Browsing Category

Blog

Austria, Blog, Vienna

Vienna: My Overview

September 4, 2017
Vienna

A city of sophistication, beauty and elegance, Vienna should to be top of everyone’s city break lists.  Yet it isn’t.  And suddenly it has surged in popularity, with so many friends wanting to go and asking for tips.  I cannot recommend it enough.

Having lived there for three years from 1998, and returning many years later, the city has changed immeasurably.  Thankfully it has retained its pristine grandeur and cultural draw, but it has modernised in terms of its cosmopolitan offering.  It now also appeals more to a younger crowd; less pompous, more accessible.  Now you can find countless cool coffee shops, stylish restaurants, rooftop bars and edgy night clubs – a side I rarely saw when I lived there years ago.  And while I found Vienna remarkably peaceful (which may also have to do with it being August, and holiday season), I was constantly surprised to find restaurants buzzing on a Sunday night, and the club in the Volksgarten full and pumping until the early hours on Saturday.  It therefore makes for a very relaxing, easy going weekend break, but with the opportunity to party if you want.  The ideal mix.

Vienna

HOW TO GET AROUND

Getting from the airport to the city is as easy as it gets.  Grab the City Airport Train (CAT) which goes every 30 minutes, and you’re in the centre in 16 minutes (12 Euros for a single ticket).  The station is a lovely 154 minute stroll through the park to the famous Ring Strasse (the Ring street which circles the inner city).

Getting around Vienna is also easy.  I’d walk the majority of it as I still thinks it’s the best way of discovering a city.  And Vienna’s wide boulevards are rarely heaving (apart from some of the narrower inner city cobbled streets which do get a bit congested with tourists).  Citybike Wien (like Boris bikes, you’ll find them throughout the city, super cheap) are also recommended, and make the short distances from highlight to highlight even quicker but also mean you can explore areas further afield, like cycling along the Danube and wine tasting in Viennese vineyards (yes, they exist).

WHERE TO STAY

We stayed at the new-ish Grand Ferdinand, a hotel which embodies ‘contemporary’ Vienna.  With the perfect location, right on the Ring and minutes’ walk from most sights, it’s a modern hotel with classical touches.  The bedrooms have dark blue/grey walls and white, minimalist furniture, power showers and all the mod cons.  The rooftop terrace with pool is it’s USP, very few Viennese hotels have outdoor space, let alone a swimming pool with views over the city.  It’s worth booking the hotel just for this, as while the pool is small, the terrace is relaxing and the views sublime.  The restaurant/bar up here (guest only) is also lovely, the flourless chocolate cake we had here was amazing.  Their standard rooms are also remarkably affordable, from just £150 per night.  They value for money here is incredible.  The big downside I’d say was the service: slow, unresponsive and absolutely living up to the Austrian grumpy stereotype (dare I say it).  But I’ll get over that.

Grand Ferdinand, ViennaGrand Ferdinand, Vienna

If you want to splash out there is no other place to stay than Hotel Sacher, the iconic hotel of Vienna.  Having had a big refurb, all the bedrooms are now lighter and with a more contemporary feel, but still embody that classical Viennese style.  And if you can’t afford it (rooms from £400 a night) then it’s still worth grabbing a Melange coffee and their world famous Sacher Torte in their Café.

Hotel Sacher, ViennaHotel Sacher, Vienna

WHAT TO DO

Walk, walk, walk.  Everywhere.  The city really is picture perfect, everywhere you look.  The inner city is heavenly to amble through, every building tells its own story, and end up at the iconic Stephansdom with its mosaic roof (if you have the energy, climb the 500+ steps to the top for a great view of the city).  My highlight will always be the Belvedere Palace and its beautiful gardens.  The museum houses one of the best Austrian art collections, with the famous ‘Kiss’ painting by Klimt, but also beautiful works of art of other Austrian painters, and a lovely Impressionist collection on the 2nd floor.  My absolute favourite though are Messerschmidt’s ‘character heads’.  The Kunsthistorisch Museum can also not be missed.  The Hofburg is a must visit to explore Vienna’s imperial history and learn about the Hapsburg Empire.  If you have time I highly recommend see the Lipizzaner horses perform, and booking an opera at the wonderful Opera house (Staatsoper).  Also consider the (newer) Museum Quartier for mainly modern/contemporary art and a fun, younger vibe.  The list is endless, you can easily fill three full days and still have so much more to do and see.

Belvedere, ViennaBelvedere, Vienna

WHERE TO EAT

Austria – and Vienna – is not known for its food.  Personally I am not a fan of schnitzels and strudels, but if you are then you’re in luck as they are top of their game here.  Breakfast is recommended at one of the famous cafes (more on those later), Café Central is probably one of the most well known (Trotsky and Freud came here back in the day) and the setting very special (though inevitably quite touristy).  The breakfast (below) which we had was actually remarkably good value and the bread incredibly fresh.

