Mews of Mayfair – A Fine British Brasserie in Mayfair

Tucked away in a charming cobbled courtyard just off New Bond Street, Mews of Mayfair is bustling with the drink-after-work or a bite-after-shopping crowds.

It’s winter, it’s pretty chilly and everyone is supposed to be detoxing, but the people here are obviously ignoring any New Year’s resolutions… Almost every table outside is busy and the ground floor bar is heaving with merry ladies and gentlemen downing cocktails since the early evening.

Mews of Mayfair is spread over four floors of two converted mews houses. A brasserie, private dining room called La Cave, Chef’s dining room, a bar on the ground floor and a lounge in the basement – all in one place in central London.

You can happily spend an entire evening here, starting with dinner on the higher floors and making your way down as the evening progresses – the lounge is open until 1am.

Mews_of_Mayfair

The brasserie on the first floor has recently been refurbished – cosy and flattering lighting, soft colours and a relaxed atmosphere – the restaurant is beautiful and much less formal that its predecessor.

The Brassiere pays tribute to British delicacies. Chef Richard Sawyer (previously the Executive Chief of British restaurant Rules) has created a menu that showcases some favourite traditional dishes with local ingredients.

The sourcing of local produce is taken very seriously here and on the back of every menu one can find a map of the United Kingdom, proudly detailing the areas where different products come from.

Mews_of_Mayfair

The prices are decent for Mayfair and the portions are very generous – my Devon Crab Mayonnaise on toast starter was almost the size of a main meal (£11). My guest Paul ordered Hand Dived Rye Scallops and declared them top quality – they came served with cauliflower purée, roasted penny buns and sultanas (£12.5).

The flavours were subtle and perfectly combined with our drinks – a Sipsmith G&T with cucumber, my English Garden cocktail (champagne, citrus vodka and Elderflower cordial) and a lovely white South African wine (The Journeymaker Chenin Blanc 2012, only £22.50 for a bottle) that I couldn’t stop smelling, tasting and then smelling and tasting again…

We ordered steaks for our main courses and the subtle tastes were changed by the defined and strong aromas of meat. My fillet (£24) was superb – soft, juicy and cooked just as I requested.

My guest who grew up in South Africa announced that he is a serious lover of meat and indulged with a really really really big portion of T-bone… And even managed to finish it (just). We found out that the restaurant uses the finest Galloway beef from the Yorkshire Game Company dry aged for a minimum of 35 days.

The best part of our evening was experiencing some of the most friendly and attentive service that I’ve experienced in London.

We were in Mews of Mayfair’s Assistant Manager Gregory Lakatos’s care and somehow he knew what we wanted, and as if materialising from thin air, he appeared at our table to top the wine, bring extra sauces for the meat and offer excellent suggestions of what else we could order.

That’s how we ended up eating Stilton with oatmeal crackers and drinking a fantastic Pedro Ximenez sherry. An explosion of rich sweet flavours that cut through the almost overpowering taste of blue cheese.

We also tried some Port and then were happily swinging our way downstairs to the lively party in the ground floor bar for a night cap… The headache was pretty bad the next morning, but the pleasure of the night before was definitely worth the pain.

Concierge tip: Go for dinner, drinks and a bit of boogie in one place in central London.

Do you want someone to advise and book every lunch, dinner or private dining event on your behalf? Tap in to our extensive restaurant expertise by enquiring about our services.

If you enjoyed this review of Mews of Mayfair, try our other Mayfair favourites including Brasserie Chavot, Novikov London or Hix Mayfair.

Ayanna Spa Review

Vilma Darling visits the lovely Ayanna Spa in Chelsea.

Freezing temperatures, Arctic winds, lack of vitamin D and too much comfort food are only a few things that I dislike about winter. But my skin hates the horrible weather with such passion, that it goes red and becomes so dry, that it actually hurts.

My body this time of year only wants to eat and sleep. But the show must go on and so to treat my miserable self I went to the Ayanna Spa on Holland Park Avenue in London.

