Quote of the day

“I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy, but neither are we really content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know – unless it be to share our laughter.

We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it can provide. Most of all we love and want to be loved. We want to live in a relationship that will not impede our wandering, nor prevent our search, nor lock us in prison walls; that will take us for what little we have to give. We do not want to prove ourselves to another or compete for love.

For wanderers, dreamers, and lovers, for lonely men and women who dare to ask of life everything good and beautiful. It is for those who are too gentle to live among wolves.”

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James Kavanaugh, There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves

Chicago: my kind of town

The Windy City will, ahem, blow you away writes Kaye Holland

“Each time I leave, Chicago is tugging my sleeve
Chicago is The Wrigley Building,
Chicago is The Union Stockyard,
Chicago is one town that won’t let you down
It’s my kind of town”

So sang Sinatra back in 1964. Old Blue Eyes wasn’t wrong. Nowhere beats Chicago – both metaphorically and literally (it’s the home of the skyscraper). The Windy City is one of those rare cities that looks stunning at any time of year: it boasts art and culture, professional sports, world class museums, hip hotels and restaurants plus the sort of energy that makes you feel alive. Little wonder then for many who come, Chicago immediately becomes their favourite American metropolis. True it’s a long way to but then then finest things in life, are not always the easiest to achieve. Got your passport? Good. Now read on for the low-down on where to eat, shop and play.

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Must see and do
The skyscraper was born in Chicago and as such high rise buildings abound but the two most iconic are arguably 360 Chicago and the Willis Tower. The former boasts million dollar views of the lovely lake and also a fabulous 96th floor bar where you can enjoy a sky high drink. The latter was the Sears Tower until 2009 when it was purchased by insurance broker Willis Group Holdings. Many Chicagoans continue to refer to the structure as the Sears Tower but regardless of what the Tower gets called, the fact remains that at 1454ft it is the tallest building not only in the Windy City  but in the whole of America, so prepare to be blown away.

Haven’t got a head for heights? Make for  Millennium Park – packed as it with free art sights from Frank Gehry’s BP bridge to Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain. The 50ft fountain is famous for its video images of local spitting water. However Millennium Park’s big headline grabber is the Cloud Gate – aka ‘the bean’ – a silver drop sculpture that’s the brainchild of Anish Kapoor.

The Bean
The Bean

If museums are more your bag, don’t miss the impressive Field Museum of Natural History that houses, among other artifacts, the largest Tyrannosaurs, ever found. For further culture, check out the Art Institute of Chicago that’s chock full of paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Degas and dozens of other that you will have seen on the screen but can get up close and personal with in Chicago. Then look to the Harold Washington Library downtown – a beautiful post modern tribute to the city’s cultural and academic pursuits. Inside you’ll find inspirational quotes such as Victor Hugo’s  “A library implies an act of faith, Which generations still in darkness hid, Sign in their night in witness of the dawn” adorning the marble walls – as well as some fantastic public exhibitions.

Lastly if you’re in town during the summer on a Saturday or Wednesday evening, wander to Navy Pier – Chicago’s most visited attraction. The half mile peer is unabashedly touristy (the chain gang have all set up shop here) but the firework displays  (9.30pm on Wednesdays and 10.15pm on Saturdays) and lovely lake views more than compensate.

 

Top shops

American Girl
American Girl

Ready for some retail therapy? Make for the Magnificent Mile shopping strip (also known as Michigan Avenue)  for all your favourite American stores: think Saks, Tiffany’s, Macy’s, Bloomingdales and Abercrombie and Fitch. If you’re travelling with tweenage or teenage girls, don’t miss American Girl Place. Little princesses will love this multi story dolly department store where they can stock up on accessories for their plastic offspring and even purchase a matching outfit. Consumerism gone mad? Perhaps but this girl power palace is a sight worth seeing while in Chicago.

 

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Deep dish pizza

Best bites
Chicago has all the restaurants and cafes that the international classes expect but apply the ‘never eat what you could have at home’ rule and order a deep dish pizza (a true Chicago speciality). A three inch pizza crust piled with gooey cheese and chunky tomato sauce sounds as though it shouldn’t work: it does. Pizzeria Uno claims to have invented the deep dish concept in 1943. Alternatively go to Gino’s EastGiordano’s or Pizano’s (Oprah’s favourite) for a piece of pie.

But it’s not all about pizza. The Windy City is also the home of the iconic Chicago hot dog and the queues for the Chicago version (a ‘dog’ that’s drowning in every topping imaginable save ketchup) at joints such as Hot Doug’s are equal to those of any North American restaurant. Italian beef sandwiches – thin sliced, slow cooked roast beef slathered in gravy and stuffed in a sub – are the third local delicacy. Who served the best beef sandwich? That would be Mr Beef (666 N Orleans Street) – you’ll find it four blocks west of Hotel Felix.

