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Bars, London

Sakura Season at ROKA with Suntory Whisky

London is at its prettiest in the spring, when the trees are adorned with tumbling, soft pink cherry blossom (known as Sakura in Japan).  Of course, you can find it in abundance in Kew Gardens, Regent’s Park or lining the streets of Notting Hill, but why not experience it over cocktails and bites?

Sakura Season at ROKA

Suntory Japanese Whisky brings the Sakura season to London at the Shochu Lounge, the subterranean cocktail bar with manga-style murals by artist Jamie Hewlett (Tank Girl and Gorillaz) at ROKA Charlotte Street.

Sakura Season at ROKA

Guests can engage in Hanami – observing the transient beauty of flowers – under a stunning cherry blossom installation by floral designer Veevers Carter and sip on Sakura-inspired cocktails:

Match a Rack – an elegant fusion of matcha-infused Arrack and Hibiki Japanese Harmony, umami spirit and mango cordial, served straight up in a nick-and-nora martini glass.

Suntory Blossom – a short concoction of Hibiki Japanese Harmony, ume sake, blood orange and Sakura tincture. Served in a rock glass with carved ice, garnished with a dry blood orange wheel and Sakura blossom.

Happo Harmony – a sweet and spicy, refreshing amalgamation of oriental flavours, combining Hibiki Japanese Harmony, rhubarb and ginger syrup, soda water and sprayed lemon flower essence. Served in a highball glass with carved ice, garnished with a rhubarb twist.

Sakura cocktail at ROKA

The Match a Rack cocktail is paired with a small plate of Hokkaido snow crab with tapioca crisp and nori, created for the occasion by Hamish Brown, ROKA Group Executive Chef.  However, just one taste will leave you wanting more, so I recommend ordering some grazing plates to accompany your drinks. 

Hibiki Whisky at ROKA

At the buzzing launch party, the cherry blossom was electrified with pink lighting, free-flowing whisky and a seductive house and disco set by Portuguese DJ Rita Maia.  What could be better for a stylish (and highly Instagrammable) night out in London?

The Sakura Cocktails are priced at £10.90 and are available until 30th April at ROKA Charlotte Street and its three other locations – Aldwych, Canary Wharf and Mayfair.  For more information and booking, visit:

Photos by Benjamin Eagle

Bars, London

Cocktail Chapter at The Royal Horseguards Hotel

Horsing Around by Isabel Dexter

I have a confession to make. Despite sipping my first cocktail on a cruise ship with my grandparents at the tender age of 12 (it was a Grasshopper by the way and I chose it because I thought the green would make a nice contrast to my purple silk Topshop dress) I only really got into cocktails in the last year.

A combination of reasons conspired to make this the case; the fact that I have the alcohol tolerance of a small woodland creature, low funds and the misguided belief that if a drink didn’t come in a pint glass it wasn’t really a drink. Oh youthful naivety. Suffice to say, I am now eating (or rather drinking) my words.

So when the five-star hotel The Royal Horseguards invited me to review its new seasonal ‘cocktail chapter’ menu I obediently trotted along in heels and a trench coat. I’ve always felt that something about a hotel bar demands heels and a trench coat. Don Draper meets Audrey Hepburn, you get the vibe. I brought The Brunette because she has proper taste buds that recognise things like elderflower infused vodka and grounded sage leaf spices rather than Tracker bars and Pernod. She also appreciates elegance and has finally forgiven me for making us habitually meet in a pub with sticky carpets in New Cross that I love.

Greeted by an abundance of candles in the majestic lobby of the hotel we were led to the dark and seductive Equus Bar with the quintessential baby grand piano and lowly lit shelves of liquor.

There’s something about hotel bars that huskily whispers illicit sex and this was no different, although I’m sure the international business men and women talking deals and (in one case) the merits of various brands of carry-on luggage had no such thing in mind. Indeed the hotel has always had an air of mystery as the former headquarters for the British Secret Service and filming location for Bond films Octopussy and Skyfall.

Anyway, there was plenty to keep us amused with the cocktails, priced at a very reasonable £7.95 for such a luxe London location. The Aperol Sorbet Spritz was possibly my dream date in cocktail form. An Aperol and prosecco mix with a delicious orange Cointreau sorbet in the middle of the glass, it was half-dessert, half-kiss.

The Brunette’s fave was the Inverness, an intriguing combo of lime, kraken and plantation rum with fresh coconut water, ginger beer and orange bitters. I thought it was strong, she said it was actually mild but perfect. The ginger and coconut pairing gave it an LA twist. Probably best enjoyed by a pool with a David Hockney aesthetic but also, it has to be said, damn good in this moody, chic bar.

While The Brunette got her kicks from the elderflower infused vodka (told you) mixed with tequila, soda water and freshly muddled blackberries in the Berry Crush, I indulged my inner 10 year old (the one who didn’t care about Topshop dresses or Grasshoppers) with the adult equivalent of eating the jam straight from the jar.

