London Update 2017

A quick trip to London for a symposium on Atlantic Salmon Conservation (held by the Atlantic Salmon Trust at Syon Park, the London residence of the Du­­­ke of Northumberland, with the King of Norway and Prince Charles in attendance) along with a gala dinner to celebrate AST’s 50th year that evening gave me the impetus to update readers on a few items of interest:

  • United Airlines – they had the only day flight option from Pittsburgh to London and in spite of my nerves over a 1-hour connection at Newark, all went according to schedule and my checked bags arrived without a hitch. I was, however, underwhelmed by the new highly-advertised United “Polaris” business class product. Room temperature champagne and a ho-hum menu and the “Saks” bedding was overrated.
  • If you are a frequent traveler to the UK, I highly recommend applying for the “trusted traveler” card. It saved my bacon on more than one occasion on this trip alone – allowing me, with my USA passport, to use the EU/UK passport channel clearing passport control. The lines for foreign passports are often vast and this was a huge time saver.
  • The Hilton Syon Park was chosen for its proximity to the venue I was attending but proved to be a pleasant surprise. I tried not to overthink why I was assigned room “69” but it was a spacious junior suite with nice view onto an iris-filled garden. The hotel has a Marco Pierre White Restaurant and good value at UKL 290/night… would be a good alternative to a Heathrow Airport hotel option.
  • Cecconi’s was awesome as always – my favorite lunch option in London – great service, glamour, and fabulous food – fried calamari (where the squid actually tastes good), cornish crab, beef carpaccio, and my favorite, the homemade pasta with black truffle shavings.
  • I was disappointed to learn that the haberdashery, actually a shirt maker, Hilditch & Key, no longer makes ladies’ clothes – their beautiful piping-trimmed blouses were among my favorites.
  • The Princess Diana Fashion Retrospective at Kensington Palace is sold out for weeks and months to come – but “Big John,” head concierge at The Goring Hotel has some magic tricks up his sleeve and has an “any time pass” for Kensington Palace so you can go at your whim. I frankly ran out of time on this trip – but am dying to see this show!
  • I had the “painful pleasure” of being inconvenienced by the British Airways IT failure on May 27; I checked in for my 10:50 a.m. flight to Chicago at 8:30 a.m. with a little bit of delay – they were using a “backup system” with which no one seemed entirely familiar, but I checked my bag, got my boarding pass and proceeded through BA’s direct security access from check-in to the lounge for premium passengers (this is a new and welcome enhancement since my last transit through Terminal 5 in March). But the day went south from there. Lounges started to fill up to cattle car capacities, and eventually BA cancelled all flights until 6 PM (a fact that we learned from watching BBC News on TV a full hour before they announced anything to passengers). I tipped off two Frontiers clients who I knew were traveling on BA – one of them was told to leave the building upon trying to check in – and got them re-booked. I opted to try for a 7:55 p.m. flight to Boston – a folly – which was ultimately cancelled also, and watched outside at the jigsaw puzzle of planes stuck at gates that could not depart and new planes landing that could not access gates (with loads of passengers trapped on board)! But they were not the only ones trapped…those of us in terminal 5 were also trapped with 4+ hour lines just to exit the terminal. There was only one gate, A12, allowing access to get out and of course you had to clear passport control back into the UK (my trusty blue card was very handy later in the evening!) Eventually, all flights were cancelled and I thought I’d wait it out a bit in the lounge allowing the crowds to subside (which never happened) and so, when the lounge cut off all service to alcohol and announced they were closing in 1 hour, I joined the fray! By noon, all of the airport hotels were fully booked and some charging over UKL 1000 for a room; I made an SOS call to The Goring Hotel and magically the room I’d occupied the night before #98, was available and I thanked my lucky stars…talk about “phoning a friend…” the taxi line at T5 was even more scary than the line to get out of the terminal and so I waited 90 minutes while the Goring sent a car service…it was heaven to arrive back at my “home away from home” and they produced Rosé wine, the most delicious spaghetti Bolognaise, Asprey eye gel and a toothbrush! Bravo!
  • In the midst of my despair, not knowing how long the BA outage would take, I bought a new ticket on American, choosing a route through my beloved Raleigh-Durham. It was my first time experiencing AA’s new business class seat product and have to admit, I am impressed! It is a Boeing 777 aircraft and business class is 1-2-1; I did not realize that some rows face backwards! I was in 5-A which is a rear-facing window seat and aside from the fact that it looks onto the kitchen, I love this seat much more than United’s. There is a good amount of space for personal belongings. The bathroom is twice the size of normal airplane bathrooms. Interesting menu – I took the flight attendant’s suggestion of the boneless pork chop and it was very good – something I would never have selected!