Modern day Chicago is also a world class restaurant capital too with more more Michelin award-winning restaurants than any other city in the US. Be prepared to battle to get a booking at the likes of Alinea (superstar chef Grant Achatz’s temple to molecular gastronomy) but if you get one you won’t be disappointed.

 

After dark
I’m not normally one for sticking to the safe parameters of a hotel bar but oh – the hotel bars in Chicago! They’re  so swanky that it’s worth ditching any silly self imposed rules about not hanging out in hotels. The bars in The Congress PlazaPalmer House and The Drake have been the destinations of choice for everyone from royalty (the Queen) to world leaders (Roosevelt and Ghandi). Bring on the bling….
Alternatively seek out a speak easy bar such as the glamorous Green Mill. This was Al Capone’s favourite gin joint (you can still see the tunnels underneath the bar where he once stashed his booze). Today the Green Mill is a good spot to enjoy live jazz (Mon-Sat) and acclaimed poetry slams (Sun).

Billy Goat Tavern

But no visit to Chicago is complete without dropping in at the scrappy Billy Goat Tavern. This Chicago dive bar is where the curse of the Cubs began. Basically Billy Goat’s owner, Billy Sianis, attempted to enter Wrigley Field with his pet goat in 1945. Sianis and his smelly animal were refused entry and an outraged Sianis declared: “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” Cub fans believe the curse still exists: they haven’t won a National League pennant since Sianis’ statement. For more on the Cubs curse (and other local stories) check out  the Tavern’s newspapered walls but factor in plenty of time: the night ended when I glanced down at my watch and noticed it was nearly 2am – which can happen in Chicago if you’re not careful.

Wrigley Stadium

Excursions
Chicagoans are fanatical about their sport but there’s only one team that really matters: take a bow the aforementioned Chicago Cubs. This much loved Chicago baseball team inspires an almost religious following (despite the fact that they last won a World Cup series in 1908) and a trip to see The Cubs play at the charming Wrigley Field stadium (famed for  its classic neon entrance sign and ivy walled field) should rank high on any Windy City itinerary. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, it’s worth going for the atmosphere alone and potential chance encounters with Cub legends. I attended a Cubs v Phillies match in April where the highlight was meeting former Major League Baseball right handed pitcher, Fergie Jenkins.

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Jenkins dispensed gossip and life wisdom with fans throughout the match. Why is he so generous with his time? “My Father always told me that you meet the same people on the way up in life, as you do on the way down. It’s hugely important to give back. We must all remember this.” Would the likes Luis Suárez, Carlos Tevez and John Terry please take note…

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Just About Travel’s Kaye Holland (right) chats to Chicago Cubs’ baseball legend, Fergie Jenkins

 

Where to stay
The Intercontinental Chicago Magnificent Mile has timeless traditions and decades of experience of welcoming visitors: the staff shower you with the sort of attention that makes you feel – if only for a few days – that you have entered a different world. Plus its downtown location is ideal for getting a sense of the city.

 

Getting there
Chicago O’Hare International Airport is located 17 miles north west of downtown Chicago. The cheapest way to reach the city centre is on the CTA blue line but if you don’t fancy taking the train, a cab will cost around US$50. Another option is to take the Airport shuttle.

 

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Wish you were here?

The big summer getaway has begun! Today is forecast to be Heathrow’s busiest day so far this summer, as schools across the country break up and put upon parents venture abroad with little Johnny and Jane for the three S’s –  that’s sun, sand and sea.

Of course not everyone can escape the office this August: some of us have to stay and, y’know, actually do some work. But if, like me, you’ve been left behind in Blighty, panic not.

Britain is rather brilliant in August: think t-shirt temperatures, the chance to enjoy the country in a more relaxed manner and an almost empty office – meaning you can plan your winter break (and escape – at least for a little while – the big freeze) on work time. Huzzah!

But a great globe-trotting itinerary takes a certain kind of planning to ensure the best route – and price. Here are my tips for a top journey..

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 1. Do your homework
Homework can be fun. The first (and best) step is to make a list of all the places that you’d most like to visit. I like to divide them into three categories: short haul, mid haul and long haul.

2. Speak to an expert
Now it’s time to talk… Online booking engines are a wonderful thing but I’m all about talking to a travel specialist. They can advise you on where might be both wallet draining and difficult to get to (the Galapagos Islands anyone?) and suggest destinations that might not previously have entered your head. Case in point? A friendly Flight Centre whom I was talking to about India, advised me that I would be mad – while in the area and all – to miss out on Bhutan.

3. Think about when to go
The cheapest time to set off during winter tends to be the months of October, November, February and March. Easter, July, August, Christmas and the New Year are most expensive. June and September can also be quite pricey as people who want to catch the  last of the sun’s rays without having to witness children’s temper tantrums, tend to travel during this period.

