‘Location is everything’ so the saying goes – but when it comes to the afternoon drinks and Italian nibbles at the Baglioni hotel Kensington, it seems location can be a double-edged sword.
I was invited to come along and spend the evening in the sunshine (yes, it was one of those gorgeously warm summer evenings which sadly seem to have ended…) on its outdoor ‘Bellavista terrace’ which, said the hotel, ‘is the perfect spot to relax and enjoy a delicious lunch, dinner or aperitivo after work.’
This all sounded a rather lovely way in which to slide from the working day into a pleasant evening. As a former inhabitant of Rome and Florence I used to love the tradition of having a glass or two of something in the early evening, along with some delicious olives, bread, freshly-sliced salami and wodges of strong cheese.
The Baglioni’s aperitivo menu, available from 5.30-7.30pm every day, costs £15 and included, according to the hotel, ‘a sparkling glass of Bellavista sparkling wine or a delicious Italian cocktail accompanied by a selection of antipasti, salumi or cheeses.’
So one beautiful summer’s evening I gathered some friends and we walked from the Mail’s offices in Kensington High Street for all of three minutes before – how handy is that? – we arrived at the Baglioni.
The hotel itself seemed very smart and the terrace was very lovely – all fresh linen tablecloths and wrought iron furniture. But the problem was – yes, it was the location. Being in Kensington was not the problem, being just opposite Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace you might say was just perfect.
But sadly, between the terrace and bucolic calm of the Gardens is one of the busiest roads in London, a four-lane expressway along which cars, taxis, lorries and at least five different bus routes thunder every second. It was loud.
We didn’t let it put us off enjoying a very pleasant evening, of course, and sitting outside in London having lovely food and cocktails is hardly a hardship. But conversation was difficult as the traffic constantly roared past just metres away from our table.
Had the terrace been at the back of the hotel then it would be have been perfect – but presumably land and logistics conspired against that. However it is still a nice idea and presumably people can have their aperitivo inside if it gets too much. We stuck it out and bellowed at each other instead.
We started with some drinks – a Kir Royal, a French 75 and a classic Champagne cocktail – and found the service to be friendly if not especially brisk. Then we moved onto the sparkling wine – Bellavista from the Franciacorta wine-producing region in Northern Italy, just below the Lakes – and found that to be extremely drinkable. Thankfully before we could be typically English and just drink all night without eating, the food started arriving and kept on coming.
First off there were generous baskets of bread containing an impressive assortment of crispy flatbread, batons, ciabatta, panini and sourdough, and then little dishes of green olives and rice crackers.
Not long afterwards and a board heaped with antipasti arrived – several different types of bruschetta, topped with cheese, and tomato and basil fought for space with artichoke hearts, Milano salami, sticks of smoked cheese, mortadella, bresaola and Parma ham, with more assorted tomatoes and lettuce leaves thrown in for good measure.
And then while we were still happily munching our way through that, some toasty arancini risotto balls arrived with some deep-fried courgette strips.
It is not a low-cost evening – bottles of sparkling wine don’t come cheap – but then nights out in Kensington rarely are. And while we had planned to be there just for an hour or so before heading off somewhere else, the sun had long set and it was far too late to be out on a week day before we finally called it a night, which is always a good sign. It had been a most enjoyable evening – if only the traffic could be persuaded to take a few hours off too.