Posts from the “Eating” Category

Mau Kee: Would you like some insanity with your soup madam?

Review:

Crikey Moses! I didn’t sleep for two nights after I ate at Mau Kee in Pui O, South Lantau. As you can probably tell, I finally had a weekend in Lantau last week, and it was after my visit to Dai Long Wan, and discovered the Island Club that my hiking partner and I finally found ourselves in Pui O just in time for an early dinner last Sunday.  It had been a beautiful day, one of those that makes you wonder in amazement (but praying it stays that way) why you’d only seen 4 other groups of people out on the trails of this wonderful island.

Food: A mind boggling menu. Everything from chicken a la king, steak and chips through chicken and sweetcorn soup, to salt & pepper squid. We opted for Cantonese and had chicken and sweetcorn soup which came with a garnish of diced savaloy (enough for 12 and I was praying it was corn starch that had given it the consistency of snot), beef and celery – (very tasty, but super salty), chicken with chilli and peppers (tasty and hot),  and some Yangchow fried rice (tasty).

Flash forward one hour and I was itching like a mofo, and sweating buckets. Flash forward another 6 hours and I still couldn’t get to sleep properly. Flash forward another 3 hours and I had the most horrendous nightmare I have ever had that actually made me so distraught I couldn’t go back to sleep and made me start shaking when I told my boyfriend about it.

Boyfriend also complained about disturbed sleep. So, me thinks, maybe a soupcon too much MSG…

Ambience: Village restaurant, everything you would expect: noisy, TV’s blaring, people shouting, bamboo chairs, i.e. the usual, (The only slight issue I had was with the dog that they allowed customers to bring in and wander up to diners.  Somehow if it’s an outdoor restaurant I have no issue with this, but indoors?  I just think it’s a bit rough).

Service: Staff were friendly and attentive, no issues there.

Price: Decent price, what you’d expect. Dishes from $20 to $70 ish.

Location: Opposite the first bus stop that you get to when you are properly in the village of Pui O from the direction of Mui Wo, Lantau, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2984 1151

I tell you what, if you are sensitive to MSG, this little restaurant is definitely not a destination for you. Holy Bloody Moly it was a full-on 36 hour trip! I thought the drugs were bad but MSG is a whole different ball game. Mau Kee? Never.Ever.Again.

Eddie’s – Still Clinging On…

Update  21.5.10:…or not.

A post was seen on a Lantau community page with a lot of kitchen equipment for sale very recently from Eddie’s. Maybe it’s all over.  I think a case of decent food, wrong venue, wrong location. If anyone knows get in touch.

Review:

Well, Eddie’s is still hanging on there in Tong Fuk.  My original review way back when I started blogging last summer provoked a tornado (i.e. windy but brief) of localised reaction, including some unrepeatable opinions which even made me blush – unfortunately for you my dear readers, I have some kind of moral conscience and so decided not to publish the comments as it would have started an even bigger s**tstorm.

Anyhew, I found myself deciding to give Eddie’s another go a few weeks back and we had a very good meal of fish and chips. Admittedly both were under-seasoned, but that’s easily corrected at table, so not a biggy.  The fish was really very good.  Big, luscious slabs of meaty, perfectly flaky fish, and although I’m a breaded rather than battered fan, the batter was nicely crispy and not doughy and cloying at all.

The portions were a very generous size as was the side-salad accompaniment.

The service was better if still a little amateur, but this time it was endearing and friendly rather than rude and frustrating, so that’s a step in the right direction.

I still think Eddie’s would do better business out of Tong Fuk.  I think they should have grabbed the Thai restaurant’s space next to The Stoep when that came up for rent renewal a few months back.  The Stoep is a dreadful restaurant and Eddie’s seafood/sustainable theme would be perfect for junk trippers and the quality starved natives of that village.

