Posts tagged “Restaurant

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.

Venice in winter – the only time to go.

And so to Venice. There are only two things you need to heed if you are planning on visiting Venice:
Go in winter
Stay in Venice. Do not go as a day-tripper.
Why number 1? Venice is a stinking, teaming horror-pit in the summer.
By contrast, in winter the day trippers are still numerous but manageable, the light is fantastic for photos, the few hotels that are open will give you really good deals, and the restaurants that are open must be the ones able to survive on locals’ patronage, so must be amongst the best.
Why number 2? Avoid the crush of day-trippers and potter around the empty city at night.  Magic.
Part of the experience of Venice is about feeling smug lounging around in your palazzo whilst the hoards canter around the alleyways trying to see everything before their buses whisk them away.
Because the trippers have to see everything in a rush, they congregate around the big highlights, whereas you can stroll leisurely around the likes of Dorsoduro unmolested during the earlier parts of the day and then head across to the more touristy attractions later in the afternoon when the majority of visitors are dragging themselves away.
Places to stay: I stay in the Ca Maria Adele in Dorsoduro, as it’s stunning, tiny and the area is convenient to the all the places I want to go and is one of the quietest and most residential districts in Venice. I’ve had friends who have stayed at the Cipriani, and loved it, but the only reason to stay there really is that it’s got an outdoor pool, and if you are going in winter, you aren’t going to be taking advantage of that!
A short list of my favourite things:
Hotel: Ca Maria Adele, an utter gem, in my top 3 romantic hotels of all time, a tiny palazzo in a quiet, beautiful part of town.
Culcha: Peggy Guggenheim Collection (about 10mins walk from Ca Maria Adele).  Small, but perfectly formed collection of important modern art – Surrealism, Cubism, Abstract. Picasso, Pollock, Dali, Magritte – fantastic intro to modern art if it’s previously not been your thing.  Fascinating lady, fascinating little palazzo on the Grand Canal, lovely little garden and a tea room.
Coffee: Hotel Londra, sitting outside by the Piazza San Marco watching the world go by, overlooking the lagoon.
Restaurant: Antica Carbonara, super old-school restaurant serving Venetian cuisine.  The booths are made from the timbers of an old Hapsburg yacht and the supporting pillars are from the masts. We stumbled on this place at 10pm one cold February evening, and it was jammed with locals.  Down a tiny alley, tucked away. Great find.
Transport: forget the gondolas. The real treat in Venice is flashing around in the Rivas.  They are one of my all time favourite makers of small boats, and it was brilliant zooming around town in them.
Walking: You will most likely spend a lot of time pounding the streets, it’s difficult to stop exploring the tiny alleys and canals. Dorsoduro is a lovely part of town to do this whilst you wait for the hoards to disperse.
In winter, the fact that many hotels and restaurants are closed can constrain where you stay and eat (for example the Cirpriani and Palazzo Barbarigo are both shut), but it means that there are so few tourists staying in the city that you really do have the place to yourself, and that is a fantastic opportunity that you should never pass by.

Venice

And so to Venice.

It really is mind boggling to think about how bonkers the merchant princes were to build Venice where they did and how they did. I’m fascinated by trading ports (must come from living in HK), and to me Venice is the ultimate collaboration of trade, engineering, art and architecture.

There is no denying that the city is now only a hollow carapace – what I’m trying to work out though is what that symbolises. A stark reminder of the vagaries of trade routes? Or the importance of diversifying your economy?  If the North East Passage becomes fully navigable in the next 15yrs will Hong Kong’s port be suddenly redundant? Anyway, I digress…

There are only two things you need to heed if you are planning on visiting Venice:

  1. Go in winter
  2. Stay in Venice. Do not go as a day-tripper.

Why number 1? Venice is a stinking, teaming horror-pit in the summer.

By contrast, in winter the day trippers are still numerous but manageable, the light is fantastic for photos, the few hotels that are open will give you really good deals, and the restaurants that are open must be the ones able to survive on locals’ patronage, so must be amongst the best.

Why number 2? Avoid the crush of day-trippers and potter around the empty city at night.  Magic.

Venice Canal Caustic Candy

Part of the experience of Venice is about feeling smug lounging around in your palazzo whilst the hoards canter around the alleyways trying to see everything before their buses whisk them away.

Because the trippers have to see everything in a rush, they congregate around the big highlights, whereas you can stroll leisurely around the likes of Dorsoduro unmolested during the earlier parts of the day and then head across to the more touristy attractions later in the afternoon when the majority of visitors are dragging themselves away.

A short list of my favourite things:

Hotel: Ca Maria Adele, an utter gem, in my top 3 romantic hotels of all time, a tiny palazzo in a quiet, beautiful part of town.

