The Bulgari Hotel
171 Knightsbridge, London, 207-151-1010; bulgarihotels.com; 85 rooms and suites from $948 (£600).
Bulgari, or Bvlgari if you prefer, is a brand synonymous with timeless luxury. So, while the company has opened top-class hotels in places like Tokyo, Bali and Milan in recent years, its absence from London has been perplexing. But the delay was consistent with Bulgari's careful nurturing of its brand. The company waited for a piece of property in central London that was, in effect, perfect, like so much else that it does. They found it in Knightsbridge.
The Bulgari Hotel, located between Hyde Park and Harrods, is described as the first new five-star hotel to open in London in four decades. It is an exquisite jewel – quite literally, as it is infused with Bulgari silver, an allusion to the brand's origins as a silversmith – that exudes permanence. This is a hotel that stands among the world's finest, in a city that has more than its share.
In a word, impeccable, and in a second word, understated. There is none of the giddiness associated with some haute brands. Even the floral arrangements, though striking, are subdued. The look is not trendy, but luxuriously permanent. From the moment you step onto the polished black granite floors of the lobby, you encounter an aesthetic that flows seamlessly throughout the hotel, with mahogany, silk curtains and silver, always silver. These details appear again and again, sometimes in tandem with green onyx or more likely black Spanish marble. The public spaces are striking, from the 47-seat Richard Attenborough Theatre, to the 25-metre swimming pool, a first-class two-storey spa and fitness centre, and the ballroom, which boasts breathtaking Bulgari silver chandeliers, already being described as the most important pieces of silver made this century.
The rooms are large, handsome, and sumptuous, filled with rich Italian silk fabrics and Italian linens. There are expected touches, such as a 42-inch LCD TV, and utterly unexpected touches, such as a mini bar lurking in what appears to be a Bulgari travel trunk, which I initially hoped, through some fortuitous error, had replaced my own luggage. The closets are mahogany, and the bedside lamps are, yes, Bulgari silver. The bathroom, clad in black Spanish marble, features a shower that could accommodate a large family. There is an enormous sea sponge next to the bath tub, and the bathroom is generously stocked with Bulgari toiletries. Thoughtfully, bath-side votive candles, with matches and incense, are also provided for those needing a little aroma-therapy.
Attentive without being intrusive. The grey uniforms in no way reflect the moods of the staff, who are warm and welcoming. Like all start-ups, the Bulgari had the benefit of hiring fresh, enthusiastic workers, and the hotel is not encumbered by those whose seniority is their most redeeming quality.
The names may not be inventive, Il Restaurant and Il Bar, but the service and menus are every bit as exquisite as the surroundings. Il Bar has a massive stainless steel bar, and is connected to the lower level Il Restaurant by a spectacular, sweeping staircase, behind which silver-grey wall fabric shimmers. The tables are widely spaced, allowing for maximum privacy, though this will doubtless disappoint nosy diners. Presided over by Robbie Pepin, the menu is contemporary, but built on a traditional Italian foundation. The food was unpretentious, nicely proportioned and excellent. I had the Risotto alla Milanese and a cod fillet. After dessert, a surprise plate of hazelnut biscuits also made an appearance, together with a hammer to take a crack at them.
Just weeks after its opening, amid the Queen's Diamond Jubilee festivities, and bare weeks ahead of the Summer Olympics, the Bulgari had already staked out its reputation as a world-class hotel.