From the Ritz London to the Ham Yard to One Aldwych … three very different sleepovers for discerning London visitors.
What’s it to be? Aristocratic splendour … bold contemporary colours and folk frisson… a city hub that’s a perfect jumping off point for theatre and exploration? In London’s Big Smoke, accommodation options are plentiful. Here are three we recently checked in to.
The Ritz London
At the Ritz London, near Piccadilly and Green Park, a bevy of bright, beautifully-dressed best friends, mothers, daughters, aunts and sisters are being shown to their tables in the opulent Palm Court (where a fountain bathes a gilded nymph, as one would expect), for the first of five “afternoon tea” sittings. The notes that veteran pianist Ian Gomes coaxes from the Blüthner baby grand wraps the tableau in a silky sea of gentility.
The Ritz is perennially otherworldly. All that neoclassical Louis XVI style. Plush, plush, plush. Cushions, stuffed, piped, monogrammed. Creamy Ritz roses bred in the Netherlands. Gold leaf as far as the eye can see (there’s an in-house workshop dedicated to producing it). A head hall porter, Michael de Cozar, who’s been there 43 years and his brother, Louis, on the concierge desk, who’s notched up 36 years of service.
To stay here is to feel like the royalty, statesmen, dignitaries, and movie stars who frequent the hotel that Swiss hotelier Cesar Ritz established in 1906 (along with pioneering ideas like a bathroom attached to each guest room, a telephone in each room, and attention to detail such as silver-plated tongs to stretch the fingers of gloves).
Not that the Ritz Hotel is stuck in the past. Last year saw the opening of the new two-bedroom Green Park Suite, all silver leaf design, pale blues and soft purples. It comes with your own butler on tap 24-hours a day and an airport transfer in the hotel’s Rolls-Royce Phantom. The tariff is 4000 pounds per night.
Late last year The Ritz Restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in the Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland 2017, pleasing news for executive chef John Williams MBE, who has been with the Ritz since 2004, carrying the flame for the principles and classical spirit of legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier.
These are on display at a private summer’s night dinner in the William Kent Room, hosted by both Williams and the Ritz Deputy Chairman, Andrew M. Love – a seduction of crayfish with tomato jelly and parmesan foam; turbot with baby leeks, broad beans and Champagne sauce; fillet of lamb with courgette puree; and a chocolate dessert that looks like a miniature designer trunk.
On a behind-the-scenes tour of the many food preparation stations in the vast hotel kitchen (where chefs were measuring out cubes of cheese for a salad with a ruler), Williams is as proud as a new parent of the remodelling in 2014 that saw gas swapped for induction, a greater use of pressure cookery, and a welcome reduction of workplace heat from 45 degrees to a more amenable 23.
Some 60 chefs work in the kitchen, 18 on pastry alone. They turn out 50 birthday cakes a day, 1000 scones, and 40 souffles in a session. “Some cakes don’t see a fridge,” says Williams referring both to the turnover and the freshness: “Orange and praline cake, for example – you can’t let the fat solidify.”
The Ritz Restaurant is, quite simply, awesome. With its marble columns, intricate ceiling frescoes, gilded statues, rich festooned curtaining and looped chandelier lighting, dining there leaves an indelible impression.
Check out, too, the art deco Rivoli Bar (splurge on a gold leaf-infused Ritz 110 anniversary Champagne cocktail), and the Ritz Fine Jewellery boutique for a dazzling memento of your stay.
The Ritz London, 150 Piccadilly, London; +44 (0)20 7426 1010; www.theritzlondon.com
Photos: The Ritz London and Susan Skelly
Ham Yard Hotel
Kit and Tim Kemp’s Firmdale hotels are striking for their design daring, imagination and vision – amazing colours, fabric, textures, art, objets … and ideas. The latter never seem to run out, with each member of the portfolio rich in idiosyncrasy. In London, there’s the Soho Hotel, Haymarket Hotel, Number Sixteen, Charlotte Street Hotel, Dorset Square Hotel, Knightsbridge Hotel and the Ham Yard. In New York, the Crosby Street Hotel, and to open in February, the Whitby in Midtown.
