Latest Hotel reviews
Updated 12th June 2013
It’s the federal capital and most populous city in Malaysia with an area of 243 sprawling square kilometres (94 sq mi) and has an estimated population of 1.6 million. It’s the official residence of the Malaysian King and has played host to many international, sporting and cultural events over the years including the Commonwealth Games and the Formula One Grand Prix. Even those of us who have not the slightest interest in excellence on the track for either man or machine will surely know that Kuala Lumpur is home to the spectacular Petronas Twin Towers.
The ground floor entrance to the Grand Hyatt is imposing, spacious and airy and what one would hope for in this standard of Asian hotel. Its sweeping staircase, pond and a crescent-shaped sculpture which is symbolic of Brunei and Malaysia, is the centrepiece. A circular coloured glass art feature inscribed with a classic welcoming verse from the Quran, “A thousand dinar,” stands near the entrance to the ground floor restaurant.
Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur is a 39-storey hotel that officially opened on August 24, 2012. Its location is superb in every regard. Those towers decorate the view in the most impressive fashion from the hotel lobby - that is the Sky lobby for check-in, on the top floor. One has a sense of height and space when one looks towards the towers.
This well-appointed hotel has spacious accommodation that includes 370 regular rooms and 42 suites. Those suites are remarkable in both style and facilities, and equal, in this traveller’s opinion, to the best you will find anywhere. The floor-to-ceiling windows give views over the city or to the Towers, making the panorama quite memorable when appreciated from the vantage point of a roomy, round, marble bathtub. It’s a pampering and sensual experience.
The hotel is aware that many of its guests must work. Its proximity to the Convention Centre assures many business visitors who would, doubtless, much rather be lounging in the bath-with-a-view than working. The desk is substantial with every connection for entertainment and communication that a budding executive might need.
Kuala Lumpur has a wealth of dining options and luckily one of the best can be found on the ground floor of this very hotel. JP teres showcases the most iconic of Malaysian dishes in a contemporary restaurant and terrace. The open kitchen adds to the atmosphere, which attracts both hotel guests and locals alike.
JP teres features some of the most traditional of Malaysian dishes. There are both indoor and outdoor dining areas set amongst lush greenery and trickling water. The ambiance is tranquil and cool but the food is vibrant and exotic.
I love Asian food in general and I find that Malaysian cuisine offers so much that is exciting in this culinary region. The food ranges from the spicy and addictive to the mild and comforting. Desserts are not forgotten and they take advantage of local ingredients to produce confections that will gladden the heart of anyone with a sweet craving.
Samosa - Potato, peas, Indian spices are familiar to every lover of Indian food but they are a popular snack or starter in Malaysia, which is a country of ethnic diversity, and that has added to the complexity of cuisine and breadth of dishes on offer. Indian food is well represented at JP teres, which has an imported tandoor, and the Chef de Cuisine Azman Ahmad, although a local lad, draws upon his sub-continental heritage.
Pilihan aneka satay - barbecued skewers – must be the national dish. In Malaysia those flavourful kebabs are served with cucumber, onion and compressed rice cake, along with the peanut sauce.
Otak otak is one of my favourite dishes from the Malay peninsula. It’s a peranakan dish and is made by mixing fish paste (most often mackerel) with spices. The resulting fish mousse is usually wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked. It’s a must-try for any visitor.
Curry laksa - Yellow noodles, tofu, shrimp, fishcake, beansprouts, mint and chicken in a curry broth is a classic and ubiquitous dish …and moreish.
Nasi lemak – Coconut rice, fried chicken, egg, crispy whitebait, cucumber, peanuts, sambal – is a leaf-wrapped parcel that is often consumed for breakfast but is popular at any time of the day
Murgh makhani – tandoor-oven roasted chicken, tomato and kashmiri chilli – is a dish from India and is one of the most popular across the globe.
Rendang daging - Braised beef, lemongrass, galangal, turmeric leaf, spices and coconut combine to make one of the most delightful dishes in the region. The meat is cooked to tender perfection in an aromatic sauce.
Carrot cake - White radish, shrimp, chilli paste, pickled vegetables, sweet soy sauce make this unique dish. That white radish is in fact mooli or dikon that cooks with rice flour to give a type of vegetable pasta. Don’t miss this one.
Pandan Chiffon Cake is beautifully impressive. It has the texture of an American Angel Food Cake but that pandan is the key ingredient. It’s a leaf that is used extensively in this region and it gives an unmistakable flavour and colour. A light cake to enjoy with a cup of tea.
Chendol is a refreshing dessert of shaved ice, coconut milk, pandan jelly and gula melaka (palm sugar). I find this far lighter than regular ice cream and it’s difficult to replicate at home as the ice shavings are very fine, so try it here. The gula melaka is an essential part of the dessert and brings an almost caramel sweetness.
Pineapple tarts – bite-size shortbread-style cookies (biscuits) that are topped with pineapple jam. The fruit is cooked down to a soft paste with a golden hue, with a sweet and mellow flavour.
Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur offers accessible luxury laced with Asian charm and attention to detail. The staff are professional and friendly and will make any weary traveller feel at home. The hotel location makes this one of the world’s greats.
Daily, 11:30am – 11:00pm
For more information phone: +60 3 2182 1234 extension 2333
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dress: Smart casual
Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur
12 Jalan Pinang
Phone: +60 3 2182 1234
Fax: +60 3 2182 1288
Visit Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur here
For more information on Malaysian holidays visit MASholidays here
For flights to Malaysia visit Malaysia Airlines here
“The hotel bar which some say concocts one of the world’s best Martinis” - New York Times
There are many great hotels in London. There is a host of memorable boutique hotels in London. There are several with stylish bars in London. There is only one Dukes Bar in the whole world.
One finds Dukes Hotel tucked away in a courtyard off a quiet side street in St James’s. It has the best of addresses, nestled between St James’s Palace and Piccadilly. It’s a beauty in red brick. It’s an icon of period architecture, and even a first glimpse will encourage the visitor to expect something special within; they won’t be disappointed.
The doorman will usher you into a surprisingly small bar. One might expect a venue with such a reputation to be the size of an aircraft hanger, a well-appointed aircraft hanger, admittedly. No, Dukes Bar is bijou, intimate and timeless with dark wood and charcoal-grey upholstery. The bar is well-stocked but it’s the goods on that unique trolley that will focus the mind of all serious Martini aficionados.
One takes a seat (best to reserve) and peruses the extensive menu of classic cocktails, but it would be a gross oversight to order anything, at least on the inaugural visit, other than a Martini – and the tutored will want to try the Vesper Martini. Shortly you will be joined by a barman in a white linen jacket and if you are blessed it will be Alessandro Palazzi who, in his field, is as celebrated as the hotel itself.
This bar was once the favoured watering hole of famed author Ian Fleming. He is most remembered for being the creator of dashing James Bond. There is a rumour that his very name is derived from this corner of the capital: near Bond Street and in St James’s. Not sure how much store to set by that tale, but it leads me to wonder if Miss Moneypenny first drew breath at the stock exchange? Was Dr No inspired by a dodgy practice in Harley Street?
Dukes Bar is said to be the inspiration behind the classic request, 'shaken, not stirred', although a Martini here will never be shaken. That would be far too brash and noisy …and it would dilute the alcohol! The aforementioned trolley will park next to your table and it’s a chariot laden with decanters, fruit, bottles of frozen spirits and frosted glasses. The theatre of pouring begins.
Those glasses are standard for this libation in all its delicious chilled guises. The distinctive design is said to have developed to allow the drinker to hold a stem rather than the bowl of the glass, keeping the beverage at the lowest temperature for the longest time. The cone is thought to give the optimum surface area to encourage the maximum bouquet from the spirits and to prevent the ingredients from separating as the drink rests; and this is a cocktail to be savoured rather than gulped.
Alessandro mixes several hundred martinis each night so he has a practised eye and a deft hand. A speciality is that signature ‘Vesper’. No, dear illiterate reader, that isn’t a reference to the nifty Italian motor scooter but obliquely to the time of day – it’s Latin for evening – and absolutely in homage to Vesper Lynd, a character featured in Ian Fleming's James Bond novel Casino Royale. The Vesper Martini gained popularity after the novel's publication, and gave rise to the famous ‘shaken, not stirred’ catchphrase immortalised in every James Bond film thereafter. The actual name for the drink, and the recipe, is mentioned on-screen for the first time in the 2006 remake of Casino Royale.
The Vesper is a heady melange of No. 3 London Dry Gin, Lillet Blanc, Angostura bitters, and Potocki vodka. This is a Polish vodka, in keeping with the Iron Curtain-swishing heroes of Fleming’s alter-universe. The dry vermouth is brewed exclusively for Duke’s by Sacred Microdistillery on a residential street in Highgate, a north London neighbourhood. Ian Fleming was evidently a skilled practitioner of the art of tippling and we are the lucky recipients of both his dedicated study and the charm of Alessandro Palazzi. (Interview to follow).
Bar opening times:
Monday to Saturday - 2pm to 11pm
Sunday and Bank Holidays - 4pm to 10.30pm
Dukes Hotel & Bar
St. James's Place
London SW1A 1NY
Phone: +44 (0)20 7491 4840
Fax: +44 (0)20 7493 1264
For further information and reservations phone: +44 (0)20 7491 4840
Visit Dukes here
According to 16th century Malay historians, the city was founded by Parameswara, a Palembang prince who, fleeing from his Japanese enemies, eventually found himself on the west coast of the Malay peninsula. While hunting near the mouth of a river called Bertam, he rested under a tree and spotted a white mouse-deer. This timid animal kicked one of his hunting dogs which fell into the river. The prince was so impressed by the deer's brave attack that he decided to build a new city on the banks of the river. He asked one of his servants the name of the tree under which he was standing and was told that the tree was called Malaka. Parameswara named his city after the tree.
By the first decade of the 16th century Malacca was a noteworthy international seaport and a centre for the trade of silks and spices from both China and India, and this inevitably attracted the attention of foreign powers. The Portuguese under the command of Afonso de Albuquerque arrived first in the early 1500s and after taking the city by force he constructed the massive fortification of A Famosa on the coast to deter any future counter-attacks. A small part of the fort can still be seen today, although it’s now a little further away from the sea due to modern land reclamation.
A Famosa remained until 1641, when the Dutch invaded Malacca after an eight-month siege which left the city in ruins. They rebuilt it over the following 150 years but in 1795 Holland was captured by French Revolutionary armies and they handed Malacca over to the British to avoid its capture by the non-revolutionary French forces. Malacca changed hands several times over the following years due to its strategic location, but from 1826 the city was ruled by the East India Company. It was, along with the rest of the peninsula, occupied by the Japanese from 1942 to 1945. Independence from the British government was not achieved until 1957 with a proclamation of independence by His Highness Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, Malaysia's first Prime Minister.
Chinese, British, Portuguese, Dutch, Thai and Arabs have come to trade or invade over the previous centuries and each one of them has left their distinctive mark on Malacca. It is considered Malaysia's most historically significant city and it’s easy to see why. The rendered walls, painted doors and windows, tiled roofs combine to give a very particular ambiance. It’s a living and energetic city but there are those charming architectural features that remain, allowing the visitor to take a peek at the past.
The Majestic Hotel in Malacca provides all that the discerning traveller might want. It’s unique and nothing like the usual 5* hotel which although well-appointed will have a degree of familiar sameness – yes, very comforting but one might awake wondering if this is Brussels …or Bratislava, as the drapes are the same. No, The Majestic is bespoke, polished and full of local character.
The imposing frontage of The Majestic hints at the quality and style within. Its painted shutters and shady veranda hark back to a gentler time of rubber plantations and unabashed style. The original section of the hotel was built in the 1920s as a private home and only later became a hotel. It was purchased by YTL Hotels in 2007 and reopened as The Majestic we see today with its 15-floor extension creating 52 sumptuous rooms and suites.
