Posts tagged “michelin

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.

Albert Adrià in Beijing – make haste to request a reservation

Thanks to following Beijing Boyce, it has come to my attention that Albert Adrià of elBulli will be coming to Beijing with a team of chefs at the end of October.

Now that promises to be a culinary event of awesome proportions – hang the fact that elBulli have Michelin stars coming out of their ears, they have been voted the best restaurant in the world for the past 4 years.

Here are all the deets -but be warned, in the email I was sent from the organiser, he said they’d received 4000 emails just last week alone, so as space is limited I’d get your booking requests in smartish (although it’s not clear if it’s first come first serve).

BTW, the first two events are based on the restaurant’s cook books.

About the event:

Spain’s elBulli has been awarded the title of the World’s Best Restaurant by the prestigious Restaurant Magazine for the past four years, as well as in 2002. Led by manager Juli Solder; Chef Albert Adrià, the “ideologist” of elBulli; and Chef Ferran Adrià, frequently noted as the best chef in the world, elBullli offers the most sought-after dining tables in the world.

This October, celebrating the astounding impact these two culinary craftsmen and their restaurant have had on both Spain’s and the world’s cuisines, Albert Adrià will visit Beijing with his team of chefs to host four unforgettable gastronomic events.

Presenting book and DVD presentations, master classes, Q&A sessions, and meets and greets, together with a final guest-chef dinner, Albert Adrià, ”ideologist” of elBulli in Beijing, will be a must for industry professionals and passionate foodies alike.

A day at elBulli

Wednesday 28th October 688rmb per person NETT

VIP tables 11,888rmb for 10pax NETT

Events starts at 6:30pm

Natura

Thursday 29th October 688rmb per person NETT

VIP tables 11,888rmb for 10pax NETT

Events starts at 6:30pm

Brian McKenna and Da Dong dinner, Albert Adria guest of honour

Friday 30th October 888rmb per person NETT

Event starts at 6:30pm

A day at elBulli and natura combined 1,200rmb per person NETT

A day at elBulli and natura combined 22,000rmb per table of 10pax NETT

A day at elBulli, natura and Brian McKenna/Da Dong dinner combined 1,900rmb per person NETT

A day at elBulli, natura and Brian McKenna/Da Dong dinner combined 30,000rmb per table of 10pax NETT

If you are interested in any of the events please send an email to adriabeijing@room-bmk.com.

Reservations: This extraordinary event will no doubt be highly coveted and there are strictly limited places.

To attend, please lodge your reseration request at adriabeijing@room-bmk.com before 18 October 2009.

All requests will be answered on Monday 19th October, and due to expected huge demand we cannot guarantee spaces to everyone.

-END-

So there you have it.  I only count three events, so not sure what the fourth unmentioned one is.  Good luck to anyone wanting to go and I look forward to hearing how it comes off.

Unfortunately I am going to on a mission in North Africa over that week, and won’t be able to attend – so I’m a little gutted as I won’t be going to Spain in the foreseeable.
Here are all the deets – but be warned, in the email I was sent from the organisers, they said they’d received 4000 emails about this last week alone, so as space is limited, I’d get your booking requests in smartish:
About the event.

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.

Hotel Lancaster, Paris – sublime.

Review:

This post is part of the same Parisian story that saw my partner and I leaving Hotel Costes rather earlier than expected after a run in with some particulary obnoxious staff.

Having either been bumped from our room, or just downright lied to by that hotel, our lifestyle manager, who was distraught that we’d been screwed about, got us booked into a suite at the truly 5* Hotel Lancaster just off the Champs Elyseés instead.

As soon as we entered the serene lobby and the receptionist smiled winningly at us, I fell in love with Hotel Lancaster.

lobby_lancaster_paris

When I stepped into Suite 75, I knew I was home. It was the most perfect, elegant Belle Epoque apartment for a romantic stay in Paris. It was everything Hotel Costes wanted to be, but would never, ever achieve.

It’s full of carefully chosen antiques and artwork, has all the modern facilities you could want, from iPod docks to wifi, and is the ultimate in quiet sophistication.

The bedroom of suite 75 opened up onto a lovely long balcony overlooking Paris and the Zen garden below.

lancaster_75_bedroom_parisWe had a lounge where we would be served an enormous breakfast every day, and was so cosy and sumptuous in the middle of winter I hardly wanted to leave it.

salon_lancaster_paris_75And the suite had one of my all time favourite bathrooms.  Just look at that art-deco dressing table. Absolutely gorgeous, and so much light. I was also introduced to a wonderful range of Greek beauty products - Korres – their citrus body milk is my particular favourite.

bathroom_75_lancaster_paris

outside_lancaster-parisThe service at Hotel Lancaster is as good as it gets. They are on the Mandarin Oriental level of excellence in my books. The concierge introduced us to a really good modern Sichuan restaurant, and helped us find out about particular shops etc. The housekeeping and room service staff were efficient, friendly and discreet – what more do you need?

