Category Archives: Life

A life of luxury for A Lady Of Leisure: The 2015 Review

From Michelin-starred dining to London’s most decadent pancake, grand country houses, brand new cruise ships, boutique hotels and celebrity hangouts (not to mention cocktail classes, private cinemas and hot tubs in the Cotswolds), it’s been a life of luxury for me and ALadyofLeisure.com.

I’ve reviewed just under 50 amazing hotels, restaurants, bars and holidays – which were read by several thousand unique readers a month, plus shared across Twitter and Facebook – and have loved writing about the very best of the British hospitality industry, from Llandudno to the English Channel and all points in between.

Huge thanks to all the venues that made such an exciting year possible (full list of reviews below) and looking forward to reviewing the best in hotels, restaurants, holidays, bars and all things leisure-related in 2016!

All the best,

Sarah
ALadyofLeisure.com
sarahbridge@aladyofleisure.com

Hotels

Gravetye Manor

Old-style charm in a perfect country setting – Bailiffscourt hotel and spa, West Sussex
Impossible not to love it – The Pig near Bath, Bath, Somerset
Relaxed country living Huntsham Court, North Devon
Location, location, locationCompleat Angler, Marlow
A home rather than a hotel: Cheval serviced apartments
A relaxing stay in Queen Elizabeth I’s bedroom: Spread Eagle, Midhurst, West Sussex
A classic country retreatAshdown Park, East Sussex
Calm behind the commuter chaos: Amba Hotel Charing Cross, London
Fine country living: The Grove, Hertfordshire
A stay with the Downton Abbey factorHartwell House, Buckinghamshire
A classic country house with Hollywood glamourLuton Hoo, Bedfordshire
Friendly, fun hotel on a budgetQbic London City hotel, Aldgate
Fine dining and an £1,600-a-night suiteSt James’s Hotel, London
£20,000 wine and the Judgement of Paris tasting eveningThe Vineyard, Newbury
Discovering hidden treasuresThe Stafford hotel, St James’s London
Fabulous foodie heaven in a beautiful settingGravetye Manor, Sussex
An oasis of loveliness miles from anywhereYnyshir Hall, Powys, Wales
An imposing building with impressive viewsBodysgallen Hall, Llandudno, Wales
A Capital place for a cocktail masterclass The Capital Hotel, Knightsbridge, London
Unshowy but smartThe Arch hotel, Marble Arch, London
A wonderfully cosy Cotswolds hideawayBarnsley House, Gloucestershire
A family-friendly escape in the Cotswolds countrysideCalcot Manor, Gloucestershire

Restaurants

restaurant

Lunch with a view – Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar, South Bank, London
A Hidden Culinary Gem – Bourne & Hollingsworth, EC1, London
High quality Italian food in Covent Garden – Four to Eight, London
Lacks Gordon Ramsay’s fireHeddon Street Kitchen, central London
Hop this way for good food – Rabbit restaurant, King’s Road, London
Posh pancakes for Shrove TuesdayThe Botanist, Sloane Square, London
New England comes to Fitzrovia – Lobster Kitchen, London
Art and food at the Saatchi Gallery – Gallery Restaurant, King’s Road, London
The friendliest tapas in Mayfair: El Pirata, Mayfair, London
Pisco Power! Getting into the Peruvian spirit – Senor Ceviche, Soho, London
A lunchtime favourite revisited: Olivo, Belgravia, London
A hat-trick of Konik’s Tail martinis at London’s best hotel bars – Duke’s, the Connaught and Claridges
An indulgent evening – Jimmy Garcia’s Secret Garden in Clapham
Lunch at London’s latest hotspotsKitty Fisher’s and Ham Yard Hotel
Smart, modern food with style – Percy and Founder’s, Fitzrovia, London
Hearty, meaty, boozyOne Sixty City, Liverpool Street, London
Loud, brash, bling and funSexy Fish, Berkeley Square, London

Holidays and spas

spa

Forget gambling in Las Vegas, it’s all about the food and drinkLas Vegas Uncork’d annual food festival
How to go solo without being lonely Mark Warner holiday, Rhodes
My first cruise – a week on P&O’s new cruise ship Britannia
A holiday for the mind and the bodySkyros holistic holiday, Greece
First glimpse of Britannia, P&O’s new cruise ship
The Queen launches Britannia
A hard day’s relaxingNirvana Spa, Reading

Films

Blue Steel and an Ikea room of pain: Fifty Shades of Grey
Bond is back! He’s bold, brilliant and bloody loud – Spectre

Interviews published in The Mail on Sunday

Travelodge chief executive Peter Gowers

‘My £125 million Travelodge transformation’ – Travelodge chief executive Peter Gowers
A coffee and a chat with Sir Rocco Forte on religion, politics and hotels
Sir Richard Branson on stunts, sky-diving, launching Virgin Hotels Chicago and being a grandfather

Travel pieces published in Mail Online

Photo of Paradise Beach Resort in Nevis, British West Indies.