Culcha: Peggy Guggenheim Collection (about 10mins walk from Ca Maria Adele). Small, but perfectly formed collection of important modern art – Surrealism, Cubism, Abstract, Picasso, Pollock, Dali, Magritte – fantastic intro to modern art if it’s previously not been your thing. Fascinating lady, fascinating little palazzo on the Grand Canal, lovely little garden and a tea room.

Coffee: Hotel Londra, sitting outside on the terrace of their Do Leoni restaurant, by the Piazza San Marco watching the world go by, overlooking the lagoon.

Restaurant: Antica Carbonera, super old-school, centuries old restaurant serving Venetian cuisine close to the Rialto bridge. The booths are made from the timbers of an old Hapsburg yacht and the supporting pillars are from the masts. We stumbled on this place at 10pm one cold February evening, and it was jammed with locals. Down a tiny alley, tucked away. Great find.

Transport: forget the gondolas. The real treat in Venice is flashing around in the Rivas. They are one of my all time favourite makers of small boats, and it was brilliant zooming around town in them.

Walking: You will most likely spend a lot of time pounding the streets, it’s difficult to stop exploring the tiny alleys and canals. Dorsoduro is a lovely part of town to do this whilst you wait for the hoards to disperse.

In winter, the fact that many hotels and restaurants are closed can constrain where you stay and eat (for example the Cirpriani and Palazzo Barbarigoare both shut), but it means that there are so few tourists staying in the city that you really do have the place to yourself, can eat where the Venetians themselves do, cutting out a lot of tourist clutter and the light is so very pretty for photos.

Venice in the winter light

Sukhumvit/Ploenchit – Where to sleep, shop, spa and sup in Bangkok

I never tire of Thailand. I don’t think it’s possible to have a bad holiday there, unless you are a muppet and go around smoking drugs and letting coconuts fall on your head.

I never tire of Bangkok either, even though I’ve been there countless times.  It’s just a great city, but – and this is important – it’s only great as long as you know how to get around and don’t sit in traffic jams for hours on end.

causticcandy_bangkok

If you only have a long weekend or just a couple of days in Bangkok then I would heartily suggest staying somewhere along the Sukhumvit Road or the beginning of Ploenchit (they lead into each other).

As the traffic is still atrocious you do need to base yourself close to a Skytrain station preferably, or an underground.

Any bars/restaurants etc outside this immediate vicinity mainly have their own posts elsewhere on the blog (eg, if it’s your first time in Bangkok you really do have to go for sundowners at Vertigo at the Banyan Tree but it’s a way away from Sukhumvit in Silom).

Stay:

The Eugenia on Sukhumvit Soi 31 for small, chic and sophisticated.

Hyatt Erawan or Conrad, for big 5* chains that are both very close to Gaysorn and Siam Paragon for shopping/cinemas/Skytrain junctions/on-site spas.

Do not stay anywhere near the Grand Palace unless you are only going to be doing siteseeing/eating in that area or along the river. The traffic is enough to try the patience of the Buddha.

Eat:

Around Sukhumvit:

Vendome is good (if French and formal), next to the Eugenia. Nice setting in a house with a sweet garden and terrace. Big wine list, and a couple of private rooms up stairs.

Cabbages and Condoms – standard Thai fare, and is always worth a meal if you have time as the service is laughably haphazard – but it’s all for a good charitable cause.

Kuppa at 39 Sukhumvit Soi 16, lovely for lunch, huge, airy and industrial. Tel: 02663-0495

DB Bradley Room in the Eugenia. Now I haven’t eaten here, I was thwarted by the traffic last time I was in BKK when I was trying out a hotel in another part of town. It gets good reviews, and it is the most stunning room – hand painted wallpaper with gold leaf, and only about 8 tables in toto. Super romantic.

It’s fusion, but apparently very good. Someone please go and let me know what it’s like as I’ve been dying to go here for months!

Avoid: Lan Na Thai (great venue, poor food), Spring & Summer (again great venue, poor food).

Bed Supperclub -If you haven’t been to BKK before and you are under 25, then this venue is still something fun and different to go to, but bear in mind you eat lounging around on beds, so it’s not for everyone’s digestive system (must bring ID with you for age-verification even if you are 90), and it’s still style over substance.

I’m putting non-Sukhumvit restaurants in other posts. It is worth heading out and braving the traffic only in the evenings, and it’s certainly easier to get across town starting here, way out west than it is, starting off round the Palace or River areas.

causticcandy_bangkoktaxi

I know I haven’t mentioned many Thai restaurants here, but I’d suggest that your hotel concierge knows where the best ones are in your district, or where their favourite ones are.

