Saturday, 19 December 2020

Christmas in Covent Garden, Central London


In the hours before the UK Government imposed a tier 4 lockdown on London, parts of the capital's shopping districts were buzzing.  In Covent Garden, mulled wine, fake snow and lego sculptures were the order of the day.

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Maison François, Duke Street, Central London


Housed in a grand building with high-ceilings and theatrical lighting, Maison François's striking Art Deco dining room can imbue any meal with a sense of occasion. The French menu is safe and stimulating at the same time. The emphasis is on classic French dishes made with high-quality ingredients, precision and passion.  Among the starters, the rock oysters, sauce mignonette (£21 for six) and the assiette de charcuterie (£15) are both top-notch takes on traditional favourites, while the anchovies, ricotta and thyme, with grilled bread (£9.50) is a treat for the taste buds.  On a cold winter's day, the special main of green lentils with bacon and a Toulouse sausage (about £17) is hearty and enjoyable, particularly when combined with the moreish pommes Anna à la truffe (£7) and the rustic cabbage, anchoïade, breadcrumbs and chilli (£8). For fish lovers, the halibut in a mussels sauce is a tad pricey at £29, but gets rave reviews, while the hungry might opt for half a roast chicken cooked in herbs for £24. The very extensive wine list starts at about £26 a bottle and is heavily orientated towards France and its European neighbours. If you are celebrating, the Toffoli Prosecco Frizzante (£36 per bottle) is a decent option. Providing proficient, yet relaxed, service, Maison François successfully occupies the middle ground between fine dining and a fun meal out. 8/10

Sunday, 6 December 2020

J Sheekey, St Martin's Court, Central London


On a chilly December evening in the Covid era, the distinguished Atlantic bar of J Sheekey is a comforting place to take refuge. A bustle of bartenders mix and serve drinks frenetically while you perch on high chairs and survey the black and white prints of celebrities that adorn the walls. In the dining room the small army of staff flow backwards and forwards shepherding eye-catching plates of seafood in all directions.  Among the starters, the chargrilled squid served with roasted chorizo, padron peppers and smoked butter (£14.50) is both nourishing and flavoursome. Even more impressive and substantial is the Atlantic Bar platter of seafood, which includes oysters, prawns, mussels, clams, ceviche, cockles and whelks. At £25 per person, it is a punchy starter, but this is fresh and scintillating seafood. Among the main courses, the Sheekey’s fish stew (£26), with garlic mayonnaise, is more prosaic, but enjoyable all the same. You should find something you like on the lengthy wine list, but at a price. If you aren't too fussy, the Terres d'Azur Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp and fairly affordable option at £36 per bottle. All-in-all, J Sheekey is a refined and rewarding place to indulge a fish fetish. (8/10)

Sunday, 8 November 2020

The Thames, East of Greenwich, London


On a surprisingly mild November day, the Thames is like a millpond. The meandering moody stretch between the Royal Naval College and the Thames Barrier is marked by industrial debris, shards of greenery, flashy riverside apartments, the O2 dome and the soaring cable car over the river.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Giardini Luzzati, Genoa

Stumble on Giardini Luzzati early in the evening and you might find talented eight year olds kicking a ball around and locals sipping aperitifs in this versatile open space in Genoa's old quarter. The square also affords views of some of the city's most venerable landmarks, including the charismatic bell towers of the 12th century San Donato church (below) and the Church of Sant'Agostino Genoa (above).

Chiesa di Santa Maria di Castello, Genoa


Dating from the 12th century, this well-preserved Romanesque church and convent of Santa Maria di Castello sits proudly on high ground in the heart of Genoa.

Hotel Palazzo Grillo, Piazza delle Vigne, Genoa


You may have to navigate some very narrow and seedy alleyways to reach the small square which is home to Hotel Palazzo Grillo. But it is worth the effort. Staying in this dignified and handsome historic building, which dates from 1545, is a treat.  Many of the 25 bedrooms, which are comfortable and well-equipped, still have striking period features and look out over the charismatic buildings clustered in the heart of the old city.

Le Rune, Salita Inferiore di Sant'Anna, Piazza del Portello, Genoa

One of many good restaurants woven into Genoa's tight-knit historic centre, Le Rune stands out for serving exceptional Italian cuisine at very moderate prices. With a regularly changing selection of five or so dishes (costing between €10 and €20 each) per course, the food is both imaginative and generous.  For example, one of the primo dishes (pictured above) combines the delicate flavours of three different porcini mushrooms with some excellent carpaccio. The pasta and secondi dishes also major on fresh ingredients expertly prepared. You can order a respectable bottle of local wine for just €15.  The outdoor tables are spread over a multi-level garden, which backs on to a funicular railway, adding to the atmosphere. With patient and friendly service, Le Rune's proprietors have perfected the art of the neighbourhood restauranteur.  9/10