Cafe Central, Vienna

Brunch was also surprisingly good, we loved Ulrich (very popular amongst locals) or Erich – sister restaurants both in the same area and with a great menu and range (from juices to pancakes to vegan delights).  Expect a small queue, but it is worth waiting.  Ulrich is also recommended for dinner.

Ulrich, ViennaUlrich, Vienna

The Bakery (at Hotel Daniel) and the Brasserie & Bakery (at the Guesthouse Vienna) were also recommended for good brunches.  For a peaceful terrace lunch in the park enjoy lunch at the Meierei im Stadtpark (they serve a good schnitzel and steak tartare here), or go to the very special Palmenhaus for a salad or a sandwich and enjoy the greenery and the Burggarten (park).

Meierei im StadtparkPalmenhaus, Vienna

Dinner we went to O’Boufes, the sister restaurant to neighbouring Michelin star restaurant Konstantin Filippou.  The menu was limited, a mixture of Greek/Viennese, a little hit and miss.  The service was good but the restaurant didn’t rank top for us.  More fun and upbeat, and more laid back was Heuer (the Tagliatta and Burrata are both excellent here).  The photo below does not do it justice, they also have a huge terrace outside.  If you want a chilled out burger (and gin), then head to said the butcher to the cow.  And for a classic, sophisticated dinner try the Rote Bar at Hotel Sacher (ideal for a pre-Opera dinner as it’s just across from it).  Just remember that Vienna is expensive and food not great value for money, and we preferred the brunches/lunches/cakes to our dinners here.

Heuer, Vienna

FOR COFFEE (AND CAKE)

Speaking of cake, one thing I do adore in Vienna are the torte (cakes), and here you are spoilt for choice.  Apart from Café Central, other excellent cafes are Cafe Imperial, Sacher (of course), Demel and Landtmann. Coffee is not cheap here either but I guess you’re paying for the setting.  I was recommended Das Kleines Cafe by many locals and it is very cute and worth visiting.  Service horrendous though.

Das Kleines Cafe, Vienna

WHERE TO DRINK

The best rooftops bars are at the Grand Ferdinand (but sadly guests only, though I reckon this might change), the Ritz Carlton’s Atmosphere (gulp at the price, but that’s what you get at a five star hotel and the views are worth it) and Bloom Bar at the Lamee Hotel.  Other bars with views worth going to are Onyx, which was one of my favourites.  It has fantastic views of Stephansdom (photo below) and charming service (i.e the waiter looked like Leo Dicaprio).  The Sofitel’s Das Loft bar (it’s on the Danube) and Dachboden Hotel 25 (edgier) were also both recommended.  For summer days and nights the ‘beach’ bars along the Danube river are fun and full of locals enjoying the sun and a swim (in places) – like Hermann Strand bar and Tel Aviv Beach.  And for nightclubs go to the Volksgarten for various clubs and outdoor music, or Prater Sauna for more heavy, gritty party vibes (and an outdoor pool).

Onyx, Vienna

Further, more detailed blog posts about Vienna will follow – watch this space.

Thank you Luise van Holk, Victoria van Tets and others for your tips.

Some of the included photos are by Rikki Salmond. 

Blog, Date Spot, Drink, Eat, London, Stay

Henrietta Hotel, Covent Garden

June 20, 2017
The Henrietta, Covent Garden

I’ve been to the Henrietta Hotel twice in 24 hours.  In my defence, it’s a stone’s throw from my office, so easy to get excited about.  Yesterday for drinks, today for a nosey around the rooms.  Because yes, I am a hotel geek and I do like to do things like that on my lunch break.

Founded by the Experimental Group guys (think the Experimental Cocktail Chinatown, but they also own lots of hip venues in Paris, New York & Ibiza), the Henrietta is many things.  Firstly it is a small, luxury hotel, with 18 rather beautiful rooms.  With heavy Art Deco influences and pastel colours, each room is unique, from the pretty headboards to brass lamps and mirrors in all different shapes and sizes.   Many of the bathrooms have large baths and all have fluffy branded robes and towels.

The Henrietta, Covent GardenThe Henrietta, Covent Garden

The Henrietta has also got a great bar.  Last night, post excellent dinner at Frenchie (which I would recommend to all who would fork out a casual £38 on lamb), I dragged my friend there for cocktails.  We were there long enough for the bill to be fairly substantial (be warned).  The cocktail menu is a little unusual, as I suppose you would expect from these guys.  I wasn’t sure about my Palomar cocktail (tequila based but perhaps with a touch too much salt) but the vibe was good, and I love the design of the place.  There is also a mezzanine level with another bar and more tables.

The Henrietta, Covent GardenThe Henrietta, Covent Garden

Perhaps the most talked about aspect of the Henrietta is its restaurant, with the food being by the one & only Ollie Dabbous (of Dabbous fame).  I sent my colleague there for lunch yesterday (come to think of it I really have been giving this place a lot of love) and he said the food was excellent.

