Claridge’s—an Art Deco institution 74 steps from Bond Street—is one of the great hotels of the world, not just London. We love the lift attendants in their white gloves for their elegant, courteous conversation. We love the Fumoir bar, lined in claret velvet. We love the fact the windows open in every room (the suite with the prettiest of all balconies is 406), and the mint-and-white bone china. Nor will we easily forget the doorman who once handed us an umbrella when we were passing by in the rain. We said we weren’t staying. He said no matter, but he’d be grateful if we might return it at our convenience. Some things in hospitality can’t be taught, and Claridge’s knows it. If there’s a caveat, it is perhaps the restaurant, Fera—inconsistently liked, with food by Simon Rogan. Brook St.; 44-20/3131-5879; claridges.co.uk.
While Claridge’s hums from early till late, the Connaught, a five-minute walk away, next to Mayfair’s Mount Street, is more restrained. We’ve tried to observe the reason for this; perhaps it has to do with the tables in the well-loved Coburg Bar being less hugger-mugger than those at Claridge’s. The Apartment suite is London’s best example of making a hotel feel like a private home: Designed by the late, great David Collins, it is blue and white, with two terraces, a gas fire burning in the hearth, and sofas positioned around a coffee table so everyone is part of the conversation. The hotel’s restaurant by chef Hélène Darroze has two Michelin stars. Carlos Pl.; 44-20/3553-9096; the-connaught.co.uk.
When Rosewood London opened in 2013, a number of staff migrated from Claridge’s, including the hotel manager Michael Bonsor. The heritage was promising, with the Belle Époque building accommodating some 306 rooms (big for London, though even at capacity, the hotel doesn’t feel crowded). However, many of us thought something was fundamentally wrong with the Rosewood’s Holborn location, east of Oxford Street. Mayfair, Knightsbridge, and Park Lane are where the grand hotels of London have traditionally thrived—not here, at the crossroads of high-street shopping and the Inns of Court. But sometimes context shifts—and given the impact Rosewood has had on the London hotel scene, we’d wager this is now the case. (Though one colleague did say: “It drove me nuts how I felt like I was a Tube or taxi ride away from the action.”)
A stay here feels modern, relevant, and genuinely relaxing. The suites’ butler service is excellent—ask for the likable Behatriz Flores-Robinson, a former psychiatrist—with the Garden House Suite (best in summer, with its outdoor terrace dining) being a favorite. Elegance oozes from every texture, from the suites’ Etro merino throws to designer Tony Chi’s flourishes of silver. The hotel is energetic, from breakfast in the bistro-style Holborn Dining Room to the farmers’ market held each Sunday in the hotel’s Sinner courtyard. 252 High Holborn; 44-20/7781-8888; rosewoodhotels.com.
Shangri-La Hotel At The Shard, London, which opened in May 2014, is located south of the Thames, almost opposite the Tower of London—a neighborhood last on the tip of Londoners’ tongues when Richard III was locking up little princes. The Renzo Piano–designed Shard building certainly provides the best possible eye on the capital, with all 202 rooms, on floors 34 to 52 of the high rise, featuring huge windows that look out over the city (early visitors complained of also being able to see into other guest rooms; that’s now resolved with blackout blinds and sheer curtains).
Said one colleague: “I was on the phone with Londoners, making appointments, and could see from my window where I was supposed to meet them. I also loved the proximity to Borough Market and Bermondsey—energy without the grit of Elephant and Castle.” Like all sky bars, the 52nd-floor GŎNG bar can suffer from getting too busy to contend with, while TĪNG does better dim sum than some of the city’s best Chinese restaurants. 31 St. Thomas St.; 44-20/7234- 8000; shangri-la.com.
One doesn’t have to sleep in the clouds to get a good view of London. At the Savoy Hotel, the Maria Callas suite frames Big Ben and the London Eye. This view, reported one colleague, was the best thing about the hotel; she recommends booking only riverside rooms. There is no question the theater-district location makes this London’s favored grande dame if you’re in the city for the shows, but we have mixed opinions about the decor: We really want to like it, but the interiors—some Edwardian, some Art Deco—don’t light any great fire in a city where the competition is so hot and fast. We like the suites, but they feel hotel-y in spirit rather than like private residences, which is where the trend has moved elsewhere in the capital. Strand; 44- 20/7836-4343; fairmont.com.
