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Hotels, Newcastle

A Luxury Stay at Jesmond Dene House, Newcastle

Growing up in Newcastle, one of my favourite places to get out in the fresh air was leafy, wild Jesmond Dene.  It’s an incredibly beautiful wooded valley where you can walk alongside the river Ouseburn with stunning waterfalls and spot exotic trees and wildlife including red squirrels and kingfishers.

I have happy memories of going to see the peacocks and goats at Pets Corner and rollerblading down the bank to the local artist market on the bridge every Sunday.  So you can imagine how excited I was to visit Jesmond Dene House for a rare luxury staycation in my home city.

Jesmond Dene House opened as Newcastle’s first independently owned boutique hotel in 2005 and the building itself has quite a history.  The original Georgian house was bought in 1871 by Captain Andrew Noble (business partner of Lord Armstrong), who moved in high society and hosted luminaries such as Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle and royalty from the Far East.

Today, Jesmond Dene House enhances its historic features with contemporary design and a striking art collection.  I adored the charming little dogs made from twisted wire dotted around the hallway and sitting next to the fire in the lounge.  It’s also a real foodie destination with many locals visiting the restaurant for its popular afternoon, Sunday roast and innovative tasting menus at dinner.

We received a warm welcome at check-in and were shown to our Deluxe Room on the second floor.  It was lovely and cosy with high ceilings and a partial view of Jesmond Dene.  The room was designed in a classic-contemporary style and soft neutral shades and featured a comfy seating area, writing desk, flat-screen HD TV, an iPod docking radio and free wifi.

The hotel knows how much Northerners need a good cuppa and they’ve really put some thought into the tea and coffee making facilities.  I was impressed with the plentiful selection of JING teas, freshly-ground coffee produced by Ringtons for Jesmond Dene House, mini bottle of fresh milk and ginger cookies.  A china tea pot and cafetiere completed the very civilised tea experience and we were also provided complimentary bottles of mineral water and fresh fruit.

The bed was very comfortable with high quality linen and the room was so quiet that we had an excellent night’s sleep.

The bright, modern tiled bathroom was pristine and featured a wide soaking tub, high quality towels and face cloths, plush bathrobe and slippers and a full set of uplifting Arran Aromatics bathroom products.

That evening, my mum and I dined at The Restaurant with a modern British menu by Head Chef Michael Penaluna.  The restaurant is stylish and colourful with intriguing artwork and pleasantly dimmed lighting and a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.  However, fine dining touches are in place, as we were offered a selection of freshly-baked breads with a choice or salted, unsalted or seaweed butter and presented a yummy amuse-bouche before our starters and desserts.

My mum and I both started with Celeriac soup with roasted chestnuts, apple and Stilton tortellini.  The velvety, creamy soup was simply lovely and the single tortellini filled with potent Stilton packed a real punch – only one piece was required to make an impact.

I followed with Roast chicken with fondant potato, wild leeks and baby carrots.  The chicken breast was succulent and juicy with a well-seasoned crispy skin and the delicate roasted vegetables and rich, meaty jus were the perfect accompaniment.

My mum also enjoyed her Flat iron steak with fat cut chips, watercress and Bearnaise sauce.  The lean, tender steak had a deep, mature flavour, the chips were crisp and moreish and the Bearnaise was silky and tangy with plenty of fresh tarragon.

Since my mum is a rhubarb fan, it was only right that she should order the Vanilla and rhubarb gateaux with rhubarb sorbet.  Not only did it look ever so pretty, but it was delicious with a thick layer of rhubarb jelly, springy golden sponge and vanilla cream that was light as air.

My Chocolate and salted caramel tart with vanilla ice cream didn’t disappoint either.  The dark chocolate ganache was full of deep flavours and went perfectly with the indulgent, sticky salted caramel, light and buttery pastry and home-made ice cream.

The staff were so welcoming and friendly and we liked that seasonal ingredients are locally sourced from Northumberland and the North Sea coast.  If you fancy a nightcap, there’s a relaxing wood-panelled bar next door or a cosy place next to the open fire in the lounge.

Breakfast in the Garden Room is quite an event at Jesmond Dene House, with everything you could possibly want to start the day.  We enjoyed the Continental Breakfast spread, which included Neil Robson’s smoked salmon, home-cured gravlax, cured meats, Continental cheeses, delicious pastries, banana bread, French set yoghurts, Bircher muesli, cereals, fruit compote and poached pears.

You can also order hot dishes such as Haggis and duck egg with salsa verde, Grilled Craster kipper, Eggs Benedict or French toast with the Continental breakfast included in the price.  Be sure to leave plenty of time for a long, leisurely breakfast – it’s worth it!

Jesmond Dene House feels like a secret hideaway retreat surrounded by lush greenery, but it’s also close to Jesmond’s lively Osborne Road and Newcastle city centre for shopping and dining.  We loved our relaxing staycation and will no doubt be back at Jesmond Dene House soon – a decadent afternoon tea on the terrace among the palm trees is high on my ‘to do list’.

For more information and booking, visit: www.jesmonddenehouse.co.uk

Chérie City was a guest of Jesmond Dene House

Photos by Chérie City and Jesmond Dene House

Jesmond Dene House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Berlin, Hotels

A Luxury Stay at Hotel Adlon Kempinski, Berlin

Hotel Adlon Kempinski is the grande dame of Berlin hotels, standing majestically on the corner of Pariser Platz overlooking the Brandenburg Gate.

It’s a legendary hotel with quite a history and a stellar list of iconic past guests including Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker during Berlin’s Golden Twenties.  Greto Garbo delivered her famous line, ‘I vant to be alone’ in one of its rooms while filming Grand Hotel and the hotel also gets a name-check by Liza Minnelli’s Sally Bowles in Cabaret. As a fan of historic hotels with character, that alone was enough to get me through the golden revolving door.

While the Adlon is steeped in history, in fact the building was destroyed in a fire in 1945, leaving ruins in its place for decades before it was entirely rebuilt and restored in the style of the original hotel in 1997.  So accomplished was the regeneration, with its French-style balconies and verdigris roof, that it’s easy to believe the hotel had never went away.

Arriving at Hotel Adlon Kempinski, to a red carpet and a flurry of traditionally-dressed luggage porters, you know you’re somewhere very special.  The bright, flower-filled Lobby Lounge and Bar offers plenty of old world glamour and a sense of calm, with a pianist playing jazz classics while guests enjoy afternoon tea, or a signature Adlon-Currywurst.

