‘London’s finest hotel’. Such a description is so widely used as to be almost meaningless, and yet places persist, at all categories. Nonetheless, in the case of the recently reopened Royal Lancaster, the hyperbole, for once, has a point. After an £80 million refurbishment designed to commemorate its 50th anniversary, it is easy to see where the money has gone. The former incarnation was tired and rather plodding; it was badly in need of a facelift. Which it has had, and then some. If you arrive after a walk over Hyde Park on a clear day, the initial impression when you walk into the lobby, a symphony of white, gold and bronze, is that of rare delight at what has managed to be both tasteful and impressive.
Of course, none of this would count for very much if the amenities on offer were in any way substandard. The welcome that one receives is warm and friendly; travelling with a small child offers an opportunity to unbend and relax slightly, and the cooing and general indulgence that our daughter was treated to was also accompanied by very welcome little gifts of crayons and a colouring book; enough to keep her out of trouble for a while.
The rooms, which we gratefully head towards with the intent of having a rest before dinner, have been designed in a fashion that sounds initially nonsensical – ‘contemporary class with a Sixties theme’ but in fact in works beautifully. Some categories of room and suite have a vaguely Mad Men feel – all chrome and rich, dark wood – while others might nod to 2018 in terms of the fittings and comfort (certainly, those paying the five star prices can only expect five star surroundings), but the stunning views over Hyde Park make a stay here feel like a wallow in a very specific and metropolitan kind of luxury. If being born English is to have won first prize in the lottery of life, to be staying at the Royal Lancaster is very, very far from the wooden spoon.
The food and drink operation here has always been highly rated by guests and visitors alike, and the new bar has a particularly attractive USP; there is a rooftop hive that supplies honey, which then appears in several of the cocktails. If you can overlook the punning names (a ‘Great Gats-bee’ is a bit of a groaner, although the Queen Bee is suitably regal), the drinks are fantastic, offering just the right balance between sweet and savoury, and strong enough to have a kick and yet not so potent as to immobilise one. Then one has a choice between high-end restaurants. The Island Grill has a deserved reputation as a fine local brasserie, specialising, as the name suggests, in fish and meat, but it was Nipa that really piqued our interest.
Under near-legendary head chef Sanguan Parr, the all-female brigade at Nipa has been quietly but splendidly serving up some of London’s best Thai cuisine for years, garnering two AA rosettes and the Thai Select Award from the Thailand government. Forget the limp chicken satays and over-crisp wontons that you’ll find at many inferior establishments; this is the real thing throughout, so whether you order a comprehensive tasting platter of starters, perfectly presented beef with mushrooms and oyster sauce or – perhaps best of all – the special pad thai that comes complete with prawns, you are going to be more than satisfied. Those in the know also choose one of the recommended bottles of Thai wine, which cuts through the spices and heat beautifully, making this quite the destination restaurant. Not a huge amount appears to have changed in the refurbishment, but perhaps here it didn’t need to; one cannot easily improve on excellence.
The Royal Lancaster, then, has now proved that it can take its place at the top table of London hotels. Let’s hope that the next half-century proves similarly inspiring, surprising and generally successful, as it so richly deserves to be.
The Royal Lancaster London, Lancaster Terrace, London W2 2TY. For more information, including details of facilities, packages, and to make a booking, visit www.royallancaster.com.