ESSENTIAL LONDON FOOD & LODGING

by R. COURI HAY

image source: travelsquire.com

London is hopping during the summer. There are numerous choices for where to bunk from The Rosewood and Claridges to the Hotel Café Royal and the Ritz. I can personally recommend all of the above but let’s take a deeper dive into Andre Balazs’ Chiltern Firehouse and the refurbished Goring, which is the only hotel in London to have a royal warrant from Queen Elizabeth.

The Goring Hotel

Most know the Goring Hotel as the place Kate Middleton spent the night before her wedding to Prince William — the spot where the world first glimpsed her Alexander McQueen wedding gown. But the Goring’s royal connection goes much deeper; in fact, it is the first London hotel to be awarded a Royal Warrant from the Queen, for its service to Her Majesty’s household, and displays her coat of arms. Located in Belgravia, just a shilling’s throw from Buckingham Palace, the Goring has been an annex for the royal family since it opened its doors over a century ago. In 1945, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, and their daughters Elizabeth and Margaret celebrated the end of WWII with breakfast at the Goring, and a few years later, Elizabeth had the hotel’s pasty chef make Prince Charles’s christening cake. During Her Majesty’s Coronation in 1953, the hotel was used as another wing of the palace, taking in royal guests from around the world.

Michelin Star

It’s not just proximity to the royal palace that has earned the Goring its gleaming reputation. This year, the Dining Room at the Goring, the hotel’s elegant restaurant, received its first Michelin star, under the aegis of executive chef Shay Cooper. The menu is a blend of British classics and more modern, lighter fare. Breakfast in the sunny dining room that boasts illuminated crystal flowering branches by Swarovski was a daily treat.

“Baby Grand” 5

After 106 years, the hotel, which has been in the Goring family for four generations, underwent a top to bottom renovation. The lobby’s hand-painted wallpaper features a unicorn with the royal insignia. The Duchess of Cambridge came and painted the mane of the mythical creature, which made for a creative – and historic – ribbon cutting moment. It also features gorillas, monkeys, seals, polar bears and more; the animals represent different members of the Goring family, as well as members of the loyal staff. The renovation, carried out by a team of renowned designers including David Linley, Nina Campbell, Tim Gosling and Russell Sage, extended to every guest room, and even the garden was landscaped anew. Upon unveiling the newly refurbished spaces, fourth generation owner Jeremy Goring said, “The whole hotel is gleaming. It’s luxurious and glamorous, it recognizes our past, but it’s also sophisticated and very contemporary. And most important of all, I think it will make our guests smile.” Built in 1910 by Otto Goring, the great grandfather of the present owner, the hotel has been family-run throughout its 100-plus years of operation, and is the only five-star hotel in London still owned by the family that built it. With only 69 luxurious suites and rooms, the Goring is affectionately known as a “Baby Grand” and its rooms and suites were state of the art from the beginning, with en-suite baths and central heating, a first for the Edwardian era.

Prince Harry

The red lacquered bar and lounge sports an array of empty gold picture frames. The clue to “why” resides in another frame, which has a white glove symbolizing that the Pink Panther had struck and whisked the paintings away. The original panther, Peter Sellers, was a regular here and inspired this witty touch that adds to the old-school charm of this quintessentially British hotel. This chic lounge has even attracted Prince Harry and his aristocratic posse.

The Sheep

My cozy room at the Goring was done in a golden hue with brocade wallpaper, wood accents and burgundy trim, and had a romantic private terrace overlooking the lush garden. Furnished with a round cast-iron table, it was perfect for tea or cocktails, which arrived automatically at 5:30 every night. A red-jacketed butler delivered a silver tray with a silver shaker, ice bucket, and glass vials filled with ingredients to make a Manhattan. This is a fun touch – rather than mix the drinks for you, they provide a menu card explaining how to make it yourself along with the origins of the drink. It’s a playful way to start the evening. For guests with children in tow, there are also mocktail ingredients so the little ones can mix their own. Another amusing touch is the presence of the Goring’s mascot—you’ll find a baby sheep, stuffed of course, placed on your bed every night. But watch where you step—there’s a larger version on the floor that you can use as a footrest.

The Jet Set

Although there are only 26 rooms in Andre Balazs’ London hotel The Chiltern Firehouse, the restaurant seats 120, making your chances of getting in a little higher. The guest list is stellar, Naomi Campbell took a twirl around one of the boite’s fire poles and Bill Clinton played DJ in The Ladder Shed, the hotel’s exclusive lounge. Others who have scored a table here include Kate Moss, Adele, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Marina Abramovic, Gerard Butler, Larry Gagosian, Dakota Johnson, David and Victoria Beckham, Phillipe Starck and Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha. Balazs says, “I wanted to create a club that was not a club” adding “The jet set has morphed into a nomadic tribe. Say, “Let’s have dinner, and you’re just as likely to have dinner in London or L.A. as in New York.” Balazs estimates that the restaurant has handled over 2,000 calls a day since it’s opening in 2014. He said the principal job of his reservationists is “politely dealing with the reality of how many seats we have.” Next time you see Andre ask him for the private reservation number that grants you instant access.