Thai’s think that all farang are pussies and can’t possibly take their food as hot as the locals do. If you like it hot, do impress upon your waiters/concierge that you want it proper spicy. I sometimes feel like I have to down a bottle of Tabasco to get them to believe me.

Sup:

Face: Although the Thai restaurant here (Lan Na Thai), is nothing to write home about, Face, the bar, is great. Serves good cocktails and is in a stunning teak housing complex.

Bed Supperclub: Again, one for the kids, but it’s still quite fun.

Q Bar: still fun here too, but better if you are in a bigger group as at least it’s easier for the boys to avoid the hookers (if they want to…).

BKK has lost it’s party really, after the crackdown. If you hang out in some of the bigger clubs though it’s easy to meet people and there is a big scene in underground after-parties (in fact most of them seem to be on roofs).

Soi Nana and Soi Cowboy. As long as you’re not with your parents, or clients, then having a drink in both these Sois can be fun if you haven’t been to BKK before and you’re undecided on the moral dilemma of it all. It’s certainly the better end of the prostitution business, if there is a better end. I have no issue with girls (or boys, or lady boys) dancing round with next to nothing on, or shooting ping pong balls out of their more private orifices, but the take-it-home side of things does make me wince.

For a good overview of prostitution in Asia, that actually gives you some decent context read Louise Brown’s Sex Slaves – the trafficking of women in Asia. The content is useful and enlightening, even if the delivery is heavy-handed.

Day spas:

Ah, one of my favourite pursuits in Thailand.

Lavana Spa: I love this spa, it’s on Soi 12

I am a massive herbal ball massage fan, and they have five different varieties here, made up of different herbs for different purposes (you can even watch the ladies making them, and buy them in the shop, all their products are made in-house).

This is a big spa, they have nearly 50 rooms and it’s a bit of a labyrinth. Rooms are crisp and clean, and their therapists are superb. It’s actually quite an art to perform a herbal ball massage correctly and this is the best I’ve encountered. It’s not as plush as a 5* hotel, but it’s still stylish, at least half the price and it’s really very good. BHT850 (less than HK$200) for 90 minutes of massage is staggeringly reasonable. You’d be hard pressed to wait more than 10mins for a therapist if you walked off the street (although booking is advisable at busy times), and it’s open until 2am. Perfect.

Mulberry: I also love this spa, but mainly for foot massages. Soi 23.

I am a complete reflexology glutton – an addict even. The two best foot massages I’ve ever had have been here, and then at Dragonfly in Beijing.

The surroundings are very sweet and homely here – it’s set in a big wooden house with gardens, so it’s a very enjoyable place to spend some quality time. I’d go to Lavana which is very close by for other massages and treatments though. I had a facial here which wasn’t brilliant, and their herbal massage didn’t stack up against Lavana either. Again open late, so great for a spot of relexology on the way home from the pub, or if you are suffering from jet lag. Blissful.

Shopping:

Malls:

Siam Paragon and Gaysorn are the top end malls and where most of your designer shops are. I have found that for men especially, the designers here don’t carry many sizes, and it’s difficult to find anything in manly, European sizes, let alone US sizes. I’ve also found that prices are higher than in HK, so I’ve never bought anything top end in BKK.

Siam Discovery Centre is a bit more furniture, nicknacks focussed (even has a Habitat, dontyerknow), some nice shops in here.

Central World (the newest in this strip), Siam Center, MBK, Siam Square and Siam Discovery have all the rest of the things you might be interested in really – its a great conglomeration of shopping, just a very useful place to go and get your acquisition fever out of the way in one fell swoop. Really don’t bother going anywhere else if you only have a short period of time.

Siam Centre is one of my favourites even though it’s a bit old and cramped, as it has a Boots (for all you Brits out there), as well as Jaspal and a slew of funky Thai designer shops (like Fly Now), as well as a couple of great shoe shops in the form of Lyn (cheap and cheerful), and one which stocks shoes by Obsession (I’m not sure the whole shop is called Obsession, I’ll update that later but it’s almost opposite one of the exits of Jaspal). Anyway, suffice to say that especially on the level where Boots is, which is the skytrain level, there are loads of interesting shops.

Soi 23:

There are some very nice homeware type shops up around the Mulberry Spa, on the walk from the Asoke skytrain station to the Eugenia hotel.

Almeta Silk: Beautiful made to order fabrics, choose the thread count and the pantone colour.  You walk in and after 5 minutes wonder how on earth people choose, as you decide all you really want to do is deck your house out in the entire rainbow of colours they have on offer. Great for design freaks who know exactly what shade they need. These guys are used to handling overseas orders. Lots of pre-made merch on sale too. 20/3 Soi Prasarnmitr, Sukhumvit Soi 23. Tel:662 2041413.

