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Hotels – Budget

Hotels, Hotels - Budget, Hotels - Design, London

A Stay at Urban Villa, West London

As a general rule, hip design hotels can rarely be found on the outskirts of London (least of all perched over the M4), but Urban Villa is set to change that with its first all-suite hotel in Brentford, west London.

The 100-suite hotel is designed by New York architects Grzywinski + Pons, the duo behind downtown gems The Nolitan and The Hotel on Rivington.  Urban Villa has that familiar industrial-luxe aesthetic and bridges boutique hotel hospitality with the convenience of luxury residential living.

The philosophy of Urban Villa is simple – you can either stay in central London and pay partly for the location (and perhaps settle for a less inspiring hotel), or make Urban Villa your base and journey into London as you wish.  It’s also worth noting that on the doorstep is Kew Gardens, Chiswick, Richmond and Twickenham.

The hotel has partnered with Uber to facilitate quick journeys into the city and South Ealing tube is also just 15 minutes and only seven stops away from South Kensington.  It’s also a good choice for staying near Heathrow if you have an early flight.  Brentford doesn’t sound so off the radar now, right?

We visited on Friday for Urban Villa’s grand opening and were treated to a suite for the night.  The best kind of parties are those where you can simply roll up to your room at the end of the night.

The large, open-plan lobby was the centre of the action with fantastic cocktails by Soulshakers, who have curated the drinks for the hotel’s Sour Diesel bar.  It also boasts a Coravin system so that the entire wine list can be served by the glass.

We tucked into the most incredible burgers and millionaire fries by Hereford heroes The Beefy Boys, who had a pop-up grill just outside.  This was simply an indulgence for the opening event, as Urban Villa’s permanent food offering is much more healthy.  BOKI Coffee & Co. serves artisanal drinks using Allpress Coffee and T2 Tea (the French Earl Grey is delicious) as well as craft beers, organic meals and cold-pressed juices.

A cool soundtrack of electro, house and disco came courtesy of DJs Justin Quirk and Lulu Levan.  We also enjoyed live performances from Leeds alt-rock band Glasscaves and a collaboration between rapper and saxophonist Soweto Kinch and jazz trumpeter Jay Phelps.

As an ‘evolving hotel’, Urban Villa is all about the lobby culture and guests can expect a programme of music and events.

Floor nine was full of surprises, as we toured some of the show rooms including the impressive Master Villa.  We sampled T2 matcha tea, Allpress Coffee, fresh cold-pressed juice and delicious cakes all served at BOKI Coffee & Co. and tried the in-room spa treatments by Viva Therapies.

I had a fantastic, long-lasting manicure using OPI Gwen Stefani Red and can highly recommend it as a special treat.  What could be better than a spot of pampering from the comfort of your own room?

At the end of a fabulous bourbon and matcha-fuelled evening, we stumbled back to our Villa on the tenth floor.  The suite was bright and very spacious with a soft colour palette and contemporary-cool furnishings.

Room features include a queen-size bed, 40″ Samsung smart TV, free wifi, a small dining/working table, iPod docking station and a fully-equipped kitchen complete with a Nespresso machine and kettle with Teapigs tea.

There is also free high-speed wifi, inexpensive international phone calls and cool artwork by Lazarides Editions, the world’s leading urban art gallery.

A unique touch is the expansive winter garden with a small seating area and a sunlounger, offering floor to ceiling panoramic views over the city.  It’s rare to get a terrace in any city hotel, let alone one of this size.

Going beyond the standard pillow menu, guests can customise their bed in advance, choosing between a soft, medium or hard mattress.  Ours was medium, I believe, and was very comfortable, although I found the Egyptian cotton linen strangely a little scratchy.

The sleek black and dark wood bathroom is not only sexy but well-equipped with a high-pressure rainfall shower, extra-wide fluffy towels, luxury bathrobes and full-size Malin & Goetz products with intoxicating aromas of rum, cilantro and peppermint.

Other cool features to make you feel at home include an iPad and Xbox loans, an in-room gym kit, same-day laundry service, business facilities and a handy in-room virtual concierge on the TV.

It’s also commendable that Urban Villa is an eco hotel with green initiatives such as paper-less suites and check-in, an untearable ‘do not disturb’ door sign, vertical plant wall in the lobby and recyclable packaging.

Urban Villa is a real game-changer and I loved the slick design, high tech features and thoughtful home comforts.  The hotel’s Great West Quarter location is certainly a ‘work in progress’, but Urban Villa is ahead of the curve and is offering something fresh and different for style-conscious travellers.

Room rates start from £100 for a Studio and £135 for a Master Villa.  For more information and booking, visit: www.urbanvilla.com

Chérie City was invited by Urban Villa

Photos by Chérie City and Urban Villa

Berlin, Drinks, Hotels, Hotels - Budget, Hotels - Design, London

Fountain of Youth Coconut Water by The Michelberger Hotel

Coconut water is having quite a moment and the best one I’ve tasted has got to be Fountain of Youth.

A lifestyle project from the hip Michelberger Hotel in Berlin, Fountain of Youth is simply 100% natural, fresh coconut water in an illustrated can (how cool is the ‘founder’ Monkey).

The collective behind the hotel fell in love with coconut water on a beach holiday and brought it back to their bar in Berlin.

Named Fountain of Youth for its health benefits, the hydrating coconut water is produced by a collective of small farmers from a region in Thailand known for the natural sweetness of its coconuts.  In fact, it’s where the King of Thailand gets his coconut water from.

The Michelberger Hotel is a creative, affordable hotel in a Friedrichshain former factory, designed by Werner Aisslinger.  Its courtyard and beer garden in particular is renowned for its all-night parties, gigs and DJ sets.

Open to everyone, it’s the place to sip a few experimental cocktails made with Fountain of Youth coconut water or the hotel’s very own Michelberger Booze.

However, there’s no need to hop on a plane to Berlin (although I am tempted), as Fountain of Youth is now available at various cool places in London.  I tried a few cans of Fountain of Youth and am already craving more.

The clear coconut water is so subtly sweet and flavoursome that it’s delicious just on its own.  However, I particularly liked blending it up with strawberries, blueberries and banana as a tasty smoothie.

For a simple cocktail in a can, Fountain of Youth suggests adding just a shot of white rum, a squeeze of lime and a straw.  It can even be served hot with ginger and lime or in a healthy green juice with pear, avocado, raw kale, agave and fresh ginger.

I’m tempted to try the Monkey Diablo – 35ml of 100% Agave blanco tequila on ice, topped up with Fountain of Youth, drizzled with cassis and garnished with a spritz of lime.

Fountain of Youth coconut water is priced from £2.50 (330ml can) and £3.50 (520ml can).  UK stockists include: Ace Hotel Shoreditch, Dalston Roof Park, Pelicans & Parrots, Peckham Springs, Rita’s Bar & Dining, The Alibi, The London EDITION, Voodoo Rays and Violet Cake.

To buy online and read the brilliant story behind Monkey’s coconut water discovery, visit: www.michelbergermonkey.com

Photos by Chérie City and Michelberger Hotel

*samples

Hotels, Hotels - Budget, Hotels - Design, Paris

Hotel Josephine, Paris

Hotel Josephine is a charming four-star boutique hotel in Paris, inspired by France’s beloved queen of the Jazz Age, Josephine Baker.

