Sophisticated fun: Your first look at The Dilly, London’s newest five-star hotel
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Editor’s note: The Dilly provided a complimentary stay to TPG to be among the first to experience the new property. The opinions expressed below are entirely from the author and weren’t subject to review by The Dilly or any external entity.
London’s diverse and usually exciting luxury hotel scene hasn’t had much to be excited about this year. The pandemic drags into a second year, the country has been in lockdown for months and international tourists are nowhere to be seen. Across the city, thousands of hotel rooms lie empty, as even domestic travel is forbidden.
May 17 marks an important step in the long-running pandemic. Traveling for leisure for Britons is finally allowed again, be that domestically or internationally. This means hotels can open for leisure stays.
Another important change is the reintroduction of indoor dining. London has suffered through unseasonably cold weather the last month when outdoor dining was finally allowed, which was unfortunate timing. No matter how desperate Londoners are to socialize with their friends, shivering outside on a grey, cold and wet day while trying to have a drink or a meal isn’t much fun.
The weather hasn’t improved much, but that doesn’t matter as hotels throw open their doors. When the city went into another lockdown late last year, the former Le Meridien hotel in Picadilly left the Mariott group after it was sold to independent hotel owner Archer Hotel Capital. The new owners undertook a major refurbishment that included new rooms, public spaces, a new name and a new vision. TPG’s Lori Zaino visited the property back in 2017 in its Le Meridien form and was disappointed to find a tired hotel in need of an upgrade.
The timing of hotels reopening this week works well for this property — as the London hotel industry throws open its doors to welcome leisure guests and indoor dining, drinking and household mixing for the first time this year, the new owners open The Dilly, London’s newest five-star hotel.
I was invited to experience the refurbished property on just its second day of operations.
Location and history
Dilly is an abbreviation of Piccadilly, a nod to the hotel’s enviable location at 21 Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BH in heart of London. The building was designed in 1904 by Richard Norman Shaw in a Neo-Baroque style, first operating as The Piccadilly Hotel in 1908. Guests at the time included King George V. The property has been sold several times over its more than 100-year history, including a period being held by the owners of the spectacular Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland — you can read a full review of that property here.
The current General Manager James Olivier inherited a carefully curated scrapbook from previous owners showing the rich history of the building from previous owners, which he proudly shows me — here is a live elephant being walked through the hotel to celebrate New Year’s Eve some 90 years ago.
The Dilly is superbly located, especially for international tourists that want to be within walking distance to some of the most iconic locations in London. A stone’s throw from Picadilly Circus, the U.K.’s version of a mini-Times Square and its attached tube station, it’s also an easy walk through the beautiful Green Park to the famous Buckingham Palace.
While the pomp and circumstance of the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace has paused during the pandemic, it will hopefully return this summer as restrictions end.
It’s also an easy walk from the West End and Soho, which was positively buzzing already with indoor and outdoor dining. There’s an endless selection of fantastic restaurants and bars and theaters are starting to reopen if you fancy taking in a show or a tipple.
The hotel is just down the road from the iconic Ritz hotel, and the Dilly’s imposing building is just as striking, if not more so.
The sleek new branding is white on black, with hints of red.
I’m expecting an upmarket experience, though my first suggestion this is more cheeky than stuffy arrives when I spot the doorman in his wonderfully pinstriped jacket in The Dilly’s new colors. With the added fun of a bright bow-tie, I’m reminded of Dick Van Dyke in the children’s classic film “Mary Poppins,” which is also set in London.
The live stage show returns to the nearby Prince Edward Theatre in August this year.
As I enter the building, the dramatic new color scheme creates a look that felt both very classic London, yet modern at the same time. The staff advise me the paint tone was “hague blue,” a sort of rich navy blue.
It is reminiscent of the color schemes I’ve seen in boutique hotels in the young and hip Shoreditch area of London.
There’s an explosion of color with a display from local florist Pulbrook and Gould. Arrangements can be purchased here in the lobby or made up at their nearby store and delivered to guests’ rooms within the hour.
Arriving on just their second day of opening as The Dilly, they guess my name as soon as I tell them I’m checking in. Staff seem genuinely excited to be welcoming real guests and resuming proper hotel operations.
