Top Chef, the Bravo TV show hosted by Tom olicchio, Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons, celebrated its twentieth season by filming entirely outside of the US with the World All Star “cheftestants” checking in to the Kimpton Fitzroy London.
This imposing terracotta tiled and turreted mansion on Russell Square – between Covent Garden and The City – first opened as a hotel in 1898 and has recently been refurbished and rebranded.
The Kimpton Fitzroy London (the name is a nod to the original architect of the Russell Hotel, Charles Fitzroy Doll) retains the Victorian grandeur including marble columns, mosaic floor tiles and soaring ceilings. Fitzroy Doll also designed the First Class Dining Room on the Titanic – taking inspiration from the Russell.
But the hotel has been brought firmly into the present with the help of top interior designers including Tara Bernerd and Russell Sage.
Tara Bernerd has brought a cool and calming aesthetic to the guest rooms and suites. These range from City Singles rooms featuring custom made single beds with wraparound headboards the Speciality Suites featuring four poster beds and roll top baths.
Of the several F&B outlets, Burr & Co is a casual space for a meeting over coffee, Galvin Bar & Grill serves a contemporary British menu, the Palm Court is the place for afternoon tea while Fitz’s, designed by Russell Sage, has an opulent fin de siècle feel for evening drinks.
A clutch of private dining and meeting rooms are available and there’s a 24 hour gym if/when jet lag strikes.
The instructions were to arrive at “the Spies Entrance” in Whitehall at 6 o’clock sharp. This intriguing missive was not an assignation with M or Moneypenny but an invite to take a “first look” at Raffles London at the OWO (the Old War Office) – the Singapore hotel brand’s inaugural UK outpost, owned in part by the Hinduja Group.
Completed in 1906, the building was the centre of operations through two world wars and home to the British secret service. Lawrence of Arabia had a desk here and James Bond creator Ian Fleming was a regular visitor. It’s no coincidence that several Bond films had scenes shot at the OWO including Skyfall where Daniel Craig’s 007 stands on top of the building looking moodily over the rooftops. Alas the hotel will not be open in time for the 60th anniversary of James Bond in film, October 2022.
As it turns out the Spies Entrance, formerly frequented by agents, is discreetly positioned at the back of the building and is now the access for the Raffles’ luxury apartments. The main hotel entry is on Whitehall itself, the road running between the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square that also gives its name to the wider area.
While the Edwardian Baroque façade of this vast building is currently hidden behind hoardings, once inside the sheer scale of the place is immediately noticeable. And although the transformation into a 120 roomed luxury hotel is still in progress, what’s already apparent is the restored original features such as oak panelled walls, grand fireplaces and cornicing on the soaringly high ceilings.
From the entrance hall leads an impressive marble staircase on which successive statesman have stepped. Overhead is a balcony where Winston Churchill would address the staff, Raffles London managing director Philippe Leboeuf (who has moved from the Mandarin Oriental Group) tells us. And on the upper floors the mosaic laid corridors – some two miles of them – were once abuzz with running messenger boys.
The former secretary of state’s office that at varying times belonged to Lord Kitchener, David Lloyd George, Churchill and John Profumo is being turned into a sprawling suite. The space directly overlooks Horse Guards, the historic military headquarters and home to the Household Cavalry Museum.
We’re also shown inside one of the turrets facing Whitehall complete with huge, curved glass windows which is a spectacular space for a guest room. In the middle portion of the hotel overlooking a large courtyard another suite, The Poppy, will occupy three storeys.
On completion the hotel will have a total of eleven restaurants and bars to be rolled out gradually. Three of them – a brasserie, a fine dining room and a chef’s table – will be overseen by chef Mauro Colagreco who has a three Michelin starred restaurant in France.
A new addition is four subterranean floors underneath the existing building that will house a spa and health club including a swimming pool, gym, yoga studio, sauna and steam, partnering with Guerlain and Pillar.
Raffles at The OWO is due to open between this December and March 2023. The hotel will also be open several days a year for tours, making the building and its fascinating history accessible to the public (as well as guests) for the first time.
Chopstix booked a three night stay at The Carlyle to celebrate a special occasion and the whole experience was superb. The hotel embodies wonderful Upper East Side New York glamour, just as we’d envisaged. A discreet entrance just off Madison Avenue leads to the small, elegant lobby decorated in Art Deco monochrome with splashes of golden velvet. While the hotel is exclusive we found the service friendly and attentive throughout. And everyone seems to be greeted with “nice to see you” whether it’s your first or hundredth visit.
Opened as a residential hotel (The Carlyle still includes apartments) in the 1920s it went on to become a favourite with presidents, royalty and celebrities. JFK infamously met with Marilyn Monroe here, allegedly smuggling the film star in via the kitchens; it was reputedly Princess Diana’s favourite hotel in New York , William and Kate stayed in the Royal Suite on their visit to the city and it’s where VIPs get ready for the Met Ball fashion extravaganza.
The Carlyle is being subtly refurbished by Tony Chi (the designer behind Rosewood hotel group owner, Henry Cheng’s Hong Kong home) in parts but cleverly all the classic features that make it special are still there including the famous Bemelmans Bar (where Harry and Meghan were spotted this week) and the elevator attendants. Our room was one of the recently refurbished ones and successfully blended classic with contemporary. There were some lovely touches such as Central Park murals and quirky rabbit objects reminiscent of the Bemelmans bar downstairs. The room wasn’t huge and the bathroom a bit tight but that’s usual for New York and the beautiful décor made up for it.
We enjoyed fabulous breakfasts every morning in the chic Carlyle Restaurant. And dinner there was the icing on the cake of our stay. We were given the type of table we’d requested beforehand (a corner banquette) and the classic menu and slick service matched the stylish setting perfectly.
For exploring the Upper East Side the hotel’s location was also superb. We had the Met museums and Central Park right on our doorstep and of course the shops of Madison Ave. There are newer, trendier hotels in more fashionable parts of New York but for sheer class this is hard to beat.
The Carlyle currently has a Fall Limited Time Offer – book a reservation before September 30th 2021 and receive up to 30% off the best available rate – excluding the Presidential Suite.
Visiting dignitaries to Singapore tend to plump for the Shangri-La hotel and its exclusive Valley Wing. And it’s likely Vice President Kamala Harris is staying in the hotel’s best, eponymously named, suite.
Guests arrive at the Valley Wing entrance – more private than the main hotel lobby – where the Shangri-La suite has its own entrance in the form of a private elevator.
Two dressing rooms, a gym and sauna await in the vast suite as well as personalized bathrobes, pillow cases and stationery. Butler service is available around the clock. Want gourmet cuisine or hawker street food served on fine china at the walnut dining table? No problem. As well as the primary bedroom, there’s an ensuite twin – usually utilized by guest’s security detail.