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Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea, Hotels, Hotels - Luxury, Restaurants, Spa

A Relaxing Day At Sofitel St James London

One of my favourite things about living in London is how close it is to Paris and all of the delightful French things that make their way across the channel.  Sofitel St James is a little corner of Paris in historic Mayfair – a perfect marriage of French elegance and English refinement.

Housed in the former Cox’s and King’s bank close to Piccadilly and the private members clubs of Pall Mall, the five-star Sofitel St James complements the building’s original features with chic yet homely interiors by Pierre-Yves Rochon and Russell Sage.

I was invited with London Unattached and Lela London to experience a day of relaxation and indulgence, like true Paris-London ‘ladies who lunch’.

We began the morning in So SPA, a stylish urban retreat with an impressive reception area and treatment rooms set across three floors, filled with natural daylight.  So SPA uses Carita, Cinq Mondes and Mamma Mio skincare products and treatments are designed to appeal to the five senses.

On arrival, we sat at the large communal table and were welcomed with a neat little tray of lavender tea, a fruit jelly and a warm flannel to freshen up.

I was given the usual health consultation form to fill in, but So SPA also requested my preferences for music, scent, temperature of the room, if I liked a heated bed and so on.  This was a thoughtful touch and I loved that the treatment room was tailored exactly to my wishes.

We began the de-stressing process getting rid of toxins and relaxing the muscles in the hammam and jacuzzi.  There are no clocks in the spa, so we relied on the therapists to call us for our treatments and this was done seamlessly.

With the Spa Butler’s help, I chose the signature So Rejuvenating Facial Treatment (60 minutes, £90).  The therapist began the sensory journey by spritzing a delicate rose fragrance in the air and applying a layer of warm honey on my lips.  My bespoke facial using Cinq Mondes products included a double foam cleanse and tone, exfoliation, a hydrating mask and a kaolin mask applied to the t-zone, lymphatic drainage massage and a relaxing hand and arm massage.

She very gently pinched and tweaked the skin around the eye area, cheekbones and jaw to expel impurities and reduce puffiness.  A nice surprise was hot stones smoothed along my arms and placed under each palm.

After the treatment, I felt blissfully calm and was offered some great skincare advice before being guided into the well-equipped Relaxation Room.  I ordered a Mediterranean Rose tea, which came with another lovely fruit jelly, and was left to continue my spa journey on the comfortable bed with magazines and an iPod system with soothing music to choose from.  I could have happily lingered in the Relaxation Room, but lunch beckoned.

Before sitting down to a delicious three-course lunch at The Balcon, we met with Executive Chef Vincent Menager (formerly of Brasserie Roux, Sofitel New York and Alain Ducasse) at the Charcuterie Bar to sample the finest cured and air-dried meats from France and Wales with a glass of Charles Heidsieck Champagne.

True to the Anglo-French philosophy of the hotel, the marble charcuterie bar focuses on meats, cheeses and terrines from Mas le Rouget in Cantal and Trealy Farm in Monmouthshire in Wales.  Guests can stop by for a light indulgence or share a tasting platter before moving on to The Balcon.

Designed by Russell Sage, The Balcon combines the elegance of the Parisian grand brasserie and London’s modern-classic approach.  The high ceilings, large windows and light colours make it an attractive spot for all-day dining.

The test of an authentic French restaurant is how good is the soupe à l’oignon gratinée, so I just had to start with the Normandy onion soup with Roskoff onion and Aspall English cyder.

This Normandy-meets-Suffolf onion soup was one of the best I’ve ever tasted.  Served in a traditional French bowl, the soup was rich, dark and packed full of soft caramelised onions and topped with a baguette crouton, melted Gruyère and fresh herbs.  It’s a comforting dish for when it’s cold outside, or particularly for home-sick Parisians in London.

For the main course, I was tempted by the Rump of Devon lamb, French green beans, pequillo peppers and sweetcorn.  The lamb was tender, juicy and pinkish in the middle, cooked perfectly medium as requested.  I enjoyed the accompaniment of glazed green beans, soft slivers of pequillo pepper, buttery sweetcorn freshly cut from the cob and rich jus.  While the dish was colourful, it was presented in a simple, unpretentious way, which seems to be the concept at The Balcon.

The Blackberry financier with green apple sorbet came highly recommended, so I was keen to try the restaurant’s most popular dessert.  The freshly-baked financier was crisp and golden on the outside with a light, gooey almond cake centre.  It went well with the sweet blackberry coulis and I adored the luscious, home-made apple sorbet.

To finish the meal, I ordered an English Breakfast tea, which came in a Japanese-style cast iron teapot with Gavottes (French caramelised wafer biscuits) on the side.

