Category Archives: London

A room (and cocktails) with some serious views at ME London luxury hotel

The view from the top of the 5 star ME London hotel is a tourist’s delight, taking in the London Eye, Big Ben, St Paul’s, Tower Bridge, The Shard and everything in between. Having evening cocktails on the Radio Rooftop bar in the sun, however, feels like you could be in a bar thousands of miles away – Las Vegas, for example, or Dubai.

The luxury 157-room ME London hotel, designed by acclaimed architects Fosters + Partners and part of the Spanish Melia Hotels International chain, also has two restaurants and a lobby bar in its central London location on The Strand, but it is its rooftop bar which really stands out. Drinking in London is usually such a ground level experience (often below ground) that it’s a shock to be 10 storeys up in the sky, in the sunshine. It feels exotic, which isn’t usually the case when you go for a mid-week drink.

rooftop bar ME London
The Radio Rooftop bar on the 10th floor of ME London has great views of the city

I’d been to the bar on top of the ME London hotel, which is on the corner of The Strand and Aldwych, a couple of years ago, and had been completely put off by the clipboard-wielding doorstaff at ground level. They glared at me while saying things like ‘Your name’s not on the list’, glared at me even more when I pointed out my name was on the list in front of them, and were very reluctant to let me into the lift up to the roof.

rooftop bar ME London
From our table we could see all the way to the Shard and Tower Bridge, and over to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben in the other direction
rooftop bar ME London
Sampling the rather fine cocktails at Radio Rooftop

However Guillaume Marly, the extremely capable and friendly general manager of the hotel who has previously worked at The Ritz, The Connaught and former hotspot Chiltern Firehouse, says that he changed 90 per cent of the staff when he took over last year, and the staff are now chosen for welcoming personalities rather than their ability to make everyone feel they shouldn’t be there.

Thus everyone at the Radio Rooftop was ultra-friendly, from Jonathan the fabulous bar manager, to the longest-serving member of staff Renato and various others who showered us with cocktails. I was reviewing it of course, so they could have been on their best behaviour, but the way they were meeting and greeting other drinkers and rushing around fulfilling orders implied that this was the new, friendlier way of doing things. Continue reading A room (and cocktails) with some serious views at ME London luxury hotel

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal review: food for thought

Turning up to lunch at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal with a copy of the menu from The Fat Duck at Bray (also by Heston Blumenthal, where my dining companion Simon had eaten just the week before) is some serious fanboy behaviour. It is also guaranteed to provoke comparison between the two, which could have been an unfair contest.

Now I haven’t yet been to The Fat Duck, but judging by Simon’s description and Exhibit A – said menu – it sounded like a magical journey into another world, where Alice in Wonderland meets your very own childhood memories and you lose touch with reality for the day. Whereas Dinner, after all, is just a restaurant.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal review
Not your average menu…

Thankfully, Heston is more than capable of standing up to the competition, even when it is himself. Thus while Dinner, Heston’s restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in London’s Knightsbridge, could have looked terribly prosaic for having a menu with – yawn – starters, mains and desserts listed on it (while The Fat Duck had a map, and a reverse timeline, and illustrations, and needed a magnifying glass in parts) the dishes listed on it are so far from ordinary that you can forget about the other place down the M4 altogether. Continue reading Dinner by Heston Blumenthal review: food for thought

The Levin, Knightsbridge: a calm retreat from the shopping frenzy

It is just seconds from the shopping and traffic maelstrom which is Knightsbridge, but The Levin hotel is the very essence of calm and tranquility. If you are looking for a place where the party continues until the small hours, then this small, smart, townhouse hotel just round the back of Harrods is not for you; but if you want to retreat from the world in a little bubble of your own, then The Levin is ideal.

the levin hotel
My smart and spacious bedroom, a junior suite

With just 12 bedrooms, a tiny reception and a surprisingly modern-looking bistro restaurant downstairs, the family-owned Levin doesn’t have a spa, swimming pool, separate bar or fine dining restaurant which other London hotels might.

the levin hotel
The Levin’s blue and calming reception

What it does have is peace and quiet and the air of a cosy retreat from the world. If you want fine-dining or a lively bar then just next door is its sister hotel, The Capital [reviewed by ALadyofLeisure.com here], which has Michelin-starred restaurant Outlaw’s, plus the Capital Bar, ably looked after by cocktail supremo Cesar da Silva. Continue reading The Levin, Knightsbridge: a calm retreat from the shopping frenzy

Balans – it’s smarter, sexier and has its very own tree

Returning to Balans on Kensington High Street was like visiting an old friend who had had a complete image change in the intervening years. My colleagues and I used to come here for a post-work glass of wine of two, sitting squashed into the tall velvet banquettes which lined one wall and made the narrow restaurant look even narrower. Now it’s called Balans Soho Society, the banquettes are gone, a skylight has been opened up in the roof making the space a lot lighter and airier, and oh yes, there’s a tree growing out of one of the tables.

balans soho society kensington
The new-look Balans Soho Society on Kensington High Street. And there’s the tree – look closer and you’ll see it’s hung with little keys, the symbol of its members’ club

Having been a Kensington fixture for 15 years, which must be something of a record, Balans has rebranded, refurbed and is keen to attract the new generation of local drinkers.  The cocktail list has been totally revamped, so as well as high-end classics such as Death in the Afternoon (Hemingway’s favourite – absinthe and champagne) and the Porn Star martini, there is also a whole range of sours, plus home creations with names such as Slap on the Rum and The Society Teddy Bear (served in a honey bear bottle). Continue reading Balans – it’s smarter, sexier and has its very own tree

Sexy Fish: Mayfair’s slice of loud, brash, bling and fun

Sexy Fish, the newly-opened £15 million restaurant from  Richard Caring (The Ivy, Le Caprice, J Sheekey) doesn’t actually look very sexy from the outside. It’s rather plain and square and dull and looks not dissimilar from the NatWest bank it used to be, plonked on the bottom corner of Berkeley Square. If it weren’t for the fact that SEXY FISH is in massive letters on the front then I would probably have walked right past it. ‘Somebody spent £15 million on this?’ I thought – and then I walked in.

sexy fish
Not very sexy from the outside…

What a contrast. Being inside Sexy Fish is like no other restaurant I’ve been in for some time, if not ever.

It is not subtle.

It is like being inside a jewellery box, a Las Vegas casino and an Arabian palace all in one (it has been memorably described as ‘like being punched in the face by Abu Dhabi’).

There’s a waterfall running the entire length of the wall behind the bar to give that all-important indoor monsoon effect. There are 20 luminous floating Frank Gehry fish flying around at one end of the room and a 13ft crocodile, also by Gehry, climbing the wall at the other end. Continue reading Sexy Fish: Mayfair’s slice of loud, brash, bling and fun