Category Archives: London recommendations

Fifth Floor Bar at Harvey Nichols gets a revamp

This is excellent news. This bar on the top floor of the famous Knightsbridge department store has always looked great on paper, perfect for a cocktail or two after flexing the plastic at Harrods and Harvey Nichols on a Saturday afternoon. My experience in years passed, however, was often less than spot on, usually fuelled by the trashy clientele of cash-rich car dealers and ‘professional’ Russsian women clad in fur and bad leopard print.

Recently revamped, the place is looking great, with a cocktail list heavy on vodka based drinks and a Baltic-influenced menu in the adjoining restaurant. Definitely worth a visit if you are in Knightsbridge and licensed now till 3am. We’ll be visiting very soon.

See press release at Harvey Nichols.

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The best hotel bars in London

Hotel bars are brilliant for many reasons. The late opening hours, the cosmopolitan crowds and the fact that they retain a feeling of exclusivity even if anyone can walk in for a drink. And if you really can’t get home, you can always try getting a room at the hotel at the end of the night. Here’s Gekko’s top five London hotel bars.

Artesian at The Langham, West End
For a bit of old-school glamour, you can’t beat The Langham. One of London’s finest grand hotels, this Victorian pile has just been refurbished to the tune of £50 million. The chic east-meets-west interiors and pagoda bar make things as urbane as they get this close to Oxford Circus, and with rum the spirit of choice, there’s plenty of classy daiquiris and hurricanes to be enjoyed.
Find out more about The Langham

Bar 190 at The Gore, Knightsbridge
Bar 190 blends opulence with tradition to dramatic effect. It was famously the setting for the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet film, and a certain Medieval bacchanalia remains with mahogany panelling, formal oil paintings and intimate lighting set against a neon-lit bar. At the back of the room, a jewel-studded ‘Cinderella Carriage’ holds a VIP table for six. The tapas menu is also fabulous.
Find out more about The Gore

The Long Bar at The Sanderson, West End
A bar that lives up to its name and, in keeping with the rest of this achingly hip hotel, is a designer’s dream. Full of media types and moneymen of an evening, the DJ pumps out nightly beats whilst the cool crowd lap up the special cocktails. Martinis are the real star here with some inventive combinations. Check out the ‘Sanderson Predicts’ nights to hear the best live new music in the perfect setting.
Find out more about The Sanderson

The Connaught Bar, Mayfair
Ferociously chic and immaculately turned out, the prices might be dizzying but so is the experience. The Cubist-style design fits perfectly with the bespoke martinis from the seriously professional mixologists. Completing the picture are fashionable titbits from stellar chef Hélène Darroze: sashimi of scallops & truffle vinaigrette anyone?
Find out more about The Connaught

Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel
An original stained-glass window is now the only survivor of this room’s Balmoral baronial past. It is now a slick noughties lounge named after 1960s photographer Terence Donovan which attracts stylists and fashion editors like barflies to superior Cognac. The bar displays many of Donovan’s best works which pleasingly complements the monochramtic design. The cocktail list is addictive as is the feeling that you are drinking with the in-the-know crowd.
Find out more about Brown’s Hotel

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5 Top London Cafes

The more you travel around London, the more you will appreciate the need for a good cup of coffee wherever you go. There are enough difficulties that come with navigating England’s complex, involving capital city without being able to get a good cup of coffee on the way. Any great coffee shop which gives you a moment of relaxation, or raises your quality of life while you are out at war with the urban jungle is clearly going to provide a great benefit.

All of the coffee shops listed here are simple and inexpensive, yet will bring you a moment of calm in the urban sprawl of London life.

Flat White

For most London cafe’s, you may have to venture a bit off the beaten track, usually followed by a bit of searching. Cafes that still are in the centre will tend to be mega-chains like Starbucks or Costa Coffee. There aren’t many places within walking distance of Oxford Circus, so your option is to go to Starbucks, or go without coffee.

Unless you go to Flat White. This little gem of a coffee shop allows you to experience a taste of down under while in the heart of London. Don’t leave London without going to it. And ordering a Flat White, of course.

