Putting on the Ritz

Synonymous with luxury, the Ritz in London is open to all who can afford the very expensive afternoon tea (£49.50 per person), lunch (£57pp) or a room (starts at £445.20).  Nicky and I have been twice, once for the said afternoon tea (a gift to us both from the staff at our then office) and secondly for Sunday lunch, this time as guests of friends.  We thought the whole place overrated, afternoon tea just ordinary and lunch competent but the extraordinary mark ups on wine produced severe wallet palpitations – sure they will have eye watering overheads (and I wonder what their staff are paid) but mark ups of six times cost price seems well, greedy is an understatement.

We felt that most guests were there for the the first time (possibly only time) at both tea and lunch and these first timers were just (a lot) intimidated by the OTT kitsch of the dining room and some of the waiters’ antics.The Ritz still operates a dress code and one review speaks, with outrage, of not being allowed in to dine because they were both wearing trainers.  Cue American accent “But the combined cost of these trainers was $1600” (has the world gone mad?).  “It is our dress policy”.  Ok, not one we would enforce but its their place and their rules.  Did I imagine the review where a woman said she had to borrow a skirt?  I am not sure.

The real question is “How far is Hammet@Castell Malgwyn different from the Ritz”.  The simple answer is not that much, in that like the legendary destination hotel, we do rooms, afternoon tea, breakfast, lunch and dinner at much lesser prices.  But we are in the same business of serving a public looking for a treat, be it a night away or a special meal. What amused me most, looking at the reviews, was the fact that even the Ritz is not immune to criticisms about its water supply or the fact that updating is required. Like us, it occupies an old building, not as old as Castell Malgwyn admittedly, but still old.  Old buildings require constant TLC  and the use, by the public, of facilities on a daily basis, is grievously punishing and means endless repair and replacement. To many people a night at Hammet@Castell Malgwyn is undreamed of luxury.  To many many more, a night at the Ritz is even more remote but, and it is a big but, dinner with us costs very little more than three courses at many pubs and for the small increase in cost, diners eat delicious and expertly crafted food in a lovely room, surrounded by real rather than corporate artwork, served by friendly local people paid more than the industry norm, with linen table cloths and linen napkins.  

And our rooms, all right the starting price will not get one of our very best rooms but one that is perfectly serviceable and comfortable, start at only £100 for two without breakfast or not much more than a B&B.

And since we are VAT registered, a whole one sixth of everything we sell is collected by us on behalf of a rapacious and greedy government and HMRC has more powers than the Nazi SS or apartheid South African police force.  But that is for another day.   But, do you know what?  TripAdvisor rating for the Ritz = 4.5.  TripAdvisor for us = 4.5.  That’s nice.

Our Game of Thrones

I don’t normally complain

but there are occasions when the whole experience has been so disappointing that something needs to be said

This was one such.  As readers will realize, we have a hotel ourselves in an 18th century building with 16 bedrooms and are well aware of the fact that things go wrong and with the best will in the world it is difficult either to predict them or resolve them immediately. However, our disappointment with this hotel was not so much a result of unforeseen events as, well read on.

We travel to our house in Greece every year, driving there and taking our dogs and making something of a road trip in each direction, choosing deliberately what we think will be interesting places to stay, preferably small independently run historic house hotels with good food. Our dogs cannot be left by themselves, poor little Bartleby is severely autistic and shrieks and howls if left alone and Mrs Ruskin joins in. Many years ago I left my then two dogs in a car and returned to find both front seats shredded – an experience I am not anxious to repeat. Hence when booking I always ensure that there is a place for us to eat where dogs are permitted.

On arrival at this nameless hotel in a 17th century chateau we were greeted by Monsieur Le Proprietaire who, while taking us to our room and, when asked about the dogs in the restaurant, said that they were not allowed and they would have to stay in the room or the car.

No, there was no bar area where we could eat.

No, there was no little private room where we could eat.

No, the meal could not be served in our room.

