A Belgian Break In Brussels

A couple of months ago, on a whim, Mark and I booked a weekend break in Brussels. Chosen for it’s proximity near to the top of the SecretEscapes search list more than overriding desire to go there (although the waffles were a big factor) we booked it, and EuroStar tickets, and set off last weekend.

Firstly, can I say how much I enjoy European train travel. The Eurostar took 2 hours 7 minutes from St Pancras, with a stop at Lille on route. I found the whole experience much more civilised than hauling out to Gatwick or Stansted for a sardine-packed flight. Starting at St Pancras negates the need for a transfer, and the money saved can be spent on breakfast at the Booking Office Bar (we didn’t have time on this occasion) and then in the very good choice of shops in the St Pancras shopping arcade. Beats the undercooked omelette and pack of Pringles we would have ‘enjoyed’ at Stansted.

We left London at 9am, already a warm day, and arrived in Brussels at lunch time, greeted by blue skies and sunshine. Hurrah! We stayed at the classic Stanhope Hotel – traditional decor and impeccable staff. It apparently has a 5 star rating, which I would have quibbled on the grounds of the slightly tired bathroom if the rest of the visit hadn’t been very pleasant indeed. A lovely breakfast included, and very helpful staff.

We were located in the European Parliament quarter, which we found on a Thursday night turns any bar in its vicinity into Canary Wharf on a sunny day – suits everywhere, crammed into every millimetre that still commanded the sun at 7pm. On our first night there we wandered locally and stumbled across a French restaurant with a group of people sitting outside – on that basis we went in, and enjoyed a very nice meal.

We hadn’t really researched the city before we arrived, aside from looking up a couple of recommended waffle cafes. At the station we bought 3 days travel cards, which entitles you to use the full metro, tram and bus service in the city – European city transport at its best. Honestly, every time I come home from such trips the extortionate price, unrelability and plain old stuck-in-its-ways state of the Underground makes me a little more mad. The Brussels trams were our main lifeline, transporting us between the more obvious ‘tourist’ clusters of the city and the main centre. 14 Euros for three days too, are you listening Boris?

I was pleasantly surprised by Brussels. I thought it would be pretty to look at and it was, but some of it was breathtaking, and some just plain interesting. As a budding photographer, Mark enjoyed the architecture, the views from the various high points and the projects as part of the city’s World Fair contributions in the 1950s – the more famous Atomium and the beautiful Oriental museum, with its Japanese and Chinese monuments and objets d’art.

One of the funniest things was the lack of people. In a city. We kept thinking we’d stumble across them but often didn’t! On the Saturday we finally ended up at the retail centre of the city at Place de Louise, and this was busy, but certainly no Oxford Street. That evening we ate in an amazing restaurant in the same area, which was deserted by the time we finished. Although it made for excellent service, we asked our waiter where everyone was. He shrugged and said as it was never sunny in Belgium, everyone had probably fled the city for impromptu weekend breaks.

Speaking of ‘escaping’ the city, although we didn’t get out to Bruges, we did take a tram south to the edge of the city and to the Bois de la Cambre. It’s the start of a dense forest which apparently goes on for miles, but at the start was styled more as a wooded park, with openings for sunbathing, and a very cute lake with the Chalet Robinson restaurant in the middle. A friendly ‘captain’ will ferry you across in a small boat for one Euro. Even here, on a sunny warm day, it was super quiet. In hindsight it would have been a lovely area to hire bikes – Brussels has a ‘Boris Bike’ similar scheme which is cheap and easy to navigate.