I loved the bright, elegant design and refined atmosphere at The Balcon and wish I’d discovered it sooner.  It’s now on my list of stylish, central London eateries.

To walk off the lunch, we took a tour of the hotel and viewed the temporary collection of sculptures by Daphne du Barry and the hotel’s current Limelight exhibition, featuring photographic portraits of Barack Obama, Mick Jagger, Valentino Garavani, Francoise Hardy and Dita Von Teese.

We also had the chance to take a peek inside the Presidential Suite, with a stunning bed that looked so inviting for a post-lunch snooze.  I particularly liked the romantic, dusky St James Bar, inspired by the interiors of Coco Chanel’s 1920s Paris apartment.

We ended the day of pampering in the stylish surrounds of The Rose Lounge for afternoon tea.  The intimate lounge is a treat for all the senses with an enveloping rose scent as you enter, heavenly music by a harpist each afternoon and beautifully-designed interiors.

Lunch was a long, leisurely affair, so rather than attempt the full afternoon tea, we enjoyed a pot of Postcard Earl Grey tea and warm, freshly-baked plain, raisin and apricot scones served with clotted cream, lemon curd and the most heavenly strawberry, rose and geranium jam.

I’ve experienced afternoon tea at The Rose Lounge before and the combination of delectable pastries in a relaxed, luxurious setting make it perfect for a post-shopping treat.

Sofitel St James is a beautiful, calming place to spend time in London, whether it’s unwinding with a treatment in So SPA, a leisurely meal in The Balcon or catching up with a friend over afternoon tea in the exquisite Rose Lounge.  When you’re feeling nostalgic for Paris, it’s the place to come for a bit of la vie en rose.

For more information and booking, visit:

Chérie City was a guest of Sofitel St James

Photos by Chérie City and Sofitel St James

The Balcon London on Urbanspoon

Afternoon tea, Beauty, Hotels, Hotels - Luxury, London

Lovestruck On Leighton Meester & Vera Wang

Yesterday, I was invited to a very special afternoon tea with Leighton Meester and Vera Wang at the Corinthia Hotel London to celebrate the launch of her new fragrance, Vera Wang Lovestruck.

We took tea in the elegant, beautifully scented ballroom among a sea of peony roses – a perfect afternoon treat.

Then the moment we were all waiting for…Leighton and Vera arrived for the launch presentation, introducing Lovestruck and the inspiration behind the fragrance and campaign.

Leighton was unsurprisingly stunning in the flesh – fresh-faced, radiant and ever so charming. It was a surreal experience meeting Vera Wang, who despite being a highly-regarded fashion legend was outgoing, irreverent and a tiny ball of energy.

Vera regaled us with tales of shooting all day in freezing temperatures on an NYC fire escape, with Leighton wearing little more than ‘a whisper of tulle’ and being ‘a good sport’.

Lovestruck is inspired by a modern day twist on Romeo & Juliet and captures the first magical moments of falling in love – the passion, romance and the excitement.

Vera looked to her love of vanilla and grapefruit and then focused on the elegant, freshness of peony to create modern, youthful scent.  Lovestruck includes top notes of pink guava and angelica flower, a heart of tuberose and a dry down of precious woods.

Lovestruck is an absolute joy to wear if you love feminine, contemporary rose scents and there’s nothing vintage about the fragrance, it’s all about the here and now.  It begins with a rush of fresh, soft peony and then develops a warm yet sparkling citrus fruit scent with a subtle hint of sticky candy.

Vera insisted that the bottle would be a visual treat and the cap really does impress, with a deep magenta blooming bouquet inspired by Murano glass and a tulle and organza tie.  The trend for ‘work of art’ 3D bottles could be down to the ‘Marc Jacobs effect’ – just see the floral explosions on the tops of Lola and Daisy.

The Corinthia Hotel London ballroom was a perfect match for the prettiness of the fragrance and it felt like we were somewhere in between Vera Wang’s cool New York and a debutate ball in Paris – Blair Waldorf would have approved.

Our afternoon tea included a tiered stand full of finger sandwiches, mini scones with clotted cream and jam and delicate cakes – the Lavender éclair was simply divine!  I chose a pot of English Rose tea by Tea Palace, which seemed fitting when surrounded by roses.

The only thing that could come close to having tea with Leighton Meester and Vera Wang was leaving with a bottle of Lovestruck and a handful of those lovely peonies – what a dreamy day!

Vera Wang Lovestruck is available exclusively at Harrods now and then nationwide from 26 June.

Afternoon tea, Hotels - Luxury, London

Winter Tea at The Goring

This week I was invited to join The Goring’s centenary celebrations and sample their brand new Winter Tea.