The Royal Horseguards Hotel’s Gin & Jam is probably the most English cocktail you’ll ever taste. Served in a large jam jar-style glass with a stripy straw, it’s a fizzy, strawberry sensation. It’s also very sweet, which is fine if like me you never outgrew the thrill of strawberry sherbet but if you like your drinks on the bitter side then try the Berry Crush instead.

Now at this point in alcohol consumption I would probably have outdone the Dalai Lama with my love for the entire of humanity but I maintain that the staff at this hotel are some of the nicest in London. And that makes all the difference when you’re craving a few hours of cocktail indulgence in a city where sometimes ordering a drink seems like an exercise in survival-of-the-fittest guerilla tactics. For an after-work hideaway or a pre-dinner drink, you heard it straight from the horse’s mouth (sorry I couldn’t resist).

Also, look out for the new Seven Deadly Sins cocktail collection available at Equus for the month of October.

Photos by Jessica Butler and The Royal Horseguards Hotel

Bars, London

Chambord Chapter Eight Games, East London

Summer lives on in London Fields this weekend with the rather fabulous Chambord Chapter Eight Games.

Last night, fresh from my Berlin flight, I headed to new rooftop and bar Proof at Field Works for croquet, cocktails and flamingos aplenty.  The open-air space has been transformed into an Alice in Wonderland-inspired croquet lawn complete with golden pineapples and flamingo mallets, a Chambord bar and cosy pods.

Test your ball whacking skills with a half-hour game of croquet, or simply cheer from the side while sipping a complimentary Chambord Royale cocktail.

Chambord has long been one of my favourite liqueurs (not only because its opulent gold bottle appeals to my inner magpie) and I loved the specially-created Chapter Eight cocktail – a refreshing mix of Chambord Black Raspberry Liqueur shaken with gin and fresh grapefruit.

Of course, you’ll need a gourmet refuel and who better than street food favourite Le Bun?  The signature French-American duck confit burgers really are out of this world!  Slow-cooked, tender duck confit is piled up with tangy red cabbage on a glazed sesame bun, finished with a generous slick of fresh tarragon Bearnaise sauce – literally food heaven in a bun.

So, why not add a little je ne sais quoi to your weekend with some tipsy sportsmanship at Chambord Chapter Eight Games in Hackney.

Chambord Chapter Eight Games runs until 13th September.  Tickets are available here and include a complimentary Chambord Royale cocktail per person.

Chérie City was invited by Chambord

Bars, Hotels, London

Cocktails at GONG, Shangri-La Hotel, at The Shard, London

On one of the hottest days of the year last week, I escaped the intense heat high above the city in the stylish surroundings of GONG at Shangri-La Hotel, at The Shard, London.

The impressive five star hotel – set across the 34th to the 52nd floors of Renzo Piano’s iconic building – opened last year and is already famed for its incredible views.

I’ve had the pleasure of staying in Shangri-La hotels in Asia and Europe, so on arrival at the London hotel, the speedy elevator ride and signature spiced tea scent felt familiar and took me back to my travels in China.

I arrived at GONG, Western Europe’s highest bar, on the 52nd floor of the hotel just in time for cocktail hour and perched on a comfy seat at the bar.

The contemporary Asian interiors are ever so sleek, with plenty of grey marble and dark magenta highlights framing the spectacular 360 degree views of the city.  I’m not sure if it was the relief of the glorious air-conditioning or the altitude, but I could definitely feel that we were at a high level.

Our host for the next few hours was Head Mixologist Christian Maspes (formerly of the American Bar at The Savoy), who took us on a tasting journey of GONG’s signature cocktails.  He was named the winner of last year’s Shangri-La Bartender of the Year and constantly experiments with premium Asian and British spirits to create innovative new drinks.

Christian began by telling us that the GONG cocktail menu is divided into four categories to represent the essence of Shangri-La, its home in vibrant London, unique sensory experiences and a celebration of rare spirits.

To start, we visited the mythical land of Shangri-La with Mantras – Haig Club scotch whisky, coconut cream, cardamon, turmeric, limoncello and home-made saffron syrup.  This was one of my favourite cocktails, particularly for this hot day, as it was so smooth, refreshing and subtly aromatic (almost like an Indian lassi drink).

To accompany our drinks, we were treated to a delicious taster plate of the new bar food menu, including Iberico ham with tomato chutney, Wasabi and ginger cured salmon with yuzu cream on toast, Rosemary foccaccia with roasted vegetables and Chicken breast with mango and avocado on sourdough.

From the Nest of London section, we tried a rather regal Elizabeth’s Diadem – Jensen’s Bermondsey Dry gin, carrot juice, rosemary and Olorosso sherry.  This was a zingy, fragrant cocktail that was a bit like a healthy cold-pressed juice but with the welcome addition of gin and sherry – a great combination in my opinion.

