Review: Hotel Principe di Savoia, Milan

Review: Hotel Principe di Savoia, Milan

Savour La Dolce Vita at Milan’s luxurious Hotel Principe di Savoia

Effortless elegance meets timeless tradition at the luxurious Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan. A destination hotel for the cognoscenti since the 1920’s, this stunning Neoclassical hotel (owned by Dorchester Collection) has welcomed heads of state to fashionistas to captains of industry.

This landmark hotel takes pride of place on the Piazza della Repubblica in Milan’s business district of Porta Nuova. Only a 20-minute taxi from Linate airport, Hotel Principe di Savoia is a seductive mix of Old World luxury combined with the latest high tech. Guest have included such luminaries as Charlie Chaplin and Josephine Baker, Evita Peron and Maria Callas, and more recently Madonna.

We arrive on an unseasonally warm October afternoon, this my first visit to the city. Arguably lacking the beauty of her southern sisters, what Milan lacks in aesthetics she makes up for in sheer energy and pride of place. The capital of finance and fashion, the Milanese are justifiably proud of their city, exemplified in finely cut tailoring, sharp suits and attitude. The women here look gorgeous. As does the foyer of Hotel Principe di Savoia – a cool marble and Murano glass chandelier backdrop to classical paintings, and a unique carbon sculptures from designer Alistair Gibson. The Principe Bar, undoubtedly one of the sexiest hotels bars I’ve ever seen, has also been transformed under the expert eye of New York designer Thierry Dupont who has created a decadent marble and velvet sanctuary to see and be seen. I could linger long here but have a massage appointment on the top floor at Club 10 – the sports and spa area.

My therapist Noemi is very professional and very thorough. My knots are undone and I can move my head again. I enjoy a relaxing steam, sauna, Jacuzzi and swim in the pool afterwards. From the outside terrace there are 180-degree views of Milan across Porta Nuova – Milan’s main business district, the newest area of the city. A well-equipped gym is on this floor too.

Relaxing in my room before dinner at Il Solferino, I’m enjoying the classic feel of the décor: think soft textures, fine fabric curtains, and mosaics in the well-appointed bathroom. A writing desk in an alcove between the bedroom and bathroom is a thoughtful design touch, and there is plenty of wardrobe space. And thankfully, the windows open allowing fresh air into the room. Nothing worse than being incubated in air-con. Well done Hotel Principe di Savoia! The lighting in the room is excellent.

Il Solferino is an intimate family-run restaurant and a local favourite with a superb wine list (I loved the Bertani Amarone) and a great selection of classic and modern Italian dishes. The veal Milanese was divine, as was my white truffle pasta and succulent salted crust sea bass. Somehow our group managed dessert: mill-feuille affair and tiramisu. Awesome.

Hotel Principe di Savoia has 257 rooms and 44 suites across its 10 floors, including nine new Principe Suites from London-based architect Francesca Basu. Imagine deep purple sumptuous sofas, Murano glassware on Lombardy style tables and Lasa marble baths. My favourite for decadence is the sumptuous Presidential Suite replete with its own private pool, sauna, Jacuzzi and hammam. An astonishing 5,400sq ft. of sheer luxury combining French and Italian design with gold, wood and velvet accents.

Hotel Principe di Savoia has an exciting Sensory Tour for guests, which we joined the following morning – amply fortified by the best scrambled eggs I have ever tasted. We joined our guide, author and fragrance expert Mariangela Rossi, for a visit to the renowned Atelier Fragrance Milano. This laboratory/office is the base for Luca Maffei, one of Milan’s most renowned ‘noses’. He creates fragrances for many top brands. “It can take 8 months to a year to get the perfume right,” he tells us, as we waft sample after sample, before cleansing our olfactories by a sniff of our own skin. Incredibly this man can smell 1,000 different scents. And tells us that just 1kg of Bulgarian rose oil (the best) takes 4 tonnes of rose petals.

Still on the floral theme we said bongiorno to former lawyer-turned-florist Margherita Angelucci in her artisan florist shop Foglie Fiori E Fantasia. Using seasonal flowers and herbs, the place is alive with colour and scent. And it was scent on the nose once again at olfactory boutique Perfume by Calé on Corso Magenta. There are many boutique fragrances for sale here, and you can also have your own signature scent offered to you via a short perfumery test.

