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PURE Lite – the topical, trendsetting, low alcohol Vodka for cool, contemporary cocktails: half the calories, twice the fun

PURE Organic Vodka was launched onto the UK spirits market on 4th July 2019 with an exclusive boat party on the Thames. This exciting new product from WM Spirits soon made a splash around the country and secured drinks listings in bars and leisure venues such as the W Hotel, Cafe de Paris and Champneys Spa.

It was 2016, the time of the Instagram boom and the health and fitness, organic, vegan, ‘clean living’ craze. Drinks orders amongst the lads was moving away from pints to vodka soda & lime. I felt that there was more to this than just a change of drink and if it was happening in my local, I knew it would be happening elsewhere.”

Adam Player, Founder PURE organic vodka

The Founder, Adam Player with friends, at the launch of Pure Vodka, 2019.

PURE was inspired by a health-conscious, environmentally friendly, social lifestyle: Organic, vegan friendly, gluten free, with no additives, preservatives, carbs or thickeners and as minimal calories as possible. Pure, indeed.

After this early success, to celebrate its first birthday in July 2020, WM Spirits created PURE Lite, a low calorie, organic vodka with just 20% ABV compared to the standard 40%.

The launch of PURE Lite Vodka is timely and trendsetting, in response to an increased preference and demand for zero and low-alcohol beers, wines and spirits, with sales up 23% year on year. The growth comes as younger generations drink less alcohol and older people increasingly moderate their consumption.

PURE Vodka is an ultra-premium, clean, organic spirit, built on the foundation of high-quality raw ingredients and owing its unique taste to organic wheat.  The wheat is distilled to maximum purity removing any remaining impurities to create a light, smooth-tasting vodka.

This innovative brand has recently won a silver medal, competing against 83 entries in the 2020 Vodka Masters category at The Spirit Business Awards, less than two months after their 1st birthday in July.

So, time to taste and test this new Pure Lite low alcohol vodka.

The name vodka is a diminutive form of the Slavic word voda (water), interpreted as little water:  Russia and Poland both claim vodka as their own invention, with the word ‘wodka’ recorded in Poland as early as 1405, a strong liquor of around 75% ABV.

The slender glass bottle of PURE Lite vodka has a decorative, crystal-cut design, like a classic Low Ball, Old Fashioned tumbler, used for serving neat spirits or a cocktail on the rocks. Comfortable to hold and practical for a firm grip.

PURE Lite – an elegant, slender bottle with decorative cut-glass design

The term Martini was first listed Thomas Stuart’s guide, Fancy Drinks published in 1896, featuring a recipe for the Gin-based cocktail with vermouth and orange bitters.  This became a fashionable aperitif spreading from American bars to UK, France and Italy, notably promoted on the European travels of Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

For four decades, Ted Saucier was publicist for the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City, and in 1951 published a book on cocktails, Bottoms Up including the first recipe for the innovative Vodkatini.

Bottoms Up, by Ted Saucier (1951)

PURE Vodkatini

60ml PURE Organic Vodka or LITE vodka

15ml Dry Vermouth

Fill shaker with ice and add the measures of Vodka and Dry Vermouth

Shake well, strain and pour into cocktail glass. Garnish with olives

I would normally order a dry gin Martini, believing that the lack of herbal botanicals in vodka would not be such a flavoursome cocktail.  I was wrong. My PURE Lite Vodkatini had such a clean taste, deliciously dry  which hit the spot.

Through the 1950s and 60s, Vodka was a relatively new spirit being introduced in the States, marketed and promoted by celebrity entertainers including Benny Goodman, Harpo Marx and Woody Allen et al.

The classic Gin Martini was then literally shaken up by Ian Fleming at the Duke’s Bar, London where the novelist created the legendary, literary-inspired Vesper Martini.

Duke’s Bar, Duke’s Hotel, London – where the Vesper Martini was invented.

The precise recipe for a Vesper is given by James Bond to the bar tender in the novel Casino Royale, (1953).

“A Dry Martini”, he said. “ In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, monsieur.”

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordons gin, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

“Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

from ‘Casino Royale’, Ian Fleming

Be warned, the Vesper is a tad strong and at Dukes Bar – where this famous house cocktail is crafted and poured with perfection from freezer-chilled ingredients – the rule is a limit of two per person. This special Vodkatini is named after Vesper Lynd, Bond’s beautiful Girl in Casino Royale.

Vodka is also, of course, the key ingredient of a Bloody Mary, said to be the finest “hair of the dog” the morning after the night before. Almost one hundred years old, it was invented at Harry’s Bar, Paris, by Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot, combining vodka and tomato juice, allegedly named after the Hollywood movie star, Mary Pickford.

By 1934, Petiot had become head bartender at the St. Regis, New York, where he was asked to spice up the Bloody Mary for a customer and so added a few drops of Tabasco. The recipe was adapted over the years with Worcester Sauce, horseradish, (optional), a garnish of olives, lemon and a stick of celery to use as a swizzle stick.

There is a fine tradition to sip a spicy Bloody Mary around 12 noon when at sea on a cruise ship. Tomato juice and lemon are an excellent source of Vitamin C and it’s either a refreshing, ice cold drink or a hearty, spicy drink, whatever the climate.

Bloody Mary time, 12 noon on the Silver Whisper – a seafaring tradition.

With Pure Lite Vodka, you would never realise the low alcohol content so the perfect, healthy, vitamin-rich cocktail.  The ideal partnership for a Sunday Brunch.

Being in the contemporary,  youthful lifestyle business, PURE has devised its own playlist  covering music genres from soul to pop, hip-hop and raps. Cool Sounds as you sip your Vodka cocktails.

Search ‘PURE Vodka’ on Spotify.

To find out more about PURE Organic Vodka and the new PURE LITE vodka, places to drink and where to purchase, as well as cocktail ideas, take a browse around the website.

http://www.wmspirits.co.uk

 

Cap Gin – a taste of the luxurious, languid life of leisure along the Côte d’Azur, 1920s style.

The term Côte d’Azur was coined by the writer, Stephen Liégeard, whose 1887 travel guide to the French Riviera, “ La Côte d’Azur, described this ‘coast of light and warm breezes.”In the early 20th century, this sunshine coast inspired the Impressionist artists, Monet, Renoir, Matisse, Dufy, Bonnard and Picasso, who lived and painted around Nice, Villefranche, Antibes and Cagnes-sur-Mer to capture the luminous colour of land and sea.

The Riviera also became a glamorous retreat for wealthy travellers, celebrity writers, musicians and socialites of the Jazz Age.   Leaving Long Island,  New York, in 1924, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda moved to the Villa Saint Louis, Juan-les-Pins, their residence for three years.

“We were going to the Old World to find a new rhythm to our lives. ... driving along the High Corniche Road through the twilight with the whole French Riviera twinkling on the sea below. As far ahead as I could see was Monte Carlo…when life was literally a dream.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald

Villa Saint Louis, Juan-les-Pins, later became the Belle Rives Hotel

The so-called “lost generation” of Americans sought refuge here to escape Prohibition back home.  At the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, luxury villas and super-yachts. along the coast, the Fitzgeralds, Gerald and Sara Murphy, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Cole Porter, Stravinsky, Gertrude Stein and Coco Chanel – gathered for extravagant parties where champagne and cocktails flowed through the night.

Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, Antibes

Leisurely life and times here became the backdrop for his novel, “Tender is the Night”, opening with a description of the legendary Eden-Roc resort.

“On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, halfway between Marseille and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-coloured hotel. Deferential palms cool its flushed façade, and before it stretches a short dazzling beach. Lately it has become a summer resort of notable and fashionable people”.

In a letter to his friend Ernest Hemingway, FSF wrote ” ….. back on my beloved Riviera…I’m happier than I’ve been for years. It’s one of those strange, precious and all too transitory moments when everything in one’s life seems to be going well.”

It is also a beloved, magical place for three friends, Andrew Campbell, James Auld and Adam Payne who shared a dream to reflect its cultural, literary heritage in a distinctive, dry French Gin.

CAP Gin is an expression of the Côte d’Azur distilled in a bottle, created from local botanicals – juniper, coriander, angelica Root,  lemon peel, and pink peppercorns – blended with the iconic fragrance of Rose, Mimosa and Fleur d’Oranger synonymous with the coastline between Monaco and Saint Tropez.

An expression of leisurely life and times along the French Riviera distilled in CAP gin

The recipe for this premium spirit has been refined and perfected in collaboration with Dr David Clutton, who has extensive knowledge of pot stills and distillation.