Incredible & Eligible: These two furniture/nicknack shops are run by the same guy who is a designer. Incredible is stuffed with the antiques and oddities that inspire him, and Eligible houses the new designs bourne out of these inspirations.

Think old telescopes, hurricane lamps, ancient mirrors, stuffed birds, overstuffed sofas. It’s difficult to explain and I don’t have a photo. Just take a look at the Eugenia Hotel interiors on their website and this is the style of things you’ll find in these two shops. Eligible is at 116/2 Soi 23 (tel: 662 662 8053) and Incredible is at 116/4 (tel 662 260 9690). Really lovely staff too, and you can also commission bespoke pieces which is good news!

Pic from the Eugenia website: don't you want to stay there?!
Pic from the Eugenia website: don’t you want to stay there?!

These are my standout stores on this Soi, but take a wander as there are all sorts. For a thorough source I can highly recommend the Luxe Guide to BKK.  I’m not so bowled over by their restaurant recommendations – (to be fair this may well be more a matter of personal taste rather than bad suggestions), but for shopping they are very useful guides if you don’t have a lot of time (and being proper pocket sized, you can avoid looking too much like a tourist).

Cinema.

Quite possibly Bangkok has the best cinema in the world. It’s in the Siam Paragon mall and is called the Enigma Shadow Lounge. The cinema consists of a bar where you can sit and have drinks before the film, and the cinema itself.

There are around 17 booths which are basically 6ft by 6ft beds for two people. There are stacks of silken cushions and pillows as well as silk duvets for you to lie back in and relax. Totally sumptuous. To finish off this experience there is waitress service where you just raise your hand and they come scurrying down to bring you your next beer/G&T/plate of nachos. The screen is huge and you are totally private in your own high sided booth. Bloody marvellous. I have to admit that my recent weekend trips to Bangkok have all been worked around me being able to see the biggest films of the year at Enigma.

This has now become a members’ only cinema, but my hotel concierges have never had a problem getting tickets for us, so that’s probably the best way to sort it out.

One thing to note: Whenever you go to the cinema in Thailand, they play the national anthem before the film and you need to show your respect and stand up.

Places worth making a dash to away from Sukhumvit:

I love Jim Thompson’s house (and it’s on a skytrain line). I must have been there 5 times, and never stop enjoying it. I love the garden, I love the styling, I love the colours, and I actually really love the shop.  The handbags and scarves are particular favourites, (there are good branches of the shop in lots of the top malls in BBK including the ones mentioned above).

Vertigo at the Banyan Tree. Bar literally on the roof, nestled amongst the air-conditioning units 61 stories up. Spectacular. Well worth a visit at sundown, and best to arrive at that time to get a good spot. It is a bitch to get to unless you are staying in Silom, so I suggest leaving an hour to get there if you are in and around Siam Square, longer if you are at the Eugenia.

smashing photo from their website
smashing photo from their website

Cafe de Laos (in Silom like the Banyan Tree, so good idea to go here for supper after your aperitif at Vertigo for some really good Laotian/Isaan food), and Suan Thip, a fantastic half day river trip with lunch or dinner.

Tips and notes:

Thai’s like tips as much as the rest of us. Try and take pink/orange taxis as they are newer. Avoid tuk-tuks unless you are going somewhere close by and the traffic is awful as at least the tuk-tuks can squeeze down the sides. Keep your handbags out of sight, and expect to smell of exhaust fumes and kerosene afterwards. I admit to taking a motocycle taxi once, as I was shopping and would have missed my flight home if I hadn’t. I wouldn’t make a habit of it.
causticcandy_bangkoktuktuk

Use your concierge to the max. The Luxe guide is good for shops, not so hot for restaurants. Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok is also incredibly useful. So useful, that even I, who hates looking like a tourist, will get it out on a street corner to consult. I don’t bother with any other guides than these. Pick up restaurant/events/bar recommendations from the listings mags like BK Mag and Metro amongst others. You can pick the guides up easily around BKK, but best is at the Asia Books store next to the ATMs outside Siam Skytrain station as it’s always a good place to start a weekend in BKK.

Remember to tell your waiters how hot you want your food, and if you don’t ask or tell them, it will come to you almost bland because of all the years of bloody package tourists who can’t take their heat.

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.

Danang – Easily doable for a long weekend from HK

Getting to Danang in Vietnam is surprisingly smooth from Hong Kong.

