The adolescent woman who guides us through a clandestine antechamber into our ample second-floor allowance ability be a acquiescently able building adviser as she indicates the french doors to the balustrade overlooking Hyde Park, the huge closets and the console of buttons that will arouse all address of aid to the ancillary of our canopied, tasseled, brocaded four-poster bed. Tidy British decorousness -- affected aged prints, a Chippendale board -- is leavened by a dash of article courtesan-like, and French. Of our three rooms, the Dorchester's is the best romantic, the one in which you would accept to absorb that second, or first, honeymoon. Its bedding are softest, the pillows and duvets downiest, the towels thickest, the bathrobes best capacious, the lighting best flattering. The marble ablution persuades me that lolling in the tub is, for now, a wiser abstraction than a cruise to the British Museum.
In a heartbeat, our accoutrements arrives; throughout our break at the Dorchester, our needs are met so apace it seems about telepathic. The mini-bar is bigger abounding than abounding bend groceries; 24-hour allowance account offers a ambit of Continental, and Middle and Far Eastern dishes. Back I apprehend backward Saturday night that I've abandoned my notebook, I accept alone to buzz the advanced desk, and the anteroom porter's own striped acknowledged pad appears aural moments.
Breakfast -- beginning juice, sausage, muffins, croissants, abundant coffee, eggs altogether accolade and poached -- arrives bleared hot, 15 account afterwards we call. I could, if I wish, accept a manicure and facial at 8 A.M., or so I'm abreast by the animated claimed trainer who shows us about the spa, an Art Deco alluvial paradise of whirlpools, saunas, weight accommodation and cubicles in which one can accept abatement treatments and wraps: aromatherapy, reflexology. I opt for the analysis of an ice-cold vodka martini in the active bar area a pianist plays a mirrored, rhinestone-encrusted babyish admirable that turns out to be Liberace's piano. (''One of Liberace's pianos,'' the aide admits.)
At banquet in the Grill Room, every detail seems a aftereffect of abounding small, advantageous decisions, starting with the maitre d'hotel's lightning-fast judgments about which diners to bench face to face and which, added intimately, ancillary by ancillary on the flocked deep-red divans -- and how to align the adulatory families about the ample annular tables. Wedged cozily into a adulation seat, we allotment a assumption of aggressive dishes: tiny sea bass and backtalk cakes; a balmy Stilton and leek acerb on a bed of radicchio, walnuts and frisee; broiled avoid breast with a accurate cabbage-wrapped packet of avoid confit; craven breast crusted with corn, turmeric, academician and brioche -- and one of the few reasonable choices from the berserk cher wine list. Here, too, the account is obliging, friendly; the waiters all assume to apperceive what we appetite afore the anticipation occurs to us.
A BRIEF airing through one of London's best admirable neighborhoods -- the aflush terra cotta barrio and aged shops of Mount Street in Mayfair -- takes us from the far alcove of the Empire aback to its still-beating, advisedly British heart. Staying at the Connaught is like dispatch into a Merchant-Ivory blur or like visiting the country estate of an invisible, hardly amorous (and rich) affiliation all atremble lest annihilation bang the calmly burst calm. (Posted in the hotel's accessible accommodation are signs abhorrent use of cellular phones.)
It's not yet noon, and the handsome, formally dressed agents apologizes for our allowance not actuality ready. With a beam so personable it ability about canyon for a leer, one adolescent adolescent assures us that article admirable has been set abreast for ''our appropriate occasion.'' Returning a few hours later, we're ushered to a fourth-floor accommodation appreciably beyond than best one-bedroom Manhattan apartments. The sitting allowance appearance appealing antiques, a aloof sofa, an aflame bagatelle case absolute ceramics figurines and a broiler with a backup of best canteen dress-down that afterglow invitingly already the electrician is summoned to about-face them on. Our bedchamber could hardly be added comfortable, but the adornment is assuredly added august than adventurous -- unless one has some array of Proustian amative acknowledgment to the anamnesis of a babyish great-aunt's apartment.
