In A Goa Glam State Of Mind…

Rubina A Khan reviews the North and South of Goa and the beaches in between “in a glam state of mind…”

It’s the last few days of 2016 and everyone’s talking about New Year’s Eve parties and where they’ll be ushering in the first sunrise of 2017. But it’s Goa with its warm sun, salty sea and shaken and stirred patterns in the sand, where the beach-erati are at this holiday season, bidding 2016 adieu with a beachy bang. Goa fulfills the three most sought–after F’s of life – fun, food and fashion in a manner most susegad (living and enjoying life to the fullest with a relaxed attitude). And there’s no celebratory time quite like Christmas and New Year’s to be in Goa to make it a fiesta to remember. Here are the top five reasons to hit Goa, apart from its innumerable beach parties and music scene, from the North to its South to the beaches in between, making it an unrivaled party destination in India, every year, all year round:

GLAMOUROUS FUN: The opening of the first W hotel in India earlier this month, the W Goa in Vagator in North Goa, has flipped the olde Goan susegad mood board into a glamorously sassy one. W Goa is spread across 25 acres of luxuriant greens along the Arabian Sea, with unparalleled views of swaying coconut palms and the idyllic Vagator Beach shore from its elevated Rock Pool. The Goan red laterite stone is dominant in the hotel’s contemporary architectural style with installation artist, Subodh Kerkar’s art works from his Indigo and Chilli series occupying places of pride in the hotel’s design métier.

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Installation artist, Subdoh Kerkar’s art from his Indigo series

But it’s the W that shines bright like a gleaming diamond, at the entrance of the hotel, embodying its edgy and fashionable spirit that sets the tone of the heady times ahead.

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The glamorous entrance of the W Goa

The Kitchen Table, an all-day diner overlooking the pool, serves the best Goan thali ever! The Bamboo Charcoal Prawn Tempura with Mango and Wasabi, a signature dish of Chef Tanveer Kwatra, Director of Cuisine, W Goa at Spice Traders, the hotel’s Pan-Asian restaurant is just exquisite, as is the Baked Singapore Chilli Crab and the Tuna Truffle Tostadas with Caviar.

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Baked Singapore Chilli Crab at Spice Traders

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Bamboo Charcoal Prawn Tempura with Mango and Wasabi

The food at W Goa is exemplary in its distinctive tastes, flavours, finesse and technique and is poised to become a culinary haute spot in Goa very soon. The neon-hued WeeKids, a kids club, a first for the W globally, is immensely popular, almost as much as the music and DJ line-up at the Rock Pool bar. And what’s a little glamour without some Bollywood thrown in? Bollywood superstar, Salman Khan and his family, were one of the very first guests’ in residence during the W Goa’s inaugural run in India. So, if you ever wanted to sleep in the same bed as Khan (without him in it, of course!) well, now you can in the W villa!

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Amit Bhosale, owner W Goa and Salman Khan

EPICUREAN TRAILS: The culinary scene in Goa is as incredibly diverse as its people, not to mention addictive. There’s no dearth of restaurants and bars in Goa, with world cuisine available right from a beach shack to a luxury hotel. The coolest places to hang out and actually eat in, rather than just be seen in, are undeniably Thalassa Greek Taverna (Greek / Mediterranean) on Small Vagator and Gunpowder The Peninsular Kitchen (South Indian) in Assagao. Eating here is akin to a food pilgrimage in Goa. Thalassa is always bustling with people, enjoying their Lamb Gyros, Feta Moussakas and Risotto Prawns, taking in the spectacular views from the restaurant, at any given time of the day or night. The blue and white Greek village environs add to the charm of Thalassa that entices you to eat (a lot!), laugh and shop without a care in the world. Gunpowder’s cuisine ranges from flavours from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa and even some parts of Maharashtra. From Syrian Christian Beef, Kerala Mutton Curry and Andhra Prawns to their famous fluffy Egg Appams to a South Indian must, a steaming plate of idlis with gunpowder, it’s like a little bit of India on a very big, rotating plate. You might just run into Twinkle Khanna riding in on her yellow scooter here as it is one of her favourite restaurants in Goa.

FASHION: Fashion in Goa is refreshingly personal. It’s you and your vibe, but a new outfit on New Years Eve is de rigeur, wherever you might be in the world. Fashion designer Malini Ramani’s vibrant store in Calangute can help you get your Goa glam on with everything resort – from shimmering off shoulder dresses to feather flirt tops to sundresses to sequined shorts and bikinis. So whether you’re going to a sundowner at the W Goa or a fireworks and bonfire NYE party on the beach, or just taking a selfie with a cow on the streets, you’ll find something that works, and dazzles on you. Bold-hued outfits line the racks in Ramani’s store, with a large black and white embellished artwork by her on the wall, that balances the color play, reflective of the designer’s definitive sense of style, that is loved and worn by Bollywood beauty Deepika Padukone, who makes her Hollywood debut in XXX: Return of Xander Cage with Vin Diesel in the new year.

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Malini Ramani’s store in Calangute | Photo: Rubina A Khan

RELAX: What’s a holiday without a round of golf ala Rory Mcllroy on the Double T 9-hole golf course on the beautiful greens of the Lalit Golf and Spa Resort in South Goa or some good old soccer on the beach? Spread over 85 acres, the Baroque-Portuguese styled resort has an imposing hand-painted tile mosaic of Sao Rafael, the first Portuguese ship that landed in Goa, steered by Vasco De Gama to add to its cultural charm. With sweeping views of the Sahyadri mountain range, along the confluence of the Talpone river, the Lalit’s manicured grounds are ideal to commune with yourself. If sport is your idea of a relaxing holiday with the family with your kids running wild, then the Lalit has everything from Lawn Tennis to Table Tennis, Squash, Volley Ball, Badminton, Cycling, Zorbing, Parasailing, Archery, Air Rifle Shooting to fuel your athletic side. And if you love spas, then Rejuve at the Lalit is an added must to your itinerary!