Our olfactory senses thus heightened we stopped for a light lunch at nearby Om Food. A light-filled bistro serving organic food (and skin products) tucked away in a delightful courtyard. The parent company Officinali di Montaudo makes organic oils and cosmetics in Tuscany, some of which are available to buy in the restaurant.

After an energetic workout in the gym later in the day, I’ve sufficient welcome for a fabulous meal at Hotel Principe di Savoia’s own Michelin-starred restaurant, Acanto. Executive Chef Alessandro Buffolino is creating magic with his Italian-inspired cuisine. Fois gras and porcini segued into risotto and torellos. My Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato red was superb, and excellent pairing with delicious crusted lamb. We opted for single dishes but there is also the option of a 6-course tasting menu. Desserts were classic Italian – complete with a dry ice extravaganza. My fabulous sweet Maculan Torcolato 2008 from the Veneto region was an especially inspired choice from our sommelier.

We spent the following day on an excellent guided tour of La Scala, Galeria Vittorio Emanuele and the Piazza del Duomo. All must-sees on my first visit to Milan. Construction took a staggering 582 years and is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan, Mario Delpini. The Duomo is the fifth largest Christian church in the world and completely dominates the Piazza del Duomo. Inside the interiors are breathtaking. It even has a sundial. Take the lift to the rooftop for spectacular views of the Piazza and surrounding area – Italians definitely do it better.

Hotel Principe di Savoia is ideally located near the artistic district of Brera, home to bars and restaurants, and is within walking distance of the Quadrilatero d’Oro, the city’s exclusive shopping district. There is also a very welcome complimentary shuttle service to the city centre, as well as valet parking. Even small pets are allowed at Hotel Principe di Savoia.

Dining at Acanto just went up a level with the launch of its new Tavolo Cristallo private table dining experience. Surrounded by a wall of glittering Swarovski crystals, guests can enjoy bespoke menus created by Alessandro Buffolino and their own dedicated host.  I’ll book this for my next visit to Hotel Principe di Savoia, surely one of the very best hotels in Milan.

Where & How
Where: Hotel Principe di Savoia, Piazza della Repubblica 17, 20124, Milano, Italy.
How: Please phone +39.02.6230.5555, email or visit to find out more and make a booking. 

Hotel Review: Mama Shelter Hotel, Lyon

Hotel Review: Mama Shelter Hotel, Lyon

I discover the perfect stopover on my way to the French Alps, Lyon’s boutique hotel Mama Shelter in the city’s 7th arrondissement

You don’t have to be hip at stay at Mama Shelter Lyon, but it helps. The funky boutique chain is the brainchild of Club Med founders, the Trigiani family who have brought their self-styled ‘urban retreats’ to Marseille, Lyon, Bordeaux, Istanbul and Paris. Funky décor by enfant terrible Philippe Starck (think exposed concrete walls, graffiti-blackboard ceilings, carpets with cryptic messages) provide the backdrop to a superb hotel experience, aided by welcoming and efficient reception and restaurant staff who speak perfect English.

Hotel Review: Mama Shelter Hotel, Lyon

Mama Shelter Lyon is situated in the city’s 7th arrondissement to the east of the River Rhône and only a few minutes’ walk from the Metro Jean-Macé, and three stops from the station at Part-Dieu. Although slightly off the tourist trail, visitors are well placed to visit the old city (Vieux Lyon), the covered food market at Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse, Place Bellecour and the hillside Fourvière district with its stunning Basilica of Notre-Dame. The incredible science and anthropological Musée des Confluences, built where the Rhône and the Saône rivers meet, is also within easy reach and well worth a visit. Taxis are plentiful and the public transport system (metro, trams) is easy to navigate. 

Hotel Review: Mama Shelter Hotel, Lyon

My room, a generously proportioned double, had a capacious bathroom, plenty of light and mirrors and a king-size bed so comfortable (soft, high-quality linens) it was a wrench to leave it each morning. I slept soundly and deeply… fully energised to savour the excellent buffet breakfast the following morning. Fruits, a selection of cereals, breads, meats, cheeses, coffees (quality), all waiting to be savoured from the long bar with helpful staff in attendance.

