The lighting inside my suite is adjusted via a gold master switch featuring four settings. Guests can selected from: Bright; Calm; Cosy; and Oooh.
I am a sucker for “Oooh,” which is just as well. Because “Oooh,” as in “Oooh, how lovely,” “Oooh, how gorgeous,” and “Oooh, all right, I’ll have another one,” is pretty much what life becomes, for one glorious day and a night.
I am on the fourth floor of The Goring, in a beautifully appointed Belgravia Suite; and if it is delightful here, kicking back in my sitting room with a DIY cocktail set, sloshing a pre-mixed Cosmopolitan in a silver shaker packed with ice, then it is delightful everywhere throughout this historic, privately-owned and distinctly royal hotel.
The Goring had been on my must-visit list for many years but for one reason and another, usually the fact it is extremely busy, it never quite happened. And then Kate Middleton, as she was known, checked into the hotel for her last night as a singleton before her wedding to Prince William – and the popularity of the place, which is just down the road from Buckingham Palace, went stratospheric.
It will be three years in April that the now Duchess of Cambridge left the hotel, watched by several billion people on telly, to tie the knot with the heir to the throne at Westminster Abbey. The Goring’s stellar performance and utmost discretion was subsequently rewarded with the official seal of approval from the Queen, who bestowed a “Royal Warrant of appointment to HM The Queen for Hospitality Services.” Take that, TripAdvisor.
In keeping with such a recommendation, the family-owned hotel and its staff do not put a foot wrong. All guests are treated like princes or princesses, without that ridiculous fawning attitude one encounters at lesser establishments that are heavy on the bling and light on credibility. The service is terrific, from the door staff to the young waitress who opens a post-dinner bottle of Ruinart Champagne for us in the bar. Having spent the last 20 years living in Birmingham, I quickly detect a twang of home. It turns out that Jemima is a Hospitality Business Management student at University College Birmingham, the nation’s finest training establishment for food service and culinary arts. She is working at The Goring on her placement year in industry. Jemima says it is a wonderful place to work and for me that is a ringing endorsement. There is no finer compliment for a hotel than receiving the praise of junior employees who are just embarking on their careers; it speaks volumes of a business’s commitment and confidence.
Part of the charm of The Goring, which was founded in 1910, can be explained by its size: it is small and perfectly formed. There are just 69 bedrooms and suites, individually styled with classic English furnishings and antiques. This is the real thing, not a faux depiction for tourists.
There are just four Belgravia suites, one on each floor, overlooking Beeston Place at the front of the hotel. It’s an incredibly peaceful spot considering it is only a five-minute walk from the maelstrom of Victoria station. The only noise I hear is the sound of my own sighing, followed by light mutterings of: “Ahh, that’s lovely… ummm, very comfortable… oh, yes…”
The suites, which comprise a large drawing room, master bedroom, bathroom and entrance hall, are a very good size (47m² / 506ft²) but feel far from over-sized or soulless, thanks to the handmade furniture, objets d’art, paintings, fireplaces and elegant sofas. This isn’t a place that has to try to be anything. It is just supremely confident in what it does.
The Garden Bar and The Lounge speak of that same unfussy elegance. These are comfortable rooms where you can relax; they are not sterile museum pieces. I am joined for dinner by one of my oldest school friends, Joe, who I have known since we were 11. The last time we were alone in a hotel we were on a sixth-form trip in Paris, circa 1984, trying to open illicit bottles of beer with a belt in our room. It didn’t end well. Fortunately, they have all manner of bottle opening widgetry at The Goring.
Dinner turns out to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I have to say, I was slightly nervous. I feared, quite wrongly it turns out, that the food might be a little staid, a tad time warp, a bit Counties Set.
Shay Cooper, the new executive chef, is making his mark with a refined take on classic British cooking. Cooper comes with a good pedigree, being crowned Hotel Chef of the Year at the Cateys in 2010 and winning a Michelin star at The Bingham Hotel in Surrey.
The beautiful Dining Room takes its cues from the Edwardian era and manages to exude both light, warmth and elegance. It is spot on for a five-star, grand London hotel. For such restrained opulence and the high quality of kitchen produce, the three-course dinner is well-priced at £52.50. There are suitably luxurious offerings if that’s the way you want to go, so Beluga caviar is £300 for 50g, £600 for 100g.
