We thought that for our four days in London between QE2 and Concorde adventures we should choose a hotel that was equally elegant. We found a very good Internet deal for The Berkeley, a part ot the Savoy group, which includes Claridge's, The Connaught, Simpson's, and of course the Savoy. The Berkeley overlooks a peaceful square, although not the one where the nightingale sings.
We were greeted by what seemed to be a fashion model who led us into what seemed to be a drawing room, and offering us comfortable chairs, settled in her own behind the desk. In civilized fashion, we effected the check in process. Another fashion model ushered us to our room, down a maze of corridors, seemingly nearly a block away. It was small and rather dingy, with a view of a brick wall across the alley. It did, however, include a crib.
When we inquired about a better room, perhaps one without a crib, we were next shown one nearer the front. It did seem brighter, although there was a similar brick wall view. However, not all of it was visible, half being obscured by the fan in the window, which was compensating for the lack of air conditioning. When we said we'd prefer to have a room with working air conditioning, she suggested that for another £100 per night there were renovated ones on the floor above. The example seemed no larger than those we'd seen, the main improvements seeming to be green-flocked wallpaper and a foot-deep duvet on the bed.
As usually happens with a London arrival – even, in this case, by sea – it was still early in the day, so we told her we were leaving for lunch and a theater matinée and perhaps they could find a suitable room in the meantime. On our return, we found we had an elegant room in the front, overlooking the park.
We had the concierge make reservations for us for lunch the next day at the recently-opened Boxwood Café, a Gordon Ramsay restaurant that was adjacent to the hotel. We expected to get a better table that way, but when we arrived we realized that we'd probably have done better ourselves coming by earlier and reserving a window seat. Further disappointment soon followed.
After talking to the sommelier, we had a glass of wine and ordered appetizers. Betty Lou's was a spider crab and beans on a bed of greens. When it arrived there was one bean but no crab. There were plenty of greens, but the crab wasn't hiding under there either. A maitre d', who looked like a thug, took it away, and on his return replaced it in front of her and said that's what the kitchen was providing! She said it was unacceptable and he took it away. We also noticed a nearby family complaining among themselves, but, like others we know, they just paid their check and left unhappy.
We consulted the sommelier again and ordered a wine to go with the main courses. I don't remember much about them, but Betty Lou says she didn't think it was up to Gordon Ramsay standards. (We later heard that people thought he was stretching himself too thin – indeed in 2007 when we dined at his namesake restaurant, which I thought superb, she thought it not to be up to three-star standards. She is a gourmet cook and paid much of her way through college working in a high-end country inn restaurant outside Cleveland, so she has pretty high standards. We later found out that Boxwood didn't have a long run before it closed.) The sommelier, who had observed our problems, brought complimentary dessert wines, and agreed that we should talk to the manager, who had not been there earlier.
We described what had happened, pointing out the specific maitre d' (such an elegant restaurant had several), and also that we had seen a nearby British family who had been very disappointed with their food, but left without comment. We told him that as food lovers we don't get angry about such things, which could spoil the whole meal, but assume that a restaurant can't fix problems if they don't hear about them. Michael Wood sighed and apologized, saying that they were having some teething problems and appreciated our observations. His appreciation extended to free desserts and after-dinner drinks.
We asked him for suggestions for other restaurants and he brightened up. He'd been long been associated with the Savoy group, and he'd recommend the newly-renovated Savoy Grille, which he'd just left to open this restaurant. We said we'd like to lunch there the next day at a suitable time for them, and he made reservations for us. They treated us like royalty, including, when we consulted the sommelier about choosing a wine, providing tastes of several they had been evaluating – certainly not on the by-the-glass list. The meal concluded with a guided tour of the kitchen.
Of two other restaurants he recommend, the first one was quite nice, but the second one, Cecconi's, was spectacular. The day we were leaving, we were on our way to catch the tube to lunch there when we met him on his way to Boxwood. We told him where we were going, and when we arrived they had just gotten off the phone with him. Needless to say we were also very well looked after there, including receiving many little extras.
We've often found that, if treated properly, situations that begin as disappointing can end up being positive, even memorable, experiences. And, particularly in class-conscious Europe, the way one is dressed can greatly influence the outcome.
However, when it comes to restaurant complaints, this story has to be the ultimate.