There’s a man sitting on an ornate Regency-style chair outside one of the rooms near the main corridor on the second floor of The Lanesborough. The door behind him is slightly ajar and he has a rather dour expression – butter wouldn’t melt. Perhaps he’s there for an interview, I wonder. My first order of business when my own butler comes to enquire as to which tea and which newspaper I’d like to be woken up with at 6am the next morning, is to have a nosey into my enigmatic man. No wonder Agatha Christie had Miss Marple visit great houses all the time – turns out they really are the place for a good mystery.
My butler doesn’t know, but he does tell me that our floor houses The Lanesborough’s Royal Suite, which goes for a paltry rate of £26,000 a night. Because the suite is occupied during my stay, I can’t peek in for a look, and should I take any liberties through keyholes or what not someone will most likely do me in, but I learn that it comprises a total of seven rooms, with the main sky-blue living room covered in gold leaf and regularly booked out. There’s a dining room (seats 12) where the suite’s guests can gorge on breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner without ever leaving the rooms to mingle with the hoi polloi in the hotel’s celebrated Michelin-star-decorated restaurant Céleste downstairs.
Though my accommodations at The Lanesborough comprise only one room, it’s no less gilded. A lavish four-poster bed presides over the space, drenched in sunlight from the windows facing the arch that marks the entrance to Hyde Park and our neighbour, the Duke of Wellington’s Apsley House – all in good company then. The sumptuous brocades, velvets and carpets adorning the room are warm and golden with red accents. There’s a sterling-silver tea set on top of the dresser, where a tea selection ranging from classic English breakfast to delicate White Down Silver Needles is available whenever I might fancy a cuppa.
Everything in the room – nay, the building – is an unrepentant ode to Regency-era decor and quintessentially English upper class. You’d almost expect a plum in the fruit basket, so well communicated is its message. Every room is unique, with a different colour palette and its own selection of paintings. The hotel houses one of Britain’s largest private historical art collections, curated by Sir Antony Gormley, a Turner Prize winner who, incidentally, has a show opening at White Cube in Hong Kong next month. The focus of the art is pre-1830s and chosen with the idea of a wealthy English family living in London at the time The Lanesborough was built.
Though the look of the place sits firmly in the past, the utilities are unashamedly modern par excellence. USB ports and plugs are generously distributed, albeit discreetly, across the room. There’s a supercharge option, for which I’m very glad upon returning to my room for a quick battery replenish one harried afternoon, before heading out. I run into the man in the corridor once again. Still not quite able to place him, I think on my way out. Surely if he were a guest he’d enter the room and, well, if he were a butler or staff member he’d have quarters. But I put it out of my mind.
If your modus operandi in London is to relax and do not much else, The Lanesborough is in its element. Yes, there’s a tea room called The Withdrawing Room where you might feel the need to sit up straight under the ornate ceiling, the Wilkinson chandeliers and the trompe-l’oeil marble, but take afternoon tea with chocolates and cake and you’ll find yourself cosseted with the very best of English comfort fare. The Library Bar through the velvet curtains references a gentleman’s drawing room of yore, re-created for the masses. This is the real deal, with handsome dark woods and plush, upholstered sofas decorating the space. There are books lining the walls unobtrusively, and whisky dating back to the 1800s on display. Drinks and morsels such as a gin-based Aviation, a Mr Black Negroni, and a “Twisted” Negroni paired with lobster nachos, foie gras and toasted soldiers are available for a mid-afternoon tipple, an aperitif or, like me, a post-dinner drink.
That night, duty calls, but I find that my room’s brilliantly executed lighting means that I’m able to work in bed well into the wee hours without entirely ruining my partner’s beauty sleep. So, while there’s an abundance of flounce, the room is as hard-working as you need it to be.
For a real extravaganza, my very own Jeeves points us to restaurant Céleste, where our tasting menu comes with an exceptional wine pairing led by a Spanish sommelier who takes us across Europe, drawing bottles from obscure regions in Italy and France to tour-de-force Spanish vintages. If anybody heads anywhere but their rooms after this meal, I wholeheartedly commend them – but for myself, it’s straight back upstairs. I encounter Corridor Man in the same lift. He offers to press the button and exits with me to return to the same corridor, and knocks on the door of the suite, which cracks open. “Good evening sir,” I hear. He takes a seat outside. I make my way to the marbled bathroom in my room and draw a nice big tub of hot bubbles to lie in. Sequestered in marble with a view out to Hyde Park, it’s all I can do not to stay in the tub for the rest of my stay, regardless of skin pruning.
The next morning, I mention Corridor Man to my butler, who tells me that it’s common practice for bodyguards to sit outside rooms with the door a crack open. Aha! It all becomes clear. Those with fortunes generally need the most protection, and Corridor Man is sitting in front of the most expensive suite in England. I’ve solved the mystery.
Buoyed by this revelation, I feel invigorated. There’s no time, unfortunately to try the members-only gym and spa but I manage to get a sneak peek at the facilities (there’s nothing my butler cannot accomplish), which houses an establishment dedicated to the hedonistic pleasure of self-care from top to toe, inside and out. Bodyism trainers, dance tutors and yoga teachers are at your disposal and Anastasia Achilleos-trained therapists administer massages and craniosacral therapy. Facials, mani-pedis, thermal suites and hydropools are all available in this sanctuary, with a restaurant to boot. Should anybody have difficulty navigating this massive underground maze, there’s an army of spa butlers at the ready to guide you through the services.
As I leave this vault of indulgence, I head back to my room to pick up my suitcase. My butler is waiting to assist me, and as we leave we run into the bodyguard, still manning the corridor. I feel a tinge of sadness. The mystery has been solved, the great house’s secrets have been uncovered and with that, the voyeur must return to the banalities of the real world – until next time.