And one final point – Eddie’s you’ve got to change your website from being Flash based, and take down the notice in the news section that “due to unforeseen circumstances” you can only open on weekends for dinner.  Re-brand poppet!  Call Eddie’s the best Weekend Dining Retreat in Lantau. You could claim that like many Lantau residents you go there at weekends to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and your stressful weekday job… Positives chaps, not negatives, (I don’t know why I feel it necessary to give you advice, but I just think you are still getting this thing wrong).

Your site architecture at the moment means that search engines can’t find you.  If I were you, I’d use WordPress, Joomla or Expression Engine to host your website – free, and so easy to use that you don’t need to pay anyone for design and developing.  That way, my reviews won’t come so close to the top of the searches, which I’m sure would be a great relief!

Location: 17B Tong Fuk Village, South Lantau, Hong Kong. Tel: 2980- 2636

The Grand Stage – Dim Sum in Sheung Wan

Review:

I’ve had lunch at The Grand Stage on the 2nd floor of Western Market twice in the past couple of weeks, and I’m pretty impressed, and only have one quibble.

Photo snatched from their wedding club website

Food: Fairly comprehensive offering of trad Dim Sum. Beef balls, siu mei, wanton, turnip pasties, radish cakes, cha siu bao, sticky rice in lotus leaves – you get the picture.  The execution is also exceedingly good, and I think that it’s some of the tastiest Dim Sum in Hong Kong. It had a certain freshness and crispiness which was very pleasing.

However, and this is just stupidity – it arrived at the table barely warm which really took the edge off for me, and was frustrating – otherwise I’d have been jumping up and down on sofas and declaring a love of Katie Holmes.

The first time I went and experienced this lukewarm fare I put it down to being part of a large group and never being the first to dip into the baskets, but the second time I went we were just a party of four, so the sad fact is their service process must be all screwed up. It just goes to show how good it is though that the taste and freshness shone through the lack of warmth.

Ambience: The Grand Stage must be one of the biggest spaces in Hong Kong. It is fantastic to be under such a soaring ceiling.  It’s all a bit Mainland nightclub what with the red walls and the neon lighting, but it’s a lot of fun and I love the chandeliers. The great thing about the high ceilings is that even when you’re surrounded by 400 other people, the sound gets whipped away into the rafters so you don’t feel that it’s super noisy.

Service: Pretty typical Hong Kong. I’m a gweilo with non-existent Canto skills so I’m used to being misunderstood in Dim Sum restaurants. It was always easy to catch someone’s attention even if it was difficult to convey my meaning, so the fact you got swift service was good enough in my book.

Price: Not much more than $100 per person for a really decent amount of food, so good value.

Location: In Western Market right at the end of Des Voeux Road in Sheung Wan.  Best to book ahead as it seems to always be busy. Tel: (852) 2815 2311.

As I’m often in Sheung Wan I shall return to The Grand Stage again I’m sure. If I had holidaying visitors coming to Hong Kong I would probably take them here over Luk Yu Teahouse and the Dynasty in Wanchai’s Renaissance Harbour View just because it’s a bit more fun in the case of Dynasty and better food and service in the case of Luk Yu. For business lunch though, I would definitely opt for Dynasty.

I was vacillating over the category of The Grand Stage – Mama/Huhu or Candy, but even though the temperature wasn’t spot on, the food was very good and the overall experience has tipped it into the candy category for me – maybe it’s the New Year spirit that is making me feel generous!

40 Gough – not quite Lot 10

Review:

I’ve known that 40 Gough in NoHo has been super popular for lunch for years now, but haven’t been for ages.  As I had such a good lunch at Lot 10 across the street a couple of weeks ago I thought I’d do a compare and contrast, so went for lunch at 40 a couple of days ago.

Food: Hmm. Really just a bit crap (gosh I’m all eloquence today!).

To start, I had a papaya salad which was half a ripe papaya with the seeds removed with some slightly over-done dressed prawns within. It was as odd as it sounds:  ripe papaya doesn’t really work in a salad, especially when it’s not dressed in anyway nor cut into morsels you can eat with the other salad ingredients. Clumsy.

