Friday, June 15, 2018

The Draycott on Cadogan Gardens: A World Apart

Nestled within three beautifully restored Edwardian homes in the exclusive enclave of Chelsea and Knightsbridge, The Draycott epitomises the grandeur of old-world luxurious living. Hidden away on a leafy road in one of London’s most sought after neighbourhoods and just around the corner from Sloane Square, The Draycott Hotel is our favourite place to stay when we're in London. Steeped in Edwardian splendour, each room is private, discreet and theatrically themed, with many of the suites having their own cosy fireplace and gorgeous views of the tranquil private interior garden to which Daycott guests have exclusive access. Personal touches such as complimentary tea and homemade biscuits at 4pm, champagne at 6pm, hot chocolate before bedtime and a squishy teddy bear nestled on each bed, further add to the hotels old world charm. In fact, staying at the Draycott feels less like a hotel, but more like being a privileged guest in an elegant country home. Welcoming, sophisticated and luxuriously furnished, The Draycott is a timeless classic in a world of modern anonymity. Blessed with an enviable location, The Draycott is also just a short walk to Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Peter Jones, the fashionable King's Road, and some of London's best restaurants, making it one of London’s very best kept secrets. 

Afternoon Tea in the Draycott Formal Living Room

Complimentary glass of champagne each evening

The lobby and french glass doors to the sunny Living Room which looks over the private gardens

Deluxe Garden View Suite

The Draycott Teddy

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Catalan Sant Jordi Day: Roses, Books & Romance

A national Catalan holiday, Sant Jordi's Day is Barcelona's most romantic day of the year. Across the region, it's celebrated as a day of love and literature, and for one magical day on April 23, the streets of Barcelona are filled with book sellers and flower stands selling roses. The Catalan equivalent to Valentine's Day, men traditionally give a rose to their lover while women buy a book for their partner. The festival has evolved from a mixture of traditions, the most popular being the tale of Saint George slaying a dragon. According to legend he saved a princess by killing a dragon with his spear while riding on a white horse. The dragon's blood caused a rosebush to grow and he offered one of its roses to the princess as a symbol of his true and sincere love. Over the years the tradition developed into sweethearts exchanging gifts: men give women roses as a symbol of their love, or to declare it for the first time, and women give men books, from which the phrase “a rose for love and a book forever” was born — however most women in Barcelona now receive books from their partners as well as roses.

Strolling through the Ribera and Gothic quarters before wandering along La Rambla, we revelled in the festive atmosphere before walking over to Hotel España for a special Sant Jordi Day lunch at Fonda España, one of Barcelona's most beautiful dining rooms with traditional cuisine directed by star chef Martín Berasategui, one of the great chefs of the culinary world with an amazing eight Michelin stars. An architectural jewell of the 19th-century with high ceilings, modernist decor and beautiful mosaics created by renowned Catalan architect Domènech i Montaner, the special six-course lunch was held in the historic Sala de las Sirenas, named after the extraordinary wall mural by Ramón Casas. Starting with a glass of cava, the menu celebrated the highlights of Mediterranean Catalan cuisine, showcasing the abundant produce from both the land and the sea: Salmon Tartare with salmon roe and cucumber mousse, Gilthead Bream with Bean Salad and saosada with pickled fricandó, and Cod Confit with grilled Calçot Scallion Broth and Seafood Béarnaise Sauce to Galician Roast Beef Sirloin with vegetable pil-pil and truffles. For dessert: The Rose of Barcelona with Strawberry Cream, Rose Water, Yogurt and Beetroot — a sweet tribute to culinary love.

Flowers and books being sold on La Rambla in Barcelona 

On a lovely sunny day, the city was full of people strolling around and enjoying Sant Jordi Day

The streets were filled with book stalls decorated in the colours of the Catalan flag

Sant Jordi Day has evolved into a celebration of Catalan identity, with many stalls selling Catalan flags, t-shirts and other branded merchandise

Bakeries throughout the city are filled with an unusual treat: bread striped with the bright yellow 
and red of the Catalan flag, the famous pa de Sant Jordi

Roses are sold with a sheaf of wheat which represents fertility, and red roses are symbols of passion

La Rambla was bustling on the warm and sunny Sant Jordi Day 

There was an obvious but discrete police presence on La Rambla during Sant Jordi Day 
given the tragic terrorist attack last year