Located on the corner of Rue Blanche in the 9th arrondissement, Hotel Josephine is conveniently close to romantic Montmartre, the Sacre-Coeur, lively Pigalle and the legendary Moulin Rouge.

Josephine Baker once sang ‘J’ai deux amours’ at the Moulin Rouge and made her name performing her famous banana dance at the Folies Bergère, so this quartier really was her own territory.

Boutique Hotel Josephine is cosy and stylish with 41 rooms (10 of which are superior rooms).  The spacious, open-plan lobby and lounge are welcoming and attractive with comfy sofas and fireside armchairs.

There is a bookshelf full of classic and contemporary literature, a chess board and a bar area to really make you feel at home.  The handy business centre opposite the lounge offers use of a computer and printer, plus a coffee machine for complimentary hot drinks.

Interior designer Julie Gauthron perfectly captures the bohemian spirit of this historically rebellious neighbourhood with vintage-inspired prints, sepia-toned colours, pretty ornaments and photographs of decadent times gone by.

Our Standard Double Room on the first floor was petite and homely with lots of character.  It’s the kind of quirky room in which Montmartre resident Amélie Poulain might sleep.  In fact, I was almost expecting the people in the photographs adorning the walls to come alive and start speaking to us.

The room was designed in bold purple and red shades with attractive clashing prints on the walls, headboard and retro wardrobe and a number of black and white photographs of scenes from Paris cabarets.  Room features include an LCD TV, a simple desk with painted wooden chair and a little stool, a vintage-style phone, good air-conditioning, free wifi and a tea and coffee maker (a rare amenity in Paris).

There is also a Haussmannian juliette balcony, so you can open the windows and take in the atmosphere of busy rue Blanche below.  A copy of Numéro was provided for stylish bedtime reading and there was a set of Hotel Josephine branded stationery for old fashioned correspondence and note-taking.

The queen-size bed was very comfortable and I had a fantastic, uninterrupted night’s sleep, despite being so close to the street on the first floor.  The bed linen and plump pillows were excellent and I loved the lace-effect cushions.

The small bathroom was designed in dark red and maroon shades and the shower lined with tiny irridescent mosaic tiles had impressively powerful water pressure – I found it particularly blissful after a long day of travelling by plane.  It took me a while to realise, but the bathroom can be sectioned off by a red opaque sliding door, offering just enough privacy.

The hotel standard bathroom products were uninteresting and there was no conditioner provided – some lovely branded products such as L’Occitane, REN or Molton Brown would be a better fit.

Hotel Josephine doesn’t have a restaurant, but there is a wealth of excellent restaurants and bars in the hip South Pigalle (SoPi) neighbourhood.  That evening, we went to the brasserie at nearby Hotel Amour for dinner and enjoyed a late-night Kir on the terrace of Le Mansart, a cool bar just a few steps away from the hotel.

Also worth trying while staying in the area are NYC-Paris ‘gastrotheque’ Buvette, creative cocktail bar Glass and low-key burger bar La Maison Mère.

In the morning, we enjoyed a continental buffet breakfast in Hotel Josephine’s arched vaulted cellar.

The breakfast was plentiful and varied, including scrambled eggs, sausages, croissants, pain au chocolat, brioche, baguette, cold meat, cheeses, cereal, granola, yoghurts, fresh fruit, a selection of Tropicana juices and my favourite French apple compote.  I loved the fresh, flaky pastries served with every possible flavour of Bonne Maman jam or marmelade in mini pots – the perfect way to start the day in Paris.

Espresso-based coffees are available on request and tea and coffee are also self-service, so there’s no need to wait for a hot drink.

The weather wasn’t on our side during our stay in Paris, but luckily Hotel Josephine has a stack of branded umbrellas for guests to use in the lobby – a very thoughtful touch.  Of course, the bad weather didn’t stop us from exploring Paris, as tempting as it was to cosy up in the lounge.

Hotel Josephine is a delightful, creative hotel that offers a glorious, rose-tinted view of northern Paris.  The design and small touches throughout the hotel really revive the glamour of Josephine Baker’s world.  Plus, the location is unbeatable if you’re looking for a fun, energetic short break in Paris.

Rooms at Hotel Josephine start at €170 during low and mid season and from €250 during high season.  For more information and booking, visit: www.hotel-josephine.com 

Chérie City was invited by Hotel Josephine

Photos by Chérie City

Hotels, Hotels - Budget, Hotels - Design, London

Qbic Hotel London City

Qbic Hotel London City is the city’s most exciting new affordable design hotel, with an innovative room concept and budget-friendly prices.

Founded in Amsterdam, Qbic Hotels take a fresh look at the budget city hotel experience with only the essential amenities, plus lots of convenient extras to make a stay more relaxed and enjoyable.

While many East End hotels and restaurant tend to be clustered around Shoreditch and Hoxton, Qbic Hotel London City occupies a more ‘under the radar’ position in Whitechapel.  Just a few steps away from the renowned Whitechapel Gallery, buzzing Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market, the hotel is also conveniently close to Aldgate East underground station with quick access to central London.

On arrival, we were greeted by a friendly member of staff, who helped us check in using the self check-in kiosks.  They were simple and easy to use, dispatching the room key and a receipt with the room number and check-out information.

The lift that we took to our floor features a cool wall-mounted electric guitar and information about the hotel and local events.

Our third-floor room was happily far away from the lifts, avoiding any noise, and in the corridor is a hot drinks machines offering lattes, cappuccinos, mochas and hot water for English Breakfast and herbal teas.

Entering our Park View Room, we were greeted by a super-sized Princess Diana and cheeky little Justin Bieber on the headboard – a fun design touch and a real talking point (especially with Justin Bieber’s current antics). 

The room was spacious and simply designed, with a table and chair, full-length mirror, wooden floorboards and large windows.

Dutch designer Sander Bokkinga has specially created a striking lamp made from a hosepipe and a multi-functional luggage stand with hanging space and shelfs for belongings.  It certainly captures the imagination and the creative spirit of the artistic East End, plus there are hangers and hooks on the wall for extra space (a few wall-mounted shelves would be nice too).

The focal point of the room is the ‘cubi’ which comprises a king-sized bed with an integrated 32-inch LED Smart TV, a lamp and a well-appointed bathroom.  Constructed from curved plastic, wood paneling and glass, the pre-fabricated cubi is easy and affordable for the hotel to set up, keeping prices down for guests.

I found the bed extremely comfortable and luxurious with good bed linen and handy space-saving wooden side trays.  The bedding was a little unusual with just two thin and basic pillows and a duvet that was almost double thickness, making it rather stifling at night.

I liked that each side of the bed had mood lighting switches and electrical sockets, making it easy to use a laptop or tablet in bed.  The high-speed wifi is fantastic and can be accessed by simply entering a general password.

