Like this amazing city, stunning boutique hotel will blow your mind
SLAP-bang in the middle of Leicester Square, you couldn’t get a better location for a trip to London.
The Londoner Hotel is situated on the Square a few doors up from all the cinemas which play host to the big movie premieres. So don’t be surprised to see an A-lister or three around the hotel during your stay. Those spotted in recent times include actors Taron Egerton, Jonathan Bailey and Jodie Comer as well as supermodel Naomi Campbell and tennis sensation Emma Raducanu.
But every guest at this hotel will get the VIP experience and after a recent stay it is now my number one destination in the city. You are within walking distance of the West End, the shopping meccas 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 less than 20 minutes’ walk away too.
Said to be the world’s first super-boutique hotel, this means boutique but bigger and I mean much bigger, the 350-room hotel, which cost £500m, spans 16 storeys, eight of which are below ground level which is why it is known as London’s first iceberg hotel.
We checked into this feat of architectural engineering on a sunny Sunday afternoon, welcomed by the dapper-looking doormen in their purple pea coats with matching top hats.
Designed in collaboration with world-renowned architectural designers Yabu Pushelberg, you will see the special touches that make the property stand out, including the floor-to-ceiling windows and carefully curated art on display in the lobby, which helps breathe life and character into the hotel.
The rooms also exude the luxury, comfort and calm evident throughout the hotel. They are spacious and feature plush, king-sized beds with lush linens and perfectly puffy pillows. You can’t miss the hi-tech finishes which include a Japanese toilet with a heated seat. On the wall beside the toilet in our room was a framed letter between the then prime minister Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn which has been carefully edited to give it an entirely different meaning.
As a hotel guest your room gives you access to the Residence, three guest lounges with a drinks service, complimentary snacks and soft drinks and colourfully decorated with hand-painted murals.
We also discovered the hotel’s secret whisky room which boasts more than 50 different rare and exotic bottles, including one whisky that will set you back an eye-watering £3,300 for a 5ml shot. There are much more moderately priced tipples as well of course.
The Londoner also has an entire floor dedicated to wellness, which is the ultimate retreat from the bustling city life outside. With cabana beds, a 12.5m swimming pool, sauna and steam room, it offers treatments including facials and massages. On the wellness floor there is also a barber, blow dry bar, nail salon and the Refuel Clinic for super healthy and tasty superfood and smoothies.
After checking in we decided to go for the full de-stress experience and get some relaxing massages to truly get us in the holiday spirit. They definitely worked, as did the few hours relaxing by the pool in the cabana. The entire room is heated so you do feel like you are on a beach in sunnier climes.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner at the hotel’s French Mediterranean restaurant Whitcomb’s. Expect a feast of decadent richness.
We are talking dishes such as fromage au four — baked gruyère and emmental with cognac, crispy pancetta and dijon mustard served in a skillet with a warm artisan French baguette (licking my lips just remembering devouring that), wild mushroom risotto with aged Parmesan and black truffle and the most magnificent lobster thermidor. For me that was the star of the show and what a show it was. The grilled lobster was mixed in a rich sauce of cognac, dijon mustard, gruyère and black truffle. Like all the dishes this was extremely moreish and a work of art from the kitchen.
For dessert we shared some warm beignets (sweet, square pieces of fried dough) with a selection of sauces — dulce de leche (a sweet milk), Valrhona Organic chocolate, Andoa dark chocolate and spiced orange. Again, it tasted as good as it sounds.
For an after dinner drink on the ground floor there is the homely Joshua’s Tavern bar, which specialises in gin and serves a range of draught beers and snacks.
Next morning breakfast was also served in Whitcomb’s. While there are brilliant 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 went out to explore all that London has to offer with two places I have long wanted to visit finally ticked off that bucket list.
Being a fond foodie my culinary adventures continued at one of the best fine dining establishments I have ever dined at.
As a long-time judge of the Irish Curry Awards, Indian food has always been my go-to when dining out. No surprise then that I have been dreaming for a long time about dining at the Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Benares at Berkeley Square in Mayfair. Clearly I was not alone as when I booked in at lunchtime the restaurant was very busy. Their 10-course (yes, you read that correctly) tasting menu was absolutely incredible.
