Posts from the “Europe” Category

Zinfandel’s, Esplanade Hotel, Zagreb: charms the socks off you

ZinfandelI have a new favourite restaurant in Europe. It happens to have one of the most beautiful original Belle Époque dining rooms in existence, amazing service, and importantly awesome food and wine.

It’s in the Croatian capital Zagreb and it’s called Zinfandel’s.

Food:

Ana Grgic is 31 and the Executive Chef. She started her apprenticeship at Zinfandel’s at the ludicrously young age of 17. She called up the executive chef at the time and asked to work for free so she could learn.  She has since worked with a couple of 2* Michelin chefs to hone her skills, holds the highest qualifications as a Master Chef, and worked under the previous exec chef James Vella for a number of years who is himself well-regarded.

Anyway, enough of that. All I need to tell you is that the food was exquisite.

Every morsel was perfectly cooked and beautifully presented. There was not one flavour combination that you noticed being slightly out-of-place. Make sure you check out the tasting menu we had.

We did have a rather amusing moment with the food. Because the tasting menu was long and Mr H and I aren’t big eaters of white carbs, we asked if we could swap the frog’s leg risotto for a delicious sounding rabbit dish, which they were very happy to do.

After the rabbit dish, we were brought the risotto anyway, but we had so much food to go we sent it back assuming that it had been a mistake. A minute later the restaurant manager (Stjepan Okun, a charming silver fox) came back with the dish and told us that there had been no mistake and that the chef insisted we must eat the dish because it was very good.  Who were we to argue with that?!  So, eat it we did, and enjoy it we did. She was absolutely right: chef knows best…

Drinks:

I fell in love with the avuncular sommelier who was also our waiter for the evening. Ivan Šneler is Croatia’s first Sommelier and the star turn.

There was no specific option on the menu for pairing wine with food but Ivan offered to do one for us. The wine list was long and reasonably priced, so we had full confidence in asking him to bring us all his best Croatian wines.

Holy smokes Croatia has some amazing vino! We’ve spent a couple of holidays in the country and have had some very passable wines, but nothing extraordinary.  Ivan knocked our socks off, with a raft of wines made from Croatian grape varieties that you don’t find elsewhere.

Service:

Service was brilliant. I’ve never had this much fun with the staff at a fine dinning establishment. Ivan doubles as ‘Comedy Waiter’.

Every time he comes near the table with a dish you think it’s going to end up in your lap, or he’ll manage to sweep everything on the table to the floor.

He must do it deliberately because somehow he avoids impending disaster, finishes with an elegant flourish and your food or wine perfectly placed. It was a roller-coaster of muscle-clenching terror followed by delighted, hand-clapping relief every time he approached. He’s incredibly proud of Ana as well, which was very touching.

Because Ivan knew we were rather full, instead of the dessert intended, he brought us a champagne sherbet he prepared instead. What a sweetie.

The staff handled risotto-gate with real charm too, and seemed genuinely pleased that we’d enjoyed our meal at the end of the night.

The Ambience/The Space:

You can get a bit of a sense of the decor from the photo. The restaurant is intimately sized and very elegant.

The restaurant was very quiet that night, and we were surprised at how late guests were showing up. Once party of four arrived at getting on for 11pm and they were seated and served in a leisurely manner. No clock watching from the staff.

The Price:

The seven course tasting menu was US$123 (Kn695) which was great value considering the quality of the food and the overall experience. I can’t find the exact cost of the wine, but it was less than US$100 for the pair of us.

Location:

Zinfandel’s is on the ground floor of  the Esplanade Hotel, which itself is a very pleasant place to stay. Mihanovićeva ulica 1,  10000, Zagreb, Croatia. Tel: +385 1 4566 666. www.esplanade.hr

Summary:

If you are looking for somewhere a bit different in Europe for a weekend break, I would highly recommend bouncing into Zagreb and staying at the Esplanade to eat at Zinfandel’s. The city is interesting, and the people friendly. It feels like a real undiscovered destination.

Zinfandel’s, Zagreb: Tasting Menu

Zinfandel’s, Esplanade Hotel, Zagreb – 6.10.2012

Adriatic langoustines, bloody Mary Granitte, coconut rolls.

Fois gras terrine, wild berry semifreddo, Istrian summer truffle brioche.

Langoustine consommé, fresh Adriatic shrimps and coriander.

Risotto, asparagus disc, frog legs and truffle juice.

Sole fillet, truffle, roasted asparagus pie, brown nut caper butter.

Veal, ox tail croquettes, horseradish foam.

Lemongrass panna cotta, tangerine sorbet and orange bisquit.

Extra course:

Rabbit roulade, artichokes confit, broad bean paste.

Monachyle Mhor Hotel: A little slice of Scottish heaven

 

Review :

Chances are that when you rock up at an unassuming boutique hotel on the edge of a Scottish loch far from civilization and there’s a helicopter sat on the lawn, you’ve probably found somewhere worth the journey.

Loch Voil is just an hour away from both Glasgow and Edinburgh airports in the less visited part of the Trossachs National Park. It’s a stunning landscape of glens, babbling rivers and forests, and is steeped in the history of Rob Roy McGregor, made famous by Daniel Dafoe and Sir Walter Scott, who lived, fought and died here.

Far down a single track road, which is barely marked on the map, the Monachyle Mohr estate has been owned by the Lewis family since 1983. It’s a real family run business that has been built up with hard graft over the intervening years to bring it to where it is today – a lovely boutique hotel, a working farm producing quality meat and veg, an award winning restaurant, and owner of a host of other business in the area including Mohr Bread (a bakery), Mohr Fish (a fishmongers and restaurant), and Mohr Tea (a tearoom).

 

Monochyle Mohr

On our visit, we stayed in one of the feature rooms in the old granary on the ground floor across the courtyard from the main, rather startlingly pink house. It was a spacious and warm, wooden-floored bedroom with a homely gas fire, a steam-room, and a very comfortable bed. It didn’t have much of a view, but that was hardly a deal breaker as it was the only bedroom available when we booked just the day before.

When we arrived, lunch had already finished but we were offered door-step sandwiches and huge mugs of tea in the cosy lounge in the main house instead. Just what we needed after a long, wet drive from Grantown-on-Spey way up north in The Highlands.

What we had really come for though was the promise of a great evening meal, as it was the award winning restaurant that attracted us in the first place when it had appeared in Mr H’s internet search for “best Scottish restaurant”. The subsequent discoveries that the hotel itself was rather wonderful and the location so stunning were purely bonuses.

Using local game, the farm’s own grass-fed, dry-aged angus beef and lamb, and vegetables grown in the garden, Tom Lewis prepares wonderful food from the ingredients available on the estate, and from the best fish and seafood Scotland has to offer.

 

Mhor CourtyardI can understand why people fly in from the city by seaplane or helicopter for lunch to enjoy the likes of Perthshire spring lamb, mustard celeriac remoulade, chantenay carrots with juniper jus, or crispy hen’s egg, new season’s white and green asparagus, with lemon sorrel – we certainly weren’t disappointed with what we were fed.