The ladies there told me straight away that my problematic skin and body had come to the right place. They said that Ayanna was a results-based spa and that the therapists did not follow protocol – every treatment would be adjusted to your particular needs.

Ayanna Spa Reception

My experience started with a massage to relieve stress and tension. Like most desk-bound and heavy-bag-carrying people, I often have pains in my neck, head, shoulders and lower back.

Kay, the massage therapist at Ayanna Spa, concentrated on those areas and confirmed that I have ‘lots going on’, especially on my left side. She was full of very knowledgeable advice and was so good at making me relax that towards the end I did not want to leave the lovely heated bed.

I could have fallen asleep there and then, but another therapist was waiting to do my facial.

Ayanna Spa Treatment Room

Mariana looked at my skin and suggested the Prescriptive Facial. She cleaned it, hydrated, nourished, calmed and, where needed, skilfully decongested.

The Ayanna spa was opened only three months ago by ex-City girl Nalini Williams. She had been a regular spa client for many years and has been collating her experiences to one day open her own spa where clients can relax and leave feeling rejuvenated.

Nalini teamed up with her facialist of five years, and they pooled thoughts, knowledge and experience and the building of their dream began. They have decided to use Pevonia for their advanced formulation and innovative treatment products, Priori for anti-aging cosmeceuticals range and DANNÉ Montague-King for the paramedical products and treatments.

CACI has been chosen for its leadership in aesthetic treatment technology, HydraFacial for skin resurfacing without the need for lasers, Active Optima 518 for IPL hair removal and skin rejuvenation using a patented GEM technology and Radio Frequency for slimming treatments.

Ayanna Spa Relaxation

The spa owner is often a ‘guinea pig’ for treatments they are experimenting with, but she says she loves the HydraFacial and Lumafirm Lift & Glow facials that work wonders on her skin.

“We remain focused on our original vision – employing the best resources to provide clients with results-based treatments in an environment they can enjoy and relax.”

Bon Vivant’s members are entitled to a discount of 10% on treatments at Ayanna spa.

Address: 146 Holland Park Avenue, W11 4UE

Phone: +44 20 7998 7872

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Read some of our other spa reviews including Waterhouse Young clinic.

Barcelona Travel Guide – Gran Hotel La Florida

Getting lost in the labyrinth of medieval streets in Barri Gòtic, admiring the surreal architecture by Antoni Gaudi, tasting some fabulous food at Ferran Adria’s tapas bar and dancing until dawn in the seafront nightclubs are just a few things you could do in one of the most fabulous and hedonistic cities on Earth – Barcelona. Read on for Bon Vivant’s Barcelona Travel Guide.

Catalonia’s capital is the perfect destination for a weekend break and a charming romantic break for your beloved other half. Barcelona’s crowded streets and busy nightlife might be just a bit too much if you want to spend some quality romantic time together and so the Gran Hotel La Florida offers a perfect getaway.

Barcelona Travel Guide – The Gran Hotel La Florida

Located on the top of Mount Tibidabo, at 500 meters above the city and seven kilometres away from its centre, the Gran Hotel La Florida lures visitors with its stunning panoramic views and the exclusivity of a private luxury home with an option of a vibrant city literally at your feet.

Barcelona Travel Guide

The Gran Hotel La Florida was designed by Noucentista architect Ramon Raventos and first opened its doors in 1925. It was used as a military hospital during the Spanish Civil War and in the 1950s became a playground of the Catalan bourgeoisie who retired to the hotel in the Tibidabo mountain for the summer.

Ernest Hemingway, Princess Fabiola, Prince of Belgium and many FC Barcelona players were all guests at La Florida. But the hotel was closed in 1978 and only re-opened in 2003.

The Hotel La Florida was extended and modernised, the word ‘Gran’ was added to its name, but it stayed true to the Noucentista style. The original façade was left intact and many of the old decorative and structural elements were meticulously renovated.

Besides the views and exclusive location, the best thing about Gran Hotel La Florida is its feel of a luxury home. The hotel is spacious, quiet and peaceful, and the staff are friendly and helpful, but unobtrusive.

