Alex Polizzi, The Daily Telegraph, May 8, 2014
I had the good fortune late last week to get a sneak preview ahead of opening of the hotel we’ve all been waiting for – the Shangri-La – At The Shard – London. And it was certainly worth the wait.
This hotel, located on floors 34 to 52 of London’s tallest building, impresses on so many levels. For a start, even though you have to shoot up a lift to get there, it has a great presence at street level.
Then when you do enter, it has a wonderfully opulent and clean look and a lovely marble floor. Everything just drags your eye forward and out towards those wonderful, breathtaking, incredible views – one of the main reasons for staying here, but not the only reason.
I liked the restaurant, a stylish space in which you can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner with everything in between. The cuisine is European with Asian influences (reflecting the Singapore origins of the Shangri-La group) and wherever possible involves the use of locally-sourced products – from the delightfully nearby Borough Market. I loved the Champagne Bar – with room for 90 and surely the place destined to become the top London venue for a Vodka Martini.
As far as the rooms are concerned – 202 in total with a generous average space of 40 square metres – well, this hotel provides what for me was a first: a pair of binoculars with which to enjoy the views (telescopes if you are stating in a suite). In one room you can sit in the stand-alone bath and actually look out onto Tower Bridge.
It’s early days but I have a feeling that that this Shangri-La in the skies is going to become one of the great iconic hotels in London. It is beautiful. Amazing. And in addition to wowing overseas visitors, it will also be something very special for Londoners themselves who will love to see their city laid out beneath them.
Coming back down to Earth, I have been filming a new series of The Fixer for BBC Two over the past few months, and two of the businesses I have been advising are in Yorkshire. This has meant more than a dozen journeys by train, either to or from York, Leeds and Wakefield on the East Coast Main Line, which I have loved.
The speed, comfort and service on this line have amazed me. For starters, there is Wi-Fi . I have mobile phone coverage pretty much throughout the journey. Every staff member I have met has been smart, charming and happy to refill my free glass of wine should I require it.
As I also have two businesses in Devon that I needed to tackle during the same period, I could not help but notice that the train route to Exeter appears very dilapidated by comparison. The last time I was returning to London on a First Great Western journey, the train took on a burst of speed in the home straight from Reading and – I kid you not – I moved to a different seat so that I was travelling backwards and near to the emergency alarm, in full expectation that the carriage was about to come off the rails or fall apart around me.
I was in first class, and the return ticket cost about the same as a trip to York – a steep £350 or so at peak time – but with the disadvantage of not being able to check my emails and with an apologetic staff member charging me for a glass of white. And don’t get me started on the phone coverage! It’s 2014 and I am still completely unavailable within 200 miles of London.
I suppose I should be grateful that the air link between Newquay and Gatwick has had a reprieve. This has been under threat for the past year, and I have had many a desperate traveller come up to me at Newquay airport begging me to do something about it.
Those of you who have travelled through Newquay will be aware of the £5 “development fee” that every traveller is charged. The rigorous security checks that ape those of Tel Aviv or New York – and with proportionately similar queues – have always seemed extraordinary to me. Maybe it is true that were terrorists to mount an attack it would be from one of our smaller airports, but I don’t rate their chances of getting past the woman who weighs your hand luggage at Newquay.
I am cheering at the news that Flybe will be launching flights between London City Airport and Exeter in October, with one-way fares from £35. With the recent disruption to the rail service at Dawlish due to the storms, the South West has never felt so cut off, and frankly I have spent too many hours stuck on the M5 with an unhappy baby on the back seat to view that travel option with much affection.
If you are travelling with children, beware of the “family-friendly” security gate at Gatwick, too. It took us an hour to get though it on our last holiday abroad. On a recent trip to Cornwall with my children I politely declined the offer to join that queue, rightly preferring my chances with the rest of the travelling public. I am forced to wonder whether there are unreported groups of female suicide bombers who are prepared to blow themselves up with their children on board.
My travels have enabled me to add to my list of favourite places to stay. The first is the Cary Arms, owned by Peter de Savary, in Babbacombe, near Torquay. It is bliss.
There are eight rooms, all overlooking a perfect bay, and a renowned restaurant/bar that is filled with locals night after night. I arrived after a seven-hour road trip from Yorkshire to find a hot-water bottle in my bed, a decanter of sherry on the desk and a heroic manager who lugged my bag up to the room and then found things to do while I drank my way through a restorative G & T or two, in spite of the inhospitable hour.
I am a bad sleeper usually, but I awoke to the sound of the waves after a six-hour sleep feeling 10 years younger and looking as if I had benefited from an overnight facelift.
At the Nag’s Head near Thirsk in North Yorkshire, the charming owner, Edward Boynton, managed to handle two thirsty film crews with admirable dexterity. He has a small but perfectly formed wine list, and a range of whiskies , gins and vodkas, to be appropriately matched with various tonic waters.
Dinner was simply marvellous. Twelve of us ate too much and drank too much and found ourselves most amusing for hours, testing the patience of the regulars, who managed, however, to ignore us with great aplomb, not to say a tolerance that amazed me the following morning.
I shall draw a veil over the evening… apart from saying that I paid a £169 bar bill and that the Jenga pieces, when I staggered to bed after a wonderful meal and far too much wine, were not so much being eased from the stack as flung about the bar.
My room did not enthuse me greatly, until I fell into the wonderfully comfortable bed and slept the sleep of the just on the proper pillows. It may have been the effects of the digestif Edward proffered when I lost a round, or the restorative porridge in the early morning, but all I can tell you is that I left the Nag’s Head with a light heart and a song on my lips.
In both cases, I can’t wait until my next visit.
The Cary Arms, Babbacombe, Devon (01803 327110; caryarms.co.uk ): double rooms from £175 a night with breakfast.
The Nag’s Head, Pickhill, near Thirsk, North Yorkshire (01845 567391; nagsheadpickhill.co.uk ): double rooms from £85 a night with breakfast.
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