Inn with the new
There has been a head-spinning procession of luxury hotel openings in London this year, and a couple of remarkable reopenings.
One of the latter is the new-look Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane, which opened in January after a two-year refurbishment and a complete interior refit by highly in-demand and urbane French designer Pierre-Yves Rochon.
The 40-year-old hotel (which you might remember as the Inn on the Park) was gutted and, remarkably, a new floor and beautiful domed zinc roof were added to its existing flat roof. The ground and top floors are the hotel's show-stoppers, the former in a more obvious way with its double-height atrium, which features a dramatic chandelier and attention-seeking frieze on one wall.
Flowing on from here are two far more intimate living rooms, a dark and sexy bar and the restaurant (which has a lavish dining room and a light-filled conservatory space that overlooks the outdoor terrace). A nice touch is that you can eat any meal in any of the ground-floor spaces at any time of day. So you can have a late breakfast in one of the lounges, take afternoon tea in the restaurant and dine on the terrace.
The bedrooms and suites come in two colour schemes - pale sycamore or darker walnut - and are lavishly lined with fabrics, suede and lacquered wood panels. The bathrooms are all dark marble, mirrors and brushed steel with separate shower and toilet rooms and televisions in the mirrors. Oriental vases, classic paintings and contemporary photos of London are judiciously placed on walls and furniture. Some bedrooms have tartan upholstery and a more masculine feel; suites have gas fireplaces and private (or semi-private) terraces and are stocked with hardback novels. It feels cosy yet exotic. Maybe a touch too shiny, as all that marble and lacquer can be fatiguing, but that's a small quibble. The long, elegant corridors are lined with huge black-and-white prints of Vogue cover stars from the 1950s and 60s and art deco-style wall lamps.
Park Lane is just a few minutes from Green Park, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street, Knightsbridge and Soho. This is the pulsating heart of London, so you will want to explore the city, but do have a few meals in-house. You won't be disappointed. The restaurant, Amaranto (Italian for amaranth), is a cornucopia of rich red upholstery, dark woods, marble flooring and onyx table-tops and offers Italian-inspired fare. Though Italian food isn't the most original way the hotel could have gone, the results are imaginative, seasonal and of a very high standard. Think fusilli pasta with asparagus, mullet and saffron, or grilled beef fillet with baked potatoes, creamed Swiss chard and sweet and sour aubergine. The warm Amalfi citrus tart of white chocolate and lime with passion fruit sorbet we sampled for dessert was a sensorial delight but not overkill.
The sommelier - a suave and enthusiastic Frenchman on the night we visited - spoke eloquently about the (mainly Italian) labels, all 250 of which are, pleasingly, available by the glass. We weren't sure about the oversized black and red pepper grinders (they are literally the height of a small child, and the waiters brandished them sheepishly) but they do add a touch of humour to the proceedings, which is never a bad thing. The wine room and wall in the glamorous red and black bar is quite the spectacle. You can see the sommelier decanting wines by candlelight through the window! Opposite is a beautiful installation of Murano glass in red, green, yellow and blue, representing the four seasons.
The service in the restaurant and elsewhere is attentive, assured and exemplary. Thoughtful touches abound. Early-morning transatlantic arrivals whose rooms are not yet ready can shower and change in one of three private bathrooms on the new 10th floor and then work out in the gym or do some work and have a bite in the adjacent lounge, which offers panoramic, wide-angle views of every London icon you can think of: the Gherkin, the London Eye, Big Ben and Westminster Cathedral, to mention but a few.
Other memorable views can be had from the dazzling new 10th-floor spa (by British designer Eric Parry). All white corian, grey granite and dark smoked oak, it is enclosed by floor-to-ceiling windows. The emphasis here is on theatrical vistas. Even the sauna has an inviting aerial view (of Hyde Park) - surely a first for a luxury hotel. As your strains and stresses melt away, it feels as if you are floating above the city. That's because you are.
Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane
Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London www.fourseasons.com
Rates: doubles start at GBP275 (HK$3,540) for a standard room without breakfast; GBP335 with breakfast.