The guests can go to the swimming pool and spa in their bathrobes through the first floor entrance and not worry about bumping into better dressed people in the lobby or the bar.

The two spaces are separated by the “Archimedes Fountain” and the impossible to see through water feature. Antique photographs and engravings of the hotel and its surroundings adorn the rooms and corridors, and the paintings of flowers by the Catalan artist Isabel Cruellas was especially commissioned for the inauguration of the hotel.

The British artists Ben Jakober and Yannick Vu have also created three modern sculptures that represent the elements of earth, light and water.

Barcelona Travel Guide – The Spa at Gran Hotel La Florida

In winter a glass wall separates the stainless steel infinity pool outside from the pool inside (37 metres in total), but it was still my favourite thing in the spa. Just swimming into the sunshine coming through the glass and seeing the sky and city below was enough to make you feel like you were in a very special place.

In summer the Miramar bar is open on the terrace by the pool and relaxing music entertains guests who arrive from Barcelona to admire the views and enjoy the cocktails.

Barcelona Travel Guide

The Zen One spa offers facial and body treatments such as relaxing and sports massages, honey body scrubs, reflexology, Dead Sea mud baths, Swiss chocolate treatments and volcanic stone therapy among many others.

I tried the Sparience Oxygen Bubble experience – sitting and breathing inside a giant and very sci-fi looking plastic bubble, filled with 99.5% oxygen (24 Euros for 23 minutes). The treatment is supposed to reduce stress, aid injury recovery and help to recharge the batteries. The AlphaSphere bed/chair vibrates and emits warmth, blue light and strange, space age style music.

The spa beauticians say the only other location where such a treatment is offered is the Sports Medicine Unit of Quirón Hospital, where it is used to treat people recovering from injuries and stress.

Breathing pure air offers a host of health benefits including revitalising the body’s natural mechanisms that eliminate toxins and dead cells, optimising the recovery process following physical exercise and providing a natural anti-aging treatment.

Barcelona Travel Guide – The Rooms at Gran Hotel La Florida

All rooms in the Gran Hotel La Florida feature generously-sized marble bathrooms with in-floor heating, L’Occitane toiletries, Egyptian cotton towels, plasma screen televisions and Internet access. I was pleasantly surprised to find a hot bath full of locally grown lavender upon my return to the room in the evening.

Barcelona Travel Guide

Guests can choose from 70 rooms, the most impressive being the Presidential and Sky Terrace suites among 8 Designer and Junior Suites. Some of the rooms have a private Jacuzzi and spacious terraces and gardens and offer breathtaking panoramic views of the Pyrenees mountains, the city and the sea.

Barcelona Travel Guide

Double rooms starts from 175 Euros per room per night on a room-only basis, including tax.

Website: www.hotellaflorida.com

Phone: +34 932 593 064

Barcelona Travel Guide – The City

What to see: La Segrada Familia; Park Guell; Barcelona FC stadium and museum.

Where to eat & drink: Ask your concierge for the perfect suggestions to match your specific requirements and tastes.

On this trip we visited Fabrica Moritz, Ronda Sant Antoni, 41 ;  Velodromo, Carrer Muntaner, 213 (+34 93 430 60 22); Dry Martini, Carrer Aribau 162-166; Boadas, Carrer Tallers 1 (+34 93 318 95 92).

If you would like Bon Vivant’s travel concierge team to book your next bespoke trip to Barcelona or any other destination across the globe, contact us now to enquire about our services.

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Flambé Menu at The Drift

By Vilma Darling

Not drinking alcohol or eating out in January? Thankfully, the most miserable month of the year is nearly over. So why not celebrate its end with some serious wining and dining? There will be plenty of new restaurants and bars opening in 2012, and the ones that are already established are trying to tempt the post-detox crowd with exciting new menus.

