The first produce market I visited in Canada was the impressive Marché Jean-Talon in Montreal, a wonderland of fruit, vegetables and other produce, plus a paradise of specialist food shops and delis. I’ll be writing more about my non-market food finds in Montreal soon, but next I want to tell you about the next destination (and food market) to win my affections.

Quebec City lies just 160 miles North East of Montreal, also on the banks of the St Lawrence River. I journeyed between the two by train, taking VIA Rail’s comfortable direct service from the heart of one city to the other. Next time I’d like to drive the whole stretch, to better appreciate the beautiful scenery and small towns along the route.

Whereas Montreal offers a energising mix of old French and English plus modern North American culture, architecture and language, Quebec City is altogether more French. The old French architecture is spread more widely around town, French is the dominant language spoken, and one could easily imagine oneself back in a corner of France, culturally-speaking. Of course, it’s a modern city too, but its heart is a little piece of France in North America. It’s an enchanting place to visit.

You’ve probably already realised how much I’m drawn to food markets and Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec is another fabulous example, located directly opposite the Gare du Palais, the city’s central station.

Under cover, the market is open all year round. It sells produce direct from the farmers and artisan produce is often sold by the people who make it. You will find fruit and vegetables, meat products, maple syrup, cheese, charcuterie, jam, sweets and more. Stall holders are friendly and happy to answer your questions about their products.

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Though I’ve jumped in to tell you about the market first, I actually visited just before leaving Quebec City; taking the train back to Montreal before flying down to Toronto for the next segment of my trip. Before that, I discovered the other attractions of the city and surrounding area.

On my arrival at Quebec City Gare du Palais (train station), I was met by local tour guide Michelle Demers. We headed straight out of the city to Île d’Orléans, a large island located in the river just off the shores off Quebec City. Accessed  from the city via a narrow road bridge, the island retains a feeling of rural peace and detachment. Though some residents do commute to the mainland for work, the island’s primary industry is farming, and much of the landscape is put to agriculture. We spent a lovely afternoon driving a circuit of the island, enjoying the pretty villages along the main road and the stunning views of the river and mainland to both sides.

Michelle told me a little about the history of the area – the island was one of the first areas of the province settled by early French colonists and many French Canadians trace their ancestry back to the settlers of that period. The island was also occupied by the British during the Seven Years’ War (1755 and 1764), after which Britain took ownership of much of what had previously been known as New France, in North America. In the 19th and 20th Century the island also became known for it’s boat building, and developed a thriving fishing industry, both of which have declined in the last eighty years.

One of the joys of exploring the Île d’Orléans are the farm gate stalls along the roadside, from which local farmers sell produce to passers by. Some are manned, others operate on the honesty box system. All were piled high with beautiful fruit and vegetables of the season.

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We stopped in at Cassis Mona, a family business specialising in blackcurrant products including a range of delicious wines, vinegars, syrups, jams and sweets.  You can taste before you buy, and I wish I had more space in my luggage to bring back a treat or two.

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My favourite stop on the island was at a cheese dairy, one that has won awards for its high quality cheese. One of their cheeses, La Faiselle de l’Isle d’Orléans, is the fresh version of the very first cheese made in North America. I loved it fresh with maple sugar and pressed, squeaky like halloumi and served hot from the pan.

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One of the most famous products of Canada is maple syrup and Michelle told me about the traditional sugar shacks of the region. In times past, the season for harvesting and processing maple sap was short, and producers called in their extended families to help during the busiest period. The sap must be harvested and cooked down to make the syrup we know and love. Food traditionally cooked and served to workers during the harvest have become a nostalgia-inducing comfort food for locals and a tourist attraction for visitors. Serving up the kind of hearty food enjoyed for generations, sugar shacks also teach visitors about the traditional production process and let them enjoy snow taffy – maple syrup that has been reduced to a thicker consistency than usual is poured onto fresh snow where it quickly starts to solidify and can easily be wrapped around a stick to eat as a chewy lolly. These days, shacks use shaved ice made in modern freezers to replicate the snow taffy experience even when it’s warm and sunny outside.

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During my visit to Quebec City I stayed at the Auberge Place d’Armes, a beautiful French-style inn with an unbeatable location. My room was utterly gorgeous, one of the most charming of my trip, and service from the front desk was helpful and genuine. I appreciated the voucher for a sweet treat which I was invited to choose from the crepe stand in the cathedral grounds opposite or the ice cream shop beneath the auberge. Delicious ice cream, which I ate perched on the window ledge in the ice cream parlour, watching people walking by.

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From my room windows I looked out onto the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity and the famous and enormously grand Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. There’s a wide wooden boardwalk that extends from the chateau – a lovely walk on a sunny day.

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The auberge was also just steps away from the furnicular down to the pretty Quartier Petit Champlain, an area full of cafes, restaurants and tourist shops. The central square here was rebuilt to original plans and is a beautiful place to stop for a hot chocolate or coffee.

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I particularly enjoyed several modern art installations around the Petit Champlain area and further afield in the city.

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I only had a short time in Quebec City, as I also made a visit to Huron-Wendat to visit the museum, hotel, restaurant and visitor facility; these collectively showcase the culture, traditions, food and hospitality of the Huron first nation. More on that in a future post.

Next time I visit (and I will definitely go back!) I hope to explore more of the city’s many attractions, including world-class art galleries, beautiful parks and excellent restaurants.


Kavey Eats visited Montreal courtesy of Destination Canada, with the assistance of Tourisme Quebec.


If you were to write a wish list for the perfect, modern country house hotel, what might you include?

For me I’d be looking for a beautiful rural setting with plenty of varied attractions in the vicinity, easy to get to but still with that feeling of getting away from it all, sumptuous and spacious bedrooms with modern comfort and lots of personality, glamorous bathrooms with deep bathtubs and walk-in showers, appealing public spaces with comfy seating, an inviting bar and a delicious restaurant, all with modern decor throughout that is playful, quirky and fun to discover. Generosity of hospitality and genuine warmth in the welcome would also feature highly.

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Glazebrook House Hotel sits at the southern edge of Dartmoor National Park and is a very easy drive from London – less than four hours on the day we visited.

And it scores pretty damn highly against my wish list.

Collage Glazebrook outside (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

After decades as a traditional, fairly uninspiring but perfectly decent hotel, it was purchased and completely remodelled by Pieter and Fran Hamman. They commissioned interior designer Timothy Oulton to create a stunning and eclectic luxury boutique hotel with just eight rooms, a bar and restaurant plus conference room and attractive gardens. The new Glazebrook opened last May and, as it comes towards the end of it’s first year in business, we were invited to visit on a glorious spring weekend.

Owner Pieter tells us that the Georgian house was built in 1865, the same year that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll) wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Accordingly, there’s a subtle Alice in Wonderland theme in play, though it’s not overdone or pushed to kitsch; the room names draw from the story and just behind reception there’s an unusual display of magnifying glasses hung on a wall over correspondingly-shaped holes through which little passages from the book can be seen – magnified, of course!

At the heart of the styling is Timothy Oulton’s range of furniture – beds, headboards, sofas, tables, storage trunks, wardrobes – a modern take on traditional styles with lots of leather and shiny metal. In the main part, the decor owes more to the sensibilities of an eBay and car boot sale addict, with displays of everything from road signs to bowler hats, trumpets to drum kits, old cine cameras to dolls houses, china plates to tarnished silver serving platters – all of it vintage, assiduously sourced by Oulton’s team and turned into artful knick-knacks. As a life-long collector, I absolutely love it!

Collage Glazebrook interiors (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

The lobby is a rather fabulous space with grand chandeliers, a huge British flag draped behind the reception desk – large and silver with matching silver bulldog atop it, a taxidermy flamingo, an emu skeleton and many more fascinating details, plus some very comfortable sofas to sink into. From this central space you can take the grand staircase to the first floor, where seven of eight rooms are located, and there are also doors to the restaurant, the bar and a whisky and wine room.

Collage Glazebrook Mad Hatter Room (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

I can’t wait to see our room and I’m not disappointed. Mad Hatter features a king size bed with large leather headboard above which are three vintage dolls houses suspended on the wall – lying on the bed, it’s a little discombobulating at first to look up into their interiors, but you quickly forget about the oddness. A huge marble desk sits below a flatscreen TV mounted on the wall within a frame of blue and white plates. Old hats and hat forms are mounted on another wall. Glass domes show off a tumble of tiny green glass bottles and tea cups and saucers with an illustrated page from Alice in Wonderland. The bathroom is huge, with a deep white tub, double marble sinks and a walk-in shower and gorgeous black and white Q*bert-esque tile floor.

A nice touch is that the wardrobe contains a fridge containing a nice selection of beer, wine and soft drinks plus tea and coffee making facilities and a basket of chocolate, sweets and snacks. All of these are complimentary, we are told when being shown to our room; such a welcome change from price-gauging mini bar charges. Later, sitting in the bath with a sparkling glass of Luscombe Damascene rose and a packet of fruit pastilles, this is even more appreciated – I’d much rather the room rate be an extra £10 or £20 a night with such extras rolled in than having to negotiate ludicrously marked up charges for wi-fi, bottled drinks, coffee and an occasional bar of chocolate.

The bed is supremely comfortable but both of us hate this style of feather pillow – the kind that squishes completely flat where your head lies, to create two enormous cushions trapping your head and providing no support at all. The only other gripe is the shower; you can flip the water between a detachable, wall-mounted shower and the overhead monsoon head but the wall-mounted one is barely high enough for me (and I’m only 5 foot 6 inches) and Pete can really only use the monsoon head, which is mounted just a few inches above his head.

But these are minor niggles and we love our room.

Collage Glazebrook other rooms (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

The other rooms are just as beautiful. White Rabbit, with it’s giant sheepskin bedframe and playing cards is often sold as the bridal suite and has a white tub and walk-in shower like ours. Chesire Cat is the third luxury double (along with White Rabbit and our room) and I’m very taken by the purple colour scheme. The room is huge and has a pretty chaise longue but note that the bathroom doesn’t include a tub and both windows look out onto slate tile roofs and trees, quite a restricted if appealingly private view. Jabberwocky is a superior double, a little smaller than the luxury doubles and with shower only once again. Tweedle Deez is another superior room and the only twin, with two stunning metal four poster beds and a shower-only bathroom. Gryphon is the hotel’s only single room, the bedframe made with recycled metal from a Spitfire plane, so we’re told. Caterpillar, a standard double, is the smallest room in the house, although still with the lovely design touches of all the other rooms. Last is Bread and Butterflies, a wheelchair accessible room on the ground floor.

Collage Glazebrook dining room dinner (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

The in-house restaurant is very popular with locals so do make sure to book a table when you make your room reservation, if you want to be sure of a eating in.

