I used to work in Midtown. Back then it was called Holborn. It was a no-man’s land of two and three-star hotels, with their strip-lit dining rooms, velour-clad bars and lonely businessmen who no doubt thought London was a miserable city full of polyester-suited men just like them. Going from the heat lamp-warmed breakfast buffet to meeting to bed and a date with the room service menu and on-demand porn, this was London living.
Despite its enviable/difficult location, smack bang between the West End and The City, it’s only in the last year that Midtown – do we really have to call it that, Boris? – can finally boast its own luxury, Grande Dame of a style hotel. I knew the place as the Chancery Court Hotel (well, not personally, having never wished to stay there or set foot in the place), a mid-range, anonymous hulk of a hotel sitting in the bones of a breathtaking neoclassical building, the former HQ of an insurance company, and also once home to Jun Tunaka’s Pearl restaurant.
Gone are the days of money being no object and expense accounts being bottomless pots of gold (unless you’re aiming your business solely at the Russian market)
Now the Rosewood group has taken over the site and paid the listed interior the respect it was due. It always should have been a luxury hotel: the acres of marble (costing, some say, £40 million), the imposing staircase and the vast proportions should only ever have welcomed London’s most moneyed visitors and residents. With the help of designer Tony Chi, who has highlighted and respected the existing structure and interior rather than trying to modernise or minimalise it, Rosewood London oozes luxe. Chi’s interiors are an exercise in opulence and big budget design: the quality of furnishings, amenities and frippery is astonishing. Quadruple-ish thread-count bedding, Etro throws, lacquered furniture, objets d’art, singing budgies and finches in cages (hmm, not sure about that touch), and high-end glassware abound and complement the lovingly restored original features. The overall look is hard to pinpoint or define, but not necessarily in a bad way: the buzzing bar at the front of the building is masculine, held up by phallic marble pillars and dressed with leather-clad club stools; the walls are lined with bookshelves, and there’ss a fire roaring in its hearth. The walkway between the two wings, clad in rose-coloured bronze, has been lavished with design attention. It’s one of my favourite spaces in the entire hotel, even if it acts merely as a conduit between eating areas. The restaurant is more elegant and crisp, while the rooms are softer. Even the lobbies on each floor have had money thrown at them.
The 44 suites and 262 rooms are filled with beautiful furniture and wonderful pieces, with coffee tables piled high with art and fashion tomes. The most welcome piece in our suite was the bar in the hallway, which opened to reveal a selection of free snacks and drinks, including two kinds of gin (both consumed, hence the deep sleep) and whisky with Alice in Wonderland-style handwritten labels. While we know the cost of these spirits to a hotel of this size is negligible, the generosity is duly noted.
The bathrooms, a benchmark for me when it comes to seeing how a hotel room has been put together and how much money has been spent on it, have been planned well, and again lavished with all the good stuff: products from Czech & Speake, which we haven’t seen in a hotel room before, piles of fluffy towels and superb, forgiving lighting. Another plus was the enormous amount of wardrobe space, often overlooked in hotels of this calibre.
As hotels become increasingly hi-tech, there’s more room for problems. On our second night we shared our suite for 30 minutes or so with a maintenance/tech chap as the volume on our enormous, unbranded TV wouldn’t deviate from mute. Eventually the wall below the TV was unscrewed to reveal a tangle of leads and wires, the tech man rebooted the audio/visual system and the problem was solved. When we visited, it was early days for the property, so this kind of teething problem is understandable. But still…
There were two entrances to our suite: one for us and one for our butler, on-call throughout our stay. A chirpy East London chap, he helped us with transport to an evening opening, in one of the hotel’s two brand-new Jaguars, and offered to run us a bath or fix our pre-dinner drinks. We failed to abuse his services nearly as much as we could or should have, but the touch was a lovely one. We just wish we’d asked him to bring us breakfast, rather than braving the buffet both mornings.
The first face we saw at breakfast was a reassuringly familiar one: Michael Bonser, who we most recently met at Claridge’s. He has been put in charge of Rosewood London’s opening. Impeccably suited and without a hair out of place whatever time of the day we see him, we spotted Michael striding around the property in his handmade shoes, overseeing fashion shoots in the dramatic, gas lamp-lit courtyard and greeting returning guests by name.
The staff, and indeed the staff throughout, are a strange mix: from mid-Atlantic accented young men with sharp cheekbones to snippy gay guys who refuse to ask questions of the kitchen
We took breakfast in the Martin Brudkniziki-designed Mirror Room, a vast space adorned with Four Seasons-style towering flower arrangements. It’s a brave attempt to recreate the lavish breakfast buffets of the five-star behemoths of the Middle and Far East, though I feel a little peeved at having to get up every five minutes to retrieve my breakfast items, which just aren’t impressive enough to make me want to leave my seat. There is only one manned cooking station, for the Full English, and after we’ve chosen our items the chef offers to bring our plate to us. Why get up in the first place? And why keep certain items on a low light? An à la carte menu would be far more suited to the hotel’s price point. Tea and coffee is served at the table, but even for that there’s a wait. The staff, and indeed the staff throughout, are a strange mix: from mid-Atlantic accented young men with sharp cheekbones to snippy gay guys who refuse to ask questions of the kitchen, to forelock-tugging London lasses who would be better suited to downstairs rather than upstairs. We discover later that a high number of the staff hail from the hotel’s previous carnation, having been kept on by the Rosewood. A gallant thing to do, but it’s clear that some are finding this change of gear from three to five-star taxing.
Dinner in the Mirror Room, despite the setting and impeccable service, was no more impressive. Small plates (priced the same as large plates in better restaurants elsewhere) were forgettable. The burger, in a city full of great burger joints, wasn’t even average, although a rose veal carpaccio, which our server recommended, was mind-blowingly good. How can two items from the same kitchen be so starkly different? This meal was middle-ground hotel fayre from the bad old days when chefs would rest on their laurels thanks to a captive audience.
Gone are the days of money being no object and expense accounts being bottomless pots of gold (unless you’re aiming your business solely at the Russian market). Even the most loaded traveller studies the bill at the end of a stay these days. No-one likes feeling ripped off. And when you’re spending £600 per night and up, up, up for a suite, the expectation can only be high across the board, especially when the quality of the interiors is so good. We loved so many aspects of Rosewood London: its public spaces, the design touches and details and our spacious, beautifully equipped room. But, when it came to the food and drink offering, there were too many flaws to make the pricing seem justified. But, I guess they have to claw back the cost of that refurb somehow. Pricing aside, having a staff member refuse an order from a menu that “ended” minutes before is just plain mean, especially when he has failed to remove the menu from your table. Similarly, having a question for the chef ignored by the waiting staff is just plain rude.
I hope that these are mere opening flaws; with the likes of Bonser at the helm, these are creases that will no doubt be vigorously ironed, much like they are on his none-more-crisp shirts. C
Rosewood Hotel, 252 High Holborn, London WC1
020 7781 8888; rosewoodhotels.com