Bombay Sapphire Rooftop Retreat, Harvey Nichols

I used to envy those sophisticated fellow travellers who would breezily order a g&t while I always stuck to white wine or a Diet Coke! Despite trying the drink regularly I found the taste too bitter, until my friend carefully made me a gin drink with a twist of lime that I couldn’t resist. Ever since that night I’ve known that the exact proportions of a gin and tonic are crucial if you want to make a drink that is tasty and refreshing.

And so when a Bombay Sapphire invite pinged into my inbox, I responded instantly with a resounding YES. Eight of us met on a chilly terrace of the London landmark, Harvey Nichols, for an evening of cocktail making with Bombay Sapphire Brand Ambassador Renaud de Bosredon, a charming man who has almost definitely been sipping the perfect g&t since childhood.

Around a table we were taught the basics: one part gin, two part tonic and as much ice as you can fit in the glass. Then we had the chance to try the method for ourselves. It was delicious, especially with a squeeze of lime, but I wondered if the great taste was just thanks to the premium brand of Bombay Sapphire and its vapour infused 10 exotic botanicals, rather than my limited cocktail making talents! Renaud encouraged us to be creative with our drinks and we were sent off into the wonder emporium that is the Harvey Nichols Food Hall, with a £20 voucher each to spend on imaginative ingredients. There were plenty of magical products, but I decided on rhubarb bitters to add a fruity flavour and pink candy floss for decoration. It was a strange but tasty combination, and great fun to learn about how to combine flavours into a classic g&t.

Open from 13th April – 11th July, The Bombay Sapphire Rooftop Retreat offers an oasis in the middle of London for guests to experience the exquisite taste of Bombay Sapphire and discover their perfect gin & tonic. With a menu featuring a range of unusual ingredients inspired by the artful creation of Bombay Sapphire and its vapour infused 10 exotic botanicals, guests can create their own bespoke gin & tonic to suit their taste.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the start of Spring.

More information on the Rooftop Retreat and Bombay Sapphire gi masterclasses here.

SmartBuyGlasses – Floral Frames for Spring

As ever London seems to be teasing us with a taste of Spring. The blossom is out and the sun’s occasional appearance means there is an excuse to buy yourself a seasonal pair of sunglasses and a new bikini. SmartBuyGlasses are my go to website for the cheapest designer glasses and contact lenses, and this year they are showcasing a range of pretty floral frames to get you in the mood for warmer weather.

With over 30,000 pairs of designer sunglasses to choose from there are styles to suit all, and with their shopping guides and Virtual Try On feature, SmartBuyGlasses help you find the right pair quicker than any other site. I love the unique collections from Woodys Barcelona, Matsuda and Adidas Originals, as well as classics from Ray-Ban, Prada and Tom Ford. 

These sophisticated Dolce & Gabbana frames have a lovely light pattern that will look great with a tan. The feminine shape will compliment a pretty Springtime look, and the good quality frames will outlast the sunshine.

Maui Jim Silk Orginals

Make your sunglasses more effective than ever with the SmartBuyGlasses prescription lenses, which are anti-scratch, anti-reflective and UV protective. Or if you prefer, wear contacts with the normal lenses to give you versatility in temperamental weather. I love these Maui Jim Silk frames with floral arms, great for men or women.

For a sportier look, go for a pair of Adidas Originals with wacky tropical floral design. These casual frames will look great for a game of volleyball on the beach or for sundowners in the city. Priced at just £81.95 on SmartBuyGlasses, they are as affordable as they are chic.

SmartBuyGlasses have the largest selection of designer eyewear online, and you can trust that their collections are always up to date with the season’s latest trends. Shop online now here.

The Ninth, Charlotte Street

After spending five months on the road it has been a joy to rediscover the food scene in London. The Ninth is one of the many new restaurants to arrive in the capital recently. I rarely visit any eatery more than once, but in the last two months I’ve been to The Ninth twice, an obvious sign of my admiration. This sophisticated but discreet venue on Charlotte Street is the first solo venture for Jun Tanaka, a chef whose previous credits include stints at The Square, Brasserie Chavot and Pearl. He has created a menu which celebrates the seasons with imagination and flare, and the dishes served have a French feel while illustrating Tanaka’s eclectic influences.