The Henrietta, Covent GardenThe Henrietta, Covent Garden

And so today, having not seen any of the rooms, I popped by and was shown around.  Sadly their two suites were booked, as I would have loved to have seen the views from their terrace.  But I saw two rooms: their smallest Covent Garden room (super cosy, under the eaves of the house, not for giants) and the Henrietta room (much more spacious, fabulous bed).

The Henrietta, Covent GardenThe Henrietta, Covent Garden

All in all it’s good to see Covent Garden has a new, hip hotel, and I’m sure I’ll be stopping by regularly for food and booze, and maybe even a snooze..!

The Henrietta

14-15 Henrietta St,

London WC2E 8QH

Blog, Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm: My top tips

June 12, 2017
Stockholm

Stockholm, a city I’ve rarely heard a bad word about.  I mean, clearly do not go during the winter months, unless you are looking for perpetual darkness.  And a head freeze.  But from May – September (if not a little later) Stockholm is a must visit destination.  I did think while there that it was rare for me to choose a destination which was not only colder, but also more expensive than the UK.  But Stockholm is an exception.

Stockholm

 Effortlessly sophisticated, peaceful and easy going, it is the ultimate weekend break destination.  The locals, apart from being startling good looking and (mainly) blonde, are also exceptionally friendly and upbeat. You’re greeted by an enthusiastic ‘hi hi’ wherever you go, the sing-songy language is wonderful to listen to and, should Swedish not be your first language, English is widely spoken. 

Stockholm

 I’m not sure quite where my fascination of Scandinavia and their language comes from. Perhaps from getting along with my Scandi school mates. But maybe more so from my obsession with Scandi Noir (the Bridge – set in Malmo and Copenhagen – is still one of the best TV series I’ve watched). And apart from that, there is the Scandi infiltration into multiple aspects of London life; in the form of food, design and even the ‘hygge’ lifestyle influence (though I must point out, hygge is Danish, not Swedish). 

Stockholm

 So here are my tips of what do to if you have a weekend in Stockholm, and hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I did:

WHERE TO STAY

 Through my work we were lucky to stay at the brand new Hotel At Six, the sister property of the much-loved hotel Thief in Oslo. At Six is not for everyone, it’s huge (300 rooms), modern and quite dark (the corridors felt a little industrial). My father – my date for the weekend – wasn’t a huge fan, but I was, and therein lies the explanation: this is a property better for the young. I liked the style.  The beds were like sleeping in cotton wool (my father will concur), impossible to get out of.  Bathrooms were slick and power showers excellent. The breakfast buffet was expansive and varied, and I loved it all from the chipolatas to the pastries and homemade jams to the chia and coconut pudding.   Location wise it’s hard to beat, with walking distance to the Old Town, Sodermalm and Ostermalm, and you’re right next to new hotspot Tak (more on that later).  One thing I would say is that unless you book a room on a high floor the views are poor (a building site) and the direct area it’s in (the ‘city’) is not the most beautiful.  But what must be emphasised is that the cost of the hotel is also very reasonable (especially for Stockholm), with rooms starting at around £180 a night.

Hotel at Six, StockholmHotel at Six, StockholmHotel at Six, Stockholm

Other good options is the Lydmar (right on the water in Ostermalm, next to the iconic but quite stuffy Grand Hotel), Hotel Story and Miss Clara for trendy, boutique options and Ett Hem for your most exclusive Relais & Chateaux option with a very personal, homely feel.

WHERE TO EAT

 Food in Stockholm is excellent and there are countless good restaurants in the city.  I gorged myself on whipped butter, rye bread and cinnamon buns, and had as much fish as possible.  You can’t go wrong with having fish here, it’s all so fresh.  Our favourite restaurant was Oaxen Slip, the more laid back sister restaurant to two Michelin star Oaxen Krug on the island of Djurgarden.  Located on the water, the food is full of flavour and unpretentious, the staff beyond charming.

Oaxen Slip, StockholmOaxen Slip, Stockholm

On our second night we ate at Portal, in the upmarket residential area of Vasastan (the Notting Hill of Stockholm).  This had a completely different feel, very light and open, typically Scandi in style, a little stiffer.  The food was beautifully presented and the scallops were some of the best I’ve had.

Portal, StockholmPortal, Stockholm

Other dinner places I was recommended are Woodstockholm, Café Nizza and Albin & Adam.  Nytorget 6 is a very popular lunch place in Sodermalm, known for their tacos which were delicious and I really liked the vibe here.  Cafe Pascal is a local favourite in the Vasastan area, and I also really wanted to go to Snickarbacken 7 Cafe but didn’t make it.   Plenty of excuses to return.

Nytorget 6, Stockholm

WHERE TO DRINK

 Stockholm does not really do roof terraces.  Probably because most of the year the weather does not really allow for much outside drinking.  However, the arrival of Tak changes this.  This uber cool roof top terrace bar, with great views of the city and an upbeat vibe, offers drinks alfresco to thirsty locals.  There will be queues to get up here on the weekends and the drinks are not cheap – naturally – but it’s great fun.