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DETOX: The pursuit of a vibrant and energized spirit is on everyone’s mind for the new year and the Detox Detour at the Alila Diwa Goa set amidst luxuriant rice plantations and mango, banyan and peepul trees, along Gonsua Beach in Majorda, South Goa offers just that. Just the idea of a detox detour is so appealing that it does not take any persuasion to check right in, straight into the serene and soothing environs of Spa Alila. Specially designed as 3,5,7,10 and 14 night packages right from a body composition analysis to holistic and ayurvedic treatments to nutritionally balanced meals, the Detox Detour at the Alila works at correcting imbalances and health deteriorations due to the stresses of modern living and enhancing your optimal wellness. After all the hedonistic partying and food indulgences during the holidays, Spa Alila’s bespoke treatments infuse elements of Ayurveda, yoga, massage, fitness, hypnotherapy, pranic healing and nutrition to nourish and cleanse your mind, body and soul so you can take on 2017’s exciting new adventures with renewed fervor.

There’s a little bit of Goa for everyone, and in everyone’s heart, and the glamorous new Goa is where it is all really at!

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on December 29, 2016

©Rubina A Khan 2016

W Goa, The First W Hotel In India Opens In Vagator Today

The first W hotel in India, the W Goa opened today, the 12th of December 2016, turning up the glam on the idyllic landscape of Vagator in Goa with it’s dazzle-me-baby vibe.

Here’s the W Goa in pictures:

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A bedazzling W at the entrance of W Goa

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A very W bedroom!

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Backyard | W Goa

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Amit Bhosale, MD ABIL and owner W Goa

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Poolside chillin’

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The sun sets on the Arabian Sea and Vagator Beach

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Baked Singapore Chilli Crab at Spice Traders | W Goa

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Fantastic Sea Front Villa | W Goa

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Woobar | W Goa

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Tuna Truffle Tostada at Spice Traders | W Goa

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A very W Welcome Desk

Getty Images

©Rubina A Khan 2016

The Best Nightclubs In Dubai! #TGIT #DubaiWeekends

Rubina A Khan reviews Dubai’s best nightclubs, “bedazzling nights on Sheikh Zayed Road or as I like to call it, the Party Mile in Dubai.”

#TGIT is the Middle East’s #TGIF when the weekend rolls into the week with a bedazzling glamour that is quintessentially Dubai on a Thursday evening. When you’ve been TGIF-ing all your life with #FridayFeels #Friyay and #Fridaze Instagram hashtags, it feels like you stole Friday a whole day ahead on a Thursday in Dubai, and it’s thrilling. Maybe there should be a legit #ThrillingThursday hashtag for this part of the world as the #ThrowbackThursday hashtag seems redundant as you have to throw it all the way back, which is a little meh for now. The only shift here is that Sundays can NEVER feel like Mondays to me, but Thursdays are beginning to feel a lot like Fridays already. Convenient, right? I know!

It’s another Thursday night and as the pop culturist in me acclimatizes (real easy, this!) to the new weekend style in Dubai – a country most contemporary, with its incomparable vision of the modern world. I have a huge favorite on its explosive night scene. There are nightclubs and then there’s the Cavalli Club Dubai, ruling your nights and owning your days! The other favourites of mine  are mostly on Sheikh Zayed Road, or as I like to call it, the Party Mile in Dubai:

CAVALLI CLUB DUBAI | THE FAIRMONT DUBAI

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Cavalli Club Dubai | Photo: Rubina A Khan

This is undeniably the BEST nightclub in Dubai with its hedonistically dazzling interiors, replete with wild cats emblazoned on the doors of the lifts, designer Roberto Cavalli’s inimitable animal design flair resonating through the space, the glimmering ‘You are Gorgeous’ powder rooms notwithstanding, and of course, the eponymous Roberto Cavalli Vodka cocktails. The Cavalli restaurant serves Italian and international culinary fare, and is set on three levels, where you can dine on Roberto Cavalli crockery and cutlery (but of course!) under the scintillating crystal chandeliers.

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Cavalli Club Dubai | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Cavalli is where elegance and sophistication turn into a sexy beast of glamour called the Cavalli Club run by the Pragma Group. The only way to describe a night at Cavalli is to call it legend ‘cos it just is! Just last week, Drake hit up Cavalli on an extremely private visit to Dubai and it was unreal to dance to his tracks, especially One Dance, with him around! It just doesn’t get better than this, does it? Not in Dubai! You’ll only know when you dance to the last track of the night at 3AM and not want the music to stop, ever! Cavalli owns it with the best DJs and the greatest music lineup and is packed every night with the world’s most glamourous people. Well, not all, but I believe everyone is beautiful from the inside. I love the music here and Cavalli just gets my vibe.

THE ACT DUBAI | SHANGRI-LA HOTEL 

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The Act | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The Act Dubai is an experience and I love it! The Act, created by New Yorker Simon Hammerstein, is located on the 42nd floor of the Shangri-La hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road, making it the highest theatre venue in the world. The Act Dubai is akin to an artistic ménage à trios of fine dining, theatre and nightlife, in a space that sees risqué aerial theatrics right above your dinner table and looks just as effortlessly cool with a life size cutout of Kanye West on a hip hop night, amidst its Victorian decor. The Act Dubai serves serves Peruvian | Japanese fare for the dinner shows along with Pisco cocktails. There’s a great Californian Rosé I discovered here. The spectacular performances at dinner are mesmerizing and will leave you looking up at the performers for most part of the night but it will be a crick in the neck that’s definitely worth it!

VESNA RESTAURANT & LOUNGE | CONRAD DUBAI

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Vesna | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Vesna is a contemporary Slavic restaurant and lounge at the Conrad Dubai Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road. Deep purple and fuchsia pink hues dominate the space, with extremely warm, not to mention beautiful Ukranian hostesses, adding glamour to the royal vibe it’s shooting for, making the experience so intrinsically Ukranian you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d flown into the country for the night! Owned and operated by the Aston Restaurant Management Group, Vesna Dubai’s Karaoke Nights are just so much fun, especially when you’re singing your heart out on an Adele track, but not sounding even remotely like her! The singing and dancing (in all languages literally) start around 11PM, making it such a happy place, and go on till 3AM.

