The Cadogan hotel has been given a new lease of life, with a £28m overhaul, Belmond on board and a very British restaurant with Frog restaurateur Adam Handling at the helm. Emma Lake and Katherine Price check in
In his third hop across the capital, chef- restaurateur Adam Handling has landed on a historic Chelsea pad that seduced him with tales of illustrious previous occupants and the promise of traditional British elegance.
This ‘pad' just happens to be the much-anticipated Belmond Cadogan in London; sister property to the acclaimed Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire, and the luxury group's second UK hotel, which has just relaunched after a four-year, £28m renovation.
The Cadogan Estate has owned the property since 2011, buying it for £15.4m from Trinity Hotel Investors in an acquisition that saw the Earl of Cadogan take control of the hotel that bears his family name.
The hotel was closed in July 2014 for a complete refurbishment and was gutted from the first floor up to address the structural issues resulting from the patching together of five properties into one. Odd level changes, small corridors and bathrooms, as well as interior-facing rooms, were preventing the property from hitting five-star standards (and the room rate that go with it).
e hotel was due to reopen in summer 2016 but, as is so often the case with old buildings, there were plenty of surprises: asbestos, archaeological finds that had to be investigated, and a lengthy permit process to install fireplaces. But four years later, the pain is behind them, and the hotel has opened its doors, with a room count that has decreased from 62 to 54, of which two-thirds are now suites, and "all up to what today's luxury traveller would expect," says general manager Klaus Kabelitz. He was enticed back to the UK from Le Richemond, a Dorchester Collection hotel in Geneva, Switzerland, where he moved in 2012 having spent nine years as general manager of the Berkeley in London.
"I don't think these days a GM often gets offered a product as beautiful as this, totally woven into the local fabric, and is asked to turn that into a five-star hotel," he says. The distinctive touches range from the doormen's red tartan uniforms, inspired by the punks who made Chelsea's King's Road famous in the 1960s ("when Adam saw the doormen he wanted one too. We've tweaked budgets so there will be a doorman at both entrances at busy times," says Kabelitz) to its exclusive access to Cadogan Place gardens opposite.
"We're being given this amazing product and the challenge is to uplift it to take its place among our peers," he adds.
Leaping back into hotels
It was this intriguing Queen Anne-style property and its exuberant former occupants, as well as the lure of Belmond's classical approach, that enticed Handling - who had previously sworn off hotels - to take on the executive chef position with responsibility for the entire F&B offering.
From the outset, Cadogan Estates wanted a named chef who would create a destination restaurant that would draw in the locals; part of this was the creation of the restaurant's own entrance on Sloane Street, separate from the hotel.
After one visit to Frog by Adam Handling in Covent Garden, Kabelitz says he was "blown away". "Adam was so engaging and enthusiastic it really went from there… It was one of those things that you know from the beginning just feels right," he says. "I saw how he enthuses his teams, so I knew even on days when he isn't with us there would be plenty of his spirit in the restaurant, and that was important."
On the face of it, it's quite a leap for the Dundee-born chef, who oversees the hotel while running his existing five-venue group. Just three years ago he opened his first London restaurant - the Frog E1 - next to a Shoreditch carpark (it has since relocated to nearby Hoxton), serving up bold dishes to drum and bass beats. A year later he opened Frog by Adam Handling in Covent Garden, with two bars and a delicatessen also joining the group, all with a strong focus on sustainability.
But now that he's in an illustrious west London postcode alongside a giant of luxury travel, will Handling have to adapt? The chef explains: "This will be British elegance at its finest. But you'll know you're in an Adam Handling restaurant from the way the crockery is designed, because the art is by the same artists that supply all my restaurants, because of the hospitality and, fundamentally, the flavours." But it's a hell of a lot more elegant because of the architraves, the royal crest, all of the history that's been brought back. Even the flooring has been restored and this the restaurant] is Lillie Langtry's drawing room, for goodness' sake."
Handling describes art, music, food and alcohol as "the four legs of my table". Katy Jade Dobson's artworks adorn the walls of Adam Handling Chelsea. They are abstract, colourful and delicate, reflecting botanicals and the neighbouring gardens, while a playlist will be curated for the site, retaining enough of a beat for diners to "bob their heads to".
m Handling Chelsea will be the most luxurious in his restaurant group and the pedigree of ingredients will reflect this - when The Caterer drops by, a whole wagyu cow has just been purchased. Just three signature dishes from his other restaurants - mother [celeriac, yolk, apple, truffle, lime], cheese doughnuts and chicken butter - will be included on the Chelsea menu. Handling has developed tasting and Á la carte menus on a 'best of British' concept.