Tak, StockholmTak, Stockholm

Other fun bars are the courtyard bar at Hotel Story, the bar at Riche (known for its attractive divorcees!) and Penny and Bill.  Wine bars are also becoming more popular, and we much enjoyed the newly opened Tyge & Sessil

Tyge & Sessil, Stockholm

COFFEE

 The Swedes are seemingly also good at coffee.  Their coffee is definitely on the strong side, and give you a good pick me up for sightseeing and/or more eating and drinking.  We loved our coffee at the Urban Deli Nytorget (this is a chain, but it’s like a luxury version of Whole Foods, well worth going to), and coffee at Coffice, Drop and Johan and Nystrom come highly recommended.  In fact Arlanda Airport has a Johan and Nystrom café, where I spent quite some time waiting for my father’s flight to arrive, and both the coffee as well as the hot chocolate were delicious.

Urban Deli Nytorget, Stockholm

WHAT TO DO

 Stockholm is one of those cities where there is no need to have an itinerary as such.  You can walk from place to place, and follow the water through Ostermalm.

Stockholm

Take the lift up to the viewing platform at Gondolen (which is a slightly odd 70ies construction) for the best views of the city, from there you’re practically in the fun area of Sodermalm.  One of the highlights was visiting the world-famous Fotografiska (photographer museum), where we enjoyed a number of their exhibitions (in particularly Cooper & Gorfer’s ‘I know not these my hands’).  There’s also a great restaurant here with lovely views of the water.  A walk through Gamla Stan (the Old Town) is recommended, though I found it overly touristic and better to avoid the main ‘high street’ which has lost its authentic feel.

Gamla Stan, StockholmGamla Stan, Stockholm

Another must is spending the morning in the beautiful Rosendal park on Djurgarden, which is wonderful.  The café at Rosendals Tradgard is charming, a little like London’s Petersham Nurseries in feel, but perhaps with even better cakes.  You can have lunch here on a bench in the apple orchard or in one of the gardens, ideal for a summer’s day.

Rosendal, StockholmRosendal Tradgard, StockholmRosendal Tradgard, Stockholm

But perhaps one of our favourite bits was just wandering through the hipster area of Sodermalm, sitting in one of the green squares and people-watching, pottering around one of the many vintage shops, and stopping for a coffee at one of the many cafes.

Sodermalm, StockholmSodermalm, Stockholm

If you have time grab one of the ferries to one of the 30,000 (!) islands of Stockholm’s stunning archipelago.  I will definitely be returning to do this.

With much gratitude to Hedda & Umberto for all your wonderful tips. Tack! 

Amsterdam, Blog, Drink, Eat, The Netherlands

Bar Botanique, Amsterdam East

April 29, 2017
Bar Botanique, Amsterdam East

Bar Botanique was another drinks/brunch/lunch place on my list, which I had been wanting to visit for a while.  Again, unsurprisingly, it was a little out of the way from where I was staying (West).  But ‘long’ distances in Amsterdam are all relative, and we happily cycled the 20 minutes to this tropical cafe in the East of Amsterdam (just past the Artis Zoo).

We got lucky because as we arrived the sun came out, and so we were first to grab a table on their spacious terrace (they have two).  But inside is also most definitely worth a look, and as its name reflects, it certainly is a bit like an oasis in the city.  I love the vibe here, laid back, buzzing and, of course, very green.  The huge windows let in all the light, so sitting inside is as nice as outside.

Bar Botanique, Amsterdam EastBar Botanique, Amsterdam East

We were starving and craving some good Dutch carbs, so we went for two massive Croque Madames (with a fried egg on top, as you do), and Mol went for scrambled eggs with truffle and a side of trusty avocado.  Since it was Easter and we were in a good mood, we ordered a bottle of bubbles to accompany lunch, and enjoyed a few glasses in the sun.  The staff were super friendly and helpful too, which really added to our experience.

Bar Botanique, Amsterdam EastBar Botanique, Amsterdam EastBar Botanique, Amsterdam East

In short, Bar Botanique is not only a place to head to for a drink, but also for a long lazy lunch.  As the weather gets better I know the terrace will be the place to be in East.

If you’re in the area, it’s also worth visiting de Plantage, for beer lovers the Brouwerij t’Ij in an old windmill, and for another pretty cafe check out de Tropen Grand Cafe (part of the Tropen museum).

Bar Botanique

Eerste van Swindenstraat 581
Amsterdam, Netherlands 1093 LC

 

Blog, Date Spot, Eat, London

Bala Baya, Southwark

April 28, 2017
Bala Baya, Southwark

Well, Israeli food is having a bit of a moment in London.  Ottolenghi probably put it on the food map in London, but restaurants like Palomar, the Barbary and Honey & Co have also really helped, and are some of my favourite restaurants in the city.

