Style: Louis XVI excess
Scene: At the heart of London's most elegant area
Seen in the lobby: The English upper classes, lovers of tradition
If The Ritz hotel were a woman it would definitely like admiring itself in the glass, there are mirrors everywhere and oodles of 24 carat gold leaf. Walk through the revolving doors of The Ritz London and you have time-warped into her world of elegant over the top excess. She may be in the heart of London but this flamboyant hotel, modelled on a
French chateau with furnishings in the style of Louis XVI, prefers to flirt like the French than maintain an English reserve, no stiff upper lip here.
There is a reason the word 'ritzy' was coined after the luxury hotels of legendary hotelier Cesar Ritz* and this opulent hotel lives up to the name. The Ritz is perfectly placed for a London sojourn, right across the road from the Royal Academy and a diamond sparkle from De Beers and the designer delights of Old Bond Street.
Staff wear tailcoats and coloured waistcoat and lots of gold braid. You get the feeling they know they are part of the show. They manage to be formal and friendly at the same time and magically within minutes everyone knows your name. It is easy to forget you are merely a guest and image this is your own city residence with footmen and butlers and a cook below stairs. No wonder the aristocracy have always felt at home here, as have generations of royalty, after all the Ritz is just round the corner from Buckingham palace - "so convenient, my dear".
Rooms at the Ritz are decorated in shades of pastel to go with the creamy curved furniture. Below my window couples stroll in Green Park and double-decker red buses and black taxis like shiny beetles plough along Piccadilly -a consummate London scene.
Taking tea at The Ritz is one of London's consummate experiences, at one of London's best known luxury hotels; which is probably why these days it is wise to book at least a month in advance even if you are staying at the hotel. There are now four sitting,The Luxury Travel Bible likes the idea of the champagne tea at 7.30pm but somehow feel we should stick with tradition and go with the afternoon version. Cakes, scones and cucumber sandwiches (of course) sit serenely on tiered cake stands and only the finest tea, such as Darjeeling First Flush or Ritz Royal English is served. All around is the hum of polite conversation and the gentle clinking of silver spoons in bone china cups. The Queen mother was fond of taking tea here. This is the kind of hotel that still has a formal dress code in its restaurants and bars, "gentlemen are required to wear a jacket and tie" and no jeans/and or trainers are permitted. If you have a bespoke Saville Row suit, this is the place to wear it.
The Ritz is just round the corner from BUCKINGHAM PALACE -
"so convenient, my dear".
In the Ritz restaurant you'll find people looking around as often as they look at their plate because the vast room has been celebrated as "the world's most beautiful dining room" - and it probably is. A ring of chandeliers dripping with crystal and gold are linked by garland of gold leaf around a mural painted ceiling, floor to ceiling mirrors reflect the French tall windows. We sit at a corner table with its crisp linen table cloth and let the evening unfold before us. There is plenty of time to survey the scene since we've ordered the chef's specially created five course tasting menu. Early in the evening the summer light still filters through the windows, thrown open onto one of London's only hotel terraces if the weather allows. By 9pm the place has a golden glow as the candles flicker.
A string quartet begins to play, then a pianist on a grand piano as waiters in tail coats (a uniform little changed since Cesar Ritz's days) their rank denoted by the colour of there waistcoat flit between the tables. It is like watching something out of a Merchant Ivory period production. They still have dinner dances here on Fridays and Saturdays and although you'd expect them to be attended only by people of a 'certain age', the dances are a surprise hit among London's smart young things yearning for the romance of yesteryear.In the 1930s stars of the stage and screen mixed with the upper crust, at gloriously decadent parties, there is an old photo of Talulah Bankhead drinking champagne out of a shoe.
Cesar Ritz always coverted the house next door, once the home of Lord Wimbourne, and wanted to add it to his portfolio of luxury hotels and make it part of The Ritz, he never managed it but these days the house is now an elegant extension to the main hotel housing some of its most extravagant suites and meeting rooms. The William Kent Room for example, has opulent crimson silk walls and a 22-carat gold leaf ceiling; upstairs are the Royal Suite with its lemon-pale sitting room with panelling and oil paintings has a secret staircase leading to an oval bedroom with a canopied bed. The Prince of Wales
suite has two bedrooms and a dining room fit for a private banquet.
A bright Ritz-Blue Rolls Royce Phantom is on hand to take guests wherever they want to go. It glides to a halt underneath the hotel's matching blue canopy and I step in. Like the hotel, the car is a reminder of more elegant times with its polished mahogany, deep leather seats and windows that whisper shut to silence the city. However the chauffeur , who obviously loves the car with a passion points out it has a far from old-fashioned engine under its beautiful bonnet, "0 to 60 in 5.7 seconds," he say proudly. Sadly the London traffic won't allow him to prove it and we proceed at a stately pace. There is a Queen's garden party on at Buckingham Palace so the police checkpoint is stopping cars. Not us though. They salute the car as we purr past and the chauffeur salutes back, I am tempted to give a royal wave. "They know me, I often take people to the palace", says the chauffeur.
Of course you do, you work for The Ritz, the queen of luxury hotels.
*(Ritzy: (slang) adj: stylish, elegant, ostentatiously rich)
Hilary Doling 9/3/10. Updated 0/12/15