The hotel has lots of facilities and a 2* Michelin restaurant, but we really didn’t take advantage of all that because we were so cosy and wrapped up in our suite. Having spent weeks on the move traveling around Europe, being able just to lounge around in this gorgeous set of rooms and having Paris outside the windows was blissful. I have to admit I got rather too used to it.

Location: 7 rue de Berri, Champs Elyseés, 75008, Paris. Tel: +33 1 40 76 40 76. Pretty close to the George V Metro, close to the Place d’Etoile end of the Champs Elyseés.

Boys – if you ever want to take a loved one to Paris, I promise you that if you book into either the Dietrich, 75 or 76 suites at the Lancaster they will be yours forever. It is captivating, exhilarating, elegant and utterly sophisticated – and some of that is bound to rub off on you…

36 Hours in Verona – great place for a romantic weekend getaway, or foodie jaunt.

Not a lot of time to do stuff in 36 hours, but that’s long enough for two evening meals, and scoot around the city sites and shops.

verona_night_caustic_candy

We ended up in Verona by chance after discovering rather belatedly (we rarely plan our trips) that the Italian lakes were completely shut up  for the winter. I’m so pleased we were forced to make this switch – Verona was lovely, has great restaurants and is slap in the middle of wine country, (Valpollicella and Soave to be exact).

ampitheatre_verona_causticcandyVerona is a perfect place to wander around for a day (You could spend two with ease). It’s an ancient town, and of course has that world famous Roman ampitheatre where they hold the opera every summer. Couple that with the opportunities it presents for day/evening trips to the Italian Lakes and various wineries and it’s actually a pretty good base for a longer stay.

Outside the old town Verona is pretty grubby, as is most of Northern Italy in between their ancient cities. There seems to be absolutely no planning rules and it’s pretty damn ugly.

Places to stay: I really enjoyed staying at Villa Amista, 10km out of town – fascinating place with superb service.

The other hotel we were offered was Hotel Gabbia D’Oro, a pastiche of an old house. It’s stuffed with antiques, and seems to be medieval in structure, but apparently was put up from scratch in the 1980′s. It’s meant to be a good hotel, but we didn’t fancy trying to drive into the centre of old Verona, and were told that Amista was better.

If I went back to Verona outside winter, then I would probably be tempted to give Villa del Quar a go as this has a 2* Michelin restaurant, is in an ancient building, and is in the middle of a winery. Looks good.

Where to eat: There are a bunch of great restaurants in Verona. Obviously I wasn’t there very long, but I can wholeheartedly say don’t bother with Il Desco, even though it’s 2* Michelin. If you are not staying at Villa Amista, then it’s well worth going out to their restaurant Atelier for lunch or supper. The food is brilliant (without doubt better than Il Desco), the decor wholly unexpected, and the service and sommelier wonderful.

veronatower_causticcandyWe had to make a decision whether to go to Il Desco or Dal Pescatore. The latter is 3* Michelin and has an amazing reputation wherever you look, but it was nearly an hour away from the hotel, and obviously we both wanted to be able to drink. At the time we thought that going to Il Desco was a suitable alternative. How wrong we were. I wish we’d gone to Dal Pescatore. Opportunity missed there.

Pottering: The old town is pretty small and it’s a great pleasure to go pottering about, stopping off for coffee or drinks as often as possible. As well as all the churches, Roman architecture, palazzos, piazzas and museums all dripping in history and romance, there are some great furniture and homeware shops, as well as delis and wine shops.

In fact, if I was traveling around Veneto in summer, I’d definitely go to Verona over Venice, as Venice is ruined when it’s hot, and jammed with far more tourists. I’d also choose Verona as a great location for a long romantic or foodie weekend in Europe.

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?!)

Bo Innovation – unique in Hong Kong

Review

Ah – a special occasion at last, and so to Bo Innovation.

I’d seen this restaurant when it was in Central near the FCC, but the one time I went to go I picked the day after the damn place had shut before moving to Wanchai behind The Pawn.

Then, I saw it on Bourdain and knew I had to go – I hadn’t realised that it was all this molecular stuff that Demon Chef was up to, and for those who put any store by the Michelin guide in HK, this restaurant thoroughly deseves it’s rating. It’s difficult to really pigeon-hole this restaurant.  It’s not Chinese, but I wouldn’t class it as fusion either. It’s just really unusual and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Bo Innovation

Sat at the chef’s table and had the tasting menu, the stand-outs for me were:

Uni with dan dan noodles.  Really, really good, and the uni was super fresh.