Flat White, 17 Berwick Street, Soho, W1F 0PT (020 7734 0370 / www.flat-white.co.uk). Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus or Tottenham Court Road tube.

Lantana

It’s 10am on a Sunday Morning, and I have a few hours to kill before I have to head back for my flight. Ahead of me is a gruelling 10 hour marathon of a flight. Normally I’d just take my chances with the airline food and try and get some sleep on the plane. I decide to head out for some food.

There’s a problem. It can be difficult to find genuinely hearty food on a relatively tight budget – I’m not fond of the idea of blowing my notes on a useless pile of small change. But something has to give, I’m going to have a full days work when I get back. Am I doomed to one of those awful, miserable, stomach churning days?

Not when I go to Lantana Cafe in Fitzrovia. Lantana serves up hearty traditional Australian cuisine, and suits even the most discerning of tastes. You won’t have to shell out a huge amount of money, but you should be more than covered for food.

If the food is not your thing, there’s a really nice walk around lovely Fitzrovia on offer. Do what works for you, and enjoy a peaceful few hours around London.

Lantana, 13 Charlotte Place, W1T 1SN (020 7637 3347/www.scramblingeggs.blogspot.com). Goodge St tube.

Kaffeine

Unfortunately, great coffee shops with a real philosophy underpinning them aren’t everywhere you’d want them to be. Wherever you are on your city break, every traveler eventually finds themselves in need of a place which is crafted with a real belief and identity. Life in a world of clone shops can be depressing, and experiencing coffee in a place that truly believes that coffee should be done well is good for the soul. A few minutes quiet reflection in such a place really helps put life into perspective.
Kaffeine is such a place – put your phone away and forget about your travel arrangements and your GPS for a minute – times like this, we need a real break.

It’s difficult to tell you about the menu at Kaffeine – its ever changing according to what is available in local markets. Its central enough for you to be able to nip in, but once you have, you’ll feel a world away so quickly that you might not want to leave. Kaffeine earns a place in any travellers itinerary.
Kaffeine, 66 Great Titchfield Street, Fitzrovia, W1W 7QJ (020 7580 6755/www.kaffeine.co.uk). Oxford Circus tube.

London Review Cake Shop

Sometimes a coffee shop is perfect for their elegant charms. Unfortunately, so many have gone down this route now, it almost looks hackneyed. Step forward the London Review Cake Shop, a coffee shop perfect in its casual inelegance. Few places are designed to look as truly relaxed as the London Review Cake Shop, whilst remaining a perfect venue for chinwagging.

The cakes are locally source, and the Cake Shop provides fantastic customer service. On a budget, you can enjoy some of the most exquisite, honest cake and coffee which you have ever had in your life. And despite its proximity to the British Museum,

London Review Cake Shop, 14-16 Bury Place, WC1A 2JL (020 7269 9030/www.lrbshop.co.uk/cakeshop). Holborn tube

Pitch 42 @ Whitecross Street.

The coffee is inexpensive. Its crisp, well made, and uses a rare Linea mechanical paddle La Marzocco espresso machine. Wherever you go in London, make sure you’re around when Jeremy Challender pitches up his weekly stall with Lee Hart.

Get over to the Barbican, centre of many other things which are good about London. You’ll be tempted to drink everything, and the caffeine will blow away any cobwebs from the night before.

If you intend to do any kind of travelling around London, you need to be able to say to your friends you’ve been to Pitch 42. No matter where you go, people will be aware of this Shoreditch institution.

Pitch 42 @ Whitecross Street, Whitecross Street market, EC1Y. Open Mon-Fri 8.30am-2.30pm. Old Street or Barbican tube/rail.

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Rooftop views of London – experience the London skyline from these city hotspots

The London sky line changes and grows every year and new opportunities to eat, drink and look out over the sites of London are plentiful. Here are a few ideas for great views of London, from East to West –

1) Boundary restaurant, rooms and rooftop, Shoreditch, East London – here’s a newish addition to London’s rooftop dining scene, opened in January 2009. It’s a tough place to secure a table as it only opens on pleasant summer afternoons, announced via twitter (@boundaryrooftop). See The Boundary for a rooftop panorama.

