When the weather is good in the UK, there’s nothing like sitting on an outdoor terrace with a crisp cold drink and watching the world go by. So, when I was invited to enjoy an evening on Flora’s terrace in the heart of the capital at the five-star hotel Sofitel London St James, I just prayed the weather was on my side.
While the official definition of a terrace is flat areas that either protrude from or are found on rooftop buildings, the term can be loosely used for any useable area outside. Still, when I was heading to Flora, I was expecting to be taken up a flight of stairs (or the lift) onto the rooftop. Instead, I was greeted by the outdoor dining space directly at the foot of the hotel.
Beautiful planters featuring verdant green and white foliage made the space reminiscent of a quintessentially British garden in the summer.
The terrace is decorated with flora and fauna reflecting the royal parks and two intricately hand-carved Instagramable-worthy giant swan seats (a nod to the regal bird). And yes, I did pose for a picture. Well, it felt apt considering Flora is part of the ongoing 70th jubilee celebrations throughout this summer.
Drawing from the Royal Parks’ flora and fauna, this new outdoor dining space has been designed by leading London-based experiential architect Meredith O’Shaughnessy. The oh-so rather British experience is created in partnership with ALL (Accor’s free-to-join loyalty program, Accor Live Limitless), Moët & Chandon and William Grant & Sons premium non-alcoholic brand Atopia.
Dining tables feature commissioned original artwork depicting sleeping swans, and throughout the installation, diners can be delighted with etched poems by Amy Levy in honour of London’s Plane Tree.
The weather was certainly on my side on the day of my visit. It was warm and pleasant and gave me a chance to indulge in a spot of people-watching. The few and far-between balmy summer evenings attract a lot of people and watching the world go by as I took my seat was great.
Quality over quantity, and I thought it was apt to accept the offer of a glass of the cold crisp Moet Hennessey as I perused the menu. Now I don’t know about you, but I prefer a small menu to choose from. With too many options, I get myself in a bit of a mini anxiety mode.
A small selection of salad options, a few mains and desserts were good enough for me. (Dishes include seasonal classics with a twist featuring a fresh daily counter of seafood including Rock oysters, Grilled Galician octopus with smoked paprika).
I’m not a vegan, but I do enjoy vegan food, so I decided to go for the falafel burger. I was tempted by the side of triple-cooked chips side but decided to treat my body to the market day greens of the day instead.
And while I was doing my people-watching, the tables turned on me when a surprise seafood platter arrived at the table – Scottish Langoustines served with lemon mayonnaise, and English caviar served classically paired with Moët & Chandon Impérial.
But wait. I didn’t order it. Must it have been a mistake? No, this was the chefs’ surprise, and the masterpiece turned many a head as they walked past. Beautifully presented sitting on the ice were langoustine mussels and clams. Fresh, bought from the market the very same day as they should be. If you like seafood, you won’t be disappointed.
Back to the burger, and while it was delicious, I could tell it was a bit different from other falafel burgers I have tried. But I couldn’t put my finger on it. Chef Mohamed Khalid Samad lay to rest my dilemma and told me this was a burger with a twist – made half chickpeas and half green peas. Extra vegs, how delightful. But alas, had I known earlier, I could have had those chips after all!
So dessert was a definite to balance my meal, and I was twisted by waitress Marina’s recommendation of the desert of the day – strawberries and cream cake. Light fluffy with plenty of juicy strawberries and very little sponge meant I was even able to polish off the canelé, which arrived with my oat cappuccino.
The bar team at Sofitel London St. James has created a floral-inspired range of innovative cocktails to pair with the delicious food offering. The Primrose, Flora, Summertime, Enlightenment and Lilibet are all newly created cocktails with refreshing natural flavours such as rose water, hibiscus agave, mango, rhubarb and strawberries to create light summer drinks.
Guests can come together and enjoy all the big and small moments at Sofitel London St James with Moët & Chandon Impérial, and Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial champagne is available by the glass or by the bottle. The champagne’s unique style, distinguished by its bright fruitiness and elegant palette, embodies the ‘Flora’ outdoor dining experience.
Told through planting, art and poetry, Flora at Sofitel London St. James envisages London as a city forest teeming with beautiful plants and my opinion is a perfect hang-out this summer. Located in the tourist hotspot that is Piccadilly Circus, it’s still tucked away from the dense crowds. Its location in Waterloo place has just the right footfall for that sweet spot of people watching. For once, I was happy not to be on a London rooftop.
Flora – Where and How?
Flora is open seven days a week until 30 September. The new menu and direction mark the hotel’s new collaboration with Möet & Chandon and Atopia, both of which are on offer in the newly designed drinks menu. Reservations are recommended. For opening hours or to make a booking, visit www.opentable.co.uk/r/flora-at-st-james-london.
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Photography courtesy of OL Visual and Sofitel London St. James.