After all the evitable difficulties and restrictions set upon the hotel industry over the last couple of years at last the taxis are being summoned, the doors opened and the porters and bellboys are back in business. How reassuring to be reacquainted with all these familiar trappings and yet London has moved on and there’s nothing quite like the sensation of staying at a newly-launched hotel. In this 2nd weekly series, Adam Jacot de Boinod experiences the pick of the latest crop.
Bang in the very heart of London’s West End is The Dilly, a neo-Baroque hotel in a 17th-century Palladian style that has been rebranded in 2020. Many previous incarnations included the Edwardian days when it was a hugely successful magnet to the great and the good that even attracted the royal patronage of King George 5th.
Beside the reception I walked into a different century and a different continent. I was truly transported as I reached Madhu’s at The Dilly (meaning honey or sweet) the hotel’s Indian restaurant. Sheer opulence and grandeur. Here in the first of two rooms was a funky bar with eclectic furnishings and zebra settees beautifully lit by Murano chandeliers. What a surprise as I swept back the drapery for the gift to be revealed as I then entered The Oak Room, the former banqueting hall. The room has a real impact and is highly atmospheric. The food is truly excellent and it’s a real dining experience as I sat beneath six more stunning Murano chandeliers that presided over the reliefs on the walls and my marble table. My favorite dishes to land on my Wedgwood plate were some wonderful grilled chili and garlic king prawns.
The hotel’s other restaurant, The Terrace, has an indoors-outdoors feel. As an enlarged converted conservatory, it’s a sun-filled room with elegant arches and sloping windows, making the most of the light with everything blending with the plants and palm trees. The menu is right to suggest all things ‘dillylicious’, especially the Devon crab salad and the vegetable Wellington. Outdoors, high up in the Gods, I looked down over the spectacle that is the street of Piccadilly with its red buses and red former telephone booths: now a collector’s item. As a nod to those of us with children, there’s even ‘Peter Rabbit Afternoon Tea’ with scones, clotted cream, and strawberry jam.
My room possessed a refreshingly simplified chic style with maps of ancient London on the walls, proper-sized beds, and red, white, and deep-teal furnishing redolent of Britain’s tricolor. On my room phone, I found ‘Dancing at The Dilly’ as an option with its own extension. I rang through to take a dancing class in the spectacular ballroom with high ceilings and ornate chandeliers. It was timeless and joyful and I recommend anyone to let go of any resistance and be transported by the joys of a waltz.
There’s even a decent-sized swimming pool, a rarity in London’s hotels, and a chance I was quick to take up to refresh myself and justify for once my white hotel gown. I also took one of the bikes on offer to enjoy the local parks and a picnic they provided especially to go with the tickets the concierge team arranged to see the gardens at Buckingham Palace.
Also just across the road is St. James’s, the historic haunt of the traditional English gentleman and where the main attraction is Fortnum and Mason, the top purveyor of all treats and delicacies. One feature to note are the figures on the great clock above the front door outside which comes out precisely on the hour to play the famous Eton Boating Song.
As for the overall vibe ‘We’re a Friendly Bunch’ says the hotel promotion on my room’s television. And they truly were true to their word.
The Standard is part of a chain that includes New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. It’s an American import designed in collaboration with Shawn Hausman Design. This London hotel has a young, trendy, hip, creative and metropolitan crowd. And in a building that’s truly an explosive mix and contrast of textures and colors. It’s fun and funky and anything but ‘standard’ with its upside-down logo and an eclectic and busy choice of design.
Its exterior is imposing and designed in the 70s ‘eggbox-style’ architecture. It’s perfectly positioned for those exploring other parts of Europe as it’s bang opposite the cross-channel trains of Eurostar as well as the most idiosyncratic example of Victorian High Gothic grandeur that is the building to the terminus of St. Pancras.
What a place of curiosity and intrigue. Swing through the reception door and you know you’re in for an experience. Here I was led through a library with modern shelf categories for books such as ‘order’ and ‘chaos’, ‘hope’ and ‘darkness’ next to a sealed room for the disc jockey and nearby the drag bingo evening that’s amongst the program of fun events.
