Christmas champagne at the Hoxton

Oh Christmas, a time of year that that strikes fear into the heart of every expat. From New Zealand you think its going to be all ice skating, mulled wine and Christmas jumpers. Wait, actually it totally is all those things. But what you don’t think about is the sudden horrifying fact that you are on the other side of the world from your family. No matter what your New Zealand Christmases were actually like (good, bad, drunkenly waxing your sister’s legs) you will remember it through rose tinted glasses and wonder – what the hell am I going to do for Christmas in London?

The common tactic is the Orphans Christmas, where all the sad lonely expats gather together and try to pretend its no different from Christmas at home. Normally assisted by a significant amount of booze.

Full disclosure before I get going, I fucking hate an orphans Christmas. I’ve tried to enjoy it twice now, and it just feels like I’m trying to compensate for the fact that I am not at home. Regardless of how nice the food, how well decorated the tree or how drunk my friends are, it is still quite decisively not home. I try to pretend it’s my sister that I’m annoying the hell out of, or that it is my Dad telling the terrible cracker joke, but its all just wrong wrong wrong in my heart. For all the meticulous mimicking plans it just feels like I am faking something, like I am Kim Kardashian contouring the world of Christmas.

Harry Potter Christmas Decoration at the Hoxton Holborn

Let’s be honest, at the end of the day Christmas isn’t about food or presents or the John Lewis TV advert – it’s about family. And there ain’t no magic in the world (short of £1,200 and 24 hours in an airplane) that can make your family appear on December 25th when you are living in the heart of London.

So I vowed to myself that I would do Christmas in London differently. Forget the weirdness of an orphans Christmas, if I was going to be 18,234km away from my family on this special day I sure as hell wasn’t going to try to re-create anything, oh no I was going to do something entirely different. I was going to spoil myself rotten at a hotel. Still making the day special, just special in a completely different way; different enough that I wouldn’t feel that ground shifting déjà vu feeling of an orphans Christmas. For me this meant finding a modern hotel, a damn good bottle of gin and a kick ass restaurant that I didn’t have to brave the cold for.

For my redefined version of Christmas I didn’t try to surround myself with the noise of a party to distance myself from the ‘weird’ feeling. I wanted the calm and the still so I could reflect on why, why oh why, I was living on the other side of the world and having Christmas away from my family. I wanted to have a day so ‘London’ that I fell in love all over again. I wanted to staycation so hard that even Santa would want to tell the children of the world to go fuck themselves just so he could join the day of awesome with me.

Room at the Hoxton Holborn

The hotel I picked was all important. You guys know Hubbard and Bell one of my favourite brunch spots? Well, it’s actually the restaurant in the Hoxton hotel which is heartrendingly cool (and they have free wifi). If this sad and lonely plan was going to work I needed to wake up in a room that made me feel amazing, and the Hoxton Holborn was my top pick. After stalking their website for about three months I managed to convince the team at the Hoxton Holborn to give me a press rate for my stay, but to be honest I would have booked even if they hadn’t.

I stopped by the supermarket and stocked up on all the important things that I would need for my Christmas for one. Champagne, cheese, chocolate, sloe gin, cheese, panettone and some more cheese. Oh and just to make sure I brought the Christmas spirit with me I actually brought my own Christmas decorations to splash across the room – including the pretty amazing Harry Potter one above. I opened the door to my room and with a giant sigh of contentment threw on pajamas and the brightest lipstick I owned and settled down to watch terrible terrible Christmas movies.

Somewhere between The Santa Clause 2 and the Santa Clause 3 I had to Google ‘how to open champagne’ – this may have been the only downside to Christmas solo. Being the smart cookie that I am I opened it in the beautiful black tiled shower just in case the champagne situation went horribly wrong. Don’t worry no champagne was harmed in the making of this blog post.

Opening champagne in the shower

I had been a bit worried that no matter how awesome I thought my hotel idea was, when I woke up on the day I would be sad. As Christmas Day dawned I stretched lazily in my massive bed, I needn’t have worried. The Hoxton fairies had left champagne and orange juice on my doorstep so I could start the day right. I loved the morning skype to my family as I was sipping champagne, well rested and so god damn happy to doing Christmas on my terms. I couldn’t have felt happier to be waking up in London if I had tried.

After catching up on BBC Christmas specials I rolled downstairs to Hubbard and Bell to begin the other highlight of my stay, the Christmas feast. Over three courses, including my rather surprise decision to have the vegetarian option (I was originally going to go for the turkey) I reveled in the fact that I didn’t have to cook anything – it was literally all handed to me on a platter. Eating at Hubbard and Bell felt like the height of luxury, another ‘only in London moment’. The staff made it all so perfect as well, each going out of their way to get into the Christmas spirit (including the waiter who sang carols every time he cleared a table), it was all just so happy.

The nice thing about hotels at Christmas time is that it is full of odd ducks. There were big families, there were old and young, there were singletons and couples. All having fun. All just happy to be enjoying Christmas. I think I ate for about five hours that day, and once I had rolled back to bed to watch the Doctor Who Christmas episode I had no option but to finish up the champagne in my room – it would have been rude not to. I loved that I didn’t have to battle with the cold or the lack of public transport – it was all just beautiful food, skypes with family and Christmas love. It was a London Christmas on my terms.

