Review by Fiona Duncan, published 7th December 2008.
If, like me, you've reached the age when you forget where you put the car keys but can vividly recall the distant past, then you'll be able to picture the old Hyde Park Hotel. In my London childhood, it was where we were taken to tea with maiden aunts: safe, matronly, staid; Harrods on the outside; gentleman's club inside; marble everything.
Though it had its fans (Pavarotti always stayed, not least because a special oversized shower cubicle had been constructed for him) the 1892 edifice was ripe for takeover just when Mandarin Oriental, the hotel arm of giant Hong Kong consortium Jardine Matheson, were rapidly expanding. Around £57 million pounds later it reopened, in 2000, as the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park.
I like the ethos of Mandarin Oriental. Liam Lambert, GM of this hotel, is right when he says of rivals Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton that "they are all about the hotel, not the location; with us, you know you are in a Mandarin Oriental, but you also have a sense of place. We offer luxury, but we echo the surroundings as well."
Hence, in this florid pile opposite Harvey Nicks, you'll find a Far Eastern slant to the people-friendly, easy-going, part-Edwardian, part contemporary ground floor, and in the spa; but the corridors and bedrooms are so deeply traditional in decoration, all swags and coronets, sheets and blankets, marble fireplaces and mahogany wardrobes (but cutting-edge information technology) that I had to pinch myself to remember that I was in an Oriental hotel at all. The Queen would surely feel at home; quite right – after all, it was in the dreamy ballroom (where today you can have yoga lessons, plus t'ai chi in the park) in the 1930s that she and Princess Margaret learned to dance.
It's the spa that feels most exotic. Mandarin Oriental was the first to create a spa in each of their new hotels and they continue to excel. The one here in Knightsbridge is my favourite spa in the country… something about opening an inconspicuous door and descending into the private grey granite sanctuary beneath the throbbing, traffic-choked street. If you know a Londoner who needs a treat, send them here for an hour or two.
But tell them to be careful about lunch afterwards in the Park Restaurant. Three of us, hoping for a treat, chose from the Asian menu. The food was embarrassingly bad. The lemon chicken dish was flabby and floury while I've had better Singapore fried noodles, for a fraction of the price, from my local takeaway. Every two minutes we were asked if we were enjoying the food. "No!" we wanted to shout.
Dinner in the hotel's fine dining restaurant, Foliage, was, by contrast, excellent, though slightly featureless room, neither British nor Asian. Much has remained the same, but much has changed at the old Hyde Park Hotel.
66 Knightsbridge, London SW1 (020 7235 2000; www.mandarinoriental.com/london). Doubles from £525, including breakfast. Rooms available for guests with disabilities.