What’s in a name? Quite a lot, it would seem. Arriving at the recently renovated, refurbished and generally reborn Sheraton Grand London, Park Lane, one might be unaware of its long and illustrious former history as the Park Lane Hotel, one of the many Mayfair grandes dames that overlook Green Park, and, since its opening in the 1920s, a byword for sophistication, discretion and comfort. Yet times change, and there had been murmurs that it seemed a little…staid compared to its glamorous neighbours. So, come autumn 2014, and a refurbishment programme began with some vigour. Rooms were redesigned, spaces remodelled, and the gargantuan task of turning the hotel into something contemporary yet classic began. Has it succeeded?
It is a peculiarity of the hotel that one arrives at the Piccadilly entrance, expecting a grandiose reception and concierge…and fails to find it, because a peculiarity of design means that it’s located at the back. Thus, one struggles through the (still iconic) Palm Court bar in the centre to check in; a mild irritation at the best of times, positively annoying when one arrives early evening weighed down by baggage and an infant. However, design flaws aside (apparently it is impossible to park on Piccadilly, thus necessitating this eccentricity), everything else is very much on point. The makeover has emphasised the Art Deco features, meaning that one feels as if one’s on an ocean liner, and things are very much shipshape here.
Wife, child and I are shown up to a palatial suite with views of Green Park. There are some lovely touches on our arrival; a plate of delicious coffee macaroons sits temptingly, and, best of all, there is a (presumably edible) miniature coaster with the logo of none other than The Arbuturian embossed upon it. We are hugely, hopelessly impressed. The sitting room is larger than some flats – some houses – I’ve lived in, and the child quickly becomes excited by the spectacle of an enormous bed that she loses no time in jumping up and down on, babbling absurdly. My wife, meanwhile, is more taken by the sumptuously outsized marble bathroom, which offers both comfort and style in equal packages. We swank around for a while, pretending that we’re multi-millionaires, and then reality intrudes again and we head downstairs for dinner.
The food and drink side of the operation is both excellent and pragmatic. There’s the main Palm Court bar, which serves high-end cocktails at high-end prices, but there’s also a detective-themed bar (no, really) called Smith & Whistle, which is designed to compete in price and selection with nearby Mayfair pubs, meaning that one can have a British beer for around a fiver. (There are some exceptional happy hour offers as well – a pint can be had from 5pm – 8pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for £3, which makes this, remarkably, the cheapest place roundabouts). We do not indulge, as we are expected at the Italian restaurant, Mercante.
If you wanted an example of how brilliant service can elevate what might otherwise have been a decent but unremarkable experience, head to Mercante. The staff couldn’t have been smilier, friendlier and more engaged, recommending a variety of dishes off the menu, which takes a loosely formed ‘small plates’ concept but doesn’t stick to it slavishly. Some of them are excellent – perfect crab linguini, a fine salt cod dish with polenta chips, fine rib eye steak – while others are less impressive; potato croquettes feel heavy and bland without any further addition, and the caprese cake is insubstantial. Yet the constant suggestion of extras – an excellent Aperol spritz here; home-made grappa there – is more than welcome, and a small watchful child is soon beguiled by a dish of mashed pumpkin and chestnut. She has inherited her parents’ expensive tastes, we fear.
An excellent night’s sleep and one top-notch room service breakfast in our dining room (I know, I know), and we’re ready to leave. First, a quick peak into the ballroom, which has graced many a famous film (including Florence Foster Jenkins most recently) and then we are ready to pay a sad farewell to the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane, or whatever you’d like to call it. Because, whatever its name is, this is a really top-notch experience, with some surprisingly good-value frills to complement the main delight; a must, then, for those with champagne tastes and lemonade budgets, like two exhausted parents in search of a rare treat.
For more information about the Sheraton Grand London, Park Lane, including details of offers and booking information, visit www.sheratonparklane.com.