Tucked away in prestigious Belgravia, The Goring is London’s oldest privately owned hotel, now run by Jeremy Goring, the fourth Goring at the helm of The Queen Mother’s favourite hotel.

Perfecting the quintessential English afternoon tea for 100 years, The Goring has been the proud bearer of the Tea Guild’s Award of Excellence for two years running.  So of course, expectations were high!

The new Winter Tea is served in the Lounge and Terrace, a club-style lounge with warming log fire adjoining a classic yellow-hued salon overlooking the hotel’s private gardens.

We started by choosing a tea from The Goring’s extensive tea menu including a fragrant Earl Grey and delicate floral tea such as Jasmine or Rosebud tea.

I absolutely adored The Goring’s sunshine yellow and gold china and noticed that you can actually buy the dinner service in the reception.

Then came a large glass of The Goring’s special centenary Ayala champagne – a crisp, soft and rounded champagne that complemented the tea.

The tiered plates of treats began with a generous selection of finger sandwiches – egg mayonnaise with watercress, smoked salmon, coronation chicken, guinea fowl and wild mushroom.

The sandwiches are classic but with an interesting seasonal game addition of guinea fowl and wild mushroom.

These were followed by delicious, freshly baked fruit scones and plain scones served with clotted cream, strawberry and raspberry jam.

The real excitement came with the top tier of decadent pastries.  My favourite was the bubblegum meringue – a delicate pastel pink meringue that cracked to reveal oozing vanilla pastry cream and really did taste just like bubblegum.

The peanut and chocolate caramel slice was creamy and delicious and the plum and almond tart showed off the talents of the pastry chefs.

Other scrumptious cakes included a home-made Jaffa Cake, hazelnut and jam sandwich and a festive mulled wine and pear jelly with cinnamon cream.

The Goring’s charm lies in maintaining its proud heritage matched with a warm family atmosphere, unpretentious but attentive service and a passion for high quality, seasonal food.

The Winter Tea at The Goring is the perfect balance between lavish teas at the palace hotels and the more contemporary fashion or themed teas – classic with an interesting twist.

The Goring’s Winter Tea is served from 3-5pm daily and is priced at £34 per person (£45 with a glass of Ayala).

The Winter Tea is available from November 2010 – February 2011 at The Goring, Beeston Place, London SW1W 0JW.  To book a table, contact (020) 7396 9000.

* Chérie City was a guest of The Goring.

Cafes, London, Stores

Miller Harris Tea Room serves Primrose Hill lunch

After the success 0f the Ruinart Afternoon Tea at the Mayfair flagship store, Miller Harris has teamed up with Melrose & Morgan to offer a savoury yet typically fragrant lunch, served for just four days in the tea room.

One of perfumier Lyn Harris’ favourite haunts, Primrose Hill grocery and kitchen, Melrose & Morgan will be providing a lunchtime selection of mouth-watering seasonal salads, a choice of main courses and artisan desserts, accompanied by Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne and Miller Harris fragrant tea.

Melrose & Morgan have specially designed their menu to feature Miller Harris’ own blends of fragrant olive oils, including Citron, Poivre and Sauvage olive oil.

There will be a selection of delicious lunch combos to choice from, so it’s almost like having a Berkeley Square summer picnic, but without the pesky flies and pigeons or the threat of rain!

While you’re there, but sure to take a peek at Miller Harris’ new botanical print wallpapers by designer Karen Beauchamp, which have just been launched.

Also, for Vogue Fashion’s Night Out tomorrow, the Miller Harris Mayfair store will be transformed into ‘Miller’s Market’, where guests are invited to sample their pick ‘n’ mix of perfumes.  Present will be designers Clements Ribeiro and Paris homeware specialist, Astier de Villatte.

Lunch will be served from 12noon to 3pm on 14th – 17th September in the Miller Harris Tea Room, 21 Bruton Street, London W1J 6QD.

To reserve a table, call 020 7629 7750.

Afternoon tea, London, Stores

Claire Clark pop-up patisserie at Harvey Nichols

With the summer drawing to a close, afternoon tea sounds more appealing than ever.  Wardrobes are no longer centred around ‘poolside’ and have been restocked with cosy camel coats and forgiving high-waisted trousers, so it’s time to bring on the cake and indulge!

Harvey Nichols have collaborated with celebrated pastry chef Claire Clark on a limited edition ‘pop up’ pâtisserie on the Fifth Floor.

Inspired by childhood treats, Claire adds a luxury twist to old favourites, with such creations as Jaffa Cake Macaroons, Mini Battenburgs, Peanut Butter S’Mores (if you grew up Stateside) and Bubblegum Marshmallow Pavlovas.