Lyon has plentiful nightlife and a mouth-watering choice of restaurants, from traditional bouchons to Michelin-starred establishments. Blessed with a tradition of innovative cuisine – led by national icon Paul Bocuse – Lyon is a gourmand’s paradise. Book at table at the sublime Michelin 1-starred Les Terrasses de Lyon at the hotel Villa Florentine. Helmed by Chef David Delsart, the superb cuisine and panoramic views over Lyon from the terrace will delight any discerning palate. 

Hotel Review: Mama Shelter Hotel, Lyon

If you prefer to stay chez-vous, the in-room media centre, with its 27-inch iMac, connects you to a great selection of free movies, TV, free Wi-Fi, radio, and Skype as well as a comprehensive guide to Lyon. Dine downstairs in the open-plan restaurant and you’ll find an eclectic menu, designed by three-Michelin-starred chef Alain Senderens. Burgers are succulent treats and if you are especially ravenous you can tackle half a chicken. Non-carnivores are also well catered for (try the pumpkin soup) and the wine list is extensive, featuring Rhône classics, plus a nod to California with its Russian River Zinfandel and Mendoza Malbec. Or choose one of Mama’s divine mocktails: My ‘Naughty Mom’ provided a thirst-quenching mélange of hazlenut, pineapple, lemon and apple. 

Live bands play Thursdays to Saturdays, and most nights the giant island bar attracts a vibrant mix of tourists and Lyon’s smart young crowd, served by French-cool bartenders of both sexes. The inviting outdoors terrace is ideal for al fresco dining and DJ-and-cocktail sets in the summer months. 

Mama Shelter’s shop – in snazzy display cabinets in the foyer – offers quirky mementos and even a dedicated Mama skincare range, while business visitors will appreciate the free parking and a choice of six meeting rooms equipped with the latest presentation media.

Hotel Review: Mama Shelter Hotel, Lyon

Investment capital from hotel group Accor (it bought a 35% stake in Mama Shelter in 2014) has ensured future Mamas will appear in London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Lille, New York, Mexico City, Seoul and Zurich, with a second establishment scheduled for Paris.

The Mama love continues! 

How & Where
Where: 13 Rue Domer, 69007, Lyon, France
How: Please phone +33 (0)825 00 62 62 or visit to make a booking.

Gina Baksa travelled to and stayed in Lyon with Eurostar, courtesy of Only Lyon and SNCF. Eurostar winter season trains travel from London St Pancras International to Gare de Lyon Part-Dieu every Saturday at 7:19, arriving Lyon at 13:00 local time. Enjoy a stopover in France’s second largest city on your way to the French Alps. 

Review: Hotel Formentor, a Royal Hideaway Resort

Review: Hotel Formentor, a Royal Hideaway Resort

Gina Baksa heads to Mallorca for a stay at Hotel Formentor on the island’s idyllic north west coast

Mallorca’s reputation as a tourist package nightmare of epic proportions is unwarranted. Sure, you’ll find Dante’s Inferno at Magaluf and Arenal, but elsewhere this enchanting haven ‘twixt Ibiza and Menorca has much to attract the more discerning and sophisticated visitor.

The largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands, Mallorca is largely unspoilt and offers stunning coves, superb beaches, great biking and cycling roads – and beautiful luxury hotels. Head to the picturesque UNESCO protected north-east of Mallorca to Cap Formentor and you’ll find yourself – as I did – among scented pine forests atop limestone cliffs that drop majestically into the azure blue waters below. A yachting haven, there are plenty of hideaway inlets to explore far from the madding crowd.

The Serra de Tramuntana mountains meet the Med here on this 20km peninsula just northeast of Pollenca, the local fishing port. Its main beach, Playa Formentor, is a stunning cove on the peninsula, with a gorgeous mountain backdrop.

We’ve arrived by car from Palma – just an hour’s drive (46 miles) via a mix of zigzag mountain roads and a motorway – at the award-winning Barceló Hotel Formentor – A Royal Hideaway Resort. Winner of the Best Leading Boutique Hotel (World Travel Awards) 2016, the Formentor boasts an extraordinary elevated setting, with breath-taking Mediterranean gardens and stunning views out across the Bay of Pollença and the mountains.

Attracting celebrities and the cognoscenti since 1930, this idyllic hideaway has hosted luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin, Churchill, Princess Grace and Audrey Hepburn. Now owned by the Barcelo Resorts Group, the Formentor has retained its understated elegance and feels like a luxury holiday villa – albeit on a super grand scale. All the hotel’s 121 double and double superior rooms and suites have mountain or garden views that overlook the well-stocked terraced gardens and pergolas, leading to the two large swimming pools and then down to the pine-fringed sandy beach.