There are many reasons to savor the Rocco Forte hotel: the warren of rooms fashioned from 11 Mayfair townhouses; the property's own line of organic amenities, which are made in Italy; the location, steps from fashion store Dover Street Market; and the Donovan Bar, which somehow manages to cope without requiring reservations. The ground-floor drawing rooms are great for central-London meetings. Designer Olga Polizzi’s light-handed style is evident in all rooms and suites—a mix of classic (Brown’s is London’s oldest hotel) and contemporary, with mint and cream hints. We like the sun-soaked Dover Suite, though it is a pity the rules dictate no working fireplaces; so while homey, the baskets of wood are decorative only. Is it the best hotel in London? No, but it is warm and easy, with a glorious new restaurant, Beck at Brown’s, which is helmed by Michelin-starred chef Heinz Beck. Albemarle St.; 44-20/7493-6020; roccofortehotels.com.
Hotel owner Jeremy King and his partner, Chris Corbin, have always been restaurateurs. The Beaumont, opened in September 2014, is their first foray into new territory. Given time, when the Beaumont finds its pace, it will surely give Claridge’s a run for its money. We love the slightly masculine Art Deco decor; the way the light falls on the Lady in Red—the Edwardian painting hanging in the lobby; the texture of the slightly silky sheets; and the handwritten notes beside one’s bed. Service needs sharpening so it is consistent, because the sentiment is right: classy, restrained, and English, with a stealthy quality invested in every texture, be it leather, marble, or oak. As the Wolseley is to Piccadilly, the hotel’s Colony Grill Room is already to this patch of Mayfair, a few steps south of Selfridges. Brown Hart Gardens; 44-20/7499-1001; thebeaumont.com.
The Berkeley is all pale taupes, grays, and marbles to Claridge’s sultry Art Deco blacks and whites and the Connaught’s walnuts. The Berkeley’s pièces de résistance are the cobalt-colored rooftop pool and the 3,250-square-foot André Fu-designed Opus Suite, which is up there with the Apartment at the Connaught as the best suite in London. Wilton Pl.; 44-20/3553-5277; the-berkeley.co.uk.
We find the Berkeley more relaxed, and thus better booked, than the nearby Bulgari Hotel London, which is shinier, with a glitzier clientele. We use as our litmus test the lobby society. That said, we like the seven 1,700- to 2,400-square-foot Bulgari Suites, by Antonio Citterio, and their mahogany, silver, and marble aesthetic. These rooms feel genuinely residential, even if the Gaggenau kitchens show little sign of use. 171 Knightsbridge; 44-20/7151-1010; bulgarihotels.com.
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park shares Knightsbridge withthe much glitzier Bulgari Hotel close by. The property has a great French bistro (Bar Boulud), a lively bar, and a fine place for a breakfast meeting, but the rooms—not our favorites. They tend toward being too heavily swagged in Englishness, though if that is your taste (satins, silks, tassels), book any room facing Hyde Park and you hit on this hotel's uniqueness. 66 Knightsbridge; 44-20/7201-3773; mandarinoriental.com.
If Claridge’s is the hotel against which all other London greats are measured, then one should raise a glass to the noble attempt made by Corinthia Hotel London. The hotel suffers a little from a slightly curious location, in former offices of the Ministry of Defence between Trafalgar Square and Embankment, but it’s a quick enough cab run into the City (25 minutes to Liverpool Street Station) and a 10-minute walk to the theater district. There isn’t the crush for tables like one gets at Claridge’s, meaning it’s easy to do meals and meetings without too much planning.
Unpretentious with consistently good service, it’s a popular choice among business travelers, and all the rooms are sizable, even the standard doubles. The hotel spa vies for best in London with two others: the much smaller COMO Shambhala Urban Escape at the Metropolitan by COMO, London, serviced by a number of pedigree freelance therapists, and the Berkeley, offering Bamford Haybarn treatments. All three hotel spas have strong followings among locals, not just out-of-towners. Whitehall Pl.; 44-20/7930-8181; corinthia.com.