The ground-floor reception and bar offer dark wood and tiled floors which are original. It’s the attention to detail in the public spaces that points to the accessible luxury throughout the hotel. Jars of local sweets and treats tempt the visitor to linger but more awaits in your room.
Dark wood and swathes of silk fabrics help to create an exotic nest for the guest. Bathrooms are big here in every regard. Claw-foot roll-top baths partner spacious showers, and those facilities become part of the bedroom when the wall shutters are slid back. Rooms at the Majestic are designed for those who expect and appreciate the best.
But tourist cannot live by unadulterated in-room pampering alone. There is also a celebrated spa for those who can drag themselves away from charming private opulence, and a restaurant that should be on the list of must-experience culinary delights to be enjoyed by hotel guests and Malacca residents alike.
Chef CK Pow presents a Nyoya or Peranakan menu and its dishes are memorable. One can dine, or one can learn at one of the regular cooking classes. The dining room is beautifully appointed and the perfect spot in which to sample some of the iconic dishes of Asia’s original fusion cuisine. It’s a tasteful melange of Chinese and Malay spice palates: Pie Tee are crunchy pastry shells filled with vegetables and shrimps – they make a popular Peranakan starter. The Laksa in Malacca is unlike the more common Malaysian varieties as it’s a coconut curry-base with fish cakes. Kuih are Peranakan cakes or desserts and are a must-try; Onde Onde are rice dough balls filled with liquid palm sugar and coated in coconut shreds. Bright blue Pulut Tai Tai are delicious sweets, and isn’t blue food novel?
The Majestic Hotel in Malacca is a diminutive resort in its own right. There is a small library for those solitary sorts who relish the quiet of that veranda out front. There is a pool for cooling dips on sultry afternoons, a gym to work off those Kuih, and don’t forget that spa for recovery after the gym. This hotel has polish and panache but it remains cosy with the lingering ambiance of the original home. The Majestic Hotel is a destination within a destination. Don’t miss either.
The Majestic Malacca
188 Jalan Bunga Raya
Visit The Majestic Hotel here
For more information on Malaysian holidays visit MASholidays here
For flights to Malaysia visit Malaysia Airlines here
Park Regis – SingaporeSingapore is blessed with hotels of every comfort hue. There are a few cheap and cheerful (if you are lucky) small hotels and a wealth of high-end spots to lay one’s travel-weary head. But as with property of any kind, it’s location, location, location that adds the word ‘memorable’ to ‘comfort’.
Park Regis Singapore is centrally located in the heart of the city and that’s just where you will want to be, and especially if your break is a short one. There is so much that is within walking distance, and that’s ‘easy’ walking distance.
Chinatown will likely be on your must-see list and it’s only 10 minutes away. There are more souvenir shops than one could shake an ornamental chop-stick at, and dozens of restaurants offering anything from dim sum on which to snack to full Szechuan banquets over which to sweat.
Park Regis has a metro station just across the road. Clarke Quay MRT serves the eponymous neighbourhood just a short walk away, with its restored warehouses which are now forming a hub of Singapore nightlife. Set on the Singapore River this is a tranquil spot for a coffee during the day, but it comes alive when the sun goes down.
That handy metro stop offers Park Regis guests fast, clean and safe transport to all Singapore attractions. It’s just a few stops to the remarkable Marina Bay Sands complex with its iconic three hotel towers. That’s right next to Gardens by the Bay with its huge metallic trees. Little India has a metro station – go here for some stunning fabrics. Orchard Road is all about tempting shops and boutiques, and the metro will take you directly into its largest shopping mall.
Yes, Park Regis is a well-placed base from which to explore the city but you will want a haven from the rigors of sight-seeing and you will find it here. The service is impeccable and friendly and that’s welcome after a jet-lagging flight that will have you longing for your room.
This is a fairly new hotel so everything is pristine and smart. Plenty of dark wood but rooms are light and airy and ours had windows on three sides. There is broadband internet access, 42" LCD TV, cable TV with plenty of channels and Interactive TV (IPTV) and movies on demand, although it’s unlikely you will find time for much viewing. The individually controlled air-conditioning is a necessity as are the spacious shower, crisp sheets and a good night’s sleep.
Park Regis has its own restaurant and several bars but breakfast here is a treat. Hotels in Asia can be a joy for food lovers. They cater to both western and eastern tastes and so present guests with lots of early-morning grazing opportunities. There are the usual traditional goods such as mounds of bacon, sausages (these were chicken), eggs and potatoes but so much more. The omelette station was popular with both Asians and Europeans but there were also steamed buns and dumplings and congee for anyone looking for a Chinese start to the day. Japanese guests had miso soup and there was also a simmering pot of Laksa with its array of condiments for those who want a taste of Malaysia.
So you have had a substantial breakfast and roamed the city for hours and now it’s time to unwind. Park Regis has its own pool in which to cool. There is a fully equipped gym for anyone who needs a bit more exercise, and you will never be far from a snack or a drink. For those unfortunates who must work, there is a full-service Business Centre providing secretarial services. There are iMac workstations with complimentary broadband internet access. Rental of mobile phones and laptops and private meeting rooms are available.
Park Regis ticks all the boxes for this traveller. Yes, its location is unbeatable but it’s that combined with all the other elements of comfort and kindness that makes this one of my favourite hotels in the area. It’s cosy, charming, practical and good value.
Park Regis - Singapore
23 Merchant Road
Phone: + (65) 6818 8888
Fax: + (65) 6818 8868
Reservations – email@example.com
Functions & Events – firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Park Regis here
Tell anyone that you have just returned from Singapore and the question on their lips is bound to be ‘Did you visit Raffles?’ They don’t have to dignify that name with any appendage: everyone knows that there is only one Raffles and that’s the hotel.
One walks down Beach Road and there is only one thing missing. The beach. First opened in 1887 Raffles Hotel did indeed have a sea view but years of much-needed local land reclamation has left this iconic hotel around 500 metres from the sea.
It doesn’t need to have its name prominently displayed for one to notice Raffles. It’s gleaming, ornate, imposing and there is that very human and charming trademark – the Sikh doorman, who does command respect even from the hotel’s well-heeled guests.
The hotel was established by two Armenian brothers from Persia and it was remarkable, in those days, for accepting guests of all races. Singapore was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War, and at the end of the conflict the hotel was used as a transit camp for prisoners of war. In 1987 the Singapore government declared the hotel a National Monument.
Raffles has been around long enough to have legend embroidered into its very fabric. It’s reputedly where the last surviving wild tiger in Singapore was shot, under the billiard table. In fact the probable truth is that the tiger had escaped from a nearby circus and the poor unfortunate was dispatched under the building that housed the billiard table. That was back in 1902.
Another call to fame from this most iconic of Singapore institutions is a much less violent event. That’s the invention of the Singapore Sling. This cocktail was devised by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon between 1910 and 1915 and has remained a favourite ever since.
There are fifteen restaurants and bars at Raffles and all of them have their own personalities and histories. The latest is Raffles Courtyard and it provides an al fresco venue for casual Italian meals at a very reasonable price. Tourists will be surprised to learn that they can afford a meal at Raffles and enjoy at least some of what the hotel guests are offered.
The Courtyard is beautifully appointed and gleams with tropical, colonialesque style. Mediterranean cuisine doesn’t seem incongruous served here. One has the sense that this could be Cannes on a fine day, although the service is guaranteed to be better here. There is plenty that gives a nod to traditional Singapore, though. The tropical palms and exotic plants add their own Asian ambiance, but that ice cream vendor’s cart and the brick oven raise expectations of a very Italian bill of fare.
The Courtyard opened on 14th January 2013. The Italian specialities have been created by Deputy Executive Chef Nicola Canuti. He has a creditable culinary pedigree having been Executive Chef at Restaurant L'Albero in Moscow. I am betting he prefers the weather in Singapore. Before that he could be found as Executive Chef for Alain Ducasse Group at the Dorchester London and other locations.
Visitors can choose to have a light lunch and an hour or two’s quiet during the heat of the day, or a leisurely dinner in the evening when the Courtyard beckons those who want a memorable experience that won’t break the bank.
The menu offers light and leafy salads, freshly made pizzas from that aforementioned brick oven as well as classic pastas. The dishes are authentic, delicious and create a perfect marriage of European culinary heritage with that charming Raffles architecture. This isn’t fusion but rather comfortable companionship.
My favourites from this Italian extravaganza are many. The salads are well-balanced, the pasta sauces are rich and moreish, and the pizzas are as good as you will find anywhere (including Italy). It isn’t food to hurry but rather linger over with an amphora (yes, they serve wine in terracotta jugs) of good red wine. Do as the Italians do and people-watch, consider the day’s adventures, and perhaps sample another pizza.
The must-try dishes at The Courtyard are:
Carpaccio di Carne Con Rucola e Parmigiano (beef carpaccio served with rocket salad and Parmesan). Freshness is the key with this dish. The beef was tender, the leaves were peppery and the cheese gave that distinctive salty tang.
Vitello Tonnato (thin slices of loin of veal with a tuna sauce and capers). This might sound an unlikely combination of ingredients but they all work together marvellously in this classic preparation. The sweetness of the meat finds a counterpoint in the fish.
All the pizzas here are light, crisp and traditional. A simple Pizza Margherita would be delightful with perhaps a chilled prosecco but the signature pizza must surely be Pescatore made with fresh tomatoes, clams, shrimps, calamari with a sprinkling of vibrant green parsley. This is a pizza for adults with discerning palates and it’s a million miles away from anything you would have encountered at home …unless you hail from Italy.
Pasta will be high on many an Italian dinner wish-list and The Courtyard won’t disappoint. Linguini Con Pesto (linguini garnished with basil pesto) is a summery plateful and this deserves a rustic red wine alongside, but the star of the pasta selection must surely be Spaghetti Con Vongole Zucchini E Botarga (spaghetti with clams, courgette and botarga). Yes, I am suggesting seafood again because it is famously good here in Singapore. The sweet clams are marvellously complemented by the remarkable flavour of the cured fish roe. Just a little grating of this transforms any seafood dish.
Save some space for the frozen desserts. The menu is short but none the worse for that. These are artisanal ices that have remarkable flavour. The sorbets in particular are outstanding. Try Sorbetto Alla Fragola (strawberry sorbet) or Sorbetto Alla Pera (pear sorbet) for the refreshing taste of real fruit.
The Courtyard at Raffles Hotel has something deliciously Italian for every taste. All the dishes are reasonably priced so a meal at Raffles is accessible to everybody.
Raffles Courtyard is open daily from 12 noon to 10pm.
Gazebo Bar Cocktails: 11:00am to 10:30pm
For reservations, contact Dining Reservations at +65 6412 1816 or email email@example.com
1 Beach Rd, Singapore 189673
Phone: +65 6337 1886
Visit Raffles Hotel here
with Executive Chef Massimo Pasquarelli and Executive Pastry Chef Terence Pang
The Ritz-Carlton Singapore is one of my favourite comfort destinations. It’s a delight to stay there but also to visit and enjoy on Sundays when work is over, or when one needs a civilised sit-down garnished with stunningly delicious food. They are famed for their Sunday Brunch, which must be on every traveller’s Bucket List, but they also present a seasonal Sunday Afternoon Tea.
Spring Weekends Afternoon Tea is held in the striking Chihuly Lounge (named after the artist whose impressive glass sculpture graces the wall), and those seasonal teatimes are destined to become as famed as the aforementioned copious brunch. The Ritz-Carlton does whatever it does well, with flair, innovation and good taste.