We were warmly welcomed by the front desk staff and were shown to our Junior Suite with a spectacular view of the Brandenburg Gate.  The circular entrance hall soon became my walk-in dressing room, as it was handily lined with fitted wardrobes and had a centre table and an additional door to the bathroom – excellent hotel room design, no?

Sliding doors led on to the large open-plan suite, designed in a colour palette of cream and ochre with highlights of mahogany and cherry wood.  It felt stately yet cosy with a plush suede sofa in the living area and a very comfortable king-size bed.  On the executive writing desk was an iPad for use during our stay and thankfully free wifi (it’s hard to believe but some high end hotel groups still charge for this).

We were kindly welcomed with Moët & Chandon Champagne chilled on ice, copious fresh fruits and the most exquisite hand-made chocolates on a bed of mini chocolate chips (most likely for decoration but I couldn’t resist grazing on them later).  There was also complimentary bottled mineral water by our beside and our room was thoughtfully turned down for our late-afternoon arrival.

Another lovely touch was the wake-up call complete with complimentary tea and mini pastries delivered to our room.  Be sure to request a wake-up call the night before, so you can start the day in the sweetest way possible.

The sleek mahogany wood and black granite bathroom was a real highlight, with a deep soaking tub in the centre of the room, a powerful walk-in shower, double sinks, plush bathrobes and slippers, a full set of Elemental Herbology bathroom products and Blaise Mautin bath salts.

After settling in to our suite, we hit the pool and sauna to unwind after a day of travelling.  I was thrilled to find an opulent, Italian garden-inspired oasis with a tranquil, perfectly heated pool and a blissful whirlpool. The separate and mixed sauna and steam room were some of the hottest, most effective that I’ve encountered and there are plenty of mini Evian bottles and iced teas to keep you cool and hydrated.

The three-level Adlon Spa by Resense is quite spectacular, with beautiful Asian-style interiors by Anne Maria Jagfeld, stylish treatment rooms and a yoga studio.  I highly recommend treating yourself to a spa treatment there if you have time for some serious pampering, as the spa is really something to see.

Dining is a big event at Hotel Adlon Kempinski with no less than four restaurants.  The crown jewel of the hotel is the two Michelin star Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer with innovative fine dining by Chef de Cuisine Hendrick Otto and the hip, seductive pan-Asian Sra Bua by Berlin’s renowned chef Tim Raue.  Le Petit Felix serves sunny Mediterranean dishes with a focus on the south of France while Quarré Restaurant is a classic brasserie where breakfast is served.

And what a breakfast it was!  The bountiful breakfast buffet with live cooking stations is widely known as the most luxurious in Berlin – where else is Champagne and a selection of caviar included?  You’ll want to schedule at least an hour to navigate the offering and indulge in pancakes, pastries, cured meats and smoked salmon before ordering some tasty Eggs Benedict (also included) to really ensure you’re set up for the day.

As if the breakfast buffet of dreams wasn’t enough already, our charming waiter presented us with a paper bag of Berliner doughnuts to munch on later – such a fun, thoughtful touch.  We left feeling comfortably full and ready to explore the city.

While this prestigious part of Mitte isn’t the most lively at night, I thoroughly recommend staying at Hotel Adlon Kempinski if you’re planning to see sights such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Holocaust Memorial, Potsdamer Platz and the leafy Tiergarten.

Our stay at Hotel Adlon Kempinski was so memorable, luxurious and incredibly relaxing.  The friendly, enthusiastic staff really enhance the charm of the hotel and we always felt welcome and well looked after – everything that you could possibly desire from a five star Berlin hotel.

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

Chérie City was a guest of Hotel Adlon Kempinski

Photos by Chérie City and Hotel Adlon Kempinski

Hotels

Looking Ahead to 2016 Travels

While some years can feel like months of simple coasting, 2015 was a significant year for me, with some blissful highs and  a few lows that are now resolved.  I don’t always like to categorise and evaluate my life by years, but it is worth stopping to reflect on everything we have to be thankful as a new beginning is on the horizon.

But let’s get the drama out of the way first, because if you’ve had any recent dealings with the ridiculousness that is the London rental market, you will surely share our frustrations.  For half of 2015, there was a constant dark cloud hovering over us, with the threat of having to leave our first home together (where we’ve lived since 2008), as our landlord was selling up.  Cue months of living on edge and in limbo, but finally, a new buy-to-let landlord meant we were able to stay in our little Hackney nest and now travel plans can resume, knowing that all is well at home.

Positive moments in 2015 were work successes for both of us, seeing old friends and making new ones, and getting engaged in our spiritual home of Paris.  So, looking back on the year, here are a few of my favourite travel moments of 2015 and a peek at the exciting things that 2016 has in store…

Costa Navarino

My first trip to Greece was an epic one, staying at the beautiful south-west Peloponnese eco resort, Costa Navarino.  It was one of my favourite press trips, with the best possible travel companions, fantastic dining, breathtaking scenery and magical sunsets.  If you’re already looking ahead to a summer break, Costa Navarino should be at the top of your list.

Berlin

It had been a while since I visited Berlin, so I was excited to head back and see how much it had changed over the years.  I loved exploring the hip neighbourhood of Mitte and strolling around the leafy Tiergarten. Highlights were staying at the majestic Hotel Adlon Kempinski and discovering foodie delights at NENI, Yumcha Heroes and Princess Cheesecake.

Aix-en-Provence and Marseille

In the summer, I took a trip on the Eurostar to the south of France to explore beautiful Aix-en-Provence and the neighbouring port city of Marseille.  Aix is a really magical place and I loved strolling around the markets and visiting Cezanne’s studio, the Hotel Caumount art centre, the American Icons exhibition at the Granet Museum and taking a trip into the countryside to the must-see Chateau La Coste.

I was also pleased to revisit Marseille and really explore the historic Panier and hip Cours Julien districts, enjoy the evening charm of the Old Port and spot some of France’s best street art.

The Cotswolds

This year, I managed to visit the Cotswolds for the first time – twice in the space of a few months, in fact.  My first jaunt was to the ila spa barn to experience the new Gold Cellular Age-Restore collection at the source.  It was a very special afternoon, as I spent some one-on-one time with its inspirational founder Denise Leicester and get a rare glimpse of the ila world.

My second Cotswolds jaunt was for a festive shopping break, staying at the gorgeous Kings Head Cirencester.  It was the perfect start to the festive season, with a heavenly Lubatti treatment in the hotel’s spa, traditional turkey roast, lashings of Michael Bublé (sadly not in person) and a magical illuminated trail through the Westonbirt Arboretum.

