Occasionally, as Editor of Diplomat, some rather enjoyable work assignments land on my desk. Reviewing the new suites at The Dorchester was one such task.
Since its opening in 1931, The Dorchester’s combination of luxury, sumptuous décor and impeccable service has made it more than a constant venue for the famous and influential – for many it has become a regular ‘home from home.’ Royalty and political leaders, both British and foreign, have been frequent visitors. During World War II, several members of the Government moved into The Dorchester on a semi-permanent basis. General Eisenhower, then occupied with the planning of the Normandy invasion, set up headquarters in the hotel in 1944. It was here that Princess Elizabeth, the present Queen, dressed for her wedding in 1947.
Elizabeth Taylor received the news of her record-breaking, multi-million pound deal to star in the epic Cleopatra in the bathroom of the rooftop Harlequin Suite. This bathroom still has the original pink marble that was installed especially for her. Peter Sellers spotted the 21-year-old Swedish actress Britt Ekland in 1964, and reputedly bought her the entire contents of The Dorchester flower shop, proposing to her a few days later. In the last decade, prominent guests have included Nelson Mandela, Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Karl Lagerfeld, Arnold Schwarzenegger and many more.
But The Dorchester’s glamorous patronage is only part of the legend. All these years later, how does this iconic institution keep up with the flurry of London five-star hotel openings?
For a start, The Dorchester has recently unveiled 22 new suites by interior designer Alexandra Champalimaud. While the new suites stay true to the hotel’s classic English residential style, the design fuses contemporary comfort with the timeless heritage of the property. Alexandra Champalimaud commented: ‘I have always been fascinated by the way the English live in their homes and wanted to capture that certain quirkiness… whilst building on the history and quintessentially British nature of The Dorchester.’
We stayed in one of 14 beautiful Dorchester Suites. A huge space, our suite was made up of three large rooms, plus a marble entrance hall that opened into a lovely, light living room with an open fireplace. The suite’s furnishings are inspired by the British fondness for filling homes with mementos from a lifetime of travel. A variety of British craftsmen have been commissioned to create furniture, mirrors and textiles. If that wasn’t enough, continuing the royal theme running throughout the hotel, the artwork on the walls included a signed print by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.
With spectacular views over Hyde Park, the suite is ideal for a long-term stay, with plenty of space and enormous cupboards. There’s also great space for entertaining, with a dining area to seat eight for either dinner or meetings. Dorchester Suites can also be linked with a private lobby to create a three-bedroom suite which provides excellent facilities for visiting delegations or even families. (Security is visible on every floor to reassure high profile guests.)
The bed was a four poster, with an amazing hand-sprung mattress, ensuring the most peaceful night’s sleep. The marble bathrooms must be some of the best in town: the hotel has the deepest bathtubs in London; the loo unrivalled views of Park Lane and Hyde Park, television above the sink and enormous shower.
One could be forgiven for never wanting to leave the suite, but there’s still plenty more that’s worth a mention about The Dorchester. Firstly, the almost three-to-one ratio of staff to guest bedrooms is quite a statistic. Little-known fact: the kitchens at The Dorchester are the size of 10 tennis courts, so it’s no wonder that the hotel has been celebrated for the exceptional quality of its food. Aside from housing the well-known Alain Ducasse and China Tang, under the leadership of Head Chef Brian Hughson, The Grill specialises in the best of British ingredients. Our dinner was exceptional and highlights included the salmon, smoked in-house and sliced at the table, plus a sublime lemon sole and wonderful wines to match.
The Dorchester Spa should also certainly not be forgotten. Reopened in 2009 after a multimillion transformation, it offers indulgent pampering in a glamorous art-deco setting, and I urge everyone to book themselves in for a treatment.
Whether enjoying a drink, dinner, stay or spa treatment, it’s easy to see how The Dorchester maintains its status as one of the world’s best hotels. I’m certainly happy to return there – for a work assignment or otherwise!