Originally built as the Metropole Hotel, its location close to the Palace of Westminster and government offices in Whitehall meant it was commandeered in both world wars. After the Second World War, it was purchased by the Ministry of Defence and used as government offices until it was declared surplus to requirements and sold by Crown Estates in 2007.
It was in 2007 that a meticulous and most complex four-year restoration and renovation process was started by Alfred Pisani and his family with the aim of transforming the ‘dormant’ palace corner building into one of London’s finest luxury hotels. However, the first two years were marked by a wave of controversies over the actual ownership of the future Corinthia Hotel London.
Corinthia Hotels is a brand of upscale and luxury hotels founded in Malta by immensely talented hotelier and entrepreneur Alfred Pisani and his family in 1962, first opening a fine dining restaurant, and later building their first hotel, the Corinthia Palace, Attard (a small town in Malta of less then 20.000 inhabitants). Pisani’s ambitions have taken the brand to iconic luxury heritage palace hotels in Budapest, St Petersburg, Malta and upscale larger size business hotels in Prague, Lisbon and Tripoli.
Projects under the Corinthia Hotels brand are now under development in Brussels, Bucharest and Dubai. The main shareholder of the company remains the Pisani family, with an important stake held by Dubai based Nakheel which has been instrumental especially for the expansion of the chain not only as a third party operator but also as an operator / owner.
I had the privilege to visit the property while it was still under construction with then CEO Tony Potter and Mr Pisani, for what is know as a ‘hat-on-tour’. While from the outside the building did not give away its interiors, it was the actual use of space that was utterly astonishing.
The bespoke custom-ordered Baccarat chandelier which adorns the grand lobby was actually being set up piece by piece (remember there is a one red dot). I would have never envisaged the magic atmosphere the chandelier will lend to an elegant space which is now serving Afternoon Tea – however with a slightly different approach and a focus on the luxury details.
Every single corner had a ‘story’ which Mr Pisani would so passionately elaborate on. I was speechless gazing at the gigantic luxury Spa and the collection of ultra-luxury themed Penthouses – still the finest such collection of Penthouses among any luxury hotel in London, including the duplex 462 sqm Royal Penthouse with its very own elevator. It is this particular collection that has made the hotel a favourite for movie makers and international celebrities performing in London. The views from the terraces of some of the Penthouses were priceless.
Also, I could not help but notice the quality of the materials, not to mention the actual craftsmanship, seemingly more appropriate for a most prestigious museum, not a hotel. The attention to details was unbelievable especially considering that each detail was conceived to achieve the ultimate goal of comfort and to please the eye with a WOW factor in mind – details such as a quiet AC with automatic temperature & speed control, soundproofing (indoor / outdoor) or the marble bathrooms with heated floors were carefully implemented.
However, having returned to the hotel about a year after opening, I realised that many of the spaces that on my first visit seemed to have that overt WOW factor, they actually turned out to be rather understated, with a sophisticated sleekness which had been achieved through carefully mastered details such as lighting. Practicality and functionality were also a priority – the hotel boasts two opposite entrances, one more for those accessing the two restaurants and the other one more for hotel guests, leading within a few steps to the Front Office and the Concierge.
The largest luxury Spa in London, an impressive corner shaped palace building and an incredible, two majestic restaurants with extremely high ceilings, a grand lobby could not be complete with a rare fine, The Garden Lounge, an exclusive outdoor space offering al fresco gathering and dining, with a bespoke humidor and terrarium style bar.
A dazzling array of gold, cream, red, terracotta and grey handcrafted mosaics by leading French artist Mathilde Jonquière adorns the columns and plinths whilst an elegant glass canopy provides cover, and an exotic mix of terrarium plants brings nature to the heart of the hotel creating an intimate outdoor space.
On my first stay at the hotel, I was assigned the River Suite, one of the most popular entry level suite categories, with Thames river views including London eye. Everything was ok, but due to several service glitches (understandable considering the time from opening), the stay turned out to be rather disappointed despite the stunning facilities. The two restaurants were typical hotel restaurants, one with a ‘standard’ Italian menu the other one busy only in the mornings because of the huge buffet breakfast. The two bars were inexistent.