The Ninth is particularly reasonable at lunch when two plates cost £17, or three are £21. I found the menu exciting and varied with deliciously inventive dishes like Nettle and fregola risotto with grelot onions and yoghurt or the vibrantly fresh and simple Asparagus with truffle butter and crispy egg. One of my favourite dishes was the crispy duck salad with blood orange and pomegranate, the perfect combination of irresistible meat with sweet tangy fruit.

Venture off the set menu to enjoy richer recipes from the a la carte. The dishes change regularly depending on produce. When I visited I enjoyed the silkiest cut of lamb with a Mediterranean mix of wild garlic, tomato confit, courgettes and lemon.

Dessert was my favourite course. The Pain Perdu with vanilla ice cream was utterly delicious, a melt-in-the-mouth sugary delight that was both light but indulgent. Guests can also choose to order the Tarte Tatin to share with rosemary ice cream, a classic French pudding made in a rustic style with an unusual flavour of accompanying ice cream.

This little unsuspecting venue is one of my favourite new eateries to eat at. With an inspiring menu of delicious dishes and prices that won’t make you wince, The Ninth is the perfect place to dine on Charlotte Street.

More information and book a table at The Ninth here.

Lobster Hotpot at Shuang Shuang

There is a juvenile excitement about picking your lunch of a conveyer belt. It is a formula Yo Sushi has thrived off for many years and now Shuang Shuang has successfully introduced a restaurant with the same concept, offering comforting and flavoursome hotpots to be personalised by the diner.

The eatery has a prime position on Shaftesbury Avenue, but amazingly is filled with local Londoners as well as hungry tourists. We sat at the pristine white counter, ready to sample the Lobster hotpot, a decadent option they have started offering for just £19 for two people. First a steaming fragrant broth was poured into our own boiling pot which can be heat adjusted as required. Before long a beautiful lobster arrived on ice, along with glasses of Crement (a light sparkling French wine), and a few tasters of their snack list. Scallop and Prawn Fritters with Mala Oil were the obvious winner, mouthful sized crispy seafood bites. I also liked the salty and spicy Pig’s Ears with Xinjiang Spice.

The next part was great fun, picking ingredients from the ‘carousel of flavours’ whizzing round in front of us. There is a huge variety of meat, fish, vegetables, tofu and noodles to choose from. I grabbed a selection of tasty looking plates, including pak choi, mixed root vegetables, some lovely thick noodles and slices of chicken breast. Guests must be careful they cook each ingredient for the right amount of time, it is easy to get carried away delving into the pot, forgetting about recent ingredient additions. The lobster was soft and creamy perfectly suited to the vibrant Tom Yum broth with hints of lemongrass and lime.

An assortment of tools are provided to help you cook and eat your food more easily. Despite this we still managed to make quite a mess! After such a dramatic and exciting main course I didn’t need dessert, but the Soy Milk Ice Cream with Candied Ginger was a simple and subtle pudding which cleansed our palates after the flavoursome and spicy hotpot.

Shuang Shuang offers an interactive and tasty way to experience Chinese hotpot. I thought it might be a bit of a tricky concept for kids but the neighbouring family proved me wrong, as I overheard the little girls proclaim, “this is the best thing I’ve ever eaten”. You can’t get a better compliment than that. shu

More information on Shuang Shuang here: www.shuangshuang.co.uk

Orée Boulangerie, Fulham

There are plenty of bakeries in London claiming to offer authentic Parisian patisseries, fluffy baguettes and flaky croissants, but few deliver. The new Orée Boulangerie in Fulham, however, exceeds all expectations. Last week I joined a group of fellow foodies for a morning of sampling. Pitching to a table of unforgiving French bloggers was not an easy task, but our expressions softened as the buttery soft pastries were delivered to the table each, smelling more delicious than the last.

The Orée bakery and café stands out immediately, a creamy shade of baby blue with golden cursive writing. Inside, the décor is just as delectable with white marble surfaces, sophisticated furniture and lots of natural light. There is plenty of space for guests to sit and relax with their breakfast. Founder Laurent d’Orey brought the concept to England, after setting up bakeries elsewhere in Europe, and hoped to win over Londoners with his irresistible French pastries – he is definitely succeeding.