There are a number of starters I am drawn to, including Cornish mackerel with hand-dived scallop, Jerusalem artichoke and roast garlic, but inevitably I spy the specials. It strikes me that if a chef is offering Scottish lobster risotto and winter truffle (£10 supplement) it is poor form to turn him down. Joe is on the same wavelength and has the potted Lytham shrimps (£9.25 supp).
Now one of the last meals my friend and I shared involved sweaty sausages that were incinerated on a disposable barbecue, then dropped in sand and presented in finger rolls during an impromptu beach picnic in Salcombe. Et voila, textures of burnt bangers, avec arôma de paraffin.
We thought we deserved better at The Goring and were duly rewarded with a hunk of tremendous dry-aged prime rib of Ross County Scottish beef, served with the bone marrow, roast garlic, Béarnaise sauce and lovely mash (with a bit of truffle). I can’t speak highly enough of this simply cooked piece of beef.
Enter the sommelier, who plays a blinder and suggests a Lebanese beauty – a 2009 Château Marsyas from the Békaa Valley.
This plummy, juicy blend of cabernet sauvignon (50%), syrah (30%), merlot (15%) and petit verdot (5%) is now my go-to red for steak. Someone please send me a case. Life’s tricky without it.
The cheese trolley, specialising in British produce, looks great but we head straight to desserts, opting for two different takes on chocolate. Brownie points again go to our man with the corkscrew who suggests a well-structured, deep cherry Fonseca Guimaraens 1996 vintage port.
And then we retire to the bar. Where we stay for the next four-and-a-half hours. It’s one of those nights where you just don’t want the fun to end.
Breakfast, and leaving, comes too soon. A tray of fresh fruit, yoghurt, croissants and boiled eggs is delivered several hours later. If only I could start every day like this. But then staying at The Goring wouldn’t be quite so “Oooh.”
As if by magic, the Duchess of Cambridge appears. Well, she’s on the front of the newspaper that is dropped off with breakfast, having made her first public engagement of the year at the National Portrait Gallery.
I just hope I haven’t taken her room.
Menu at The Goring Dining Room – £52.50
Chicken soup, hen’s egg, glazed mushrooms, ham and cheese sandwich
Artichoke salad, marinated mushrooms, hollandaise, cep vinaigrette
Arbroath smokie kedgeree
Day boat plaice fillet, cucumber, dill, potted shrimp butter
Rose veal tartare, smoked anchovy, fresh horseradish
Cornish mackerel, hand dived scallop, Jerusalem artichoke, roast garlic
Special starters offered at a supplement:
Potted Lytham shrimps £ 9.25
Scottish lobster risotto, winter truffle, hazelnut £10
Organic spelt, braised celery, duck egg, winter truffle, smoked butter
Cornish fish stew, seaweed potatoes
Scottish halibut, smoked eel barley, parsley and garlic purée
Glazed lobster omelette, duck fat chips, lobster Caesar salad
Brill fillet, smoked bacon and potato cake, fried oyster, oyster vinaigrette
Glazed pork belly, pig’s cheek, crisp suckling pig, turnip, mustard
Oxtail bun, dry aged sirloin, malted parsnip purée, ale
Salt marsh lamb, hot pot potatoes, haggis, pickled red cabbage, mint
From the trolley:
Fillet of beef Wellington with a red wine sauce
Special main courses offered at a supplement:
Dover sole, grilled or pan-fried, with new potatoes and spinach £17
Roast best end of Romney Marsh lamb with rosemary jus £9.50
Dry aged prime rib of Ross County beef, bone marrow, roast garlic, Béarnaise sauce
(for two people to share) £30
Selection of puddings or British cheese from the trolley
Tea, coffee and petits fours £5.50
- The Goring
- T: 020 7396 9000
- Richard McComb travelled from Birmingham New Street to London Euston courtesy of Virgin Trains. Advanced single tickets are available from as little as £7.50. Typical journey time: 1 hour 25 mins.
- For information on fares and special promotions, go to www.virgintrains.com