This is 100% how I will spend every Christmas in London from now on. Forget trying to recreate something you can’t have, and then spend the entire day nit picking the differences between the two. I am going to make my Christmases special, I am going to make them count. Christmas is about celebrating the end to one year and the start of another; reflecting and drinking gin in a hotel seems to me to be the best way to do it.

 

How to survive London

Floral Afternoon tea

Step 1: If at all possible win a competition in which the prize is the hottest afternoon tea in town; the Scents of Summer afternoon tea at the Intercontinental Park Lane.

Step 2: Call to confirm your booking and have the man on the phone promise you free prosecco because you booked online. Promptly forget about this offer of prosecco and never ever ask for it #myliverthanksme

Step 3: Change your outfit at least five times before leaving home because a) you are going to a hotel that is two squares away from GO on the Monopoly board and b) because you are going to tea with Angloyankophile who is the most stylish girl in the history of creation (I am slowly Single White Female-ing her and plan to start with getting the same camera).

Step 4: After all your hard work corralling the curls into a shape that can fit through doorways make sure you get caught in a torrential downpour between Green Park tube and the Intercontinental Park Lane to ensure your hair grows three sizes by the time you arrive.

Step 5: Walk into the plush Wellington Lounge of the Intercontinental, see Angloyankophile sitting at the table and promptly break into a huge grin because she is an awesome human who is well worth getting big hair for.

Step 6: Look at the tea list, have the tea list explained to you, know your own mind and what tea you like. Panic and just say yes to the last thing that the waiter said. Then panic again and just order whatever Angloyankophile ordered (see above stalking comment).

Healthy jelly shot

Step 7: Try to convince yourself that grown-up bloggers would say yes to the jelly wheat-grass shot on the top of the afternoon tea tray. Then realise that you are not a grownup and if I have to eat wheat-grass jelly I never want to grow up.

Step 8: Get a tad overexcited at the multi-coloured swirl sandwiches and fall face first into your plate eating them all in a minute flat. Look up like a startled ferret when Angloyankophile asks which is your favourite, then hastily try to remember what they tasted like. It was the butternut squash by the way – why do more afternoon teas not play with squash?

Bright coloured sandwiches

Step 9: Try not to laugh at Angloyankophiles expression when the waiter comes and sprays us with perfume between courses. Apparently something to do with involving all the senses in the afternoon tea (it is called Scents of Summer after all) but actually just brilliantly entertaining to watch a surprise perfume attack.

Floral Afternoon tea treat tray

Step 10: Marvel at the utterly gorgeous treat plate of flowers, chocolate shards, and EDIBLE ROCKS that is presented at the end of the afternoon tea. Almost too beautiful to eat (almost, we are not animals after all) and quite simply the most stunning afternoon tea plate I have ever had. EAT ALL THE THINGS.

 

Just follow those ten easy steps and you too can afternoon tea!!!

Mama Sheter Loves Paris

When I was looking into my Paris trip, Mama Shelter was recommended to me by multiple tweeps so I knew that I was in for something cool. And by cool I mean seriously hipster. Mama Shelter specialises in the concrete and black carpet look that just screams ‘I have a beard, bow tie and always pack my air drums’. I will start this by saying that I got a press rate when I stayed at Mama Shelter, which was roughly equivalent to getting free upgrade from a Mama to a Mama Luxe. As always my opinions are my own which you will gather as you read on and discover I threw a lime at a waiter. Oops.

When I arrived I thought that the receptionist was just being super friendly because she knew I was a blogger (these thing happen), she gave me a quick tour of the restaurant, sang the praises of the Sunday brunch and then helped me work the lift (you needed ninja like reflexes to get your card in and out). But when I was wandering through reception later on this seemed to be how they treated all guests. Very unusual in any big city to get this level of chilled out perkiness in a hotel check-in team, but lovely to see.

They won my heart forever when I walked into my room and saw Clark Kent and Darth Vader masks just to make my selfies more interesting when taking them on the iMac strategically placed on the wall. Biggest perk of travelling alone? No one to question you when you spend half an hour jumping on your bed in a Clark Kent mask pretending to fly. Sometimes you just have to do these things.

Masks at Mama Shelter

Anyway back to the rooms. The darkness was cool and all but more suited to a bat cave than a hotel room because it was seriously painful for getting ready. I was taking the chance of wearing bright lipstick while in Paris and I needed a seriously good light to colour within the lines, cue awkwardly smudgy lipstick. But the bat cave was super snuggly when I packed it in at 4:30pm on Saturday night and decided to eat treats and watch movies. Oh yeah, that fancy iMac has oodles of free movies. So as the young party animal that I am I watched Pitch Perfect, Silver Linings Playbook, Star Trek (the one with Sherlock), and The Worlds End. Exactly the sort of cultural fodder that you can expect in Paris.