The Spa was a good experience (again nothing to tell home about) in part overshadowed by a very noisy group of about 10 non-hotel guests, youngsters and kids screaming and jumping in the small heated lap pool. Used towels were everywhere with no-one bothering to pick them up. And I thought to myself – this must not have been what Mr Pisani had in mind for this fantastic property.
Then, for almost five years the property has remained in a ‘dormant’ state, running a reasonable RevPar with lower rates than most of the leading central London luxury hotels.
My second stay was kindled by curiosity, to be more precise I noticed an announcement confirming Thomas Kochs as the new General Manager at Corinthia London. I must admit this came as a surprise knowing Thomas from the Maybourne Group (Claridge’s, Connaught, The Berkeley – with over 14 years, his most notable position being that of General Manager of The Claridge’s, an iconic luxury hotel in Mayfair.
Knowing the ‘dormant’ years of Corinthia London, Thomas must have taken this as a professional challenge not to actually reposition but to position the hotel among the top luxury grand hotels of London, going after the likes of The Savoy, Four Seasons (both London properties) and even Rosewood London (which boasts rather small rooms and suites, given the building was previously operated as a Marriott Hotel).
Thomas’s recipe has been very simple: the overall service must be elevated to a much more personalised and genuine standard and the hotel must become a fine dining destination to engage predominantly with Londoners, thus putting it on the map of a possible (imminent – after my stay) Michelin star ranking. Also, Thomas realised that besides the collection of penthouses, rooms an suites have already become slightly dated and the hotel must make a powerful new statement that it boasts some of the best luxury suites in London.
With his effortless and calm manner, he achieved all the three seemingly daunting tasks with a set of flawless suites of the highest ultra-luxury standard (London Suite & Garden Suite) with improvements not only in terms of aesthetics but also in terms of facilities – even more quiet rooms, better beds (amazingly comfortable), higher Wifi speed, SmartTvs and touch controls. The furnishings were not in any way what I call a ‘masked’ upholstery change which many hotels call ‘renovations’ but brand new furniture pieces, most of them from prestigious Italian suppliers – the same applied to the lighting.
And over the summer the brand new restaurant, Kerridge’s Bar & Grill in partnership with Chef Tom Kerridge, not only an immensely talented Chef but also very charismatic but also with a rare eye for business and branding. In the new project Tom Kerridge also brought on the team of his two Michelin starred restaurant Hand & Flowers in Marlow, South Buckinghamshire, England (33 miles from central London).
Tom said that from Marlow he had brought the produce and inspiration for new dishes, and a relaxed and unstuffy eye for hospitality. “I want people who come here to have a big smile, feel full of brilliant food, and know that they have had a great time and can’t wait to come back.” It is this exact philosophy of ”affordable creative fine dining” in a sophisticated, yet ‘understated luxury’ ambiance.
Part of the experience is that people will feel a real connection with the food. There are real ales, a meat fridge in the room, bread and cheeses on display and, best of all, a beautiful rotisserie where we grill nearly half the main menu. So you don’t just sit at a table and get served courses, you can immerse yourself into the whole process of lunch and dinner.
What the Pisanis didn’t realise is that Thomas will completely redefine the CORINTHIA Hotels brand, an inspiration for the rest of the group and all future developments.
Thomas’ next task is the Spa which will hopefully no longer be operated by the same Spa company. The facilities are unbeatable by the Spa standards of any other luxury London hotel, with the exception of a rather small indoor heated swimming pool. The opportunities are endless and Thomas has very well understood that wellness like all other components of a successful luxury hotel is about being daring and innovative, making his team lead rather than follow.
But probably Thomas Kochs’ biggest achievement is building a human resources culture which did not exist before and that is for the staff to feel proud to be part of Corinthia London’s team and convey this to guests. I was most impressed by my housekeeper who told me how happy she was at Corinthia and how she had been feeling things were continuously improving. She loved the new London Suite, which we had a brief chat about.
Download here the latest podcast, just one of many brilliant initiatives of Corinthia London under the expert eye of Thomas Kochs
Oliver Petcu in London
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