Christmas is coming and all our correspondents are scattered
across the globe from Ibiza to Australia and New York and Im here in Meadow
Lane and so I thought I should write about a quintessentially English hotel this
week, and if it has an Oriental-sounding name, so much the better.
fact the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London, was famous for nearly a century
when it was simply The Hyde Park Hotel. Its smack in the middle of Knightsbridge
and my room faced my favourite grocers shop, Harvey Nicholls, where you
can still get the best celery salt in the world, I am pleased to report.
had been invited to London to speak at a conference on what the government should
be doing about alcohol abuse and so I had to decline the free bottle of fancy
French wine they had left in my sumptuous room and I didnt dare open the
mini bar because I once stayed in a hotel like this and it registered on the hotel
computer if you so much as took a little bottle out just to have a look at it.
And I felt obliged to take the hand-made chocolates home for my Mum, so that didnt
leave a lot apart from the pristine, but rather stiff, white dressing gowns. Mind
you, there were pure Irish linen sheets on the king-size bed and cotton duvet
covers from Italy and you could choose what kind of pillows you wanted (i.e.,
fluffy, duck down, or presumably lumpy ones). There was a fresh orchid growing
in a pot and it reminded me of a friend of mine who once stayed at a health farm
and ate the flower they left on his pillow because he was starving. I chose not
to nibble the orchid
I felt like a poor little rich boy
and consoled myself with a self-inflicted pedicure, using all the Jo Malone bathroom
unguents and nail files and oh-so-soft balls of cotton wool to stuff between my
toes. I felt like one of the film stars pictured in the corridors who had no doubt
spent their lonely evenings playing with all the luxuries only a hotel like this
I did order a pot of tea from room service
(it cost about ten Euros), but it came with delightful biscuits on a Wedgwood
china plate and I wish I had one of those plates now, never mind the memory of
the delicious biscuits. Now I felt like a little boy let loose in a toyshop, whereas
I was merely a travelling lecturer being put up in a hotel.
was three in the morning yet the tea came in a minute and they took my shoes away
and cleaned them whilst they were about it. The service is as immaculate as youd
expect for a hotel room costing about five hundred Euros, but its all done
with unctuous style. Theres even a guest floor manager on every floor
to cater to your every whim, but I passed on most of mine. The CD player and CNN
on the telly were quite enough, but then I was going for dinner down the white
Foliage is the Michelin-starred restaurant
down there and theres a leaf picked from Hyde Park that day decorating your
stylish plates. Ive kept mine (the leaf, not the plate, though I wouldnt
object if they sent me one) and now I dont know where to put it. Perhaps
Ill have it framed. It was dark outside so I couldnt tell, but apparently
I had a view of Hyde Park. This palatial hotel has been a meeting place for celebrated
statesmen and where Princes and Princesses, Maharajas and Sultans, Presidents
and Prime Ministers have been frequent guests and I still hadnt written
my speech for the following morning.
And just by the by,
members of the Royal Family have been frequent guests and it is where Her Majesty
the Queen and Princess Margaret first learned to dance. They have always had their
own separate entrance to the hotel from across the park and its where Prince
Philip held his après polo cocktail parties as well as often taking the
young Prince Charles and Princess Anne for tea.
the set Tasting Menu for a fixed £50:
scallops salad, caramelised cauliflower beignet and pannacotta with aged balsamic
Caramelised endive tart tatin (sic), pan
fried foie gras, hazelnut croustillant.
fillet of turbot, buttered leeks, mussels and clam mariniere.
crusted fillet of lamb, cannelloni of sweetbread and morels, crushed cocoa bean
salad, jus gras.
Hot Cuban chocolate fondant, black
cherry ice cream and biscuit.
I supposed it couldnt
be bettered, but the chef added a couple more dishes anyway. There was an asparagus
risotto with white truffle, I thought was a bit salty and to start three little
glasses of intensely flavoured broths (lobster bisque, I think, foie gras mousse
and what the waiter said was a lettuce veloute, but I think had something to do
with mushrooms. They were enchanting and must have taken hours to prepare. I was
just nipping down after cutting my toenails after all and thought it was sublime.
I been a drinking Sultan, I could have tried the 1980 Dom Perignon for £245
from what can only be described as the Mandarin Oriental Wine Library, but I noted
there was a 2000 Chateau au Tours des gendres sec called Bergerac for £19.50
and a glass of Chablis was a snip at £8. Just in case you feel left out,
the restaurants and stylish bar are linked with a walkway of wine, each cellar
containing more than 2,500 bottles.
Have I told you about
the baby vegetables? Now and again, tiny but perfectly formed carrots would nestle
alongside the lamb, or other flavours would nip in like a passing Princess or
two. Here a truffle, there a glazed endive
you get the culinary picture.
I hadnt eaten in such style since the LiveIbiza annual bash in Riax Baxias
in San Antonio and I dont know which of the two establishments should be
prouder than the other being mentioned in the same garlickless breath.
executive chef is David Nicholls who has been around and includes Chef at the
Ritz in his c.v. I think it was him who came out to greet me, but I was up to
my eyes in pink, herb-crusted lamb and the odd fried lump of foie gras at the
time and I dont think I was very communicative. So I hope hell forgive
But by now I was becoming suffused with service
from the charming German waitress. Whats more, should even one reader write
to me and complain about this excess of pageantry and gluttony, I will devote
the entire column next week to the pudding sequence involving a violet
sorbet, raspberry soufflé and something with chocolate dice.
heard on the news tonight that Londons population is set to increase by
some 700,000 in the next fifteen years, but I dont think theyll all
be going for dinner at the Mandarin Oriental and I feel privileged to have been
Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group purchased the Hyde
Park Hotel in 1996 (it was originally a gentlemans club) and spent £50million
restoring it, with the American designer Adam Tihany creating the two restaurants
and dynamic bar. Theres also a place where you are welcome to smoke cigars.
The astounding thing is that they have 18 other luxury hotels like this around
the world and they are building more in New York, Washington D.C. and Tokyo. They
have seven thousand rooms in eleven countries, with nine hotels in Asia, six in
America and three in Europe. As yet, there are no plans for Ibiza, but meanwhile
I think Id like to visit them all. But I bet none of the others leaves you
with a leaf from Hyde Park as a momento.