When London's Coburg Hotel opened in 1897, it promised "fashion, taste and hospitality for the highest, aristocratic classes." Renamed The Connaught Hotel (after the Duke of Connaught, a son of Queen Victoria) in 1917 to reflect British patriotism during the First World War, that promise is still faithfully honored, albeit to nobility and non-nobility alike.
Situated near Grosvenor Square in the heart of posh Mayfair, this luxurious oasis of serenity, once a townhouse owned by the Duke of Westminister, boasts many beautiful appointments. Rich tapestries drape the walls, Turkish rugs grace the floors and comfortable divans occupy the hotel's clubby smoking rooms. There are no shops or business center here, for this is a bastion of old-fashioned elegance where such modernity as room key-cards, corporate packages and nouvelle cuisine are simply not in accord with the hotel's Victorian Era refinement.
Hailed as the top hotel in London by Condé Nast Traveler magazine, the vaunted Connaught, once a favorite haunt of Gen. Charles de Gaulle, Alfred Hitchock and Jack Nicholson, among others, harks back to a genteel English country-style way of life, flaunting a fastidious, even obsessive, brand of service. From the bedside Irish linen footmats embroidered with Good Night and Good Morning, to the butlers attending to fireplaces in the spacious, high-ceiling suites, this national treasure pampers guests with impeccable and unflagging expertise.
The hotel's comfortable English manor-styled bedrooms, with their shiny marble bathrooms and glittering chandeliers, reflect the grace of the late nineteenth century. While no detail is overlooked, from towel warmers and fresh flowers daily to fountain pens, ink and engraved stationery, if anything is ever amiss, guests need only press a bedside call button for a valet, maid or waiter. They promptly arrive to offer their attentive service, proof that the sumptuous treatment de Gaulle and others received here continues to be standard operating policy.
Equally grand and inviting is the oak-panelled bar where a wide range of Cuban Cohibas, Montecristos and Partagas complement an extensive selection of fine Champagnes, single-malt Scotches and Cognacs. Once a meeting ground for Winston Churchill and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, this cozy bar is still treated as a "chapel" by doting, black tail-coated waiters, who, according to France's Le Figaro newspaper, "place the bottles like saints in well-lit niches...proclaiming their ancient lineage and privileges."
Amid all this splendor, one would expect the Connaught to be unapproachable, a stuffy establishment catering only to blue bloods in starched collars. But that's a gross misconception, as the welcoming staff is devoted to cosseting guests in a warm, down-to-earth atmosphere, which is apparent in the informal 11-table Grill room or the more-spacious Restaurant.
Under the hearty direction of chef Michel Bourdin, the Connaught's culinary brilliance has won a Michelin star, and is only one of three British establishments to be feted as a "Les Grandes Tables du Monde" by a French society of gourmets.
Presenting a mix of classic French and English cooking, Bourdin is particularly reputed for his magical mosaic of patés in a Cumberland sauce, oysters "Christian Dior," grilled shellfish with herbs, savory roast partridge with truffles in a madeira sauce, and a venison in a thick cream sauce that delighted Queen Elizabeth at the hotel's centenary celebration in 1997.
The desserts, from the decadent chocolate mousse with mandarines to the heavenly crêpes souffles "Belle Epoque," are also worthy of royalty. Yet the sweet life is best savored once the engaging maître d' brings a large humidor brimming with premium Cubans to the table. That gesture is predictable, for at every turn the Connaught is a timepiece to be treasured, one of those rare hotels that lives up to its promise to be a home away from home.
Edward Kiersh is a Florida-based writer who is a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado.
Phone (44) 171 499 7070
Fax (44) 171 495 3262
Deluxe rooms from $452 to $654; suites from $1,090 to $2,342