The Drift bar and restaurant in the Heron Tower at 110 Bishopsgate has introduced some hot and flaming dishes that were popular in the 1970s. Its Flambé menu offers Beef Stroganoff (beef fillet sautéed, creamy mushroom sauce with a hint of mustard, flamed with cognac), Scampi Mornay (scampi served in a creamy cheese sauce and also flamed with cognac) and Steak Diane (minute steak pan-fried in a rich creamy sauce with mushrooms, gherkins & hint of mustard & flamed with cognac) for the mains.

Drift Bar

Meanwhile, Crêpes Suzette (pancakes with fresh oranges, lemon juice & sugar, flamed with Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao) and Banana Flambé (caramelised bananas with sugar & butter and flamed with cognac) can be ordered for dessert.

Starter, main course and dessert costs £29.95 and £45.95 if paired with Flambé cooking matching cocktails. I had a generous mug of “Flaming your Thai” (5 year plantation rum, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, pink grapefruit, orgeat, egg white, orange bitters & flaming lime) to kick-start my appetite. The cocktail was really good and for once I wasn’t complaining that the amount of drink in my glass was so insignificant.

I chose Beef Stroganoff for my main course and it came paired with “Cobbled together punch” – spiced & chilly mulled wine and plantation dark overproof rum 73%. The beef was juicy and I could really taste the rich flavour of the cognac cutting through the creamy mushroom sauce. The cocktail was without flames, but it was so spicy, it was almost fiery and went down very well with the meat. All the cocktails can be purchased separately for £7.95 each.

The Flambé dishes are always made by a dedicated chef at your table so you have to book 24 hours in advance. Bon Appétit!

For further information or to make a booking, please contact your concierge at Bon Vivant. To make sure you’re kept informed of similar updates on a regular basis, subscribe to the blog, our fortnightly newsletter, follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook!

Manson: A Fabulous British Brasserie

By Vilma Darling

Let me begin this review not with the description of the place or the reason why I went there, but with the food and drink. My starter was the nicest piece of fish I had tasted in a very long time, if not ever. The generous portion of Caraway Cured Sea Trout with pickles, cabbage and dill (£7.00) was fresh, full of flavours and so delicious, I didn’t want to stop eating.

And… after the first sip of the fabulous British Sparkling wine Ridgeview Bloomsbury 2009 my taste buds went straight to heaven. It was actually so good I wrote down the name, Googled it, and bought a bottle the very next day from here. The wine is really fizzy, dry and perfect for everyday drinking and special occasions.

My friend Diana was equally impressed with her starter of leg of partridge, quince, honey and oatmeal (£7.50) and also claimed it was a long time since she had eaten such a lovely dish.

So where did we taste these fabulous things? The place is a British brassiere called Manson at 676 Fulham Road in London. The new chef Alan Stewart, who previously worked at Launceston Place and Michelin starred Chez Bruce, took over the command of the kitchen in October. He is championing a ‘field to fork’ philosophy of local and seasonal produce, and so the menus are constantly changing.

Many of the ingredients are picked from the restaurant’s own allotments and Britain’s woodland and hedgerows. The kitchen staff bake their own bread twice a day, smoke their own meat and fish, butcher the whole animals and even churn their own butter.

The menu is so fabulously British that sitting in a busy London restaurant I could close my eyes and imagine a relaxing weekend in the countryside and the beautiful scenery where the ingredients come from.

Dreaming about the beach and the sea (in summer months, mind you!) I ordered Wild Black Bream, Norfolk mussels, sprout leaves and smoked bacon (£17.00). Diana was up for some more gamey meat and chose Roast Gurnard, salt baked parsnip, black cabbage and fennel seed yoghurt (£14.50).

I got a bit more than what I had dreamt about, because my meal was so full of the flavours of the sea, it was almost too much. Add the smoked bacon to the taste of seafood and your palate is incredibly busy working overtime. Diana was very happy with the strong flavours of her wild duck – the meat juicy, soft and perfectly cooked.

We shared a piece of apple tart with clove ice-cream (£6.50) to finish off our British meat and seafood feast. It was divine! We cleaned off the plate with delight and had some port to wash down the delicious dessert.

