Watching the Queen Elizabeth’s ‘Household Cavalry’ dressed in colorful tunics, plumed helmets and shining breastplates atop immaculately groomed horses gliding leisurely towards Buckingham Palace is an eye-catching experience – especially seen from the comfort of the breakfast room of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park.
Boasting they have the only hotel adjoining the park, officials have taken full advantage of their prime location so guests can enjoy full frontal views of rich foliage and winding pathways peopled by cyclists, joggers and – around 10 am – smartly-dressed horsemen in full regalia on their way to changing the palace guard.
This, however, is just one of the advantages of a stay at this impressive five-star Knightsbridge hotel featuring 167 rooms and 25 suites on the outer edge of central London.
An immediate sense of elegance filters down as one gazes at the brown-brick turreted façade and as red-coated doormen relieve you quickly of your bags. It comes as no surprise to learn this towering building originated as a palatial gentleman’s club in the 1880s with fancy rooms for the cigar-smoking, brandy-sipping, billiard-playing elite before opening as the Hyde Park Hotel at the turn of the 20th century. Damaged by fire, it became the Mandarin Oriental in 1996 after undergoing an estimated 60 million pound renovation.
Entering the lobby is by means of a series of smooth stone steps, either side of which sit two bronze statues of solemn, all-seeing Buddha. Immediately ahead stands a massive open fireplace decorated with glass vases resplendent with bright flowers behind which are Edwardian artifices of marble columns and archways, gilded plasterwork and grand wrought iron staircases.
A welcome drink of blended lemongrass, sage and rosemary tea proves most refreshing and permits our first glance into the Mandarin Bar, with its tan leather and gold velvet easy chairs, silk cushions and line of colorful bottles behind a frosted glass wall.
Our room, 508, a high-ceilinged junior suite, mixes traditional English and Oriental interiors, an interesting blend that characterizes much of this hotel. The former is reflected in diverse wall-decorations, ranging from a framed 19th century treatise on marriage and falsehood, liberty, pleasure and recreation to color caricatures in amusing golf scenes and sketches of a villa near the Firth of Clyde. Furnishings included a writing desk, a burgundy-colored sofa and armchair, a red and black lacquered Chinese-style cabinet and a coffee table, all highlighted by beige carpeting with decorative red borders. A narrow, step-on balcony offered views on one side along South Kensington towards the iconic dome of Harrods illuminated at night by sparkling fairy lights and on the other to the London Eye, the English capital’s giant Ferris, or Millennium, wheel. Immediately across the street stands a Harvey Nichols store. In total, the hotel offers 14 different room categories ranging from a ‘Courtyard’ or ‘Knightsbridge’ room to ‘Mandarin’ junior suite, two-bedroom ‘Imperial’ suite and the ‘Royal’ suite.
Dining options include traditional British cuisine at ‘Dinner by Heston Blumenthal’ featuring so-called ‘forgotten dishes’ such as spiced pigeon with ale, or the more informal French bistro style at ‘Bar Boulud’ based on Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud’s creations. The ‘Rosebery Lounge’ serves traditional afternoon tea and champagne cocktails.
Highlight of breakfast is the variety of choice, including Chinese and Japanese menu options, the former featuring plain, pork or chicken congee, steamed Dim Sum and fried pork or chicken noodles while the latter includes grilled salmon, rolled omelet, Miso soup, pickled vegetables, dried seaweed and Tofu with ginger. Weather permitting, throughout the summer, guests can eat alfresco on a terrace bordering the park.
Sports aficionados can indulge in the hotel’s 17-meter twin lane, stainless-steel heated swimming pool and the fully-equipped fitness center while in eight treatment rooms a variety of massages and facials are offered.
Not only is the location of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park convenient for the South Kensington museums, West End restaurants and theater, Hyde Park and boating on the Serpentine but making it even more so is the fact that a metro station is a mere half-block away, so there’s no need to hitch a lift from a passing horseman.