The bathroom is surprisingly slick with a powerful rainfall shower, a wide bowl sink and plenty of towels – even the zesty yellow colour of the walls is uplifting.  In the bathroom are two large bottles of Emerelle Spa Hair & Body Wash (made for hotels), which were perfectly adequate for a shower, but guests need to bring their own conditioner and body lotion.

Guest rooms come without a telephone and while it’s not always an amenity that I use often, I can’t help thinking it’s a security issue not to have any channel of communication between the reception and the many guest rooms on the floor.  There should at least be one phone that connects only the the reception and emergency services in the corridor, just in case.

A perk of staying at Qbic London City is the cool, atmospheric lounge where guests can enjoy complimentary tea and coffee in take-out cups and purified water.  There are a number of jazzy Union Flag vending machines stocking locally-sourced snacks and drinks – we couldn’t resist trying a bottle of Dalston Cola.

Every evening at 6pm, Qbic Hotel London City offers guests complimentary home-made soup and fresh bread provided by local partner, Food Cycle.  It’s a thoughtful touch that gives that home away from home feeling.  There is also a microwave and kitchen station for preparing food – ideal for those visiting London on a budget, or just wanting a low-key evening.

In the morning, we enjoyed a continental breakfast (£7.50), including a selection of high quality produce such as Chegworth juices, delicious blueberry muffins, freshly-baked croissants, bread, cheese, preserves, cereal and fruit.  For a lighter breakfast, all guests can fill a paper bag with a complimentary Chegworth juice, gourmet cereal bar and a piece of fresh fruit, displayed at the reception.

Qbic Hotel London City is a fun, affordable place to stay and it couldn’t be better placed for discovering East London.  It best suits individuals or couples on a short stay in the city, particularly as the cubi bathrooms lack privacy.  With cutting-edge design and home comforts, Qbic Hotels are set to revolutionise the city hotel stay and I can’t wait to see more of them popping up in Europe’s coolest cities.

A double room at Qbic Hotel London City starts from just £59 per night and includes a complimentary breakfast bag for each guest.  For more information and booking, visit: www.london.qbichotels.com

Chérie City was invited by Qbic Hotel London City

All photos by Chérie City

Hotels, Hotels - Budget, Hotels - Design, New York, Restaurants

Futuristic Luxury At YOTEL New York – Midtown

YOTEL New York is one of the city’s most forward-thinking design hotels, combining cutting edge technology with home comforts.

Following the success of YO SUSHI’s airport pod hotels, the group launched YOTEL New York, its first city hotel.  Inspiration for this innovative, minimalist hotel came from the luxury of first class airline travel and micro-living Japanese capsule hotel rooms.

The hotel is located in a quiet, regenerated part of Hell’s Kitchen, just a few blocks from Times Square and close to arty Chelsea.  It’s impossible to miss the shiny, glowing white and purple exterior and vertiginous glass tower.

The ‘airport chic’ entrance is lined with automated check-in computers for a hassle-free check-in.  It is there that you will meet YOBOT, the world’s first luggage robot who stores guests bags in different sized compartment draws.

YOTEL New York is a large-scale operation with 669 over 27 floors, from the very affordable Premium Queen Cabins through to the impressive VIP Suites.  Our Premium Queen Cabin was slick, stylish and just the right size for a short stay.

Designed simply in white, beige and purple with light wood highlights, the cabin features a techno wall with flat screen TV, a work desk with iPod connectivity and multi power point sockets, open hanging space and a motorised queen bed that transforms into a sofa.  The bed was slightly harder than I’d expected once it was flat – perhaps due to its mechanical features – but the linen was crisp and high quality.

Space is used intelligently, with secret storage spots and cup holders around the room, and never once does the room feel too small or claustrophobic.  Thoughtful touches such as complimentary wifi, free calls within the US, an iron and ironing board, a good hairdryer and YOTEL-branded pocket tissues made all the difference.

We found the open-plan bathroom quite spacious, boasting floor to ceiling views of the Manhattan skyline.  It features a walk-in monsoon shower, large white towels and face cloths, heated towel rail and YOTEL’s own brand of rather nice rejuvenating and relaxing aromatic body wash/shampoo (no conditioner or body lotion, so plan ahead).

For longer stays, try the more spacious First King Cabin (some feature a spacious terrace and outdoor soaking tub) or the indulgent yet competitively priced VIP Suite.  This plush pad features 180-degree views of the city, a terrace with outdoor soaking tub, Apple Mac, Bower & Wilkins sound system, a dining table that converts into a billiards table, kitchenette with Lavazza coffee machine and fridge freezer, rotating king bed, luxurious bathroom and a separate room with a queen sofa bed.

At YOTEL New York, there are a number of complimentary treats that give it that extra edge.  Each floor has a self-service galley with purified water, ice and a Lavazza espresso capsule machine offering cappucinos, lattes, mochas and hot chocolate for the room or to take out.  Tea lovers are also taken care of with hot water and boxes of Celestial English Breakfast Tea and Chai.

The galleys were immaculately clean and well-stocked throughout our stay and we loved being able to grab a hot drink whenever we wished.  What could feel more homely and comforting than cosying up in bed with an indulgent hot chocolate?

YOTEL also serves a complimentary light breakfast of delicious home-made muffins in different flavours with tea and coffee on FOUR (the public floor for socialising and eating).  We found the muffins more than sufficient to start the day, but for something more indulgent, DohYO offers well-priced cooked breakfasts.

YOTEL New York also offers a gym, Apple Mac computers for guests to use and Mission Control one-to-one concierge on FOUR.  The high tech Club Cabins are great for business meetings and the expansive Studiyo features a boardroom and cinema screening space.

After a long day of walking around the city, we came back to our room to relax and then downstairs for dinner at YOTEL’s restaurant DohYO (translated as ‘sumo’).  The colourful, buzzing restaurant features a Latin Asian tapas menu by Richard Sandoval. The room is lined with intimate booths, but we chose to sit at the centre Japanese-style tables.

DohYO’s sharing dishes are perfect for a lighter supper, however the food is so delicious that it’s easy to keep ordering.  We loved the Crunchy Shrimp ($10) with lemon sake aioli, sesame, scallion and masago, and the deliciously sticky teriyaki marinated Crispy Chicken Wings ($9).

The House Ground Beef Sliders ($9) with lemon sake aioli were succulent and nicely charred and the Shrimp & Chicken Fried Rice ($8) was plentiful with a zesty kimchee flavour.  Also worth ordering is the tasty and generously sized Wok Seared Cauliflower ($5) with ginger, garlic, Thai chili and black vinegar.

After dinner, the Japanese-style tables are lowered and it becomes a cocktail bar.  The lounge on FOUR is another sociable evening spot and in the warmer months, the expansive outdoor terrace is undoubtedly popular for sundowner drinks.

Every Sunday, DohYO hosts the YO! Brunch with free-flowing cocktails and small plates ($40 per guest) and music from New York DJs including Roxy Cottontail, Uri Dalal and Andrew Andrew (the suited and booted iPod DJs in that episode of Girls).

YOTEL New York is a fun, inspiring place to stay with a sociable atmosphere, slick design and homely comforts that no other budget-luxe hotel in the city could possibly offer at such a competitive price.  While cosy in the winter, I would be tempted to stay in the summer to enjoy the outdoor terrace and have a long, lazy weekend brunch in the sun.

