Downton Abbey afternoon tea at the Gore Hotel

Decadent Downton-style dining in Knightsbridge, London

Afternoon Tea cakes Gore Hotel London, Downton Abbey

With the final series of Downton Abbey swiftly coming to a close, it’s with a heavy heart we bid farewell to our favourite aristocrats. With this imminent ending in the offing, we pose one simple question: what on earth does one to do following the sad departure of Downton? Sunday nights will never be the same again.

It’s been an eventful five years for the glamorous Crawley family and this Sunday will deliver their long awaited final chapter. Anyone else on the edge of their seats bursting with anticipation? So with this in mind, I thought I’d go all out Lady Mary Crawley style, and give the Downton gang the luxurious send off they so deserve.

We all long for a little glitz and glamour at some point in our lives, and what better way to do it than with a decadent afternoon tea in the heart of West London? The perfect afternoon pastime to break up a quiet Sunday stroll. Rest weary feet with fluffy scones, cream cakes and elegant finger sandwiches, all washed down with a glass of fancy fizz. After all, in the word’s of Virginia Woolf: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” A Crawley family classic, one would imagine.

Located a stone’s throw away from bustling Knightsbridge and Hyde Park, the Gore hotel is a beautiful bolthole offering a little bit of luxury and a touch of relaxation. Whether you want to curl up away from the chaos of vibrant Chelsea, or if you just fancy an indulgent treat, the Gore is the perfect haven to relax and unwind in.

Renowned for playing host to a number of A-list rock and roll celebs, the Gore has welcomed the likes of Mick Jagger through to Queen Victoria, and of course the recent star of Downton Abbey, opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, who used to frequent the hotel regularly after her performances at the Royal Albert Hall.

It’s not difficult to see why this stylish sanctuary became a popular haunt for Dame Nellie. The reception is lavish, decorated with gilded accessories, oversized paintings and a sumptuous red carpet falls elegantly from the towering, winding staircase. We’re greeted by the friendly reception staff, who swiftly usher us inside the dining area.

Bistro restaurant Gore Hotel London

Designed to resemble a French-style bistro with a touch of quintessential British glamour, the Bistro One Ninety is full of quirky personality. There are high ceilings, shimmering chandeliers, oversized brass mirrors and an eclectic collection of artwork displayed in ornately sculpted frames. It’s the perfect setting for refined Downton-inspired dining. I can envisage Lady Mary, Lady Edith and Lord and Lady Grantham daintily supping on afternoon tea in these sumptuous surroundings.

Playing homage to Downton and of course Dame Nellie’s famous Peach Melba dessert, the Gore has combined the classic British afternoon tea together with a touch of Downton decadence. Beautifully presented cakes, sandwiches and aromatic teas, accompanied by a refreshingly light, sweet peach bellini. Floral, light and elegant, this is by far the best bellini we’ve have ever tried, so good we simply can’t resist ordering another (beware it will disappear in a flash!).

Peach bellini Gore Hotel afternoon tea London

The tea selection is synonymous with our surroundings; elegant and luxurious. We certainly do feel like ladies what lunch as we peruse the extensive tea menu. Such a tough job on a Sunday afternoon, but someone’s got to do it! Choose from spicy Darjeeling to sweetly scented Rose tea. We decide on sampling the Earl Grey, which is beautifully aromatic with subtle hints of citrus, and compliments our peach-infused bubbles perfectly.

The selection of finger sandwiches accompanying the tea are simple, flavoursome and wonderfully British. Tuck into silky smoked salmon with crème fraiche, cucumber with cream cheese, thick slathers of honey roast ham with sweet wholegrain mustard and a deliciously creamy egg mayonnaise with crunchy cress.

The towering sweet treats are delicately placed in front of us presented on a tiered ceramic cake stand, decorated with light, fluffy English scones and clotted cream, a selection of mouthwatering carrot cakes and chocolate brownies, topped with a creamy peach trifle and extravagantly chic, gilded macaroons, to add a little more decadence to our Downton dining experience.

Downton Abbey afternoon Tea cakes Gore Hotel London

The three tiers of rich, creamy cakes are difficult to devour after a serving of tasty sandwiches so the waitress kindly boxes up our lonely leftovers. (There aren’t too many though I assure you!). As it’s still relatively early on a Sunday afternoon, we pop into the bar to have a sneaky peek. Be warned – the candlelit, sultry setting is a little too inviting, so we’re tempted to order yet another beautifully presented peach bellini, whilst we relax, admiring the bar’s rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame.

This gorgeous afternoon treat will make the perfect girlie gathering, or a romantic afternoon date with the man. If you fancy going the extra mile, make the most of the experience and stay the night in the hotel’s luxurious Dame Nellie Melba suite.

TO BOOK

Prices for the Dame Nellie Melba afternoon tea start from £30.00 per person.

Prices for the Dame Nellie Melba experience (stay and afternoon tea) start from £280 per room, per night inclusive of two Dame Nellie Melba afternoon teas.

To book The Gore’s Dame Nellie Melba afternoon tea and or an overnight stay, visit gorehotel.com or call 020 75836601.

