London at Night
Did you know that Americans traveling
abroad head for London more than any other destination? And with good reason.
It’s a city that grows more vibrant every time we visit—new attractions, a burgeoning
restaurant scene, easy availability of theater seats, great hotels and on and
on. Since we had not ventured from these shores after 9/11, London seemed like
a comfortable start and, indeed, it is, familiar yet with many unknowns that
Anyone who loves a party will find
Her Majesty’s City in 2002 filled with celebratory events. Although the Golden
Jubilee weekend took place in early June, the festivities continue until the
end of the year. Among them the one that is of major importance is “String of
Pearls”—80 venues scattered along the Thames and its environs. All are opening
their doors to visitors to learn about and to enjoy the architecture, history
and the behind-the-scenes workings of these important institutions. Along with
attending special lectures, concerts, performances and exhibits, you might stroll
the Secret Gardens of Eton or the new Cathedrals Trail.
The Royal Guard at Whitehall, London
historic palaces, places of worship and art and specialized museums are all
marking 2002 as a momentous and festive time in hope that the Jubilee gives
a boost to tourism. The recently constructed and spectacular Queen Elizabeth
Great Court at the British Museum includes 12 of the outstanding
collections. The Victoria and Albert is also showing off some special
artifacts in its recently opened British Galleries, which traces design
from the 1500s through the 1900s.
Two highly recommended sites were a first for us: Cabinet War Rooms, an underground bunker,
from which Churchill, along with his Chiefs of Staff and selected ministers
and advisors from the War Cabinet, directed the British effort in World War
II; and Imperial War Museum, covering all aspects of military operations
and human experience on the battlefields, at sea and at home during the 20th
London’s grand hotels
are majestic, but for intimacy and charm, nothing beats a reconverted townhouse
in a residential neighborhood like Bloomsbury, where the artistic passions
of the past infuse the byways and buildings. The Academy comprises five
Georgian townhouses cobbled together from adjoining properties on Gower Street,
a block-long stretch of identical facades.
The Academy, Bloomsbury
Forty-nine guestrooms and suites
are decorated like a cozy, comfortable home. Chairs, lamps, Frette bedding,
pillows and window and wall coverings match what any tasteful English family
might select for their own furnishings. A garden, library and several pleasant
parlors, one of which we successfully commandeered for our own small cocktail
party, add to the non-commercial ambiance.
Full English breakfasts are usually a treat, but the one at the Academy exceeded expectations. The free-range eggs were the best we’ve ever eaten and tasted as though the farmer had gathered them that morning.
The friendliness of the staff from porter to manager reminded us of our neighbors back home.
The Academy, 21 Gower Street,
Bloomsbury, London WC1E 6HG. Tel. 011 44 (0) 20 7631 4115. Rates start at $100.
The Academy is part of the Eton Town House Group which owns a small group of
similar properties in the British Isles. www.theetoncollection.com/hotels/academy
Remember when the English had a reputation for serving dreadful food? No more. Their restaurants have caught up with those in capitals all over the world. Fine dining, as it should be, is part of traveling. Now, with so many choices the problem is selecting where you’d like to eat.
Indian food is often lumped with other inexpensive ethnic cuisines. Therefore, many diners neglect the rare experience that an haute Indian restaurant delivers. Creative cuisine always exists in countries that once had a palace culture. Think about it. Did the rajahs subsist on simple curries, samosas and tandoori- and biranyi-style cooking? Vivek Singh, executive chef, brings his experience at the world-renowned Rajvilas, Jaipur to the kitchen of the year-old Cinnamon Club.
If stellar appetizers such as crab risotto with truffle cappuccino and prawns and guinea fowl breast with fennel and coriander astonish, they are Singh’s take on traditional flavors adjusted for the refined palate. Main courses of venison saddle with ginger and onion sauce accompanied by pilau rice and clove smoked lamb with corn and chickpea bread could not have been better.
