The Connaught - A Legendary Tale
How does a legend get reborn? Go to the finely overhauled The Connaught in London's village of Mayfair to discover the answer. I did. I am converted, and I now believe in legends having a second life.
The Connaught did not undertake this venture without seriously considering the implications of change. Some people don't like change but, as The Connaught was ready for a refreshing refurbishment, change here is better than a rest: it's positively uplifting.
You couldn't really wish for a more prime location, either: sitting, now vibrantly so, on Carlos Place, alongside Mount Street, it doesn't get a lot better for the lucky luxe-trotter. In fact, it seems that Mount Street is being coined as the most desirable street in London, with serious fashion houses such as Balenciaga and Marc Jacobs queuing up to moor their flagships. Mount Street restaurants are, for many, Mayfair institutions, and with all this limelight they have become even more desirable. Try getting a table at Scott's (well, your personal butler at the Connaught might just be able to help out, but otherwise, join the endless waiting list).
Mount Street momentum
I took a stroll along Mount Street, having had 'the' conversation with my personal butler about my wishes for the evening, to a sky turning twilight-pink behind the 19th Century rooftops of this very grand, patrician, and now rather trendy, street. The brave were already enjoying al fresco cocktails (it is early February) and the newfound blend of tradition aside modern-chic felt liberating, sprinkling the street with a 21st Century bonhomie. This is London at its coolest with something for everyone: the antiquarian; the palaeontologist; the alchemist; the gastronomist; the haute couture aficionado; the sartorial fan of tweed; the gastro-pub enthusiast; the coiffeur and boudoir devotees; the art enthusiast; the designer eyewear collector; and... the genuine luxury hotel connoisseur. We should embrace bygone together with move-on, and that's exactly what the rebirth at The Connaught has achieved.
My delectable 'Connaught esprit'
As electric took over from dusk with a twinkling iridescence, it was time to return to The Connaught for my night of tailored and finely-tuned indulgences. The Concierge led me up the revered, soul-rooted, Cuban-mahogany staircase, to my Connaught Suite (105) on the first floor, where my butler awaited in order to familiarise my widening eyes with my lavish surroundings. The suite was glowing in pale mint and gilt with touches of black velvet and a bottle of L.P. was chilling beside a bowl of handmade crisps and oversized green olives on an 18th century dining table in front of the Mayfair view. The bay of almost floor-to-ceiling windows looking onto Carlos Place was framed with lengths of damask in soft-hued stripes to match the very fine sofas, and the interlining was as thick as it gets. The Butler showed me around the not so mini 'bar', encased in a glorious vintage black and gold-leaf lacquered Chinese chest. "Would you like a martini, Ms Marchant?" "Yes please, shaken", I said. What? I must have nodded a 'yes' to a martini request during my wish-list sign off.
So, this was how my delectable 'Connaught esprit' began, with layers of pampering in truly cosseting, elegant, and unique style. The bathroom, as with all The Connaught bathrooms, has a solid functionality in its metres of Grecian Thassos marble with chunky chrome fittings and flattering lighting, which is necessary in an environment of white on mirror. There is still the enormous enamel on cast-iron bath, though now it looks onto a flat-screen television. The towels, gowns and slippers are perfect; Frette perfect. There are also clutches of Asprey at marble intervals around the room and another high-tec phone to call the butler if you run out.
The bedroom is inviting and extremely comfortable. Comfort is key at The Connaught and that requires fastidious attention to bed detail. The Emperor-size beds in the suites are enormous with glorious white linen from the exclusive Italian luxury linen company, Pratesi (sorry Liz and Barbara - Taylor and Streisand - the company has another client). The night was blissfully soporific. Real home comforts are paramount and that means fitted cupboards to deal with every eventuality prior to dressing or undressing. There is even a pull out suede-covered shelf beneath the safe on which to place your jewels before you transfer them into the secure little leather tray. All the drawers are self-closing and you could, quite literally, fit much of your own wardrobe content along this wall of expertly designed cupboard space. The designer of the suites and rooms, Guy Oliver, was very keen to address the needs and demands of today's luxe-trotter, however, he kept a notably astute eye on The Connaught's indomitable legacy while incorporating the high spec modern fittings.
So, the old and the new, the past and the present, all sit beguilingly well together while the refreshing refurbishment is done in a style both befitting and rewarding.
A chic retreat
The newly-decorated Coburg Bar was calling. It was now 7pm, and the sumptuous velvet covered wingbacks were being groomed by guests and discerning local languishers. The bar's decoration was the inspiration of Parisian designer India Mahdavi, and inspired she was. This room has the mellow vibe of a Coltrane/Davis jazz nightclub, with the glamorous feeling of modern chic, in a sultry-toned palette of aubergines, burgundy and chocolate. The bar stools are, quite literally, sculptured, and the sparkling Deco chandeliers add period grandeur while the smooth lacquered bar still delivers some of the best martinis in London. I can just see this bar buzzing to capacity, so get there early. The artwork is quirky, modern (including 4 Julian Opie cameos), and sits appealing well on the slate-grey wood panelling.
We dined in the evening glow of the new Portland-stone-clad conservatory, The Gallery. The atmosphere in here is soft, serene and warm, with a service to match. The menu is well thought out, catering for light or lingering diners. We had, what I'm sure will soon become, The Gallery's signature dish: sea bream atop lobster risotto. It was faultless.
The soon-to-open The Restaurant is promising Michelin stars along with the mesmerising touches of India Mahdavi: a striking combination.
The strange thing about staying at The Connaught this time round is that I felt familiarly, even nostalgically, comfortable, in the classic Connaught sense, but I also enjoyed a newfangled novelty in both its service culture and its trimmings. This 'spoiling' is a bespoke recipe, put together with immense thought, along with a genuine understanding of today's enlightened traveller. The Connaught has undergone a revamp that has raised the bar to a standard where others will want to follow, but can they keep up... the bar is still rising.