Executive Chef Massimo Pasquarelli works with talented Executive Pastry Chef Terence Pang to present this Cheese-themed Tea. That might conjure images of a menu comprising a hefty selection of cheese sandwiches, cheddar as main ingredient for cheese on toast, an individual macaroni cheese, and perhaps a traditional cheesecake to follow. Yes, it’s difficult to see how cheese can be incorporated into sweet confections in any quantity. But I was expecting something special – this is The Ritz-Carlton, after all.
This menu is evidently a melding of mind and skill. Both Chef Terence and Chef Massimo have respect for ingredients, and an afternoon tea allows them to show those foods to delicious advantage, introducing a little culinary whimsy to the proceedings. They have devised thirteen desserts that contain cheeses, such as Baked Vanilla Camembert Cheese Cake, Cheddar Raisin Scones, Citrus Cream Cheese Rolls (tangy and fruity and unmissable), and Coffee and Soft Guanaja Mascarpone Cheese Cream (guanaja gives the final product a more intense chocolate flavour).
But one does need savoury to act as a warm-up for those memorable lactic sweets, and there were plenty of canapés on offer, all of them laced with Chef Terence Pang’s evident Asian influence. Cucumber and Cream Cheese Sandwiches started that cheesy homage, but there was plenty more on those non-dessert tables: Beef Pastrami with Pickled Gherkin in a Mini Croissant; Salmon Confit with XO Sauce and Salmon Roe was a triumph; and Scallop Sushi topped with Japanese Mayonnaise and Tobiko was luxurious. That shellfish made a second appearance with Steamed Scallop Siew Mai. These and a host of other ‘starters’ would have been sufficient to fill even the most practised of post-meridian grazers but we had strolled by those desserts at the entrance and it would have been rude not to try a few.
I asked Chef Massimo how he devised the theme for this unique Spring Afternoon Tea. ‘We change the theme four times a year, which follow the seasons. For Spring, it was based on the life of the cow, sheep and goat. In the Winter the animals stay indoors and are fed on just dry grass. In the Spring they are let out and they start to eat fresh grass again. I have a childhood memory of the first 15 days of March when the flavour of the milk was totally different. I remember two desserts: one was bread with sugar, and the second was milk – my grandmother collected the milk in a cast-iron pan and scooped the mousse from the top, and added sugar.’
Cheese is a traditionally European ingredient: how does Massimo reconcile that with working with such a talented Asian pastry chef as Terence Pang?
‘We started work on the menu in November. Terence is someone who is very passionate and it’s been very easy to get ideas together. Before we are able to offer this menu to the guests we need to have it clear in our own minds. If we see that there is excitement about the theme then it means that it makes sense.’
At the Ritz-Carlton Singapore the Sunday Brunch and the Tea have an Asian accent. I wondered if that was a difficult step for this very European chef. ‘I went back to basics. At the end of the day it’s all about passion, whether the chef is French or Chinese, and even if he doesn’t speak English, you can see it in his eyes, you can see how much of himself he puts into his food. That’s how I got into Chinese cuisine – I followed those Chinese master chefs, looked at their benchmarks, and came back to the kitchen to see how we could improve what we were doing here.’
Having planned this Spring Afternoon Tea late last year, Massimo and Terence must now be planning the next season’s theme. ‘Yes, first of all we have to define Summer, and come up with a new concept. After the Cheese theme, the next one I want to present is a sunny Summer landscape, perhaps with a corner of blue sky ...something with coconut, maybe. Every quarter I want to come up with something different, with the theme coming first and then the recipes.’
These two executive chefs have formed an enviable culinary partnership. They creatively and comfortably straddle both Europe and Asia in a fashion that transcends that rather hackneyed description ‘fusion’. They combine the best of ingredients from across the globe and offer their guests plates of extraordinary culinary artistry and imagination, and the results are harmonious and memorable. Their handiwork is almost too delightful to eat. Almost.
This cheese-themed Spring Weekend Afternoon Tea can be enjoyed between 2.30pm and 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays from 2 March to 26 May 2013.
Priced at $52 for adults
and $26 for children (six to twelve years).
The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore
7 Raffles Avenue
Phone: +65 6337 8888
For dining reservations:
Phone Restaurant Reservations
at +65 6434 5288
Visit The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore here
Grand Vintage Champagne Sunday Brunch
Singapore is special in so many ways. It’s many-faceted and presents the food lover with temptations at every turn. Opportunities for vibrant casual eating abound but there are also those restaurants that present the visitor with delicious memories along with unadulterated gastronomic pampering. The Vintage Champagne Sunday Brunch at Greenhouse in The Ritz-Carlton is iconic and unmissable.
Sunday brunch is now available in every city across the globe. One can expect a brace of egg dishes and a couple of roasts and a fish option. There might be a nod in the direction of vegetarians with roasted vegetables in a sauce, and there is bound to be a dessert or two. But then there is The Ritz Vintage Champagne Sunday Brunch at Greenhouse and that puts the gilding on brunch, and those other meagre impostors in the shade.
It’s Sunday and we want to relax with friends and family. Perhaps it’s a celebration, although every Sunday brunch here seems festive. Folks arrive in their Sunday best with ladies sporting floral finery, and every shoe and child is polished. The guests bring their own touch of charm to the occasion and they will be rewarded for their trouble from the moment they arrive in the high-ceilinged, light and airy salon. Sunday Brunch at The Ritz must surely rate as one of the finest of its genre. The smart-casual event is famed. It’s not stuffy and muted. The staff are friendly and helpful. There is a buzz of conversation from groups of guests enjoying good company along with that unbeatable food. It offers an excuse to dress up a little and to indulge a lot.
Younger members of the party will be eyeing the ice-cream station by the entrance, while more mature grandparents are drawn to another ice display which offers seafood. There are eight types of oysters and all shucked to order and served with red wine vinaigrette or lemon. It might be a couple of years before the kids appreciate those but they will surely be tempted by some prawns.
Moët & Chandon vintage Champagne fills the flutes of all those who haven’t chosen an expertly muddled Mojito or shaken exotic cocktail from the bar. The champagne is unlimited and marvellously complements the aforementioned chilled crustacea – every class of shellfish seems to put in an appearance at this brunch. One might consider moving on to a more robust red to pair with a traditional roast with all the trimmings. It is Sunday, after all …but a more exciting one than usual.
Yes, it’s Sunday but this is Asia so the bill of fare here offers a wider tapestry of taste than one might find in a European or North American restaurant. Diners are free to mix Mediterranean tapas with Japanese sushi, cooling leaves with spiced pork ribs. The Ritz-Carlton Sunday Brunch contrives to represent the very best of all that Singapore food has to offer, and that is the best available from every continent. Diners can travel the world by stepping from one counter to the next, from nigiri garnished with delicate green wasabi and shreds of pink ginger (there are trays of various sushis), to slices of traditionally roast meat with glazed orange carrots (there’s always a choice of several roasts).
A cheese board is very much a part of any self-respecting Sunday brunch but I confess I had not expected to find one in Asia and more to the point, I hadn’t expected a restaurant in Singapore to have the best selection of cheese I have ever come across on one table! Yes, it’s true that I have found equally magnificent arrays of artisanal lactic goods in Europe but only in specialist shops. The striking international cheese selection features over 50 different cheeses from Australia, England, France, Italy, New Zealand and Switzerland and there is even Port available at the bar. That’s a marriage made in heaven.
The kids may well have grazed on desserts all through brunch, but those sweets are sophisticated enough for the most discerning palates. The beautiful confections are created by Executive Pastry Chef Terence Pang and they range from Kuih - a broad term which includes Chinese cakes, dumplings, puddings and biscuits - to European pastries. There is plenty of choice for those chocoholics as well. If cheesecake or crème brûlée is your passion then you won’t be disappointed. There is also fresh fruit to help you feel noble, and ice cream if the kids haven’t finished it!
The Vintage Champagne Sunday Brunch is served from 12 noon to 3 pm in a single sitting and is priced at S$168 per adult, S$84 per child (6-12 years) or S$42 per child (3-5 years). It includes unlimited Moët & Chandon vintage Champagne, house red and white wines, selected cocktails, chilled juices and sparkling mineral water. Prices are subject to 10% service charge and prevailing government taxes.
For dining reservations
Call Restaurant Reservations on 6434 5288
The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore
7 Raffles Avenue
Phone: +65 6337-8888
Fax: +65 6338-0001
Visit The Ritz here
The Majestic Restaurant offers a stylish departure from the mostly rustic options of the majority of Chinatown restaurants. It’s Cantonese, it’s refined and it’s contemporary. There are indeed traditional Chinese accents to the decor but they are manifested in a memorable etched bronze sculpture and a striking geometric Chinese robe motif on the back wall. There is a colourful trishaw parked at the front, which adds to the eclectic mix.
The restaurant doesn’t need to persuade you of its Chineseness with displays of red lanterns and dragons around every corner. Nothing wrong with those traditional decorative devices but they wouldn’t work in The Majestic with its clean lines and artful use of dark wood. Yes, The Majestic is confident and modern and is housed in the New Majestic Hotel which is stylish, unique, tasteful and delightfully retro.
There is a remarkable architectural feature and that’s the ceiling: it sports holes. These are not decorating oversights. It’s not energy-saving low-tech air conditioning. They are in fact portholes set into the bottom of the swimming pool above. They shed a soft and dappled light onto tables below and provide a memorable experience for both diners and swimmers.
Opened in January 2006, this award-winning restaurant seats 100, and has four private dining rooms, one of which has views into the kitchen. Owner/chef Yong Bing Ngen and his team present a Cantonese fine-dining menu in an equally refined setting, making a meal at The Majestic a treat for all the senses.
Chef Yong Bing Ngen has already had an impressive career. His professional biography reads like a directory of must-visit spots in Singapore: Executive Chinese Chef at Hai Tien Lo restaurant in the Pan Pacific Hotel; Chef de Cuisine, the Empress Room, Raffles Hotel; Executive Chef for Jade restaurant in the Fullerton Hotel. That history will lead one to expect remarkable food. Chef Yong Bing Ngen won’t disappoint. He has many deserved awards under his belt including one for the Majestic Restaurant - Asian Cuisine Restaurant of the Year (Singapore Category) at the World Gourmet Series Awards of Excellence 2012. That is a worthy accolade when one considers the standard of the competition.
The dishes here are inspired, with a definite nod towards Cantonese. Put aside any prejudices you may have developed through years of over-indulgence at your local Chinese take-away – the sign over the door might boast that the food is Cantonese but in truth it’s unlikely to be authentic and I can guarantee that it will bear absolutely no resemblance to the fare at The Majestic.
The subtle and aromatic dishes are plated in European style and include signature dishes such as the combination platter of crispy wasabi prawn and Peking duck served with pan-seared foie gras, braised lobster in a creamy milk and lime sauce, grilled lamb chop in Chinese honey. You’ll likely not find these on your high street. I would also suggest that your first taste of the ‘celebrated’ durian should be here. The chef transforms this much-maligned fruit into confections that allow its distinctive characteristics to remain but in a fashion that will be appreciated by nervous Westerners.
The wine list is creditable, offering a good selection from the New World as well as Europe. There are wines by the glass for those who would like to taste different vintages to complement each course. There are wines here to suit every taste and every pocket.
The Majestic Restaurant should be on the Singapore restaurant list of any traveller who wants to try some imaginative modern Chinese food that pushes the culinary envelope, while still remaining true to its classic flavour palate.