The boulangerie prides itself on offering a huge range of gluten-free treats in addition to the standard baked items. Highlights from our breakfast included the ‘escargot’ – a swirled pastry filled with pistachio and white chocolate – and the beautiful egg breakfast dishes, which are accompanied with the bakery’s organic sourdough bread. Those brunch-addicts hoping for something more substantial will enjoy the ‘tartines’, essentially an open sandwich topped with delicious ingredients such as avocado, smoked salmon or ratatouille.

A week later and I’m still relishing my bag of Orée almond financiers, each bite is a reminder of the beautiful baked treats at this wonderful new breakfast hang out.

More information about Orée Boulangerie here.

Myla & Davis, Brixton

Until now I have trekked up to East London for hip haircuts, but this week I discovered Myla & Davis, a trio of independent hairdressing salons in South London. Founder Katya Davies started the brand in Herne Hill, as a boutique neighbourhood salon offering cut and colour services by pro stylists at reasonable prices. I recently visited the newest venue in Brixton… a perfectly compact but well organised space with fresh, clean design and an informal and friendly atmosphere.

The Myla & Davis salons have become known for their mix of professionalism and good chatting skills! I’d picked up a few magazines to absorb whilst my stylist Jess transformed my unruly mop of hair, but soon we were chatting away and the reading material was discarded! After 6 months of world travel, with questionable hair products and no haircuts, my hair was in great need of a revamp. The roots were unfashionably outgrown and my split ends were creeping further up. We decided on a trim and highlights to brighten and lighten the tips whilst making the roots look more natural.

Jess worked wonders, magically and effortlessly blending the dye to soften my colour, giving a natural, sun-kissed look. Endless cups of earl grey tea, sparkling elderflower and water were bought to me whilst I sat lazily in my seat. After a quick toner and hair wash I was back in front of the mirror ready for my trim.

Myla and Davis work religiously with US cult brand Bumble and Bumble and the product ranges are lined up neatly on the wall. I love their products but often struggle to understand which suits my hair best. Jess offered me frank and realistic recommendations of which products I should use, dependent on hair type, what look you wish to achieve and how often you wash your hair. It was decided that the surf range would offer a beachy texture whilst not adding too much weight to my hair.

Often I feel rushed by hairdressers but Jess seemed genuinely happy to spend time demonstrating how to use each product and offering insider tips. I walked out of Myla & Davis with a beautiful, bouncy new hairstyle and feeling confident that I could maintain the style in my own home using the salon’s helpful advice.

More information and book an appointment at Myla & Davis here.

RAAS Devigarh

An hour away from Udaipur, nestled amongst the Aravalli hills, sits the historic Devi Garh fort. The site has recently been taken over by the Raas hotel group and is the second heritage property in their lovely collection. From the outside the walls are worn down with a faded charm, but inside this palatial property has been immaculately restored with relics and reminders of its glory days.

Guests are showered with rose petals as they enter the majestic fort and within moments of stepping inside I felt like royalty. We were handed glasses of homemade rose lemonade as beautifully dressed staff escorted us round the huge property, pointing out stunning viewpoints, original building features and artistic design quirks. Each flight of stone steps revealed a new intimate courtyard or picturesque veranda, I quickly realised how special this place was.

There are 39 rooms in the all-suite luxury hotel. Each is decorated in a different style with unique silk cushions and works of art to complement the room. Top of the range is the decadent presidential Devi Garh suite, which comes complete with private pool, terrace and Jacuzzi. Eventually we arrived at our Palace Suite number 36, a beautiful room in the Lotus Courtyard. Inside the spacious suite there was a pristine marble bed and tables, and a rainbow display of miniature Krishna paintings adorning the main bedroom wall. The bathroom was also made almost entirely from white marble, with windows offering views over the hills and nearby villages. Toiletries are from luxury Indian brand Forest Essentials and we relished the opportunity to wear the traditional patterned robes, a very elegant loungewear option.