Manson’s warm light, taupe and cream colours, wood-panelled bar, chestnut leather banquette seating and wooden tables create a cosy and quite grown-up atmosphere. It’s a perfect place for dinner on a dark winter night. In warmer weather, the brasserie’s doors open out onto the Fulham Road for alfresco dining.

Address: 676 Fulham Road, London, SW6 5SA
Phone: +44 20 7384 9559

For further information or to make a booking, please contact your concierge at Bon Vivant. To make sure you’re kept informed of similar updates on a regular basis, subscribe to the blog, our fortnightly newsletter, follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook!

L.T.D at The Social: London Bar Guide

by Vilma Darling.

Six spirits with six cocktails per spirit is the idea behind the experimental pop-up cocktail club L.T.D. @ the Social, where legendary bartender Dre Masso assures that the six spirits used are the best of the best.

“When it comes to drinking, how much choice do we really need…or want?” Asked Dre and his colleagues who work for such esteemed places as the Connaught, Savoy, Quo Vadis, Pinchitos and other ‘independent taste-masters’ who formed the Social Drinks Committee. They were tasked to select spirits that they considered “All-rounders” from each section, but also good value for money (under £20 wholesale price).

After blind tasting and careful comparisons the Committee chose the winners – Stolichnaya vodka, Beefeater London Dry gin, Havana Club 7 yr old rum, Jameson Irish whiskey, Ocho Blanco vintage tequila, Courvoisier VS Cognac. They say these brands are linked to heritage and authenticity, respected in their country of origin and have strong brand loyalty from bartenders.

L.T.D is in the upstairs bar of the Social. Its wooden walls are decorated with Dre’s photos of his famous bartender friends. The place is simple but cosy and is a great pre-gig cocktail place if you later plan to go downstairs for some music. Jarvis Cocker was said to be there when we were enjoying our drinks upstairs.

Dre’s team serves cocktails in regular flutes and glasses, but also in metal mugs (“Bumble Bee” – gin, raspberries, lemon juice and honey water), jars (“Fresca” – tequila, berry liqueur, lemon juice and agave syrup) and latte cups (“Espresso Martini” – vodka, coffee liqueur, espresso and sugar).

Dre says most cocktails at the L.T.D @ The Social are based on classic recipes and are offered at an affordable price of £8.50 or £9.

I loved the “Armenian Plum” – brandy, apricot liqueur, apricot jam and lemon juice – while my friend enjoyed the “Sazerac” – whiskey, absinthe, sugar and Peychaud bitters.

Dre Masso knows what he is doing – he has been mixing drinks for 20 years in places like the Atlantic Bar & Grill, Ronnie Scott’s, Bungalow 8, Circus, Green & Red and Bali’s Potato Head Beach Club, to name a few.

The brands are not sponsoring this pop-up bar. Dre says they wanted to achieve the opposite effect and ‘cut through the brand-speak and get back to what bars should be founded, and judged, upon – the best drinks, served by the best in the business.’

The L.T.D @ The Social will be open till the end of this year and staffed by a rolling ‘rota’ of Dre’s cocktail legends.

Where? The Social, 5 Little Portland Street, London W1W 7JD

When? Until 31 December 2011

Eleanor’s Bar, Charing Cross Hotel

Vilma Darling continues her tour of London’s bars, stopping off at the Charing Cross hotel.

Eleanor’s, the newly revamped cocktail bar at the Charing Cross hotel is literally situated in the centre of London. Whether it is the distance from Paris (257 miles), Los Angeles (5455 miles) or Sydney (10,500 miles), the point for measuring the distance to and from London is here at Charing Cross.

The bar (previously known as the Strand) is named after the Eleanor’s Cross just outside the hotel. The original Eleanor’s Cross was built by Edward I in the 13th century in memory of his Spanish wife, Eleanor of Castile, and was standing in what is now the Trafalgar Square.

After Queen Eleanor had died unexpectedly on the way to Scotland to meet him, King Edward ordered twelve memorial crosses installed at the various points that the funeral procession had stopped from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey. Only three of the original crosses remain today and the one at Charing Cross is the 146-year-old Victorian replica.

