by Michele Brooks

The Riverside J were very fortunate to be invited to visit and stay at Sofitel London St James. Sofitel is the only French luxury hotel brand with a presence on five continents with the London St James situated in an excellent position just off Pall Mall and Piccadilly Circus. Positioned in the old Lloyds Bank Building the hotel is quite stunning from both outside and in. This fine establishment is indeed a perfect location for tourists, business travel and leisure breaks and only a 5-minute walk away from many tourist highlights, including Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament.

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While waiting to be checked into our suite, we were shown the Leisure facilities, aptly named So FIT. It consisted of a luxury gym and fitness studio offering state-of-the-art equipment including a multi-sensorial Sha Chair, which has an enclosed section for complete relaxation and invigoration and is very popular with guests after a busy day or a hectic flight. The fitness studio also offers the opportunity of being able to book a Personal Trainer for a Boot Camp training session at one of the many local London parks.

We decided to have something to drink before going to our room and were accompanied to a comfortable Gallery seating area overlooking the reception where we ordered afternoon tea and coffee.

Our suite was on the third floor and was very stylish with the added benefit of a stunning view towards Pall Mall, with all of the amenities that one would expect in a 5-Star hotel.

It was time to enjoy our spa treatment at the So SPA; this leading London spa is set over a three-storey space and is possibly the best reminder that the original design was a bank once owned by Lloyds. We were booked in to have a massage treatment and it was an ‘out of this world’ experience to finish off quite a hectic and stressful working week. After the treatment we opted for the relaxation rooms. As an alternative there is a room with a large table where you can join and mingle with other guests whilst drinking rose tea.The Balcon

Now that we were quite relaxed we were building up an appetite and where better to head for next than The Balcon suite. There are actually three areas to eat in: The Balcon caters for lunches, pre-theatre suppers and intimate aperitifs, as well as dinner in a brasserie-type setting, the St James Bar is more nibbles and small plates and The Rose Lounge is a fabulous place to enjoy a glass of champagne and some nibbles or an afternoon tea with Parisian pastries. We began our dining experience with a cocktail each, we chose a colourful selection, and that put us in the mood for our food and wine. I chose the Braised Suckling Pork Cheek with parsnip purée and horseradish crumble (£7); the combination of flavours really was a treat on the palate! My colleagues chose the Paprika Fried Whitebait with tartare sauce (£5) and the Thermidor twice baked Cheese Soufflé with native lobster and crème fraíche sauce (£11). To complement our mains, we had a bottle of Pinot Noir which went well with the Roasted Oxfordfordshire Lamb Saddle served with seasonal vegetable navarin. This dish was amazing and labelled with a modest cost of £22. I actually opted for the North Sea Cod with mussels, butter beans and saffron cream sauce (£21) and potato fries to share (£3). Our menu choices were delightful and the Head Chef, Vincent Menager, certainly does the restaurants of the hotel proud. Although we were pretty full, we chose two desserts to share between the three of us: French Cheese Plate (£6) and the Floating Island, caramel sauce served in violet sugar (£5).

In summary a magnificent, French style, charming hotel in the centre of our buzzing and beautiful capital city. All the staff are courteous and polite, in both French and English, and nothing seemed too much trouble. It truly is deserving of its 5 Stars. I cannot wait to return very soon.