The lime throwing incident… yes. I was so shattered the night I arrived that I just wanted to eat in the Mama Shelter restaurant. I had been told earlier that since it was just me I would be able to eat at the bar without a reservation, so I rocked in got sat at the bar and…waited. And waited. And waited. It was 20 minutes of me watching the bartenders serve other people, clean glasses and chat. I was so angry that I flicked a lime wedge that was next to me. What I didn’t realise was just how much of a violent lime flicker I am…what I intended to be a one inch flick was actually an Olympic quality citrus of death flick that hit one of the bar staff. Mortified does not begin to describe it. But they finally noticed me and brought me a cocktail…so win?

While we are talking food, the breakfast blew my mind. Normally in France you can expect a full on European breakfast; cold meat and cheese, bread and some cereals. Mama Shelter had ALL THE FOOD. There was bacon, eggs, cold meats, breads, pastries, a few types of fruit salad, coffee on tap or special order. It was amazing. The only difference between the Mama Shelter breakfast and what you would see in an American hotel was no pancakes, but with all the pastries on offer they were really not missed.

Mama Shelter Paris Breakfast

If you are unfamiliar with Paris Mama Shelter looks like it is not in the centre of town, but it has three metro stops just a short walk away so as a weekender its perfect. For the extra win there is a late night supermarche just down the road, and the best patisserie I have been to on the opposite corner. I mean, what more do you want?

And the best bit about Mama Shelter (ok this might sound a bit weird), the shower. It was one of those rain showers, the ones that never quite live up to expectations. Honestly I have tried them in a few hotels and they are always just like a normal shower without the added bonus of directionality. But this beast, holy shit it was amazing. Like standing in a full tropical rain storm. I wasn’t planning on washing my hair (curls are a flipping nightmare on holiday) but that shower made me go out and BUY shampoo in Paris…it was that good.

The verdict? If it weren’t for the bartenders (again, sorry about the lime) and if it had a few more lights in the rooms it would be close to the perfect Paris hotel. I really recommend it for a weekender in the magical city that is Paris.

Christmas Afternoon Tea

There are many strange things about blogging; stalking people on twitter, it being socially acceptable for your food to get cold while you take photos of it, not to mention the overuse of the words awesome/brilliant/amazing. But among the strangest is the ability to get a preview of a Christmas afternoon tea in September, complete with carols played on a harp.

Last Christmas I went to the Intercontinental St James and was entirely underwhelmed by their offering; the scones were cold, the treats a bit meh and the ultimate offence they made us share the solo helping of sweet things. So when I heard that the Bloggers Afternoon Tea was going back to the same hotel for a preview of their Christmas afternoon I was not exactly amped. I know that the hotel had changed its name to the Conrad St James and I just had my fingers crossed that the afternoon tea offering had had a revamp as well.

The London Blogger afternoon teas are fantastic, if you are a blogger and want to talk shop/meet some fellow typing crazies then you have to sign up for the next one. Conversations with my table veered wildly between camera settings, the best cafes in London and how to approach PR companies. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate these chances to chat, its entirely different to listening to a formal talk or the hidden desperation of networking. This tea is just celebrating or commiserating the highs and lows of being a blogger.

Christmas Afternoon Tea at the Conrad St James

This hobby or career (depending on your inclinations) doesn’t have a rule book. There is no degree or career path, and even if you tried to copy the tactics of someone else it is no guarantee of success. So as silly as it sounds the casual chatter of bloggers drinking tea (and champagne) is actually the best way to learn, grow and refine your craft. Oh and it turns out that Sony cameras have a selfie mode…go figure.

Sorry I got a bit distracted there. Christmas right? I had nothing to fear, the Conrad afternoon tea was every bit as magical as I could have wished for. After a standard but really tasty sandwich and scone diversion, I focused mainly on the top tier which held special Christmas savories. My favorite by far (good enough to use the ‘hey look over there’ tactic to steal one from another blogger) was the mini-venison pie, just so full of flavour and meaty pastry goodness. Also worth a mention are the spreads that the scones came with, normally you get clotted cream and a jam (or lemon curd if the chef has something to prove). But finally a hotel is doing something a bit different and we were served blackberry curd – other afternoon teas take note, the spreads is an area where you can be creative!

Scones at the Conrad St James

After consuming my body weight in Jing tea the grand  finale was revealed to us. Under a glass canopy was an entire winter wonderland scene, complete with Christmas trees, scarf wearing snowmen and snow. In that moment even though we were having an Indian summer and it was still September I was instantly transported to the world of mulled wine, presents and bad Christmas jumpers.

I went straight for the ginger and white chocolate snowflake macaron, a beautiful light flavour to have as part of a massive afternoon tea. I then tried to tackle the Christmas tree which was without being overly dramatic (totally unlike me) was shocking. I was expecting chocolate or cake at the very least, but my spoon went straight through it. It was a berry moose on top of a brownie rolled in something green with chocolate stars on. An absolute masterpiece. Again it was lovely to see something so light in an afternoon tea, it just means you can eat more.

Since this is Christmas lets end this post with a moral: if you are looking for a magical themed Christmas afternoon tea I vote go to the Conrad St James. And if you can take a group of 3o bloggers along then all the better.

Conrad St James Christmas Afternoon Tea

xx