And now Bala Baya opens it doors (OK, well three months ago), under the arches in Southwark.  It’s main focus is food from Tel Aviv, so traditional Israeli food but with a modern twist.  I took Rob there for his birthday in March, and then returned for a press night of the Israeli Tourist Board last week.  Both times the food blew me away.   From more traditional dishes like the home made, just baked pitta bread and amazing roasted cauliflower with yoghurt to the fish tartar with sumac, it was all completely delicious.  Apparently the aubergine with milk is well worth trying too, so don’t be put off by the name.

Bala Baya, Southwark

On the press night our favourite dish was the salmon with peppers, as were their seared tuna bites.  But their puddings were incredible too: they served a cheesecake and a panna cotta-esque pudding with Malibu.  Perhaps because Tel Aviv is on the coast they serve more fish here than they might at a more mainstream Israeli restaurant.

Bala Baya, Southwark

Ask for a table upstairs, unless you want to sit by the bar downstairs (which is perhaps a bit more upbeat).  The setting itself is very cool, reminding me a little of Bethnal Green’s Mission E2.  A mixture of its exposed red brick arch, with modern furniture and greenery, means it’s en trend.

Bala Baya, SouthwarkBala Baya, Southwark

And while it’s location is a little off the beaten path, the Old Union Yard Arches are cool, with wine bar and Italian restaurant Macellaio next door worth a visit too.  Or, if you fancy something different, Polish/Russian/Hungarian restaurant and bar Baltic is around the corner, with stunning minimalist interiors and good food & drinks.

Bala Baya

Arch 25, Old Union Yard Arches

220 Union Street

SE1 0LR

Photo credit: Bala Baya (apart from the salmon, which is one of my instagram photos)

Amsterdam, Blog, Eat, Healthy, The Netherlands

Benji’s, Amsterdam East

April 17, 2017
Benji's, Amsterdam

Instagram has its uses, one of which is spotting good brunch places.  I’ve seen photos of the very pretty Benji’s come past quite a few times, so I decided to grab my chance and go and check it out myself.

Benji’s is in East Amsterdam on the Wibautstraat, very close to one of my favourite Amsterdam hotels the Volkshotel (it’s worth also having a drink on their roof terrace).  It’s not the most central of places (i.e you will need a bike to get here) but it’s worth the ride.  There have been quite a few cool openings on this street, like the Breakfast Club and roof terrace NEST, but Benji’s is the place that was top of my list.

Benji’s is very aesthetically pleasing, with huge ceiling to floor windows, and countless plants hanging from the ceiling and plant pots in every corner.  It feels a little like you’ve walked into a trendy greenhouse.

Benji's, AmsterdamBenji's, AmsterdamBenji's, Amsterdam

The guests here are as cool as the place itself, with bloggers typing away on their MacBooks and groups of gossiping friends sipping flat whites.  The staff are exceptionally friendly and helpful. All day breakfast/brunch/lunch is their thing, and their food has a definite health focus.  They are known for their yoghurt ‘bowls’ like the ‘Love Bowl’ I had (soy yoghurt, chia, berries and coconut) but they also offer incredible salads (Mol had the burrata salad) and great toasties.

Benji's, AmsterdamBenji's, AmsterdamBenji's, Amsterdam

The vibe is super laid back here, and very easy going, which makes it the perfect place to wake up.  I loved the coffee here too, which gives you that extra kick ready for a day of exploring Amsterdam.

Benji's, Amsterdam

Benji’s

Wibautstraat 196

1091 Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Blog, Drink, Eat, The Netherlands

Restaurant Bureau, Slotervaart

April 17, 2017
Restaurant Bureau, Amsterdam

I’m not sure how when picking a restaurant I always pick them in the most obscure of places.  Restaurant Bureau is the perfect example.  Amsterdam has a host of restaurants on my list – most of which are central – but I chose Bureau.  Which meant an Uber rather than a bike ride, and even a stretch of motorway.  And then we arrived and it felt like we had been dumped in an industrial terrain, as far from the picturesque canals as you can get.  But that’s where the negatives stop.

The restaurant is the 5th (top floor) of a fairly unattractive building (used to be the old IBM head office) called B. Amsterdam, which is an office space, co-working space and event space, focused on startups.  I think the official term is ‘an incubator’.  Anyway, it’s as trendy as these sorts of places tend to be, complete with gym (of course) and cinema.   But the real show stopper is when the lift doors open to the restaurant, a large, high-ceilinged space, divided in two by a very cool bar.  One half of it is the restaurant  and the other a lounge type space, with sofas and comfy chairs, and also some private dining rooms set slightly back.

