A Dealmaker's Guide To Swinging London It hasn't been this hot since the '60s: London has become terribly chic again. It's worth planning a stopover there to check out the scene.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – London lost its dull edge in the '80s, but the torrent of au courant nightspots and creative cuisine available these days signals nothing less than a second renaissance. Suddenly the bankers and barristers are all but lost in a swirl of fashion designers, rock stars, architects, filmmakers, and media moguls.
So the next time you're in London on business, forget about the Hyatt--or the Athenaeum, for that matter--and check into one of the newer ultra-elegant hotels. Then meet a client for dinner at any of the city's superstar restaurants (a new twist for this town) or try the cuisine of the moment, upscale Middle Eastern. Crawl past the pubs and head for one of the growing number of fashionable bars. And, by all means, use your concierge wisely: Most places listed below operate tight door and reservation policies, but a discreet call from the right hotel can get you in.
Metropolitan, Mayfair. Owned by Singaporean magnate Christina Ong, the Metropolitan sits atop the A list for hipness. The interiors are achingly minimalist, and the staff wears black Donna Karan suits. The usual style hounds have already slept here, from Madonna to Giorgio Armani. Most of them have also imbibed at the downstairs Met Bar, a members-only den that's at least amusing for an after-hours martini. (Hotel guests are waved in as a courtesy.) Apart from being the address in town, the Metropolitan houses Nobu, Nobuyuki Matsuhisa's latest outpost (he has restaurants in Los Angeles, New York, and Aspen, Colo.) serving deeply expensive ($100 per person) and sublime Japanese fare. Rooms from $400; suites $665 to $2,670; tel. 011-44-171-447-1000.
Halkin, Belgravia. Those who want to avoid the paparazzi stay at Mrs. Ong's first venture, the classy yet discreet Halkin. Each of the five floors has a different theme, such as sky, water, and fire, and all 41 rooms feature sumptuous Italian marble baths. The guest list is as glitzy as the Metropolitan's, though the attentive Armani-clad staff will reveal no names. The Halkin also houses London's only Michelin-starred Italian restaurant, the Stefano Cavallini, where risotto is the specialty. Dinner without wine runs about $70 per person. Rooms from $525; suites $670 to $810; tel. 011-44-171-333-1000.
Blakes, Fulham. The creation of owner and interior designer Anouska Hempel, Blakes is famous for its unabashed opulence: over-the-top antique furniture, billowing satin drapes, and four-poster beds with Arabian Nights-inspired canopies. Regulars include Diana Ross and Francis Ford Coppola. Rooms from $265; suites $800 to $1,200; tel. 011-44-171-370-6701 or, in the U.S., 800-926-3173.
Portobello, Notting Hill. London's answer to New York City's Chelsea Hotel. A small and memorable place that appeals to models and rock stars. In fact, a chambermaid employed there made headlines by inadvertently pulling the plug on Johnny Depp and Kate Moss' $1,300 champagne bath in Room 16. Rooms from $190; suites $315 to $420; tel. 011-44-171-727-2777.
One Aldwych, Covent Garden. The city's newest hotel, One Aldwych is sophisticated, discreet, well located (near Covent Garden and the courts), and stuffed with low-key luxury and contemporary artwork. Rooms from $300; suites $550 to $1,525; tel. 011-44-171-300-1000.
Coq d'Argent, Central London. At the latest scene created by tireless restaurateur Sir Terence Conran, guests board a red elevator to a marvelous space that's all curved wood and whimsical leather settees; it's as if the Jetsons moved to Scandinavia. You can tackle shellfish and caviar at the stainless-steel bar, or savor cocktails and city views from the roof terrace. Stephen Goodlad's menu features equally fish and meat, with unexpectedly light sauces such as champagne and tarragon cream. Have your concierge call, as dapper financial types have jammed the reservations log. $60 per person; tel. 011-44-171-395-5000.
Pharmacy, Notting Hill. Fans of Damien Hirst, the London artist known for his installations of formaldehyde-pickled sheep, will surely want to check out Pharmacy, his first restaurant design. The bar is surrounded by hair-raising, if empty, medicine bottles; the staff, in red hospital tunics designed by Prada, serve cocktails with names like Voltarol Retarding Agent (tequila, lime, and mango with a dash of raspberry). Despite all the self-conscious hype, the French Mediterranean food is ably executed. $70; tel. 011-44-171-221-2442.
Sugar Club, Soho. At its original Notting Hill location, the Sugar Club was a tiny but popular institution among natty young professionals. This new outpost is still tranquil, but on a grander scale, with soaring ceilings and backlit banquettes. Peter Gordon's wonderfully eclectic fare melds new British cuisine with Pacific Rim flavorings. (Would you believe kangaroo with coriander?) Eavesdrop on the quietly intense conversations of modern artists and account managers. $60; tel. 011-44-171-437-7776.
Oak Room, Meridien hotel, Piccadilly. Marco Pierre White is not so much chef as culinary superhero. When he is not overseeing his empire of restaurants (notably the Criterion Brasserie at Piccadilly Circus and Quo Vadis in Soho), he can be found wielding a pan in the Oak Room, where the vaulted ceilings and heavy-duty chandeliers are conducive to megadeals. The food is, simply, the best. Look for White's signature Bresse pigeon with foie gras and the spectacular Pyramide, nougat ice cream housed in a caramel temple. $175; tel. 011-44-171-734-8000.
Momo, Piccadilly. Owned by the eponymous Algerian Momo (real name: Mourad Mazouz), this is a noisy corner of North Africa right off Regent Street, with latticed windows, Berber rugs, brass candlesticks, Ali Baba urns--and wonderful Middle Eastern food. The basement bar is members only. Best tip: Make friends with your fellow diners, who might whisk you in. $70; tel. 011-44-171-434-4040.
Collection, Kensington. This is the fashion crowd's bar, a huge warehouse space with a dramatic catwalk entrance used for the occasional runway show. It is crammed with rich and trendy highfliers like Richard Branson, who always sits downstairs. Tel. 011-44-171-225-1212.
Duke's Hotel, Green Park. Come savor the martinis at this tiny bar: There the inimitable Gilberto Preti splashes a drop of vermouth and a twist of lemon into a glass of frosty vodka and declares that a martini should never be shaken or stirred. "Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan--they got it all wrong," he sighs. Tel. 011-44-171-491-4840.
Circus, West Soho. The downstairs lounge at this popular restaurant might have you thinking you've stumbled into a Gucci store. Unlike stand-alone London bars, which close at 11 P.M., this cocoon of beige and brown serves cocktails, as well as food from its fine upstairs menu, past midnight. Saatchi & Saatchi is just down the street, so you'll swirl your brandy along with advertising types clad in oversized check shirts. Tel. 011-44-171-534-4000.