Scathing hotel reviews are among our favourite things. Spoof hotel reviews are up there, too. We love this one, written about guest houses in Ireland by Caroline O'Donoghue for headstuff.org.
"The main house features 18 bedrooms, a ballroom, a parlour for painting horses in, a slightly smaller ballroom, a “drawing room” and a narrow closet where servants were permitted to sleep standing up in. The large iron gates you see surrounding the property were added in 1850 after a number of local riots resulted in the death of 18 members of the Irish peasant class. During the time, this was the equivalent of three English people!"
Read the entire thing HERE.
We're excited to announce that this week will see the first episode of the Shandy Pockets Podcast. Or the Shandy Podcast. Or Shandy Podckets. We're not sure about the name yet. Either way, you'll be able to find it here and on the usual podcast sites and we'll be talking 2017 travel trends and traveling in Thailand in the late 90s (when The Beach came out) and tips for visiting the Ivory Coast. So...you know...check it out this Friday.
One of the first things you notice when you travel to Asian cities is how the Western corporations appropriate the local traditions to fit in. Usually it’s about as culturally comfortable as your dad wearing a bindi to a Hindu wedding (this analogy doesn't work if your dad is Hindu, of course).
In Bangkok, for example, the sight of Ronald MacDonald doing his forced clownish bowing outside the Thai outposts of his fast food chain never fails to illicit a cringe though maybe it’s better than him not doing it? I don’t know, you’d have to ask a local, but to me it feels a bit ‘white person wearing native headdress to Coachella’.
Starwood are a western brand but with their much-vaunted W Bangkok hotel, they’ve thrown themselves into placing this property with so much gusto you can only really admire it. Just walking into the lobby is an assault in the senses as vivid Thai imagery comes at you from every corner.
Some 80,000 crystals have been employed in huge collages amid the black marble backdrop and foreground of young fashion bloggers looking at their phone screens. A tiger fights a phoenix for…reasons? A lobby nymph does explain it to me but my old ears lose the thread beneath the curated trip-hop.
The other motifs include Thai Boxing – lobby drinking booths are fashioned over traditional ringside fixtures – and pimped-up tuk-tuks with artistic light installations. It’s kind of spectaular, like if young people had a go at redesigning Vegas.
In London or New York, you’d expect a hefty dose of disdain from the staff if you didn’t show up wearing Skrillex t-shirt but that famed Thai hospitality shines on through and the staff can’t help but be wonderfully helpful.
If you’ve stayed at Ws before, you know what you’re in for with the rooms – bold colours and tech-forward amenities with local touches that double as expensive souvenirs. The latter in this case is a delightful pair of oversized gold Thai boxing gloves (no, YOU danced around in your pants pretending to be Rocky).
Adjusting the lighting and temperature from a tablet still feels wonderfully futuristic to me, but I remember Friendster, so what do I know? In short, the rooms are great and if W prices are a bit too rich for you in Western cities, then the value on parade in Thailand provides a good opportunity to try it out.
Across the forecourt is a very different experience altogether. Still part of the hotel, the House on Sathorn (named after the road/neighbourhood we’re in) is a painstakingly-restored 19th century mansion that was formerly the Russian embassy in Thailand. It has beautiful, wood-framed colonial dining rooms and an expansive courtyard which had a DJ even at 10am when I looked around (possibly still there from the night before).
The to-be-expected modern freebies are all present and correct – fast, free WiFi so that stream of Instagram updates of you wearing your pants and huge boxing gloves needn’t suffer, and a breakfast buffet (if you book that rate) that is on a par with the city’s most sumptuous. If you’re into that sort of thing, the spa is pretty space-age and the rooftop pool delivers what all rooftop pools are supposed to in terms of views and a feeling of quiet superiority.
