It certainly is beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the Sloane Street gardens of the Cadogan Estate, with their trees garlanded in lights and nearly every grand building at their edges sprouting glittering foliage. One such is the Cadogan, a Belmond Hotel, whose graceful columns are wreathed in pine and windows saucily winking with tinsel. And, speaking of sauce – we’re spending the evening with former resident, actress and sometimes-scandal-making socialite, Lillie Langtry, or at least paying homage to her in The Lalee, the hotel eatery dedicated to her.
They’ve set the scene in the dining room where holly boughs festoon the fireplace and chandeliers cast soft light. Tonight we’ve arrived a little early for the Christmas menu (before we’ve even opened our first advent-calendar door), but we’re just in time for a pop-up by chef Robert Toro from Michelin-starred restaurant Otto Geleng (a swap from Sicily’s Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo). A mimosa with a dinky bottle of Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto you can drizzle in to make it blush; meaty red prawns with artichokes, burrata and anchovy-flavoured breadcrumbs; and a cannolo you could take home to nonna might be more bygone summer than ‘season’s greetings’. But, add a perfectly pinked steak, twice-baked Montgomery cheese soufflé and Yule-log-adjacent chocolate-and-coffee millefeuille, and you have an excellent warm-up for December indulgence.
It’s much needed prep, because the Cadogan’s Christmas Day menu is a marathon of five courses, served from 12 noon to 5pm, an increasingly belt-loosening banquet of Jerusalem artichoke tart with a gougère, caviar-topped salmon and crab terrine, turbot in a sauce made from Rathfinny English sparkling wine, turkey and trimmings or 48-day-aged rib of beef, with a final act of Christmas pudding or black-forest gâteau (a vegetarian menu is available too). Then limber up in ‘Twixmas’ for New Year’s Eve, when the five- or six-course menu has the likes of lobster and scallops, sauternes-splashed goose-liver terrine, roast Aylesbury duck in a spiced-port reduction and baked Alaska.
Giddy on festive cheer (several glasses of a luscious Picpoul) and very merry (a touch smashed), we get that Christmas-morning high in the bar and lobby where log fires roar, families of trees pose resplendent in their Xmas ‘eleganza’, and a trolley is laden with sweetie jars. It’s all as serotonin-releasing as Noddy Holder screaming ‘It’s Chriiiiistmaaaasss!’, and all set for partying. So, it’s fortunate that the hotel can host anything from a mimosa-fuelled brunch, to children’s party, to afternoon teas, to sophisticated receptions, to working lunches and full-throttle banquets – all with a festive twist (think pigs in blankets to nibble on, langoustines in spiced-cauliflower bisque, chestnut tortellini, sherry trifle…). It’s a shame Ms Langtry died in 1929, because alongside the hotel’s guéridon service, champagnes and myriad martinis, she’d have been the life and soul of the celebrations. But, in her lieu, we have to say of the Cadogan’s Christmas plans what Lady Sebright once said to Lillie: ‘You’ll be the talk of London tomorrow.’ The Cadogan, A Belmond Hotel, 75 Sloane Street, London SW1X 9SF
The Christmas menu at the Lalee is served from 12 noon to 5pm on Christmas Day (£250 a head), and the New Year’s Eve menu is served 6pm to 9pm or 9pm to 2am (£125 for five courses at the early sitting, £225 for six courses at the late sitting). And to the hotel’s range of festive events can be booked anytime in the run up to Christmas.