Benefitting from enormous floor-to-ceiling windows, the room has plenty of light during the day and lots of light from chandeliers and candle sconces during the evening. Walls are decorated with collections of vintage china and silver serving platters, with wooden flooring and comfortable leather chairs.

Cooking is solid, based on good quality ingredients, though some dishes wow more than others. Winners are the Ticklemore goat’s cheese fritters and gingerbread whipped mousse starter – light, crisp, delicately flavoured – and a phenomenal whole lemon sole with samphire, lemon butter and jersey royal potatoes – the fish is so perfectly cooked and the lemon butter dressing just right.

The chicken liver parfait with tomato chutney and brioche is decent but let down by a slimy chicken thigh terrine which tastes of very little and contributes nothing to the plate. My west country pork belly, seared loin, cream potato, apple and cauliflower is a strong combination but the loin is very dry and the pork belly could do with even longer cooking to make the fat more soft and melting. It’s decent but not excellent.

The main let down of the meal is a chocolate torte with espresso jelly and tia maria cream – the espresso jelly layer, tia maria cream and tempered chocolate triangle on top are all fine but the main torte is very grainy, like seized chocolate and the texture is too off-putting for me. I am kindly offered a switch and enjoy a scoop of thunder and lightning ice cream served with an excellent light and crisp chocolate chip cookie.

The cheese selection is a really good choice featuring west country cheeses Yarg, Cornish Blue, Sharpham Cremet, Sweet Charlotte Cheddar and Quirk’s Mature Cheddar, served with quince jelly, grapes and a nice plate of crackers; the Sharpham Cremet goats cheese is utterly fantastic, a perfectly ripe, incredibly creamy goat’s cheese in the Brie style.

Collage Glazebrook dining room breakfast (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

Breakfast is served in the same lovely dining room, this time with wooden tables unadorned with white linen and pots of fresh herbs as centre pieces. Juices, fresh fruit and patisseries are excellent as is Pete’s cheese and ham omelette. My full breakfast is alright – the single tiny sausage is a little overcooked, the black pudding and bacon are OK. There is little to make my heart leap – close but no cigar. I would rate both dinner and breakfast as enjoyable meals, but with some room for improvement.

Current room rates are £159 for the single, £179 for the standard double, £189-£199 for the superior twin and doubles and £239 for the three luxury doubles – that’s for bed and breakfast, with bar drinks and dinner charged a la carte. We think that’s a real steal for a relaxing afternoon, evening and morning in this lovely property.

Pete and I fell pretty hard for Glazebrook and I know we’ll definitely be back. We talked about family celebrations we might hold here, to share the delights of Glazebrook with our nearest and dearest, but I suspect we’ll err on the side of selfishness and keep it as a romantic retreat to savour on our own.

Kavey Eats were guests of Glazebrook House Hotel.


There’s something very indulgent about taking a mini city break in your own city of residence.

Holidays at home (or staycations, in the American vernacular) usually involve heading out of town; a shorter journey than heading abroad, perhaps, but further afield than the place you live. On the rare occasions we allocate leisure time to our local area, we tend to day trip, returning home to our own beds overnight. But booking a night in a hotel in your own city transforms a couple of day trips into what feels more like a proper holiday. It’s so much fun! Added bonuses: the travel is easy, and you don’t need to take much luggage.

Pete and I recently spent a night in the Citizen M Bankside hotel, within easy reach of Borough Market and Maltby Street Market, as well as other local attractions.

Read on for my personal guide to the area, plus a review of the hotel.

Borough Market


Borough Market needs little introduction from me; a food market much loved by locals and tourists alike.

I love to come and shop here; browsing through the huge array of fresh produce – meat, fish, fruit, vegetables – and a vast selection of other food items; bread, cakes, biscuits and doughnuts, charcuterie, cheese (oh my, such wonderful cheese), honey, truffles, coffee and tea, fresh filled pasta, beers and wines…

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Some of my favourite stops include:

  • Neal’s Yard Dairy is an Aladdin’s cave of cheese – all kinds and all in perfect condition – served by enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff who are happy to guide you and give a few tasters as you make your choices; I always buy some delicious Coolea plus an oozer and a goats cheese as well and often a piece of Stichelton.

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Neal’s Yard Dairy

  • Jumi is the outlet of a small and young cheese producer from Switzerland, I recommend their marvellously pungent Murgu (blue) and the creamy soft La Bouse – don’t be put off by the cowdung translation!
  • Cheese lovers will also love The French Comte stall, selling not only the cheese but other items from La Franche-Comté. And there are many more cheese vendors besides these.
  • Utobeer has a fantastic selection of bottled beers, making it a great place to buy gifts for beer lovers.
  • Turnips is one of the larger stalls at Borough, almost a mini-section of the market on its own and has a fabulous range of produce. I often find the fruit and vegetables a little pricy but I do make a beeline for their mushroom stall; there’s a fabulous selection, in very good condition and fairly priced. I can recommend the king oyster mushrooms in particular, but have bought many different mushrooms over the years.
  • Visit The Tomato Stall for full-of-flavour tomatoes and juices from Arreton Valley, on the Isle of Wight.
  • Bread Ahead Bakery has created quite a stir, most notably for their doughnuts, the creation of baker Justin Gellatly. I’ve been unlucky the previous two visits to their stall, once I was too late and the doughnuts had run out and the next visit was over Easter, and they had replaced them with hot cross buns. When I finally got to try them on this visit, I loved them so much I went back for more the very next morning! Of course, do try their other baked products as well.
  • I first discovered Caroline’s Free From Bakehouse after I met her through blogging and social media. She’s won many awards for her gluten-free range and also offers some dairy free and sugar free items in her range.
  • Tartufaia Truffles sell fresh truffles as well as truffle-infused products, including a very tasty truffle honey.
  • If you love charcuterie, you’ll be spoiled by Borough Market, as there are many stalls and shops to choose from, offering British and European charcuterie of different types. I don’t have a single favourite, but have enjoyed items from several stalls over the years.
  • Although you can sometimes now find Chegworth Valley fruit juices in supermarkets and farm shops, you’ll find an impressively wide range here, plus fruit from their farm too.
  • For fish lovers, there are several fresh fish mongers (Furness and Shellseekers are two from whom I’ve bought good quality seafood), I’d suggest checking all of them to see what appeals on the day. You’ll also often find high quality smoked fish and eel on sale; House of Sverre and Muirenn Smokehouse are two such vendors.
  • Meat is readily available too. I’ve loved the game birds and venison I’ve bought from Furness, and the bacon, sausages and various cuts of met from the Ginger Pig. There are also several butchers selling meat directly from the farm, including Rhug Farm, Sillfield Farm, Northfield Farm, Hillhead Farm Wild Beef, Wyndham House Poultry and many others. For those looking for camel, ostrich, zebra, crocodile and various antelope, try The Exotic Meat Company.
  • There are a number of stalls selling products from France, so do explore. I tend to head to Le Marché du Quartier as my first port of call.
  • Indeed, it’s not just France that’s represented at Borough Market; there are stalls selling produce from Argentina, Croatia, Grenada, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Turkey… a lovely way to travel the world without leaving London!
  • I’ve only recently discovered Spice Mountain, but want to explore further, as based on my brief initial visit, they offer a really wide range of spices, including a selection of spice blends.

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There are also an ever-increasing number of street food vendors, selling hot and cold food to eat there and then. I’m not a huge fan of eating on the hoof, so I’ve not paid much attention to these, but there are plenty to choose from.

For more information on traders and opening times, visit the Borough Market website.



I’ve already mentioned Utobeer within the market (and there are a number of wine vendors too).

Take a very short detour out of the market proper to Laithwaite’s Wine, at the north end of Stoney Street. It’s a great shop in its own right, with a wide range of wine and helpful staff. But in the Favelle household, it’s better known as the easiest way to reach The Whisky Exchange (the other way in being through Vinopolis); a small shop space housing a truly impressive selection of whiskies from around the world.

The Whisky Exchange

Back to beer lovers, there are several breweries to visit in the area around Borough, Maltby Street and Bermondsey Street. Look up Anspach & Hobday, Brew by Numbers, Bullfinch, Four Pure, Hiver, Kernel, Southwark Brewing Company, Partizan

Local pubs include The Rake, a favourite with lovers of real ale but frustratingly tiny inside, so best visited during warmer months or very quiet times of the day.

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Umbrella art installation just outside; Brew Wharf

Another great place to stop for a pint or two is Brew Wharf, within the larger Vinopolis complex, which offers a range of beers from London, the rest of the UK and international breweries. They also brew on site in their own microbrewery.

Wine Wharf, just in front, is the wine lovers option; another lovely space in which to enjoy a drink is Bedales Wine Bar and Shop, within the market area.


A Warming Pit Stop

I love to stop regularly for coffee or hot chocolate, especially during the colder months, but let’s be honest, I find excuses in the summer too.

The Rabot 1745 cafe sells a tasty selection of hot chocolates; their salted caramel is my current favourite.

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Monmouth Coffee is the best known caffeine option, but I’ve only once been able to find an inside space to sit in all the many visits I’ve made to Borough Market over the years; I’m not one for drinking on the go, nor do the benches outside appeal. The coffee is, of course, super.

Round the corner, Gelateria 3Bis offers coffee, ice cream and hot chocolate and has the advantage that there’s usually a couple of spaces free at the tables and staff are friendly.

For those who don’t mind drinking and walking, there are also a number of takeway coffee vendors within the market.


Maltby Street Market

About twenty minutes walk from Borough Market is the much smaller but altogether funkier Maltby Street Ropewalk Market. You might think it’s not worth the walk, since Borough is so much bigger, but you’d be missing out. The small selection of stalls, tucked under the arches or along the narrow alley are charming, and most are not duplicated over at Borough. I don’t think the vendors list on the website is up to date, but there is always a good range of high quality produce, some to buy and take home and some to enjoy on site.

My picks include African Volcano for the best peri peri sauce and delicious hot food made with the same (the sauce itself is a must-buy ingredient but save space to order Grant’s pulled pork in a bun, peri peri prawns or peri peri burger are), Monty’s Deli for pastrami and salt beef sandwiches, Hansen & Lydersen for smoked salmon, St John’s Bakery for doughnuts. There are usually also a range of beer, wine and cocktails on sale from various of the stalls and arches such as Bar Tozino, which also sells fantastic jamón and other tasty Spanish snacks. Next time I visit, I’m keen to try Gosnell’s London Mead.

Open on weekends only, and do check dates as can vary during winter.

If you enjoy rooting through architectural salvage, a rummage in LASSCO is in order, at 41 Maltby Street.


Bermondsey Street

Bermondsey Street is the trendy hub of a local community that clearly values good food, a relaxed vibe and quirkiness. Where once it might be have been described as up and coming, it’s now firmly “upped and comed”; gentrified but still rather hip. Deserving of a post in its own right, I’ll simply point you towards Pizzaro (and older sibling Jose) and Zucca and suggest you explore this neighbourhood on your own. Do share your favourite finds with me, though!


