Looking ahead to Christmas: the InterContinental Park Lane Hotel, London

With Christmas fast approaching, Karen Bowerman visited the InterContinental Park Lane hotel, London, for an early taste of how it'll be celebrating the festive season

With Christmas fast approaching, Karen Bowerman visited the InterContinental Park Lane hotel, London, for an early taste of how it’ll be celebrating the festive season 

The pretty, porcelain teacup starts to fizz ferociously; white smoke pours over the rim. 

‘It’s safe to drink, but I wouldn’t swallow,’ the bespectacled German barman, Volker Burth, advises.

I ask what he means; his face breaks into a grin. He says he’s referring to the dry ice, in this, his (alcoholic) version of tea served at London’s InterContinental Park Lane hotel.

My ‘tea’ (or gin-based cocktail) was poured from a slender matching teapot that didn’t have a lid, although I guess there was no need. The drink’s served ice-cold, it just looks as if it’s steaming. It’s deep red in colour and smells of redcurrants. 

I take a sip, studiously avoiding a lump of dry ice effervescing on the surface. The cocktail’s very sweet but surprisingly refreshing: a combination of cherries and cassis. 

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‘It’s called Poor Man’s Punch,’ Volker says, explaining that the idea for the name came from Londoners’ obsession with gin in the 1820s. The spirit was so popular that 80% of people in the capital were distilling it in their own homes, producing it so cheaply that even the poor could afford it. 

Volker’s version costs �16 a cup, but I’m sure it tastes a whole lot better than its namesake. It’s made from Hendrick’s gin, fresh lemonade, cucumber, orange, mint and strawberries.

Poor Man’s Punch is just one of a variety of gin-based cocktails offered at the InterContinental’s new Arch Bar which also serves 25 different types of gin, many sourced locally. My husband, a gin fanatic, would love it. 

I’m a wine person myself and mentioned this to Volker when I drew up a barstool. But I could tell he wanted to share his enthusiasm for gin regardless, and before I knew it, we’d embarked on a tasting session.

We began with a three year old gin wine from France which Volker promised would ‘take me to the beach’ when I drank it. I didn’t exactly feel as if I were on the sand, and probably wouldn’ t order it again, but it was a fresh, clean taste with hints of lemon, juniper, coriander and nutmeg.

Next, a drop of Prudence, a gin-based cocktail named after the first active pot (distillation vat) in London, which (200 years later) is still in use to today. It was a cloudy, olive-green colour, tasted of basil and lemon and became my favourite.

Prudence was followed by something Volker described as ‘wonderfully funky’. It was the cocktail the InterContinental plans to serve at Christmas: a throat-warming blend of gin, cinnamon, ginger and vanilla. It’s name is still under wraps.

I left Volker busying himself with his botanicals and dined in the hotel’s restaurant, named after its chef, Theo Randall, an Englishman with a passion for pasta. Randall won best Italian restaurant of the year in the 2010 London Restaurant awards and was credited last year for the InterContinental being named Best Hotel in the UK for Food, by Conde Nast Traveller. He’s also written a cookbook, ‘Pasta’.

His restaurant, adorned with coloured glass vases and white gladioli, offers seasonal produce with an emphasis on fresh, Italian cooking. As the wine waiter offers me a glass of prosecco he reveals how Randall drives the restaurant manager crazy by refusing to open on Bank Holidays if he can’t get fresh deliveries.

 I choose crab and samphire to start, followed by Randall’s signature dish – Capelleti – which he adapted from a traditional Italian tortellini recipe usually served as a starter on Christmas day. 

My dish contains no more than ten parcels of ravioli but they’re so plump, buttery and rich that I struggle to finish. For pudding I try a flour-free chocolate cake, with a texture that’s more like a melt-in-your-mouth mousse than a sponge. 

Feeling delightfully full I retire to my single bedroom suite, where I’m afraid to say the bedroom seemed rather cramped.

But it was furnished with all the latest mod cons and the sitting room had a small sofa, plus a lazy-suzie style table although I wasn’t sure why - for sharing room-service or the paperwork you’ve been pouring over on your executive-style leather topped desk perhaps? 

I skimmed the bookshelf for a little bedtime reading. But The Three Musketeers, Vanity Fair and Our Mutual Friend seemed all a bit heavy-going (why wasn’t Randall’s cookbook there?) I ended up turning on the TV. 

When the time came to go to sleep I spent a good minute giving the flat screen a thorough pat-down before getting onto my knees to try to find the wall socket; it disappeared behind a cabinet. In the end I resorted to ringing reception.

The next morning I discovered I wasn’t the only one who found this troublesome. (You need the least obvious button on the controls!)

The highlight of my room was the view. Stepping onto the balcony very early the next morning, I spotted Big Ben over chimney pots and the green of Green Park. There’s no doubt the hotel, with its prestigious Park Lane address is ideally placed for London’s green spaces (Hyde Park and St James Park are also close by) along with Mayfair and Knightsbridge, should you fancy getting ahead with your Christmas shopping.   

I enjoyed breakfast at the hotel’s Cookbook Caf�, which specialises in weekend brunches. The atmosphere has a hint of country kitchen with a rustic, wooden table laden with fruit, cold meats and pastries. 

Crusty breads are served in hampers, kilner jars crammed with nuts and there’s a chef on hand if you fancy waffles, pancakes or eggs. Hand-written labels for a whole host of hams and cheeses are arranged, rather prettily, in pots of cress.

Breakfast was a relaxed, pleasurable experience.

Equally enjoyable, or to be honest, a little more so, was the hotel’s spa, where after a day of seasonally-inspired shopping you can indulge in four festive treatments as part of a special package (the Exotic Lime and Ginger Salt Glow).

Although I haven’t bought a single present yet and dread having to deal with long queues and crowds, the fear of what’s to come was enough to make me feel justisfied in trying the treatment too.

The session began with a full body exfoliation, followed by a hot stone massage, an Elemis anti-ageing mini facial, a 30 minute manicure and a lime and ginger mocktail.

For nearly two hours my therapist, Amaroa, worked her magic. I left, feeling perfectly pampered and ready to embrace the run-up to Christmas with a serene, ‘bring it on’ smile.

Intercontinental London Park Lane, One Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London W1J 7QY

www.intercontinental.com

A gin tasting session at The Arch Bar featuring four botanicals costs �18 per person. Gin cocktail master classes involve the creation of two classic gin cocktails: �25 per person. Festive spa package: available until 31st January 2012. 1 hr 45 minutes �120    Theo Randall restaurant, The Arch Bar, Wellington Lounge, Cookbook caf�, InterContinental Spa and hairdressing salon. Internet access provided (wifi has initial fee of �15).