Category Archives: Food & Drink

An unscheduled stay at former 18th century sugar house, Hotel du Vin Bristol

With every cloud there comes a silver lining and the missing of our flight to Cape Verde meant an unexpected overnight stay in Bristol and my first experience of Hotel du Vin.

Hotel du Vin Bristol review
Hotel du Vin Bristol is sited in an former 18th century sugar house where sugar was refined

I’d long been aware of the hotel chain founded by Gerard Basset and Robin Hutson back in 1994 (they had met while working for the excellent Chewton Glen, one of my first reviews for ALadyofLeisure.com and still a firm favourite).  Hutson has since gone on to found the Pig hotel chain (see my review The Pig near Bath: Impossible not to love it here) so frankly I should have got round checking out Hotel du Vin much sooner! However I had my doubts, as the chain was sold, first to Malmaison and then to private equity outfit Frasier Hospitality, so I had thought it might be a touch corporate and soulless now.

Hotel du Vin Bristol review
Hotel du Vin Bristol has an impressive restaurant and takes its food and wine very seriously

Thankfully judging by my experience at Hotel du Vin Bristol at least, that doesn’t seem to be the case. A ten minute taxi ride from the station and we were dropped at its pretty courtyard entrance which declared itself to be the site of Bristol’s last remaining sugar house, a legacy of the city’s years as a trade centre and Britain’s second city, when instead of the current view of the road there would have a river crowded with boats unloading their goods for refinement and distribution.


To book directly with the hotel, go to: Hotel du Vin Bristol
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To read more reviews click here to go to Hotel du Vin on TripAdvisor


This sugar refinery was built in 1728 and operated until 1831, becoming a warehouse and then lying derelict for years until being sympathetically restored, opening as a Hotel du Vin in the now Grade 2-listed building in 1999. The inside of the hotel is like a cosy rabbit-warren due to being made up of several buildings knocked together over the years, and in keeping with the wine theme, each room is called after a different type of wine, with a little glass case containing a bottle outside each door. Continue reading An unscheduled stay at former 18th century sugar house, Hotel du Vin Bristol

Whatley Manor review: a Cotswolds gem revisited (with added oxygen)

There is always a worry when it comes to revisiting a hotel which you totally adored on the first visit – what if it’s not going to be as good as you remembered it? I know people who won’t go to the same place twice for that very reason, and others who, having found the perfect place, refuse to go anywhere else.

Thankfully Cotwolds luxury hotel Whatley Manor was every bit as good as I remembered it to be from my first visit. Whatley Manor is certainly not a budget option, but there are few hotels who can offer a luxury spa, private cinema, Michelin-starred restaurant and acres of beautiful gardens, which means a stay here is more than worth it.

Whatley Manor review
The entrance to Whatley Manor is in a beautiful courtyard

The drive into the courtyard at Whatley Manor sets the scene for a memorable stay; the large wooden gates sweep open for you as you approach, as if welcoming you in to a secret world. This time I even looked the part, as Vauxhall had kindly lent me a brand new Astra for my jaunt (more details below) which looked much smarter than my bright yellow Fiat.

Staff miraculously appeared out of nowhere to welcome us, take our bags and valet-park our car, and a very indulgent stay had begun.  General manager Sue Williams has now been at Whatley Manor for just over a year, having previously run the equally grand Cliveden House hotel, and has thankfully resisted any drastic obvious changes (although much work has been going on behind the scenes).

whatley manor review
Touches such as bright yellow wellies and beautiful artwork makes Whatley Manor a lovely place to visit

There is still a lovely country house feel to the hotel, with its stone floors, mullioned windows, sprawling grounds and little touches here and there, from chess boards set up ready to play, wellies to borrow and cosy sofas dotted all around.

Built in the 19th century, Whatley Manor became a hotel in 1987 and is now owned by hotelier and keen equestrian Christian Landolt, but still has the feeling of a grand home – although the private cinema and a high-end spa make it a cut above your usual manor house. Continue reading Whatley Manor review: a Cotswolds gem revisited (with added oxygen)

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

A treat for the mind and the body, Whatley Manor is one of the best hotels in the Cotswolds

Just when you think you’ve stayed in the best hotels in the Cotswolds, along comes Whatley Manor and tops the lot. From the moment the gates opened to reveal a beautiful cobbled courtyard, the entrance garlanded by wisteria and lavender, through to the spa, private cinema, a Michelin-starred restaurant and superb gardens, Whatley Manor didn’t disappoint in any way.

Whatley Manor
Whatley Manor is surrounded by 12 acres of land

Our suite, overlooking the lush garden terrace at the back of the hotel, was immaculate and managed to walk the line between modern luxury and classical English charm. There was ample storage space, a very smart bathroom, a good-sized bedroom and a contemporary-design lounge with vast sofa. Continue reading A treat for the mind and the body, Whatley Manor is one of the best hotels in the Cotswolds

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