4. Check the weather
That said, check the weather before confirming flights. Cheap is good, but being dry is better. I used to live in the Cayman Islands and met plenty of sad, soggy travellers who had snapped up cheap air tickets to visit the Caribbean island… during the ‘official’ hurricane season (June-Nov). As a rule of thumb, December through to April is a good time to visit the Caribbean while January is great for Thailand and Australia, but not Japan. Want to find out what the weather is like in other holiday hotspots? Check out: www.weather2travel.com

 5. Money matters
It’s not just about forking out for the flight ticket: you’ll also need to pay for your food, accommodation and activities – and costs vary from country to country. There’s a reason why I sought out South East Asia in my impoverished early-mid twenties and only turned my attention to South America (much more expensive) when I was older and therefore  in a better place financially. I like The Economist’s Big Mac Index – it shows you the cost of a burger in different countries and will help you decide  where you will be able to travel and how long for.

6. Air miles
Lastly air miles: use them or lose them. If you’ve registered with a frequent flyer programme, you could have earned enough points for a free flight. Check (airlines rarely send our polite memos reminding you to use your miles) before handing over your credit card…

 

Got your passport? See you on the beach…

Restaurant of the week: Novikov

Novikov is the swanky Mayfair restaurant from Arkady Novikov – arguably the hottest man in the restaurant industry right now.

The Russian restaurateur owns a staggering 50 restaurants in and around Moscow and four in the capital: Brompton BrasserieRififiRextail and the flagship Novikov- aka one one of the hottest places to gather for dinner and drinks in Mayfair.

Situated on monied Berkeley Street, the 540 seater Novikov consists of three restaurants in one. Push through the revolving glass doors and you’ll find an Asian restaurant on the left with an open kitchen, that’s home to an army of chefs frantically preparing sushi, sashimi and other Asian specialties. The glamorous lounge bar lies downstairs while straight ahead is the cavernous Italian restaurant – Haute Time’s destination du jour.

We arrived relatively early – at around 7pm – but the restaurant was already heaving with well heeled types in Hervé Léger dresses and six-inch Louboutins. And for good reason. The Italian eatery has a lot going for it from the louche yet sociable mood (aided by the low lighting), elegant interior (all suede wall panelling, handmade Moroccan tiles, mirrors in solid oak frames and chandeliers with candles) from Geometry Design Moscow and model-sque staff.

Novikov Italian Restaurant 2

There’s also an encyclopedia sized menu that exceeds expectations – Novikov isn’t, contrary to public perception, a case of all style and no substance.

Treats such as delicious breads (so good we munched our way through the whole basket) start arriving almost immediately, as you prepare to peruse the the contemporary Italian menu.

Created by Marco Torri, it comprises a superb assortment of antipastiTartare di Salmone o Tonno and Carpaccio di manzo among them, followed by a superior selection of homemade pasta – the Asparagus ravioli had us purring with pleasure.

Moving onto mains, dishes are of the calibre of Branzino Arrosto con Caponata (Roasted wild sea bass fillet served with sweet and sour Sicilian vegetables), while meat includes Piccione al Forno con Cavolo Nero (Oven-roasted pigeon with sautéed cavolo nero).

Novikov Italian Restaurant 1

Rail thin types will resist desert but the rest of us can  dig into Tiramisu – a classic Italian dish if ever there was one – a wickedly indulgent White chocolate mousse with yuzu, served with lychee and lime granita and a moreish Milk chocolate fondant with hazelnut praline served with vanilla ice cream that you’ll want to lap up like a kitten.

Drinks include a masterfully assembled list of wines and liqueurs (the limoncello is guaranteed to transport you to Italy) but in such stunning surroundings it’s a shame not to order something sparkly. Sure prices can be bankers’ bonus expensive but who’s counting?

Novikov won’t suit everyone – you either get it or you don’t (and there are plenty of people who love to loathe the glitz and bling). But if you do, like Haute Time, you’ll want to return tomorrow. Bring your appetite and Black Amex – a feast and plenty of fun – awaits. Bon appetit!

Novikov Italian Restaurant 4

 

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Where to celebrate National Tequila Day

“Tequila… it makes me happy. Con Tequila it feels fine. Con Tequila when the doors are opened. And con Tequila when they’re calling time”. So sang the English rock band, Terrovision, back in 1999. Fast forward 15 years and the message remains the same: tequila – sprouting from the blue agave plant in Jalisco, Mexico – is a good time (owing to its 40 per cent alcohol content) drink.

