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Puttin' on The Ritz
The landmark Piccadilly property celebrates its centenary by launching opulent new event space. Louise Troy takes a look around
If you’re blue and you don’t know where to go to, why don’t you go where fashion sits,’ goes the 1929 song ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ by Irving Berlin. Many decades later, the word ‘Ritz’ is still synonymous with style, sophistication and luxury.
But, although London’s Ritz at 150 Piccadilly celebrated its hundredth birthday last year, it wasn’t until recently that it was able to offer an event service comparable to that of other five-star hotels in the capital – especially as the only function space available was the 100-capacity Marie Antoinette suite. It all changed with last year’s acquisition of William Kent House, an adjacent property with five opulent rooms.
This building has a long and chequered history. Built as a grand townhouse in the 1740s, its last incarnation before the Ritz took over was as the offices of Eagle Star Insurance. Looking round the lavishly restored Italian Renaissance-style rooms, it is hard to believe that, not so very long ago, the space was cluttered with filing cabinets and office desks.
‘It was very sad when we took it on,’ says Operations Manager Matthew Rivett, who oversaw the restoration. ‘We had to preserve and enhance the building for the future. We had 80 people working on it at one time. They made the curtains from nothing with a couple of sewing machines on trestle tables; it was a privilege to watch them.’
His aim with the restoration, he says, was to retain the character of the building but also to blend it seamlessly with the main property’s Louis XVI style. To help achieve that seamless feel, all event guests come through the hotel’s main entrance on Arlington Street, before turning left in front of the restaurant and into William Kent House. ‘We don’t want people to think they’re coming into an event in an annexe,’ says Rivett. ‘This is The Ritz – in time, people will believe it was always here.’
The first space you encounter is the versatile Music Room. It’s set out in a hollow square for a 32-person dinner, but that number can be boosted to 60 with round tables. It can also hold meetings for 24, or parties for 120 when used in conjunction with the house’s reception. In one of the many instances of the house blending luxury and utility, there are dataports built in to minimise wiring – and there’s some of Europe’s fastest wireless broadband (a staggering 100MB) throughout the house.
Coming through to the stone-floored Hall, guests get their first glimpse of the house’s stand-out feature – the sweeping staircase (by the same designer who did the one in Downing Street) and its panoramic mural. This leads through to the Wimborne and Queen Elizabeth rooms, and on to the showpiece William Kent Room.
Events in the mint-green-walled Wimborne Room revolve around the mahogany and boxwood table fixed in the centre of the room, which holds 16 for dinners or board meetings. The 40-capacity Queen Elizabeth Room has quite a different character – with its blue patterned wallpaper and dainty sofas, it could be the drawing room of a stately home.
Although Rivett won’t play favourites, you get the feeling that he has a soft spot for the William Kent Room. And who wouldn’t? With its red silk walls, trompe l’oeil panelling, 24 red velvet chairs and original chandelier, this is among the most sumptuous dinner environments imaginable. It took the Ritz’s dedicated interiors team two years to restore the vaulted ceiling alone.
The room is the perfect place to experience the hotel’s banqueting menus, which offer unabashedly luxurious food at prices ranging from £60 to £97 a head. ‘It wouldn’t be right to have that room and serve fish fingers in it,’ says Rivett – so those eating here can expect dishes like terrine of ham hock with foie gras, then roast fillet of halibut with grain mustard velouté and a main of beef tournedos with stuffed oxtail, plus pannacotta for pudding.
Moving upstairs, what used to be Lord Wimborne’s bedroom has now become the Burlington Room. At the press of a button (or, more accurately, the prod of a touch screen) blackout blinds come down and the Regency painting at the end of the room is covered by a plasma screen. It’s a little bit like being in an extremely upmarket James Bond film. There are also multi-use powerpoints built into the huge central table, as befits a room designed with blue-chip board meetings in mind.
There is one more ace up the Ritz’s sleeve – the Royal Suite. Although this set of rooms are used for purely residential purposes, it includes a boardroom for breakfast meetings.
The house’s layout means that four events can be going on at any one time – or the venue can be taken as a whole for up to 250 guests. That’s what the Lord Mayor of Westminster’s office did in February, when it hosted a charity event with Princess Alexandra as guest of honour. ‘It was breathtaking,’ says organiser Sarah Cooper. ‘The house is lovely and the canapés were the best-presented I’ve ever seen. All the rooms had a different atmosphere – one serving food, another a bar. Even my reception table was beautiful – it wasn’t some tacky old desk.’
Rivett is proud of the traditional, yet relaxed, atmosphere in the house, which is enhanced by the strict dress code of no sportswear or jeans, and a jacket and tie for men. ‘Things can be too “hotel-y”,’ he says. He pauses for a moment, before looking round. ‘It’s not a museum… there are no ropes and “do not touch” signs. This is the sort of house that needs people in it.’ We couldn’t agree more.
Address: 150 Piccadilly, W1J 9BR
Tel: 020 7493 8181
Email: [email protected]
Number of bedrooms: 2
Number of function rooms: 5
Music Room (24/60/120)
Queen Elizabeth Room (-/-/40)
William Kent Room (24/24/-)
Wimborne Room (16/16/-)
Burlington Room (27/-/-)
Entire Ground Floor (-/-/250)
Contact: Matthew Rivett, Operations Manager
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Autumn 2007.