I recently visited the newly opened Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge, London. Having not been to a Bulgari hotel before, I was curious to see how the premium image of this famous Italian jeweller had been applied to the hospitality business.
In a word, it is chic but not opulent. The lobby is small – this is London after all – but pleasant. The colour scheme of the hotel is black and brown. There are lots of reflective surfaces – lacquered wood and mirrors. The finishings are fine but not rich. The floors are black slate and dark, tightly-tongued wood. There is a tension between utility and luxury: Hakkasan meets The Savoy.
The staff wear black and look like waiters at Nobu. They are very well trained and know how to appear relaxed, yet efficient. I would say that the ambiance is pleasant, comfortable and contemporary – maybe even channeling overtones of Art Deco but without the exoticism.
In terms of location, Knightsbridge is hard to beat. However, you must alight on a busy road to the angry honkings of other vehicles and there does not appear to be any parking at the hotel – although, I am sure that you could leave your keys with a doorman.
My first stop was the bar (of course). I was pleased to see that it was very well stocked. The bars at Bulgari are one of their signatures, I am told. Apparently, they are all large ovals made out of different materials in different locations. This one was covered in a dented metal design and could comfortably seat a thirty people on the long side (but doesn’t). Conversely, there were only a few tables scattered around the area. I suppose they do not want their guests to feel ‘hemmed in’. The bar menu was astounding. It has lots on offer. For instance, two pages of different rums alone.
I enjoyed a few cocktails before exploring the environment. If you head up a discreetly tucked away flight of stairs behind the bar area, you find yourself in a cigar shop and smoking room. The cigar manager made a wonderfully compelling introduction to all the cigars on offer and how they were hand-picked by an important so-and-so but not being a cigar officianado, I don’t recall exactly what he said. He did make the point that the Bulgari is the first hotel to offer an indoor cigar smoking area. Technically, this might not be entirely true (for example, the Lansdowne in Berkeley Square has rooms and an indoor cigar smoking area but it’s a members club… so, fair enough, not a ‘hotel’ per se but that’s a technicality). Nevertheless, the smoking room itself is extremely comfortable and well-ventilated and can accommodate around twenty people at once. In addition to air conditioning, there is an enormous air purification system by the entrance. When I was there, I saw five gentlemen happily puffing away and I could barely smell the smoke.
Back down into the bar… I followed the enormous curving staircase down to the restaurant. I didn’t sample the food but a friend of mine who did said it was excellent. Rather than opt for a celebrity chef, they have asked one to design the menu. Otherwise, it’s a simple and efficient affair without pomp and circumstance. Half the dining room feels a bit like an open-air auditorium, since the ceiling is so far away. The other half is tucked underneath the bar area above and is more discreet (by the banquets). Everything is very dark. I couldn’t help wishing that the restaurant looked a bit different. So much of the hotel is black and mirrored that it might have been nice to enter into an area that was brighter or more colourful, perhaps. For instance, I love the way that China Tang at the Dorchester is very chic, fun and cosy. There, the bar area, private rooms and public dining spaces are all varied and fun to look at, yet feel visually interconnected. It’s a restaurant that you look forward to coming to time and time again. Dining at Bulgari, however, appears to be a tad more lugubrious by comparison. Still, it’s elegant. Just not ‘fun’.
Exit the dining area and you can wind around to a private screening room. There are enough seats for about fifty guests and there is a separate room and bar attached. This is a wonderful space and a clever idea, since there are only a few hotels that have one in central London. This is definitely one of the best. The bar is well-stocked and the anteroom is large and comfortable.
I suspect that the spa is really where the Bulgari will shine. There is a proper, full-size lap pool. The treatment rooms are very nice – especially the couples’ one. I would be very happy to spend a few hours every day here. There are lots of rooms and services, so this will be popular.
Overall, I think that Bulgari has done a good job. They have created a smart-looking, contemporary hotel in the heart of London with 85 rooms and suites. Their suites are the largest in the area (e.g. 250 sq meters for a price) and this will appeal to the high-rollers. Their F&B is quality and well-considered. And, they are fully booked! So, it looks like they will have a bright future, so long as they keep up the good work.
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