Raise A Glass: Wine tasting at Vinopolis, London

A city chic wine tasting experience in London

Canard Duchere Champagne 1

I’d love to refer to myself as a bonafide wine expert, but the reality is that despite my father owning a wine business, (vision of him slapping my hand here springs to mind) I’m a little dense when it comes to identifying a snazzy bouquet. Don’t get me wrong, I love a decent bottle of plonk. Malbec is the usual, favourite tipple but generally, I tend to get distracted by the discount deals in Waitrose or whichever I deem has the most artistically striking label (cue father gasping in despair).

I’m even more hopeless when it comes to identifying flavours in wines, which as a self-confessed food fanatic, I’m at loss to understand why. I can only whittle it down to the fact I haven’t (before now) ever really tried. With every slurp of Shiraz I’m probably more immersed in singing Fleetwood Mac and dancing around my kitchen than recognizing heady accents of smoky wood (another disappointing sigh from dad).

Having said that, I wholeheartedly would love to know more about wine, if anything to make a decent choice in the supermarket, and of course to impress my friends with my fountain of wine knowledge at the next dinner soirée. So naturally, when invited to sample the wines at London’s Vinopolis, I jumped at the chance.

Tucked away beneath the railway arches of London Bridge, a not-so-secret wine tasting lair awaits eager wine enthusiasts to challenge their tasting notes, (or in my case learn from scratch) by sampling their vast selection of vintages. It’s a striking building, steeped in history and oozing character. Softly lit with a calming atmosphere, we’re more than ready to get sampling as soon as we walk through the towering glass doors.

Vinopolis, London

The wine tour begins with a brief introduction, revealing expert tips on how to slurp wine. Drawing in a large gulp and really slurping around the back of the mouth releases the wine’s various flavours, so in theory, you should be able to identify some key ingredients. In truth, I found the art of slurping hard to master, culminating in an embarrassing choking fit in front of the whole class (much to my friend’s amusement). Fallen at the first hurdle. This did not bode well! Despite persevering, I couldn’t quite master the slurping technique, but I did mange to successfully identify a few key flavours, leaving me to feel less of a hopeless failure before the start of the tour.

With my student hat on, I carefully memorise the tasting notes, and how to distinguish a sweet, floral bouquet or a dry, citrus aroma. Frankly, as soon as we enter into the tasting realm, most of the student tips and notes diminish into thin air as we slurp and guzzle our way through the maze of tasting rooms. We indulge in sample after sample of Argentinian Malbec, French Bordeaux and refreshingly crisp Sancerre. With 12 tokens of samples, you can really get your teeth stuck into some delicious vintages. For those who also find it hard to identify flavours, the bottles are accompanied by in-depth descriptions to help you along the way, as well as the friendly, helpful staff who are on hand to assist throughout the whole tour.

There’s a decadent Champagne lounge, which I’d highly recommend starting the tour with, as well as a tapas station serving up olives, bread and cured meats, if you feel a little peckish along the way.

Despite my hopeless slurping attempts, and the fact that I’m still unable to identify an exceptional bottle of plonk, the whole evening was thoroughly enjoyable. With a great selection of delicious wines to sample, you’d be hard pushed not to have a good time, but the beautiful surroundings and eager wine aficionados just add to the whole experience. Whether you’re a total wine buff or complete novice, Vinopolis will add the fun factor to an evening of unashamed wine guzzling.

Rebecca Holt Champagne

Vinopolis is located at No.1 Bank End, London, SE1 9BU. Packages range from £32 – £42 with the option of 7, 12 or 16 tokens. For further information and bookings visit: vinopolis.co.uk

Head to Joe Allen’s, London, for gourmet burgers and chic cocktails

Joe Allen restaurant London

A New York-style brasserie, with a mighty-meaty American menu

Originally opened in the seventies, this theatre-loving, bustling haunt is where actors, producers, directors and West-End stars would habitually hang out supping on cocktails devouring the classic American fare. It still maintains that element of drama and sophistication, with crisp white linen table clothes, waiters clad in long, knee-length aprons with white shirts and black ties, a singing pianist, sultry, ambient lighting and walls adorned with theatre posters from old musicals and images of iconic American stars.

Joe Allen's restaurant - London restaurants - restaurant reviews - foodThe restaurant itself is has a New York/Parisian brasserie feel, with exposed brick walls and wooden floorboards. Very New York and very cool. Not surprising mind you, seeing as the restaurant itself is styled on its original New York venue, so there’s an aura of the Big Apple’s downtown-chic that emanates throughout. I envisage a swarm of Broadway stars herding into the restaurant to serenade the audience with classic show tunes accompanied by a debonair bow-tied gentleman tinkling on the piano.

We’re sat on a romantic table for two, subtly amused I sit opposite my lovely friend Di, and not on an intimate date with sexy man. To help whet our appetites we quite literally dive into a couple of tongue-tingling old fashioned tipples. I opt for the ‘Bitter Queen’, a combination of gin, Dubonnet, rose lemonade with a subtle hint of orange and aromatic bitters. As a Campari lover, this is just the cocktail for me, and of course helps whittle down our choices from the mouthwatering menu.

