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EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY! EMILY HEWARD TAKES A FESTIVE TRIP TO THE CAPITAL tr avel report LONDON.

BLAME Home Alone 2, but there's a movie-like magic to staying in a hotel at Christmas - the gleaming lobbies, towering trees and twinkling lights.

And so we're giddy as kids staying up for Santa as we board a train bound for London for a festive weekend away at the Hilton Park Lane.

A dusting of snow has fallen overnight when we leave Stockport on a Virgin Pendolino and frosted fields glitter in the pale December sunlight as we pass by, getting us into the holiday spirit nicely.

Virgin's BEAM app does too - the free on-board entertainment service is loaded with films and TV boxsets including festive favourites such as Home Alone, Bad Santa and The Polar Express.

With all this at our fingertips, we're in Euston before we know it - though at just over two hours, the journey flies by anyway. A complimentary cooked breakfast in First Class sends us off fuelled up for the weekend ahead.

The Hilton Park Lane is just a few tube stops away from Euston and ideally placed to make the most of all the capital's best shopping and sightseeing spots.

Our room, the Park Lane Suite, overlooks many of them, with jawdropping views through its floor-toceiling windows. Add to that a sprawling kingsize bed, enormous bath and shower room, a separate sitting room and a walk-in wardrobe, and accommodation doesn't come much more luxe than this.

Facing out across Hyde Park, we can see the sparkling lights of Winter Wonderland and set out to explore it.

Spread across 20 acres, the hugely popular festive attraction is a maze of market stalls, fairground rides, ice rinks, street food trucks and bars. Bar Hutte - which you might recognise from Spinningfields - and its carol-oke cabins are also here along with ice sculptures, circus shows and ice dancing performances.

There's a nip in the air, so we duck into Thor's tipi bar, a cosy Nordic hideaway, to warm up by its roaring log fires with some tankards of beer before heading off in search of somewhere more sheltered for lunch.

A brisk 20-minute walk takes us to The Wigmore, Michel Roux Jnr's newly-opened tavern at five-star hotel The Langham.

It's a stunner of a space, timeless and traditional with glossy green walls and parquet floors. And as you'd expect, the food is anything but your average pub grub: a Scotch egg coated with a crispy sev nestles on a delicately spiced daal relish, a gargantuan stovetop toastie oozes three kinds of cheese and mustard between two slabs of sourdough and the Bloody Mary-salted chips - oh, the chips - are addictive.

With a beer list spanning the best of British breweries - from northern favourites Magic Rock and Thornbridge to London locals like Beavertown - it's the kind of place you can happily lose an afternoon in. And we do.

It's twilight as we leave and the Christmas lights of Oxford Street shimmer above us as we walk back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

The Hilton Park Lane has three restaurants to choose from, each with its own distinct dining experience: the Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows, offering French haute cuisine and panoramic views of London on the 28th floor; Podium, serving seasonal modern British cuisine on the ground floor; and Trader Vic's, a Polynesian restaurant and tiki bar down in the basement.

Something of a London institution, the restaurant opened in 1963 and looks as though it has hardly changed since.

The menu charts a course across the Pacific, Australasia and Asia, with dishes ranging from Hawaiian poke to Indonesian rack of lamb and Thai duck salad.

A Hong Kong style steamed seabass comes doused in a fragrant and warming soy-sesame broth with ginger, spring onions and sweet pepper; while a beef Malayan curry is creamy and rich next to a tangle of noodles.

It's the cocktails that you really want to come here for though - the original Trader Vic's in California claims to have invented the Mai Tai, so it would be rude not to.

There are 10 variations on the menu here including the 1944 Mai Tai, made to the original recipe: a dangerously fruity and deceptively boozy blend of Jamaican rum, lime, rock candy syrup, orange curacao and French Orgeat.

There's a lively atmosphere on a Friday night and if you feel like carrying on the party, the Hilton Park Lane has its own nightclub, Drama, in the basement, with vivid interiors and a pulsing Funktion-One sound system.