Jensen’s Bermondsey Dry gin is made just 10 minutes walk away from the hotel at Bermondsey Distillery, created by Christian Jensen in order to bring back the neighbourhood’s golden age of gin-making.

From the Awaken Your Senses section, we tried the Turkish Chinata – Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva, Mozart chocolate, Barolo Chinato, salt, berry fondue.  This was a curious sensory experience as the sweet, characterful cocktail, served in a Turkish coffee pot, was garnished with both chocolate shards and pungent truffle oil.

Christian explained that the truffle oil usually divides guests and I found that it confused my palate a little, as my palate didn’t know whether to expect a sweet or savoury flavour.  It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s certainly an interesting option to try if you like to give your taste-buds a challenge.

We finished with two cocktails from the Forgotten Elixirs section – the first was the El Jimador – Mezcal, kaffir lime leaves infused in maraschino, lime and Chartreuse Verte.  The blend of Mezcal and Chartreuse Verte made it lethally strong, but it was easy to drink and had a citrus tang from the lime.

Our final cocktail was an Anaesthetic Crusta – Remy Martin VSOP, Mandarine Napoleon, home-made orange cordial, lemon and maraschino.  It had a delicious sherbet orange flavour and was very mellow with a bit of crunch from the poppy seeds – it would be one of my top choices to order again.

GONG is much more than a luxury viewpoint near the top of The Shard, it’s a real destination bar with imaginative, expertly-crafted cocktails and a relaxed atmosphere.  I can’t wait to go back for a chic cocktail by the infinity Skypool adjoining the bar and imagine I’m on a summer staycation.

For more information and booking, visit:

Chérie City was invited by Shangri-La Hotel, at The Shard, London

Photos by Chérie City (interiors by Shangri-La Hotel, at The Shard, London)


Bars, Hotels, London

Blooming Brilliance at The Rib Room, London

The Rib Room Bar & Restaurant at Jumeirah Carlton Tower brings a floral touch to Knightbridge with its Blooming Brilliance summer pop-up bar.

A central London institution, The Rib Room is luxurious yet homely – it’s the kind of place that you could easily become a regular.

I discovered the bar at The Rib Room last year and loved its elegant, clubby atmosphere, exquisite cocktails and delicious bar plates – the famed crab and lobster burger with thermidor sauce is seriously indulgent.

To celebrate the arrival of summer, one of the cosy private rooms has been transformed into an exotic floral retreat with a statement wall bursting with botanical herbs, vibrant flowers and citrus shrubs.  The floral theme continues on the fabulous outdoor terrace where you can enjoy al fresco drinks and a spot of people-watching.

Saverio Vicari, Head Mixologist at The Rib Room, has created 17 botanical-inspired cocktails and seasonal light cuisine specially for Blooming Brilliance.  The tempting cocktail menu features English classics with a floral twist, made using summery, refreshing spirits such as Bombay Sapphire Gin and Grey Goose Vodka.

I visited with a small group of writers and we tasted a variety of excellent cocktails from the menu such as the Jack and Shrub made with Gentleman Jack Bourbon, Amaro Lucano and strawberry shrub served in a copper mug and the zingy Tea Break with Bombay dry gin, green Chartreuse, green tea syrup and cucumber shrub.

Undoubtedly the all-round favourite of our group was the Basil Sour – Beluga vodka, lemon juice, ginger syrup and a teaspoon of basil olive oil.  It was aromatic and invigorating with a typical agrodolce flavour.

We chatted away late into the evening and enjoyed the sultry sounds of the live jazz band while grazing on moreish canapes including sticky sesame chicken, lobster tartlets, asparagus and prosciutto in breadcrumbs and tempura tiger prawns.  Weekday nights in the Royal Borough don’t come much better than this!

Blooming Brilliance will host a series of showcase evenings including Cocktail Creations on the 25thJune, and a summer botanical food demonstration on the 2nd July for £30.00 per person.  Open every day from 4pm, now until 2nd August.

Chérie City was a guest of The Rib Room

All photos by The Rib Room

Bars, London, Restaurants

Sakura at Sake No Hana, London

One of my favourite things about the arrival of Spring is the dreamy cherry blossom that makes the city look even prettier.  It may be a fleeting joy, but cherry blossom lasts that little bit longer in Mayfair at Sakura at Sake No Hana.

The ground floor bar area of Hakkasan Group’s Sake No Hana has been transformed into a stunning cherry blossom garden, celebrating the ancient Japanese custom of Hanami.

It’s a unique sensory experience with beautiful flowers by Veevers Carter, heady aromas of Floris Cherry Blossom and a special Spring-inspired set menu.

