India-inspired opulence at the Lalit London

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The names of some guestrooms at the Lalit London, such as the Senior Classroom shown here, pay homage to the property’s past as a school.
The names of some guestrooms at the Lalit London, such as the Senior Classroom shown here, pay homage to the property’s past as a school.

"Namaskar" is not a typical salutation at most London hotels. But then, neither is a doorman dressed in a traditional Indian waistcoat and a turban.

Welcome to the Lalit London, the only hotel operated outside India by the Lalit Suri Hospitality Group. A hotel that blended English and Indian traditions in London was a dream of the late Lalit Suri, who founded the New Delhi-based company that now has 12 luxury properties in India.

His widow and company chairwoman, Jyotsna Suri, honored that dream in 2017, when the opulent Indian-style boutique hotel opened in an old English grammar school in London's South Bank district.

Transforming the Victorian schoolhouse into a luxury hotel that pays homage to the cultures and architecture of both countries took five years and cost $67 million. The result is an elegant retreat where the refined and relaxed atmosphere draws business and leisure guests of all nationalities.

Located on a busy street near the entrance to the Tower Bridge, the building looks much as it did in 1894, when boys first attended St. Olave's Grammar School. What's different? The three-story, red brick and stone structure is dwarfed by the modern steel-and-glass towers that symbolize today's all-business British capital.

The Lalit London in the city’s South Bank underwent a $67 million transformation into a boutique hotel.
The Lalit London in the city’s South Bank underwent a $67 million transformation into a boutique hotel.

More dramatic changes await inside. The bright colors and textures of India are reflected in the handmade tapestries and paintings covering the walls; the hotel's elegant armchairs and high-back sofas also were made in India. Traditional Indian designs embroidered on silk fabrics adorn headboards, bedspreads and curtains in guestrooms, which also are outfitted with modern amenities, such as Japanese heated toilets and smartphones guests can use throughout their stay.

Yet many features of the old English schoolhouse were retained, such as the dark wood paneling and the parquet and tile floors in the bars and reception area. The vaulted ceilings and open gallery of the former Great Hall were refurbished to create the stunning Baluchi, a pan-Indian restaurant. Painted a deep blue reminiscent of the company's India properties, the spacious restaurant is lit by ornate, cobalt-blue chandeliers that were handblown in Hyderabad and weigh half a ton each. The restaurant, which is open to the public for lunch and dinner, serves dishes from Bengal, Delhi, Goa, Kashmir, Kerala and Rajasthan. There's even a bread bar called the Naanery. While the menu reflects the best of India's regional cuisine, afternoon tea is served daily (with samosas) in the gallery.

The 70 guestrooms are large by London standards, and each has a different layout. Top-floor rooms have 30-foot ceilings, and several offer views of nearby landmarks such as the Shard.

Nespresso machines and electric teapots are standard, as are full-size desks. Some rooms have Bluetooth speakers and keyboards. Nightly turndown service includes chocolate truffles.

Six classes of rooms are available, with some bearing academic class designations such as Senior Suite or Junior Classroom. The four-room Legacy Suite features the headmaster's desk from the late 1800s. In addition to two cozy bars, the hotel has the four-room Rejuve spa and a 24-hour gym.

The hotel is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Rates start at $309 per night; see www.slh.com/hotels/the-lalit-london.

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