Lydia Bell finds London's hotel and restaurant offerings transformed thanks to recent notable events.
Another day, another top-end hotel opens. Following the Olympics, royal wedding and Jubilee, London is brimming with confidence and basking in international attention and a high level of investment.
The Wellesley Hotel is weeks old, a freshly minted 36-room Knightsbridge gem that pinpoints its competitive set as including the eight-month-old Bulgari Hotel around the corner. Elegant art deco interiors are a unique selling point and Havanos aficionados can take their pick from Britain's largest bespoke humidor. In the 1920s-style Crystal Bar, with its wall of whiskies and Cognacs, triple-dip recession might as well be a name for one of its Prohibition-era cocktails.
"The Olympics brought London front-of-mind to a huge international audience, which we do expect to impact positively on both business and leisure travel," the general manager of The Wellesley, Stefano Lodi, says. "Of course, London has always been a wonderful hub for arts, culture, history and, more than ever, gastronomy."
Then there's Cafe Royal, which has reincarnated in Piccadilly as a hotel. Previously, Cafe Royal was a restaurant-bar favoured by licentious fin-de-siecle literati. Oscar Wilde hallucinated on absinthe in the Grill Room and mistook a waiter stacking chairs for a maiden plucking tulips; Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger and Diana, Princess of Wales were later devotees. Au-moment architects David Chipperfield reconfigured the interiors and created a 159-room hotel that opened in December.
"London keeps on rising to the occasion," the general manager of Cafe Royal, Louis Sailer, says. "With all the recent exciting events, it is no surprise the city is seeing an influx of new hotel openings."
Proximity to the Natural History Museum inspired a bird theme at the 111-room Ampersand in Kensington, which opened last year and is decorated with framed feathers and botanical sketches. The underground cocktail bar and Mediterranean restaurant are a social whirl. Last September, South Place Hotel in Moorgate was the first purpose-built hotel to open in the "Square Mile" for a century. This is the first hotel from D&D London, the brand that includes Bluebird Chelsea on King's Road. An Aromatherapy Associates spa and a seafood restaurant complete the picture.
This year there will be another flurry of openings. The managers of Norman Foster's ME Hotel hope for an opening this month at this ex-BBC building, which includes a Miami-style 10th-floor rooftop bar. Shangri-La at the Shard is pegged for a British summer opening in Renzo Piano's phallic skyscraper, one of the highest vantage points in Western Europe. The Edition (Marriott's lifestyle hotel brand with Ian Schrager) will open in Fitzrovia at an undisclosed date. Finally, hotel nerds are aflutter about the rebirth of Marylebone Fire Station as a boutique hotel by Andre Balazs - he of Hollywood's Chateau Marmont fame.
A slew of recession-proof restaurant openings aimed at the rich continue to flow. From grand European cafe The Delaunay in Covent Garden and the belle epoque Zedel off Piccadilly, to 1930s-style Parisian brasserie Colbert on Sloane Square, restaurant kings Chris Corbin and Jeremy King are unstoppable.
Meanwhile, their former business Caprice Holdings has opened celebrity-magnet 34 Grosvenor Square, the meaty sister to starry fish restaurants Scott's and J Sheekey.
Follow Traveller at twitter.com/FairfaxTravel.