"Previously we've been able to make really tasty food with the most humble ingredients and E1 was a prime example of that. Here, you don't lose that. If you can't make a plate of food taste great with humble ingredients, you'll never do it with the most expensive or luxury ones. You're going to know you're in an Adam Handling restaurant purely because everything tastes big. Big flavours are the main thing, and flavour always comes before presentation in everything we do." The restaurant will have a drinks list focusing on Champagne - Handling has just become a Krug ambassador - as well as "old-school wines". Handling emphasises that the offer must be tailored to the area, leaving behind the natural wines popular in east London, and is determined to operate "the favourite restaurant in the neighbourhood". Merging east and west London For Kabelitz, this neighbourhood focus is key for the hotel, located as it is in a largely residential area between the Chelsea and Knightsbridge high streets. He explains: "I made it very clear that I don't want to be involved in all of Adam's decisions. There are a few where I might give him my opinion and very few where I might say absolutely not, but I didn't want him to feel stifledâ¦ that is what will make this successful as a standalone restaurant. "If you look at Adam and myself, you have two total opposites; different generations. I grew up with classical hotel training, whereas he is from a generation that does business very differently - but I think the fusion of those two backgrounds coming together is going to bring something new and very exciting to London." dling has also developed afternoon tea, breakfast, bar and in-room dining menus as well as a banqueting offering. As he describes his approach, it's clear that comfort, warmth and the feeling of being cared for - even spoilt - lies at its core. The chef explains: "My ethos for the afternoon tea is 'kiddy on you're at your granny's'. It's a Scottish phrase, that means while your mum and dad will always be a little stricter with you in terms of what you eat, how much TV you watch or how much time you spend outside, when you get to your granny's, it's all, 'Do you want a biscuit? Do you want cake? Do you want sweets?' It's all about home comforts and feeling relaxed. This place will be the same. We'll be making big grandma cakes - one for reception, one for the tea lounge and one for the bar - so if you want a slice of cake, you can have one. There will be cookie jars and chocolates everywhere." He adds: "You don't just come to a hotel for a bed to sleep in, you want to be smothered in British cuddles. We're there to provide great hospitality and execute it how British hospitality used to be and should be. It's like you're in my house and that's how you'll be treated." ![klause-kabelit](https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/uusRal2gQLSoJFw4KLRn)Kabelitz emphasises that hiring staff with great personalities who can offer that friendly informality is something both Handling and Belmond see eye-to-eye on. However, he admits that recruiting these personalities has been tough. "Whether it's Brexit or other reasons, there just aren't enough candidates out there and some of the ones we see haven't got the kind of experience we would like them to have," he says. "But we are great believers in training people, so if you haven't had the experience, that is not a reason not to come to us. I just need to be sure that I have enough experienced people for the opening." The hotel has approximately 139 employees and is drawing support from members of staff working in Belmond's Orient Express arm and its other European hotels for its opening month - and he says the team can't wait to show London what it's all about. For Handling, all kitchen positions have been filled, aside from four not required for the launch. The chef says staff retention across the group is "phenomenal", with just one rolling position at Covent Garden that's proved tricky. Many members of his team have been with him from the launch of the Frog E1 and he will happily wax lyrical on the incredible impact of employees who believe in you and are willing to go the extra mile. However, front of house he shares Kabelitz's fears, saying Brexit has "scared the shit out of everybody". From asbestos to Brexit, the Belmond Cadogan has experienced several setbacks in its journey to the opening, but it will be driven by the ambitions of both Handling and Kabelitz, who want to create a venue that plays homage to its history while differentiating itself through nods to its locality and the kind of personalised service that a small luxury hotel can offer. r Handling, who already has a cabinet bursting with awards, including Scottish Young Chef of the Year 2011, Scottish Chef of the Year 2015, the British Culinary Federation's Chef of the Year 2014 and an Acorn Award, his 2019 aspirations include Michelin stars for both Adam Handling Chelsea and Frog by Adam Handling in Covent Garden, although he counters that "it's not the fundamental thing". Meanwhile, Kabelitz would like to provide guests with comfort and pleasant surprises in equal measure. "I'm most looking forward to showing London that, although there is such a big number of competitors at this end of the market, we can still be different," he says. "A lovely old lady can come back having really been rethought and redone. He adds: "People say they loved the old Cadogan. When I dug deeper and asked what they liked about it, it was always the staff and the afternoon tea. So that's what they're going to get in exactly the same way. The staff will not be snooty just because we charge more for the rooms than we did four or five years ago, the afternoon tea will still be recognisable, but the rest is going to be totally different."
The new Belmond CadoganOpened 24 February Bedrooms 54 Owner The Cadogan Estate General manager Klaus Kabelitz Executive chef Adam Handling Design GA Design International (rooms, lobby, private dining room); and Russell Sage Studios (restaurant and bar spaces) Starting room rate £495 Staff 139
Bringing on Belmond It was a surprise for some that Belmond was brought in to manage the hotel, as the company has traditionally focused on property ownership rather than management contracts. "Having a management contract always makes things a bit more complicated - there are three parties you have to satisfy - but I felt that in this case that it was not going to be a challenge," explains general manager Klaus Kabelitz. He confirms there are "plenty of conversations" regarding further management contracts, although nothing can proceed until the completion of the sale of Belmond to French luxury goods company LVMH, which was announced in December with a price tag of £2.5b and is due to complete in the next few months. "Knowing what it \[LVMH\] stands for and having read a couple of its public vision statements, I feel comfortable that we're going to have good conversations. Many of the things it believes in we believe in already, so I don't foresee any great big challenges," Kabelitz says.
![adam-handling_33-1](https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/rpxpMMgSoekY9V7S86Ay)Adam Handling ChelseaRestaurant director Liam Burns Executive pastry chef Chris Underwood Covers 45 plus private dining room Dishes Highland wagyu beef, braised onions and smoked bone marrow; Scottish scallop ceviche with green tomato; lamb Wellington, carrot and mint; langoustine and pink grapefruit Design Adam Handling with Russell Sage Studio
[The ones to watch in 2019: Restaurant openings >>](/articles/543783/the-ones-to-watch-in-2019-restaurant-openings) [Chef profile: Adam Handling, the Frog, London >>](/articles/501779/chef-profile-adam-handling-the-frog-london)
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