 “CAP Gin encapsulates the true essence of the hills and coastal fringes of the French Riviera.  With citrus elements derived from lemon and sweet orange peels, aromatic Fleur d’Oranger buds and Mimosa flowers delivers a complex and elegant, yet perfectly balanced gin, of superior quality.”  Dr. David Clutton.

It was an immediate success, receiving two gold medals for both Premium and London Dry categories, from the Spirits Business Gin Masters 2020. With scores of 80-89, CAP gin was judged to be “floral and luxurious” and the must-have drink this summer.

So, no wonder that I have been very keen to try this award winning gin myself.  The chunky bottle is well designed with an attractive aqua blue and turquoise label.  On the stopper is tiny logo of a swimmer in a swooping dive, encircled by a clever tagline, “Cap – L’Esprit de la Côte,”  truly spiritual in both senses of the word.

Vintage travel poster – sunbathers, swimmers and an elegant diver.

The aroma on the nose is delicately perfumed evoking soft floral notes with a whiff of sea air, while the blend of herbal, floral and fruit ingredients are finely balanced, as tested in a dry Martini.

The initial sip is such a pure, clean taste, crisp, biscuity, bone-dry, and a garnish of a twist of orange draws out the sweet citrus tang. I often prefer an olive in a Martini, adding a touch of salty spice as a lingering aftertaste.  With complex layers of aromatic flavours, this is a smoothly textured, highly sophisticated gin to be savoured in leisurely, languid fashion.

Gin Martini

Stir ingredients gently with ice in a mixing glass, strain into a chilled martini glass

75ml CAP Gin

15ml Noilly Prat vermouth

Garnish: Orange

As a G&T, what could be a better companion that Fevertree Mediterranean Tonic, infused with the oils of local flowers, fruits and herbs such as lemon thyme from Provence.

A predecessor of the Martini, the Martinez is said to be the most classic of classic cocktails.  There are various stories about its origin, either invented by a bartender in Martinez, California or at a hotel in San Francisco.  The recipe was first published in O.H. Byron’s “The Modern Bartender” in 1884,  described as being the “same as a Manhattan, only you substitute the gin for whisky.”

Martinez

40 ml CAP Gin

25 ml Sweet Vermouth

5 ml Maraschino Liqueuer

1 Dash of Angostura Bitters

Stir all ingredients over ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with orange zest.

This cocktail is perfectly suited for CAP gin as Hôtel Martinez is a landmark art deco building on the Croisette waterfront in Cannes. It opened on 20 February 1929 by its owner & founder, Emmanuel Michele Martinez, the son of a noble Italian family.

It was on the French Riviera where F. Scott Fitzgerald finished The Great Gatsby, and most appropriately the recent movie starting Leonardo DiCaprio, opened the Cannes Film Festival in May 2013 …….(with a post show party most likely at the Hôtel Martinez.)

Fitzgerald was enchanted by the Riviera .. ….its “diffused magic of the hot sweet South … the soft-pawed night and the ghostly wash of the Mediterranean far below.”

This was his playground for work, writing, pleasure and socialising leisure. While he commented that “too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” his favourite tipple was gin as he believed it could not be smelt on his breath.

His cocktail of choice was a Gin Rickey, as introduced in chapter 7 of The Great Gatsby.

Tom came back, preceding four Gin Rickeys that clicked full of ice. Gatsby took up his drink.
“They certainly look cool,” he said, with visible tension. We drank in long, greedy swallows.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Gin Rickey

2 oz. Gin

1/2  Lime

Club Soda Water

Add the gin to a tall glass full of ice with the juice from the lime half, and then drop the shell into the glass.  Top with soda water.

Scott and Zelda were known to frequent the Bar Américain at the Hôtel de Paris, Monaco, for a nightcap – most likely a Gin Rickey or a Gin Fizz.

Gin Rickey – one of Fitzgerald’s favourite cocktails

CAP Gin certainly does capture L’Esprit de la Côte, evoking the glamorous lifestyle of those decadant hedonistic days on the French Riviera, a century ago.   Whether you prefer a refreshing G&T, a Martini, Martinez or Negroni, do try this silky smooth, classy, classic and oh so, elegant Gin.  Yes, the must-have drink for summer 2020.

Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Zelda and Chanel et al, would have approved of CAP gin!   à votre santé

CAP gin is distilled and produced at Distillerie des Terres Rouges, Turenne, France, available to purchase in the UK via, www.capgin.com

Plan the perfect escape to Lough Eske Castle for real adventures, relaxation and romance

Lough Eske Castle, Donegal – a luxury Resort for leisure and relaxation.

Whether for a romantic retreat, active, outdoor adventures, gourmet getaway, relaxing Spa break or planning your Wedding, Lough Eske Castle, County Donegal is the destination for all manner of travel trips and family celebrations.

Surrounded by 43 acres of woodland, on the lakeside with the dramatic Bluestack Mountains as a stunning backdrop, this is a five star Country House hotel and Spa, voted the World’s Best Luxury Country House, (four times) and in the Top 10 of best places to stay in Ireland.  On the site of a 15th century Castle, the original turreted mansion, built in the 1850s, was recently refurbished with a 40 million Euro investment to restore, develop and create this luxury leisure Resort.

There are nearly one hundred guestrooms, from traditional luxury Suites in the mansion with 4 poster beds, clawfoot baths and fine antiques; the Tower Suite on three levels is beautifully furnished, giving fabulous views over the Lough Eske and Estate.

A taste of aristocratic tradition – luxury bathrooms at Lough Eske Castle

Modern-styled, comfortable Garden and Courtyard Rooms (within the former Stables) are dog friendly for a homely hideaway, and there’s ideal accommodation for families with children..

Garden Room – spacious accommodation for couples, families + and your dog.

Dinner in the elegant Cedars Restaurant showcases modern, gourmet Irish cuisine with superb, seasonal produce from land and sea.  This north west coastline is famous for its oysters, sample local honey and the chefs go foraging for wild, natural ingredients.

Cedars Restaurant for modern Irish cuisine with seasonal, local dishes.

For a more casual meal, a menu of hearty gastropub food is served in the Lobby Lounge.

Father Frank Browne (1880-1960) is renowned for his extraordinary collection of photographs due to an unexpected change of travel plans.  Browne, a young Irish Jesuist priest, boarded the Titanic in Southampton on 10 April 1912, settling into his first class cabin at the start of the maiden voyage to New York.

Father Browne’s First Class suite, A37, Panorama Deck, on the Titanic

But within a day or so, he received a telegram from his superiors with the message, “get off that ship” and was obliged to disembark at Cobh, Ireland.  Following the tragic sinking of the Titanic, his unique black and white images taken on board were published on front pages of newspapers around the world and preserved today as a valuable archive.  An avid traveller and prolific photographer all his life, his visionary eye through the lens is compared with Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Doisneau.

Father Browne Bar, with collection of photographs showing life on board The Titanic

Today, a selection of his vintage images taken on board The Titanic are displayed in the Father Browne Bar. Relax here with a dram or two and raise a glass in tribute to a remarkable man who, having obeyed orders, unwittingly saved his life.

The smart, sophisticated spot for cocktails is the Gallery Bar, within what was the former Ballroom. The drinks menu is extensive with a fine list of Irish Whiskey, Bourbon, beers, wines, champagne and all favourite tipples.

Relax in the Gallery Bar for fine whiskies, beers and signature cocktails

In the former conservatory is the CARA Organic Beauty Spa, with a thermal suite with indoor and outdoor relaxation areas, infinity pool, sauna, jacuzzi and eight treatment rooms. Experience indulgent, therapeutic pampering with soothing beauty brands, espa and Anne Semonin for facials and massages.

Thermal Suite at the CARA Organic Spa, an oasis for wellness and relaxation

Lough Eske Castle is a prime destination for bespoke weddings, perfectly tailored for each couple.  International visitors, especially from North America, have enjoyed planning memorable three or four day events.  Whether a grand occasion for 280 guests in the glamorous ballroom or an intimate family party, the wedding planners will create your special celebration.

The restful, romantic natural beauty of Lough Eske & Bluestack Mountains

But let’s wind back .. first comes the Engagement and what could more romantic than a Helicopter trip and a picnic in this glorious countryside as part of a relaxing stay with fine wining and dining.

And of course (Irish) Oysters and champagne is the classic aphrodisiac.  14th February is Valentine’s Day and as 2020 is a Leap Year – ladies, you are free this year to pop the question.!

Beautiful, bespoke weddings at Lough Eske Castle in vintage style

What to see and do nearby?  Donegal is on the West Atlantic Way, the longest coastal route in the world. Visit the tallest sea cliffs in Europe at Sliabh Liag and explore Glenveagh Castle set within a National Park, nicknamed the “Coolest Places on the Planet”.

