Urban Villa, Brentford

I imagine the prospect of trekking all the way to Brentford after work on a Friday night would deter a lot of people from attending the Urban Villa hotel’s opening party but those that did make the effort had a brilliant time. We scoffed juicy burgers from the Meat Liquor food truck, slurped cocktails from connoisseur Thomas Aske and Soulshakers, indulged in manicures and massages and watched in amazement as cabaret acts stormed the stage, all curated by burlesque performer Miss Giddy Heights. Later in the evening DJ’s Ivan Varian and The Roustabouts continued the energetic atmosphere downstairs. After all the entertainment there was just enough time to see the rooms and facilities that this new business boutique hotel has on offer.

Urban Villa is a new, all-suite accommodation concept which offers the convenience of residential assets within a boutique hotel complex. The industrial chic appearance will attract ambitious professionals who need a comfortable and luxurious place to stay in London with great connections for city commutes. The Brentford area is booming, and at an alarming pace. Close to Chiswick, Richmond and most notably Heathrow, it is ideal for business visitors.

Despite the apparent vastness of the glass structure from the ground, inside there are just 100 suites, studios and the larger master suites. The founders were lucky to get New York architects Grzywinski + Pons on board for the project, the dynamic pair behind The Nolitan, a downtown Manhattan hotel I reviewed a few years ago. Downstairs the open plan communal lobby, has a clean, fresh feel. BOKI Coffee & Co serve delectable treats all day, and we enjoyed their flaky croissants and tailor-made juices here for breakfast. They also offer trendy tea of the moment T2 and perfectly poured Allpress Coffee.

Our studio suite was on the third floor, with plenty of space for working and playing, and a small urban garden balcony overlooking the M4. The room featured a Queen sized bed with medium soft mattress (though this is changeable to your preference), a Samsung smart TV, Ipod docking station, a small table for dining or working, and fast free wifi. We had a glistening fully-equipped kitchen as all rooms do, and I appreciated the Nespresso machine for my early morning caffeine kick. The minimalist design is contemporary and functional with a focus on good quality and optimum comfort.

The black bathroom was glossy and luxurious with a powerful rainfall shower, plenty of fluffy towels and deliciously scented Malin & Goetz products. I missed having a bathtub but those who require it can find this addition in the master suites. Those guests in need of a little relaxation can have a blissful spa treatment in the room. We experienced wonderful 30 minute massages, the therapist used soothing almond oil to calm and relieve the muscle tension, I didn’t want it to end.

Urban Villa is ahead of the trend, bringing a fresh hotel concept to an area of London which is undergoing a great transformation. Offering style-conscious accommodation with facilities that show they consider business needs as a priority, it is a brilliant option for corporate visitors who want to stay somewhere with a bit of personality. With plans to open several more urban villa branches in the coming years, I have a feeling we will be seeing a lot more from this ambitious team.

Prices start at £100 for a Studio Suite and £135 for a Master Villa. More information and booking here.

River Cafe, Hammersmith

As December approached last year, I found I was being repeatedly asked: ‘where is the best place for a work Christmas meal and party’? The specifications were always challenging: big enough, cosy enough, special enough, posh enough, cheap enough, private dining facilities, entire exclusivity, location… there is so much to consider, and it is a daunting responsibility to choose the venue, date and menus to satisfy the whole company.

London venues fill up fast and the prices escalate as workers all over town become more desperate for the perfect venue. This year I had my work celebrations at a very special restaurant, The River Café in Hammersmith. On a misty Wednesday lunchtime the setting was bleak and beautiful by the river. The open plan restaurant looks industrial from the exterior, slightly like a swimming baths. But inside the dining room is light and fresh with white draped tables and a psychedelic neon pink oven at the rear of the restaurant.

We were seated at the back in the lovely private dining room which seats up to 18 guests. The dining room has its own entrance with views onto the terrace and into the open kitchen. Cheese lovers will enjoy looking at the glass fronted cheese room which exhibits a selection of unusual Italian cheeses. The waiters were kind and patient with our rowdy group! We started with flutes of Prosecco, battered artichokes and pumpkin bruschetta. For starters a selection of antipasti were delivered to the table – highlights were the plump and creamy buffalo mozzarella and delicately smoky prosciutto ham.

Known for its exquisite homemade pasta, I persuaded our waiter to allow me to have a River Café pasta dish, despite its absence on the set menu. The buttery Agnoli packages of pasta filled with a rich and aromatic mix of rabbit, pheasant, pancetta, bay and Il Balzo Chianti Rufina was divine, I could have eaten double the amount. Other successes round the table were the thick-cut roast veal chop with capers, sage, lemon peel, Prosciutto di Parma and Risina beans and the chargrilled, marinated leg of lamb with smashed pumpkin & potato and hot olive & anchovy sauce. It was a feast of Italian delights.

Dessert for me was a disappointment, I found the pannacotta with pomegranate sloppy and unappetisingly presented. I looked adoringly at the plate of cheese that my neighbour was devouring. Wine was carefully and expertly chosen throughout the meal, complementing the food and flavours.

The River Café is one of the longest running, most successful fine dining restaurants in London, and I was impressed with every aspect of our experience here.

Karaoke Box, Smithfields

Sometimes when I review I am granted a ‘plus one’, but never before have I been invited with a ‘plus eleven’! At Karaoke Box Smithfields the more the merrier… there are sixteen private karaoke rooms of varying capacities (the largest can hold up to 40 people). The privacy of the rooms encourages guests to sing their hearts out without the embarrassment of strangers sniggering at nearby tables.

It all seemed pretty high tech to me, with flatscreen TVs, surround sound, wireless microphones and dimmer lights. A red button can be used for waitress service and guests are able to control the sound levels themselves. The song selection is vast and varied… over 9,000 songs searchable by artist or title. Those not in charge of the Karaoke playlist can flick through a paper booklet to find their favourites. Later I found out, amazingly, that the songs are also available in French, Spanish, Swedish and German, and five select rooms even have a Japanese option… ideal for multilingual show-offs.

As a singer, and self-confessed diva, this review was ideal for me, but finding friends willing to partake was more of challenge; needless to say most downed a few beers en route to the Smithfields venue. The Dutch courage must have worked because everyone seemed to be in high spirits and fine voice when we arrived at our booth. The first Friday of 2013 and Karaoke Box was silent and empty when my raucous group turned up at 8pm. Located in the city, this club has most of its business during the week, Fridays are quiet in comparison. It suited us perfectly, exotic fruity cocktails and oven-hot thin crust pizzas arrived without delay.

We spent a fun-filled three hours in the booth, chatting, singing, eating and drinking. The staff were efficient and helpful throughout and made the whole evening run smoothly.
Highlights of the evening included: a punchy version of Vanilla Ice, the girls’ renditions of Beyonce, Spice Girls and Cher classics, and some brilliantly brave boys attempting Eminem and Red Hot Chilli Peppers. And then of course there were all the usual Karaoke favourites, a Grease medley and even a Christmas duet.

With some throats hoarse, at 11pm it was time to stop though I would have happily continued singing all night. With facilities this good and a menu of good grub and cocktails to match, Karaoke Box is the ideal venue for any party or celebration. Or better still, just an excuse to sing your heart out.

Room prices vary according to size. For an hour costs range from £20 for a four person room to £150 for the fifteen person VIP area.

More information and to book here: http://karaokebox.co.uk/smithfield/