it is a standalone entity with its own street entrance that just happens to be tucked, marsupial-style, into the hotel building.) The gal, a guacamole addict, had to rush to taste it, here.

Ceviche and sorbet (note the dishes)

Guacamole, Ella Canta-version, comes with ricotta and pomegranate and ‘a gold grasshopper’, according to the menu – I do not remember seeing, or eating, this harmless critter, perhaps mine was left off. I went on to seabass ceviche with a mango and sangrita sorbet. Honestly, this is a really imaginative place, food, and ambience. Alvaro Rey and the hotel’s owners asked David Collins Studio to transform what had always been a soulless space, overlooked by passers-by who seemed to love peering in as they did the Hyde Park Corner turn from Park Lane to Piccadilly or vice versa. Now those full-height windows are covered in intriguing frosting that just allow you a hint of what goes on inside or, if you are inside, outside. The main space, which seats a total of 140, is now divided by a wooden screen, honeycomb but rounded in Bauhaus style, that allows a walkway to the raised far end.

Guava tart

This end part was once management offices (all management has now moved into stunning lowest-level offices, thus clearing not only this space but an area that is cleverly creating an additional 12 bedrooms). Now it is a bar, with such creative drinks as a variety of flavoured waters, using home-produced tinctures of, say, hibiscus or tamarind. The margharitas include a Daisy-Do, with kaffir lime leaves-infused Patron Silver Tequila, pear purée, homemade ginger syrup, egg white and sage. You can eat in the bar, here, which is ideal for a pre-theatre tapas selection. Or go down to the main level to eat at tables that are commendably well-spaced, one from the other, so that the servers can glide around more easily. The front-of-house ladies among the 50 working here, by the way, look just gorgeous. I met Ella Canta’s fashion designer, Laura Tovell of 1947 bespoke: Frieda Kahlo with mind, they wear slinking mid-calf jump suits, one colour, soft turquoise, red, black, all with floral hair pieces, and nude shoes.

Alvaro Rey, Martha Ortiz, Angela Brav

That night I dined with Angela Brav, who in her role as CEO Europe for IHG, oversees this restaurant, and its symbiotic luxury hotel, and she was as pleased as I was that the latest Restaurant That Rey Created was off to such a good start (InterContinental Jordan, Amman, still has its Indian restaurant that he designed and opened some years ago). More plus things here, by the way, include the stunning ceramic plates, and a wine list that includes an excellent Mexican red, 2015 Barbera Tempranillo-Shiraz Discreto Encanto Lomita, Valle de Guadilupe. In fact, as I went back up to my temporary home, a couple of floors above the restaurant, I felt really and comfortably content. SEE A VIDEO OF MY SUITE, BELOW


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