Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Hyde Park, Westminster Abbey—on my first trip to London nearly a decade ago, I played the quintessential tourist, checking off many of the usual attractions. But my must-see list also had an unusual entry—The Ritz London. To me, the hotel was the embodiment of the city itself—luxury, elegance, and a certain Englishness (its French chateau-style architecture notwithstanding). I remember taking time out from traipsing up and down Piccadilly to gawk at its signature blue awnings, and the white-gloved doormen in gold-striped penguin tuxedos. Since then, I have travelled to London several times but my chance to experience The Ritz only came last year.
In May 1906, Swiss hotelier César Ritz opened The Ritz London eight years after he established the equally glamorous Ritz Paris. The hotel was built in the neoclassical style to resemble a classy Parisian block of flats, over arcades inspired by those of Rue de Rivoli in Paris. It quickly became a symbol of London’s high society, gaining a reputation as one of the most prestigious hotels in the world. In the past 100-plus years it has hosted royals, celebrities, and political figures (Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, and Charles de Gaulle met in the hotel’s Marie Antoinette Suite to discuss WWII strategies). In 2002, it became the first (and to date the only) hotel to receive a Royal Warrant, which was awarded by His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. As a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, The Ritz London’s impeccable pedigree and iconic status in the hospitality world is unparalleled.
One step through its revolving doors and onto the plush (and appropriately faded) floral-patterned carpet, and you enter a different world. The Belle Époque interiors scream luxury with gold chandeliers, gold-bordered walls, a sweeping red-carpeted staircase flanked by a full-length wall mural depicting a French garden, and bronze sconces casting an incandescent glow. The many-chandeliered Long Gallery is adorned with immense bouquets of the fragrant Ritz rose, a unique breed of rose created exclusively for the property.
I take the lift—hand-painted with Regency-era women—to my fourth-floor suite. Each of the 112 rooms and 24 suites is done up in one of four signature colour schemes: salmon pink, rose pink, butter yellow, and powder blue. Mine is decked out in salmon pink and Louis XVI-style décor with antique furnishing, gold crown mouldings, cascading jacquard and damask silk drapes, and a marble-topped fireplace. My favourite bit is the vintage cream-coloured vanity table with a gilt-edged three-sided mirror, and a pink-upholstered round pouffe stool. Another highlight is the gleaming marble bathroom with its deep bathtub, Asprey bath products, and luxuriously thick towels and bathrobes inscribed with the deep blue Ritz lion.
The Ritz Restaurant is possibly one of the most decadent dining rooms I have eaten in. Marble columns line the wall, gilded neoclassical statues abound, floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the neighbouring Green Park, and a mirrored wall adds to the feeling of light and space. I look up and my jaw drops at the sight of the gold chandeliers and the gilded bronze garland circling the ceiling that’s painted with a pale blue sky and plump white clouds. Breakfast is served on cerulean crockery accompanied by proper silverware, and the buffet pulls out all the stops—tables heave with breads and viennoiserie, juices, and cereals, and of course there’s the à la carte English breakfast with eggs, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, and grilled tomato.
The space transforms into a Michelin-starred restaurant for dinner, helmed by Executive Chef John Williams (MBE) who gives British ingredients a distinctive French flair. The menu changes seasonally but you can expect dishes like langoustine à la nage (in a savoury broth) and Bresse-style duck (poached and roasted so you get juicy meat and crackling brown skin). Afternoon Tea at the Ritz is a London institution, served in the glittering many-mirrored Palm Court decorated with chandeliers, gilt trellises, and floral drapes. Penguin-suited butlers flit about bringing you tier stands of crust-less finger sandwiches, airy pastries, and warm scones with Cornish clotted cream and jam. Choose from a selection of 18 loose-leaf teas curated by a certified Tea Sommelier, as the resident pianist serenades you (he played a little Kal Ho Na Ho ditty for my benefit).
Apart from this, there’s the Rivoli Bar, an intimate Art Deco cocktail lounge, and The Ritz Club, an underground casino in a dazzling setting. If you’re a cigar aficionado, head to Ritz London Cigars, the only five-star indoor sampling lounge and cigar shop in Central London that opened just last year. The hotel retains its old-world aura with a strict dress code and jeans and sneakers are not allowed in the public areas and restaurants. I dine at the Ritz Restaurant one last time surrounded by gentlemen in jackets and ties (as is required), and ladies togged up in their finest dresses and jewellery (I’m glad I decided to throw on a string of pearls before heading down to dinner). The lighting is low, the conversation is at a gentle murmur, and I see several special occasion celebrations and a couple of dinner dates. It’s no surprise that the final scenes of the acclaimed British period drama Downton Abbey was filmed at The Ritz with the cast all dressed up in 1920s glamour. Yes, The Ritz London is unabashedly old school, but in an ever-changing world, there’s a case to be made for traditions (and nostalgia).
The Ritz London is at the heart of London, at 150 Piccadilly. The hotel lies 25 km/40 min from Heathrow Airport (theritzlondon.com; doubles from £425/ Rs38,000).
Michael de Cozar, Head Hall Porter has been with Ritz London for 45 years and is a concierge par excellence. Here he offers his recommendations on the best shopping spots near the hotel. all stores are royal warrant holders, a mark of recognition for shops that supply to HM The Queen and other royal households.
Fortnum & Mason has been a British institution for more than 300 years. Shop for teas, marmalades, condiments, cakes, biscuits, and more, all of which are made exclusively for the store; 181 Piccadilly; theritzlondon.com
Turnbull & Asser is the place to get a bespoke shirt made, even Prince Charles swears by it. While you’re at it, stock up on ties, collars, pocket squares, and other accessories; 71-72, Jermyn St; theritzlondon.com
Berry Brothers & Rudd is Britain’s oldest wine merchant with an unbeatable choice of wine and spirits. De cozar recommends a bottle of château Haut-Brion, a perfect gift to bring back home; 3 St. James’s St; bbr.com