If you travel with hand luggage only, you can leave HK early morning on a Friday and get to your resort in Danang or to Hoi An in time for lunch (the transfer is a bit of a squeeze in Hanoi but we made it no problem – you arrive at 9:40 and your next flight is 10:05, but if you miss that you can get the 14:30 which gets you in at 15:45pm). On Sunday you can catch a 16:35 flight back to Hanoi that connects to the HK flight that finds you back there at 22:50pm. So, very doable for a quick weekend away somewhere a bit different.

Danang Nam Hai Caustic Candy

Of the Danang resorts I would choose a villa at the Nam Hai (review here), although I do still have a soft spot for the Furama Resort as it was the first decent hotel in the area, cheap in comparison to the Nam Hai and very adequate. (The latest property someone tried to flog me was the Hyatt Regency Residences which look horrid.  Can’t believe the government have allowed 12 storey high buildings in this area. Very sad).

Nam Hai Caustic Candy

If you want to stay in Hoi An instead then I highly recommend the Vinh Hung 1 right in the centre of the old town. It’s an old teak Chinese merchant’s house and is really sweet, it’s very reasonable, staff are welcoming and the service is good.

Vinh hung1.jpg

In terms of things to do, you can either just chill out in your villa or on the beach, go into Hoi An which is very much worth a snoop around, take river trips, play at various watersports in the sea, visit the ancient Cham ruins, or in fact go into Danang, which I think is a thoroughly pleasant town and has some great street restaurants and some hilarious bars and clubs.

Restaurants.

The restaurants that I have been to and enjoyed (apart from the ones in the Nam Hai which are really very good), are thus:

Hoi An: Brother’s Cafe. Venue is lovely. If you go for supper and sit in the garden which is by the river, do load up with mozzie repellent and get them to light coils. This is the most expensive restaurant in Hoi An, but is not leaps and bounds ahead of the competition in terms of food.

Cargo Club – run by expats, good food, lively. Has a balcony that overlooks the river, went for supper.

Saigon Times Club – run by some guys from Saigon, has a large roof terrace and interesting interior. Food is good. Gives Brothers a run for it’s money.

Cafe des Amis and Tam Tam Cafe – tended to go to these for lunch and for daytime drinks – Cafe des Amis, hasn’t had great reviews for dinner.

All these restaurants (apart from Brothers which is a bit of a walk) are within about 150yards of each other and the Vinh Hung 1 Hotel in the two roads that run parallel to the river.

Danang:  There are loads of little street restaurants in Danang that open up at night. Just pick one that’s busy and sit down.  Even if the waiters don’t speak English or French, then fellow diners will always help out.

Apsara: Lonely Planet recommends this as the best restaurant to go to in Danang, but it was nothing special in terms of venue, ambience or food especially after dining in Hoi An, and was overpriced for what it was. Really don’t bother – I’d just as soon eat on a plastic stool on the street.

Camel Club: We also stopped by here for a drink as it had been touted as the best club in town by Lonely Planet again (they really didn’t get things right in Danang…) and it was absolutely hilarious. Riotous techno, seizure inducing strobes, sleazy old expats rubbing themselves up against young ladies of negotiable affection, and to our eternal but rather politically incorrect delight, a group of Little People who got really drunk and aggressive with one another on the dance floor.

All in all, for a weekend away from HK it’s very easy to find things to do around Danang, it’s incredibly photogenic, and of course you are in Vietnam so the food is bloody lovely.

Skiing in France’s 3 Valleés – Courchevel vs Les Menuires

Review:

I’ve been skiing in the 3 Valleés for three years now, and so far out of my limited experience of other ski-areas (Crans Montana and surrounding area of Valais, and St Moritz both in Switzerland being the only other places I’ve been), I really do enjoy the vast number of runs and different locations I can ski to in this area of the French Alps.

I should also point out that I am very much a recreational skier – Sunshine Club rather than Extreme Team if you catch my drift. Blue runs are my favourite, but I’m happy to go on reds if it means getting to a great restaurant, but I’m not happy on blacks at all.  And that is what is so great about the 3 Valleés: I can get to all the same places a my Extreme Team mates, but I can go on Blues and Reds instead of Blacks.

Here are the other things I really appreciate about the 3 Valleés:

1) It’s bloody huge.

2) If the weather or snow is bad in one valley, it’s often better in another and you can get there easily.

3) Different valleys suit different pockets, so you can stay in cheaper resorts (Les Menuires/Val Thorens) but enjoy the facilities, restaurants and pistes in the upmarket resorts (Meribel/Courchevel).

4) It’s easy to get to from a number of airports – Geneva, Lyon, Chambery or Grenoble, and it’s also very accessible by train at Bourg St Maurice.

5) It’s great for all levels of skier.

