Names such as Claridge's, the Savoy, the Ritz and the Dorchester have become synonymous with everything that epitomizes the ultimate in English hotel keeping. Now a few other hotels, not as well-known, are rapidly becoming favored places to stay in London, catering to a clientele that prefers intimate, exclusive, off-beat establishments.
Special hotels exude character, and the Stafford is special, a little gem hidden away within the royal arena of St. James' Place. Entering the lobby was like stepping onto the stage of a small theater. Several guests were milling around in raincoats, sipping hot tea and looking terribly pleased to be there. The concierge team in its Punch-and-Judy office immediately gave me the impression that anything was possible, that no request was too much trouble. The manager of the hotel appeared from among the group of raincoats, with his own folded over one arm, and introduced himself. A bright chap named David Ward, he was leading the small group of American raincoats to their first rugby match at Twickenham via luxury coach.
My initial feeling of the Stafford was that of belonging, with a master key to hospitality. The 62-room hotel began life as an 18th-Century mansion. The rooms, though perhaps a touch on the small side, are individually furnished, discreet and elegant. However you will undoubtedly ant to spend as little time in your room as possible, as there always seems to be something interesting happening elsewhere in the hotel.
Only a handful of celebrities (including Paul Newman and Rex Harrison) have discovered the Stafford. But with Princess Margaret popping in frequently for dinner (as does the Queen Mother and her private secretary), the Stafford is hardly the kind of place that screams for publicity. The hotel has hosted a private dinner for Queen Elizabeth and once staged a party for Prince Charles in its 300-year-old wine cellars.
More than half a million bottles of wine are kept in a labyrinth of candlelighted corridors and passageways that lead to the central dining chamber, where a knightly table seats 42 for dinner in an atmosphere that captures days of old.
Located off the lobby, the American Bar, like the rest of the hotel, oozes character and charm. The walls are lined with flags, hats and ties donated by guests over the years.
There are also taxi drivers who are on call at the hotel 24 hours a day to provide tours of London for guests.
The Stafford is everything that people expect England always to be. The staff is gently eccentric, courteous, and hospitable, with the ability of making all who walk through the door feel as though they've come home. The Stafford is like a club with the emphasis on very personal service.
THE HALCYON IS NESTLED amid the quiet avenues and homes of Holland Park, a five-minute taxi ride from Knightsbridge or Marble Arch. The hotel blends perfectly with the surrounding mansions. The belle epoque architecture has been meticulously restored to the tune of about $9 million. Decorator Barbara Thornhill, from Washington, is responsible for the styling of this magical little hideaway with its 44 open, airy suites, each individually designed, some with four-poster beds and spas.
A fresh, clean, immensely private place, the Halcyon is perfect for relaxing or for overcoming stress. Downstairs is the Kingfisher Restaurant with large French windows facing an ornamental garden and patio. Chef James Robbins is classically trained, and the restaurant, the kitchen and the menu are all of his creation. The setting is in soft pastel colors, intimate yet lively and reminiscent of the kind of fine restaurant one might expect to find in the south of France. A three-course lunch offers, as one of five starters, marinated salmon scallops in lime and hazelnut oil, and as one of the main dishes, grilled fillet of red mullet with pine kernels, garlic and marjoram.
ON TO FORTY SEVEN Park Street, a no-nonsense, ultra-posh establishment where one envisions oil or gold deals being transacted by robed sheiks or serious-minded bankers. Staying at this hotel is like having your own opulent London home. It has 52 large, luxurious suites, each with its own kitchen and sitting room. Space and luxury abound; here are large marble baths, yards of cupboard space, Persian rugs, comfortable oversized beds, mahogany desks and tables, fireplaces, couches and armchairs.
The hotel is one block from Grosvenor Square and the American Embassy, just behind Park Lane in London's Mayfair district. The hotel houses Le Gavroche, one of London's most exclusive restaurants, catering to any epicurean fancy. At Forty Seven Park Street, you have, from the point of view of luxury, a rare jewel in the crown of London's finest hotels.
Le Gavroche is the only three-star Michelin-rated restaurant in London. Albert Roux, its owner, was brought up in the Saone et Loire region of France, and for years he has been delighting palates with his rare flair for creating superb dishes. Reservations are essential.
A FRIEND TIPPED ME OFF about a new hotel in Wimbledon--Cannizaro House--that is another small treasure. The delightful village is filled with busy little shops and yet is close enough to the center of London (eight miles) to make it an easy drive (except at rush hour). Cannizaro House is five minutes from the Wimbledon tennis courts and two minutes from the Royal Wimbledon Golf Club. The house is a gloriously imposing sight, regal and stately.
