Monday, 26 November 2007

Grand Edo, The Venetian, Macau

Sophisticated and stylish Japanese restaurant overlooking one of the Venetian's canals. The food is delicious and varied - succulent and flavoursome fish and beef dishes are expertly prepared by a chef with almost mesmerising skill on a hot stove in front of you. For those who prefer their Japanese food raw, there is also plenty of sushi and sashimi to choose from. Each dish is served on traditional, heavyweight Japanese platters to diners often sitting on high chairs around a bar, which can make conversation with anyone other than your neighbour tricky. Prices are justifiably on the high side and the atmosphere is fairly low-key, but the Grand Edo's food makes it well worth a visit. 8/10

Friday, 23 November 2007

Madeira Portuguese Restaurant, The Venetian, Macau

One of a cluster of restaurants in 'St Mark's Square' - part of the Venetian Resort's faux Italian cityscape. The Madeira has tables 'outside' so you can sit under the fake sky in perpetual fake daylight. You might prefer the light and cool interior, but bewarned a singer with large sun glasses tirelessly and cheerfully serenades the tables, while unrelated pop videos play silently on a large flat screen in the background. The tapas is also a mixed bag. The meat and fish dishes can be bony and stingy, but the vegetable dishes are well prepared and the deserts are good enough. There is also a respectable wine list.5/10

Thursday, 22 November 2007

The Blue Frog, The Venetian, Macau

The cool, dark decor of The Blue Frog Bar & Grill is a blessed relief from the ostentatious gold fittings of the surrounding Venetian Resort Hotel. This is first and foremost a drinking den, but disappointingly, there are no local beers on tap and you have to make do with the standard international drinks brands, such as Carlsberg and Kilkenny, at international prices. A double Baileys, for example, will set you back about HK$120. To line your stomach, it is well worth choosing from the wide selection of burgers, sandwiches, steaks, salads and other western food. The juicy, salty ribeye steak is delicious, but the accompanying vegetables are a little too al dente. A newly-opened spin-off from the original Shanghai Blue Frog, the Macau branch could do with a few more punters. But the friendly, attentive staff and the funky music, which is cranked up loud later on, still make for a buzzy, night out atmosphere. 7/10

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Cafe Deco, The Venetian, Macau

Billed as the largest restaurant in Asia, Cafe Deco is a sprawling 1930s-style establishment lit by huge bizarrely-shaped lights and specialising in an extensive breakfast buffet (HK$190 for adults). Despite the hundreds of seats, you may still have to queue for a table at busy times. Once you sit down, the numerous staff are quick to offer you coffee or tea. The buffet has everything from cereals to tropical fruits to smoked salmon to cold meats to hot English and Chinese food. While the scrambled eggs, rashers of bacon and sausages don't look very appealing, they are actually quite tasty. Reasonable value given the huge choice, but bewarned the buffet closes at 11am sharp. 6/10

Monday, 19 November 2007

Macau Old Town

An atmospheric blend of Chinese and Portuguese history and culture percolates through the busy shopping streets below the ruined, but striking, facade of the seventeenth century Jesuit Church of Mater Dei and the nearby stone fort from the same era. You can reach the eerie facade, the symbol of Macau, by wandering through narrow streets lined with tiny food stalls stacked with exotic and aromatic morsels. From the church, you can stroll up through the fort's crude stone walls guarded by aging canons. At the top, there are 360 degree views of Macau's forest of scruffy apartment blocks sprinkled with the odd plush casino-hotel or futuristic skyscraper. As you descend into the streets below, you will stumble on the occasional elegant colonial villa or church overlooking streets and squares paved with distinctive waves of small black and white tiles. Tucked away in one of the back alleys, you may also find a serene shrine to Confucius, lit up by scores of lanterns. Although, there are few real sights, Macau's historic heart is well preserved enough to justify at least a half a day of wandering. 7/10

TurboJet Sea Express, Hong Kong International Airport to Macau

After you arrive at Hong Kong airport, you can transfer to the ferry as if you were transferring to another flight, meaning you don't go through passport control and the ferry staff will move your luggage from the plane to the boat. But the crossing to Macau only takes place seven times a day, so you may have a couple of hours wait anyway. You are bussed down to the utilitarian ferry terminal where you spend half an hour hanging around before taking your seat on the boat. Economy class, (HK$180, one way) is comfortable enough for the 50-minute trip and you can purchase snacks and drinks. First class (HK$280) has bigger seats, a free sugary snack and a drink, plus priority departure.

