Craig’s review… Oh my Lord. So this is how the other half lives! I must be honest and say that I was a little bit intimidated before I walked into The Ritz. I know it sounds daft, but I wasn’t really looking forward to my stay here. I’m basically a slob, you see. I wear the same shirt all week, shave once a fortnight, and the only suit I own is my birthday suit. So the thought of walking into the poshest hotel in London filled me with dread and foreboding. I’m definitely going to get chucked out, I thought – there’s no way they’re going to let me stay here. They’ll just stand around laughing at me, then I’ll be tied to the back of a limo and dragged around town whilst real rich people chuck mouldy old cabbages at me… these are the kind of thoughts that were going through my head this morning. But I’ve made it past check-in now and I’m well happy… my fears have disappeared.
As soon as you walk through the door everyone is very nice and polite and treat you like you actually deserve it (which I don’t), but they are probably used to getting a two grand tip from everybody they meet. The guy in reception was like an extra from Downton Abbey. He had about a bazillion questions to make me feel more welcome: would you like a paper sir (er… can I have The Sun?). Would you like a wake-up call? Would you like your bag carried up? Would you like a tour of the hotel? When would you like dinner, sir? What about room service? It was a blizzard of questions, and I aimed a whirlwind of nods back at him. But the one that actually flummoxed me was the turn-down service. I haven’t got a clue what that is mate, I said. Apparently a lady is going to come into my room tonight and get it ready for bed, he said. Er… okay. That sounds like something for five-year-olds… pumping up my pillow and tucking me in. I wonder if she’ll read me a bedtime story as well? We will have to wait and see!
After check-in I was given a guided tour of the hotel by a very pretty blonde bird (apparently they do this for everybody). She showed me the Rivoli Bar and Palm Court which looked pretty plush. It was all round tables and gigantic flower arrangements and waiters waltzing around with silver trays of teacakes. Then it was up to my room and she even gave me a little tour of that. Jesus Christ, I thought, as I walked into the room… trying my best not to look too impressed. (I didn’t want her knowing that I normally stay at the Premier Inn.) There were so many cupboards and electronic gizmos around that it took her a full five minutes to point it all out. Classical music was playing on a loop, too… I think it was Chopin’s Raindrops but I don’t really know. It was something like that. All I know is that it was posh. That is what greets you when you walk into the room.
And what a room! If you knocked together all of the downstairs rooms in my house then I’m pretty sure that the Ritz’s room is bigger. First of all you have a little sitting area with a sofa, two armchairs and a coffee table groaning under the weight of big hefty books about cocktails and Van Gogh. They’ve also got a few papers and the latest issue of Tatler magazine. Then you have acres of space to the bed in case you want to have a ballroom dance, and then another acre to the window with another set of tables and chairs. Then you have a separate dressing table and a mirror for the ladies, two bedside tables and a chest of drawers, a writing desk and office chair, a marble fireplace with a gigantic Chinese vase on it and a DAB radio with iPod dock. Then there’s another huge cabinet with a Sky box inside and a widescreen TV that’s almost bigger than the bed. There’s also an umbrella stand (complete with a businessman’s umbrella), a proper ironing board, two pairs of slippers, a minibar and fridge with six crystal glasses and a tumbler of ice… I think that’s about it.
The bathroom is decorated with red marble and gold and there are his and hers of everything… his and hers fluffy white towels, his and hers dressing gowns, his and hers taps. You get a bath and shower combo, a cubicle shower, and a mirror that’s bigger than a window. And of course it has a phone in there as well in case you want to order a pizza while you’re brushing your teeth.
Do you know what I’ve just realised? You are not going to believe this. There is no kettle in here! Oh my god. This is an outrage! This is the first hotel that I’ve ever stayed at that doesn’t provide a kettle and teabags in the room. Even the 2-star dumps that I’ve slept in do that, so I have finally found something that I can moan about. I was going to give them a glowing 5-star review but they’re not even going to get 1-star now – that is how strongly I feel about my tea. Apparently you have to order your tea from room service instead. Rich people don’t like pouring out their own tea because it would do the butler out of a job.
I’m heading down to the Rivoli Bar now to have a cup of tea. You get met by a waiter who of course is very friendly and polite and speaks in la Français, sits you down and asks you what you want. I’ll have a tea please mate (£6.50!). It comes in a china cup on a solid silver tray, with sugar lumps that are so big you need a silver set of tongs to pick them up. He’s handed me a broadsheet paper to read as well and a couple of slices of cinnamon cake. Frank Sinatra swinging softly in the background – it’s like being transported back to the 1950s. It’s all art deco browns and golds, with waiters in sharp white suits and slicked back hair.