A relaxing stay in Nevis, an exquisite island paradise
Why Gravetye is fast building a reputation as one of best foodie hotels in the UK
No coffee, no sweets, but a lot of hiking on the NuBeginnings bootcamp in Devon

 

Barnsley House – a wonderfully cosy Cotswolds hideaway

Within two minutes of arriving at Barnsley House I had completely fallen in love with it – and that’s before I’d even tried out the private cinema, outdoor hot tub or delicious food. All these things were yet to come, but the welcome itself was so cheerful and friendly that I already knew I was in for a treat.

barnsley house stay
Barnsley House is a 17th century stone manor with just 18 rooms

I arrived in the middle of what could be called controlled chaos: it was a wintery Saturday afternoon and a recent storm had cut all power to the local village. However Barnsley House had its own generator and so alone still had heat, power, light and all the essentials of life.

barnsley house stay
Barnsley House is surrounded by beautiful gardens

Staff were welcoming waifs and strays from nearby houses, sending out food parcels to guests on site, welcoming in cold and hungry visitors from the power-free Village Pub – also owned by Barnsley House – and had even found a dog basket to house someone’s dog temporarily in reception. There were roaring fires, and cosy sofas, and coffee with biscuits: the whole atmosphere was busy but still relaxed and welcoming, and instantly made you feel as if you were in safe hands. Continue reading Barnsley House – a wonderfully cosy Cotswolds hideaway

Bond is back! He’s bold, brilliant and BLOODY LOUD

[no major spoilers but it is a film review all the same]

If this is Daniel Craig’s final film as 007 then it’s a great way to go.

Better than Quantum of Solace with its unfathomable plot; better even than Skyfall with its dodgy sexual politics, Home Alone exploding lightbulbs ending and its Tube line silliness: ‘Wait, the bad guy’s on the District Line! He must be going to Westminster to kill M!’, this is the fast and furious James Bond of Craig’s explosive debut Casino Royale – but turned up to the max.

This Bond doesn’t believe in leaving via the door when there’s a window to dive through or a wall to punch his way into and the soundtrack is pumping throughout. You will leave the cinema feeling exhausted (and possibly deafened) and exhilarated, and thinking: ‘Wow, does that guy look good in a suit.’ Bond must be the only hero who wears a jacket and tie for the most brutal of fights – my colleagues can barely be bothered to don a tie for formal meetings – and even when he’s just standing still, he can’t help but strut that suit. One hand in pocket, one leg just to the side, he assumes a stance which makes him look cool in the way George Osborne totally does not when attempting the same trick.

The pre-credit sequence alone is more exciting (and no doubt more expensive) than the whole of most action films, starting with an impressive opening tracking shot right from the heart of Mexico City’s Day of the Dead festival and leading to edge-of-your-seat helicopter acrobatics. This is classic Bond – just a few minutes into the film he not only has a sexy woman in tow but also a bad guy to kill and things to blow up – and both he and the city look terrific. Continue reading Bond is back! He’s bold, brilliant and BLOODY LOUD

Fifty Shades of Grey review: Blue Steel and an Ikea Room of Pain

First, the good points about Fifty Shades of Grey, the film which has been greeted with massive under-enthusiasm by the critics (but which hasn’t stopped it breaking box-office records, unsurprisingly given the books’ massive fanbase).

Dakota Johnson, who plays Anastasia Steele, is actually rather good in a difficult role in which she has to be sexy, innocent, vulnerable, feisty, a bit of a drip and a stubborn sex kitten all at the same time, no easy task.

fifty shades of grey film review
Wide-eyed ingenue turned sex kitten meets the Blue Steel gaze of Mr Grey…

When she first pulls her unbrushed hair into a ponytail we instantly know she is playing the Anne Hathaway role in A Devil Wears Prada – attractive Hollywood actress attempts to look like ‘a normal person’ by wearing some frumpy clothes and not paying enough attention to her hair – but she somehow makes this and even the constant lip-biting (a key plot point in the book) not too irritating. She is the easiest woman in the world to turn on though – just a neck-nibble or rib-kiss is enough to have her writhing in ecstasy, but that’s probably just as well, as sadly the big let down of the film is Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey.