The Grand Place is the main tourist hotspot. In our enthusiastic explorations on the first day we came across it accidentally, following the cobbled streets until we found first the museum quarter (art lovers will enjoy the frequent exhibitions at the Margritte and BOZAR museums) and then the Grand Place. (“What’s that big spire?” “I don’t know – let’s follow it!”) This was busy – the obvious tourist-magnet being the amazing gothic buildings, including the impressive town hall, and the centre square where there is often entertainment. Surrounding the Grand Place are picturesque back streets, with everything from chocolate shops (so many!) to Leffe cafes, jewellery shops, souvenir rubbish shops, and plenty of restaurants professing to be the best ‘moules frites’ in the city. We declined to test the statement on the basis of many having pictures of food on the menus. Somehow makes me instantly suspicious…

We may have missed out on moules frites but overall the food was amazing. On the last day we made it to the recommended waffles cafe: the Liege waffles with icecream and hot fudge sauce were to die for. From the fantastic ‘Enjoy’ restaurant on Saturday night, to the pitta cafe (such a great idea, pittas stuffed with pretty much anything you like) there was a range of food and drink on offer for all tastes.

On our last day we also hunted down the Jeu De Balle flea market. And we found some Brussels locals! Clearly out for a bargain, it had attracted a huge crowd even in the baking midday heat. Testing my very average French, I started a haggling conversation with a unwitting stall holder for a crystal whisky decanter-cum-perfume bottle (I have the beginnings of a fledgling collection) which quickly descended into shaking head and nodding head, but in the end I was triumphant. From old cameras to vintage books, via pocket watches and fuse boxes, you really could have found anything. But don’t forget to haggle!

Thanks for having us Brussels, it was a fantastic antidote to London’s packed streets.

Stanhope Hotel






The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (mini) Review

To say I wasn’t expecting this to be great (or incredible) would be an understatement. The movie certainly isn’t incredible and I’m not sure I could call it great either, but if you forgive the formulaic story, it does have some moments that will make you laugh.

The story follows Burt, played by Steve Carrell and Anton, played by Steve Buscemi, as they start as geeky young school children who discover magic and then go on to become the greatest things in Vegas, playing at the top hotel for many years.

The trouble is, as magic changes, as times change, the pairing lose touch with what’s cool and relevant and start to get overshadowed by Steve Gray, played by Jim Carrey, who’s the Dynamo or David Blaine equivalent. He does street magic and cuts himself and does everything Burt and Anton don’t.

As I said, the story is formulaic and generally it isn’t anything you haven’t seen before but, for a little over 90 minutes of your life there’s a lot worse you could watch, although obviously there’s a lot better.

I guess you could say that Carrell isn’t used to his best, Buscemi stays in the background a bit too much and James Gandolfini is funny as the hotel owner but could have been given more.

But if you’re stuck for something to watch, it’s a Sunday afternoon, stick it on, cringe, laugh then turn it off and forget all about it.

Stand Up Guys Review

It’s not often that I go into a movie knowing little to nothing about it and it’s even rarer that I watch a movie purely because of the actors involved.

With Stand Up Guys however I made an exception. I’m a big fan of Christopher Walken and when the people alongside him are Al Pacino, Alan Arkin and Julianna Margulies to name a few, I knew this was a film I wanted to watch.

Now I knew the premise of the movie, aging guys get together for one last job, and to be honest that didn’t fill me with hope, expectations were low shall we say.

However I’m more than happy to say that what I got was something far better than I could have expected. Newcomer writer Noah Haidle has created something that is moving, darkly funny and very indie in style without having the indie budget.

Directorial duties fall to Fisher Stevens who most of you will probably know as George Minkowski from the TV series Lost. He does a good job, perhaps doesn’t quite give the car chase scene enough umpf but overall it’s a solid job.

Going into the movie expecting something akin to Oceans 11 or expecting the action of something like Taken is going to leave you disappointed. The movie has much more drama to it then that, much more emotion.

The performances of Walken and Pacino as the elder statesmen are great. Pacino in particular puts in a Stand Up performance that ranges from dramatic to comedic and back again with Walken giving his usual subtle performance that seems effortless.

