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Our little black book of enchanting places



Posted in FOOD + DRINK By Maggie O'Sullivan

If there were an award for Most Fragrant Hotel it would surely go to the Sofitel London St James. Stepping into the lobby/reception of this chic French-run hotel in Waterloo Place, SW1, is like entering a Parisian parfumerie. “It’s Fig Tree,” said the receptionist proudly, adding, “we pump it through the air conditioning.”

We weren’t at the Sofitel St James for the olfactory experience, though. We were there to try the new Baba Bar, which, according to a press release I had been sent, served 'liquor-infused rum-babas paired with a selection of cocktails'. Perfect for a wet January evening. Except that according to the receptionist, the hotel didn’t have a Baba Bar.“But you do – look,” I said pointing to the press release. Curious, she accompanied us to the hotel bar where the waiter appeared equally puzzled. Perhaps we should try the restaurant? Suddenly his brow cleared. it turns out that the Baba Bar is a concept rather than an actual bar. “You order a rum-baba and to go with it, a mohito, margarita, piña colada or gin Pimm’s,“ he said. We plumped for a mohito and a margarita, and settled back to take in our elegant surroundings. 

The Sofitel St James is housed in a Grade II listed building just off Pall Mall. A successful marriage of modern French design and classic British architecture, it is both glamorous and cosy at the same time. The décor in the St James Bar (above) is apparently inspired by Coco Chanel’s Paris apartment in the 1920s, with low lighting, plush seating and faux lizard table tops. It was certainly rather special, but what we liked about it most was that it had a friendly buzz without being crowded: no need to wait for a table or squash in at the bar, as is the case at so many London hotels these days.Our rum-babas, served in tiny Kilner jars and topped with a cloud of crème-pâtissière, were duly presented with a flourish. I do like a rum-baba and this was definitely the best I’ve ever tasted. In fact, they were so delicious that we had virtually polished them off before our cocktails had even arrived. The cocktails, though good, were not perhaps the ideal partners for a rum-baba. A piña colada might have been a better choice, but putting it to the test would have meant ordering a second baba. Tempting, but… no, we would save that experiment for another day.

It was an instructional evening. We now know where to find the best rum-babas in London. We have a fragrant new venue for after-work drinks. And we have discovered that sweet, alcohol-based puddings don’t really go with a mohito.

Further information, Sofitel London St James  

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