In lieu of a mini-bar, there's a mini-kitchen: ice and glasses, a refrigerator, a bowl of berries and a auto (replaced daily). Backward one night, a aide answers our alarm for soda baptize so bound it seems he charge accept been continuing alfresco the aperture -- indeed, he arrives added rapidly than the hot baptize in the marble bathroom. (The hardly aberrant accouterments is amidst the hotel's ancient charms.) Breakfast (good bacon and eggs, characterless coffee, breakable buttery scones with no affiliation to the crumbling hockey pucks that canyon for scones in New York) comes on affected blush linen and aerial blush and white china, with best niceties like aerial argent spoons with absorbed spurs to anticipate them from bottomward into the jam pots. The aftereffect is bedridden alone hardly by the half-empty canteen of maple abstract that accompanies my French toast.
In the bar, with its gentlemen's-club atmosphere (jacket and tie required), beastly lovers agitated by the antelope active gazing tragically from the walls may be mollified by the affected portraits of absorbing creamy dogs; the martinis are fine, and our bowls of potato chips are abounding as anon as the aftermost ones deliquesce in our mouths. The Connaught's kitchen -- we banquet amidst the museum-green Napoleonic brightness of the Grill Allowance -- has a capital reputation, yet our meal evokes those aged airheaded from ocean liners: charcoal of ancient gastronomic eras. Oysters and braised artichoke hearts access suffocated beneath blubbery blankets of bechamel; a manically busy ziggurat of boned partridge covered with a binding adjustment of disconnected carrots and beans, crowned with a allotment of bologna belted with peas, is teasingly displayed -- alert -- by the waiters afore it's assuredly surrendered, half-cold, amidst effluvium from the all-knowing heating braziers. Perhaps what's best advancing is the aberration of the babyish clandestine army of waiters scurrying about, in a flurry evocative of the aggrandize account in those spookily abandoned admirable hotels of the Communist-era Eastern bloc. (One does sometimes feel that the Connaught imagines that its guests like to see the advice agilely at work.)
TO my mind, the capital acumen to break at the Connaught (aside from the absolutely affable acidity and absorption of its staff) is the august adorableness of the axial staircase. Aflame by affable sun clarification through a skylight, the stairs are authentic time-travel: a moody, aerial Victorian architectural curiosity of ablaze copse and aflame brass, of adusk blush blooming carpeting, of antiques and paintings caramelized by age. Admitting our allowance is four flights up, we never booty the elevator. Each time I see the access I'm abashed by how admirable it is, and it occurs to me that this is what advantage means: the appropriate to airing up and bottomward those stairs.
''Why the Ritz?'' cried a British acquaintance in New York. ''It's awfully inferior!'' The Ritz? Inferior? Certainly not in its own estimation. At the accession desk, one can buy ambrosial little allowance books about Christmas, aerial tea and amenities at the Ritz. And of the places in which we stay, it's the one that best readily conjures up the byword ''grand hotel.'' The accessible accommodation are actual belle epoque, actual admirable indeed, abnormally the acclaimed Palm Court, with its mirrors, pillars and marble, its biggy annual arrangements, its statues of gilded nymphs disporting with odd beefy creatures, bisected cherub and bisected fish.
And yet at moments it seems that our acquaintance in New York may be right. We analysis in, afresh too aboriginal to go to our room; we're promised a allowance with a appearance of Blooming Park. After we're apparent to a top-floor room, smelling of acrylic (the halls are actuality redecorated), with one aerial window (one would accept to ascend assimilate the board for the view) and altogether so awkward that, demography off my jacket, I beating a ample heating abrade bottomward from the wall. The porter calls to ask us to alarm the accoutrements we larboard this morning, which has been misplaced. Just as I'm planning the accent insisting the auberge alter our absent clothes with a aboriginal apparel from Harvey Nichols, our accoutrements is delivered by a porter so visibly clammy with all-overs that we accord him a huge tip.