Where to stay:

I’ve stayed in Courchevel and Les Menuires which are as opposite as you can get. Courchevel is Eurotrashtastic and ludicrously overpriced, but 1850 where we stayed is very, very pretty.

Courcheval - pretty, but dumb expensive

Courchevel - pretty, but dumb expensive

Les Menuires is very 18/30, it’s the cheapest of the resorts and not pretty at all.

Les Menuires - not very pretty but reasonably priced and convenient

Les Menuires - not very pretty but reasonably priced and convenient

However, I would stay in the Les Bruyeres end of Les Menuires over Courchevel every time unless money was really no object and I could stay in Hotel Kilimandjaro or one of it’s affiliated chalets and have my own chef.

Some of the best skiing in the 3 Valleés is in Val Thorens, the highest of the resorts, and Les Menuires is next door to it, whereas Courchevel is 3 valleys away.

Les Menuires’s pistes stay sunnier later into the day than either Courchevel or Meribel (in fact Meribel’s slopes dip into shadow fairly early), Les Menuires is cheap to stay in and has easy access to what I think is the best restaurant in the whole 3 Valleés – La Bouitte.

Plus, if you stay in either Reberty or Les Bruyeres, not only are you in the quietest and low-rise part of the resort, you also have access to the best restaurants and you are also on the doorstep of the best lift in the Valley – Les Bruyeres for the quickest and easiest access to both Val Thorens and Meribel.

Here are my picks of Cafes/Restaurants:

In and around Les Menuires:

La Croisette:  L’Oisans in the Croisette is very reasonably priced for lunch (self service, no faff, Savoyarde food), it’s right at the bottom of the slope in La Croisette and has a big outside terrace, so it’s good for a meeting spot.

Reberty: La Ferme – very much the place to go for the end of day Vin Chaud. Very large terrace and friendly waiters – although as it gets very busy you do have to grab waiters when you can (tip em big the first round of drinks and tell them to keep em coming). A lot of the chalet hosts and ski instructors come down here, I think mainly because they serve Vin Chaud in pint glasses for €4 or €5 a pop. Also does very good lunches, and is nice and sunny at that time of day.

Les Bruyeres: Both Marmite de Geant and Les Marmottes either side of the ice rink are good value for lunch or dinner, one of them has a terrace as well.  Both serve traditional savoyarde food – it’s all tartiflette, big salads, raclettes and fondues.

For Sunshine Club skiers: At the top of the Roc des Trois Marche 1 lift there is a nice new cafe that has bundles of deck-chairs out front, has a great view and sunshine til late afternoon. Great for a chocolat chaud mid-morning or an espresso after lunch. Again, La Ferme at Reberty is good for a sunny stop off. In Les Bruyeres there is a new sun terrace at the restaurant right by the main Les Bruyeres lift. It’s a bit pricier than other places though.

St Marcel: La Bouitte – the best restaurant in the 3 Valleés, and only a 15 min taxi ride from Les Menuires, or if the snow is good – navigable off piste.

Val Thorens:

Funitel Peclet: Up at the top of the Funitel Peclet there is a restaurant on the right that has a couple of terraces – upstairs and downstairs.  The upstairs terrace gets the best of the sun and there is also a cosy interior (It’s also waiter service rather than downstairs which is self service and a bit sparse).  It’s pretty damn high up so it can get chilly outside, but they do serve very good goulash soup!  More importantly the Funitel Peclet lift takes you onto my favourite ski-run in the 3 Vallees: the blue run Dalles – non stop sweeping turns, can go hell for leather, it’s really wide and lovely.

Chalet du 2 Lacs: Up at the top of the 2 Lacs chair lift it’s a little further away from the madding crowds.  I really like the interior of this restaurant – puts me in mind of a viking banquet hall (animal heads, soaring ceilings, lots of wood) and there are huge windows overlooking Les Menuires and down the valley to St Martin de Belleville. Standard Savoyarde fare, but we thought very decent. The runs down into Val Thorens from here are great blues and you can also go all the way to Les Menuires from here when the snow is good, rather than having to go all the way back up to the top of Col de la Chambre.

Meribel: Les Darbollets for lunch.  Really pretty spot on the Rhodos/Dorons runs near Rond Point. Looks out over the valley on one side and down into the forest on the other and catches the midday sun wonderfully. Bit more expensive and upmarket that a lot of the other restaurants on the pistes, but very nice, and maybe because of the price, not so busy.

For my experience in Courchevel, read the dedicated post here.

Resotel – Super chilled hideaway on the River Kwai

Review:

The Resotel is hidden away on the River Kwai about 40min past Kanchanaburi.  I love this part of Thailand, so jungly and quiet.