Tourist Attractions

Southwark Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral, dating mainly from 1220 and 1420, although the nave is a late 19th-century reconstruction. All are welcome to attend services. Visitors may also enter to admire the cathedral, unless it is closed for an event. Do be mindful not to disturb those at worship.

HMS Belfast is a floating naval museum within a warship permanently moored alongside Tower Bridge. Adult entry is £15.50.

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I can’t believe I’ve not yet been inside The Shard, though I’d love to enjoy the views from the higher floors and I’m keen to try Hutong and Lang for high end Chinese and afternoon tea, respectively. You can buy tickets to access the Viewing Gallery online, though be warned, it’s £24.95 for an adult ticket.

Eating Out

If I offered a list of every good restaurant within the area, this would soon turn into a book!

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Breakfast at Rabot 1745

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Elliot’s Cafe

Favourites in 2014 include two meals at Rabot 1745 (which offers a great breakfast menu, as well as their regular lunch and dinner offerings), some delicious dishes at Elliot’s Cafe (I did feel a few dishes were much pricier than justified; then again they’re always full!), a simple, tasty and reasonably priced menu at Hixter Bankside (but we had some frustrating issues with service which were eventually resolved by managers but not reflected in the bill), and I’ve always enjoyed Brindisa for a snack or light meal.


Hotel Citizen M Bankside

My first encounter with a Citizen M hotel was up in Glasgow; it was the perfect option for an overnight stop en route to Islay and had vastly more positive online reviews than other budget chains I considered. The Bankside property offers much the same and is less than a 10 minute walk from Borough Market.

The immediate vicinity is the focus of a lot of recent development, with several new restaurant and cafe openings along the short stretch between the Blue Fin Building and Citizen M.

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Exterior and internal garden area, images courtesy of CitizenM

Check in is meant to be self-service, with a bank of check in computers provided just by the entrance. It’s very straightforward, so we find it a little disconcerting that there are always at least two members of staff to assist, and they tend to step forward immediately, rather than allow guests to self-service first. It’s friendly, but somewhat negates the point of self-service over a traditional check in desk.

Lifts to residential floors can only be operated by those with a room key card, which is good as the open-plan ground-floor lobby is enormously busy throughout the day and evening.

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Rooms are small but have been very cleverly designed to maximise space, and a lot of thought has been given to convenience and comfort; these are too often overlooked in favour of funky design. Beds are huge and very comfortable (though rather high off the ground, and it’s a bit of a clamber for whoever gets the window side). Storage is minimal but sufficient for a one or two night stay. Keeping the sink outside of the bathroom cubicle makes both seem more generous; the shower is much larger than the cruise-ship-style pods often used by budget chains. Much appreciated touches include a large TV with a good selection of films available on demand (and without extra charge), power sockets that cater for various international plugs, a USB charging point and a funky lighting system that allows you to set mood with coloured lighting; I particularly appreciated the ability to keep an unobtrusive red light on in the bathroom pod overnight. Despite the small size, I find the Citizen M rooms more comfortable and appealing than many poorly designed larger rooms I’ve stayed in over the years.

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Another thing I enjoy about Citizen M hotels is the very bright, colourful and quirky design. The public spaces are a sensory overload of funky lighting and Vitra furniture, and all kinds of artwork and random objects to add interest. This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I love it, and very much enjoyed wandering around peering at all the things.

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Ground floor spaces

The lobby is cleverly divided into areas for lounging around reading or chatting, for working (power sockets provided), for eating breakfast, for relaxing. The only slight issue is that, as it’s open to non-residents too, it can be hard to find space during busier times.

You may decide not to eat at the hotel, surrounded as you are by so many fantastic food options, but the hotel does provide breakfast and dinner. The former is in the form of a breakfast buffet; you can either include it when you book or pay on the day, as you prefer. The quality is better than I’ve experienced at far more expensive hotels, the pain au chocolat was superb, and the sausages and bacon good quality. For dinner there are just a handful of choices, but again, what I tried was tasty and decent value too. You are also permitted to bring food in from outside, so go ahead and buy yourself a picnic from Borough Market or order a takeaway from a local restaurant.

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Top row, breakfast; bottom row, dinner

In another nice change from other budget chains I’ve stayed in (and indeed, higher end places in the UK too), service is friendly and helpful to everyone, something we noticed at the Glasgow property as well.

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View into the internal atrium area from the corridor to our room

I’ve also now signed up for the free-to-join Citizen M club which gives me 15% off the best available rate when booking future rooms at any of the Citizen M hotels.


Kavey Eats were guests of Citizen M Bankside hotel.


After the amazing kaiseki dinner we had at Ryokan Kansako I was looking forward to dining at Ryokan Shiraume, our splurge choice in Kyoto for two nights (after which we switched to a hotel in Kyoto station for 3 nights).

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Shiraume is a stunning ryokan situated right in the heart of Kyoto’s well-preserved Gion district. It is built right on the bank of the Shirakawa Stream, amongst the old cherry, willow and plum trees and many rooms enjoy the view and sound of gentle running water. Access is across a small entrance bridge from the street along the other side of the stream and the two beautiful white plum trees for which the inn has been named flank each side.

The Gion district developed to serve the needs of visitors to the nearby Yasaka Shrine, many of whom travelled some distance to see it. Eventually, Gion evolved to become an exclusive and well known geisha district. Incidentally, Gion geisha refer to themselves as geiko, meaning women of the arts, rather than geisha or person of the arts.

Like many of the surviving traditional machiya (townhouses) in the area, Shiraume was once an ochaya – although ochaya translates as ‘tea house’, don’t confuse it with a chashitsu (tea room), where a traditional Japanese tea ceremony may be enjoyed. Geisha entertain their clients by performing the many traditional arts in which they have been trained. Ochaya provide entertainment spaces for such gatherings and Dairyu (Big Willow), as this one was called, was particularly popular with local novelists and poets, including Yoshii Isamu, whose ode to Gion is commemorated on a carved stone monument outside.

Dairyu was opened in 1855, towards the end of the Edo period, and has been passed down from mother to daughter through seven generations. In 1949 the fifth generation owner decided to convert her property into an elegant ryokan (inn) which she named Shiraume. Today, her granddaughter Tomoko Okuda owns the inn. She is a wonderful host and looked after us so warmly during our stay that we can’t wait to return.

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On arrival, we were greeted by Tomoko, checked in and shown to our room before a member of staff arrived with tea and sweets

We booked Umekoyomi, a beautiful ground floor room overlooking the stream. It’s a traditional Japanese style room with pretty antiques and artwork, an en suite bathroom with a beautiful hinoki (cypress wood) tub and has a small entrance hall leading into the main room and bathroom. Sound proofing must be good as we never heard other guests when in our room.

Before taking over Shiraume, Tomoko travelled all around the world and is no stranger to a traveller’s needs. She cleverly provides a traditional Japanese inn with modern facilities including underfloor heating, air conditioning, lovely large thick towels, a hair dryer, telephones in each room, a mini bar fridge (which you can put your own items into, if you prefer), tea and coffee facilities and even a TV and music system. Of course, yukata (traditional robes) and toiletries are also provided.

In the four other traditional inns in which we stayed, I found the futon mattresses quite thin, so asked for my bed to be made with 2 or even three stacked together. But at Shiraume, the futons are far thicker, and the most comfortable we slept on.

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In the afternoon, a selection of drinks and snacks are laid out in one of the public areas for guests to enjoy.

And Tomoko or one of her team are always available to help with local advice or anything you need.


Once again, I wrote in advance to advise that I might struggle to sit comfortably on the floor for the traditional meal we booked for our first night. Tomoko invited us to dine in one the separate dining rooms, where we could lower our legs into the foot space provided. We sat facing out to the open window, listening to the running water of the stream and watching Gion walking past.

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The first course was a stunning array of appetisers. As you can see, presentation is just as important as taste.

Inside it’s casing, a grilled mountain chestnut; pink mountain potato; in a citrus bowl, teeny tiny fish in a soya sauce; in an intricate basket woven from seaweed, a “persimmon” that is actually a quail egg and two gingko chestnuts; potato topped with ikura (salmon roe); burdock root; anago (salt-water conger eel) nigiri sushi and a long stem of pickled ginger to refresh the mouth after the sushi.

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Course two was dobin mushi (a selection of seasonal ingredients cooked in a light broth).

Within the little tea pot was a light but flavoursome liquid containing prawns, matsutake mushrooms and a fish called hamo. Tomoko explained that hamo is also known as the emperor fish and related a story – the emperor loved ocean fish but, during the heat of summer, only one type could survive the one week journey from the coast . But this fish had so very many bones that he just couldn’t enjoy it. One day a clever chef found a way to sliced the bones out whilst leaving the skin in tact, to hold the fish pieces together. The emperor could enjoy ocean fish again!

It’s said to take 16 years of training to learn the technique…

The English language name for hamo is daggertooth pike conger eel.


On the next plate was a grilled scallop with sea urchin sauce, a boiled egg with black sesame seeds and a seaweed and wasabi condiment. Decorating the plate, but also edible, was a sprig of new harvest rice from Siga prefecture which had been popped (like corn) on the stem.


When we booked, we were given a choice between the Kobe beef or the standard kaiseki menu and opted for one of each. Tomoko kindly brought the different courses from each menu separately so both of us could share each one.

First up was the Kobe beef, simply served with Japanese black vinegar. Delicious and tender, though it suffered a little in comparison with that unbelievably silky Hida beef we’d had a few days earlier!


From the kaiseki menu, we were served a selection of sashimi – fatty tuna, snapper and squid.

After that came sushi with grilled preserved mackerel, a speciality of Kyoto where fish often had to be preserved during the hotter months.


For our seventh course, we were back to the shared items from both menus again. The star of this dish for me was the yuba (bean curd skin) served with soya and bonitobut the grilled guji (Japanese tilefish), shitake mushroom and spinach were also fresh and delicious.

Guji is also known as amadai in some parts of Japan.


Diamond crab came topped with tobiko (flying fish roe) and was served with grilled aubergine, soya beans and 2 different vinegars. It was so fresh it was almost sweet!


Next came rice, pickles and miso soup.


And we finished with hojicha (roasted green tea) and black sesame ice cream with fresh fruit.

The next morning, we were offered a choice of a Western or Japanese breakfast, and this time we opted for Western.

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First came tea and fruit juice followed by a basket of top quality croissants, walnut and raisin bread (some of the best I’ve had), chocolate brioche (which was amazingly light), bacon pastries and toast plus omelette, fresh fruit and jams. Enjoyed from the private dining room again, with the window open to the light and sounds coming from outside, it was a wonderful start to the day.

Well fortified, we set off to explore Gion and Higashiyama – areas of Kyoto known for traditional architecture, shops and restaurants as well as many temples and shrines. I’ve shared several posts about these temples and shrines in recent weeks.