2016 and beyond

In February, I’ll be reunited with the Celebrity Cruises Destination Bloggers as we all take on an Ultimate Caribbean Cruise in two parts.  I’ll be exploring the Caribbean with Suzanne and Elle, starting with Cartagena and then on to George Town, Grand Cayman, finishing in Fort Lauderdale.  My first trip to the Caribbean with Celebrity Cruises was so memorable, so I can’t wait to catch some much-needed winter sun and see as much as I can of these dream destinations.

In the tradition of saving the best ’til last, 20th May 2016 will be the day I get married.  Since Steven and I are both passionate about travel, we’ve decided to get hitched in one of our favourite places in the world…Central Park, New York!  It will be an intimate ceremony with just close family and any friends who are available for a spring jaunt to New York.  I’m sure there will be a few stresses to come, but so far I’ve really enjoyed planning a special trip that all of us will love and making the travel arrangements.

We will be spending two weeks in the US and will be flying with Virgin Atlantic and staying for four nights at five star Midtown hotel, The Westhouse.  I chose this forward-thinking hotel (the sister of The Quin and The Refinery) for its beautiful design, great location just a few blocks from the west side of Central Park and also its innovative amenity programme.

I’m not usually a fan of resident’s fees when hotels charge for amenities that should be included, but this one offers good value with daily breakfast, afternoon tea, evening wine and canapes and a range of drinks throughout the day, as well as the usual free wifi etc.  This clubhouse atmosphere at The Westhouse seems ideal for a breezy, luxurious stay in New York and I’m looking forward to relaxing on the terrace or in the den with our family over a glass of Champagne at the end of a busy day.

The next steps are writing vows with our wedding officiant Sarah, deciding on a restaurant for a low-key reception (any suggestions welcome) and planning those details such as a good photographer, hair and nail appointments, flowers and a fabulous cake.  We also have an extra week after the wedding to explore the East Coast and have a few ideas of how we’d like to spend it.

Here’s to a successful and inspiring 2016.  What does the new year bring for you?  Where will your next travel adventures take you to?

Photos by Chérie City (hotel images by The Westhouse)

Hotels

A Festive Break in The Cotswolds

Last week, I took a relaxing jaunt to the Cotswolds for a girls trip filled with Christmas shopping, spa treatments and plenty of indulgence.  The Kings Head, in the Roman town of Cirencester, was our homely abode for two nights and to call it a high end pub hotel would be an understatement.

Opened in October last year, the Kings Head is a country-chic bolthole right in the centre of historic Cirencester.  It was once an ancient coach inn and more recently a tired old boozer, but now the hotel is a hot spot for well-heeled couples weekending in the Cotswold from London and afar.  It even won the Smith Hotel Award for Best Newcomer 2015, so you know it’s going to be special.

The Kings Head features an impressive 45 individually-designed rooms and boasts a fantastic restaurant, spa with treatments by Lubatti and a warren of stunning meeting and event spaces.

My Feature Space Suite on the second floor was an absolute dream and I immediately felt at home there.  A few stairs lead up to the most enormous room with a king-size bed, comfortable seating area, an executive desk, Samsung flat-screen TV and double wardrobe.  There’s even an outdoor terrace with decking and a bench, where you can enjoy breakfast al fresco in the warmer months.

I adored the rustic, natural colour palette of olive green and slate grey luxurious tweed and wool furnishings. Best of all was the plush bed covered in sumptuous linen and the thoughtful welcome gift of everything you need to make a cracking G&T – Sibling Triple Distilled Gin, Fever-Tree Tonic Water, little pots of green olives and pink grapefruit, plus a full bucket of ice.

Other generous features include a Nespresso machine with plenty of capsules, a kettle with a selection of Twinings teas, a minibar filled with fresh milk and complimentary mini bottles of San Pellegrino sparkling and still water and of course, free wifi.

The large bathroom is designed in the minimal, monochrome style you’d expect to find in a Lower East Side NYC hotel rather than the Cotswolds – and I loved it!  All of the facilities feel brand new and well-appointed – there’s a deep soaking tub, walk-in shower, double sink, cosy bathrobes, extra-wide towels and two full sets of Lubatti bathroom products.  What more could you want for a relaxing, luxury stay?

Dining at the Kings Head is a real delight for foodies.  On arrival, we enjoyed a Cotswolds Afternoon Tea around the fireplace in the elegant lounge.  We grazed on tasty sandwiches, warm scones with jam and clotted cream, followed by mini mince pies, spiced ginger cake and lemon posset verrines.

Dinner in The Restaurant was also memorable, with top notch food and a warm atmosphere.  The menu is a mix of comforting pub classics, innovative dishes and locally-sourced meats cooked on the robata grill.

On the first night, I enjoyed a juicy, smoky Cider and mustard pork chop, confit plum tomato, flat mushroom, focaccia and thyme crumb, chips and spiced apple chutney.  I followed with the most incredible dessert that must not be missed – Croissant and dark chocolate pudding, kumquat marmalade and Greek yoghurt ice cream.

On the second night, we were some of the first to try the new Christmas menu and almost all of us plumped for the Roasted Norfolk Bronze turkey with chestnut stuffing and braised leg with all of the trimmings.  It was the perfect start to the festive season, with Michael Bublé’s Christmas album on repeat, pretty Christmas trees and a full belly from the indulgent Sticky toffee pudding.

Breakfast is also a real treat, with a number of tempting dishes such as French toast, Eggs Benedict and double cream porridge on the menu.  The self-serve Continental breakfast is high quality and plentiful with croissants, cereal, yoghurt with granola, charcuterie and cheese, but it could be expanded to include some waffles, crepes, pancakes or a wider range of pastries.  I went light and healthy on the first morning, but indulged in a scrumptious Bacon sandwich before taking the train back to London.

Spending a few hours unwinding in the subterranean Vaulted Cellar Spa with its steam room and whirlpool is an absolute must.  A highlight of my stay was the glorious Lubatti Pure Luxury Indulgence body treatment (80 mins/£90).  It was a calming, holistic treatment, beginning with an effective back massage, followed by a facial cleanse, tone and massage, nourishing eye and lip treatment and hand and foot exfoliation using Lubatti caramel body polish, ending with a light body lotion.  I felt like I was floating on air and drifted off more than a few times.  Happily, we had an afternoon of free time, so I lounged in the Relaxation Room and rolled upstairs for a quick nap – pure bliss!