Outdoor sports galore: hiking, biking horseback riding, hill walking, fishing on the lake and golf.  Donegal Town is just ten minutes drive away, a place to browse around and shop for Artisan arts and crafts – especially Donegal tweed – to take home a slice of Irish cultural heritage.

‘The Journey not the arrival matters,’ said T. S. Eliot. The best way to travel to Lough Eske Castle is to fly into Donegal Airport, the second most scenic in the world with stunning panoramic views along the coast.

Flying into Donegal Airport, the second most scenic take-off & landing on the planet

This is the start of your cultural, culinary and romantic adventure and experience a true taste of Irish hospitality. Cead Mile Failte – 1000 welcomes – as they say.

Perhaps plan a tour around Ireland, visiting Belfast and Dublin or explore the West Atlantic Way from Country Cork to County Donegal.

Find out more and book your visit to Lough Eske Castle here:

http://www.lougheskecasatlehotel.com

Reviews by happy guests:

“Lough Eske was our third stop on our four castle tour of Ireland, a trip my husband and I took for our honeymoon.  Donegal Seafood Chowder, Guinness Stew, comforting, home food experience. Overall, Lough Eske was exceptional.”

 “Staff and Facilities 5*.  Spa, Sauna and Jacuzzi, amazing!”

 “We spent Christmas at Castle Eske in one of the garden suites with our two little dogs Ruby and Bella – our third visit to the Castle. All I can say is that we had the most wonderful time”.

Postcard from Lough Eske Castle and Destination Donegal, Ireland.

Visit the new sassy, sophisticated Cocktail and Champagne Bars at Le Monde, Edinburgh – cheers!

Le Monde, George Street

The World came to Edinburgh thirteen years ago ..

Well to be more accurate, the quirky, cool and ultra contemporary boutique hotel, Le Monde opened on George Street.

This was a really exciting concept when it launched, offering guests the choice of eighteen superior bedrooms and suites each inspired by the world’s most cultural and cosmopolitan cities, from Barcelona to Rio, Berlin to Reykjavik, Casablanca to Sydney.  In 2006, my partner  Ken and I stayed for a review visit, jetting off (as it were) to Los Angeles, a Junior Suite, in the process.

Los Angeles, Le Monde – a suite set amongst the Hollywood Stars

This really oozes Hollywood glamour, featuring dozens of portraits of famous movie stars, stunning white leather sofas, bedroom, bathroom with a round tub designed for two.

Le Monde was named Scottish Design Hotel at the Scottish Hotel Awards in that first year of of opening, as well as a runner up for its Paris Bar and as a Boutique Hotel.  Its international themed décor and design lead all the way around from bedrooms to the Bars, Brasserie and Shanghai nightclub.

Fast forward to September 2019

Le Monde welcomes drinkers and diners to experience the revamped, restyled Bars and Restaurant following a major £1 million, four month renovation project.  The original, traveller’s tale around Le Monde has been enhanced with great imagination to take you on a culinary and cultural journey.

Just beyond the entrance hall is the ab fab Champagne Bar with velvet draped booth seating and high backed claret-coloured stools around the half moon Bar.

Just the place to stay awhile and sip a glass or two of Laurent-Perrier, the House Champagne, served by flute, bottle and magnum, as well as other sparkling wines and champagne.

It’s not the wizard’s yellow brick, but follow the colourful zig zag, marble road through to the Cocktail Bar with an amazing Island Bar in the centre, where you can sit on tan leather stools all around. Smart and spacious, it’s rather like a First Class Airline Club Lounge and ideal choice of seating for either couples or a party of friends.

The Cocktail Bar, Le Monde

Let’s have a taste of what’s on offer …

At a sneak preview, Ken and I had an inspiring tour around to sample a few innovative cocktails and tasty tapas.  Generation X & Millennials might think cocktails were invented in the 20th century, but 2019 is celebrating the centenary of the Negroni invented in 1919 Florence, named after a Count who concocted the tipple.

Count Negroni and his own now legendary Gin & Campari cocktail

A book entitled “Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them” of 1896 features a recipe for Martini, which resembles very much the classic we love to this day. The decades from World War 1 to the 1930s was the era of the cocktail, as Cole Porter would sing about in 1924 with his perfect talent for rhyming:

"Too many parties and too many beaus
They have found that the fountain of youth
Is a mixture of gin and vermouth .."

Cocktails at Le Monde, inspired from global cities

It’s departure Time at Le Monde Cocktail Bar – remember it’s 5 o’clock somewhere in the world so time for a drink.  Browse the enticing menu of fancy drinks inspired by classics and cities around the world: “Saintoge Sidecar”, the classic was invented at the Ritz Paris – the version here is a blend of Tequila, VS Cognanc, Cointreau and fresh lime juice with a dash of  champagne.

Cocktails inspired from cities around the world, jazzed up with a modern twist

“S’Bigliato” is a famous drink in Milan and means The Mistake. The story goes that a barman was trying to make a Negroni with Martini rosato, Aperol,  Campari and Prosecco, rose vermouth and bitters, creating a rather different pink drink.

Also try the “ Gin Gin Cosmo” a celebration of hip New York cocktails, the Cosmopolitan, Clover Club and Gin Mule, with Gordons Pink Gin, Edinburgh Rhubarb and Ginger Liqueur with fresh lime and cranberry juice.  I think Carrie & the gals would love it.!

Cocktails for the Sex and the City girls

Imaginative re-mixes and shake ups of cocktails too from Casablanca, Rio, Havana and Berlin as well as Cocktail pitchers for a group. And of course, fine wines, champagnes, Prosecco, spirits, draught and bottled beers.

The Brasserie, Le Monde for casual dining day and night.

Around the corner from the Bar, there are comfortable banquette seats for dining.  The new food menu is ideal for a romantic dinner a deux, or a night out with friends, sharing a few Tapas such as Chorizo & Cheese Croquettes,  Aubergine Bruschetta,  Roast Pepper and olive salad, Battered Haddock bites (like posh fish fingers), Serrano ham with broccoli, Sweet potato fries.  Also a range of steak, burgers, vegetarian and vegan dishes, sides and desserts.

Appetising lite bites and seriously good food for the modern traveller – breakfast, brunch, lunch and supper.

Sharing plates, tapas and bites – fresh local, seasonal seafood, meat and veggie food

Travel the World

Thirteen years since it first opened, this major design facelift has transformed Le Monde into a glamorous getaway in the city, perfect for any occasion.  The refurbishment was created by RYE Design, an Architecture and Interior Design Studio. The original classic Georgian features are juxtaposed beside the new cool, contemporary plush, luxe décor.

And of course you can stay overnight.  Each styled bedroom and suite, whatever the standard, has a 42” plasma TV screen, air conditioning, minibar, bathrooms with rainfall showers, Scottish toiletries, bathrobe & slippers, a safe, refreshment facilities and complimentary WiFi.  Select your favourite city to enjoy a themed experience with well selected photography, art, fabrics, books, lighting and cultural style.

New York, Le Monde

Marrakesh, Le Monde

The Dirty Martini, upstairs is a Bar and Salon for private parties, festive celebrations and corporate receptions, and downstairs, is the popular Shanghai Night Club.  Le Monde certainly is an all singing, all dancing international venue for drinking, eating, sleeping, leisure and lifestyle

Commenting on the re-opening, Darren Scott, the General Manager, said:

‘Le Monde has been a favourite venue in the heart of Edinburgh for many years now, and we’ve taken that wonderful idea of a trip to glamorous and exciting places and reinvented it.  The newly refurbished bar and restaurant exude the warm cosmopolitan glamour and relaxed luxury that make you want to while away the day or evening.

Our food and drink menus delve into the culture, customs and cocktails of cities around the world to create a very special selection.  Every dish and drink has been devised, blending global inspiration with ingredients in Scotland.

Celebrate a new era of Le Monde with us.’

Darren Scott, General Manaager, Le Monde

Reviews from happy drinkers and diners who have visited in September 2019 :

A girls’ weekend in Edinburgh and came here for cocktails – so good we came back a second night! Highly recommended.

Luxurious setting. Love the idea of small plates allowing to try many dishes. Not a vegan but the decorative beetroot dish was to die for. Cocktails from around the world were fab.

The new cocktail menu is impressive, themed on different cities around the world. Looking forward to trying out the new champagne bar!  Ching ching.

Take a trip to Le Monde soon to discover a world of possibilities in its new era with a sassy new look,  classy, classic cocktails, delicious dining and luxurious interior – a place to eat, drink, sleep and party the night away.