Here at Haute Time we never need an excuse for a tequila (whose A-list advocates includeMessieurs Clooney and Timberlake) or two, so you can be sure that we’ll be celebrating National Tequila Day today (24 July). Here’s the lowdown on five spots where you’ll find us grabbing a lime, some salt and saying salud. Just don’t forget the saying: One tequila, two tequila, three tequila… floor

 

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    1. Crazy Homies

    A hugely popular hangout, the atmosphere at Tom Conran’s Crazy Homies is bright and warm, enticing you to hang around for hours. Fortunately staff are friendly, rather than frosty, and have no objection to you lingering around to sip/slam (delete as appropriate) tequila. 
Need some stomach lining? Feast on oversized burritos and quesadillas as well as hearty, wholesome salads, but be sure to save room for the house speciality: churros (crunchy cinnamon doughnuts served with a rich chocolate dipping sauce). The heavenly, homely cooking is complemented by the fun, kitsch interior.
    125 Westbourne Park Road, W2
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    2. La Bodega Negra

    Don’t be fooled by the neon sign outside which reads ‘sex shop’. Once inside Will Ricker’s dark, basement bar cum restaurant, you’ll find a welcoming little slice of Mexico in the heart of Soho.
 The cooking is competent – we’ve enjoyed Pollo al sarten (half roasted chicken, pumpkin seed mole and roast potatoes), the quinoa salad and various tacos and tostadas. However food isn’t the reason you head to this so hip it hurts speak-easy. You come here to preen and be seen, for the party like atmosphere, the charismatic staff who seem as happy to be there as you – and of course the tequila temptations..
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    16 Moor Street, W1D
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    3. Peyote

    Peyote, will celebrate National Tequila Day with a talk from Isis E. Ramirez, founder of Casa Ambar, an authentic Mexican family-owned company. Starting at 6pm guests will be briefed on the history of tequila drinking, introduced to the concept of tequila tasting and talked through the various Ambar Tequilas. Eight signature dishes matching four Ambar tequilas will be available following the talk and throughout the evening for £75 for one night only. For the first course, Peyote’s signature guacamole (served with queso fresco and corn chips) and prawn ceviche will be paired with Amber Blanco, an un-barrelled silver tequila. A Mexican take on a fish course of salmon laminados and tuna tostados will come with Ambar Reposado, a soft golden 6-month aged tequila. Pork al pastor tacos and cheese and carmalised onion quesadillas are matched with Ambar Anejo, which has been aged for 18-months in casks to result in a dark good-wood tone. A main course of lamb cutlets with mint habenaro salsa and brocollini is served with the crown jewel of the flight, Ambar Extra Anejo, tequila aged for up-to four years. To finish, a refreshing dessert of sorbet will be served. Peyote will also mark the occasion by launching a range of its own house infused tequilas, blended and flavoured with cucumber and coriander, caramel popcorn, raspberry, chilli and chocolate and burnt orange..
    13 Cork Street, Mayfair, W1S
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    4. Taqueria

    The salubrious Taqueria is fast becoming Haute Time’s top choice for Mexican fare in London. To drink, you’ll find an extensive list of tequilas as well Mexican beer and some killer cocktails. Meanwhile food consists of generous portions of Mexican staples – think quesadillas and refried beans –  that are worth any wait involved. Ditch the diet and finish with the Platanos con cajeta – fried plantain, ice cream, cajeta (goats milk toffee) and toasted almonds. Staff are pleasant and easy going, and there’s also a small selection of Mexican goods – we love the habanero hot sauce – for sale at the entrance.
    139-143 Westbourne Grove, W1
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    5. Tonteria

    Tequila is traditionally associated with with sombreros, slammers and spring breakers but Sloane Square’s Tonteria – the Mexican themed venue from Guy Pelly (a pal of Princes William and Harry and the man behind Mahiki and Misty Whist) – is a mich more upmarket affair. There’s a tequila list as thick as the bible but the Reserva del Alma comes recommended. The Reserva del Alma is rare (only two bottles remain in the world) with a price tag (£5000) as high as the Shard so you’ll definitely won’t want to down it. 
If tequila isn’t your tipple of choice, panic not. The cocktail list covers the classics (margaritas, mojitos et al) as well as novelties like the frozen Tonte Passion Margarita, all of which help get the party going. Bring your dancing shoes: DJs fire up the dance floor as the night draws on and after, a few too many tequila shots, will have you chanelling Carlos Santana.
    7-12 Sloane Square, SW1
Glasgow

Glasgow is great!

Glasgow is gearing up for the 2014 Commonwealth Games which commence tomorrow (23 July). But the Games – which commence on 23 July – aren’t the only reason to visit. Swanky apartments and edgy bridges have sprung up along the Clyde waterfront while modern architecture, hip hotels, top-notch dining and chic bars abound. So cast aside any preconception of Scotland’s biggest city as an industrial hell hole and give Glasgow a go… Just About Travel lets you in on six things you really mustn’t miss

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Shop till you drop
Shopping is something of an obsession in Glasgow and for good reason: the city has spawned world class designers such as Jonathon Saunders (who can count Kylie, Madonna and Thandie Newton as fans). Sauchiehall Street and Great Western Road are lined with boutiques competing for your cash, while the lanes around Byres Road are packed with shops selling secondhand books and antiques. If you’d rather your shopping experience came with an elevator and air conditioning, make for malls such as Princes Square and the Italian Centre.