Opened as a hotel in June, 1987, the Cannizaro dates to 1727 and is rich in history. In 1805 it was the residence of Lord Aberdeen, foreign secretary and later prime minister. In 1879 the house became a center for London society, playing host to garden parties for more than 1,000 people. House guests included Lord Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, the Prince and Princess of Wales and Henry James.
Cannizaro House claims to be London's first country house/hotel. It has 55 bedrooms (35 twins, 18 doubles and two suites), several of which feature four-poster beds. All bedrooms are furnished in English country-house style, with soft lighting and subdued colors. The house has been lavishly restored, and from the moment you step into the spacious lobby you realize you are somewhere very special. There's an ornate fireplace with cherubs carved over the mantelpiece, freshly cut flowers, silk drapes, comfortable armchairs, afternoon tea, and a stunning circular classical painting on the ceiling.
The dinner menu can feature such choices as breast of pigeon, served pink with a Peter Herring sauce, garnished with wild mushrooms and surrounded by black cherries; lobster au Pineau des Charentes, cooked in an aperitif from the southwest of France and served with rice; or Roast Turbot Farci served with veal and Beluga caviar. Fresh bread is baked on the premises, and members of the staff also prepare homemade jam.
LASTLY, THERE ARE two hotels of entirely different character, and yet each is impressive in its own right.
Blakes Hotel is owned by Anouska Hempel, a former actress who starred in the James Bond movie "Her Majesty's Secret Service" and who now is Lady Weinberg. Blakes was built with Hollywood in mind, and is a positive hive of rock stars, movie directors and producers, music industry executives and actors.
The rooms are individually designed. Color schemes are black and varying shades of gray, with modern, draped four-poster beds, canopy beds and, in one room, a sunken bed. One suite contains an original Empress Josephine bed with swan heads of gold.
The hotel is popular with the late-night theater crowd that gathers in the bar/restaurant well into the wee hours. The restaurant offers an interesting menu featuring Japanese, Indonesian, Italian and French cuisine along with traditional English dishes.
Finally, Brown's must be included by reason of its utter Englishness. Having recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, Brown's is more than a hotel, it is an English institution, eccentric and slightly old-fashioned and with such appeal as to convince a guest that it is a privilege to be welcomed through its doors. There are 113 bedrooms and 12 suites, all individually decorated in traditional English elegance. Oak paneling, stained glass, chiming clocks, archways, soft and plush carpets and, of course, the color brown are the most prevalent decorative features.
Brown's has seen and heard it all, and with such experience comes a way of dealing with things that probably could not be surpassed by any hotel in the world. Guests have included Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt chose Brown's during their honeymoon, and Rudyard Kipling used to meet with his cousin, Stanley Baldwin, at Brown's for breakfast--for which the hotel is famous.
Afternoon tea at Brown's is probably the ultimate English tradition. It begins at 3 p.m. in the Albemarle Room amid cozy armchairs and a blazing fire. Teas from around the world are served in bone-china teapots, along with sandwiches, cakes and mouth-watering buttered scones with fresh clotted cream from Devon. It is Empire to the utmost.
FOR RESERVATIONS OR INFORMATION
The Stafford Hotel, St. James' Place, London SW1A 1NJ, telephone (from the U.S.) 011-44-1-493-0111, or telephone Scott Calder International Inc., toll-free (800) 223-5581. Current room rates, including a 15% Value Added Tax (VAT) and services charge are: singles from 136; doubles from 147; suites from 195.
Halcyon Hotel Corp. Ltd., 81 Holland Park, London W11 3RZ, telephone (from the U.S.) 011-44-1-727- 7288, or telephone David B. Mitchell & Co., (800) 372-1323. Room rates, including VAT and service charge, are: singles from 140; doubles from 195; suites from 325.
Forty Seven Park Street, Mayfair, London W1Y 4EB, telephone (from the U.S.) 011-44-1-491-7282, or call David B. Mitchell & Co., (800) 372-1323. Rates for the suites-only hotel, including service charge but not VAT, range from 225 to 330.
Cannizaro House, West Side, Wimbledon Common, London SW19 4UF, telephone (from the U.S.) 011-44- 1-879-1464, or call Scott Calder International Inc., (800) 223-5581. Rates, including service charge and VAT, are: Singles from 79; doubles from 95; triples available on request from 125; suites on request from 225.
Blakes Hotel. 33 Roland Gardens, London SW7 3PF, telephone (from the U.S.) 011-44-1-370-6701, or call David B. Mitchell & Co., (800) 372-1323. Singles from 115; doubles from 155; suites 330. Prices include VAT but not service charge.
Brown's Hotel, Albemarle and Dover Street, London W1A 4SW, telephone (from the U.S.) 011-44-1-493- 6020, or call Trust House Forte Hotels, (800) 225-5843. In Los Angeles, telephone (213) 410-4960. Doubles 165 to 190; suites, from 215. Prices include VAT and service charge.