A commission for City AM had me visiting Washington DC and rural Virginia at the end of September to write a piece about the exquisite Hay-Adams hotel and its relationship with regional food and drink suppliers. I’ll be sure to do a heads up post here on the blog when that article is published, but in the meanwhile I thought I’d share some of the best bits of my trip in a quickie roundup.
First stop once my flight had landed at Dulles was Barboursville in Orange County, Virginia to tour its vineyards and have a quiet stay in its historic 1804 Inn. The visit presented me with a chance to sample Virginia wines for the first time, and I was not disappointed. I very much enjoyed sipping Barboursville’s Nebbiolo Reserve and found its signature Octagon blend delightful as well (especially if you can hold on to it for a few years before popping open). Staying at the inn was an absolute pleasure. I loved the jacuzzi in my massive suite, the views of the farmland from my private porch and the hearty home cooked southern style breakfast I had in the morning. Here in the UK, look for Barboursville wines at select restaurants such as Zuma and those in the Heston Blumenthal group.
James Madison’s Montpelier
A short drive from Barboursville is Montpelier, former home to President James Madison, father of the Constitution and architect of the Bill of Rights, and Dolley Madison, America’s “first First Lady.” Well worth a visit, the estate has been impeccably restored (a real feat when you see photos of what had been done to it over the years) and offers unique insight into the founding of the United States. Being in Madison’s library where he worked on the Constitution was a highlight of my trip.
Definitely one of the nicest hotels I’ve visited this year (and that’s really saying something too!), This downtown Washington DC hotel’s biggest claim to fame is being the closest hotel to the White House. Boasting panoramic views of the White House, Lafayette Square, Lafayette Park and more, its location is without doubt the hotel’s major selling point – whether there for an overnight stay, a business lunch, dream wedding or quick drink.
I got a kick out of taking an early morning jog around the White House. And views or no views, the hotel more than met my basic requirements for approval: exceptionally comfy bed (that duvet was so soft!) and a hot shower with adequate water pressure. Every member of staff I encountered made me feel welcome, and concierge Eric Gammill really helped me make the most out of my limited time in the city.
Food and drink at The Hay were a dream. The upscale Lafayette restaurant yielded an exceptional lunch. Executive Sous Chef Jaime Montes de Oca certainly knows his way round a kitchen – and the farm too as proved when he and I paid a visit to the University of the District of Columbia’s Muirkirk Research Farm from which The Hay sources a number of seasonal ingredients. Breakfast at Lafayette was a treat as well – I crave another go at the Chesapeake Bay crab cake Benedict! And judging from the pastries and desserts I sampled, Pastry Chef Josh Short is adept at all things yummy too!
The Hay’s hush-hush basement bar, Off the Record (a purported favourite of both First Lady Michelle Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner), was such a cool venue to have a drink (great food menu too – awesome sliders!). I was massively impressed with my Lafayette Old Fashioned and the Classic Manhattan cocktails. Known for being the place in Washington to be seen but not heard, it’s a fascinating setting for an elbow bending session.
Casual eatery, Rose’s Luxury, in the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Barrack’s Row might have served up the most delicious meal of 2014 for me. I had dinner there the day after Bon Appetit magazine named it the best new restaurant in the country. The buzz was electric (still not sure how I managed to get a table) and everything I tasted was phenomenal. My cocktail – rye, rose water and lemon – wowed my palate. So did challah with butter, honey and black sesame seeds; pork sausage with habanero and lychee salad; and pickle brined fried chicken. Prices were more than reasonable and service was on the ball!
Ben’s Chili Bowl
Okay, so I felt like a total tourist going to Ben’s, but pretty much everyone around me seemed to be a local at this favourite fast food dive of late night imbibers, day out families and even President Obama. Salt and fat served hot in a veritable DC institution and civic rights landmark? It had to be done. Yep, I got the indulgent “Bill Cosby’s Original Chili Half-Smoke” (which didn’t present too much tummy regret afterwards either).
I flew United, the only airline to service Washington Dulles International Airport from the new Terminal 2 at Heathrow. This was my first time to fly in and out of Terminal 2 (although I had been to the terminal since its refurb to check out its colossal Richard Wilson sculpture). It was all in all a pleasant enough experience. The modernised terminal is not too dissimilar in experience and feel to that of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 – just way larger. Before my outbound journey, I got to hang in United ‘s plush, spacious and attractive lounge. The direct flight was shorter than I thought it was going to be – under eight hours.
From London Heathrow, United Airlines offers daily nonstop services to its hub at Dulles, with onward connections to more than 300 destinations across the Americas. Return fares in economy from London Heathrow to Washington DC/Dulles start from £568.56 including taxes. For latest prices, visit www.united.com or call 08458444777.