The Majestic Restaurant
The New Majestic Hotel
31- 37 Bukit Pasoh Road
Phone: 6511 4718
Visit The Majestic Restaurant here
Monday - Sunday
Lunch: 11.45am to 3pm. Last lunch order 2.30pm
Dinner: 6.30pm to 11pm. Last dinner order 10.30pm
Owner/Chef: Yong Bing Ngen
It’s what you might describe as a ‘prime location’. Hard to argue with that: it’s just a few yards (that isn’t an estate agent yard) from St James’s Park Underground station which houses the entrance to the HQ of London Underground, so bound to have trouble-free transport. That iconic Art Deco ticket hall introduces the visitor to the notion of architectural excellence, but take that short walk to St Ermin's and you’ll finds one of the most striking red-brick hotels in London.
The Grade II listed Victorian building started life as one of the early mansion blocks in London. The brick and stone combination is typical of buildings of the design known as Queen Anne style. They were the forerunner (although very high-end) of modern apartment blocks. The apartments were converted to a hotel in the 1890s, and it went on to enjoy a rich and intriguing history. It was a meeting place of the British intelligence services, as well as the Cambridge Five double-agents Kim Philby and Donald MacLean, who met their Russian handlers at St Ermin's.
St Ermin’s is offering a delightfully seasonal afternoon tea called Winter Wonderland. It does indeed showcase some wintery ingredients but perhaps the chef should consider having this as an option all year. It would be ideal for men, who seldom enjoy those pretty and multi-coloured light mousses that are the norm.
Winter Wonderland has the traditional format of sweet and savoury but the components are unique. The selection of sandwiches gives a nod to Yuletide, including turkey on cranberry bread, ham and pickle, cheese and onion with a garnish of chutney as an open sandwich, and smoked salmon and cream cheese as another open rye bread sandwich. All of these remind me of Boxing Day and delicious leftovers. The staff are more than happy to replenish the sandwiches on demand so they are fresh.
Tuck into the warm scones next and enjoy these with the usual garnishes of strawberry jam, clotted cream and honey. The clotted cream is thick and rich and replaces the butter. Devon and Cornish folks have different ways of spreading their scones. One puts jam on first and then the cream and the other puts the cream on and then a spoon of jam …but I can never remember who does what. If you are from the West Country you will likely know, and if you aren’t then it won’t matter.
Mulled apple cider jelly with apple cream could be your next sweet treat and this is truly exceptional. The jelly is bright and light and full-flavoured. The sweet cream is an inspired topping and gives the tall shot glasses the air of a Christmas candle.
German spiced Lebkuchen, Pumpkin passion cupcakes and Brunsli (Swiss brownies) constitute the cake complement and are truly old-fashioned and just right for the weather – not over-sweet but with that adult mixed-spice flavour that goes well with some tea. And there is a good selection of that at St Ermin’s, as well.
Call 020 7227 7777, 0800 652 1498 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your table for tea.
St. Ermin's Hotel
2 Caxton St
London SW1H 0QW
Phone: 020 7222 7888
To find out more visit St Ermin’s here
Well, the fog has gone, but Dukes is still standing and still sports those classic features, and it overlooks its own courtyard behind St James’s Place, off St James’s Street. It was opened in 1908 although the courtyard dates from the 1500s, and the hotel still retains that authentic air of class and propriety, although this is far from a starchy establishment. It’s celebrated for its Martini Bar and for mixing the original James Bond cocktail – shaken, not stirred – and the Champagne Bar is a cosy retreat from the throng of Mayfair.
Thirty Six is Dukes’ restaurant and was opened in September 2011. It has contemporary grey walls but it fits well with the traditional feel of the hotel as the architectural features have been retained, the tables are well-spaced, the upholstered chairs are in muted terracotta and there are dramatic black accents from lampshades. The silver chargers and classic cutlery have hand-made colour-marbled glasses as a striking counterpoint.
Chef Nigel Mendham offers British cuisine but with all the charm and flair that one would expect across the Channel. His menu takes advantage of seasonal British ingredients and a lot of imagination. The descriptions hardly do justice to that with which you will be served. Nigel seems to add value at every turn with a demitasse of soup here, some savoury spoon bites there, a pre-dessert when one thinks it is almost over, and then there are decadent petit fours to round off the extraordinary event.
Red Mullet and ‘All things Nicoise’ was my choice of starter and the reality exceeded my expectations, which ran along the lines of a bit o’ fish atop a French salad. The mullet was the best I have tasted, being moist and flavourful with a crispy skin which adds so much to the dish. The ‘Nicoise’ elements were little vignettes of the eponymous salad and were indispensible ‘sides’ to the mullet.
Rare-breed Pork braised Cheek, Langoustine and Granny Smith Apple was my guest’s starter. Offal and those previously discarded cuts of meat are appreciated these days although they often need greater care in preparation and cooking, but it’s worth that effort. Nigel has combined deliciously savoury pork with delicate langoustines, and apples have always been a partner to porcine products. My companion was delighted with his elevated ‘surf and turf’.
Goosnargh Duck, Sweet Potato, Chestnuts, Duck Samosa and Charred Sprouts was my main course and it was substantial. The duck was presented medium-rare and it was perfect – pink and tender. The miniature samosa and turned potatoes added texture and sweetness to the tapestry. The sprouts were going to be my nemesis but they were a revelation. The charring gave flavour and the vibrant green vegetables still had bite; there was no hint of that unpleasant sprouty taste that has spoilt many a decent Christmas dinner.
John Dory, Aubergine, Spiced Mussels with Herb Quinoa took the fancy of my guest. This was a wonderfully attractive plate of yellow hues. The fish was mild and simply grilled, the aubergines were tender and smoky and the quinoa was nutty and well-textured, and an inspired accompaniment. It’s an ancient grain that is becoming more popular, although it has been appreciated in South America for thousands of years.
Pear Savarin, Poached Pear, Almond Custard and Pear Sorbet was my guest’s dessert – or more accurately his dessert served with two spoons. Savarin is a yeast-sponge cake that one often finds in the guise of over-sweet and sticky Rum Baba, but Nigel offers this cake as a lightly soaked confection that didn’t upstage the fruit. The poached pears had distinct flavour and the sorbet was refreshing. That extra spoon made impressive in-roads into the dessert.
Chef Nigel Mendham (interview shortly) has a marvellous stage for his very evident talents. Dukes has been famed for its Martini Bar and it’s no surprise that this restaurant, Thirty Six, offers commensurate quality. It’s a joy!
St. James’s Place
London SW1A 1NY
Phone: +44 (0)207 491 4840
Fax: +44 (0)207 493 1264
Visit Dukes Hotel here
Ivy Roost Cottage is a world away from that first experience. This idyllic place has modern luxury writ large. It is thoroughly contemporary but retains its 400-year-old charm. It sleeps up to 9 people which make this an ideal retreat for a large family group, or for several couples who want to enjoy all the tranquillity of the New Forest.
The New Forest is an expansive and ancient area of woods, heath and pasture in the south of England and isn’t ‘new’ at all. It was a royal hunting estate and was created in 1079 by William the Conqueror, who won the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It was first recorded as "Nova Foresta" in the Domesday Book in 1086.
Those historic acres begin just beyond the garden wall. A cattle grid keeps the famous roaming ponies and cattle away from the roses, and the views of unspoilt heath are memorable. There is truly nothing between you and the wildlife, and the rejuvenating country walks start at the front door.
Ivy Roost is a large thatched cottage dating back some 400 years. It has secluded gardens that are immaculate with lawns, borders and fruit trees. There are paved terraces for sitting and taking traditional afternoon tea, corners for enjoying some sun in the company of that best-seller, and a delightful al fresco dining room shaded by a leafy pergola. A swing will be fought over but the losers of that confrontation can cheer themselves with a soak in the hot tub. That’s a worthy consolation prize!
This cottage has been extended and restored to the highest of standards. It takes advantage of all its original features and they add so much to its character. There are beams, doors and alcoves that have remained part of its fabric throughout the centuries but there is nothing gloomy and dusty here. The walls are an oyster-white and the woodwork is in various shades of pale heritage neutral colours. Yes, contemporary finishes but they work so well with the rustic walls and windows in the older parts of the cottage.
One might worry that all those guests would feel a little confined in a cottage. There are no such concerns here. It has a wealth of rooms to suit every purpose, even on those days when the weather does not cooperate. The younger members of the group will gravitate to the first floor: the upstairs living room is light and bright with doors onto a striking furnished roof terrace with the best views in the house. That terrace will allow you a closer look at the iconic thatch. The kids might not be so interested in the scenery when they realise that there is a play station indoors, with a library of games.
There is a study on the ground floor for those who can’t afford full work disconnection. The cottage has wireless internet access so you will be able to keep a finger on the business pulse, although the view of the garden from the desk will tempt you away from emails.
Next to the study is an intimate sitting room that will be the magnet for adults on chilly evenings. Ivy Roost is a cottage for all seasons. It has an inglenook fireplace and a box of logs. There is nothing like the flicker of a real fire to create a calming ambiance and sense of wellbeing, but there is fully functioning state-of-the-art central heating in this and all other rooms. This ‘snug’ provides your after-dinner late-night-film-watching sanctuary although it’s likely you will be dozing before the end credits roll. There is a surround-sound system for the TV, DVD/CD, iPod dock and radio tuner.
You will have cooked the aforementioned dinner in one of the best-equipped and most thoughtfully designed kitchens. I am a food writer as well as a travel writer and I was taking notes: high-end appliances, practical features and plenty of space. The two ovens, a microwave, a 5-ring hob, dishwasher and full-height fridge make this a kitchen to give joy to even seasoned food professionals.
The dining table seats a dozen and is at the heart of what makes this cottage work. It has triple-aspect windows looking over the garden, and a high beamed ceiling. This is a true entertaining dining room providing a venue for your most memorable celebrations.
So you have had some lovely walks and enjoyed all that the local villages have to offer. You have tucked into a sumptuous cottage-cooked dinner and it’s time to retire. All of you will have well-appointed bedrooms; there are four of them and each one is different but all are stylish and comfortable.
The master bedroom has views over the New Forest, a dressing area and en-suite shower room. There are two further double rooms with their own shower room on the first floor, as well as a three-bed room and full bathroom on the ground floor. Everything has been carefully chosen to create rooms that are attractive and restful.
Ivy Roost Cottage sets the benchmark for self-catering accommodation. It has quality of furnishings and attention to detail that is hard to find even in 5-star hotels. It presents a luxurious home-from-home for relaxing and entertaining, and I recommend it highly.
Ivy Roost Cottage is found on a quiet country road in East Boldre in the New Forest, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. East Boldre has a village shop, an organic butcher and farm shop, and two excellent pubs are within easy reach.
It is only 90 miles from London and the journey is usually accomplished in about 1½ hours.
The Isle of Wight ferry is 5 minutes away.
The cottage is only a short drive from the small town of Lymington on the coast.
Beaulieu village and Motor Museum are just a few miles away.
For more information visit Ivy Roost Cottage here
The New Forest was created as a royal hunting ground by William I, the chap who came over in 1066. His dedication to sport has allowed these acres (380 km2) to remain relatively unchanged, and the roaming cattle and horses add to the charm. Yes, those animals are fearless in the face of traffic, adopting a strategy of making eye contact with car drivers whilst continuing to nibble the grass verge with a minimum of two hooves on the tarmac.
Two of the top hotels in the New Forest National Park have been awarded the Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence 2012: Careys Manor & SenSpa in Brockenhurst and its sister hotel The Montagu Arms in Beaulieu have both received that honour, and one can see why.
The Careys Manor we see today was built in 1888 on the site of former buildings named after John Carey, who was given the original Manor in the mid-1600s by Charles II as a reward for his service. The present owners bought the hotel in 1975 and later the pub at the front of the hotel which was renovated and transformed into Le Blaireau, the French Bar and Bistro, giving hotel visitors even more dining choices.
This casual dining option tempts locals as well as hotel guests. Its menu offers French classics in an informal setting that will raise a smile. The walls are covered with Parisian tiles, the tables are marble-topped, there is a 2CV embedded in the wall, and an alley from Marseilles has been imported for your Francophile delight.
