Playgrounds for sheikhs and oligarchs: the secret world of ​London’s luxury hotels

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The Promenade at the Dorchester, where high sofas and faux-marble pillars make it hard to see who is talking to who.

The best place to watch the world’s money pouring into the UK isn’t at the London Stock Exchange or in the offices of the City’s magic-circle law firms, but holding a cup of tea in one of a handful of hotel lobbies. In the Dorchester’s long, narrow Promenade bar one evening in August, most of the high-backed sofas are occupied by Middle Eastern guests, some of them drinking with friends and families, others sitting next to lawyers and fixers, who listen and scribble. Occasionally, something is signed unsmilingly; hands are shaken.

The Promenade is a public space with privacy designed in – the height of the sofas, and the faux-marble pillars, make it difficult to see who is talking to who. The guests order from the bar menu – beef sliders for £21, £770 for a 50g portion of beluga caviar. An order comes in for a £570 bottle of NV Krug Rosé and, unlike at a Chelsea nightclub, no fuss is made.

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The penthouse at the Dorchester.

A few decades ago, London’s grand hotels were shabby and beleaguered, their rooms empty. Since the crash, without anyone in the real world noticing, they have found success in a new role: as the places where the capital’s new class of plutocrats like to do business; the unofficial bourses of London’s transformation into the richest city in the world.

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“I do business with a Saudi client, and he comes over with an entourage of 70 people,” says an estate agent who has brokered a number of recent eye-popping property deals. “He has homes in London, but he does business in the hotels.”

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