Do you remember 1966? Can you tell me one thing that happened that year that doesn’t involve words, football or Germany? Labour won the election, that’s about all I can remember and I wasn’t even born. I’m pretty sure my mother was still an infant.
That’s less a comment about how young I am, you understand, and more about how young my dear mother was when she brought me into this world.
Words by Peter J Robinson
It is also the year that TP Bennett Architects completed an eighteen-story office block opposite Hyde Park. There is nothing that makes English Heritage want to attach a blue plaque more than precast concrete. Fear not, the errors of their ways were quickly swept away courtesy of Eric Parry Architects in 1998 with a £13.7 million pound renovation that would see the eighteen-story block transformed to today’s shining glory.
The Royal Lancaster Hotel holds an envious position on the north side of Hyde Park, offering its guests unfettered views across London’s open space and skyline. If you’re staying at the Lancaster, opt for something on the upper floors and with a decent view. You made the effort to pack a case and travel to the hotel, so make the effort to secure the best room the hotel has to offer.
We arrived and parked in the hotel’s bijou car park, a few floors above the bustling London streets and Lancaster Gate tube station. That is about as convenient as it gets. As we took the lift down to reception, I recall being impressed by the art deco features in the hotel. It had a distinctly glamorous 40s edge. The sprawling reception area was reminiscent of the Trump in SoHo, an equally impressive ‘lobby’. Having checked in we ascended the seventeen-or-so floors to our executive club room, with a vast view of West London and a bed that would no doubt take a fullback.
We settled into the room and took in the view over a few hours, stopping only to admire the marble and gold-adorned bathroom. The room came with all the standard amenities one expects from a modern London hotel: wifi, flat screen, air-conditioning, safe, power shower. But one particular item caught my eye: the eLite hairdryer, a remnant object of a bygone era. Imagine a vacuum cleaner tube on a large white box, fixed to blow out warm air – voila. Arguably it is a little more technically advanced than that, but if you are going to refurbish a hotel with modern amenities, perhaps revoke the 80s hairdryers. Although, that being said, today’s modern woman and metro man probably carry their own.
Having spent a few hours running around London, we decided to venture back to the hotel to change into our finery for dinner in the Nipa Thai restaurant. When we arrived , I felt appropriately dressed in a David Minns black three piece suit with white open-collared shirt. There was a large group of phillies immediately on our left upon arrival, having a very polite dinner. All dressed well. Sometime later that night, they would leave, giving way to a mixed bag of diners, wearing everything from flip flops to suits. Thus is the reality of eating in any restaurant without a dress code. Don’t let my elitist propensity lead you, though. We were greeted by the restaurant manager who escorted us to the top table at the head of the restaurant.
We didn’t need to see a wine list; I had been told about the restaurant’s Thai wine and so opted for a bottle of whatever the restaurant manager recommended. To be honest, when eating anything high in spice, I tend to forgo wine, as the dish is usually too overpowering. In this instance it was a worthy pairing, though. Like a smooth Bordeaux, only velvety.
We ordered the selection of the chef’s Thai starters: Tom Yum Koong soup, Keaw Nam Koong, Kaeng Kiew Warn Kai and Phad Kiew Warn Pla. I assume all of you speak the native tongue? No? Well, that’s prawn dumpling soup, chicken and aubergine curry and sea bass in green curry sauce. It was as good as it sounded.
Having eaten Thai food before, I knew what I wanted, but felt it appropriate to ask one of the geisha-grade waitresses what she felt we should order. She suggested that it would be right to order a starter, soup, salad, then curry dish. This quickly turned into a four course meal. Thank goodness the hotel was above us.
Sometime later, it felt a lot like we were in a time-lapse video. People would come, dine and disappear back into the hotel’s bar. We soaked up the atmosphere; the restaurant is beautifully decorated and it should be no surprise that it has earned two AA Rosettes for its precise and authentic cooking. It also holds the Thai Select award from the Thai Government for restaurants proven to have achieved the highest standards of quality and cuisine. I expect our delayed departure has as much to do with finding our way through four courses.
At the end of the meal, when all was cleared away, I decided that there might be room for the ice cream tod. This translates as ‘ice cream, deep fried’. I won’t ruin the surprise of how they do it; you should see for yourself. But it was immense. No wonder sales of deep fried Mars bars are so high north of the border.
Having enjoyed the warmth of the staff and the fine Thai food, it was time to retire, including a quick pit-stop to quaff some Taittenger at the hotel bar. When we finally reached the hotel room, after a lengthy sabbatical in the bar, there was little brain power to do more than stare at the lights across West London. It was also at that moment we realised that London’s historic double-decker buses aren’t red on the roof!
The Lancaster deserves your custom for the lights of the city alone.