Go West

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 April, 2012, 12:00am


London is in the grip of Olympic fever, but - without wishing to be controversial - what happens if you are bound for the British capital and the Games are not your thing?

We suggest you do as we did, and make for London's bountiful temples to pampering, sophistication and whim, handily surrounded by some of the world's most delectable foodie destinations. It transpires that a salt scrub and gourmet food really do make uplifting bedfellows.

Our West End weekend begins in style, when we check in to one of the area's hippest hotels on a Saturday afternoon. The Philippe Starck-designed Sanderson Hotel is in a converted 1950s factory and continues to inhabit the cool lane 12 years after its opening. The witty postmodern furniture, glass-encased bathrooms, and all-white bedrooms and spa, are mesmerising. Our bedroom's minimalist d?cor is interrupted only by a sleigh-style bed in the centre of the room, two sculptural metal dumb bells displayed on the wall, and a ceiling painting of a country scene with dark clouds and a sunny sky.

After a cheeky mid-afternoon cocktail at the hotel's 24-metre long onyx bar (the zen courtyard garden is a little too chilly), it's off to the nails inc concession in Debenhams' Oxford Street store for an express manicure and a blissful mini-hand massage. We then manage to squeeze in a quick steam in Sanderson's other-worldly spa, before rushing off to claim our seats at British comedy The 39 Steps - based on the famous spy novel and Alfred Hitchcock film, it is a hilarious old-school romp where four actors play 139 roles.

Day two and our first appointment after a pleasingly healthy-but-not-boring breakfast is at the classy Langham Hotel, only a short walk away.

The philosophy behind its Chuan Spa is re-balancing body and soul, and the Harmony full-body oil massage does induce a state of advanced relaxation. Emerging in a somewhat trance-like state from the spa, we brave the crowds on Regent Street and head for Tibits, a sleek and colourful vegetarian/vegan caf?in London that thankfully doesn't ram its healthful message down one's throat.

A blowout dinner is set for tonight, so we need a new scent and fantastic hair. For the former, we head to British niche perfumer Penhaligon's (founded in 1870), where a fragrance profiling reveals that Zizonia, a scent originally created in the '30s whose head notes of orange, bergamot and coriander recall long holidays spent in Italy as a child, is the one for us.

Our next stop is Topshop's flagship store on Oxford Street. If the word blow dry does not set your world alight, think again. Hershesons' Blow Dry Bar, in the fashion mecca's basement, offers styles ranging from a super sleek '50s chignon to a rock chick ragabilly look. A tressed hairdo makes us feel like a million dollars.

And that's just as well, because we have decided to dine at Paramount - a restaurant and bar designed by Brit creative supremo Tom Dixon, it occupies the top three floors of Centre Point, one of the city's most iconic buildings. The food is memorable, but the 360-degree vistas even more so. After dinner, we quaff champagne on the top-floor viewing gallery, where floor-to-ceiling windows provide an electrifying - if vertigo-inducing - panorama of the humming city below.

Our last night in the West End starts with a fashion advice session at British department store John Lewis. After enquiring about favourite styles, labels and colours, the adviser disappears to select some outfits while we lounge on a sofa. Half an hour later, we've established that Boho-chic is not the optimal look, but that structured dresses are.

The mood to shop has taken over, so we visit two favourite London department stores, Selfridges and Liberty. The former houses the largest shoe department in the world (with more than 5,000 different styles, many displayed on hand-carved alabaster plinths), and the latter some of the city's most fashion-forward clothing, as well as the new and exclusive Manolo Blahnik shoe store. Liberty's ground-floor beauty department is second to none in terms of hard-to-find cult brands, exclusives and one-off products.

After a late lunch in Fortnum & Mason's elegant Gallery Restaurant, we're booked in for a 'flagging shopper' treatment in one of its ultra-luxurious Beauty ?la Carte room upstairs. Bodies revived with a heady blend of citrus oils by Aromatherapy Associates, we float back to the Sanderson on a radiant cloud.

Our last meal of the luxurious stay is at the hotel's ever-buzzing restaurant Suka, where tapas-style Malaysian dishes arrive thick and fast. We declare their sotong goreng (crispy squid) seminal, and the ikan bakar (sea bass baked in banana leaf) the best sea bass we have ever had.

It's only been three days and we may not be the Sanderson's standard clientele of visiting fashionistas, film producers or city bankers, but we are starting to feel remarkably at home in this indulgent part of town.


Sanderson Hotel

Standard rooms start at GBP199, doubles start at GBP259. Its 24-metre long bar (right) is a must see.

nails inc

A 15-minute special manicure costs GBP28.

Chuan Spa

A Chuan Harmony massage starts at GBP90 and lasts 60 or 90 minutes.

John Lewis

Its free fashion advice service lasts two hours.

Hershesons (right)

Choose from 10 styles created in 30 minutes. GBP24 per style.

Fortnum & Mason

The Gallery Restaurant for afternoon tea; the flagging shopper treatment at its bneauty salon (right) costs GBP50 for 50 minutes.


Floor 31 can be hired for private events, 32 houses the restaurant and bar, and 33 is the viewing gallery.


Exclusive brands include Anne Semonin and Blood Concept.


Fragrance profiles are available free of charge.


Open late, the restaurant weighs your meals to keep your figure sleek.