The assortment of coconut desserts—cake, ice cream and pudding—might have been more in keeping with the theme, but when toffee pudding, the best English dessert, is on the menu, we can’t resist. The cake-like version here was creditable, but lacked the usual sauce.
Service was a bit slow.
Cinnamon Club is housed in the former premises of the Old Westminster Library. Elements of the library, such as the balcony and books, were retained and Indian touches were added. Lest you expect someone to say “shush,” the restaurant looks more like a club than a reading room.
The Cinnamon Club, The Old Westminster
Library, Great Smith Street, London SWIP 3BU. Tel. 020 7222 2555. Moderate.
112 Draycott Avenue, between South
Kensington and Sloane Square, has housed a restaurant for decades. About a year
ago, the building was sold to Caprice Holdings, owners of several distinguished
eateries, including The Ivy, where getting a reservation is somewhat like winning
the lottery. We didn’t take the prize and instead headed to Daphne’s, Caprice’s
latest addition, for a lovely lunch of classic Italian dishes, updated for modern
tastes and eye appeal.
Entrance to Daphne's Restaurant in London
The restaurant’s pared-down design is simple and stunning. Stucco walls are light pink and very Mediterranean looking. The restaurant is divided into two bi-level dining rooms, one of which has a conservatory roof. Plants are the only adornment.
Addictive whole wheat and cumin breads
were baked in house. A plate of red and yellow beets were roasted till caramelized
and tender and topped with anchovies that were smoked rather than salted. Cornish
crab and herb-vinaigrette salad sitting alongside grilled pagnotta bread were
sophisticated, yet they reminded us of Italian farmhouse cooking. A main course
of charcoal-grilled rabbit was not gamey and as white as snow. Paired with creamy
polenta that had been sprinkled with olives and perfumed with rosemary, it was
not too heavy for a mid-day meal. A whole baked moist sea bass was filleted
at the table and served with beautifully prepared fennel.
Dolci included Italian standbys with new twists, such as zabaglione, pannacotta and polenta-lemon tart. Iced berries with hot melted white chocolate were a delightful contrast in textures. When the sauce was poured over the fruit, it coated the berries, which stayed cold. How’s that for inventiveness!
Daphne’s, 112 Draycott Avenue,
London SW3 3AE. Tel. 020 7589 4257. Moderate. www.daphnes-restaurant.com
Contemporary Italian food served
in unpretentious surroundings may be the cuisine and the atmosphere of the moment
in London. Despite the similarity in design and in the ingredients used in some
of the dishes, dining at Il Convivio, one of the branches of London’s popular
Etrusca Group, was not deja-vu all over again.
Located on a residential street in
a Georgian townhouse in Belgravia, the restaurant is striking and bright and
has a distinctive glass front. The main room, a few steps down from the bar,
has a skylight ceiling and opens onto a courtyard for al fresco dining.
Housemade foccacio had more character than any we’ve ever nibbled on. We began with swordfish carpaccio, so translucent you could almost see through it. It was swathed with a very light dressing that gave it the proper balance. Sliced Parma ham was of the best quality, but the rich, creamy stracchino cheese with which it was partnered was unctuous and bland.
Medallions of wild boar were beautifully
sauced and celeriac puree had a bit of crunch from the added pomegranate seeds.
Fried red mullet was coated with semolina and served with artichokes and samphire,
again illustrating the chef’s know-how about combinations.
Assured that we would beat our deadline,
we ordered dessert. It was a mistake even though the lemon tart and chocolate
ice cream cake were delicious.
Il Convivio, 143 Ebury Street, London SW1W 9QN. Tel. 020 7730 4130. Moderate
Dishes from Il Convivio
Sea Scallops and Olive Oil Poached Tomoatoes
Warm Chocolate and Rasberry Cake
with Manjari Sauce
We thought the food at Le Deuxieme was mostly French, but the chef prefers to call it modern European. Located near Convent Garden, its $35 pre-theater dinner including wine is a steal when heading for one of London’s mostly early curtains. We’re glad we decided to make a leisurely evening of it as the food was superb and the prices are gentle.
