News & Reviews Europe England Review: The Berkeley, London

Finished.  The finished article; nice guys finish last; I’ve finished, he’s finished, they’re Finnish.  What a word.  My background is in software development (sadly, staring at my screen all day and hoping words fall out of me and onto this blog is not how I pay the hotels), where nothing is ever finished and everything is just one further iteration.  Yet when it comes to something structural, say, the brakes on my car, I’m rather more keen on them being 100% complete.

The Berkeley has been undergoing a massive renovation for what appears to be the last eight years, only to get near the end and decide “why stop now?”.  The entrance was redeveloped; a new bar and restaurant added; the reception was rebuilt, their infamous Blue Bar reimagined, their main restaurant, The Collins Room, transformed.  They even added outdoor dining.  In London!

You may be thinking that they added a lick of paint, but I’m trying to say they reconstructed the entire ground floor.  It is unrecognisable from my first stay and having not been since covid entered the zeitgeist, it was revolutionised again with the new cafe and patisserie replacing the entrance to Koffman’s.

The Berkeley entrance. Do I have an unhealthy obsession with my car? No one can be sure…ok, it’s a yes.

Then you have all the rooms.  Not only have they redesigned them all and modernised all the suites, but they’ve reduced the room count to around 190, making it feel more intimate than ever before.  What an incredible improvement.  Right up until we saw the rooftop pool.

A new beginning

The Berkeley is where my luxury hotel obsession began.  I cannot recall the exact turning point, but sometime in the early 2010s I found myself earning just enough to be able to afford to stay here.  Then I followed it up by staying 50 times in a single year, because logic and I parted ways many years ago.

Here’s the earliest email I can find from 2012:

£402 per room per night. Inclusive of a bottle of Champagne on arrival, daily English breakfast and £30 food & beverage credit.

Oh happy days.  Now you’re lucky to get a room for less than £900/n, although now I’m traveling with my daughter there’s no chance I’m staying in room that’s only 35sqm – she’s now old enough to come after all my food and it’s mine.  Besides, whoever wrote the phrase “sleeping like a baby” clearly was never a parent, nor at any stage a baby.  One thing that did remain the same was, surprisingly, some familiar faces.  It cannot be understated the difference a welcome makes when you have instant recognition, particularly when you’re not expecting to have any.  Imagine walking into your neighbour’s house and all their pictures on the wall are not of themselves or their children but of you and only you.  That’s how great it feels.  When even the doorman is looking after you and asking if you want a pregnancy pillow in your room, you’re in a very good place.

On-site

Our suite was gorgeous.  I will describe it as Japanesey-meets-modern-European.  It includes a private balcony area, separated living room, dressing area, guest bathroom and the usual useful things like running water and a bed.  The aesthetic sat very well with me.

There are elements where form over function seemed to win, such as how long it took me to suss out how to flush the toilet.  Unlike their sister hotel, The Connaught, all the movies here are free, which I could only verify by watching No Time to Die with my 1-year-old daughter.  It was either that or risk getting out crayons to go through the Berkeley Bear colouring book they offered (NB: but then all those bears shitting in woods must mean a global shortage, as they offered a cuddly fox in the room?)  The lights were also annoying, with the master off not actually turning everything off and the motion sensor lights in the hallway acting like there’s no energy crisis and seemingly never turning off again.

The Connaught is still my top culinary hotel in London, but you can see it’s a key part of Maybourne to offer stand-out F&B facilities, with The Berkeley emphasising this with their new changes.  Marcus was downgraded from 2 to 1 Michelin star last year and regrettably when we ate there in January we could see why – it just wasn’t as memorable as it used to be.  Fast forward to this trip and everything was of a great standard, we had a brilliant lunch, great breakfast and even dipped a toe into the newly opened patisserie, which focuses on only 5 different pastries at £24 each.  A bargain, if ever the word should be used.

We enjoyed our lunch, but the menu just felt like we could get it anywhere, so for dinner we ordered Hakassan via Deliveroo.  Then I was ill, so that was my punishment for being someone that orders takeaway to a hotel room.  As part of my extremely thorough research, I take it upon myself to eat everywhere, as that’s the sacrifice I’m prepared to make for my readers, but I was too ill to try their Cafe. The Berkeley Terrace closes for a month each year and was not open, although we did eat there last year or the year before, I forget which as the last two years merged into one giant multiverse of nothingness.

Overall though, with the introduction of The Berkeley Bar and Terrace, The Berkeley Cafe and Cedric Groley’s patisserie, there is a lot more variety – one that still isn’t as good as The Connaught, but is an excellent alternative.  It still won’t make me miss Koffman’s though, that truly was one of London’s best casual diners.

The pool

We booked a single night on the basis we would extend if we loved our stay, but the moment we saw the pool we realised that time we were in our neighbour’s house and all the pictures of us were actually creepy, so we were cool just staying a short period of time and quietly leaving.

The old pool was on the rooftop, but was enclosed and had a retractable roof – makes sense when your national pastime is crying about lost football matches and the weather.  Now it’s fully open, like it’s gone full European and cares not about coverings.  It was 1C on Saturday, which for April us Brits call a heatwave, but it meant going onto the roof to get into a pool was as appealing as fighting a crocodile on meth.  The pool does offer excellent views, and it is heated, but so is my blood and you don’t hear me boasting about it.  Regrettably, I didn’t take a picture for you to understand how low-end it looks, particularly with all the construction taking place next to it, as well as needing to take an elevator to the eighth floor and then walk up two flights of stairs to get there.  The signs to the pool are like those diverting you from a road accident but are in fact luring you toward one.

I don’t understand the new pool – it’s so horrible they may as well not bothered. It’s 2 floors of walking upstairs to then have an under-construction area with an empty bar.  If I wanted to sit in a bar by myself then I’d go sit in one and invite all my friends. The gym was equally as bad; previously found next to to the pool, it’s now accessed through the staff corridors and tucked away in the basement.  Name me one great thing that’s ever taken place in a basement?  It’s a place exclusively reserved for serial killers and lovers of Dungeons & Dragons.  To add to the sense of occasion, the lobby smelt of glue from all the construction work.

Now, getting a definitive answer from anybody on what comes next was as hard as trying to kill James Bond (spoiler?  No, ok).  Some staff considered it top secret, others gave some idea, so I’m led to believe that all the construction work that turned me into a glue sniffer is to build a new spa.  It has to be.  It can’t be anything else.  You can’t have a hotel of this standard and offer something so poor.  I truly believe they would be better without what’s currently there, but clearly there’s such a demand from guests they had to build something until the real deal comes along.

Just stare at pretty things instead until all the bad thoughts go away

The Good

  • Location
  • Food
  • Service

The Bad

  • The only disappointment is how it feels under construction, because it is.

The Luxurious

  • The entire refurbishment
  • Rooms

Conclusion

It’s hard to return to your first love when you’ve been with much prettier gals since.  It’s mostly just wishful thinking that things will be as they were, but what if they could actually be better?  The Berkeley has more than kept with the times and is easily one of London’s best.  Am I going back?  Definitely, but only once the (work)men move out.

Let’s hope it’s finished soon.

Room type: Grand Terrace Suite.  Duration: 2 > 3rd April, 2022

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 7th Apr '22

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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