The story follows Pacino on the day he gets out of jail after being inside for 28 years. Walken picks him up but is being forced to kill Pacino by 10am or he loses his own life and that of his granddaughter. Walken doesn’t want to kill Pacino and so starts nine hours of sex, drugs, dancing, car theft, revenge, springing someone from an OAP home and much more.

You get to know a lot about the characters that Walken and Pacino play, some of the other characters come and go but try to tell their story a little too quickly in my opinion.

However I think the biggest problem is with the ending. Sometimes you can do things in movies that seem to take the audience somewhere and then not show them, see  Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction for an example. Sometimes though that can feel like a cop-out, I haven’t quite made my mind up about the ending of Stand Up Guys, but I’m leaning towards the latter.

Sam’s Kitchen

The city of Bath is home to the Roman Baths, beautiful Georgian terraces and ‘original’ Victoria tea rooms with the primary purpose of ripping off tourists. What it’s not renowned for is gastronomy. There are a fair few chain restaurants (Bills being the latest to land in town – good for breakfast though) and a couple of small independent gems that I will reluctantly share with you (Same Same But Different, good for coffee in the day and tapas in the evening) but not the roll-call of vibrant eateries you’d perhaps expect in a city as, well, smug, as Bath.

The most recent Bath restaurant I’ve been to was however, a great evening out. Amazing food, fab location and based on a fun idea. Sam’s Kitchen is known to well-placed locals as the fantastic deli on Walcot Street, good for daily joints of meat, fresh salads and an ever-changing menu. From May – August the small deli super-sized itself, as a pop-up restaurant in The Octagon – a one-time chapel with great acoustics and an expanse of floor space. The pop-up kept to the true idea of term – it did look as if they had literally found a few mismatched tables and chairs and arranged them in the space, punctuated with a piano and band area on one side, a makeshift bar and waiting area, and the open kitchen.

The staff were all lovely, typical of the Sam’s Kitchen deli crowd – a bit of banter, chatty, friendly, ready to top up my Prosecco at a moment’s notice (big tick). We were told that the menu sometimes changed twice a day, depending on the fresh ingredients in the kitchen, and you could believe it. Musical Dad enjoyed veal brisket, Fashionable Mother had plaice, and Little Sis and I had a simple pasta dish with in-season asparagus topped with gorgeous ricotta and pine nuts.

Live music was a nice touch in such a large space, especially one that could be a bit echo-y and reminiscent of a school canteen in between songs. The singer on our visiting night was also the pianist – lovely voice.

Our waitress told us they were hoping the pop-up could stay in the Octogon for a few more months, and I hope they get the permission – Bath food needs a bit of buzz, and Sam’s Kitchen delivered exactly the right tonic.

Sam’s Kitchen

Sam's Kitchen

Spielberg And Lucas Predicting The Film Industry Will ‘Implode’

Interesting comments recently from Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, both of whom predict that the film industry will ‘implode’.

It’s a surprise to hear this from either of these two given how both have made their names from the big screen. It’s a little less surprising from Lucas however who seems to get a bit bitter in the talk.

Lucas, lets not forget, is the man who brought us Jar Jar Binks, possibly one of the worst characters of the big screen in recent times, as well as Red Tails, possibly one of the worst movies of recent times.

Lucas said: “We’re talking Lincoln and Red Tails – we barely got them into theatres, you’re talking about Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can’t get their movie into a theatre!”

So is he saying a movie should get in theatres just because of who’s behind it? Frankly I’d have preferred it if Red Tails had never made it to the cinema given it was an absolute pile of dross. The movie scored just 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, so it wasn’t just me. It was also described as: “jingoistic, corny, über-patriotic and old-fashioned”, not by some film critic but by George Lucas himself! So his comments are all the more strange.

The basics of what the two were saying was that, in their future, you won’t have anywhere near as many movies in the theatres as you do now. Instead you’ll pay $150 a ticket and the movies will stay on for months and months. In other words they are predicting that cinema will turn into stage.

