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Putting on the Ritz - London calling
Puttin' On The Ritz
If walls could talk, the London Ritz Hotel would have many tales to tell. Tales of royalty, artists, celebrities, writers, politicians, diplomats and intrigue.
And few establishments have a name so identifiable that it enters the language, creates a place in the dictionary.
Concise Oxford - Ritzy - high class, luxurious – ostentatiously smart.
You’d expect the founder, Cesar Ritz, to be gentry. On the contrary, he began life as a Swiss peasant who at 17 became a waiter in a Paris restaurant. His first job, at 15, was apprentice wine water. He was soon sacked. "You'll never make anything of yourself in the hotel business," pronounced his employer. "It takes a special knack, a special flair... you haven't got it."
But he had a dream, visualising ownership of hotels where guests would be spoiled, pampered, indulged. He’s credited with creating the saying ‘the customer is always right’. He’d be pleased to know at the London Ritz his vision is still splendid.
The Ritz is not just a hotel; it’s a legend an institution. Situated on Piccadilly, near Fortnum and Mason, close by stylish boutiques and restaurants, it’s only a short walk across Green Park to check if the neighbours are home at Buckingham Palace.
From the moment you whirl through the revolving doors on Arlington Street - yes the same doors through which monarchs and luminaries are ushered, life is transformed. Step into the elegant entrance hall, ablaze with floral arrangements and the greeting by porters is warm, welcoming
Hall porter Michael De Cozar is a gem. His genuine courtesy and professionalism shine through, and once he and the staff know your name they remember you as they welcome or farewell you throughout the day
I confess to having to pinch myself. I’m feeling famous and important just by being here. After all, the staff to guest ratio is two staff to every guest room. And how many hotels have their own gilder on staff? Shakespeare take note – In this establishment - all that glisters really is gold.
Small by some standards, the hotel has 133 rooms or suites and no two are alike. In 1995 there was a complete refurbishment, keeping and enhancing the Louis XV1 style of unique furnishings, antique paintings, gilded friezes, deep carpets, rich heavy curtains and bathrooms panelled in marble.
World Famous Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea is taken in the Palm Court. This sense of occasion is highlighted by the décor and ambience. Ionic columns, rosy pink coloured chairs, marble tables.
The light is often described as the most flattering in Europe, deliberately chosen by Cesar Ritz to enhance the complexion - perfect, especially for women of a certain age. Thanks Cesar, I’m glowing.
Steaming tea is sipped from floral china cups. A selection of freshly cut crust-less finger sandwiches, egg and mustard and cress, smoked ham, cream cheese and chives, smoked salmon and the most traditional of all - cucumber.
When you’ve almost had your fill, warm, freshly baked scones, arrive with time-honoured jam and clotted cream. Then cakes and pastries - wicked, bite-sized, melt-in-mouth creations.
All this while a pianist plays music from an earlier era - There were angels dining at the Ritz and a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.
It’s all so civilised, so English, echoing nostalgia of days gone by.
This is a must for visitors to London and children are welcomed. There are several sittings throughout the afternoon and evening. Reservations are necessary and gift vouchers are available.
The Palm Court manager says it’s not an unusual request is for an engagement ring to be dropped into a glass of champagne and served midway through the tea ceremony.
I can’t think of a more desirable way to pop the question especially if the ring has been purchased on the premises.
There’s a stunning collection of jewellery and watches designed for Ritz Fine Jewellery, just inside the Piccadilly entrance.
Again Cesar Ritz inspired a trend by inviting jewellers of renown to exhibit their wares at his hotel.
The Ritz restaurant is magnificent – the painted ceiling, reminiscent of the most perfect summer day, is circled by eight chandeliers, linked together by gilded garlands.
Mirrors reflect the décor and sophistication - marble columns, shimmering glass, the golden life size figures of Thames and the Ocean. Who needs food?
Of course dining here is an experience, for the cuisine, the presentation, the attentive staff. Prince Charles is an avid admirer and granted the Warrant for banqueting and catering services to the Ritz; the first hotel to receive one.
The restaurant often offers a dining experience combined with tickets to the theatre or an art exhibition.
The Rivoli bar is the place to see or be seen. It’s so relaxing here it’s easy to miss the décor. Huge gold leaf shells light the ceiling.
Lalique panels of classical figures adorn the pillars. The bas reliefs were carved especially – the chandeliers made in Turkey, are threaded with strings of light for extra sparkle.
If Walls could Talk
Back to the past and its intrigues: imagine eavesdropping on this conversation.
It’s 1934 and Thelma, Lady Furness, mistress to the Prince of Wales, is lunching at the Ritz with Wallis Simpson. Lady Furness is about to leave for a trip to the States.
Wallis states, quite sincerely of course - “Oh, Thelma, the little man (the Prince) is going to be so lonely.”
“Well dear,” Thelma replies, “you look after him while I’m away Wallis. See that he does not get into any mischief.”
Wallis didn’t bat an eyelid. Taking Thelma at her word she looked after the prince with virtuosity. When Thelma returned her telephone calls to HRH were not accepted.
In 1936 the Prince, who would have been crowned Edward V111, abdicated. He declared he would not be King without the woman he loved, Wallis, by his side.
These walls abound with many such stories. The Ritz is one of the world’s truly great hotels, luxurious, elegant and traditional.
An online gift shop and voucher service is available. Twitter has recently been introduced.
“When you travel a lot, places can tend to blur one into another. There is only one Ritz.
More info - www.theritzlondon.com www.visitbritain.com