by Fiona Duncan, The Daily Telegraph, November 2, 2016
I’m back at The Ritz, the one grande dame hotel in the capital that has remained least changed and most true to its conception 110 years ago, when Swiss hotelier César Ritz opened its doors to ecstatic acclaim. And now that executive chef John Williams has been awarded the hotel’s first Michelin star, it’s on a new high, though for me, it has always been special.
I’m not the only one who thinks so. On the way, I pick up an Evening Standard and see that Rod Stewart has been knighted at Buckingham Palace and when I’m ushered into the Rivoli Bar, there he is, sailing by in his tartan trousers, champagne in hand.
When I’m ushered into the Rivoli Bar, there is Rod Stewart, sailing by in his tartan trousers, champagne in hand.
With its Long Gallery, Palm Court and Restaurant, surely the loveliest in Europe, The Ritz is ravishing and it always feels like party time here. As for the bedrooms and suites, they have all the contemporary amenities you would expect but remain in their original Louis XVI style. In July, a new suite, the Green Park, was unveiled, which displays a more contemporary feel, yet is still traditionally furnished, with white walls and a soft purple colour palette.
But it’s the staff at The Ritz that most convincingly create the sense of a more gracious era, from the doormen and concierges with their white gloves tucked into their epaulettes and the pair of bellhops who open the double doors for each arriving guest to the frock-coated flunkies and the chambermaids in their pinnies and caps. There are characters too, none more so than Michael De Cozar, head concierge for 35 years, fabled for his endless charm, quick wit and uniform polished to perfection.
Personality is allowed here; our waiter Alexander and head sommelier Giovanni Ferlito were both examples of how engaging yet always professional great staff can be.
Afternoon tea is a major tourist attraction at the heart of the hotel.
Two things used to annoy me; one still does. Thankfully the insistence on jacket and tie for men before entering the Rivoli Bar has been dropped (though the requirement rightly remains for the restaurant). But afternoon tea still dominates by day, a major tourist attraction at the heart of the hotel that continues not just in the afternoon but from 11.30am to 9pm. Churlish of me I know: it’s wildly popular, just not with me.
But there’s no sense of packing ’em in once you stroll into the frescoed, pillared, gilded and garlanded dining room, first established by Auguste Escoffier. Here the tables are set pleasingly apart, musicians play and the real world, for a while, buzzes off.
The bedrooms and suites remain in their original Louis XVI style.
As for the food, the most surprising thing about John Williams’s recent accolade is why he hasn’t received it sooner. The big-hearted son of a Tyneside trawlerman, his food has always been sensible yet sublime, but perhaps it’s the recent creation of state-of-the-art kitchens that has added the fillip that the inspectors were looking for.
All I know is that to be served his Menu Surprise in that room, with matching wines, is just about the most spoiling treat that a London hotel – the 'people’s hotel' as Williams calls it – can offer.
150 Piccadilly, London W1J 9BR (020 7493 8181; theritzlondon.com ). Doubles from £455 per night, including breakfast. Adapted rooms for guests using wheelchairs. For more information on The Ritz, read Fiona's full review, and for more Mayfair London recommendations, read our guide to the best hotels .
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This article was written by Fiona Duncan from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.