Posts Tagged ‘Art Work Space’

Afternoon tea at The Langham and Art at The Hempel

May 1st, 2010 | By neil in food & drink, travel | No Comments »

(As previously published on the Manchester Confidential website)

Don’t get me wrong. Beefeaters have their place in modern society. I just don’t want to hang round the raven-haunted Tower of London in their company.

But the gin named in their honour, that’s another matter. Until the end of April (2010) the capital’s swanky Langham Hotel is doing a great bespoke take on afternoon tea, called Gin and Tea, which showcases the botanicals that go into traditional London spirit Beefeater 24 and matches them in an appropriate tea blend.

Since we were staying there, it seemed rude not to partake. Especially since the venue was the ‘birthplace of the afternoon tea tradition’ 140 years ago. The Palm Court was centrepiece of the legendary hotel’s £80m revamp.

bedroom at Langham Hotel

As we entered the dazzling, vaulted space, there was a slick jazz trio playing The Girl from Ipanema, so the mood was right.

Girls who do tea were very much in evidence. They had obviously been entrenched long before the skies started to darken, getting full value for what is not a cheap treat, especially when champagne is called for and the cosseting service has made you feel like you’re back in the womb.

entrance to the Langham Hotel

Our own Gin and Tea costs £39 a head, but what a spread. Crustless sandwiches, organic salmon with horseradish, Castle of Mey beef with Savora mustard, tuna, egg, cucumber, to be eaten with a crooked finger; fabulous scones with clotted cream thick as the earth’s crust and Duchy strawberry preserve; Sachertorte, Bakewell tart and all kinds of ‘fancies’; followed by a flotilla of cupcakes. All from a tiered stand, seconds offered for those careless of waistline.

It is de rigueur to kick off with a gin and tonic (or gin punch) with its essences of citrus, juniper and angelica and then move on to a brew blended from matching Chinese green and Japanese Sencha teas. That was perfect for us, though they did offer more traditional teas, if it failed to please. An English-grown tea from Tregothnan in Cornwall was an unusual but intriguing option.

We also dined at the hotel’s destination restaurant, The Landau, a much less playful space than the Palm Court and with a serious attention to detail in the food and a serious wine list. Its ambition is clear but it’s not yet up there with the best London can offer at the rarefied dining end.

The Langham, finished in 1865, was London’s first ‘grand’ hotel. Conan Doyle stayed there and featured it in several Sherlock Holmes stories. More recent guests have included Alicia Keys and Amy Winehouse.

Opposite BBC Broadcasting House at the top end of Regent Street, it is ideal for retail therapy and West End theatres. We took in the state of the nation play Jerusalem starring Mark Rylance at the Apollo Shaftesbury, which lived up to all the massive acclaim.

Another current must-see is the sold-out Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy, which the Langham has exclusive tickets for as part of a special package.

My fractured metatarsal meant I spent more time than normal in my large – even by such five-star standards – room. Here as in the public rooms there was a refined Oriental influence, particularly in art work and a beguiling blend of comfort and luxury.

The grand foyer of the Langham with its white marble pillars streaked with purple and Murano glass chandeliers is a quite different experience to arriving at The Hempel in Notting Hill, whose exterior defines discreet and interior a fashion victim’s wet dream.

Four poster bed

Designer Anouska Hempel’s name is still on the legendary lodging (she also designed the Blake’s hotels in London and Amsterdam), but she long ago severed connection with it.

We dropped in to see how the latest owners had altered the lay-out for their ‘New Spaces’ project without sacrificing the essential design concept from 1996.

Formal lawned garden

From the outside little has changed. Minutes away from Hyde Park, the conversion of five stucco-fronted Georgian houses sits in a tranquil square occupied by its own private garden. Very Zen paths and greenery with symmetrical slate pathed pools.

The Zen theme continues within. The harmony of Earth, Wood, Metal, Fire and Water supposedly created by a decorative palette of cream, honey, brown and slate – and materials such as Portland stone, Belgian limestone, birch wood and silk. Oh, and lots of scented candles.

Passing through an understated entrance can’t prepare you for the wash of natural light from the atrium/foyer and a front of house welcome worlds away from the drop-dead-aren’t-we-cool-in-our-Armani approach of some other hip hotels in the capital (Okay, let’s ‘name and shame’ The Metropolitan and The Sanderson).

afternoon tea

The corridors in truth are like being caught in a tall off-white hatbox, but the bedrooms are surprisingly warm and welcoming, the bathrooms not surprisingly ultra-luxurious. Much to my regret I didn’t make it into the legendary Lioness’ Den suite with its bed caged in chrome and suspended from the ceiling.

I did take in some teenage punks in the basement. They were the raw subject matter of documentary maker Niall O’Brien, whose photographic exhibition Good Rats (on until March 11) is the first in the new independent gallery Art Work Space.

This impressive exhibition and meeting space is part of the New Spaces Project.

This has involved shifting fine dining from basement to the ground floor, where chef Simon Aquilina brings his Michelin-honed skills to bear at the No 35 Restaurant. Expect the likes of venison with coffee polenta and cherry parfait with five spice in chic and toned down minimalist surroundings.

If No 35’s booked up, Notting Hill/Bayswater is fertile dining out territory. My suitably chic companion Zoe and I had supper five minutes away in the unlikely surroundings of Whiteley’s Shopping Centre in Porchester Gardens.

Cafe des Anglais

Here Rowley Leigh’s Cafe des Anglais pays playful homage to the seminal Parisian brasserie of that title (namechecked in foodie film Babette’s Feat). Art Deco flourishes and an open-plan rotisserie/kitchen serving fabulous Anglo-French food, but the overall impression is of waiting for Hercule Poirot to join you at the Captain’s table on some thirties Transatlantic liner.

We tore ourselves away and returned to The Hempel to sample the third ‘New Space’ completing the holy trinity of art and food with cocktails.

Candles and a glowing fireplace put a mellow sheen on the minimalist core of No 31 Lounge Bar. Time to compare gins at two very different London hotel masterpieces…

Langham Hotel, 1c Portland Place, Regent Street, London GB W1B 1JA 020 7636 1000, www.london.langhamhotels.co.uk

It has 380 rooms.

Grand executive room: £295.

Suites: from £515 (for a junior suite)

Hempel Hotel, 31-35 Craven Hill Gardens, London W2 3EA 020 7298 9000, www.thehempel.co.uk

50 rooms, suites and apartments. Superior room: £179. Lioness’ Den and Beluga Suite: £599. All plus VAT. For details of the Art Work Space gallery visit www.artworkspace.co.uk

Neil Sowerby travelled with Virgin Trains, who run up to 50 trains a day between Manchester and London. For details of services and fares, including special promotions, visit www.virgintrains.co.uk

For timetable information ring National Rail Enquiries 08457 48 49 50.

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