After we sit down at a window table from where Eleanor’s Cross can be seen, the bar’s manager, Laurent Bertolini, tells its story and suggests we try their signature drink created in honour of the medieval queen – Eleanor’s Castilian Sangria (£13.95 and serves two).

The Sangria (Rioja, V.S.O.P. brandy, cinnamon, mint and fruit) had been made three days ago and was brought to us in a jar on a wooden board. The two wine glasses are half filled with lemonade and fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries and raspberries). Laurent mixes the Sangria with lemonade over the board, and Salud! We toast to the Spanish Queen. The drink is refreshing, light and perfect for summer.

We are also treated to a plate of Spanish meats and cheese with olives, piccalilli, chutney and small pieces of toasted bread. All of the nibbles are truly excellent, but I’m in love with the ham and Philip with the roasted beef, which was very thinly sliced.

Laurent suggests I try the Espresso Martini (a single shot of espresso, vanilla vodka £11.95). Philip, who had a horrible week at work, decides to treat himself to his favourite cocktail, the Old Fashioned (sweet bourbon, angostura bitters, cane sugar and orange peel, £10.95).

‘It is more than drinkable’, he says happily caressing his cocktail glass. My Espresso Martini has the subtle hints of almond and vanilla vodka goes very well with coffee flavours.

Candles placed in red glasses create the bar’s cosy atmosphere, and the black and white fashion prints and red lamps on the marble bar remind me of the famous London jazz club Ronnie Scott’s. The candles are lit throughout the hotel and also on every step of the marble staircase leading to the bar, so do take the stairs and not the lift if you want to make a grand entrance.

Laurent says that all the Eleanor’s barmen will get a chance to create their signature cocktail menus and try to sell them to customers every week. We are intrigued with what they might come up with and promise to return.

Website: www.guoman.com/Eleanors

Address: Charing Cross, The Strand,London WC2N 5HX

Phone: 0871 376 9012

For further information or to make a reservation, please contact your concierge.

Good Godfrey’s Bar at The Waldorf Hilton

Right in the middle of London’s West End, the Good Godfrey’s bar in the Waldorf Hilton hotel is bustling with the pre-theatre crowds enjoying cocktails on a school-night Tuesday. Luckily there’s a table reserved for us and the smiling waiter is right here with the menus happy to explain and advise about the signature and classic cocktails.

The Waldorf hotel was one of the first to host the scandalous Tango Teas to teach Londoners the Argentinean moves, but in 1926 dancing became even more popular when handsome young band leader Howard Godfrey became a household name – Good Godfrey’s bar is named after him.

Howard Godfrey and the Waldorfians staged the Best Show in Town and made hundreds of radio appearances and records, always in fierce competition with The Savoy as to who would sell the most albums.

Good Godfrey’s is decorated with beautiful art deco chandeliers, large antiqued mirrors and plush armchairs. The marble, chrome and granite bar is illuminated by clever lighting and grey, brown, gold and burgundy colours help to recreate the stylish splendour of the 1920s. The original listed wood panelling is preserved and the decorative wallpaper was added to the ceiling.

I love any cocktail that contains champagne, so to start my evening and to give tribute to London’s theatre-land I ordered The Gaiety Girls – Calvados, green tea and vanilla syrup, lemon and apple juice, topped with Champagne (£14).

My companion Emyr adores Martinis, so he chose one of the ‘Luxury’ cocktails, Waldrof-Tini – a Martini made either with Tanqueray No.10 and grapefruit bitters or Grey Goose Vodka with ginger bitters and Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth. It is stirred in a golden shaker and garnished with edible gold (£17). Emyr went for gin, and when I tried his cocktail I thought it was one of the strongest I had ever tasted. Luckily, it came with a glass of water. Emyr really liked the slight tint of grapefruit and I was charmed with the refreshing taste of my Gaiety Girls.

The drinks list at Good Godfrey’s was created by award winning mixologist Nelson Bernardes and the maestro himself came to say hello to us.