Restaurant Bureau, AmsterdamRestaurant Bureau, AmsterdamRestaurant Bureau, Amsterdam

Before I talk about the food I should probably mention their pièce de la résistance: their roof terrace.  It’s so big they in fact call it a ‘roof park’, and rightly so, it being the largest roof terrace in Amsterdam.  Two companies, GrownDownTown and DakDokters have turned this space into a green oasis, not only pretty to walk through and enjoy, but also useful and ‘fruitful’.  Think a vegetable garden, fruit trees, chicken pens, the whole shebang.  This beautiful park is not just for those enjoying the restaurant – it is mainly for those working in the building to come and relax, meet and discuss ideas.  In the summer this will be the ultimate chill out place (there are even some hammocks), the perfect roof terrace to enjoy some drinks and some sunshine.  FYI my Instagram photos below do not do it justice, so I borrowed a photo from GrownDownTown to show how pretty it actually is.

Restaurant Bureau, AmsterdamRestaurant Bureau, AmsterdamRestaurant Bureau, Amsterdam

Back to inside, and the food.  Firstly, the staff are super friendly.  We were late but were still received with a warm handshake and welcome and were led to our table.  Our waitress was bubbly and enthusiastic.  We opted for their 3 course menu (a bargain at EUR31).  The chef used to cook at Choux, which is one of Amsterdam’s top restaurants, but also known for its more complicated food.  Here there’s none of that.  The food is excellent, beautifully presented and affordable.  My bavette steak was perfect. They have a good range of fish on the menu which I enjoyed (oysters, cod, perch), but also good options for vegetarians.

Restaurant Bureau, AmsterdamRestaurant Bureau, Amsterdam

Maybe steer clear of their organic prosecco unless you want to drink what effectively tastes like cider.  Their house red wine (EUR 21 per bottle) was very drinkable.  The coffees to finish were too.

Restaurant Bureau, Amsterdam

All in all, I left feeling somewhat elated.  Restaurant Bureau is an amazing, unique find, and for those who know Amsterdam well and want to try something different a place I highly recommend.   While yes, it’s unusual to get a taxi anywhere in Amsterdam, it’s only a 20 minute drive from the centre of the city (and you can also cycle here of course).  As the Netherlands is known for its start up culture I also think it’s worthwhile visiting B Amsterdam as a bonus.

Restaurant Bureau

B. Amsterdam – 5e etage
Johan Huizingalaan 763a (navigatie 761)
1066 VH Amsterdam

Note: They are usually only open on weekdays, but from 20 May they will also be open for dinner on Saturdays. 

Blog, UK - Outside London

No 38 the Park, Cheltenham

April 2, 2017
No. 38 The Park, Cheltenham

I find myself in Cheltenham a number of times a year but usually for work, and so never really tend to see this pretty Cotswold town as a weekend break destination.  But it really is, ideal for accessing the rolling Cotswolds hills or for those (locals or tourists) looking for a weekend break in an elegant Regency spa town.

Last week I was in Cheltenham again for work, and this time we had a full day meeting at No 38 the Park, a boutique hotel close to the centre of town.  I absolutely loved it.  The sure way to winning my affection is by having a dog greet you upon arrival.  She was the best host possible, and even wanted to come into the meeting with me.

No 38 the Park, Cheltenham

No. 38 the Park is one of the Lucky Onion’s Cotswold ventures (who are known for the equally wonderful Wheatsheaf and No 131).  While No 38 is in a stunning Regency Townhouse, it feels more like a home than a hotel (you can in fact take over the whole place privately).  There is no reception desk, or staff wandering around constantly.  It’s peaceful and homely and very stylish, with a unique art collection.

No. 38 The Park, Cheltenham

They don’t have a restaurant as such, but they do have a beautiful ‘dining room’ where you can have a lazy breakfast or a relaxed pre-ordered lunch (the sandwiches were incredible).  They also have a wonderful courtyard terrace which will be great in the summer.  If you’re thirsty they have a huge honestly bar, where you can help yourself to a selection of their local beers, or make a Fever Tree G&T.

No. 38 The Park, Cheltenham

They have 13 bedrooms, all very individual, in different sizes.  But all stunning.  I loved the different wall papers, and the use of colour.  Even the smaller bedrooms have their own charm, often with incredible roll top baths.  Each bedroom comes with a Nespresso machine, 100 Acres bath products and HD TV with Sky.  Their honeymoon suite is a real show stopped, with the most incredible ‘his ‘n her’ showers.

No. 38 The Park, CheltenhamNo. 38 The Park, CheltenhamNo. 38 The Park, Cheltenham

If you’re looking for a romantic bolthole with affordable prices, No. 38 is ideal.  Next time I come here I just hope to stay the night and sample those very comfortable looking beds.

No. 38 the Park

38 Evesham Road,

Cheltenham

The Cotswolds

Blog, UK - Outside London

The Pig in the Wall, Southampton

April 2, 2017
The Pig in the Wall, Southampton

Southampton is not the first place you’d think to go for an English weekend break.  And had the Pig in the Wall not been there, I would not have recommended it.  However, the Pig in the Wall is the perfect ‘gate way’ to the New Forest and so ideal for a Saturday night stay.   Apart from that, the Pig in the Wall is nestled in what remains of Southampton’s 12th century city walls, and so has a lot of charm in itself.