My suite on the third floor has stunning 180-degree vistas of the Bay and Illa de Formentor , the backdrop to the resplendent gardens and swimming pools. There’s no balcony here due to the hotel’s design, but the windows open (heaven!) allowing a cooling sea breeze even though the air con is sufficient. I notice generous balconies on the second floor below me.

My suite has a dressing room area with his and hers wardrobe, two TVs and a lounge with sofa bed. The suites are homely – no super bling here – and are in keeping with the vintage feel of the hotel. To be honest they could do with a little refresh, but the superb grounds and amenities – and proximity to the sea – means you will rarely be in your room.

Fridge, Nespresso, kettle, ironing board and iron – all check. And a selection of different sized pillows atop the most comfortable bed. There’s a lovely turndown service with chocolates. And some of the best towels I’ve ever used, along with White Company amenities. After a taste of the very welcome local cake thoughtfully placed in our room, we walk through the beautiful grounds (imagine lofty pine and palm trees) down to one of Formentor’s four restaurants – the smart beachside Bar Platjamar. Open air and inside dining here is just steps from the sandy, pine-fringed beach – pure bliss.

The menu is an eclectic selection of local favourites with a sophisticated twist – my Yellowfin Tuna Tartare followed by vegetable and fish paella (we shared two massive portions) was delicious and well accompanied by a Baron de Ley Rioja Rosé. Followed by a financier of red fruits with sorbet and English cream. We lingered long here… taking in the spectacular view and the relaxing atmosphere. Rarely have I felt so at home so immediately at a resort: The Formentor really is something special. Excellent attentive service and fresh local provenance make for a seductive dining experience.

We had a chance to view the hotel and coastline on a boat trip during a fabulous sail around Pollensa Bay. Wearing our Hotel Formentor straw trilbies, we looked like extras from an Agatha Christie movie. It was so exciting to be this close to the water. As the pine-clad beach retreated we could see the Formentor – white and stately atop the hillside – a commanding presence.

Damian, the boat’s charming owner and skipper gave up his desk job a few years ago to run this family business – and he loves it. Being so close to the water in this stunning landscape was so relaxing and energising.. Trailing my hand in the white foam I breathed in the sun and air deeply. What a joy! We dropped anchor in a quiet cove and Damian produced masks and fins for snorkelling. Bobbing fish ebbed and flowed in the current as we luxuriated in the feeling of being held buoyant by the deep blue seas.

He produced a bottle of his fine home-grown red wine along with some local cheese… what a superb trip. His boat is available to charter too, for €250 + VAT a day.

Before dinner at Hotel Formentor’s à la carte El Pi restaurant, I explored the grounds – such a multitude of flowers and shrubs here – the gardens are exquisite. I also discovered the spa, gym, tennis courts and even a mini-golf.  The hotel is ideal for families – as well as couples. And the main swimming pool is huge. With plenty of sunbeds and loungers poolside and on the nearby lawns, it’s easy to find a private nook to read or daydream. And such an extraordinarily peaceful vibe in the grounds, with attentive staff who appeared from nowhere to set up the parasol and put out the mattresses for the sunbeds.

El Pi Restaurant is just opposite the pool area under a shady leafy pergola. Comfortable in our wicker chairs we tucked in to a delicious lunch of squid truffles with yellow chilli pepper, followed by a superb monkfish – with an Amazonas rum tiramisu to finish. The wine list is extensive at Hotel Formentor, offering a super selection of Mallorcan and Spanish varieties – I loved the Jean Leon Pinot Noir Rosé.

Time seems to stop at Hotel Formentor… our stay was just 48 hours, but we felt we’d been at the Cap for weeks. Mallorca is renowned for its textiles and we were lucky to see production at Teixits Vicent (Majorcan artisan fabrics) who have been creating their famous cloth of tongues Ikat design since 1854. Using 70% cotton and 30% linen ensures a strong fabric with an identical pattern and the front and back. The production process is still partly carried out by hand using warm and weft and plain weave. On looms. With great patience! Their showroom and factory in Pollença stocks ceramics as well as cushion covers, espadrilles, tablecloths and more.