2) Smiths of Smithfields, London EC1 – not only does the top floor restaurant serve some of the best organic steaks in London (try the Chateaubriand for two) but the view from the terrace over the rooftops of London towards St Paul’s is superb.

3) Vertigo at Tower 42 in the city – this champagne bar is definitely worth a visit. Positioned on the 42nd floor, the tallest building in the City of London, the floor to ceiling windows provide stunning views. Michelin-starred restaurant, Rhodes 24, offers traditional British cuisine and is great for business lunch or dinner with friends.

4) 40|30 at 30 St Mary Axe – this Norman Foster designed building, better known as The Gherkin is one of London’s most talked about landmarks. The restaurant provides a 360 panoramic view of London, an iconic, glass walled experience.

5) Coq DÁrgent, No 1 Poultry, City of London – with fantastic views over the Square Mile, close to the Bank of England, this famous eatery offers the finest French Cuisine and one of the finest roof gardens in London.

6) The Oxo Tower – one of my favourite views of London has to be from the 8th floor balcony of the Oxo Tower Restaurant Bar and Brasserie on the South Bank, looking both ways along the river you can see fantastic views of London. Book for lunch and sit back and enjoy.

7) The Tate Modern, South Bank – a brisk walk from the Oxo Tower, the Tate Modern offers 3 places to eat, the best being the 7th floor restaurant and bar. Book in advance as it gets popular in the evening. On the 4th floor, the outdoor terraces on the north and south side of the building offer great views of London looking in both directions.

8) Skylon bar – located within the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank, Skylon’s floor to ceiling windows open up a spectacular panorama looking north over the River Thames. The bar/restaurant offers everything from daytime coffee, lunch, and cocktails and dinner in the evenings. A great start to an evening out in Covent Garden and the West End with a simple walk over Hungerford bridge to Charing Cross and Trafalgar Square.

9) Rooftop Garden at Trafalgar Hilton – this relatively unknown spot is a great place to sit back and look over Trafalgar Square and watch the tourists. There are also wonderful views of Covent Garden, Westminster and the London Eye.

10) Paramount Bar, Centre Point – centrally located, as the name suggests, at the junction of Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street and Charing Cross Rd, this building has remained vacant for years. The top floors have recently opened as a private members bar/restaurant/club and offer amazing views in all directions. The top floor bar is a viewing gallery round all four sides of the building. On a clear night these views are hard to beat. Downside, it’s members only!

11) Galvin at Windows – this restaurant is on the 28th floor of the London Hilton on Park Lane. Serving modern French cuisine it offers fantastic views of Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace and pretty much the whole of West London. See the Hilton Park Lane

12) Kensington Roof Gardens – London’s equivalent of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, 1000ft above street level, a restaurant by day and a fantastic outdoor club in the evening. A real West London surprise and that’s before you meet the resident flamingos!

One final view of London that has been closed to the public since 1980 is that from the 34th floor of the Post Office tower. News is out that the restaurant is being redesigned and due to re-open towards the end of 2011.

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What’s hot in London this March

Ron Arad Retrospective at the Barbican Centre, London: Until 16 May
Ron Arad is one of the most influential designers of this generation. Arad moved to London in the early 1970s to study at London’s Architectural Association, and has established a reputation over three decades for challenging, daredevil work. Arad has produced everything from carbon fibre armchairs to polyurethane bottle racks. His beautiful furniture can connect to Bluetooth, send and receive SMS messages from iPhones and other smartphones. The exhibition runs at the Barbican until Sunday, May 16th.
Find out more here.

Click here to see recommended hotels near the Barbican

The Loft by Nuno Mendes: Throughout March
Nuno Mendes, a chef trained at El Bulli, last year invited people into his Dalston flat for a 10-course meal that he called his “personal test kitchen.” Mendes wanted to use it as a testbed for his experimental brand of cooking. He’s invited Swedish chef Ola Rudin, with his molecular cuisine to join him, and it can cater 16 at a time. Definitely worth a visit if you are in London. The cost is £100 per person, and you can find out more at http://www.nunomendes.co.uk/loft.html.

