Gilded glamour: Dining at the newly-renovated Dorchester

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The Dorchester is a London institution. The five-star luxury hotel, proudly overlooking Park Lane, has long been a bolthole for the rich and famous. When it first opened in 1931, it was a regular haunt for literary stars including poet Cecil Day-Lewis. The 1940s saw the late Queen Elizabeth II frequent the grand dame on several occasions – most notably the day before announcing her engagement to Prince Philip – while James Bond author Ian Fleming was also a regular guest. 20 years later, the hotel became a hotspot for the Hollywood elite, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton often found tucked away in its bars and restaurants during the 1960s. 

It’s a storied history the hotel is no doubt proud of. And, until a few years ago, it wore its 1930s furnishings like a badge of honour. But as modern hoteliers began to crowd Park Lane, bringing with them their infinity pools, lavish bedrooms and contemporary art, what once felt like old-world glamour began to just feel dated. 

In an effort to reinvent its image, The Dorchester is currently undergoing its most extensive renovation in 30 years. The primary phase of the facelift, which was announced in December 2021, has overhauled the first three floors and seen the opening of the new Artists’ Bar, as well as the relaunch of the Promenade restaurant and Vesper Bar. 

Naturally, the hotel has brought in the big guns for the makeover; namely a (very) large cheque and the interior design nous of Martin Brudinzki and Pierre-Yves Rochon. Has it worked? We stop by to find out… 

The Artists’ Bar

the dorchester the artist's bar

Access to the Artists’ Bar is via the Promenade restaurant – and it’s a stroll that makes it clear how the latter got its name. Situated at the far end of the hotel’s grand hall, the journey from the lobby through the restaurant and to the bar feels expressly designed to allow both you and your fellow guests to see and be seen. Be sure to don your finest for this gentle saunter to the first destination in The Dorchester’s new gastronomic journey. 

Entrance to the Artists’ Bar is heralded by celebrated musician Liberace’s iconic mirrored piano. In a bold display of showmanship, the vintage instrument is not just for admiring – before long a pianist arrives to serenade guests with a couple of choruses of Nat King Cole’s L-O-V-E. It’s nearly enough to distract from the room’s centrepiece: a glowing bar fringed by pastel blue stools. It’s grand, gorgeous and quite literally golden, thanks in equal parts to a crystal chandelier hanging above and Pierre-Yves Rochon’s opulent colour palette. 

Soft lighting gleams from Lalique crystal objet and the mirrored walls and ceilings, but it’s the impressive collection of artwork that really takes pride of place. On one wall you’ll find an Ann Carrington inspired by the Queen Elizabeth II postage stamp: a large silhouette of the late monarch made using only hand sewn mother of pearl buttons. At the opposite end, Ewan Eason has created an aerial-view city map of Hyde Park rendered entirely in gold leaf with The Dorchester at its centre. 

The cocktails served at the Artists’ Bar mirror the artworks. Stamp Duty pays homage to Carrington’s royal postage stamp via Doorly’s 3 Barbados rum, Oloroso sherry, and homemade English breakfast tea butter syrup. However, it’s the Illusion champagne cocktail – with tarragon Belvedere, lemon verbena and a single olive – that takes the crown for me. Canapes, meanwhile, champion British-caught seafood, with options including several varieties of caviar, Irish rock and native oysters, sea bass ceviche, and a selection of sashimi and sushi. 

The Promenade 

If dinner and drinks is the order of the day (and, quite frankly, it always should be), then you’ll be escorted, post-cocktail, to The Promenade restaurant. Flanked by striking black pillars along its length, a white and sage green ceiling is finished with gold leaf accents, highlighting the building’s period features in a way that is simultaneously stately and intimate. 

It’s clear the dining room isn’t huge. But The Promenade was never intended to be the hotel’s culinary mainstay – it already has a robust offering in The Grill at The Dorchester, a three Michelin-starred eponymous French restaurant by Alain Ducasse and Cantonese dining at China Tang. Instead, The Promenade acts as an all-day, casual dining space, offering indulgent breakfasts of honey-drizzled buttermilk pancakes, hearty lunches, and an evening menu accompanied by an extensive wine list and fine champagnes. 

While the atmosphere is more laid-back than at most Michelin star eateries (from my table I spy a couple grabbing dinner while still tapping away on laptops, a father-and-son enjoying a few drinks and another couple companionably lost in books while waiting for their food to arrive), there is never a point where I don’t feel looked after. Impeccable service is the expectation at The Dorchester, and while the standard never slips, the team is relaxed and friendly rather than formal. 

the dorchester the promenade

Image: Tina Hillier

So, onto the menu. The British fare is the work of culinary director Martyn Nail, one of the industry’s most accomplished talents, having previously spent 36 years at Claridge’s. There’s a wide but not overwhelming selection: among the eight starters are highlights including Cornish crab salad with quail egg and caviar, and beetroot tartare. We opt for a duck terrine with sourdough and a tuna tartare: delicious but light before substantial main courses. There are soups and sandwiches on offer as lighter options, but we head straight for the meat section, choosing a roast rack of lamb with pea puree and dauphinoise potatoes and tournedos of Aberdeen Angus beef with ox cheek and horseradish. Both arrive perfectly pink, but it’s the dauphinoise potatoes we can’t get enough of, so much so we ordered it twice. A creamy, cheesy bowl of delight. 

A tip: if you’re not usually a dessert person, it’s worth saving room for The Dorchester’s signature chocolate (a 68 per cent dark chocolate crémeux with cacao nib ice cream) or the praline mille-feuille. So popular are these two dishes that our waiter guessed our choices. Being predictable paid off. 

Vesper Bar

vesper bar the dorchester

It’s nightcap time and, for the final destination of my visit to The Dorchester, I’m off to the Vesper Bar. It’s a quiet Tuesday in February, so it’s no surprise that the bar isn’t heaving, but that does mean I’m afforded a great view of the interiors. Designed by Martin Brudnizki, the bar’s new look is inspired by the hotel’s 1930s origins. A period palladium leaf ceiling is a show-stopper, while turquoise and forest green furnishings are set against Art Deco carpets and dark wood finishings. 

The name, Vesper, honours The Dorchester’s aforementioned connections with James Bond and its author Ian Fleming. Culture vultures will know that Bond wakes up in a suite at The Dorchester on his 45th birthday and, during the 1960s, the production company behind the James Bond films, EON, had an office at the hotel. What you might not know, however, is that over the decades The Dorchester has welcomed all six James Bonds, 14 Bond Girls, four M’s and nine Bond villains as guests. Paying homage to Britain’s most celebrated spy, the Vesper Bar opens at 5pm every day for martinis which, as the cocktail menu says, ‘is how you start an evening’. 

Other cocktail highlights include the Gilded Three – a serve inspired by a new Sophie Coryndon artwork hanging in the lobby – and the Busterkeys cocktail, named after Liberace’s first show. Honouring one of the hotel’s best-loved guests, Elizabeth Taylor — who stayed at the hotel no fewer than 37 times — the Bessie Mae cocktail recalls her nickname and comes complete with bath-like bubbles floating on top. For me, though, it’s an exemplary espresso martini.

That said, I’m already looking forward to another evening at this revived grand dame with a Vesper martini in hand. Shaken, not stirred. 


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