Sunday 28 June 2009

Ganapati, Holly Grove, Peckham, south London

A spartan, yet colourfully decorated, neighbourhood restaurant serving authentic south Indian cuisine, Ganapati has bare wooden tables and talkative, teasing staff in traditional costume. On weekend evenings, there are two sittings at 7.30pm and 9.15pm. The menu is varied and stimulating. Among the starters, are some rather dry vegetarian street snacks (£4.50) consisting of a couple of small fried potato balls and a couple of patties both laced with spices and served with much-needed dips. The pappadoms, served with four diverse pickles and chutneys, are more filling. Among the mains, the Malli Varutha fish curry (about £11) with rice is quite spicy and fiddly, but delicious. Equally impressive is the Banana Leaf Thali - a classic south Indian dish served in a myriad of multi-sized metallic pots containing a fish, meat or vegetable curry, pickles, chutneys, rice, yoghurt and other condiments. To drink, you are given a large metallic flask of tap water with matching beakers. Or you can have a fruit lassi for about £3, or a 330ml bottle of cobra beer for £3.25. Ganapati also sells several unusual beers from the Meantime brewery, while wine starts at about £13 a bottle. Note, there is also an obligatory 10% service charge. All in all, good value for a taste of genuine southern Indian food. 7/10

Saturday 27 June 2009

Carrie's War, Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, central London

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With austere period costumes, a wistful ambiance and an elaborate set encompassing two two-storey houses, Carrie's War effectively evokes the stoicism and upheaval of 1940s Britain. Early on in the play, Carrie and her whinging brother Nick are evacuated to a Welsh mining valley in a railway carriage that descends silently from the ceiling and departs in a cloud of smoke. Unfortunately, Sarah Edwardson and James Joyce's slightly over-the-top acting and adult-sized children's clothes can break the spell.

Friday 26 June 2009

Restaurant Paganini, Vasterlanggatan, Stockholm

Overlooking a pleasant cobbled street in the old town, a table beside the open windows in Restaurant Paganini is a good place to watch tourists wandering by on the long summer evenings in Stockholm. Inside, the ambiance is cosy and romantic - there are candles on the small tables, which are mostly occupied by couples. Restaurant Paganini serves good chianti and chablis by the glass (around 120 krona each), as well as by the bottle, which is a good thing given the high prices in Sweden. On the menu, there is an array of Italian dishes, including pasta and carpaccio, plus some Swedish dishes, featuring cuts of reindeer (298 krona), which is quite like beef, but even leaner and drier, and elk. The food is competent, but not spectacular, while the service by the young Swedish staff is welcoming and efficient. 6/10

Arlanda Express, Stockholm

Connecting the main airport to Stockholm city centre, Arlanda Express trains, painted a gaudy yellow, run every 15 minutes during the day in the summer. With a journey time of just 20 minutes, they are easily the fastest way to cover the 40 kilometers. Right now a special offer enables two adults to travel together one way for 250 Swedish krona, while a single adult fare is 240 krona. The Arlanda Express is quick and comfortable: Don't even consider a cab. 7/10

Nordic Sea Hotel, Vasaplan, Stockholm

Right next to the central station and the Arlanda Express terminus, the Nordic Sea Hotel couldn't be more convenient for travellers coming in from the airport. But with the exception of the gimmicky bar made out of ice, it doesn't have a lot of character - the lobby and breakfast room may remind you of the airport you just left. Moreover, the keenly-priced, but aptly-named "express rooms", could give you cabin fever. You won't want to hang around: They are small and claustrophobic - there are no windows and the air con isn't very powerful. At least, they come with free, fast Internet access and reasonably comfortable beds, while the decor is restrained and easy-on-the-eye. The buffet breakfast is quite good, with a decent selection of hot food, including some tasty lamb sausages, plus the continental stables. 6/10

British Airways, London Heathrow to Stockholm Arlanda

At Heathrow's terminal five, the security queues can be long and tiresome first thing on a Monday morning and you have to take a bus from the gate to the 7.30am Stockholm flight, so make sure you check-in online (early if you want a window seat) and arrive at the airport by 6.30am. You can take a small holdall on board, plus a laptop bag, so you may be able to avoid putting luggage in the hold. The two-hour flight to Stockholm is popular with business people and the plane can be crowded, but BA's blue leather seats are fairly spacious and you get a free sandwich and a hot or cold drink. On the way back, security at Arlanda tends to run smoothly and quickly, but the pricey food in the cafes can be lackluster, while the cappuccinos tend to be bland and lukewarm. 6/10