Click to see recommended hotels near Dalston

Dave Matthews at The O2: 6 March
Dave Matthews will continue his European tour on 6 March at the state of the art O2 Arena. Dave Matthews has inspired millions and has continued to deliver superior performances and bring people from all over the world together with his musical abilities. The Dave Matthews Band is one of the greatest American Jam Band’s of all time. This show is going to sell out quickly so be sure to buy your tickets as soon as possible. You don’t want to miss it. Buy tickets here.

Click to see recommended hotels near The O2

Soap at The Riverside Studios: 5 March – 25 April
From the same creator of La Clique, Markus Pabst, Soap finally hits London after a ten month run in Berlin. A mix of circus and cabaret, the show takes place in a bathroom setting where eight peculiar characters perform a mix of dance, burlesque, comedy, gravity-defying moves and precise aerial acrobatics, using a bathtub, showers and water to create mesmerising visual effects. Find out more here

Changing Media Summit: 18 March
The Changing Media Summit returns to London bringing you another packed one-day fix of all things digital media and providing you with access to speakers, content and networking you simply can’t get anywhere else. Confirmed speakers include, Michael Wolff, the founder of Newser.com and author of Rupert Murdoch biography The Man Who Owns the News and Austin Heap, executive director of the Censorship Research Centre and Twitter activist during the Iranian elections. Find out more here

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Restaurant review: Kai, Mayfair, London

This blog post is written by the lovely Emily Bridgewater, who writes the great blog Meet and Two Veg.

In my experience really great meals fall into two categories.

There are those which at the time were sublime, but afterwards evaporate into the darkest confines of your memory, only to be revisited in a moment of reminiscence.
Then there are those – relatively few – dining experiences where the tastes are so incredible that they will linger on your lips forever and, no matter where you are in the world, you will hanker after a return visit.
While I know there are a million more food experiences to be had, I will always lust after one more taste of what can only be described as a crispy onion pancake that we ate in House of Nanking in San Francisco.
Food memories like that don’t discriminate; they can take place in roadside shacks or prince’s palaces.
It just so happens however, that my most recent such experience took place in the very stylish Kai in Mayfair.
Kai is one of only three Michelin star Chinese restaurants in London. So good is the food that I fear every other Chinese meal I now eat will pale into insignificance.
Unlike many such celebrated establishments, there is no stuffiness and diners seemed to delight in being able to tuck into communal dishes.
We started with Kai‘s signature starter of Wasabi Prawns, which our waiter assured us was ‘not too spicy, as it was a special recipe devised by the chef’.
He also told us that during Kai‘s recent participation in Taste of London festival, they traded more than 1,000 portions of this dish.
It’s easy to see why. The jumbo prawns were delicately cooked and coated in just the right amount of creamy, ‘not too spicy’ wasabi dressing, as well a tiny flecks of chopped fresh ginger. The boy and I agreed it was a taste revelation.
We also tucked into canapes of prawn toasts and aromatic crispy duck – both excellent examples of classic Chinese fare, while enjoying a bottle of Dr Loosen Riesling recommended by our sommelier.
However, the food really came into its own for our main courses of chicken and cashew nuts and aubergines stuffed with minced prawns.
The sauce coating the chicken was deep, dark and rich with a good kick from the sundried chillis – a million miles from the MSG-laden gloop you’d find in your bog standard Oriental sauce.
And the prawn-stuffed aubergines was a superbly inventive dish, combining the smokiness of the vegetable and sweetness of prime seafood in a pulse-rich black bean sauce.
Even our waiter admitted he was dubious about the dish until he tried it.
Ginger and sesame oil, and coriander fragranced rice, were subtle yet stunningly delicious side dishes.
Puddings were zingy pineapple carpaccio with lime, lychees and lemongrass syrup, and another Kai signature dish of pumpkin cream with purple rice and coconut icecream – an intelligent dessert deconstructing the elements of a pumpkin soup and turning it into a divine velvety dessert.
Some of the prices on the Kai menu may leave you breathless, but the quality of ingredients, intelligence of the cooking and -most unusually – the generosity of the portions, make them justifiable.
This is what food memories are made of.

