The Good Life

The Lanesborough, London

| By James Suckling | From Premier Issue, Autumn 92

"No" is not a word in the vocabulary at The Lanesborough. Whatever the wish or whim, the staff tries to satisfy at this new ultra-deluxe hotel in London.

It sounds like a cliché but from the moment of arrival at the imposing early 19th century building at Hyde Park Corner, you are welcomed with a smile--something often absent under the gloomy, gray skies of London. These simple human touches at The Lanesborough enhance the immaculate attention to detail. The majestic sandstone, cream-colored structure has been restored to its former splendor, and its neoclassical-styled entrance complete with towering columns gives the impression of entering one of Britain's finest English manors. Inside, the hotel is lavishly decorated in an extroverted Regency style that makes you feel like you might be staying in Buckingham Palace, which happens to be a few hundred yards away.

More than £100 million ($178 million) has been spent on developing the 95-room hotel. About £20 million ($35.6 million) went to interior decoration and very little has been spared in expense. There is a museum quality to the restoration and decoration of the rooms in The Lanesborough, and some of England's most distinguished historical groups, such as the Royal Fine Arts Commission, the Georgian Society, the Victorian Society and the English Heritage, were used to oversee the hotel's refurbishment. The hotel includes two restaurants, a bar, two sitting rooms, four function rooms and a small vaulted wine cellar for private dinners. Forty-six of the 95 rooms are suites and each room has a 24-hour butler service, a fax machine, a safe, and a two-line telephone among its many amenities. Upon settling in a room, guests are given personal visiting cards which note the direct telephone line to their room and their private fax number. Personal stationery is also provided. The butler carefully unpacks the guests' clothes and dutifully asks if anything else is needed. For the restless, West End theaters, and Central London's shops and sights, including St. James' cigar shops, are within walking distance or a short taxi ride away.

Prices per night range from £190 ($340) for a single room and £220 ($390) for a double to £375 ($670) for a junior suite and £680 ($1,210) for a suite. In addition, the Royal Suite is available for 12,500 ($4,450): it includes three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a reception room, a dining room, a personal butler and a chauffeur driven Bentley.

Nothing is an imposition here. A request for potato chips sent the butler scurrying away to the kitchen. Fifteen minutes later, he returned. Not with a cellophane bag of factory-made potato chips, but with a piping hot basket of freshly made chips. Or take, for instance, the request to visit the wine cellar--at midnight. It was warmly welcomed as was smoking cigars afterward in one of the sitting rooms, accompanied by a snifter of a fine vintage Armagnac.

The only less than outstanding feature about The Lanesborough is the cuisine. The hotel's restaurants have received mixed reviews in the British press. The criticism is understandable. Although everything else at The Lanesborough is clearly A-plus, the food is only a B standard. Little imperfections such as watery coffee from room service and inconsistent main courses in the Conservatory Restaurant seem more annoying when the quality standards and service of the establishment are at such a stellar level. Cuisine at The Lanesborough, for the moment, still seems to be evolving.

Nonetheless, the ambiance in the restaurants and the other public areas in The Lanesborough is warm and clubby. Cigars are welcomed and all the restaurants and the bar have well-stocked humidors. The selection is eclectic with popular sizes and shapes in Davidoff, Montecristo and Punch and lesser known ones from El Rey del Mundo and Rafael Gonzales. A keen cigar smoker, Philippe Airagnes, the head sommelier, takes as much pride in his humidor selection as he does with his very fine hotel wine list. His explanation is straightforward; he considers fine wine and cigars an essential part of any fine dining experience.

The Lanesborough is managed under contract by American-based Rosewood Hotels, which includes such prestigious establishments as the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles and The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. So, the corporate background may account for The Lanesborough's American-styled efficient service, touched up with an impeccably manicured British manner.

Opened in December 1991, The Lanesborough is setting new standards for hotels in London. "When you tell people you have the best hotel in the world, they often look at you with a blank face," said managing director Geoffrey Gelardi, formerly with Hotel Bel-Air. "They think that here is another general manager who thinks that he is the hottest thing since sliced bread." He may not be far off track. While The Lanesborough may not yet be the best, it certainly aspires to be.

-- James Suckling


The Lanesborough
No. 1 Lanesborough Place,
London SW1X7TA England
Phone: (44) 71-259-5606
Fax: (44) 71-259-5606
Room Rates: Single, £190 ($340); Double, £220 ($390); Junior Suite, £375 ($670); Suite, £680 ($1,210)


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