Of the 266 rooms on ten floors, there’s a healthy selection ranging from Cosy Core (windowless) rooms to terraced suites with outdoor bathtubs at the top with floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Mine was a ‘King of Kings’, zen-like in its simplicity with lots of room with a free-standing bath and a proper king-size bed. Minimal chic.
It’s all about layers of differing creations. The décor is a wonderful medley of offerings both modern and retro. There are velvet covers, wicker furnishing, leather chairs, marble tables, glass panels, tartan curtains, mosaic floors, inlaid wooden counters, a variety of plant pots, differing fireplaces, and ceramics, walls of either concrete or crafted carpeting, and a variety of metal lighting. There’s an engaging hint of the industrial. No space is left without some creative input. The elements all come into play: air, fire, water, and earth. Maximal, not minimal.
I ate at the Double Standard restaurant, spread across two large rooms and three areas of alfresco dining with greenery, pit fires, and heaters. It felt full of surprises and totally engaged me. The chairs and tables were in their signature red, blue, and black block geometric colors. Here I enjoyed a menu with small and large plates, a delicious gazpacho soup with watercress, a Caesar salad with halloumi followed by mango and passion fruit sorbet, and the unsung gem on the menu strawberry pannacotta.
On the tenth and top floor, is Decimo, a Spanish-Mexican restaurant offering a fine-dining tapas menu. The room has real impact, a warm earthy feel full of drama with its gorgeous crafted wooden inlaid roofs, counters, and chairs, with its creamy macrame curtains, and with its expansive windows overlooking the grandeur of the St Pancras building. What a stunning room and lots of ambient jazz music. There’s even a groovy outdoor lift to the roof terrace with its lovely views of the city.
Managed by Hilton and one of four of their luxury brand ‘LXR’ The Biltmore is located in London’s prestigious Grosvenor Square, which has strong connections with America, being home to her former embassy and still, at number 20, housing the headquarters of the US Naval Forces Europe and the square’s gardens host statues of both Franklin D Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. The hotel itself at number 44 is also steeped in history as the place where The Duke of Wellington declared his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo and more recently with its back door opposite where the Bee Gees lived. The area is called Mayfair and it’s the most expensive on the English version of the Monopoly game consisting of lovely Georgian architecture and a short walk to the shops of Oxford Street, Regent Street, and fashionable Bond Street next to which is Savile Row where the English gentlemen have their suits made and on whose rooftops The Beatles were filmed recording Let It Be.
The hotel entrance has a floral display with an abundant amount of flowers as its centerpiece emphatically letting me know what I was in store for. For indeed the ground floor has a number of beautifully designed and peaceful rooms rich in texture with tasteful circular carpeting, oversized lights, and a décor that’s neutral and harmonious amongst the predominant coloring of silver and beige. Throughout there’s a butterfly theme perhaps reminding us all of the benefits of metamorphosis.
Out of the 300+ rooms and suites, mine had floral paneling, a large Chinoiserie mirror, wenge wood, and curvaceous furnishings topped by a gorgeous emerald-green velvet sofa. I luxuriated in the Italian marble bathroom with its freestanding, egg-shaped bath and Toto loo.
I ate well from the confidently small menu of modern European cuisine at Café Biltmore Restaurant and Terrace. For I chose chilled tomato gazpacho (with cucumber, black olive, and basil) followed by grilled Cornish plaice with capers, lemon and parsley, and citrus hollandaise. Sitting outside, beneath powerful heaters in this cool and glamorous restaurant, I watched cloches, crumbers and piping-hot bread be served with a decided theatricality. It’s opposite the ballroom with its live wall and amongst a Giacometti-inspired statue and the large Bonzai and evergreen jasmine. Where else in Mayfair can you be surrounded by plants and unaffected by defiling pigeons or noisy traffic? There are even live crabs and lobsters in a tank whose pumping sounds lull children to sleep while at The Tea Lounge there were treats of scones with jam and cream as well as Scottish cranachan (consisting of a raspberry and oatmeal parfait).
As Samuel Johnson, the famous lexicographer and man-about-town was famed for declaring: “So, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.” And I can vouch for that staying here in London, in Mayfair, and at The Biltmore.