Category Archives: Food & Drink

Fine dining and summer cocktails at the 600-year old coaching inn Bel and The Dragon, Cookham

Exactly 600 years ago, the Bel and The Dragon coaching inn was built in the pretty Berkshire town of Cookham and six centuries later, I took a friend with me to stay at the pub and see what it was actually like. Well, you don’t want to rush these things…

While it is officially 600 years old – there’s even an sign outside showing the date it was built, making it one of the oldest pubs in Britain – the Cookham Bel and The Dragon is now part of a thoroughly modern seven-strong Bel and The Dragon chain, part-owned by entrepreneur Joel Cadbury. It might have a long history but since the late 1980s it had been sadly neglected and was barely trading when bought out of administration. Now Cadbury and his business partner Ollie Vigors have spent several years (and no small amount of money) restoring the pub to its former glory, much to the delight of local residents.

bel and the dragon cookham review
Bel and The Dragon in Cookham is one of the oldest pubs in the country and stands out on Cookham Village high street

In fact, my expectations of Bel and The Dragon had been pretty high before I had even set foot in Cookham, which isn’t always a good thing: just a few days before at a press party in London I had mentioned I was staying there at the weekend and a whole group of people – who turned out to be from nearby Bray – had excitedly talked over each other to tell me just how fabulous it was and how its head chef, Ronnie Kimbugwe, was just the very best. After such a write-up, it seemed that Bel and The Dragon could only suffer in reality. Continue reading Fine dining and summer cocktails at the 600-year old coaching inn Bel and The Dragon, Cookham

Cosy Cotswolds charm at The Painswick, Sunday Times Hotel of the Year

Being named The Sunday Times’ Hotel of the Year, which The Painswick was just a few weeks ago,  can be a double-edged sword. On the upside, the phone hasn’t stopped ringing since the news came out, bookings are through the roof and for a seven-month-old hotel, it is an incredible achievement.

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The Painswick was built in the 18th century and was once a vicarage

The downside to that, is that some guests expect the hotel, tucked into a corner of the charming Cotswolds village of Painswick, to be well, rather grander. The Painswick doesn’t have a multi-million pound spa, acres of  stunning gardens or a Michelin-starred restaurant, a private cinema (unlike its sister hotel and near neighbour Barnsley House) or an outdoor swimming pool (like its other Cotswolds relative, Calcot Manor.)

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Built on the side of a hill in Painswick village, the original building has been extended over the years and now includes a garden wing and terrace for weddings

People in search of the ultimate bells-and-whistles hotel experience – dress code for dinner, a turn-down service – might want to search elsewhere. But for those looking for a friendly, cosy break where you feel instantly at home, where staff will offer to pick you up from the local pubs after a country walk  and where you can fall asleep on the lounge sofa in front of the fire, The Painswick is perfect. Continue reading Cosy Cotswolds charm at The Painswick, Sunday Times Hotel of the Year

It’s a day of tasty foodie firsts at the River Cottage cookery school

Last week, at home, I had some of the best bread I’d ever eaten. It was a soft, brown loaf and tasted marvellous. Was it the ingredients, I wondered – organic wholemeal stoneground flour. Or was it the fact that I’d made the whole thing myself, under the expert guidance of the River Cottage cookery school? Either way, it taught me two things: one, that there is something really special about eating something which you’ve created from scratch, and two, there’s no way I’m ever buying a shop-made loaf again.

River Cottage cookery school
Familiar to millions of fans of the River Cottage TV series – it’s the River Cottage

My one-day cookery course at the River Cottage was full of revelations. I like cooking, but I’m not a fan of lengthy, complicated recipes: more than five ingredients makes me think it’s not worth the hassle. However the dishes we made at the River Cottage were straightforward and easy to remember; as well as the bread we made Chinese fish parcels, faggots with onion gravy and fruit galettes, while feasting on extra nibbles such as beetroot and walnut hummus and crunchy salted caramel chunks.

River Cottage cookery school
The kitchen garden round the back of the cottage is full of impressive-looking herbs and vegetables

However this wasn’t just a cooking-by-numbers exercise but cooking completely from scratch, so we learned how to descale and fillet freshly-caught pollock, we lovingly stirred and kneaded and rolled our bread while being taught all about yeast and sourdough,  and we even formed an orderly queue to mince our plates of pig’s heart, liver and lungs to shape into the perfect faggots. All the time our good-natured chef Andy was fielding questions from our class of 20, some of whom were passionate foodies, others who were first-time chefs or, like me, keen to branch away from the same old recipes. Continue reading It’s a day of tasty foodie firsts at the River Cottage cookery school

Noble Rot on Lamb’s Conduit Street, a welcome addition to memory lane

It is hard not to start off a review of Noble Rot restaurant – as practically every other reviewer has done – with a nostalgic look back at days gone by, spent in the various pubs and wine bars of Lamb’s Conduit Street.

It seems that every journalist used to work or live just round the corner (I did both). In spite of being stuck in the no-man’s land between Holborn and King’s Cross, Lamb’s Conduit Street still retains a quirky feel – with cafes, independent book shops, the Lamb pub still there after roughly a gazillion years – and a trip back there does feel like going back in time.

Noble Rot London
Noble Rot’s restaurant is cosy and dark even on a sunny day – but it’ll bring back fond memories for anyone who used to live or work nearby

However I shall skip all that – mentioning only in passing that Noble Rot is where Vats wine bar used to be, prompting a massive flash-back feeling when I edged my way down the terrifying spiral staircase to the loos – ‘I remember this!’ I thought, trying not to fall – and will focus on Noble Rot, Noble Rot, and nothing but Noble Rot. Continue reading Noble Rot on Lamb’s Conduit Street, a welcome addition to memory lane

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