So, apart from eating and relaxing, what is there to do on a festive break in the Cotswolds?  Take a 30-minute journey out of town to see the Enchanted Christmas at Westonbirt Arboretum.  Follow the trail through the arboretum to see the majestic trees illuminated in colourful lights, with disco balls, lights shows, installations and plenty of surprises.  It’s great for walking off that indulgent Cotswolds Afternoon Tea.

Cirencester is a treasure trove for finding unique Christmas gifts.  Next door to The Kings Head is the Corn Hall – a modern shopping arcade filled with designer shops including Sue Parkinson that stocks a well-edited selection of brands such as Mulberry, Anya Hindmarch and Neom.

It’s also home to the wonderful restaurant and deli, Made by Bob - a popular and cosmopolitan spot for a tasty lunch.  After exploring Cirencester, we visited for a quick refuel before our spa treatments.  I warmed up with the Sweet potato soup with harissa crème fraîche while the rest of the table went for the Heirloom tomato salad with burrata, rocket, pesto and grilled focaccia – so yummy!

Some of our favourite boutiques in Cirencester were m.a.d.e for hand-crafted lifestyle products by UK designers and Parlane for stylish homewares.  Also look out for Octavia Bookshop, Lola, Keith’s Coffee Shop and French Grey Interiors.

If you still have time after shopping, discover the history of Cirencester at the Corinium Museum with relics including mosaic floors, jewellery and ancient weapons, as well as some rather life-like models and interactive learning games.

My first visit to Cirencester at Christmas time was everything I could have hoped for and I highly recommend the Kings Head for a stylish weekend break.

Rooms at the Kings Head Cirencester start from £120 per room per night on a bed and breakfast basis.  For more information and booking, visit: www.kingshead-hotel.co.uk 

Chérie City was a guest of Kings Head Cirencester

Photos by Chérie City and Kings Head Cirencester

Hotels, Paris

Grand Hotel du Palais Royal, Paris

Paris has always had a special place in my heart, but this month it became even more special as the home of our engagement.

Our trip was made so memorable with a two-night stay at the elegant five star Grand Hotel du Palais Royal.  Now, I’ve stayed at many luxury Paris hotels but this has been without a doubt one of my favourites for a number of reasons.

Of course, we never would have believed that just a few days after our dreamy, rose-tinted stay in Paris, when the city felt as majestic and cultured as always, such darkness would fall.  The wounds are raw and the city is still healing, but let me share the magic of Paris as we know and love it.

Grand Hotel du Palais Royal boasts an enviable central location overlooking the prestigious Palais Royal Garden – in fact it’s the only five star hotel in this historic quarter.  Also on the doorstep is the Comédie Française on the popular Place Colette, the Louvre, Tuileries Gardens and chic rue Saint-Honoré for designer shopping.

The hotel occupies a beautiful 18th century building, neatly tucked away from the main street on the quiet Place de Valois, and features 68 rooms and suites.  Inside, it’s all about understated luxury with tasteful interiors by one of my favourite designers Pierre-Yves Rochon.

We were warmly welcomed by the staff at check-in and instantly felt at home in this charming luxury hotel. The lobby is so cosy and refined with intimate lounging nooks filled with books and objets d’art, elegant white lilies and an intoxicating signature scent of warm tuberose.

Take a peek through to the original listed staircase and you’ll meet a classical bust of Jean-Baptiste Lulli, composer for the royal court and Louis XIV, whom the hotel’s restaurant Le Lulli is named after.  You also can’t miss the fabulous leather trunk at the foot of the stairs, referencing the glamour of travel and Parisian heritage brands such as Hermès and Goyard.

Our Deluxe Room on the fourth floor was lovely and bright with highlights of soft lime green, mocha and light wood to evoke the lush greenery of the Palais Royal Garden.  It was just the right size for a Paris city break and I liked the addition of a juliette balcony overlooking the courtyard.

The hotel was completely renovated and redesigned two years ago, so all of the furnishing still appear brand new, to the credit of the meticulous housekeeping team.

I was pleased to find a kettle in our cabinet with a selection of teas by Palais des Thés, a TV with English language channels other than the news, free wifi and a tempting room service menu that includes a rather posh Croque Madame.

We were kindly welcomed with beautiful flowers, a large bottle of Evian and a selection of hand-made macarons – the ideal pick-me-up after our Eurostar journey.  The nightly turn-down was just as dedicated with complimentary bottles of mineral water and slippers placed on a cotton mat by our bedside – those extra five star touches.

The bathroom was petite but well-appointed with a powerful walk-in massage shower, two sets of bathroom products by Atelier Cologne (an independent Paris fragrance and body care brand based nearby) plenty of fluffy towels and embroidered bathrobes and slippers.

Breakfast is a indulgent affair with a luxury breakfast buffet served in Le Lulli restaurant.  Breakfast service can often let down even the best hotels, but the morning staff at Le Lulli are a real credit to the hotel.  They were so friendly and caring, making everyone’s day begin with a smile and some much-needed caffeine.

The generous offering included eggs cooked to order, hot dishes, smoked salmon, mini pastries, crêpes, charcuterie, French cheeses, set yoghurts and even a few treats such as bite-size chocolate fondants and fruit tarts.  Each morning, I started with warm pancakes with maple syrup and fresh berries and a bowl of apple compote (a childhood favourite), with a tasty little pain au chocolat for good measure.

On our second day in Paris, we enjoyed a fabulous, leisurely three-course lunch in Le Lulli, but more about that later…

After a long day exploring the city, the floral-mosaic hammam is perfect for unwinding.  There is also an elegant spa with treatments by Parisian skincare brand Carita and a well-equipped gym.

Grand Hotel du Palais Royal is the very definition of a hidden gem – a real insider’s address for those who appreciate discreet luxury and a warm, homely atmosphere.  We left feeling charmed by the hotel, its dedicated staff and the city itself – as always, Paris is full of wonderful surprises.

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

Chérie City was a guest of Grand Hotel du Palais Royal

Photos by Chérie City and Grand Hotel du Palais Royal 

Greece, Hotels

Dining at Costa Navarino, Greece

Food is a real highlight of a stay at the five star eco destination resort Costa Navarino in the southwest Peloponnese. Whether you’re in the mood for authentic Greek mezze, a big juicy steak or the freshest sushi, it’s sure to be a memorable meal.

Since it was my first visit to Greece, I was excited to explore the country through its mouthwatering cuisine.  Every meal we had was a winner and I discovered some new dishes, as we as trying the famous souvlaki.