How we all love Ham Yard Hotel—the happiest hotel in London. It might be a devil to find in a hidden square in Soho (Ham Yard stymies many a black-cab driver), but it is fantastically central, accounting for the constant swirl of people in the dining room, bar, and lobby, who spill out into the summer courtyard. The hotel’s color palette is equally lively: limes, oranges, cherry paisleys. The cinema and the bowling alley speak to the guest type—media and film folk, largely—while the best rooms are the residential-style apartments (we love the two-bedroom Terrace Suite). Kit Kemp’s welcoming, upbeat style oozes from all eight of her London hotels. 1 Ham Yard; 44-20/3642-1011; firmdalehotels.com.
For a cheaper room offering greater peace and quiet but with a similar dash of pattern-loving style—that colorful mix of Uzbek suzanis, velvets, wools, and wallpapers—we’d recommend the 38-room Dorset Square Hotel, near Marylebone. 39–40 Dorset Sq.; 44-20/7535-0711; firmdalehotels.com.
Says one editor, who loved the Wedgwood mythical-creatures china at Kemp’s Covent Garden Hotel: “The honesty bars in all Kemp’s hotels are a great touch, especially if you’re dishonest.” 10 Monmouth St.; 44-20/7806-1011; firmdalehotels.com.
Courtesy Dean Street Townhouse
Dean Street Townhouse
Of the same ilk as Dorset Square Hotel—the New York equivalent of staying at a friend’s with a very nice brownstone—is Dean Street Townhouse. Created by Nick Jones of Soho House, the 39-room London hotel has a private feel without having a clubby, snobbish attitude. The adjacent Dean Street restaurant is open all day, for breakfast (kedgeree recommended), lunch, and dinner (steak tartare, always reliable), though many guests disperse into Soho to eat at any number of alternatives. Even the smallest rooms at Dean Street work. Showers thunder with hot water, though here and there the hotel’s natural seagrass carpets could do with a bit of TLC. We think Dean Street nails it: the price, the location, the easygoing attitude. The largest room, 35, is one to request. We also like the so-called Broom Cupboard (Room 6) at the back, which is quaint, so long as you’re traveling alone with hand luggage. 69–71 Dean St.; 44- 20/7434-1775; deanstreettownhouse.com.
Courtesy The Ritz London
The Ritz London
We found ourselves shocked to discover that the perfect queen might be at the Ritz London. One of the smallest rooms, 201, is suitable for one person only. At $675 a night in a London hotel with this Piccadilly location, it’s a room to book again and again, in spite of the poky bathroom. It took us by surprise because other than the golden Rivoli Bar, which we have used once or twice, we always thought the wide passages of this early-20th-century palatial hotel not our scene—too gilded, serving too many afternoon teas (more than 400 a day, at $80 a head) to people who wanted to box-tick a London icon. Every time we entered those swirling doors into the burnt-orange-carpeted circular rotunda we felt as if we were sightseeing, like visiting Buckingham Palace. Then we stayed, and realized how sometimes the pomp and ceremony of England are convincing.
We enjoyed the confectionary-colored suites (peach 521 especially), the dark-blue coat of arms on everything, the concierge who has worked here since July 30, 1973, and the pianist in the Palm Court. The Ritz is clearly popular with a Middle Eastern clientele (“Good evening, Sheikh” was a thrice-heard sound bite). The Arab guests are a present part of the mix, as are the English. This is also true at the Dorchester, which we consider the Ritz’s most like-for-like competitor.150 Piccadilly; 44-20/7300-2222; theritzlondon.com.
For a DEPARTURES reader, the best match is probably the Dorchester (pictured) and its neighbor 45 Park Lane owned by the Dorchester Group Ltd., a subsidiary of the Brunei Investment Agency, which also owns Hotel Bel-Air and the Beverley Hills Hotel, in Los Angeles. If there was one we prefer over the other, it is 45 Park Lane for its more intimate size (46 rooms as opposed to the Dorchester’s 250) and contemporary-styled rooms—tan leather, oranges, and Ambarino marble—and the Dorchester for its restaurant, China Tang. Service has always been sharp across both. 53 Park Ln.; 44-20/7317-6530; dorchestercollection.com.