As ours was a bit of a whirlwind tour around Scotland we only had one night to stay in the Mohr, so we left wanting more. You could spend days wandering the countryside, fishing the loch or birdwatching, and the estate manager Alan will take you on safari to tell you the history of Rob Roy and to spot the local wildlife – well worth the money for a morning of exploring.

Sent on our way at noon the next day we were given a hearty packed lunch of sandwiches, fruit, local cheese with homemade oatcakes, and even a butter knife each from the restaurant. As we drove away and came to the end of the loch we spied a for-sale sign on a piece of land, so promptly took down the details for further investigation. One way or another we’ll definitely be back to Loch Voil and The Mohr to experience this little slice of Scottish heaven again.

Price: Rooms start from US$312 per night.

Location: Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Perthshire, FK19 8PQ. Tel: 01877 384622.

Website: http://mhor.net

The Garth Hotel, Grantown, Scotland

The Garth HotelIt’s unusual for me to be in Scotland as a tourist, so the past few days have been an absolute delight. In the Highlands almost every bend in the road reveals another breathtaking vista, and we had the perfect weather for touring – strong winds that produced roiling clouds, localized showers and startling sunshine. We stayed on the edge of the Cairngorms, in the Trossachs and finally in Edinburgh and we received some wonderful hospitality.

The Garth Hotel, Grantown on Spey

Our Coutt’s World concierge suggested this small hotel in Grantown, as it’s recognized as having a rather good little restaurant.  We turned up unannounced and managed to grab the last of the 18 bedrooms, and although we were right above reception meaning a little bit of noise first thing in the morning, we had the strongest wifi signal in the building.

Rooms

The rooms were unexpectedly well appointed if I’m honest. Newly refurbed, they were cosy, nicely styled and had bright bathrooms with heated towel rails (important in somewhere like Scotland). The double beds were just standard double-sized so pretty small, but there were comfortable.

Service

The front of house staff were delightful.

Food

A mix of cuisines at dinner, but a lot of solid Scottish fare with quality local ingredients. The smoked salmon was real good, but it was the melt-in-the-mouth smoked mackerel that was truly delicious. We had beef and game hotpot, steak and some great cheese too.

Breakfast was the star of the show though. Once you’ve started off the day with a full Scottish of that standard you’ll want to do it every morning.

Drink

A good selection of Speyside whiskeys as you would expect, some local beers and a modest wine list.

Price

We paid a very reasonable GBP45 per person for bed and breakfast. It was the last room they had and gave us a bit of a discount, which was a nice and unnecessary touch.

Location

Castle Road, Grantown-on-Spey, Morayshire, Scotland, PH26 3HN. Tel: 01479 872 836, email: reception@garthhotel.com

Summary

If I was ever in Grantown again, I wouldn’t bother looking for another hotel, I’d definitely go straight to the Garth – it’s homely, comfortable and delightfully styled.
We poked our noses in at another couple of hotels and were not tempted. The Craiglynne Hotel was full of coach parties, and whilst I do love old-people, I don’t want to feel like I’m staying in a care home. The other was the Grant Arms, which was rather more outwardly striking than the Garth, but the rooms weren’t up to much.

Courchevel – Rappers, Hookers, Oligarchs and Lords

Review:

The biggest rip off in the French Alps.

Just don’t bother staying in Courchevel unless you are the type of person who thinks it’s cool to show off to your mates that you can afford to waste thousands of dollars in a hooker Disneyland.

Yes you can avoid the horrible restaurants and tacky nightlife by staying in some of the most gobsmacking chalets in the Alps, but there are awesome chalets in Switzerland so you’d be better going there instead.

The view from the Carlina

The reason, of course, that Courchevel 1850 has become Puerto-Banus-On-Ice is because it is very, very pretty. Some of the approach runs through the trees into the village past the old-school hotels and cafes are stunning, you do have access to the entire 3 Vallees, and it is without doubt the most beautiful of the resorts in the area.

However, in the same vein as has PB developed in the past decade,  Courchevel 1850 now attracts the most bedazzling of EuroTrash and their penchant for paying scantily clad beauties for sex.

Interestingly, like PB, Courchevel became The place to go decades ago for the moneyed and sometimes titled Brits, and so you also have the incongruity of seeing a few red-nosed, tweedy, British eccentric smoking cigars and guffawing into their Campari sodas – the only reason you don’t notice the same thing happening in Tuscany is that it’s just spread over too wide and area to make an impact.

My experience of Courchevel was thus:

Decided on last day of ski trip in the 3 Vallees that we wanted to stay longer. We wanted to see if Courchevel 1850 was worth the splurge, so we skied over after a week staying in Les Bruyeres in a very modest but well run chalet in a fantastic location, (We sent the luggage round by taxi).

We told our Coutts concierge in the morning that we wanted a room at a hotel which was ski-in, ski-out with a decent terrace – so they booked Le Courcheneige. Arrived there at around 5pm that afternoon after a wonderful day’s swooshing through snow, and drinking chocolat and vin chaud – fantastic trip over the mountains, and such a pleasure not to have to do it in a rush due to the usual impending return trip.

As soon as we saw the location we were a little worried as it is the highest up the mountain of any hotel and a long, long way from the village.

When we walked in we knew we were possibly making a bit of a blunder: huge hotel, reeked of chlorine from the swimming pool even in reception, and all the wood was so bright orange you wanted to wear sunglasses. Couple this first impression with the appearance of a pair of barrel-bellied Russian gents flip-flopping through the lobby in speedos, and we really began to wonder what our €800 (yes, that’s HK$8,000) suite was going to be able offer in recompense.

When we found our way to the room more hilarity ensued at the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling tangerine coloured wood; orange, brown and yellow curtains; and the fret-saw madness that had taken place throughout the space. Totally dated and definitely not worth the kishty-cash.

Called lifestyle manager, told them they’d made a boo-boo and to sort it.

Thirty minutes later we were down at The Carlina which was very trad (made for the bufty Brits of old I presume), but at the centre of the village, was better value, and altogether a much better option.

We had the choice of Kilimandjaro, which is deeply trendy but again we felt it was a little bit too far to walk into the village of an evening and was €1200 (HK$12,000) a night. The Carlina was just (just?) €530 for the room, which was lovely, had a balcony and the pretty view above. The service was good (even if the concierge was a little deluded considering the restaurants he suggested), and it was quiet and refined. Definitely the right choice.

So, accommodation sorted out, now for supper.

We were recommended by the hotel concierge to visit an informal bistro, which was meant to be very good down in the village.  Oh my, how we were ripped off and treated like dirt!

The restaurant was La Saulire.

The waiters ignored us for 10mins before seating us, the maitre’d was obnoxious to the max until we ordered a bottle of Chateau Palmer ’90 and then he become so blindlingly obsequious it made me want to grind a lava-hot tartiflette into his simpering mug.