Our first lunch at Costa Navarino was a long, leisurely Greek affair with plenty of grilled meat on the terrace of Kafenio & Deli, a casual cafe in the centre of the resort.  Our host Maria ordered a selection of signature starters for the table – my favourite grilled talagani cheese (similar to Cypriot halloumi), fried bread topped with fresh sun-kissed tomatoes and crumbled feta, fluffy pita bread and of course the staple Greek salad.

We all followed with souvlaki, served either on a stick with all of the trimmings as a wrap with everything jam packed inside (even the fries).  My juicy, herby chicken thigh souvlaki was absolutely delightful and I couldn’t get enough of the yummy pita bread with minted Greek yoghurt.

Lunch ended with a typically Greek dessert platter of baklava and spoon sweets – whole candied fruits drenched in sticky syrup.  It was the perfect start to a foodie trip and kept us full for the rest of the day.

Dinner that evening was at Flame restaurant, a high end steak house and terrace overlooking the golf course over at The Westin.  The restaurant has a rustic California feel and the cuisine focuses on prime cut grilled meats including American Black Angus and Wagyu.

We shared a selection of starters and my favourite was the roasted pumpkin salad with prosciutto, goat curd sorbet and carob dressing.  For the main course, I enjoyed a juicy, lean tenderloin steak cooked perfectly medium, accompanied by some tangy Béarnaise sauce and the most heavenly mashed potato (a firm favourite among our group).

Be sure to leave room for dessert, as there are some real show-stoppers at Flame.  I loved Le Petit Antoine – an indulgent and sophisticated French dessert made of praline croustillant with gianduja chocolate cremeux, milk chocolate Chantilly and toffee caramel.  The signature Flame dessert for two is quite an event – a giant wedge of smooth caramel ice cream was dressed with warm salted caramel, chocolate and macademia by our waiter at the table.

It’s hard to pick a favourite restaurant at Costa Navarino, but I really enjoyed our leisurely late lunch at Barbouni, a chic open-air seafood restaurant on The Dunes Beach.  It has a chilled out beach club vibe and winds down at 5.30pm, so as not to disturb the protected caretta caretta turtles.

We sipped on iced tea cocktails and exotic smoothies and grazed on mouthwatering calamari, grilled octopus, shrimp salad, grilled talagani cheese (seriously, you can never have too much of this), fava bean puree and taramasalata with pita bread.

The signature main dish is a basket of deep-fried barbouni (whole red mullet), but I was tempted by the Grilled king prawns garnished simply with fresh salad leaves and lemon sauce.  I was admittedly sceptical when our waiter recommended ordering just one or two prawns, but when they arrived my jaw nearly hit the floor.  They were the most enormous prawns I’ve ever seen – veritable beasts of the sea – and happily they tasted just as impressive as they looked.

To end the meal on a sweet note, we shared the most delicious Croustillant – an uplifting dessert with a smooth chocolate cremeux, crunchy praline base and strawberry sorbet.  I highly recommend scheduling a lazy day at the beach with a long lunch at Barbouni.  It’s so dreamy that you won’t want to leave, unless it’s to hop over the sand to a beach chair to soak up some rays.

We only had a few hours between our final mouthful of dessert at Barbouni and a cookery class learning to make authentic Greek dishes.  Luckily our philosophy walk through the olive groves, contemplating the philosophical relationship between a sound body and mind, helped reawaken our appetites.

The Costa Navarino cookery school is set in a traditional Greek home, perched on a cliffside overlooking the sea.  We arrived in time to take in the magical sunset views and our hosts Lulu and Hannah set us to work kneading, rolling and chopping dough to make fresh Greek pasta.

To reward our (not so) hard work, we were treated to a beautiful feast of slow-cooked chicken with preserved lemons and olives, our very own fresh pasta seasoned with cinnamon and crumbled feta, Greek salad, fresh olives and copious amounts of wine.

For dessert, we were served traditional Greek Halva – a moist, sticky semolina pudding that’s quite different to the Persian and Turkish halva that I know.  It gave us a much-needed sugar boost for the final part of the evening – Greek dancing!  The ladies cranked up the stereo and we twirled and hopped around the courtyard while they taught us the steps – a perfect last night in Greece.

Of course, breakfast is as important a meal as any and a morning spent at Pero Restaurant really is a special occasion.  Let the morning sunshine wake you up on the sleek terrace or enjoy the cosmopolitan café culture feel under the arches – it’s your choice.

The breakfast buffet is truly bountiful with comforting hot dishes, made-to-order omelettes, mini pastries, pancakes, crepes, waffles, meats and cheeses, cereal, yoghurt, fresh juices and even Champagne for that extra bit of decadence.

Each morning, I started with orange-flavoured Greek yoghurt topped with lots of seeds and dried fruits, pancakes with maple syrup and my favourite banana, custard and chocolate mini pastries. On our final leisurely morning, I couldn’t resist adding scrambled eggs, bacon and hash browns into the mix, making that holiday feeling last a little longer.

Also worth a mention is the excellent room service at The Romanos.  We arrived late in the evening after a long day of travel and were ready to just chill out and unpack.  I personally love ordering room service, as it feels so indulgent eating restaurant quality food in the comfort of your own room.  My enormous Chicken Caesar salad and half roast chicken served with fries were just so tasty and the ideal hotel room treat.

As if top notch hotel food wasn’t enough, Costa Navarino also has its own food and local ceramics brand, Navarino Icons.  The gourmet food products include artisanal extra virgin olive oil, marmalades, pasteli sesame seed bars, pure honey and those delectable spoon sweets.  Happily, they are available in the UK at Harrods, so you can get a taste of Costa Navarino before visiting.

Costa Navarino is a fabulous resort for foodies and with the picturesque tavernas of Pylos and Gialova just a short drive away, there’s plenty of choice in the Greek region to keep your palate inspired.

Rates at the two hotels at Navarino Dunes start from: The Westin Resort Costa Navarino: from €220, and The Romanos, a Luxury Collection Resort from €390. To book and for further information visit www.costanavarino.com

For further information on Anazoe Spa and the signature treatments available please visit www.anazoespa.com

Aegean Airlines offers daily flights from London Heathrow and London Gatwick to Athens. For more information please visit www.aegeanair.com 

Chérie City was a guest of The Romanos at Costa Navarino

Photos by Chérie City and Costa Navarino

 

Greece, Hotels

A Stay at The Romanos at Costa Navarino, Greece

When I was invited to visit Costa Navarino a few weeks ago, I never imagined that it would feel so familiar, especially since it was my first time in Greece.

