"Your room should be ready in about fifteen minutes," said the lovely young lady who greeted me at the front desk of the Dorchester Hotel. I had arrived into town from Oxford a bit early. "Would you like to have a cup of tea while you are waiting?"
"I'd love it," I answered and I followed her into the gorgeous central area of the hotel known as The Promenade. This central space from which all the hotel's bars and restaurants flow, offers possibly the best people-watching perch in the world! While it is grand, it is separated into intimate alcoves where tables, couches and soft chairs beckon to travel weary guests like me.
The waiter brought Earl Grey tea and the manager of the Promenade insisted I have a scone. I convinced him to bring only one, and when he did, he deftly cut it and slathered it with Devon cream and homemade strawberry jam. Layers of scone broke off in soft, warm shards and the yeasty taste mingled with the rich cream and sweet jam. This one perfect small pleasure helped me to appreciate why the Dorchester has won the most awards for the Best Afternoon Tea in the UK.
I finished my treat and went to my hotel room. Most of the rooms at The Dorchester have been recently remodeled and the result is impressive. Mine was elegant and classic. The wood-paneled sitting area was furnished with deep-seated couches upholstered in leather, velvet and tweed. The bedroom was warm and welcoming in shades of taupe and gold, accented by beautiful linens. The bathroom came from a dream – it was beautiful in grey and white marble with a deep soaking tub, strong hot shower, and all the Dorchester amenities.
Exploring Mayfair's Nooks and Corners
Finding myself in the heart of Mayfair, I set off to explore this neighbourhood that was named back in the 1600s after the annual two-week long 'May Fayre' held here. Most of the area was built during the 18th century as a fashionable residential district. Today a great majority of these townhouses are home to embassies, investment funds and professional firms. Mayfair is also a popular shopping and dining area.
From The Dorchester, I turned north onto Park Lane and soon hit Mount Street, a high fashion shopping avenue lined with top tier houses such as Lanvin, Marc Jacobs and Celine. Ladies of the leisure set shop here, leaving chauffeur to wait curbside in the Bentley while they peruse the shops and take breaks in elegant tea salons and champagne bars. There are many chi-chi spots to stop for refreshment along Mount Street, but I like Mount Street Deli for its more casual ambience, delicious baked goods and wonderful coffee. I sat at one of their sidewalk tables and had lots of fun watching fashionistas stroll by with their designer finds.
I walked back to Park Lane and went south to Curzon Street, which led me to a completely different corner of Mayfair called Shepherds Market. It was developed in the mid 1700s by architect Edward Shepherd, became run down in the twenties, and was home to dodgy characters and scandals in the seventies. The enclave has now been brought back to life and has a lively variety of art galleries, cool shops and casual restaurants.
Feeling at Home in The Dorchester
After hoofing it around Mayfair, I was ready to come "home" again to The Dorchester. I was excited because dinner that night was to be in the newly refurbished Grill Room. I was told that the room had been updated to create a more relaxed and inviting interior, appealing to local regulars, discerning diners and hotels guests seeking exceptional food in a less formal setting.
I invited a friend to join me, and we started with pink champagne – the Duval Leroy Rose Prestige 1er Cru. The champagne was served in the most beautiful hollow-stemmed glasses, custom made for the hotel by Marie-Dominique Crystal in France.
Pink champagne in this exquisite glass fit perfectly with the refreshed décor of The Grill. Dominating the middle of the room is a huge hand-blown Murano glass chandelier. It reminded me of an explosion of pink champagne, frozen in time. What a wonderful theme for such a place!
The décor features natural materials including zinc, copper and marble, set against butterscotch leather and oak parquet flooring. Shades of blush, grey and copper blend together to create a sophisticated and serene palette. The walls feature pivoting panels that shift from a light sycamore side during the day to a black lacquer façade in the evening. During the day the effect is warm and welcoming, and at night the ambience is enchanting and elegant.
Our dinner was served by the most spectacular dining room personnel I have ever encountered. Our server Julie spoke about the food with confidence and shifted with ease through several languages, as did the Head Sommelier Ruben. Together they suggested a fantastic selection of food and wine pairings!
For starters, we sampled grilled scallops with a spring vegetable salad. The scallops offered a hint of smoke and the paper-thin raw vegetables composed an artful side salad. Ruben suggested the Gruner Veltliner from Lamm Schloss Gobelsburg, which sent up notes of lichee fruit to mingle beautifully with the smoky scallops.
For our other starter we were presented with four small slabs of Hansen & Lydersen smoked salmon, cut in precise order from the head to the tail of a single fish. Under expert guidance, we were able to detect subtle differences in the intensity of flavors and saltiness as we moved across the pieces. With this, we took small sips of cold premium sake, providing a clean complement to the natural oils of the raw salmon.
The extraordinary cuisine continued through the main course. Organic Welsh lamb was rich and tender, falling apart under gentle nudgings from the fork, into its warm bed of spelt risotto brightly seasoned with lemon and coriander. The lamb was served with a 2012 Crozes-Hermitage from A. Graillot. The delicate flavour of Dover sole was enhanced by a 2010 Mercurey from Chateau Genot-Boulanger. A rainbow of spring vegetables came alongside in a heavy silver serving dish.
For dessert we tasted three items: a lemongrass grenache served inside the lightest meringue, strewn with lemon marmalade croutons and accompanied by lemon sorbet; a dark chocolate tart on a caramel chocolate crust, accompanied by espresso granitee; and the "Paris-London Our Way" treat, comprised of three pastry bouchees filled with chocolate chantilly and mint sorbet served alongside chocolate mint stracciatelle ice cream.
The chocolate side of the table was supported with Maury Grenet Mudigliza, a rich sweet red wine produced in the Rouisson region of France, and offering prune, mocha and caramel flavors as a perfect blend. The citrus side was beautifully teamed with a Baumard Coteaux du Layon, a moderately sweet Chablis with citrus/apple balance.
To say this was a meal to remember is an understatement. The extraordinary dishes, exceptional wines and sublime service make The Grill a perfect choice for any occasion. One could come alone and sit at the beautiful bar for lunch, bring a friend for a relaxing dinner, or meet colleagues for breakfast in the warm and private surroundings. Whatever the choice, the experience is bound to be a multi-sensory delight.
One reason The Dorchester wins so many awards on the international hotel scene is the unparalleled quality of its staff. From the front desk to the rooms, from restaurants to the spa, all the staff members have a unique capacity to strike the finest balance between the utmost professionalism and the warmest welcome. One feels absolutely cared for in the best sense of the word.
Next time I return to London, I hope to find myself once again in this magical corner of Mayfair. I can't imagine a better 'small pleasure.'
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