There is only one restaurant, a pleasant indoor dining room with a deck outdoors and terrace upstairs. On the exterior walls of the restaurant, 255-year-old painted frescoes depict local scenes; inside the restaurant is minimalist and stylish. Choose from the menu of vibrant Rajasthani dishes, freshly made breads, creamy spicy curries and unusual vegetarian snacks. Breakfast is also served here; exotic fruit plates and a range of cooked recipes from omelettes to more traditional Indian delicacies.

The hotel is rightly proud of its magnificent Holy bath style swimming pool, sunken into the building with sun loungers lining the edge. If I had stayed at the hotel longer I could have enjoyed day after day relaxing here, soaking up the sun and enjoying the epic panoramic views. When you do wish to travel off-site Devi Garh offer complimentary horse and camel rides every day from 4-6pm, giving guests the chance to see some of the surrounding land from a different viewpoint. The hotel staff are also happy to arrange excursions and day trips, and can offer advice on itineraries depending on your preferences. I highly recommend booking a vintage car tour of Udaipur. We loved riding in a 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster whilst admiring the lakes of the city, although it is quite expensive… A 45-minute journey will cost you 7000 INR (£70).

This rare and magnificent 255-year-old fort is an awe-inspiring place to stay. Those seeking culture will enjoy trips to the idyllic nearby town of Udaipur, but it will thrill travellers most who hope for an extraordinary secluded haven to admire Rajasthan at its finest.

More information and book a stay at RAAS Devigarh here.

Chapel House, Penzance

If I owned a hotel I would want it to look like Chapel House. This beautiful, restored townhouse is on the corner of Chapel Street, one of Penzance’s most picturesque roads. With views overlooking the sea and St Michael’s Mount it is in an enviable position, but after years of neglect the building had fallen into disrepair. Previously the home of the Penzance Arts Club, new owner Susan Stuart saw an opportunity to renovate and refresh this grand historic building.

I have been visiting Cornwall frequently since I was a child and have always felt disappointed that the accommodation options don’t match the appeal of the destination, but Chapel House has changed the hospitality offering dramatically. Susan arrived in Cornwall in 2013 hoping for a change of lifestyle and profession. Almost by accident she came across this wondrous building and with her ambitious vision, a big budget and a team of local craftsmen she transformed the place.

After a scenic five hour ride on the blissfully easy Great Western Railway train from London Paddington we arrived at the last stop, Penzance, just a short walk away from Chapel House. The boutique luxury hotel has six double bedrooms to choose from, each one is light and thoughtfully designed; a mix of modern luxuries and characterful original details. We were in room six, on the top floor, with lovely views of the town. The bespoke beds were handmade locally, a unique elevated platform made from smooth soft oak wood. Reclaimed 1930s office lamps add vintage charm to the bedsides and fresh flowers add a fresh pop of colour. For convenience, each room comes with its own mini iPad, which guests can use to FaceTime for service or to look up tips on local things to do. Of the other rooms, room two was my favourite, with an Ashton & Bentley bath tub in the main room and lovely antique furniture.

The bathrooms are state of the art; contemporary and minimalist. Wherever possible Susan has installed an indulgent bathtub, or in the smaller room a walk-in rain shower. Natural light is given priority, and in our rooftop room the entire slanting bathroom roof opened to offer the option of a semi-outdoor bath. Toiletries are provided by Penzance beauty brand, Pure Nuff Stuff.

In the communal areas Susan displays artwork from the nearby Newlyn School of Art. It is a reminder of the building’s previous use, and adds colour and style to the crisp white walls.

Susan is an illustrious, thoughtful and hard-working host and when she’s not welcoming guests or locals through the door, she is found in the kitchen whipping up a seasonal dinner. The beautiful basement kitchen and communal dining table offers a homely place to eat. Susan concentrates her culinary talents on the finest local fish and seafood, picking up produce at the market that day for the evening meal. For just £22 you can enjoy a three course meal with an aperitif – I recommend the Cornish gin with tonic.

Our lazy Sunday breakfast was glorious, sitting in the sun-drenched kitchen, sipping caffetiere coffee and quaffing butcher bacon and eggs, whilst chatting away to the other guests. I could have sat there with a newspaper for a lot longer than we did, but the whole of Penzance was waiting to be seen.

Chapel House is reason alone to visit Penzance, the perfect place to escape London for a few blissful days by the sea.