Unfortunately, the second half of this day turned into quite an unpleasant one. I was hit with one of the worst headaches I’ve ever experienced – it seemed to be both a neck and shoulder tension headache and a migraine combined, more severe than either, and it wouldn’t respond to my normal prescription drugs or to sleep. Eventually, I asked Pete to see if a doctor might be available. Instead, to ensure we were seen as quickly as possible, Tomoko quickly called a taxi and personally escorted us to the local hospital where she helped translate my symptoms, medical history and drugs to the medical staff and waited with us for quite some time. My assigned doctor decided to give me a CAT scan, just to be safe, and pronounced it clear a little later. Indeed, the symptoms finally started clearing of their own accord an hour or two after that. Typical! Before she left to return to the ryokan, Tomoko left instructions with the hospital reception to organise our taxi back and when we returned home, we discovered a simple but very delicious midnight meal left in our room, as she realised we had missed dinner. Being in so much pain is never pleasant, but it’s much more distressing when you’re away from home and I can’t begin to tell you how much easier it was for both Pete and I to have the practical and emotional support of Tomoko. The next day, we had breakfast in our room and Tomoko kindly allowed us to stay late in the room for me to rest, before we transferred to our next hotel.

Of course, just to make it clear, we loved Shiraume even before my illness and had already been impressed by the warmth and welcome of Tomoko and her team, not to mention the clever way that modern comfort has been brought to a very traditional ryokan experience. And the marvellous cuisine! For anyone nervous about staying in a ryokan (although there’s no reason to be), Shiraume is a perfect choice. And of course, it’s just as appealing for ryokan old hands looking for somewhere special.


With huge thanks and friendship to Tomoko-san for her kindness during our visit.


One of the (many) pleasures of staying in a Japanese ryokan is the wonderful traditional food served for both breakfast and dinner.

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Kaiseki ryori is a traditional multi-course meal consisting of a succession of seasonal, local and beautifully presented little dishes. Although its origins are in the simple dishes served as part of a traditional tea ceremony, it has evolved over centuries into a more elaborate dining style now served in ryokan and specialised restaurants.

Such meals usually have a prescribed order to what is served, though each chef takes pride in designing and presenting their own menus based on local delicacies, seasonal ingredients and traditional techniques combined with their personal style. You can expect a selection of appetisers, sushi or sashimi, a stew of seafood, meat or vegetables, grilled fish or meat, deep fried items, steamed items, rice, miso soup, at least one pickle but usually an assortment of different ones and fresh fruit or sweets.

Traditionally, the meals are served in guests’ rooms, at the low tables provided. After the meal, ryokan staff push the tables aside and make up the futon beds in their place, though some of the larger guest rooms have separate areas for dining and sleeping.

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We stayed just one night in the beautiful Ryokan Kankaso, in Nara but would happily have stayed another – we found our time there so peaceful and relaxing.

The ryokan enjoys a fantastic location at the heart of Nara Park, just a moment’s meander from the famous Todaiji Temple’s Nandaimon (Great Southern Gate). Walking through the entrance to Kankaso is like entering an oasis of calm in the chaos of tourists and deer that are Nara Park. A lovely touch is the planks hanging at the entrance, showing the names of arriving and departing guests.

The core of the ryokan is over 1200 years old and it was once used as a sub-temple to Todaiji. Although most elements have been mended or  rebuilt over time, at least one of the beams has been in place for 12 centuries. Although facilities are very well maintained, there is a beautiful patina of age to much of the ryokan.

As the only guests staying that night, we were assigned a stunning room surrounded by an expansive moss garden on three sides. With a small raised walkway to reach the room, it was essentially detached from the central area of the ryokan and felt like a secret hideaway.

Our room had an en suite bathroom with small but deep wooden tub and a wall-mounted shower, complete with traditional tiny wooden stool and bucket. But we were also invited to use one of the three beautiful shared bathrooms; the two larger ones are usually assigned to men or women only but since there were no other guests, we were able to share one privately. Soaking in the searingly hot bath, looking out onto the garden through the large fogged picture window, we felt like we were in a different era.

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Because of my hip pain, I’d asked in advance whether we might be able to eat at a higher table so our hostess, Aya-san showed us to a large room in the central building, where a table had been set up for us. Like our own room, this one was decorated with beautiful artworks such as the painted screen and hanging tapestry to one side and two statues of Buddha and a vase of flowers to the other.

Aya-san was a charming hostess. Though she spoke very little English at all, she was adept at the use of charades and smiles, and when she realised my interest in knowing more about each element of the meal, she used a small electronic Japanese-English dictionary to translate the chef’s explanations of ingredients and techniques. Her enthusiasm and her delight at our own made this a truly memorable evening quite apart from the food.

And the food was terrific. Though it had a lot of competition, I’d say it was the best meal of the trip.


We started by ordering drinks. Sake for me and beer for Pete.


Our first dish was an ikura (salmon roe) salad with radish and a salty dressing – a simple combination of fresh flavours and textures to cleanse the palate and start the meal.


This selection of starters included a hollowed yuzu (citrus) filled with salad, figs with a nutty paste (which may have been chestnuts) and uni (sea urchin) roe sprinkled on top, two pieces of nigiri sushi with pickled mackerel, what looked like a candied fruit but was actually a sweet, preserved egg yolk and lastly, a cube of steamed fish and rice paste with what Aya described as baby potatoes and which I think were mukago. Mukago are often called mountain yams or wild potatoes, though these tiny potato-like bulbils grow on a bush and not underground, like yam and potato tubers.

This small plate represented an incredible range of textures and tastes.

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After serving the tea pots, Aya showed us that the top lid served as a bowl and the inner lid could be used to set the lime upon. She instructed us to squeeze some lime into the broth before pouring some broth into the bowl to drink. We used our chopsticks to fish out mushroom, prawns and white fish pieces which had been cooked in the hot liquid.

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The sashimi selection, served in a bamboo tray over ice, was superb. Prawns included the crunchy head and the soft tail; tuna was beautiful in colour and flavour; a small mound of bream was delicate and astoundingly fresh. Served alongside was some of the best wasabi I’ve tried, a deep dark soy sauce, daikon (white radish) and a shiso leaf.

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We were not only enjoying the food itself but also the beautiful preparation and presentation of the food and the delightful range of dishes in which it was served.

This beautiful purple lidded bowl opened to reveal a tofu and mushroom dumpling, which had been fried, then served in a viscous soup. Over the top were sprinkled green herbs and tiny yellow flower petals and inside was a hidden centre of eel. This was one of my favourite courses of the meal; quite unlike anything I’d had before.

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Described as “harvest fish” the next course was served with crispy fried daikon and pickled onion with a garnish of a bright green gingko acorn skewered onto a pine needle. A wedge of yuzu was provided, to squeeze over the top.

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The tempura course was simple but beautifully decorated with a couple of stems of rice, briefly grilled so that some of the grains popped. There were two types of tempura – one was a parcel of conger eel, pea and mushroom and the other fresh green pepper on its own. Delicious!

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For our next course, Aya carefully lit a tiny ceramic heater for each of us, so we could enjoy a sukiyaki – this popular dish allows diners to cook the ingredients to their liking before removing them from the bubbling broth. Ours contained beautifully marbled beef, enoki mushrooms, onions and mizuna leaves in a delicious sweet and salty cooking liquid. The fat content made the beef marvellously soft and silky, with the most wonderful flavour.

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As is traditional, we finished with rice, miso soup and pickles. The fried rice with fish was gently savoury, but not overpowering in flavour. The miso was intensely umami and rich, with the teeniest tiniest discs of spring onion floating within it. The pickles were Nara specialities and included uri (squash) which was a rich, sweet pickle and daikon and cucumber, which were lighter and fresher.


To finish we enjoyed fresh pear, grapes and pomegranate seeds in a gelatinous sweet sauce, served with tea.

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We had enjoyed our leisurely meal so much that we popped through to the kitchen area to give our thanks to the chef before retiring back to our rooms for the night, where our futons had been laid out for us in our absence.

After one of the most peaceful nights’ sleep I can remember, we woke up full of joy to slide back the blinds and enjoy our views of the beautiful ryokan gardens.

We returned to the same room as the previous night, for breakfast. Unlike dinner, breakfast dishes were all served together, so we could enjoy the various elements in whichever order we chose.

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The little heaters came out again, this time topped with beautiful lidded bowls in which the very freshest soft tofu simmered, alongside enoki mushrooms, nori (seaweed) and onions. We were given a netted implement with which to scoop out the cooked items, and a rich black sauce in which to dip the tofu.

In addition we had local pickles, a crunchy green salad with a fabulous sesame dressing, slices of tamago (omelette) served with tiny fish and grated daikon, grilled salmon and nori with more pickles and the requisite rice and miso soup. Big mugs of tea were also very welcome. As a counter to the savoury items, some sweet fresh persimmon was a lovely dish to end on.

Ahead of the trip, Pete had wondered whether he’d enjoy eating this kind of breakfast in place of his usual toast and Marmite. He’s fairly adventurous about trying things, but somehow eating unusual dishes for breakfast feels further out of the comfort zone than trying those same things for lunch or dinner. I don’t know whether the wonderful dinner we’d had the evening before had helped set his expectations, or whether he was just in the right frame of mind to go with the flow, but I was very pleased that both of us enjoyed this breakfast equally.


After a last shower and soak in our gorgeous private bathroom, with its own views out to the garden, we finally packed up our things and reluctantly said our goodbyes to both the ryokan and to Aya, wishing we’d booked a second night in this peaceful retreat.

Next, Kyoto…


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Abisko is located in Northern Sweden, right up at the top of Swedish Lapland and well within the Arctic circle. With very little light pollution and prevalent weather patterns which usually keep skies clear of clouds, it’s considered to be one of the best places to see the Northern Lights.

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Whilst we were unlucky with the Northern Lights during our visit at the end of December, we did enjoy the beautiful scenery that surrounded our lodgings at the Abisko Turiststation.

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At this time of year the sun never rises above the horizon, but it’s not completely dark. In fact, for a few hours, it’s actually fairly bright, albeit the light has a very distinctly blue tone. Of course, it’s also dark for much of the day and night. I found it difficult to handle the lack of real, yellow sunlight and can readily understand why depression is a common complaint in polar populations. On the plus side, London, when we returned, felt positively brimming with sunlight!

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Although weather stopped us on the first night, a two night stay meant we were able to ascend to the Aurora Sky Station up on one of the peaks of the Skanderna (Scandinavian Mountains). Of course, when the weather conditions are right and the aurora borealis is putting on a show, the Sky Station gives an unparalleled view.

But even without the lightshow, it’s still a wonderful place to visit.