The food was breathtakingly overpriced and completely average (a dish of pasta with some truffle on it was going for €93), plus they’d stuffed far too many tables into the space available. The restaurant was chockablock with hookers and their johns making the evening all rather seedy, what the heavy stench of aftershave, cigar smoke, cheap hair-spray, and lasciviousness.

Round-Deux

Next evening we tried one of the two 2* Michelin restaurants in the village – Le Chabichou at the hotel of the same name.

Again, this was a very traditional hotel, it was all pink napkins, red roses on the table, and pastel carpets. Very nice, don’t get me wrong, but very old fashioned.

This is the restaurant where I learnt how not to order French food. When I know the chef is good (either by reputation or from a Michelin guide), I will usually order a tasting menu on the assumption that chef knows best. However, these are usually many courses long with at least three hidden extras, and as I felt as though I’d been stuffed like a Toulouse goose all week at the previous chalet I thought I’d order just a starter and main.

My God, the food was stodgy, I barely made it out alive! It was all foie-gras, pigs trotters, dauphinoise potatoes, grease, cheese, cream and hunks of meat. Maybe on another day I would have loved it, but I had to stop half way though as my liver was screaming and I’m pretty sure my pancreas had blown a gasket. So much for 2 Michelin stars, and so much for our romantic sojourn in Courchevel…

As you can see then, things weren’t going well.

For our final evening (which was rather earlier than first envisaged) we were pointed in the direction of another more informal dining location which I cannot even begin to remember the name of. I recollect that my beau wanted to eat pizza and we ended up in some stone-walled, velvet curtained gothic bar which served food as well. All very strange, and obviously unremarkable.

Safe to say I was done with Courchevel at this stage and was looking forward to a week in Paris.

I would never go back to stay in Courchevel 1850.  I love the skiing there, but now I’m actually competent I can ski there and back in a day, enjoy the runs and the lovely sun terraces, and then bounce back to the far more reasonable, honest and simple location of Reberty and Les Bruyeres (which is also close to one of my favourite restaurants in the whole, wide world - La Bouitte, and an order of magnitude better than Chabichou).

If I want to splurge I’ll return to St Moritz or Gstaad. At least you can hang with the old schoolers who teach you how to chop the top off a bottle of champagne with a sword and wear the same kit they did in the 60s, rather than these arrivistes who think class is a pair of Chanel skis, and fun is all about who can tell the worst story about what they paid their Belarusian hookers to do to each other when they were on their mega-yacht in Puerto Banus the previous summer…

No, no no. Done, done done.

Cecconi’s, Mayfair – mullets, gout, pearls and Birkins

Review:

The three things I like most about Cecconi’s are the jade green leather chairs, their rabbit ragu, and sitting at their bar drinking Proseco on tap.

Cecconis

As I mostly stay in Mayfair when I’m in London, Cecconi’s is always on the list for lunch. (The Wolseley is for breakfast/brunch, Cecconi’s is for late lunch/post-shopping glass of vino), always somewhere else for dinner.

I’m not sure why I don’t think of Cecconi’s as somewhere I’d eat dinner, but it’s never even occurred to me to do it.

Since so many hedge funds have gone pop in London, I can only assume that it’s not quite so crowded for lunch, but I still prefer to go post-2pm so it’s a little less busy, and I know I don’t need to book ahead.

Food: Italian. They serve a very wide variety of dishes, breakfast through dinner. There’s something for everyone, and the ingredients are top notch.

They have a tapas bar that serves Venetian specialities all day, and the carpaccios are real good too.

When it’s cold outside nothing beats a bowl of their rich, gamey rabbit ragu, and I have to admit to usually asking for it with mash rather than pasta, and was pleased to find out the first time I asked that I am not alone in this rather Irish request.

Drinks: Their wine list has a strong bent towards Italy. There are near 20 wines/champagnes served by glass and 10 served by carafe which is very useful. Bottles of wine are all over £25, and as they are catering to the Hedgey crowd they do have a long and wide list.  My usual lunching companion also very much enjoys their Bloody Mary’s.

Ambience: Lunch is always packed, and it’s best to book ahead. There are generally two types of people who come here at this time – finance bods, and ladies who are shopping on Bond Street – so it’s a mixture of mullets, gout, pearls and Birkins.

My favourite place to perch is at the bar. A wonderful solid marble affair where you can chat to the staff, see them preparing the tapas and I just like the general sociability of it all.

Service: Waiters are very friendly and accommodating in my experience – not even a sniff when I ask for mash in an Italian restaurant.

We have received short shrift when we’ve turned up without a booking bang on lunchtime though. The receptionists can be a bit jaded when they are busy…

Cost: It’s Mayfair, and it’s part of the Soho House group, so it’s not cheap. We don’t usually get out with paying less than £50 for lunch for two, and that’s keeping it to a drink and a pasta. Easy to rack up the bill if you are there drinking and snacking for a couple of hours, as it just puts you in the mood to kick back and enjoy yourself.

Location: 5 Burlington Gardens, Mayfair. Tel: 0207 434 1500

Le Bouchon aux Vins, Lyon – chilled and informal

Review:

Wondering up and down rue Mercière in Lyon around 3pm on a Sunday looking for a late lunch saw my companion and I ending up at Le Bouchon aux Vins, one of Jean-Paul Lacombe’s more informal eateries.

lyon_bouchon_causticcandy

Food: Trad Lyonnais dishes, but lightly executed. I keep reading that people find Lyonnais food rather stodgy and heavy, but this wasn’t my impression at the restaurants I went to. Although, I was there in winter, so hearty food was what I was after.

In fact, I was delighted by my pot-au-feu. The broth was crystal clear, very flavoursome, with the beef and vegetables cooked to perfection. I can only deduce that the elements were constructed separately. Total simplicity, executed perfectly.

We had St Marcellin cheese here again for afters, being that it had quickly become my new addiction since arriving in Lyon. It was good, but didn’t come close to that of Auberge Rabelais.

causticcandy_bouchonauxvins

Drinks: What I love about France, is that you can order wine by carafes. This meant that I can drink wine at my own pace whilst the companion has a beer.

There is something eminently civilised being given a carafe of wine and a small glass to fill as you like. In HK, if you order a large glass of wine, then you basically get a balloon as big as your head, with as much wine in it as a normal carafe in France, it’s just cumbersome for the tiny-handed like myself.

Ambience: Mix of decor, lots to look at, very cosy, tables quite close together, has two rooms, one a little more glam than the other more informal side we ate in.

Service: Service was efficient – by this stage in Lyon I wasn’t expected much in the way of warm and friendly service, and here it was fine. No brusqueness, swift, unobtrusive.

Cost: Prix-fixe menus and a la carte. Very reasonable, I think we ate for around €15-€20 each.

Location: 62 rue Mericère, 69002, Lyon. Tel: 04 7838 4740.

Open: Usefully it’s open every day from midday to midnight, and serves food all the way through. Many restaurants/bouchon in Lyon don’t serve food all day, so this is a useful little place to know about.