Joe Allen cocktail - London restaurant reviews - foodIf you’re feeling famished, Joe Allen’s collection of finger-licking American treats will absolutely hit the mark. We’re both ravenous, so if I’m honest, everything looks good, but catching my eye in particular is the creamy lobster macaroni. Who could resist? And then there’s the choice between succulent fillet steak, spiced baby back ribs or half a grilled chicken. What’s not on the menu we notice are the signature burgers, but we spot the waiters gliding through the restaurant gracefully carrying towering sliders filed with bacon, crisp salad, chunky pickles and bubbling cheese. We simply can’t miss out on sampling the restaurant’s definitive dish. We decide to share a steak and burger following our starters of lobster macaroni and crab salad.

Crab salad bloody tomao dressing - Joe Allen restaurant London - restaurant reviews - foodThe crab salad is divine. Delicate flakes of fresh crab with slices of avocado dressed in a tangy Bloody Mary tomato dressing. Refreshingly light and flavoursome, and the perfect entrée before tucking into a mammoth burger. The mac and cheese unfortunately did not quite live up to expectations. I was expecting a thick, cheesy sauce with chunks of exquisite lobster. Instead I bite into a mouthful of macaroni, that has a runny, milky consistency and I’m forced to play ‘hunt the lobster’. A few tiny chunks surface from the mounds of macaroni. It was ok, but certainly nothing nothing to rave about.

Macaroni and cheese - Joe Allen restaurant London - restaurant reviews - foodOur mains are swiftly presented to us in no time at all. I have a glistening fillet steak cooked in the restaurant’s signature steak sauce, accompanied by a delightful slightly spiced chipotle hollandaise sauce – an absolute taste sensation when smothered over my juicy steak.

Steak with hollandaise chipotle sauce - Joe Allen's restaurant London - restaurant reviews - food

Di is presented an impressive burger piled high with crisp salad, slathers of cheese, sizzling crispy bacon rashers and chunky pickles in a toasted brioche bun. Instantly I have food envy but lucky for me we decide to share! As a true burger buff I’m very particular about my sizzling sliders – but this one ticks every box.  The meat is perfectly pink and meltingly tender, the crispy bacon is covered in gooey cheese and the salad and pickles are crunchy and tasty as I bite into the sweet brioche bun. Heavenly. The chipotle hollandaise tastes great with the burger, alongside the spicy steak sauce, to add a cheeky little kick.

Joe Allen burger - London restaurants reviews - foodTo our surprise both plates are literally licked clean, without a leftover in sight. We have to roll ourselves out of the restaurant from a little over indulgence but overall Joe Allen’s gets a big thumbs up. Great burgers, quirky cocktails and a bustling atmosphere. Definitely worth a visit.

For more information on booking a table at Joe Allens, and to view a sample menu visit www.joeallen.co.uk

A blissful massage at the Thai Square Spa, Covent Garden

spa-treatment-rooms-thai-square-spa-london-spa-review-fashion-beauty-UyeN3J-med

If like me, you’ve been lucky enough to experience Thailand first hand, you’ll be only too familiar with the idyllic vision that comes to mind; crystal clear waters that glisten in the sunlight setting the backdrop to white sandy beaches surrounded by vibrant tropical plants and flowers. From the heart of the rainforests to the beautiful islands, Thailand really is a place that will remain a picture of paradise in your mind that you’ll want to revisit again and again.

Having spent a month travelling around the country myself, I wholeheartedly admit I’m a bit of a Thai-junkie. I love the food, the culture and of course the divine (if not sometimes slightly painful), traditional Thai massages. So if you’re looking for a treatment inspired by the traditions of Thailand, Thai Square Spa is the ideal spot to relax and unwind after a hard day at the office, or a serious day of shopping.

Located in the heart of trendy Covent Garden, Thai Square Spa is a tranquil retreat tucked away from the chaos of the square’s famous street performers and bustling shops. As I walk into the building I’m instantly transported into an oasis of calm, greeted by relaxing, soothing music and lavish décor. Towering, carved Buddhas lead the way through softly lit walkways of exposed brickwork, hanging copper lanterns and exotic lotus flowers.

There are seven treatment rooms, all offering a range of decadent massages, facials, beauty treatments and traditional ritual therapies that work to cleanse and restore the body’s natural balance. I opt for the Body Bliss Ritual massage that gently works to calm the nerves and relax the muscles using aromatic, sensual oils. A sublime massage focusing on relaxtion, but vigorous enough to gently work out any uncomfortable knots. An hour’s treatment left me supremely relaxed and my mind in a state of calm, with stress merely a distant memory.

After my massage I’m taken to the relaxation area where I’m given a refreshing jasmine tea to slowly savour whilst I prepare myself to step back into normality. With friendly staff, wonderful soothing treatments and a luxurious setting, this spa really is a treat that you won’t want to miss out on.

Thai Square Spa is at 25 Shelton Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9HW. 020 7240 6090. For a full list of treatment options visit www.thaisquarespa.com/coventgarden