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The chairlift doesn’t operate during the day, so an evening visit is the only option. That means ascending in the dark and descending in the dark. We’d booked to have dinner at the Sky Station so went up when the chairlift opened at 6pm. Non-dining visitors are invited to ascend two hours later.

The trip took about 20 minutes and it was pretty scary dangling over the barely visible snow-covered landscape below, especially each time the chairlift stopped to let other passengers on or off, and we were left bouncing gently up and down, peering into the gloom, straining to hear anything in the silence. For someone who is scared of heights, it was doubly terrifying!

Abisko in December is bitterly, bitterly, bitterly cold.

Even the clothing we already had (from two wonderful holidays to the Antarctic and a third to the Falkland Islands) was not enough to insulate us from the chill. The chairlift base station provides all-in-one suits but even with several layers beneath, double gloves and socks, scarves and padded hats, our extremities were starting to feel numb towards the end of the journey.

Near the top, we ascended into the clouds and it reminded me of movie representations of purgatory, with characters surrounded by white nothingness on all sides. Or perhaps just a rather chilly sensory deprivation floatation tank.

Luckily, the Sky Station is warm, colourful and a buzz of activity as all the diners arrive and get settled in.

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The station is actually quite small. In the main room, the dining tables take up half the space, with a tiny kitchenette in the corner; there’s casual sofa seating at the other side and a very welcome wood burning fire. A small Aurora room has pictures and panels on science and stories about the Northern Lights. A cloak room at the entrance provides hooks for all the outerwear.


And there’s an outdoor balcony from which you can see the twinkling lights of the Turiststation and small town below. Of course, it’s cold cold cold, so I didn’t stay out there very long!

On arrival, we were given a welcome warm drink of mulled lingonberry juice and took turns to defrost by the fire before being invited to take our places in the dining area.

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Dinner was cooked and served by charming and friendly staff and was rather delicious.


The starter was a creamy cauliflower soup with truffle oil. On the side was a slice of sourdough bread and your choice of bleak roe or dried reindeer meat or pickled mushroom with lemon cream and red onion. Both the soup and accompaniments were very enjoyable, though the soup would have benefited from being served hot rather than lukewarm.


Our meal choices were made in advance. For our main most of us chose roasted reindeer with a red wine and lingonberry sauce, served with potato puree and green pea stomp. The reindeer was fabulously tender, like a fillet of beef, with wonderful flavour. It was just perfect with the lingonberry and red wine sauce. Super mash too!


Mum, being a pescetarian, opted for the Arctic char and horseradish, served with the same potato puree and pea stomp and what I think were large caper berries on their stems. I didn’t taste it but she enjoyed it. A goat’s cheese and beetroot dish was also available for vegetarians.


Dessert was a simple smooth vanilla pudding with blueberries and cloudberries.

A small selection of beers, wines and soft drinks were also available.

Oh but be warned – the toilets are outside!

Stepping outside, the cold wind buffeted me immediately, and I had to take care not to lose my footing. And yes, the toilets were bloody cold! It’s a toss up as to whether it’s worth it putting on your outerwear again to make the short outside walk more bearable – doing so also means you’ll spend longer wriggling out and back into your clothing in the tight, cold space of the toilets. I decided not to bother with my outerwear onesie and was nearly frozen solid when both toilets were occupied and I had to wait for what seemed like an eternity.

Take heed if you’re planning a Sky Station visit and considering celebrating with another drink!

Sadly, the skies remained covered by cloud and the wind whipped snow to obscure the views even further. Still, it was a lovely evening and I’d certainly recommend Abisko to those looking for a non-Santa Lapland experience with the possibility of Northern Lights.


Thanks to my mum for photo of my sister on the chair lift.


Often described as a temple to Californian wine, The Vineyard at Stockcross certainly has an impressive wine list but it’s not limited to Californian ones. Indeed, it has one of the largest international wine cellars in the UK.


The hotel belongs to the Michael family, and is very much a showcase for Sir Peter Michael’s loves of wine and art.

Both combine in the form of a one-off mural called “After The Upset”, painted this year by artist Gary Myatt as a representation of the story of “The Judgement of Paris”. Back in 1976, Steven Spurrier, an Englishman, owned and ran a successful wine shop in Paris, and had recently founded the first private wine school in the country. Understandably, this became a centre point for American vintners and wine writers visiting France, and through them, Spurrier became exposed to Californian wines. He decided to hold a tasting to compare the best of Californian and French wines, to which he invited the top wine experts of the day. His blind tasting format removed the possibility of prejudice colouring the results and indeed, there was considerable uproar when Californian wines were revealed to be the best red and the best white wines of the event. One of the participants, writer George Taber, wrote an article for Time magazine, which he provocatively titled “The Judgement of Paris”. This really rocked the French wine industry, which had, until then, been considered the undisputed king of the wine making world.

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This story was engagingly narrated by head sommelier Yohann Jousselin, who also showed us around the impressive glass ceilinged cellar in the hotel lobby, the main upstairs cellar, and later, talked us through the wines chosen to accompany our meal that evening.

Sir Peter Michael is an entrepreneur with a technological bent and was the driving force behind a number of high tech companies. He also founded Classic FM, the UK’s first national commercial radio station. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1989. Now, his focus is on wine (at his family vineyard in Sonoma County, California), hospitality (at the Vineyard and sister hotel Donnington Valley) and the work of two charitable foundations, one in the US and one in the UK, which fund research on the identification, treatment and management of prostrate cancer.

Although Sir Michael wasn’t present at the original 1976 tasting, he has been included in the mural and was present at some of the subsequent tastings in the following decades.

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A site within the M4 corridor, not far from Newbury, may not sound like the ideal location for a getaway break, but The Vineyard is in a quiet rural spot next door to a golf course. The modern building was recently extended, to add extra bedrooms and conference space and now has 49 bedrooms, each named after a famous wine. The hotel also has a spa, which we didn’t see on this visit.

Our focus was to check out the food and wine offering.

Head chef Daniel Galmiche created a menu to showcase the restaurant’s style, and Yohann matched wines to each course, explaining his choices as they were served.


To my delight, Yohann didn’t bat an eyelid when I asked, as we sat down to the meal, if he could serve me dessert wines instead, whilst the rest of the table enjoyed his original selections. It was a pleasure to be given a different wine for each course, and see how their characteristics affected the flavours of the food and were affected in return. As someone who doesn’t drink regular wines, and usually misses out on matching drinks, this was a rare treat.


Confit of duck foie gras, quince and braeburn apple

A large block of foie gras was simply served with apple and quince jellies and an apple chutney. The foie gras itself was excellent in flavour and texture. I appreciated the generous portion and enjoyed the seasonal fruit condiments.

For the regular wine drinkers, Yohann chose Eroica 2010 from Chateau Ste Michelle, Washington. This wine is the result of collaboration between Chateau Ste Michelle and Dr Ernst Loosen of Mosel in Germany. Pete found it a very good match for the foie gras, and described it as full of sharp green fruit, mainly unripe apples.

For me, Yohann served a delicious Eldorado Gold 2007 from Ferraro Carano, Sonoma California. This is a late harvest dessert wine and reminded me of the wines of Sauternes, which I love and are a classic partner to foie gras.


Diver caught Orkney scallops, cauliflower, walnut

These might just be some of the best scallops I’ve tasted. Not only were they perfectly cooked, with beautiful brown caramelised crusts and yieldingly soft flesh, they had more flavour and natural sweetness than most I’ve had. Served alongside were tiny florets of pickled cauliflower, dollops of cauliflower puree and tiny rounds of sweet apple. No walnut that I could see. This was a simple dish but beautifully executed and one I could eat every day.

The regular wine choice was Quinta do Gaivosa Reserva Pessoal 2004 from Domingos Alves de Sousa in Douro, Portugal. Oddly, Pete detected banana and singed oak on the nose. It was “unsweet without being too dry”, and he muttered about “musty mushroom but in a good way”.

My wine was Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh 2009 from the Producteurs de Plaimont Cuvee Saint-Albert in Plaimont, South West France. A revival of an 18th century wine style, this is another late harvest dessert wine with rich, intense flavours of fruits and molasses.


Balmoral Estate venison, butternut squash, pearl barley, hazelnut

Rubbed with Chef Galmiche’s own coffee, the venison was, once again, some of the best I’ve had. Not at all gamey, it was virtually indistinguishable from a very tender and well flavoured piece of beef. As well as squash and pearl barley, it was accompanied by delicious turnip leaves and a teeny tiny baby carrot! A beautiful dish indeed.

The regular wine choice was a Freemark Abbey 2010 merlot from Napa Valley, California. Pete loved the big fruit, blackcurrant nose and enjoyed what he likened to deep Burgundy tannins. This was a magnificent and a perfect match to the venison.

For me, Yohann chose a cabernet rose fruit juice by Alain Millat. Made from grapes grown in Gaillac, in France, this is a sweet, light and intense juice drink that is perfect for non drinkers seeking a choice that echoes the flavours in red wine.


Griottine cherry and cranberry terrine, pistachio parfait

I was less impressed with this dessert than most of the table, as I found it far too sweet. This coming from me, sitting and drinking my dessert wines all evening! I liked the alcohol and fruit bomb griottine the most. I think the terrine had white chocolate mixed into it, certainly that was what I picked up. Neither the cranberry nor the cherries came through clearly in anything other than appearance. Likewise the pistachio terrine didn’t have much of a pistachio kick. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate this, but it was definitely the weak point of the menu for me.

Yohann served one wine for all of us, to go with this dish – Roussilliere from Yves Cuilleron in France’s Rhône Valley. Another late harvest dessert wine, made from noble rot syrah, this was enjoyed by most of the table, but I actually found the acidity a little strong for my tastes. For Pete, what came through most were deep fruity aromas of raisins and plums. It was “port-like” in the mouth and not too sweet.


Seasonal farmhouse cheese platter, quince, fig cake, fennel bread

Tovey, Gruyere and St Nectaire were all tasty cheeses, though I prefer St Nectaire that’s older and harder than the young, soft slice we had here and likewise, for the Gruyere. Tovey was new to me and I liked it; made by Thornby Moor in Wigton, Cumbria it’s a semi-soft goat’s milk cheese with a smooth texture and robust flavour. The crisp breads – which looked to me like Peters Yard, though the waiter I asked never came back with an answer – were excellent. The fig cake was lovely with the Gruyere and the sweet dark grapes best with the Tovey.

Again, a shared wine choice with the cheese. This time Yohann chose a Noble Late Harvest Chenin Blanc 2005 from Eikendal in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Syrupy sweet with lovely dried fruit flavours, this was a classic dessert wine and I really liked it; a great match for the cheese. Pete mentioned a sweet musty nose, like a cheese cave, and found the wine full of red berry fruit, particularly strawberries, and sweet but with an acid edge on the finish.


Petits fours were served with tea and coffee, in the nearby lounge area.

After dinner, we spent the night in a comfortable Atrium Suite room, in the newest part of the hotel.