The changes didn’t stop with the bistro. In 2004, the Health Club underwent extensive updating and was transformed into the award-winning SenSpa. It has a pronounced Thai theme with teak carving and mirrors in the exercise studio, black fabric and bamboo in the areas dedicated to meditation and quiet. One doesn’t even have to move far from the swimming pool to enjoy authentic Thai food: the Zen Garden Thai restaurant has hand-decorated columns and exotic foliage that will convince the visitor that they have stumbled upon a rather classy corner of Bangkok.
Back in the main hotel, the Manor Lounge has a wood-vaulted ceiling and was added to the main building in 1983; it is the area of choice on cold wintery days. The huge fireplace and soft sofas make the lounge perfect for, well, lounging and reading the papers, and possibly dozing near those blazing logs.
The main entrance of Careys Manor is just what one would hope for in a former Victorian hunting lodge. Its reception is oak panelled with an inviting open fire. The imposing staircase sweeps guests up to their rooms, which are well appointed with all the amenities befitting the Manor’s 4-star status. The Victoriana is picturesque, but one will appreciate the electricity, TV, hot showers, and all the other benefits of the 21st century. There is something comforting about staying in a country house hotel: one finds a timeless quality and a genteel elegance. Careys Manor is one of the finest of these characterful hotels, and it’s the attention to detail that has guests returning.
Quality continues in the dining room. Low ceilings, cornice mouldings and wall-lights contrive to make this an intimate experience. The tables are well-spaced, the service friendly but unobtrusive, and the food is outstanding. The menu changes frequently to take advantage of the freshest of local produce from land and sea, and all dishes are presented with flair and a touch of innovation. This is British food with a little French je ne sais quoi, each dish prepared by executive chef Chris Wheeldon, who deserves his two AA Rosettes.
Careys Manor is a hotel for all seasons and for all occasions. Its setting in the New Forest is ideal for long walks and for visiting Beaulieu and other historic villages, as well as Lyndhurst with its traditional high street and tea rooms. But the Manor has the advantage over other hotels in the neighbourhood: it has its celebrated SenSpa which is a destination in its own right. I have visited many excellent spas in the UK, Europe and Asia but SenSpa is outstanding with its pool, steam rooms, treatment rooms, and gym. It’s available for the enjoyment of hotel guests but it’s also appreciated by non-residents who just want day membership.
Careys Manor is whatever you want it to be – relaxing, vibrant, healthful, or indulgent. Its setting is striking but it will be hard to pull yourself away from these superb facilities; so come for a few days and then you might even find the time for an outing to visit the wildlife.
Careys Manor & SenSpa
Brockenhurst, New Forest
Hampshire, SO42 7RH
Phone: 01590 623551
Fax: 01590 622799
Central Reservations: 01590 624467
Visit Careys Manor here
The New Forest is a beautiful and ancient area in the south of England and is in fact very far from ‘new’. It was a royal hunting estate and was created in 1079 by William I. You will likely know him as William the Conqueror who took possession of that tract of land and everything else in England after that celebrated Hastings battle of 1066.
It was first recorded as "Nova Foresta" in the Domesday Book in 1086. This was a survey of all the king’s possessions including people and other livestock. It is the only forest that the book considers in detail, indicating its significance.
The unique forest still maintains many of the benefits given to local people by the Crown hundreds of years ago. There are pasturing rights for the locals, known as commoners, to graze their ponies, cattle, pigs and donkeys in the open forest.
Palace House was begun in 1204 as the gatehouse to Beaulieu Abbey, and has been the ancestral home of the Montagu family since 1538, when it was bought following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. It was extended in the 16th century, and again in the 19th. The Beaulieu River runs through the estate and is one of the few privately owned rivers in the world.
The Montagu Arms is on the Beaulieu Estate but not owned by it, and was built around 200 years ago. Since the 16th century there has been an inn on the site of this hotel, which would originally have been a meeting place for those aforementioned commoners. It held timber auctions and a cattle market, which took place at the inn until 1809. The original building front was demolished in 1887, with the new building, incorporating Monty's Inn, being completed in 1888. In 1925 the building was extended to its present size.
The front of The Montagu Arms is classically English and somehow frozen in time, but park around the back and enter through the garden and you see another facet of Englishness. Tight planting of traditional shrubs and annuals with small manicured lawns welcomes the guest who might be staying over or just on a visit for the celebrated Afternoon Tea.
The reception area is cosy and a vision of dark oak panels. A wide sweeping staircase leads guests to the first floor and 22 stunning bedrooms and suites. Our rooms consisted of a sumptuous bedroom with leaded windows but contemporary furniture accented with antiques. The bathroom was huge, light, bright and far from anything experienced by guests 200 years ago; that would probably have consisted of a bucket. I love modern amenities.
The adjoining private sitting room was stylishly furnished, with coffee and tea-making facilities (although there is a wake-up-cuppa service for those who need a bit of morning encouragement). This space is ideal for after-dinner unwinding. The turn-down service will have been in while you dined and will have closed the curtains and puffed up the cushions. A break at The Montagu Arms isn’t a thing to be hurried. Take your cue from the ponies: graze and wander and enjoy the quiet.
The Montagu Arms is blessed with a Michelin-starred restaurant. The Terrace is presided over by Chef Matthew Tomkinson. He has a passion for local and seasonal produce. He respects it and presents it with innovation. He can confection a simple soup that you’ll still be talking about when you are sipping coffee in your private sitting room – how often can you say that a soup has held your attention?
The Terrace is wood-panelled and has a 1920s feel about it. The tables are well-spaced to allow for relaxed conversation. The menu changes with the season and there will always be a new slant on even the most common of vegetables. The food is what you might expect to find in France but it is truly British. It’s a myth to suppose that we need to cross La Manche to find a spectacular dinner.
Cannelloni of Braised Rabbit with Glazed Spring Vegetables, Black Pudding Puree and Mustard Sauce was my starter. Take the opportunity to try bunny. It’s a healthy meat and flavourful without being over-gamey. The sauce added an aromatic heat.
We were served a little amuse bouche of beetroot soup with goats curd. This was almost too beautiful to eat; the culinary equivalent of that ruby-red cut-glass from Eastern Europe. Beetroot is becoming more popular and is now seen fresh in supermarkets, and is being treated as a sweet vegetable rather than a pickle reserved for Sunday teatime.
Saddle of Welsh Spring Lamb with Confit Belly, Crispy Sweetbread, Glazed Potatoes, Goat’s Curd and Capers was outstanding. Sweetbreads are often mistakenly believed to be the dangly bits of an animal. In fact, they’re two separate glands - the thymus (from the throat) and the pancreas (from the heart or stomach) that can be taken from calves or lambs. I love them and can honestly say that there is nothing not to like. It’s offal but it’s mild in flavour and usually with a soft and comforting texture; here Matthew adds a crunchy coating. A must try dish on this menu.
Assiette of Pennington House Apples with Apple Sorbet and Butterscotch Sauce was dessert. This was a medley of apple sweets, and was a showcase for Matthew Tomkinson's skill. Yes, it’s only apples as the star ingredient but it’s a dessert that illustrates why that Michelin star has found a home here. This as well as the rest of the menu offered a few ideas that I might try at home. OK, there was plenty that was cheffy but there were elements that would work in a domestic kitchen with a regular home cook at the range.
The Montagu Arms takes cheese seriously. It has a proper cheese trolley which is a fast-disappearing vehicle. It rolls around the restaurant offering a full complement of cheese, giving guests the opportunity to taste some of the carefully chosen selection.
The gastronomic delights continue with breakfast. Matthew and his staff keep chickens and those free-range eggs are used to great advantage at breakfast. Those and the fresh vegetables are delivered to the kitchen daily, and sometimes more frequently than that. Excellent produce transformed into Michelin-standard meals, and all in this idyllic and historic corner of the New Forest. The Montagu Arms is just what you would hope it to be.
The Montagu Arms Hotel
Phone: 01590 612324
Visit The Montagu Arms Hotel here
St Andrew's Church, in the centre of the village, was founded in Saxon times - probably by Birinus, first bishop of Dorchester-on-Thames. The historic parish of Sonning, originally extending from Sonning Common to Sandhurst, was one of the great packages of land given to the Church in the 7th century.
The French Horn isn’t quite that old but was built in the 1880s and has all the character that one would hope. It’s a hotel and restaurant, although it considers itself a “restaurant with rooms”. It sits on the banks of the River Thames next to the Sonning Backwater Bridges at Sonning Eye, Oxfordshire.
Close to The French Horn is The Mill at Sonning and the hotel has the original mill cottages as part of their property; in fact those cottages now constitute the majority of the guest accommodation. It’s a perfect terrace of small houses with lawns down to the river. Guests can enjoy a patio, sitting room, comfy bedroom and a bathroom the size of which makes it ideal for holding a tea dance. The cottages offer privacy, with even breakfast taken, if you wish, in the cottage rather than the main hotel building.
But it’s that main building that will draw you like a magnet. It’s charming from the roadside but step through the garden gate and you will see the grounds in all their glory. Summer offers bright flowerbeds with a tapestry of annuals. The sun lights the willow trees to a citrus-green hue. The river is the garden boundary and some diners take advantage of that thoroughfare to arrive by boat.
The hotel entrance is reminiscent of the country pubs that were once so common but are sadly now replaced by modernity and tat. The French Horn seems little changed since it was first constructed: dark wood and welcoming bar with a huge fireplace which is, in reality, an annex to the kitchen. The spits slowly rotate with their cargo of ducks which are a speciality here and always on the menu. The flickering glow of those burning logs would be irresistible on a cold winter night but if you stayed snuggled there you would miss a memorable meal in the room next door.
The dining room is grand and formal and an addition to the original hotel building; it was constructed by the present owners, the Emmanuel family, who have been sympathetic custodians for decades. The windows enjoy those aforementioned garden views which are floodlit at night. Yes, it’s every inch a classic restaurant, but it reverberates with conversation and conviviality. Who would, after all, want dinner in a hushed library? Folks who have enjoyed The French Horn include the film director and restaurant critic Michael Winner (who has used the location as a film set), and also the late Princess Diana.
The decor is classic and so is the food. Chef Josiane Diaga offers not only that roasted duck but a full and creditable menu of meats, fish and shellfish. The wine list is striking and the cellar is lovingly filled by Michael Emmanuel who has a discerning palate for wines that cover the whole spectrum and fit every pocket. They do also offer a set menu here which is great value for money, allowing many more visitors the chance to experience one of the area’s most successful restaurants.
It’s difficult to define exactly what constitutes a fine restaurant. It’s an amalgam of many qualities and The French Horn has just about all of them. It exudes old-fashioned rightness, service and polish and it’s no surprise it’s lasted 40 years. I trust the Emmanuels are grooming the next generation.
The French Horn Hotel
Phone: 0118 969 2204
Contact The French Horn here
Ashdown Forest is famous as the setting for the children’s (and adults’) Winnie-the-Pooh stories, written by A. A. Milne. The first book featuring Winnie was published in 1926 and the second book, The House at Pooh Corner, was published a year later.
The first grand house was erected on the present site in 1815 either by Thomas Bradford or by Rear Admiral The Honourable Jacob Henniker. In 1867 the estate was bought by MP Thomas Charles Thompson and he demolished the original building and built the Gothic Victorian manor house which remains as part of this striking hotel. Later owners of the house included G K T Fisher who inherited the estate but was killed during the First World War. The house later became a convent and remained in church hands for the next 50 years. Nuns had their small cells in the East Wing and lived in typical nun-like simplicity.