My companion had a Caesar salad which consisted of  maybe two ripped up Romaine leaves, a slosh of dressing which had hardly brushed up against an anchovy and a couple of filings of parmesan, all spread out in a single layer on a dinner plate. Clumsy.

For his main, my dining partner had a rack of lamb which was underdone and over-salted, and I had a half-raw, half spring chicken.  So, clumsy and potentially dangerous.

The accompaniment on the side of the plate was a splodge of garlic mash with one broccoli and one cauliflower floret wedged therein, and four whole, cooked, unseasoned cherry tomatoes placed on top, (which just weed juice onto your plate and didn’t go with the rest of the veggies). V strange, and definitely clumsy, and lazy as each main course had the same accompaniment.

(There is also an odd twist that they serve you slices of garlic bread before you begin – bit baffling).

Ambience: You can’t fault the decor, location. It’s clean, white and smart. It’s small but they don’t ram the tables in and there are a few outside.  It’s a great spot.

Service: Service was fine. Friendly and couteous.

Price: Set lunch price varies with the main course you choose, but ranges from $118 to about $140 I think, so it’s not expensive.

Location: Opposite Lot 10 on the corner of Gough St and Shing Hing Terrace.  Lovely location, quiet, off street, and once again you are always entertained by the shuttlecock guys who seem to play every lunch time. Tel 2851 8498. 40 Gough Street, Central, Hong Kong.

I can only imagine that Gough 40 is so busy for lunch because of the location. Lot 10 opposite is (surprisingly) cheaper and the food is streets ahead, (although maybe 40 has to be more expensive at lunchtime because it certainly struggles for dinner custom). I was definitely underwhelmed and although I was impressed with the service and ambience, the food is just too poor for a return trip.

I was going to class this Mama/Huhu but can’t because of the food. The main point of a restaurant is to serve decent food, not to look nice and have good service, so Caustic it is I’m afraid.

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.

Lot 10 – Tiny and Tasty in NoHo

I don’t know about you, but sometimes the inspiration to commit paws to typewriter is difficult to catch – but having looted the wine corner, I’m now armed with a large glass of a rather wonderful Argiano Brunello, and if that doesn’t inspire me – then shoot me now (well when I’ve finished drinking it…)

Right – on to Lot 10.

Review:

Thanks to a couple of comments posted to Caustic Candy, and a scour of Chowhound I decided to give this much ignored (by me, deliberately) little bolt hole a try.

I don’t know why it’s never made me want to give it a go – I’ve seen it for years, and walked by it hundreds of times, but I suppose I’ve been rather tired of “French” restaurants in HK. I know it’s not fashionable, but I just don’t (or didn’t in the case of Plats) think places like La Bouteille, Plats or Le Blanc were really any good (too much dodgy foie gras and low quali steaks), so when I saw Lot 10 open during that gold rush of private kitchen styley establishments I just wasn’t interested (Lot 10 has apparently changed hands since those early 2005 days but who’d have known?)

*Of course the shining example of private kitchen’s for me used to be Frank Ching’s Tribute when it was on Cochrane Street, but that may have been something to do with the wonderful evenings I spent there with some friends of his, where we used to ransack his kitchen after-hours and he’d let us taste all his latest creations. The sooner he’s up and running again the better – Go Frank!

And so to supper:

Food:  French inspired, locally sourced fish where possible, local produce used where possible – yes, yes, yes.  This is what we want Hong Kong.

Companion had French onion soup to start – very good, tasty stock base.

For mains, I had the crispy pork shoulder on a bed of lentils.  For those of you who like bbq pork neck at Thai restaurants, this pork shoulder had a similar texture – incredibly tender with slightly crispy edges. And Oh My Lord the Lentils!  If you think lentils are for hippies, too Robert Carrier 70′s or only fit for dal, then you are very wrong – Lot 10′s lentils were a revelation. They were so subtly seasoned and spiced, they were wonderful (how geeky is that?!).

