Last week I had the pleasure of hanging out at the recently opened Bar Boulud in London with a select band of London food and lifestyle bloggers at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. On our table were social-media supermum, Eva from Nixdminx, boutique hotel guru, Anthony from Mr & Mrs Smith and food bloggers Miss Gourmet-chick, Miss Londonelicious and Mr Laissezfare. Don’t think I’m being rude in not mentioning their names – food bloggers are a shy bunch and prefer to go unrecognised in the restaurants of London. Apparently all the top restaurants these days keep a rogue’s gallery of restaurant critics and now food bloggers are being added to the hall of fame – hence the need to remain incognito. Now, if I was recognised from my carefully edited blog photos, I’d be thrilled to bits that someone was actually reading my stuff.
The evening didn’t get off to the best start when a delayed train from Bristol to London made me annoyingly (or was it fashionably?) late. The taxi ride from the station, through Hyde park on a warm July evening, soothed my spirits a little and when I arrived the other bloggings were sipping their way through a wine tasting with plates of charcuterie. Soon I was sniffing and sipping with the best of them.
Those of you who reside on the far side of the pond will no doubt have heard all about big name chef, Daniel Boulud, with his flagship 3 Michelin star restaurant Daniel and his stable of other restaurants including Bar Boulud New York. But to us Brits he’s a bit of an unknown quantity – that’s to say he doesn’t yet have a TV show over here or appear on UK supermarket ads – although all the food bloggers had heard of him of course. The charmant Monsieur Boulud grew up near Lyon in France but he’s established his reputation on the New York food scene with his sophisticated interpretation of French regional cuisine. The opening of this first outpost of the Boulud empire in London at the Mandarin Oriental had by all accounts set the London food scene a twitter and there seemed to have been hardly a London food critic or food blogger that hadn’t paid a visit in the first month of opening. We were looking forward to seeing what all the fuss was about.
If you didn’t guess that Bar Boulud is serious about its wines, you’d get a big clue as you enter, from the glass wall of wine bottles and the sweep of zinc covered bar. They even ship in jeroboams of Bollinger special cuvee champagne and magnums of fine vintage Chablis, Sancerre and Chateuneuf du Pape for guests to buy by the glass, so make sure you check what’s open when you visit. The wine list focuses on wines from the Burgundy and Rhone region of France with a nod to their cousins made elsewhere in the world and some “decouvertes” of good value wines from smaller producers. They’ve certainly found the man for the job in the Head Sommelier David Vareille, who grew up the wine-growing Chablis region of Burgundy and has been running his own wine cellar since the age of 14. He’d put together a great selection of wines for us to try with our meal, from the house white Vermentino to the soft-cherry Irancy Burgundy – they were all slipping down very nicely. Now I can’t pretend to be a wine coinnesseur, being more from the ‘I know what I like’ school of wine tasting, but I was impressed with the knowledge and passion that had gone into selecting these wines.
Our group was seated in the main restaurant area adjoining the bar and around the corner you’ll find a second dining room with an open kitchen to provide entertainment, should the conversation flag. You can even get front seat view if you chose to eat at the counter and watch the charcuterie being prepared. The restaurant décor is by Adam Tihany who also designed the hotel’s Mandarin Bar and the soon to be opened Heston Blumenthal restaurant upstairs. His style might be described as sophisticated, metropolitan-luxe, and in the Bar Boulud design there’s a wine cellar theme going on, although it’s so understated that if I hadn’t told you might not have registered the chandeliers in the shape of a wine cask, the oak tables and floors and the leather seating just the shade of a fine red burgundy. On the walls are black and white photographs of Daniel Boulud’s favourite brasseries in Lyon but we agreed that the framed wine stains, looking a little like splashes of blood were more of a talking point than something you’d want to gaze at over lunch. The overall effect is an elegant and relaxed reinterpretation of the French bistro theme, with not a red checked table cloth or Gaulloise stub in sight, although I noticed some lacy curtains at one of the entrances.
We started with the a shared platter of charcuterie from Gilles Verot for which Bar Boulud is well known; there was pâté grand-mère with chicken-liver and cognac, grand-père with fois-gras and truffles and no doubt some of their grandchildren too, with pickled vegetables, and toasted sourdough bread. Then came a succession of sausages-around-the-world with Thai spices and green papaya salad, white truffled boudin blanc with mash and pork and beaujolais with pommes lyonnaise. As if to emphasise the point that this place glories in its meat dishes we moved on to the the burgers for which Bar Boulud is fast becoming renowned. You can choose from the Piggie, Yankee or Frenchie burger, all with slightly different trimmings, finely cut crispy fries and chopped steak burgers cooked to succulant perfection. They’re as far from fast food fare as a ripe Brie de Meaux is from a foil wrapped cheesy triangle – make no mistake these are gourmet burgers!