Toro with foie gras powder and freeze dried raspberry – this really is a piece de resistance the toro was just melt in your mouth stuff, and then the foie gras powder added another rich rounded taste, coupled with the lovely berry tartness from the raspberry.  Don’t knock it til you try it.  Sublime.

Peat Shoot Cappucino with “har mi” crouton.  Just really sweet and lovely

causticcandy_bo_innovation

Molecular xiao long bao and lap mei fan.  The xiao long bao was so clever.  A little bubble of stock that tasted just like the dim sum should.

Cod with black bean, honey and pickled bak choy: The quality of the cod was fantastic.  The best black cod I’ve ever had (BH agreed)

Duck char siu, with foie gras.  Again super quality ingredients, amazingly tasty.

Wagyu fat choi hotpot:  this was wagyu beef cheek, done like a true french pot au feu, breathtakingly simple with the clearest of stock, the sweetest of veg beautifully al dente and the fat in the cheek had turned to jelly which made it positively orgasmic.  Truly a masterpiece.

causticcandy_bo_innovation1

Dessert – had 3 or four little deserts  - all fun/molecular and tiny.

So basically 8 out of the 10 courses were stella, and the other couple were still very good.

We washed all this down with a bottle of pink Ruinart champagne which surprisingly worked really well with the entire menu, give it a go.

Price: Dinner was $1080 each for the menu so with champagne, service and tip I spent exactly $4000.  Worth every penny, would go once a week if I had the cash.

Ambience: fantastic experience sitting chatting to Demon Chef and his workers, great space with high roof and an outside terrace.  Upbeat vibe because the kitchen is open and people are excited about the food.

Location: 2F, J Residence, 60 Johnston Road, Wanchai (same building as The Pawn and Ovo Lounge, but entrance round the corner). Website

If you are a foodie you have to go to this restaurant – no other home grown Hongkee chef is doing this in the territory.

Dakota Prime/Opus Grill – same sorry restaurant?

Update 21.5.10:  Hmm, just come across a new opening “Opus Grill” which is in exactly the same location as Dakota Prime. Does this mean purely a new name and a bit of a redesign, with the same sorry service and management or something wholly different? If anyone knows, do please drop a comment by, I’d love to know that’s it’s gone tits up for all the reasons I gave below. It certainly didn’t get into the Michelin or Miele guides, so maybe they have decided on a rethink and rebrand…

Review:

Never publicly state your intention to be a Michelin starred restaurant and then provide the worst table service in the whole of Hong Kong. Dakota is a pretty new (opened late winter 2009) steak restaurant slap bang in the middle of Lan Kwai Fong, charging bull market prices.

Is this in fact Cova Coffee?
Is this in fact Cova Coffee?

This is quite possibly one of the most overpriced meals I’ve ever partooken in. There are many ways to review a restaurant, I think the most pertinent for Dakota is by timeline.

Consider:

7:30-7:33 Arrive at restaurant, seated promptly, given a cocktail and wine list.  Look about, decide it’s got all the ambience of an upscale mall restaurant – in fact now I think about it, it’s very Cova Coffee…

7:33-8:00 Catch-up with friends as we haven’t seen them for ages, and finally realise that no-one’s been over to ask us what we want to drink, nor have they brought us a food menu. Peruse wine list and laugh heartily about the preposterous and try-hard selection.

8:00 Catch waiter’s eye. Waiter comes over. Order a cocktail each and ask for the menu.

8:04 Menus arrive.

8:15 Haul waiter over to ask where the drinks are and tell him we are ready to order. He tells us he is only a drinks waiter so we have to wait for a food waiter.

8:25 Haul waiter over again to ask where our drinks are and that we still haven’t had our food order taken.

8:33 Drinks arrive.

8:45 The right waiter comes to take our food order – over an hour after we had arrived. Out of 4 diners, only 2 order a starter.

9:10 Starters arrive.  We order a bottle of wine.

9:13 Amuse bouche arrives for all of us (after the starters…?)

9:15 Bread basket arrives (after the starters and the amuse bouche…?)

9:30 Finish starters

10:00 3 main courses arrive

10:05 Last main course arrives.

Leave restaurant at 10:50 after main courses to go somewhere else for coffee and dessert!

7:30 to 10:50 to get through one aperitif, starters and a main course? With the pleasure of paying HK$1000 per head? Never again. You deserve to go bankrupt you incompetent, arrogant fools.

Outrageously overpriced for what it is.  You would go to the Mandarin Grill or the Intercon in a heartbeat over this place, and receive fantastic service in better surroundings.  Hell, I’d go to the Gallery in Lantau and have a good steak for a fraction of the cost.

Makes my blood boil again thinking about it.

One concession – the morel mushroom sauce was very tasty.