For more information and booking, visit: www.yotelnewyork.com

Cherie City was a guest of YOTEL New York on a room only basis.

Photos by Cherie City and YOTEL New York

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Art, Barcelona, Bars, Beach, Cafes, Cherie Soleil, Hotels, Hotels - Budget, Hotels - Design, Restaurants, Spain, Stores

Chérie City Guide To: Barcelona

Barcelona is one of Spain’s most vibrant, exciting and constantly evolving cities.  There are always plenty of new things to see and do, alongside traditional establishments that have endured throughout the years.  It’s now easier than ever to find an affordable flight and spend a long weekend in one of Spain’s coolest cities.

Here are a few of my favourites places in Barcelona…

Market Hotel is a chic, budget design hotel with decor inspired by the Far East.  The Market Hotel is located close to the San Antoni market in Eixample and nice touches include complimentary wifi, apples and bottles of mineral water to take away at reception.

The hotel’s pretty monochrome Market Restaurant is a buzzing yet relaxing place to enjoy authentic Catalan cuisine.  Finish the evening with a cocktail on the terrace or in the stunning Asian-inspired Bar Rosso, designed in deep reds with Chinoiserie and tea lights  (Passatge de Sant Antoni Abad  08015 Barcelona).

Pizza Ravalo is a cute neighbourhood pizzeria with a great terrace, tucked away in Upper Raval.  The pizzas are huge and topped with authentic Italian ingredients – just leave enough room for dessert (Plaça d’Emili Vendrell, 1, 08001 Barcelona).

Bar Kasparo is a Raval institution with its laid-back atmosphere, cool location under the arches of Placa Vicenc Martorell, friendly Aussie staff and great food (Plaça de Vicenç Martorell, 4  08001 Barcelona).

Mercat de Santa Caterina is a foodie’s heaven with its fresh produce market and excellent fusion restaurant, Cuines Santa Caterina.  Santa Caterina is a slicker affair than the touristy Boqueria Market and the Cuines Santa Caterina is an ultra-chic spot for lunch or dinner, with its open kitchen, light wood interiors and indoor trees.  The Country Paella takes a long time to arrive, but it’s definitely worth ordering (Av Francesc Cambó, 16  08003 Barcelona).

Santa Eulalia - Referencing the patron saint of Barcelona, Santa Eulalia has been supplying the city with high end fashion since 1843.  Today, the iconic store stocks brands such as Lanvin, Theyskens’ Theory, Celine and Balenciaga.  It even has its own fashion cafe and terrace (Passeig de Gràcia, 93  08008 Barcelona).

Fundació Antoni Tàpies - The great Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies sadly passed away this year, but the foundation continues to show exhibitions by international contemporary artists, alongside a permanent collection of Tàpies’ work (Aragó 255, 08007 Barcelona).

MACBA is Barcelona’s best know and most exciting contemporary art museum.  The building’s striking white curves and glass make it a focal point of Upper Raval.  After exploring the museum, have a drink at one of the cool pavement cafes on the Plaça dels Àngels and watch the skateboarders.  At night, the square becomes a low-key bohemian nightspot as people bring their own beers and music before hitting the bars of Joaquín Costa (Plaça dels Àngels, 1  08001 Barcelona).

Gardens of El Antic Hospital Santa Creu - Take a break from the busy streets in Raval hideaway, the El Antic Hospital Santa Creu gardens.  Relax among the orange trees, admire the gothic architecture and spot the gargoyles above the stone arches.  Enjoy a cervesa and tapas during the day at stylish al fresco tapas bar El Jardí gardens or visit at night when DJs play long into the evening (Carrer de l’Hospital, 56  08001 Barcelona).

Barceloneta – The city’s expansive marina and beaches are the best places to enjoy the sun.  Stroll along the seafront and spot the interesting public art, or spend a lazy afternoon in one of the many seafood restaurants and tapas bars.

All photos by Chérie City

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Hotels, Hotels - Budget, London, Restaurants

The Victoria Public House, Dining Room & Hotel, Richmond

The Victoria public house, dining room and hotel is a real hidden gem, tucked away in West Temple Sheen, a leafy residential area of Richmond.

Owned and managed by restauranteur Greg Bellamy and chef Paul Merrett, The Victoria has the cosy atmosphere of a country pub, but being in well-heeled Richmond, it’s finished with a touch of gloss.

The hotel has seven spacious rooms in an adjoining building, accessed through a bright and airy Scandinavian style staircase with an attractive striped carpet and illustrated tree on the wall.

The rooms are simple and contemporary, tastefully designed in soft mauve and cream tones with a striking feature wall.

There aren’t any fussy extras, just everything you need for a comfortable stay – a well-placed flat screen TV, iPod docking station, ample wardrobe hanging space and a full-length mirror.

Complimentary home comforts include high speed wifi, tea and coffee making facilities, two bottles of mineral water and a selection of glossy magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and CN Traveller.

The queen size double bed was comfy, with luxurious Egyptian cotton sheets and plump pillows.  Outside was so quiet and tranquil that we had a great night’s sleep.

Our bathroom was petite and functional with a powerful shower and bathroom amenities by Pecksniff’s.  I particularly liked the monogrammed Victoria towels.

A privilege of staying at the hotel is that guests have priority restaurant reservation at the very popular restaurant.  Dinner is served in the large, bright conservatory and on a brighter day, outside on the large garden terrace.  The dining room staff are so welcoming and friendly and service was efficient, even when it became busy later in the evening.

We were offered a basket of thick, crusty bread and a home-made vegetable samosa as an amuse-bouche.  This suited me perfectly, as I’m not a fan of fussy amuse-bouches and this samosa was exceptionally good – crispy, punchy and not at all greasy.

I started with the Seared Cornish diver caught scallops on cauliflower purée with caramelised chorizo and argan oil (£10.50).  The plump scallops were nicely grilled on one side and were perfectly complimented by the spicy chorizo and the rich cauliflower purée.  Argan oil was a new culinary discovery (more often found in skincare) and the deep purple colour of the leaves made it an attractive dish.

Steven tried the Warm salad of confit duck, Morris Gold black pudding, fried potato and a soft boiled hens egg (£7).  The duck was slow-cooked to perfection and the leaves had a light, tasty dressing.

The test of a good gastropub is their burger, so I ordered the Victoria handmade Angus burger with trimmings 10oz (£10.50).  There is also the option of a 5oz burger, but learning from experience, it’s better to be defeated by a burger than be left wanting.

Saying that, the Victoria burger was a real monster, especially when there was a big bowl of thrice cooked chips to work through too.  The patties were cooked medium on a charcoal grill and made from excellent quality beef.  They were nicely charred and smoky on the outside and oozing with juiciness.

The salad trimmings were fresh and the burger came with two fat slices of mature cheddar cheese.  It was decadent, satisfying and a real treat.

Another good testing dish is steak, so Steven tried the 28 day aged 7oz South Devon rib eye steak with thrice cooked chips and bearnaise sauce (£18).  The meat was tender and charred with just enough fat to give it flavour.  I couldn’t help pinching some of the delicious bearnaise sauce to dip my chips into, as it was so tasty and fresh, with small gritty pieces of shallot and tarragon.