The immediate neighbourhood, Sathorn, took a few years to catch up to the W but there should now be enough cafes, bars and restaurants to keep those fashion bloggers happy. I didn’t see a bowing Ronald MacDonald, but it’s probably just a matter of time. (PO)
OK, give us a minute. There’s a truckload of history to address but the first point of order is working out what the secret thermostat in the wardrobe does. I say it heats up the inside of the wardrobe itself so as to make light of any creases that a chap might have collected while transporting his dress shirts. My girlfriend, more prosaically but probably more accurately, says it’s to control the temperature of the heated bathroom floor.
Either way, this goofy argument should tell you something about the ruddy, bloody poshness of this here hotel. I’ve knocked about some upscale pads in my time, somehow sneaked into a selection of classy joints. The Stafford, just to be clear, is one of them.
The welcome reveal, though, is that it doesn’t come with the snobbery that a poor urchin like me can sometimes inspire. I’ve seen it. The look of bafflement or even outright pity as I approach the reception desk, the presumption (hope? I’ve seen hope!) that I’ve wandered into the wrong place.
Usually, this is at some upstart, newly tarted up joint that was a derelict warehouse a fortnight ago. NOT AT PLACES LIKE THIS. Actual, historically swanky places like The Stafford have way too much self respect to judge anyone. A relief when, rolling in after getting lost with two heavy cases and looking like a porter down on his luck, I step up and tell them I have a reservation. Unblinking politeness. A reassuring mix of knowing deference with the misting of authority that we all secretly like. A world-worn Scot who has probably worked there since the 40s to take us to our room. This is what I’m talking about.
Here’s a potted history: the place used to be a posh knob social club, became a private hotel and housed a selection of lofty officers during WWII. It has since expanded to the stables at the back and added a modern annex but essentially you’re staying in a building that has hundreds of years of history.
I need a drink.
“That’s Nancy’s stool.”
I’m leaning up against the old-school looking bar, about to order a pre-dinner gin. Bartender Benoit has been here forever (he’s only the 3rd bar manager since 1946), so I’m deferring to his knowledge. He’s not moving me on, just drawing attention to it.
Nancy is Nancy Wake and the stool jammed up against the far corner of the bar is just one of many memorials to this mysterious lady that become apparent once you start looking. The bar at The Stafford Hotel is called The American Bar. It was used by Allied officers as a meeting spot during World War II, and had since expanded and been extensively bedecked with every conceivable artefact, American and otherwise.
It’s quite a trip. Historically AND aesthetically. I recommend a visit, even if you’re not staying at the hotel.
Our room is in the modern annex (The Mews), with its dedicated entrance and absolute masses of space. To be able to loll about in somewhere with the feel of a medium sized apartment is a luxury in Central London on its own. Add to that the panoramic luxury encased within – huge marble bathrooms with heated floors that may or may not be controlled from the wardrobe, overwhelming coffee selection, expensive furniture, almost emotionally-impressive levels of service…well, I’ve been looked down on by much worse, I’ll tell you that.
We dined. The Lyttleton is the onsite restaurant, and though we were the only customers for dinner, we were made to feel more than welcome and not at all like we were keeping several staff from knocking off early. Chandeliers, high end British cuisine, you get the picture.
Breakfast in the same room was perhaps the most impressive affair I’ve seen in a hotel. A heaving table of pots and pastries and every conceivable morning snack, paired with an a la carte menu including three types of egg Benedict, and that’s enough to impress this guy.
If it’s available, have the short tour of the wine cellar – there are lots of surprises that will delight war buffs – and if it’s not, then just revel in the absolute bonanza of professionalism and service that greets you here. World class. Especially for guttersnipes like me.
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The last time I was in an Anantara property, around a decade ago, I took a weird driving test. It was in the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai, and out in the forest, the hotel’s resident elephant expert taught me as best he could how to steer an elephant, with – let’s be honest – mixed results.
Memories of that (very ethically run) camp came flooding back as I checked into the palatial Anantara Siam Bangkok, coinciding with a curiosity about the city credentials of a brand I’d previously associated with grand resorts.