Le Monde – Bar, Brasserie, Hotel, Nightclub

16 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 2PF  –  https://lemondehotel.co.uk/

Le Monde for cool cocktails, champagne and drinks galore

Lanzarote Retreats come to the rescue of stranded Thomas Cook travellers with a warm-hearted spirit of hospitality

Thomas Cook World Tours, founded 1841

The much loved holiday firm Thomas Cook, was founded in 1841, starting with a successful one-day summertime rail excursion for just a shilling per person travelling from Leicester to Loughborough. From these humble beginnings launched a whole new kind of tour company, devoted to helping Britons see the world.

The tragic news of the company’s sudden collapse, ceasing trading today has now required the urgent repatriation of Thomas Cook customers – the largest to be organised in peacetime.  More than 150,000 British and around 400,000 international travellers on vacation around the world are now seriously affected by unpaid hotel bills and cancellation of return flights.

Thomas Cook plane, Arrecife, Lanzarote

It was therefore most heartening to hear that ‘Lanzarote Resorts’ immediately rallied around to assist all stranded travellers.  This is the welcoming message they sent out this morning, Monday 23rd September, 2019.

 All available accommodation will be gifted to any families left stranded in Lanzarote by the collapse of Thomas Cook.  We are happy to provide our services and all available accommodation to any visitors, free of charge, who have been left stranded as a direct result of Thomas Cook no longer trading.

In addition, once Lanzarote Retreats has no further availability, we will try and help by contacting other providers here to do the same for anyone we cannot accommodate. “

Launched in the mid 1980s by Michelle and Tila Braddock, ‘Lanzarote Retreats’ is now a well established family business. Their son Joshua has the marvellous dual role of General Manager and Surfing Instructor!.

Villa, Lanzarote Retreats

There’s an enticing choice of holiday accommodation with well designed  villas, cottages, apartments, and their innovative Eco Village “Finca De Arrieta”  is a model for sustainable, responsible tourism.

Ocean View Penthouse, Lanzarote Retreats

Staying in environmentally-friendly yurts, cabins, cottages and surf shacks sounds like the perfect getaway, just a stroll away from the beach. The Braddock family and staff can certainly assure a truly personal service with their local knowledge to plan a relaxing break, outdoor sporting adventures or tours around the island.

Eco Surf Yurt, Lanzarote Retreats

Following the news about Thomas Cook, Michelle Braddock, explains why ‘Lanzarote Retreats’ immediately wanted to help visitors and the future of the island’s tourism industry.

” This is a devastating blow to the tourism sector in Lanzarote and we feel it is vital that the entire sector rallies here to ensure the minimum damage to the reputation of Lanzarote as a favourite destination for family holidays. As a trailblazer in eco holidays our ethos has always been based around the welfare of our island, its inhabitants and especially the environment on which we all depend.

 If we cannot extend this to visiting guests then what would that say about us?!”

Compared to the usual tight-fisted, profits-first, capitalist, corporate attitude of many airlines, hotels and travel companies, their warm-hearted hospitality and generosity of spirit is to be applauded.

A winter sun trip to the Canary Islands would be perfect when you can expect mild temperatures of around 20 – 23°C and the eastern island of Lanzarote is warm year round with the best surfing between July and mid-December!

To plan your visit to Lanzarote Retreats, take a look here:  https://www.lanzaroteretreats.com/

The Centaur, a beach sculpture, is their symbolic protector of Finca de Arrieta

 

 

“Grazing by Mark Greenaway” at the Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh: modern fine dining – artistic, imaginative, casual and fun.

“The essence of Mark Greenaway’s genius in the kitchen is his seemingly endless inventiveness.”  Ian Rankin

It was the week of the Big Tease back in March before Chef Mark Greenaway revealed the secret location of his much anticipated new Restaurant.  There was a relish of rumours and soupcon of social media messages: 1st March: “Goodbye New Town .. hello ??,”  followed the next day by a video clip of someone walking along Princes Street with a view of the Castle and the tag line, “Where do you think the new Restaurant will be?”

The next big hint was the enigmatic line, “Fancy a meal in the  West End?” and then finally, a quirky aerial shot of the planet zooming in to the actual location.  And what a prestigious address it turned out to be!.

Mark Greenaway outside the Walforf Astoria

On 8th March, the news broke that the Chef was taking over the former Galvin Brasserie de Luxe at the Waldorf Astoria, The Caledonian, with an opening date in mid April.  Having known his ingenious style of cuisine for over ten years, Ken and I recently went along to visit “Grazing by Mark Greenaway” to experience this exciting new venture.

In order to appreciate the enormous significance of this exciting venture, it would be timely to have a brief look back at Mark’s culinary and creative journey over the past 25 years.  After school, he stared his first job in a hotel kitchen near Lanark, where he persevered as a KP until given the opportunity to train as a chef.  The seed was sewn and moving on to another hotel, he mastered the art of a pastry chef, winning an award for his elaborate “Milk chocolate mousse, raspberries in caramel with lattice tuile”.  This was the springboard for adventure down under, heading off to Sydney, for a steep learning curve under a tough task master – as he relates, “every plate had to reach absolute perfection 100% of the time.”

Back in Scotland, as Head Chef at Dryburgh Abbey Hotel, his imaginative dishes were rewarded with a Chef Médaille d’Or for Dinner Excellence (2009).   Soon time for change, launching his own eponymous restaurant on Picardy Place, Edinburgh, showcasing seriously inventive dishes. (Rising Star Chef of the Year, 2011).  Now as a renowned chef in Edinburgh, he was then selected, for two years. running to represent Scotland in “Great British Menu” on BBC 2.

The next bold step was the launch in 2013 of Restaurant Mark Greenaway with an intimate setting for his distinctive style of cuisine. With the honour of 3 AA rosettes, it was placed #13 in Square Meal’s list of the UK’s Top 100 Restaurants and named runner up as Best Restaurant in Observer Monthly (2013, 2015, 2016). An enticing review too in the Michelin Guide, 2016:  “The well-travelled chef employs interesting texture and flavour combinations. Dishes are modern, ambitious and attractively presented.”

Restaurant Mark Greenaway, North Castle Street, Edinburgh, 2013-2018

Branching out, with a new challenge, he also opened Bistro Moderne in Stockbridge. As I wrote in my review in January 2014:  ” .. a touch of Blumenthal in this scientifically-inspired, smoke-filled, deconstructed, unique cuisine.”

With his passion for local, seasonal produce on his menus, he decided to promote the best of Scottish food and compiled his beautifully designed cook book, “Perceptions: Recipes from Restaurant Mark Greenaway” (Relish Publications).  

With mouthwatering illustrations and step by step recipes, it’s aimed at the masterchef and keen amateur, with culinary tips and a list of his own suppliers so that you can create the quality of his fine dining food at home.  A few months later, much to Greenaway’s surprise, “Perceptions” was named the best cookbook in the world at the Gourmand Awards, 2017.

“Perceptions” – Best Cookbook in the World

The success of Restaurant Mark Greenaway and “Perceptions”  must have been an incredible boost to morale and further ambition.  It might be a short walk from Castle Street to Princes Street, but this is a truly impressive step up, opening his own Restaurant at the five star, Waldorf Astoria – The Caledonian.  Enter either through the Hotel lobby and Peacock Alley loung, or the main entrance around the corner on Rutland Street.

The green carpet for the launch of “Grazing by Mark Greenaway”

“Grazing by Mark Greenaway” is a classic Brasserie in design with comfortable, blue banquette seating and well spaced tables with smart crimson & blue plaid chairs. Appetising suggestions for food & drinks and sharing plates are listed on blackboards around the walls.

Diners can also sit on stools at a couple of high tables at the front, or the central island bar for a quick, casual meal.

Take a stool at the Island Bar

Guests are invited to “relax, unwind and graze.  You can share a starter, main or dessert, or indulge and have something all to yourself.”   This is a fresh new concept, showcasing a blend of traditional, modern and sharing plates based on seasonal Scottish ingredients.   “Fine dining” has been reinvented here to create a casual, leisurely ambience without linen tablecloths and uniformed waiters. The attractive, welcoming space accommodates 170 for lunch and dinner as well as private dining and a Chef’s table.

The Grazing menu is well laid out and so flexible to suit all tastes and appetites, divided into various sections: Snacks, Small and Big Plates, From the Grill, Grazing for Two.  The set price for each Plate is very reasonable. As dishes are designed for sharing as well as for one person, it is wise to ask your server to explain the sizes of different portions.

