Like many people, the recession is hitting our pockets where it hurts, so much so that we simply cannot afford to travel overseas for our usual week in the sun this spring. All is not lost however, as it is still possible to have a magical weekend away on home soil. This week I take a look at one option in “the big smoke”, a serious contender for a short weekend away.
Travelling from Birmingham’s Moor Street station, I manage to find outbound tickets to Marylebone and the return journey back to New Street two days later all for less than £16. This is an excellent and cost effective way to travel because you have nothing to arrange like parking or congestion charges, and the tube is the only way to travel if you’re an outsider looking to visit lots of places in a short amount of time. Rising fuel costs is yet another reason why it’s a good idea to leave the car at home.
We arrive mid afternoon on Thursday and are booked into the Radisson Edwardian Grafton Hotel. Its location on Tottenham Court Road in the West End, puts Regent’s Park, the British Museum and Soho right on the doorstep. The hotel boasts a fascinating history housing the legendary 1930s Aston Martin club which was founded here. The level of service is clear from the moment you enter the hotel, nothing is too much trouble and the sense of luxury presented without pretence is impressive. The decor is furnished with designer pieces not to mention a real flare in their art collection including Qing dynasty temple bells and new contemporary paintings by Vietnamese painters An Quan and Bich Nguyet.
After a long day of sightseeing and a majestic visit to Vertigo 42, a champagne bar at the top of a sky scraper next to Liverpool Street we headed back for a late meal at the hotel.
Asuman, one of the waitresses in the restaurant was only too happy to welcome us at close to 10pm and was the perfect hostess. To start I had the Salt Cod and Haricot bean soup with truffle oil and a garlic crouton. The strength of the salt was enough to revitalise me after an epically long first day but was a delight to taste. For the main, the 28-day-aged ribeye steak from Dhillon’s farm in County Londonderry was a treat, served with grilled vine tomatoes, potatoes and a béarnaise sauce. This was all thanks to sous chef Rahul.
After dinner, I had more time to explore the room. No view to mention but this was slap bang in the middle of central London, so it was refreshing to have a room which felt more enclosed so you could hide away from the hustle and bustle for the evening. The room was immaculately furnished. Dark woods greeted both walls and floors matched with a contrasting marble tiled bathroom and sumptuous white bath robes.
In the morning breakfast was a typically continental coupled with mixed grill theme revealing many business men and women as the main residents of the hotel. Well worth a visit, booking in advance you can find double rooms at the Grafton from £70 per night.
Gordon Ramsey’s – Maze Restaurant
If you want a truly memorable stay in London, nothing would make it more complete than a visit to a great restaurant. It hasn’t been the easiest year for Gordon Ramsey’s culinary empire but I am still a huge fan so decided to try one of his West London eateries in Grosvenor Square – MAZE.
If you have never been to a celebrity restaurant, or one which is famous for its fine dining menu then don’t let the cost put you off. For that little bit extra, perhaps £10 at the most, the end result, and that which Ramsey’s incredible team at MAZE produce is quite simply out of this world. The first thing you notice is the service. From the moment you enter the restaurant your coat is hung up for you and you are immediately taken to your seat. Like a theatrical performance one waiter brings over a bottle of water and pours you a glass followed by another who brings a still warm basket of fresh bread to the table. It truly excites.
As soon as we are comfortable the manager greets us at our table and introduces the Wine Flights menu. New to MAZE, each dish that you order is complemented by a different glass of wine, specially chosen by a master wine connoisseur. The wines are brought to the table once you have ordered, set in a trio of glasses on a sterling silver plate each glass listed by a separate roman numeral I, V, and X. The menu is a tapas-style tasting affair that gives the diner the opportunity to sample both excellent wines and fine dining.
To start I had the Loch Duart salmon, fondue of leek, vinaigrette of brown shrimps, horseradish. This was a light dish but incredibly satisfying – the shrimp vinaigrette being one of the sweetest and most moreish tastes I have ever enjoyed.
A chef’s table can be found at Maze, so sitting sat near the back, you can watch the chefs at work. What is apparent is how the restaurant runs like clockwork, the perfect amount of time was left between the first course until the second arrived, Lamb rump, fennel, samphire, lemon thyme jus. At this point, I have to say that although I tried desperately hard to write everything down, I couldn’t be sure exactly which wines were given with each dish. The connoisseur who chose each glass picked wines spanning the globe but what was quite simply breath-taking was how each wine went so well with each mouthful of food. The tastes were an extension of each other, a mixture of smoky woods, peppery tastes and beautifully honeyed sweet desert wines ensuring the flavours of the food were washed down perfectly.
Even the bathroom was stunning at Maze, each person having their own separate tiled wash room, complete with hand creams, flannels and other luxuries. You really felt spoilt eating at this masterpiece of a British restaurant and all for £45.
The Hoxton Urban Lodge
What more could you ask for if you’re on a budget. 205 Bedrooms, a hearty Grill Restaurant, and 6 conference and event rooms ensure that the Hoxton has everything you need for a luxury night in the Capital, but thankfully at a fraction of the cost. The Hoxton has truly redefined the no-nonsense urban concept hotel experience and comes up top trumps on many of its unique features.
The Hoxton’s contemporary interiors include roaring fires, exposed brick and a VIP lounge feel to the entrance area. A stone’s throw from Old Street tube station, the hotel provides easy access to many of the local delights of Shoreditch, Brick Lane, Whitechapel and the City. Their ethos is expertly thought out which is one of the best points when staying here.
The view from the 5th floor room was typical of an urban cityscape and down below, I even noticed a Banksy in the distance thrown in for good measure. The bedroom was uber chic with funky space awareness to it. A desk area complete with complementary teas, coffees, pens, papers and a fold out flat screen TV all come as standard. Even three “paper, scissors, stone” pillows on the bed show the level of detail the hotel has gone to when creating The Hoxton experience. Also, instead of finding minibars, the front desk sells must-haves like wine or chocolate at supermarket prices and all rooms are stocked with free bottled water and fresh milk. Even the television welcomes you by name!
Another winning feature about The Hoxton is its amazing value £1 special offer rooms which are sort of raffled off. All you have to do to be eligible and in with a chance of staying, is register at www.hoxtonhotels.com. Rather than a bathtub, The Hoxton has cleverly thought of what the modern traveller looks for, style and choice. Both within the funky tilings of a large wet room, you can either enjoy a waterfall wide showerhead or a sleek more flexible head. Last but not least is the real jewel in the crown. Every room has a light breakfast included comprising a fresh orange juice, a cereal/yoghurt and a banana courtesy of Pret’s co-founder Sinclair Beecham who also owns the hotel.