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Sat 17 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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A chic retreat

A boutique hotel within a stone's throw of London's shopping hotspots and offering the most innovative afternoon tea concept in town, The Berkeley is a must sell to any top-end client seeking a quintessentially English experience, says Gemma Greenwood.

A boutique hotel within a stone's throw of London's shopping hotspots and offering the most innovative afternoon tea concept in town, The Berkeley is a must sell to any top-end client seeking a quintessentially English experience, says Gemma Greenwood.

Having lived in the Middle East for almost three years now, I have become accustomed to the hit-and-miss service standards at hotels across the region - sometimes exemplary, at other times, shocking, but rarely consistent.

It was therefore a rare pleasure to experience some old-school hospitality during my recent stay at The Berkeley, Knightsbridge - a boutique hotel in the heart of London's West End where the service is seamless and the staff have the freedom to express their personality and expertise when interacting with the guests.

Although London boasts a bevy of restaurants and bars, there is really no need to leave The Berkeley.

As soon as I arrived and was greeted by the immaculately-dressed porter who smiled at me, took my luggage and opened the doors to The Berkeley, I knew that I was in for a treat.

The lobby area was small and intimate creating a residential atmosphere that is often lost in bigger properties and all staff were helpful and friendly, not stuffy, and anticipated my needs.

Check-in was conducted in a civilized fashion - I sat down in a comfortable chair and all my needs were attended to before I was escorted to my room. A few minutes later, the tea I had requested at check-in arrived on a silver tray with all the necessary accompaniments, followed by my luggage.

My room featured all the usual amenities and was tastefully decorated in whites and neutral tones. The view from the window was of lush green trees and neighbouring houses as even though The Berkeley is located off busy Knightsbridge and is just minutes from Hyde Park Corner, it has found a quiet haven on the residential Wilton Place.

Close by, of course, are some of the best shopping hotspots London has to offer - Sloane Street, Kings Road and of course, the big department stores that have made Knightsbridge famous amongst the world's big spenders - Harrods and Harvey Nichols.

With so much prime fashion real estate on the doorstep, it's enough to drive fashionistas wild, confusing them as to where they should start their shopathon.

Fortunately, The Berkeley has put together the ‘Insider's Shopping Guide' - a pocket-sized map detailing the top brands and their whereabouts, as well as highlighting Berkeley's particular favourites.

They include Harvey Nichols, Lulu Guinness, Smythson of Bond Street and Jo Malone, but of course, every other brand, from Prada to Pringle, Gucci to Gina and Burberry to Browns is within easy walking distance of the hotel.

After so much shopping you need sustenance and although London boasts a bevy of restaurants and bars, there is really no need to leave The Berkeley.The property boasts four outlets, two of which have made a name for themselves amongst the gastronomically astute.

The fine-dining flagship is Pétrus - a highly acclaimed restaurant from Michelin-star chef Marcus Wareing that has been designed by David Collins and features a private room and chef's table.

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has also got a piece of The Berkeley's gastro action with his New York style café Boxwood. Here, there is a more relaxed approach to dining, but without compromising Ramsay's customary high standards.

Choose from a lobster roll, a starter of fried oysters with fennel and lemon or salads with spider crab, squid and Parmesan-fried courgette flowers, topped off with a yoghurt ice-cream or a poppyseed knickerbocker glory.

Flagging the lobby area of the hotel are The Caramel Room on one side where breakfast, lunch, dinner and the hotel's legendary afternoon tea - Prêt-à-Portea - are served and The Blue Bar on the other - another David Collins designed space.

Tea a la modeAfternoon tea at The Berkeley has become legendary amongst the Knightsbridge set and is like no other I have experienced. Forget perfectly manicured cucumber sandwiches, which are so passé and instead, tuck into Prêt-à-Portea - a medley of fashion-inspired treats, from a banana Madeira cake inspired by Smythson's yellow ‘Maze Bag' - the ‘IT' bag of the season to the Christian Louboutin ‘Pigalle' green glitter shoe biscuit.

Every season, The Berkeley's pastry chefs attend London Fashion Week to get inspiration for colours and textures for the coming season. This autumn/winter therefore, the season's trends of lace, vibrant colours and hats all adorn the bespoke Paul Smith for Thomas Goode bone china when afternoon tea is served in the hotel's Caramel Room.

The Prada dark lace Valrohona chocolate crème was my personal favourite, but I admired most the crown of the collection - an Alexander McQueen composed of a fromage blanc chiffon dress, balanced with raspberry meringue.

This Prêt-à-Portea is accompanied by a glass of ‘Couture Champagne' as well as loose leaf teas and herbal infusions and canapés. It is served from 1pm to 6pm daily.

Travel & Leisure magazine describes the Blue Bar as "a red-hot scene for the coolest Britons in London" - and it is here that celebrities, upwardly-mobile locals and guests socialise while sipping signature drinks such as the Ginger Cosmopolitan.

The Berkeley is a boutique property featuring 214 bedrooms including 65 suites and it's therefore surprising to discover that the hotel has a sizeable health club and spa.

A highlight of this facility is the roof-top swimming pool with retractable roof - for fine weather only! There are four treatment rooms, ladies' and gentlemen's lounges with steam rooms and saunas, a gym where personal training is available, as well as warm up and work out rooms.

All in all, The Berkeley is a haven of chic, contemporary calm, nestled in a side street that verges on one of the UK capital's most exciting cultural, historical and retail areas.

You get the feeling that even high-maintenance guests will be satisfied here. They will be well looked after and after a few days, feel part of the furniture.

The sales pitchThe Berkeley:One of three London properties operated by the UK's Maybourne Group. The others are Claridge's and The Connaught.

Location:Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, close to Hyde Park, Sloane Square and Kings Road.

Accommodation:A total of 214 rooms including 65 suites. The property includes three individually decorated signature conservatory suites with large roof terraces and conservatories, as well as touches unique to each, such as saunas.

F&B:Pétrus (Marcus Wareing); Boxwood; The Caramel Room and The Blue Bar.

Leisure facilities:The Berkeley Health Club and luxury Spa including four treatment rooms and a roof-top swimming pool.

Meetings facilities:six private rooms suiting all occasions including cocktail parties, private dining, receptions and meetings catering to groups from six to 400.

GDS access code:VY

Visit:www.maybourne.com

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