Olive oil is also big business in Mallorca. One of the island’s specialist producers is Solivellas olive – using only the arbequina and picual olive varieties. We were shown around the olive farm with its scented orange and lemon trees. You can buy larger bottles of the olive oil in Duty Free at Palma airport.

We enjoyed lunch the second day at Las Palmeras, Hotel Formentor’s beachside Italian restaurant that’s also open to the public – and feasted on the largest seafood pizza. Waddling down to the beach later (sunbeds and Balinese beds are available to hire) and working off the pasta with a swim in the shallow clear waters was heaven. As well as water sports, there are plenty of challenging hiking trails around the resort to enjoy. You could stay at the Formentor for the duration of your holiday, but I recommend hiring a car and exploring the area. Drive along to the lighthouse on the farthest tip of the peninsula, via the En Fumat mountain tunnel. Or head into the nearby historic town of Pollença with its charming cafés and markets that still proudly retains its Mallorcan heritage.

A weekend away isn’t complete unless you’ve enjoyed a relaxing spa treatment. We made full use of the luxurious private Balinese cabanas overlooking the gardens. At just €100 for a half day and €150 for a full day they are replete with bed, jacuzzi and showers and loungers. The perfect oasis of calm to relax pre-and post my superb head and shoulder massage from Thai masseuse xxxx her name?. As you’d imagine, it was with some effort I prised myself away from this paradise for the divine buffet dinner at El Colomer restaurant. The hours drifted by as we feasted on the Hotel Formentor’s superb cuisine, exemplary service and very fine wine and Cava. Perfection, really.

The Hotel Formentor – Royal Hideaway Resort – is the only hotel on the Formentor Peninsula lending an air of discreet exclusivity. With 3 grand suites and 18 Junior Suites, the hotel is perfect for families as well as loved-up couples, honeymooners and singletons of any age. The location is the  perfect spring, summer and autumn retreat and also boasts six villas in the grounds each with 2 to 5 bedrooms. Classical music buffs with love the  Formentor Sunset Classics concert series held each summer at Hotel Formentor with performances from international artists.

I’m already planning my return to the beautiful Formentor peninsula and the haven of peace and relaxation that is the Hotel Formentor. Its stunning location, superb service and relaxing gardens and beach are divine – I can’t remember feeling so relaxed.

Highly recommended!

How & Where
Where: Platja de Formentor 3, 07460 Port de Pollença, Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain.
How: Please phone + 34 971 899 100 or +34 902 101 1001, or visit to make a booking.

Restaurant Review: La Cucina Angelina, Courchevel

Restaurant Review: La Cucina Angelina, Courchevel

Five star ski-in ski-out luxury and fabulous cuisine at Le Portetta, Courchevel Moriond, French Alps

Le Portetta, Courchevel Moriond is home to Angela Hartnett MBE’s new restaurant La Cucina Angelina. Gina Baksa samples Italian-influenced cuisine with a nod to the Savoie

A hop skip and a jump down the valley from Courchevel 1850, you’ll find Courchevel Moriond (formerly 1650). The slopes are wider here – perfect for beginners and intermediates – you’re in sunshine for longer and your credit card won’t melt. Connection to the vaste Trois Vallees ski region – around 600km of trails – is easy and queue times are significantly shorter than at many Alpine resorts.

Courchevel Moriond is also home to the rather fabulous Le Portetta hotel. Proudly part of the UK-based Lime Wood Group (The Pig hotel chain, Lime Wood Hotel) Le Portetta is ideally situated at the base of the main slope near the lifts, and boasts 38 rooms, 6 gorgeous lofts within the main hotel and four separate luxury lodges. All are available to rent during summer and winter months.

Le Portetta now boasts a fabulous new restaurant, La Cucina Angelina, opened only last December and helmed by one of the world’s favourite and most respected chefs, Angela Hartnett, MBE. As any foodie will know, her Mayfair restaurant Murano has a one-Michelin star, where seasonal British produce is artfully used in the creation of sublime Italian dishes. An influence Angela readily acknowledges comes from her childhood spent at the home of her Italian grandmother, who taught her to appreciate Italian food – and how to prepare and cook it.

At La Cucina, Angela is collaborating with Portetta’s long-term chef, Henri Dereani and – since she is mostly engaged at Murano, still finds the time to visit Courchevel for a few days every month. Indeed, this is her second collaboration with the Lime Wood Group, having already worked alongside chef Luke Holder in its flagship New Forest hotel, Lime Wood.