More information and book a stay at Chapel House here.

Advance single fares between Paddington and Penzance are available from £29 each way. For the best tickets and offers buy before you board at www.gwr.com or telephone 03457 000125.

Ling Ling Mykonos

Ling Ling Mykonos aka ‘Hakkasan’s naughty little sister’ twists the Hakkasan DNA ever so slightly to create a whole new and fun concept to dining with culinary excellence and playful decadence. Located in the centre of the old town, the open-air restaurant and bar will be warming up for the season, perfecting and honing its menus ready for its grand opening in June. It will be open daily for dinner throughout the summer season. 

Drawing inspiration from the Izakaya concept made popular in the East, where food accompanies the drinks and not the other way around, Ling Ling takes the Hakkasan DNA and twists it to create a restaurant and bar experience that reflects its environment but has signature elements from Hakkasan. With reinvented presentations of smaller plates, Ling Ling encourages guests to discover Hakkasan’s cuisine differently, with the opportunity to share and try a variety of the Cantonese-style dishes. Cocktails are at the heart of the experience, offering intriguing and evolving menus curated by the award-winning team in London. The sound design is mastered and perfected by Hakkasan resident DJ in London, Pathaan, bringing eclectic, masterfully crafted playlists to Ling Lings across the world.

Ling Ling in Mykonos is located at Malamatenias Street, Matogiannia, Mykonos. For more information, please visit Ling Ling Mykonos or discover on InstagramFacebook and Twitter.

Amanoi, Vietnam

Every special hotel starts with a journey. The scenic coastal drive to Amanoi is almost as spectacular as the resort itself. It is made even more enjoyable by the hotel’s private transfer from the local airport, which is complimentary for all guests.

Amanoi is located in central Vietnam nearby to the protected Nui Chua National Park. The beautiful, rugged landscape is a stark contrast to the modern, design-focused resort but in my opinion presents the perfect juxtaposition. The hotel’s central pavilion houses its main restaurant, bar and library. Natural materials are used wherever possible and the space has as only a few exterior walls and windows, which gives an abundance of light and air.

There are 31 one-bedroom pavilions and five multi-bedroom villas. All are similarly spacious and thoughtfully-arranged, with vistas of the National Park, the sea or the lake. I stayed in a pavilion with a large balcony and an uninterrupted ocean view. The open-plan room was flooded with natural light and featured concealed and discreet electrical amenities and controls. The sleek decor and warm colours made it immediately appealing, and I spent as much time as I could relaxing in the comfortable living area. Through a pair of sliding doors was the expansive bathroom, with his-and-hers sinks and wardrobes, a large stone bath and sliding windows and doors to expose you to the elements.

The food at Amanoi is all of a very high standard, whether you dine in-room, at the beachside cafe or in the hotel’s main restaurant. Executive Chef Danny Woodbridge oversees all the menus and ensures guests requests and requirements are met. For our first dinner we enjoyed some delicious  international favourites, and on our second night were spoilt with a Vietnamese feast. Particularly memorable were the smoked eggplant with spring onion sauce, and the authentic beef claypot.

Breakfast was a daily highlight. A comprehensive menu of international and local treats, both healthy and indulgent options. I sampled impeccable dishes of eggs benedict, French toast and pancakes, alongside the daily selection of fresh exotic fruit and juices, and flaky homemade pastries.

When you are not relaxing in the privacy of your room or enjoying the hotel’s culinary delights, there are many facilities and activities to keep your entertained. The Aman Spa is a heavenly retreat, overlooking a lotus flower covered lake, with treatment rooms, sauna rooms and a yoga pavilion where each morning guests are invited to join a complimentary session.

The hotel’s two pools, health club and gym are also available free-of-charge, or for those wanting to have a go at watersports, the beach club (with its own pool) is another option. There are also a number of walks and hikes within and nearby to the property. For early-risers, you can catch a spectacular sunrise from the top of Goga Peak, just a 10-minute stroll from the hotel’s central pavilion.

Amanoi is an idyllic and isolated getaway from the busy cities of Vietnam. With sun year round it is very appealing escape from Britain’s less than reliable weather.

More information and book a stay at Amanoi here.