Prestigious London hotel the Dorchester has transformed its ground-floor Promenade social space, as well as the glittering Artist’s bar and James-Bond inspired Vesper bar. Jenny Southan reports
If you know have been to the Dorchester before, upon arrival you might wonder what’s changed. Many hotels take the opportunity to do a dramatic overhaul when they invest millions of pounds in upgrading their interiors, but on closer inspection you see that everything from the upholstery and the artwork to the Lalique chandeliers and gilding is new and shimmering.The picture-perfect facelift was undertaken by designer Pierre-Yves Rocho, who set about preserving the hotel’s “charming eccentricities” whilst applying a “fresh elixir of colours inspired by the British landscape” (delicate white and soft sage green ceilings are finished with gold leaf accents). The Dorchester’s re-designed rooms and suites will be unveiled next month.
Upon arrival we were greeted by a member of the Dorchester team called Ellie, and she gave us an informal walk-through of the ground-floor Promenade social space which stretches from the lobby right up to the Artist’s bar at the bar end. It’s a unique feature of the hotel and a place to be “seen”. At the entrace are magnificent fresh floral bouquets and along the way, walls are adorned with an eclectic array of truly beautiful contemporary artworks by female British artists.Ellie was enthusiastic about telling us how she was delighted the Dorchester had decided to shine a light on lesser-known women creatives instead of investing in show-offy big names, and I agreed. The pieces represent diverse media and techniques but all offer a new take on nature and have been created to “evoke the sensation of strolling through a perfectly curated and cultivated English garden”.Opening off the Promenade are a series of restaurants including the Grill, three Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse and China Tang. You can also eat and drink in the Promenade, which features a “modern British” menu (although to me it seemed pretty international) overseen by culinary director Martyn Nail.
We started our evening with a glass of champagne (Veuve-Clicquot is £23 for 150ml) at the Artist’s bar, where you can perch on a high stool and admire Ewan Eason’s gold leaf London city map on the wall to the left. You can also order a signature “City of Gold” cocktail that has been inspired by the artwork and is made with gold dust and lemon verbena cordial. Other art-inspired cocktails (what a lovely concept) include “Petal Head”, which is a nod to Amy Judd’s whimsical florals and is a blend of Stoli Elit, kumquat, Aperol and passion fruit; and “Stamp Duty”, which references Ann Carrington’s iridescent image of the Queen Elizabeth II postage stamp. This drink is made from Doorly’s 3 Barbados rum, Drambuie, Oloroso sherry, lime and homemade English breakfast tea butter syrup. These are all £22.Soothed by the sound of a female vocalist singing laid-back versions of pop hits and accompanied by a man playing a bedazzled Liberace piano, I decided that the food served in this transitory space (popular with both locals and jet-setting guests) was equally “ambient”.If you are jet-lagged or meeting clients, you don’t want to be eating food that is the focus of your attention – you want something comforting, elegant and tasty. You’ll also need to be prepared to foot a sizeable bill.
We ordered a selection of vegetarian canapes (they also do foie gras with peppered raspberry) for £26, followed by a fairly bland spaghetti with tomato sauce (£32) and a £38 truffle pizza with a scattering of shaved Perigord truffle. Apparently it had smoked mozzarella on top but it was very subtle. The dough was gorgeously pillowy and stretchy but the pizza itself was a little dry.Other options include appetisers of lobster arancini (£20), starters of smoked salmon with soda bread (£30) and duck terrine (£32), as well as mains such as grilled chicken breast (£38), Aberdeen Angus steak (£62), Dover sole (£68), veal Viennoise (£44) and Delica pumpkin and sage risotto (£34). I want to return to try the signature crêpes Suzette, flambéed tableside. Sandwiches and afternoon tea are also served. Points can be given for the most stylish dining menu I have ever seen.After dinner, we slipped into the adjacent low-ceilinged Vesper bar, which has been deigned by Martin Brudnizki and is no doubt going to become a new London hotspot. The venue takes its name from the Vesper martini that was devised by James Bond author Ian Fleming and there are various tributes to this connection throughout – from the silver menu to a bespoke 007 experience in the snug, where up to 12 guests can sip 1962 cocktails for £195 per person (plus canapes). Another experiential libation comes in the form of the £5,000 “Louis XIII”, which presents the buyer with a personally engraved Louis XIII glass and a flight of three Louis XIII cognacs by Remy Martin (apparently the only flight of its kind available in the world). In addition, it comes with an invitation for the drinker and three guests to have a personal welcome from a Louis XIII Ambassador and a private tour of the family estate in France, plus lunch.
I ordered a “Gilded Three” cocktail made with roasted pineapple Flor de Cane 12, Siete Misterios Doba-Yej mezcal, Noe Pedro Ximenez sherry, carob honey and pepita horchata (£22).To honour one of the hotel’s most beloved guests – the late actress Elizabeth Taylor, who stayed at the hotel 37 times throughout her life and signed her contract for the movie “Cleopatra” in the bath within the Harlequin Suite – the “Bessie Mae” cocktail recalls Taylor’s nickname and comes complete with “bath bubbles” floating on top.
The Dorchester has done a phenomenal job of revitalising its public spaces, making them feel fresh, full of life and destinations in themselves. The cocktails are particularly worth a making a detour for. Globetrender thinks that this will be the start of a new era for the Dorchester hotel and looks forward to seeing how the guest rooms will be elevated.