Alas, Angela wasn’t in Courchevel the weekend of our visit, but we met briefly with Chef Henri Dereani. Admiring his stock of Génépi in glass-fronted cabinets at Portetta’s reception, he tells us that he makes this fabulous liqueur himself. A local lad, he thinks nothing of lofty walks at 3000m to collect the wormwood that is the base of this exquisite concoction. His Génépi is available for sale, as are his homemade confitures.

Indeed the lounge area leading to the restaurant has a cosy yet sophisticated vibe: think rustic mountain chic, reclaimed wood and stone – the flooring came from an old manor house – tactile textures, warm rich fabrics, oversized sofas and chairs. Taxidermy of any kind leaves me cold, but the animals on display here somehow feel completely at home in this environment. And so the relaxed décor continues into the restaurant area, where we are greeted by attentive French and English staff. All young and all very warm and professional.

We had a complete refurbishment of the restaurant, lounge and reception area at the end of last year,” Portetta’s director, the charming Nicholas Dumont tells me, as we tuck into slices of succulent cheese and tomato pizza to share. “And we only just finished in time for Christmas.”

‘It was hectic,” he adds, with classic French understatement. “But we made it!”

This pizza amuse bouche is honestly the most flavour-full wood-fired pizza I have ever tasted, and as wine uncorked – in our case a delightful Puligny Montrachet (Etienne Sauzet) we segued into the menu proper. Beguiling antipasti included a salad of pear, pecorino, fennel, radish and parsley (my choice). Other treats: mozzarella, lentils, olive oil and marjoram. Friends chose the Vitello tonnato: succulent veal, tuna, capers, rocket and parmesan. To say I had choice envy was an understatement, though my pear and pecorino salad was divine.

If we’d had enough room for a primi, I would have chosen the Tagliettele alla Bolognose (ragout, parmesan and parsley) or maybe the Agnolotti: guinea fowl and sage – one of Angela’s favourites. Instead, I opted for the Zuppa di pesce: a heavenly combination of fruits de mer, mullet, bream, chilli and garlic. Quite the best fish soup I have ever tasted, the sensation of flavours was intoxicating – as were the vibrant colours thanks to the generosity of the tomatoes. We ordered a side of polenta fries – the perfect accompaniment – as was the fresh, almost orgasmic bread and butter.

Grilled meat cuts (from a huge grill in the centre of the restaurant) provide the nod to traditional Savoyard favourites, as did the ubiquitous tartiflette, while the minestrone soup has a French flavour it is graced with Beaufort on toast, rather than Parmesan.

I skipped dessert, but friends enjoyed creamy chocolate and almond torta, which they heartily devoured over coffee.

If weather permits, then I recommend eating on Portetta’s Fire and Ice terrace. Warm yourself by the log-burning fires, order a quick wood-fired pizza, omelette or even spag bol, or settle in for a long lazy lunch before you head back to the slopes. Happy hour is between 4.30-7 and if you buy any ice-shot or drink, you’ll be rewarded with a slice of delicious wood-fired pizza – on the house.

La Cucina has an all-day menu – the owners hoping to attract skiers from other Three Valley resorts such as Meribel and Val Thorens.

A most welcome addition to Courchevel Moriond, La Cucina Angelina is the perfect destination for a lunchtime break from the slopes, or a more relaxed evening meal. Expect a charming lack of pretension, succulent flavour-bursting quality Italian food, with a nod to the Savoie, all beautifully presented and served by La Cucina’s efficient – and very cute – waiting staff. Highly recommended.

Where and How
Where: Le Portetta, Courchevel Moriond (1650), 73120 Saint Bon, France
How: Please phone +33 (0) 4 79 08 01 47, visit or email to make a booking.
Getting there: 2.5 hours from Lyon or Geneva. 7 hours from Paris via the A6. 4 hours (via TGV) from Paris Gare de Lyon to Moutiers-Salins Brides Les Bains, followed by transfers to Le Portetta by taxi or limousine. The ride is 30 minutes. Courchevel is 2 hours from the airports of Lyon and Geneva. Transfers to Le Portetta can be arranged by cab, limousine or helicopter. The Altiport at Courchevel is 10 minutes from Hôtel Le Portetta. British Airways operates a 1.5-hour flight from London’s City Airport to Chambéry throughout the ski season.

