The last time I stayed at the hotel I went overboard. They made me do it. I stayed in the Oliver Messel suite, where Liz Taylor and Richard Burton spent their honeymoon night and Michael Jackson moonwalked to the bathroom when he was in town.
One very easily slips into the superstar lifestyle when kicking back in one of the world’s most luxurious bolt-holes. I recall ringing room service at half past midnight to freshen up the fruit bowl. Who wants tired grapes in a £4,000-a-night suite? Not me, I can tell you. The night ended with me playing The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” on the terrace wearing very little to protect my modesty. I bet Wacko never did that.
In truth, I remember little about that first visit after about 4.30 in the afternoon. This is when I finished what was meant to be a light lunch in the The Dorchester’s Alain Ducasse restaurant, then a month away from being promoted from two stars to three by Michelin. I planned to have the £55 lunch but was told by the French restaurant director that I had to try “zee very best, huh?”. Who was I to argue with a Frenchman proferring the Champagne trolley, “roasted chicken and lobster, sweetbread, creamy jus” and several flights of wine?
Lunch ended with a tot of Armagnac and the realisation that dinner in The Grill, a short hop across the hotel’s Promenade, was two-and-a-half hours away. Wisely, I deferred diner until 8pm, took a long walk around Mayfair and decided to “man up” in the cocktail bar with a couple of Vesper Martinis. Dinner passed off effortlessly, roast grouse and all. In fact, I recall the then sommelier commenting how one of the wines, a young Chianti Classico, had a “hint of death” about it. Which is pretty much how I felt at three o’clock the next morning.
For my return visit, I decided to skip lunch. The Alain Ducasse restaurant, which I have yet to revisit (invitation always welcome), would have to wait. This was going to be all about The Grill.
Some things, though, are not negotiable at The Dorchester, like comfort. Although I gently tumbled down the accommodation tariff to an executive deluxe king room (from £450), the surroundings could hardly be described as slumming it. There was a four-poster bed, views over Hyde Park and walk-in wardrobes for hide-and-seek.
A VIP was lodging next-door, in a suite down the corridor. A smartly dressed security detail was in attendance. The chaps with the barrel-chests, cropped Action Man hair and moveable eyes told me I would never sleep as safely as I would that night. And no, they would not tell me who they were protecting.
Just as The Dorchester refuses to compromise on comfort, I refuse to compromise on not going to its subterranean spa. As this blog develops, a few things will become apparent, some of which you will like and some of which will irritate the hell out of you. Think of yourself then as one of the family. A common theme will be my love of spas. Some chaps like golf holidays or shooting or rally car driving. I would rather pootle off to a spa and zone out. I love my own company and doing bugger all. If I can do this while being soothed and pampered, then it’s a win-win.
There are nine sound-proofed treatment rooms, including two double suites, with heated treatment beds and cosy duvets. The only problem is staying awake long enough to say: “Ooo, could you increase the pressure by the weight of a dove’s feather?”
The Signature full body massage (£165) flies by in an hour and 25 minutes. There are warm oils, heated stones, gentle strokes and, as the brochure suggests, “pure indulgence.”
There is a barbers (if, unlike me, you have hair) and oodles of stuff that women who spa enjoy, such as a hair salon, nail things and the Spatisserie for healthy eating: California bento boxes, chargrilled tuna and water melon and, of course, Bellinis (which have fresh peach juice and are therefore healthy).
The Spatisserie also serves afternoon tea but traditionalists should head to The Promenade. If you happen to be in town for the Chelsea Flower Show’s centenary, why not push the boat out with executive chef Henri Brosi’s floral-inspired cakes and pastries?
The floral afternoon tea, served with finger sandwiches and warm scones, is available from Monday, May 20 until Sunday, May 26. The special tea, including a gift lavender bag, is £51 per person with a glass of Laurent-Perrier NV fizz. That’s got to be better than grubbing up the roses.
Keen to avoid the over-indulgence of my previous visit, I skipped tea but ensured I arrived at the cocktail bar in plenty of time to re-enact the Martini ritual.
There is a bar at the end of The Promenade but I am a sucker for the lacquered mahogany and downright sexiness of The Bar. The drinks are madly expensive and madly good.
The Grill itself is eccentrically decorated in tartan and the menu is a hymn to (largely) unreconstructed grand English dining. If you want to eat like they ate in the 1930s, albeit with slightly less butter and cream, this place is for you. The menu says it all: grouse pie, roast venison, Dover sole and Black Angus beef chop with cottage pie. It’s grown-up Boys’ Own eating. No fads are permitted.
The waiter will know everything about your likes and dislikes, even if you have never dined here. “You eat everything except oysters, Mr McComb,” says the waiter. I must have been offered oysters the last time I came, when the waiter was still wearing short trousers in Poland. I’m allergic to oysters; it’s a curse. “How did you know?” I ask. “Because we are The Dorchester, sir,” replies the waiter.
A pre-starter of pimped up East End-style salty eel is followed by home smoked salmon and gravadlax. The fish is carved at the table, which always makes me weepy with nostalgia. There is enough to feed the sixth form common room.
Glazed calves’ sweetbread with crispy chicken wings is a winning combo, topped only by the main course: a whole roasted pigeon, which comes with unadorned veggies, including sweet little onions, and gravy. All that is lacking is a rendition of “Rule Britannia.”
The wines are faultlessly good – a 2002 Chorey-les-Beaune and a 2008 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Domaine de la Solitude.
I make a manful attempt to finish a dessert of pistachio crumb with passion fruit bavarois, apricot sorbet and saffron ice cream but sadly cannot manage the Stilton, which is a great pity because it looks wonderful and I am sure it is winking at me.
How did I manage all this – and lunch – not so many years ago? Time is a cruel master but at least The Dorchester is immune to its ravages.
For more information, go to www.thedorchester.com
*Richard McComb was a guest of The Dorchester.