The bar is full of posh wives and widows. There are a few decorated ladies spending their dead husband’s money, and a couple of perm-do oldies who look like they are totally used to this kind of thing. One of them is the perfect stereotype of a posh old doddy with dripping earrings and thick gold rings on her fingers, talking in a voice that’s posher than the Queen’s. I’m trying to catch a few snippets of their conversation and it sounds like they’re bitching about someone they know. Just two gossipy old women at the Rivoli Bar. Two more next-door are celebrating a birthday – maybe her last, judging by the wrinkles on her face. What do you buy a woman who’s 90-years-old? Another ten years? It must be sobering knowing that your clock is ticking down. It’s a bit like counting down the days to Christmas, except when Christmas finally comes you go up the chimney instead of down it. Now a crazy old professor has walked in with a wispy white beard and five aerials of hair sticking out the top of his head. I’m just sitting here drinking my £6.50 tea, unwrapping the blanket that is my broadsheet paper.
He gets met by the waiter who attentively asks him how his day has been. “What would you like, sir?” he says, and he gets met by a question this time: “What is the best drink for a sore throat?” I would probably go for a Lemsip, mate, is what he should say, but he suggests a whiskey and water instead. Huh? A whiskey and water? It’s a good job this guy isn’t a doctor or he’d be giving out beer on prescription.
I’ve ordered another cup of tea and he’s bought me another two slices of cinnamon cake. So that is my tip for you: if you want some free cinnamon cake then have a £6.50 tea at The Ritz.
Four hours later… I’ve just found out what the turn-down service is. Imagine that you’ve hired a servant to do a load of unnecessary things for you… that is basically what it is. First of all she peels back the bed covers, then she puts a fresh pair of slippers by the bed and a glass of iced water on the table. Then she goes and hangs up your jacket that you’ve lazily dumped on the sofa. It’s all highly embarrassing… I’m a grown man for chrissakes. She’s like a mother and a nurse all rolled into one, making sure that there are no monsters under the bed. But she’s getting well paid I suppose, so I guess it’s all right. She doesn’t mind. But I must remember to have a quick tidy up before she comes back tomorrow. I can’t have her hanging up my clothes.
I’m sitting in the restaurant having breakfast now. Very nice. Lots of pink and white tables, flowers everywhere and waiters in their tails. Lots of chandeliers and pastel frescos and a giant gold statue at the end. You have to dress up to get in. I’ve never dressed up for cornflakes before. (I’m being serious – if you don’t wear a jacket then they insist on lending you one from their wardrobe round the back.)
All of the food is wheeled out on a silver service with lots of pots and plates and bowls of jam and pans of sculpted butter. I’ve got three thousand knives and forks and big spoons and little spoons, plus a few glasses and cups. I’ve got a bread knife, a butter knife, a cheese knife plus two more knives that I haven’t got a clue about (a Rice Krispies knife?). That is a hell of a lot of washing-up for just one person. My waiter is just about the nicest person I have ever met and I get the impression that he never stops smiling – like someone has smacked him round the face with a bunch of flowers. He’s pouring out the coffee, pouring out the milk, putting a napkin on my lap, fetching the newspaper. If I asked them to blow my nose then I reckon he’d do it.
A steady stream of sleepy suits and grey-flecked hairdos walk in with the Financial Times hooked over the crook of their elbow. They look like captains of industry – the movers and shakers of the business world. Two guys behind me are currently discussing emerging markets in the third world, in between mouthfuls of bacon. Then a middle-aged couple walks in, all goggle-eyed and smiling like they are in a dream. Oh my lord, they are saying, this sure beats breakfast at McDonalds.
Evening meal now… this is the life. If you ever want to propose to your missus then dinner at The Ritz will seal the deal, for sure. Talk about glamour! There’s a string quartet striking up outside the Palm Court and it’s all yellow lamplights and flickering candles to set the mood. All the diners are waltzing in with posh frocks and jewellery. They are almost dancing to the tables, and I’m reminded of that scene in the Blues Brothers when they go inside that posh place and start flicking bread rolls about. That is me. I am the lowlife. I am the one who doesn’t belong… but maybe no one does. Maybe we are all playing the same game.
The waiter starts me off with three little canapés that look like works of art and it’s almost a shame to eat them (but I do). Then some coffee and wine and fancy little toasts. Then he’s like a one-man Red Arrows display team as he swaps all the knives and forks around in a flash (you’ve got to use the right knives and forks for dinner). Everything has its own antique silver pot: the salt, rock salt, pepper, white sugar, brown sugar, milk, mustard, butter… I’ve already got about three thousand pots and plates on my table and he hasn’t served up the food yet.
When dinner finally arrives it is what I call a ‘modern art’ meal: a pencil-sized piece of fish, three slices of carrot (not a joke – I counted them) and a few spots of colourful sauce dribbled artistically around the plate. Very nice though – one of the best meals I’ve ever tasted – but it looked like it should have been in art gallery rather than on a plate. If you were starving hungry then you’d be going home with a rumbling stomach.
The evening ends with a string quartet playing jaunty waltzes in Palm Court. Then it’s off to bed and back to reality.
London: A Visitor’s Guide
Have you seen our guidebook? We take you inside the hotels, sleep in the rooms, eat in the restaurants, and then tell you all about it
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