Monthly Archives: December 2013


This is the full version of the Miami Beach hotels article which appeared yesterday (22.12.13). The hotels here have all opened in the last year or so. Miami Beach is never cheap, especially over the next few months, but if you are flexible on dates you can usually find a decent rate at any of these – and Aloft, B2 and Freehand are good value year round and the latter is worth a pop for a drink even if you aren’t staying there (see video below).

1001 SW 2nd Ave (001-305 854 6300,
LOCATION? Newly opened in Brickell, a business/residential district to the south of Downtown, with good public transport links, including rail from the airport.
WHAT’S THE STORY? The rapidly expanding Aloft chain bills itself as a division of W Hotels, but the relationship to its design-conscious big brother is homeopathic – a hefty dilution is involved in terms of scale, ambition and quality of fittings. Instead, think of Aloft as a bright, good-value, much hipper version of Premier Inn that does indeed offer some ‘style at a steal’ – rooms are a fraction of W prices.
WHY STAY? Generous sized bedrooms (160, including family-friendly twin kings), 42-inch plasmas, free wi-fi, decent sized pool (albeit it in the shadow of the garage’s spiral ramps), competitive prices compared to other Brickell hotels (Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons).
SHOULD I EAT IN? There’s a funky little lobby bar but no restaurant – the Re-Fuel snack bar offers DIY breakfast (£4.20) and munchies but luckily there is a very lively local food/bar scene a block or so away at Mary Brickell Village and along South Miami Avenue. Try the new, interesting and eccentric farm-to-table Box Park (111 SW 1st Avenue 001 305 356 8385,, mains £12-18).
BEST FOR: Fly-drive families and couples who don’t want SoBe prices.
IT’S A PITY THAT: It’s a schlep to the beach – a fifteen-minute drive.
BOTTOM LINE: from £79, room-only. Overnight valet parking £22.50 per night.

146 Biscayne Boulevard (001-305 358 4555,
LOCATION? Downtown on high-rise-filled Biscayne Blvd, right by Bayside shopping mall and the port.
WHAT’S THE STORY? Six months old, the first of a projected ‘value’ chain, b2 has refurbed an old property, going for no-frills functionality in 243 clean, bright rooms with very comfortable beds. There’s free wi-fi and loan of iPads and parking is £16, but you might not need a car (see below).
WHY STAY? Brilliant location if you need to catch a boat, good prices and they have a great deal with local car2go ( car sharing scheme – registration fee waived, 38 cents a mile, free parking, fuel and insurance.
SHOULD I EAT IN? The lobby-side Biscayne Tavern calls itself a gastropub, but its more a comfort station – stick to burgers (£9.50) and ribs (£9) etc. and you won’t go far wrong, but haute cuisine it isn’t. There’s an unusually excellent selection of craft beers.
BEST FOR: pre- and post- cruise stays.
IT’S A PITY THAT: there’s no pool.
BOTTOM LINE: Doubles from £107, room-only, £119 with breakfast. B Cruisin’ packages throw in early check-in and taxi to your ship (no b/fast), from £117 per room.

400 Ocean Drive (001-305 538 5529,
LOCATION? At the southern of Ocean Drive, away from the ‘Strip’; not right on the water, but that’s just across the street.
WHAT’S THE STORY? Another reboot of an older property, this intimate 18-room hotel, with a rooftop pool, channels New England and the Hamptons in a Ralph Lauren style. The resort fee of £9.50 per room includes everything you need for the beach (chairs/umbrellas/towels) and wi-fi. The majority of rooms have balconies and sea glimpses.
WHY SHOULD I STAY? The low-key at-the-beach atmosphere is a nice antidote to the normal SoBe posturing.
SHOULD I EAT IN? Yes. The Local House is a dine-in or –out-on-the-terrace option, which offers good vale fresh ingredients – goats cheese croquettes (£6), mac & cheese (£7), large seafood risotto (£15).
BEST FOR: Couples wanting a more relaxed Miami Beach experience.
IT’S A PITY THAT: With just 18 rooms, it fills up so quickly at peak times
THE BOTTOM LINE: Specials sometimes come in at £120 per room, including breakfast, although £180 is more the norm; valet parking is £22.

