As any regular reader of my blog will know I am sucker for a good rooftop bar and skyline view once summer hits and have regularly complained of the sheer lack of them in London compared to New York. Yes, there are a few notable exceptions- Netil 360 and Frank's Cafe in particular have been firm favourites of mine the last couple of summers, but they simply don't have that certain sense of glamour, sophistication and most importantly viewpoint that NYC's skyscraper hotel bars offer (a favourite of mine Le Bain for example is located on the 18th floor of the Standard hotel) and which I have been missing ever since. One of my best friends is equally obsessed with that elusive rooftop drink in the sunshine enjoyed whilst admiring the best a skyline has to offer and has kept his eye constantly open for anything nearing what we got to experience in New York in London. One day he showed me a very promising new opening he had stumbled across while scrolling through his instagram which..you've guessed ...was the newly opened Novotel Canary Wharf and as life sometimes seems full of strange little coincidences I was invited by exactly this hotel just a few days later to test it and Bōkan, it's in-house bar and restaurant, for myself.
Of course Sean, the friend in question, had to be my plus one and I am not going to lie we were pretty giddy with excitement to be staying in a hotel in our hometown, a luxury I don't even afford myself when going abroad with my budget usually just about able to cover a decent AirBNB. Indeed we were treated like absolute kings and queens from the second we arrived, spending the night in a stunning room on the 29th floor with near floor to sealing window that offered a direct view over the Thames, the Shard, the Gherkin and pretty much all of London's distinctive skyline, every attention paid to make us feel as special and well looked after as possible. However believe it or not this royal treatment is not why I am singing Novotel Canary Wharf's praises and you do not have to be a blogger or have a couple of hundred quid to make the most of this hotel and realise what an utter (as of yet) hidden gem it is. In fact it was their absolutely fantastic rooftop bar and restaurant Bōkan that made Novotel Canary Wharf so truly special in my eyes.
But before I go into more detail of what made it so truly special it is also interesting to consider the hotel's location. Canary Wharf is of course the financial heart of London much in the same way that Manhattan is in New York. It is also a place I have never really made an effort to explore. Why? Well in my eyes it is either heaving with banking types, waiting to splash their cash on booze after work and show off during the week, or pretty much deserted at the weekend when the offices are shut. That perception however changed once we had dropped off our bags of in the room, swiftly gobbling down the complimentary and rather delicious chocolate fondue that was waiting for us there, and had some time to explore the area a little more. Indeed the shiny skyscrapers and wharf over which you have to take foot bridges to reach the different areas of Canary Wharf gave this all a very unique and metropolitan feel. I didn't feel quite like I was in London anymore but in the best of ways.
There are also plenty more restaurants and shops than I had imagined and the lack of crowds you would face on Oxford street on a Saturday actually made this a very pleasant experience. Canary Wharf is thus an area that I would not only return to for Novotel's views but also to have a wonder. As a Londoner I would recommend anyone to rethink it's general perception as boring banking quarter and see what it actually offers.
We were left rather thirsty and hungry after our little explore and also more than excited to finally see the rooftop view we had first spied on Instagram with our own eyes. Located on the top three floors of the hotel, Bōkan didn't let us down, not only serving some incredible food and drinks but offering some of the most spectacular and awe inspiring outdoor views across London I have ever seen. We were very lucky with the weather on this occasion, with clear blue skies and sunshine which of course only made the experience even better, but even if temperatures don't quite deliver you can still enjoy the view to the fullest as two of the floors serve as indoor bar and restaurant with huge windows offering an equally stunning skyline view. We made use of those amenities and tried some fantastic cocktails and sophisticated food offerings (my highlight was a stunning fish and shellfish medley served with a saffron foam) but I would quite happily come here just to enjoy a simple glass of chilled rosé, taking not only the views in but also the seriously cool and once again NYC inspired interiors that are more edgy Boutique establishment than chain hotel.
What makes Bōkan even better is the lack of crowds. While you'd be fighting over a bench at Frank's, here on a Saturday night there was plenty of room to enjoy a drink and even the possibility to reserve. Of course Novotel has only just opened its doors to the public and in a way it pains me to share this hidden gem with you but as far as rooftop experiences go this is as good as it gets without the crowds of better known spots and the pretentiousness of more Boujee options like Duck & waffle or sushi samba.