For the grown ups among us, there are some utterly refined delicacies like a Sesame Opera, Pistachio and Passionfruit Pain de Gene (French Genoa cake), Praline Roulard, Rose and Raspberry Éclair and more…

A bespoke tea blend, with an Earl Grey base and fragrant lavender note has been created to complete the selection of cakes and is available to buy from the Foodmarket at £3.95 for 125g.

This is the first time that Claire’s cakes will be available outside of the exclusive restaurants and h0tels that she has worked with: The French Laundry in California, Sandy Lanes in Barbados, Claridges, The Wolseley, The Ritz and the House of Commons.

The pop-up installation has been specially created by renowned designer and art director, Fiona Leahy, who has worked with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Garrard, Christian Louboutin and of course, Harvey Nichols.

Claire Clark is also launching a limited edition afternoon tea at the Fifth Floor Restaurant, inspired by the fashion week style capitals: New York, London, Paris and Milan.  There will be delicious sandwiches, freshly made scones with a selection of jams and of course an array of exquisite cakes.

The Claire Clark Afternoon Tea will be available at the Fifth Floor Restaurant for a limited period between 13th September and 26th September and is priced at £35, or £45 with a glass of Harvey Nichols Champagne.  To book a table, contact 020 7235 5250

The Claire Clark Pâtisserie will be open in the Fifth Floor Foodmarket from 13th September – 18th November.

Afternoon tea, London, Stores

Marriage Frères do iced tea!

Oh Harvey Nichols Food Hall, how you do spoil us!  New in store this week is French tea merchants, Marriage Frères iced tea.

Paris’ most respected tea salon, Marriage Frères have adapted their most popular teas, including the best-selling Marco Polo, to be served as iced tea.

There is a selection of exquisite black or green teas from all over the world, blended with spices or fruits and packaged in the typical Marriage Frères cotton muslin bags.

It may seem like the sun has given up right now, but when the next heatwave comes,  mix up some Marriage Frères iced tea for a decadent afternoon tea in the garden or a picnic.

For my whirlwind trip to Paris next week, I’m hoping to take some time out for a pot of tea at the Marriage Frères tea salon/emporium on rue du Bourg-Tibourg in the Marais – an absolute must when in Paris.

Marriage Frères iced tea boxes (30g) are priced at £6.95 and are available online and at Harvey Nichols Food Hall.

Events, Hotels - Luxury, London

Russian Christmas at The Grove, Hertfordshire

During the festive season, The Grove golf and spa hotel in Chandlers Cross, Hertfordshire, becomes a Christmas hideaway for London city dwellers escaping the hectic crowds of Oxford Street.  This year, The Grove has taken inspiration for its exquisite Christmas decorations from the rich, jewel colours of Russia.

I visited The Grove for an exclusive press preview of its beautifully-designed Christmas tree and festive floral arrangements by McQueens Florists.

On arrival, we were shown into the drawing room, where they had created a sneak peak a winter wonderland.  Glass Babushka dolls of various sizes stood between drape after drape of billowing red organza and a Christmas tree made up of minature plants in dark gold pots was stunning and inventive.

The main Christmas tree was laden with gold presents, toy soldiers, deep red baubles and embellished ornaments that are reminiscent of Moscow’s unique palatial turrets.

We then sat down for a quick afternoon tea, consisting of finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam and a selection of scrumptious tarts, cake slices, macaroons and brownies.

After a quick bite, we walked through the grounds to The Glasshouse to start the McQueens festive floristry workshop.

Founded by Kally Ellis in 1991, McQueens started out with a small shop in Shoreditch florist has grown into one of London’s hottest florists with a flagship store in Clerkenwell and successful flower school, with students going on to work in floristry all over the world.

McQueens have provided floral sculptures for a number of A-list clients and events including the Vanity Fair party at the Cannes and Tribeca Film Festivals, the Vanity Fair Oscars after-party in LA, Fashion Week shows and high-profile weddings.

I’ve always wondered, when passing their store on Old Street, whether there is a connection with the designer Alexander McQueen, as even their logos are similar.

Kally revealed that she originally bought the business from Lee’s aunt and that they worked closely with him before his untimely death, creating elaborate arrangements for his shows and events.

Course Director of McQueens Flower School, Luis Da Silva, presented our masterclass and demonstrated how to create a number of Russian Christmas looks.

Firstly, he showed us how to make a hand bouquet of twenty red Gran Prix roses with red berries and foliage.  Ripping off the excess leaves and thorns with gusto and trimming off the stalk ends, Luis made gathering the bouquet look easy and effortless.