Our foggy heads on Saturday morning are swiftly cleared with a hearty full English down in the Podium restaurant and a long walk in the crisp air down to Somerset House's ice rink.

The scenic 35-minute walk takes us past Buckingham Palace, through Trafalgar Square and along the Strand to reach the rink, housed in the cobbled courtyard of the palatial 18th Century building.

After whizzing round on the ice you can warm up with a trip to Fortnum's Lodge, a pop-up bar and restaurant serving sharing treats such as chocolate or cheese fondue together with mulled wine, champagne and tipsy hot chocolates. There's also a Fortnum's Christmas Arcade pop-up shop, filled with Fortnum's food, gifts and decorations to take home.

Covent Garden is just a short walk from here with even more Christmas shopping options, from market stalls hawking arts and crafts to boutiques from upmarket brands such as Chanel, Molton Brown and cult skincare brand The Ordinary.

After browsing the bustling market halls, we walk down to the waterfront and cross the Waterloo Bridge over the Thames to the South Bank.

The riverside strip of restaurants and bars is buzzing any time of year but never more so than at Christmas, with a winter market, a pop-up restaurant where diners sit inside giant snowglobes and a Scandi-inspired rooftop bar and sauna perched on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

A half-hour stroll along the riverfront takes us past sights including the National Theatre, Oxo Tower, the Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe on our way to Borough Market.

Bunkered beneath the railway arches near the end of London Bridge, it's a gargantuan theme park of a market, a warren of passageways that open out into huge halls hawking fresh produce, artisan bread, cheese, oils and wines, and street food from around the world. If you're looking for gifts for a foodie friend you'll find plenty here.

By now, it's lunchtime and the Saturday crowds are thronging, so we escape the chaos and slip off to Hawksmoor for a bite to eat, snacking on the steakhouse's take on pigs in blankets - beef and bone marrow sausages wrapped in slowsmoked sugar pit bacon - and beef dripping chips over a couple of beers.

From here it's just a 15-minute tube ride to Clapham Common, where we meet up with friends to visit Winterville - a less crowded, less commercial alternative to Winter Wonderland.

Organised by the founders of the Field Day music festival and Street Feast food markets, there's a festival vibe with buzzing bars, a Noughties roller disco, a pop-up cinema inside an enchanted winter garden and a spiegeltent hosting events including cabaret performances and pop club night Guilty Pleasures.

There's also a truck stop full of food vans serving up bao, churros and gourmet hot dogs, as well as a food hall from Street Feast, housed inside a cluster of shipping crates, where we gorge on pillowy sourdough pizza from Born & Raised.

On our way back, we make a detour to admire the Christmas lights of London's main shopping drags - the shimmering angels suspended above Regent Street and the carnival colours of Carnaby's Street's parakeets and tropical palms - before a nightcap at natural wine bar Antidote.

We've eaten, drunk and are certainly feeling merry as we head back to the hotel to collapse into bed.

If only we could pull a Kevin McAllister and blag a longer stay...

How to book An icon of British hospitality since 1963, London Hilton on Park Lane is a five-minute walk from the Hyde Park Corner tube station and has 453 guest rooms including 56 suites with stunning views, ranging from PS356. The upscale high-rise hotel boasts three restaurants, including Polynesian restaurant and bar Trader Vic's, Michelinstarred Galvin at Windows and Podium Restaurant and Bar which offers seasonal contemporary cuisine and afternoon teas. More than 18,000 sq ft of flexible conference, meetings and events space is available, as well as a spa. Book direct on Hilton.com/londonparklane for free standard WiFi.

Virgin Trains operates services from Manchester to London (via Stockport) every 20 minutes, with a journey time of 2hrs 6mins.

Prices start from PS22 one way in standard class. To book visit virgintrains.co.uk.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Manchester Evening News (Manchester, United Kingdom)
Date:Dec 18, 2017
Words:1445
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