My wonderful (and in no way erstwhile) dining companion had a steak with a macaroni gratin  - steak was good quality: a well cooked slab of flesh. Macaroni gratin added a very light accompaniment, but was a bit too oot of the ordinary and not a winning combo for either of us – but hey, worth a try.

We did though have lettuce with peas and bacon (grrr, yum, yum) and duck fat roasted potatoes (almost…almost…as good as my own), so overall the food was very well received.

Drinks: Reasonable and well thought out wine list.  We had a very decent Torbreck for around $400.

Ambience: A bolt hole. There are only 3-4 tables downstairs (and it’s a push past the kitchen to sidle into the washrooms). A couple of tables outside on Shing Hing Terrace, and another larger room good for private parties hidden upstairs. Clean lines, white linen, white walls (slightly small tables and chairs, but then it’s a slightly small restaurant).

Service: Quiet and competent service.

Price: We paid around $1200 for a meal for 2.  Mains were around $250 on average. Food was quality, and wine a good price, so I think good value for the experience. Will return.

Location: On corner of Gough St and Shin Hing Terrace, so nice and quiet.  34 Gough Street (NoHo), Central, Hong Kong. Tel 2155 9210.

UPDATE:

Went for lunch last week and had a lovely meal.

Just $98 for two courses + tea or coffee – fantastic value.

I had home cured gravlax and a local caught snapper, grilled which were both very good, and my companion had a good sized, tasty Caesar salad and a very decent steak.  We sat outside on the street terrace and were thoroughly entertained by the guys playing shuttlecock (Jianzi in Mando, not sure what the Canto is), one of whom must have been about 80 and was the very definition of spry.

A perfect break from the office in the middle of the day, and such good value for money (we even succumbed to sharing a chocolate pot for desert for $30 extra – delish). Will become a regular haunt.

Sevva – Rude and Useless

Review:

So far, I haven’t been tempted to eat at Sevva, but I have been there a few times for drinks.

I’ve always been severely disappointed by their service and after my last visit have decided that I really hope no one ever invites me for a drink there again, as I’ll just have to decline.

I know well enough by now to sit at the bar if you actually want to have any kind of consistent access to service staff, but when I was there a few days ago, I was shoulder barged by the floor manager twice when I was sitting on the bar stool. They themselves had placed it next to their till and he managed this even though there was plenty of room around it.

The bar was almost empty, and yet I also had to contend with his loud ordering about of staff which he decided to do when he was standing right next to me. Why he couldn’t have done this even a few steps away I have no idea.  I originally thought he was a customer, considering he didn’t apologise for molesting me, and only later realised he was staff when he was ordering the waiters about.

Next we come to price. Most cocktails are $120, plus service, which is a fairly hefty price, but the cocktails are good and I appreciate the location is plum and they want to attract a certain crowd.  However, that crowd don’t expect to be served smashed up Dorritos with their cocktails, nor have to pay for a glass of water.  The vast majority of bars now in HK have got their head around the idea that as it’s brutally hot here for most of the year, some customers could do with a glass of water to rehydrate before they plunge into the martinis.  It’s common courtesy and a nice touch to give them a glass of without charge. If even the scraggiest Dai Pai can give you a glass water FOC, why the buggery-boo can’t a supposedly refined establishment like Sevva?

The rude and perfunctory way in which my request and subsequent questioning of this situation was handled has made me never want to set foot in there again. Money grabbing a-holes, and that’s all there is to it.

Location: Top Floor Prince’s Building, Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong.

Thai Farmers’ Restaurant – Wanchai

Reivew:

There were four of us for supper last night in Wanchai, and we fancied showing our new friends the delights of Thai Hut.

As previously explained, there are only a tiny number of seats there since the Po-leece stopped them from setting up tables outside, so you do take your chances.  Unfortunately, last night  we were unlucky, as there was an old gweilo dude slumped on a stool taking up 3 precious seats, chin on chest, snoring drunkenly away (it was only 11pm), so we had to find an alternative.