I somehow found room to indulge in the Warm chocolate pudding with peanut butter ice cream (£5.50).  The chocolate fondant dessert was perfect, with a delicate cake texture on the outside and filled with thick molten liquid chocolate.

The peanut butter ice cream was creamy and home-made, but the blobs of peanut butter could have been a little bit finer and less salty.  Still, they went extremely well together.

I accompanied this with a lovely red dessert wine from California, which was sticky and sweet with dark berry flavours.

Steven’s trio of Yorkshire rhubarb (£6.50) came with petite portions of oat and apple crumble, ginger and vanilla yoghurt, jelly and ice cream.  It was refreshing, sweet and sharp – a real visual treat.

We finished with a pot of fresh mint tea and a walk around the neighbourhood, where we spotted a fox!

In the morning we came downstairs to a spectacular breakfast.  The Continental Breakfast table is laden with fresh bread, mini pasties, cereal and juices, all of which is included in the room price for hotel guests.

There is also a cooked breakfast menu and we tempted by The Victoria (very) full English breakfast (£10).  They weren’t kidding when they said it was big – it includes two eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, flat grilled mushrooms, baked beans and fried bread.  The quality was exceptional and the sweetcure bacon and thick, meaty sausages were the best I’ve tasted in a breakfast dish.

Throughout the morning, the pub becomes a hub of mothers and babies, ladies who breakfast, ‘suburb-farmer’ types with their dogs and ex-city freelancers tapping away on their Macs.  It has a friendly, buzzing atmosphere – it would definitely be my morning breakfast haunt if I lived anywhere near Richmond!

The Victoria is perfect for a short break away from city life for Londoners, or a clever choice for travellers looking for a high standard bed & breakfast without paying over-inflated city prices.  It’s clearly run with pride and soul and it’s easy to see why locals have adopted it as their own.

Rooms at The Victoria are priced from £120 per night, including continental breakfast.

For more info and booking, visit: www.thevictoria.net

Chérie City was a guest of The Victoria

All photos by Chérie City (except exterior)

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Amsterdam, Hotels, Hotels - Budget, Hotels - Design

CitizenM Hotel, Amsterdam

Citizen Coralie Aude Grassin visits Amsterdam’s innovative budget design hotel that is soon to arrive in London…

Going on a city-break always brings a dilemma. Should you splash out on the hotel or the activities?  You then end up spending hours on the web trying to find the best deal for a gorgeous looking place.

CitizenM Amsterdam City has come up with an interesting solution – a design yet budget-friendly hotel.  Situated just 10 minutes by train from the airport and 1 5 minutes by tram (which stops right in front of the building) from the town centre, it proves an excellent option for week-ends away.

No wait for the check in – you can enter your reservation code yourself on the computers as soon as you step in and program your key card.  Same goes for the check-out.

There is, of course, always a member of staff nearby if you are in need of help or a place to put your luggage for a few hours. They proved very helpful with our tourist questions, even going online to give us the train schedules and providing us with a helpful pop-up map of the city.

The rooms use a new design angle – the bed is extra-wide with storage drawers underneath, the window takes the whole wall to offer maximum lighting and the shower is hidden in a colour changing capsule.  It feels modern, new and fun.

A remote control allows you to open the electric curtains, play music, watch TV or modify the hue of the bathroom bubble (that alone will keep you playing quite some time).

CitizenM also has a great sense of humour with little touches here and there.  A note advises you to lock your valuables…lucky socks included.  On each room door is a saying, with a different theme per floor.

We loved how random they could be and visited several corridors just to enjoy them: “When selecting a camel, choose one with a full neck, it indicates heightness” (Egypt), “A good lawyer is a bad neighbour” (North America), “3rd of July: Grandmothers festival”, in which thousands of grandmothers gather to scuba dive, parachute jump, ride motorcycles and play football (Norway).  You’re not likely to forget which room is yours!  Even coffee cups have a playful wording.

The whole design of the hotel is fascinating.  Most of the furniture is by Vitra – an interesting balance of modern and Asian inspiration.  Wander through the whole ground floor to enjoy different atmospheres in each niche. Free wifi is available with a dedicated space offering iMacs if you have not brought your laptop.  Plenty of chairs and tables invite guests to pause and chat the whole evening away.

Just stop at the café, open 24/7, and grab sushi, fresh sandwiches, pastries, lovely salads with a twist…or even order a gorgeous cocktail such as the violet-based house signature, Mobile Martini!

CitizenM proves a very well-considered hotel, allowing independence and flexibility while still retaining a homely feeling.  You can also decide to stay at their airport location (a 25 minute train ride from the town centre).  Keep the name in mind – there is also a CitizenM in Glasgow and they are soon to open their doors in London, both near the Tate Modern and in Tower Hill.

Rooms start from €89 per night.  For more info and booking, visit: www.citizenm.com

All photos by Coralie Aude Grassin.

Coralie Aude Grassin writes the blog, Tea Time in Wonderland.

Hotels, Hotels - Budget, Hotels - Design, London, Restaurants

Hotel Review: The Hoxton Hotel

How many times I’ve strolled past the Hoxton Hotel while out and about in Shoreditch and have always wondered what it would be like to stay at this ‘luxury budget urban lodge’.

The Hoxton Hotel has enlisted three designers to each give one of the rooms a cool new East End-inspired make-over and I was invited to come down and try out one of the rooms for myself.

Launched in 2006, the Hoxton Hotel is known for its young, buzzing atmosphere and its ‘anti-hotel’ philosophy.  The Hoxton has a no-bull approach that offers guests the most comfortable and affordable stay – no hidden extras, overpriced mini bar or extortionate late check-out fee.

As a guest, you will be treated to a litre of mineral water, half a pint of milk, one hour for free phone calls to most countries, free super-fast WIFI and a complimentary lite Pret breakfast consisting of  Pret orange juice, a Pret granola yogurt pot and a banana.  Why Pret, you ask?  Well, the man behind the Hoxton Hotel is the hospitality savvy co-founder of Pret, Sinclair Beecham.

Inspired by his own frustrating hotel experiences and a distaste for being exploited while travelling, Mr Beecham has considered every possible way to help guests save money on the small things so they can enjoy their stay.  That’s arguably great business sense, as guests are more likely to treat themselves to a night-cap at the bar and leave with a good memory of the hotel.

On arrival, I found the open-plan reception area buzzing with a mixture of hotel guests coming and going, business people having meetings and locals having an afternoon drink at the Hoxton Grill bar.  The check-in was easy and unpretentious and overseen by friendly European staff in cool, laid back Lee plaid shirts and jeans.

My room was on the sixth floor and was designed by Adrian Kilby, the Hoxton’s original brand consultant.  It really was an explosion of colour and street style with illustrated murals, lime green furnishing, exposed brickwork, an image of Grace Jones etched on the window and the coolest bed I’ve ever seen!

The modern Chesterfield-style bed with luxurious Frette linen and duck down pillows allows you to sleep in either direction, so you can watch the large wall-mounted LCD TV in bed and then switch sides to change the ‘energy’ of the room.