If all this meat is making you feel faint and you want to lighten up a little you might try the Chop Chop salad with eastern inspiration in a mixture of crisp romaine, chunks of water-melon, cashew nuts and a good soaking of ginger-soy dressing. If you’re feeling flush you can have some lobster on top for an extra £15, but without it’s £6.50 and makes as welcome change from the ubiquitous rocket. With my weakness for all things sweet, I couldn’t pass on the puds. Of the selection we tried my favourites werethe Pavlova with a light-as-a-cloud wedge of meringue sitting in a pool of custard and strawberries, and the Chocolat-Framboise gateau of dark chocolate layered with sacher biscuit and raspberry sorbet in a classic choco-berry combination. I’ve never been a great fan of mint (unless it’s garnishing a jug of Pimms on a hot summers day) and my least favourite was the Coupe Peppermint which was more Xtra strong mint than After Eight. With our desert we tried a delicious chilled sweet cider (although it was more like a wine) from Québec, made with 29 different types of apples – that the sommelier described as “Tarte Tatin in a glass”.
Eating out with bloggers so knowledgeable about food and wine was an education for me as the names of top chefs (Bruno and Heston), wine-makers (Michel and Robert) and restaurant critics (Jay and Marina) flew around the table – my dear, don’t say you’ve never heard of them! These bon viveurs are well-travelled folk too and we heard all about Miss Londonelicious haggling skills in the Syrian Souks (she’s a hard-nosed New Yorker), Miss Gourmetchick’s nights out in Beirut and Miss Nixdmix adults only weekend at Butlins where she was the only sad person with a lap-top – what glamourous lives we lead.
Surveying the packed dining room, it was difficult to pin down a specific kind of clientele at Bar Boulud. At the next table were a couple of stylish metro-chicks, groups of well heeled Knightsbridge locals, sleek suited businessmen at the bar and tucked in a corner was the Grande Dame of politics, Mrs Thatcher herself. Was she keeping company with a Yankee or a Frenchie you ask? I couldn’t possibly say, dear hearts – didn’t your mother tell you it’s rude to stare? Rumour had it that Jon Bon Jovi was also in the house but I can’t vouch for that. This is the kind of place that has a broad appeal, and there’s an element of comfort food reinvented in a pretty, stylish way as epitomised by the asperge et oeuf poché that looked like a grown-up boiled egg and soldiers your mum used to make you. This isn’t so much the place for a big ticket celebration meal, as a place where you can enjoy a glass of champagne at the bar, a lunchtime piggy burger or an evening meet-up with friends to share a plate of charcuterie. Bar Boulud is definitely a place to keep coming back to.
I should let you know that as I was a guest of Bar Boulud I wasn’t spending my own cash, but on surveying the menu I thought that the prices are moderate, considering the Knightsbridge location, the buzzy atmosphere, tip top service and quality of food. Charcuterie board £14 small £28 large, Sausage dishes £8-11, Burgers £13.50, Meat dishes £17-22, sides £3.50, Desserts £6-8. I hear there’s a well-priced lunchtime and early evening menu too. Check out the menus and wine list on the Bar Boulud London website and for more reservations contact the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park, London.
If you’ve been to either the New York or London Bar Boulud, do let me know what you thought.
What the other bloggers said
Miss Gourmet chick’s review of Bar Boulud
Londonelicious review of Bar Boulud
Laissez Fare review of Bar Boulud
Nixdminx review of Bar Boulud
Mr & Mrs Smith’s review of Bar Boulud
My review of Bar Boulud for Kiwi Collection
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When I stayed at the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park I learned that what makes a top hotel really outstanding is not just the luxurious decor, not just the delicious food and elegant public areas but the service of staff who make it their mission to please you in every way they can.
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At the Mandarin Oriental service means that everyone knows your name, nothing is too much trouble and that the staff are constantly on the look out for ways to delight you. It could be a bowl of perfectly sweet strawberries, or a chocolate gateau that you find in your room at teatime, or it could be the unusual tea that’s brought to round off your meal, or the suggestions they offer to make the most of your stay in London.