BILLIONAIRE MANSION | TAJ DUBAI

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Billionaire Mansion | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Italian businessman and Formula 1 bossman Flavio Briatore’s Billionaire Mansion, with its  panoramic views of the Burj Khalifa, has Dubai entranced since it opened in April 2016 at the Taj Dubai hotel in the Business Bay area. The Mansion is spread out into  five different venues – Sumosan – a Japanese restaurant, Billionaire Grill – an Italian restaurant, Karaoke Prive – a karaoke lounge, the nightclub and Diamond Kalian – a shisha terrace. The club pulsates with a thumping crowd and a busy bar every night and is a ‘go-to’ in Dubai with its varied dining and bar options, but I’m not so hot on the music at Billionaire, which I really think should be amped up, and fast.

I am sure I’ll find many more favorites to add to my Dubai nightlife list, but Cavalli will always own it!

©Rubina A Khan 2016

My Top 5 Restaurants In Dubai, So Far!

Rubina A Khan reviews some of her favourite restaurants in Dubai, “tempted by the expansive culinary temptations in the city.”

I have been so busy eating my way through Dubai, and loving it, that I just didn’t get down to writing about all the amazing food here! I have been distracted, tormentously so sometimes, by the expansive culinary temptations in the country. So, here is my first feature on my top five favorite restaurants in Dubai, so far:

1. THE IVY | JUMEIRAH EMIRATES TOWERS | BRITISH

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Roast Duck Breast & Confit Leg | Rubina A Khan

The last time I enjoyed duck was at the exquisite Duck de Chine restaurant in Beijing, China and boy, was I blown away with its culinary excellence! The duck was so exceptional that a shrill “This Beijing Duck is to fly for, not die for!” escaped my lips, right there on the table, just as I had the first taste of it, cracking everyone up and nodding in unison. I have not been impressed by any restaurant after that (repeated) ceremonial duck experience, till I chanced upon The Ivy Dubai’s Roast Duck Breast and Confit Leg with Choux Farci, Boulangère Potato and Fois Gras on a busy working afternoon in March. I have only ever eaten this dish at the Dubai outpost of this British restaurant, nothing else, yet. That’s how good it is and so is the service! The Ivy’s vibe can be as languid as you want it to be or as boisterous as a British pub, depending on the time you go there. Needless to add, I don’t need to die or fly to Beijing for my Beijing Duck fix, even though Duck De Chine reigns supreme in my world favorite list forever more, now that I’ve got The Ivy in Dubai to rein in my duck cravings for a bit.

2. THE MEAT Co. | SOUK AL BAHAR, DUBAI MALL | AFRICAN

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Gourmet Wagyu Burger with Steak Cut Chips | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Leveraging off its African heritage, The Meat Co is a steakhouse with a selection of premium steaks like Japanese Miyazaki Wagyu to natural grass-fed Argentinian Pampa Humeda bred beef to Australian Angus. This restaurant has the best view in all of Dubai – the Burj Khalifa and the Dancing Fountains on the Burj Lake and is the coolest place to just hang out in, with the warmest and friendliest service staff. It is the best spot for selfies too but trying to get the Burj in the same frame as your face will be cumbersome. I managed to a couple, but only after a couple of trips to the restaurant. I love the Gourmet Burgers, Steak Cut Chips, Chocolate Bread, Jumbo Prawns and the Maracaibo cocktail here.

3. OLEA | KEMPINSKI MALL OF THE EMIRATES | ARABIAN

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Lamb Kebabs & Kebdet Dajaj (Chicken Liver in Pomegranate Molasses | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Olea is a contemporary Arabian restaurant, specializing in Levantine (Eastern Mediterranean) cuisine, within the majestic splendors of the decade old Kempinski Mall Of The Emirates Hotel, that was recently refurbished for over a $100 million. Olea has a vast Levantine menu with dishes like the El Homos Beiruti of Lebanon and Nayeh (raw meat) selection of Syria to the Sultan Ibrahim of Cyprus and Soft Kunafa of Palestine, as also dishes from Cyprus, Jordan and Turkey, each prepared in the traditional manner, staying true to their origins and intrinsic flavors. Sidebar: Did you know Baba Ghanoush is Arabic for Spoiled Papa? Neither did I!

4. PAUL CAFE | MALL OF THE EMIRATES, DUBAI MALL | FRENCH

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Coconut and Mango Mille Feuille | Photo: Rubina A Khan

I am in love with the Coconut and Mango Mille Feuille here and the perfect Iced Lattes, just the way I like it, no special customizations needed. I have always had to specify the amount of coffee versus the milk and ice in the blend, pretty much everywhere in the world, be it London, Maldives, New York, Hawaii, China, India, Berlin… you get the drift. The cheery vibe at this French cafe is as inviting as the sugar artistry on its bakery shelves. And the service in this bustling cafe is so quick that even before I have paid up for my “to go” order, it’s all packed and ready! I have so far indulged in a sugar dance here and just not had the time to sit down for a meal yet, but I will do so soon. Till then, keep the Palmiers and Pain Au Chocolats coming Paul!

5. ARMANI / HASHI | ARMANI DOWNTOWN | JAPANESE 

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Kumquat Caipirinha | Photo: Rubina A Khan

With the Burj Khalifa rising into the Dubai sky like a glimmering spire at sundown and the Dancing Fountains’ musical show on Burj Lake, sundowners at the Armani / Hashi lounge are a sublime seduction into the night ahead. To be right in the midst of the lofty Burj Khalifa, the tallest man-made structure in the world, gives your evening an exceptional high. Armani / Hashi has some of the most exciting cocktails like the Kanji Martini and the Blushing Geisha,  matched with exemplary service, not just at the bar and lounge, but at all points in the hotel, making it one of my favorite places to go to in Dubai. After the cocktail rounds, you can always have dinner at the Armani / Hashi restaurant that serves contemporary Japanese cuisine.

PS. I just realized that my favorite places in Dubai are so diverse from one another – ranging from Japanese, British, French, Arabic and African cuisines – a happy inadvertence. Well, I have always liked to think of myself as a world citizen, and this commingling falls right in to my citizen of the world vibe.

©Rubina A Khan 2016

My Favourite Restaurants In London

Rubina A Khan reviews the top eight new restaurants in London, UK: “led by some of the world’s most celebrated culinary artists and some fascinating new chefs challenging the old order in Britain that I love.”