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As we left early the next morning, we didn’t make much use of the generous seating in the split level lounge area but we did love the bathroom with large separate shower and an absolutely enormous bathtub! The bed was comfortable and we had a great night’s sleep. My only preference would have been for a larger TV, as I like to watch from the bed on occasion.

Room rates start at just under £200 for a standard “luxury” double and range to over £500 for a Grand Suite. Dinner, bed and breakfast starts at £420. Prices are higher on weekends. It’s worth keeping an eye out for special offers, as a friend told me about one such offer she took advantage of last year which included full use of the spa and an overnight stay for little more than £100.

A five course meal, like the one we were served, is priced at £75 per person, or you can order individual dishes from the a la carte menu. Alternatively, you might enjoy the 7 course Judgement of Paris menu in which each course is matched with two wines, one French and one Californian. With wines, it’s £185 or £99 without.


Kavey Eats was a guest of The Vineyard.


Ryokan are traditional Japanese inns. Ranging in size and level of luxury and amenities, what they have in common are tatami mat floors, traditionally styled rooms, sliding doors, futon beds, Japanese style baths and local cooking. Guests must remove their outdoor shoes at the entrance, where they are given slippers to wear in the public indoor areas. These are, in turn, removed before entering bedrooms.

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The bedrooms double as both sleeping and dining spaces; staff clear away tables and make up futon beds after your evening meal. As it’s common for parties of three or four to share a room, each one has several futons available, so don’t be afraid to ask for your bed to be made up with two or three futons stacked together, if you prefer. We did so in all the ryokan we visited and found this very comfortable.


At the budget end, rooms are small and rarely en suite; guests share communal baths in which they wash thoroughly (on tiny stools in front of a bank of open showers) before slipping into large steaming hot bathing pools. Some ryokan also have a “family bathroom” which can be booked privately by couples and family groups.


But mid-level and more luxurious ryokan are also available, offering larger rooms with en suite bathroom facilities. Sometimes, the guest accommodation offers more than one internal room, with sliding doors to separate them if desired, and a veranda or balcony space looking out over a tiny garden or pretty exterior view. The en suite facilities include a private toilet – usually gizmo-laden with seat heaters, cleaning jets and even warm air – a sink area and an enclosed bathroom with private shower (with requisite tiny wooden stool and bucket) and a deep wooden bath tub. Most ryokan will have communal bathing facilities too, sometimes with onsen (mineral) baths, which are highly sought after for their health benefits. These days, some ryokan also provide televisions, fridges and safes in the rooms.

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We splurged on four higher end ryokan in Takayama, Nara, Kyoto and Miyajima.

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We found the buildings and interiors very calming, probably because of the extensive use of natural materials – tatami mat flooring made of rice straw, dark brown wooden beams, wooden ceilings and fittings, and walls and sliding doors in pale creams.


From our windows we looked out onto carefully tended green spaces, sometimes only tiny but enough to soothe the eye.

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Rooms are sparsely decorated with just a few well-chosen items to provide interest. Often there is a small alcove, or tokonoma, in which traditional arts and crafts are displayed. (This is not intended to be used for the storage of luggage – usually a separate space or closet is provided for that purpose, with your futon mattresses, pillows and duvets stored in another closet). In larger rooms, a painted screen or antique dressing table might take up a small corner.

On arrival, green tea and a sweet snack are usually served in the entrance lobby or in your room.

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In each room, yukata (traditional cotton robes) are provided for guest use. Worn left side wrapped over right (though we got this wrong the first time) and tied with the belt provided, these can be worn to meals, for visiting the communal bathrooms and even, in some towns, for a stroll outside in the street. An outer jacket is provided for this purpose. In our experience, the largest yukata available just about fit Pete, though was comically short on him. But none were large enough to wrap around my wide girth. I took along house pyjamas to wear instead or beneath the yukata, for this reason.


Meals are served on low tables, usually with Japanese floor chairs. Knowing I’d struggle with these, given my hip problems, I requested in advance that we use slightly higher chairs. These are about half the height of standard (Western) chairs and all of our rooms had a pair just by the window.


In some of the ryokan, we were also offered the option of eating in one of their dining rooms, a couple of which had full height tables and chairs available.


Many ryokan serve kaiseki ryori, a traditional and elaborate multi-course meal. Dishes are traditionally prepared using local, seasonal ingredients and are beautifully presented. Usually, the courses are brought in one at a time, but in one of our ryokan, all dishes were served at once, laid out across the large table.

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I booked our stays at three ryokan directly via their websites and email. The fourth I booked through Japanese Guest Houses, who also made my reservation to stay at Shojoshin-in, a Shingon Buddhist temple on Koyasan as well as one of my regular hotel bookings.

I’ll be writing in more detail about the kaiseki ryori meals we enjoyed at two of the ryokan soon.


I’ve always been happy in my North London suburban neighbourhood. But The Victoria in East Sheen is one of those places that seriously makes me dream about moving South.

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This cosy neighbourhood pub and restaurant is located in an incredible peaceful suburban neighbourhood just a couple of minutes’ walk from Richmond Park. The exterior probably hasn’t changed much since it was built in the mid 19th century.

There’s a car park at the back, and plenty of street parking on the road, but I’m guessing most of the customers are locals, quietly giggling to themselves in glee at their bloody good fortune.

The current incarnation was taken on by restaurateur Gregg Bellamy and chef Paul Merrett in 2008 and the pair have created a gastropub with a warm welcome and an appealing food and drink menu.

Paul is a top level chef with an impressive CV. He trained under Gary Rhodes at The Greenhouse and Peter Kromberg at Le Soufflé. He gained an excellent reputation for his cooking at the Meridien Hotel in Piccadilly. Whilst at the Interlude, he was awarded his first Michelin star. After that he returned to The Greenhouse, where he earned another Michelin star.

In our video interview (below), Paul tells us that, like many young and talented chefs, there was a time when cooking that style of food and winning Michelin stars was all he wanted. But after he settled down and had children, his goals in life changed. After helping launch Fulham gastropub The Farm, he yearned for a gastropub of his own. Before finding The Victoria, Paul took some time out to take on an allotment and he wrote about his experiences in his book, Using The Plot: Tales of an Allotment Chef.

Paul also co-wrote Economy Gastronomy: Eat Better and Spend Less with friend Allegra McEvedy.

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Much of the Victoria is set up as a traditional pub. All are welcome, including families with children and locals with pet dogs. In the conservatory at one side is a slightly more formal dining space, though still relaxed and friendly with no stiff upper lips in sight.

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Paul is committed to sourcing ethically and the back of the menu provides information about some of the pub’s suppliers.

Several of the menu starters appealed, as did the day’s special which Paul told us about earlier in the evening. When I asked our waiter whether he’d choose the Manouri cheese starter or the rabbit special, he immediately suggested we try the special as an extra course between starters and mains. You can imagine that this went down quite well with me!


I was very happy with my choice of Serrano ham with pan fried Manouri cheese, kalamata olives, thyme blossom honey and figs (£9). Having never encountered Manouri cheese before I was somewhat sidelined by the featherlight texture, having expected something more solid like halloumi or feta. But the light and mild cheese worked well with silky, salty Serrano ham, sharp olives, really peppery rocket, sweet ripe figs and that drizzle of honey. The bread deserves a mention too – again it was super light, with wonderful crunch and charred flavour from the toasting.


Pete’s new season green pea and potato soup, sheep’s cheese crostini (£6) was a summery delight. Struggling to describe it, Pete earnestly told me how “pea-y” it was. I tasted it. “You mean it tastes utterly of really fresh peas?”,  I asked. “Yes, fresh! That’s what I meant!”, he exclaimed. He also made special mention of how well balanced the dish was in textures and tastes; in the soup a few peas were left whole and on top was that thin, light, crisp crostini topped with mild and creamy sheep’s cheese, more peas and micro salad. A simple dish but very, very well executed.


After our starters came a second shared starter, the daily special: rabbit loin and livers with charred long stem broccoli and morel mushrooms (£7). This is one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in the last few years. So simple and yet, once again, every element in perfect balance. The loin was full of flavour and not at all tough, as rabbit can be when not cooked well. The livers, much larger than I imagined a rabbit’s to be, were like calves liver, and again, just right. Paul had described earlier how he’d be charring the broccoli and indeed, it worked beautifully – like vegetables cooked on the barbeque, the charring gave an additional flavour dimension. The generous helping of morel mushrooms were their usual familiar spongy texture, woody meaty in taste. Underneath all, a buttery chargrilled slice of toast. Over the top, oily meat juices. And the whole lot made to look more beautiful by vivid purple potato crisps. An absolutely exceptional dish!


Pete’s main of oak smoked trout risotto, new season peas and broadbeans, poached eggs and pea shoots (£13) was beautifully colourful, even more so when he broke open the Clarence Court egg and it’s orange yolk spilled out into the risotto. Every element of the dish contributed to flavours and textures, and again, everything was in perfect harmony. Superbly tasty and satisfying.


My 28 day aged 7 ox South Devon rib eye steak with thrice cooked chips & béarnaise sauce (£18) was, as I expected by this point in our meal, very good. Great meat, cooked as requested; enormous and fabulous triple cooked chips and a spot-on béarnaise.

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I loved that Pete’s white chocolate panna cotta with English strawberries and shortbread (£5.50) was served in a Bonne Maman jar; much cuter than the contrived efforts of places that buy in brand new jam jars in which to serve drinks, all pristine and identical, rather than the mixed bag of genuinely recycled used ones. The panna cotta was soft and creamy, though the white chocolate was a little understated. The strawberries hadn’t been oversweetened but were at just the right stage of sweet and tart. The shortbread was very short and crumbly.

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My pecan and walnut baklava with roasted plums and honey ice cream (£5.50) was probably my least favourite dish of the meal. The flavours of the baklava were good, but the filo was chewy and difficult to cut, rather than the light, crunchy texture it should have been. The plums were tart, so tart they caused my jaw muscles to tighten painfully against the acid and I left them uneaten. I wasn’t able to detect any honey flavour within the ice cream; though there were pretty lines drizzled over the top, they didn’t linger on the taste buds.


Coffee was served strong, and was good quality.

With the exception of my dessert, what struck us most strongly about our meal was the impressive balance Paul achieved in each dish, not just in terms of flavours but textures and colours too. Combined with a lovely pub in which to enjoy a drink before and after dinner, a warm welcome and good service from staff and very reasonable prices, you can see why I wish we had a place just like this as our local.


After dinner, Pete and I spent the night in one of The Victoria’s 7 bedrooms.

All are doubles, but 2 can be set up as twin / family rooms and all are ensuite. Prices start at £120 for single occupancy and £130 for double, with additional charges for cots and campbeds.