Under the leadership of Executive Chef Sameer Taneja in the kitchen, Benares has elevated traditional Indian cuisine to an amazing new level with meticulous attention to detail, playful presentation and a modern take on recipes grounded in tradition. He has proven himself to be an expert in combining ingredients from across the UK with Indian flavours.
The menu includes nods to India’s street vendors with courses including a street snack, and the country’s coastal regions with fish dishes such as baked Malabar ‘hand dived’ Scottish scallop with crispy bread podi (which was baked in the shell with rich coconut curry), Porlock Bay oyster and cured sea-bream chaat and tawa masala wild halibut with Portsmouth clam moilee.
As soon as you get your first course, Street Snack, you know you are in for a special experience. It is served on a skewer in a bonsai tree presentation dish with a handwritten note explaining it was inspired by Indian street food vendors who took shade under a tree during the working day.
After an Italian Black Winter Shorba — a soup flavoured with truffles — we tucked into the oysters and cured 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 below the shells. I am not a huge oyster fan but these were sensational. Likewise for the scallop, which just melted like butter as I cut through it.
There seems no end to the kitchen’s skill in cooking fish, with the tawa masala halibut with Portsmouth clam moilee a standout dish for me. Again superbly cooked, the halibut in its spicy marinade was a taste sensation.
Likewise for tandoori muntjac — venison served with garlic yoghurt and chilli chutney. Like the halibut the gamey meat had perfectly absorbed the spicy marinade, with the accompaniments balancing out the tandoori spices.
Of the other dishes the baby poussin tikka masala elevated this classic to a new level and the rasmalai Indian dessert made from cheese, milk and almonds (as well as some petit fours) was a perfect way to end the meal.
Priced at £123pp, the tasting menu may seem expensive but you do pay for the standard of food over the 10 courses and you receive the most attentive service to match.
Benares takes its wine as seriously as it does its food. With a 400-plus strong list to perfectly complement the dynamic flavours served from the kitchen, their cocktail menu includes unusual, spice-infused cocktails including the Passion Fruit Chutney Martini.
After all that, we needed a lie-down back in the uber-comfortable bed at The Londoner. It is one blockbuster in Leicester Square you will definitely want to go see.
The Londoner, 38 Leicester Square, London, WC2H 7DX. Check out 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
Benares Tasting Menu is priced at £123pp, vegetarian £112pp, with the option of adding a wine pairing flight for £69pp or £99pp, whilst the daily Set Menu, available for lunch and early dinner, offers two courses for £33 or three for £39.
World class cocktails
For cocktail connoisseurs the iconic Bar 190 at The Gore Hotel in Kensington is a must. Rolling Stones fans will know it as the location for the band’s Beggars Banquet album launch in 1968.
Photos from that crazy launch night adorn the walls of the bar and a new cocktail on the menu, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, pays homage to that.
Watching a maestro of mixology, bar manager Santo Borzi, at his work making various cocktail potions is spellbinding. Originally from Sicily, Santo’s passion for drinks and unique creativity is infectious.
The Fanny Murray (named after a 16th century courtesan, iconic for her hats perched slightly askew) is a beautiful bittersweet drink — as bittersweet as the lady that inspired it apparently. It comprises gin, lychee liqueur, grapefruit, lime, rose, cardamom, bitters and Mrs Better’s Miraculous Foamer.
I was also particularly taken by the Fire Cracker featuring mezcal, tequila, grand marnier, lime, fresh chilli and kiwi. It packed a real punch but this was balanced by tropical fruitiness.
Check out the bar’s new umami-rich cocktail menu incorporating ingredients such as balsamic vinegar, vine-ripened tomatoes, truffle oil, pesto and sesame for an unconventional but uniquely brilliant taste.
I am a big fan of cheese so tried The Unconventional Blue — a cocktail which cleverly marries Japanese rice vodka and stilton cheese in a homemade distillate, gently stirred with vermouth and garnished with Sardinian carasau bread and fresh grape. This truly is a cheeseboard in cocktail form. It has to be tasted to be believed.
■ 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.