Tuesday 28 February 2017

Weekend away: The Berkeley, London

Gemma O’Doherty

The hotel's
junior suite
The hotel's junior suite
Afternoon tea at the Berkeley
The rooftop pool

First impressions: It’s been a bit of a week for the Berkeley, what with Kate and Camilla popping in for their "advice meeting" pre-nuptial lunch with half of Fleet Street on their tails.

But this Belgravia bolthole takes it all in her stride. Whether you’re the future queen of England or a weary weekender in need of pampering, you feel instantly cocooned in this effortlessly elegant retreat, tucked away on a quiet residential street off Knightsbridge.

An affable doorman ushers us out of the frosty February night towards a glowing fire in the foyer. Nearby, in the sultry see-and-be-seen Blue Bar, where Madonna likes to chill when she’s in town, couples coo in corners and hipsters sip flamboyant cocktails at the bar.

No sign of Wills and Kate tonight, though.

Room to book

We stayed in 123 on the first floor, a serene suite with a roomy balcony perfect for people-watching over morning coffee. A cosy hallway led to a tasteful bedroom, exquisite in calming shades of pink and grey, with a vast bed graced in crisp linen and plump pillows. Vases of freshly cut roses, tropical fruit and chilled Champagne were generous touches, and we were taken by the spotlessness of the suite — the deep wool carpets felt as if they had never been walked on before.

Our huge bathroom featured warm marble floors, high ceilings and a gorgeous bath with an old-fashioned plumbing arrangement which required no plug. Neat. As the buzz below subsided shortly after midnight, we opened the French doors and soaked up the magic of the London night before collapsing into a heavenly sleep.

The food

Hotel restaurants have a tedious habit of feeling just like that. You step in for a quiet dinner and are hit by the same familiar faces you just met at reception, in the lift, at the bar. But Koffmann’s is different. A buzzy channel in the Blue Bar takes you through an almost secret door to a funky tiered space bustling with slinky young things.

Last summer, legendary French chef Pierre Koffmann caused critics to squeal with glee when he took over the kitchen here. And they were right. The food is sublime, the service superb and the atmosphere relaxed and fun. But bear in mind that this man likes his meat, so if you’re in any way carnivorously challenged, stay away. Poor Kate Middleton risked thewrath of her animal-loving father-inlaw- to-be by indulging in the rich foie gras (£15/€17) but, to be fair, she had little choice — most of the menu involves serious carne.

Think signature dishes of snails (£12/€14), pig’s trotter stuffed with sweetbreads and morels (£28/¤33), veal kidneys (£25/€29) and roasted rabbit (£24/€28), all of which have acquired something of a cult status among London foodies, who can also indulge in the hotel’s second restaurant, Marcus Wareing’s two-Michelin star hotspot.

Breakfast, a feast of fresh juices, exotic fruits, French pastries and perfect eggs, was an exercise in efficiency, and though our waiter was having an off-day, he was the only staff member who exuded the slightest hint of attitude during our stay.

The pamper factor

Take the lift straight to the seventh floor and snooze by the rooftop pool in between games of spot the London landmark. In summer, the top is pulled back so you can have a dip under the steamy skies, while, after dark, old movies are shown on the leafy terrace. Don’t fret about the chill. Guests are kept warm with Mulberry blankets and milky hot chocolate.

When I ventured up on Saturday morning, I had the pool and its mesmerising views all to myself. Nestling nearby is the spa which has seen more movie-star nails and nips than all of LA, but there isn’t a hint of snobbery in this oasis of bliss. You can lounge about in your robe looking your worst and nobody seems to bat an eyelid.

My deep hydrating facial (£95/€113) with Ellie was out of this world and set me up for a weekend in London’s notoriously bitter winter air.

What to do

With Harrods and Harvey Nics on your doorstep, there are obvious shopportunities to contend with but, if your plastic is feeling the pain, it’s just as rewarding to walk around the local leafy streets, admiring the fabulous Regency architecture. We took a stroll through the neighbourhood late one night, and got so carried away guessing the flags of the continent of embassies who reside here, it was well after midnight before we got home.

The downside

Blips are hard to find in this five-star stunner but if there was one minor letdown, it was afternoon tea (£36.50/€43), considered by most in the know to be the best in London. Called Prêt-à-Portea, it’s a fashionista’s dream, with cakes and fancies inspired by the catwalk looks of the season, so you might find yourself biting into a Philip Treacy chocolate hat or a Blahnik high-heel tuille. It’s all very novel, very delicious and well worth the outing, but, on a busy Sunday afternoon, we found the service slow and the sandwiches on the chilly side.

The damage

The best offer at the moment is the Weekend Indulgence package. A stay for two on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night costs £386 (€455) per double room, including a bottle of Champagne and traditional English breakfast.

Getting there

We flew Aer Lingus (0818 365 000; aerlingus.com) from Dublin to Heathrow before zipping on to the Heathrow Express, a 15-minute ride into Paddington. From here, take the tube to Knightsbridge or Hyde Park Corner and it’s a five-minute walk from either station.

The details

Berkeley Hotel, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London. Tel: 0044 207 107 8927; the-berkeley.co.uk.

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