The 2012 Olympic Games generated a frenzy of London hotel openings. Among the most interesting was the 294-room Corinthia, located 600 feet south of Trafalgar Square and close to the River Thames. (The Southbank arts complex is easily accessible via the Hungerford footbridge.) Renovated at a cost of $300 million, the Corinthia debuted in April 2011. In previous incarnations, the imposing Victorian building housed the Metropole hotel and, subsequently, part of the British Ministry of Defence. (Winston Churchill is said to have watched the celebratory crowds on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, from one of the rooftop turrets.)
I enjoyed my two-night stay: The welcome was efficient and cordial, and the lobby lounge, dominated by an astonishing Baccarat chandelier, was exceptionally impressive. My Deluxe King room was elegantly appointed in a harmonious contemporary style, with expanses of natural wood; a restful palette of cream, gold and gray; comfortable leather armchairs and attractive modern artwork. The lavish marble bath was awash with natural light and came with underfloor heating, twin sinks and a walk-in shower, as well as a generous soaking tub set beneath the large window. All of the amenities worked flawlessly, and both room service and housekeeping proved friendly and efficient.
Alas, dinner in The Northall restaurant was less satisfactory. The Modern British cuisine was lackluster — my lamb was overcooked — and the service was slow. Maybe I was unlucky. The alternative, Massimo Restaurant, serves straightforward Italian cuisine in a stylish art deco setting. (There is also a glamorous oyster bar.) The Corinthia’s one stellar amenity is the huge ESPA Life, which is now widely regarded as the capital’s best spa. Spread over four floors, the facility offers 17 treatment rooms, a 30-foot stainless steel indoor pool and a black marble steam room.
The Corinthia is a superior hotel, and in many ways, I am tempted to recommend it. Its intended rivals are, I imagine, The Savoy, The Dorchester and the Four Seasons. As yet, however, it is not ready to compete at this exalted level.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: Excellent location; exceptionally comfortable rooms; dramatic public areas.
DISLIKE: Somewhat impersonal atmosphere; lackluster food and service at dinner.
GOOD TO KNOW: The spectacular spa has to be experienced, even by those who profess indifference to spas.
Corinthia 89 Deluxe King, $805; Junior Suite, $1,215. 10 Whitehall Place, London SW1A 2BD. Tel. (44) 20-7930-8181.
Located in the heart of Knightsbridge overlooking Hyde Park, the 85-room Bulgari Hotel opened in June 2012. Its interior is the work of Italian designer Antonio Citterio, who here has employed the same idiom that distinguishes the group’s property in Milan. But in London, the pearl-colored silk-paneled walls, raw silk floor-to-ceiling curtains and Milanese modern furniture seemed curiously out of place.
No doubt the Bulgari has been targeted at a 21st-century demographic that is less susceptible to the charms of traditional British style. In recent years, London has become the preferred domicile and vacation spot of the world’s newly rich. And for travelers from Russia, China and the Middle East, one of the city’s principal pleasures is shopping. With Harrods and Harvey Nichols less than five minutes’ walk away, and the luxury boutiques lining Sloane Street also nearby, the Bulgari is close to ground zero for all forms of designer merchandise.
From my perspective, however, real luxury is enhanced by a sense of place. And this quality is something I prize more than ever as globalization accelerates a monotonous international uniformity of taste and style. The Bulgari would be an equally good fit for Sydney or Shanghai — though the predominantly Slavic and Balkan accents of the staff might lead you to conclude that you were actually somewhere in Eastern Europe.
Consequently, one of the things I liked best about our Deluxe Suite was the library in the spacious and well-lit lounge, which featured an extensive selection of contemporary British fiction. On a more practical note, the wardrobe area was larger and better appointed than many Manhattan studios, and the bath was elegant, with black stone counters and white fixtures. Elsewhere, the Bulgari spa, with 11 treatment rooms and a 75-foot colonnaded swimming pool, provided an exceptionally pleasant and relaxing afternoon. Lunch at the Rivea London restaurant, a branch of the Alain Ducasse original at the Hôtel Byblos in Saint-Tropez, was unexpectedly good. Both the warm octopus-and-potato salad and the John Dory with zucchini flower beignets were outstanding.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: Proximity to Hyde Park; the excellent Rivea London restaurant.
DISLIKE: The sense of being in an international environment that is entirely unrelated to London.
GOOD TO KNOW: Even if you’re not staying here, the very good and reasonably priced menu in Il Bar makes it an excellent place for a light lunch.
Bulgari Hotel 89 Deluxe Room, $905; Junior Suite, $1,780. 171 Knightsbridge, London SW7 1DW Tel. (44) 20-7151-1010.
In October 2013, just over a year after the hullabaloo of the Olympics had died down, Rosewood London joined the swelling ranks of the city’s luxury hotels. (The company once managed The Lanesborough on Hyde Park Corner, but this has long been a St. Regis.) I was curious to see the new 306-room property, not least because of its surprising location on High Holborn, a large and busy thoroughfare that connects the West End to the City financial district, but which is not really close to either. (In fact, the Rosewood London is most convenient to the capital’s law courts and lawyers’ chambers.)
Housed within a grand Edwardian Belle Epoque building, the hotel is separated from the main road by a sizeable courtyard. The façade, with Ionic columns, balustrades and escutcheon-capped windows, is undeniably impressive. Inside, the lobby has a dramatic floor of striped black-and-white marble, while a huge staircase ascends through all seven floors beneath an elliptical dome.
Despite the grandeur of the public areas, our room proved to be somewhat disappointing. It was comfortable but rather dark, and overall, the design’s sobriety seemed best attuned to those on business. The bath provided only a single sink and lacked a makeup/shaving mirror. The Rosewood offers the Holborn Dining Room for British cuisine and the Mirror Room for all-day dining with a more European accent. We found ourselves graduating to Scarfes Bar — named for the well-known British caricaturist Gerald Scarfe, whose drawings adorn the walls — which serves light meals in a consistently lively and congenial atmosphere. The hotel’s other principal amenity is the Sense Spa. Surprisingly, for a hotel of this size, there is no pool.
Overall, the Rosewood seems intended for the corporate, rather than the leisure, traveler. The hotel is not without merit, but I feel no particular urge to return.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: Grand public areas; the congenial Scarfes Bar.
DISLIKE: Inconvenient location; lack of a swimming pool.
GOOD TO KNOW: The London Underground (the "Tube”) is greatly improved and is the quickest way to move around the city; Holborn Station is adjacent to the hotel.
Rosewood London 88 Executive King, $680; Grand Premier King, $875. 252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN. Tel. (44) 20-7781-8888.