The building was acquired by the Elite Group in 1993 and beautifully presented as a 4-star hotel, retaining original features but with the benefit of modern technology. The grounds are impressive with landscaped lawns, mature trees and deer strolling (or is that trotting) around even close to the hotel building. The drive to the front door entices the visitor with the expectation of something special: Ashdown Park Hotel is not only special but delightfully unique.
This large imposing building exudes classic charm but there is nothing stuffy or stiff here. It has all the polish and more of a 4-star hotel but the friendliness of the staff makes one feel that this could be a family-run B&B – admittedly the largest and best appointed you would ever find, but it’s that personal touch that is so welcoming.
We arrived at Ashdown Park Hotel on a cold and blustery afternoon. The reception introduces the guest to the style of the hotel: a wide, sweeping staircase, rich soft furnishings, paintings, a piano and an open fire. We were escorted to our room via a veritable labyrinth of corridors. These were evidently cloisters in the building’s previous incarnation and were lined with leaded windows of obscured glass, perhaps so the novice nuns would not be distracted by the excitement of a tree or a squirrel with bare ankles.
Our room was huge, with another piano in one corner. The remaining space still left sufficient room for a game of carpet bowls. Double doors in oak and panels in the same wood were evocative of another age. The four-poster bed was made up with huge fluffy pillows and a duvet that was both light and warm, and crisp white sheets that would later be turned down by attentive staff. The bathroom was in marble with a selection of Molton and Brown toiletries. These are some of the best soaps and gels around and their inclusion in the hotel package shows a no-corner-cutting approach to guest comfort.
Room facilities included satellite television with radio, direct dial telephone with voicemail, digital clock radio, broadband internet access, tea and coffee making facilities, personal safe, trouser press, hairdryer, mineral water, fluffy towelling bathrobes, slippers and a pile of books. These were Agatha Christie and Charles Dickens and just right for this location, as their novels always described a grand house with a four-poster – although these days we can enjoy the benefit of central heating.
It could be tempting to snuggle in the warm but there is plenty to do without even leaving the grounds. A golf course is here, which will suit the beginner as well as the enthusiastic frequent player. It’s an 18-hole, Par 3 course which I am sure will mean something to the sporty set. Anyway it’s a healthy walk around a stunning park.
For the rest of us who are content to gently unwind Ashdown Park offers exclusive spa treatments by Kerstin Florian, who specialises in using natural elements including mineral water, mud, algae, herbal extracts and essential oils. You can be pampered into a contented doze. Guests at the hotel can make full use of the club's facilities, which include an indoor heated swimming pool, whirlpool, sauna and steam room.
Revitalise Spa Salon opening times:
Sun – Wed 09.00 – 18.00
Thurs – Sat 09.00 – 20.30
There is a wealth of character here to remind the guest of the building’s history. The chapel still exists but it's now an event space that hosts society wedding parties. There is a mezzanine floor which doubles the space and can accommodate large functions in a self-contained area with its own bar.
The walls of those cloister hallways are hung with sepia pictures of nuns going about their duties in this very building. Granted, it was spartan in those days but I don’t doubt that those nuns would have looked after the fabric of the building better than any other group. There is crispness about the architecture here alongside the sympathetic modernisation. Stained glass glints and wood glows, and it’s as if time stood still round about 1930.
The word Anderida is Roman in origin, meaning ‘hunting ground’, but it’s also the name of the destination restaurant at Ashdown Park. It has 2 AA rosettes: just one glance at the restaurant and you will be assured that they are well deserved.
The Anderida is classically beautiful with high windows giving views across the lawns to the lake with its fountains. White linen is snowy in contrast to the gold of the upholstery and walls. The tables are laid with fine china, glasses and tall elegant white candles. Yes, that’s the word, elegant, and that quality is reflected is both furnishings and food. This room has doubtless changed considerably since those days when the sisters glided around the rooms, although you might still see the occasional little black dress. The right colour but just lacking those extra yards of fabric.
Executive chef Andrew Wilson (see interview here) describes his food as Contemporary British. He sources his fresh produce locally whenever possible but his presentation is modern and his combination of ingredients is inspired. The arrangement might be 21st century but service here harks back to a gentler age when dining room etiquette was de rigeur. Main dishes arrive domed, with these covers being simultaneously raised for every diner at the table. I have always loved the theatre of that flourish.
Those domes might be covering Gressingham Duck Spring Roll, Seared Squid, Oriental Fillet Dumplings and Ginger. That’s one of Andrew’s signature dishes although he is not keen on that term. He prefers to say that it’s the one of the dishes that is always on the menu.
My starter was a Pithivier (‘pithivier’ is a round, enclosed pie) filled with duck on a bed of greens. The duck was moist and flavourful and the pastry flaky. A delicious parcel with potential to be a main course if one used a saucer instead of a tumbler-sized cutter.
Andrew had recommended the Beef Wellington as he is particularly proud of the beef, which is hung for 30 days or so. This was real Beef Wellington rather than the increasingly popular deconstructed version of separately cooked pastry and beef. Andrew is a Wellington purist: a fillet of beef with a layer of paté and then wrapped in pancakes before being encased in puff pastry. The centre of the beef was rosy and just rare enough not to ooze red juices. Don’t miss this if it’s on the menu.
Another nod to timeless tradition is the trolleys. A cheese trolley is a rarity these days but it’s a sight to savour. The Anderida offers a selection of British cheeses and a guest local cheese accompanied by homemade bread, relishes, celery, grapes and apples; and it’s been a long time since I have seen a silver box containing crackers. Taking cheese here is an event.
For those with a sweet tooth there is the dessert trolley. You will likely have been admiring this during the course of your dinner. You might even have made up your mind which of these confections has your name on it, even before it is steered in your direction.
The top shelf held a glossy chocolate gateau. It’s the type of centrepiece that takes courage to order. Nobody wants to be the first to take a slice and ruin its divine symmetry. The rest of the trolley groaned under the weight of strudel, fruit pie, mousse and also fruit salad for those who have rather over-indulged in the previous courses.
Ashdown Park Hotel offers accessible refinement from the moment you drive through the gates, to your last sip of breakfast tea. The guest is made to feel welcome and important. The service is second to none with those old-fashioned touches that make a difference. An Elite hotel indeed.
Monday to Friday: 7am – 9.30am
Saturday: 7am – 10am
Sunday: 8am – 10am
Monday to Saturday: 12pm – 2pm
Sunday Lunch: 12.30pm - 3pm
Sunday to Thursday: 7pm – 9:30pm
Friday and Saturday: 7pm - 10pm
Ashdown Park Hotel & Country Club
Nr Forest Row,
Phone: 01342 824988
Fax: 01342 826206
Visit Ashdown Park here
The Great Eastern Hotel, for that was its original name, had its own dedicated railway tracks and sidings connecting to the adjacent Liverpool Street Station, which it used for provisioning the hotel. The London station at Liverpool Street was opened to traffic in 1874. Every large railway station had its hotel in Victorian times: they were very much like airport hotels of the 21st century and reflected the iconic style and opulence of those times.
The hotel was closed in the late 1990s while it underwent a seventy million pound renovation under joint owners Conran Holdings and Wyndham International, but the reconstruction retained its Victorian features such as the marble staircase. In 2006 the hotel once again changed hands and was bought by Global Hyatt Corporation and in September of 2007 the hotel was re-branded as the Andaz Hotel by Hyatt (‘andaz’ means personal service in Arabic).
1901 at Andaz Restaurant has an 80-seat capacity with plenty of space between tables. The high moulded ceiling and the striking stained-glass dome add still more to the light. A classic space retaining all the charm of the original turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th, that is) features, but the contemporary elements like the central dark marble console bar enhance rather than mar the impressive Victoriana. Set in what was once the Great Eastern Hotel’s ballroom, this magnificent Grade 2 listed room offers the best of another era.
It’s the Queen’s jubilee year so we took ‘The Diamond Queen’ afternoon tea at Andaz. It was one of the best teas I have had in London in months. It incorporated foods that reflected the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, acknowledging the England of the 1950s and the Coronation, but everything we ate reflected the dining fashion of the Britain of the third millennium.
We started our experience with the speciality cocktail of Earl grey tea stirred with Dubonnet, Bombay Sapphire gin and bitters. The Queen, like her mother before her, has Dubonnet as her tipple of choice, even though it’s not British. The fortified wine with herbs and quinine was invented in 1846 for a competition instigated by the French Government in order to find a way of encouraging French Legionnaires to drink bitter quinine to combat malaria. It soon became all the rage with those out of uniform as well. The Queen enjoys a Dubonnet and gin every day before lunch. The cocktail at Andaz was a delicate rose colour, refreshing and possibly addictive. A selection of sandwiches was served with that cocktail.
The afternoon tea presentation at Andaz is inspired. Yes, there are the traditional 3-tier stands but they are smaller than usual, the first stand bringing the savouries and the second the sweets. Very attractive, and this also has the advantage of allowing the tea-taker to enjoy fresh sandwiches to be nibbled in a leisurely fashion, without the fear that the cakes and scones are drying out on the other levels.
Coronation chicken on white bread was a take on a dish that was popular in 1953 when the Queen was crowned. It’s made of diced chicken bound with a Madras curry sauce or mayonnaise. Here it’s presented as a mounded open sandwich. A little taste of Anglo-India.
The Queen has always loved fishing so Andaz presents a cured trout sandwich with leek and onion marmalade. These were outstanding: a change from salmon, and the leek marmalade added sweetness and colour.
Mini sweetcorn fritters were a departure from the regular sandwich format but they were fluffy and delicious. There will be different sandwiches and fillings and savouries with the other themed teas, but I don’t doubt that they will all be good quality and inspired.
The next stand to arrive contained a selection of pastries. I was particularly pleased to see this display. The chef and managers have taken old-fashioned favourites and given them a twist. So many hotels and restaurants offer mousse-based desserts rather than pastries – delightful, but not traditional.
Scones with butter, clotted cream, jams and marmalade are the ones with which to start. Enjoy these while they are still warm. They are good enough to eat with just a schmeer of butter ...although that rich thick cream is tempting and I am sure the fruit in the jam constitutes one of your 5-a-day.
Trifle is quintessentially English and here at Andaz it’s served layered in a port glass: fresh fruit, custard, cream and sponge. Then there’s the Millionaire shortbread for those in need of a rather smart chocolate and caramel fix. But you will have to pace yourself to take advantage of the top tier of miniatures. Iconic Victoria sponge, tiny carrot cakes, caramel éclairs, chocolate macaroons are all tempting and look almost too good to eat.
Andaz for afternoon tea ticks all the boxes. The restaurant is stunning, the ambiance is calming (as it should be for this event), the transport links are hard to beat. It’s ideal for ladies who don’t want simply to lunch, for those looking for a location for a classy business gathering, and for tourists who want to experience authenticity in a memorable setting. A winner.
Traditional English afternoon tea can be taken in 1901 Restaurant from Monday to Saturday from 3pm, with last sittings at 4.30pm.
Monday – Friday
Breakfast: 07:00 – 10:00
Lunch: 12 noon – 14:30
Afternoon Tea: 15:00 – 17:00
Dinner: 18:30 – 22:00
Breakfast: 07:30 – 12 noon
Afternoon Tea: 15:00 – 17:00
Dinner: 18:30 – 22:00
Breakfast: 07:30 – 12 noon
Andaz Liverpool Street
40 Liverpool Street
Phone: +44 (0)20 7961 1234
Fax: +44 (0)20 7961 1235
Visit Andaz here
It’s a shame that Singapore is so often viewed as just a stop-over. Folks are likely to stay for just a day or so; they love it but then move on. For me it’s a destination in its own right, with hotels and restaurants to fit every pocket and plenty of things to do when one isn’t either sleeping or eating, although dining is a 6 times a day hobby in this region.