Novotel Canary Wharf fully succeeds in not only bringing an air of New York rooftop cool to London that is actually affordable but also does a lot to add a cool factor to Canary Wharf as an area. I had one of the most fantastic weekends in a long time here and will be back to enjoy that rooftop before the rest of London realises what it is missing out on.
I have been patiently waiting for Monty's Deli to open on Hoxton Street for months now. What deserves this level of anticipation you may ask? Well I had quite simply fallen in love with the Jewish deli culture discovered on my trips to New York in the last couple of years. These often unassuming delis just had a certain warmth about them and served hearty, delicious Jewish fare that no matter how bad your day was always managed to leave you with big fat smile on your face once you had tucked in and somehow made everything seem a little better.
The duo behind Monty's, Mark Ogus and Owen Barratt, were inspired to start this venture by Ogus' grandad, who, you may have guessed, was called Monty and who grew up in East London's flourishing Eastern European Jewish community during the 1920's, a community that traditionally loved nothing more than good nosh (or food to you and me) and celebrating the ritual of eating within their families. While the East End Jewish community began to slowly disperse around the country and indeed the world in the decades to follow, the traditional family recipes of curing meats, making pickles and shaping bagels were thankfully passed down through the generations and at Monty's are once again used to feed and please the masses in a unique and delicious way that needs to be preserved for generations to come.
Indeed Monty's clearly is a labour of love, not only because it serves dishes that have been prepared by the same families in the same way for generations, no, this restaurant is also basically built on the loyalty of its patrons. Starting off by selling different kinds of salt beef sandwiches at the foodie mecca that is Maltby Street market, these guys successfully ran a crowdfounding campaign which raised enough money to enable them to open the Jewish delicatessen and proper dining destination which London so desperately laced and heck they couldn't have done it better.
In fact the finished space easily holds its when compared to the likes of New York's Russ & Daughters- a 21st century take on those distinctive 20th century delis dotted around New York, chic yet inviting and aware of it's heritage. It's the kind of place you'd want to to take your best mates, your mum AND your grandparents, in fact anyone worthy of sharing a great and warming meal with that you won't forget in a hurry. There is a takeaway bagel counter which I am going to be frequenting on more hungover occasions when only a cream cheese and lox bagel will do, a beautiful counter space and a long line of booths that once again reminded me of New York in the best of ways. We settled in a booth this time, ready to explore Monty's weekend brunch menu (though they serve an equally enticing dinner menu during the week that showcases Eastern European culinary roots with nods to Monty's American deli counterparts).
Of course it is the salt beef sandwiches that Monty's is already famous for amongst the London foodie scene, and rightly so as my dining companion couldn't stop gushing about how fantastic hers was, with a variation of this classic to suit all tastes on offer here, whether you like your salt beef quite simply on rye with mustard, with added Sauerkraut for heat or with a little bit of added cheese, though I am pleased to say there are also plenty of menu options for none meat eaters like me as well. Indeed my bagel, baked to chewy perfection, filled with a generous helping of smooth cream cheese and topped with the dreamiest lox (lox being a slightly less salty, more luxurious and silky alternative to smoked salmon traditionally used in Jewish delis as bagel filling) was one of the best I have ever had even when compared to what's on offer at the bagel shops tourists flock to in NYC for supposedly being the best of the best. Served with a surprisingly delicate and delicious pickled cucumber salad which came sprinkled with capers, it was simply divine. On the side we enjoyed some proper, none greasy, fries as you seldom find them in England, dipped in some Russian dressing for extra zing, and in my case washed down with some fittingly fresh orange juice. For me this was as close to a dream brunch as one can get especially when I thought I'd only be able to enjoy something of a similar standard after a 6 hour flight across the pond.
Monty's is truly one of a kind, serving heartwarming, unpretentious and delicious food that makes you happy, preserving a culinary tradition and dining experience too wonderful to loose and not share with the world. Take your loved ones asap, you won't regret it.