The Pig in the Wall, Southampton

Those of you who have not been to the Pig are in for a treat.  The original of the now five Pig hotels is the Pig at Brockenhurst, in the heart of the New Forest in Hampshire.  I stayed here for the weekend over three years ago, and absolutely loved it.  The problem is, everyone loves it and so it’s always fully booked.  Solution?  Book the Pig in the Wall (often with much better availability AND lower prices).

You’re only a 15 – 20 minute drive from the New Forest from here (having a car is ideal), so you can spend the whole of Saturday walking / biking in the New Forest (here are some ideas) and then you can head back to the Pig in the Wall in the afternoon to freshen up and enjoy their lovely rooms.  They also have a wonderful sitting room/cafe/lobby, where you can sit by the fire in the winter or on their terrace outside in the summer.   They serve delicious (and very strong) coffees / drinks / snacks all day long, and the best continental breakfasts in the morning.  I absolutely loved this room, it really feels like you’re a guest at someone’s (stunning) home.  The staff are beyond friendly.

The Pig in the Wall, SouthamptonThe pig in the wallThe Pig in the Wall, SouthamptonThe Pig in the Wall, Southampton

There are twelve bedrooms here, all individual.  We had the Snug room which was undeniably very snug (the Cosy room is a bit bigger, for £20 more).  But also with a lot of character, under the eaves.  Our room had the Pig’s signature very comfortable beds, and fantastic power shower.  They use space cleverly, so you really have everything you need.   And with prices starting from £120, it’s good value.

The Pig in the Wall, Southampton

One of the other perks of staying at the Pig in the Wall is the complimentary Land Rover ‘shuttle service’, where they will drive you to the Pig at Brockenhurst for dinner (book this far in advance!), and pick you up afterwards.  So you can enjoy a drink or two without worrying about how you’re going to get back.  And I highly recommend this.  The Pig at Brockenhurst was even lovelier than I remembered, with now an expanded organic vegetable garden and a phenomenal restaurant.  And after dinner we could even still enjoy a few night caps by the fire.

The Pig at Brockenhurst, new ForestThe Pig at Brockenhurst, new ForestThe Pig at Brockenhurst, new Forest

Bottom line: the Pig hotels remain some favourite British hotels.  And I’m keen to visit their newest two (the Pig on the Beach, and the Pig at Coombe) soon.

The Pig in the Wall

8 Western Esplanade

Southampton

Hampshire

Blog, Date Spot, Eat, London

Kiln, Soho

March 27, 2017
Kiln, Soho

If you haven’t been to Thai BBQ favourite the Smoking Goat, go now.  If you have, and loved it, then you’ll be pleased to read (though you probably already know) that they opened a sister property, called Kiln.  They have got quite a lot in common: they’re in Soho, serve Thai food (mostly with an emphasis on BBQ), are petite in size (though Kiln has got a more seating downstairs) and both offer brisk but friendly service.

Kiln, Soho

But the food is actually very different.  More so than I had expected.  Kiln serves off the beaten track ‘local’ Thai food.  Dishes from small, rural villages.  Even a curry from Myanmar, because not only do Thailand and Myanmar share a (substantial) border, but many Burmese live in Northern Thailand.  So the influence is heavy.  You won’t find a Pad Thai here.  There’s very little use of coconut.

And the food is spicy.  Again, a lot more so than I had expected.  Being greedy I tend to put as much food in my mouth as possible, as quickly as possibly.  Before assessing that it might be hot (in both senses of the word).  So I did spend a lot of my evening downing water (and wine).  I really enjoyed the variation of the dishes, from the lamb & cumin skewer (order one each), to the wild ginger and short rib curry from Burma, to the clay pot baked glass noodles with crab meat.  I also liked the spiced sausage with turmeric, and the stir fried cornish greens and soy.

Kiln, SohoKiln, Soho

We ate downstairs, which I liked surprisingly.  It isn’t a soulless small room where the overflow is forced to sit.  It’s quite dark and fun and cosy.  If you’re a two though, I’d aim for the seats at the stainless steel kitchen bar (i.e the only seats possible upstairs), then you can watch the chefs work away at the open fires.

Kiln, Soho

The place is buzzing, incredibly popular despite it’s fairly recent opening.  Of course you can’t book.  But you can put your name and number down for a table.  And they do really try their best.  Just don’t rock up on a Friday night at 7 and expect to be seated within two hours.  It just won’t happen.

So which do I prefer?  Smoking Goat or Kiln?  It’s hard to say.  If you’re looking for something more adventurous, then Kiln may do it for you.  But I think all in all, Smoking Goat still wins for me.

Kiln

58 Brewer Street

Soho

Photo credit: Kiln

Blog, Date Spot, Drink, Eat, London

Lassco Bar & Dining, Maltby Street Market

March 27, 2017
Lassco Bar & Dining, Maltby Street

Maltby Street Market is one of my favourite places in London.  A bit of a walk through some very quiet and a little dodgy parts of London, but worth it in the end.  On the weekend it’s heaving, and not with tourists, which is always a pleasure.  Especially since Borough Market has become so unbearable.

