Category Archives: Food & Drink

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

Las Vegas – rain or shine, there’s more to do than gambling

It was my fourth visit to Las Vegas, but the first time I’d seen it raining on the famous Strip. Unsurprisingly, Vegas, being in the Mojave desert, isn’t used to rain. Neither were the holidaymakers, picking their way in their flipflops and sandals through the huge puddles which instantly formed on the sidewalks.

Las Vegas things to do
This is usually as bad as the weather gets in Las Vegas…

Some had come prepared for rain (they were probably British) and so we were treated to the rare sight of umbrellas hoisted next to the famous Bellagio hotel. Some people had sensibly brought rain jackets, while the majority of people had just shorts, t-shirts and massive plastic drinking bottles of alcohol to keep them warm. Hikers to the nearby Red Rock Canyon reported seeing waterfalls in places which had never seen water before.

Las Vegas things to do
Rain on the Strip – even more unlikely than seeing the Eiffel Tower in a Nevada desert
Las Vegas things to do
Huge puddles quickly formed on the famous Strip

Thankfully Vegas is not the kind of place to be daunted by unseasonal weather. The vast majority of people who go to gamble in its many casinos are usually unaware of whether it is day or night outside, so a quick downpour would have certainly passed them by. As for the rest of us, there were more than enough things to keep us occupied. The Vegas Uncork’d food festival was going on for a start – I’d been there last year. But here is a selection of the places I visited during my latest week in Sin City:

Las Vegas casinos and hotels

The Bellagio

One of the plushest hotels on the Strip and certainly the nicest in my opinion. My vast bedroom had a perfect view of the famous fountains which danced day and night – I never tired of watching them.

Las Vegas things to do
They dance by day…
Las Vegas things to do
… and they dance at night

Downstairs there’s the casino where free cocktails are liberally provided to gamblers, and there’s a huge pool complex too with five vast if sedate pools – if it’s pumping music and pool parties you’re after, you need to relocate. It’s all very smart throughout the Bellagio, with lush carpets, wide corridors, soothing piped music and even the world’s largest chocolate fountain and while it isn’t for those on a budget, it’s certainly worth it if you fancy feeling like a millionaire for your stay.

Las Vegas things to do
One of five huge pools at the Bellagio (thankfully the weather had returned to normal by then)
Las Vegas things to do
Part of the world’s largest chocolate fountain (and that’s official)

Continue reading Las Vegas – rain or shine, there’s more to do than gambling

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.

rooftop bar ME London
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