Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Daily Mail travel editor Mark Palmer gives his verdict o Britain's most expensive hotel Bulgari

The bedroom comes complete with a Hollywood mirror and en-suite bathroom covered with mirrors

The Bulgari restaurant lacks atmosphere with 'harsh' lighting and 'appalling' acoustics

A suite at the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge, London, which is the most expensive place to stay in Britain at a minimum of £850 per night

The Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge is situated opposite the One Hyde Park block of flats that sell for tens of millions each

The Bulgari adds 20 per cent VAT on to the cost of its rooms, a 12.5 per cent service charge in its restaurant, plus an additional five per cent charge for 'backroom staff'

The hotel boasts a 'rather lovely' 25m pool and a spa with 12 treatment rooms

The Italian man at the table beside us has just ordered a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne.
His leggy date isn’t the slightest bit impressed as she fidgets with a designer bag and adjusts one of several sparkling bangles on her wrist. She’s bored.
‘Could I look at the wine list?’ I ask. And there it is: Dom Perignon at £280 a bottle. Nothing odd about that, perhaps, in this part of town, but then after a couple of sips the man orders a bottle of white Burgundy for around the same price.
My wife and I reckon his bill for dinner alone will come to around £900.

Benvenuti to the brand new Bulgari Hotel in London’s Knightsbridge, the most expensive place to stay in Britain — where the cheapest room comes in at around £850 and that’s before you’ve even had a cup of cocoa, never mind the almost obligatory dispensing of £5 notes to grovelling staff as they press the lift buttons on your behalf and generally buzz about like pesky wasps. This is conspicuous wealth gone mad.

By comparison, the Ritz costs £402 and the Savoy £414 — and the fact that the Bulgari is practically full every night (including the £14,400 penthouse suite) tells you everything you need to know about those pockets of modern Britain that have been turned into temples of vulgarity, attended by flashy foreigners who pay no taxes here but inflate the price of everything for the rest of us.
Good taste — once something this country did reasonably well — has too often been swallowed up by crass monuments to bling that make a mockery of the Prime Minister’s now infamous sentiment that ‘we are all in this together’.
The Vulgari, sorry, Bulgari, is just across the road from the One Hyde Park block of flats — some of which sell for tens of millions — built by the brash property developers Nick and Christian Candy.
A new offshoot of the Italian jewellery house, Bulgari has sister hotels in Milan and Tokyo and I dare say more are planned now that it’s part of the French luxury group, LVMH, which paid £2.8  billion for the company last year, adding it to a stable of brand names that includes Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Veuve Clicquot and Moet & Chandon.

Head honcho is Frenchman Bernard Arnault, regarded as the richest man in Europe with an estimated fortune of £26  billion. Certainly, you have to be very rich indeed to stay at one of his hotels.
You also have to put up with claustrophobic service from the ever-zealous staff, achingly modern decor that will look naff in a few years’ time, and a thump of music that feels like a constant hammer blow to the head.
When we arrive, the hotel manager, his assistant and other members  of staff in dreary black tunics welcome us in a congratulatory sort of way — as if we’ve won the lottery and are about to shower them with the proceeds.
The lobby, with its black granite floors, polished mahogany and self-conscious security men with radio earpieces, looks like one of Bulgari’s 300-odd stores, complete with glass cabinets showing off some of the chain’s priciest merchandise.
The hotel sinks six floors underground. There’s a subterranean ballroom, a 47-seater cinema, a rather lovely 25m pool with glittering green-and-gold mosaics, and a spa with 12 treatment rooms (£220 for a ‘muscle relaxer ritual’).

There’s a glossy sheen to everything, perhaps so you can look at your own glorified reflection from all possible angles.
We perch at the bar and order cocktails before taking the shiny steel staircase downstairs to the dining room. There’s no view, of course, in the basement — apart from the occasional sighting of high-heeled blondes walking up and down the stairs as if hired to do so.
In some restaurants it’s regarded as an affectation to have your iPhone or BlackBerry on the table.
Here, you’re clearly an under-achiever if it isn’t parked near the silver pepper pot, flashing at you all night long.
The lighting is harsh, the acoustics appalling. What on earth does the dress code of ‘elegant smart casual’ mean and how, at these prices, can you insist that tables booked before 7.45pm must be vacated after two hours?
We notice two skinny Middle Eastern women who spend their entire dinner texting and don’t look up when a waiter brings them their next lettuce leaf.
In fact, one of the striking features of Bulgari’s soulless restaurant is no one seems to be having fun.
In addition to the main menu, there’s a list of ‘bites to share to start your meal’ and a pencil. You’re meant to tick the boxes opposite the dishes you want, rather like patients in hospital: seven little mouthfuls come in at £28.

We go straight for the a la carte. Some of the choices have symbols indicating they are ‘recommended by Bodyism, our resident personal trainers’.
My anchovy salad starter falls into this category and costs £14. Then I go for seared John Dory at £34.
My wife can’t find anything she wants to eat, and so opts for a plate of spinach to begin and some ‘tomato variations’ pasta to follow.
The waiters are so greasy you can practically smell the Brylcreem — and yet it takes an age for any food to arrive. When it does, there’s nothing much to it.
Our room is fine (if you like the idea of a silver carpet and a velvet armchair) and the bed is wonderfully comfortable, but the window looks straight out onto the side of a mansion block.
Across the way, we can see a man lounging on a sofa watching television. In fact, we can watch the 10 o’clock news on his television and he can surely watch our 42in plasma TV if we open the curtains wide enough.
Then I see some Bulgari Hotel business cards on the desk with my name on them, under which is written ‘My residence in London’. This is getting silly.
When I wake the next morning, I immediately start to fret about the bill, so we keep breakfast to an absolute minimum. I have a coffee, my wife a smoothie — and that will be £19 thank you very much. 
Once we’ve packed, we can’t wait to get back out on the street. I’d rather be shouted at by a taxi driver than fawned over by another Bulgari flunkey.
There are more smiles and handshakes at check-out but, first, there’s disbelief on my part.
Our bill comes to more than £1,100 for a couple of cocktails, two glasses of wine, a two-course dinner (one of which was a bowl of spinach), a  coffee, a smoothie and a double bed for the night.
The manager watches as I peruse the bill. First, I spot a separate VAT item of 20 per cent on the £670 room charge. Then there’s a 12.5 per cent service charge on both our visits to the restaurant, plus an additional 5  per cent service for, well, what exactly?
‘That’s for the backroom staff,’ says the receptionist, sheepishly. ‘I’m very sorry but you will have to remove all the service charges,’ I tell her.
She must think I’m stingy, but I can’t bring myself to explain that anything over £1,000 will take me over my credit card limit.
The manager hopes my wife and I will return soon. For our part, however, we hope the Bulgari packs up and takes most of its customers with it.
Now that would be a good reason to splash out on some bubbly.

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