40 Maltby Street is a wine bar I repeatedly return to, with good ambience, nice wines and lovely food.  It seems to be one of the few places open in the evenings on the weekdays.  But then I read great reviews from the Nudge and Hot Dinners about the newly opened Lassco Bar & Dining, just opposite 40 Maltby Street, with very reasonable prices (£25 for 2 courses / £30 for three) and in an eccentric, fun setting.

Lassco Bar & Dining, Maltby Street

So I went on Friday and dragged a friend along.  When I finally managed to locate it (Lassco is a big warehouse, with multiple entrances), I found it very empty, which unnerved me slightly.  But it is an undeniably wonderful setting, and one which is hard to describe.  Everything around you is for sale, from the antique furniture, art work, tiles and vintage lamps.  You’re surrounded by a mixture of everything, from different continents and decades.  And it just works.

Lassco Bar & Dining, Maltby Street

The bar is jolly, adorned with (old school) bunting, and a good but select wine list.  The cocktails are meant to be worth trying too, but we stuck to the red wine (my preference went to the wine from Le Marche, Italy).   We were then led to the ‘dining room’, with attractive light green walls and a selection of prints hanging on the walls.   The food was good, starting with fresh sourdough bread and smoked whiskey butter which was beyond moorish.  I chose the scallops to start (delicious), Ash the beetroot and Stilton (also good – though Stilton always tends to overpower).

Lassco Bar & Dining, Maltby Street

Lassco Bar & Dining, Maltby Street

The main courses were both excellent, I again opted for the lemon sole (though I had forgotten how bony this fish is), and Ash went for the wild boar.  To finish I couldn’t resist the flourless chocolate cake, which tasted as good as it sounds.

Lassco Bar & Dining, Maltby Street

Lassco Bar & Dining, Maltby Street

Lassco Bar & Dining has a definite charm to it, and I’d recommend it for a low-lit date or even a sophisticated but fun night with a group of friends (reservations shouldn’t be hard).  It just needs a lot more diners (or drinkers), because it lacked the buzz and atmosphere that goes hand in hand with people having a good time.  They are apparently moving to an even larger space across the road in June, and I wish them all the best, because this is a place which deserves to do well.

Lassco Bar & Dining

Ropewalk, 41 Maltby Street,

SE1 3PA

Photo credit: Lassco Bar & Dining

Amsterdam, Blog, Drink, Eat, Stay, The Netherlands

The Pulitzer Hotel, Amsterdam

March 18, 2017
The Pulitzer, Amsterdam

Amsterdam has changed hugely in the past few years when it comes to hotels.  The iconic Amstel and De L’Europe have been pushed aside with the openings of new, better, glitzier or more contemporary hotels like the Waldorf Astoria (stunning all round), the W (I love the bar here) and the Hoxton (great for brunch).

The Pulitzer Amsterdam has been around for years, but shut for a massive refurbishment.  It re-opened in August 2016 and wow, it’s a stunner.  I’d never been to it before the renovation, so I don’t have much to compare it to.  But I was impressed not only with the look and feel of the place (a little Soho House-esque in terms of design and quirky touches) but also by how despite the hotel having 225 rooms, it still feels like a boutique hotel.

The Pulitzer, Amsterdam

It looks small(ish) from the outside too, but it’s actually 25 (!) canal houses put together, and connected by wonderful gardens and terraces, which will, I’m sure, be very popular in the summer.  The lobby stands out upon entering, with lots of colour and art.  And I love their cafe Pause, where we had tea and a delicious banana cake.

The Pulitzer, AmsterdamThe Pulitzer, AmsterdamThe Pulitzer, Amsterdam

While we only saw one room, I loved the look of it, under the beams, which is so quintessentially Dutch.  And it’s this mixture of classic Dutch design and a touch of the eclectic (and eccentric) which works so well here.   Some of the suites look amazing too.

The Pulitzer, AmsterdamThe Pulitzer, Amsterdam

My favourite part of the hotel was the Pulitzer Bar, so slick and beautiful and inviting and of course open to locals too.  I will be returning their for one of their signature cocktails.  Their restaurant Jansz also looks great, and can be accessed from the Reestraat (one of the nine ‘little streets’ / Negen Straatjes).

The Pulitzer, AmsterdamThe Pulitzer, Amsterdam

In short, all the Amsterdam old-timer hotels and even the new kids on the block need to watch out, as the Pulitzer provides a more affordable five star option, which will especially attract a younger, trendier crowd.

The Pulitzer

Prinsengracht 323,

1016 GZ Amsterdam

Rooms from EUR 275 a night

Photo credit: Pulitzer Hotel (apart from the photo of the bar)

Looking for the latest London tips and travel suggestions?

Stay in the loop and sign-up for City Turtle's monthly newsletter.