All in all Le Bouchon aux Vins was a great place to spend a couple of hours. It certainly lived up to what a bouchon is meant to be – informal, convivial, serving hearty food for travelers and merchants. We could have gone there just to sit, drink and while away the afternoon, or have something to eat, we were welcome to be there and lounge about as long as we wanted.

Auberge Rabelais, Lyon – seriously addictive cheese.

Review:

Considering we arrived on a cold Saturday in January, slap bang in the middle of what was meant to be the worldwide economic Apocalypse, finding somewhere to eat in Lyon was a complete nightmare at short notice.

We couldn’t get into any of the restaurants our hotel concierge suggested and having been led to expect a 15minute wait at Brasserie Georges by him, we arrived to find that wait would be an hour and half, and the queuing would be outside.

Being rather hungry and pissed off at this, we decided to return to Vieux Lyon and try one of the other restaurants the concierge had recommended, only to be shown the hand and a nose in the air when we enquired (in French) if they had tables available.  We went through almost the same ritual at 4 other restaurants until we were so hungry and fuming that when we found one that said we could wait 40 mins we decided to take that option.

This restaurant was Auberge Rabelais, and was managed front of house by a firm but friendly proprietress.

Happily, the wait was worth it, but frankly I’d have eaten the crumbs off the floor I was so hungry by that stage.

Auberge_Rabelais_causticcandy

Food: Very trad with lots of Lyonnais staples.  My companion had snails to start and a steak for main, both of which were very good (although the accompanying veggies were overcooked).

I had Pâté de foie gras and Lyonnais sausage (a slightly fermented tasting affair, wonderfully reminiscent of the Laotian variety), both of which I thoroughly enjoyed, and the rice and lentils served with the sausage were, for me (food philistine that I am), a delightful 70s throwback.

The apogee of the meal for both of us though was the St Marcellin cheese we had for dessert.

It is a small (8-10cm), round cow’s milk cheese whose degree of runniness increases with age.

I am a cheese fiend, and frankly the smellier and runnier the happier I am. St Marcellin is not a really smelly cheese, but it has that nutty, fresh, acid complexity that aged, runny cheeses have, and the way it was served – whole, very cold, with some barely dressed lambs leaf and some beautiful, aged, sweet and syrupy balsalmic vinegar – was “a work of pure genius” my dining companion has declared.

After this we ate it at every opportunity during our brief stay in Lyon, and every cheese was very different. This first outing was definitely the best though, by a good long way.

Wine: Typical of Lyon the vast majority of wines were available in carafes or by bottle, we just went with one of the house reds, which was a local Côtes du Rhône. Very reasonably priced.

Ambience: This is a small restaurant, having maybe 10 tables in the main L-shaped restaurant, and then another couple in a small dining room by the kitchen.  We were sat in the corridor leading to the kitchen, but I was happy with that as I got to see the hustle and bustle of what was going on.

There is not a lot of space between tables, and it’s all ageing red velvet, heavy wooden furniture and red tablecloths. Very old fashioned, bit worn round the edges, but on a cold winter nigh it was most cosy and inviting.

The restaurant was packed from when we arrived around 9pm (for our 40min wait) to when we left around 11pm, and people were still coming through the doors.

In fact a table of 10 turned up on a whim as we were leaving and the proprietress was more than happy to serve them.

I have no idea if all Lyon’s restaurants serve this late into the night, but good to know we found one. I can only imagine that they don’t otherwise surely other venues would have told us we could come back later, or maybe they just didn’t like the cut of our jib – who knows?

Service: Once we were seated the service was efficient. Madame took all the orders, the waiters did everything else. She was happy to spend time explaining a couple of dishes whose French names we didn’t know, which was the height of hospitality in Lyon as far as we experienced.

Cost: There were various levels of prix-fixe menu, we had mid-priced one which was about €25.

Location: 39 rue St-Jean, 69005 Lyon. It’s in Vieux Lyon just north of the cathedral. tel: 04 7837 0743.

There are so many restaurants in Lyon so to pick one as a recommend is almost pointless. We ended up at this one after being turned away from so many others, so that in itself is a recommend.

Auberge Rabelais seems to have absolutely no reputation online (like so many other restaurants there), but we had a great meal – simple, high quality ingredients and reasonably priced.

I’d go back, if only because their St Marcellin flicked my addiction switch, and nothing else now can scratch that itch. Grr, delicious…

Lyon, France: a few tips for this gastronomic heaven.

Lyon in January

There are two things I never realised about Lyon before I found myself there earlier this year.

1) The old city (Vieux Lyon) is a UNESCO heritage site.

2) It is the culinary capital of France.

These two facts together mean that Lyon is a great place to visit for a few days of eating, drinking and walking off the effects of said eating and drinking so that you can carry on eating and drinking.

The third lesser known fact about Lyon is that its hospitality industry workers run a close 2nd to those of Paris in the brusqueness stakes… Sheer, barefaced abuse in some cases. Pretty hilarious.

Being British, previously when I’d thought of France’s second city, images and emotions of Birmingham had sprung to mind, so it was a wonderful surprise to turn up and find such a pretty place.

Lyon again

So, here are some tips on where to stay, stuff-face and visit if you are in Lyon on a long weekend.

lyon basilica_causticcandyHotels:

There are really only two luxury/ boutique hotels in Vieux Lyon, and very few in the whole city which is a real surprise, and frankly this lack of choice is severely irritating.

We stayed in Villa Florentine, which I would quite happily blow off the face of the earth, massively overpriced and the rudest general manager I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. The other is Hotel Cour des Loges.

In summary, Villa Florentine is in massive need of an upgrade, all rooms are desperately 80′s including suites, so not one room is value for money there.

In Cour des Loges, the lowest level of room you should even think of staying in is a Piazzetta room (lower than that and you are basically staying in a monk’s cell) and the standard rates for those start at €485.

If I were to go back to Lyon I probably stay at the Sofitel Bellecour, which is modern, comfortable and on the banks of the river in Vieux Lyon. It’s much less expensive than either of the two “boutique hotels” mentioned above, and sometimes that style vs cost equation comes out on the side of the established hotel chains.

Take my advice and give both Villa Florentine and Hotel Cour des Loges a wide birth.

Wherever you do end up, don’t opt to include breakfast. The point of holidaying in France is to eat that in cafés.

Pottering:

Just idly wandering around Vieux Lyon and the peninsula of Presqu’île is a very pleasant pasttime. There are lots of shops, galleries and countless cafes and bouchons. Even just strolling up and down the two river banks of the Rhône and Saône for a couple of hours is time well spent.

There is a fantastic street market along the riverbank of Quai St-Antoine every morning save Monday, selling everything from cheese to cider, chacuterie to snacks, Bresse chickens, truffles, vegetables, flowers and bread (closes by lunchtime). All from independent producers and farmers.  Quintessential French. Wonderful.

basilica-lyon2_causticcandyOne of the first stop-offs should be to take the fenicular to the top of Fouvière to see the Notre-Dame de Fouvière basilica. It’s a bit of an odd place, built close to the end of the 19th Century, so not even particularly old. It was privately funded, and is a great strapping piece of architecture built by some fervent Christians to put two fingers up to the socialists or something. Anyway it’s an amazing vantage point from which to see Lyon, and that view is great for informing you on where you fancy exploring next.

