It’s a busy time for London’s hotels, especially right at the top.
In King’s Cross, the Standard has been drawing the stars, the Stratford has added a touch of glamour to its east London surroundings and even Claridges has had the builders in – and its new restaurant, Davies and Brook, is already the most talked about dining room in town, though it doesn’t open for weeks.
Nearby is the Biltmore, from Hilton’s most upmarket branch, LXR. It has been a thorough doing over for what was the Millennium Hotel, and, on the face of it, no expense has been spared – though Hilton are famously a canny group, so they’ll have made their margins somehow. The site is an impressive one, the sort of building that belongs on postcards and biscuit tins; inside it is sleek, marble everywhere, bright and clean. It is not a cosy kind of luxury – instead, it will suit those looking for a little detached, international cool. Though it feels as if it could be just as fitting in, say, Dubai, there are details throughout that nod to its Mayfair address, from the very British toiletries – Penhaligon’s, a nice touch – to the Pine Bar menu, where cocktails are punningly named for English icons, the likes of the Beatles et al.
The Pine Bar and Betterment restaurant are something of the hotel’s flagship draw. Both overseen by top chef Jason Atherton, they offer an easy answer to the age old guest favourite: ‘Where’s good to eat?’. The concierges must be feeling relieved.
Where is it?
Grosvenor Square, an elegant base for exploring London. Five minutes one way is Hyde Park (the journey passes the excellent Dickie’s Bar, worth popping into), while five minutes the other is New Bond Street, which offers some of London’s most fashionable ways to bankrupt oneself. Mayfair is a playground, where the toy trucks are Lambourginis, and the playhouse is Buckingham Palace (it’s close enough to count). It is somewhere to walk in wonder, surrounded by well-dressed types who rattle expensively, with what you might call the Cartier clank. Out of Mayfair is shopping on Oxford Street, or Regent’s Street, while the major London icons are nearby too: the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery and the Strand are close enough to walk to, or cab back from.
Pleasingly tactile; perhaps this seems an odd thing to enjoy in a place, but so many high-end hotels have their luxury lessened by it all being impossible to use – say, voice-activated lights that are deaf, or remote-operated window-blinds, fine until the remote goes missing (which they always do, it’s the law). Here it’s all switches and buttons. The Biltmore is about being comfortable, about calming down after the mad rush of the city. True, in the simplicity of the style, the greys in the wood and on the carpet, and the stock photographs on the walls, there is a touch of it being something of a high-end business-friendly place, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, being soothing in its own way. They bill it as an ‘urban sanctuary’ and, for once, the PR fluff is about right.
The address does the heavy lifting here, so the hotel itself doesn’t need to offer much in the way of entertainment. Nevertheless, there’s a well appointed gym, with all the usuals – shiny treadmills, various contraptions for discovering long lost abs – as well as a few extras, including a boxing bag and a track for subjecting yourself to bleep tests.
Each room is thoughtfully appointed; bathrooms come with toothbrushes and paste, shaving kits as well as the usual toiletries, which means it is conceivably somewhere one could turn up empty handed and get by without too much trouble. They’ve also, smartly, put irons and ironing boards in the rooms, so guests aren’t held ransom to the hotel laundry.
Food & drink
The hotel’s big draw is its restaurant, the Betterment, which is run by Jason Atherton, the acclaimed Michelin-starred chef. With 19 restaurants across the globe, there’s no doubting Atherton knows what he’s doing, and his empire is a testament to that. In an interview with the Standard, he explained that the restaurant is meant to be for everyone, whether those in the hotel or those coming in from outside (the Betterment has its own entrance). Prices are reasonable, by the standards of this part of town at least, and what’s there is unchallenging stuff, which in many ways is perfect – like everything else at the Biltmore, it is about comfort, with steaks and simply done fish the stars of the menu.
At the time of review, just a week after officially opening, things seem to be in the settling-down stage. Over a brief lunch and a lengthy supper, there was a decided mix of good and not. Raw Orkney scallop, with pear and sorrel was had twice; once delicious and fresh, with bright, biting flavours, another time rather muted and out of sorts. A ribeye with bone marrow wasn’t quite what was expected – the marrow wasn’t a side, but a sauce, this is not a menu that excels with clarity – but, by having been smothered in the stuff, was gorgeously flavoured, incredibly rich. Turbot appealed at £38, this fish never a cheap date, but underwhelmed on delivery, being rather dull and, oddly, without much flavour. Later, ice cream impressed, the vanilla actually really quite stunning. At the start, we were similarly taken with the bread; sometimes there is no better comfort. But, in the end, a meal shouldn’t really be remembered for its bread and its vanilla ice cream. We actually ate pudding in the room, the al fresco terrace by now too cold to eat in; if this spot, easily the best looking place in the restaurant, really does want to entice diners outside year-round, someone needs to fiddle with the heating.
Breakfast was similarly unexciting – though seeing ‘protein shakes’ as an option did get the heart going, in alarm. But bravo to Atherton for smartly tapping into a market that surely is ready and waiting, even if it excludes me. £25 seemed steep for a full English, especially as around the corner, there’s a £24 option at the Guinea Grill, which is both heartier, tastier and entirely more decadent.
All this said, Atherton is a very talented cook, a masterful restaurateur and someone who smartly reads the market. His ideas for the restaurant are good, and once it settles in, the restaurant likely will be too. These are early days; excellence is surely on its way.
Elsewhere in the hotel is the Pine Bar, a classic hotel bar, dark with lots of leather. It specialises in whisky. The restaurant does cocktails too, which are terrific, especially the barrel aged tequila negroni.
They’ve 307 rooms in total, with 57 suites. Try for one with a view; waking up and overlooking the plane trees that line the park sets the day off on an especially calm note. We stayed in a King Suite: its own lounge, a bed the size of Wales, and a lounge with a sofa that would suit a yacht. We’d recommend.
Rooms from £600, 44 Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, W1K 2HP, lxrhotels3.hilton.com/biltmore-mayfair