The Anantara Siam Bangkok is downtown, but, like, posh downtown – that stretch round the corner from Chit Lom where the Royal Bangkok Sports Club is and the Grand Hyatt and the St Regis. You’re in a fairly average shopping district and then you turn down Ratchadamri Road and it’s like one of those lifestyle magazines you only see in airport lounges.
Its previous incarnation as the Four Seasons, and some characteristics remain, though it’s been given a colourful flourish. The marble staircase steals the show in the lobby, which is no small feat considering the silk murals and frescoed walls and intricate mandalas on the ceilings. I’d arrived pretty late, and though welcome drinks are never that much of a chore, I didn’t stand on ceremony and hightailed it up to my room.
The view would have to wait until morning, and I just had chance to note the solidly 5-star décor – nothing too flashy, marble bathroom, dark woods with colourful silk accents – before conking out.
The next morning, I got the full postcard treatment, the panoramic greenery of the Royal Bangkok Sports Club’s horse racing track and golf course spread out before the hotel, like you’d paid to be in a particularly nice stand. I’m a fan of the shambolic chaos of Bangkok, but this landscaped oasis works as well.
I went to stretch my legs, and was grateful for the handy smartphone that comes with the room, my jetlagged fug meaning my already poor sense of direction was way off kilter, the online maps helping me find my way back for further exploration of the property.
The hotel restaurants and shops are largely collected around a large indoor tropical garden, and it’s here that we can finally address the elephants in the room. They’re here largely due to an apparent partnership with the famed Jim Thompson House, hanging on the walls in colourful silks and carved from dark teak.
Thompson, of course, is the mysterious (he disappeared without a trace) importer/exporter of Thai artefacts and his empire is now a museum and retail one. The main court at the Siam enjoys a healthy dollop of his tasteful décor, some of the arcade walls also home to some striking contemporary local art.
It felt rude not to eat a lunch that Mr Thompson might have approved of, so despite the international dining options available, I lunched at the Spice Market. The deep-fried fish cakes and crab meat salad leading into a spicy sour orange curry, a new one on me but something I’ll look out for again.
Sadly, that was the extent of my one-night stay and I left the Anantara without having taken any elephant driving tests, instead just wishing that I could steer my tuk-tuk driver with anything approaching the same amount of control. No, sir I do not want to drop in on your cousin’s jewel shop on the way to the next hotel, but thanks for offering…
Words and pictures by Anna Delaney
“The secret to making a fine aperol spritz is to add as little soda as possible...” Advice from the vibrant and cheeky Loris who delighted us in the art of making the perfect aperol spritz, Venetian style.
I remember visiting Venice a few years ago and being introduced to the aperol spritz - something to be enjoyed when the sun starts to set, the air begins to cool and the working day comes to an end. The sharp and sophisticated head to their local to drink and eat cicchetti or Venetian tapas, an indisputably classy way to do after-work drinks.
Then three years ago everybody was talking about THE drink of the summer. Aperol! Have you not heard? The less medicinal and sweeter version of Campari! However, unlike other fads that have been sent to the graveyard (who remembers foam? soon to be joined by smashed avocados for brunch) I am pleased to announce that the blood orange concoction was no fleeting dalliance.
It now even has a summer London residency; the Aperol Spritz Terrazza, located on the rooftop at the Bird of Smithfield. Cosy and intimate, with a charming view of the city, it’s the perfect place for a date or refined after work drinks. Plus, it’s still obscure enough not to be plagued by those city types, #safefornow.
Like any cocktail worth its salty rim, this bar comes with a twist and is hosting a series of Aperol Spritz Socials. Collaborations with the Dalston Print School, The School of Life and Soho Radio have put on a range of enlightening and interactive workshops.