There is a lovely park cascading down the hill from the basilica and walking down to river level you get to see all sorts of nooks and crannies of the old town.

Don’t bother with the Museum of Automatons in Saint Georges – just not what I was hoping for. The Museum of Contemporary Art is definitely worth a looksee though.

Eating:

causticcandy_lyonNow we really get down to business.  The Bouchon is a particular type of brasserie that serves Lyonnais food. According to the Wiki entry there are authentic and non-authentic ones, with the authentic ones deemed to serve the most traditional Lyonnais cuisine with the correct atmosphere i.e. a Bouchon does not serve haute cuisine, in stuffy surroundings, it is more robust fare served in a congenial, simpler atmosphere. Not sure you really need to seek out all the authentic ones though, generally the ones we found were all really good.

I would heartily advise you to book ahead if you want to stand a chance of eating dinner out at the weekend in any half decent restaurant.

Auberge Rabelais- We (finally) ate on the Saturday night at this restaurant, apparently one of the oldest in Lyon, that we stumbled on after being turned away from a dozen others.

It’s very trad and a bit worn, but you couldn’t fault the food or wine, and there were groups of 10 turning up at 11pm at night and the proprietress was happy to keep on serving.

Paul Bocuse -This most eminent of chefs has a number of eateries around Lyon, his 3* Michelin restaurant is in the burbs, but he has a chain of 4 brasseries in Lyon itself Le Nord, l’Est, Le Sud, and l’Ouest, each serving a different type of French cuisine (food reasonably priced, but wine expensive).

Brasseries Georges- This seems like a popular and well regarded (if touristy) restaurant in Lyon. We were sent by our concierge who had apparently phoned ahead and ascertained that we wouldn’t need to wait more than 15mins for a table (you can’t book). When we arrived, we discovered that the wait would be at least 1.5hours, so hungry and pissed off, we caught a cab back into Vieux Lyon to try and find somewhere else, as there isn’t anywhere else around it to eat.

It was a huge venue though, very art deco and really bustling. I would not suggest this for couples, go if you are in a big group and fancy a raucous meal out.

Rue Mercière – one of the oldest streets in Lyon, has seen it’s ups and downs over the years, but since the 80s has become well known for it’s restaurants, especially a number of Bouchons.

Scoot along earlier in the day and maybe book for later that night at the one that takes your fancy.  There are a number of really beautiful venues, with Le Merciere being one of the top bouchons in all Lyon (we couldn’t get a table on a Sunday afternoon, which was a great shame).

bouchonauxvins_causticcandy_lyonLe Bouchon aux Vins- We spent a couple of lovely hours at this restaurant on a Sunday afternoon, part of Jean-Paul Lacombe’s clutch of 6 venues in Lyon, another of which is also on Rue Mercière - the rather splendid Bistro de Lyon. His Micheln 2* Leon de Lyon is in rue Plenèy not far away.

Bernachon – Maurice Bernachon is a very well respected chocolatier, and he has a tea-room alongside his shop. Nice place to rest up for 30mins.

Les Lyonnais Bouchon – Couple of nice venues in Vieux Lyon. I felt the food is a little on the pricey side, nice surroundings though and good place to sit and chill whether it’s brunchtime through to post dinners drinks.

Le 110 Vins – originally a wine bar set up by a guy who had recently trained as a sommelier. Pierre Many turned his bar into a restaurant a couple of years ago. It’s buried in Saint George, and he loves to introduce wine to his customers (he now has over 350 types in his cellar) and pair it with his dishes (which he experiments with a lot in his open kitchen).  I like it because it’s a place with a story, and Pierre was the friendliest guy we met in Lyon!

Sandwiched in between two of France’s most important wine regions (Beaujolais to the north and the Côtes du Rhône to the south), the city is stuffed with wineshops, and every restaurant has its favourite local producers, with everything served by carafe as well as by bottle.

The surrounding wine country means that you can spend many happy days roaming the area visiting wineries, and there are many, many fabulous restaurants out in the countryside too.

Lyonnais cuisine is really good, my favourite specialities were the St Marcellin cheese, which was a revelation as a dessert, and the Lyonnais sausage which has that slightly fermented taste rather like Laotian sausage. I also enjoyed the pike quenelles, and it was great to have puy lentils with lots of dishes, kind of old fashioned but scrumptious.

I’d go back to Lyon in a heartbeat, but I would definitely book ahead on the restaurant front, as it was frustrating not being able to eat at the places we wanted to.

I think also that I’d try and go for 4-5 days and split my trip between staying in Lyon and staying out somewhere in wine country, because there are some fabulous hotels with great restaurants of their own (or should that be fabulous restaurants with hotels of their own?) – not least George Blanc in Vonnas, and Troisgros in Roanne, both run by 3* Michelin chefs.

Lyon is a really exciting place to visit if you are a foodie, it was a huge surprise for me and I’d definitely recommend it as somewhere a bit different to go for a weekend away.

Il Desco, Verona – Michelin guide has this 2* venue all wrong

Review:

Il Desco is meant to be one of the best places to eat in the whole of Italy. I have to disagree 100% with that analysis. It has had 2 Michelin stars since 1997 and I just can’t see why.

Food:  Different menus of either traditional or creative Veronese, specialising in tripe.

Now, I’ve always been a bit wary of tripe – kidneys can so often taste of pee, and I used to hate finding tubes in liver as a child. Couple that with the bubbling cauldrons of the stuff that you see dotted around Asia in food markets, and you do have to be in a brave mood to try it.

I am aware though that many people think it is a great delicacy, so I thought the best place to give it a go would be a 2* Michelin restaurant in Verona.

And it was very tasty. I had sauteed calf’s brain, bull’s testicle soup, tripe sauces and goose liver on my 6 course Tradtional Veneto tasting menu.

The problem was that the portion sizes were enormous. I was presented with about 1/2 pound of brain, and over 1/2 pint of soup and I can tell you that whilst tripe is tasty, it is sooo rich that by the time I was half way through those two dishes I was feeling pretty nauseous. The testicle soup especially was a struggle because it had the texture of rhubarb compote – slightly glutenous and fibrous, and facing a huge bowlful of it was tough.

I think this is where I found Il Desco disappointing. Certain elements of the dishes were very tasty and beautifully cooked, but to me it was unbalanced and inconsistent. There wasn’t enough palette cleansing, balancing elements to all this super rich tripe, and the portions were just overwhelming. By the time I got to the meat course I was stuffed.

Wine list: Good, but very expensive wine list.

Ambience:  It’s an odd place.

You walk in the front door into a large ante-room which seems just to be a storeroom, and is dominated by a staircase going down to the cellar which is just a gaping black void.

