United Kingdom Travel Guide
If it aint broke, of course, there’s no need to fix it – unless the unbroken thing we’re talking about is afternoon tea, and the ‘fix’ is a gin injection.
Dukes St James in London is bringing together these two great British institutions with its G&Tea: basically afternoon tea, except with a tea-infused G&T instead of the hot stuff.
The gin in question is Beefeater infused with black tea leaves – either Earl Grey or Black Vanilla. It’s served Prohibition-style in a china teacup, either cold with ice and tonic, or as a hot punch on cold days like this week. Could it get more magnificent? Yes – you also get your normal food spread of finger sandwiches, scones and pastries. It costs £35, which is pretty great value for London, considering the alcohol.
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Claridge's Juleps (£18 each)
There’s been a lot to depress us about the London hotel scene recently. Homophobes and boycotts. $127 drinks. Finding out that some of our favorite hotels have minimum spend policies. So when a luxury hotel in London steps up to the plate in terms of superb customer service, and reinforces our every hope about them, instead of dashing said hope into little pieces and then grinding it into the floor with a steel-capped heel, we should all rejoice. Put your hands together then, ladies and gents, for Claridge's.
Last Thursday, I went for drinks at Claridge’s with a friend. Drinks at Claridge’s has always seemed a little intimidating and out of budget for both of us, despite my having stayed there once, and both of us having watched the BBC documentary about Claridge’s more times than is good for us. It’s not your average after-work bar; it’s Claridge’s. Not only that, but there are two bars at Claridge’s: the normal one, and the tiny, sexy, marble-clad, gold-leafed, Lalique-glassed Fumoir that seats only 36, bans photos, and has a no reservations policy. That was the one we wanted.
I arrived first, and approached the Fumoir gingerly. Of course we have room, madam, said a man in a plum-colored velvet dinner jacket. Which table would you prefer? I picked the best table. He allowed me to do so. Score one to Claridge’s.
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A Bible in your bedside drawer has always been one of those comforting mediocre hotel room givens, like toiletries of dubious provenance and chocolates – if you’re lucky enough to get them – that taste of cardboard. But could this be coming to an end?
Travelodge is currently coming under fire in the UK for removing Bibles from all its hotel rooms, “because of diversity reasons” and “‘in order not to discriminate against any religion”. Predictably, there’s a firestorm of people on Twitter vowing to switch allegiance to Premier Inn, and the Church of England declaring that: “It seems both tragic and bizarre that hotels would remove the word of God for the sake of ergonomic design, economic incentive or a spurious definition of the word ‘diversity’.”
In actual fact, the story isn’t as extreme as it sounds at first – the Bibles, which were always provided free of charge by the Gideon Society, haven’t been burned or chucked out – Travelodge says they are being “retained” and will be doled out by reception on request. What’s more, in surely the most telling part of this story, Travelodge says this decision was taken in 2007, and the hotels have been steadily implementing it since then, without receiving any complaints until the Daily Mail got wind of it last week.
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Celebrities: they’re just like us! Or not, in the case of TLC, Lohan et al. But if your faith in celeb hotel guests has been shattered by our story yesterday, here’s one to warm the cockles of your heart: Snoop Dogg is the perfect non-demanding hotel guest.
The Dee Ohh Double G performed an intimate gig in Cornwall at the weekend, but instead of demanding to shack up at one of the county’s finest hotels, he opted for the Holiday Inn Express (or Holidae In Express as he might prefer) in Exeter – a 90-minute drive away. Perhaps he sees the value in free breakfast and WiFi?
Not only that, but he was, according to the hotel, the perfect guest:
”He had a late check out at 3pm and spent time chatting to the staff and having his photo taken with them and customers. He was very pleasant and very polite and happy go lucky.
They left the rooms in an absolutely perfect state.”
He even posed for photos with staff, and they did not get fired afterwards. Best celebrity hotel guest ever?
Flowers, fruits, and other sweets we see served a lot with hotel cocktails, but whither the options for those that prefer their treats to be savory?
The Milestone Hotel London seems to have wondered the same, with their “Shock Me” beer cocktail bringing some balance this month. The cocktail mixes 75ml of Brown Ale (Bishop Fingers), 50ml bourbon, 25ml of Southern Comfort, and one teaspoon of maple syrup. Stirring for 10 seconds with ice, it’s served in an Old Fashion glass over ice and finished with a slice of crispy maple-cured bacon. The “Shock Me” costs £15 ($25 and is served in Stables Bar or elsewhere in the public spaces.