Restaurant Review: Sexy Fish

I tried out the much-touted and often-requested “Sexy Fish,” part swanky art filled Asian restaurant and part glamorous destination bar. (I’d heard of destination spas before, but this was my first destination bar!) This Berkeley Square urban eatery is hotter than a hot tamale, boasting a brasserie-style atmosphere, happily juxtaposed with several quirky contemporary twists like raspberry leather upholstery, a ceiling of coral, tanks of tropical fish and installation art by the likes of Damien Hirst (think pair of bronze mermaids) and Frank Gehry (think 13 ft. crocodile and huge dramatically lit paper fish “swimming” over the bar).

Its cutting edge sea-themed décor was reflected on the menu emphasizing seafood – sushi, shashimi, raw bar and robota-grilled fish –but not its entirety. We perused the drinks menu, which is a glossy Vogue-style magazine called “Fish Tales,” promising “glam drams, liquid assets, haute couture cocktails and style-laced mixology” and ordered a champagne cocktail and a bottle of Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (something was lost in translation though, and only a single glass of wine arrived, probably on account of the thumping disco beat that made conversation almost impossible, and later a second glass ordered but never appeared – however, it did appear on the bill!)                   

For dinner, my partner and I opted to split a few appetizers: shrimp tempura sushi roll, maple glazed pork belly (everything’s better with bacon!), lobster, wok-fried spicy glass noodles and wagu beef gyoza with foie gras, all of which were truly delicious. It was served by an upbeat wait staff clad in fanciful red & purple floral Liberty-print suits – I think you have to be 5’10” and weigh 115lbs to pull off that look!

So the acid test of any restaurant is “would I go back?” Probably not for dinner, as the loud ‘rave’ music put me off…but I think I’d give it another go for lunch as the quality of the food was genuinely worth the price of admission. This is a place to “see & be seen” but the restaurant is not resting on its laurels and constantly innovating. For excurated collection of 242 bottles from which to choose—(who knew that Japan even produced by whiskey?) “size zero alcohol-free mocktails,”and experimenting with “micro-encapsulation technology” which infuses precious ingredients into fine alcohol (their current project is caviar-infused vodka!) If I were 20 years younger, this might be my cool London hangout!

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  • Thanks for the update. My daughter and I are booked to London Business AA to and fro and we are also staying at The Goring so it was good to hear great review. Lynda McDonough has been helping us and she is great. I have my fingers cross we dont run into traffic jam in airport. I dont have one of those cards!

  • Hey Molly – your blogs are so helpful, particularly the trusted traveler tip as obviously Global Entry and “known” only helps in the West ward direction…. FYI, at the last minute I employed Norwegian Air as a last minute escape back to NYC earlier this summer from Italy via London and I must say the price was right , service impeccable , the aircraft is brand-new ( evidently the airline was founded by a former /current pilot) and their business economy ( no first) was more than adequate but definitely a no frills dinner. Hope you are having a delightful time in the Himalayas ( imagine water too high for any angling?) and I will be back to you very shortly on the Christmas plan – which looks just right !
    Many thanks as always,
    your friend ,
    David