If there’s any city in the world that has mastered the art of food coquetry with the relentless zeal of an amorous lover, it’s undeniably London. The city’s endless flirtation with culinary inceptions from across the world has everyone enthralled with its constant quest for epicurean excellence. From Michelin-starred restaurants to pop-ups to secret chef tables to food trucks to old-school British lunchrooms to supper clubs, tasting master classes to chef-driven restaurants; London’s tempting insatiable appetites with culinary artistry across the board.

CUT | 45, PARK LANE

Austrian born-US based celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s first foray on European terrain, CUT, is a contemporary steakhouse, located inside the imperious Thierry Despont designed interiors of the 45, Park Lane, a Dorchester Collection hotel on London’s Money Mile in Mayfair. Wolfgang is a culinary artist extraordinaire and is the only chef to have won the Outstanding Chef of the Year Award twice. Executive Chef, David McIntyre, an integral member of the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group since 1998, who has worked at Wolfgang’s most high-profile Los Angeles restaurants including Spago, CUT and WP24 at the Ritz Carlton, moved to South West London from the US to launch CUT with Wolfgang in 2011 and leads the culinary team here.

The restaurant, by day, is ebullient, with the Psalms, a collection of 16 Damian Hirst paintings lending an artistic edge to its walls, but by sundown, it turns into a seductive dining destination, with spangled flecks of light dancing off the ceiling, that add to the allure and mystery of the night ahead. CUT has a world-class selection of steaks, grilled to perfection to your exacting preference – USDA Prime, Black Angus Beef from Kansas, aged 35 years, South Devon Angus from South West England, aged 28 days, Wagyu / Black Angus Beef from Queensland, Australia, and True A5 Japanese 100% Wagyu Omi Beef from Shiga Prefecture, Japan and a tasting of New York Sirloin, which is a fabulous way to try out three distinct cuts. CUT is the only place in London that’s serves Japanese Wagyu and it’s worth every pound for that little medallion of a steak on your plate! The cuts are brought out to your table, to choose from, in a manner most theatrical – prime cuts of raw steak, stacked up high on a massive plate, with the server outlining each cut, helping you make an informed decision on what goes on your plate. This sui generis process, exciting as it is, is quite overwhelming at first, but once the steak’s on your plate, with Tempura Onion Rings, Smoked Paprika Saffron Aioli and the Desiree Potato Puree, nothing else matters!

Hand crafted cocktails like the vodka infused Show Me Love and the vintage Negroni and Old Fashioned add to the heady evening in the fascinating ambience. The Dorset Crab and Lobster Louis Spicy Tomato Horseradish is brilliant as are the Mini Wagyu (Australian) Beef Sliders in brioche Buns with sweet pickles and hand cut French fries with herbs. Breakfast here too is just as marvelous, with my favourite being the Salt Beef Hash Cake, Poached Organic Eggs, Crispy Leeks with sauce béarnaise, reading the Sunday Times, looking up occasionally to watch London go by from the windows overlooking Hyde Park. It is unquestionably, my most preferred restaurant in London. The exceptional service at CUT is perhaps unrivalled yet, but for its legendary counterpart across the street, the old guard of The Dorchester.

PLUM + SPILT MILK | GREAT NORTHERN HOTEL

This is an absolute delight of a restaurant, ensconced inside the historic Great Northern Hotel, right in the heart of King’s Cross St Pancras, that first opened in 1854, as the world’s first railway hotel, designed by Victorian master builder, Lewis Cubitt. Taking its name from the distinctive livery worn by the dining cars the Flying Scotsman first pulled out of King’s Cross, Plum + Spilt Milk offers an elegant, yet relaxed dining experience, with floor-to-ceiling windows and hand-blown glass light bulbs warming up the classy space magnificently. Every dish on the Plum & Spilt Milk menu, under the able culinary direction of Mark Sargeant, an Englishman, formerly head chef at Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin starred restaurant in Claridges’, is spectacular! He has created a menu based on beautiful British ingredients cooked simply, but with a definitive creative bent. The Devilled Lamb Kidneys on toast is incredibly delicious as is the Plum + Spilt Milk pudding! The Fish Pie and Braised Peas is as deliciously British as it gets and the Kentish Strawberry Eton Mess is whipped delight of summer in a bowl. Almost all the drinks here are fascinating – New Etonian – Hayman’s Old Tom Gin stirred with Lillet Blanc, Cointreau Amaretto and Orange Bitters, Suntory Negroni – Yamazaki 12-year-old stirred with Antica Formula and Campari and the Northern Sour – Pink Grapefruit and Lemon Shaken with Hayman’s Gin, Cointreau and Rhubarb Bitters and Egg White.

The restaurant is extremely busy and almost always abuzz with birthday celebrations, romantic dates and jet-setting travellers, given its location. The breakfast menu here is very nutritious and anything but nondescript – it is imaginatively healthy with a nourishing Quinoa Porridge with Soya Milk, Blueberries and Almonds being the best way to start a wonderful day in London as is the Crab and Avocado with tomato and chilli on granary toast. And if you still want your breakfast sugar fix, the delicious Buckwheat Crepes with Strawberries and Agave Syrup and Lemon balm is just the treat for you, with a dash of health. You have to try out P+SM’s amazing food the next time you’re in London.

MIRROR ROOM | ROSEWOOD LONDON

Forget English Breakfasts and Earl Greys and Italian Roasts! Imagine starting your day with Baked Eggs with Asparagus and Truffle on exquisite Limoges china and a flute (or more!) of Perrier Jouet Grand Brut or Belle Époque for breakfast? Yes, breakfast! It is an exceptionally luxurious experience first thing on a rainswept London morning with the lovely Louis as your server. This is just one of the most decadent and delicious dishes from the à la carte menu that the beautifully designed jewel box of a dining salon, the Mirror Room, at the Rosewood London Hotel on High Holborn offers it’s discerning patrons, alongside a vast array of other exquisite delicacies on their breakfast buffet. Whoever said champagne only sets nights on fire has absolutely no idea how it lends its glamorous sparkle to your day, especially on weekends! In moderation of course, and definitely not if you’re driving to work! In any case, who drives to work in London really?