The updates on The Beaumont, Corbin and King’s first hotel in London’s Mayfair, keep rolling in: earlier this summer we saw sculpture “ROOM” by Antony Gormley for the first time and found a series of interior renderings on the refreshed website.
Today, we have live online reservations from October 9 with an opening date that could be even earlier, details of room categories and prices, and actual images. Above is a Premier Room, though we were told this might not be the complete finished product as decoration (art, furniture, fine-tuning) is still in progress.
It gives us a pretty good idea of what to expect nonetheless, which in the Premier Room is 35 sq m (377 sq ft) of space with views over Mayfair through windows that actually open, something we love. Bathrooms are described as “mosaic marble” with underfloor heating and in some cases, bathtubs. Toiletries are by D R Harris. All rooms have complimentary WiFi and access to a car service for local travel.
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But the Montcalm London Marble Arch is the first hotel we’ve heard of to have its staff using Google Glass as part of the concierge service.
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What was the moment you realized you’d grown old? Walking through the door of your first house? Gazing into the eyes of your first child? Realising you can’t drink on a school night without being overcome by work shame the next day?
Laura Ashley: the middle class bête noir of our 1980s childhood. The Lake District: the middle class, middle aged holiday destination for ruddy-faced people whose idea of excitement is nibbling on a square of Kendal mint cake while perched halfway up a fell. OMG. When did we get so old?
Having said that, FOMO and all that means we’re already making plans to visit, for the funky glass-walled atrium, the views (25 of the 62 rooms are lake view), the sauna, and of course, the Laura Ashley décor.
They’ve come up trumps with this: modern, slate-walled bathrooms mixed up with claw-foot bath tubs, flatscreen TVs and bright, poppy colors matched with velvet sofas (a nod to velvet hairbands?), and – what surely would have been a cardinal sin back in 1980s Laura Ashley land – clashing prints (floral curtains with striped walls, stripy chairs with pinstriped carpets and neoclassical columns, that kind of thing). In short, it might be a bit too jolly hockey sticks for your house, but it’s exactly what you want from a country house retreat. Rooms start at an entirely reasonable £126.
The minimum spend warning at the Langham
When we recounted the horrifying story of the guest who was charged $127 for three small bottles of water at the Wellesley Hotel last week, we said that was the first we’d heard of any hotel doing this, and that it was a first in London.
Sorry guys, on so many levels. Because it turns out we were wrong.
An article in the Times this weekend about minimum spends in London namechecked the Dorchester, the Ritz, the Savoy, and – gasp – perennial HC fave the Langham as all having minimum spend policies in place, at least some of the time. Here’s the rundown on each:
While the former Port of London Authority building at Tower Hill is being reimagined as 10 Trinity Square, directly across the river the St. Olave’s Grammar School at Tower Bridge might be a few steps further on its way to becoming The Lalit Hotel London.
A tipster pointed us to the project having picked up some steam, after being announced back in 2012 as the first European venture of the Indian hotel group, with a late 2014 opening no less. Grade-II listed, the school dates back to the late 1800s and was derelict for over a decade before conversion work began.
The building is now almost fully obscured by scaffolding (more shots below), with the concrete core you see peeking out behind and the ochre brick on the right both part of the One Tower Bridge development.
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We’ve been heading east so often recently to scope out the latest London hotels news that we thought it was time to do a quick roundup of what we have on our radar in the Shoreditch (and Shoreditch-adjacent) area. Here are five new hotels that are likely to open their doors in the next few years, though some we’d be much more inclined to put our money on than others.
1. M by Montcalm Shoreditch: is it happening? Looking at the construction we saw just weeks ago, we’d say yes, but timing we think will be late spring to summer next year. From a brand perspective, who knows at this point, whether Montcalm will stick or Virgin or someone else swoops in and picks it up, we’ll have to find out. Location is just north of Old Street roundabout.
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Just when you thought Soho House was all about quietly colonizing the world, with Chicago on track to open next month, comes the welcome news that it’s not neglecting its origins. No, not the forthcoming City of London property, but something much better – another English country house hotel to rival Babington House.