As the following howls and ‘eeeks’ testified, it’s not as easy as it looks.  Roses have thorns; and it’s not the giant spiky ones that you had to look out for, but the sinister little buds that made it hard to grip the rose and skim down the stem decisively.

But, it did get easier after a few tries, with excellent tuition, and the end results were spectacular, thanks to Luis swiftly straightening out all of our mistakes.

We were also lucky enough to be shown how to make some stylish but simple Christmas arrangements.  For a contemporary, impressive floral sculpture, buy around twenty mini fish bowls, fill with a small amount of water, add the head of a rose and arrange them diagonally in a large cylindrical vase.

Another great idea was to fill another large cylindrical vase with festive foliage such as acorns, dried orange slices, red moss and dried red chillies.  These arrangements are particularly popular in chic London hotels, who order hundreds over Christmas, although ever discreet Luis wouldn’t spill about his top clients.

The McQueens flower masterclass was a sociable, creative way to spend an afternoon and I learned some invaluable tips on where to buy floristry accessories and tools and how to prolong the life of flowers.

On 26-27 November and 3-4 December, The Grove will be holding two exciting masterclasses on how to create the perfect Christmas look in your home.

Experts from McQueens will demonstrate how to make the most stylish festive floral arrangements, while renowned chef patissier, Channel 4′s ‘Cake Boy’ Eric Lanlard will share insider tips on seasonal cake decorating and how to make the most indulgent Christmas cake.

If you’re not already familiar with Eric from his ‘Glamour Puds’ TV show, you may remember his baking emporium in Battersea, Cake Boy, featured on Mary Queen of Shops, where Mary took the intolerable Angela to learn about running a proper, commercially successful bakery.

The Grove is also very child-friendly and you can leave the little darlings to make their own Christmas gifts at the OFSTED inspected kids club, Anouska’s.

The Perfect Christmas at The Grove starts from £285 per person* and includes:

- One night’s accommodation on a bed and breakfast basis in a West Wing Superior Room, based on two sharing.

- A masterclass with McQueens Florists on flower arranging.

- A masterclass with Eric Lanlard on cake decorating.

Prices for single occupancy start from £410 per person.

Places on the masterclass that are not filled by residents of The Grove will be available to non-resident guests priced at £85 per person per workshop.  To book a place and for more information, visit

* Chérie City was a guest at The Grove.

Hotels, Hotels - Luxury, London

Luxury Hotel Review: The Grove, Hertfordshire

Last week, I was one of  a small group of journalists invited to discover The Grove – a luxury golf and spa hotel in the Hertfordshire countryside.

The Grove is a chic, understated retreat just a quick 30 minutes train and taxi from London, although the noise and pollution of the city really feels like a million miles away.

On arrival the large open-plan reception area is buzzing with new arrivals and guests relaxing in the bar and adjoining lounges.  Airy, minimal and filled with contemporary art, The Grove’s public areas provide an excellent base for socialising and winding down after a day on the golf course or in the spa.

After our afternoon tea among the Russian Christmas decorations and McQueens floristry workshop, I was shown to my room, through a dramatic maze-like corridor of sumptuous velvet drapes in dark, dusky colours (very Hotel Côstes).

Inside, my room couldn’t be more of a contrast; it was light and breezy in a palette of cream and oatmeal with art deco furnishings, mirrored wardrobes, antique furniture, a white orchid and the most beautiful four-poster bed with cream silk-chiffon drapes.

It reminded me of the interiors of Chanel, rue Cambon, in Paris with the wall of mirrors and sleek, classic design.  My room was exceptionally large and boasted a cosy seating area with two ever so comfortable armchairs and an elegant dusky pink velvet chaise longue, strategically placed in front of the huge wall-mounted, 42″ plasma screen TV with surround sound.

The cream marble bathroom was similarly luxurious, with a vintage-style free-standing bath and the most powerful, spacious massage shower, which really revived me after a day of dashing around Christmas press days, travelling and multiple rose thorn-related injuries.

Everything you could possibly need was there, including two flannel bathrobes, a double amount of towels in every shape and size, face cloths and a well-stocked cosmetics stand by The White Company.

The Grove really pay attention to the smallest of details to make your stay enjoyable and my room came stocked with a number of high end magazines, plenty writing materials, quality teas and real coffee with a cafetiere and the most impressive mini bar I’ve ever seen, complete with cocktail stirrers and paper coasters.

All of this was topped off nicely with a stunning view of the knot gardens, terrace and rolling countryside from my bedroom window. I really could have become accustomed to life here in the mansion building!

The only thing that they could have improved on was the Wifi charges, which started at £8 per hour.  Of course most guests come to relax rather than be chained to their computers, but complementary net access would really add to the ‘home away from home’ nature of the hotel.