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Restaurant review: Souk Bazaar, Leicester Square, London

A sense of relief prevails as you duck out of the rain-drenched streets of Leicester Square and are immediately transported into a glittering and exotic underworld. The restaurant is almost invisible, crammed next to the famed restaurant, The Ivy, and painted a charcoal grey which works as a convincing camouflage against the damp London streets.

Souk Bazaar is one of two North African themed restaurants (the other named Souk Medina) set in an excellent location in the heart of the bustling West End. Souk Bazaar has been running for 11 years and has won many awards and stunning reviews for their inspirational ambience and tasty food.

Souk BazzarFlickering candles line the way from the narrow entrance down the stone steps to the main restaurant, which is a maze of dimly lit rooms with low ceilings and winding paths, the walls adorned with countless colourful lanterns and the floors laden with brass shisha pipes. You are coiled further still into this mysterious world by the swirling Moroccan music and smoky smell of dozens of candles and burning incense.

Our party of six were seated in a low lit corner in one of the rooms, there were no other diners present for the majority of the evening, giving us a cosy feeling of intimacy and privacy. Our seats were low sunken sofas scattered with plump cushions, and the large metal tables that our food was laid upon were surrounded by little decorated poufs, giving our dining experience a real authentic Moroccan feel.

Our menu consisted of a three course mezze feast for a price of £19.95 per person, with authentic homemade starters, main courses of sweet tender meats infused with intoxicating spices and wickedly indulgent syrupy desserts, by my book a well thought out trio and a great way to taste all the different flavours of Morocco. What was also great was that you could request as many refills of the dishes as you liked, on the conditions that your whole party ordered the mezze.

Our starter was a platter of home-made humous served with warm pitta bread, mini spicy lamb sausages with potato cubes, and stuffed vine leaves. The humous was especially sought after, it had a tasty sprinkle of Moroccan spice on top giving an extra little kick to the dish. The stuffed vine leaves were surprisingly sour and weren’t very appetising at all.

Souk BazaarThe main course of tangine of lamb was a big hit with our party, it was slow cooked so very tender and had a real melt-in-the-mouth nature to it, soaked in the juice of prunes and topped with roasted almonds, it was a very sweet dish. Another dish that was a big hit was the tangine of spinach, feta cheese and roast onion which complimented the sweetness of the lamb very well with the sharpness of the feta cheese.

We drank to our hearts content, perhaps something to do with the unwinding nature of the atmosphere, and we ordered a wide variety of the tempting beverages on offer. The cocktails were given names such as ‘Juicy Marrakesh’ , ‘Flying Carpet’ and ‘Thirsty Camel’ and were rum or vodka based, mixed mainly with fresh mango and coconut milk. One of our party sampled a Khaymer Martini, a mix of Moroccan vodka and apple juice, shaken over ice.

Our desert was a selection of baklava; it is made from pastry, chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. The baklava was served to us with fresh mint tea, and was a lovely light accompaniment to a very sweet dish.

Although the service was far from attentive, the immaculate design and buzzing atmosphere of Souk Bazaar won us over. We had an early dinner, but from 10pm the restaurant also features live entertainment of various belly dancers which works to kick the mood up a notch. Our bill came to £35 per person, but our choice of expensive beverages made up a lot of this.

Swept so swiftly into the mystical world of Morocco and transported into a dusky tavern on the outskirts of Marrakesh, we arrived somewhat disappointed back on the grey pavements of London, looking back on the sultry and enchanting cavern we left behind. With the recession so prevalent in people’s minds, Souk Bazaar is an inspired and charming place to experience the exuberance of North African cuisine and culture without ever having to leave the country.

Anna Zuchowski-Morrison – London Gekko Spotter

Find out more about Souk Bazaar

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