Dial Zero for Anything

Every guest room in the hotel has a phone with a sign saying “Dial 0 for Anything.” This repurposed fire station, built in 1889, is located in the heart of Marylebone. Balazs says, “Old buildings start off with a DNA that may have been tampered with or stepped on but if you focus in on it you can nurture that original DNA and build upon it to create something special.” And special is exactly what this property is. This is master hotelier and restaurateur Balazs’ first international property and it has become an instant classic. Balazs told me “There’s always the glow of newness and then there’s the longevity of attentiveness. Keeping it good is not easy.”

Sexy Fish

Prince Harry, David Beckham and his son, Brooklyn, Matt Damon and Prince Andrew’s ex Sarah Ferguson are among the bold-faced names who have trekked to Berkeley Square to experience Sexy Fish, London’s new culinary and celebrity mecca. What makes this restaurant sexy is the décor and the lighting—everyone looks good in this grand, softly illuminated, art bedecked space that seats 200. Art world superstar Damien Hirst has created two bright blue bronze mermaids for the bar, and a heroic bronze panel featuring a mermaid and a shark. Although he didn’t design the Asian themed eatery, the architect Frank Gehry, created a light installation that recreates a school of swimming fish over the bar. The night I was there, the crowd was tres glam. I spotted an attractive couple that couldn’t stop kissing between every sip and nibble—I couldn’t determine whether it was the oysters and champagne, the glow of Gehry’s fish, or if he had spiked her drink. The servers at Sexy Fish automatically serve edamame at the table instead of bread, which was a healthy welcomed choice. British-born executive chef Ben Orpwood, offers up a tantalizing menu. I had the spicy sea scallops followed by a trio of sardines with cherry tomatoes. This dish was light, refreshing and tasty. My companion had native extra-meaty oysters, followed by a perfectly cooked Chilean sea bass. And the chef hasn’t forgotten the carnivores; Wagyu beef and perfectly pink lamb chops are both on the carte. For dessert try the Cinnamon Doughnuts with Chocolate Sauce and Citrus Curd or the Mango Mochi with Mandarin & Jasmine Sorbet. Yummy!

Spencer House

This is the house that love built so it’s understandable that both Nicky Hilton and James Rothschild as well as Jerry Hall and Rupert Murdock decided to have their wedding parties at Spencer House. This magnificent 18th century “pile” is owned by the late Princess Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, the 9th Earl Spencer, and is the last remaining private palace in London. It began in 1756 as a love nest for John, First Earl Spencer, and his 18-year-old bride Georgiana Poyntz. The couple married secretly at a ball marking his coming of age at Althrop, still in the Spencer family seat. The young lovers were both exceedingly wealthy and the diamond buckles on his wedding shoes were said to have set him back $50k so a proper town house was called for. HRH Princess Diana is buried on a small island there. Queen Elizabeth and her Prime Ministers sometimes go there for quiet talks away from the gossips that lurk in the corridors of Buckingham Palace. The priceless paintings and furniture are on loan from the Royal Collection, The Tate Gallery and The Victoria and Albert Museum. You can book Spencer’s House for $28,000 dollars a night. The house’s staterooms and gardens can be rented for private events and as it’s open to the public on Sundays it should not be missed.

The Winston Churchill Museum & the Churchill War Rooms

Before Brad & Angelina split, Brad stood back and offered Angelina the chair from which Winston Churchill ran World War II in a bunker buried deep under London to escape Hitler’s bombs. “This is the room from which I will direct the war,” said Churchill in 1940. Jolie settled into the wooden chair with its red leather seat and noticed that the ends of both arms were deeply gouged. As she ran her delicate fingers over them, Angie asked Phil Reed, The Director of the Churchill War Rooms, why they were damaged. He said, “The Prime Minister scratched the right one with his nails and the left one was scraped by the nervous pounding of his pinky ring over the ten months the Nazis attacked London and ran unchecked over Europe.”

President Bill Clinton and Elton John have also made the pilgrimage to this historic site, which recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death in 1965. The Cabinet Room originally belonged to Neville Chamberlain but was only used once during his tenure as Prime Minister in 1939. Churchill conducted 115 Cabinet meetings here while he was Prime Minister. The War Rooms and the adjacent museum are a testament to the life of Sir Winston Churchill and honor his life as a soldier, Prime Minster and husband. The site is composed of the Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum which explores his life and recounts an example of his wit when he said, “I am prepared to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”