We began our Sakura Gozen with a delightful Violet Risshun Cocktail, served in two parts on its own wooden tray.  Our attentive waiter poured us two glasses of the first cocktail from the carafe into a violet-scented mini coupe as an aperitif.

It had a refreshing, punchy citrus flavours and was made with a blend of Jinzu Gin, green Chartreuse, grapefruit juice, shiso and Burlesque Bitters.

The dark pink cocktail in a petite jug was then mixed in the carafe, creating a sweeter, more fragrant drink.  It was a gorgeous, easy-to-drink mix of Belsazar rose vermouth, maraschino cherry, cranberry and lemon juice.  I loved the ceremony of the two-part cocktail and that it was created to represent the early beginning of Spring and then the season in full bloom.

We started with a steaming hot bowl of tasty, comforting White Miso Soup with crispy tofu, seaweed, spring onions and a hint of garlic.

This was followed by the most delicious Sesame Spinach, with chilled spinach ribbons doused in a moreish, creamy dressing with plenty of crushed peanuts and topped with paper-thin cassava chips.

The main event was the Sakura crystal bento box filled with colourful, bite-size treats.  My favourite pieces of sushi were the flavoursome maki including spicy tuna with thinly-sliced lemongrass and cucumber, sweet and creamy salmon avocado and an indulgent California roll.

The trio of tuna nigiri – o-toro, chu-toro and akami – ranged from lean to fatty and the difference in taste and texture was noticeable.  A traditional bamboo box was also filled with three pieces of sashimi – kuro-kanpachi, sea bream and salmon.  The sea bream particularly appealed to me, as it had a silky texture and a clean, subtle flavour.

The bento box was finished with pretty decorations such as flower-shaped carrots, wedges of lime and a physalis.  I’m still navigating my way through the sushi world (graduating from tempura crab and tofu to the raw fish kind), but I’m pretty certain that Sake No Hana’s ultra-fresh, melt-in-the-mouth sushi is some of the best you can hope to find in London.

Dessert is an additional extra, but it would be madness not to try the beautifully-presented Cotton Cheesecake.  This bubbly, light-as-air baked cheesecake was simply delightful with fresh cherries, vanilla-scented cream cheese and cherry sorbet.  The texture was a cross between cake and mousse and it reminded me a little of the light chiffon cake I’ve tried a few times in Asia.

A perfect end to the Sakura meal was a plate of Cherry Blossom macarons, whimsically painted with a floral pattern.  The delicate vanilla macarons were filled with a thick layer of velvety chocolate cherry blossom tea ganache and were ever so fresh and rather substantial.  They can be washed down with a pot a Sakura tea, made from the leaves of cherry blossom trees.

Sakura at Sake No Hana is a must if you’re a fan of cherry blossom and all things fragrant and miniature.  It’s the closest thing to having a picnic in a Tokyo cherry blossom park and perfect for a romantic date night.

Sakura Gozen at Sake No Hana is priced at £32 per person and is available until 20th June.  Guests are encouraged to take photographs of blossom and Spring flowers and upload them to Instagram using the hashtag #sakura2015 to be in with a chance of receiving Sakura gifts.  For more information and booking, visit:

Chérie City was a guest of Sake No Hana

All photos by Chérie City

Sake No Hana on Urbanspoon

Bars, London

The Natural Philosopher, Hackney

East London has a brand new drinking den with the arrival of The Natural Philosopher on Hackney Road.

Located in a delightfully odd Mac Museum and repair shop, The Natural Philosopher is a fun addition to the Cambridge Heath bar scene and within stumbling distance of Mission, Peg + Patriot, Satan’s Whiskers and The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities Cocktail Bar & Cafe.

Behind this quirky new bar is James Manero and Amechi Ihenacho, owners of Manero’s Private Members Club in Haggerston, who collaborated with MacSmiths owner Paul Davis.  I visited on the opening night for a few rounds of cocktails and loved the bar’s rebellious spirit and the expertly-made cocktails.

The entrance has the feel of a grand Victorian office with period features and taxidermy.  On the right is the Mac Museum, where guests can sit amongst Paul Davis’s personal collection of Apple products dating back to 1976.

Walk down a few steps to the intimate bar with rich red walls and gold-framed paintings, dimly-lit with oil lamps on each table.  Bartenders mix their creations from a sunken bar, slightly out of sight.

The bar sits just 25 people and is table service only for that refined speakeasy vibe.  Bar Manager Alban Hajdini’s menu is equally petite with just seven signature cocktails, blending fine spirits with natural botanical and aromatic ingredients.

The cocktails we tried were all excellent and my favourite was the refreshing Baltazar, made with lemon infused Moskovaya vodka mixed with lemongrass, raspberries and topped with lychee juice.

Steven tried the Lord Kelvin, the bar’s own take on a classic gin sour.  It was a potent blend of Brokers Gin, lemon thyme-infused sugar syrup, lemon juice with Angostura and lemon bitters.