The reason why?  This stunning luxury resort in the rural southwest Peloponnese was the location for Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight – the final volume of the spontaneous Euro love trilogy starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.  The entire crew stayed at Costa Navarino and scenes were shot across the picturesque Messinian countryside, including the photogenic town of Pylos.

While Jesse and Celine’s Greek vacation was peppered with marital tension and one explosive hotel room showdown, they still couldn’t help but be charmed by the beauty of the region.

Costa Navarino is the vision of the late Captain Vassilis Constantakopoulos, a Messinia-born shipping magnate who wished to give back to the region through sustainable tourism (it remains a family affair with his sons continuing the ambitious development).

The expansive Navarino Dunes area comprises a golf course, an untouched beach and two five star hotels managed by Starwood Hotels and Resorts.  The Westin is tailored to families while The Romanos, a Luxury Collection Resort, offers romantic hideaway villas for couples.

Costa Navarino is all about understated elegance and tends to attract a chic, mostly European crowd.  It’s an attractive haven for those after a sophisticated, peaceful getaway and the ambiance is suitably chilled out.

It’s also an eco resort with a number of green initiatives to promote sustainability in the region, which guests can learn more about at the innovative on-site Navarino Natura Hall.

My home for three nights was an Infinity Room at The Romanos with its own individual infinity pool complete with a terrace and backdrop of lush greenery for plenty of privacy.  I was really wowed by this magnificent outside view and loved that it could be seen both from the divine king-size bed and from the stone bathtub – clever design indeed.

The spacious room was well-appointed in a palette of cream, blue and dark wood, with a plush cream sofa and coffee table, marble desk, large TV, double wardrobe and complimentary bottles of mineral water.  The marble bathroom had a fantastic walk-in shower, bathtub, double sink and two full sets of exclusive products from the resort’s Anazoe Spa.

At turndown each evening, I was provided with more complimentary bottled water and packets of Navarino Icons Pasteli (an ancient Greek snack made with sesame seeds and honey).  The resort’s own food, arts and ceramics brand Navarino Icons offers gourmet Greek delicacies and its products are available across the region (even at the airport) and internationally at Dean & Deluca and Harrods.

The Romanos villas are just a short walk from the agora which houses the hotel’s splendid marble lobby, designed to reflect the architecture and textiles of the region.  We met here each morning and lounged on the chic white chaise-longues before heading out for the day’s activities.

The first morning at the resort was a chilled one with a relaxing sail around Navarino Bay onboard the majestic Navarino Sea.  Our captain regaled us with tales from the historic Battle of Navarino as we cruised the waves, soaked up the sun and swam in the sea.  We then headed back for a typical lunch of Greek salad, grilled talagani cheese, souvlaki and baklava outdoors at Souvlakerie…but more about the amazing food later.

There’s nothing better after taking a flight than a good massage to get you feeling like yourself again.  Anazoe Spa must be seen to believed – it’s an enormous temple of well-being with stylish interiors and a calming atmosphere.  It’s worth arriving an hour ahead of your treatment to unwind in the sauna, herbal steam room and tropical showers and float around the whirlpool and saltwater jacuzzi.

Anazoe Spa boasts a varied spa menu and the speciality treatments are based on health and beauty practices of ancient Greece.  I chose one of the signature massage treatments – Melisseus, the Spirit of Honey (5o minutes). My intuitive therapist Denise gave me a blissful full body massage and applied a hot honey compress to my back to soften and hydrate my skin.

Since we had a few hours of free time before dinner at Flame restaurant, I enjoyed a bit of pool time and explored the resort with a pot of cookies and cream from the ice cream parlour in hand (every sunny trip requires at least one ice cream).

There’s just so much to do at Costa Navarino, whatever your desired pace may be.  If you’re active and sporty, discover the rural Messinian terrain with a bike ride, zip across the sea with exhilarating water sports or test your golf skills on the impressive 18-hole course.

Or to take it a little easier, you can shop for espadrilles and beach bags at the resort’s on-site boutiques, hit the beach, lounge by the outdoor swimming pools, learn how to make traditional Greek specialities with a cookery class (a real highlight of our trip) or channel Before Midnight’s Jesse and Celine by reflectling on the meaning of life with a hosted philosophy walk through the olive groves.

It’s also pretty cool being a kid at Costa Navarino, as young VIPs have their own specially designed hubs – Cocoon for babies and toddlers and SandCastle for children aged from four to twelve years old.  Kids can enjoy the indoor basketball courts, ten-pin bowling at The Diner, an indoor cinema and best of all, the Aqua Park complete with three slides and play pools.

While Costa Navarino has everything on the doorstep, there’s no need to be confined to the resort.  In fact, guests are encouraged to explore the region and complimentary use of a BMW for up to three hours ensures it’s done in style.

The nearby town of Pylos is a must-see destination, with its pretty harbour, bright blue tavernas, local boutiques and terrace cafes in the main square where you could easily spend a few lazy hours.  It’s also home to the well-preserved New Navarino Fortress, originally built by the Ottoman Turks in 1573.

I highly recommend driving to the beautifully rugged and untouched Voidokilia Beach – there are no sunbeds, bars or shops, just golden powdered sand and crystal clear waters.

On the way back, stop at the small town of Gialova for a seafood lunch or watch the sun go down over coffee and Greek spoon sweets on the charming promenade.  It’s a very pretty town with stylish cafes and even a hipster ice cream shop called Mr Yogie – definitely worth a visit.

Of course, accessing such a remote haven as Costa Navarino takes a little dedication.  We travelled to Athens very comfortably with Aegean Airlines and from there it was a three and a half hour private transfer to the resort – a journey that is more enjoyable during the day since the route is framed by spectacular scenery.

Kalamata Airport is much closer (and serviced by Aegean Airlines during peak period), but the flight times were not on our side at this time.  Either way, your patience will be richly rewarded as soon as you reach Costa Navarino and are welcomed with a chilled pomegranate and raspberry juice.

Costa Navarino is a truly magical resort, bridging luxury comforts with local character.  It’s the perfect retreat for a stylish and rejuvenating stay in the beautiful Greek Peloponnese.

Rates at the two hotels at Navarino Dunes start from: The Westin Resort Costa Navarino: from €220, and The Romanos, a Luxury Collection Resort from €390. To book and for further information visit www.costanavarino.com

For further information on Anazoe Spa and the signature treatments available please visit www.anazoespa.com

Aegean Airlines offers daily flights from London Heathrow and London Gatwick to Athens. For more information please visit www.aegeanair.com 

Chérie City was a guest of Costa Navarino

Photos by Chérie City and Costa Navarino

Hotels

Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa, West Sussex

Have you ever wanted to live like a Medieval princess, looking out over your manor from the comfort of an opulent four poster bed?

Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa in West Sussex is the place to step back in time and immerse yourself in ye olde England.

Part of Historic Sussex Hotels, Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa in fact dates back to 1927, rather than the Middle Ages.  Lord and Lady Moyne commissioned antiquarian and architect Amyas Phillips to model the house on a Medieval country residence, indulging Lady Moyne’s love of this age.  There is of course a true relic of the Medieval era to be found at Bailiffscourt in the form of a 13th century chapel in the grounds.

I visited with my Mum for an overnight stay the night before our two-night sailing onboard the Celebrity Eclipse in nearby Southampton.  It only seemed right to break up our train journey and discover beautiful West Sussex for the first time.  We arrived at Littlehampton Station from London Victoria and the hotel was just a short 10-minute taxi ride away.

Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa is surrounded by 30 acres of land with luscious green fields, wildlife such as roaming peacocks and nearby pebbly Climping Beach.  Sadly the weather was not on our side and we were battling powerful gales that prevented us from exploring the hotel’s picturesque surroundings (we did have a stunning view from our window, though).

The hotel features 39 charming rooms and suites located in the Medieval House and a series of smaller building, some of which can be accessed through an underground tunnel.  We checked in and were taken through the maze of lounges with open fireplaces to our signature Junior Suite in the Medieval House.

The large, period-style room was certainly impressive, designed in warm ochre with bright floral and dark wood highlights.  Its interiors felt very authentic with a grand four poster bed, stone walls, mullioned windows, oil paintings and tapestries.

Other room features include a separate comfy seating area, large flat-screen satellite TV and posh tea and coffee facilities with a beautiful Polish pottery tea set and cafetiere.  We were delighted with the selection of proper ground coffee and a selection of black and herbal teas, as well as a glass pot containing delicious home-baked biscuits.

We were also kindly welcomed with a bottle of Champagne on ice and a hand-written note, as well as bottled mineral water.  There were even some board games provided, in case we felt like a rare digital detox (the hotel offers free wifi, but the signal is rather weak).

Happily, the large bathroom wasn’t in the slightest bit Medieval, in fact, it appeared to be very new.  It features a fabulous walk-in shower, roll-top bath, extra-wide towels, plush bathrobes and slippers, colourful Pip Studio accessories and two full sets of Temple Spa bathroom products.

The gem of Bailiffscourt Court is the amazing spa, where you can easily spend hours unwinding.  The spa is a real contrast to the historic interiors of the hotel, housed in a contemporary barn with high ceilings.

We loved the 12-metre indoor pool that was just the right temperature (I often find hotel pools too cold) and spent a long time in the hot, bubbling jacuzzi.  There’s also a fabulous sauna and steam room, plenty of pool loungers and a relaxation room with refreshments.

I enjoyed the most heavenly Drift Away Massage (55 mins) using lovely Temple Spa products.  It really was one of the most effective, enjoyable massages I’ve ever had and I was so deeply relaxed that I almost did drift away.  My friendly, intuitive therapist Laura worked on my back, legs and with medium pressure and then finished with a dreamy shoulders, scalp and face massage.

In the evening, we dined at the hotel’s Tapestry Restaurant, which serves a modern British menu by head chef Russell Williams.  I would’ve liked the restaurant to have the boisterous atmosphere of a Medieval banquet hall, but perhaps as hotel guests, we were all just too polite and chilled out from the spa!

I started with the Grilled scallops with cauliflower soup, baby spinach and Parmesan crisp.  The scallops were well-cooked but the cauliflower soup lacked seasoning and the dish needed another flavour such as chorizo or pancetta to add some saltiness.

The tastier choice was my mum’s Poached duck egg with artichoke puree, chargrilled ciabatta, baby spinach and wild mushrooms, which was rich and well-balanced.

We both really enjoyed our main courses – they were indulgent, colourful, well-presented and had plenty of flavour.  I loved my perfectly medium Honey glazed duck breast with braised chicory, confit duck leg and prune faggot, potato puree, spiced plum sauce and parsnip crisp.

My mum went for a lighter but equally yummy Beetroot and ricotta ravioli with barbecued winter squash and red onion, toasted pinenuts, sage and squash puree.

My dessert of Hot chocolate souffle, white chocolate cream and Bellini sauce was pleasant but much too big for one person.  However, my mum’s Glazed lemon tart with gin and tonic sorbet was zesty, fresh and just the right size.

After a glorious night’s sleep in our four-poster bed, we enjoyed a tasty breakfast in the Tapestry Restaurant.  The breakfast selection was very good with hot dishes, glazed carvery ham, cheeses, pastries, mini muffins, granola, porridge, Greek yoghurt with fruit compote and seeds and fresh juices.  In the warmer months, guests can take all meals in the pretty courtyard filled with roses.

Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa is an idyllic retreat in beautiful surroundings and the highlight of our stay was the outstanding spa.  For a weekend of pampering and fresh sea air just a short train ride away from London, Bailiffscourt offers the perfect escape.

For more information and booking, visit: www.hshotels.co.uk

Chérie City was invited by Bailiffscourt Hotel

Photos by Chérie City and Bailiffscourt Hotel

Hotels, London, Restaurants

Dinner at Min Jiang, London

Min Jiang has been on my foodie wish list for a while, so I was delighted to visit with a small group of food and lifestyle bloggers for a photography masterclass and dinner.

This fine dining Chinese restaurant on the tenth floor of the Royal Garden Hotel Kensington opened in 2008 to rave reviews, particularly about its wood-fired Beijing duck.

Really good Chinese food is one of my favourite indulgences, so I was looking forward to sampling some of Min Jiang’s signature dishes while marveling at the panoramic views over Kensington Gardens.

But before we could pick up our chopsticks, we had some snapping to do with professional photographers Rafe Abrook and Oli Sander.

We took over Min Jiang’s gorgeous deep red private dining room to talk all things photography.  We took away plenty of expert tips for improving our food photography and had some time to practice shooting Min Jiang dishes with guidance from the pros.

Rafe and Oli recommended investing in a portable camera light to combat the yellow glare of the tungsten lighting usually found in restaurants.  The super cool light sabre may be a bit intense for the dinner table, but the smaller box size can fit in your handbag for a quick lighting fix on the go.

We then moved into the main dining room for a cosy dinner – cameras still out, of course!  First up was the Steamed Dim Sum Platter in four different flavours.  The delicate parcels were cooked perfectly and generously filled – my favourite was the prawn Har Gau.

