Every hotel has a bartender, though you wouldn’t necessarily visit a hotel just for them. But then Egerton House Hotel’s is no ordinary bartender. And Nick Hammond is no ordinary hotel guest…
I LOVE Red Carnation Hotels. You know what you’re in for before you’ve stepped over the threshold.
It’s a general rule of thumb that you’re in for a jolly good night’s sleep, a fine feed, some very classy tipples and a general sense of serenity.
Egerton House Hotel doesn’t disappoint.
I arrive on a pleasant early Spring afternoon and bound up the steps to this dignified abode just a toss of an empty Champagne bottle from the hurly burly of Knightsbridge.
I’m greeted – as expected – warmly, and soon given a quick once over of the establishment. Don’t come here expecting the grand sweeping halls and marble pillars of Park Lane – this is a small, five star boutique affair for the discerning resident only.
Like the other Red Carnation properties I’ve visited, it feels intimate, like your family home. With staff.
Which is much nicer, to be honest, because at home you have to do everything yourself.
Now I could bang on about the lovely suite I stayed in – the comfy bed, peace and quite, night-time shoe polish, damned fine coffee over breakfast in the morning and the refreshing plates of delicious apples which perfume the lounge.
But, Dear Reader, you know me only too well, so let’s cut to the chase. The pièce de résistance of this little Knightsbridge gem is a diminutive little Italian fellow called Antonio and his equally tiny bar. It’s one of the best places for back-straightener I’ve yet had the good fortune to stumble across.
So much so, that local residents drop in for a snifter. But it’s early yet as I am introduced to the great man and despite my protestations, I’m informed that you haven’t lived until you’ve tried one of Antonio’s famous concoctions. More specifically, his Martinis, which he has mixed for more celebs and revelers than you’ve had hot dinners in a lifetime of serving in London’s finest private clubs.
Now he’s safely behind the well-stocked bar at The Egerton in his white evening attire and – of course – red carnation, and the choice is mine; is it a vodka or a gin Martini?
Well, I’m not much of a Martini drinker I must confess, but Antonio takes me under his wing and suggests a gin Martini with an Italian olive may be the way forward. He weaves his magic.
While he does so, I chat to him about his upbringing in Sicily, his hard nights working at some of the capital’s hottest night spots and some of the ‘interesting’ characters he has served and chatted with. I can’t compete with the likes of Georgie Best or Olly Reed now can I?
So I simply watch as he fetches a frosted Martini glass – such an elegant shape – and literally waves a small dropper bottle of Vermouth around the top of it. Then, to my astonishment, the glass is filled to the brim with neat gin – and an olive’s popped in the top. Antonio slides the glass over to me.
“Don’t-a pick it up,” says the voice of experience. “Take-a sip a-first.”
And so I do. And half an hour later, I’m laughing and joking with this remarkable character, glad my bar stool is holding me upright while my belly burns with a deluge of gin. Back straightener indeed. A couple of these would straighten Larry Grayson.
I order a Croque monsieur to line the stomach a little and after more fascinating anecdotes and remembrances, I’m sensible enough to decline a second ‘Antonio Special’ – I wouldn’t make the descent from the stool for one thing. But Antonio and I arrange to convene again later in the evening when I am back from my rabble rousing elsewhere.
I should like the opportunity to dine at Egerton House; I suspect the food would be superb. But it’s only later, when I return from my travels, and I’m seated before Antonio again with a late night Scotch and Soda, that the real essence of the hotel finally reveals itself to me.
Antonio and I are discussing opera and, like all Italians, the music runs through his veins. He tells me that the young lad on reception has a beautiful voice – and within moments, he’s collared the unfortunate fellow to appear before me.
But the good-natured chap smiles benignly and with an apology for the rusty state of his larynx, he proceeds to bring a hush to the lounge with a beautiful aria.
The gathered guests sit spellbound and give him a standing ovation when he’s finished.
This is why I love Red Carnation Hotels.
Egerton House Hotel, 17-19 Egerton Terrace, Knightsbridge, London, SW3 2BX. Tel +44 207 589 2412. For more information, visit www.egertonhousehotel.com.