There were so many discoveries to make, such as hidden cupboards, a complex lighting system and quirky design motifs dotted around the room.  It seemed like quite a small room as compared to the standard Hoxton room, which I viewed during a tour of the hotel, but as I discovered later, this was due to the unusually enormous bed.

Best of all, the room is fully functional – there are a number of electrical sockets, three mirrors, a proper hairdryer, lighting that you can customise and an iHome alarm clock with an iPod dock.

There is also a well-stocked drinks area, where you can use wine glasses or long glasses and make a cup of Twinings breakfast or peppermint tea and fresh Lyons coffee.  The minibar is empty but you can stock it with your own treats from the affordable shop at reception.

The Hoxton even takes a bit of inspiration from American hotels with a retro ironing room with an ice dispenser and sink on every floor.

The only thing lacking was enough hanging space, as the wardrobe was awkwardly shaped and I had to strategically place my dresses halfway outside the wardrobe to avoid creasing, especially my jersey maxi dress.

The bathroom was incredibly stylish, with deep red tiles, a walk-in shower with rainfall head and slate floors that gave an irridescent shimmer when lit.  Toiletries were supplied by Aveda and there was a large bar of Pears soap, which the hotel encourages guests to box up and take home.

Throughout the room and bathroom, there are frank signs from the hotel reminding guests to make themselves feel completely at home.  Free WIFI, Keep Cool and No Rip Offs slogans are emblazoned on the cushions like Love Hearts, which could potentially irk some guests, but the Hoxton Hotel is clearly just playing to its strengths.

In the other new designer rooms, Project Orange brings a New England homeliness with a patchwork quilt, distressed furniture and autumnal colours, while Suzy Hoodless goes minimal with a geometric statement wall, an illustrated little black dress and signature orange cushions and lamps.

The Hoxton Hotel also has an impressive business suite, with a range of comfortable meetings rooms and a larder, which delegates can raid all day.  At night, the Hoxton really comes alive, as locals and hotel guests flock to the Hoxton Grill for dinner or meet for drinks in the stylish garden.

Hoxton Grill is a part of the Soho House Group and the menu includes its signature dishes and their 3 small plates for £15 deal.  We ordered Steak and chips (£10 from 12-7pm), which was succulent, juicy and excellent quality. It came with a pot of béarnaise sauce and yummy skin-on thin chips and fresh sourdough bread with French butter.

Service was friendly and polite, everything you’d expect from a Soho House outpost.  Hoxton grill room service is also available, at a reasonable price, if you’re having a lazy night or have to grab food on the go.

I really had no idea just how sociable and vibrant the Hoxton Hotel really is and the room really exceeded my expectations.  I enj0yed a relaxed dinner, wonderful night’s sleep (it was so quiet), a healthy breakfast and refreshing, energising shower, all in the city’s most exciting neighbourhood.  What more could you ask for in a hotel?

The Hoxton Hotel has an average nightly price of anything from £49 to £199 per night, with Sunday night stays being the most affordable.  You can scoop a bargain if you book on a weekend or far in advance, but the higher price band takes the hotel out of the luxury budget category.

The Hoxton Hotel also offer their legendary £1 sale on rooms at selected times of the year, so join the Hox Fan Club to hear the news first.

The three designers rooms are available to book online from September 2010.

You might also like: Mama Shelter, Paris

More pictures of the Hoxton Hotel, here.

* Chérie City was a guest of The Hoxton Hotel.


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Barcelona, Bars, Hotels, Hotels - Budget, Hotels - Design, Restaurants

Notes From Barcelona: Market Restaurant

Eating in the hotel usually seems like a pretty boring option, seeing as the city is full of amazing tastes and flavours, but in this case, I couldn’t wait to try out the Market Restaurant.  In fact, it felt very decadent just slinking downstairs in ridiculous heels that couldn’t withstand the rough terrain of Raval, and then rolling back upstairs without worrying about catching the last metro back.

Like the rest of the hotel, the restaurant is beautifully designed, all white-washed wood, black lanterns and mirrored cabinets. Despite stretching over three separate dining areas, it has a buzzy, intimate atmosphere and the clientele appear to be Catalan locals, which is always a good sign.

The menu is extensive and Catalan bistro-style, with a good selection of meat, fish and rice dishes and salads.  As usual, Steven and I went for mostly the same dishes (well, it avoids food envy) and started with onion soup and cheese bread croutons.  The soup was well-seasoned and chunky and appeared to be never ending.

We ordered a bottle of the recommended Rioja red wine, which came with hotel’s logo on the bottle and was incredibly reasonable at just 7.50 Euros!  It was medium-bodied and very easy to drink, possibly one of the best house wines I’ve ever had.

Next up was a generously-sized pork escalope with fried potatoes.  The escalopes were thin and but not dry, with fine breadcrumbs and seasoned with rosemary and black pepper.  The chips appeared to have been cooked in nut oil and were not at all greasy.  The meal was satisfying and had some interesting flavours, although it needed something to lift it slightly, so we asked for some mayo.

With hardly any room left, but a dedication to foodie reporting, Steven ordered his longtime favourite, Tiramisu, and I went for the white chocolate cake – a creamy mousse on a biscuit base with raspberry coulis and topped with crushed pistachios.

The white chocolate cake was pretty much perfection and I managed to polish off the whole thing.  The Tiramisu went down well too and the mark of a good chef often lies in this dessert – get it wrong, and it’s a disaster.

Our bill came to a respectable 47 Euros for three course, bread, wine and water and we were able to charge it to the room.  Many of the restaurants in the Fork & Pillow group offer set menus with all of the above for around 19 Euros each, but it seems that it wasn’t available when we were there.

After the meal, we needed a super long walk around the neighbourhood to get over the three course feast but on the second night, we had a nightcap at the hotel’s Bar Rosso.

Once again, gorgeous design with seductive red walls, mirrored doors, crystal lamps, Surrealist artwork and oriental touches.  There are plenty of plush sofas and nooks for lounging and the outdoor terrace is perfect for making the most of the warm, balmy evenings.

We ordered a Whiskey Sour (7 Euros) and a Martini (4 Euros), which came with a big bowl of cashew nuts to munch on.  The drinks were well mixed, the bar staff were polite and attentive and we weren’t rushed, even when the bar was closing.

The bar stays open until 2am and there is a wonderful night porter in the reception until this time, who helped us with the air con and found me a big bottle 0f water from the restaurant when there was none left at the front desk.

Market Restaurant is a must, whether you’re staying at the hotel or not, as it offers excellent quality food in a chic, comfortable and airy environment at an affordable price.  It doesn’t have the tourist/business atmosphere of a regular hotel restaurant and is mostly filled with ‘in the know’ locals, so it’s best to reserve a table when you check in, or call in advance.

Market Restaurant, Comte Borrell 68, 08015 Barcelona.  Tel. (+34) 93 289 01 30

Barcelona, Hotels, Hotels - Budget, Hotels - Design

Notes From Barcelona: Market Hotel

Barcelona is one of the most forward-thinking cities for affordable, chic design hotels, although some can be a bit clinical and soulless.  So, when I saw the pictures of Market Hotel, I fell in love with its oriental, lacquered wood decor and boutique, zen ambiance.

