Profit and gloss: welcome to the rich man's world
The new Bulgari Hotel in London's Knightsbridge area is a polished, opulent affair. The lobby has glossy mahogany walls, granite floors and black leather counters surrounded by sharp grey-suited receptionists and handsome silver Bulgari products behind display cases.
My room has plenty of polished chrome and mahogany, and the bathroom is in white veined marble, with Frette towels and Bulgari toiletries. Luxurious stand-up Bulgari travel trunks house the mini-bars, and super-tall leaning mirrors grace every room.
There is a sculptural glass bowl filled with a pyramid of perfect-looking apricots, and there are even some printed business cards in the stationery folder that have my name and 'My residence in London' printed underneath. It's a thoughtful, if somewhat outlandish detail - I could never afford to make a Bulgari hotel my home in any city.
My room looks out to a traffic-choked, grey Knightsbridge. Luckily, when the triple-glazed windows are shut, it's as if the outside world no longer exists.
Time to go to the 2,000 square metre two-storey green-and-gold spa. Although underground, it is an airy and beautiful place, and I am instantly drawn to the glittering 25-metre pool (a rarity in London hotels) and the vitality pool, with its striking waterfall, multiple massage jets and gold-leaf, glass mosaic tiling.
After a 90-minute body radiance treatment - one of the hotel's signature packages, which uses ESPA products - I waft back to my room, but not before visiting a private suite with a steam shower, double hydro-massage tub and walls lined in green onyx. Back upstairs, I light one of the green tea candles provided, and lie on my supremely comfortable bed in a state of bliss.
Dinner is at the hotel's Italian restaurant, rather simply called Il Ristorante. To get there, I walk through Il Bar, a glamorous space with an amazing oval bar clad in hammered stainless steel.
The restaurant is at the foot of a majestic circular staircase with polished steel railings and a glimmering metallic wall fabric featuring sketches of historic Bulgari pieces from the 1920s and '30s. It suffers from a complete lack of daylight and harsh lighting that make it seem oddly cold.
The menu is more congenial, including a pasta with variazioni di pomodori (tomato variations), Mediterranean sea bass, stuffed vegetables and a surprisingly wonderful spaghetti with tomato, goat cheese and lemon peel. I end the meal with a Sicilian cassata and a heavenly baba doused in limoncello.
The food is fresh and flavourful and the service extremely attentive. But my simple pasta dish feels almost a little too basic. I can't really spot any tomato variations in there.
The next day, I visit the ballroom, with its ribbed steel-and-glass bar and spectacular solid silver chandeliers. There is also a hi-tech and sophisticated-looking 47-seat cinema (with an original La Dolce Vita poster outside). I settle down to read the paper in a comfortable lounge with a massive fireplace.
Breakfast is, again, in Il Ristorante. Most of the wait staff and the affable maitre d' are Italian and very personable. Anglo-Italian chef Robbie Pepin comes from Alain Ducasse's Italian restaurant La Trattoria in Monaco.
But I miss the daylight: the sun is shining, and I wonder why they don't have breakfast upstairs in the bar.
The hotel's interiors - by Milan-based design studio Antonio Citterio, Patricia Viel and Partners - are sumptuous and very tasteful, if a tad austere and masculine.
It's not all to my taste, but then the Bulgari Hotel is aimed at the super-wealthy, and business travellers. I suspect it will mainly appeal to men looking for a sophisticated, bolt-hole in central London.
Service is faultless and friendly. When I tell the director about the lighting in the restaurant, he assures me they are sorting it out. Fair enough: the hotel been open for only a few weeks.
There is not much to be done about the lack of views, daylight and outdoor spaces. But those who frequent this hotel aren't after such things. They're after facilities, service, discretion and luxury. And the Bulgari London is easily able to deliver these qualities.
Bulgari Hotel & Residences
London SW7 1DW
Tel: +44 (20) 7151 1010
Rates: doubles start from GBP500 (HK$6,043) + VAT per room per night, exclusive of breakfast (continental breakfast is GBP27; full English breakfast GBP32)