Bi Feng Tang Soft Shell Crab with Garlic and Chili was crunchy and flavoursome with crispy fried onions and large pieces of red chili.  I’d expected it to be a fiery dish, but it was actually quite subtle and utterly moreish.

Min Jiang’s Legendary wood-fired Beijing Duck is indeed worthy of high praise.  The meat was tender and juicy with a good amount of fat and crispy, lacquered skin.  It was served with light and airy pancakes, a mouth-watering hoisin sauce, extra pieces of scorched skin and all of the usual trimmings.

Thankfully a second plate was brought out, so we could continue rolling these exquisite pancakes.  It’s certainly hard to exercise restraint and any kind of etiquette when sharing such a special, luxurious dish with hungry foodies, but I think we’re all still on speaking terms.

For the main course, we shared a few signature dishes.  Sauteed Gong Bao Tiger Prawns were covered in a deliciously sticky ginger glaze and punctuated with roasted cashews and chili.

Diced Rib Eye of Beef with Black Pepper Sauce had a smoky, chargrilled taste and was ever so tender, doused in a rich, mellow sauce.  It went perfectly with the steamed, wilted Pak Choi with Garlic.

Our individual bowls of Fried Noodles were super tasty, but the portion size was a bit small and I found only a sliver of the second serving of roast duck.  It was a taster dinner though, so the typical set menu noodle servings may be more substantial.

The Seasonal Fruit Platter was beautifully presented and refreshing but not the most exciting dessert to end the meal.  Min Jiang does actually have a rather tempting dessert menu, so you can look forward to trying treats such as Poached Black Sesame Dumpling, Mango Cream with Sago Pearls and Pomelo or the Chilled Orange and Ginger Soup.

Min Jiang is a great destination restaurant for a celebration with exceptional food that matches the impressive views.  It has a grown-up, contemporary-classic feel and is likely to become a London institution for top notch Chinese fine dining.

For more information and booking, visit: www.minjiang.co.uk

Chérie City was a guest of Min Jiang

Photos by Chérie City (interiors by Min Jiang)

Click to add a blog post for Min Jiang - Royal Garden Hotel on Zomato

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: www.gong-shangri-la.com

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

Hotels, London

A Stay at The Nadler Kensington

Nadler Hotels is one of the most guest-friendly boutique hotel groups, offering a real home away from home experience.

I really enjoyed my stay at The Nadler Soho last year, so I was keen to check out The Nadler Kensington, its sister hotel on the other side of town.

The Nadler Kensington is located in an elegant converted townhouse in a well-heeled, leafy neighbourhood just a short stroll away from Earl’s Court Road.

It’s the ideal base for a weekend in London, with museums and sights such as V&A, Natural History Museum, Royal Albert Hall and Kensington Palace & Gardens on the doorstep.  Designer and vintage shopping, cool bars and great restaurants can also be found in nearby Notting Hill and Portobello Road.

I stayed at The Nadler Kensington the night before travelling on a morning coach from Victoria (just four stops away on the tube) and it’s also conveniently placed for both Gatwick and Heathrow airports, taking extra time off your journey in and out of London.

Nadler Hotels are all about affordable luxury, providing everything you need in your room for a comfortable, low-key stay with none of the additional hotel facilities that can push up the price (which you might not even use).  There is no fitness centre, spa, hotel restaurant, bar or breakfast room, however the hotel is pleased to arrange in-room dining from good local restaurants or a continental breakfast to order.

On arrival, we were warmly greeted by the team of Local Ambassadors who checked us in and offered a map and information about London, should we wish to go exploring.  The Lobby has the feel of an elegant Kensington home with comfy sofas, bookshelves and bay windows with floor-to-ceiling views over Courtfield Gardens.

The hotel has 65 rooms ranging from a Standard Single Room to the spacious Deluxe Room that accommodates up to four people and is ideal for families.

Our King Double Room on the first floor is accessible via grand staircase or by lift and overlooks quiet, cobbled Morton Mews at the back of the hotel.

We found the room petite and cosy with plenty of natural light.  The design is contemporary yet homely with a warm, neutral palette and light wood highlights.

The king-size bed was very comfortable with crisp white sheets, plush cushions and the same tactile faux fur throw as seen at The Nadler Soho.  The 26-inch HDTV at the foot of the bed is suitably high-tech with free internet, web radio and music library with over 6000 tracks.

The highlight of the room is the mini-kitchen, neatly hidden behind a sliding door with sensitive lights that switch on when you approach.  The kitchen includes a microwave, mini fridge, sink with a Britta tap for filtered drinking water, kettle, Nespresso machine with plenty of capsules and a selection of teas.  Also provided is a draw full of cooking utensils, a full set of luxury china and glassware and handy trays.

I was particularly pleased with the large teapot, so we could enjoy a proper cup of tea (just pick up some fresh milk from M&S at Earl’s Court on your way).

The room also features an ample-sized wardrobe, working desk, an iron and ironing board under the bed, air-conditioning and free unlimited wifi.

The bright and airy beige-tiled bathroom has a bath and shower with powerful water pressure, extra-large towels, bathrobes and slippers, heated towel rail and a full set of Gilchrist & Soames bathroom products.

That evening, we enjoyed a relaxing pampering session in our bathrobes with a hamper of products kindly provided by the hotel – who even needs a spa?  We sipped on chilled Bellinis while wearing gel eye masks and making good use of the Gilchrist & Soames products (the delicious home-made biscuits were swiftly devoured earlier with a pot of Earl Grey).

We ate locally on Earl’s Court Road, picked up some snacks for the room and really made the most of our London staycation and the peace and quiet that we can’t usually find at home – it truly was blissful.

The Nadler Kensington is a great place to stay if you enjoy exploring and going out in London, but with essential home comforts back in your room.  While The Nadler Soho is a slick and tech-focused hotel in a vibrant part of town, The Nadler Kensington is sophisticated and discreet with an enviable SW5 address.

This autumn, Nadler Hotels expands further with its fourth hotel, The Nadler Victoria, located next to Buckingham Palace.  With Victoria becoming an increasingly interesting and buzzing area (Jason Atherton and Bone Daddies will soon move in), I’m looking forward to seeing what Nadler Hotels has planned for its 73-room hotel.

Rooms at The Nadler Kensington start from £138 per night for a Standard Single and a King Double Room is priced from £194 per night.  For more information, visit: www.thenadler.com/kensington

Chérie City was a guest of The Nadler Kensington

Photos by Chérie City and The Nadler Kensington