It’s a curious thing that Hotel Café Royal is only a two-minute walk from Ham Yard, a hotel we love, and the Ritz, five minutes in the other direction. Yet somehow Café Royal’s location jars. It feels slightly like one is sleeping on top of all the Piccadilly neon, just as if one stayed in the middle of Times Square. But perhaps this is a Londoner’s opinion of a touristic epicenter, because once inside the doors of the hotel, the rooms are huge, with junior-suite 328 far exceeding the usual definition. The gilt-and-mirror Oscar Wilde Bar is a grandiose place to meet for a drink. For Christmas shopping, from Regent Street to Fortnum & Mason, you couldn’t do better. The three-bedroom Dome Penthouse, in the cupola, is a knock-out—even if the proximity of the neon, which sits at eye-level, can make one feel as if one is playing a role in a Coca-Cola ad. But the hotel is soundproofed to perfection. So, too, the basement pool, which is a beautiful place to swim by candlelight. Service, however, needs more attention. 68 Regent St.; 44-20/7406-3322; hotelcaferoyal.com.
Courtesy The Goring
The Goring Hotel
The Goring Hotel is a privately owned 69-room townhouse hotel in Victoria, which we think of as more of a railway terminus than a neighborhood—although it’s a short five-minute walk to Belgravia’s very good restaurants. Among staff, there’s a lot of talk about the queen, who visits on occasion, and the Duchess of Cambridge, who painted the mane of a unicorn in the newly renovated lobby. One just has to believe the stories, which come rolling off the tongue of David Morgan-Hewitt, the hotel’s managing director, who has been here almost 25 years—a jovial fellow straight out of a Dickens novel. Even without HRH sipping from the bespoke William Edwards porcelain china while overlooking the lawn, the Goring has got plenty of suggestions to make about decorum, with laptops and talking on mobile phones discouraged in the bar.
People tend to either find the place pompous or adore it: “It feels like one is staying in Buckingham Palace’s guesthouse,” says a colleague who was escorted by the footman service (provided to anyone staying in a Belgravia Suite or the Royal Suite) to Victoria Station on her first day in the city, all the way to the ticket machine, to be sure she didn’t get lost. Another colleague arrived late at night and had to ask where exactly on the second floor the night porter was pointing from behind his lobby desk. For families, we like rooms 68 and 69, which adjoin. The three Most Splendid rooms overlook the garden. All the Russell Sage–designed suites are tastefully put together with Gainsborough silks, mohair grays, Wedgwood blues, and Georgian-period antiques. For those using the hotel for business, there’s no better place if you don’t want to be heard, recorded, or interrupted. Beeston Pl.; 44-20/7396-9000; thegoring.com.
Just like its near neighbor, The Goring (which can verge on the snobbish end of Englishness), what the Halkin by COMO, London offers is discretion. “I wouldn’t stay there again. It’s just not my speed,” said one colleague, who didn’t like the neutral palette. Others are loyal to the hotel’s zen-ish whites, creams, and woods. What all agree on is the quality of the healthy “COMO Shambhala cuisine,” available at breakfast and lunch and on room-service menus. Halkin St.; 44-20/7333-1000; comohotels.com.
London's wild card? Batty Langley’s, a delicious English eccentric hotel in Spitalfields. The Georgian building took five years to restore. In all 29 rooms, every antique is genuine, picked up from auction houses, including mahogany four-posters and tapestry-upholstered chairs. Victorian bathing machines have been pieced back together by artisans (the brass contraption in the Kitty Fisher Suite is the most unique hotel bathroom we found in London). There’s no restaurant, but the room-service breakfast comprising a fresh bacon sandwich is plenty satisfying. If only more hotels were like this: full of surprises that break the rubric, with classy insouciance that includes a guest bathroom in the Earl of Bolingbroke Suite, hidden behind a door of library books.12 Folgate St.; 44-20/7377-4390; battylangleys.com.
The Lanesborough owns one of the most enviable locations on Earth—the intersection of Hyde Park and the western edge of the Buckingham Palace gardens, in Mayfair. The storied hotel recently underwent a transformation by the late interior designer Alberto Pinto. Should one wander in, it’s hard not to feel as if you’ve accidentally stepped behind the velvet rope at a historic-house museum. Anyone not dressed to the nines can appear distinctly out of place. Hyde Park Corner; 44-20/7259-5599; lanesborough.com.–Dan Rubinstein