Opened in 2014, the Ham Yard Hotel it is as addictive as its siblings. It has a 1950s-style bowling alley, a screening room in orange and violet hues that has hosted movie previews including Set Fire to the Stars, Pete’s Dragon and The Anomaly, a book-lined drawing room (a Firmdale trademark), and arty lighting worthy of its own gallery.
The Ham Yard is full of quirky art, like the multi-coloured Ruby Kean collage in the lift, the mud-bead chandelier in the Dive Bar, oversized posters in the Bollywood atrium, framed bowling alley memorabilia, vibrant Christian Lacroix ‘Butterfly Parade’ wallpaper in the disco, the artiest headboards to be found anywhere, and the bespoke Wedgwood ‘Mythical Creatures’ dinner service.
As Kit Kemp says in her 2015 book, Kit Kemp: Every Room Tells a Story (Hardie Grant Books), “I love design of all kinds and all periods. It doesn’t matter to me if it is Swedish 17th Century, English Georgian or French Empire; what does matter is whether there is a connection that runs through the work. This may just be a consistent quirkiness, a discernible colour palette or an emphasis on a particular combination of textures – whatever the thread, it needs to enliven the senses and create a congruent flow throughout the area.”
Built on an abandoned site close to Piccadilly Circus, in the heart of Soho theatreland, the Kemps craned in five 10-metre oak trees to add some much needed greenery to the location.
Soon after came the garden terrace on the Ham Yard’s fourth floor, with its vista of rooftops, a luscious leafy mix of wildflowers, bees, birds, herbs, big fat tomatoes, and bamboo trellises encouraging some new form of food.
Speaking of which … don’t leave town without ordering the veal schnitzel, with duck egg and capers (£22), at the Ham Yard restaurant. Imperative.
Ham Yard Hotel, One Ham Yard, + 44 (0) 20 3642 2000 www.firmdalehotels.com/hotels/london/ham-yard-hotel/
Photos: Susan Skelly
One Aldwych, like the Ritz a member the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio, has one of the best locations in London for theatre and art lovers. It straddles Covent Garden and the West End (see queues for the Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre from the window of your minimalist room), a stone’s throw from the fabulous Courtauld Gallery and the exhibitions and cafes of Somerset House.
A walk along the Strand brings you to the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery (stop at the Savoy’s patisserie on the way), while a stroll up Wellington Street brings you to the bustle and commerce of Covent Garden. In the other direction, the Embankment Pier and Waterloo Bridge.
Best thing about One Aldwych (apart from the lift that changes colour) is the lively meeting place that is its ship’s prow-shaped Lobby Bar, with big picture windows, huge floral arrangements such as, when Excess All Areas stayed, a hanging installation of hydrangeas (Mark Siredzuk is the in-house florist whose playground is a double-height ceiling). Try not to trip over the André Wallace sculpture, The Oarsman.
The hotel has a private art collection of some 400 pieces, including works by Joost Beerents, Emily Young, Justine Smith and Mimei Thompson, as well as established artists such as Cecilia Vargas and Richard Walker. The imposing Edwardian building was formerly occupied by the Morning Post newspaper, designed by architects Charles Mews and Arthur Davis.
The Indigo restaurant on the Mezzanine level overlooks The Lobby Bar and funnels up its atmosphere.
New in the ‘hood and housed downstairs off the street, is a new Japanese restaurant called Eneko, serving modern food from Michelin-starred chef Eneko Atxa.
One Aldwych has many free and paid programs guests can tap into while staying: there are in-house film screenings (there is a 30-seat cinema), masterclasses in cocktail and gluten- and dairy- free cooking, walking tours and history, art, architecture and theatre excursions. There’s a health club, an 18-metre swimming pool and a guest-only lounge.
One Aldwych, 1 Aldwych, +44 (0)20 7300 1000; www.onealdwych.com