That’s how we ended up at Thai Farmers’ restaurant across the way on Lockhart Road, sandwiched between The Bell Inn (which seems to have become the pub of the moment for all the International School kids) and some low dive strip-joint.

Food: All the usual Thai staples. Large menu, pretty much as home-style as Thai Hut. Everything we had was very tasty, although not quite as punch-your-lights-out hot as Thai’s usually like for themselves.  Portions were very generous, and the dips they provided with the pork neck and spring rolls were really good, as were those items themselves.

Drinks:  Standard drinks list for Wanchai – beer, canned softs, a few juices. Cheap and cheerful.

Ambience:  Very simple. Love the bold tablecloths. It’s a little shoebox of a place with seating for not more than 30, clean and simple, if a little rough around the edges.  The only others in the restaurant were a Thai couple, one of whom was a decidedly pre-op lady-boy, in desperate need of a stylist.

Service:  The food came quick, and the staff were friendly and attentive.

Price: We spent just over $400 for four of us, and we were only drinking soft drinks.  We had 6 dishes plus rice. So, really rather good value!

Location: G/F King Tao Building 98 Lockhart Road Wanchai Hong Kong. Tel 2520 6607. Almost opposite Agave.

I hadn’t been to this restaurant for years, and was really wondering why after this meal. Chili Club, which is actually almost upstairs from this place, and  seems to be so popular still after all these years, despite having zero ambience and mass produced tasting fare is a poor second to Thai Farmers’. This little restaurant has more authentic food, a more intimate atmosphere and is great value for money.

“The Turkish” – homestyling in Mui Wo, Lantau.

Review:

Went to The Turkish a couple of nights ago (real name Bahce Turkish).  No idea why I don’t go there more often, as it serves seriously good food.

Food:  Well….it’s Turkish.  Very home cooking feel, well presented. Fresh ingredients, with the impression  that everything is lovingly prepared.  All the dips and sauces are fresh made, and they roll dolmas neater than Cheech rolls joints.

Very tasty marinated lamb and chicken, and the special eggplant dip is so smoky and sweet you won’t want to eat normal baba ghanoush ever again. The haloumi was great as well.  Not squeaky and hard, but served with gerkins and dill, it was really good.

Drinks: wide selection of fresh teas, coffee and soft drinks. Couple of beers on tap and the rest in bottles.

Ambience: Simple, sturdy, and has tables outside which is a boon.  Emphasis is on food not decor, and you’d be nuts to spend a bunch of cash on that kind of thing in Lantau, as you will never make your money back.

Service:  lovely service. Humble, friendly, efficient and thoughtful (shame they don’t take over the Stoep!)

Price: Dinner  was $350 for two, and they don’t charge service, so it was a pleasure to leave a big tip.  We shared a mixed mezze, a separate halloumi dish and a lamb kebab, and it that was far and away enough between two of us.  Good value for the quality of the food and the service.

Location: Mui Wo Centre, Lantau Island. Tel: +852 2984 0221, very close to the 7/11 opposite the bus station.

By far the best restaurant in Mui Wo.  There are a couple of tasty canto places, but they don’t show as much care and attention to their food as this.

Mrs Jones, Central – a bit mama/huhu

Review:

Popped along for lunch at the new Mrs Jones restaurant at the top of Pottinger St a few days ago.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Concept Creations venues so far as their service has generally been really good and friendly. However, I have to say that lunch was a bit horsey horsey tiger tiger and that’s forced me to invent a new category on my blog, (hit and miss to the those not in on the Mando reference).

Food: Italian. My companion and I opted for a 3 course set lunch.

We both had salads to begin with, which were let down by the overcooked mush of carrots, and an indifferent mix of leaves and Parma ham.

My pasta main was disappointing, primarily because it was bog-standard bought pasta – literally the farfalle I buy down at the supermarket.

Now, I think that’s a bit of a cop out. Fresh pasta using organic flour would be cheaper to make than buying mass produced dried stuff, and definitely less expensive than some of the very good quality dried pastas, and is super easy to make – so why serve your customers the boring bought stuff, when you can make a selling point out of having fresh, organic pasta instead?

