Sunday, 20 April 2014

Renaissance Impressions, Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, central London

Running until June 8th, the Renaissance Impressions exhibition showcases a groundbreaking 16th century printing technique dubbed Chiaroscuro. Several galleries on the top floor of the Royal Academy are lined with 150 of these intricate, but somewhat repetitive and monochromatic, prints. Without the helpful video explaining the extraordinarily detailed and careful woodcarving behind these works, you might be underwhelmed. However, once you understand the techniques used by the masters of Chiaroscuro, you'll begin to appreciate the craftsmanship on show. Each of the artists has a distinctive style, but the prints lack vibrancy and immediate visual appeal - this exhibition is really aimed at history of art buffs. Still, your £10 entry ticket also gives you access to a gallery showing prints by Norman Stevens, a contemporary of David Hockney at the Bradford College of Art in the 1950s. Stevens' evocative work is far more accessible than that of his Renaissance predecessors. With a photo-realistic 3D quality, his verdant prints of lush formal gardens beautifully capture the way sunlight can play on leaves. Moreover, on the way out, you get to admire the neo-classical grandeur of Burlington House, plus the striking steel sculptures by Lynn Chadwick in the Academy's Annenberg Courtyard. 7/10

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Venus, Broadgate, central London

Office workers mill around the reclining statue of Venus in the Broadgate development above Liverpool Street Station. The voluptuous bronze statue, which weighs five tonnes, is the work of the Colombian Fernando Botero, who, as a teenager, trained as a matador in the provinces of Bogota

Christ Church, Commercial Street, central London

Built in the early eighteenth century and designed by the celebrated architect Hawksmoor, Christ Church is one of those monumental buildings that stops you in your tracks. As you emerge from Spitalfields market, you come face to face with the neo-classical columns, the grand arches and the soaring steeple - a welcome change from all the glass and steel around nearby Liverpool Street.

Trinity Church Square, south London

A tranquil neighbourhood in the shadow of The Shard, Trinity Church Square and the surrounding streets still have elegant Georgian terraces, cast iron railings and period lampposts.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Roebuck, Great Dover St, south London

A bohemian establishment with distressed miss-matching furniture, board games and big windows, the Roebuck is an appealing neighbourhood pub. Inside, there are wooden floors, elegant pillars and spherical period lamps. On tap, are a handful of rotating real ales from London, plus beers from Greenwich's Meantime Brewery. The Meantime lager is very dry and you may prefer the Budvar Dark, which was apparently voted Best Lager in the World at the 2012 World Beer Awards. Service at the Roebuck is chilled and friendly, while the outdoor tables are well placed to catch the afternoon sun. 7/10

Sunday, 13 April 2014

April Skiing in Verbier, Switzerland

Renown for its upmarket nightlife, the smart Swiss ski resort of Verbier still has something of a buzz in the second week of April. Although many of the chalets stand empty and you can walk straight on to the Medran gondolier, the sun terraces of the town's bars can still get busy come 4pm. Most of the pistes face south, so if you want half decent snow at this time of year, you need to stay above Les Ruinettes station at 2,200 metres. Up here, there are several wide sweeping red runs from the Attelas and Fontanet stations. On the way down to Ruinettes, you can branch off towards La Chaux, from where you can catch a big cable car (3 Jumbo) up to Col Des Gentianes (2,950 metres) and the glacier. The 150 capacity cabins seems to leave every 10-15 minutes, but it is worth the wait. Up here, the views are tremendous and the challenging red run down to La Chaux can be blissfully empty first thing in the morning. Many of the skiers wait for another cable car up to Mont-Fort, which boasts 360 degree views of 4,000 metre mountains. From here, there is a fiendishly steep black mogul run back down to the Col Des Gentianes station - not one for the faint-hearted.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Restaurant Le Dahu, La Chaux, Verbier, Switzerland

One of the better places to eat on the slopes above Verbier, Le Dahu has a reasonable self-service canteen with tables inside and out, plus a large, but respectable, restaurant. If you want table service, you may have to join the queue thronging around the amiable host on the upstairs terrace. Again, there are tables outside, plus a large modern dining room with a mezzanine level. Although Le Dahu has space for hundreds of covers, it can still be packed. The menu offers a good selection of mountain food. The cheese fondu (27 Swiss francs a head) is rich and satisfying. You get a pan of creamy cheese, bubbling on the little stove, accompanied by a big basket of hunks of slightly stale bread, plus  a bowl of gherkins and pickled onions. Le Dahu also offers sizeable and sumptuous pizzas (starting at about 20 francs). You can get big jugs of tap water to dilute the beer, wine or coffee and keep you safe on the slopes. Despite the deluge of diners, the service is fairly fast and efficient. And Le Dahu seems to recruit waiters and waitresses with personality and a sensor of humour.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Al Capone, Verbier, Switzerland

Outside the heart of Verbier, near the Savoleyres chair lift, Al Capone is a bizarre mix of Italian pizzeria and Swiss chalet. The cosy main dining area is all solid wooden beams and rafters, adorned with rustic curtains. The annexes around the back have less character, but are comfortable enough. The menu lists about 20 pizzas, starting at 18 Swiss francs for a basic margherita, rising to 29 Swiss francs for a tartufata, which is stuffed with truffle cream, local cheese, ham, mushrooms and peeled tomatoes. The pizzas are passable, but some of the ingredients can be a little lame. You may be tempted to try one of the dishes marked as "local", such as a roasted half chicken (20 francs), served in a basket in a tasty bĂ©arnaise-style sauce. You are encouraged to order a green side salad, but it is boring and pricey for 9 francs and a small bowl of fries, which are thin and mediocre, for 7 francs. Still, the waiter will refill the bowl when you run out. Another dish, billed as local, is essentially a big plate of decent ham (19 francs).  You can get a respectable Swiss pilsner-style beer,  with a bit of a kick, for 6 francs (in a 4dl glass) or a bottle of wine (starting at 41 francs) from the shortish, but well-selected, list.  Deserts are also pricey and you might settle for a ball of the good ice cream for 3.9 francs. All-in-all, Al Capone is an expensive and complacent establishment, which doesn't need to try very hard, particularly on a Wednesday night when many of Verbier's chalet staff have their night off. 6/10