Now before I get too carried away, I should declare that I received a complimentary night’s stay at the Mandarin Oriental in order to write a review for a luxury hotel website – read my review for Kiwi Collection here. So obviously the staff would be on their best behaviour wouldn’t they? Yet everything I saw led me to believe that world class service is a way of life at the Mandarin Oriental and that true luxury at a hotel like this is being made to feel like a princess from the moment you step through the door.
I was lucky enough to be spend the night in the Prince of Wales Suite where a little bird told me that an American Pop Princess had been staying not long before. My daughter and I were soon well at home, testing out the comfy sofas and the flat screen TV, taking a long hot soak in the marble bathroom and woke in the morning to catch the mounted red-coated guards of the Household Cavalry riding past on their way to the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace.
If you want to stay in the heart of London in a gorgeous hotel that has often entertained royalty (pop princesses or otherwise), with traditional and elegant interiors and exceptional service, then you can’t do better than the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park.
Bar Boulud opens at the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park
While we were there we enjoyed a delicious Asian meal in the Park Restaurant but a hot new restaurant has also just opened at the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park. Bar Boulud is headed by Michelin star French-born, New-York based chef Danel Boulud, who already has a string of successful restaurants in New York including the sister restaurant Bar Boulud New York. I’m told that Daniel Boulud has the culinary stature in the US that Gordon Ramsay has in the UK but a lot more Gallic charm!
The restaurant will feature French bistro style favourites like truffled white sausage and braised rabbit ragout as well as the signature terrines, pates and charcuterie that you can watch being prepared at a special charcuterie bar. There’ll be a zinc topped bar where you can buy fine French Rhones and Burgundies by the glass as well as artizan beers. I suspect that the Gaulloise smoke and absinthe won’t feature heavily at Bar Boulud though – this is a stylish modern interpretation of the French Bistro style, with oakwood, cork and leather furnishings designed by top architect and designer Adam D. Tihany.
It sounds like the ideal place for a relaxing dinner with friends sharing a plate of seafood or some of that charcuterie washed down with a glass or two of well-chosen French wines. Must stop in there for lunch when I’m next in Knightsbridge stocking up on designer essentials at Harrods or Harvey Nichols!
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I recently stayed at the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park Hotel in London with my daughter and enjoyed every moment of being treated like a Princess in one of the best hotels in London. On that occasion, I was lucky enough to be staying as a guest of the hotel (you can read my article here), but like many of you out there, when I’m spending my own hard-earned cash, I’m more likely to be booked into a modest hotel or guest house, albeit the most stylish I can afford. So that got me thinking about how you can enjoy something of the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park’s special atmosphere of luxury and service without spending a king’s ransom.
I remembered when I visited a friend who was living in Istanbul some years ago and we’d wander through the the Kempinski Ciragan Palace, one of the most classy hotels in town, as if we owned the place. We’d re-apply our lipstick in the marble bathrooms, lounge around in the open public areas, window-shop in the hotel souvenir shops and galleries, then perhaps while away a long afternoon over Sunday brunch buffet as a special treat. We had the experience of being there in Luxury without the expense of actually staying there. So in the same spirit, here a few things you might also enjoy at the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park if you’re visiting London.
Sip a cocktail in the Mandarin Bar
When we arrived at the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park we relaxed with a coffee in the Mandarin Bar, with it’s leather and gold velvet sofas, colourful bottles behind frosted glass, and open glass wine cage. It felt like an elegant take on the exclusive gentleman’s club that the hotel was originally built for. However, at night the bar really comes into it’s own as a classy and lively cocktail bar for the grown-up set, with live music playing most nights. On the Saturday night that we were there, we could hear the chatter of conversation and jazz trio playing in one corner and I certainly wouldn’t have minded sipping one of the exotic cocktails with friends, perhaps a ‘Conde Nast Traveler’ of Cuban rum, rhubarb puree, pomegranate juice and cinnamon sugar. I was told that they’d just recruited a new bar manager, Paul Stevens, a former mixologist at Smirnoff, who was busy revamping the cocktail menu, so I’d definitely go back to the Mandarin Bar another time to listen enjoy a cocktail or two and the live music. (Cocktails around £15)
Eat top class Asian food in the Park Restaurant
During our stay, we bypassed the gourmet Foliage restaurant in favour of the more relaxed atmosphere of the Park restaurant, which is designed to bring the greenery of Hyde Park into the hotel, with wooden tables, fine green linen and bonsai trees, as well as oriental themed paintings and decoration. I tried the crab cakes as a starter which were just perfectly meaty served with a walnut and spinach salad, followed by the most delicous Thai Green curry I’ve ever tasted, with complex flavours of basil, lemon grass and enormous prawns. If you like top class Asian food, combined with charmingly attentive service, then this will be the place for you. (Main courses £15-28)
Celebrity chefs, Daniel Boulud and Heston Blumenthal
I can’t mention the food at the Mandarin Oriental without letting you know that there are more treats to come on the culinary front at the hotel. If you’re up on your celebrity chefs, you’ll be first in line when the new Bar Boulud opens in May 2010 on the ground floor, from French born, New York based, chef, Daniel Boulud. The new wine bar and contemporary French bistro will be a sister restaurant to the established Bar Boulud in New York and will draw on the seasonal French dishes, wines and charcuterie of Boulud’s childhood near Lyon. A feature of Bar Boulud is that you can enjoy exceptional wines by the glass that are carefully selected to compliment the food and charcuterie.That’s one thing I’d appreciate as I rarely drink more than a glass or two in an evening, so I’d prefer them to be really good quality, rather than cheap and cheerful.