BBQ Shiitake Mushrooms with truffle on toast

Under Grazing for Two, all dishes are for sharing such as Barbecue truffled Shiitake mushrooms, a cured meat and choux pastry Picnic served in a basket, and Fish Pie.  From game and haggis to seafood and steak, this is modern Scottish cooking such as 11-hour Slow Roast Pork belly with apple and mash, and a rich dessert which has already become famous, Sticky Toffee Pudding Souffle.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Souffle

So where to start and what to choose.? Our charming waiter Gwen suggests that we share a few Snacks to enjoy with a Cocktail.  As a simple twist, sip a Scottish Martini and a Scottish Negroni, both served with a Scottish Gin. (Edinburgh, Daffy’s, Rock Rose, Hendricks et al).

Cool Cocktails with a Scottish twist

Perfectly shaken and ice cold, my Martini hits the spot and  Ken’s pink tipple, (gin, campari, red vermouth) was created for Count Negoni, exactly one hundred years ago. Cheers!

Superb, artistically crafted “Snacks”

With these we were presented with four gourmet canapes to share: Puffed cod skin, Potato chip with caviar, Carrot tartlet, and Smoked Salmon mousse (in an egg shell), a light as air fishy foam, which just melts in the mouth. Each of these snacks is elegantly exquisite.

Soft Shell Crab on white, shell shaped plate

For my starter, Tempura Soft Shell Crab has an amazing delicate crunchy texture  – a generous portion but Ken was happy to sample his share, while he quickly devoured a colourful salad of Mackerel with apple and beetroot, a fine balance of salty and sweet flavours.

Mackerel with apple and beetroot

Meanwhile we sipped a glass of one of the house red wines, Cuvee, Jean Paul Syrah & Grenache, France, South West (2017), a classic Rhone with notes of rich fruit and soft spice. I could not resist the Cod Cheeks, fat juicy goujons, lightly fried. Posh pub grub!

Fried Cod Cheeks, crispy kale, green salsa

Ken selected for his main course, Heritage Beetroot Wellington, wrapped in a thick pastry parcel. We shared a side of Kentucky Fried Cauliflower with garlic aioli, and Ugly Potatoes smothered in melted gruyere. These extras are delicious, inventive veggie dishes in themselves.

Kentucky Fried Cauliflower

After this feast, no space for dessert – a tempting choice for those with a sweet tooth, Frangipane Pear Tart, Ice-Cream, Chocolate Doughnuts, Sticky Toffee Pudding Souffle, as well as Farmhouse Cheese with oatcakes.

No wonder that within seven weeks of opening in April, “ Grazing by Mark Greenaway” was presented with the much deserved accolade of 2 AA rosettes. As he commented:  “This is a huge achievement for such a young restaurant ..  at the beginning of our Grazing journey … a great start as we make our make in the city.” 

As 2019 is the centenary of Hilton Hotels, plenty to celebrate at the Waldorf Astoria.

Plan your visit soon for a light lunch, (Grazing Plates, £9 each. 2 Plates + 1 side, £20), a “Grazing for Two” romantic dinner,  Cool Cocktails and canapes at the Bar, or a Sunday Roast with family and friends.

As always, Mark Greenaway is a culinary genius due to his signature slant – a touch of molecular magic in the kitchen, artistic vision on the plate with a sense of theatricality for a truly exceptional, exciting and unique dining experience.

“Grazing at Mark Greenaway”

Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh – The Caledonian,

Rutland Street, Edinburgh EH1 2AB

Lunch: 12 noon to 2pm.  Dinner, 6pm – 10pm.

Email: grazing.reservations@waldorfastoria.com

Tel. 0131 222 8857

Postscript: There has been a flurry of 5 star reviews from happy diners:

Great concept, lovely design and warm, professional, friendly service.

Enjoyed it so much. A lot to choose from and all made with love.  Desserts were outstanding,

Soft shell tempura crab,  divine, and the icing on the cake, Sticky toffee pudding soufflé. 

Sunday lunch: Roast beef platter to share ..the tastiest, juiciest roast beef, perfect roasties, big fluffy Yorkshire and vegetables. Amazing value at £28 for two for such quality.

Mark Greenaway outside his new Brasserie “Grazing” at the Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh – The Caledonian.

 

 

 

 

Experience a taste of modern French cuisine – with a refined Edinburgh accent – @Brasserie Prince

Simple, heritage French cooking at Brasserie Prince

The Balmoral, Edinburgh, a Rocco Forte hotel, has long been a destination to stay, eat and drink with superb hospitality at its Michelin-starred Number One Restaurant, Palm Court and Scotch bar. If you’ve not visited for a while, the former Hadrian’s Bistro has been completely transformed into a distinctively creative dining experience.   As part of the influential Roux dynasty of chefs and restaurateurs, Alain Roux and his father Michel Roux, O.B.E. have collaborated in the launch of “Brasserie Prince by Alain Roux.”

Chefs Michel & Alain Roux

To appreciate the importance of this significant partnership, it was in 1967 when Michel Roux and his brother Albert, co-founded Le Gavroche in Mayfair, London, which today remains a legendary institution with his son Michel Roux Jn. in charge.  Michel’s Waterside Inn has held three Michelin stars for longer than any restaurant in the world outside France. After training as a Master Pâtissier in France, Alain joined his father at the Waterside, taking on the role as Chef Patron.

For the past decade, Scotland has long benefitted from the family’s culinary expertise, with Albert Roux overseeing “Chez Roux” at four hotels, Greywalls, Cromlix, Rocpool and Inver Lodge.  The team of father, son and granddaughter,  Albert & Michel Roux Jn. joined by his daughter Emily Roux, also opened two fine dining Restaurants at Inverlochy Castle and Crossbasket Castle.

The Roux Scholarship, founded in 1984 by Albert and Michel, continues to be an important culinary competition encouraging young chefs to aspire and achieve excellence.  Their astute recognition of talent began with the first recipient, Andrew Fairlie who soon became a renowned chef, running his eponymous 2 Michelin star restaurant at Gleneagles from 2001 until his early death this year.

Brasserie Prince menus

Bringing his own distinctive flavour to Edinburgh, Alain Roux has the position of Signature Chef at Brasserie Prince located in a prime corner site on the ground floor of The Balmoral.  This inspirational Forte-Roux alliance showcases authentic French cooking, inspired by seasonal Scottish produce:

“This exciting brasserie will be defined by irresistibly simple, delicious food led by fantastic Scottish ingredients. I want to serve the dishes that I love to cook myself at home and seek out with family and friends when we go out to eat.  A menu informed by my French heritage but totally inspired by Scotland.’

Alain Roux, Signature Chef at Brasserie Prince

Happy Birthday Brasserie Prince

Tuesday 11 June 2019 celebrated the first birthday of this charming Brasserie and clubby Bar Prince, so time for Ken and I to check out the new summer menu.   Arrive either through the ornate Hotel lobby or the direct entrance up a few steps from the street.  With a fresh, colourful design, the first impression is of an open plan, free-flowing Restaurant and Bar.

Modern-classic interior design at the Brasserie Prince and adjoining Bar Prince

The L shaped layout neatly divides the two casual and comfortable drinking & dining venues. The interior design was a partnership between Martin Brudnizki Design Studio and Olga Polizzi, Rocco Forte Hotels’ Director of Building & Design, and who is Sir Rocco’s sister.

On arrival at 12.15pm, we start with a leisurely cocktail before lunch in Bar Prince; (I agree with the late restaurant critic Michael Winner, who insisted that an aperitif  is essential to the dining experience!).

Bar Prince – a relaxing lounging ambience

The furnishings are akin to a traditional Lounge, with fireplace, bookshelves (with Roux cook books of course), vintage-style lamps, a sleek art deco chandelier, floral wallpaper from House of Hackney in a painterly pattern of verdant palm leaves, spacious booths and peacock- blue leather armchairs with marble-top tables.

Morning Glory

The Bar drinks menu has a wide selection of gin, whisky, wines & Signature Cocktails such as Prince Royale (Mulberry Slow (sic)  – this should be Sloe – Gin, Campari, cherry Marnier and champagne)

Classic Cocktails offer a Mary Pickford, (Bacardi, pineapple juice, maraschino liqueur), Lemon Drop (Vodka with Cointreau and lemon juice),  and a Penicillin, (Lagavulin, ginger liqueur, honey water, lemon juice).  Surprisingly, with a clientele of American and European guests, there is no mention of all our timeless favourites : Martini, Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Negroni, Margarita.

From this so-called choice of Classics, Ken selects a Morning Glory (Dewars, 12 year old, lemon juice, absinthe, soda water), which is light and refreshing. Going off piste, I order a spicy Bloody Mary, perfect for midday as a tasty appetiser before lunch.

