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London: New Favourite Restaurant – So

Ranking right up there with Douglas Booth’s cheekbones and a nice cup of tea, Japanese food is, for me, one of life’s greatest pleasures. Feather-light tempura, buttery sashimi and eye-bleedingly hot wasabi (the more eye-bleeding the better. If you’re not wimpering, there’s not enough in your mouth) – are my three weaknesses. Then begins the territorialism. I don’t like to share. The Boy knows this and yet continues to escort me to restaurants – he even pretends to have a nice time. That’s love.
One of our latest jaunts was to So; a Japanese eaterie located in the glossy part of Soho, boasting dishes grilled over volcanic rocks imported from Mount Fuji. Misleadingly understated from the front, So is actually pretty slick on the inside – all dark varnished wood and flattering lighting. A friend of mine has a rule that she doesn’t eat in restaurants with pictures of the food on the menu. I’ve always been inclined to agree, but So’s weren’t of the faded, 70s, on-holiday-in-Torremolinos ilk, just helpful indicators of what you’d be getting if you fancied the sound of Yakitori or Gobo Salad.
We started with Barbary duck smoked on Jack Daniels wood chips which had a full-flavoured, gammon-like quality. But it was the foie gras nigiri that came next that brought out the worst in me. The Boy, armed with nothing but chopsticks, was powerless. It was sticky and buttery and salty and sweet. Utterly delicious. He never stood a chance.
The sashimi was unbelievably fresh which meant it tasted as beautiful alone as it did clumsily dunked in soy sauce and buttered with a thick layer of wasabi. Mmm. Another highlight was the aubergine denngaku – generously sliced segments, grilled, coated in salty-sweet red miso paste and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

Did I already mention how I feel about tempura? Well, I feel the same about black cod in miso. Dare I say it, but So’s, marinated in sayiko, was better than Nobu’s. (I tried to sneak that in in the least pretentious way possible. Did it work? Probably not.)

It’s a testament to the food that after all that, I still had space for – and finished – dessert. There was even minimal judgement from our lovely waitress.
The verdict? An old school one – don’t judge a book by its cover. You could easily walk past this unassuming little place, mistaking it for just another Japanese in London. The Boy, ever-observant, pointed out a little sign in the window, however. Best Japanese in the UK as voted by Japanese residents. If that’s not a fantastic recommendation, I don’t know what is.
With thanks to the lovely folk at So Restaurant, 3-4 Warwick Street, London, W1B 5LS. 020 7292 0767

Gramercy Park Hotel, NYC

I can’t say there’s been many times that I’ve walked into a hotel and gasped. Especially to the point of embarrassing whoever I’m with, whilst they do the casual, ‘yeah, I stay in places like this all the time’ underwhelmed dance. There are certain moments when I am strictly anti-gawp; fashion week, fancy-pants restaurants, celebrities at parties (although I have to admit, this usually goes out of the window after two G&Ts or if David Gandy’s knocking about). But the Gramery Park Hotel in New York positively shook it out of me – eyes wide, mouth agog – upon entering…

Intimate but grandiose, the entire hotel is done up like a kind of very cool, rustic bordello – lots of deep reds, heavy drapery and flattering low lighting, made edgy by off-kilter furnishings, reclaimed wooden finishes and more modern artwork than you could shake half a pickled cow at. Speaking of Damien Hirst, his is one of the first pieces you come across in the lobby – a giant arch-shaped frame filled with a mosaic of exactly symmetrical real butterflies called Posterity – The Holy Place. The rest of the hotel is peppered with sculptures and paintings by everyone from Jean-Michel Basquiat to Andy Warhol.
(PS – my first ever video so bear with me! Hope you enjoy it.)

Opulence is a buzzword here, with luxury seeping out everywhere but in a charmingly bohemian, haphazard sort of way. You feel like you’ve stepped off the streets of New York and into Dali’s drawing room in 1920s Paris.

I’m wearing: Vintage fur gilet – Brooklyn Artists & Fleas, Scarf: Louis Vuitton, Leather jacket: Topshop, Jeans: Siwy, Boots: Dune, Sunglasses: Karen Walker, Bag: 3.1 Phillip Lim at My-wardrobe.com.

Off the lobby are the Rose and Jade Bars, opulent little coves perfect for after-midnight cocktails. The Rose bar is so-called after Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Axl Rose played in there. Pretty cool, no?

The Boy and I were lucky enough to stay in the Loft on the Penthouse floor – a decadent but eclectic suite complete with a kingsize bed, office area, walk-in wardrobe and beautiful bathroom. There was a serious gravitas about the room – oak wood floors, plush jewel-tone furniture and imported rugs – but it also seemed to have a dark sense of humour; a kind of Tim Burton-esque undertone that made everything seem a bit dreamlike and hyper-real. No doubt symptomatic of being the brainchild of artist and filmaker Julian Schnabel, whose creations also grace some of the walls.

I loved the mini bar set in a custom mahogany English drinking cabinet. It was the most comprehensive I’ve ever come across, featuring everything from a martini-shaker to a baseball cap. Well, why not? The staff also left a stack of books in the room, and informed me that in-room massages and spa treatments could be arranged should I so wish.
iPad: Apple
iPad case: Stella McCartney

The only thing I love more than a gorgeous hotel bathroom is a fabulous back story. The hotel was built in 1925 on the site of flamboyant architect Stanford White’s home. It’s seen Humphrey Bogart marry his first of four wives here, as well as JFK and his family living on the second floor for several months before they moved to London. The hotel’s website says: “…it was the headquarters for high bohemia, where artists, adventurers and bonvivants rubbed elbows.” Good enough for me.

