The Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, is a cake floating in space. All grand hotels create a parallel universe in which their guests are returned to some great gilded and unnatural womb with mini-bar and floristry, but the Dorchester feels particularly remote; has it overplayed its myth? Or is it a combination of the traffic (Park Lane has eight traffic lanes, three roundabouts, one set of unicorn-themed gates and a monument to the dead animals of war), the net curtains (the decorative equivalent of blindness) and the strange completeness of the building?
What does the Dorchester, with its curved beige frontage and yellow awnings, actually look like? Bournemouth. Or any retirement community. Such as Monaco, or Torquay. It looks like a seaside hotel with traffic lanes for an ocean, somehow both jaunty and depressed. As a street, Park Lane is overdeveloped and overwhelmed; it feels wracked. The remaining 18th-century houses are cowering survivors. Each deserves a novel. The name, of course, is a joke, for there is no lane and barely any park: it is mostly a concert venue now.
And in the manner of a retirement community, everything is in large print in the Dorchester, as if for emphasis. It is a hotel that shouts. The cars in the forecourt (Bentleys and Rolls-Royces) are large. The floristry is large. The corridor that doubles as tea room (gaudy with dim lighting for the surgically exalted) is large; the parties are large. The Dorchester attracts tribes of people, as cruise ships do, shuffling in packs and taking photographs of random things: Arab royals going shopping; soldiers in dress uniform; movie stars. (It is a favourite venue for press junkets; I once found three Charlie’s Angels in the lift and Sir Ben Kingsley behind a teapot.) The only thing about the Dorchester that isn’t large is the protest against its owner, the Sultan of Brunei, for instituting sharia law in Brunei. The protest was organised by the fashion industry, which promised it would boycott the Dorchester and use the Brent Cross Holiday Inn instead. It didn’t happen. Fashion is fickle. Or perhaps the protest is too small to be seen by the unfashionable eye?
The Dorchester Grill is in a salon off the corridor. It is, again, by Alain Ducasse, scrawling his name on every restaurant in London so long as it is grand. Sometimes I feel like The Spectator’s Alain Ducasse correspondent, or, if in America, its vice president with responsibility for Alain Ducasse.
The grill is newly refurbished in brown and gold. It is smooth and glossy; it looks like a box of Terry’s All Gold. (That is what chocolate boxes are! Small, edible grand hotels!) It has a Murano chandelier blown to resemble a chandelier wrapped in golden tissue paper because there is always something new; today the money is on the ceiling.
The food, again, is large. I do not know if the Dorchester is the designated grand hotel for fat people but the portions say so, and this is odd for a three-star Michelin restaurant. This is food for people who care about chandeliers — particularly large and dishonest ones. Cheese soufflé is a dense yellow soup with a rising dome; caesar salad is overdressed and overblown; smoked salmon is small, in mean lumps, without bread, butter, lemon or hope. A rib of beef is good but too large in scope, like everything else on Park Lane — it should not be on the plate as it is; it should be on a dish to the side. (They did put the remnants in a cake box though, for dogs and husbands.) We could not stomach-pudding.
Who would dine here by choice? The lazy and incurious, that is who; those who cannot be bothered to take the Bentley somewhere better, somewhere else.