“When I pass through the revolving doors into the glamorous lobby of Claridge’s in London, I always feel a thrill. You enter a world of sophistication and wonderful service… Claridge’s is my ultimate treat.” - Lulu Guinness
Visiting Claridge’s is always special, but during the festive season it takes on a certain kind of magic.
One of London’s most glamorous and longest-established hotels, Claridge’s started life as a single house ran by William and Marianne Claridge.
They ambitiously bought the adjoining five buildings in 1854 and the hotel was transformed into the art deco masterpiece that it is today.
Favoured by Royalty and distinguished figures of every generation including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Bing Crosby… The Queen! In 1945 Winston Churchill and his wife Lady Clementine moved into Claridge's penthouse suite during the war.
The interior is opulent and grand. More so at Christmas. The art deco revolving door takes you inside to the legendary black and white marble lobby with the famous sweeping staircase, once a turning area for horse-drawn carriages.
An open fireplace and the stunning Christmas trees capture the magic of the festive season.
Each year Claridge’s ask a famous designer to design the Christmas tree, putting their own unique mark on it. Chanel's genius Karl Lagerfeld was entrusted with creating the 2017 masterpiece.
His version is an inverted, 16-foot-high tree with silver gilded roots, topped with a mirrored star and hung with traditional icey lametta and snowflake decorations. It's been a huge hit and is surely the most Instagrammed Christmas tree of 2017. It's worth a visit to see this alone.
But I had an even better excuse to visit.... I took my mum for Festive Afternoon Tea. A special Christmas themed Afternoon Tea complete with festive treats, Champagne and Christmas pudding.
We were shown through to the Foyer where Afternoon Tea is served. A pianist and harpist played gentle Christmas carols over the clinking of bone china and peoples appreciative “oh’s” and “ah’s over the cakes being served.
Champagne was poured overhead while we deliberated over our choice from over 24 different tea leaves. I chose ‘White Silver Tip’, a precious white tea from the mountains of Fujian in far eastern China.
Mum went with ‘Cloud,’ a black tea from the LaKyrsiew tea garden in the forgotten forest region of Meghalaya.
Our finger sandwiches arrived, each and every one as delicious as the last, so much so we accept the offer of a second round.
All made to precision the Claridge’s way, perfect equal lengths and the filling accounting for one third of the sandwich width.
The scones were warm, light and golden. Just the right size.
While we contemplated how we would survive the final round, a flaming Christmas Pudding surprise arrived. Extinguished by a rich brandy sauce.
Then the cakes….
Roasted plum frangipane tart.
Kalingo dark chocolate mousse.
Golden bauble macaroon.
Service was exceptional and carefully orchestrated, the theatre of Claridge's is provided by the staff, ever attentive but equally discrete.
You only have to raise your eyes for a nanosecond to catch their attention. Our waitress, Renata, was perfect, nothing was too much trouble.
Claridge’s is very careful about respecting and protecting its tradition. Everything is done just so. The fire in the lobby is lit at 6am sharp, the Christmas puddings are made in August to a century-old secret recipe. The hotel apparently has the oldest working lift in the UK. Installed in 1896 it is the only lift in London still operated by an attendant.
In the increasingly competitive world of luxury hotels, success depends on the aptitude of the business to evolve to meet new challenges. Something Claridge’s has done for over 150 years.
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often” - Winston Churchill
Claridge's sets itself apart by excelling in customer service. Anything is possible. Imagine a world where no request is too outrageous, the word "no” doesn't exist. Even the “Ladies Room” is a place of art, complete with a lady who turns the taps on for you and passes you your hand-towel.
Dame Barbara Cartland was a regular at Claridge’s, rumour has it that when she was on her way for Afternoon Tea the hotel would have her secretary confirm whether she was in pink or turquoise, so they could lay her table in matching colours.
A Japanese pop star once booked into the penthouse, costing nearly £7,000 a night, for a whole month. Four days before arriving her team demanded her suite have a Jacuzzi. “It doesn’t have one,” replied General Manager Thomas Kochs, “but it will.” The next day the bath was removed and a Jacuzzi installed.
Claridge’s isn’t just a hotel. It’s an experience. A wonderful one at that. You’re made to feel like the most important guest while you’re there and you leave feeling utterly special. As Spencer Tracey said, “Not that I intend to die, but when I do, I don’t want to go to heaven, I want to go to Claridge’s.”
The Festive Afternoon Tea runs until 1st January 2018.