Quaff cocktails
Forget castles. Glasgow is all about cocktails (and world class cuisine) and consequently is teeming with trendy bars, hotels and restaurants. Aim to start or end your evening over a cocktail (or three) in one of Bath Street’s star bars. Alternatively make for Merchant Street (home to Glasgow’s greatest concentration of pubs and clubs) or the exclusive Conran-designed Zinc in Princes Square. For fine dining, look to the long established Buttery or the Dining Room.

Cruise the Clyde
Taking a cruise down the world famous Clyde River – arguably the heart and soul of the city (it is often said that “the Clyde made Glasgow and Glasgow made the Clyde”) – is a great way to get to grips with Glasgow. The river tells the story of Glasgow’s industrial past and beyond: expect to pass landmark sights such as Finnieston Crane, Bells Bridge, the Financial Services District and Glasgow Harbour – a 120 acre development of former dock and shipyard land that is one of the largest waterfront regeneration projects in the UK. Tours depart during the day but if you can, try and take an evening cruise: the bridges, buildings and trees that line the river banks are beautifully illuminated at night courtesy of Glasgow City Council’s lighting art projects.

Check out Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Creative genius, Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868 – 1928), was born in Glasgow and as such the city houses the pre-eminent collection of his buildings, drawings and designs featuring leitmotifs like the Glasgow rose. Mackintosh made his mark on three types of architecture – public buildings, private houses and tea-rooms and happily the majority of these still exist today.

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Fall for football
Glasgow is a football mad city with ‘who do you support?’ replacing ‘Hello, how are you?’ as a standard form of introduction in polite society. The focus for this football obsessed city is divided into Rangers’ Ibrox Stadium in the south, and Celtic Park in the north-east but neutral football enthusiasts will want to check out the Scottish Football Museum. Located at Hampden Park, Scotland’s national stadium of football, the museum is houses memorabilia, video clips and displays covering almost every aspect of the beautiful game and the importance it plays in Scotland.

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The people
Glasgow’s  tourism tag line reads: People Make Glasgow. The new slogan says it all: Glaswegians are famed for their openness and friendliness, community spirit, selflessness and gritty can-do spirit. Or as Ian Mitchell – the historian and Aberdeen born author of A Glasgow Mosaic – puts it: “As an outsider to Glasgow, I think there is a definite Glasgow character. A  definite Glasgow sort of collectivist social identity and solidarity.”

 

Spa review: The Ritz Signature Jade Stones

If – like the Haute Time team – you’re suffering from dry, dull and lifeless skin (hardly surprising given the combination of scorching summer and Arctic office air conditioning levels), it’s time to treat your skin to some TLC.

London is hardly short of sumptuous spas and salons where you can get your glow on but if you really want to sparkle like a star, we recommend The Ritz Salon. Perched atop the iconic hotel – whose high profile past guests include Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward and Lady Thatcher – The Ritz Salon provides a perfect sanctuary seven stories above the bustling streets below.

There’s a treatment list a mile long and it’s tempting to sit and read it like a teenager absorbed in a Twilight novel but if you can’t decide whether to indulge in a massage or a facial, then our advice is to sign up for the Ritz Signature Jade stones (£145 for 90 mins)  as it incorporates both.

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Climb onto the massage table in the treatment room – whose calming beige tones created a harmonious environment in which to enjoy some me time – and prepare to recharge something far more valuable than your iPad.

Firstly your friendly therapist (we can vouch for Charlotte) will use slow, sensuous strokes to knead your body from head to toe using warm jade stones. Rocks might be the “in thing” in relaxation right now, but it’s actually a treatment that dates back to ancient civilisation where it was believed hot stones had healing properties for cleansing the body, relaxing the heart, grounding the soul and soothing the mind.

Initially the idea of having rocks rubbed into our body  held little appeal but having tried the treatment, Haute Time can testify that it is pure magic for the muscles.

As the therapist strategically places some small, deliciously warmed pebbles on the body’s charkas – that’s key energy points to you and me – aided by a hydrating Comfort Zone tranquillity oil, relaxation takes hold.

Couples treatment room

The warmth and the herbal scents work like a dream to soothe you as you drift away. With every new stone that’s rubbed in a circular motion, another wave of warmth flows from the fingertips to the toes.

The therapist’s movements are never abrupt and the whole process is heavenly hitting all the right spots to soothe away the stresses and strains of modern life.

Next it’s time for the cleansing facial which involves a massage (aimed at improving blood flow) followed by the application of a mask guaranteed to leave your visage looking fresher than a summer fruit bowl.

 

No matter how time poor you may be, we highly recommend booking in for this stellar treatment which offers the kind of complete relaxation you might think impossible. Forced to turn your iPhone off and close your eyes, you’ll find yourself uninhibited by all the familiar baggage and free to unwind. Haute Time emerged radiant and totally relaxed having found the serenity we had been seeking on arrival.

