Category Archives: Restaurants

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.

 

bull at sonning pub
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.’

bull at sonning pub
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.

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

Hampton Manor: top-class food and a step back in time

It might be just a few miles from the M42 and Birmingham Airport but Hampton Manor feels a hundred years from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Within a couple of hours of arriving at the 19th century gothic building – built by Sir Frederick Peel, son of Prime Minster and police force founder Robert Peel – I  had unpacked, explored the hotel and some of its 45 acres of parkland, found the gate leading to the pretty parish church, walked around the village of Hampton and was sitting in the traditional White Lion pub with half a pint of local ale. It all felt very relaxing.

hampton manor review
Hampton Manor is set in 45 acres of parkland – ideal for a country walk
hampton manor review
The traditional village of Hampton-in-Arden, just a short walk away

When I finally headed back to our room – the spacious De Mountford room with a very smart bathroom, including a walk-in shower with a fixed wave-like shower curtain – I felt as if I’d been away for a week.

hampton manor review
Our smart bedroom, which was kitted out with a massive flat-screen TV, Bose radio, kettle, homemade cookies. It also had a large bathroom with separate bath and walk-in shower

Continue reading Hampton Manor: top-class food and a step back in time

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal review: food for thought

Turning up to lunch at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal with a copy of the menu from The Fat Duck at Bray (also by Heston Blumenthal, where my dining companion Simon had eaten just the week before) is some serious fanboy behaviour. It is also guaranteed to provoke comparison between the two, which could have been an unfair contest.

Now I haven’t yet been to The Fat Duck, but judging by Simon’s description and Exhibit A – said menu – it sounded like a magical journey into another world, where Alice in Wonderland meets your very own childhood memories and you lose touch with reality for the day. Whereas Dinner, after all, is just a restaurant.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal review
Not your average menu…

Thankfully, Heston is more than capable of standing up to the competition, even when it is himself. Thus while Dinner, Heston’s restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in London’s Knightsbridge, could have looked terribly prosaic for having a menu with – yawn – starters, mains and desserts listed on it (while The Fat Duck had a map, and a reverse timeline, and illustrations, and needed a magnifying glass in parts) the dishes listed on it are so far from ordinary that you can forget about the other place down the M4 altogether. Continue reading Dinner by Heston Blumenthal review: food for thought

Hambleton Hall, Rutland: warm, welcoming and wonderful food

Some hotels just get it completely right – and Hambleton Hall is one of them. From the traditional and immaculate bedroom, to the excellent food, lovely gardens, cosy bar and superb attention to detail, I can’t think of a single negative comment to make about my recent stay. Except that it’s not just round the corner from where I live – but I can hardly blame Hambleton Hall for that.

Hambleton Hall Rutland
Hambleton Hall is surrounded by Rutland Water and its grounds go right down the shore

If this all sounds too gushing, then I defy anyone to not come away from a night’s stay without feeling incredibly content.

Part of Hambleton Hall’s charm must come from the fact that it is rather small compared to some other country house hotels, with just 15 bedrooms in the main house, so it all feels rather luxurious and exclusive.  There is still ample room for you to find a little corner all to yourself, either in the downstairs living room, bar and reception area – all beautifully furnished – or in the gardens where little seats and tables are dotted around to make your own.

Hambleton Hall Rutland
Hambleton Hall has beautiful formal gardens, beyond which is an open-air swimming pool and a field you wander across to get to the lake

Continue reading Hambleton Hall, Rutland: warm, welcoming and wonderful food