The Market Hotel is just west of Upper Raval and is about 20 minutes walk from the Rambas – just close enough to the action while avoiding the tourist zone prices.

When we arrived, after a long delayed flight and two coach journeys at the crack of dawn, the hotel lived up to the pictures and was actually larger and even more grand than expected.  The check-in at reception took a while, as there was a new member of staff, but it wasn’t a problem, as we took time to pick up some complimentary bottles of water and huge green apples from beside the desk.

Our double bedroom was on the fifth floor extension of the hotel in an old apartment building with original Catalan tiles and a rickety 1920s lift (although guests actually use the modern glass one opposite).  The first impression of room 505 was that it was a bit on the small side compared to the website photos but the design of the room was just what we’d hoped for.

The room was filled with black bamboo tables, metal lamps,  a black Asian-style lacquered wardrobe bed, a flat screen LG TV and featured gorgeous creaky stripped floorboards.  The bed was medium soft and super comfy, with a very thick mattress and a number of sheets and blankets, but as it was Barcelona in the summer, they weren’t really needed.

On the wall was a large framed print that looked like it could have been by Catalan artist Antonio Tàpies and it really suited the bold, monochrome serenity of the room.  The room was also filled with some Japanese calligraphy prints and there were even two in the bathroom.

The bathroom was quite small but had some interesting design features – I loved the French ceramic taps – and the shower was like something from a Thai spa resort – all black slate tiles with a powerful rainfall shower head.

A few small niggling factors are that the wardrobe isn’t long enough to hang a dress without folding or bagging at the bottom, storage is limited and that the bed looks on to the door (not a huge problem, but bad feng sui for a hotel room).

On one side of the bed, the floorboards creek pretty dramatically and due to all the wooden floorboards and age of the building, there is a bit of noise from the corridor, as people come and go.  We got used to it after a few hours and luckily our sleeping patterns coordinated with our neighbours, but if you’re on a romantic break where you want a bit of…ahem, privacy, you’d be better off booking one of the larger Junior Suites.

However, we didn’t hear any noise from outside, even though the Sant Antoni market stall traders were setting up early in the morning.  The air con works like a dream, so there’s no need to even open the windows, unless you want to let in some fresh air while you’re out and about.

The location of the hotel couldn’t be any better – the Sant Antoni metro station is just one block away and it is close to the restaurants and bars of Upper Raval and the MACBA.  The area is semi-residential with long, wide streets and plenty of pharmacies, a Mango discount outlet and neighbourhood cafes.

We didn’t take breakfast at the hotel (9 Euros), only for the reason that we were so full from the three course meals of the previous nights that we wanted something lighter.

Around the corner, close to the Sant Antoni market is a wonderful bakery called La Mie Câline, where we had a cafe con leche and a huge slab of crisy madeleine cake filled with raspberry compote for just 2 Euros each.  It’s not a posh artisan bakery like the ones you might find in leafy Gràcia, but it’s great for tasty patisserie on the go.

The Market Hotel is perfect if you’re looking for a hotel with character rather than high-tech facilities and slick design.  There are some lovely, personal touches such as complimentary water and apples and the stunning restaurant and bar with an outdoor terrace make the hotel more of an experience than just a base for exploring the city.

Staff were very pleasant and helpful, especially the night porter, who came to our room to help us sort out the air con and found me a large bottle of water when there weren’t any available at reception.  Just don’t expect room service and a mini-bar – everything you could want can be found at reception or the restaurant and bar.

We booked a double room for two nights (210 Euros) and prices start from 65 Euros per night.

Afternoon tea, Art, Bars, Cafes, Hotels, Hotels - Budget, Hotels - Design, Hotels - Luxury, Newcastle, Restaurants, Shopping, Stores

Chérie guide to: Newcastle

So, for the festive period, I escaped the craziness of London and headed back to my family home in Newcastle, well, Northumberland to be precise. I grew up here and went to school just outside the city centre in the leafy suburb, Gosforth and if there was a place to be, I knew about it!

Having been in London for so long, I arrived in ‘the toon’ a little out-of-touch, but after asking around friends and cramming in visits, I’m back on track and loving the new, improved North East.

Every time I come up to Newcastle everything keeps changing. You would barely believe that Fenwick department store is outside of London, it now has so many amazing, hard-to-find brands, and the only giveaway is the lack of crowds and chatty staff.  There’s a lot more to Newcastle than stag and hen parties and £3 vodka trebles (although they’re always a bonus), so here is my guide to the having the best time ever in Geordieland…

SHOP:

Electrik Sheep, 20-22 Pink Lane, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, NE1 5DW

Newcastle’s original concept store on former alley of disrepute (now home to more sober digital media agencies) Pink Lane.  Electrik Sheep specialises in streetwear and cool lifestyle stuff and has its own street art gallery next door.

electrik sheep

You can pick up an illustrated tee by R.HERO, PAM jewellery and one-off pieces by D*FACE and Jamie Hewlett.  It even has its own super cool pink bicycle!

Skirt Boutique, 19 Highbridge, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, NE1 1EW

Tucked away on Highbridge, a cobbled street playing home to independent boutiques, galleries and record shops. Skirt stocks handpicked pieces from affordable, cult designers like April 77, Frock, b store, Bruuns Bazaar, Won Hundred and Paul & Joe Sister.  Look out for accessories by North East labels FROCK and Stella May.

Attica, 2 Old George Yard, just off High Bridge, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, NE1 1EZ

Newcastle girls love their vintage and Attica is at the front of their address books for hunting out unique party dresses and jewels. Attica is a rickety old bazaar packed full of lace nightdresses, sequin capes, flapper dresses, beat-up biker jackets and antique accessories, dating as far back as circa 1880.

attica

The owners are eccentric and friendly and have been in business since 1983, so I reckon they must be experts by now.

MUNCH:

Cafe Royal, 8 Nelson Street, Newcastle, NE1 5AW  ££/£££

A bit of a yummy mummy institution, Cafe Royal is well-placed for taking a break around the posh shopping area, just off Grey Street. It serves up delicious home-made quiches, super-salads and afternoon tea, and made-to-order, seasonal dishes at the first floor brasserie.  Cafe Royal also boasts its own in-house bakery and a deli, keeping Newcastle stocked up with sourdough, artisan cheeses, fresh olives and Rococo Chocolate.

Cafe 21, Trinity Gardens, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, NE1 2HJ / Fenwick, Northumberland Street, Newcastle, NE1 7DE  ££/£££

Everything about Terry Laybourne’s restaurants is absolutely scrumptious and I always manage to squeeze in a lunch at the informal but very stylish Cafe 21 at Fenwick.  The seasonal menu is mostly Anglo-French and many of the ingredients are locally sourced from Northumberland farms.

The staff are lovely and welcoming and every time I’ve visited, the service has been impeccable. The Eggs Benedict (£5.50) are the best I’ve ever had and my next stop is their two-course Sunday Lunch (£17).

