St James’s Hotel in London might be five-star luxury but thankfully it has none of the formal starchiness you might expect from a super-posh hotel. The staff are so cheerful and relaxed that I found myself having all sorts of random conversations with bartenders, doormen and managers during my stay, which made the hotel feel more like a very friendly club.
However there’s no disguising that St James’s is a seriously high-end hotel in one of the most expensive areas in London. While London is hardly famed for its cheap hotel rooms, the £1,600 price tag of my suite managed to top my previous record, the £1,500-a-night Prince of Wales suite at iconic country house hotel Cliveden. However the 300-year old Cliveden comes with 376 acres of Grade I-listed formal gardens, a maze, a spa and two swimming pools (including the famous outdoor pooll), while St James’s, well, doesn’t.
But if you want to stay in a luxury five-star hotel in the heart of London, a mere stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, then you do have to pay a premium. Tucked away at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac off St James’s Street, the 60-room hotel does have cheaper rooms, with prices starting at £300 a night. Continue reading St James’s hotel, London: fine dining and a £1,600 suite→
It is a bittersweet moment when you go to a new restaurant and discover that it has replaced an old favourite. However in the case of The Secret Garden, located just opposite Clapham North tube, London, where the highly-rated Four O Nine restaurant used to be, the new arrival is more than capable of providing memorable nights all of its own.
Behind a tiny door and up a flight of steps round the back of The Clapham North pub, The Secret Garden certainly looks a world away from its dark and atmospheric predecessor. Instead the main dining room has been transformed into a bright and airy space reflecting the garden theme: there’s artificial grass on the floor (and on the walls of the private dining room upstairs), the kitchen is designed to look like a caravan and there is even a tree spreading its branches across the ceiling.
It might not be located in the most beautiful part of London, but Qbic Hotel London City in Aldgate, East London, scores highly on all the essentials: price, location and cleanliness, not to mention a friendly and relaxed vibe.
Just across the road from Aldgate East station, where the Tube will whisk you straight to Tower Hill, Westminster and Victoria in a matter of minutes, Qbic has been a welcome addition to the borough since it opened at the end of 2013, tucked away in a park just off the admittedly pretty grotty Whitechapel Road.
The Dutch company, which also has a hotel in Amsterdam, has a wacky website which proclaims its hotel philosophy thus: ‘A place that celebrates life rather than sucks life out of it. A hotel that’s built on creativity and a belief that you don’t have to accept the conventional.’
As beautiful settings go, Ashdown Park Hotel East Sussex certainly has the ‘wow’ factor. Walking through a stone arch to the garden terrace, the view suddenly opens out in front of you: acres of rolling green countryside, two fountains bubbling away in a carp-filled lake at the bottom of the hill, an imposing converted chapel, the sweep of the hotel itself and colourful clumps of rhododendron bushes as far as the eye could see.
The hustle and bustle of the outside world just melted away and I felt as if I could just sit and admire the view for hours. Which, aided by a G&T and the Sunday newspapers, I promptly did.
Mention Las Vegas and most people would immediately think gambling, casinos, showgirls, Mariah Carey, the Bellagio fountains and stag weekends. What might not spring to mind is fine dining, vintage wines and cocktails, but that’s where food festival Vegas Uncork’d is hoping to make the difference.
Now in its ninth year and backed by Bon Appetit magazine, Vegas Uncork’d bills itself as ‘The Ultimate Wine and Food Experience’ with a four-day long extravaganza of tasting, making, scoffing, slurping and swilling at some of Las Vegas’ best-known hotels, including Caesars Palace, MGM Grand, the Cosmopolitan and the Bellagio.
I’d been to Las Vegas a couple of times before, the last time being with my mother which made for a memorable week [see article here] and have really enjoyed my visits – there is something quite unique about Vegas which makes it unlike any other place on earth. This trip, however, I was not going to spend my time sunbathing, drinking free gin and tonics while playing on slot machines or taking a helicopter to the Grand Canyon. Instead I was going to really get to know the food scene and I couldn’t wait.
As a late arrival to the cult of the Pisco sour cocktail I certainly plan to make up for lost time.
I started and finished my evening at Senor Ceviche, the Peruvian pop-up bar which is now a restaurant in Soho, with the drink which has become one of my favourites: little glasses of the Peruvian pisco spirit, mixed with lime juice, sugar syrup and bitters, refreshing and sour and sweet and smooth all at the same time, and extremely moreish.
Even without those to top and tail the evening, our trip to Senor Ceviche would still have been a great night. The food was fresh and zesty, the service prompt and friendly, and the atmosphere was fun without being forced.
Senor Ceviche is a great find and a worthy addition to the hidden pocket of food-and-cocktail heaven which is Kingly Court. Located between Regents Street and Carnaby Street, this area is finally discovering the zing and zip which it had in the 60s and lost in the 80s.
Olivo, the Italian restaurant on Eccleston Street near Victoria station, used to be a lunchtime favourite of mine but for some reason I haven’t been back there for about ten years. However when I finally returned this week I was delighted to find it hadn’t changed a bit, which isn’t always a good thing but in the case of Olivo was just perfect.
The bright yellow wallpaper was the same, the friendly welcome was the same, and the top notch Italian food was also the same – fresh, bright dishes which looked great and tasted even better. This is no fuss, no frills Italian cooking – which after all, is what Italian food is all about. The menu was clear and concise and full of great dishes, with the set menu a very reasonable £24.50 for two courses and £29 for three.
We started with deep fried squid with fresh tomatoes, rocket and a balsamic dressing, and red endive and artichoke salad, with parmesan shavings and truffle oil. Both were great, the artichoke salad giving off a great mouth-watering but not overpowering truffly smell, and the squid looking picture-perfect with vibrant red of the tomatoes.
While any of the other mains would have done, neither of us could resist the black tagliatelle sauteed with cuttlefish ragu which was delicious and the perfect portion size for a lunch when we both had to reluctantly head back to the office afterwards. I certainly won’t leave it another ten years before I’m back at Olivo again this time.
Olivo, 21 Eccleston Street, London SW1Q 9LX
020 7730 2505
News, reviews and opinions on everything to do with leisure, from hotels and holidays to food and fitness, by national newspaper journalist and author Sarah Bridge