Restaurant Review: Kahani, Chelsea

Restaurant Review: Kahani, Chelsea

I meet Kahani Chef Patron Peter Joseph at his new contemporary Indian restaurant near Sloane Square

Since Britain’s first curry house appeared in 1809, the UK’s love affair with Indian food has continued with relish. Fast forward 200 years and the cuisine is our national dish. Increasingly chefs at Indian restaurants are creating more refined Indian dishes with less heavy sauces, less ghee and as a result are attracting a loyal crowd.

A case in point is Kahani, the new kid on the Chelsea restaurant scene. Open just six months and already garnering positive press, this intimate Wilbraham Place Indian restaurant is well patronised by locals (a stone’s throw from Sloane Square) and has swiftly become a destination restaurant for lovers of sophisticated Indian cuisine.

Kahani enjoys an intimate subterranean setting with 80 covers (formerly home to Canvas and Le Cercle) including a private 10-cover dining room on a mezzanine level above the main dining tables. The space is sophisticated yet welcoming with a semi-open kitchen and a vast wine cellar visible behind glass panels. I receive a warm welcome from the concierge who takes my coat and guides me downstairs to the restaurant.

Kahani means ‘story’ in Hindi, its Michelin-starred co-owner and Chef Patron Peter Joseph tells me at the bar. “It’s my first restaurant – we’ve been open six months now to a great reception. My idea was to show diners that Indian food doesn’t have to be full of heavy sauces. So we focus on light dishes, grilled meats; fish and vegetables from the robata grill as well as tandoor.”

Peter began his UK career at Tamarind in 2005 and left last year. “A great time, a great place to learn, and a fabulous place to work. From 2011 onwards I was head chef.” 

In Peter’s case that makes nine years as a Michelin-starred chef; considerable experience in management and cuisine that he brings to Kahani.

Peter looks more like a yoga teacher than a chef. He’s only 20 minutes from service yet incredibly relaxed. Does ever lose his cool in the kitchen? “No,” he smiles. “There’s no point and that’s not my style. We have a calm kitchen. It’s due to good training. 

“For sure, there’s lots of pressure in the kitchen, but I’m a very calm chef. Everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing. And they get on with it.

“I find yoga helps me focus and relax, so I apply the same discipline in the restaurant. My Dad used to teach me in childhood. He’s nearly 80 now. Still does yoga back in India.”

I’ve heard his mother influenced his choice of career? “Actually she did,” Peter recalls. “My cooking basics come from my mum. Both my parents are teachers, though. They were worried when I joined hotel management. But they are very proud of me now. 

“My mum would pack my lunch for school. A tiffin box with rice, lemon tamarind, breads with meats, rice pancakes and dosha spiced potato. She’s a great cook. I love her lamb curries.”

Did she teach you? “No. I just watched her,” Peter reveals. “Then I watched TV chefs. I loved the white uniform. In my pre-teens my friends and I stole ingredients from mum’s kitchen. Tamarind cumin, etc and we’d make a dish. Four or five guys at the age of 12. It was our way of having fun and socialising – and eating well. That’s when I really fell in love with food. Then I learned my mum’s recipes. After that I studied hotel management for three years in India with a focus on food production. 

“I worked with the Residency Group of Hotels in India then moved to London in 2004. Tamarind started in 2005 and I was invited to join them. I left last year and quite miss my brigade there. We were so proud to win the Michelin star – it took a long time. So I’m hoping that Kahani will perform just as well.”

Is there extra pressure to perform when you have a coveted Michelin star?

“Maintaining the star brings extra pressure, but I’m used to it,” says Peter. “We are aiming for another star here.” 

I notice the fabulous wine wall at the back of the restaurant. “That was already here,” Peter explains. “But we’ve redesigned everything else, including the private dining room on the mezzanine, which we call our peacock room due to its green and blue hues.” 

What makes Kahani stand out? “Our main aim is that each customer feels well looked after from the time they arrive to the time they leave,” Peter tells me. “This is fine dining with a casual flavour; ideal for sharing whether it’s business meetings or a meal with family and friends. We encourage people to enjoy a selection of small sharing plates and connect.  We want people to chat with each other. Not spend time on their mobiles.”  

Ingredients are seasonal and British where possible, and portioned for sharing. Traditional flavours demand that all the senses are involved. What is Kahani offering that’s different to Tamarind?