COVID-19 safety precautions are carefully followed. All staff wear masks at all times without exception, and there are hand sanitizing stations on each floor as well as signs politely reminding guests to observe social distancing.
The check-in staff advise me I’d been allocated a refurbished room. Despite the small lobby size, the hotel has an impressive 284 rooms spread over nine floors inherited from Le Meridien.
It would have been an exceptional feat to renovate all 284 rooms in just six months during the last lockdown, so I’m not surprised to learn some rooms are fully renovated in The Dilly style, while many aren’t. They’re currently tracking at around 40 completely refurbished rooms.
Perhaps with international tourism still so uncertain, they do not expect to reach full occupancy this summer so can take their time to refurbish the remaining rooms.
I make my way up the escalators to my room, 704.
This is a Dilly Splendid room, one room above the base room and usually sold from £239 per night ($340). The renovated room features the same hague blue color scheme from the lobby. For a Central London hotel room, it’s a very good size.
There is an enormous king-size bed with plenty of space to move around either side of it.
I certainly cannot say this about every London hotel room I’ve seen.
I love the artwork hung above the bed with a nod to the city of London. I do not realize until this was pointed out to me by the hotel staff that the five prints spelled out the word “D-i-l-l-y.” It is this sort of subtle fun that really defines the new brand of the property.
The windows can only be opened a crack and were restricted with cable ties for safety reasons. My room looks across Picadilly towards Green Park, though there’s not too much of a view.
The large wardrobe contains a very soft and fluffy branded bathrobe as well as hangers and a guest safe. There’s a kettle and tea bags with instant coffee.
There is also a desk with a proper office chair which is comfortable for working on during my stay. The mini bar in the desk cupboard is emptied; perhaps this is a covid measure. Instead, drinks and snacks can be ordered from the tablet next to the bed, which is easy to use. There’s plenty of plugs on the desk as well as pandemic-safe QR codes rather than room service menus.
On the desk, I also find two sanitizing kits. These each contain a face mask, cleaning wipes and bight purple hospital-type rubber gloves. I appreciate the safety aspect of this, although I don’t think purple rubber gloves would be considered fashionable on the glamorous streets of Piccadilly!
On the coffee table is a complimentary bottle of wine, with a hand-written note from the General Manager, welcoming me as one of the first guests at The Dilly. Next to that, some carefully branded (and delicious!) macarons and fudge sitting in a classic London red phone box.
It’s not until I accidentally broke the door of the phone box off when moving it for a photo that I realize the entire thing was made of chocolate.
The bathroom is an unusual shape – long and thin with the shower in the middle of the room rather than at one end. The shower is large though the showerhead didn’t receive much love in the renovation.
Floris London provides individually bottled toiletries. Rather than bulk buying a generic brand, The Dilly chose a perfumer located just a few streets away that had been operating for almost 300 years. This connection with the local area is what will help the hotel stand out in an already crowded luxury hotel market in this city.
I’m able to have a quick peek at a renovated Suite room on another floor — is a similar style but even larger than my fairly spacious room with a chaise lounge at the end of the bed.
Food and beverage
The hotel has two main food and beverage outlets, though only one is currently open for its launch. The Terrace on Piccadilly restaurant is a sprawling, light-filled space serving breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner as well as all-day snacks and drinks.
In comparison to the small lobby, this space could easily seat 100 guests comfortably at the same time while observing social distancing.
I’ve become rather obsessed with growing indoor plants in my flat during lockdown, so I am impressed with how healthy and mature the dozens of devils ivy around the space are faring. Had these been for purchase, I would definitely want to take one home with me.
Combined with the glass ceiling and oodles of natural light, the space has the feeling of an elegant conservatory.
While there appears to be space and plans for a buffet breakfast in due course, the pandemic has seen the temporary end of guests crowding around food and sharing serving utensils.
For now, there’s a small a la carte menu. I select the Dilly Full English breakfast, which comes with made-to-order espresso coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice.
My partner orders the Dilly Scotch Woodcock, which is a lighter combination of scrambled eggs, anchovies and capers. He really enjoys this and for a breakfast item, it’s elegantly presented.
