Category Archives: London

Kensington Hotel – luxury in the heart of London’s museum district

Just a few weeks earlier I’d been at The Kensington hotel in central London to drink cocktails at the launch of its new bar, the K Bar. Now I was back at the luxury hotel to spend the night and to see if the cocktails I’d sampled before were as good as I remembered.

The hotel, part of the family-owned Doyle Collection, has 126 guest rooms and 24 suites, as well as a gym and restaurant, and is just minutes from South Kensington.

kensington hotel london review
The Kensington Hotel is on a wide, tree-lined street just a short walk from South Kensington

I’d been given a suite for the night which was very pleasant, comprising a lounge with a vast, squashy sofa, a small but smart bathroom and a opulent bedroom with a four-poster bed. Having been in the area for lunch, I arrived at 2pm, a good hour earlier than expected, but the friendly receptionist was unfazed and allowed me to check in.

kensington hotel london review
My studio suite came with a separate lounge…
kensington hotel london review
… which contained a TV, coffee machine and large sofa
kensington hotel london review
My bedroom with its four poster bed and ornate wallpaper

The room was quiet and a perfect retreat from the outside world if a break was what you were looking for, although I suspect most people would head straight out for either a spot of culture – The National History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria and Albert are all just a few minutes’ walk away – or to explore nearby Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Continue reading Kensington Hotel – luxury in the heart of London’s museum district

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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