So jungly you can barely see the bungalows

The hotel is a mish-mash of little bungalows in the jungle with a great swimming pool, restaurant, spa, lovely gardens and a river deck you can hang out on and while away the time reading a book.

resotel river kwai caustic candy deck

The usual (and fun) way to get to it is by boat which you pick up 1km down the river where there is a car park. You can drive round the long way though fording the river further up, but unless you have mobility problems then I wouldn’t bother.

We aren’t talking 5* here, but it’s clean and charming and a lot better than the other hotels I’ve stayed at in the area including the Royal River Kwai and the Oriental Kwai (both were fine, just didn’t have a patch on the Resotel, and their locations aren’t as good). There are around 90 bungalows in total, but as they are spread out through the gardens you don’t realise there are so many.  There is also a cultural centre with meeting facilities and a mini-mart, but these are at the back of the plot behind the main building, so you don’t need to even see them unless you go looking for them.

Now, I don’t know what they do to the food here, but it is just delicious. It’s very typical Thai food, all the old favourites, nothing fancy, but it’s executed perfectly. I love it.

They have fantastic masseuses and a sala for the purpose up in the eaves of the main building which is open to the river (Go for the Herbal Massage, which mixes traditional Thai massage with the use of a big ball of herbs to gently knead your body, it is unbeatable).  The main building is a huge teak edifice which is open to the elements – it’s lovely to sit in the evenings on the terraces and listen to all the wildlife.

The concierge is very helpful and they will organise trips for you, and private cars to take you to and from Bangkok if you want.

This hotel is part of a group that has some other interesting looking accommodation in the area, including staying on river rafts with no electricity, and staying in posh tents near Hell Fire Pass.  I’m intending on trying both of these next time I’m up.

Price: Varies by season and who you book through, but it’s about US$100 a night for a double bungalow, or US$130 for the best bungalow which has a river view and a jacuzzi. Do book ahead as it’s a popular place, especially now the Russians have found it.

Note for the feeble pansies:  You are in the jungle so you will get big spiders, plenty of mozzies, geckos of all sizes, snakes and the odd monitor lizard. If you’re scared of wildlife, just suck it up and get on with it.  This is a great place to stay.

River Kwai – brilliant long weekend from HK (if you like driving).

As you may gather I’ve got a bit of a penchant for Thailand, and often go for long weekends.  I love going up to the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi for a couple of days not only because it gives me a chance to drive for more than an hour and not hit either a border or the sea, but also because one of my favourite hotels is up here and it happens to have one of the best Thai restaurants in the whole of the country (believe me, I’ve been to plenty…)

River Kwai Caustic Candy

Here is the itinerary:

Fly to BKK, pick up your hire-car and head west. It takes about 4 hours to drive to Sai Yok, which is about an hour past Muang Kanchanaburi. It is worth pushing on through to Sai Yok, and avoiding the temptation to stop off in Kanchanaburi itself.

Stay at Resotel (more info here) on the River Kwai  – do book ahead as it’s quite small and is popular with the Russians in particular now for some reason.

Now you are ensconced in your hotel there are loads of things to do.  Erawan has some lovely waterfalls, you can go to the fascinating, eerie, and beautiful Hell Fire Pass where all the POWs, Thai and Vietnamese slaves were forced to build the Thai/Burma railway in WWII. You can go and visit the elephant camps, hire bikes and just cycle around, visit the labyrinth of reservoirs up around Srinakarin and go fishing, take river trips, or  just generally mooch around in your car exploring up to the borders of Burma. Lots of things to do for a 2-3 days.

The restaurant (and the spa for that matter) at the Resotel is particularly good, it is without doubt one of the best restaurants I’ve eaten at in Thailand.  There are also loads of road-side stalls and restaurants all over the place and you can pretty much guarantee having a good if basic meal at any one of them, no matter how rustic they might look!

It’s a super chilled area of Thailand, it has beautiful scenery and it’s really quiet.  The roads are almost empty and are a joy to drive on.

On the drive back to BKK you do have to be very careful when you close in on the BKK ring-road if you don’t have sat-nav, as it is easy to miss the turning to get on to the ring-road that will take you back to the airport.  If you miss it, turn back, DO NOT get involved in driving into Bangkok. If you miss the ring road and follow the airport signposts they take you straight through the centre of town and it will take you an extra 2 or 3 hours to get to the airport – as you can tell, I didn’t turn back…

Katiga Street – Super Kitsch Japanese Dining

Update: 11.6.10

Went to Katiga Street with a bunch of friends tonight and had the smaller of the street-front tatami rooms – it sat 10 and the minimum spend was the bargain price of HK$1250 in total (!)