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Discover London with Londoners

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Discover London with Londoners

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Fact: London is the greatest city in the world. Another fact: staying on top of London’s incredible history and heritage AND its latest and greatest happenings can be confusing. And let’s face it hard work…

 

Enter Talk of the Town London. Launching in August 2014, Talk of the Town London is an exciting walking tour company that aims to provide locals and visitors alike, the inside track on the London scene.

 

Our team consists of veteran tour guides, Time Out journalists, actors and life long Londoners so we know where the buzz is coming from – and can share our knowledge in a dynamic, sociable and original fashion with YOU before most people hear or read about it.

 

Our mission is clear: we don’t want anyone to waste a minute of their time in Europe’s most exciting metropolis lost in Leicester Square or chowing down in the chain gang. Not when ‘real’ London is ready and waiting to be discovered.

 

Choose from three ‘core’ tours: Grim Tales of London, High Society and London 101

 

Grim Tales of London

Take a walk down London’s dark, unsavoury past and find yourself immersed in a gory, haunting history, where imprints of spirits and serial killers linger to this day. Wander down old Victorian cobblestone streets, searching for clues to Jack the Ripper’s identity. Learn about executions, haunted castles, plague pits and insane asylums as London lures you down into her seedy underbelly. Strong constitution advised.

Tour runs Tuesday and Friday at 6pm 

High Society

Come join us on a jaunt through elegant Mayfair and see London through the eyes of the elite. Discover the stomping ground of 18th century bachelors, peek into the windows of exclusive private gentlemen’s clubs and accompany blushing débutantes to their first high society ball. The tour also reveals the intrigues and behind-the-scene politics that dominated this distinctive social class and includes an optional afternoon tea at one of London’s most charming venues.

Tour runs Thursday and Saturday at 2pm

London 101

Time is precious, but even if you’re in London for 24 hours, you have to see the blockbusters: Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace, Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards Parade, Downing Street, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, (a pub break!), St. Paul’s Cathedral, Monument and the Tower of London.  We’ll show you them all in half a day. A great tour for first time visitors.

Tour runs Wednesday and Saturday at 10am

PRIVATE TOURS

Prefer to get to grips with London at your own pace? No problem! As well as our core group tours, we offer private tours – great for families, friends, hen and stag weekends… We can also craft customised itineraries to suit your personality (tell us what you like and we’ll tell you what you will love…), pocket and time frame.

Still not sure whether to try a Talk of the Town London tour? Take two minutes out of your day and check out what people are saying about us: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUHL2tryTMw

 

 

For more information on Talk of The Town London and/or to request images, an interview with a member of the team or a complimentary tour, please contact:

Kaye Holland (kaye@talkofthetownlondon.com; 07899 987001)

 

Talk of the Town London

+44(0)20 3151 2565; info@talkofthetownlondon.com; talkofthetownlondon | @tottLondon

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London calling: Kaye Holland

Ahead of the two year anniversary of the Olympic Games, London based journalist and co-founder of Talk of the Town (a company specialising in entertaining tours of the capital), Kaye Holland, opens her little black book to reveal the best places to eat, shop and play in London Town

Kaye

Where are you from?
I was born in Watford – the hometown of George Michael and erm, Geri Halliwell. Travel bible Lonely Planet once labelled Watford as the “kind of town that makes you want to travel.” They weren’t wrong: I escaped as soon as I turned 18 and spent my 20s living and working overseas in the UAE, Cayman Islands and China.
But while Watford is a gritty city (you could never describe it as pretty), it always lures me back. I still have friends and family living in WD and if I’ve got a free Saturday and my beloved Watford FC are playing at home, you’ll usually find me at Vicarage Road stadium cheering on the Golden boys.
london

What’s the first thing you do when you get to London?
Grab a Flat White – I am a complete caffeine addict. Luckily for me, despite the fact that London is traditionally renowned for tea drinkers, the friendly bubble of coffee perking  can now be heard all across the capital.
Bar Italia is a Soho institution that has witnessed many fascinating glimpses of passing theatrical life. Situated opposite Ronnie Scotts, it’s loved as much for the stories it could tell, as it is for its authentic Italian coffee. Caravan in the new Kings Cross development is another favourite and I love the newly opened Soho Grind – the sister to Shoreditch Grind (an East London institution). These guys also serve booze if you want something a little stronger than coffee beans…

Madison at One New Change
Madison at One New Change

What is your favourite hangout?
Oh wow – that’s an impossible question! It largely depends on which side of the river I’m on and also the season. Right now it’s summer and the sun is (unusually for London) out so I’m loving the rooftop terrace at One New Change. Confession time: I’m part of their ‘Style council‘ so have an affiliation with One New Change but even if I didn’t, I would still head up to the terrace which serves up spectacular views of the London skyline: expect to see The Shard, St Paul’s Cathedral, London Eye and Tate Modern to name but a few London landmarks. You’ll also find the fabulous Madison there. The restaurant gets rave reviews for its generously portioned  British fare, but I prefer the more fun tapas bar where the emphasis is on small plates that lend well to sharing with friends (the sesame flat breads are to die for). Of course you can just drink here: top notch cocktails include the cheekily named ‘Hot bitch martini’ but in such stunning surroundings, it would be criminal not to try the Thai Chi  – a champagne cocktail with cucumber, ginger, apple juice, lemon juice, vodka and a Lanson champagne top – right?!

