When we asked David Morgan-Hewitt, Managing Director of The Goring, one of London’s most historic hotels, about the hotel’s character, he had one very simple answer. “We are not old-fashioned, we are traditional.” Sitting in the restaurant in the only hotel in the world that has received the royal warrant from the Queen, sipping coffee and having Burford Brown eggs and sausages that would bring even the most die-hard Brit to tears, I couldn’t help but echo Morgan-Hewitt’s sentiment. What’s so wrong with traditional anyhow?
In this brave new world of hotels and hospitality, it often seems like the more contemporary the better. Old-fashioned is a dirty word, and as Morgan-Hewitt would say, so many hotels refurbishing create something that feels “faceless and sort of empty. They’re not trying to offend anybody. They’re trying to be really neutral.”
We can relate, as we’ve noticed the occasional hot new hotel that seems to take the direction of the-sleeker-the-better (or, as Morgan-Hewitt would say more concisely, ‘they’re all beige”). Showers look like space ships, beds are more like landing strips than arbiters of a homey night’s sleep and service is geared as much toward customers clamoring for the hotel restaurant or nightclub as it is to paying guests.
In the case of The Goring and its recent renovation, Morgan-Hewitt says, “We still wanted it to feel very English. We wanted it to feel like you’re home…but everything about The Goring is new. We’ve brought it right up to date, but the look is traditional.”
Kate Middleton seems to agree. The Goring was where she and her family stayed the night before the royal wedding. It’s a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, and the rooms are more like incredibly charming apartments than hotel rooms.
During our own stay there, we couldn’t really imagine a place that could make one feel more at home. You’d think that would be a given for hotels, but The Goring was actually one of the few destinations where we felt ‘home away from home,’ was the most appropriate and accurate description. This could be partly due to the fact that unlike so many of the other hotels in the London landscape, The Goring (built in 1910) is the one instance where the family has held on to its hotel. Morgan-Hewitt tells us: “All the great hotels in London were once family-owned. César Ritz owned The Ritz. The D’Oyly Carte family owned The Savoy. Mr. Brown owned Browns. Mrs. Claridge owned Claridge’s. Mr. Coburg owned The Coburg, which is now The Connaught. All the great hotels were owned by families, and over the years the families sold them because they were offered enormous amounts of money for these big trophies. This family has not sold its hotel. In 104 years on, it still owns the hotel. And it has no desire to sell it…there’s a real dynasty here.”
Who better than this family-owned hotel to host the Middletons the night before (arguably) the most historic ‘family’ wedding of our time? Host them they did, in the Royal Suite, where the silks on the walls have been rewoven from a silk first made in 1910 (the year the hotel was founded). “It was the silk woven for the first class dining room of the Titanic,” Morgan-Hewitt informs us.
Rather than plug us with tidbits about the Middletons, Queen Elizabeth, or the royal family in general, Morgan-Hewitt referred to these encounters as “private moments,” and seemed more amused by the press aspect of it all. “When you walked out on the street, there were probably at least 150 photographers corralled at each end of the road.” The photographers weren’t guests, but at one point or another were treated as such. Two times throughout the day, he sent out seven chefs and seven servers in an extremely professional fashion to give biscuits, sandwiches and coffee to the 300-something photographers. “I said if we’re going to do it, let’s do it properly and show our best side,” he explained.
That’s what everything at The Goring seemed like to us. Above all, things were being done properly. Cell phones, computers, or electronics of any kind for that matter aren’t allowed in the bar room or restaurant; there is an I.T. center for that. When was the last time you heard the words, ‘I.T. center’? Exactly.
Besides the sixty-nine gorgeous rooms in this ‘baby grand’ hotel, its bar and restaurant are also destinations. At lunchtime the dining room is packed with “people going to the palace for investitures or garden parties – or anything that goes on there. And then there are lots of leaders of industry, because the tables are really far apart. A lot of really top businesses, MPS, ministers of state…All in all, people who want to have private conversations like to come here,” Morgan-Hewitt says.
But for The Goring, food and beverage as a ‘destination’ never changes this one fact: The guest, and no other kind of customer, is the ultimate priority. Even when Morgan-Hewitt refers to afternoon tea, and how popular its become at the hotel, he words it like this: “If you can’t afford 500, 600, or 800 pounds for a room, you can save up fifty pounds for a tea. And you get treated as if you were staying here.” It’s an interesting notion, going to a hotel restaurant not because it’s the hot new spot you can barely get into as a guest, but rather because you’re paying to – for an hour or so – be treated as one.
Amidst the different royal wedding stories, one really made us laugh. It was how all the photographers before the wedding were shooting everything and anything that somewhat resembled a wedding dress. “Any long looking suit carrier was photographed within an inch of its life,” chuckled Morgan-Hewitt. In reality, the dress came in a traditional box, and not one person photographed it. “That’s what life is like isn’t it?” he mused. Yes, some of the very best things in life come in packaging that’s deliciously traditional.
– Laura Kosann
*Photographed by Danielle Kosann