Tuesday 12 December 2017

London: Ferry nice trip to the home of a duchess

Lucinda O'Sullivan is always impressed by the sheer array of things to do and places to eat in London, and staying near Kensington Palace made it even nicer

Kensington Palace, London
Kensington Palace, London

Lucinda O'Sullivan

THE State Visit by Queen Elizabeth to Ireland made a huge impression on us all earlier this year and it also inspired me to visit London -- I lived there many years ago but hadn't been back for a while.

With all it has to offer, London never fails to impress me and there's something for all ages, day and night. Museums, galleries, theatre, boat trips on the Thames, the Tower of London, the daily Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, fabulous markets including Camden and Portobello Road, and restaurants -- there is never a boring minute.

We travelled out on the fast ferry, Jonathan Swift, and back on Ulysses, the biggest car ferry in the world. Both vessels were a credit to Irish Ferries, meticulously clean and efficient, with a very helpful crew. The Jonathan Swift had us from Dublin Port to Holyhead in 1 hour 45 minutes in great comfort.

They have very well-priced Sail Rail tickets from €40 upwards one way to London, or bring your car from €79 one way including driver (additional adults €28 and additional children four-15 years are €16).

We stayed in two central London locations in hotels owned by the Red Carnation Group, a top-notch boutique hotel group, founded by a South African, Bea Tollman. The latter have five London hotels, plus one each in Geneva, Cape Town and Florida. There was a great plush, intimate country house feel with excellent service and attention in both hotels, and every room reflects a woman's touch in little details.

Our first stay was in the splendiferous red-bricked Victorian pile that is the five-star Milestone Hotel, superbly located overlooking Kensington Palace Gardens. Kensington Palace, of course, is now the new home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who will find it very convenient for shopping on Kensington High Street and Kensington Church Street -- as did I. The Milestone is now a really hot destination with people wanting to be near KP to get the royal experience.

The delightful Fran O'Hanlon, from Dublin, is the hotel's butler and he showed us to our theatrically styled room with a little terrace. Another Irish person there is Fiona Keane who has had a lot of famous clients in the hotel spa including legendary British actress, Joan Collins.

Canadian-Irish, executive head chef Ryan O'Flynn's food was superb, including a deconstructed, pretty as a picture Nicoise salad, featuring Cornish red mullet, baby squid, quails' eggs, radish, fine green beans, black anchovy and an Irish sea urchin dressing. This was followed by delicious Goosnargh duck breast, with confit leg cannelloni, fried liver, Chantenay carrots, poached rhubarb and pistachio puree. The best ever orange soufflé ensued with homemade curd sorbet and orange and vanilla macaroons.

A two-night break starts at £280 per night with a choice of either a bottle of Champagne, or a three-course TDH dinner. As Kensington Palace is right across the road, we went to The Enchanted Palace exhibition in the state apartments -- tickets £12.50. It is based around the lives of seven princesses who lived there over the centuries -- Mary, Anne, Caroline, Charlotte, Victoria, Margaret and Diana -- now joined by Kate -- and included contemporary fashion installations by Paul Costelloe, Vivienne Westwood, Bruce Oldfield, and Zandra Rhodes. As we worked our way through the various palatial rooms, with exhibits and displays from the princesses' lives, there was the sound of laughter and female voices floating in the background, which was very evocative.

Close by too is the former Barker's of Kensington which is now a vast Whole Foods Market where you can buy lots of dry goods by weight. While the lower floors are food halls, the top floor is a type of epicurean centre with various eateries for mezze, sushi, pizza, burgers et al. This is really worth seeing for foodies.

Our second hotel was the superbly located four-star Chesterfield Hotel in Mayfair, beside Berkeley Square, close to Bond Street, Piccadilly and Liberty's on Regent Street, which I love. Again the Chesterfield was a lovely experience with a super restaurant, called Butler's, producing superb food.

The restaurant is overseen by Maitre d' and Sommelier Antoine Depierre who was delightful. There is a distinct French ambiance to Butler's where friend Mary and I dined on superb Orkney king scallops with broad beans, young carrots, black sole on the bone, and what was the outstanding dish of the trip, a luscious plentiful lobster thermidor omelette. Antoine then made the old favourite crepes Suzette for us and we washed all of this down with a South African Bouchard Finlayson Sauvignon Blanc Reserve. Check out their weekend break offers from €165 per night for two adults including afternoon tea and Champagne in your room -- and a late check out of 6pm.

We were very close to Fortnum & Mason where we browsed the amazing food halls and luxury goodies before crossing the road to the Royal Academy of Arts at Burlington House. It was holding a fascinating exhibition of Watteau drawings. I like the Royal Academy as it is very manageable, but gives you a feeling of having seen something special.

Interestingly too our own Oliver Peyton has an excellent restaurant in the magnificent lower-ground floor, where they have a very reasonably priced all-day menu including afternoon tea.

Well worth a visit by the way, if you are looking to escape the madding crowds when in Harrod's, slip up to the fifth floor on the Egyptian escalator. There you can gaze out on the Pharaohs from the cool, hip East Dulwich Deli at the Urban Retreat. It's the place for which those local smart Knightsbridge ladies make a beeline when they want their organic boiled egg or Nicoise salad with a glass of bubbles away from awful tourists.

GETTING THERE

www.irishferries.com. www.redcarnationhotels.com. www.hrp.org.uk/Kensington Palace. www.visitlondon.com.

www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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