London Luxe

On the West End, the Savoy Group caters to high-end clients

By: Lisa Jennings

LONDON High-end U.S. travelers looking for a luxury hotel in the heart of London’s West End preferably one with a storied past are likely to end up at a Savoy Group property.

The group began with The Savoy, London’s first luxury hotel built in 1889, and now represents nearly half of the luxury rooms in the city at properties like Claridge’s, The Connaught and The Berkeley.

In 1998, the Savoy Group was bought by American venture capital firm, the Blackstone Group. A few months later, Quinlan Private, an investment group based in Ireland and chaired by Derek Quinlan, bought the whole group, including Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, a landmark restaurant.

Then, this September, Quinlan confirmed the investment group was in discussions with Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Abdulaziz al Saud and the Bank of Scotland Corporate over the sale of The Savoy Hotel and Simpson’s-in-the-Strand but not the other Savoy Group properties.

Alwaleed has announced plans to bring in Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, in which he has an interest, to operate The Savoy.

The fact of the matter is travelers who visit any of the Group’s hotels this year will already see changes and they are all for the better. Blackstone spent millions upgrading the aging hotels and, with the help of some of London’s most noted designers, renovations will please guests looking for more modern amenities, as well as traditionalists who have stayed in the same beloved suite through three generations.

The grand dame of London accommodations, Claridge’s has been freshened up while maintaining its art deco and Victorian touches. That said, the sculpture on the foyer ceiling a mass of writhing glass worms is a controversial addition, but, nevertheless, guests continue to congregate underneath it for afternoon tea.

Clients should ask for one of the more contemporary, newly renovated rooms, which are the work of various designers, each with a distinct style.

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay opened his eponymous restaurant at Claridge’s in 2001, and it quickly earned one Michelin star. The Macanudo Fumoir also opened for pre- and post-dinner cigars, and what was The Causerie has been converted to Claridge’s Bar.

Sixth-floor staff residences were transformed into a fitness center and beauty spa.

Just steps away from Claridge’s in Mayfair, The Connaught’s public spaces and some guestrooms have been refurbished in keeping with the traditional Edwardian style. The Red Room, where breakfast, tea and light snacks are served, spotlights designer Nina Campbell’s love for rich reds and golds. An elegant new fireplace greets guests in the lobby. Rooms have high-speed Internet access and fax machines can be requested.

The Connaught has added a sleek fitness studio.

Overlooking Hyde Park, The Berkeley (pronounced BARK-lee), which opened in Knightsbridge in 1972, is the baby in the Savoy Group family.

Here, renovations include the addition of noted chef Marcus Wareing’s opulently chic Petrus, which also recently earned one Michelin star. A more casual alternative is Ramsay’s new Boxwood Cafe.

Off the lobby, the newly designed Caramel Room recently launched a fashion-themed afternoon tea service called “Pret-a-Por-Tea” featuring pastries that reflect haute couture designs. The new Blue Bar targets the contemporary music crowd, and even offers its own CD.

Fifty new rooms were recently added for a total of 214, and the spa is scheduled for renovations. Don’t miss the indoor pool on the top floor, where a retractable roof opens for the rare days of sunshine.

The Savoy, which is on the Strand, was scheduled for a lot more work this year, but future plans may change with the new owner. Renovations so far include a makeover of the Savoy Grill by designer Barbara Barry. Beloved by the theater crowd, the Grill maintained its original banquette seating, so guests can still sit where Viv (Leigh) met Lawrence (Olivier).

Chef Wareing, who here has also earned a Michelin star, has taken over the Grill kitchen, as well as the new, more casual diner-style restaurant upstairs, Banquette, which serves “retro English” food. And the lobby includes a new Laurent-Perrier champagne bar.

About 30 new rooms were added to the 263-room hotel last year. And the hotel added TeleSuite, a virtual-reality conference room, for business travelers to hold “meetings” with participants around the globe.