It was a fun night and it will stay up in my Candy category because of the sheer daft uniqueness of it all, but I do have a couple of gripes:

1) The lighting was so frikkin bright that it took away the cosy, fun feel of the room and showed it up in all it’s slightly faded and shabby glory (and us after a hard night on the sake).

2) Each item of sushi and sashimi is so damn big that after a few you do start getting raw fish fatigue. These bits of fish are steak sized, I kid you not, and it gets a bit nauseating after a while.

It still was a lot of fun, and I’d go back again, I just think they could increase their profit margins by slashing sushi and sashimi to half the size, and their patrons would mostly be thankful for it.

Review

Look at their mascot!  How cool is he?  You know you are in for a treat when you see a 5ft sumo wrestler squatting outside the front door…

Sooo-moh! Sooo-moh!

Sooo-moh! Sooo-moh!

I can’t thank my esteemed colleague enough for introducing me to Katiga Street in Hung Hom one lunchtime.  The owners of this restaurant have, over the years, taken control of all the ground level shops in this alley and turned them into Japanese restaurants, so you walk around with a real feeling that you are in some Osakan back street – it’s brilliant.

It’s not the best sushi you’re ever going to eat, but the portions are huge, the price very reasonable and it’s still 100 times better than Genki.

For dinner, I like to take one of the private dining tatami rooms.  Ask for one of the special street-front ones.  There are two with one seating about 8 and the other up to 14 or so. There is a minimum spend for these, but it’s ridiculously low – the bigger one about HK$2,500 if I remember rightly.  They serve loads of different sake, shouju and Japanese beers, and it’s just a fantastically kitsch themed experience to go with a group of friends for a jaunt somewhere a bit different.

After dinner the best place to head is Minden Avenue for some buckets of beer and Karaoke to round off your evening on the Dark Side.

Food: Standard Japanese fare, huge slabs of fish for sashimi, and sushi that you need to hold in two hands, you feel like you’re eating giant’s food. Beware the Deluxe Sushi Boat unless you have at least 10 people in your crew. I’d put it slap in the middle of the ingredient quality range for Japanese in HK.

Drinks: Decent if basic range of sake and beer etc very reasonably priced. Usually have promotions on.

Ambience:  More kitsch than Disney.

Service: Swift and friendly, sometimes need to find a waitress who speaks English. Resist playing too much with the buzzers to call the waitresses in the Tatami rooms when you get a bit squiffy, the poor loves are in kimonos and have to take their shoes off and enter on their knees – they are not yoyos.

Cost: Really reasonably priced. Dinner $250-$500 a head depending on how much sake you can down and how much raw fish you can stomach. Or you can have a rice set for as little as $70.  Bargain.

Location: 37 Sung Kit Street, Hung Hom tel 2764 6436.  If you are a daft gweimui like me then just ring and get them to explain their location to the taxi driver.  It’s a bitch to get to if you aren’t a Canto speaker. www.katiga.com.hk

The Gallery – Lantau Island

Review

Bless the Gallery.  Stalwart of Lantau, hasn’t changed a bit since I first ravenously chowed down on a burger back in ’97 after hiking over Sunset Peak.

Food: BBQ, Pizza and Tapas. Really high quali ingredients, meat and fish sourced from same suppliers as top hotels in HK like the Mando. Steaks and burgers are up there with the best of them, great tuna, big fat mussels and the fresh made pizzas are real goooood.  This restaurant is the only one in HK I order chips – fresh oven baked in olive oil. The owner, Dave, will even sacrifice a lamb and cook it for your party if you ask him in advance.

Drink: Lager/cider on tap, plus…… ale.  Hallelujah – Cornish Ale. Can’t stand that fizzy lager crap. Very decent wine list too, with very generous pouring portions by the glass.

Ambience: Super chill, beachy bar-bee, tin-roofed terrace with patio furniture, and inside bar if you need some aircon.  Can slob in your board shorts and flips.

Service: Sometimes patience is required if there are 3-4 tables ordering together.  With a kitchen the size of a postage stamp and only two people working in the whole place, service can be haphazard, but it’s always friendly and frankly what do expect in a little village in the back of beyond?  Food more than makes up for any wait.

Pricing: Drinks very reasonable.  Food is Soho prices (HK$125 for a burger with chips and salad or a 12″ pizza), so maybe you think expensive for Lantau, but the quality of the food is streets ahead of anything similar in Soho, so more than happy to pay those prices.  We think very good value.

Address: 26 Tong Fuk Village (opp the taxi rank), South Lantau, Hong Kong. 15 mins by cab from Mui Wo, 20 mins by cab from Tung Chung.

Tel: 2980-2582.

Open: Every evening cept Tuesday, plus lunch onwards on Sat and Sun.