London: Hotel Corinthia
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Hotel CorinthiaWhitehall Place London SW1A 2BD, England 011/44-20-7930-8181 corinthia.com
The real McCoy afternoon tea served in the lobby lounge with superb little tea sandwiches, hot scones and clotted cream, and petit fours. A pleasure under any circumstances, it can also serve as a perfect early supper for anyone who's jet-lagged and wants to make it an early night.
- 294 Guestrooms and suites
- 24 hour room-service and laundry service
- Broadband and wireless internet connection
- ESPA spa
- Fitness center
- Business center
- Two restaurants, two bars, lobby lounge
I've been in an intimate relationship with London for my whole adult life. It was the first city I ever lived in on my own—as a junior-year-abroad student of staggering naïveté who still managed to lose every type of virginity imaginable at the same time that I learned to drink warm beer, do without proper heating in the dead of winter, and cheat the Tube (you'd buy the cheapest ticket to get through the turnstiles and then hope you wouldn't get controlled at the other end of your journey).
London had been my refuge again in the 1980s, when I threw over a well-launched New York publishing career in favor of a dodgy newspaper job and a dodgier lover. In fact I was living in London in 1986 on the eve of the Big Bang, or the pearls-before-swine financial deregulation that cause an ensuing flood of money and bankers that wash away so much of what had been gentle and distinctive about the city during the splendid years of its proud post-imperial stiff-upper-lip-and-make-do shabbiness. And now that the world's wealthy have made London their city of residential predilection it has such a glossy, even flashy prosperity in its central districts that it's impossible to imagine that the mansions that are now occasionally home to Greek ship-builders and Russians plutocrats were once divided up into bed sits.
So all of these bits and pieces of London's history and my own were messily bobbing around in my thoughts when I went to stay at the 294-room Corinthia Hotel, a spectacular renovation of a distinguished Victorian building that was originally the swanky 1885 vintage Hotel Metropole and later served as offices of the British Defense Ministry. From everything I'd read, I expected the Corinthia, which has a superb location right in the heart of the city with Picadilly, Soho and Covent Garden all just out the front door, to be a very fine luxury hotel.
And indeed it is, with a beautiful orchid-dotted lobby, a stately bar, charming service, and an extremely comfortable, attractive and well-furnished bedroom upstairs, plus all sorts of other bells and whistles, including an ESPA spa, a branch of cheeky celebrity hairdresser Daniel Gavin, and a beautiful on-site florist. But what impressed me most of all was that the hotel breathes a strong sense of history and a very potent and alluring sense of place—to wit, this property really couldn't be anywhere else but London, and for me, it's this specificity, or uniqueness, which constitutes the pith of real luxury.
In my handsome little junior suite, I also loved the superb quality of the bed linens, the excellent lighting, and a color scheme of camel, caramel, burgundy and gray, which seemed to have been inspired by time immemorial drawing rooms of one of the stately private clubs along nearby Pall Mall. The white marble bath came with a nice big soaking tub and a separate spacious stall shower with a big Victorian style pie-plate sized chrome showerhead overhead, too.
The Corinthia has several different restaurants and bar, including the very good Massimo, a Mediterranean accented seafood table, and Bassoon, one of London's best cocktail bars, but when it came to inviting a London friend to lunch, I knew that the Northall, a stately table specializing in traditional British cooking made with as much locally sourced seasonal produce as possible by chef Garry Hoollihead, would be just the ticket, and I was absolutely right; she loved it, and so did I, because this was top-flight Lord of the Manor country-house cooking come to town. We started with dressed Cornish crab, velvety smoked Scottish salmon and some big meaty English oysters from Essex, and continued with impeccably cooked Cumbrian pheasant with bread sauce and grilled Dover Sole with lemon pickle. And the grand finale to this long and wonderfully leisurely lunch was a Victorian brass band of naughty puddings, including Syllabub with brandy snaps and sugared almonds and a winter fruit trifle with ginger wine.
Needless to say, I had an epic full English breakfast in the morning, and this calvary officer's feed of eggs, tomatoes, bacon, sausage, blood pudding, and roasted mushrooms offered me some very sturdy consolation over the fact that I was only staying at the Corinthia, a lovely hotel, for one night. —Alexander Lobrano
IN THE AREA
- Dabbous: After an almost unprecedented run of rave reviews from London food critics, young chef Ollie Dabbous's winsome little restaurant in Fitzrovia became the toughest table in town to book within the space of a couple of weeks, which of course set off a major feeding frenzy. Some months later, it's still a struggle to get into Dabbous, which begs the question, Is it worth it? Well, how's about a qualified yes. Dabbous, who has cooked his way through some of the most influential kitchens in the world—WD50 in New York, Mugaritz in Spain, L'Astrance in Paris, etc., is a major talent but sometimes his cooking is still a bit reductive. When he stops paying homage to his long string of mentors, however, he does some of the nimblest and most interesting modern food in Britain, including dishes like celeriac root with grapes and hazelnuts in celeriac bouillon, and halibut in a beurre blanc with wild seaside herbs. 39 Whitfield St London WIT 2SF; tel: 011/44-20- 7323-1544; dabbous.co.uk
- Coya: Few recent restaurant openings in London better convey the city's somewhat capricious and sometimes craven receptivity to the big new thing when it comes to good food than the overnight popularity of Coya, London's first serious Peruvian restaurant. Peruvian food being rather more available in North America, you'll surely be thinking, Okay, then—should I go? Well, yes, in fact, since this table is the latest address from seriously good London restauranteur Arjan Waney (Zuma, La Petite Maison, The Arts Club), and despite the obvious sourcing challenges—the UK is a long way from Peru, the food's delicious. Try the terrific sea bass, sweet potato, white corn and red onion ceviche, and then sample dishes like scallops, carrots, ginger and coriander cress or ox heart with parsley and chiles. 118 Piccadilly London W1J 7NW; tel: 011/44-20-7042-7118; coyarestaurant.com