Innotel Hotel Singapore ticks boxes for comfort, quality of service, location and price. It’s new with contemporary design, light and bright and described as a boutique business hotel. It’s appealing to business travellers as well as tourists, an intimate hotel but with personal service that one would likely only have experienced in a 5* classic chain.
The jet-lagged guest will be glad of the warm welcome. They will be seated at a desk to check in, escorted to their room, and their bags delivered. Each room has the following facilities:
Complimentary broadband internet access
Complimentary Wi-Fi in all rooms
Complimentary drinking water (that’s an important extra in this climate)
TV with cable channels
DVD player in some suites
Tea- and coffee-making facilities
Electronic in-room safe
iPod / iPhone docking station in some suites
You will enjoy a shower and some sleep, but once you are revived you won’t be lost in an anonymous crowd. You will be a name at Innotel. Just sit in reception for a moment and you will be recognised and asked if you need anything. Would you like directions? Perhaps some advice about a favourite restaurant? Staff here want you to enjoy both Singapore and your stay in Innotel.
It’s hard to find a better location for one’s stay: just a short walk to Orchard Road and a few yards to Dhoby Ghaut MRT station (the Singapore equivalent of the Underground). That might not mean much to a first-time tripper to Singapore but this station puts you between Chinatown and Little India, and within striking distance of every other attraction in this city-state. Chinatown and Little India are the two iconic neighbourhoods that you will want to visit, though. Both have retail therapy opportunities aplenty as well as restaurants in which to relax, and temples in which to contemplate. This is the Singapore of vibrant colour and flavour.
Innotel Hotel is designed with the busy business traveller in mind. It has all the technology one would want to maintain contact with local and international clients. Staff here can assist with your every communication need; cabs can be called and faxes forwarded.
This hotel has a café attached. PappaMia Bistro and Bar is on the ground floor and the place for your nearest breakfast. You might consider that option on your first morning while you are still getting your bearings. Do try a local speciality, Kaya Toast: this is a sweet spread made with coconut. Have this with a cup of coffee or tea or as part of an Asian breakfast of steamed buns and dim sum. Breakfast is served between 7 am and 9.30 am daily. The bistro is open throughout the day till 11.30pm for lunch and dinner and all-day delicious grazing.
Innotel Hotel Singapore gives great value for money. But more than economy, this boutique hotel offers a positive impression of the city. The location is hard to beat but the staff are its strongest asset. You might not remember the smart wallpaper but the charm, smiles and courtesy of the staff will assure your return to Innotel.
Innotel Hotel Singapore
No. 11 Penang Lane,
Singapore 238485 (@Dhoby Ghaut MRT)
Tel: +65 6327 2727
Fax: + 65 6645 0808
Visit Innotel Hotel Singapore here
I can’t understand the thrill of golf but I guess if you must whack balls then Stoke Park is the place to do it. It’s been a country club for over a hundred years and the Mansion still rings with evocative music of the 1930s during dinner. But the estate existed a long time before the advent of plus-fours and flapper dresses.
Stoke Park’s history dates back over 1,000 years to before the Domesday book, in which everything from a ham to a hamlet was recorded. After the Norman Conquest of 1066 the estate was inherited in a direct line of descent for over 500 years until it was sold to the Crown in order to pay the outstanding debts of Henry Hastings, the 3rd Earl of Huntingdon. Francis, his father, was Commander in Chief of Henry VIII’s army and it’s he who commissioned the building the original Manor House in the mid-1500s. About a third of this still exists, a short distance from the present Mansion.
John Penn, whose family gave its name to the US state of Pennsylvania, built most of what we find at Stoke Park today as his private family home. The newly-founded Government of the United States paid £130,000 for the 26 million acres of land in Pennsylvania that the Penns had owned, and much of that money was used for the project.
Stoke Park is a name-dropper’s dream. The Mansion was designed by James Wyatt (architect to George III) who worked on the development of The Mansion and surrounding monuments from 1790 to 1813. It’s a Grade I listed building and that ensures its preservation, although that status does bring its own problems: the kitchens are a warren of small rooms in the basement; but there are moves afoot to extend onto the ground floor.
The parkland is the result of an alliance between two of Britain’s most celebrated eighteenth-century landscape architects. ‘Capability’ Brown planted trees and designed sweeping grassy swathes that were later to give way to the prestigious 27-hole golf course of the modern Stoke Park. It’s considered one of the finest parkland courses in the country and was created by renowned golf-course architect Harry Shapland Colt in 1908. It hosted the first PGA Matchplay tournament in 1910.
Humphry Repton, the second gardening genius, is the architect of the romantic bridge across the lake that one can see from the Mansion. It is lit at night and one has a unique vantage point from the restaurant which is also called Humphry's, paying homage to the man who did so much to make Stoke Park the stunning estate that we can all enjoy today.
The hotel offers three dining options: the relaxed and elegant Orangery; an Italian brasserie called San Marco's; and Humphry’s, which has been awarded 2 AA Rosettes. It offers Modern British cuisine with a bit of delicious innovation from Chef Chris Wheeler’s signature dishes. The food, decor, service, ambiance and even the music make this restaurant a destination in its own right. It’s open to hotel guests and non-residents alike.
The MansionWithin the 50,000 square foot building are the Mansion’s 21 traditional bedrooms, Humphry's fine-dining restaurant, President's Bar, Orangery, and various function rooms. A stay here offers that classic experience of which memories are made. The public spaces are sumptuous, with corners for settling with the Sunday papers or that good book you have been saving for a quiet afternoon. The winter months, and this year most of the spring, will find open fires blazing, which add still more to the impression that you have been transported back in time.
Although the bedrooms are described as traditional it’s unlikely you will have anything like these at home. The Pennsylvania Suite was featured in the hit movie 'Bridget Jones's Diary'. But we stayed in The Coke Room which is named after Edward Coke, whom you will all remember from your history books. No, he wasn’t the man who invented a dubious carbonated beverage but was the prosecutor of Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators, tried and convicted within the one day, January 26, 1606.
Guy Fawkes had been discovered in the cellars beneath the Houses of Parliament. He had with him enough gunpowder to make a mess of the building, and the Jacobean equivalent of a box of Swan Vestas to seal his fate. Tickets for the trial changed hands like seats for the Cup Final, with Sir Edward Coke describing the attempt at political mass murder as: “the greatest treasons that ever were plotted in England.” As a reward for his services he was first knighted and then made Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. Coke died on 3 September 1634, aged 82, as a result of a horse falling on him. He didn’t die in this bedroom, as he would have been living in the original house, the remains of which can be seen from this 18th century mansion.
The Coke Room is a splendid example of romantic English furnishing, with a high four-poster bed with large fluffy pillows, a sofa with large fluffy cushions, and a bathroom (big enough to accommodate a tea dance) with large fluffy bath robes. Stoke Park is mindful that however much you might appreciate being wafted back to a gentler time there is still going to be the need for communication that only technology can provide. Wi-Fi access and a flat-screen TV will also be yours, along with an open fire which will provide a much more calming picture.
The PavilionCompleted in 2002 the Pavilion is very much the younger sibling to the Mansion but there is no mistaking its pedigree. Stonework and sympathetically designed windows match the Park perfectly. This new hotel complex houses a state-of-the-art gymnasium and sports facilities. There is an indoor swimming pool (kids have their own times for splashing about), spa and steam rooms, San Marco restaurant for casual family meals, and supervised crèche and under eights' playroom. All hotel guests have access to these facilities.
In 2008, 28 new luxury contemporary bedrooms were launched along with the Garden Lounge on the first floor of the Pavilion. The bedrooms here are all individually furnished and decorated – film posters along with four-posters here, mirror-finish desks, and shelves of modern novels just in case you forgot that good book. These rooms have a totally different ambiance from those of the Mansion, but quality provides continuity.
Take advantage of great offers this month. Relax, enjoy the spa and try your hand at some tennis.
Full English breakfast
Complimentary use of Health and Racquet facilities
(indoor swimming pool with hydro-seats, state-of-the-art gymnasium, multi-surface tennis courts, steam rooms, dance and fitness studio)
From £150 per person per night based on two people sharing a Superior Room. Standard upgrade charges apply. If you would like to book, call reservations on 01753 717171.
Available Friday nights in May, subject to availability.
Sunday Afternoon DecadenceWhy not make your Sunday a little more special with a relaxing break at Stoke Park? Take Afternoon Tea with sandwiches, cakes, scones and clotted cream, along with your choice of a wide range of teas and coffees. Yes, afternoon tea is available all over London but here you have a backdrop of stunning views of the estate. Visit the Health and Racquet Pavilion with its tennis courts and gym or unwind in the award-winning spa.
The Sunday Package includes:
One night’s accommodation
Full English breakfast
Late check-out at 3pm (subject to availability)
Traditional afternoon tea for two
Complimentary use of Health and Racquet facilities
(indoor swimming pool with hydro-seats, state-of-the-art gymnasium, multi-surface tennis courts, steam rooms, dance and fitness studio)
From £198.00 per room
(Offer based on two people sharing a Superior Room. Normal supplements apply. If you would like to book, please call reservations on 01753 717171 and quote 'SUNTEA'.)
Valid until Sunday, 30th December 2012
(Excluding 3rd, 17th & 24th June, 29th July, 5th, 12th & 26th August)
Humphry's is open to all for:
Dinner: 7.00pm - 10.00pm
Buckinghamshire SL2 4PG
Phone: 01753 717171
Visit Stoke Park here
It’s not just the planting that gives a welcome. Dark wood and brass are a-gleam with old-fashioned solidity but the staff at The Dorchester is the element that will assure your return. True, it’s unlikely that any of them have worked here since 1931 but they are each instilled with an old-fashioned hospitality ethic that’s hard to find these days.
Guests entering The Dorchester are immediately introduced to the impressive Promenade which must surely be one of the most photographed corners of any hotel. A lesser establishment would have installed a viewing gallery. The Promenade was refurbished in 2005 by Thierry Despont, and he has presented a sumptuous and classic space that is perfect for afternoon tea. In fact, The Promenade changes that typically British culinary institution into an event.
That last phrase isn’t just a poetic exaggeration. Afternoon tea at The Dorchester is considered THE venue of choice for those with an appreciation of genteel class. It’s an ideal spot for birthday celebrations (the piano player will gladly oblige with “Happy Birthday” if tipped the wink) and even the smartest of Hen Parties. The Dorchester is high-end but thoroughly accessible.
The tables are spaced to allow for private conversation. A gentle hum of chatter keeps the Promenade alive but one is never burdened with snippets of others’ lives. You really don’t care if Abner broke his leg on the cruise over. He is doubtless a fine man but he is not yours. Equally Abner's wife isn’t interested in your horrendous electricity bill, though she would likely sympathise. No, the Dorchester Promenade is discreet, but it’s not a dusty library.
“There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea.”
- Bernard-Paul Heroux and my grandmother.
Tea refreshes like no other beverage. It has the unique ability to heat in cool weather and cool in the heat of summer. It quenches the thirst but the very process of ‘taking tea’ creates calm. Add plates of sandwiches and some delicate sweet fancies and that simple pot of tea is elevated to the status of a light meal.
The Dorchester is serious about its tea. It offers an excellent range of carefully selected leaves that are not available elsewhere. I had previously enjoyed The Dorchester Blend, a melange of Sri Lankan Ceylon and Golden Assam teas – a bright tea with a malty character and just a slight hint of caramel. It presents a brew best enjoyed with milk and was my tea of choice for breakfast a while back. This time I was looking for something that would complement the savoury sandwiches as well as those desserts from the top tier of the traditional stand.
Single Estate Greenwood 2nd Flush Assam (strictly limited) is one of the finest Assams from the Greenwood Estate, established in 1839. Do take the opportunity to try this rare tea. I would suggest that you don’t add milk. You will enjoy this tea’s qualities au naturel or with just a slice of lemon.
Your pot of selected tea will arrive and so will a plate of assorted sandwiches. These are of the refined sort with crusts removed. The various fillings are surrounded by complementary flavoured bread which is apparently made by an artisan baker. It’s one of the few items that The Dorchester doesn’t make in-house or more accurately in-hotel: they prefer to source this essential ingredient from a specialist.
The usual form is to have the sandwiches served on that three-tier stand and that always looks impressive but it does have its practical drawback: that aforementioned bread can dry out as you socialise. The waiters at the Dorchester bring around a plate of sandwiches for you to select a few at a time; once you’ve enjoyed those the attentive waiter will supply you with some more. Sandwiches here can be appreciated at their freshest: cucumber with cream cheese on caraway seed bread, egg mayonnaise with shiso cress on white bread, chicken with wholegrain mustard mayonnaise on basil bread, smoked salmon on granary bread. Yes, you can pick your favourites and graze till you are suitably semi-packed with savoury, leaving a nook of space for all that is to follow.
What should follow, if you want to stick to the teatime rule, are warm scones served with homemade strawberry jam, or a jam that changes with the season, and Cornish clotted cream. The scones here are two-bite-size, moist and moreish. The joy of The Dorchester is that you can ask for more and the baked goods will arrive warm to your table.
The plate at the summit of the stand will tempt you. These are mostly mousse-based desserts with a layer of shortbread here or a square of brownie there. They are dainty and exquisitely moulded. They remind one of the glittering jewellery that one might have noticed in display cases on the way into the hotel. Small and marvellously decorated, these are gems that are almost too beautiful to eat... almost.
The Dorchester offers various styles of Afternoon Tea and also the more substantial but equally traditional High Tea. There are some tempting Occasion Teas throughout the year: soon the Chelsea Flower Show will be here and they pay homage to that very well at The Promenade.
Chelsea Flower Show Rose Garden Afternoon TeaSUNDAY 20 MAY - SUNDAY 27 MAY
Enjoy a multi-sensory feast of delicious cakes, Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé, floral arrangements by award-winning garden designer Arne Maynard, and evocative scents by master perfumer Roja Dove.
The ‘Rosé Garden Afternoon Tea’ includes white and pink rose chocolate mousse flower heads, raspberry tart with crystallized rose petal garnish, chocolate macaroon with passion fruit creamaux and orange marmalade, and Earl Grey chocolate mousse with gold leaf, and a selection of finger sandwiches and scones complemented by Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé served in an elegant cherry-blossom design glass.
Garden designer Arne Maynard will transform The Promenade into a representation of the Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary Garden designed for this year’s show. Using a variety of roses and delicate plants known for their floral fragrances, the garden will explore the theme of scents and is The Dorchester’s pastry team’s inspiration for the tea cakes.
Working together with Arne, world renowned perfumer and leading fragrance ambassador Roja Dove has created a limited-edition candle, using one of the world’s rarest floral oils, which will be lit during tea service to further enhance guests’ ‘scent’ experience. Inspired by the Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary Garden, the candle features the scent of the rare Rose de Mai.
£54 per person including a glass of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé
£49 per person including a glass of Laurent-Perrier Brut NV
Five sittings daily: 1.15pm, 2.30pm, 3.15pm, 4.45pm, 5.15pm
Prices are inclusive of VAT and exclusive of service charge at 12.5%.
London restaurant review: The Dorchester
Park Lane, London W1K 1QA
Phone: 020 7629 8888
Reservations: 020 7317 6500
Fax: 020 7629 8080
Visit The Dorchester here
Afternoon Tea here is a classic affair. The Lounge offers a quiet idyll, a comfy mix of contemporary seats and sofas with prints and paintings, and intimate nooks in which to unwind. Perhaps this is the most ideal spot for quiet conversation. It’s not a stuffy lounge with silent waiters in squeaky shoes but rather a place to pause the day and recharge batteries. We settled in a corner with a view over the Cognac and Cigar Garden. This is a covered court with couches on which to recline while puffing a fragrant Havana after dinner. It’s open from 8pm.
Afternoon Tea at Dukes is traditional and substantial. Overseas visitors might appreciate some advice about an English teatime. If one is only slightly peckish after a good lunch then perhaps a Cream Tea would be in order at 3pm. This consists of scones, clotted cream and jam. A Devon native will have a slightly different order of application than one from Cornwall. An inhabitant of one of these counties puts the cream onto the scone first and the jam second, and vice versa, but I can never remember who does what. Be assured that your scones will be delicious spread in either fashion.
Clotted cream is another mystery. The name suggests something lumpy and unappetising but the reality is rich and memorable. Clotted cream (sometimes called Devonshire cream) is thick, yellow and made by heating full-cream cow's milk using steam or a water bath and then leaving the milk in a shallow dish to cool slowly. The cream rises to the surface and forms a thick layer. Cornish clotted cream was given a Protected Designation of Origin in 1998 by European Union directive, as long as the milk is produced in Cornwall and the minimum fat content is 55%; so leave your diet at the door.
A full Afternoon Tea includes that aforementioned cream tea but also savoury sandwiches and other sweet treats and traditional cakes. The Dukes’ tea arrives, as do most other hotel or restaurant teas, on the 3-tier stand. The top plate offers a selection that would have been familiar to Victorians. They would have enjoyed those toasted teacakes, warm scones and slices of fruit cake just as you will. Teatime is about continuity.
The middle plate is the savoury layer of filled sandwiches. There are a lot of sweet temptations on a tea-stand so those salty diversions will help you stay the course. This isn’t a snack to be rushed. An Afternoon Tea worth its name is a hearty meal and one over which to linger. We enjoyed finger sandwiches, naturally sans crusts, filled with ham, beef, salmon or cream cheese and these, we were told, would be replenished on request.
The lowest layer will be the one you will have had your gaze fixed upon since its arrival. This is a plate of fancies and all made in Dukes’ kitchen: miniature chocolate éclairs, Madelines, brownies, and a chef’s special that changes with the season and is mostly fresh fruit-based. The pièce de résistance was the individual lemon meringue pies. They looked almost too good to eat ...almost. The case was light and delicate, the filling tangy and fresh and the topping was soft Italian meringue that was deftly torched around the swirls.
You will obviously want tea with your Tea and there is a good selection from which to choose. I always enjoy Earl Grey on such occasions as the citrus hint of bergamot works as a foil to the sweetness of the pastries. It’s a tea to take without milk for it to be truly refreshing.
Dukes is a hotel with an unsurpassed reputation for class. It offers the discerning guest a tranquil oasis in the centre of London and just a short distance from all of the best that the capital has to offer. It’s appreciated by tourists and locals, and its timeless quality is prized by all.
Afternoon Tea available daily from 3pm-5.30pm
DUKES Champagne Afternoon Tea £34.50
A glass of Champagne
Selection of finger sandwiches
Assorted cakes and pastries
Traditional fruit cake
Warm fruit scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam
All served with your choice of tea
DUKES Afternoon Tea £24.50
All of the above without the glass of Champagne
Champagne by the glass £12.00
Selection of finger sandwich £10.25
Warm fruit scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam £8.50
Assorted cakes and pastries £6.50
English fruit cake £6.50
35 St James's Place, London SW1A 1NY
Area: St James's
020 7491 4840
Visit Dukes here www.dukeshotel.com
The Grafton is close to the theatres of the West End, as well as museums, the vibrant Camden Market and thousands of shops for clothes, shoes and every other element of sartorial elegance. This neighbourhood of London offers a base from which to explore near and far.
The Grafton has the ambiance of a small boutique hotel even though it has 330 rooms and suites. It’s been sympathetically refurbished to retain many of the original features of the oldest part of the hotel, that dates back to the start of the 20th century. It won’t take the visitor long to notice the ornate ceiling mouldings, the occasional pillar and a striking staircase in the lobby. There are still the dark wood and leaded glass hall doors on the upper floors, as well as some stained glass.
The owners have not been content to just freshen the paint. They have made a striking design statement with lavish use of tasteful Asian art in all its guises. One is welcomed by a couple of black woolly llamas with magnificent golden heads. The dining room has a wall swimming with gold and silver fish, and every hallway has frames filled with jewellery and carvings. There is a lot of Asian objets d’art but its display is subtle.
The Grafton is a 4-star hotel that is full of amenity. It appeals to business travellers – each room has a practical array of sockets and even provision of 110 volts for US appliances. There is a well-equipped business centre with computers and printers for those travelling light. There are 14 meeting rooms for groups of varying sizes and demands, and this is an ideal hotel for conferences and events, able to accommodate up to 110 people.
The Aston Bar and Restaurant was our wintery evening refuge and it’s impressive with the largest pewter (or is it zinc?) bar in London. The counter is original and tactile and reminds you why people turn to drink. It’s an event just to pull up a high stool and lean on that silver-grey metal and sip a signature Martini. Be transported back to the buzzing 1930s when this spot was the HQ for the Aston Martin Club.
This is smart casual dining, in surroundings that encourage lingering. Mirrors, columns, vibrant upholstery, textured walls; high ceilings combine to create a light and airy dining room that reflects both contemporary and original opulence.
The restaurant offers a seasonal British-inspired menu. There are twists on old favourites but lots of unadulterated traditional fare that will appeal to local and tourist alike.
Kidderton Ash goat’s cheese panna cotta, with apple and walnut salad and beetroot dressing was my guest’s choice of starter. A delightful presentation of creamy mild and slightly tangy cheese complemented by that beetroot dressing which gave both colour and sweetness. It seems to be the ingredient of the moment and finds its way into both savoury and sweet preparations in some of the best restaurants just now.
Roast butternut squash, Jerusalem artichoke and red pepper salad, with chestnuts, toasted pumpkin seeds and a honey dressing was my light starter. The squash and artichoke were both tender and flavoursome and it’s good to see Jerusalem artichokes showcasing in something other than soup. Well-balanced dressing and crunch from nuts make this a must-try.
My guest is a man who is developing a taste for offal. It’s becoming more popular in restaurants as prices of regular meat cuts increase, and we are driven to at least sample some of those almost-forgotten frugal dishes of yesteryear. Grilled calves liver with thyme and onion purée, mashed potatoes, and grilled back bacon was my guest’s choice and it honestly was delicious. I am not often drawn to liver but calves liver doesn’t have any of the oft off-putting pungency of other livers from older and more mature animals. This was a hearty old-fashioned dish and a must-try for those who want to taste liver for the first time. If you eat meat then surely you will agree that we should be eating and enjoying every cut from nose to tail.
I don’t usually choose steak but this was a special Rib-eye steak (aged for 28 days) from Northern Ireland, served with grilled vine tomatoes, chips and peppercorn sauce. A simple piece of meat with unfussy garnish is comfort food and a treat. That hanging does develop flavour and the meat was meltingly tender. The chips were chunky and just the sort to eat sans cutlery.
Baked thin apple tart and toffee sauce was the flaky, light and deliciously decadent dessert. One must always be drawn to a pud that requires 20 minutes’ notice. Every individual tart is cooked to order and these are moreish. It’s that classic combination of hot fruit and cold ice cream that adds to the pleasure; and remember that The Grafton does have a Gym!
Radisson Edwardian Grafton Hotel is full of character and plenty of facilities. The location makes this popular lodgings for family fun as well as business. The newly refurbished rooms are comfortable with a very individual charm that one would not expect from a chain hotel. There are plenty of restaurants in the area but The Aston can face that competition with confidence.
Radisson Edwardian Grafton Hotel
130 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 5AY
Phone: +44 (0) 20 7388 4131
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7387 7394
Radisson Edwardian Grafton Hotel here