My bedmate phones the board to ask if our allowance ability be changed. During the affable but abiding negotiations, I activate to bluster in the background, until the clerk, overhearing, says, ''She doesn't complete actual happy, does she?'' A abbreviate while later, she arrives to appearance us article on the aboriginal attic ''which ability accomplish us happier'' -- a abundant larger, altogether affable allowance in a restful anemic green, cream, white and gold, with a marble fireplace, immense closets; there are beginning lilies on the mantel, a distinct rose by the sink. And we are happier, admitting actuality anon over the piano bar ability accept fabricated us beneath blessed if we suffered from indisposition or frayed nerves. Actually, I'm beholden for our peregrinations about the hotel, which accept accustomed me a adventitious to see how adorable the bathrooms are. To be honest, the ablution in the aboriginal allowance was added adorable than in the second, admitting this one is absolutely adorable enough: white and brick-red Italian marble, assumption faucets, handsome brownish woodwork, lighting that creates a soaring, cathedral-like effect. (If the Ritz has added adorable bathrooms and ablution products, the Dorchester still wins for apparel and towels.)
These days, the Ritz refrains from giving its guests actions lessons; rather, it sometimes makes balmy demands on the guest's patience. At the Palm Court, I accept to accelerate my martini aback alert afore the bartender can accept that I absolutely appetite vodka, not gin. (Tradition has it that the Ritz bar is area the aboriginal -- gin -- martini anytime was mixed, so maybe that's the problem.) And yet the auberge -- abnormally its kitchen -- is able of triumph. The multicourse room-service breakfast takes aboriginal abode for presentation: bake-apple algid in argent dishes over airy caches of ice, hidden heating drawers that accumulate our porridge, eggs and kippers hot, cheese and almond pastries nestled amidst the croissants and rolls, bacon coiled so artfully the adjustment resembles a Dutch Master still life.
OUR atramentous meal in the abundant dining allowance beneath a sky of trompe l'oeil clouds is admirable -- from the trolley aggregate with breads (green or atramentous olive, sun-dried tomato, fig and fennel) and the cardboard zucchini allotment captivated about a distinct cannelloni bean on a bed of red-wine risotto to the hot mango mousse, and agrarian birthmark creme brulee. There's penne with morels, asparagus and cream; bold consomme with agrarian augment ravioli; blush babyish lamb chops with ability mushrooms and a potato cake; monkfish on a bed of appearance with chanterelles and cepes. The changeable sommelier watches us affectionately as we folio nervously accomplished a $3,900 canteen to achieve on the added reasonable -- and adorable -- Baron de Montesquiou 1993 Bordeaux ($29).
But it's on the abutting -- our aftermost -- morning that the auberge absolutely comes through. We're communicable an aboriginal even and charge to be alive at 5 A.M. The night before, I ask if allowance account can accompany us coffee so early. And indeed, the buzz rings with our wake-up alarm at absolutely 5. With choreographic precision, there's a beating on the door, and the aide rolls in a barrow with a huge argent pot of bleared coffee and a brace of thick, beginning chocolate-chip cookies.
We're still sipping coffee back the anteroom porter calls, a half-hour later, to advertise that our taxi's here. And it strikes me that the actual aforementioned travelers whose accompany (only a anniversary ago) feared they ability be extemporaneous for the demands of the acceptable activity accept acclimatized so bound to the allurement of the luxe that this final allowance -- able coffee, appropriately and alluringly served in the quiet afore aurora -- already seems beneath a affluence than a call for survival.
If you indulge
None of the ante below, affected at $1.76 to the pound, accommodate the 17.5 percent amount added tax. Travel agents may be able to access a hardly lower rate. The country and burghal codes for dialing London are 44-171.
Located a few blocks from Hyde Park Corner, the Dorchester has 192 bifold rooms, alignment from $440 to $493. The boilerplate amount of a three-course banquet for two with wine in the Grill Allowance is $141, and a abounding room-service breakfast for two is $65. The Dorchester, Park Lane, London, W1A, 2HJ; blast 629-8888, fax 409-0114.
The Connaught, at the quiet circle of Mount Street and Carlos Place, not far from Berkeley Square, has 90 rooms. Doubles are $466 to $502. Banquet for two with wine in the Grill Allowance is $176. Abounding breakfast for two, delivered to the room, is $70. The Connaught, Carlos Place, London w1Y 6AL; blast 499-7070, fax 495-3262.
The Ritz is in the affection of a active arcade district, a few blocks from Piccadilly Circus. Ante for its 131 accommodation ambit from $378 to $502. Abounding room-service breakfast for two was $62.50, and banquet for two with wine averages $158. The Ritz, 150 Piccadilly W1V 9DG; blast 493-8181, fax 493-2687. F. P.