THE CENTENARY OF THE RITZ
Forty years ago I made my first visit to The Ritz. It was for afternoon tea, which then cost the princely sum of ten shillings and sixpence. Shortly thereafter I returned for lunch, for three guineas. I have been returning regularly ever since. Why? Because I know of no other hotel in the world which offers so delightful a combination of style, elegance and luxury. To be in The Ritz, dressed properly and surrounded by others who have also taken the trouble to dress properly, reassures me that there is still some decency and order in this naughty world. In 2006 The Ritz celebrates its centenary, and I venture to suggest that its present excellence would have pleased the great César Ritz himself (pictured).
Much of that excellence is due to the service – formal, courteous and proper, and invariably friendly. I have met no one on the current staff of The Ritz whom I would hesitate to call a gentleman. In the entrance hall is John, a security man of firmness and modesty, who ensures that only decent folk are allowed to pass. Then we enter the Promenade, the domain of Yves Deret (pictured) – tall, charming and very French (having been born in the beautiful Loire Valley).
As we progress, to our left is the exquisite Palm Court. Here the ruler is Michael Kotb (pictured), an Egyptian of Pharoah-like dignity, who has made ‘Tea at The Ritz’ one of the most sought-after treats in London. When I used to pop in for tea, all those years ago, there would often be no one else in the Palm Court. Now, you must book well in advance and, at weekends, the first sitting for tea is, astonishingly, shortly after eleven o’clock in the morning. This popularity is entirely deserved, and those who have experienced the service provided by Mr Kotb and his team invariably leave with smiles on their faces.
So we arrive at the pink and gold confection which is one of the prettiest dining rooms in England, where Simon Girling (pictured, with the Chef) ensures that tradition and pleasure flourish hand-in-hand. Mr Girling and his assistants managers, Stuart Geddes and Pasquale Cosmai, have given me some of my happiest dining experiences in London – and I am aware that I am not always the easiest of guests. For sheer professionalism and good humour, you will not find better.
I have already made mention of sartorial propriety. The Ritz Restaurant is now the only hotel dining room known to me to insist upon tails for its waiting staff. I bemoan the collapse of standards elsewhere: I rejoice that they are maintained at The Ritz. (In the summer, the tailcoats are exchanged for cream jackets, which I dislike, for they make The Ritz look like everywhere else. I shall continue to lobby against them.) If, like me, you approve of starched collars, you will find them at The Ritz. Indeed, Mr Kotb of The Palm Court must be one of the few people in London to wear a stiff collar more frequently than I do myself. Three cheers for him, and three cheers for all the members of staff. Under the direction of the General Manager, Stephen Boxall (pictured), their pursuit of perfection ensures that standards are of the highest. And no small credit, too, is due to the President of The Ritz, the ever dapper and genial Michael Day (pictured, in the portrait by Christian Furr), who is often to be seen about the place and whose watchful eye ensures that attention to detail is never neglected.
Now, it must be admitted that, over the years, food has not always been the strongest feature of The Ritz. There have been ‘ups and downs’. But my recent dinners have convinced me that the kitchen is now firing on all cylinders. Executive Chef John Williams (pictured) has, in my judgement, exactly the right approach for this context. He insists on the finest ingredients, he eschews fads and foolish novelty and he concentrates on French and British cuisine, unsullied by the ‘confusion of fusion’. I now know that when I dine at The Ritz not only will I receive exemplary service in exquisite surroundings, but I will also be certain of enjoying dishes which are precisely and accurately prepared.
I will also be in one of the safest buildings in London. When the two brilliant architects – Charles Mewès and Arthur Davis (pictured) – designed their masterpiece in the Louis XVI style one hundred years ago, they did so using the latest box girder system (the system which is still used today for most large buildings). The authorities had not, however, quite caught up with the technology, and insisted that the walls should still be load-bearing. Thus we have inherited a building of immense strength.
The ‘we’ are those of us who continue to value this wonderful British institution. And here I must mention the owners. During the decade or so of their ownership, Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay have poured money into The Ritz. It has been spent with good taste and discernment. The result is an interior which sparkles and glitters like a casket of jewels. Indeed, on its centenary, the image is appropriate. For The Ritz is a precious gem – a precious gem which will continue to attract those of us for whom only the best will do. I raise my glass of pink champagne. Here’s to the next one hundred years.
150 Piccadilly, London W1J 9BR, England.
Telephone +44 (0)207 493 8181
Fax +44 (0)207 493 2687
Reservations for afternoon tea (£34) at the Palm Court must be made well in advance.
Enquire about special room rate packages for the centenary year.
The Ritz Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner daily. On Fridays and Saturdays there is music and dancing at dinner.