No, they could not come in the restaurant and if we did not want to leave them in the car or our room we should go somewhere else to eat but he added “As it is Monday a lot of places will be shut”.

I pointed out that there had been an exchange of emails where we had been told that dogs were welcome in the dining room and he flatly denied this.

In a previous life I have been both a lawyer and a judge and frankly to have my word doubted was offensive but hey,let’s not go there.

We were shown our room and this turned out to be a small room (tagged as suitable for the disabled) on the ground floor opening straight into the garden with a large lavatory in one corner and a shower in the other. ie no privacy whatsoever. Looking at other comments I saw that this had been mentioned before in a negative way, and Monsieur Le Prop said, in September 2017, it would be remedied. Beware, dear reader, it has not and if you are of sensitive disposition (which I suspect most people are) this would very definitely not be a room for you.

Third problem. The internet would not work. I wanted to find the email where the hotel confirmed that the dogs could go in the restaurant. I went to Monsieur Le Prop but he could not make it work either and still refused to countenance having the dogs in, well his exact words were “Je suis le propietaire and je ne veux pas les chiens dans mon gourmet restaurant”.

I went back to the Chamber of Horrors and, using my wife’s telephone, managed to get my laptop going and found the email which said “and of course the dogs are welcome in the restaurant”. I took this to Monsieur Le Prop and showed him it. He capitulated with very evident bad grace. Had he not done so I think we would have left but were tired so decided to accept the ghastly room and not argue further.

We were one of two couples dining in the restaurant that night. There was no one else and the other couple seemed completely unperturbed by our dogs who lay quietly under the table.

In fact our dogs had lain quietly under the table the night before at the restaurant in Northern Italy and, indeed, have done so at approaching 20 Michelin starred restaurants across Europe including several 2 stars.

The meal itself was 49 euros per person and competent – 2 AA rosette standard we thought – and as such the price was unremarkable.

However, the wine list. Our fourth problem. My goodness what eye-watering prices with a very limited selection but starting at 50 euros. We drank a bottle of Macon Solutre-Pouilly marked up at four times its cost price

And yes, (fifth problem)  there was a lot of vehicle and train noise so if one is used to the utter peace and quiet of the countryside, apart from the occasional animal or owl doing its red in tooth and claw number – as we are – this is not the place to stay .

Nor is it if you have dogs. We paid 30 euros extra for the privilege of having them in our lavatory with a bed in it.

And (oh yes, sixth problem) no milk, one bag of black tea, three coffee pods and a machine without instructions meant no early morning drink either. And no, we do not want to pay 18 euros each for coffee and croissants, fruit etc so did not and found, a couple of miles down the road, a boulangerie with all manner of nice things.

So all in all, following our previous night’s Michelin star experience in a old-fashioned coaching inn in Northern Italy, the previous night to that in the principal suite of a medieval Italian castle with a polished concrete bath in which 4 people could have disported and a bedroom where the ceiling had been painted in celebration of the marriage of a member of the family to a daughter of Tsar Nicholas I, to be stuck in a room containing an oversized lavatory (after what must have been the most unwelcoming of greetings in our lives) we could only conclude that Monsieur Le Prop was having a joke at the expense of Les Rosbifs.

Sorry to have gone on a bit but every one of our complaints, with the exception of road and train noise, was avoidable

Question for The Moral Maze “Should we also have complained about our room or simply told him what to do with his Bog Room?”

Anyway, we live and learn and visitors to Hammet@Castell Malgwyn can be assured that

  1. Dogs are welcome in all public areas except the restaurant (we are in the UK where a lot of people seem to dislike children and dogs) but their owners can eat with them in our bar, a small private room or their own rooms
  2. There is no rail or road noise
  3. Our wine mark ups are much less than industry norms
  4. There is a supply of coffee and teas with milk (fresh available on request) in every room
  5. Wifi is patchy in some rooms but good in public areas

and finally

f .All our bathrooms have doors…