The grounds at The Grove are quite spectacular, with knot gardens, elaborate water features and acres of greenery around the award-winning, Championship-level golf course (Tiger Woods is known to drop by for a few rounds).

Among the grounds facilities is an outdoor pool with sun deck, a pool bar and even an urban beach, with sand imported from Devon.

Chatting over a long breakfast got the better of us journalists, so I didn’t get a chance to try The Grove’s Sequoia spa, but it looks absolutely incredibly zen, with cream and black furnishings, natural slate tiling and exposed wooden beams.

Sequoia has an extensive spa menu and guests can book tailor-made treatments using ESPA products.  All hotel guests are able to use the spa facilities including a fitness studio, large black mosaic pool, vitality pool, sauna, relaxation lounge, zen garden and juice bar.

There are three dining options – a luxury buffet at The Glasshouse, fine dining at the 3 AA Rosette restaurant Colette’s or home-cooked comfort food at The Stables.

We started with a drink at the bar followed by dinner at The Glasshouse, where we experienced the bountiful ‘cooking theatre’.  The array of cuisines was impressive but not over-the-top, meaning that the chefs could concentrate of producing top quality dishes.

For starters there was fresh seafood, sushi, tapas, cold cuts, salad and pasta.  I bypassed starters in exchange for two mini main courses – the first plate consisting of Thai chicken curry with rice and vegetable noodles with Thai crackers.  My next helping was a succulent cut of roast rib of beef with delectable rosemary potatoes, sweet potato mash, savoy cabbage and baby carrots.

Everyone left room for dessert, as the sweet selection was out of this world!  There were martini glasses filled with white chocolate and passionfruit, yogurt and raspberry shots glasses, Crème brûlées, mini financiers, home-made fudge and hearty carrot cake.

In the morning, we headed down to The Stables, overlooking the golf course, for a long breakfast of Eggs Benedict/Royale, cappucinos and orange juice. Breakfast can also be taken in your room, in one of the lounges or in the Glasshouse, where the luxury buffet continues.

After checking out, I took some time to explore the grounds and the lounges before taking a taxi back to Watford Junction station. The lounges are perfect for relaxing, having a business meeting or socialising and all are individually designed, featuring interesting contemporary art, plush sofas, flower installations by McQueens and extensive libraries.

All lounges have glass doors leading out to the grounds where you can find some idyllic water features and interesting stone statues.

The Grove really is an incredible place to stay, with exceptional service, classic contemporary style and interesting design features. Far from a stuffy country mansion, The Grove has a relaxed, informal atmosphere where you can enjoy the facilities in peace or spend a sociable evening in one of its many lounges or restaurants.

With an enviably picturesque location less than an hour away from central London, The Grove is an ideal hideaway that you’ll wish you’d know about forever.

See more pictures from my stay at The Grove, here.

Perfect for: Weddings, spa breaks, country retreats and golfing weekends.

Clientele: Couples, small groups, celebrities and occasionally the England football team (keep it on the down-low).

You might also like: Hotel Lutetia, Paris

Rooms at The Grove start from £290 per night (including breakfast) and there are a number of packages available.

* Chérie City was a guest of The Grove.

Afternoon tea, Hotels - Design, Hotels - Luxury, London

Ruinart and Miller Harris Sensory Tea at Covent Garden Hotel

While having a decadent breakfast of Eggs Benedict, coffee and mixed berry juice at the Covent Garden Hotel yesterday with the girls from Indigo PR, I found that the Ruinart and Miller Harris Champagne afternoon tea can now be taken in the hotel’s elegant Brasserie Max.

Following the success of the Ruinart Champagne afternoon tea at the Miller Harris tea salon, you can now experience the Ruinart and Miller Harris Sensory Tea in the stylish, cosy setting of any of the West End Firmdale hotels, including the Soho Hotel, Charlotte Street Hotel and Haymarket Hotel.

Spend the afternoon relaxing in the library, drawing room or brasserie with a glass of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs champagne, a pot of finely blended Miller Harris tea and a selection of delicate sandwiches and cakes prepared by Firmdale Hotel chefs.

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs champagne is perfect for the summer, with refreshing notes of citrus and white peach, and Ruinart Chef de Cave, Frederic Panaiotis, describes Ruinart Blanc de Blancs champagne as “like drinking liquid sunshine”.

To accompany the champagne, there is a selection of four teas created by perfumer Lyn Harris, including Thé Bergamot, Thé Bigarade, Thé Pétales or Thé Violette.  I can personally recommend the rose scented Thé Pétales and the Thé Bergamot, a second flush Darjeeling that Earl Grey fans will enjoy.