One of his cocktails, “1908” refers to the opening of the Waldorf hotel in London the same year. Nelson explained that it is based on the classic Bronx cocktail, created in the Waldorf Astoria in New York. “1908” is another “Luxury” treat and I was seduced by the intoxicating blend of Oxley gin, sweet and dry Vermouth, Mandarine Napoleon and orange bitters (£19).

Emyr ordered one of the signature cocktails, the Refined Madam. Nelson informed us, that during the 1800s Londoners drank badly made gin known as ‘Madam Geneva’. Today he is using premium Tanqueray No.10 as well as rose liqueur, fresh lime juice, the Waldorf ’s cardamom syrup and lavender bitters to create a much more Refined Madam (£12.00).

We had to leave for our dinner reservation, but next time I’ll definitely order another signature cocktail, The Astor Hip Flask (£15.00). It is named after William Waldorf Astor (the owner of the Waldorf Astoria in NY and an investor in the Waldorf in London) and is presented in a real hip flask, rather like William’s. The bourbon based cocktail is mixed with secret ingredients, aged in a small barrel and I’m sure it will be worth the wait.

For further details or for reservations, please contact your concierge.

Website: www.waldorfhilton.co.uk

Address: The Waldorf Hilton, London Aldwych, WC2B 4DD

Phone: 020 7836 2400

Opening Times: Until 2am all week; 12am on Sundays

Hotel d’Inghilterra, Rome

Vilma Darling visits the Hotel d’Inghilterra in Rome.

Just a couple of blocks away from the famous Spanish steps and Piazza di Spagna in the centre of Rome, Hotel d’Inghilterra is perfectly located for tourists eager to shop, dine and visit ancient historic attractions. The city’s most exclusive shopping street, Via Condotti, is around the corner and the magnificent Pantheon (built in 126 AD) is about a 10 to 15 minute walk away.

The original hotel building dates back to the 16th century when it served as a guesthouse for the nearby palace of the Torlonia princes, and the little square in front of the hotel was used to park the horse and carriages, which were also washed in the fountain there.

Named in honour of the Englishmen who visited Rome during the days of the Grand Tour of Europe (poet John Keats lived in Piazza di Spagna and so his friends, such as Lord Byron, stayed in the guesthouse), the building became a hotel in 1845.

Hans Christian Andersen, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain and Wilbur Smith lived in the Hotel d’Inghilterra and H.R.H Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, signed the hotel’s Golden Book celebrating its 150th anniversary. The hotel’s logo is inspired by the British Royal Family’s coat of arms and apparently bears testimony to the connections between the hotel and the Royal House of Windsor.

Hotel d’Inghilterra strives to reflect rooms in a private home and so each of the 69 bedrooms and 20 suites have their unique style with silk and damask fabrics, large Baroque mirrors and marble bathrooms.

Our room was on the small side (Classic Double rooms are approximately 18m²), but very cosy, and I especially loved the mahogany chest and other antique furniture, red walls and period paintings. The wooden shutters and heavy curtains were perfect for sleeping in after a late night out in the city.

The best rooms are higher up on the fifth floor, opening onto a tiled terrace, but the ultimate room is the Panoramic Suite, on the hotel’s top floor, that features a spacious sitting room, a large bedroom, two bathrooms and a terrace with views over Rome.

The hotel is quiet and discreet – the lobby and lounges offer private corners and are great for relaxing after a long day of sightseeing and shopping whilst admiring the collection of 19th-century Neapolitan gouaches.

The reception personnel were very helpful (they suggested a great nearby restaurant and called for taxis), but the room service staff were perhaps a little too attentive – a couple of times they knocked on the door even when the ‘do not disturb’ sign was on.

The Continental breakfast is served in a frescoed room, depicting an enchanted garden setting, as well as in the hotel’s bar. The English gentlemen’s club style bar is intimate, but offers James Bond’s 20 favourite drinks and was voted one of the best bars in Italy by Gambero Rosso guide, Bar d’Italia. My companion and I had champagne and scotch there, which was an ideal way to celebrate the end of our Roman holiday in the Eternal City.