This is served in a copper tankard, with a stick of celery, olives, sun dried tomatoes and there is certainly a dash or three of Tabasco to hit the spot.

The attractive Bar sweeps round the corner with a row of high-backed tan coloured stools; large communal dining tables in the centre are ideal for a quick office lunch or casual bar supper with friends.

It’s 1pm and time for lunch.  The Brasserie itself is a long, slender, elegant dining room with banquette seating all the way around, with light flooding in from the extensive windows facing North Bridge and Arthur’s Seat beyond. The extensive use of mirrors around the walls reflect the light even more and add to the sense of space.

Smart casual is the ethos of design and dress code.

Contrasting the wood panelling, the soft colour palette is a crafted balance of blue, green and pink. Art deco lighting, natural timber, soft leather and mohair wool are inspired by Scotland’s heritage and the Edwardian architecture of this grand 1902 hotel.

 A collection of artwork includes a classic travel poster, ‘North British Station Hotel Edinburgh’  depicting the former N.B. Hotel, before its re-launch in 1991 as The Balmoral.  Also watercolours of the Highlands and Islands, from Duart Castle to Loch Fyne.

Vintage poster of The North British Station hotel, now The Balmoral

Seated at a Banquette table, we are given the set price Express Menu, 2 or 3 courses (£19.50/£25), with a choice of three dishes per course. First of all, a basket of freshly baked bread with slices of soft baguette and sunflower/ poppy/ caraway multi seed,  served with a olive tapenade, as well as butter and Epoch organic olive oil.  The soft cotton Brasserie Prince napkins are like small tea towels – an innovative idea.

First of all, drinks. Scottish Speyside mineral water is the house brand and we select Spanish dry white wine, a Sauvignon/Verdejo (2017), from the Castilla Y Leon region, Vina Garedo, with the fresh, citrusy taste of summer.  The wine list offers six white and red wines by the glass, and by the bottle, the list is divided by country, from a most reasonable £ 22 – £24.  Or why not kick off your meal with a flute of Champagne Michel Roux.?

I start with a generous portion of Smoked salmon, served simply with capers, onion lemon and rye bread,  was of the utmost quality, thickly sliced and oozing subtle saltiness.

Smoked Salmon with capers and rye bread

Meanwhile Ken had chosen Parisian Gnocchi, equally large for a starter, made from Pâte a choux gougères (cheese doughballs), and covered with rocket and slices of grilled red pepper.

Parisian Gnocchi

I then sampled about half of a green mountain of Pearl Barley Risotto with edamame beans, grilled courgette and sauce vierge.  Unfortunately, despite all the ingredients, no distinctive flavours shine through in this rather bland and gloopy dish lacking texture – rather heavy and hearty at lunchtime.

Pearl Barley Risotto with edamame beans, & courgettes

Across the table, Ken was tasting a white as snow fillet of Monkfish à L’Armoricaine, served with Camargue wild rice and broccoli, a fish stew from Brittany cooked in wine and tomatoes, traditionally flambéed in cognac.

Monkfish Armoricaine with Camargue wild rice

A choice of three, overly sweet desserts, (Ice cream, Raspberry soufflé, Crème Caramel) so we finished with an Double Espresso instead – perhaps a selection of Fromage could perhaps be offered for those without a sweet tooth.

The Express menu is served Monday to Friday, 12 noon to 2.30pm, & 5.30pm-6.30pm. Recent selections have included Shetland Mussels, Beef Bourguignon, Lyonnaise Salad with poached egg and asparagus, Roast chicken & potato grenailles.

The extensive A la Carte menu for lunch and dinner is divided into bites, sharing platters, soups, salads and a feast of classic French dishes: Frogs’ legs, Lobster thermidor,  Steak Tartare. Each day a selected Grand-mere Special – Coq au vin, Cassoulet de canard, Brandade de moru gratinee – recipes from the family’s country recipes.

 The only quibble on this occasion, was the variable standard of service from a team of young staff with a few inexperienced waiters, (“Who’s having the salmon?), who lacked the personal, professional attention to detail.

Ken and I certainly enjoyed our initial taste of such authentic French cuisine created with passion by Michel and Alain Roux.  Another appetising aspect of the Brasserie is the Raw Bar, where diners can sit on a stool at this theatre kitchen to sample the freshest Fruits de Mer – a platter of oysters from Gigha or langoustines from the Isle of Skye.  Perfect with a chilled glass of fizz.

The Raw Bar – the place to share a dozen oysters and champagne

In case you are thinking, surprisingly the culinary French word “Roux” was not actually coined by the Roux chefs.  The definition orginates from around 1805. Roux refers to the red brown beurre (butter) created when mixed with flour to thicken a sauce.

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Borrowing its name from this classic French story, ‘Le Petit Prince’ menu welcomes children to this family friendly Brasserie, where younger diners are catered for and seen not heard with colouring books and crayons.  The Balmoral has won an award for its Families R Forte facilities – kids’ passports, mini bathrobes, games and teddy turndown.

To celebrate the first birthday of Brasserie Prince there is a special Seafood Menu available for lunch and dinner from 28th June until 9th August., 2019.  Bar Prince is a classic, classy joint and if you call in on Wednesday and Thursday evening, relax with a drink with live piano music served on the side.

So this summer why not plan visit for a taste of modern French cuisine, champagne and cocktails and feel as if you have jetted off to Paris or Nice.!

Brasserie Prince by Alain Roux

The Balmoral Hotel

1 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH2 2EQ

https://www.roccofortehotels.com/hotels-and-resorts/the-balmoral-hotel/restaurants-and-bars/

E. brasserieprince@roccofortehotels.com   Tel. 0131 557 5000

Art Deco meets contemporary design at Brasserie Prince

Experience a classy G&T, cool cocktails and classic wining & dining at the Printing Press Bar & Kitchen, Edinburgh

 

The Principal, George Street

The George Hotel opened to its first guests in 1881 within five Georgian townhouses. After a major refurbishment a couple of years ago, it was rebranded as the Principal Edinburgh with classy, classic-contemporary style.  Accommodation, lobby lounge, Cocktail bar,  Brasserie and buzzing Coffee shop create the ambience of a quintessential American City hotel.  In 2017, it was named the Scottish Hotel of the Year.

Printing Press Bar with Editor’s Cocktail Bar upstairs

The design theme reflects the literary heritage of this former home of novelist, Susan Ferrier and Oliphant publishers. Hence the name of The Printing Press Bar, Editor’s Cocktail Bar and Kitchen for drinks, cocktails, wining and dining day and night.  Before going through for dinner, my partner Ken and I very much enjoyed a leisurely Gin Master Class with Chris Smart, the Bar Supervisor who certainly understands the brands, botanicals and garnishes for the perfect Serve.

Gin Master Class is ready – with tumblers, ice, tonic, garnishes and lots of Gin

The table is set around a comfortable booth with a selection of distinctive styles of Gin: Botanist which is dry and peppery, Bloom, sweet and floral, Martin Miller’s with spicy notes, and the signature No. 25 created specifically for the Principal Hotel.

Chris Smart, Bar Supervisor and Gin Connoisseur

Botanist is made at the Bruichladdich Distillery on the Hebridean island of Islay, world famous for its smoky whiskies with the flavour of peat and the sea. The Gin is hand crafted with 22 hand picked local botanicals – berries, herbs, seeds, bark and peel such as mint, sage, juniper, thistle, cinnamon, heather and lemon balm.  This is served with Fever Tree Tonic and a slice of grapefruit and a sprig of rosemary to draw out the herbal and citrus flavours.  An alternative is to try Botanist with ginger ale for a refreshing kick.  The subtlety of the flowers, general smoothness and balance is excellent.

Twenty odd years ago, when ordering a G&T at your pub, (before cocktail bars led the way), there would probably be just be one Tonic available, (advertised as Schhh – you know who).

Founded in 2005, Fever Tree is a major global brand which has embraced the Gin and Cocktail revolution, concocting quality Tonics with a range of flavours – Indian, Refreshingly Light, Mediterranean, Elderflower, Aromatic (pink in colour and aniseed in taste) Lemon and Cucumber.  Throughout the fascinating lesson, we each sample different ones to see how the humble G&T is enhanced with a well selected Mixer.

Fever Tree Tonics

Bloom is a London Dry Gin created at the G&J distillery founded in 1761. As the name suggests, the spirit is inspired from nature and the three main botanicals are chamomile, honeysuckle and pomelo to create a refreshing, garden-scented spirit.  The perfect serve is with quartered strawberries and a few rose petals.  It could be served with Elderflower or Lemon tonic or classic Tonic to let the fruity garnish sing.  This is indeed Summer in a Glass.