Despite its opening in late 2001,
the smallish dining room was full; perhaps word of mouth travels fast even in
one of the world’s most populated cities. The lilac and cream interior and the
table appointments are stylish.
Service was well-paced and elegant
without being stuffy.
And the food had us craning our necks
to see if other diners’ selections looked as good as ours tasted. Lamb sweetbreads
sitting on pureed sweet pea dahl could make you turn your back on cows. Goose
breast on a potato galette was lean and smoky; pickled leeks and pumpkin seed
oil added flair to this first course. Peppered entrecote with sauteed potatoes
and caramelized onions were perfect. Silky and sweet pan-seared Arctic char
came with lentil kedgeree and a mild curry sauce. A side of creamed spinach
tasted as though it had been prepared for grownups.
Sticky toffee pudding was doused
with sauce and chocolate pudding was dark and dense. Both were ambrosial. Perhaps
this explains “modern European.” English desserts are the best
so why not put them on the menu. There is a fine list of mostly French wines
and a good array of after-dinner drinks.
Le Deuxieme, 65a
Long Acre Road, London WC2 9JH, Tel. 020 7379 0033
Simpson’s hasn’t changed much in
the more than three decades since we last ate there except to show improvement.
The roast beef is better. Perhaps you wonder how someone can remember what something
they ate more than 30 years ago tasted like. I’ll tell you. I wasn’t too impressed
the last time. Now the roast rib of Scottish Aberdeen Angus beef on the bone,
the restaurant’s signature dish, is tasty and tender, thanks to a chef who’s
been working with the breeder to perk up the flavor. So why did we go back?
Nostalgia! We ate there with friends and enjoyed the clubiness of the Grand
Divan room with its wood paneling polished to a high gloss, its ornate ceiling
and its softly-lit chandeliers. Breads were outstanding, particularly the lemon
rolls whose flavor perfumed the air the minute we broke them apart. Smoked Scottish
salmon was firm, thinly sliced and not too salty, but the disappointing chicken
liver pate needed spicing up.
Giant silver-domed trolleys from
which the white-aproned waiters carved great joints of meat were pulled up to
the table. Portions were enormous and covered with jus. Beef came with the traditional
Yorkshire pudding and creamed horseradish. The saddle of lamb was subtly rubbed
with garlic. Roast potatoes were crusty on the outside and flaky on the inside
and the new potatoes were delightfully buttery. But the Savoy cabbage, spinach,
and green beans had been robbed of their taste and had the consistency of vegetables
that had been sitting on the steam table since yesterday.
The sugar in the cloyingly sweet desserts needs to be reduced by half. Instead go for the plate of British farmhouse cheese from Neal’s Yard.
A bottle of Chateau Le Bernadot 1995 Medoc suggested by the Maitre D’ was a fine match for the meat.
Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, 100 Strand,
London WC2R OEW. Tel. 020 7836 9112. Moderate. www.the-savoy-group.com/simpsons/default.asp
Credit goes to Anna Maria, the 7th Duchess of Bedford Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, for starting the custom of taking afternoon tea. In the 1840s she created a light refreshment, to fill in the long gap between noon and late evening. In this century of careful eating we find that a sensible way to stick to three squares and make the early theater times in the West End is to order the main meal at midday and take tea in the late afternoon. Expect brewed tea, crustless sandwiches and miniature pastries presented on an epergne, warm scones with clotted cream and jam and a pianist twinkling on the keys. Prices range from 22 to 29.50 pounds. Reservations suggested.
Afternoon Tea in the Thames Foyer, The Savoy
Although the setting, the Thames
Foyer with its predominant pinks and greens, is quintessentially British, the
hotel recently staged a promotion with an Asian theme, Journey to an Indian
Tea Garden at The Savoy, and may in the future offer other snacks from around
the world at teatime. Chef Anton Edelmann’s savouries and sweets are so sought
after that he published a book, Taking Tea at the Savoy, with suggested menus
and about 50 recipes. Our favorites were the very English cucumber-egg-mint
sandwiches, Scottish dundee cake and cappuccino brulee.
For the Indian promotion Edelmann
ceded the menu to the Bombay Brasserie, which prepared finger delicacies like
chutney sandwiches, chili cheese toast and milk dumplings. Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgis, which complement fruits and
salads, were added to the list of teas .
Thames Foyer, The Savoy, Strand,
London WC2R OEU. Tel. 020 7420 2356. Tea is served from 3:00 to 5:30.
at the Ritz
Tea at The Ritz. Doesn’t it sound swanky? It is. Served in the Palm Court, a few steps up from the lobby, the space was recently photographed for Architectural Digest and included in a feature about great hotels. A room of vast height, its ceiling is glass and its walls are sunny yellow and decorated with ornate molding. Silver service—pots, milk jugs and strainers—sit on rose colored cloths.
Sarah Manser, hotel spokesperson,
said top purveyors supply their very finest products, which are tried out to
make sure that everything is perfect when it reaches the table. Sandwich fillings
like roast beef and horseradish, poached salmon and watercress and smoked salmon
were coupled with four different breads of which tomato was the best. All the
pastries looked delicious, but the fruit cake satisfied our taste buds the most.
A selection of English, Indian and Chinese tea is offered and coffee is available for those who prefer it.
Palm Court, The Ritz, 150 Piccadilly,
London WIJ 9BR. Tel. 877 748 9536. There are three seatings at 1:30, 3:30 and
An epergne at The Savoy, London
You can live it up at The Lanesborough
with their very sumptuous Belgravia Tea. It begins with a champagne cocktail
or a glass of Taittinger champagne followed by a bowl of fresh large juicy strawberries
and cream. The waiter appears with a box of house blended teas, which were chosen
with the help Malcolm Ferry Lay, a distinguished name in the trade, and he describes
each exotic one—rose congou, lychee, strawberry, etc.
After returning with the service, he explains the special brewing process. A three-minute timer stops the seeping and the tea remains the same strength.
Sandwiches included tuna on tomato
bread, salmon-dill on white and curried chicken on herb bread. Scones were accompanied
by sweet-tart thick lemon curd.
Tea is served to an international
crowd in The Conservatory, which reminds you of Brighton Pavilion with its chinoiserie,
fountains and greenery.
The Conservatory, The Lanesborough,
Hyde Park Corner, London SW1X 7TA. Tel. 020 7259 5599. Tea is served from 3:00
until 5:30. www.lanesborough.com
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Her Majesty’s ascendancy to the throne, Four Seasons is presenting a special Golden Jubilee Tea. On other occasions, such as the marriage of Prince Edward, a Royal Wedding Tea was also served in The Lounge, an elegant and traditional room furnished in rich earth colors and filled with upholstered sofas and settees arranged in conversational groupings to give a residential look.
Like other English teas, Four Seasons
served four varieties of sandwiches. Some distinctive breads were saffron and
granary with assorted fillings like cucumber and cream cheese and chicken and
mango chutney. Strawberry jam was the spread for raisin scones. Desserts included
passion fruit and pineapple mousse, lime meringue tart and chocolate-coffee
cake. When you think you can’t eat another bite, guava sorbet in a chocolate
Fifty kinds of teas are served and a special anniversary blend was created by R. Twining & Company, Ltd.
The Lounge, Four Seasons Hotel,
Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London W1A 1AZ, Tel. 020 7499 0888. Tea time stretches
until 7:00, which is later than most other restaurants. www.thefourseason.com/london/index.html
“It is,” said one obviously enchanted American guest, who was spending several days at Champneys on her way home from a business trip in Germany, “just like the spas I visit in the States. In fact, the program, approach to food and philosophy remind me of my favorite, a spa in Massachusetts where I’m a regular. I’ve been to European spas that emphasize ‘taking the waters’ and have enjoyed them, but Champneys meets my need to eat healthy, exercise and unwind before getting back to the pressures of New York”.