Lemon cupcakes, peach and vanilla friands and raspberry tarlets were chosen to bring out the notes of citrus and white peach in Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and come with traditional cut sandwiches.

The Ruinart and Miller Harris connection is a story of mutual admiration that begun when Lyn Harris visited the Ruinart cellars in Reims and found parallels between their traditional methods of winemaking and perfumery.

The relationship between Lyn Harris and Kit Kemp is long established, with each of the seven Firmdale hotels providing complimentary Miller Harris bath and body products in all guest rooms.

Read my review of the Ruinart Champagne afternoon tea at the Miller Harris Mayfair tea salon and flagship store and see the photos of the scrumptious tea.

The Ruinart and Miller Harris Sensory Tea is priced at £35 per person and is available until September 2010.  For more information, visit the Firmdale website.

Afternoon tea, London, Stores

Ruinart Valentine’s Afternoon Tea at Miller Harris

Remember I told you about the delectable Ruinart afternoon tea at Miller Harris in Mayfair?  Well, it has proved so popular that Lyn Harris has launched a Valentine’s afternoon tea with a new twist.

The Ruinart Valentine’s Afternoon Tea focuses around a glass of Ruinart Rosé champagne and a pot of Miller Harris Thé Pétales – a blend of white tip Oolong tea, geranium from the Reunion and Turkish rose.  These are accompanied by a selection of bijou cakes from Primrose Bakery, chosen by Lyn Harris to complement the raspberry and citrus notes of the champagne and the delicate tea.

Ruinart Rosé is made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes and has an attractive pink colour.  It has a bolder, more fruity fragrance than Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and there is an aroma of cherry, raspberry, wild strawberry and red berries.

The tea room at Miller Harris is small but beautifully decorated, so you can enjoy a more relaxed, intimate experience – perfect for Valentine’s Day.

I adored the Miller Harris afternoon tea on my last visit, as it is a light indulgence, without the banquet size offerings and hefty prices of the more traditional afternoon teas.  Best of all is being able to leisurely discover the Miller Harris scents and teas with the help of the welcoming, glamorous staff.

The Ruinart Rosé afternoon tea will be held in the Tea Room at the Miller Harris flagship store on Bruton St and will run from 10-13 and 17-20 February, lasting from 10am-5.30pm.  The price is £19 per person, to include a decadent array of cakes from Primrose Bakery, a pot of Thé Pétales Fragrant Tea blended by Lyn and a flute of Ruinart Rosé.

Miller Harris tea room on Urbanspoon

Afternoon tea, Art, Cafes, Events, London, Restaurants

Sketch pop-up cafe at Royal Academy of Arts

After my tremendous art book bargain hunt at Taschen and Phaidon in Chelsea, all the excitement left me starving and a simple sandwich in a plain old caff just wouldn’t cut it.  I just wanted to sit down and revel in the glory of the beautiful new books in an equally gorgeous setting, so Steven and I hopped on a bus to the Royal Academy of Arts to check out the Sketch pop-up cafe, in its final week.

Sketch set up shop in the Royal Academy foyer and created an eco-friendly, literary wonderland, designed by artistic director Mark Lawson Bell, to run in conjunction with the GSK Contemporary: Earth exhibition.

The cafe feels like a room from a very unusual dolls house with Persian rugs and antique cabinets, knotted rope and 1000 books covering the mulberry walls.  Two noble-looking dogs made from old toys by Robert Bradford stand guard at the entrance and the chairs and tables are made from folded, heavy-duty cardboard and wooden boards.

It’s like a mini adaptation of The Parlour at Sketch on Conduit Street, the front room salon Sketch is like entering a Mayfair townhouse and falling down the rabbit hole, with a surreal dining experience in each room and London’s most talked about toilets – I won’t spoil the surprise but think Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance video meets a futuristic hatching centre.

At Sketch, the food sounds like it has been invented by Willy Wonka, not three Michelin star chef Pierre Gagnaire, with classic dishes being turned on their heads, but the menu has been simplified for the Royal Academy.  Everything is priced, even by normal cafe standards, and there is a good selection of gourmet filled baguettes, home-made quiches, crêpes, power salads, soups and even generous chunks wedges of Camembert.

In the middle of the cafe are sugary towers of mini French pâtisserie, pastries and petite scones with clotted cream and raspberry jam.  Perfect for a tiny, guilt-free tea accompaniment or for customising your own afternoon tea.

I was feeling pretty shaky by this point and wanted to munch down the whole counter (tip: don’t visit when you’re ravenous), but I had a soup craving, so I ordered the pumpkin soup with popcorn (£3) and a baguette with butter (£1).  It was smooth with a slow-roasted flavour and was well seasoned, although it was a tiny bit oily for my taste.  The popcorn worked well and was a welcome change to croutons or torn parsley leaves, which I hate.  The baguette was as authentic as they come and I’m pretty sure they provided French butter too.