For something super-strong, try the Zabarella with cardamon-infused Ocho Tequila, lime juice, vanilla sugar syrup and pomegranate juice or the bohemian Parmenides with Hennessey Cognac, yellow Chartreuse, Absinthe bitters, topped with white wine.

If you’re not in the mood for cocktails, there’s also an interesting selection of wines from around the world and local beers.

The Natural Philosopher is a fantastic secret, low-key spot where you can enjoy a really good drink away from the crowds.  I’m pleased to have it as my local, but if you don’t live in this part of town, it’s definitely worth a trek over to the east for.

For more information, visit The Natural Philosopher on Facebook.

Photos by The Natural Philosopher

Bars, Paris, Restaurants

Dinner at Les Niçois, Paris

On the first night of our recent trip to Paris, we caught up with our Parisian friends Coralie and Sunny for a bite to eat.

Since we were staying just a short walk from their apartment at Hotel du Petit Moulin, we decided to go local for the evening so we could walk to dinner and back.

For something light and a bit different, I suggested we try Les Niçois, a casual tapas bar inspired by the French Riviera.  Located on the edge of a quiet, leafy square, the bar is far from the busy part of the Marais and feels like a cool neighbourhood find.

Owners Vincent Traoré and Luc Sananes bring a taste of the Med to Paris with Les Niçois.  It’s low-key and atmospheric with simple wooden seating and emblems of the south of France such as a retro Ricard dispenser, vintage-style publicity posters and old maps.

There’s even a Pétanque sand pitch downstairs if you really want to get into the spirit of the Côte d’Azur.  As if that’s not enough to lure you in, it gets the Colette seal of approval – you can buy Les Niçois home-made tapenades, pesto, olive oil and Rosé de Pétanque at the hip lifestyle store.

The menu at Les Niçois features a selection of dishes typical to Nice as well as a daily chalkboard of specials.  I also thought the drinks menu was rather fun with what Coralie calls ‘holiday drinks’ like Monaco, Panaché and all kinds of aniseed aperitifs such as Pastis and Ricard.

Steven and I both couldn’t resist a Monaco (€3.60) while Coralie and Sunny had a glass of really good white wine from the south of France (I forget the name but it had lovely notes of juicy apricot).

We both ordered the Assiette Nissarde (€12) to share and it was the perfect size for two people.  The Pizza Nissarde was petite yet rich with sunkissed tomato confit atop and a sliver of anchovy atop a fluffy, moist base.  The Pissaladière was also delicious with sweet, slightly tangy slow-roasted onions and fresh herbs.

We all loved the crispy, pillowy Panisses – chunky chickpea fries that were surprisingly light and not at all greasy.  They were the ideal accompaniment for dipping into the home-made Tapenade Vert, Tapenade Noire and Anchoïade.

The olive tapenades are full of punchy flavours and are so very moreish – luckily we were also offered a basket of top notch rustic bread to make them go even further.  The Anchoïade is more of an acquired taste and it split opinion on our table.

Steven and I shared a plate of Chipolata Croquettes (€6), which were plump and substantial with a rich, creamy filling and a crispy, golden breadcrumb coating.  Coralie and Sunny also tried a few vegetable dishes that went down well.

Of course we didn’t pass on dessert and these ones are particularly tempting.  The Speculoos Creme (€6)was velvety and decadent with a crumbled biscuit topping, while the Brownie du Chef (€6) was rather special.  Far from a regular brownie, this one was filled with white chocolate chips, hazelnut praline and a touch of salted caramel.

As usual we were one of the last tables to leave, but we were never once rushed by the friendly, charming staff.  It’s definitely the kind of place you can come to with friends and chat the night away over drinks and regional French bites.

Not only does it have a great atmosphere but it’s also refreshingly affordable, so you can eat well for a little or really indulge and sample an array of dishes.

Les Niçois has made it onto my list of favourite spots in Paris and I can’t wait to go back and try the lunchtime formule or the weekend brunch for a bargainous €25 per person.

For more information and booking, visit:

Photos by Les Niçois and Chérie City



Bars, Hotels, Hotels - Luxury, London, Restaurants

Dinner & Champagne at Bistro 51, St. James’ Court, A Taj Hotel

St. James’ is a part of historic London that feels so elegant, refined and quintessentially English.  With the city developing so rapidly, a stroll through this neighbourhood reminds me of London’s dapper, old world charm.

Nestled on Buckingham Gate is the luxurious St. James’ Court, A Taj Hotel.  Its exquisite Victorian architecture makes it one of London’s most attractive hotels and the lobby is just as welcoming with marble floors, warm wood panelling and plush seating.

We visited last week for dinner, courtesy of the lovely folk at Zomato, and on arrival we headed to The Hamptons Bar at the back of the lobby for a decadent Laurent-Perrier Champagne Flight with specially-paired canapés.  We had a cosy table overlooking the splendid courtyard and a live pianist provided a soothing soundtrack.

