London West Hollywood: Sunset Strip swank in the works

How can you not like a hotel that has as its symbolic hospitality ambassador the stubby, stalwart and sweet English bulldog?

Even if you're not a fan of compact canines with underbites, there's much more to like at the new London West Hollywood -- spacious rooms, attentive (if sometimes lurching) service, innovative dining by star chef Gordon Ramsay and good looks that might make James Bond do a double take. You can just see the super spy sipping a Vesper martini as he lounges on the shimmering gold leather upholstery.

The 200-room London was once known as the Wyndham Bel-Age, the place for a certain set of now-gray cool cats to see and be seen. Nearly three years ago, the parent company of LXR Luxury Resorts & Hotels bought the place. It was closed for renovations in May 2007 and reopened nearly a year later as the London. A second London operates in New York.

The changes come at a time when other stylish Sunset Strip hotels, such as the Mondrian and the Hyatt West Hollywood, are remodeling and upping the stakes in this high-design arms race.

The London, however, has Ramsay as a secret weapon. The British celebrity chef known for his swearing, Michelin stars and reality TV shows, including "Hell's Kitchen," makes the hotel a destination for tourists and an important local cross-section of the food and style obsessed.

From its shimmering restaurant to its glassed-in rooftop pool, the London has no shortage of swank.

British architecture and design firm David Collins Studio reinvented the hotel as a sophisticated, glamorous, comfortable space, appropriate for leisure and business travelers as well as visitors staging personal and professional events in the ballroom, private dining rooms and multiple garden terraces.

Early this month, I reserved, for $329 a night ($405.27 with taxes, fees and parking), the least expensive room, a 750-square-foot London suite. Its open floor plan was smartly divided by a large sectional couch and a king-size bed attached to a combination room divider/headboard (one of the few headboards I've seen not bolted to a shared wall).

The divider shields the closets and lighted vanity table from view to create a private dressing area adjacent to the bathroom. The eye-catchers? White mock-croc benches and chairs and a long, unvarnished wood wall that takes the parquet floor concept vertical.

The room, rendered in white, pistachio and sage, neatly flows from the bed to the couch, long green marble writing desk, wet bar and balcony overlooking the Sunset Strip and an English topiary garden-in-progress.

Though the room is outfitted for the workaholic who needs to plug multiple electronic devices into the desktop strip and the plug-ready bedside lamps, it still encourages luxurious lethargy. You can choose among 58 channels on the high-definition flat-screen TV, goof off on your laptop with the free wireless and wired Internet service or run a bath in a tub big enough for a lifetime supply of gin.

Alas, the tub, 19 inches deep and 5 1/2 feet across, filled slowly. Plus, a faulty drain plug let the bubbles escape, so I sought sybaritic solace in the ultra-wide, two-headed shower: one rainfall, one jet.

The bathroom's bright, adjustable lighting and vast vanity plus the lightweight bathrobe meant that, après dip, I could attend to my beauty routines without overheating in some 29-ply terry cloth robe or straining to see under 9-watt bulbs.

I might have given the tub a second try had the valet station not lost a parcel of bath products that were to be delivered to me at the hotel. And I might not have had the pleasure of Ramsay's food had I not been persistent.

Though I made my dinner reservations two weeks before the restaurant opened, it still had not -- a week after opening -- ironed out its confirmation system. The restaurant called me to confirm my reservation, but it later had no record of it. Neither the hotel concierge nor my own repeated calls got me the reservation I originally requested, though I had voice mail proof of my reservation. Eventually, two more restaurant employees called to confirm not one but three reservations in my name. When I finally was seated, I observed seven empty tables at 8:15 p.m. on a Friday, always a tough reservation to snag.

If Ramsay had known, he would have said, "*%$#@*!!" And I'm sure he would have asked what the *%$#@* are critics doing in a week-old restaurant. (So why can't restaurants -- and spas, bars and gyms -- open along with the rest of the hotel?)

Still, the meal of $18 to $22 small plates was delicious, the combinations interesting and the ingredients daring (duck tongues, rabbit loin and pig head and tails), and once the staff hit its stride, service was efficient and friendly. With shiny gold accents, pink, cream or light blue tooled pleather banquettes, the room looks as sexy at night as it does cozy during the day.

The hotel is a sensual place, with decor that you want to reach out and touch -- and do. So frequently do hands sweep the nap of the Ultrasuede that upholsters the elevator and hallway walls, that staffers tote long-bristle brushes to restore the look.

Like the restaurant, the hotel staff is still finding its rhythm. Just when guests seek peace -- at day's end on Friday and early Saturday -- maintenance crews revved up a loud generator to wash decks for two hours.

My request for a newspaper one day wasn't automatically heeded the next, and my not-quite-hot room-service breakfast took 26 of the promised maximum of 30 minutes to deliver -- on Ramsay's line of Royal Doulton china, no less.

And yet, without asking, a staffer graciously handed me written directions to an office supply store I was seeking. My car returned clean, cool and quickly from the valets who keep the cars underground. (For $30, they should.) And the housekeepers were so fast they could also work as an Indy pit crew.

But this hotel is still a work in progress. A lobby bar, which is to be called the Mews, a rooftop spa and an expanded fitness center won't open until next year.

Until then, guests may wish to content themselves with a visit to the nearby Sunset Plaza for drinks or facials -- but go before 7 p.m., when the courtesy shuttle stops. Guests can, however, get a decent swim in the hotel's nearly 50-foot rooftop pool, where two topiary English bulldogs stand guard.

And if you want to bring your dog, go ahead (and pay $100 extra). By my count at this adult's playground, they outnumbered the children, who, you can be sure, aren't going anywhere near the rabbit, pig tails or duck tongues. Oh, well. More for us.