Colin Hampden-White revisits Sofitel for a rather special anniversary.
Ten years ago, I stayed in a fabulous hotel in central London, with my new wife Caroline. We had wed that day in the beautiful Westminster Abbey and partied until the early hours at the House of Lords, so to stay a stone’s throw away in St James’ in absolute comfort was perfect. We arrived very late and slept well. The stay was perfect for the occasion, but it didn’t give us time to enjoy what the hotel had to offer, so for our tenth anniversary we organised to go back and do exactly that.
We arrived early in the afternoon to check in. Like the day after our wedding, the weather was glorious, and we wanted to walk around St James’. The Sofitel is perfectly placed for everything the west end has to offer. Being a short walk to the theatres on Shaftsbury avenue, the bars and clubs of Soho, the bars and private clubs of Pall Mall, and of course, the shops. It would have been remiss of us if we hadn’t taken a browse around Fortnum and Mason and perused the shelves at Berry Bros and Rudd. With more time there are the numerous galleries to visit including the Royal academy on Piccadilly.
Having built up a thirst, we came back to the hotel to relax in our room before experiencing the cocktails and the bar. The bar is sophisticated without being pretentious as so many London hotel cocktail bars have a tendency to be. The cocktails are easily explained and have a clear theme which is both entertaining and informative. This year’s theme is music, and the menu arrived like a CD case with the “playlist” inside.
We delved straight in with a Marley inspired “Catch the Fire”, and a Candle in the Wind inspired “Lady D”. The first being a rum based cocktail served up in a Caribbean style bottle which had elements of a sour cocktail balanced by some sweet fruity rum. Lady D being a long style drink including Rhubarb Vodka and liqueurs, Pothecary gin, homemade macaroon and cassis syrup, rose water and Angostura bitters. It was refreshing and floral with lots going on on the flavour front.
Having settled in, we had our second pair, a “Space Cowboy” with gin and absinthe in the mix and Jamiroquai shaped horns emblazoned on the froth, and a “Losing my Wings” after REM. Both well balanced with the REM cocktail being particularly decedent using Woodford Reserve, homemade dried fruit honey, cinnamon and citrus infused Madagascar vanilla liqueur, lime juice, Abbott’s bitters, rhubarb bitters and egg white.
Having thought we had found the best on the list, our bartender suggested we try “Drunk In Love”, which seems wholly appropriate, so we gleefully accepted the suggestion, and we were so glad we did. Inspired by Beyoncé, it was thick and creamy with Rémy Martin 1738, Coconut milk, salted caramel syrup, roasted pineapple syrup, lemon juice and a vanilla foam. It was hedonistic and warmingly alcoholic but never out of balance.
Feeling all warm a fuzzy we moved to the Balcon restaurant. With a good look at the menu and our courses decided upon we had another choice to make on the wine. The sommelier made it so hard to choose, so we decided to have a different glass of wine each to try one another’s. So with our first courses of Foie gras ballotine, sourdough, fig, pomegranate, Marcona almonds and Beef tartare, burnt onion egg yolk, balsamic potato crisps, we had a glasses of Gewurztraminer, Cave de Hunawihr, vin d’Alsace, and France Viognier, “Les vignes d’à côté”, Yves Cuilleron, Rhone Valley, France. Both went well with the dishes, and each respectively even better with their correct partners.
For the main course we had a bottle of Rauzan Segla 1998 breathing, and we matched it with Whole lemon sole meunière, pea purée, shallots and capers and one of the best shepherds pies I’ve had.
Made at the table the desserts were not just a spectacle, but a flavour filled moment of guilty pleasure. Sweet, hot caramelised fruit with crepe or sorbet, and a heady dash of spirit was a real treat. These desserts being classics concocted in a different age, are still wonderful today and thank god they have been brought back to fine dining.
An evening at the Sofitel is a complete experience, there is no need to go out to a cocktail bar, find a fine dining restaurant elsewhere, and al the end of the night one simply has to ascend to your room and slumber in a hugely comfortable bed, only to wake to fresh coffee, a homemade breakfast and approach the day feeling well looked after and revitalised.
By Colin Hampden-White