Steven chose the salad and any cake offer for £9.50, which turned out to be a huge bargain.  He had a massive box full of fresh and crisp tuna, artichoke and green bean salad (it was so big that he could only eat half) and followed with a Manjari chocolate ganache tart.

The chocolate filling was velvety soft with a thick, rich consistency and the pastry was nicely gritty and sweet. The bitter sweet, wafer-thin chocolate discs and sprinkling of gold leaf give it extra style points.

I couldn’t resist ordering one of those fruit scones that was in between a full-sized and miniature scone and came with a pot of clotted cream and raspberry jam.  If I can squeeze in another visit before it closes at the end of the month, I’ll order the cream tea (£7), which consists of four scones with all the accompaniments and any Twinings tea.  Four scones would be more than enough to share, so really you could just order another tea or coffee.

The Sketch cafe gets busier in waves when people come out of the exhibition, but it’s not too difficult to get a table in the foyer.  If you’re tough as nails, you can sit on the portico with champagne and oysters, snuggled up with handmade blankets and hot water bottles.

The pop-up cafe is a great way to experience the delights of Sketch at a snip of the price and without having to book a table.  The food may not be as wacky as in the original restaurant, but the quality and concept are on point, as usual.  I just hope that owner Mourad Mazouz (he of Momo fame) will consider it a sign and open a more permanent, low-key fixture sometime soon, because I’m going to miss this one!

Sketch - the Parlour on Urbanspoon

Afternoon tea, Cafes, London, Stores

Ruinart Afternoon Tea at Miller Harris

On Thursday, I was invited to sample the Ruinart Afternoon Tea at perfume boutique, Miller Harris’ Mayfair flagship store.  The afternoon tea has been running since October in the petite tea room at the back of the store and has proved to be so popular that it has been extended for the whole of December.

Perfumier and founder Lyn Harris seems to be a bit of a perfectionist and has toiled away, searching for just the right champagne and cakes to compliment her range of exquisite teas.  She discovered that Ruinart was a perfect match when visiting their cellars in Reims, finding parallels between their traditional methods of winemaking and her own meticulous perfumery. She then searched for the right cakes to bring out the white peach and citrus notes in the champagne and Primrose Bakery was clearly the winner.

Ruinart Afternoon Tea

The tea room is small but perfectly formed, with four tables and seating, beautifully finished with Miller Harris’ signature print. We were brought a glass of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs champagne to sip while we selected our own pots of tea from the tailored menu, which consisted of Bergamot, Pétales, Fumé, Bigarade, Violette and Sauvage.  I tried the Thé Bergamot, which had a similar taste to Earl Grey, but with a more aromatic flavour and seemingly less tannin.


The champagne was crisp, citrusy and not too dry, making it very refreshing and easy to drink.  A small plate of cakes accompanied the tea and included a peach friand, which tasted moist, fruity and home-made and two mini lemon meringue cupcakes with a tangy citrus filling.

The cake portions are relatively small compared to the mini banquets served at The Ritz and The Berkeley, but I guess the point of the Ruinart Afternoon Tea is that it is more of a luxurious pick-me-up, rather than hours of endless indulgence.  I liked it that I didn’t feel too full to carry on shopping and have dinner and it is significantly more affordable too.

miller harris cakes

The service is relaxed and friendly but attentive, with the elegantly-dressed staff from the store also on cake duty.  The best things is that afterwards, you can have a gander around the store and find Christmas gifts in peace, away from the madding crowds of Oxford Street – they really have me vexed this weekend!


There is a seemingly endless range of candles, perfumes, lotions, soaps and teas, all presented in black and brightly coloured boxes emblazoned with the Miller Harris print. I was particularly impressed with L’Air de Rien, the oriental fragrance range that Lyn Harris created for French singer and icon, Jane Birkin.  The collection is simple, light and effortlessly chic, and includes notes of amber, vanilla, oak moss and musks to give it that airy, ethereal feel.  Plus, the perfume is much more attainable than an Hermès Birkin!


The Ruinart Afternoon Tea at Miller Harris is perfect for a decadent mid-shopping treat with your mum or a girly catch-up with friends.  It is priced at £19 per person and includes a glass of Ruinart champagne, a pot of tea and a plate of three Primrose Bakery cakes.

It is available throughout December from Wednesday to Saturday, 3-6pm at the Bruton Street store.  Call 020 7629 7750 to make your reservation.

Miller Harris tea room on Urbanspoon