It is said that Martin Miller kicked off the whole gin renaissance in 1999 with the launch of his own eponymous brand, an idea sparked by his love of romance and adventure.  The secret is a blend of Tuscan juniper, angelica, coriander, Seville citrus peel, nutmeg, cinnamon, liquorice root and Icelandic spring water. Serve with strawberries sprinkled with black pepper and Elderflower Tonic adds a little more sweetness.

Finally we move on to No. 25, the House Gin is crafted in collaboration with Ray Clynick of OroGin in Dalton, Dumfries and Galloway. Like a traditional London dry, it is delicately scented with juniper, citrus, lavender and violets, with a velvety smooth finish, best served with a slice of orange and lavender.

At the launch last winter it was described thus: “Principal Gin is a perfect blend of both style and taste, inspired by the timeless elegance and luxurious ambiance of the hotel. The handpicked botanicals offer a real sense of exotic and Mediterranean blend that fuse beautifully together.”

The Printing Press Bars offers a selection of Principal No. 25 Gin Cocktails, including a very fashionable The Devil Wears Principal, (with cranberry, mint and soda).  As an aperitif we sampled the classic 75 (with Taittinger, lemon, lavender) and a deliciously sharp Martini straight up with a twist.  If you like Principal Gin, bottles are available to buy here at £39 to take home and enjoy a tipple at your leisure.

After this hugely enjoyable. educational – and rather tipsy – guide to tasting and serving gins by Chris Smart, we made our way to the Printing Press restaurant next door.  The smart design is like a Parisian Brasserie, all dark brown leather banquettes, wood panelling and chequered floor.   The menu embraces traditional British cuisine, deconstructed and redesigned in a modern manner.  For instance a tasty starter of Smoked haggis, pureed neeps and crispy potato, Chicken Terrine with prunes,  Blue Cheese and poached pear salad.

Having sampled the gin in a glass, I selected the No 25 Gin-cured Trout which was colourfully presented with a few pickled mussels, avocado and beetroot puree topped with a large spoonful of caviar for a gourmet taste of the sea.

No 25 Gin-cured Trout wiht avocado & caviar

Across the table, Ken quickly finished of his plate of tender, succulent hand-dived Scallops, carrot remoulade, all drizzled with basil and lemon butter.

Fat and juicy hand-dived Scallops

The Wine List is extremely well selected with around 10 white and red House wines served by the glass (175/ 250ml) and bottle, ranging from an Australian Pinot Grigio to a Chilean Carmenere, as well as a fine range of quality French and New World wines.  We were recommended a bottle of Journey’s End, a rich Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa. The experts describe this as a blend of  rich blackcurrants, black plums, white pepper, mixed spice with a velvety texture.  Exactly so.

Now time for our main course.  Again the menu offers classic favourites such as Lamb Rump, Pork Belly and Ale Battered Fish and Chips as well as Sirloin, Ribeye and Flat iron Steak from the Josper Grill cooked to your liking with choice of sauces.

Stone Bass with peas and baby gem

I selected Stone Bass, served with peas and charred baby gem, and aded a side of Chips to share with Ken, who had ordered one of the three Vegetarian dishes, Charred Cauliflower.  While M&S recently launched and then removed their rather expensive Cauliflower Steaks,  this humble vegetable is extremely versatile,  not just smothered in cheese sauce.  Here it was deliciously spiced up with curry oil like a reinvented Indian  dish, Aloo Gobi.

Charred Cauliflower, Indian style

While we did not finish with Dessert, the selection of puddings include Pineapple Upside- down cake with coconut ice cream for a tropical treat,  Dark Chocolate Parfait,  as well as a platter of Cheese and oatcakes.

Experience fine hospitality, quality drinks and cuisine at the Printing Press Bar & Kitchen – the buzzing heart and hub of this world-class Hotel.  Gin and Cocktail Master Classes are a new venture and highly recommended for a most informative but entertaining tasting session.

Visit The Principal George Street for a relaxing, luxury city break or for cocktails, a perfectly poured G&T, glass of wine, lunch or dinner soon.   This literary heritage hotel is certainly worth writing home about.  On a postcard please!

Hotel, Restaurant and Bar Facts:

The Printing Press Bar and Kitchen @ The Principal Hotel,

21-25 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 2BP

Tel. 0131 240 7177   www.printingpressedinburgh.co.uk

Gin & Cocktail Master Classes – email: events@printingpressedinburgh.co.uk

The Principal Hotel, George Street.

https://www.phcompany.com/principal/edinburgh-george-street/

Printing Press Kitchen – French style Brasserie serving modern Scottish classics

 

 

Escape the city life for rejuvenating, relaxing Me Time at the Spa – Principal Hotel, Charlotte Square

The Principal, Charlotte Square

The Principal Edinburgh, Charlotte Square – formerly the Roxburghe Hotel and first opened in 1848 –  has had a multi-million-pound refurbishment, now transformed into a smart contemporary Boutique hotel within its seven grand townhouses, overlooking Charlotte Square Garden.  With vintage travel ephemera and quirky, colourful design across bedrooms, bars, bistros and lounges, it was named the Edinburgh Style Hotel of the Year 2018.

Junior Suite, Principal Hotel, Charlotte Square

The Spa has also had a makeover to create a relaxing retreat in the centre of the city for pampering treatments and leisure time around the pool, sauna and steam room. Located on the lower ground floor, the cool, quiet, interior space has a calming ambience which envelops you from the moment you arrive at the Spa Reception.

The Apothocary themed Spa

The thematic decor is all about reflecting the fragrant scent and traditional medicinal properties of herbs, plants and dried flowers which fill the large vintage bottles to represent a 19th century Apothocary.

Herbal Art display at the Spa

This follows through into the ingredients of the Signature Spa products – OSKIA is a specialist skin care formula created for luxury facial treatments to enhance a healthy complexion.

Oskia, multi award winning beauty products

The other skincare range is ishga, developed from natural, organic seaweed on the Isle of Lewis. In order to experience both of these Spa products, I selected the OSKIA Glow Facial while my partner Ken would be trying the ishga Face and Body Sensation.

We were shown to the Locker Rooms downstairs– very spacious and well laid out, where we changed into towelling bathrobes and slippers. From here, there is a direct access to  the swimming pool and thermal suite.  We then sat for a few minutes in the Relaxation room until our Therapists came to collect us for our respective beautifying treatments.

Tranquil Treatment Rooms

The rooms are small but decorated with soft, subtle shades of cappucino and taupe to enhance the sense of calm. Sitting on a hard wooden stool (?!), I was asked to select my preferred scented oil for either energy or relaxation. Lying on the massage bed, I was wrapped up under a duvet and towels, while a CD of Mood music provided a soothing soundtrack.

The OSKIA facial was extremely comprehensive covering the face, neck and décolletage with a flowing series of various creams and a mask to exfoliate, cleanse, tone and moisturise.  I always love the contrasting sensation of cold lotions followed by a hot towel to refresh and open the pores.  The application of a warm oil, drizzled over my face, was like basting a chicken – but I was not going to be roasted!  A gentle massage in circular movements works to penetrate and plump up the layers of skin.

Georgie Cleeve

OSKIA was created in 2009 by Georgie Cleeve after she damaged her knee in a skiing accident.  Understanding that race horses are given BSM, a natural sulphur supplement, she used this on her knee which helped to repair the tissue and cartilage joint. This was the springboard to create a therapeutic skincare range – the name is derived from ancient Greek meaning beauty and nutrition – which promotes collagen production and has anti-inflammatory elements for a brighter, younger-looking complexion.

Meanwhile Ken was next door for a Back, Neck and Shoulder Massage with ishga seaweed body oils to nourish the skin, pummelling the muscles to release knots and alleviate tension.  Other ingredients in the products include lavender, lemongrass and juniper which sound like the botanicals in a perfectly curated Gin!  This was followed by a rejuvenating Facial which showed amazing results.

Hebridean Island seaweed

Ishga marine skincare – named after the Gaelic for water – was founded by Malcolm, a Scientist, Joanna his wife, a beauty therapist, and Martin a seaweed expert.   Based in Lewis, the Outer Hebrides,  they source seaweed harvested from the sandy beaches combined with local salt water, the purest in the world as is the fresh water taken from mountain springs.

