As we approach the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park, a bride emerges from the entrance and jumps into a cream vintage car, to be whisked away to her wedding. For a moment I imagine I’m in one of those light-hearted romantic comedies set in London, in which double-decker buses, black taxi cabs and red coated doormen feature with an obligatory glimpse of Big Ben and the London Eye. At the heart of this quintessentially London scene is the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park, one of the best luxury hotels in London, facing top designer stores on the Knightsbridge side and the country-comes-to-town of Hyde Park on the other.
I get my first experience of the legendary Mandarin Oriental service as three porters rush to carry my small bag up the few steps into the lobby of coloured marble and towering flower arrangements set above the chimneypiece. The hotel was originally built as an exclusive gentleman’s club and its history shows in the Edwardian entrance with marble columns, gilded plasterwork and grand wrought iron staircases.
As we’ve arrived early, we relax with a coffee in the Mandarin Bar with tan leather and gold velvet easy chairs, amber silk cushions and a tiger wood bar area decorated with colourful bottles behind a frosted glass wall. Through to the fine dining Foliage restaurant, there’s a glass wall with stacked bottles of wine and I wonder whether designer Adam Tihany was trying to recreate a club atmosphere for modern times.
Soon we are shown up to the first floor, where we are lucky to be staying in the Prince of Wales Suite favoured by pop stars and government dignitaries, overlooking Hyde Park. The suite is decorated in elegant, classic furnishings and antique style furniture, swags of damask and silk and an enormous bed that we feel tempted to jump on. No detail has been overlooked, from the yoga mat in the wardrobe to the iHome music station beside the bed to the Bang & Olufsen TV with a personalised welcome message. In the sitting room, we’ve been treated to a perfectly sweet bowl of strawberries that leads us to joke that they must have a chief strawberry selector on the staff.
In the marble bathroom with its classic fittings and vase of roses, we find my favourite Jo Malone products that are used in all the suites, although the other bedrooms have an equally delightful selection of Aromatherapy Associate products. There’s room for both a shower with giant head and a powerful flow that makes me feel I’m standing under a waterfall, as well as a bath so deep and large that my toes can’t touch the end, with a bowl of bath salts for good, old-fashioned pampering.
Although it’s tempting to sink into the luxurious sofas, we feel London calling us and step out for a mixture of culture and shopping. The temptations of Harrods for top brands, Harvey Nichols for designer fashion, Liberty’s for wonderful prints and accessories and Fortnum & Masons for foodie treats all detain us and we find we’ve run out of time to visit the Van Gough exhibition at the Royal Academy.
Later I consult, the Senior Concierge, Miko Selcuk for his recommendations and find that there’s a whole raft of other things to see and do, practically on the doorstep. In Hyde Park there’s plenty for families from feeding the ducks to boating on the Serpentine. In one direction from the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park you’ll find the South Kensington museums and in the other Buckingham Palace, where the state rooms open in the summer when the Queen’s on holiday. The Mandarin Oriental has always had Royal connections, hosting society balls and royal tea parties, with Kensington Palace, home of the late Princess Diana just across the park.
Of course it’s the job of the concierge to answer all your questions and make your stay as delightful as possible. Senior Concierge, Miko told me that a guest once asked him to procure a favourite product, telling him she’d heard that “if you ask the concierge at the Mandarin Oriental to find you a camel, he will find you a camel”. Fortunately Miko was able to meet the guest’s request within half an hour and so his reputation remained intact. He added that requests for restaurant reservations, helicopter rides or even private jets are more common than those for a camel!
That evening we eat in the Park Restaurant, a light and airy space overlooking Hyde Park where the design motifs of leaves and greenery bring the outside in, with touches of Oriental in the paintings, simple table settings and bonsai trees on the tables. In the summer, you can also take an al fresco lunch or afternoon tea on the popular Park Terrace overlooking Hyde Park. The menu combines Asian and European dishes and the meaty crab cakes that I enjoy for my starter were apparently also Princess Diana’s favourite. As I taste the complex flavours of my main course, I quickly realise that not all Thai green curries are the same, and the home-made ice creams in an unlikely combination of rhubarb crumble, blackcurrant sorbet and chocolate fudge are to die for. We feel thoroughly spoiled by the attentive and charming staff and round off our meal with their recommendation of a fragrant and delicious African Amber tea.
If you want to enjoy top class Asian food at the Park Restaurant, you’ll need to be quick because the Mandarin Oriental never ceases to dream up new ways to delight its guests. In May 2010, the French-born New York based chef, Daniel Boulud will open Bar Boulud, a wine bar and contemporary French bistro that draws on the seasonal French dishes, wines and charcuterie of Boulud’s childhood near Lyon. The Park restaurant will then close to be re-born in October 2010 with culinary magician Heston Blumenthal at the helm – I can’t wait to see how he plays with the best of seasonal English produce and the Mandarin Oriental’s Eastern traditions.
Before we retire we look in on the Mandarin bar where a live jazz trio is now playing and consider trying one of the cocktails such as the ‘Warm Blossom’ with lychee, strawberry puree or the ‘Conde Nast Traveler’ of Cuban rum, rhubarb puree, pomegranate juice and cinnamon sugar. Apparently, they’ve just recruited a new bar manager, Paul Stevens, a former mixologist (what a lovely job title) at Smirnoff who is busy dreaming up yet more exotic cocktails. Our luxurious suite beckons and we sink under the cosy but feather light duvet for sweet dreams on soft pillows. We awake the next morning, just in time to see the troop of red caped Household Cavalry riding past our window on their way to the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace.
Before we leave I sneak down to have a look at the Spa, tucked away in its own little heaven on the ground floor. The Spa concentrates on a personal experience for a select number of clients and in a typical 3 hours session you can unwind in the gentle steam Sanarium and Vitality jet pool before your personalized treatment.
To the backdrop of gentle music and a waft of incense in the air, Treatment Manager, Alex Binns explains how each session is tailored to the needs of the guest and she talks me through the new range of Mandarin Oriental Signature Spa therapies and products. They have been developed with experts from the world of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture and aromatherapy for a sensory as well as therapeutic experience. The products used are determined by the mood and personality of the client and are based on the five elements of Chinese Medicine; Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and each is matched to a blend of essential oils; Awaken, Bloom, Flourish, Release and Reflect. I muse on whether I might be joyful, sociable, uplifting Fire with the blend of ylang ylang, neroli, rose and chamomile or perhaps thoughtful, grounded Earth, with the oils of coriander, cardamom, lemon and lemongrass.
Sadly it’s time to leave the delightful world of the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park feeling thoroughly relaxed and pampered by the attentive service and luxurious surroundings – if only all hotels made me feel this special.
Our writer, Heather Cowper stayed as a guest of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Hyde Park in London though Kiwi Collection. You can find more travel tales, videos and podcasts from Heather on her travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com