There is something rather special about a rooftop bar in London. The views might not be spectacular – we’re not taking Rio or Hong Kong harbour here – but to rise above the traffic and gaze down at the crowds from on high feels incredibly luxurious. Good rooftop bars in the capital are few and far between, so the arrival of a new one is cause for celebration. Enter the Aviary, the rooftop bar and restaurant on top of Montcalm luxury hotels group’s sixth and newest hotel, Montcalm Royal London House.
I visited on a cold winter’s evening, so my friend and I had the pick of dozens of comfy sofas and retro chairs on the deserted terrace, while more sensible patrons enjoyed their cocktails in the warmth of the restaurant inside. However there were heaters and thick blankets so we were able to enjoy the delights of the Aviary’s eclectic cocktail list al fresco – a sour cherry bomb with Sipsmith vodka and rhubarb bitters was especially tasty.
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.
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.)
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→
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.
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→
I arrived at Burley Manor Hotel in the New Forest last weekend with absolutely no expectations – not because I thought it was going to be terrible, but because it had never even crossed my radar before. It turned out there was a reason for this: while the original building dates back to 1852 and has been a hotel since 1935, Burley Manor has had a succession of owners over the last decade which doesn’t usually help a hotel build up a solid reputation.
Hopefully for Burley Manor, it is now under steadier ownership. Bought by New Forest Hotels in April 2015, it promptly underwent a £1.8 million refurbishment and has just reopened with a whole new look, styling itself as a ‘brand new, yet very old, restaurant with boutique rooms.’
Aimed at adults – children over 13 are allowed though – I was pleased to see that the hotel retained many of its traditional features, such as the open fire in the entrance hall, the 164-year old carved wooden staircase and the ornate lettering round the front of the brick building: ‘Welcome the coming friend; speed the parting guest.’ There was no chance of us speeding on our way, though: we lingered so long over breakfast the next morning that it was half past eleven before we reluctantly left the pleasant dining room conservatory to pack up and check out. Continue reading Burley Manor – the New Forest’s newest, oldest hotel→
Sexy Fish, the newly-opened £15 million restaurant from Richard Caring (The Ivy, Le Caprice, J Sheekey) doesn’t actually look very sexy from the outside. It’s rather plain and square and dull and looks not dissimilar from the NatWest bank it used to be, plonked on the bottom corner of Berkeley Square. If it weren’t for the fact that SEXY FISH is in massive letters on the front then I would probably have walked right past it. ‘Somebody spent £15 million on this?’ I thought – and then I walked in.
What a contrast. Being inside Sexy Fish is like no other restaurant I’ve been in for some time, if not ever.
It is not subtle.
It is like being inside a jewellery box, a Las Vegas casino and an Arabian palace all in one (it has been memorably described as ‘like being punched in the face by Abu Dhabi’).