The Ritz is still here, and still gaudy. No grand hotel in London feels quite so complete, if pink; as if it landed like a Tardis on Green Park. There is no real life here, and there shouldn’t be. Each guest travels with their own novella. There are jewels in the window and brides on the stairs. Lady Thatcher died here, in a corner suite. Don’t ask which one. They won’t say, to discourage ghouls, party hacks and perverts. You cannot know if you are sleeping in her bed, and that is not even the oddest thing about the Ritz. The staff, who dress like toy soldiers, are charming in that way you don’t find outside Judith Krantz novels. That is, you believe them, and that is rare. The Ritz is a myth, and it is dedicated to itself. It’s marketing of course — by Irving Berlin, who put on the Ritz, among others — but it is very good marketing. Staying here is like lying face-down on a cake the size of a bouncy castle.
It looks like a Belle Époque block of flats; like me, it is all frontage. Inside is a corridor of pink and gold — the sort of place you would find Omar Sharif hungry to make love to you, were he not a corpse. (Well, perhaps not you.) At the end of this corridor, beyond the Palm Court, is the dining room, which is the most beautiful in London: a vast room overlooking the park, with a mesmerising bespoke fitted carpet. This also deserves a novella.
This room is pink and gold, mirrored and flounced. If it is the origin myth of the Mattel Barbie Star Light Starlight Adventure Galaxy Castle Playset, that does not detract from its charm. I love this dining room, and this is good, because it is stuck this way, and I love the metaphor too: a Belle Époque room that cannot die because it is Grade II listed. It is gilded enough to please Prince Ludwig of Neuschwanstein castle — surely another origin myth of the Mattel Barbie Star Light Starlight Adventure Galaxy Castle Playset — and it cannot be made grey or fawn or stone like the inside of a Volvo or a yacht. It exists as a stopped clock, and that must pass for stability nowadays.
The food is French and formal, and this is right: anything else would be bizarre. You do not attempt weirdness — alchemy — here. You do not cross the streams. The menu, which is partially gold, has an inspirational quote from Auguste Escoffier, a drawing of the Prince of Wales’s feathers — these are his banqueting and catering services — and a picture of a lion holding an orb.
It isn’t subtle, then. It’s a dreamworld so convincing that there is no one in the dining room without a drugged grin on their face. People seem transported, as if at The Phantom of the Opera. It is disorientating, as dreamworlds are: you must come back. Or at least you must try, though some don’t. The elderly men at the next table have been drinking since noon. I think they are villains, but I am credulous. They leave at seven, sit down in the pink and gold corridor, and start drinking again. They make eyes at my mother, but that is normal.
We eat perfect and precise French food: cutlet and fillet of lamb with aubergine, basil and olive; tournedos of beef with salsify, lovage and smoked bone marrow. Then patisserie: a salted caramel parfait with fudge and dulcey and an Amedei chocolate mousse with almond praline. Of all the beautiful things here, the parfait is the most beautiful, and it is edible. I ate a piece of the Ritz. How typical.
The Ritz, 150 Piccadilly, St James’s, London W1J 9BR, tel: 020 7493 8181.