London's top hotels will be fit to bust with VIP guests and well-heeled sports fans attending the Olympics. Food Critic Richard McComb tests the five-star treatment at three of them.
Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane,
Hamilton Place, Park Lane, Mayfair. T: 020 7499-0888
I am looking bleary-eyed across Hyde Park from my cocooned, rooftop vantage point, gazing through the dramatic floor to ceiling windows when I swear I see an angel.
The winged object is moving slowly, silently, about a mile or two away, heading out over Knightsbridge. I ask myself if I am having a vision.
Gradually, I come to my senses. I have just experienced an hour or so of undiluted relaxation courtesy of a masseuse at the Four Seasons Hotel at Park Lane, which explains my semi-hallucinatory, out-of-body experience. The angel, needless to say, turns out to be a jet skimming the clouds but if it had been a benevolent spirit I wouldn’t have been altogether surprised. The Four Seasons, after all, is a heavenly place.
The spa treatment comes at the end of a memorable 36 hours at this Mayfair institution, in which I dine on a sunbathed garden terrace, run the rule over the hotel’s sumptuous cocktail bar, flop around in a standard-setting deluxe bedroom and relax in the most discreet spa an international playboy could wish for. Most saunas are claustrophobic spaces. The Four Season’s has terrific views of the city skyline, taking in Westminster and The Shard.
If it all gets too much, there are the his and hers vitality pools, where water jets gently massage your body. It’s ideal preparation for one of the massage therapies conducted at the Eric Parry-designed spa. Everything is very chic, a touch space-agey, and it drips chill-out. There are nine treatment rooms and relaxation pods offering sanctuary from the buzz of central London. But then again, this whole place does.
The entire hotel, with its 193 lavish rooms and suites, some with terrace gardens, is being taken over for exclusive use by the international Olympic committee. It’s not hard to see why. The hotel is just back from Park Lane, in Hamilton Place, and signage is minimal. This place doesn’t have to shout about itself.
When it opened in 1970 as the Inn on the Park, the hotel spearheaded Four Seasons’ first foray into Europe and was only the fourth opening for the company. There are now more than 80 hotels and resorts worldwide but the main London hotel (there is a second at Canary Wharf) remains one of the flagships.
It is 18 months since the hotel reopened following a £125 million, two-year refurbishment, but the beautifully remodelled public areas and private rooms suggest the craftsmen have only just moved on. It looks like the paint has just dried on Paris-based designer Pierre-Yves Rochon’s bold combination of classic English detailing and chic splashes of rich red offset with dark marble. The foyer is among the least formal you will come across in a luxury, five-star hotel and it is all the better for that. The accent here is on service, not stuffiness.
If you like style with flexibility then you will love the hotel’s dining concept, that falls under the name Amaranto. There is the Amaranto restaurant, bar and lounge and the “flow-through” spaces mean guests, not the maitre d’ or the head barman, dictate where they want to eat. I was fortunate to visit on a sunny day and had a lovely lunch outside on the restaurant terrace. You are little more than 200 yards from the Bentleys, Porsches and cavalcades of taxis zipping up and down Park Lane but this feels like the private garden a very amenable host.
The modern Italian menu is overseen by chef Davide Degiovanni whose pasta dishes, in particular, are very difficult to resist. So I didn’t. If I don’t get to enjoy another al fresco lunch in the UK this year (and judging by the weather I won’t), Degiovanni’s bowl of Cornish crab, tagliolini, spring onion and home-smoked ricotta will more than suffice for the summer of 2012. A glass or two of Louis Roederer house Champagne works a treat in the sunny ambiance.
The wine selection at Amaranto is as sweeping as you would expect at such a hotel but the bar’s key innovation is an entire wall of 250 Italian wines, all of which are available by the glass. All you have to do is commit to ordering two glasses and away you go. This offers a superb opportunity to try some unusual, prestige wines without necessarily breaking the bank. The bar comes into its own when night falls and the cocktail hour chimes. The illuminated wine displays look stunning.
* Double rooms start from £450 + VAT. For more information, go to www.fourseasons.com/london
* Richard McComb travelled First Class from Birmingham New Street to Euston, London, courtesy of Virgin Trains. First Class upgrades are available on weekends for up to £15 each way. Go to www.virgintrains.co.uk