“At Tamarind the menu was more traditional – curries and so forth. The spirit of Kahani is light, contemporary Indian food, made with seasonally sourced fresh ingredients. We use very little ghee and always traditional spices – not fusions! I feel fusion is always confusion!

“Grills are the main focus at Kahani. We marinade the meats. And we make up our sauces fresh, not bought in bulk like some restaurants. Our meat is always fresh. Not frozen and reheated.

Where is the meat from?

“Our meats are from different suppliers: mainly UK lamb from Somerset and venison from Kent. Our chickens are organic and grass fed. We have Scottish salmon, and the jumbo prawns are from Indonesia. I visit Billingsgate market twice a week to select the best fish. Having lived in London for 15 years now, I know the suppliers very well. We never use imported meat; it’s all organic and sourced locally.”

What food did he grow up with? “I’m originally from Chennai on the Bay of Bengal in eastern India. So we had lots of seafood and steamed dishes which I still enjoy.”

His favourite meal on the menu? “I love our signature dishes like the prawn tandoor: Malabar prawn, coconut green chilli curry leaves and broccoli. It’s very popular. Lamb chops with Punjabi spices grilled in tandoor is also a favourite. And we have duck and game on the menu mixed with spices such as fennel, cinnamon, ginger and garlic. There are only a few curries on the menu, including Rogan josh. We cook our lamb on the bone so it holds its flavour. Our Biriyanis are also popular.”

We’ve almost finished our cocktails at the bar: the delicious SW1 (saffron and cardamom infused Patron silver tequila, Cointreau and lime juice) while my friend savours her Wilbraham – a heady concoction of rye whisky, Suze, sweet Vermouth, cherry liquor and orange bitter. Both delicious and the perfect aperitif to our supper.

We then make our way to a generous booth and dive into a selection of small plates for starters: spiced chickpeas with sweetened yoghurt, mint tamarind and chutney; chargrilled Scottish scallop – star anise coated – with spiced raw mango thuvayal and soft shell crunchy crab with Mangalorean spices and tomato chutney. And a delicious Masala grilled avocado with olives, caramelised onions and iceberg lettuce. Portion sizes are generous and perfect for sharing. And the poppadum and trio of chutneys delicious.

Our friendly and knowledgeable sommelier Dimitri recommends a superb Fleur de Pedésclaux (Pauillac 2012) and explains wine pairing with Indian cuisine. “An alcohol level of around 5% goes well with spicy food,” he tells us. “The higher the alcohol level, the more spicy the food will taste. And vice versa.”

He pours the wine into a beautiful decanter, allowing it to open up and leaving any sediment at the bottom.  “Wines matured for more than 5 years most likely have sediment at the bottom,” Peter explains. “Some people love it, but we usually use a carafe. 

“Some wines such as Pinot Noir we have to watch, since the DNA of the grape variety is very sensitive to oxidisation. If the wine has matured for 3 or 4 years, then you have to be gentle when decanting so it’s exposed to as little oxidisation as possible.”

The Kahani menu is extensive with a great selection of seafood, meat, game and vegetables. We chose from the à la carte but there’s also a tasting menu, and a lunch and pre-theatre menu. Eventually I plump for a chargrilled sea bream with browned garlic, sundried tomato and smoked aubergine. My friend opts for the Gressingham duck breast with coriander, pokharaya chutney and a special Jaitooni naan. Our rice is light and fluffy. The textures of both the seafood and game succulent with a delicate blend of spices. There’s little oil here making the food more palatable and infinitely healthier.  Presentation and service are excellent.

I’d been told to leave space for dessert. Thank God! My friend and I devour the Chocolate Chilli chocolate mousse bomb with gulab jamun bits. It melts like a volcano when hot chocolate sauce is poured over. And our medley of kulfis: Salted caramel, Rose malai, Pistachio cardamom are extraordinary and a great palate cleanser.

Bravo Kahani! A sensual and exquisite dining experience. Perfect for date nights, family gatherings, celebrations and business meetings. Kahani is taking contemporary Indian cuisine to new heights in sophisticated and intimate surrounds, highlighted by superb attentive service from the waiters and sommelier who gave us outstanding pairings.

Highly recommended.

How & Where
Where: Kahani London, 1 Wilbraham Place, London SW1X 9AE
How: Please phone +44 (0) 207 730 7634 or email to make a booking.