xrematon

March 2, 2015

Pastiche British

The above title is not meant to be derogatory. I did um-and-ah about it for a while, toying with alternatives such as ‘International British’, ‘Aspirational English’ or even ‘Fake British’, but let’s stick with the current option as I think it best captures the points I am going to make.

This post is inspired by a visit a couple of months ago to the rather magnificent Rosewood London luxury hotel situated in the High Holborn area, which opened just over a year ago. What is notable about this establishment is the ambition to offer something which captures a mix of British manor heritage (intriguing) and contemporary design (more familiar). The end result deserves inspection; there is good intent but actual delivery is sometimes compromised.

First to the building itself – well, it is rather magnificent. It is an Edwardian neoclassical construction started in 1912 and expanded upon in four stages over nearly 50 years, during which time it was the headquarters for the Pearl Assurance Company. Here we have already encountered our first pastiche – the architectural style – which is inspired by something that was initially about simplicity, purity and careful elegance.  However, 252 High Holborn is a huge soaring pile complete with gatehouse and courtyard (hence the ability to have manor house pretensions).

Inside, the ‘wow’ factor comes from a combination of original features, such as the Renaissance-style seven-storey grand staircase made from seven types of marble, including extremely rare types such as Swedish Green and Statuary, and from modern additions. The most memorable of the latter is the rose bronze gallery which you encounter when you first enter the hotel before stepping through into the more expected luxury slick chic.

We had the opportunity to luncheon in the Holborn Dining Room, which was perfectly pleasant. Perhaps unsurprisingly the menu also had British aspirations and included dishes which are de rigeur when trying to show local alignment: spelt risotto, fish and chips, queen of puddings anyone?

Perhaps the most quixotic element was the staff. I should begin by pointing out that they were very lovely and extremely helpful.  They too were part of the British manor heritage scene thanks to their uniforms, which consisted of a mish-mash of tweed, flat caps and tartan (of course). Moving on from the rather deliciously posh pantomime effect of these outfits, what was more incongruous was the fact that not one of the staff we encountered was actually British! There was a charming and extremely camp Thai butler, resplendent in his assortment of tweeds, followed by a more brooding Spaniard the next day, whilst the waiters in the restaurant were an assortment of continental Europeans and I think the grounds man/game-keeper wannabe outside in the courtyard was probably Polish. Case made.

Rosewood courtyard staff

In terms of the interiors, here too we can find this international Britishness. The sides of the lobby were decorated with large paintings of English landscapes, but painted by a Chilean artist. Below these paintings, there was a disconcertingly lifelike porcelain bulldog, but being watched over by tweeting birds in vast cages serenading guests entering the lifts. Quick explanation: birds are associated with good luck and abundance in Asia (Rosewood is owned by Hong-Kong based company New World Hospitality).

Rosewood acquired the very prestigious Hotel Crillon in Paris last year and are in the process currently renovating and revamping it. I am bemused by the thought of what French pastiche might be!

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