THE name Bulgari conjures images of diamonds and decadence – it’s appropriate that its first UK hotel is in that home of international wealth, Knightsbridge.
Its probably only a matter of time until the Gucci Hotel opens up on Sloane Street, or Fendi launches a boutique B&B in Belgravia.
The London Bulgari is the third hotel in the brand’s portfolio, after Milan and Bali (Shanghai is set to open in 2015). The link between jewellery and hotels is, as you might have suspected, tenuous; the common theme is a general high-octane, high-price sensibility (rooms start around £900 and go up to around £15,000).
The design is in-your-face, full of sculptures, sumptuous Italian suede chairs, minimalist floors and glassy surfaces.
I stayed on a Sunday: a day for eating. The hotel offers a reasonably priced brunch in the saloon, where your food is laid out on the circular marble bar. It looked like a delectable, edible Jackson Pollock. It consisted of little plates of sea bass carpaccio, mozzarella and tomatoes, marinated squid, freshly carved prosciutto, a variety of cheeses, fresh juice and pastries, all served on black slate. Some of the food looked better than it tasted; stick with the carved ham and avoid the posh little dishes.
The hotel has a private cinema showing classic films every Sunday after brunch. We were set to relax after our meal in front of Bugsy Malone but our suite stole us away. God was smiling, you see: there was a last-minute cancellation and we found ourselves in one of the penthouses.
At £10,000 per night, it should have been alright, and it was. It’s huge – dining room, living room, steam room, kitchen with temp-controlled wine fridge, a library (featuring the Complete Shakespeare) and a sea of polished mahogany and black tile.
It’s incredibly elegant: I particularly liked the giant globular lamp bending over the multi-acre suede sofa, casting a warm glow on the books and the minibar.
But who has time for such things when London’s largest indoor pool awaits? We headed down for lengths in the crystalline water, resting afterwards in poolside cabanas, slightly the sadder for being nowhere near natural light. I also had a massage, and it was first-rate – I know because it hurt. Ask for Irena: she is Hungarian and knows how to properly knead tired flesh.
Il Restaurant is the name of the, erm, restaurant. It’s beneath the bar in a circular room overhung with a brash modernist floral lamp. The room lacks refinement but hey, you’re at the Bulgari and the impressive food and wine more than make up for this.
We started with the world’s best sparkling wine: Franciacorta, from Lombardy, moved through stuffed sardines, aubergine and a few other nibbles, then alighted on what should be the reason you go to the restaurant, or to Knightbridge: a thin, crispy calzone stuffed with stracchino, a salty-melty Puglian cheese and a dusting of black pepper. Also delicious were the starters of dripping burrata and the thick chickpea soup with pancetta. The home-made pasta and the very good fish (cottony sea bass and halibut braised in vegetables) were impressive too.
The Bulgari can roll as a business hotel, sure, but this is really a place to take someone you want to impress; a boyfriend or wife or lover. Just make sure they’re not the types who prefer camping or Hackney. Similarly don’t choose someone who doesn’t like being spoiled - that would be a waste.
Brunch is £58pp (children £35) and for £17 extra you can have unlimited Moet Champagne. Screenings 1.30pm and 3.30pm. Reservations: 0207 151 1025, www.bulgarihotels.com.