El Torrero, Milburn House, Side, Quayside, Newcastle, NE1 1PF  £££

I’ve spent memorable birthdays and early dates with the boyfriend at El Torrero and I still haven’t found tapas as authentic and satisfying theirs – not even in Spain.  The menu features the expected seafood, meat, tortilla, paella and patatas, but there are a number of variations on each dish and a few surprises like dates with an almond centre wrapped in streaky bacon and octopus tentacle medallions.

el torrero

El Torrero seems to be the most popular Spanish restaurant in Newcastle, so be sure to book a table, otherwise it’s a long wait at the bar.  The portion sizes are massive and the lively atmosphere and good service make it a real treasure.

DRINK:

Crown Posada, 31 The Side, Newcastle, NE1 3JE  £

The Crown Posada is the second oldest pub in Newcastle and is full of character, with a clientele of hacks from the Evening Chronicle, jolly ‘old lassies’ and anyone who prefers an award-winning pint of ale to a mojito at Pitcher & Piano.  It’s housed in a grade-two listed building with a Victorian exterior and is one of the last relics of the ‘old Quayside’.  Definitely worth a drink or two!

crown posada

Star and Shadow Cinema, Stepney Bank, Newcastle, NE1 2NP  £

Just off Byker Bridge in an old warehouse, the Star and Shadow is like a beatnik meeting place for Geordies who likes things that are a little bit odd.  It has been built and run by an amazing collective of volunteers, who decide the programme featuring world cinema, cult films, underground bands from Brooklyn and specialist music festivals.

Some of the past events I’ve been to have included gigs from Ipso Facto, Theoretical Girl and Mit, a major street art exhibition and concerts  by various free-jazz, noise nutcases.

The Cluny, 36 Lime Street, Newcastle, NE1 2PN  ££

The Ouseburn, in between the Quayside and Byker, is the most up-and-coming area of Newcastle with its artist studios and new restaurants and The Cluny was the pub to start off the trend.  It’s owned by Head of Steam group and is the place to see alt.indie bands, have a lazy Sunday Lunch, shop at a vintage market or see local art exhibitions in the gallery.

Tokyo, 17 Westgate Road, Newcastle, NE1 1SE  £££

Give the Bigg Market a miss…really, it’s not worth it!  Central Station is the place to be at night and while many of the posh bars on the so-called ‘diamond strip’ keep changing hands, Tokyo has been quietly serving classic cocktails in its burnt gold-covered lounge.  My favourite area is the rather zen rooftop garden, which could be a million miles away from the grime of Central Station.

tokyo

Tokyo’s Quayside sister bar, Stereo, is also worth a visit for gig after-parties and the Stone Love indie BBQs on Bank Holidays.

CULTURE:

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead Quays, South Shore Road, Gateshead, NE8 3BA

BALTIC has put Newcastle Gateshead on the art map and every season it has featured up to five exhibitions from leading contemporary artists like Sam Taylor-Wood, Anthony Gormley, Mark Titchner and Vik Muniz.  BALTIC have courted controversy with the public up in arms over works by Nan Goldin and Kendell Geers, but they have also supported emerging local artists like Ant Macari and Jane and Louise Wilson.

Baltic Mill

The cafe bar and concept shop are reason enough for visiting and then there’s the airy rooftop restaurant, Six, with panoramic views over the Quayside and a seasonal, North East-inspired menu.  Best of all, BALTIC is free entry, so you can pop in on a lazy Sunday or go back and see the exhibitions you’ve missed.

Sage Gateshead, St Mary’s Square, Gateshead Quays, Gateshead, NE8 2JR

The silver armadillo, caterpillar, mini Guggenheim…whatever you want to call it, The Sage Gateshead has a hugely diverse programme, from regular recitals by Northern Sinfonia, Japanese noise festivals and Northumbrian folk music.  Now, Newcastle can compete with Glasgow and Manchester for really great music and The Sage has helped enormously by hosting the likes of Joanna Newsom, Martha Wainwright, Laura Veirs, Spiritualized, Bon Iver and Efterklang.

Tyneside Cinema, 10 Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, NE1 6QG

When the Tyneside Cinema close for over a year for a major refurb, I felt a little bit lost, just like the closure of Borders. Now, the Tyneside is back and slicker than ever with three screens, a brand new cafe and the much-loved Intermezzo cafe/cocktail bar.  The Tyneside is one of the only places to see independent and world cinema, and they put regular film festivals and double bills.

STAY:

When I’m in Newcastle, I always stay at my family home, but from what I’ve seen and heard, these hotels seem to be the most interesting and comfortable places to stay.

Grey Street Hotel, 2-12 Grey Street, Newcastle, NE1 6EE  ££

A cosy, minimalist but classic boutique hotel on Newcastle’s grandest street.  The rooms are decorated in grey, cream and mauve and have luxury touches like plasma screen TVs, cafetiere coffee, waffle bathrobes and award-winning hypnos beds.  The hotel is adjoined to the living room restaurant and bar and hotel guests have immediate access by showing their key card. From £60 per room.

grey st hotel

Kensington House Aparthotel, 5 Osbourne Road, Jesmond, Newcastle, NE2 2AA  ££

23 serviced luxury apartments in between leafy suburb Jesmond and the city centre.  Each apartment has two bedrooms and you can choose between the Drayton, Pelham and Cranley types, styled in either monochrome stripes, bold black florals or light oatmeal shades.  The apartments are good value especially for families or groups and Kensington House make stays even more homely with Sky TV, Egyptian cotton sheets and fluffy bathrobes.

From £82 per room per night.

kensington house aparthotel

Jesmond Dene House, £££

A country retreat just outside of Newcastle, Jesmond Dene House is the place for an indulgent, bolthole stay.  The historic Georgian house is located next to Jesmond Dene –  a wild park designed by Lord Armstrong, full of native and exotic trees, waterfall, wooden bridges and an adorable petting zoo, which I loved to visit as a kid.  It has 40 individually-designed bedrooms and suites, mostly designed in muted colours with statement wallpaper and velvet and silk furnishings.

The 3 AA Rosette restaurant serves modern classic dishes and more traditional afternoon tea and a three-course Sunday Lunch. Have drinks around the open fireplace in the cocktail bar or relax on the sofas in the Billiard Room.

From £115 per room per night.

jesmond dene house

OUT OF TOWN:

Matfen Hall Hotel, Golf and Spa, Matfen, Newcastle, NE20 0RH  £££/££££

It’s worth going a little out of town to stay at Matfen Hall, a former stately home with acres of leafy grounds and a 27-hole golf course. I was lucky enough to review the hotel for a glossy mag’s spa guide and was given a beautiful floral Premier Room. The 2 AA rosette Library and Print Room restaurant is traditional and enchanting with dark oak, dim candlelight and old bookshelves.  I took my mum along and we ate a three-course menu of innovative country-inspired dishes and also sampled the Afternoon Tea and abundant breakfast.

matfen hall

The spa offers all the relaxing treatments you could want and uses [comfort zone], Jessica and MAC products.  There is also a 16 metre swimming pool, herbal sauna, crystal steam room, salt grotto, tropial massage shower and ice fountain.

From £100 per room per night.