Once the Bar Boulud has opened, the Park Restaurant will be closed until October, when it will be reborn with British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal at the helm. Blumenthal is well known for his culinary magic in combining unlikely combinations of tastes and textures for a truly sensory dining experience. Blumenthal has a well established reputation from his three Michelin star restaurant, The Fat Duck in Bray as well as The Hinds Head pub of the same village, but this will be his first venture in Central London, bringing his unique style to international visitors to London.
Afternoon Tea on the Park Terrace overlooking Hyde Park
One of the great features of the Mandarin Oriental is that it has Hyde Park as it’s back garden (literally). If you’re lucky enough to get a room at the back of the hotel, then you’ll have a view of the Serpentine lake, glistening through the trees. And adjoining the Park Restaurant overlooking the park is the Park Terrace where you can take al fresco lunches and afternoon tea between May and September (the Great British Summer permitting) If you’d like to experience the quintessential English teatime experience, then this is where I’d love to be on a sunny afternoon, tucking into fresh baked scones and some strawberry tart, washed down by an elegant cup of Earl Grey with a slice of lemon.
Update: The Park Teerace will be closed for summer 2010 while the restaurant is being renovated, so you’ll have to wait until 2011 to try those stawberry tarts and Earl Grey.
A spa experience at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
To finish off my luxury visit to the Mandarin Oriental without ever having checked in, I’d love to spend a few hours at the hotel spa, tucked away in a quiet corner of the ground floor. This is not the place to go in a girly gaggle for chatter and gossip, but a place to unwind and get some seriously pampering ‘me time’. When I looked in on their reception area during my stay, I learned all about their signature spa therapies which have been developed by experts from the world of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture and aromatherapy. The products used are determined by the mood and personality of the client and are based on the five elements of Chinese Medicine; Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and each is matched to a blend of essential oils; Awaken, Bloom, Flourish, Release and Reflect. Condé Nast Traveller voted this their Best Hotel Spa in the UK for 2009 and I can see why, with each treatment tailored to your personality and mood to leave you feeling truly relaxed. Not cheap at £240 for the Mandarin Oriental signature spa therapy treatments session lasting around 3 hrs, including time to relax in the steam room and Vitality pool, but what a lovely gift to give yourself, or even be treated to by your doting husband or partner (hint, hint)
Stay at the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park
Although I’ve mentioned some ways you can tap into the luxurious world of the Mandarin Oriental without actually staying there, I have to say that it is a wonderful place to base yourself in London, with the upscale shopping of Knightsbridge at the front door and the greenery of Hyde Park at the back door. If staying in top class hotels is your normal way of travelling, or you’re looking for somewhere for that special break where you’ll be spoiled and treated to world class service, and if you love that classic English look combined with Oriental elegance, then this is the place for you. And if like me you always hope to get a little more for a little less, then you should check out the Tempting Offer Page on the Mandarin Oriental Website or do some shopping around on booking sites such as Kiwicollection.com (read the article I wrote on their website here)
I hope I’ve convinced you that if your budget doesn’t stretch to staying at a top class hotel like the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London, then there are still affordable ways of experiencing the fantastic service and luxury you’ll get there. If you have been reading this and thinking that you could get that cup of tea at Starbucks for a fraction of the price then you obviously don’t get it and should try pitching your tent in Hyde park instead (only joking). You should think of it as buying into the luxury of a few hours in wonderful surroundings with charming and attentive staff, at a fraction of the price of actually staying there (not that I don’t recommend that too!)
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