This echoes the recent decision by Steven Soderbergh who said he doesn’t expect to work in cinema again citing how badly directors are treated.

“It’s become absolutely horrible the way the people with the money decide they can fart in the kitchen, to put it bluntly” said Soderbergh. “It’s not just studios – it’s who is financing a film. I guess I don’t understand the assumption that the director is presumptively wrong about what the audience wants or needs when they are the first audience, in a way. And probably got into making movies because of being in that audience.”

Speilberg apparently struggled to get Lincoln in the theatres saying it came very close to being premiered on HBO rather than in cinemas. This was what happened with Soderbergh’s current release Behind the Candelabra in the US, although that could have been because it was ‘too gay’ according to some reports.

However, let’s put this in some kind of perspective shall we. So called ‘big name’ directors have always had to work for studios usually doing one movie for the studio, some bums on seats actioner for example, and then one for themselves. Spielberg paid his dues early on and has recently been able to make movies that are close to his heart such as; Saving Private Ryan, Schindlers List, War Horse, Munich etc, etc. Is it surprising that he struggled to get Lincoln in the theatres? Yes and no. Yes because it’s a good film, superbly acted and no because it’s about Abraham Lincoln and won’t play well outside of the US.

As for Soderbergh’s Behind The Candelabra, Liberace did do a European tour and a few movies but mainly made his name in the US and performed in Vegas for large parts of his career.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a shame that this is happening. I think it’s awful that the studios have quite so much power over what gets made and what doesn’t, that all they’re interested in is profit. But, then again, they are a business. They are there to make money. If Spielberg really did want to distribute any film he made I’m sure he could put his hand in his pocket and use some of the reported $3 billion he’s worth to create his own studio, oh wait he did, Dreamworks, and then sold it again.

And so here’s the rub: both Spielberg and Lucas have had their own studios and then sold them again and both are reportedly worth billions of dollars. So rather than complaining about the studios who made them rich and gave them the opportunity to make the movies that made their names, perhaps they should create their own studio again?

I can’t be surprised that, given the current economic market, given that piracy is so rife, that studios and the people who put their hands in their pockets to finance films are being so careful and worried with their money.

In my day job I’m a project manager and it would be lovely if clients just gave me their hard-earned cash and let me get on with building them what they want. But you know what? They don’t. It’s their money, I’m working for them and they want to ensure that I do my job and they get their moneys worth. If I gave someone five million dollars to make a movie, I’d want to ensure the same thing.

The Place Beyond The Pines Review

This is one of those films that you’re expected to like. No matter how you feel about the film, you’re just expected to like it. It has the appearance of an Indie yet it’s really not Indie ($15 million dollar budget). There’s not much dialogue (or lots), long open shots and tight close ups, this all means you’re expected to like it.

I don’t mind wide, lingering shots. I don’t mind tight close ups as well. And good dialogue is good dialogue. What I couldn’t do with this film, what I couldn’t do, is exactly what the film wants you to do to enjoy it; I couldn’t invest in the three strands of storyline that come sequentially to you.

Movies, and therefore scripts, generally work by utilising three sections – known as the three act structure. The first sets up who your main protagonist is, what they do and don’t like. The second act puts that person in a situation they don’t like, it drags them down to the point you think they can’t come back. Then we hit the third act (generally the last half-hour in action movies – keep an eye out for it) in which our protagonist turns things around and comes good.

Variations obviously exist (and should be encouraged) but by and large that’s a movie format. The Place Beyond The Pines takes that, almost, to an extreme. It’s not that we have three acts so much as three films, of varying lengths, sequentially. This would be fine, other films have done this. Take Full Metal Jacket where you could see that the first half – the training – could easily be a movie in its own right with the second half – the war – the sequel (this is probably what Hollywood would do with the film these days!).

One of the beauties of Stanley Kubrick’s writing was that the two halves of the film had the same actors in it (bar a couple). We were following someone’s story, we had our protagonists and we saw how they went from training for a war, to being in a war.

In ‘The Pines we don’t get that. For the first 30 or 40 minutes I thought I knew exactly where the film was going, I thought I had it reasonably sussed. There we were following Ryan Goslings character and then, out of nowhere, it flipped on me.

Suddenly I have to reinvest in a completely new character, one who’s been in the movie for just a couple of minutes. Bradley Cooper enters the scene and now we have to get to know him, and part two of the film begins and, whilst the film has been slow running, interjected with some fast pace moments, that’s ok, I can do that.

Now, for the next hour or so, we’re watching quite a different film. Cooper’s character is very different to Gosling’s, the story is moving at a different pace and going in a different direction but this is still ok, just. I say just because within this hour or so we get essentially a mini movie again (so that’s three mini movies within a movie with a mini movie within one of those mini movies…keeping up?).

We then get the caption ’15 years later’ and, guess what, suddenly where seeing part three, act three, movie three, whatever. More new characters, two this time, first we follow Cooper’s son and then it flips that we’re not following him at all but Gosling’s son, then no-one.

If this sounds confusing, I know it does writing it, then I apologise. To give writer and director Derek Cianfrance some credit it’s actually quite easy to follow, very easy in fact, sort of join the dots easy. Having said all that I can easily see why people liked the film, particularly the critics, they love those long lingering shots and moody characters.

The first act of the film is brilliantly done, as a motorcyclist I thought Cianfrance does well to capture the thrill of riding. It’s a shame then that in the final two acts the film drags and doesn’t have the same sort of punch and the interrelationships that are really required to pull this ambitious film off.

Eddie (The Sleepwalking Cannibal) Review (& A Bonus Identity Thief Review Too)

In TV we’re getting used to the traditional ‘bad guy’ actually being more the good guy and, not only that, but we’re actually rooting for them now. Programmes like Dexter lead the way with this and others have tried to follow suit.

Movies however have been slightly slow on the uptake on this material. Now, with Eddie (the sleepwalking cannibal), it feels like they’ve arrived.

Eddie is all about Lars, played by Thure Lindhardt, a painter in his native Denmark he comes to Canada to teach at a school and hopefully find inspiration. It’s the inspiration part were Eddie comes into things.

Eddie, played by Dylan Scott Smith, is a mute who, when he’s stressed or upset, sleepwalks and eats things – in case you didn’t get that from the title.

This is a dark horror comedy, the kind of thing you’d expect Britain to make rather than a joint Canadian/Danish venture. The tone for the movie is set straight from the get-go with the killing of a wild animal in the opening scene.

The film is well shot, it uses sound and music very well, there’s a radio station DJ talking and playing music who book-ends the film which works very well.

You perhaps don’t laugh as much as you could and the gore is a little nineties but for 90 minutes you could do a lot worse, such as Identity Thief, which I started to watch, realised I’d made my dinner, eaten it and not laughed once so I switched it off again.

Eddie misses the mark a couple of times and perhaps should have been a little more ‘punchy’, it could have had…ok I’m going to say it; it could have had a little more teeth!

Having said that writer, director Boris Rodriguez has produced a nice little film he can be proud of.

Get The Gringo (aka How I Spent My Summer Vacation) Review

Mel Gibson, it has to be said, has lost his way a little recently. I’m not just talking about his personal life, in which he has very much lost his way, but in his movies too in my opinion.

Personally I think Mel is at his best when he’s playing the low-down, dirty, underdog out for revenge or with one thing on his mind. He played that role brilliantly in 1999’s Payback and here, in Get The Gringo, he plays it again.

Get The Gringo sees career criminal Gibson, simply known as ‘The Driver’, get caught and sent to a prison in Mexico. Here he goes about learning the ways of the prison with the aid of a young boy who is ‘special’ to the baddest bad guy who’s running the prison.

Director Adrian Grunberg has been an assistant director more times than I’ve had hot dinners and on some large films too and in Mexico, so you can bet that he knows his stuff and he helps with the writing of the film along with Mel himself and Stacy Perskie.

Grunberg does an excellent job and in my humble opinion keeps things fast paced and fun even when he slows down a ‘Mexican stand-off’ style shooting in the prison, it’s still glorious to watch. He manages to pull it off without it feeling gimmicky or tacky.

For his part Gibson is in the role that I think he’s best at: the wise-man who’s been through the ringer a few times and is imparting his wisdom on those around whilst single-mindedly going after his goal and he plays it brilliantly.

Kevin Hernandez plays the kid who’s helping Gibson in prison and other than Peter Stormare and Bob Gunton the rest of the cast are relatively unknown. This certainly isn’t a bad thing if anything it helps with the air of a stranger being in a foreign prison.

If you’re looking for a fun, well written, well acted film and don’t mind seeing a few beatings and a bit of blood (from the outset…as they’d say on TV) then Get The Gringo would be an excellent choice.

BTW Hollywood – the film title ‘How I Spent My Summer Vacation’ makes a lot more sense for the final scene so why change it??

Dabbous Review – Tasting Menu Delight

Behind an imposing steel door behind Goodge Street subway station, just down from Pollocks Toy museum you’ll find Dabbous.

Dabbous is the latest ‘it’ restaurant, which in normal speak equates to a four-month wait list for a table, and is the brainchild of newly Michelin starred chef Ollie Dabbous.

On entering the famously hard-to-book restaurant you’d expect something pretentious, something opulent, something over the top. So it’s a pleasant surprise to see that it’s all dark steel, wooden floors, sparse and small, very small, there’s room for just 35 diners.

My girlfriend had somehow managed to get a booking at the restaurant on the exact day of my birthday, genius! So, after some faffing with the tube and taxis, we made our way over.

The staff were very pleasant and helpful, always smiling and always happy to explain anything on the menu, which wasn’t that difficult given the choices are an extremely reasonably priced tasting menu (£59) or a fixed menu that wasn’t that different.

We both opted for the tasting menu and a lovely bottle of New Zealand Riesling.

Our first taste of the food arrived in a small brown bag with the date printed on, alongside some very green olives and homemade butter. It was an extremely good start; the crust on the bread was amazing; crispy, tasty and the homemade butter, a slightly nutty taste, adding great things to the rest of the bread.

The first course was a pea puree, peas and an iced pea, well, ice. It was deliciously smooth and creamy with the peas popping and the iced pea melting in your mouth wonderfully. Even my girlfriend, who always says she doesn’t like peas, lapped it up.

Second course were some lovely soft quarters of red and white onion in a clear onion broth with basil oil (Mixed alliums in a chilled pine infusion as it is officially called). I’m not usually a big fan of onion but whatever had been done to these ones to make them so soft and clear was simply divine.

So far, so good. Dabbous was living up to any expectations we may have had but what was to come next simply blew our minds.

Now when you tell people the best thing you’ve ever eaten is an egg, completely cleaned out with the top cut off, filled with a smooth sort of scrambled egg with mushrooms and, seemingly, small chunks of smokey bacon, people think you’re mad. However this was simply the most amazing food I had ever tasted. I could have eaten an Ostrich egg filled with this creamy deliciousness!

The good food just kept on coming with a lovely piece of Iberico pork next on a smokey, chunky peanut sauce with baby radishes on the side (aka Barbecued Iberico pork, savoury almond praline, radishes & crushed green apple), another mark firmly hit.

Next we paused briefly to enjoy the cheese course, a small plate of four different types of cheeses from around the UK and Ireland with some crisp breads to spread them on. Not cooking as such but still delightful.

Waxing lyrical about something, as I have been doing, is all very well and good but you’re probably starting to think I’m making this up. Well I’m not, because if I was I wouldn’t have put the next course on the menu. A lovage sorbet.

Now, most people I have told about this aren’t familiar with lovage, and neither were we. Lovage is a member of the celery family from what I can gather, it certainly tastes like celery, something I’m not a fan of and don’t really know anyone who is. So an iced celery sorbet I’m afraid was the only thing that missed the mark and from the way the waiters talked, we weren’t the only ones to agree. I will say that I had a good few mouthfuls before I stopped. I was almost convinced, almost.

Finally we got to desert. A small pastry case filled with a lovely pear and cream filling that oozed when you broke into it. A tad sweet but still ended up being devoured in seconds.

Usually with a restaurant that is booked out months in advance, when the only menus are fixed, there’s a certain amount of worry, a certain amount of ‘can it be true’? I’m happy to say that Dabbous is without doubt the best place to I’ve ever eaten, from restaurants in Dubai and Milan to Locatelli’s in London, Dabbous deserves the plaudits it’s receiving, and then some.

The Art of Relaxation

Underneath one of the busiest transport hubs in London doesn’t seem like the most obvious place to seek relaxation. But the spa at the beautiful St Pancras Hotel is an oasis surrounded by metropolitan madness. On a recommendation, Fashionable Mother and I headed there on a rainy Friday morning, welcomed into the heart of the hotel under the fashionable Gilbert Scott restaurant.

The spa is small, a niche gem rather than an all-singing all-dancing retreat, which is sensibly to expect in the middle of a city – they don’t have access to the sprawling estates of say, Grayshott, or Lucknam Park. But what St Pancras has is presented impeccably; a small hydro-therapy pool in a warm tiled basement room, with an adjoining steam room and lovely loungers. It honestly felt a world away from the trains passing just a thick wall away, and with no phone signal to be had, I felt protected by the spa’s secluded, luxury embrace.

My chosen treatment was an hour’s massage, with my very knowledgable therapist asking plenty of questions in advance to ascertain my lifestyle, stress levels and even sleep patterns. While I tend to think I carry stress in my shoulders, she immediately honed in on my pelvis and lower-back, and relaxed me so much I was near to a blissful trance, if not total spa coma.

A pleasing bonus point of the St Pancras spa was the relaxation room – the place you tend to be taken following a treatment. Too many I’ve been hustled into have been too cold, too cramped, devoid of atmosphere or just lacking from the establishment entirely. Although very small (I can’t imagine the spa ever being super busy, with the hotel’s clientele seemingly business and weekend flying visit-oriented) it was perfectly formed – loungers with throws if you feel the chill, candles, light music, plenty of magazines, fresh tea, iced water and even nuts and fruit if your treatment has left you peckish. I could have stayed there all day, but was reluctantly ejected on the promise of afternoon tea.

Afternoon tea! Exciting! Who doesn’t want afternoon tea following a relaxing morning’s spa? Luckily (it was still raining) we needed only to pop upstairs to the hotel’s Hansom Lounge for the St Pancras Afternoon Tea. The ambience was slightly dented by a mass check-out of a business contingent, piling suitcases through the lounge and saying plentiful goodbyes. Luckily the food soon arrived to distract us. Frequent takers of afternoon tea will know the pleasing ritual that is a three-tier stand of cakes and sandwiches, loose-leaf tea and an old-fashionable strainer. Our waitress was lovely and very attentive, offering more sandwiches (fresh walnut bread with honey-roast ham, yes please) and topping up tea as FM and I valiantly ploughed through the mini patisseries. Victoria Sponge, Mille Feuille and chocolate mousse pots (oh my) got the better of us, but really only because we made the rookie mistake of binging on warm scones and clotted cream, the central staple of a good tea.

When we left the hotel the rain was still coming down hard, in fact, the only thing I’d add to the experience is a hotel-based blow dry bar, but hey, my hair may have been past saving but my muscles, mind and stomach were satiated indeed.

St Pancras Hotel and Spa.

St Pancras Spa