1545 Collins Avenue (001-305 604 5700,
LOCATION? Right on the sand, in the middle of the South Beach action.
WHAT’S THE STORY? £27m has been spent on the former Royal Palm to create a large (393 rooms) resort that harks back to the Miami glamour of the ’60s, with touches of MiMo (Miami Modern) in public areas and clean Scandinavian influences in the spacious rooms.
WHY STAY? It’s a one-stop resort, with free bikes, surfboards, paddle boards, skateboards, wi-fi, multiple bars and food outlets, lots for kids, two pools, fancy spa, huge gym, good service. Only the high prices might deter.
SHOULD I EAT IN? The Florida Cookery restaurant has fancy fusion cuisine – the oyster, oxtail
and alligator empanadas (one of each, not mixed together, £8.50) were certainly different and my South American-influenced spicy Mahi-Mahi (£18.50) had a welcome kick.
BEST FOR: well-heeled families and active couples.
IT’S A PITY THAT: It’s such a big resort – those pool areas can get crowded at peak times.
BOTTOM LINE: From £220 per night, room only. It levies a £21 resort fee per room for two loungers, umbrella, towels and fruit. Valet parking is £26 a night (although unlike some hotels they do tell guests they you can get public parking for £10 across the road). Featured by British Airways (see below).

1690 Collins Ave (001-305 673 0199,
LOCATION? Next to The Lincoln Mall shopping/dining/nightlife area.
WHAT’S THE STORY? This elegant, family-owned 87-roomer is a chimeric fusion of two historic hotels, The Gale and The Regent, with a rooftop pool and a basement nightclub added in the link. Rooms are compact but not claustrophobic, the best with terraces, all done in classic deco B&W, but very high tech with 55-inch plasmas with a pay per view you can download onto iPod/laptop.
WHY STAY? An atmosphere that feels a step up in sophistication from its generic art deco neighbours, at a reasonable price, on hippest corner in SoBe (opposite the SLS and Delano)
SHOULD I EAT IN? There is a good Italian on site for fresh pasta and wood-fired pizza (both from £11.50), but the star of the show is the dark, clubby Regent Cocktail Bar where the barman make daiquiris just like Papa Hemingway drank (£9).
BEST FOR: 24-hour party people (there’s that nightclub on site, open to 5am on weekends)
IT’S A PITY THAT: it doesn’t have direct beach access – you get squatting rights in front of the Setai up the street.
BOTTOM LINE: from £120 room-only, plus £16 per room resort fee- includes wi-fi, beach chairs, shuttle to and from beach or restaurants, and a £10 food credit. Valet Parking is £26 a night.

1701 Collins Ave (001-305 674 1701,
LOCATION? Grand – on the beach, right opposite the Delano on Collins Avenue.
WHAT’S THE STORY? A typically striking (and somewhat muddled) design job by Philippe Starck, with a little help from Lenny Kravitz, has rapidly turned the old Ritz Plaza into the local party scene du jour. There’s two pool areas, one for guests (it’s the one with a giant fibre glass duck), the other open to the public – for a minimum spend – at the cool Hyde Beach bar/club/gardens. Rooms, of which there are 140, are not huge by any means, unless you get a ‘villa’, and are mostly white with some Louis XIV styled screen prints to suggest a touch of decadence.
WHY STAY? It’s currently the epitome of South Beach bling, if that’s your thing. But the bar/pool scene is worth a bit of rubbernecking, even if you’re not staying.
SHOULD I EAT IN? Food is a big deal here – it’s open kitchen season. There’s gussied-up tapas at Bazaar by Jose Andres in two adjacent dining rooms, although I prefer the terrace of the Bar Centro, which serves a selection from his menu (platter of Spanish meats, £15; patatas bravas, £6.50), with drinks such as liquid nitrogen caiprinhas (£3.25). There is also a branch of Japanese sushi chain Katsuya. The bargain in the latter is the ‘Social Hour’, 6-9pm daily, at the hidden Dragon Lounge upstairs, when all appetisers are half price (tuna on crispy rice, £4.50) and the cocktails a very reasonable £5.
BEST FOR? Celeb spotters (Beckhams, J-Lo, assorted Kardashians), pool poseurs, people watchers.
IT’S A PITY THAT: The extras add up. There’s a £13 per room per day resort fee, but you have to pay extra for umbrellas (£6) and there is a minimum spend on drinks/food for the front row of pool chairs at the public pool (from £47.50pp, more on pool party days) even for hotel guests, which is very cheeky. Valet parking is £29.
BOTTOM LINE: Room-only from £160. Featured by Virgin Holidays + Hip Hotels (0844-573 2451,

