The most glamorous new hotel cookbook of the year instantly transported Alyssa Shelasky back to her sexy, single days staying at London's grandest hotel. Consider it a Proustian madeleine for Anglophiles everywhere.
When the new Claridge’s cookbook arrived in the mail, I wasn’t sure if the package was the cheeky, curse-filled bedtime story I’d ordered for my two-year-old or one of the most anticipated cookbooks in years, a publication that was destined to taste like sparkles and scones and celebrity panache.
Score. It was Claridge’s! But I couldn’t vanish inside the pages—or memories—just yet. My house was trashed from a weekend of nieces and nephews let loose everywhere; the dishes had piled up to the ceiling; I had important deadlines and desperately needed to wash my hair.
The regal minty-green cookbook sat quietly, elegantly, on my scrappy kitchen table as I tidied and sighed. And then I took a shower.
Hair wet, face scrubbed, I put on a plush white hotel bathrobe (because, what else?), and brought Claridge’s cookbook to bed. After one glance at the glamorous black-and-white tiled lobby, captured in a photo on page 121, I was transported to another time in my life: a time when I was single, my only baggage was a Burberry trench coat, and my only big decision was “still or sparkling?”
Before becoming a mother, London was my broken-hearted halfway house; the place I went to have a one-night stand with myself. I often happened to be in-between relationships when I arrived, licking my wounds (and martini-glass rims) in romantic limbo. I’d usually check in to Claridge’s after 48 hours of breakup tears, or after a big fight with some European jerk. The timeless Mayfair hotel immediately and permanently became my favorite hotel in the world—my place of refuge.
Probably having something to do with emotional exhaustion, and everything to do with the warm symphony of the staff, the minute I’d see those checkered lobby tiles, I’d experience a complete divorce from reality. The poignancy of the sounds and stairwells and off-duty celebrities would overcome me.
When the elevator attendant would take me up in the lift (while I sat on a petite velvet settee, no less), I couldn’t help but wonder: Is this my staircase to heaven? Am I dead? God has amazing taste, if so.
And yet, I still had a pulse. I was just on my own. Well, I had a butler. But if your butler comes to draw you a lavender bubble bath and gift you with monogrammed silk pajamas and no one is there to see it, did it even really happen? I did not know.
I always just wanted to show someone, anyone really, my hotel suite on these solo visits. And so, one night, I found myself giving James Franco come-hither eyes in Claridge’s elegant Fumoir Bar, indisputably the best cocktail bar in the land.
It’s not that I wanted to have sex with James Franco. I just needed someone else to experience the wonder of it all with me. To moan if only for the delicate chocolates and glittering crystal and the elongated hallway from my living quarters to my sleeping quarters, a generous hallway I will never know back in Brooklyn.
Alas. James Franco was all about Michelle Williams that night, so I flirted with one of the executive producers of the film they were all there to celebrate. When we moved into The Foyer restaurant for a bite to eat, the unremarkable executive producer turned out to be an assistant’s assistant. Which offended me only because I was stuck ordering “Chicken Pie” with a phony, when I could have been sipping cocktails and stalking celebrities.
But all of that was remedied when the food sailed out. The pie was the sort of dish you take one bite of and then declare, “Wait. Don’t talk to me.” It was perfection on a silver platter, as is everything ever eaten at Claridge’s.
The trip before this one entailed the same dizzying enchantment and aloneness, save a rendezvous with a random jet-setter I had met, only once, in New York. He contacted me on Facebook when he learned we were both in London. Pretty sure he was gay, I was thrilled to meet up, especially without any romantic pressure.
We met at the hotel’s eponymous Claridge’s Bar, a space that transcends the word “classy.” He promptly ordered vintage champagne and bar food involving heaps of caviar.
What happened next was straight out of The Talented Mr. Ripley, in that after enough champagne, the jet-setter confessed to a life of pure mooching and hustling. Basically, he pursued friendships with extremely wealthy people and lingered around them, all over the world, until they lost interest. (He was very handsome, which helped.)
Wonderful. And I knew what was coming next: the bill. He stiffed me with the bill. Which was exorbitant and very hard to explain to my already-tight editor (though, I did). Regardless, it was the best bar food I’d ever eaten, with or without an imposter.
Back home in Brooklyn, I’m no longer a singleton or travel snob. I’m now a mother to a toddler. Instead of an upholstered private elevator, I have a third-floor walk-up apartment. I love my busy, messy life as a mom, but what I’d give for a butler to buy me a new sponge, let alone iron my underwear.
When I open the book, the first page I turn to is the Chocolate Fondants with Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream recipe. I remember ordering the decadent dessert through room-service one night—and devouring it like a quiet rebel, perched naked on the expensive, art deco rug.
Aside from my silver fork on the fine china, the room was absolutely silent. I remember closing my eyes, disappearing into chocolate ooze. Wait. Don’t talk to me.
On those sacred days and nights in London, my love affair with Claridge’s was all I had. Screw James Franco—I was alone and it was sublime. But now, with this gorgeous cookbook, I can finally share my favorite hotel with someone other than my butler. Maybe I’ll make that chicken pie or chocolate dessert for my family tomorrow.
Claridges: The Cookbook, $40 from Amazon