Ishga skincare – inspired by the seashore on the Isle of Lewis,

Seaweed has been used for centuries for its healing properties, and its vitamins, minerals and amino acid are ideal for people who suffer from acne or dry and itchy skin conditions.   Cucumber extract, Macadamia, Jojoba Oil, Thistle Oil, Hebridean Sea Salt and Aloe Vera are other natural ingredients as well as anti-oxidants to maintain a healthy and youthful skin.  As Ken noticed afterwards, his face was moisturised, toned and tightened for a brighter, smoother appearance of the skin.

This was a marvellous escape for the afternoon at the Principal Spa – around an hour and a half of recuperative, calming, Chill Out – Me Time followed by a rest in the Relaxation room.  The Leisure club is a myriad of corridors, rooms and staircases – the changing room (with the loos) are a bit of a trek and directions are needed to find your way back here.

Afterwards we went upstairs to The Garden – the indoor Greenhouse Conservatory Bar and Café –  for a refreshing Cocktail, a Rhubarb and Ginger Sling for him and an Elderflower Collins for me, all very fruity and healthy.

Cool Cocktails in the Garden

With sunlight streaming in from the glass roof and surrounded by flowers, it was like sitting outside – perfect for  ‘al fresco’ coffee,  tea, snacks, bar drinks, lunch or supper, whatever the weather.

The Garden – for all day drinks and good food.

The Spa offers a diverse menu of massages, facials, manicures and beauty treatments.  For a special treat, book an indulgent Spa Day such as Champagne, Deluxe and Signature Lunch or Twilight Tea packages.

While you may visit the Spa as a non-resident as we did,  why not plan to stay here for a mini city break.  Hotel guests in a Standard bedroom can enjoy the leisure facilities free of charge from 7-9am and again from 6-9pm. Those staying in all other Superior rooms are free to go at any time.  As well as the Pool, keep fit in the gym with Intenza Fitness cardio machines and equipment for stretching and strength training.  Studio classes offer yoga, zumba, spinning and bootcamp sessions.

Spa Facts:

Opening hours, Monday to Friday, 6.30am – 10pm, Saturday and Sunday, 7am – 8pm

Address: The Principal Charlotte Square, 38 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, EH2 4HQ.

Website: http://www.theprincipalhotel.com/edinburgh-cs

Telephone +44 (0)131 240 5500

Email:. leisure@theprincipalhotel.com

A Hamper ..and a Haven  ..of health and beauty at the Principal Spa

Stay at Thatched Cottage for a relaxing break, outdoor adventures and cultural heritage around the New Forest

Brockenhurst, Hampshire has been officially declared ‘Britain’s Most Beautiful Place to Live’ by Leaders Estate Agent due to its “bundles of charm and history.”

Brockenhurst village

This is the largest village in the New Forest, an historic National Park for outdoor sports, natural heritage, wildlife,  woodland and waterways,  as well as churches, castles and miles of coastline to explore. The name Brockenhurst is perhaps derived from the local habitat of badgers, or brocks,  while an alternative source is the Pre-Norman Brocenhyrst, meaning  a ‘broken wooded hill’ – a hill criss-crossed by streams.

If you are planning on hiking and biking your way around the New Forest, the best way to travel here is by train with regular services from London Waterloo, Southampton and Bournemouth. The first impression on arrival is like stepping into the film set of an Agatha Christie period drama,  as you wander through this quaint English village.

A recommended place to stay is “Thatched Cottage” – just a five minute stroll from the station.

Thatched Cottage

As you can imagine, the 400 year old, Grade 2 Listed, “Thatched Cottage” oozes tradition and character with its low ceilings, timber beams and quirky décor and design. There are fourteen bedrooms – beautifully furnished Historic rooms within the Cottage and modern Chalet-style Garden rooms.

Pouchkin – Historic double

I was allocated Pouchkin, an Historic double on the ground floor which is simply delightful, with pretty chintz curtains, flower paintings, a white wrought iron double bed, soft pillows /duvet, and a collection of antiques and curios, such as a vintage stone hot water bottle.

The en suite shower room is compact in size but offers all necessary facilities such as quality towels and toiletries.   Tradition is the theme but expect modern comforts – Tea/ coffee tray with home baked Burley Rails shortbread and bottled water, free WiFi and a Television. On this winter time visit, it was most welcoming to find the radiator was switched on to provide a cosy room, day and night.  It’s all very homely.

An Historic Superior Room, Darjeeling, on the ground floor is more spacious, with dressing table, sofa and a bathtub, for a little extra luxury.

Darjeeling – Superior Historic double room

Garden rooms have the advantage of a communal kitchen to make drinks and snacks. The two bedroom Suite is extremely good value for a family or friends with lounge and dining areas and kitchenette.

Garden room

“Thatched Cottage” is a B&B, Tea Room and Gin Bar. Guests and non-residents can indulge in a traditional Afternoon Tea – a feast of sandwiches, scones and cakes after an energetic day out in the New Forest. This can be an alcoholic version with a cheeky G&T on the side!.

Tea and Breakfast room

Gin Bar

The cute little Gin Bar (doubling as Reception desk) offers almost 80 distinctively different gins from across the globe –  Caithness to Cornwall, Isle of Wight to New Zealand,  from fruity and floral to spicy and Navy Strength.  Try a Gin flight tasting session of three gins such as local craft gins to unusual creations , flavoured with Seaweed or Black Tomato.  Every gin is served with the perfectly matched tonic, ice and garnish – lime, orange, cucumber, basil and rosemary.  A few Cocktails too  – such as Gin Martini –  as well as wine and beer, so relax over an aperitif or two before going out for dinner.

Gin flights to sample a few

While there is no in-house restaurant this is no inconvenience whatsoever as you’ll find a varied choice of  pubs (Foresters Arms, literally next door), bistros and brasseries (Italian, Indian, Thai) nearby.

Hearty breakfasts

After a peaceful and most comfortable sleep,  experience a hearty Breakfast each morning.  The rather small buffet selection comprises cereals, sliced melon (complete with the rind), yogurt and chocolate chip pastries. Perhaps a little more choice – juices, bananas, citrus fruits, prunes, apricots and croissants?

Tea is served in your own individual pot, while Coffee is only per cup but my server kindly invented a Cafetiere in a tea pot with a jug of hot milk. Sorted!

The selection of hot dishes is excellent – Full English (eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, beans) with a Vegetarian option.  The menu offers a choice of Eggs Benedict every which way with meat, fish or spinach.  The Eggs Royale was perfectly cooked to order in the theatre kitchen with two soft poached eggs and succulent smoked salmon on a toasted muffin. A perfect start to the day touring out and about.

What to see and do?

Cyclexperience located ideally at Brockenhurst station will set you going on two wheels and suggest a variety of routes. The Cycling in the New Forest App is free to download to your phone or check out the routes online, such as Balmer Lawn, Ornamental Woods, Beaulieu and a Seaside Ride to Lymington on the Solent.

New Forest Activities offer outdoor adventures for families, couples and groups of all ages and abilities: wildlife watching – red deer, ponies, birds – canoeing on the Beaulieu River nature reserve, sea kayaking,  archery and horse-riding to keep the kids healthy and active.

The National Motor Museum at Beaulieu is a must for all petrol heads, Top Gear fans and it’s truly fascinating for anyone with an interest in design and heritage.

Colourful vintage vehicles

It is the most representative collection of over 250 vehicles, artefacts and vintage travel posters, relating the history of motoring through every era, with examples of legendary, luxury marques, racing cars and original vehicles from the movies such as Harry Potter’s Ford Anglia which magically flew over the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

The era of stylishly designed cars

The Palace House at Beaulieu, home to the Montagu family since 1538,  is a grand Mansion where you can tour the magnificent drawing and dining rooms furnished with antiques and paintings, Victorian Kitchen and gardens.

Family treasures at Beaulieu

The owners of Thatched Cottage also run Escape Yachting with exhilerating sailing opportunities on the Solent including Champagne lunch & dinner day trips.

Escape Yachting on the Solent

If you want to sail in a sunnier climate, they also organise yachting holidays in Croatia and the Caribbean.

For a great escape, plan a trip to the New Forest to enjoy outdoor adventures, natural scenic beauty and, yes, “bundles of charm and history.”

Thatched Cottage has been the best we stayed in – this is our fourth year visiting the New Forest and will return again. We highly recommend this place”.   All the rooms are packed with character and well equipped. The hotel’s unique feature is its gin bar.  Nothing was too much trouble for the very attentive and friendly staff. Breakfast was a highlight.”   (Guest comments)

Thatched Cottage, 16 Brookley Road, Brockenhurst, Hampshire, SO42 7RR

Tel. 01590 622005

www.thatchedcottage.co.uk   reservations@escapeyachting.com

Go New Forest – visitor information:  http://www.gonewforest.com

New Forest – wonderful wildlife