Born in Paris, Jerome Voltat began his culinary career in 1994 at the two Michelin-starred Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford, where he was a Commis Chef and in 2014, Jerome brought his exceptional passion for simplicity, taste and fresh produce to the position of Head Chef at Rosewood London’s Mirror Room, working alongside Bjorn van der Horst, Director of Food & Beverage at the hotel. Dishes like Crabcake, Poached Egg with Smoked Haddock and Hollandaise and the Soft scrambled Eggs, Sea Urchin with Oscietra Caviar tell you how meticulously the menu has been crafted and executed in the kitchens to give you a taste of heaven. A friendly sommelier is always on hand to guide you with wine pairings from a list focused on organic and biodynamic wines from both the Old World and the New. This is the place in London for a decadent breakfast!

HOLBORN DINING ROOM | ROSEWOOD LONDON

A grand brasserie, also inside the historical 1914 Belle Époque building that is the Rosewood Hotel today, the Holborn Dining Room serves up seasonal, locally sourced British cuisine in a lively dining salon. Combining reclaimed oak with antique mirrors, red leather banquettes with tweed detailing, and two patina copper-topped bars, this is where you laugh out loud with friends over relaxed meals or a spot of local lagers and burgers – whatever you’re in the mood for. Drawing on a wealth of culinary experience, Calum Franklin, whose career began working with a Michelin-star restaurant, Chapter One in Kent, is the Head Chef in charge here, whose main focus has been British cuisine for the last eight years. He is passionate about using the best produce the country has to offer and feels that British food needs to be championed so that diners “can be wowed by ingredients as well as cooking.”

The menu, comprises of traditional British dishes made from the finest locally sourced ingredients, and is divided into eight sections: Bar Snacks, Cold Counter, Hot Counter, Grill, English Kitchen, Sides, Sandwiches and Afters. The Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas here is the best I have ever had in London – it is truly exceptional and smacks of the flavours of a local chippie, despite being served up in a ritzy diner. The Dressed Cornish Crab, Shrimp Burger (a first for me!) the Mushroom and Spelt Rissotto, the Crab Hash with Basil Mayonnaise will just wow you with their scrumptious taste, turning you into a glutton du jour! And the Deli Dessert Table is a little sweet heaven in itself with the best selection of cakes, tarts, crumbles and all things British!

TING / GŎNG | SHANGRI-LA AT THE SHARD

Chinoiserie design and a contemporary setting make for the destination restaurant, TĪNG, that serves up modern European fare with Asian influences, on the 35th floor of the newly-opened Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard. Overlooking the Thames and almost all of London’s iconic landmarks like the Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Maritime Greenwich and the counties of Kent, Surrey and Sussex, TĪNG offers the most sweeping expanse of the city and the best lunch table on a sunny afternoon. The culinary expertise of Executive Chef Emil Minev, a native of Bulgaria, who moved to London in 2002 to study at Cordon Bleu, and subsequently trained with London’s best restaurants whilst his academic pursuits took him the Alain Ducasse Formation Center in Paris and three Michelin-starred restaurant, El Bulli in Barcelona, is visible in the food experience here. The food here is good, especially the Foie Gras – Duck, Cherry, Pomegranate, Grue and the wine pairings are just exceptional! But it is the breathtaking view of London that makes for the magical allure of dining here really.

And if it’s sunset cocktails and celebratory cheers are what you desire, then it’s GŎNG, on level 52, that you need to be at – London’s never looked as spectacular as it does from here. Well, unless you flew over in a chopper earlier, but now all it takes is an elevator ride up to the bar and a cocktail of your choice to take in the London view. The bar derives its name from ‘dougong’ – a unique structural element of interlocking wooden brackets, used in traditional Chinese architecture that’s featured in the bar. The venue’s modern Asian design was inspired by the mythical aspect of cinnabar – a mineral that has been used historically to create the ‘dragon red’ found in the walls of Chinese Imperial Palaces. The drinks at Gong are just as stellar as the views and the staff is very friendly and ever ready to snap your pictures as Selfies are just tedious here as they cut out the background completely. And even if you do manage a good shot, by the time you get the light and angle right, you’d look a bit looney to the rest of the cool crew. And it might be a tad disrespectful to your waiting drink on the table too. You’ll be flying on those tangy and sour cocktails, but the question that remains unanswered though is, how high will YOU get at London’s highest bar?

APERO | SOUTH KENSINGTON

This quiet little Mediterranean, all-day brasserie in South Kensington is like a flash of Greece in bustling London. With leather snugs, Spanish tiled floors and exposed bricks, this intimate London restaurant and bar is where South Kensington chic meets Mediterranean zest. Chef Chris Golding is all about creating unpretentious food packed with colour and fresh, seasonal ingredients over stuffy gastronomy. His easygoing menus are perfect for a relaxed meal from breakfast to supper. Apero’s bar is a vibrant place to enjoy quirky cocktails like the Tintoretto or L’Oiseau de Feu, that are inspired by the art collection at the Victoria and Albert museum a short walk away.

Apero is perfect for a weekend brunch, over an UnBeetable Burger that comprises of a beetroot burger bun, patty with stracciatella cheese and beet mayonnaise and a Tipi’s Tiger cocktail, named after Tipu Sultan. Turkish style poached eggs with yogurt chilli and avocado, Coconut Porridge with Caramelized Banana, Wild Mushrooms and poached eggs on grilled seaweed bread with hollandaise and the Toffee Banana Bread with Banana Sorbet are my hot favourites here. Apero is the ideal brunch place where you can hold as intimate or raucous a conversation, depending on the happenings of the night before.

HAM YARD AFTERNOON TEA | HAM YARD HOTEL

No trip to London is complete without a languid Afternoon Tea experience, faux British accent et al in the process and the Ham Yard hotel’s Orangery is just the place for it. A weekly changing afternoon tea menu that comprises of tea, cakes and scones (plain or with golden sultanas) with clotted cream and jam, Black Pudding, Bacon Scotch Duck Eggs, mini sandwiches like Avocado on rye and crushed tomatoes, Hamyard rarebit, baby watercress and a flute or two of Ruinart Blanc de Blanc Champagne NV Magnum or a classic Veuve Clicquot Rose NV Magnum is just what you need from all the shopping in the city!