2727 Indian Creek Drive (001-305 531 2727,
LOCATION? Way up at the top end of SoBe – much further and you’d be in NoBe.
WHAT’S THE STORY? Hard to believe that this shabby-boho enclave (once the Island Creek Hotel) is part-owned by Ace Hotels, but some of that brand’s magic has certainly rubbed off- this place is hugely popular, especially the bar and tropical gardens with pool.
WHY SHOULD I STAY? For the laidback, freewheeling atmosphere, the lots of activities organised/suggested and The Broken Shaker, a great and currently very hip hangout, with cutting edge cocktails from £9.
SHOULD I EAT IN? There are only wraps (£5-6) at the moment, but restaurant coming next year. Nearby Indomania (131 26th St, 001-305 535 6332, is good bet: blow-out Dutch-Indonesian rijsttafels from £15.50pp.
BEST FOR: Hipsters of all ages – but be aware that it’s a hostel, not a hotel.
IT’S A PITY THAT: It’s so far north of the main drag, but bike hire (£9.50 day) is reasonable. Street car parking only, but they have vouchers (£6.50 day)
THE BOTTOM LINE: A shared quad (with solid, Amish-built bunks) from £16pp; basic doubles £64 per room, both with breakfast included.

* I travelled to Miami as a guest of British Airways (0844 493 0758,, which features both The James (three nights from £819pp, room-only, with flights) and SLS (three nights, £789pp) and Starwood Hotels (

Robbery with a side order of pheasant

The route from Bridego Bridge to Leatherslade Farm in Bucks is the featured Great Drive in this Sunday’s (15.12) Drive section of the Sunday Times. To celebrate, we have a fresh version of the film, now with a racy B&W section:

The pub mentioned in the article, The Hundred of Ashendon (01296-651296,, is well worth a detour even if you aren’t chasing the shades of robbers past – the chef, Matt, produces robust, seasonal, well-flavoured food (I had the pheasant and bacon pie, my co-pilot a lovely piece of turbot) without being over-fancy. If I tell you he has spent time in Fergus Henderson’s kitchen, you’ll get the idea.

In The Tyre Tracks Of The Train Robbers

I recently did a Great Drive through rural Buckinghamshire for The Sunday Times Drive section. It was to follow the route taken by the Great Train Robbers as they took their haul of £2.6m from Bridego Bridge (off the B488) to their ill-fated choice of hideout, Leatherslade Farm near Brill. As Bruce Reynolds, chief planner, said in his memoir, Autobiography of a Thief: ‘The next morning Paddy and I set off in his 3.8 [Jaguar], driving up and around the target area. The more I saw, the more I liked it. I plotted a route which took us south in a dogleg onto the Thame Road. It was a great route, B-roads all the way, crossing two main roads in all.’ He isn’t kidding about the dogleg – in fact, there’s more doglegs in the 28 miles than Battersea Dog’s Home in January. You can read the results of following Reynolds and the robbers in The Sunday Times soon. Meanwhile, here is a short film we shot at the bridge (go full screen to see the captions properly – sadly it also makes my face bigger):

Thanks to Tony O’Keeffe of Jaguar Cars and Jagmeister Michael Byng, who brought along one of his Mk 2s. This is a rough version of the final film – although I am still hoping the moment when I tried to start the 3.8 with the cigarette lighter button doesn’t make the final cut.

Incidentally, as well as the usual outlets, you can now get the novel that started all this malarkey, Signal Red, through iTunes: