The London cabbie who dropped off my dinner companion smiled when she asked for 45 Park Lane: “In the 1960s it was the original Playboy Club,” the cabbie told her. “We always sat on the top of the double-decker so we got to see the ladies.”
Since the departure of the Playboy bunnies (a new club recently opened on the corner of Brick Street and Old Park Lane), the building has been given over to apartments, before opening last Thursday as the newest hotel from the Dorchester Collection. Called 45 Park Lane, it is hopping with eager staff.
They are dressed in hot-pink and black uniforms, the room maids in Thomas Tait-designed trouser suits rather than the Dorchester’s little grey dresses with white, frilled aprons. “This is the first real guest dust,” says the maid doing turndown. “I've been practising for two months.” I’m impressed, right down to how she lines up the shampoo labels in the Ambarino marble bathroom.
But then the Dorchester Collection has always been good on branding – polished, omnipresent – and nor have I ever questioned its service. At 45 Park Lane also, the e-butler is quick to fix my internet connection (acceptable teething problems since the hotel was in soft opening its first week), and within 10 minutes of the blip, I’m online. Such is the able management from the get-go, afforded by the fact the eponymous London grande dame that gives this luxury global hotel company its name sits just across from 45 Park Lane’s sparkling glass lobby.
Yet while no more than 30 metres separate the two properties, they’re anything but similar. For 45 Park Lane’s name derives not just from its Mayfair location but serendipitously indicates the room count – 45 rooms and suites over seven floors, plus the penthouse, which makes it a fifth the size of the Dorchester.
As such, it’s tempting to call it the Dorchester’s “boutique” sister. Yet that description might also be misleading, the phrase denoting that late 1990s phenomenon of design-driven, owner-run small hotels. I would, therefore, go with Wolfgang Puck’s description. The Austrian-born, Los Angeles-based chef has launched Cut, his first restaurant in Europe, on the hotel’s ground floor: “It’s a small hotel,” he says “and the restaurant is the focal point. Whereas at the Dorchester the lobby is the focal point.”
Sometimes I walk around the lobby of the Dorchester and feel as if it’s a catwalk. The style is golden, ornate and declarative, attracting a clientele who love the showy traditionalism, while 45 Park Lane has a more modern, even European feel: muscular and contemporary. Frenchman Thierry Despont is behind the aesthetic. He has eschewed patterning and fuss for warm colours and textures – camels, pistachios, oranges, leathers – and brought in art deco-style chrome, including rounding off the exterior corners of the building with elegant “fins”. But, more than anything, Despont’s design puts the restaurant centre-stage.
As soon as you enter the hotel, Cut reveals its spirit. Conversation spills out with clever acoustics and back-wall mirrors amplifying the effects through the double-storey space. Tellingly, the maître-d’s desk is more pronounced than the hotel reception (which is tucked around a corner), and the energy of restaurant staff (a Puck signature) predominates (most notably the sassy female sommelier). On first outing, Cut seems more Le Caprice than Ducasse, with its lack of fine dining pomposity. With such character, it’s also easy to envisage a new venue for the power breakfast to compete with the Wolseley’s hold of this lucrative London market.
But for it to match Puck’s claims, and the very high prices, the food better be damn nigh perfect. A pity, then, that my boiled egg at breakfast arrives so grossly underdone. While it would be amusing to say they can’t boil the proverbial, the memory of the viscous white is, in the end, subsumed by the out-and-out success of dinner.
Since it bills itself as a modern American steak restaurant, we try three of the signature steaks: a 4oz prime black angus from Kansas, a Casterbridge angus from Devon, and Australian wagyu (£48) grilled over hardwood and charcoal, then finished under a 650° broiler. The sautéed dover sole (£39) is masterfully executed with a buttery meunière sauce piqued with preserved lemon, while the taste of foie gras on rye, with date-tamarind chutney, more preserved lemon and Tunisian spices (£17), delivers a boldly calibrated mouthful of sweet and salty, cream, crunch and tang.
So even if the music in the mezzanine bar recalled the home cassette mixes I made in the 1980s, 45 Park Lane will probably fill up quickly. This is not only because the room count is small, nor because the light-soaked interiors will put one in a much better mood (each corner Park Lane Suite has no less than 14, metre-wide windows). Nor will it be because of any blonde bunnies proffering martinis. With about 70 covers, I’d wager a room reservation (might soon be the only sure way of getting your hit of Puck’s creations – lusty, lovely, very expensive and while impeccably executed, also a first for the Dorchester Collection in being so confidently, surprisingly down-to-earth.
Rooms from £395 excluding VAT, www.45parklane.com