The Laurent-Perrier Champagne Flight certainly looked the part with three mini Champagne flutes ready to be filled on a special presentation tray.  The first fizz we tried was Laurent-Perrier Brut served with scallop and avocado tartare with lemon oil.  This light, easy to drink Champagne has prominent citrus notes and it went perfectly with the fresh scallop, creamy avocado and meyer lemon.

We then moved on to the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé, paired with smoked salmon and prawn marie rose rolls.  Not only did they match in colour, but the sweet, tangy prawns and intense smoked salmon complemented the Champagne’s red and black fruit notes.  This Champagne’s attractive pink colour is achieved by using the saignée method of leaving the red grape skins on the wine for up to three days.

Our third tasting was Laurent-Perrier Vintage 2004, served with asparagus ratatouille crostini.  This was our favourite of the three, as it is was the most rounded with biscuity, vanilla notes.  The Chardonny 50% and Pinot Noir 50% Champagne went perfectly with the vegetable crostini, which was nicely marinated and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic glaze.

The Laurent-Perrier Champagne Flight is fantastic value at just £20 per person and feels like more of a ceremony than simply ordering a glass of Champagne.  It also makes a perfect after-work treat when you’re ready to be perked up with a few bites and bubbles.

Before getting too tipsy, we moved across the lobby to Bistro 51, the hotel’s modern European and Pan Asian restaurant.  The bright, contemporary restaurant has a calm atmosphere and there are a few different seating sections so it feels private and intimate.

We chose from the Chef’s Menu, which offers four options for each course.  After ordering, we were brought a selection of freshly-baked pumpkin seed rolls and carrot bread, accompanied by the most delicious creamy mushroom dip.  We tried not to overdo it with the bread, but it was just so tasty and moreish.

To start, I ordered Pan seared scallops, cauliflower puree and pancetta.  The dish looked appealing and was beautifully-presented.  The scallops were ever so fresh and lightly browned, though unfortunately too salty, as though they’d been seasoned twice.  They went well with the velvety smooth and subtle cauliflower puree and the flavoursome pancetta cooked two ways in a paper-thin strip and crunchy pieces.

I also liked the Brussels sprouts leaves, black olive crumble and dashes of olive oil that punctuated the dish.

Steven tried the Salmon and cucumber tartar with yuzu dressing.  The chunky, fresh salmon was marinated with strong flavours of cucumber, onion and dill, drizzled in a creamy, citrusy yuzu dressing and topped with high quality caviar.  The portion size was substantial and it was a light and enjoyable start to the meal.

I followed with the Cajun spiced chicken breast, new potatoes tossed with spinach, however as I wasn’t really in the mood for heat, I requested it without the Cajun spice (the friendly staff were happy to oblige).  The succulent, juicy chicken breast certainly didn’t miss the spice, as it was infused with the aromas of fresh thyme and herbs and had a light, golden skin.

I loved the slightly sweet new potatoes muddled with a light Parmesan cream sauce and wilted spinach and the most perfect long-stem asparagus.  The dish was finished with a rich, meaty jus and more of that yummy black olive crumble.

Steven tried the Masala fried fish, aloo and chickpea chaat.  The flaky, tender fish was lightly fried with an aromatic, crisp coating and was accompanied by piquant spiced potatoes, tasty spiced chickpeas and julienne vegetables.  It was a punchy dish with real depth of flavour and a combination of invigorating spices.

I finished with the Tonka bean crème brûlée with hazelnut biscotti.  The cool, creamy crème brûlée had just a hint of fragrant tonka bean and the caramelised crust was good but could’ve done with a little more time under the blowtorch to make it crunchier.

I loved the authentic, crunchy hazelnut biscotti and the unexpected joy of proper rum and raisin ice cream, finished with freeze-dried raspberry pieces.

Steven’s Sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream was a British classic at its very best.  The moist and airy sponge was sweetened with chopped dates and was drenched in a very indulgent, thick toffee sauce.  It was finished with a scoop of luxurious vanilla ice cream, biscuit crumble and a sugar spear.

We finished the meal with pots of Earl Grey tea and went back to the lobby to enjoy the piano music before leaving.

The warm atmosphere and kind hospitality at St. James’s Court really made our evening and our dining experience in the Hamptons Bar and Bistro 51 was very memorable.  The Laurent-Perrier Champagne Flight added that extra touch of decadence and I can’t recommend it enough.

For more information and booking, visit:  See the menu on Zomato.

Chérie City was invited by Zomato and St. James’ Court, A Taj Hotel

Photos by Chérie City and St. James’ Court, A Taj Hotel

Bars, London, Pubs

Dinner at Finch’s, Moorgate

Finch’s has the feel of one of London’s ‘new generation’ pubs, where slick design and interesting food are just as important as the drinks.