The Ham Yard hotel, a Firmdale property, opened in June 2014 and is set on a three-quarter acre site, and is a riot of colours designed by owner, Kit Kemp, in her fun and distinctively modern British style, that gives off a cultivated “urban village” vibe with its lush garden, bang in the midst of bustling Piccadilly Circus and Soho.

BERNERS TAVERN | LONDON EDITION

Located in central London’s Fitzrovia, the glamourous and opulent Berners Tavern is housed in a historical building that dates back to 1909. Using the building’s elegant, landmarked architecture as a backdrop, Ian Schrager, of Studio 54, and his design team, created a visually arresting space now called the London Edition hotel, that is fast gaining an iconic status in design circles. The location, Berners Street, was named after Josius Berners, who purchased land there in 1654. Later it was used to build five conjoining houses in the classical style, which were converted in 1909 into a luxury hotel. During the Edwardian years the Berners Hotel, as it was named, enjoyed a dazzling reputation at the heart of London nightlife, playing host to King Edward VII as well as Carl Fabergé and other luminaries of the age.

Led by Michelin-starred Executive Chef Jason Atherton with a menu entirely sourced in the UK, Berners Tavern opened in the autumn of 2013 and already has a reputation for being the most difficult table to get in London, with a minimum waiting period of 3 months! I think this is mainly to do with an extremely smart publicity machine and not as much as the food. Atherton started out working alongside great chefs including Pierre Koffmann, Marco Pierre White, Nico Ladenis and Ferran Adria at El Bulli, before joining the Gordon Ramsay Group in 2001 and his flagship restaurant, Pollen Street Social opened in April 2011 in Mayfair and was awarded a coveted Michelin star within just six months of opening.

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Berner’s Tavern | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The Ironbark Pumpkin Risotto with Truffled Goat Cheese, Cobbnut and Watercress is exquisite as is the Whole Dover Sole with Roasted New Potatoes, Burnt Butter and Capers and the Native Lobster and Prawn Cocktail. The Crème Brulee came highly recommended and it was worth every word of praise from the charming GM, Lionel Lacheze, also a proud member of the UK Royal Academy of Culinary Arts. The Southside cocktail, created by the wizard of cocktails, Robert, is out of this world! The contemporary British food here is great, but definitely not worth the painful wait for over three months to get a reservation! But once inside, you’ll be blown away by the stunning design of Berner’s Tavern, almost akin to sitting inside a Fabergé egg!

This feature was first published in the July-September 2015 issue of Upper Crust magazine.

©Rubina A Khan 2015

Living Life Sultan-size At The Opulent Ciragan Palace Kempinski, Istanbul!

There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about Istanbul, or erstwhile Byzantium and Constantinople, in the Republic of Turkey, that’s as enchanting as it is enigmatic, given its artistic and regal antiquity. Right by the shore of the Bosphorous Strait on the European side, overlooking Asia across the blue ribbon, stands the majestic Çırağan Palace Kempinski hotel, the last residence of the Turkish Sultans from the glorious Ottoman era.

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Ciragan Palace Kempinski Bosphorous view | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The architectural magnificence and royal grandeur of the Çırağan (meaning “spreading light”) Palace is captivating – glittering chandeliers, Ottoman and Baroque style interiors, high ceilings, plush Turkish carpets, luxuriant gardens lined with palm trees along the waterfront – all befitting of a sovereign, serenading his harem of alluring women amorously on these very grounds, so much so, that you start walking around with an arched stance, like a Sultan yourself, surveying your transient kingdom!

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Heritage Palace Wing of the Caravan Palace Kempinski that houses the Imperial Sultan Suite | Photo: Rubina A Khan

And if anything exemplifies opulence, it is the Sultan Suite in the heritage palace wing of the hotel. It is one of the most expensive suites in the world (€ 30,000 a night) and the largest in Europe, with a handmade marble Hamam (Turkish Bath) attached to its master bedroom, replete with gold plated and crystal faucets, a private steam room and rain shower and your own Hamam attendants! Italian operatic tenor, Luciano Pavarotti was the first guest of this luxurious suite once the palace was restored and opened to the public as a Kempinski hotel in 1992, followed by U2’s Bono, Madonna and Oprah Winfrey, amongst many other global luminaries as its guests in residence.

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Sultan Suite | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The Turkish Hamam is a culturally significant bathing ritual that harks back hundreds of years to the Ottoman empire when the custom began in Anatolia and it was not just for the privileged or the imperial classes. The Turks built communal bathhouses where men and women, belonging to any rank or strata of society, could enjoy a Hamam, albeit at separate times, given the Islamic way of life. The Hamam was an extremely important inclusion in people’s lives, from the beginning of life to the very end. The word Hamam simply means a Turkish bath, but nothing about it is simple; it’s a self-indulgent and leisurely bathing ceremony. Back then; Hamams were used not just for cleansing and relaxing the body, but also for celebratory events with song and dance, food and drink, akin to a party, but in a bathhouse! The Sultans, along with their wives and harems of beautiful girls, indulged in Hamams in their palaces that went on for hours. Interestingly, the emperor as well as his wife or wives, were both addressed as Sultan.

 

The hotel’s Sanitas Spa recreates the magical ambience, reminiscent of the Ottoman Hamam times in the palace, with the 40-minute Pasha / Sultan treatment (€130) being the most popular. In the serene environs of the spa, a glass of refreshing apple water is brought to you, as your Hamam attendant gently washes your feet. She then helps you disrobe and wraps a hand-woven, thin, but highly absorbent, cotton wash cloth (Peştemal) around your waist and takes you into the exotically aromatic and heated Hamam. It’s almost minimalistic in its white marble design, with a massive marble slab in the middle of the bathhouse, but for the ornate wall carvings and designs like the original palace Hamam.

