Brown’s (1837) is the oldest hotel in London — it was here where Rudyard Kipling wrote “The Jungle Book,” Alexander Graham Bell made Europe’s first telephone call, and Winston Churchill famously said, “When in London I don’t stay at a hotel, I stay at Brown’s.” This history, and deep sense of place in Mayfair, is part of the appeal. But in London’s highly competitive luxury hotel market, constant improvements are de rigueur. So after revamping the Kipling Suite, this Rocco Forte hotel recently transformed its bar and unveiled a new restaurant by Michelin-starred chef Heinz Beck. Here’s what we found on a recent stay in the British capital.
Crossing the threshold we saw that the English Tea Room was buzzing. This is a quintessential address for Afternoon Tea in London (if it was good enough for Queen Victoria…) Guests get a choice of 17 teas along with finger sandwiches, pastries, and scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserves. Continuing through to the glam Donovan’s Bar — named for the 1960s fashion photographer Sir Terence Donovan, a friend of the Forte family — we found that the formerly cozy cocktail den has doubled in size with a new, separate entrance on Albemarle Street to woo non-hotel guests. Designer Inge Moore safeguarded original features like the 19th-century stained-glass window of Saint George, while creating a new focal point: A long bar with an illuminated glass top.
The menu has been designed by Salvatore Calabrese, the drinks “Maestro” who used to be president of the U.K. Bartenders Guild. Try an exclusive hotel signature like the Lady Forte, made with Don Julio Blanco Tequila distilled with Timur pepper, blood orange and grapefruit juice, agave and Moët & Chandon Champagne. Oh, and the famous “naughty corner” adorned with Donovan’s adults-only photos? It’s still there, and you can toast to it with a specially named drink.
Lady Forte, an exclusive hotel signature cocktail served at Donovan’s Bar.
Feeling flush? At Donovan’s Bar, you can sip (don’t swig) the most expensive drink in the world, priced at 5,500 pounds. (Calabrese still holds the Guinness Book of World Records for this concoction of “liquid history” in a glass: Cognac from 1788, Kummel Liqueur from 1770, Dubb Orange Liqueur from 1860 and bitters from 1930.) Fun for music lovers: A female DJ spins the soundtrack on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Back in the day, Brown’s was home to the very first hotel restaurant (prior to that, guests would dine in their guestrooms). More than 150 years later, the hotel is taking it up a notch with Beck at Brown’s. Opened in April, the new Italian fine-dining venue marks the return to London of chef Heinz Beck. (He was last in London in 2013 at The Lanesborough, and currently holds three Michelin stars at La Pergola at the Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf-Astoria resort.) On the menu: Classic Italian dishes prepared with seasonal produce and fine British ingredients, like organic lamb from the Rhug Estate.
Must-order dishes: The seared blue-fin tuna with fermented Swiss chard (antipasti); the Fagotellialla Carbonara (the chef’s signature dumpling that’s best eaten all in one bite, an explosion of flavors); and the Grilled Black Cod encrusted with “Nduja,” a special sausage from Calabria. Like couture craftsmanship, there’s an impeccable attention to detail with the cuisine’s ingredients and preparation.
Tip: The best seats in the house are the curved window seats from where you can admire Director of Design Olga Polizzi’s reimagined dining room, done up in a botanical wallpaper that was custom-made by designer Adam Ellis.
What we’ve always liked about Brown’s hasn’t changed: In a great Mayfair location with Green and Hyde Parks at its doorstep, this is an elegant address without the pomp or stodginess. From the doormen to waiters, staff are friendly and helpful. When we were looking for a local restaurant for a light summer lunch, in-the-know Head Concierge David Young ([email protected]) recommended a wonderful array of choices. (At Soho-based Nopi, the Mediterranean-style shared plates were just the ticket.) Young’s team can arrange a tour of Mayfair’s famous art galleries with an expert curator, horseback riding in Hyde Park, fashion and shopping tours… in short, whatever you fancy in London. We hear he even once rented out an entire Leicester Square cinema for a private screening at 1 a.m. for a VIP guest.
For spa reservations, contact Manager Ruta Tavoraite ([email protected]). In three treatment rooms, including a couple’s suite, the spa offers treatments showcasing products by Carita, Made for Life and Forte Organics, the hotel group’s line of natural products made from olives, lemons, prickly bear and aloe vera harvested from Sicilian sister property, Verdura Resort. There’s also a fitness room stocked with Technogym equipment. Personal trainers are available on request.
Booking your room: There are 115 guestrooms, including 33 suites. The Junior Suite is a highly requested category, complete with walk-in closet, seating area and library filled with classic English literature. Across all categories, the spacious bathrooms deserve a special mention. Swathed in marble, they come with oversized towels, Forte organic bath products, and both a rain shower and soaking tub.
Donovan’s Bar is named for the 1960s fashion photographer Sir Terence Donovan.
The Kipling Suite, renovated in 2015, is a London standout. Like an elegant city apartment, it’s frequently rented out for film shoots, and reserved by VIPs for weeks at a time. Good to know: Suite guests are privy to extra perks, including a welcome bottle of Ruinart champagne, one-way airport transfer, full English breakfast for two, free in-room movies, two 30-minute shoulder massages, and packing / unpacking service. For VIP bookings, reach out to Andre Sustelo ([email protected]), the senior sales manager.
Marco Novella, the hotel’s managing director, has just left to head up The Lanesborough, but watch this space for his replacement at Brown’s.
Rocco Forte Hotels is making significant investments across its portfolio, upping its game with new F&B concepts and renovations. Like Brown’s, The Balmoral in Scotland is showing off newly redesigned rooms and a new restaurant by the legendary Roux family.