Category Archives: Drinking

St James’s hotel, London: fine dining and a £1,600 suite

St James’s Hotel in London might be five-star luxury but thankfully it has none of the formal starchiness you might expect from a super-posh hotel. The staff are so cheerful and relaxed that I found myself having all sorts of random conversations with bartenders, doormen and managers during my stay, which made the hotel feel more like a very friendly club.

st james's hotel
My rather plush suite at the St James’s Hotel in Piccadilly
St James's Hotel
St James’s Hotel in London’s Piccadilly

However there’s no disguising that St James’s is a seriously high-end hotel in one of the most expensive areas in London. While London is hardly famed for its cheap hotel rooms, the £1,600 price tag of my suite managed to top my previous record, the £1,500-a-night Prince of Wales suite at iconic country house hotel Cliveden. However the 300-year old Cliveden comes with 376 acres of Grade I-listed formal gardens, a maze, a spa and two swimming pools (including the famous outdoor pooll), while St James’s, well, doesn’t.

But if you want to stay in a luxury five-star hotel in the heart of London, a mere stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, then you do have to pay a premium. Tucked away at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac off St James’s Street, the 60-room hotel does have cheaper rooms, with prices starting at £300 a night. Continue reading St James’s hotel, London: fine dining and a £1,600 suite

An indulgent evening at The Secret Garden, Clapham

It is a bittersweet moment when you go to a new restaurant and discover that it has replaced an old favourite. However in the case of The Secret Garden, located just opposite Clapham North tube, London, where the highly-rated Four O Nine restaurant used to be, the new arrival is more than capable of providing memorable nights all of its own.

the secret garden clapham
There’s more foliage at The Secret Garden than in your usual London restaurant…

Behind a tiny door and up a flight of steps round the back of The Clapham North pub, The Secret Garden certainly looks a world away from its dark and atmospheric predecessor. Instead the main dining room has been transformed into a bright and airy space reflecting the garden theme: there’s artificial grass on the floor (and on the walls of the private dining room upstairs), the kitchen is designed to look like a caravan and there is even a tree spreading its branches across the ceiling.

It was the perfect antidote to the hot and sweaty tube-strike induced journey from work, and its refreshing signature Dillusion cocktail (gin, elderflower, cucumber and dill, £8) made me feel as if I was in the countryside, rather than on a busy corner of the A3. Continue reading An indulgent evening at The Secret Garden, Clapham

A hat-trick of vodka martinis at London’s best bars

‘Don’t worry, you won’t get a hangover,’ insisted Pleurat Shabani, the maker of Konik’s Tail vodka and the host of our martini marathon. ‘I’ve never had a hangover drinking martinis.’

I wasn’t convinced – I once gave myself a three-day hangover while trying to perfect the art of making dirty martinis – and while the next day dawned much brighter than it usually did after an epic tasting, a martini headache did kick in at lunchtime. However, it was more than worth it – Pleurat is very entertaining company and the martinis made from Konik’s Tail were sublime, as were the surroundings.

Our schedule was simple: a martini at three of London’s top cocktail bars. We were to start at the Connaught Bar in the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair, go on to the legendary bar at Dukes Hotel, St James’s and then cross Piccadilly once more to end the evening at Claridge’s.

konik's tail vodka
The martinis are all too drinkable…

While we supped our drinks (and I ate a lot of olives), we learned about Pleurat’s almost puritanical approach to his vodka (which is named after the elusive Polish Konik wild horses, which, if spotted, are supposed to herald a good harvest.)

It shouldn’t be mixed – even freezing it, as both Dukes and Claridge’s do, makes him wince – and the idea of a putting Konik’s Tail in a cocktail was practically unthinkable (he was so unimpressed by my love for dirty martinis, which after all just have a touch of olive brine, that I thought it best not to discuss his views on appletinis or vodka and coke…) Continue reading A hat-trick of vodka martinis at London’s best bars

Pisco power! Getting into the Peruvian spirit at Senor Ceviche

As a late arrival to the cult of the Pisco sour cocktail I certainly plan to make up for lost time.

I started and finished my evening at Senor Ceviche, the Peruvian pop-up bar which is now a restaurant in Soho, with the drink which has become one of my favourites: little glasses of the Peruvian pisco spirit, mixed with lime juice, sugar syrup and bitters, refreshing and sour and sweet and smooth all at the same time, and extremely moreish.

senor ceviche
A pair of pisco sours – a great start to a great meal

Even without those to top and tail the evening, our trip to Senor Ceviche would still have been a great night. The food was fresh and zesty, the service prompt and friendly, and the atmosphere was fun without being forced.

Senor Ceviche is a great find and a worthy addition to the hidden pocket of food-and-cocktail heaven which is Kingly Court. Located between Regents Street and Carnaby Street, this area is finally discovering the zing and zip which it had in the 60s and lost in the 80s.

Senor Ceviche
The interior is cheerful, bright and stands out from the usual restaurant design

Senor Ceviche owner Harry Edmeades, who learned his craft working in restaurants in Peru, has re-created the colourful chaos of a Lima bar for London foodies with its busy yellow decor. Continue reading Pisco power! Getting into the Peruvian spirit at Senor Ceviche

Heddon Street Kitchen: lacks Gordon Ramsay’s fire

It is hard to avoid Gordon Ramsay. He’s either being snapped triathlon-training on a Malibu beach getting in and out of his wetsuit, or on our TV screens shouting at hapless (and hopeless) restaurateurs.

Only last week tabloid readers were treated to the revelation from his daughter that he apparently likes to run round his house in the nude. So it was with some trepidation that I arrived at his recently-opened Heddon Street Kitchen. Would the great man himself be streaking through the kitchens? And what would health and safety (not to mention hygiene) inspectors have to say about that?

gordon ramsay's heddon street kitchen
Gordon Ramsay’s latest venture Heddon Street Kitchen is off Regent Street in London’s Mayfair

Thankfully there were no naked chefs in sight in Heddon Street itself – that little pedestrianised offshoot of Regent Street which has become a restaurant enclave – and the Heddon Street Kitchen looked very inviting, with outside tables, lots of pot plants and big windows through which the lights shone out into the cold February night.

Inside it was also very pleasant: a large space saved from turning cavernous with the use of some thoughtful room design, the brown floorboards and furniture made less gloomy by well-placed lighting, and even the heavy presence of 80s-style exposed pipes in the ceiling couldn’t detract from a calm and relaxing atmosphere.

gordon ramsay's heddon street kitchen
OK, so it’s got a lot of those exposed industrial ceiling pipes but is pretty cosy in spite of that

As the occasion was a bloggers’ dinner rather than a more typical meal for two, no sooner had we sat down when cocktails then food started arriving: it was a whistle-stop tour through the menu. Continue reading Heddon Street Kitchen: lacks Gordon Ramsay’s fire