What is your favourite restaurant?
I have to say that I am not very faithful when it comes to restaurants and rarely return to the same restaurant twice. I’m always forcing my friends to schlepp across town and  try the latest new opening; I’m sure I drive them bonkers. That said I do have a soft spot for Jeremy King and Chris Corbin’s restaurants: their the dynamic duo responsible for The WolseleyThe DelaunayBrasserie Zedel and the just opened Fischer’s in Marylebone  – the celeb hang out du jour.
Closer to home (I’m a Harrow girl), I love Incanto – a wonderful Italian restaurant situated on the summit of Harrow on the Hill in what was once a post office. For lunch on the run in central London, I’ll head to tibits – a Swiss vegetarian restaurant. Located in the heart of Heddon Street, it’s a refuge from the madness of Regent Street and the food from head chef, Brian Mesmain, is incredible. I’m a veggie but even my most carnivorous friends agree! The colourful interior by the Designers Guild – one of the foremost luxury home furnishings brands in the world – is a further treat.

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What was the last exhibition you saw in London?
That would be Matisse: the Cut-Outs at the Tate Modern. I’m not really an art aficionado (I wish I was but alas it’s a taste I’ve yet to acquire) but John (one of Talk of the Town’s co-founders and tour guides) dragged me along and I’m glad he did. The Cut Outs is an exhibition of the colour-saturated works Matisse made by cutting out shapes from pre-painted sheets of paper during the last 17 years of his life and the sensual shapes and vibrant colours makes for a visual feast. The exhibition runs until 7 September if any readers are interested…

What was the last gig you saw in London?
I went to Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park a few weeks back and had a blast. Traditionally I’ve not been a fan of festivals in the UK – who wants to spend two hours queuing for a beer or sleeping in a soggy field with a few thousand fellow festival goers, all of whom you can be sure will want to use the 10 toilets at exactly the same time the next morning? – but Wireless was a great day out. John Newman, Outkast (their first UK appearance in 13 years), 80s sensations Salt-N-Pepa, Sean Paul and Clean Bandit all performed before the headline act – Hawaiian crooner, Bruno Mars – took to the main stage for a huge performance.
On the theatre front, I saw All My Sons at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre (a steeply raked auditorium slap bang in the middle of one of the capital’s prettiest parks). Arthur Miller’s breakthrough play about a family confronting the cost of capitalism remains just as relevant today as it did when it was written nearly 70 years ago.

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What is your earliest London memory?
I remember travelling into town with my Mum, Dad and brother one January – I must have been about six. We went to Trafalgar Square which is famous for the hordes of pigeons that frequent the area. Mum had told me that the pigeons land on your head and I didn’t like the sound of that so insisted on taking my cycling helmet  up on the train and wearing it as “protection” from the pigeons. After we’d ticked off Trafalgar Square, we went to watch the Chinese New Year celebrations in China Town. I loved watching the lively parade and the acrobatics, traditional dance, theatre and song recitals and trying the traditional food but then disaster stuck… We lost my younger brother in the crowd… My parents went into a blind panic, but thankfully we FINALLY found him standing next to a policeman. Later, during our teenage years, when Keith (my brother) was behaving like Harry Enfield’s creation ‘Kevin the Teenager’, I wished we hadn’t…

Brixton Market
Brixton Market

What have you discovered recently in London?
Brixton – I kid you not. Kensington and Chelsea has a certain picturesque charm and East London – in the aftermath of the Olympic Games – isn’t without its appeal, but when all is said and done they are… well London lite. A little bit vanilla, if you like. If you want to see the real London – the capital in all its magical multicultural glory – Brixton is where it’s at. David Bowie was born in Brixton, former Prime Minister John Major grew up there and singer La Roux still lives in the area where West Indian food stalls sit beside chi chi bars. And despite the fact that Foxtons (the estate agent we all all love to loathe) has opened a branch in Brixton and there’s a Waitrose on its way, the area’s strong sense of community remains intact.

What would you do if you were Mayor for the day?
That’s easy. I’d make the London Underground run 24/7 or at least until a much more civilised 2 or 3am. This would eliminate the need to make a mad dash across town for the last tube, endure a long journey on a battered, beer soaked night bus or an expensive cab ride home. London is no Cinderella: it doesn’t shut down, when the clock strikes midnight. Neither should the tube.

london-underground

What are your top tips for tourists?
Try not to succumb to the self imposed yet inescapable pressure of the ‘checklist’. You know – the one that demands you visit every site, every museum, every monument that you’re supposed to. Adjust your expectations and in doing so you’ll discover places – little streets, small independent shops – that you might not otherwise had done because you’d have been so busy trying to see everything you thought you had to.
On a practical note if you’re travelling around by tube, avoid doing so before 9.30am and between the hours of 4-7pm – you’ll pay a premium during these hours and spend the entire journey squashed under sweaty armpits.
Lastly – shameless self promotion alert – sign up for a Talk of the Town tour!