I tried out one of the “spritz suppers”; a culinary masterclass in making small plates to accompany our aperitifs. The team of Forza Win showed us how to rustle up some simple but tasty dishes; vibrant ripe yellow and orange tomatoes with red onions served on rustic bread, cannellini beans over foccacia with a dash of dill on top (basically the Italian version of beans on toast) and some tender pieces of lamb and salsa verde. Lots of sampling, lots of laughter and certainly a more entertaining and informative way of getting less drunk than usual, which is the Italian style, after all.
If you’re still in mourning over leaving the EU, head to this terrazza. It’s the closest you’ll get to La Dolce Vita this side of the pond.
How to make the perfect Aperol Spritz:
The Aperol Spritz Terrazza will be open until 31st August from Monday – Saturday until 10pm. More information can be found at AperolSpritzSocials.com
Fern (“Like the plant!”) the bartender/greeter wants to show me a magic trick. I’ve only been in the hotel for five minutes and it already seems like a notably sophisticated and grown-up environment, so a bit of child-like whimsy with the presentation of a welcome drink is unexpected. It’s just a few fruit juices that change colour as you add them in the glass, but she sells it as a childhood ritual that rural Thai children enjoy growing up and it’s an endearing touch to a usually-perfunctory moment.
I’d already been visually amused by the staff uniforms, colourfully fruity numbers across the board with pantaloons and wraps and tunics all looking like a crosspatch designed by Christian Lacroix. I find out very soon afterwards that the uniforms ARE in fact a Christian Lacroix creation, meaning he’s the one designer I can apparently pick out of a line-up. Must be all that Ad Fab watching.
SO Sofitel is a new brand, with only a handful of properties worldwide, and there’s a lot going on, conceptually. Indeed you could say SO many themes and layers that it takes a while for them to sink in.
The rooms are divided into three elements – Water, Earth and Metal – with Fire comprising the main restaurant. Four famous Thai designers were let loose on each, resulting in very distinct aesthetics, though the rooms in each element conform to the same basic designs.
My Water Room on the 22nd floor poked me in the nose with lemongrass as I entered, which wasn’t altogether an unpleasant experience (depending on how you feel about lemongrass, I guess). High-end Asian hotels love their glass bathroom walls, and this room is no exception. The reflective surfaces are arranged in such a way that it looks like there are six of you as you enter, which can be discombobulating the first few times.
A paperless ethos means that everything from hotel information to room service is accessed through the TV, though it doesn’t go as far as letting you order food this way – you still have to call your order in, though it’s reassuring to have it verbally confirmed. If hell exists, I imagine it’s probably waiting for a room service club sandwich that never actually arrives.
I casually loitered around the other elemental sections and they each had their own feel, from capacious atriums to wooden sculptures. Overall, the public spaces come across as evolved and urbane, and there’s a solemnity about the colours and shapes. It’s not overpowering, though, because the colourful staff in their flamboyant outfits are there as light relief – it’s a weird balancing act but somehow it works.
Bangkok does do rooftop bars exceptionally well, the bar here is no exception. There’s something about the undulations of the city – enough low rise to afford expansive views, but enough high rise to make it interesting. The bar at SO has the standard-issue glass walls around a terrace that is forever serenaded by the strains of ambient house. My New Orleans sensibilities recoiled at their French 75 cocktail being served in what was essentially a large test tube, but the scenery was suitably distracting.
Breakfast in the Red Oven restaurant is a suitably grand affair, if only because of the park view that lords over the proceedings. Buffets, even at high-end hotels, can often be clamorous affairs but something about the dynamics in this room result in a tranquil start to the morning. Perhaps the adults-only design means that less families book into the place, or maybe they screen the children and only accept the best behaved.
SO Sofitel balances its elements confidently – the unabashed masculinity of the colours and overall design is mocked by the cheekiness of the uniformed staff but like any good double act, it’s a pleasing mix. Levels of service stood out even for Thailand, with levels of friendliness as unexpected and satisfying as a barroom magic trick.