On the way back, you have to pay HK$20 more for either class. You go through passport control in Macau, pick up your bags at the airport and then check-in for your flight at one of the transfer counters inside the airport. While the ferry trip can be gloomy in the dark, at one end you get a sweeping view of the neon extravagance of Macau's waterside casinos and at the other, the towers of Hong Kong look like rows of computer servers glittering in the distance. 6/10

Friday, 16 November 2007

British Airways, Club World, London Heathrow to Hong Kong

Check-in early online to ensure you aren't bumped down by British Airways' outrageous overbooking policy. If you take a late evening flight, you should find Heathrow's Terminal 1 quiet, enabling you to sail through security. But, at that time of day, the large BA lounge is often running low on food, magazines and newspapers. On the plane there is a three-course meal of variable quality to look forward to. The shrimp and prawn terrine with a green salad is crisp and fresh, but the fish cakes can be dry and disappointing. While you eat, there is plenty to watch on the on-demand entertainment system, including some well-made documentaries, such as the seductive Sandrine's Paris. The smooth Beronia Reserva Rioja 2001 is a good sleep-aid and the 12 hour flight gives you plenty of time to get your head down on the nearly-flat bed. But it will be late afternoon when you reach Hong Kong's futuristic airport and you may struggle to sleep the following night.

For the return leg, you can await your flight in the Qantas lounge, which is equipped with excellent showers, stacks of newspapers, and a respectable selection of cold, but tasty, snacks and drinks. Or you can wander around the airport's good selection of shops in search of presents. Again the food on the BA flight is a lottery. The Greek feta cheese salad would be at home in a good restaurant, but the stir-fried beef comes with a lump of congealing rice. In the morning, the fruit is fresh enough, but the hot breakfast isn't very appetising - the scrambled egg, for example, is watery and has a green tinge. At Heathrow, your flight may fall foul of the early morning congestion, forcing the plane to circle round and round London or wait on the tarmac until a gate becomes free. 6/10

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Kozzy Cafe, Red Lion Street, Central London

Popular and crowded lunchtime cafe offering a vast range of keenly-priced, breakfasts, sandwiches, omelettes, burgers, pasta and other simple dishes. Kozzy's successful formula boils down to swift service and competent food delivered in large portions. The £4.15 lasagna, for example, is rich, tasty and creamy and it comes with a small finely-chopped salad enlivened by a salsa sauce. The cafe's large windows make for a light, airy space, but the decor is a mishmash of stripped floors, black Formica tables, steel chairs and pipes splayed across the ceiling. Soft drinks and coffee, but no alcohol. 7/10

Thirst, 53 Greek Street, Soho, London

Compact, dark and throbbing bar with a small dance area downstairs playing repetitive funky house. Don't try asking for Abba, as a sign above the turntables says 'No Requests'. Frequented by a cosmopolitan mix of sexually-charged punters in their early to mid-thirties, including eastern Europeans, south Asians and the odd punk. Drinks are pricey at about £3.50 for a bottle of beer and £2 for a bottle of fizzy water. There is also a lavatory attendant on the look out for tips and there can be an entrance charge after 10pm. Still, Thirst, open until 3am, does decent canapes for a private party and it has a friendly and inclusive vibe. 7/10

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Virgin Upper Class, Nairobi to London

At Nairobi airport, your Upper Class ticket entitles you to use the 'premium' lounge, which Virgin shares with other airlines. It is pretty basic. There is one slow Internet terminal, lots of sofas, some meagre snacks, a narrow selection of drinks, the odd newspaper, a couple of TVs showing CNN and some very ugly chandeliers. The cafe near gate 14 has better food, better decor and you get a view of the military helicopters parked on the runway. At the gate, you have to go through security a further two times, but Upper Class passengers can jump the queue and the Kenyan airport staff are very helpful and friendly.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Hotel Serena, Kenyatta Avenue, Nairobi, Kenya

The kind of smart, upmarket hotel that makes it far too easy to forget that there are people living in squalid slums across much of this city. The fittings and furniture, mostly made out of a dark wood, are plush, while the rooms are large and comfortable. The upper floors even have a nice view of a tree-lined avenue leading up to Nairobi's shiny business district. Although some of the kit, such as the showers and the TVs, is a bit dated and temperamental, there is WiFi and complementary fruit, wine and a welcome drink. The Serena also has extensive, well-tended gardens and an abundance of friendly, laid-back staff. Service is leisurely, forcing you to unwind and slow down, so order food and drinks well before you get hungry and thirsty. For 'fast' food, such as burgers, pasta and sandwiches, head for the tables around the pool, but the very large cheese and bacon burger can be tepid and dry, while the accompanying chips are too salty. Still, this is a chilled-out spot to have one of the excellent and filling mango, banana or other tropical fruit smoothies. And the evening buffet in the restaurant has a wide selection of decent food. Particularly flavoursome are the Indian dishes, such as the prawn tikka masala. All in all, a good hotel, but, at $350 a night, the Serena is also expensive and highly indulgent by Kenyan standards. Like most international hotels in the developing world, guests, of course, occupy a bubble, heavily-insulated from real life in the surrounding city. 6/10