My companion’s main course on the other hand was very tasty – Chicken with olive mash and a creamy mushroom sauce.

What absolutely saved my meal though was the stunning lime curd tart for dessert.  Fresh from the oven. This was a stroke of genius.

Perfect light pastry, a warm delicately textured and flavoured lime filling and a really good vanilla custard creme on the side that was a great accompaniment. No holding back here – it was superb.

Drinks: Didn’t have a look at the wine list, so can’t comment on that.

Ambience: This venue has always been a nice space, the decor is warm and inviting, and the seats comfortable.  It is however a bit rough around the edges.

There is paint peeling off the walls at the entrance for example, and that just confuses me – is this a new restaurant, or are they just using the space to see if this concept works before redecorating? I don’t know, but again this makes me think they have a bit of a lackadaisical attitude to this venture.

Service: The service was very friendly and attentive, although the restaurant was not busy – if it had been, then the one waiter may have been overstretched.

Cost: $98 for a three course set lunch in Central is good value.

Location: Entrance is at the top of Pottinger Street just down from Wyndham St, where Soda used to be. Upper Basement, Harilela House, 79 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 25228118

Overall, I consider the glitches I encountered as teething problems and would definitely go back for lunch in a few weeks time.

Between the two of us, exactly half the dishes were definite misses and half were definite hits, so it would be churlish to not give them another go.

However, at the moment my vote of Caustic or Candy is to be withheld, and instead I must create a new category – mama/huhu.

马马虎虎 – ma ma hu hu; (Horsey Horsey Tiger Tiger) definition is so-so, hit and miss, passable, careless.


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

Cul de Sac – One of the best burgers in HK? Bo****ks.

Review:

And whilst I’m on the subject of the pustulating canker on the arse-end of Lan Kwai Fong that is Rat Alley – why, oh why do so many usually sane people keep telling me that Cul de Sac serves one of the best burgers in town? And that their poutine is a revelation?

After so much insistence I did try both once and, in bamboozled exasperation, I had to inform the poor mite who had dragged me there that the burger was quite possibly the worst I’d had to endure since a pit-stop at a burger-van on the A14 outside Kettering nearly 20 years ago.

Thin, grey, mealy and tasteless – both burger and bun.

And well, the poutine was just a flabby, greasy mess.

Next time you throw caution to the wind and indulge in so many jelly shots at Al’s Diner that at 2am you are actually peeing green and finding it difficult to focus, just pop to the 7/11 or the kebab shop for your fix, instead of drunkenly insisting to your cohorts they are about to experience an awesome taste sensation if they will only accompany you round the corner and up the hill instead.

Get a grip. You are wrong.

Rat Alley, LKF – there’s a new reason it’s called that…

Review and an open letter to Uncle Alan:

So when I first arrived in Hong Kong I understood that we called the place of much cheapness that was Wing Wah Lane “Rat Alley”, simply because of the rats – and believe me there were many.

I lived in Lan Kwai Fong for a couple of years on what used to be the wonderfully quiet Wo On Lane (that backs onto Wing Wah), and we used to fight pitched battles with the wily creatures on late night returns home.

More recently, Rat Alley has earned its sobriquet for a wholly different reason – the restauranteurs are the rats now, charging crazy prices for the slop they call food and serve in their establishments.

Yes, I know that the landlords will be blamed for putting up the rent – but Christ – you’re probably in the most lucrative entertainment district in Asia bar Rappongi Hills!

I’m sure there are all sorts of bar owners who would love to pay top dollar for some of that commercial space, and we’d actually have a truly pedestrian friendly piece of LKF Magaluf to hang out in. Sling a roof across that space, add some sort of ventilation and you could have an awesome year-round courtyard.

I used to have a soft spot for the crazy chap who owns Good Luck Thai (and seemed either to be preternaturally cheerful, or just perpetually pissed), but now I understand that he runs most of the establishments on that strip so competition is diminishing, and I’m not quite so enamoured as I was before.

