In the centre of a world city, a really proper pool counts – and by proper, the gal means one for serious swimmers. Knightsbridge likes to call itself the centre of London, and three of its significant luxury hotels have such pools: Bulgari Hotel London (as above), Jumeirah Carlton Tower and Mandarin Oriental London. It was certainly time for a return visit to Bulgari Hotel London, a minimalist structure outside, so unassuming that many must walk along the south side of Knightsbridge, the street, without realising that this is a hotel rather than a designer jewellery boutique.Inside, by contrast, it is deliberately dark and mysterious, though apparently they are going to bring in more light. A lot has happened since the 85-room hotel opened May 28th, 2012. It has gone through owners, settling now on a UAE entity, Prime Hotels, which apparently is going to spend, and not only on higher power light bulbs. It has changed its food, fortunately deciding on an Alain Ducasse concept, Rivea, which is now much more fun. Obviously a French wine was in order, and the sommelier suggested something from his home area, Macon, by Dme Guillot-Broux, 2015 vintage.
I had expected an Italian restaurant in a Bulgari space designed by Citterio, but the Ducasse name suggested otherwise, and here that French maestro is having fun. Before you start dining, for instance, you are brought eight tiny bowls of dips, with a card explaining what is what, and house-made cheese grissini as dipping sticks. The silver and white-covered menu does offer basic Italian, say buffalo mozzarella but here with mushrooms and basil, and vitello tonnato, and potato gnocchi, but it also has Provence-style vegetable caponata, and beef rib for two with big potato fries, and British cheese instead of dessert (for the record, I had the mozzarella, and then an absolutely delicious three-hour cooked confit of veal belly, with spring vegetables. Overall this seems just the kind of menu that local Knightsbridge residents would like, and the prices would encourage them to come back on a regular basis.
That is one of the goals of the new GM, Kostas Sfaltos, who wants to make Bulgari Hotel London not only the lodging of choice for international guests coming into London but also the local for nearby people who simply want a wide choice of well-cooked foods. Add other magnets, say Harrods, literally only five minutes’ walk away, and the hotel’s own offerings, its 24/7 Technogym, which has a partnership with Workshop Gym, its spa, a cigar room – and the pool, all 80 feet of it. And I forgot one thing: Kostas Sfaltos says that one of the big attractions in moving here was its service motto, ‘informal yet impeccable’.