Probably the highlight of my visit to The Dilly is the Afternoon Tea service. This is advertised as “Peter Rabit themed” after the famous children’s book from Beatrix Potter. The experience begins with Beatrix Potter branded napkins and crockery.
The QR-accessed menu had a range of teas available — the enthusiastic staff brought over a box of all the leaf styles and offered to provide a small sample of any leaves we wanted to smell before choosing our blend.
The afternoon tea was brought out and I’m genuinely impressed with the creativity.
The cute little touches like the jam and creme being in small flower pots and the vegetable baguette sprouting carrots brings a smile to my face.
On the “sweets” level above, staff advise that every single item was edible. The broken flower pot? That is made of chocolate with a boysenberry and creme filling below the chocolate soil. The ‘no rabbits’ sign? Marzipan.
Afternoon teas are a dime a dozen in London, especially in areas like this that are popular with tourists. This interpretation will be brilliant for children on weekends and school vacations — as a fully grown adult with no interest in children’s books, it’s a great experience!
The Lobby has a slim outdoor area overlooking Picadilly though this is repeatedly lashed with rain during my stay.
On the interior balcony above the small lobby there is an open-air lounge called The Balcony, which I’m advised by staff was akin to a Club Lounge for those guests who had booked Suites.
The Balcony has a nice view of the lobby below with guests coming and going and a selection of food and drinks available all day for eligible guests.
COVID-19 restrictions mean self-service is discouraged – there’s a cheery staff member on hand happy to brings drinks and the sparkling English Chapel Down wine being poured is lovely and an elevated step-up from a sweet Prosecco often served in these situations.
At 6 p.m. there’s a nightly “gong ceremony” on the Balcony. Staff pause for six rings of a gong which is an Edwardian tradition, signifying the end of the traditional working day and the commencement of relaxation and socializing.
Guests are welcome to gather in the lobby for the ceremony, where complimentary local drinks and served immediately afterward.
Staff allows me a peek at the space behind reception. It is still a construction site, so I’m asked not to take photographs, but this will become an upmarket bar and Indian fine-dining restaurant Madhu’s at The Dilly, set to open next month.
What I can tell you is the space is very regal already with soaring ceilings, huge chandeliers and ornately painted walls and ceilings.
Fitness and leisure
One of the best features of the hotel is its enormous fitness center, located on the ground floor. It has one of the largest and best-equipped hotel gyms I have ever seen, with everything socially distanced with space to spare. Having this much space in Central London is very rare.
There’s also one of the largest indoor pools in London.
There are plans for a beauty salon though it’s not operational during my visit.
One of the hotel’s unique features is that it has a full-size dance studio. The staff are eager to explain how guests could book private dance classes with in-house experts and I am treated to an impromptu performance as I poked my head in. The detail on the ceiling is symbolic of the rich history of the building.
It is very exciting to be back in a real hotel – it is the first night this year that I have slept anywhere other than my own bed in my London flat. The Dilly inhabits the same physical space, but it a dramatic transformation from the dated Le Meridien brand the building operated as previously.
At almost 300 rooms, it’s not really a boutique hotel though it feels intimate in the lobby area, and the service is personalized, professional and genuine. There are some great surprises like the enormous gym and indoor pool and the hotel has a great advantage with the size of their rooms.
The new owners have chosen a strong brand with their dramatic dark color scheme and elevated both the luxury and playful elements now they have the freedom as an independent hotel without global brand standards. It’s sophisticated, refined yet still fun at the same time. I’m impressed with the well-thought-out and genuine connections the hotel makes to businesses in the local area — there’s a real sense of place as you notice names around you.
It could be years at current pacing before all of the rooms are renovated, so be sure to ask for a refurbished room for the full Dilly experience.
If you are at a loss to entertain little ones next school vacations, I think they would love the Peter Rabbit afternoon tea (this big kid did). The bar in Madhu’s will be a wonderfully elegant and unique place for a tipple before dinner, a show or both in the buzzing West End, as one of the most exciting cities in the world slowly roars back to life.
Featured image by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy
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