You are ushered off to a room on the left which is the dining room, and it’s almost smaller than the lobby/storeroom you have just been in.

The dining room is sweet enough, lovely old oak ceiling and yellow ochre coloured walls, but then the rest of fixtures and fittings give the whole place a bit of a harlequin feel – too many patterns and too many colours.

Service: We had a bit of funny service experience. The waiters were fair enough, but the sommelier was a bit pushy.

Price:  The tasting menu I had was €95 and the tasting menu my other half had was €130, so couple that with wine, water, service and tip, and it was a pretty punchy bill at the end of the evening.

Location: Via Dietro San Sebastiano 7, Verona, Italy. Tel: +39 045 595 358.

All in all, I was pleased that I’d had the opportunity to try some really good tripe but didn’t think it was worth the price. I was left feeling a bit perturbed and completely bloated by the experience and wouldn’t go back.

The other night that we spent around Verona we ate at our hotel  - Villa Amista – and had the most exquisite meal. Left Il Desco in the dust on all fronts, and inexplicably doesn’t have even one Michelin star.

Villa Amistà, Verona – Byblos owner has created a ludicrously good hotel.

Review:
I’m going to resist the temptation to post lots of photos of this hotel, and would recommend that you don’t look at the website too deeply (or at all) before you book, leave it as a surprise…
To have somewhere like the Villa Amistà sprung on you after a particularly long and harrowing journey, is disconcerting to say the least. Our concierge service had booked us in earlier that same day after we could only find one rather depressing hotel on Lake Garda that was open in February, and had suggested that Verona was our best bet.
We were told the hotel was in a refurbed villa, and housed a large collection of modern art. What she should have said was, “I’m booking you into this hotel – it’s completely bonkers, but trust me, you’ll love it.”
It’s as if a madman had got control of the Hadron Collider and decided to see what happens when he placed a 15th century Italian villa complete with contents, a bunch of paints and a hiccuping Murano glass blower inside and thrown the switch. The result is startling.
I must admit that when I first walked in, drained and jaded from the schlep from Milan via Garda (many times via Garda in fact, but let us not revisit dark times), I did think “Holy Crap, what the f**k has our lifestyle manager done to us? This place is preposterous.”
To say that it houses a collection of art is an understatement, it is in it’s entirety one carefully constructed installation piece. It’s vibrant, irreverent and whimsical, but there is also a strong vein of elegance running throughout. Dino Facchini owner of Byblos houses a big chunk of his personal art collection here, and he uses the villa to showcase all the pieces of his Byblos Casa operation, so you can walk out with an armchair if it takes your fancy.
Rooms: We stayed on the lobby level of the villa which is the only level that has balconies. These are the best rooms, and they were bloody gigantic. I understand that the standard rooms are rather snug, so would suggest spending the money to bypass these. The bathrooms are some of the best I’ve experienced. All white, with proper lighting so that girls can actually apply their makeup properly (wish other hotels would cotton on to this).
Public areas: The public areas of the hotel are fascinating, every nook and cranny has some weird or wonderful piece of furniture or art. Most of the 15th century style ceilings are intricately painted, there are gorgeous salons to lounge about in, beautiful gardens, a lovely pool and a spa.
Restaurant/Bar: There is a great bar and a wonderful restaurant.  I have no idea why the Restaurant Atelier doesn’t have even one Michelin star. It was miles better than the 2* Il Desco we went to in Verona one night, and the sommelier was fantastic. He introduced us to Ripasso which sees the unpressed grape skins that go into making the wonderful Amarones, added to the already blended and fermented Valpollicella wine to finish it off. This process adds body and character to the simple Valpollicella – and the results are hugely successful. I always buy them now as it’s cheaper and lighter than Amarone.
Service: Really wonderful. During the black hours of being lost in the northern Italian industrial hinterland, they actually sent a car to look for us (how Italian is that? Incredibly chivalrous, but completely illogical). They have shuttle-buses to take you in and out of Verona whenever you need, and they provide faultless hospitality.
Price: I remember we paid around €300 for one of the best rooms in the house in February, and they seem to do lots of specials and promotions at different times of year, including around opera season. Fantastic that it is open year-round.
Location: via Cedrare, 78, 37020 Corrubbio di Negarine (Verona) – Italy. Tel +39 045 6855555, reservation@byblosarthotel.com. Corrubbio is just under 10km from the centre of old Verona.
We loved the hotel. It was completely bonkers, and service and food were truly excellent. Just make sure that you have a map and good directions as it’s a bitch to find. Fortunately there were lots of prostitutes on the outskirts of Verona who we could ask for directions !@?$*
Before we ended up in Verona we had decided that we wanted to stop off at the lakes on our way to Venice, but nothing was open at this time of year. I’m so pleased we went there, as the old town is beautiful, the restaurants are world-class and it’s slap bang in the middle of a wine producing region. I’d definitely go back.

Review:

I’m going to resist the temptation to post lots of photos of this hotel, and would recommend that you don’t look at the website too deeply (or at all) before you book, leave it as a surprise…

villa_amista_caustic_candyTo have somewhere like the Villa Amistà sprung on you after a particularly long and harrowing journey, is disconcerting to say the least. Our concierge service had booked us in earlier that same day after we could only find one rather depressing hotel on Lake Garda that was open in February, and had suggested that Verona was our best bet.

We were told the hotel was in a refurbed villa, and housed a large collection of modern art. What she should have said was, “I’m booking you into this hotel – it’s completely bonkers, but trust me, you’ll love it.”

It’s as if a madman had got control of the Hadron Collider and decided to see what happens when he placed a 15th century Italian villa complete with contents, a bunch of paints and a hiccuping Murano glass blower inside and thrown the switch. The result is startling.

I must admit that when I first walked in, drained and jaded from the schlep from Milan via Garda (many times via Garda in fact, but let us not dwell on the dark moments of our lives), I did think “Holy Crap, what the f**k has our lifestyle manager done to us? This place is preposterous.”

To say that it houses a collection of art is an understatement, it is in it’s entirety, one carefully constructed installation piece. It’s vibrant, irreverent and whimsical, but there is also a strong vein of elegance running throughout. Dino Facchini, the owner of Byblos, houses a big chunk of his personal art collection here, and he uses the villa to showcase all the pieces of his Byblos Casa operation, so you can walk out with an armchair if it takes your fancy.

villa_amista_caustic—candy1Rooms: We stayed on the lobby level of the villa which is the only floor that has balconies. These are the best rooms, and they were bloody gigantic. I understand that the standard rooms are rather snug, so would suggest spending the money to bypass these. The bathrooms are some of the best I’ve experienced. All white, with proper lighting so that girls can actually apply their makeup easily, (wish other hotels would cotton on to this).

Public areas: The public areas of the hotel are fascinating, every nook and cranny has some weird or wonderful piece of furniture or art. Most of the 15th century style ceilings are intricately painted, there are gorgeous salons to lounge about in, beautiful gardens, a lovely pool and a spa.

