London

EGGS & soldiers have been a favourite lunch time snack of mine for as long as I can remember, but until recently I had never been tempted to have it for pudding.
Curiosity got the better of me when I noticed it on the dessert menu at the Pickled Hen restaurant in London, and two shells were served up on an upturned egg box with a couple of chunky soldiers.
It was clear this was no ordinary eggs and soldiers, though, not least because the contents of one of the shells was dark brown. They were, in fact, filled with white and dark chocolate mousse, and the soldiers for dipping were brioche toasts.
The dish worked pretty well, even though the brioche was resting on a bed of shaved onions (which I wasn’t expected to eat) – no doubt one of the pickled quirks that the restaurant prides itself on.
Set in the heart of Marylebone, it’s a modern take on the great British gastro pub and is a new addition to the Marriott Marble Arch hotel, which has undergone a multi-million pound makeover, from top to bottom.
My family and I were invited to stay overnight to see the results and were booked into a spacious Executive room with two deluxe, double beds, a sitting area, a work desk with chair, high-speed wifi and a 50in Apple TV.

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All Executive rooms come with key card access to the Executive Lounge, a relaxing space at the top of the 13-storey hotel which has views along the length of Hyde Park.
Here, guests can help themselves to a variety of hot and cold drinks plus fruit, nuts, cookies and crisps. There were even some chewy sweets for our two kids to tuck into.
Also, from 5.30pm to 7.30pm every day there’s a complimentary buffet of delicious, hot and cold canapes to enjoy, while free beer and wine is served for a further two hours.
It took every ounce of willpower to leave enough room for dinner at the Pickled Hen, although the kids and I just couldn’t resist trying one of the small desserts on offer.
The Marble Arch also boasts a new-look gym and (rare in a central London hotel) a pool, which I was told never gets too busy, with children being welcome at all times.
The hotel is ideal for a quick getaway to central London because it’s easy to reach by road, being just off the A40, via the M40, and there are 60 underground parking spaces.
It’s also ideally situated for families, with Regents Park (gardens, playgrounds, Madame Tussauds, London Zoo) and Hyde Park both within walking distance.
After checking in we made our way to Hyde Park and made a beeline for the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, which is inspired by the tales of Peter Pan.
Surely one of the best free playgrounds in the country, there are tunnels, treehouses, a beach, teepees, a sensory trail and a huge wooden pirate ship as its centrepiece.
No wonder it has over 1,000,000 visitors each year.

IMG_2098Princess of Wales Memorial Playground

The Marble Arch was our third Marriott hotel in recent years and in the morning it upheld the company’s reputation as the UK’s no.1 for breakfasts (in my humble opinion).
Service throughout our short stay, from reception to the restaurant, was first class and it was with heavy hearts, and heavier stomachs, that we checked out.
We then drove the short distance to Westfield shopping centre in Shepherds Bush, where the UK’s first Kidzania opened in 2015.
This is a miniature city, built to Disneyland standards, where children aged four to 14 can choose from around 60 occupations to try over a four-hour period.
Our daughter became a vet, a firefighter, an air steward, a pilot, a midwife, a fashion designer, a supermarket shopper and, best of all, a Cadbury’s chocolate maker.
But is wasn’t all work, work, work because she also got to strut her stuff on a LED dance floor and climb a building, jumping back to terra firma.
There was also enough to keep our three-year-old son busy and Kidzania formed the perfect end to a terrific family break in the capital.

A meeting of minds

The Marriott Marble Arch’s five flexible meeting rooms (with a capacity of 180) have also been upgraded, and are named after local do-gooders.

  • Westmacott Suite: Sir Richard Westmacott (1775 – 1856) was an architect who designed the north side of the Marble Arch. The proximity of his work to our hotel is honoured in the main event space.
  • Seacole: Mary Seacole (1805 – 1881) was a nurse who worked courageously during the Crimean War. She lived at 147 George Street, where an English Heritage plaque commemorates her work.
  • Nightingale: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1920) was also a famous nurse during the Crimean War which is why this room is identical to the Mary Seacole, standing side by side.
  • Thomas More One and Two: Based in the locality, Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) was a lawyer, scholar, writer, MP and chancellor under Henry VIII. He was executed by the monarch for refusing to recognise his divorce.

Travel facts

The Marriott Marble Arch, George Street, London, has 240 bedrooms is a five minute walk from Marble Arch and Edgware Road tube stations (total of five different lines) and a 10-minute walk from Marylebone and Paddington train stations. To book visit http://www.marriott.co.uk or call 020 7723 1277.

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More on Kidzania

There are play villages… and then there are Kidzanias!
These miniature cities are built to Disneyland standards and can be found in Sau Paulo, Moscow, Dubai, Seoul, Bangkok, Cairo, Istanbul and now London.
In total there are 24 Kidzanias around the world with another 13 in development, making it one of the fastest growing global learning and entertainment brands.
The London operation can be found within Westfield shopping centre, Shepherds Bush, where an extension will soon make it the largest retail development in Europe.
Through ultra-realistic role-play, children aged four to 14 get a fun insight into the adult world – and even get paid for carrying out most of the jobs.
I was invited to take my family along to see how it works.
You enter through a British Airways check-in area, where children are given a hairnet to wear under any hats or helmets, plus 50 kidzos (the currency of Kidzania).
Security bracelets are also strapped to both adults and children, so that no child will be able to exit Kidzania without being matched to the adult present at arrival.
Those aged seven and under must have an adult with them at all times, but older kids can enter on their own, allowing parents to go shopping after checking them in.
Children get a whopping four hours in the city and can choose from around 60 occupations including doctor, dentist, police officer, hairdresser and journalist.
There’s a hotel, a bank, an art studio, a music academy, a university, an estate agents, a garage, a radio station, a theatre and even a large sporting arena.
Kidzania advises that children will complete an average of four to six activities, but even on a busy Sunday our seven-year-old daughter Cerys managed to do ten.
She became a firefighter and tackled a hotel blaze, she flew an aeroplane, she operated on a poorly dog and she cared for a true-to-life Luvabella doll in the maternity unit.
Then Cerys performed the safety briefing on a flight, she became a fashion designer, she worked in a supermarket and, best of all, made some Cadbury’s chocolate bars.
But it wasn’t all work, work, work. She also got to perform a Just Dance routine on a LED floor and climb up a building, floating back to terra firma.
Children get a real sense of independence because parents are banned from the work spaces. They can, however, look through the windows or follow them through the streets.
Whilst our three-year-old son Owen was too young to do any of the jobs there was just about enough to keep him busy while big sis was having the time of her life.
Under-fours can fly on the plane, shop in the supermarket, watch the Al Jazeera news, have their faces painted, join the ‘baby disco’ and hop on the city tour bus.
There is also a dedicated Early Years role play area, although this seemed to be more of an after-thought compared to the care that had gone into building the rest of Kidzania.
At the end of the working day, Cerys found that rather than adding to her 50 kidzos she had just 35 left, which was only enough to buy a pencil in the shop. This was because she had taken part in many of the most popular (and highly skilled) activities, where she had to pay up front for her ‘training’.
So next time we go she’s intent on getting her hands dirty and doing the really high-paying jobs, such as window cleaning and hotel housekeeping.
Telephone and online prices: Adults (15+) from £15; children 4-14 from £18 and 1-3 from £10; Under-1s free. Prices vary by date and time slot. Visit kidzania.co.uk or call 0203 815 3934

Newspaper articles here and here

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