Londoner’s Wonder – BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
SLAP-bang in the middle of Leicester Square, you couldn’t find a better location for a trip to London.
he Londoner Hotel is located in the square, a few doors down from all the cinemas which host major film premieres. So don’t be surprised to see an A-lister or three around the hotel during your stay. Those spotted lately include actors Taron Egerton, Jonathan Bailey and Jodie Comer as well as model Naomi Campbell and tennis sensation Emma Raducanu.
But every guest at this hotel will have a VIP experience and after a recent stay, this is now my number one destination in the city. You are within walking distance of the West End, the shopping hotspots of Oxford and Regent Street, Chinatown and Soho with all their fantastic food and drink offerings and tourist attractions like the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square . Buckingham Palace is also less than 20 minutes away on foot.
Said to be the world’s first super-boutique hotel, it means boutique but bigger and I mean much bigger, the 350-room, £500m hotel is spread over 16 floors, eight of which are below ground level, which is why it is known as London’s first iceberg hotel.
We arrived at this feat of architectural engineering on a sunny Sunday afternoon, greeted by dapper-looking doormen in their purple pea coats with matching top hats.
Designed in collaboration with world-renowned architectural designers Yabu Pushelberg, you’ll see the special touches that make the property special, including floor-to-ceiling windows and carefully curated artwork on display in the lobby, which help infuse of life and character in the hotel.
The rooms also exude the luxury, comfort and calm evident throughout the hotel. They are spacious and feature plush king-size beds with luxurious linens and perfectly fluffy pillows. You cannot miss the hi-tech finishes that include a Japanese toilet with a heated seat. On the wall next to the toilet in our bedroom was a framed letter between then Prime Minister Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, which has been carefully altered to give it an entirely different meaning.
As a hotel guest, your room grants you access to The Residence, three guest lounges with complimentary drink service, snacks and soft drinks and decorated with hand-painted murals.
We also discovered the hotel’s secret whiskey room which has over 50 different rare and exotic bottles, including a whiskey that will set you back £3,300 for a 5ml glass. There are of course much more affordable drinks.
The Londoner also has an entire floor dedicated to wellness, which is the ultimate refuge from the hectic city life outdoors. Featuring cabana beds, a 12.5m swimming pool, sauna and steam room, it offers treatments including facials and massages. On the wellness floor, there’s also a barber shop, blow-dry bar, nail salon, and the Refueling Clinic for super-healthy and tasty superfoods and smoothies.
After check-in we decided to have a complete relaxation experience and receive relaxing massages to really get us into the holiday spirit. They really worked, as did the few hours of lounging by the pool in the cabana. The whole room is heated so you feel like you’re on a beach in sunnier climes.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner at the French Mediterranean restaurant at the Whitcomb’s Hotel. Expect a feast of decadent richness.
We’re talking dishes such as baked cheese – baked gruyère and emmental with cognac, crispy pancetta and Dijon mustard served in a skillet with a warm artisanal French baguette (licking my lips just remembering devouring this) , wild mushroom risotto with aged parmesan and black truffle and the most magnificent lobster thermidor. For me it was the star of the show and what a show it was. The grilled lobster was tossed in a rich sauce of cognac, Dijon mustard, Gruyere and black truffle. Like all dishes, it was extremely refined and a work of art in the kitchen.
For dessert, we shared hot beignets (sweet, square fried pieces of dough) with a selection of sauces – dulce de leche (a sweetened milk), Valrhona organic chocolate, Andoa dark chocolate and spiced orange. Again, it was as good as it sounds.
For after-dinner drinks downstairs, you’ll find the welcoming bar Joshua’s Tavern, specializing in gin and serving a range of draft beers and snacks.
The next morning breakfast was also served at Whitcomb’s. Although there are excellent buffet options, we opted for the a la carte menu and found the best eggs Benedict I have ever tasted. Cooked perfectly (still amazes me how many restaurants overcook poached eggs), they were served on a muffin with crispy pancetta and drizzled with a gorgeous Hollandaise sauce.
On our second day at the hotel, we headed out to explore all London has to offer with two places I’ve long wanted to visit finally ticked off this to-do list.
Being a foodie, my culinary adventures continued in one of the finest fine dining establishments I have ever dined at.
As a longtime judge of the Irish Curry Awards, Indian food has always been my favorite in the restaurant. No wonder then that I have long dreamed of dining at the Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Benares in Berkeley Square in Mayfair. Obviously I was not alone because when I made a reservation at lunchtime the restaurant was very busy. Their 10-course tasting menu (yes, you read that right) was absolutely amazing.
Under the direction of Executive Chef Sameer Taneja in the kitchen, Benares has taken traditional Indian cuisine to an incredible new level with meticulous attention to detail, playful presentation and a modern approach to recipes steeped in tradition. He proved to be an expert at combining ingredients from all over the UK with Indian flavours.
The menu includes nods to Indian street vendors with dishes including a street snack, and the country’s coastal regions with fish dishes such as Malabar’s “hand-dipped” Scottish scallop baked with crispbread (which has been baked in the shell with a rich coconut curry), Porlock Bay oyster and sea bream chaat and wild halibut tawa masala with Portsmouth clam moilee.
From the moment you get your first course, Street Snack, you know you’re in for a special experience. It is served on a skewer in a bonsai presentation dish with a handwritten note explaining that it was inspired by Indian street vendors who took shade under a tree during the working day.
After a black winter Italian shorba – a truffle flavored soup – we enjoyed the oysters and dried sea bream chaat which were beautifully presented in oyster shells. For a theatrical finish, the waiter created an icy mist by pouring water over the stones under the seashells. I’m not a big fan of oysters but these were sensational. Same for the scallop, which just melted like butter when I cut it.
There doesn’t seem to be an end to the kitchen’s skill in cooking fish, with the halibut tawa masala with Portsmouth clam moilee a standout dish for me. Again superbly cooked, the halibut in its spicy marinade was a taste sensation.
The same goes for the tandoori muntjac – venison served with garlic yoghurt and chilli chutney. Like the halibut, the game meat had absorbed the spicy marinade perfectly, the accompaniments balancing out the tandoori spices.
Among other dishes, the baby chick tikka masala took this classic to a new level and the Indian dessert rasmalai made with cheese, milk and almonds (plus some petit fours) was a perfect way to end the meal.
Priced at £123pp, the tasting menu may seem pricey, but you’re paying for the quality of the food on all 10 courses and you receive the most attentive service.
Bénarès takes its wine as seriously as its cuisine. With a roster of over 400 to perfectly complement the vibrant flavors served in the kitchen, their cocktail menu features quirky spiced cocktails, including the Passion Fruit Chutney Martini.
After all that, we needed to lay down in the Londoner’s ultra-comfortable bed. It’s a Leicester Square blockbuster you’ll definitely want to check out.
The Londoner, 38 Leicester Square, London, WC2H 7DX. Visit www.thelondoner.com
Room rates start from £400 per night.
Benares Restaurant and Bar, 12a Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London, W1J 6BSF. Visit www.benaresrestaurant.com
The Benares tasting menu is priced at £123 pp, vegetarian at £112 pp, with the option of adding a wine pairing flight for £69 or £99 pp, while the daily menu, available for lunch and early dinner, offers two courses for £33 or three. for £39.
For cocktail connoisseurs, the iconic Bar 190 at the Gore Hotel in Kensington is a must. Rolling Stones fans will know it as the launch location for the band’s Beggars Banquet album in 1968.
Photos from that crazy launch party adorn the walls of the bar and a new cocktail on the menu, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, pays homage to it.
Watching a maestro of mixology, bar manager Santo Borzi, whipping up various cocktail potions is spellbinding. Originally from Sicily, Santo’s passion for drinks and his unique creativity is contagious.
The Fanny Murray (named after a 16th century courtesan, iconic for her slightly crooked hats) is a lovely bittersweet drink – as bittersweet as the lady who apparently inspired it. It includes gin, lychee liqueur, grapefruit, lime, rose, cardamom, bitters and Mrs Better’s Miraculous Foamer.
I was also particularly taken with the Fire Cracker with mezcal, tequila, grand marnier, lime, fresh chilli and kiwi. It packed a real punch, but that was balanced by tropical fruitiness.
Check out the bar’s new umami-heavy cocktail menu incorporating ingredients like balsamic vinegar, vine-ripened tomatoes, truffle oil, pesto and sesame for an unconventional yet uniquely bright taste.
I’m a big fan of cheese so I tried The Unconventional Blue, a cocktail that deftly marries Japanese rice vodka and stilton cheese in a homemade distillate, lightly mixed with vermouth and topped with Sardinian carasau bread and fresh grapes . It really is a cheese platter in the form of a cocktail. You have to taste it to believe it.
■ Bar190, The Gore London — Starhotels Collezione, 190 Queen’s Gate, London, SW7 5EX.
■ Reservations can be made online at https://collezione.starhotels.com/en/our-hotels/the-gore-london/dining/bar-190.html or by calling 020 75846601.