The terrace was the perfect breakfast spot – half indoors, it boasts a retractable roof 16 stories above the city and struck the ideal balance between buzzy and relaxed. Exactly what you need before you head out onto the subway…

I’m wearing: Jeans: New Look, Slippers: Dune, Belt: Vintage, Top: J.Crew

I’m wearing: As first outfit apart from Scarf: Matthew Williamson (similar here), Gloves: Zara (similar here), Sunglasses: Stella McCartney, Gilet: Topshop (similar here), Bag:3.1 Phillip Lim at My-wardrobe.com.
Alongside the utterly inspiring decor and exclusive key access to the the only private park in New York City, the level of service was also pretty exceptional. 24-hour room service, ultra-helpful concierge and cheeky bellhops who offer hilarious opinions on the art: “He must’ve been on crack to do that!” In a good way, obviously. The Gramercy Park was a little bit of everything: glamorous, magical, beguiling – in fact, exactly like NYC itself. Given half the chance, I’d be back there in a heartbeat.
My New Favourite Thing was a guest of The Gramercy Park Hotel, New York City. Click here to book a room. Or just to ogle more pictures.
All pictures and video taken with a Canon 5D Mark II, a Canon 85mm fl.2 II lens and a Canon G12 camera.

Vintage Pleasures Weekend at Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall

A vintage weekend by the Great British seaside? I was always going to be all over that. Last Friday, with a too-large suitcase and Lucy Luxe Life in tow, I jumped aboard a First Great Western (first class, darling – is there any other way to travel?), and zoomed down to the Cornish coast to partake in the retro stylings of The Bedruthan Steps Hotel. A weekend of hoola hooping, jive moves and fish ‘n’ chips awaited…

The vibe was wholesome but luxurious – the kind of place you’d take your kids to learn about the simple joys of sandcastle building, but still be able to indulge in a champagne bellini and a seaweed wrap if the mood took you.

Our room looked over the breathtaking scene of Mawgan Porth Beach; a quaint, golden cove peppered with whitewashed cottages. It served as a stunning reminder of how beautiful pockets of England can be – always worth remembering when I’m yearning for somewhere more exotic than Platform 13 at Clapham Junction!

The Vintage Pleasures weekend, an initiative set up by the sisters who own the hotel, tied in beautifully with the retro feel of the property itself. The family wanted to create an event which would involve the whole community – an ethos which really came across as we were strolling along the beach. Packed with locals and holidaymakers alike, everyone was getting stuck in – from the old ladies who put the young ‘uns to shame on their wooden belly boards, to the whole families who turned up to play volleyball and skittles. You couldn’t escape the strong sense of community spirit – add that to the impossibly glorious weather and I could’ve sat on the rocks soaking up the atmosphere for hours! However, a slap-up fish ‘n’ chip lunch and cupcake decorating called, so we tore ourselves away from the fantastic cookery demo on the beach and walked back up to the main hotel.

I was really impressed that my lunch consisted of 3 different types of fish, as well as proper hand-cut chips and the requisite mushy peas/ tartare sauce. The serving staff couldn’t have been sweeter and didn’t even judge us when we mentioned that after our strawberry and meringue dessert that we’d be moving straight on to cupcake decorating.

An adorable vintage pop-up shop selling homeware as well as clothing was overflowing with retro goodies, while The Vintage Cream, a Cornish company that organises vintage styling among other things, had set up a dream-like tea party at the next stall.

Make do and mend was a prominent theme with the philosophy of the hotel being sustainable and ethical, as well as a workshop teaching you how to sew accessories from scraps of pretty vintage fabric. Who needs to buy a new iPhone case when you can make one instead?

Retro hair and make-up makeovers finished the activities in the hotel so Lucy and I decided to chill out with a cup of tea in one of the cocoon beds on the terrace that overlooked the beach. Before we knew it, it was dinner time and we had the pleasure of another 3 course meal before the live band and jiving lessons in the ballroom. The hotel focuses on organic, locally sourced produce that’s in season and – aside from a mean fish ‘n’ chips – serves dishes like smoked mackerel paté with tarragon, horseradish and wholemeal toast, and pan-fried duck breast with braised cabbage, pancetta, baked apples and cranberry jus. In a word; yum.
 

Being the princesses we are, Lucy and I decided hot chocolate in bed would be the perfect nightcap. Even though it wasn’t on the room service menu, the lovely girl who took my order said she “was sure they could track some down somewhere”. Lo and behold, they did – complete with mini marshmallows sprinkled on the top. We sipped them in bed wrapped in fluffy Cadbury-purple robes (how apt). The perfect end to a perfect weekend!
Book here for future themed weekends including Cath Kidston (29th-31st Jan & 9th-11th Mar), Alice In Wonderland (25th-27th May & 12th-14th Oct) and Yoga & Pilates (16th-18th Mar, 6th-8th July & 9th-11th Nov). Full list here.
With thanks to the lovely folk at Bedruthan Steps.