Category Archives: Cocktails

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

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.

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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

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

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

One Sixty City Smokehouse and Bar: hearty, meaty, boozy

Just as you think that you have pretty much tried all the cocktails there are at One Sixty City and you’re just going to stick to an old favourite from now on, along comes a new one which makes you vow to never think such a ridiculous thing in future.

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My One Sixty Beer cocktail is on the right, while David’s Southern Tipsy Tea is on the left

The one which caused me to think this was the One Sixty Beer cocktail, made up of Sailor Jerry rum, Cointreau, lime and pimento and topped off with Chimay Gold Belgian beer.

It sounded pretty awful, to be honest, but I was in a new restaurant – One Sixty Smokehouse and Bar, which is between the Gherkin and Liverpool Street station – and so I felt it would be a waste not to try the signature cocktail. Needless to say, I was very glad I did as it was utterly delicious and completely worked in spite of the odd combination of ingredients.

I was having lunch with owner David Moore, who also runs Michelin-starred Pied a Terre as well as L’Autre Pied and various other foodie ventures. One Sixty City – 160 degrees is the temperature at which the meat is cooked at and means the meat fibres break down to become smooth and flavourful – is the second in the One Sixty series (the first opened in West Hampstead last year) and focuses on ‘hearty American classics with a distinctive English flair.’ Continue reading One Sixty City Smokehouse and Bar: hearty, meaty, boozy