Restaurant/Bar: There is a great bar and a wonderful restaurant.  I have no idea why the Restaurant Atelier doesn’t have even one Michelin star. It was obviously better than the 2* Il Desco we went to in Verona one night, and the sommelier was fantastic. He introduced us to Ripasso which sees the unpressed grape skins that go into making the wonderful Amarones, added to the already blended and fermented Valpollicella wine to finish it off. This process adds body and character to the simple Valpollicella – and the results are hugely successful. I regularly buy Ripasso now as it’s cheaper and lighter than Amarone.

Service: Really wonderful. During the black hours of being lost in the northern Italian industrial hinterland, they actually sent a car to look for us (how Italian is that? Incredibly chivalrous, but completely illogical). They have shuttle-buses to take you in and out of Verona whenever you need, and they provide faultless hospitality.

Price: I remember we paid around €300 for one of the best rooms in the house in February, and they seem to do lots of specials and promotions at different times of year, including around opera season. Fantastic that it is open year-round.

Location: Via Cedrare, 78, 37020 Corrubbio di Negarine (Verona) – Italy. Tel +39 045 6855555, reservation@byblosarthotel.com. Corrubbio is just under 10km from the centre of old Verona.

We loved the hotel. It was completely bonkers, and the service and food were truly excellent. Just make sure that you have a map and good directions as it’s a bitch to find. Fortunately there were lots of prostitutes on the outskirts of Verona who we could ask for directions !@?$*

Before we ended up in Verona we had decided that we wanted to stop off at the lakes on our way to Venice, but nothing was open at this time of year. I’m so pleased we went to Verona instead, as the old town is beautiful, the restaurants are world-class and it’s slap bang in the middle of a wine producing region – i.e. ticks all my holiday boxes really!

Mayfair – Eating, Sleeping, Shopping, Drinking

I can’t find anywhere better to be based in London when I’m visiting than Mayfair.

It’s quiet, it’s got great restaurants, it’s easy to get to from the stations I use – Paddington and Marylebone, it’s on the right side of town for Heathrow, it’s close to the best shops and it’s slap bang in the centre of all the other boroughs I have to go to to visit friends.

Mayfair, London

Whilst I love the size of the rooms and the service at the Mandarin Oriental, Knightsbridge to me is a cultural wasteland compared to Mayfair. I love walking in London and so staying in Mayfair gives me the freedom to investigate all the nooks and crannies of Old London (St James, The Mall, Haymarket, Westminster, Picadilly etc) whilst giving me access to Bond Street, Saville Row, Jermyn Street and Burlington Gardens etc as well as Oxford Street and beyond. Give me Selfridges over Harrods any day of the week, and if I need food hampers then I’ll go to Fortnum’s thank you.

Hotels: If you are going to stay in a hotel then use Claridges. Comfy beds, great service, wonderful art-deco bathrooms. Breakfast in The Foyer is very special, one of the only hotels on earth I bother to descend to break my fast.  The Dorchester is just tooooo damn Chintzy and the Hilton, well it’s the Hilton so is bloody ugly (even the suites) and also the bars are so full of hookers you’d think you were in Shanghai in the 90′s.

Clubs: Check your club memberships. Many club’s in Hong Kong have good reciprocal arrangements in London, and a lot of them have accommodation. I often stay at the Naval Club (far right on the photo montage) on Hill Street. It’s not too stuffy (at least I’m allowed through the door in jeans). Rooms are adequate, it’s homely and quiet, and most importantly it’s £150 for a double room (and if you are a whore for celebrity spotting, Guy Ritchie’s Punchbowl pub is about 40m away from the front door).

All these places let me store my winter wardrobe and ski-gear with them for months at a time, which makes my luggage so much lighter. Got to love good service.

Restaurants:

Cecconi’s at 5A Burlington Gardens for lunch, and for post-shopping gathering of thoughts.

The Wolesley at 160 Piccadilly for breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea and dinner.

Kaya at 42 Albermarle Street, for when you need a hit of honest Korean food.

Le Boudin Blanc (should have a Michelin star) in Shepherds Market: for a long, long lunch or dinner. Fantastic wine list. One of my favourite restaurants in London and my favourite dessert – a red berry vanilla cream shortbread effort which is yum.

Claridges on Brook Street: Gordon Ramsey‘s Michelin star restaurant for dinner – not sure what it’s like now, but used to be very good. Claridge’s Bar is fun for lunch – great seasonal bites like fresh alaskan crab cocktails, pates on toast, goujons etc super posh pub food really!

The Square on Bruton Street, (Michelin Star) one of my boyf’s favourite restaurants, I’ve never been, but I trust his palette even more than my own.

Wiltons on Jermyn Street, hugely old restaurant, famous for oysters and other seafood, wonderfully trad.

If you are after High Tea, then head to the hotels, I’d advise Brown’s or Claridges. Avoid the Ritz like you would the pig bug.

Of course China Tang has recently opened in the Dorch, but I’m not swayed to give it a go yet, I can eat at the China Club here in HK, so why bother over there.  My favourite Chinese restaurant in London at the moment is Hunan. But that’s for a different post as it’s in Pimlico…

Drinks:

The Donovan Bar in Browns on Abermarle Street  serves really good cocktails

Polo Bar in the Westbury Hotel on Curzon street. Great cocktail list, good early evening people-spotting mash up of tourists, theatregoers and business folks. Useful place to catch a taxi at night (you can finish your one-for-the-road in the bar and the bellboys will come find you when your taxi has arriven).

The American Bar at the Stafford Hotel in St James Place. Good for a secret tete-a-tete. Great drinks, tiny bar, good burger. Beloved by Yanks and hidden away.

Good old-school pubs: The Punchbowl on Farm Street, The Audley on Mount Street (can get very full and boisterous people after work), The Red Lion on Waverton Street (tiny, old, hidden, good place for a pint and a relax). All have good draft ale.

Clubbing:

If you like clubbing, there are a variety of places to go and splash cash including tabloid favourites: Mahiki, Cuckoo Club, Jalouse, etc (as you can tell this isn’t my scene…) but if you like gambling, then I highly recommend 50 St James as one of the more salubrious places to lose a few grand at the tables, (or gawp at the Essex lovelies earlier in the evening at the bar downstairs, I always forget how blonde, inflated and orange these girls have become).

Shopping:

As I live in duty free Hong Kong, what I look for when I go abroad is the things I can’t get here. So that usually means, top quality, handmade goods from small retailers, or at the other end – stocking up in Top Shop.  And of course books. Hong Kong is so utterly rubbish at bookshops.

If it’s style, class and built to last that you desire, then the shops around Mayfair are for you.

Jermyn Street and around St James are stuffed with some fantastic shops.

Swaine Adeney Brigg is the place you need to go for umbrellas, canes and walking sticks (?!) in particular, and they have recently updated their luggage to include some really good pieces, previously they were over-trad.