Our bed was extremely comfortable, with a new, good quality mattress. Instead of wasting space on a large wardrobe or chest of drawers, a clever shelf with hangers beneath was perfectly adequate and attractive too. I also appreciated the tea and coffee making facilities on a tray on the desk.

Our bathroom, with shower but no bath, was a little small though servicable. An extra light above the shower cubicle would be welcome, as I found it a little dark. I’d also appreciate a night light that could be left on during the night.

Best of all was the quiet – even with our window open to let in a cooling breeze, we were amazed at how silent the neighbourhood was during the night and into the morning. Much quieter than our suburban home address!

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Room rates include a continental breakfast which is self service from a table laden with cereal, fruit, pastries, yoghurts and juices. A basket of bread sits by a toaster on the side board and coffee and tea are ordered on arrival.

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We opted for two choices from the cooked breakfast menu. My eggs benedict royale (£7.50), had decadent slices of smoked salmon, poached Clarence Court eggs and another beautifully judged sauce in the Hollandaise. Pete’s croque madame (£6.50) might better be described as a ham and cheese grilled sandwich made from thick slices of the same lovely bread we enjoyed before our starters came out the previous evening. In a now familiar refrain, Pete commented admiringly on the perfect balance between the ham, cheese, egg and thick bread fried in butter.


The Victoria is a 15 minute walk from Mortlake train station, from which trains to Waterloo take 25 minutes. This is also a great place to stay for London visitors with a car, as parking is free and there are several spaces in the car park behind, and free parking on the street too.

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Interview with Paul Merrett

Kavey Eats was a guest of The Victoria.


As you might expect from a modern hotel sited in such an expansive historical estate, the Waldorf Astoria London Syon Park is subtly themed to bring the outdoors inside and to help guests enjoy the peace and quiet of its serene, natural setting.

On a recent late autumn visit, we found it the perfect venue for a single night minibreak – close to home and yet a world away.

History of Syon Park

Syon Park is the home of the Duke of Northumberland, and has belonged to his family for over 400 years. Syon Park, the stately home (in which the Duke and Duchess still reside), was built in the mid 16th Century by the 1st Duke of Somerset but after his death, it changed hands a number of times before eventually being acquired by the 9th Earl of Northumberland in 1594. It has been passed down through the family ever since.

Syon House sits in 200 acres of gardens and parkland designed by famous landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, from the 1750s to 1770s. The 40 acres of garden are registered a Grade I landscape in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Historic Importance in England and renowned for their collection of rare trees.

image from Syon Park website

The crowning glory of the gardens must surely be the Great Conservatory, built by Charles Fowler in 1826, the first of it’s kind to be built out of gunmetal, Bath stone and glass.


We caught wonderful glimpses of the Great Conservatory frequently during our stay at the Waldorf Astoria, and plan to tour the house and gardens of the estate next time we visit. Entry to the house, gardens and conservatory is £10 for adults. Entry to the gardens and conservatory only is £5 for adults.

I would guess it must be quite a challenge to afford the upkeep of such an estate in this day and age. However, it seems the Duchy has found additional ways to bring income into the estate.

Also in the grounds of Syon Park are a large and attractive garden centre, where we took lunch on the day of our arrival and a tropical zoo, which I understand is scheduled to move to another site, so do please check directly before planning a visit.

Red Bricks

an accommodation block

The newly-built hotel (which opened in spring this year) has been built in a modern style, on the footprints of the old stable blocks that originally formed part of the estate. The outside, truth be told, is not very attractive. Neither boldly modern, nor pastiche historical, it strongly resembles a 1980s office block. That’s not the best look for a luxury hotel, so the good news is that it gets better – much better – inside.

The Garden designer (more of which later) has also taken steps recently to break up the expanse of red brick by creating tall narrow “living green wall” panels affixed to the brick exterior. The different shades of green ivy are just starting to mesh together into pretty vertical gardens.

Outside In

Inside the hotel, there are many design touches that refer to the natural environment outside.

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In the main reception hangs a starkly modern art installation – hundreds of white and black pieces of white card or plastic, folded to create sharp lines and angles. It’s only with prompting that we are directed to look at the shadow cast on the adjacent wall by the sunlight filtering through, and gasp at how it looks for all the world like the shadow of a real tree! Syon Park refer to this beautiful and clever piece as the Troika Tree Installation; it was created by London art collective, Troika.

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Also in the main lobby is a large glass butterfly house, though you wouldn’t know it to peer in – there are currently no butterflies inside! The glass house didn’t meet specifications on temperature and humidity, so the hotel made the decision not to risk live insects until they knew conditions would be perfect for them. Minor fixes proved not to do the trick, so it may be some months before a new glass house is in place. This is a shame, given that the hotel’s motif – visible on crockery, bath robes and stationery – is a butterfly, but definitely the right decision for an ethical business.

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Another aspect of the exterior spaces that I like is that there are quite a few of them. Not just one single outdoor seating area but a number of them, allowing guests to find their own peace and quiet. There’s the front patio, next to Brownies (where afternoon sweets are served), some large wooden relaxation stands, with huge comfy beanbags in them, and a variety of seating round the back, next to the herb garden.

Afternoon Brownies

I love the idea of a hotel sweet shop where one can buy sweet treats, ice cream sundaes and pastries.

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Unfortunately, the reality is a bit of a let down. Some of the ice creams needed to make the signature sundaes listed on the menu are out of stock. According to our waitress, few people want ice creams in October. My response is either to remove them from the menu (and make it seasonal) or ensure you have the ingredients in stock regardless of the weather.

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The Manhattan (£12), a boozy ice-cream sundae described as “the king of cocktails in an ice cream coupe” features a bourbon and pecan ice cream served with a sweet vermouth reduction and cider brandy, and macerated cherries. Though I should love it given my love of pecans, cider and cherries, it doesn’t really work for me.

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Pete’s lemon and dark brown sugar crepe (£6.75) arrives dressed with the largest raspberries we’ve ever seen. Sadly they’re the best thing in the dish, with not even a hint of lemon juice or brown sugar discernible in the well-cooked but exceedingly bland pancake.

For me, Brownies just doesn’t hit the spot, which is a shame given the attractive indoor and outdoor seating areas it enjoys.

Cocktails in Peacock Alley

Peacock Alley is named for the grand social promenade that connected the original Waldorf and Astoria hotels in New York, which jointly became The Waldorf-Astoria. Described as a martini bar, Syon Park’s Peacock Alley is much more than that, offering an unusual and appealing selection of cocktails not to mention what Pete tells me is an impressive range of whisky and bourbon.

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I find the space very attractive, with it’s mix of bright peacock colours – mustard yellow, hot pink, pretty purple, lime green and cool turquoise. Like the rest of the hotel, decor is a mix of traditional luxury and funky modern touches; there’s definitely a decent smattering of quirky. My only downer about the whole look is the carpet, which reminds me of the stuff we stripped out of our ’60s decorated house, and for good reason. It’s cheap motel chain on acid!

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Having ordered our cocktails, olives are served to our table and we enjoy watch the bartender mixing furiously.

Pete chooses a Divine Enchantment, in which rose and geranium are combined with fresh raspberries and rosé champagne. A little pretentious, but fun – when the cocktail is delivered, a puff of rose and geranium perfume is sprayed over the glass, to give an extra scent experience. It’s a delicious cocktail, fruity and flowery with the refreshing acid and bubbles of the champagne.

I go for a newer cocktail, called Cool as a Cucumber, based on some of my favourite ingredients – cucumber, pineapple juice, Midori and vodka. This is simple but deceptively good and I absolutely love, love, love the distinctive taste of cucumber mixed with one of my favourite liqueurs and that sweet sharp balance of pineapple. It’s brilliant, though packs a punch and slips down rather too easily!


A touch I really like is the cordials or syrups that the bartenders of Peacock Alley make themselves and use in several of the cocktail recipes. As well as the rose and geranium one used in Pete’s cocktail (and the perfume bottle which you can see, above) there is an ale syrup made from Meantime pale ale (using beer instead water when making a sugar syrup), a highly scented and flavoured lavender syrup, and a range of spiced ones including star anise, cinnamon and a mixed spice syrup.

Signature cocktails are £14 each, classics (some of which have been tweaked a little, Waldorf-Astoria style) are £12.

Dining In

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For me, The Capability restaurant is one of the highlights of a visit to the hotel, and is certainly proving popular not only with residential guests but also with diners coming in just for the food. I can understand why.

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Last time we visited, we were fortunate to spend time with executive chef, Lee Stratton, who expressed his genuine commitment to using high quality, sustainable, British ingredients. Just like the rest of the hotel, he is keen to bring the outside in and also to grow and forage as much as possible within the hotel and estate grounds.

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To this end, the hotel have engaged landscape garden designer, Robert Stoutzker, who has worked closely with Lee to decide which fruits, vegetables and herbs can be used by the kitchen. Robert has created and planted the herb garden, a large vegetable garden behind the hotel (which will be expanding further in coming years), and a large and beautiful greenhouse which is used not only for growing produce, but is also a venue for intimate dinners, served at the enormous wooden table at one end. He has also taken on the rest of the hotel landscaping, and is responsible for the living green wall panels I mentioned earlier. He’s also replacing the somewhat pub-like bedroom balcony window boxes with more elegant ones that make use of stark black grasses and white flowers.

(I’ll be posting more about Robert’s thoughts over at A London Gardener in coming weeks).

Even though the hotel only opened this spring, the kitchen has been incorporating as much of their own produce as possible into regularly changing menus. This is set to increase in coming years as the gardens and orchards extend and mature.


As always, we look for a red wine priced between £30 and £35. There are several listed, 3 that particularly appeal.

Unfortunately, due to a combination of high demand over recent weeks (and, perhaps poor stock control and delivery management?) the first three choices we requested are not available. That rules out the 2009 Saam Mountain Paarl Pinotage (£30.00), the 2009 Alamos Malbec (£31.00) and the 2009 Chateau L’Eglise Bordeaux (£32.00). Personally, after coming back to the table on three separate occasions to explain that our latest choice was also out of stock, had I been the sommelier I would have offered a more expensive bottle of something similar for the same price. Instead, we scrabble through the menu again and come up with a fourth option. Thankfully, the 2009 Cotes du Rhone Rouge Clocher Saint Michel Pierre Dorvin (£31.00) is in stock.


Warm bread, freshly baked white sourdough I think, is excellent, served with butter and sea salt.


An amuse bouche plays on the famous Waldorf Salad, first created in the late 19th Century at New York’s Waldorf Hotel. A mouthful of apple, celery and pickled walnut with a light dressing, it’s a refreshing start.


I love the sweetness of the crab in my spider crab salad with quails eggs and mayonnaise (£14.50). The generous white crab meat is served on a thin layer of what I think might be brown crab meat with a little mustard mixed in, though I’m not sure. It’s nice, whatever it is! The quail eggs are superfluous, flavour wise, though they make the dish look pretty, as do the edible flowers, grown in the kitchen garden. I enjoy this dish very much.


Pete’s chargrilled courgettes with Lancashire bomb and Heritage tomato relish (£9.25) is an enormous serving and exactly what is described in the menu. This is a simple dish, the kind that’s often described as “honest” (though I’m not sure that I’ve had many deceitful dishes to compare it to).

When it comes to mains, we both think we’re the winner.

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My hay baked Cornish mixed lamb with pan haggerty and green sauce (£24.75) includes slow baked belly, fried tongue, sweetbread, cutlet and kidney all of which are perfectly cooked, as is the cheesy, pan haggerty, something I’ve not had before. With my meal come two sauces, a fresh and vibrant green herb sauce and a sinfully rich reduced wine and stock sauce. Both work well with the different cuts of lamb. I always adore British lamb but this dish takes it to another level and I’m a very happy diner indeed.


To counteract the lack of greens, I order a side of garlic spinach (£4.50), which is a nice foil for the heaviness of my meat and potatoes. I also give into the temptation of an order of Meantime beer battered onion rings (4.00) which are amongst the best onions rings I’ve had.

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Our friendly and well-informed waitress, Dayna, is very helpful when it comes to choosing between the Bannockburn rib eye and the Aberdeenshire sirloin, agreeing that the rib eye may win purely on flavour but pointing out that the sirloin would better suit Pete’s preference of medium-rare steak. The 400 gram Aberdeenshire sirloin is described as 28 day aged beef on the bone with bone marrow butter & chairman’s chips (£29.75) and is served with an excellent Béarnaise sauce, a green herb sauce, a pat of bone marrow butter and two herbed salts, rosemary and sage. That may sound overkill but it makes for a pleasant variety, and Pete enjoys his steak with the different sauces and salts in turn.


Crème brûlée, or Trinity burnt cream with Dorset blueberries (£6.50), as it’s listed here, can be tricky to do well but the texture and flavour of the custard are perfect. The blueberry compote is not too sweet, making it an excellent foil to the burnt sugar topping, of which there is just the right amount.

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The raspberry Eton mess (£6.50) is served with a raspberry coulis on the side, which Pete quickly pours into the glass. Although first appearances suggest insufficient meringue to fruit and cream, on eating the ratios prove themselves well judged.

Far too full to squeeze in a savoury (I could choose Welsh rabbit, buck rabbit or Scotch woodcock, priced at £7.50 each) we dither over whether to have tea and coffee or retire to our room. Our waitress, on overhearing, kindly suggests that she send these to us via room service and they arrive not long afterwards, with some delicious chocolate truffles.

A wonderful evening meal indeed.

The prices are a little on the high side – our bill would have been approximately £140 plus tip – even given the provenance of the ingredients and standard of cooking. This is a factor of being within a high end hotel, I guess. But given how busy the restaurant was during our visit, especially during lunch and afternoon tea, it’s clearly a price point the local population are happy to pay.

Head Down

Most of the rooms at Syon Park are fairly similar. The standard Syon rooms are very slightly smaller than the rest, at 27 square metres. The Estate, Garden and Arboretum rooms are all described as 30 square metres, the difference lies in the views. Estate rooms look out onto the larger estate, garden ones give a view over the landscaped hotel gardens and so on. I’m guessing the standard ones have an outlook towards the car park, though the layout means they all look over grassy lawn first and foremost. After these categories are the junior suites, one bedroom suites and presidential suite.

The standard, Estate, Garden and Arboretum rooms all share the same design and features. My photos are all of our Estate room, which looked out over the greenhouse.


I must make a mention of this quirky corridor which linked the farther accommodation block to the central building. Passing through, motion detectors trigger audio tracks of birdsong, horses hooves drumming along hard ground and snatches of strange poetry. More of that “outdoors in” theming which succeeded in making us giggle each and every time we walked through.

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How to describe the room styling? I’d say it’s traditional luxury applied with a firm nod to contemporary tastes.

I like the choice of furniture and bed linen and even the strange sculptural ceiling light.

I like the colours, which range from purples and blacks through to creams and pale browns.

I like the 42 inch HD TV with Apple TV, on which we play the latest LoveFilm DVD we popped into our luggage when we packed.

I like the large wardrobe with sufficient hangers for my clothes, that I can take out of the wardrobe to more easily use, and a light that comes on automatically whenever I open the doors (though I’m not so keen on the oversensitive sensor that switches the light on when I creep past to the bathroom during the night).

I like the sliding doors onto our own patio area with table and chairs. And I’m relieved to discover that, although we can see out clearly, with lots of sunshine flooding into the room, the glass is tinted such that the stream of passers-by walking along the path a short distance in front of our room can’t peep in.

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I love the spacious marble-lined bathroom with indulgent under-floor heating, walk-in monsoon shower and separate tub (with its own TV). I will be taking some inspiration from this bathroom for the makeover of the one at home.

The bed is huge and very comfortable, allowing for a restful sleep though I wish I’d thought to take advantage of the pillow menu, as the soft squishy default ones were far too soft and unsupportive for me.

I’d also advise you to take advantage of the “do not disturb” light when you’re in the room as housekeeping have a tendency to knock and barge into the room in a single fluid movement.

These are not rooms that will set the world on fire in terms of innovative design or experience. But they are attractive, comfortable and feel suitably indulgent, especially for the price.

A search for a Saturday night booking for 3-4 weeks time (at time of writing, in early November) came back with some great value rates such as £142.80 room only in a standard room, booked and paid for in advance, non-refundable, £258 for dinner, bed and breakfast in a standard room, which can be cancelled up to 4pm on date of arrival or £402 for advance purchase, non-refundable bed and breakfast in a luxurious junior suite.

Most Important Meal Of The Day

For someone who seldom has anything at all for breakfast at home, it’s amazing how hungry and eager I am to enjoy a hearty breakfast whenever I overnight at a nice hotel.

Initially tempted by the option of enjoying breakfast in our room (or on our private terrace, in warmer months) in the end I am swayed by my desire to check out the buffet and we traipse back to The Capability.

There are three choices when it comes to breakfast. One is to order from the appealing array of a la carte dishes, adding fruit juices and hot drinks as extras. The second is to fork out £22 per person for the breakfast buffet, which includes juices and hot drinks. The third is to spend £30 per person to enjoy your choice from both the buffet and the a la carte, drinks included.

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Of those two,I’d say the first and last are your best options. The buffet is underwhelming for the price, with a far smaller selection that I’d expect to see from a hotel at this level. You can see it in its entirety in the images above. It consists of a selection of cereals (with dried fruits and nuts), fresh fruit salad, fresh bread, a plate of smoked salmon and a very small choice of pastries.

Whilst I appreciate that the quality of the individual components is excellent, I do find it disappointing and have seen better choice in low and mid-range hotels.

The a la carte menu, on the other hand, is fantastic – a long list of appealing choices that we struggle to narrow down.

Prices are reasonable, though be warned, portions are on the small side.

In the end, we both go off piste. I order the fried Braddock’s white duck eggs on toasted sourdough with woodland mushrooms (£10.75) with a side of Streeton’s West London smoked salmon (which usually comes with scrambled eggs for £13.75 but is also part of the buffet) and Pete has a three egg omelette (£10.50) choosing cheese and tomatoes as his fillings and also an order of toasted crumpets with Marmite (£6.75).

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While we wait, toast, fruit juice and our hot drinks are served to the table. The jam and marmalade are particularly good.

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My egg, toast and mushrooms are decent (though I wish more care had been taken to brush the gritty dirt off the mushrooms). Streeton’s salmon is truly delicious.

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Pete’s omelette is of the heavy rather than fluffy variety, but well cooked and generous. The crumpets are home made but not freshly. His own are better!

Other options you might fancy for breakfast include the full English (£18.50), Eggs Benedict, Florentine or Royale (£8.50 for 1 egg £12.75 for 2), Orkney kippers with lemon (£10.50), crêpes with spicy sausage, potatoes and onion (£11.50), waffles with wild boar bacon and Syon Park honey (£7.75) and a variety of smaller items such as Organic porridge (£6.75), toasted bagel with cream cheese (£6.75) and croissants, pain au chocolat and muffins (£5.50).

Rest & Relaxation

Like any good luxury hotel, London Syon Park has a spa. Kallima Spa offers a large, modern pool, a sauna and steam room and a jacuzzi, which are open to guests from 6.30 am to 10 pm in the evening. There is also a well-equipped gym.

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All the facilities are in the basement, which means no natural light but the designers have incorporated the lack of light into the design, going for a dark and sultry space lit by candles and with bold wall textures and designs.

Instead of providing a list of treatments that guests can book, at Kallima you specify (and are charged by) the duration of treatment and only discuss what it is you’d like on arrival.

Whilst I do appreciate the simplicity this brings to the pricing (our one hour treatments were priced at £96 each) I’m not entirely convinced by the discussion that establishes what treatment might be most suitable. Being asked to describe “the outcome you desire” must surely elicit one of only a small range of answers – to relax, to release muscular tension or to improve the skin? I say I am hoping to release tension, but without knowing what the options are, I’m limited by my memory of treatments offered elsewhere, and forced to make stabs in the dark about what I might like.

Unsurprisingly, given this process, I plump for a bog-standard massage and acquiesce to the suggested oils from the Anne Sémonin range.

After being lead to the changing room and lockers, where I wish they had private changing cubicles rather than an open changing room, I’m shown to a (rather chilly) relaxation and waiting room until my individual therapist collects me. The massage itself is very good, as one would expect. Pete (who also ended up with a massage) says the same. Afterwards, we are invited to return to the relaxation or change and head back to our rooms.

Skilled, well-trained and friendly staff ensure that our experiences are positive but I’m sure we’re not alone in finding the lack of structured information about potential treatments off-putting.

Only when I ask for more information the next day am I regaled with different kinds of massage, seaweed wraps, facials and pedicures and more.

As the spa is also open to non-residents, I strongly recommend booking time slots as far ahead of your visit as possible, especially if you would like to enjoy your treatments simultaneously.

In Totality

I think there are small things that London Syon Park can do better: stock control of wine and food ingredients, a rethink of Brownies’ menu and a more structured presentation of available spa treatments would not go amiss. And the landscaping of the outdoor green spaces has a way to go, though I know it’s already in hand.

However, for a hotel that’s been open only a few short months, I’m surprised by how much is well-designed and well implemented. It’s young but anything but brash!

Rooms are comfortable cocoons for relaxing. The bar and restaurant are fantastic. The public spaces are sumptuously appealing.

After just a one night stay, we came home feeling like we’d had a proper holiday and felt spoiled and relaxed.

What’s certain is that next time I’m looking for somewhere local for a relaxing celebratory minibreak away from home I won’t forget the option of dinner, bed and breakfast at the London Syon Park.

Kavey Eats was a guest of London Syon Park.

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