Category Archives: Bars

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.

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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

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.

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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
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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

The Bull Inn at Sonning – possibly the perfect British pub

If you were to try and describe a classically British pub, then you’d probably come up with something like The Bull Inn, Sonning, in Berkshire.

It’s got roaring fires and low beams, it is more than 600 years old, does great food and drink and is at the heart of the village.

 

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The Bull at Sonning pub is more than 600 years old and is owned by the church next door

Writer Jerome K Jerome wrote of the pub in his book Three Men in a Boat, saying: ‘If you stop at Sonning, put up at the ‘Bull’, behind the church. It is a veritable picture of an old country inn, with green, square courtyard in front, where, on seats beneath the trees, the old men group of an evening to drink their ale and gossip over village politics; with low, quaint rooms and latticed windows, and awkward stairs and winding passages.’

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Not much has changed since Jerome K Jerome praised it

It has barely changed in the hundred or so years since those words were written, although the green, square courtyard in front is now more concrete than green. However there are still tables outside giving a nice view of the church next door (which owns the pub). There’s also a handy hatch to the bar from outside through which you can order drinks, and nice touches such as blankets in case the weather is also classically British.

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Blankets to warm the determined outdoor drinkers

And now The Bull Inn  even has the approval of Hollywood superstar George Clooney, who presumably can drink anywhere he likes but chooses to pop into The Bull whenever he’s back at his English home, which is just across the river. His very own brand of tequila, Casamigos, which George set up with his chum Randy Gerber (aka Mr Cindy Crawford) is sold here and Mr Clooney has not only brought chums such as Bill Murray and Matt Damon here but has praised The Bull on various US talkshows, calling it ‘a great pub.’ Continue reading The Bull Inn at Sonning – possibly the perfect British pub

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.

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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
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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

The Crab and Boar, Chieveley: classic country foodie pub (with hot tubs)

If you are one of those people who love nothing more than to sit in a country pub in front of a roaring fire, working your way through the weekend papers while you also work your way through the selection of well-kept ales at the bar, then the Crab and Boar is the place for you.

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The Crab and Boar is a lovely country pub just across the fields from the M4 in Berkshire

Located in – well, the middle of nowhere really, being within sight (but not sound) of the M4 in Berkshire and a few miles from the nearest village, Chieveley – the Crab and Boar is a classic country pub; thatched roof, comfy sofas, good food, a massive beer garden, but with unexpected treats – such as hot tubs in most of the rooms.

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The pub is cosy, with low beams and a roaring fire and prides itself on excellent. locally-sourced food

When we stayed there the weather was a classically British wintery day – howling gales, pouring rain, grey skies – but that didn’t stop other guests spending the afternoon in their personal outdoor jacuzzis as the covering umbrellas flapped in the wind, while the barstaff were kept busy with room service deliveries of champagne and ice buckets (it has been called one of the most romantic pubs in the country). Continue reading The Crab and Boar, Chieveley: classic country foodie pub (with hot tubs)