News & Reviews Europe England Review: Claridge’s, London

When a hotel makes an appearance in the Financial Times, it’s normally because an owner has their paintings confisciated for tax evasion, some guy with nukes wants to meet another guy with nukes in Singapore, or one’s going on the cheap for a few hundred million dollars and How to Spend It is trying to flog it.  In the case of Claridge’s, it was because the extension was so impressive it required a feat of engineering not seen since they figured out how to combine an Oreo and pizza.  If you believe the hype – which I do, cos I’m a sucker – they had to hire miners to do what everyone else considered impossible, which was inspired by the Cu Chi Tunnels from the Vietnam War.  Don’t ever try and tell me nothing good comes from war – it’s resulted in a new spa.

Claridge’s is part of the ever-expanding Maybourne Group, which also includes London properties The Berkeley and The Connaught.  Between these three properties, I’m close to three hundred stay, but I’ve only stayed in Claridge’s twice.  It tends to take me five years to forget how much I dislike it, so I’d go back again and start to get deja vu.  But this time was going to be different, as this time, they had been on a major refurb programme that wasn’t just throwing in some new fancy cushions and having someone from the Royal Family fart on them to christen the place.  This is a huge development, digging five floors down to add a swimming pool, spa, gym and, once finished, shopping mall, cinema and private members club.  On top of this, they have been redesigning all the rooms.

Claridge’s is one of the most famous hotels in the country, formally known as Great and now Average Britain.  That it’s famous feels very much like St. Tropez – you’ve heard so much about it and then discover it was because of a bunch of people from over fifty years ago went there, whereas now it’s just a patch of water next to a load of laundered Russian money.  Replace water with land, and that’s pretty accurate for Claridge’s too.

Santa was on the sanctions list, so couldn’t come this year.

As we’re single-handedly saving the world (but not those kids in Africa digging the cobalt) by driving electric cars, we drove down, parked outside, and they took care of parking it somewhere where it was unlikely to be stolen, which is maybe a police station.  Claridge’s is right in the heart of Mayfair, within walking distance of the luxury shops of Bond Street.  It’s not quite 5 minutes from The Connaught but is on a busier street that doesn’t quite feel like a luxury hotel should be there – it’s more suited for those shops that no one ever seems to go in, but have existed since they invented shops.

It was still around the time you’re morally obliged to have a tree-up.  The Connaught and Claridge’s each hire famous designers every year to create their Christmas tree, with some working better than others.  This year it was Jimmy Choo’s turn to attract the yoof or whatever the purpose behind it is.  Whilst I sound miserable about the fact that trees exist, I am, in fact, pro them for the oxygen and survival of the species bit, and in the case of this one, it looked pretty cool too.  Less enjoyable is where said tree rests.  There’s something I dislike about Claridge’s lobby.  It misses the charm, intimacy and joyful feeling that some hotels offer.  Instead, it just makes you feel a bit lost, especially with the tree looking like it belongs in the Crystal Maze.  Still, it’s not like you must go in and out of it every time you enter the hotel.

We stayed in a newly designed Claridge’s Suite on the fifth floor.  Once again, Maybourne seemed unable to communicate between properties, as all those wonderful preferences The Connaught get right were absent.  They offered a few cakes, macaroons and champagne, so it wasn’t all so bad, but they couldn’t even offer children’s bedding, nor any toys, slippers, robes, or anything customised for the children, which they do at their other properties.

The one area they are definitely, unquestionably, better than The Connaught is the new rooms.  It felt much more modern and luxurious but lost a few points as between The Berkeley and Claridge’s, it was feeling a bit too familiar in places.  Their distinctiveness is what made them so interesting, but I guess when you’re now trying to be a brand, you want some consistency instead, but then what ultimately will differentiate them?  Our suite offered a large living area with guest bathroom, decent-sized walk-in wardrobes and a huge bathroom.  They even had light switches with labels – someone has finally learnt.  There’s also free movie selection and all the sports channels, so my family could be subjected to the football.

I wish I could do a before and after for you, but alas, I never bothered taking pictures previously.  It’s almost unrecognisable how much it’s improved.  It’s one of the best refurbs I’ve ever seen in a hotel because it’s so dramatically better than before.  Previously, all I could do was find fault, now, I might find the design a bit boring, but it’s as significant an upgrade as the difference between a cabin on the Titanic the day before and after it hit an iceberg.

I’d like to tell you the service was brilliant, but I’m still not sure what the point of the butlers was, as anytime we called, they didn’t seem to know anything, nor capable of doing anything.  We just kept getting pushed onto housekeeping instead.  Luckily, my children are incredibly patient and wanted for nothing….for all three seconds.

We ate lunch in Claridge’s Bar and dinner and breakfast in their grand The Foyer & Reading Room.  Legislation was introduced in 2022 to force restaurants to show the calories of each dish, which I was very in favour of, right until I saw that the dover sole meunière, which I’d always chosen as a healthy alternative to steak, is about 95 million calories and worse than wraping an elastic band around a log of Mars bars and deep frying them.  Give me back my ignorance.  Ignoring my crushed dreams of getting onto the cover of Men’s Health, purely from eating fish, I really like The Foyer, its comfort food, and somewhere we sometimes visit when staying elsewhere.  Yes, the menu may change as frequently as the decor, but I’m the person that finds something, likes it, and hopes they keep it that way until I’m eternally tortured in the afterlife.

Where it’s less brilliant is the 8 am opening time, which is about 9 hours after my children wake.  Overall, many elements of Claridge’s made it feel like they had never seen a child or anyone working here had ever been one.  Between the lack of children’s amenities like pillows and duvets, the restaurant opening times and the pool only being open to children for an hour in both the morning and afternoon, I took a long look around at the 150-year-old guests and wondered if children were really wanted here.

The new spa, built in the new underground tunnels that give a glimpse into what future wars will look like, was one of the main reasons to come here, and whilst the engineering to build it here is impressive, the end result really isn’t.  It’s a very small pool, with a few cabanas and chairs around it, that was overcrowded during the times we visited.  The Connaught’s existing pool is a better option, and The Bulgari would classify this as a paddling pool.  There’s still a lot work taking place below ground, and apparently, another pool is on the way, so maybe they’ll bother with that one.

The Good

  • Food (when open)
  • Facilities now make it on par with the competition
  • Beautiful suites

The Bad

  • Not child friendly

The Luxurious

  • A showcase in modernising a hotel
  • It’s very easy to get to The Connaught from here

Rating

Good

Conclusion

We came here and booked a night and then thought we’d stay longer if we liked it.  We left after a night.  The rooms are a major upgrade on The Connaught, but nothing else is.  It does give hope that when The Connaught goes on their much-needed refurb, good things await.

London has some of the greatest city hotels going, and with Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental and Rosewood opening new properties in the coming months/years, not only are there already better options but there’s probably some more on the way.  They might not have the history of Claridge’s, but we all know the future is better than the past anyway because it hasn’t happened yet, so it can’t be worse.

I like what they’ve done, I like where they’re going, but credit cannot be given just for the attempt; the proof will be in the finished product.  I won’t become a regular, but this vintage hotel now offers something new to London.

Room type: Claridge’s Suite When: January 2023 Rates: from £3,000/n

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 13th Mar '23

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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