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Sanitas Spa Hamam

As you lie down on the warm marble slab, called “göbek taşı” in Turkish, the heat begins to envelop your body and soul, and as you relax and give in to the soothing sounds of the Turkish music, the outside world ceases to exist. The attendant then scrubs your body with a specially textured mitten that exfoliates and cleanses the skin, improving blood circulation, making your skin exceptionally soft to the touch, like silk. She then covers your person in a fragrant soap foam, making you float away on a dreamy white cloud, as she massages your head and body with aromatic oils, revitalizing your muscles, with special attention to your hands and feet. Then she shampoos the oil off your hair with an exceptional amalgamation of a head massage and rinse. Big metal cauldrons of water, first hot and then cold, are then poured over you to rinse off the soap and just like that, the most sensual bath experience of your life comes to an end with a cup of tea or the very sweet Turkish sherbet.

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Pestemal

At no point during the ritual do you want to open your eyes and especially when the Hamam is over. You’d think getting bathed by another human being in a manner so intimate would be odd and somewhat embarrassing, but it surprisingly isn’t; it feels absolutely natural to renew your body and soul, in a bath session as indulgent and spiritual as this. The oriental Haman ritual eclipses any kind of spa experience you’ve ever had and spoils you for life. The Sehrazat (55 minutes / € 165) and VIP Hamams (80 minutes / € 500) on the menu are amped up, more indulgent versions of the Pasha / Sultan Hamam to spoil your body and nourish your soul. The Çırağan spa has male Hamam attendants for men and female ones for women, like in the Ottoman era, but in today’s times, if a man requests for a female attendant or vice versa, the spa complies. Who knew water, soap suds and magical hands could come together in such exotic harmony?

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Turkish cuisine at Tugra from the kitchens of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire | Photo: Rubina A Khan

From eating authentic Ottoman cuisine at Tuğra, their signature restaurant, with recipes straight from the kitchens of the Sultans like the incredibly delicious Testi (Turkish for clay pot) Lamb Casserole to bathing like the Sultans in the Hamam, to savoring a cup of Turkish coffee in the gazebo, watching the ships go by, living life Sultan-size in the Çırağan Palace is undeniably a hedonistic affair, with the Hamam ritual being the most momentuous, and unforgettable aspect of it all.

©Rubina A Khan 2015

London’s Top 5 Luxury Hotels

“What good is money if it can’t buy happiness”, questioned British author Agatha Christie, in the thriller The Man in the Brown Suit and rightly so. London’s most luxurious modern hotels swear by that very question, albeit discreetly. The olde order of luxury in London is being challenged by a new league of modern luxury hotels where it’s all about whetting your desires and going to unimaginable lengths, realizing bespoke experiences for you. While it’s not decorous to talk about money, it’s fashionably cool to spend it in London where your money can buy you total exuberance, not just happiness!

Rubina A Khan reviews the top five hotels in London that are redefining luxurious living, irresistibly:

Rosewood London – A historical 1914 Belle Époque building on 252 High Holborn that used to be the Pearl Assurance insurance company, has shifted shape in a manner most luxurious under the direction of Tony Chi to give way to the Rosewood London, that has even the most seasoned jetsetter enthralled with its relaxed elegance and vintage charm. The central carriageway entrance and dome open into a grand Edwardian courtyard, that lead you into the hotel. Through the contemporary rose-bronze doors, you take in live finches and budgerigars chirping contentedly, inanimate British bulldogs that don’t bark, the exquisite art on the walls that’s set off with seductive lighting and staff walking about in Saville Row suits, making for a theatrical first impression of the Rosewood. The value of the seven kinds of rare marble like Swedish Green and Statuary, used on the seven-storey Renaissance staircase is £40million! The interiors of this Grade II listed heritage hotel are fitted out with Cuban mahogany and the 262 rooms and 44 suites reflect High Holborn’s history, culture and sensibilities, in line with the Rosewood philosophy of “A Sense of Place”.

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Rosewood London | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The shower rooms, yes rooms, are heavenly and designed to make every bathing ritual a sensual one, even more so after a Swedish massage by Yarmila at the Sense Spa. The champagne breakfast, with Baked Eggs, Asparagus and Truffle at the Mirror Room is the most delicious way to wake up and seize the day. Cabaret performances, held every alternate Sunday evening at the Scarfes Bar, lined with illustrations of artist Gerald Scarfe, including an adorable one of Prince George of Cambridge, over endless flutes of Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut and Lobster Momos are an excellent way to enjoy some risqué British culture after a day at the British Museum close by. The most memorable feature at the Rosewood is sheer excellence with the staff and butlers exuding genuine warmth, bereft of the faux made-to-please smiles. Nightly rates for a Deluxe Room here are upwards of £360 (Rs 36,000) and a Grand Premier Suite costs about £1,800 (Rs 1,80,000). If money is no object, then the Grand Manor House Wing, with its six bedrooms, three living rooms, a private elevator and entry, and the only suite in the world to have its very own postcode, should be your choice at £25,000 (Rs 25,000,000) at the Rosewood London!

45, Park Lane – The grandeur and exceptional service of the legendary Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane is unrivalled in London. But seconds away from the old guard, stands the Dorchester Collection’s grand and imperious 45, Park Lane, an art deco hotel, designed as a private residence, on London’s Money Mile in Mayfair, with suites facing the verdure Hyde Park. The 46-room hotel beguiles guests into its luxurious and contemporary confines designed by New York based designer, Thierry Despont, with exemplary service and dazzling glamour. The Park Lane Suite has my heart! Minutes from Bond Street shopping, and a hop across Hyde Park, it is undeniably the most fashionable temporary address in London, with every little wish of yours being fulfilled by the Park Lane team. If you so desire a dress from Harrods, a hotel runner will speed off and get it back for you in time for your dinner date whilst you soak in the satin dreaminess of the Dorchester Spa.

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45, Park Lane London | Photo: Rubina A Khan

“The most extraordinary demand we have ever had to date was to fit a washing machine in one of our suites!” says hotel manager Christophe Hilty. For a brisk ride in Hyde Park, you can borrow one of the hotel’s Brompton bicycles or bike around the streets of Mayfair. It’s on site restaurant, CUT, which is Austrian born-US based celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s first foray on European terrain, is world class. It’s the only place in London that serves Japanese Wagyu and it is worth every pound for that little medallion of a steak on your plate! CUT is also home to the Psalms, a collection of 16 Damian Hirst paintings in the hotel. Rooms start at £595 (Rs 59,500) and the extravagant Penthouse Suite on the ninth floor is yours for £8,995 (Rs 8,99,500) a night!