Again, it can’t be easy to play such a cliche-ridden character – he’s a billionaire! he’s mysterious! he’s had a bad childhood but doesn’t  want to talk about it! he’s a businessman who conducts deals from the top of a phallic skyscraper and barks business-like things into his phone like ‘They’ve got just 24 hours to decide’ and ‘Get the plane ready, I’ll be there in 30 minutes’ – but Jamie sadly, cannot act at all.

fifty shades of grey film review
Oh my, that’s a rather big chopper you’ve got there Mr Grey…

He clenches his jaw, he shows us his ‘Blue Steel’ glare as often as he can, but in spite of how many times he tells Anastasia things like ‘I want to f*ck you into next week’ you never ever feel he’s actually horny at all. He takes his top off (hurrah!) but does so in the matter of fact manner he’d use to strip at the gym (boo) and never, ever convinces us that he’s full of desire. At one point he is gently stroking Ana with his stiff wand (not a euphemism) and the peeved, perplexed, slightly nerdish expression on his face reminded me of Rimmer (again, not a euphemism) in Red Dwarf. This is not an attractive look.

fifty shades of grey film review
This pencil gets sucked an awful lot…

Neither character is served well by a script and set-design which served to lay bare the daftness of the plot. Christian’s office is staffed entirely with Aryan supermodels who swish around as if auditioning for an updated version of Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love video [I’m assuming equal-right legislation doesn’t apply in Seattle: ‘Receptionist wanted: must be blonde, stick thin and you will be fired when you reach 30].

fifty shades of grey film review
Christian is rather annoyed that the guy next door has a bigger one than his

Some lines are just embarrassing. The supposedly sophisticated Mr Grey makes a right twonk of himself with the simple task of ordering a drink. He faffs on for ages: ‘I’d like a gin and tonic please, Hendricks or Bombay Sapphire. Cucumber with the Hendricks, or lime with Bombay Sapphire.’ I expected the waiter to slap himself on the forehead and shout ‘No shit, Sherlock, everyone knows that’s how Hendricks is served, Mr Big Shot!’ Was this supposed to show how cool Christian was or just a load of product placement? Either way, it was irrelevant as we never even saw him drink the thing, we were too busy off in a glider. He also can’t say his admittedly terrible line ‘Laters baby’ without sounding like someone’s embarrasing Dad – and he actually does this twice, an absolute passion-killer.

fifty shades of grey film review
Love in an elevator…this was possibly the only scene where you felt he might actually fancy Anastasia

Some of the best bits of the book seemed completely missed out – there was a lot more shagging in cars, I remember, which would have been fun – and dinner at his parents would have been far spicier if she was taunting Christian by not wearing her underwear as in the book (it was hinted at, but then forgotten altogether) and there were several pointless sequences such as dancing in his penthouse flat, and flying not once but twice (helicopter and that post G&T glider). And the famed Red Room of Pain looked way too new to have seen much action: it was as if he’d gone out and ordered a ‘build your own BDSM chamber’ kit from Ikea and never actually used it.

So for the inevitable sequel, can I politely suggest more lust, more desire, more sweat and less jaw-clenching? Jamie looks good – he’s just not hot.

Four to Eight: high quality Italian food in Covent Garden

The ever-changing nature of London’s restaurant and bar scene means that not infrequently I go to eat or drink somewhere and spend most of the time thinking: ‘What used to be here?’

Thankfully with Four to Eight, a new Italian restaurant in London’s West End which has opened right in the heart of London’s Theatreland – it is in fact located right in between those West End behemoths Mamma Mia! and The Lion King – the answer is easy to find, because the previous owners are the current owners too.

Four to Eight Italian restaurant Covent Garden
Four to Eight used to be a sandwich bar but is now a high-end Italian restaurant

Gino and Leo Zambito, Sicilian brothers who came to England in the 1960s, used to run the Franco and Gino sandwich bar on the same site, where every actor from Sir Michael Gambon to Felicity Kendall popped in for a cheap bite to eat.

Their new foodie incarnation is certainly a step up, even if Gino still talks wistfully of providing cups of tea and sustenance to London’s cabbies day and night. Four to Eight is bigger, for a start, with the ground floor dining area surrounded by huge glass windows so you can watch the world go by, and a massive and fittingly theatrical central wine cabinet right in the middle of the room. Downstairs is a more intimate, darker affair but still buzzing thanks to the open kitchen where diners can watch the chefs in action. Continue reading Four to Eight: high quality Italian food in Covent Garden