Where would you like to stay?
I’m all about Airbnb – the San Francisco online marketplace which allows people to rent their homes or rooms to short-term visitors.
It’s a characterful, affordable alternative to staying in an overpriced bland, beige hotel room. More than that, Airbnb can also help you meet Londoners and bring you closer to the local culture. I use Airbnb when I travel and it’s led to some great conversations and experiences.
However if you are a hotel person, I’d recommend the luxurious Rosewood London. It’s not cheap (prices are as high as the Shard) but if you’re going to make the trip of a lifetime, you might as well do it in style! The hotel (which opened in October 2013) is housed in a beautiful 1914 Belle Epoque building that was once the headquarters of Pearl Assurance. Every conceivable luxury and comfort has been thought of – it really is impossible to exaggerate the glories of this place.

Iconic Selfridges
Iconic Selfridges

What is your guilty London pleasure?
Selfridges. I’ll pop in for five minutes and five hours later I’m still there (this can happen). And preposterously priced cocktails with the girls in a hotel bar: right now Londoners are hanging out in hotels thanks to a slew of red hot and happening new openings such as Firmdale’s Ham Yard Hotel and Andre Balazs’s Chiltern Firehouse.

Thanks Kaye! To book a tour with Talk of the Town, click here

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Hotel of the fortnight: Ham Yard Hotel

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In a city that, this year, has become home to more high end hotels than you can shake a stick at, you might question the need for one more.

However a stay at Firmdale’s Ham Yard Hotel – the new 91 boutique hotel located on Soho’s last undeveloped Blitz bomb site – should put that thought to rest. Building began on the development (which takes its name a neighbouring18th century pub called The Ham), more than three years ago. But trust Haute Time: Ham Yard Hotel is most definitely worth the wait.

Designed by husband and wife team, Tim and Kit Kemp, it’s the most ambitious protect from Firmdale Hotels (the group behind the gorgeous Covent Garden Hotel and Crosby Street Hotel) to date.

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Ham Yard Hotel bears all the hallmarks of a Kemp project

Chances are you’ll arrive at the £100 million hotel a little later than you planned. For Ham Yard Hotel is accessed via a tree filled pedestrianised public thorough-fare that’s lined with 13 individual specialist stores – including Brazilian beach brand Frescobol Carioca and luxury Australian home ware store, Dinosaur Designs – whose shiny wares are sure to lure you in. “We wanted an urban village feel, and for people to stop and have a coffee or browse in one of the little independent shops,” says interior designer, Kit Kemp.

Should you manage to make it to your suite, further wave of happiness will wash over you. Despite being individually designed – no two rooms are alike – all are a riot of colour, pattern, texture and art for which Kemp is world renowned. They’re also luxurious and comfortable: think large elegant headboards, full length curtains and generously sized marble bathrooms stocked with Kemp’s new range of bath products, Rik Rak.

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A Ham Yard bedroom
HYH 101 straight to bed MR
Accommodation at Ham Yard Hotel

Beyond the bedrooms, there’s the Soholistic Spa (with its shell mirrors sourced from one of Kit Kemp’s favourite dealers in France) and gym – complete with a hypoxic chamber for altitude training – for those looking to shape up for summer.

The rest of us can hang out in the buzzy, Ham Yard Bar & Restaurant and enjoy  dishes such as Seared scallops with tempura courgette flower and Glazed candy beets with goat’s curd, mustard, orange and walnuts washed down with a Black Margarita.

Ham Yard bar
Ham Yard Bar
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Ham Yard Restaurant
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Ham Yard Restaurant

Make the most of the  balmy temperatures by eating and drinking al fresco – either on the hotel’s terrace or up on the charming roof top garden that offers sweeping views of the London skyline.

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Ham Yard Library

However if the weather refuses to play ball and reverts to type, panic not. Simply curl up in the lovely ground floor library with its honesty bar, oversized Chesterfield sofas and shelves stocked with carefully curated books by literary expert, Philip Blackwell. Or watch a film in the 190 seat theatre – we love the tangerine orange leather seats – before retiring to the Dive bar (named in honour of a 3ft neon lit lady diver that hangs on the far wall) for a nightcap under neon signs evoking a rock ‘n’ roll vibe.

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The Croc: a four-lane bowling alley

But Ham Yard Hotel’s biggest headline grabber has to the bijoux 1950s bowling alley – imported pin-by-pin from Texas…
Bottom line? With so much on offer, you might be booking your next stay before your first has even finished…

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The 1950s bowling alley
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