A  little jewel of Catalonian Modernism, Hotel España opened in 1859 and was later refurbished by the celebrated Modernist architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, in the early 20th Century

The Sala de las Sirenas with floor to ceiling mural attributed to Ramón Casas
with mermaids, fish, and other marine life on a background of waves

Arrangement of dried flowers

Painter and illustrator Ramón Casas mermaid on Fonda Espana wall mural  

Below the paintings, a lattice of wide wooden strips are inset with glazed ceramic shields of the ancient kingdoms such as this one representing Aragon

Glass of Cava to celebrate Saint George's Day

Aubergine Paté with parmesan and arugula pesto garnished with arugula and paprika

Salmon Tartare with salmon roe and cucumber mousse with curry

Serving select wines from the cellars of Fonda Espana, a white Verdejo and red Torres Mas Rabel were the wines being poured for the special Sant Jordi menu

Torres Verdeo Verdejo 2016

Fresh baked warm bread

Gilthead Bream with Bean Salad and saosada with pickled fricandó

Cod Confit with grilled Calçot Scallion Broth and Seafood Béarnaise Sauce

One of our servers arriving with a Torres Mas Rabel which is the one of the 
most popular wines from Catalunya

With seductive aromas and soft tannins, the wine is perfect with the next course of roast sirloin

Torres Mas Rabel 2016

Roast Beef Sirloin with vegetable pil-pil and truffles 

The Rose of Barcelona: Strawberry Cream, Rose Water, Yogurt and Beetroot

Fonda España chef Germán Espinosa and Spanish superstar chef Martín Berasategui 
who holds 8 michelin stars

Sugared Jelly Rose gift from the chef Espinosa in honour of Sant Jordi Day

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Barcelona: A Night at the Opera & Bar Cañete

The Liceu Opera House Barcelona, locally known as Gran Teatre del Liceu or simply the Liceu, was founded on Barcelona’s Rambla in 1847, and is the largest horseshoe-shaped opera theatre in Europe and the second largest in the world.  Built on the site of a former convent, the Liceu was designed to house the Music Conservatory and with the main purpose of creating a venue where high society could go to see opera, the star cultural attraction of the time. The Liceu soon became a Barcelona landmark, to such an extent that its destruction by the fire in 1994 sent shockwaves through Catalan society. The reconstruction project provided the Liceu building with highly advanced technical facilities and stage equipment, and faithfully restored the original splendour of one of the world's most well-known opera houses. Arriving for a special 3-hour 'Behind the Scenes Tour' of the opera house one afternoon, we were given in depth insight into the making of Daemon, the first opera of the season, and took the opportunity to buy tickets for the opening night. 

Rubinstein's 19th-century Russian masterpiece about the demon's love obsession with a mortal woman, the production showcases the spectacular scenic design of Hartmut Schörghofer who designed an enormous tunnel onstage connecting the different worlds, and at the back of which is a large inflatable sphere with a projector inside that creates multiple realities, and give clues to the different actions in the story, becoming a sphere of fire, an enormous watchful eye, a rotating earthly sphere or raging sandstorm. A spectacular opera, we walked around the corner to Bar Cañete for a late dinner, to reprise the sensational meal we had enjoyed there a few evenings before.

Inside The Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona's spectacular opera house on La Rambla 

The spectacular ceiling of the opera house

Egils Siliņš and Yuriy Mynenko playing the Devil and an Angel in Daemon © A. Bofill

The marble Neo-Classical central staircase with the sculpture “Muse of Music” 
by Venanci Vallmitjana, which has stood there since 1901

Rescued from the fire and painstakingly restored, The Hall of Mirrors is where everyone gathers at intermission for a glass of cava or champagne

Returning to Bar Cañete after the opera for a late dinner 

This time we sat in the more formal dining room with its dark wood tables, leather seating, 
soft lighting and sultry jazz tones

A glass of cold Santiago Ruiz Albariño

Bar Cañete honours Spain's history of bull fighting with a "bull room" where stuffed heads of past Barcelona bullring winners are displayed

Our waiter with his smart white jacket poured our wine and kept the tapas coming

2014 Bodegas Amézola de la Mora Rioja

Mossèn Cinto de Folgueroles flatbread with tomato

Bar Cañete special Lobster Croquettes 

Grilled Razor Clams

Handcut Jamón de Guijuelo

Deboned Oxtail topped with mashed potato