The first major renovation in more than 30 years means the ‘princess of Park Lane’ is more glamorous than ever

Words: Jonathan Whiley

When a grande dame is beloved – Sophia Loren, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dame Joan Collins – embarking on late life top-to-toe makeover seems a risky business.

Will the je ne sais quoi survive? Will they step out as a shadow of their former glory? The crème de la crème walk a tightrope to embrace change without losing the very essence of what made them revered.

Which brings me to The Dorchester – recently dubbed ‘the princess of Park Lane’ by Tatler – with 93 years of glittering, star-studded memories in its rather deep pockets. You may have noticed that in recent months one of Mayfair’s most historic hotels looks a little different.

Its aesthetics have been tinkered carefully and considerately; treated like a delicate, precious starlet. Its new-look, unveiled gradually over the past year, is spectacular. It’s sophisticated, elegant, polished – the Art Deco lobby gleams, Liberace’s mirrored grand piano dazzles – but the opulence feels familiar rather than alienating.

Perhaps this is no surprise given the design pedigree of those wielding the decorative knife behind the first major renovation in more than 30 years (the hotel, impressively, stayed open throughout). Award-winning interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon was responsible for redesigning the hotel entrance as well as an updated lighter (and brighter) The Promenade with a palette that blends white and sage green ceilings with gold leaf accents and pops of colour from dusty pink soft furnishings.

A new collection of contemporary artwork by British artists adds a playful element to the regal space and a new Artists’ Bar shimmers as guests enjoy an extensive selection of champagne under a Lalique chandelier. Hungry? Former Claridge’s executive chef Martyn Nail has created a modern British menu.

The culinary offer at The Dorchester is among the best of any five-star hotel in the world, let alone London. China Tang remains a popular, upscale choice for Cantonese classics, Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester offers a three Michelin star modern French experience and the recently rebranded The Grill by Tom Booton is a masterclass in exciting, modern British cuisine. The Dorchester’s youngest ever head chef, Tom’s menu is all about local suppliers and punchy flavours; snacks such as braised beef doughnuts with truffle and chicken liver parfait with foie gras snow and sharing dishes such as a classic beef wellington and blowout ‘all the chicken dish’; a feast of stuffed crown, chicken hotpot, rolled leg and crispy skin salad. It’s dynamic and fun – staff are knowledgeable but don’t take themselves too seriously – and most importantly, absolutely delicious.

Elsewhere, as part of the hotel’s new era, a new Cake&Flowers boutique was unveiled with its own entrance on the Deanery Street corner of the hotel. Paris-based Pierre-Yves was once again responsible for this Instagram-seducing new patisserie and floristry with creations by executive pastry chef, Michael Kwan, and bespoke hand-crafted bouquets by in-house designer florist, Philip Hammond.

The mastery of Pierre-Yves is also in evidence with the newly transformed guest rooms and suites, seamlessly blending the legendary hotel’s 1930s’ glamour with contemporary considerations. Drawing inspiration from the hotel’s location – a prized spot in Mayfair with Hyde Park on the doorstep – it has been designed in varying bold colours inspired by an English garden, a theme accentuated by Colefax and Fowler’s floral fabrics on both walls and headboards.

Space is in abundance – there are nine fewer rooms after the renovation to allow for more room across 19 room categories – and comfort has not been sacrificed (the sprawling bed was marshmallow soft). Perhaps just as well after a nightcap in the new Vesper Bar, designed by renowned creative, Martin Brudnizki (responsible for the eye-catching interiors of so many of Mayfair’s best-known locations, such as Annabel’s).

Vesper is a nod to the hotel’s many connections with James Bond throughout the years; 007 author Ian Fleming stayed and dined here in the ‘40s and EON, the production company, had an office at the hotel during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Appropriately the bar has movie-star looks (that was Brudnizki’s intention) and is a sleek, sultry upgrade on the previous, rather tired incarnation. Naturally martinis are de rigueur, but the cocktail list also includes the likes of Bessie Mae (with signature bubbles – in honour of Elizabeth Taylor, who stayed at the hotel 37 times and signed the contract for Cleopatra in the bath of the Harlequin Suite) and the famed Martinez (a favourite of recently retired legendary bar manager, Giuliano Morandin).

For all the ornate fixtures and furnishings, service and personalities endure. Our director of butlers, Irishman Sean Davoren – formerly of The Ritz and The Lanesborough – sets the tone of our stay with charm and wit, assuring us at check-in “we don’t do forms here.” This is The Dorchester after all; a grande dame remodelled but still as classy as ever.

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