Ham Yard Hotel – The Ham Yard, a Firmdale property and their eighth in London, owes its name to an early 18th Century public house called The Ham. This boutique hotel, set on a three-quarter acre site, is a riot of colors designed by owner, Kit Kemp, in her fun and distinctively modern British style, that gives off a cultivated “urban village” vibe with its lush garden, bang in the midst of bustling Piccadilly Circus and Soho. With a 190-seater movie theatre on the property and its very own Dive Bar, you don’t need to battle frosty London on movie night; it’s just an elevator ride away. An original 1950s four-lane bowling alley, shipped in from Texas, replete with backlit bowling balls and vintage bowling shoes, a 13-store shopping enclave, a rooftop garden and a Soholistic Spa make the Ham Yard a unique hotel choice. The hotel has the best-stocked mini-bar and amenities kit, including Kinky Knickers, in case you packed really light and didn’t carry any! The Ham Yard breakfast-to-go service is an absolute delight in a brown bag when you’re catching an 8am flight from Heathrow! Prices for a Superior Room start at £372 (Rs 37,200) per night and the Terrace Suite is yours for £4,080 (Rs 4,08,000) a night.

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Ham Yard London | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Great Northern Hotel – This boutique hotel right in the heart of King’s Cross St Pancras, first opened in 1854, as the world’s first great railway hotel, designed by Victorian master builder, Lewis Cubitt. The splendidly refurbished 91 rooms here, named Couchette, Wainscot and Cubitt, which is the largest room, echo the vintage glamour of the building’s iconic past. Awash with abundant natural light through ceiling to floor windows and cut-glass finishes, the Great Northern boasts of a luxury every traveler desires – location and quietude! It is central to the largest transport intersection in London and is a mere 25 metres from the Eurostar Terminus and a second away from King’s Cross that makes for seamless travel to and from all Londonairports. It is steps away from the beautiful British Library. It has one exceptional feature within its glamourous boutique designs – a very comfortable Hypnos bed that also makes for great romantic interludes! Sleep is the quintessential luxury that sometimes gets lost in translation in some of world’s most famous hotels, and it is absolutely uncompromised at the Great Northern. Plum & Spilt Milk, the hotels’ on site restaurant, under the culinary direction of Chef Mark Sargeant, is spectacular! The exquisite food, atmosphere and service here are enough to extend your stay at the GNH, if not the bed alone! Rooms start upwards of £160 (Rs 16,000) here.

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Great Northern London

Ampersand Hotel – The design of the luxuriously appointed Ampersand Hotel on 10, Harrington Road, right by the South Kensington underground, is inspired by the Museum District it’s located around, through the five themes of botany, music, geometry, ornithology and astronomy. The Ampersand opened in the summer of 2012 as a modern incarnation of the Norfolk Hotel that was built in 1889. The Victorian values of discovery and wonder, alongside a modern sense of whimsy define all 111 rooms of the refitted Ampersand rooms and suites; from the V&A’s costume collection, to the Science Museum’s planets and phials, from the Natural History Museum’s ornithological drawings to the drama and ceremony of the Royal Albert Hall. And no, that doesn’t make it a dull and boring hotel. The atmosphere is exuberant and fun, with splashes of colour and sparkle to add to the relaxed vibe of the property. Knightsbridge and Chelsea shopping awaits you, yes, Harrods too, once you’ve had your fill of the museums and the astounding array of world cuisine being served up in the cafes and restaurants on every expensive retail space of South Kensington! Room prices vacillate anywhere between £170 (Rs 17,000) to approximately £550 (Rs 55,000) a night.

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The Ampersand London | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Michael Bonsor, Hotel Manager, of the Rosewood London, sums up the avant-garde London luxury order rather succinctly, “No requests are too outlandish or difficult to accomplish. True luxury is not just about remarkable quality; it is about making someone feel special in an extraordinary environment.” Indeed!

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the www.rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

@Rubina A Khan 2014

The Most Decadent Breakfast In London Is At The Mirror Room At The Rosewood London!

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Mirror Room at the Rosewood London | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Forget English Breakfasts and Earl Greys and Italian Roasts! Imagine starting your day with Baked Eggs with Asparagus and Truffle and a flute (or more!) of Perrier Jouet Grand Brut for breakfast? Yes, breakfast! It is an exceptionally luxurious experience first thing on a rainswept London morning with the lovely Louis as your server. This is just one of the most decadent and delicious dishes from the à la carte menu that the beautifully designed jewel box of a dining salon, the Mirror Room, at the Rosewood London Hotel offers it’s discerning patrons, alongside a vast array of other exquisite delicacies on their breakfast buffet. This is undeniably a HUGE favorite of mine, as you can see I’ve woken up to quite a few of these Mirror Room breakfast mornings in London!

Whoever said champagne only sets nights on fire has absolutely no idea how it lends its glamorous sparkle to your day, especially on weekends! In moderation of course, and definitely not if you’re driving to work! In any case, who drives to work in London really? Get on it!

©Rubina A Khan 2014

Taking In London From The Highest Bar In Town, Gong, At The Shangri-La!

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London has never looked as spectacular as it did from the 52nd floor of Gong, the bar with THE view at the Shangri-La hotel at The Shard that opened in May earlier this year. Well, unless you flew over in a chopper earlier, but now all it takes is an elevator ride up to the bar and a cocktail of your choice to take in the London views, right from the St Paul’s Cathedral to the Big Ben to the London Bridge. The drinks at Gong are just as stellar as the views and the staff is very friendly and ever ready to snap your pictures for you as selfies are just tedious here as they cut out the background completely. And even if you do manage a good shot, by the time you get the light and angle right, you’d look a bit looney to the rest of the cool crew. And it might be a tad disrespectful to your waiting drink on the table too. Everyone was flying on those tangy and sour cocktails, but the question that remains unanswered though is, how high will YOU get at London’s highest bar?

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Photo: Rubina A Khan

©Rubina A Khan 2014