The spa has a long history. The first deed to the land was recorded in 1307. By 1874 the Rothschilds came to own the estate and they built a fashionable French-style home, the Mansion, on it. In the 1920s a naturopath created England’s first nature cure resort here. The diet was so restrictive that it was the closest thing to a fast. During the 1970s the focus turned to health treatments. A Japanese-style spa was added and with the construction of a new wing the original facilities were expanded.
When we received the advance activities
schedule, we wondered how we would squeeze in all the rotating classes we wanted
to take from the almost 20 offered daily. Teaching such popular skills as fitball
workout, yoga, pilates and spinning, the fitness department is as up-to-date
as your local gym.
“Mind, body, spirit” appears in all
the literature, but the approach has a wide berth. On arrival guests see a nurse
consultant who might make suggestions, but no one prods you to follow a routine.
An Italian woman, who had been coming here for two-week stays every year for
a decade, knew that she needed to lose weight, but did not watch her food intake
or exercise. To her, the visit represented a rest at a resort. Most guests,
however, take the experience seriously. Indeed, the more rigorous classes were
the ones that seemed the most full. When we visited it was yoga week and practitioners
of that discipline worked hard at it.
You can choose from among 110 beauty treatments. Many of them are coordinated with the eight product lines stocked at Champneys. Alternative therapies include reiki, neuro-linguistic programming and the use of color and of light. Complementary therapies like acupuncture and homeopathy are available along with a range of medical treatments and screenings. If you have a beauty or health problem of any kind or if you just want to look and feel terrific, the consultants in this area will set up appropriate services.
Helen James who lives in Ascot said she likes the “high quality” beauty treatments and that they are comparable to the ones she gets at Bliss on her frequent trips to New York.
If you were not traveling from overseas, you could fit the clothes you need into a tote bag. Dress is casual. Many people wear the slippers and robes issued to them all day. Even at night, guests, who come from cultures where jewels and fancy clothing are de rigueur, appear at dinner in sports attire.
The dining room is divided into two
sections to cater to those who are limiting their caloric intake and those who
eat a normal diet. Lunch is served buffet-style. There is a bar of salads with
every known salad ingredient included in some delicious combinations and a hot
table with meat, fish, chicken, pasta and vegetables that are reasonably palatable.
To help those on a light diet limit their portions, the plates are divided into
carbohydrate, protein and salad sections .At dinner there is a set menu for
dieters; the regular menu offers choices. Beef and lamb were very good, but
it was thumbs down for the fish. The plate of farmhouse cheeses hit the spot.
You can order champagne and wine with dinner. Designated Champneys tables that
accommodate eight allow you to eat with others.
Bedrooms in the Mansion are not as lavish as say Cliveden or Gleneagles, but they are cheerful and comfortable enough. In the public areas you sense that aristocrats were meant to mingle within these walls.
Champneys, Wiggins, Hertfordshire
HP23 6HY England. Tel. 44 (0) 1442 291111.
Weekend escapes in a standard
room in the new wing for a minimum two-night stay including all activities,
meals and daily massage start at 200 pounds www.champneys.com.
Flying in the best of circumstances has always been a hassle. Lately, we all know, it’s worse. Any airline that tries to ease the stress with special services gets our vote. Very good has gotten even better since the last time we flew Virgin Atlantic. Complimentary services in the Heathrow lounge have expanded. The seats in upper class seem to recline farther, the menus on both sides of the ocean in the upper-class lounges and in the air and have changed.
Food service is now called “Freedom
Dining” and it allows you to eat what you want whenever you want. The menus
have been streamlined and include “lighter bites”and “bigger bites” as well
as cheese, desserts, fruit and bakery items.
You used to be able to get your hair
done, take a shower and get your shoes shined after arriving for a morning meeting
or while waiting to take off. Now you can have a complimentary foot spa and
massage or a facial and mask, too. Women can get their eyebrows shaped and men
can get a shave.
Tel. 800-862-8621 www.virgin-atlantic.com