Wednesday, Oct. 08, 2008


A classic that's as popular now as it was in the 20's, this spot in chichi Mayfair is the epitome of elegance. The Art Deco details are sublime, as is the pricey afternoon tea (though it's as much a people-watching exercise as an indulgent experience). Big draws here are the Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay restaurant (the city's toughest booking) and the gorgeous Fumoir bar, which harks back to the days of flapper girls and jazz piano. Add neo-Art Deco suites fashioned by David Linley, and a stay here is like stepping back into the long-lost glamorous days of travel.

Insider Tip: Register for a master class with executive chef Martyn Nail; he covers such gustatory topics as traditional British cooking, canapés, and carving (appointed Saturdays, 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; $300, including tutorial, lunch, and coffee).

Room to Book: Piano suite. It comes with butler service, a bottle of Laurent Perrier Brut NV, an outfit pressed when you arrive, and of course, a grand piano. They're all complimentary—after, of course, the $6,300-a-night price tag.

Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park

Zen is the mantra at this luxurious, Asian-influenced haven that's consistently regarded as one of the world's best hotels. Its location, opposite Harvey Nichols and adjacent to Hyde Park, doesn't hurt, nor does Foliage, a Michelin-starred restaurant designed by Adam Tihany that perches over the park. The hotel is also home to London's best state-of-the-art spa, a deeply cosseting and stylish basement space offering ESPA treatments, a small vitality pool, steam room, dry sauna, and a gym. Health-conscious guests can take advantage of complimentary tai chi classes in the park before breakfast. Bedrooms are large, decadent, and comfortable, with gold-hued drapes, marble-topped tables, and sumptuous bathrooms with Jo Malone or Aromatherapy Associates products—plus slick service. No wonder the hotel draws hordes of celebrity guests.

Insider Tip: Kid guests get mini-bathrobes upon request.

Room to Book: The 914-square-foot, Baroque-inspired Apsley suite, with its marble fireplace and balcony opposite Hyde Park.

Brown's Hotel

Luxury hotelier Rocco Forte restored this historic treasure beyond its former glory, and his sister, Olga Polizzi, transformed the public spaces and 117 bedrooms within these 11 Georgian townhouses. It all fits perfectly into today's London. The Donovan Bar displays black-and-white portraits of city stars from the 50's and 60's to great effect. Scottish tartan banquettes and British racing-green woolen armchairs abound, while the wood-paneled lounge evokes elegance without feeling old-fashioned. Guest rooms are a snazzier affair, with reproduction antique furnishings juxtaposed with soft colored textiles and walls of modern art. Its impressive basement spa performs Carita, Aromatherapy Associates, and Dr Sebagh treatments.

Insider Tip: Bring your own toiletries; the house-label bath products are a disappointment.

Room to Book: The suites feature iPod docking stations, DVD players, and TV's at the foot of the bathtubs.

The Berkeley

Discreet yet stylish, this hotel is the centerpiece of so many must-dos it's easy to forget about the elegant rooms. Downstairs is Gordon Ramsay's Boxwood Café, while Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and Hyde Park are neighbors. By day, the fashionista crowd arrives for the signature Prêt à Porte afternoon tea in the Caramel Room: nibble Liz Hurley-designed bikini biscuits and cakes inspired by the latest catwalk collections (Missoni striped madeleines with banana and vanilla bavaroise; or Zac Posen dark purple macaroons with chocolate and passion fruit ganache) served on Paul Smith bone china. After dark, the David Collins-designed Blue Bar attracts a trendy crowd with its Balearic Islands soundtrack. Don't miss the top-floor swimming pool (one of only two in London); it perches above Hyde Park with a roof that slides open in good weather. Still, don't neglect an overnight stay: rooms combine marble baths with traditional French wallpaper and the occasional four-poster bed.

Insider Tip: For a pretty pound, a hotel chauffeur will collect you at the airport in an E class Mercedes ($190 each way).

Room to Book: Request one with a park view.

The Dorchester

With a prime address on Park Lane facing Hyde Park, this grande dame embodies a posh formality that's attracted Prince Philip (who held his bachelor party here in 1949) as well as rock and Hollywood royalty who regularly take up residence. Rooms are spacious and charmingly designed; you'll also find excellent service, afternoon tea in the opulent lobby lounge, a smart gift shop (think bespoke bathrobes), a luxurious spa, and China Tang, David Tang's Art Deco-inspired Cantonese restaurant and classic cocktail bar. Its 195 rooms and 55 suites are light and airy, and feature floral drapes and carpets, antique furniture and inviting armchairs, and marble bathrooms (with what may be the deepest tubs in town). For a large hotel, it's still reassuringly exclusive.

Insider Tip: Don't skip the immaculately landscaped flower gardens.

Room to Book: One of the Junior or Dorchester suites; each has access to a tech-savvy "E-Butler," on call daily to solve any Internet or plasma-screen-TV issues.