Now part of Young’s Pubs, Finch’s was founded by Henry Hobson Finch in 1865 and was previously known as The Master Gunner.  It was recently re-named as a tribute to its first owner and has a brand new look and classic British menu.  It also specialises in local craft beers and features coffee by Climpson & Sons.

The pub has a prime location opposite Finsbury Square, within walking distance of Shoreditch, Spitalfields and Liverpool Street Station, so it’s ideal for after-work drinks.

The modern interiors have a sweet garden feel and on the lower floor is Henry’s Den, a cosy snug with its own bar and a plasma TV.

We had a lovely table in the back dining room with my reservation name spelled out on a Scrabble board – a thoughtful touch.  The pub was busy and had a buzzing, relaxed atmosphere, although we found it a little chilly.

I started the with Crispy ham hock terrine, roasted apple puree, radish and pea shoots (£5.95).  When they arrived, they were more like piping hot croquettes than a terrine, but for me that was even better.  The flaky, juicy ham hock was coated in crisp, golden breadcrumbs and went perfectly with the smooth, sweet roasted apple puree, crunchy radish and fresh pea shoots – a great start to the meal.

Steven’s Macaroni cheese and chive Scotch egg, mustard and leaves (£5.95) literally dwarved my ham hock croquettes – it was enormous!  The warm, creamy macaroni cheese encased in crunchy breadcrumbs was tasty and comforting, however the soft-boiled egg in the middle was cold.  The mustard was needed to lift the flavours and we found the portion size was just too big for a starter.

I followed with the nicely-presented Marmalade duck breast, potato fondant, carrot puree, chargrilled leeks, orange cream and herbs (£12.95).  The medium-cooked duck breast was tender and succulent with caramelised skin from the marmalade glaze.

I loved the fragrant, silky carrot puree, flavoursome chargrilled leeks and the surprisingly light orange cream.  The potato fondant was infused with fresh herbs but was a little dry.

Steven went for a pub classic of Young’s battered fish, triple cooked chips, pea puree and tartar (£11.95).  The fish was meaty and substantial with just the right amount of golden, crispy beer-batter.  The thickly-cut traditional chips were home-made and moreish, served with a tangy pea puree and creamy tartar.

For dessert, I couldn’t resist the indulgent Chocolate salami, pistachio ice cream and crumble (£5.95).  The rich chocolate salami was made up of velvety dark chocolate, pistachios, sliced almonds and Digestive biscuit pieces, along with a generous splash of brandy to give it a kick.

The luxurious, silky ice cream and crunchy crumble rounded the strong flavours and were good accompaniments.

Steven finished with the Pear, walnut and date pudding with butterscotch and vanilla bean ice cream (£5.95).  The pudding was light and moist with a subtle hint of pear and a very sweet butterscotch sauce.

We ended the meal with pots of Earl Grey tea, which were thoughtfully-presented on a rustic tray with mini bottles of milk.

Finch’s is a cut above your average London pub with delightful staff, attractive design and a tempting menu of old favorites and more creative dishes.

For Christmas celebrations, I recommend hiring Henry’s Den or you can simply enjoy the festive menu with two courses for £24.95 or three courses for £27.95.

For more information and booking, visit:

Chérie City was a guest of Finch’s

Photos by Chérie City

Bars, Hotels, Hotels - Design, Paris, Restaurants

Dinner at Hotel Amour, Paris

The restaurant at Hotel Amour is one of my favourite spots in Paris for a fun, stylish night out.

Tucked away on rue Navarin in hip South Pigalle (SoPi), Hotel Amour is an affordable boutique hotel with a popular restaurant and terrace.  Co-owned by the inimitable graffiti artist and entrepreneur André Saraiva (Le Baron, La Fidelité, Monsieur A.) and Thierry Costes, the hotel is always buzzing with a cool crowd of Parisian creatives, fashion folk and clued-up travellers.

Many of the rooms are designed by artists such as Pierre Le-Tan, Mark Newson and Sophie Calle and there’s plenty of erotic artwork to live up to the hotel’s name – it is in racy Pigalle, after all.

Sure, new hotels and restaurants open in Paris all the time, but there’s something timeless and sexy about Hotel Amour – it never seems to go out of style.

I knew there was nowhere else I wanted to spend my recent 30th birthday than the restaurant at Hotel Amour.

Not only does it have a great atmopshere, a romantic garden and good food, but there are also tons of great bars nearby (check out Glass, Dirty Dick, Chez Moune, Le Dépanneur and Le Mansart).  Also, we were conveniently staying in the neighbourhood at the delightful Hotel Josephine.

We caught up with our Parisian friends Coralie and Sunny, who managed to secure us a fantastic table on the terrace overlooking the lush outdoor garden.  The evening started on a high with an unexpected birthday present for me – a very Parisian boho-luxe leather purse (Coralie has excellent taste in accessories).

