Returning to Balans Soho Society restaurant 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 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.
[Note: my review of Balans Soho Society restaurant Kensington was first published in 2016 so some details might now be out of date]
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 Soho Society restaurant Kensington- it’s smart, sexy and has its very own tree→
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.
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.
Its claim to fame is that it is the closest hotel to Harrods, and it’s true that less than 30 seconds walk will take you right into the iconic department store. But thankfully The Capital hotel, just next to Harrods on a quiet Knightsbridge street, is more than just a place to stagger back to after a hard day’s shopping.
[Note: this review of The Capital hotel in London was first published in 2015 and so some of the details night now be out of date]
Opened in 1971 by hotelier David Levin, this central London luxury hotel is still owned and managed by him and his family today, which gives it a far more friendly air than a chain hotel.
A cocktail masterclass at the Capital Hotel
While the hotel does a special ‘Shop till you Drop’ package which includes a £50 Harrods voucher, afternoon tea and a drink to restore you (if not your credit card) after your retail therapy, I went to the Capital with cocktails, rather than shopping, on my mind. Bar manager Cesar da Silva has been at the Capital for 15 years and is still extremely enthusiastic about teaching other people to make cocktails in his popular Cocktail Masterclass, which is just as well as apparently he often does 10 of these hour-long courses a day. Staying at a central London hotel is always special but it’s even better if you can add a unique experience to your stay. Continue reading The Capital hotel London: a luxury hotel stay with a cocktail masterclass→
The wonderful thing about writing the ALadyofLeisure.com blog is that I’ve discovered so many new places which I would never in a million years have come across otherwise, and the award-winning restaurant Ynyshir in Wales – which now bills itself as a restaurant with rooms – is a perfect example.
[Note: this review of Ynyshir in Wales was first posted in 2015 and so some details might now be out of date]
Tucked away in a remote (to me) corner of West Wales, the nearest towns being Machynlleth to the north and Aberystwyth to the south, Ynyshir, former AA Hotel of the Year Wales, is named in the Good Food Guide 2017-18 as one of the best restaurants in the UK, recently awarded an unprecedented five AA rosettes and is now a Welsh restaurant with a Michelin star to its name thanks to top chef Gareth Ward.
However it wasn’t the food that stays in my memory as much as the wonderful setting and the fabulous welcome I received. Some hotels can pay lip service to the idea of customer service and treating guests well but you can’t fake genuine warmth, and Joan Reen, who owned Ynyshir with her husband Rob since 1989 before her sad passing last year, was a lovely and welcoming presence.
The part of London between Portland Place and Goodge Street near Goodge Street tube station has historically been a bit of a culinary no-man’s land, with little to tempt you to eat in the estate-agent-christened ‘Noho’ unless you actually worked in the area. Restaurants close to Goodge Street seemed few and far between and yet many people enjoy dining in Fitzrovia.
[Note this review of Percy & Founders restaurant Goodge Street was first published in 2015 and some details might now be out of date]
However over recent years the local pubs and cafes have been smartening up, the Riding House Cafe and 48 Newman Street Tavern have opened and now there is a development so new that the postcode doesn’t even yield a map when typed into Google.
Percy & Founders Goodge Street, the new all-day bar and restaurant built on the site of the old Middlesex Hospital, has a nod to tradition in that you can actually peer through a glass wall from the restaurant into the hospital’s original chapel, perfectly preserved and soon to be open for people to have a look around.
One thing I’ve learnt from writing my ALadyofLeisure.com blog is that you never really know a hotel until you get someone to give you the Grand Tour. A typical hotel guest will see little more than the reception, their bedroom, the bar and the restaurant (some might make it to the gym) and I think they’re missing out.
[Note: this review of The Stafford luxury hotel in central London was first published in 2015 and so some details will now be out of date]
Very rarely will guests see other bedrooms – they probably think that a request might appear unseemly – and they might think that asking for a tour shows they are too daft to find their own way around. But as a blogger and nosy journalist, I can heartily recommend it, and I don’t think I would now stay anywhere without asking to be shown every inch of the place – there are always hidden gems that you would never have discovered on your own.
My recent stay at The Stafford was a great example of this. I’d spent a very pleasant night in the hotel, which is tucked away in a quiet corner off St James’s street in London’s Piccadilly. The entrance hall was light and airy, the restaurant looked very grand, my bedroom in the modern-looking Mews Suites block overlooking the hotel courtyard was of the high quality you’d expect from a top-end London hotel whose immediate neighbours are the equally high-end Duke’s Hotel and St James’s hotel and it was all extremely, well, nice. Nothing was jumping out at me as being particularly exciting or different but maybe that wasn’t a bad thing – maybe people don’t go to posh hotels to be surprised or excited.
There are some places that are so lovely you can’t stop thinking about them after you leave, and Gravetye Manor in West Sussex is most definitely one of those.
[Note: this review of Gravetye Manor in West Sussex was first published in 2015 and some of the details might be out of date. There has since been a new restaurant at Gravetye Manor and I will be visiting it soon and will update my review accordingly!]
It probably helped that I visited this luxury country house hotel – which is undoubtedly one of the best country house hotels in West Sussex, despite stiff competition – during one of the most glorious weekends of the summer, so even though I arrived all hot and bothered after three hours crawling along the M25, a mere five minutes later I was feeling wonderfully soothed and relaxed thanks to being at the stunning gardens at Gravetye (the gin and tonic probably helped too).
Visiting Gravetye Manor gardens
The gardens at Gravetye Manor are stunning and justifiably renowned: a riot of different colour and sizes and far removed from the formality of grander establishments. There are some tables on the main lawn but we – my mother was my lucky plus one for the stay – were shown to a lovely table round the side of the manor, in a beautiful courtyard overlooking a wild flower meadow beyond which was a sparkling lake.
Dining in the gardens at Gravetye Manor
With the traffic delay I had worried I would be too late for lunch but no, at Gravetye Manor food – as well as being served in the new Michelin-starred restaurant at Gravetye – is served in the gardens or lounge from 10am until 10pm which is extremely civilised, especially for a Sunday in the middle of the West Sussex countryside. The menu wasn’t just a ‘light bite’ option either but top-quality British food, from wild cress and nettle risotto to salad of seared pigeon breast. I had dressed south coast crab followed by the fish of the day, pollock, with summer garden vegetables and they were both as wonderful as the view.