For further information or to make a reservation, please contact your concierge.

Website: www.royaldemeure.com/en/hotel_inghilterra/

Address: Via Bocca di Leone, 14, 00187 Rome, Italy

Phone: +39 06 699811

Ushvani Spa, Chelsea

Vilma Darling eases away her stressful week, not at the bar where she usually resides, but at the beautiful Ushvani spa in Chelsea.

Have you ever had a working week from hell? When everything that could go wrong does go wrong, and you are even blamed for things you haven’t done, but no one cares about your explanation?

The only cheerful thought in my head at the end of THAT week was about my appointment at Ushvani spa in London, where I was booked in for the 90 minute massage.

Ushvani (usha means dawn in Malay and avani is earth in Sanskrit) is a tranquil oasis just around the corner from the busy Sloane Street in Chelsea. Set in a Grade 2 Listed Edwardian town house, the spa is a hidden gem, which I was struggling to find due to illogical house numbering typical to central London.

The spa had sent me a map with its location, but of course after my mad week in work, I had temporary amnesia and forgot to print it out…

When I finally did find it and was buzzed in at “No.1” Cadogan Gardens, most of my worries were left outside on the steps together with the city noise and pollution after the heavy door closed behind me.

The friendly, smiling staff, lovely smells, colours, dimmed light and the hot towel soaked in ginger and nutmeg to clean the hands immediately washed away some of my stress.

Founded by the Malaysian businesswoman Usha Arumugam, Ushvani Spa is an exclusive 3-story urban sanctuary with treatment rooms for both men and women, a suite for couples or families, a beautiful yoga studio and wet facilities for women only.

Hibiscus, the Malaysian national flower, features throughout the spa, and the beautiful dark wood furniture, original carvings and sculptures, that were all specially commissioned from local craftsmen in Malaysia, fit in the period building layout and the Georgian wooden staircase looks very natural with yellow silk batik curtains hanging in the middle.

Before my treatment I was invited to experience the spa facilities in the basement at Ushvani Spa. I was the only guest there and was told that unless clients come with friends or family they wouldn’t have to share space apart from briefly crossing paths in the changing rooms.

I tried every possible shower combination – monsoon, tropical and other names that I can’t remember (every one of them came with dramatically changing lights). I inhaled nutmeg and ginger scented hot air to clear my lungs in the steam room and was blissfully sitting in the hydrotherapy pool next to a cascading waterfall when I was told it was time for my treatment.

The lovely therapist listened to the stories about my stressful week and straight away adjusted the massage to the needs of my sore neck and shoulders. The knots in my neck were so tight that I did see stars when she was pressing them, but I knew I had to suffer for hopefully better health.

The best part of my treatment was the heated bed and also the advice the therapist had given me how to treat my sore neck and tension headaches – she demonstrated a few exercises and advised to apply balms on the troubled areas.

Ushvani Spa’s therapists say the spa’s philosophy is based on Asian culture that focuses on spiritual harmony and natural treatments. All products are bespoke and made of natural herbs, spices and flowers in Malaysia or inspired by the country.

After my massage I was treated to a cup of hibiscus tea to finish off the relaxing experience. The exclusivity and fabulous therapists come at a price, but it’s worth it – a 90 minute massage costs £180; a 120 minute massage costs £240; and a 30 minute body scrub costs £60.

However, Ushvani’s Vinyasa Flow yoga classes are at a standard price for £15 per 90 minutes. Private yoga classes are available upon request and the best thing about it is the Sentosa studio – the most beautiful and stylish yoga room I have ever seen. Various workshops such as ‘Boosting your Energy’ are organised there, and at £37 for two hours is an original and exclusive present.

For further information or to make a reservation at Ushvani Spa, please contact your concierge.

Address: 1 Cagodan Gardens, London, SW3 2RJ

Phone: 020 7730 2888

Website: www.ushvani.com

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Read some of our other spa reviews, including Ayanna Spa and Waterhouse Young clinic.