We began by ordering some cocktails – Coralie and I both went for a deliciously sweet Amaretto Sour topped with toasted almonds while Sunny and Steven went for the stronger, sharper Godfather Sour.

After ordering, we were brought a basket of really good rustic bread served with a pot of French salted butter.  The butter covers are printed with the cool Hotel Amour logo and even the wine glasses are engraved with André’s signature scrawl – they sure know a thing or two about branding.

Being indecisive and deep in conversation, it took us a while to decide what to order, but our charming waitresses were so relaxed and patient.  As usual, I was tempted by the Cheeseburger (€19), which was cooked perfectly medium and spiked with a jazzy cocktail stick.  The lean, well-seasoned beef patty was smothered in gooey cheese and packed in a seeded demi-brioche bun.

Happily, they came with a big bowl of crispy, delicious French fries – in fact the portion size was so generous that I could easily share them with the table.  On other occasions, I’ve ordered the Poulet Roti (€19), which is equally moreish and comforting.

Coralie and Steven both ordered the Gratin de Macaronis au jambon blanc (16.50).  The long tubes of macaroni were perfectly cooked and baked with thick-carved, flavoursome ham and lots of cream, Emmental and Gruyère.  The portion size wasn’t particularly big, but the richness of the dish made it a satisfying choice.

Sunny’s Salade de Légumes (€18) took quite a while to arrive after a Salade Nicoise was mistakenly sent out.  Luckily, there were plenty of fries and bread to munch on while he was waiting.

It seemed only fair that Sunny’s Chocolate Ganache (€9.50) dessert was the clear winner.  The velvety, decadent milk chocolate ganache was served on a cookie crumb and topped with toasted hazelnuts and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Coralie ordered a classic Café Gourmand (with a Mariage Frère tea instead of coffee), which included a platter of four nicely-presented mini desserts.  Steven and I shared a large slice of home-made Crème Caramel.  It tasted fantastic but it was comically unattractive – a large slab of bubbly cream sitting in a moat of light caramel sauce, rather than the petite, quivering desserts that I’ve had before in Paris brasseries.

Hotel Amour is great for a spot of people-watching, catching up with friends or enjoying a few cocktails on the terrace.  There’s room for improvement, but its charm always wins me over and I know I’ll be lured back there time and time again.

For more information and booking, visit:

Photos by Chérie City & Hotel Amour Paris

Barcelona, Bars, Restaurants

Tapas at Ocaña, Barcelona

Ocaña is a stylish spot on Barcelona’s popular Plaça Reial that stands out from the copious bars and restaurants for its opulent design and cool branding.

The multi-purpose venue is a tribute to daring performance artist Jose Perez Ocaña who lived on the palm tree-lined square and was known for his flamboyant appearance and flower-filled balcony.  The interiors evoke the faded glamour of an old theatre with worn red velvet seating, chandeliers and red roses on each table.

On the hot summer’s day that we visited, most people were simply enjoying beers and a few tapas on the terrace, however Ocaña also comprises a gastronomic restaurant, apotheke cocktail bar and a late-night club space.  We managed to walk in and grab a table at the front of the restaurant overlooking the terrace.

The menu focuses on ‘urban tapas’ and larger plates, with the dishes printed on creative screen-printed newspapers.  Our Iced Teas (€3.50) were brought swiftly and we ordered a small selection of tapas to graze on.

Acorn-fed Ham Croquettes (€5) were crispy and golden, filled with a creamy cheese and garlic sauce punctuated with flaky, flavoursome ham.

Potato and Onion Omelette with Spicy Chorizo (€5.50) was generously sized (big enough for two to share) and packed full of layered potato, onion and chorizo, which was surprisingly very mild.  Like most tortilla in Barcelona, it was served cold and topped with smoked paprika, fresh chives and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Lemon Chicken Skewers with Olives (€6.50) featured two plump skewers of succulent chicken thigh, well-marinated in preserved lemon, olives and spices.  They were accompanied by tasty home-made fries, making it quite a substantial tapa dish.

Patatas Bravas (€4.80) were delicious and comforting with freshly-fried potatoes smothered in aioli and olive oil.  Once again, they weren’t spicy, but still moreish and full of flavour.

The dessert menu is quite simple, so we moved on for a long walk around El Born, taking in the lively atmosphere on the streets for Catalonia Day.

Ocaña is great for a chilled out evening meal or starting a night out in the busy centre of Barcelona.  Given the concept and the design, I’d expected it to feel a bit more quirky and found the atmosphere a little subdued (perhaps because it was a bank holiday).

However, service is fine and generally quick, so if you don’t fancy queuing for Les Quinze Nits on the other side of the square, Ocaña is worth a visit.

For more information and booking, visit:

All photos by Chérie City