There probably aren’t many guests who arrive at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park totally drenched, having cycled through a mini-monsoon. But the beautifully attired doorman didn’t even raise an eyebrow under his velvet-ribboned top hat when I announced I was checking-in. He whisked my dripping bike off to the luggage room, while the porter who materialised at my elbow swooped upon my soggy panier and guided me to reception.
It’s this exemplary, discreet service that makes the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park one of London’s top hotels, patronised by royalty, rock stars and the very rich. For those who don’t have upwards of £480 to spend on a hotel room, the Channel 4 series A Very British Hotel (tonight, 9pm) gives viewers rare access: behind its serene facade, dozens of staff scurry about catering to the every need and whim of the guests.
So what’s it like to stay there?
The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park is on a busy road in London’s wealthiest district, Knightsbridge. It’s within skipping distance of Harrods, although one of the doormen would doubtless carry you into a black cab if you can’t be bothered to walk.
The hotel is currently undergoing an 18-month renovation so the main entrance is hidden under scaffolding and an enormous hoarding. Even the hoarding has style: it’s adorned with pop art legend Sir Peter Blake’s largest ever work of art, a cut-and-paste collage of a hundred of the hotel’s “fans”, including Gary Barlow, Dame Maggie Smith and Joanna Lumley.
The back of the hotel overlooks Hyde Park and has a royal entrance reserved for the Queen.
When it was built in 1889, it was an exclusive gentleman’s club and the tallest building in London. When it’s not hidden behind scaffolding, the exterior is pretty grand but it’s the inside that’s really palatial: endless marble, Art Deco lifts, chandeliers, ornate banisters, painting galore, a ballroom bedecked with 24-carat gilding.
It’s like stepping into a Julian Fellowes drama crossed with The Crown. Everything gleams as if it were polished 10 minutes ago and it probably was.
My favourite detail was the antique telephones on each landing. When I lifted the receiver of one, there was a well-groomed voice on the other end, ready to deal with my request.
There are usually 181 rooms and suites, but all the ones on the Knightsbridge side are closed at the moment because of the renovation. Not that you’d know the hotel is being renovated when you’re inside it; I didn’t hear a thing.
I’ve rented flats smaller than my room, which came with a view of Hyde Park, a king-size bed, a Nespresso machine, a basket of fruit, a chandelier and a king-size TV with a personalised greeting: “Welcome Ms Webb”. Only the bathroom was (relatively) poky – a hangover from the days when even royalty didn’t have en suites.
When I requested an iron, it arrived in minutes, but was nearly whisked away again because the young man who brought it spied a small mark on the ironing board cover and wanted to fetch a fresh one, until I assured him it really didn’t bother me. He didn’t offer to do the ironing, but I’ve no doubt that can be arranged.
There’s a bar, a lounge that serves afternoon tea and champagne in the evening, and a Heston Blumenthal restaurant where you can eat dishes like roast marrowbone, spiced pigeon and “savoury porridge” (snails and beetroot).
I chickened out and ate at the bistro-style Bar Boulud, which is run by the Michelin-starred French chef Daniel Boulud and wasn’t at all what I imagined. Instead of being hushed and stuffy, it was tablecloth-less, buzzy and dished up burgers and cheesecake as well as French delicacies.
I wanted to be sophisticated and order sea trout or coq au riesling, but couldn’t resist a “Yankee” burger. It was amazing.
Seeing my ignorance, the sommelier gently recommended a glass of Pinot Noir to accompany it. There are also 10 kinds of gin and tonic (Cardamon tonic? Pomegranate and basil tonic perhaps? Or lemongrass?), served in vast fish-bowl glasses. The service was ridiculously solicitous – 7 different people must have checked whether I was enjoying my meal – but with a light enough touch so as not to be overbearing.
Bar Boulud is the cheapest way to get a taste of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park because there’s no need to be a guest to eat there. The lunch menu is especially good value: two courses for £18 or three for £21.
Naturally, there wasn’t the usual scrum to get to the breakfast buffet the next morning. Guests are waited on and can order anything from kippers to a Japanese breakfast with seaweed and pickled vegetables. Even the baked beans are homemade. A jolly waiter tempted me into ordering a pineapple and spinach juice, which turned out to be much nicer than it sounded.
You don’t see much of the spa in A Very British Hotel, possibly because guests are advised to completely strip off before their massage and luxuriate in the “heat and water oasis” in the buff: a steam room, a saunarium and a giant jacuzzi. After being oiled and pummelled, there’s a relaxation room where you can sip herbal tea and nibble on fruit until the stresses and strains of staying in a luxury hotel have melted away. More active guests can let off steam in the gym or the 17-metre pool.
Rooms and suites: from £480 to £2,400 for the Presidential Suite
Dinner: £100 for a three-course dinner for two with drinks
Breakfast: £36 for an English Breakfast
Spa: £155 for a 1 hour-20 minute Oriental Essence body massage
Radio Times verdict? I’ll be back for another Yankee burger
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