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A DAMNED GOOD HOTEL IN LONDON
By Michael Matthews
January 12, 2012 -- My column about the world's most disappointing hotel brought considerable mail. And not all of it laudatory.

"We have stayed at the Goring and loved it," went one. "I did a tour of the hotel and the rooms were nothing like you described," said another. "It's a wonderful hotel. I think you stayed somewhere else," said a third.

I could go on with your gripes about my gripes about The Goring. Suffice it to say, however, I stand by my comments: It is just not a well-run hotel.

You should also be aware that, when I checked in, I wrote a note to Jeremy Goring, the chairman and chief executive, care of his secretary. No reply. I also called the general manager. No call back. I even sent an advance copy of my column to Jeremy Goring, inviting his comments or a rebuttal. No reply.

I think that sums it up.

But enough about disappointments. Let's talk about hotels that work brilliantly. We'll even stick to London for the comparison.

When you arrive in London from North America or the Asia-Pacific region, your flight usually lands at Heathrow Airport at some ungodly hour of the morning and your chances of getting into your hotel room are virtually nil. You're usually left to cool your heels until late morning or early in the afternoon.

So you can imagine my delight upon arriving at The Langham, being escorted to the front desk by the doorman and hearing the clerk say, "Your accommodation is ready!" He then escorted us to a lovely room with a great bathroom, king bed, sensible lighting and all the possible bells and whistles one could ever need.

What was particularly nice about the trip to the room was not hearing the usual babble about "How was your flight?" No silly boilerplate about the location of the hotel bar or spa, either. Rather, I got a smart mini-discourse on what was going on in London that week. Clever. There was even a bottle of Champagne, fresh ice and a handwritten note from the manager. And take note, Jeremy, our names were spelled correctly.

Exhausted from our long flight, we decided that a glass of Champagne would refresh us. Then we took a trip down Regent Street to see the holiday decorations. The Langham is perfectly situated in Portland Place, almost opposite BBC Broadcasting House, and a very short stroll from Oxford and Regent streets. Bond Street is only an eight-minute walk. The nearest Tube stop, Oxford Circus, is around a hundred yards from the front door.

But what makes The Langham so startlingly good is the attention to detail, something I found sadly missing at The Goring. Fresh flowers in your room each day. Fresh fruit. The staff calling you by name, something we all love. There's just a great feeling to the place. A sense that you are a guest in a fine old English mansion with servants at your beck and call. (Okay, so I watch Downton Abbey, so sue me.)

The housekeeping is superb. The baseboards are spotless. The public washrooms are immaculate and constantly checked. Even the pavement outside the hotel is swept down by the doorman.

Consider the hotel's food and beverage options. The bar, Artesian, is a "happening" spot. The guests mingle with BBC types and waiters serve at a sensible pace. Nuts and crisps accompany well-poured drinks. A piano can be heard above a wonderful buzz.

We didn't try the more formal dining room, Roux at the Landau, which has connections to Michelin Stars, but we did eat in the lobby lounge, aptly called Palm Court. A good Thai dish was accompanied by a terrific bottle of house Chablis. We told the waitress how good we thought the wine was and, not long afterward, a bottle arrived in our room with the manager's compliments. Pretty cool.

If all that is not enough, there's also a club floor, where the lounge is stocked with your favorite drinks, buffet continental breakfast and late-night snacks.

There's a fantastic spa, Chuan, with Asian overtones and treatments. Sadly, when I was stripped off and ready to be pummeled, the manager arrived. She said I couldn't be massaged under the rules of the British Therapists Federation because I'd received chemotherapy. She'd seen my hairless cranium when checking in and I thought she handled the situation superbly. It's a stupid British law since my doctor here in the states recommends a weekly massage. (We later learned that if I had signed a consent agreement, all would have been well. Next time, then.)

First opened in 1865, The Langham was once part of the Hilton Hotels. These days, however, it's run by a Hong Kong hospitality group that has adopted the Langham name as the corporate identity. The company is bringing a touch of Asian hospitality to markets worldwide. Here in the states, they own and manage properties in Boston (the former Le Meridien) and Pasadena (the former Ritz-Carlton). They've opened several terrific hotels and resorts in Hong Kong, China, India and Australia, too.

What I found particularly endearing about the flagship London hotel is that there is no pretentiousness or snobbery. The Langham is just a damned good hotel. Stay there next time you're in London and I don't think that you'll be disappointed.

Can't make it to London? The Langham Chicago opens next year and the manager of The Langham in London is due to relocate to the Windy City in a few months to take charge of the launch. His name is Tim and I wish him the very best of luck. I want to be one of his first guests when the doors open.

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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

This column is Copyright 2012 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.