Turnball and Asser sells the best silk ties in the world.  They also have good off the shelf shirts if you are in a hurry (for bespoke we use London designs, but HK tailors). Everything else is a bit too old fashioned for my taste, but they rock at ties.

Beretta apart from it’s truly magnificent guns which are well worth a browse, Beretta has great hats, gloves, coats etc based on hunting and outdoor pursuits. Top quali with beautiful Italian design and materials (both girls & boys).

Lock & Co Good hats.

Alfred Dunhill this used to be Dunhill’s flagship store, not sure if it still is. Was a great place for boys to get a shave or a haircut.  The barber used to be very good, but I’m not sure if they still have that service anymore – that’s not very helpful is it?!

Churches and John Lobb are both here for men’s shoes – very trad. Berluti are far superior if you want a bit of an edge.

Geo F Trumpers – gentleman barber, also chiropodist and sells all a boy could ever want for his shaving and pruning needs. Super old school, wouldn’t trust them on a hair cut if you are under 60…

Paxton & Whitfield – great deli, especially cheese – have immense range of pickles and condiments to go with them.

Trevor Philip & Sons - fascinating store of seriously impressive antique scientific and horological pieces, as well as all sorts of globes and marine models. Love it.

Berry Bros. & Rudd One of the oldest shops in London, and well worth a snoop even if you aren’t buying. One of the UK’s leading wine merchants, they have a very popular cellar plan that helps you build up a stock of wine for the future, constructed either for drinking or investment – and of course as they have an outlet in HK you can always buy up in London but arrange for it to arrive in HK, circumventing all logistic/customs issues.

Richard Caplin – one of the best Leica specialists in London (the other is The Classic Camera in Pied Bull Yard opposite the British Museum), great range of cameras – new and second hand, lenses and binoculars. Also stocks ricoh cameras and all sorts of film and accessories. Always check HK before you go though if you are after second hand or limited edition cameras to see if they are cheaper.

Piccadilly:

Piccadilly is stuffed with book shops.  The biggest by far being Waterstones, but for me the best is Hatchards which has been going since the end of the 18th Century. Very well thought out stock, brilliant nook and cranny configuration, all ancient oak panels and uneven, creaking floorboards.

Fortnum & Mason‘s is also on Piccadilly for all your foodie gift needs, as well as having a pretty decent selection of cook books (as do both Hatchards and Waterstones). Tea and Cake at Fortnums is OK, it’s gone a bit café for my liking – if you want proper English High Tea go to Browns, or Claridges or probably even the Wolseley.

Burlington Arcade: Links Piccadilly with Burlington Gardens. If you like antique jewellery and watches this is the place for you (I love old Rolexes and The Vintage Watch Company has a huge windowful). Also has Macintosh and Globetrotter, Laduree (Parisian macaroons to overdose on), Pickett (very trad) leathergoods, Villebrequin etc.

Saville Row, Burlington Gardens etc:

Berluti on Conduit Street. Beautiful shop. Tragically only makes men’s shoes, but they are, to my mind, the best in the world. Beautifully hand crafted, totally stylish, after sales service is amazing, and great shops to sit in and lounge whilst the boy gets on shopping. They also cost a fortune, so you can then buy something guilt free to balance his splurging.

Saville Row.  Really depends on what style suit you want, as all the tailors have their own specific style and detailing. My boy likes Mark Stephen Marengo in particular (bit of a newcomer here) but it’s really about the materials and the detailing you want. Get a recommendation or be willing to spend some time investigating.

Art – Mayfair is packed with galleries, (Sotheby’s HQ is on New Bond Street). It’s well worth just nosing around Dover, Abermale, Old Burlington, Grafton and the Bonds Streets etc as there are all sorts of galleries to suit all tastes.

Bond Streets (Old and New).

Finally we get on to the ladies. This is where all the big designer shops are from Prada and Hermes through LV and Loro Piano. You’ve got Asprey (great architecture, go and have a nose), Cartier, Bulgari, Chanel etc as well as Jimmy Choo, Pringle, Armani, Mulberry and Smythson (fab for travel wallets and note books). There are a whole host of other high and mid end girl shops – plus a wealth of art galleries and other shops in between. At the top of New Bond Street you hit Oxford Street and if you turn left you are then in striking distance of the only shop you really need on that horrific thoroughfare – Selfridges.

And I’m spent!

If you like architecture, a bit of history and walking rather than taxis/tubes etc, then Mayfair is a perfect place to base yourself for a stay in the UK capital.

La Bouitte – Best Restaurant in the 3 Vallées (with rooms to boot)

Review:

Surprisingly there aren’t that many Michelin star restaurants in France’s les 3 Vallées, but of the two that I’ve been to, La Bouitte is just gorgeous (the other one I’ve been to is the 2 star Chabichou in Courchevel and La Bouitte beats it hands down in my opinion).  It’s in the tiny hamlet of St Marcel between St Martin de Belleville and Les Menuires.

la bouitte

Father and son chef team René and Maxime Meilleur exploit the flora and fauna of the Savoie region and change their menu not only according to what’s in season, but also according to what they are experimenting with in the kitchen. There is nothing pretentious about this place, the staff want you to have a good time, even if you are a bunch of 12 Brits (which lets face it in France, you don’t always get a welcome…). It’s just lovely.

The restaurant is in a beautiful old converted farmhouse (sort of nouveau trad inside, all wood and fretwork, but not twee), the service and sommelier are impeccable, and the wine cellar a joy to behold (you can go and explore down below stairs, wandering along pebble paths – it’s very cool).  They have 8 bedrooms and a great terrace with a jacuzzi as well as a spa so, it’s a fabulous place to stay, and all a couple of km from the ski-lifts.

If you are staying in any of  3 Vallées resorts you could get here for lunch by skiing down to St Martin de Belleville and getting a taxi (bearing in mind the lifts shut at 4pm in St Martin), or if the snow and you are good enough you can ski to the door off-piste. However, the resort it’s most accessible from is Les Menuires – it’s just a 15min taxi ride.

Like a lot of good restaurants, it’s always a great idea to go for the tasting menu, and La Bouitte is no exception. Course after course of beautifully presented and exquisite food, with the odd surprise amuse bouche and palette cleanser thrown in.  This being France and a fromage producing region they have a cheese trolley to die for, and I would always suggest going for the cheese rather than a dessert option with a tasting menu, as you will be served a small sweet surprise anyway as part of it.

The meal rates in my top three of all time.  The food was excellent, the wine was excellent, the service was excellent, the location and venue are just lovely and the company was fantastic (always important!). I spent €93 (HK$1000) which I thought very reasonable as it included a very generous amount of wine, and an appreciative tip (I recall that the set menu was about €55 of that).

Location: Hotel Restaurant La Bouitte – Hameau de St Marcel – 73440 St Martin de Belleville – France. Tél. : +33 (0)4 79 08 96 77.

Open: La Bouitte is open all year round, and I would love to go and stay during the summer as the countryside is breathtaking, the air is crystal clear and the hiking fantastic. (Can I get any more superlatives in this post?!)