Hotel Update: London’s One Aldwych
Photos courtesy of One Aldwych
If there’s anything better than discovering that a favorite hotel hasn’t lost any of its magic, it’s finding that it has added some new tricks.
Two years after my previous visit to One Aldwych, I recently checked in again. Now 12 years old, the London hotel still looks sleek and contemporary. The soaring lobby is still dominated on one side by the “Boatman With Oars, an unusual bronze figure of a man hunched in a tiny rowboat holding two long oars that reach toward the ceiling, and on the other by a pair of six-foot high see-through plexiglass plinths, now supporting towering displays of sunny forsythia and golden daffodils (it was early spring). Art and style are a hallmark of this Theatreland icon in Covent Garden.
The bedrooms were fresh and uncluttered as always: rich Thai silk curtains, sleek black headboards, fine mesh-covered doors, and those artful small square plates displaying, perhaps, a layer of cherries or a pair of peaches. Its classic amenities and high-tech wizardry are all detailed in a previous post (see “What Makes a Hotel Great?”).
"If there’s anything better than discovering that a favorite hotel hasn’t lost any of its magic, it’s finding that it has added some new tricks. "
Since my last visit, the savvy folks at CampbellGray Hotels have tapped into a growing public appetite for all things foodie, and launched The Tasting Club, everyone welcome. At the moment, The Tasting Club sponsors four activities:
Wine Tasting Dinners, held several times a year. The venue is the hotel’s Axis Restaurant & Bar, a sleek space at the foot of an elegant spiral staircase, with tall columns and a full-height mural called “Secret City,” an aerial view of an imaginary city, and the Axis Gallery, an intimate area with a dramatic wine wall that overlooks the Restaurant. Wine tasting dinners have a narrow focus, as in this year’s Japanese Koshu wine tasting in spring; game and autumn wines in early fall; and a champagne dinner in late fall. Year round, Axis serves Modern British dishes; roast leg of lamb, whole roasted lemon sole, walnut risotto, caramelized apple tart, and orange blossom brulee are a la carte menu highlights.
Ten After Ten is the hotel’s sweet goodnight. Any night after 10 pm stop by Indigo, the more casual restaurant, for a carbo fix from the dessert menu—creme brulee, plum clafouti, raspberry and lemon curd cheesecake, hot chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream make frequent appearances—washed down with a glass of dessert wine, all for £10. Indigo is perched on the mezzanine overlooking the Lobby Bar, providing people-watching potential during the evening buzz. It’s open daily for lunch and dinner; a modern European menu offers such dishes as braised short ribs and tiger prawn linguine.
Moet Movies on the Menu puts Friday and Saturday night flicks on the calendar most weekends (except summer). Evenings start at 7 pm with champagne and a three-course menu at Axis that might be grilled flank steak, Scottish salmon fish cakes, or risotto; white chocolate mousse or plum clafouti. At 9 pm, move to the hotel’s luxe 30-person screening room: full 35mm projection, racked Italian blue leather chairs with lumbar supports and small pull-out armrest trays for the Moet & Chandon Imperial and popcorn. Current headliners include such Oscar nominees as Up in the Air, Julie & Julia, The Hurt Locker, and Sherlock Holmes; for Oscar weekend it was The Reader in honor of Kate Winslet, a house fave and Oscar winner. On occasional Sundays, it’s brunch at Indigo and a classic afternoon film.
The Cookery School is The Tasting Club’s most ambitious enterprise. About six Saturday mornings a year, primarily fall and winter, it presents a primer on the art of entertaining cum cooking class for up to ten people. Participants learn how to plan a three-course dinner party, make sophisticated canapes, watch cooking demonstrations, and pick up a few professional techniques along the way from Tony Fleming, the hotel’s Executive Chef, whose idea this was. The main point is not to learn how to cook per se, but to make participants feel easy about entertaining, preparing, and getting things ready for their guests.
Here is how these Saturday sessions flow:
8 am—A very Brit breakfast of bacon sandwiches and coffee over savvy ideas for entertaining and planning an interesting dinner party menu. For instance, canapes might include a dollop of apple puree on a black pudding round, topped with a scallop; the main entree is often from the sea, say sea bass with fennel and lemon risotto, or roast lobster with bearnaise and chips; dessert might be hot chocolate fondant with caramelized banana or elderflower jelly with strawberry sorbet.
9 am—To London’s famous Borough Market to meet the hotel kitchen’s suppliers: Shell Seekers for seafood; Furness for fish; Lake District Farmers for meat; Isle of Wight Tomato Co for heritage, heirloom tomatoes. You’ll learn how to buy fish, and later fillet it; how to pick crabs and lobster, and later cook them; how to choose oysters, and later shuck them; how to assess marbled beef, and later cook it. If you see something interesting in the market, perhaps special artichokes or oysters or a seasonal mushroom, Tony brings it back to the hotel and shows how to use it.
11 am—Cooking demonstrations in the Axis kitchen where you’ll see how a professional kitchen works. This is where you’ll pick up a few tips: how to make hand-cut chips (i.e., french fries), make useful sauces, such as bearnaise and hollandaise, open oysters and scallops, prepare artichokes, and learn some simple food presentations, such as using a small pick or toothpick to spear a breaded and deep fried oyster and lay it across a champagne flute, or a bite of sausage across a glass of cider, or chunks of fruit across a summer drink. You’ll get a folder of recipes for all Cookery School dishes.
1 pm—The finale is brunch at Indigo from the regular menu (not the demonstration dishes), when you can invite friends to join you.
For all dates and rates of The Tasting Club activities, log on to www.onealdwych.co.uk; also sign up for coming events alerts.