The only reason I went recently was that some poor tourist idiot had heard it was a good place for al fresco dining and was already there by the time I’d arrived to meet him.

It’s time those restaurants went bust, and we got some proper venues in there, or that the LCSD had a moment of inspiration and set up a proper food night-market à la Singapore.

Actually, scrap that. Can you even begin to imagine the monstrosity that would be an LCSD produced “authentic” night market?

Come on Mr Zeman – if you can afford to set up LKF in Chengdu, why don’t you go the whole hog in HK and grab a hold of Wing Wah Lane too and deliver all those poor tourist saps from their misery?

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.

The Red Pepper in one word – Woeful.

Review:

I’ve no idea why this restaurant is still going. One of those that should have died a death years ago.

Opened in the 70s, I presume that Red Pepper in Causeway Bay is one of the oldest Sichuan restaurants in Hong Kong and became popular as it was probably one of the only Sichuans around in those days.

Now it seems to survive on gweilo expats who couldn’t even point to Sichuan on a map, and tourists who don’t know any better than to read Trip Advisor. The management are just riding the wave because they can get away with not innovating or even providing a quality experience, (reminding me rather of the Stoep and American Peking).

It’s lazy, lacklustre and hopefully this lack of attention to what the competition are doing will result in their bankruptcy sooner rather than later.

It’s shabby, crowded with tables and the food is just not very good.

It’s also no cheaper than any number of other restaurants serving similar (but much better) cuisine in HK – San Xi Lou, Da Ping Huo, Yellow Door, Mum Chau’s in Lan Kwai Fong, Si Jie in Wanchai or even Hunan Garden, which again makes me wonder why on earth it’s still going.

Don’t really need to go into any more detail.

Avoid it.

Nuff said.

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!

Brantos – veggie Indian canteen. Quick and tasty.

Review:

So I found myself on the Dark Side yesterday at a tailor on Hankow Road around suppertime and it struck me that I hadn’t been to Brantos for bloomin ages. My partner and I both felt we could do with laying off the meat for a day, and so a veggie Indian was the perfect solution.

Food: Brantos is awesome for fast food style snacks. They serve all sorts of puri, idli and wada, as well as having a list of Dosa as long as your arm, which when they arrive are also as long as your arm.

I could fill my boots purely from this left hand side of the menu, but then I’d miss out on the curries, which are really very good. Yesterday we had a yellow dahl which was really intensely flavoured, and a jalfrezi whose vegetables maintained a good bite on them, (which was a delightful change to some of the mush I have been served in many curry houses). Everything was very tasty and satisfying.

You can order thalis and set menus for well under $100, and after I’d stuffed myself to bursting was wishing I’d ordered one of them instead.

Drinks: Non-alcoholic drinks only here, usual sodas, lassi’s and tea.

Service: Service is pretty informal and not particularly attentive, levels of English vary by waiter, but if you need any dishes explained they are very friendly and helpful.

Ambience: Canteen style, rough around the edges, packing in as many tables as possible. It’s about the food here and nothing else. Usually pretty bustling and at weekends you can expect to wait for a table if you hit at rush hour. Caters very much to families and office workers.

Price: It would be almost impossible to spend even $200 per person no matter how large your group or your appetite.  Yesterday the two of us had four dishes, a bunch of chapatis and three soft drinks for $278 before service. We were stuffed to the gills and could easily have done without any one of those dishes. Good value for money.

Location: 1F, 9-11 Lock Road, TST. Lock Road is off Peking Road about 50m from TST MTR exit C1. Look for the more obvious signs of the Red Lion Pub and Branto’s is in the building next door. It looks like you are going into a set of old flats, you have to ring the buzzer for them to let you in – so don’t be confused, you are at the right place. Tel: 2366 8171

Open: Branto’s is open for lunch (11-3) and dinner (6-10:30) 7 days a week.