Category Archives: Pubs, inns and bars

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

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

The Crab and Boar, Chieveley: classic country foodie pub (with hot tubs)

If you are one of those people who love nothing more than to sit in a country pub in front of a roaring fire, working your way through the weekend papers while you also work your way through the selection of well-kept ales at the bar, then the Crab and Boar is the place for you.

crab and boar
The Crab and Boar is a lovely country pub just across the fields from the M4 in Berkshire

Located in – well, the middle of nowhere really, being within sight (but not sound) of the M4 in Berkshire and a few miles from the nearest village, Chieveley – the Crab and Boar is a classic country pub; thatched roof, comfy sofas, good food, a massive beer garden, but with unexpected treats – such as hot tubs in most of the rooms.

crab and boar
The pub is cosy, with low beams and a roaring fire and prides itself on excellent. locally-sourced food

When we stayed there the weather was a classically British wintery day – howling gales, pouring rain, grey skies – but that didn’t stop other guests spending the afternoon in their personal outdoor jacuzzis as the covering umbrellas flapped in the wind, while the barstaff were kept busy with room service deliveries of champagne and ice buckets (it has been called one of the most romantic pubs in the country). Continue reading The Crab and Boar, Chieveley: classic country foodie pub (with hot tubs)

Balans – it’s smarter, sexier and has its very own tree

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.

balans soho society kensington
The new-look Balans Soho Society on Kensington High Street. And there’s the tree – look closer and you’ll see it’s hung with little keys, the symbol of its members’ club

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

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

 

Sexy Fish: Mayfair’s slice of loud, brash, bling and fun

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.

sexy fish
Not very sexy from the outside…

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’).

There’s a waterfall running the entire length of the wall behind the bar to give that all-important indoor monsoon effect. There are 20 luminous floating Frank Gehry fish flying around at one end of the room and a 13ft crocodile, also by Gehry, climbing the wall at the other end. Continue reading Sexy Fish: Mayfair’s slice of loud, brash, bling and fun

One Sixty City Smokehouse and Bar: hearty, meaty, boozy

Just as you think that you have pretty much tried all the cocktails there are at One Sixty City and you’re just going to stick to an old favourite from now on, along comes a new one which makes you vow to never think such a ridiculous thing in future.

one sixty city
My One Sixty Beer cocktail is on the right, while David’s Southern Tipsy Tea is on the left

The one which caused me to think this was the One Sixty Beer cocktail, made up of Sailor Jerry rum, Cointreau, lime and pimento and topped off with Chimay Gold Belgian beer.

It sounded pretty awful, to be honest, but I was in a new restaurant – One Sixty Smokehouse and Bar, which is between the Gherkin and Liverpool Street station – and so I felt it would be a waste not to try the signature cocktail. Needless to say, I was very glad I did as it was utterly delicious and completely worked in spite of the odd combination of ingredients.

I was having lunch with owner David Moore, who also runs Michelin-starred Pied a Terre as well as L’Autre Pied and various other foodie ventures. One Sixty City – 160 degrees is the temperature at which the meat is cooked at and means the meat fibres break down to become smooth and flavourful – is the second in the One Sixty series (the first opened in West Hampstead last year) and focuses on ‘hearty American classics with a distinctive English flair.’ Continue reading One Sixty City Smokehouse and Bar: hearty, meaty, boozy