The Wellington, Waterloo Road, central London

A big patriotic pub, opposite Waterloo station, with several large rooms and high ceilings, The Wellington has plenty of space and lots of television screens for watching football, cricket or rugby. The walls are lined with pictures of Napoleonic battles, Wellington paraphernalia and pithy quotes from the Duke, while model canons line the raised alcoves. The usual international lagers are on tap (Fosters about three quid a pint), plus a few real ales. A good place to watch England or the British Lions play, but, on match days, The Wellington's boisterous atmosphere can be diluted by the stray tourists and pensioners tucking into the pub grub. 6/10

Monday 15 June 2009

Strada, Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, central London

With big round mirrors mounted on a wall cladded with thin strips of bamboo above sturdy wood panelling, the decor in this two-storey branch of Strada conjures up Japan or Scandinavia. But the food is all Italian. As you sit down, one of the waitresses will bring over complimentary, filtered water in minimalist bottles and they don't seem to mind if you drink nothing else. Among the starters, the Cesto di Pane Misto (£4.50) is a selection of rather dry and disappointing breads rescued only by the accompanying bowl of olive oil. The antipasto misto - mouthwatering mozzarella, parma ham, pepperoni and flavourful tomatoes - is much better, but pricey at £6.50. The pizzas with their wafer thin bases, fresh, appealing toppings and big diameters are also a cut above those served in most pizza chains. Even the kids' pizzas (just £4.50) are large and alluring.

Fresh and vibrant sea food
Less generous is the pumpkin and butternut squash risotto (about £10), topped with very slim strips of pancetta. It is creamy and pleasant, but lacks some punch. The excellent sea food risotto (about £11) is also a tad small, but the mussels, squid, prawns and clams are very fresh and vibrant. Although service (optional 15% charge) can be sluggish, it is friendly and attentive, particularly to children. A short walk from the tourist honeypot and boutiques of Covent Garden, this branch of Strada makes a good lunch stop on a family day out. 7/10

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Coffee Republic, Exchange Square, Broadgate, central London

Mostly housed in a greenhouse-style building in a futuristic pedestrianised square, this branch of Coffee Republic has outside tables overlooking a big voluptuous black statue, the steel and glass architecture of the surrounding banks and part of Liverpool Street station. In the distance, you can hear the sound of the station tannoy and trains pulling in and out. The Americanos (about £1.50 for a large beaker) are strong and full of flavour. When you buy a coffee, you can pick up a tasty cheese and tomato twist or chocolate twist for an additional pound. Also on offer is the usual selection of cakes, sandwiches, muffins, smoothies etc. You can get online via the pair of (paid-for) terminals or use your own laptop to connect to the free Wi-Fi, sponsored by Lufthansa, by getting a username and password valid for 20 minutes from the counter staff. 6/10

Sunday 7 June 2009

National Garden Scheme at Choumert Square, Peckham, south London

A mews hidden away in the back streets of Peckham, Choumert Square is two terraces of around twenty modest mid-Victorian workers cottages facing each other across a flagstone path. Period street lamps, colourful facades and some tiny, but luscious, front gardens add to the special ambiance of this unusual street. Surprisingly, there is even room for a handful of mature, gnarled trees. Once a year, as part of the National Gardens Scheme, the householders set up stalls selling tombola tickets, glasses of Pimms, lavish cakes, homemade lemonade, nick-nacks and other wares for charity. At the far end of the mews, a woodwind and brass band plays cheerful tunes in the tiny square where there is just enough room to sit down with a glass of wine or a cup of tea. On the day the square opens for the scheme, admission is £2.50 for adults and 50 pence for kids. 7/10

Saturday 6 June 2009

Pizza Express, Dulwich Village, south London

Housed over two floors of a Victorian building, this branch of Pizza Express is still sporting sash windows, elegant fireplaces and other period features. But, at busy times, the interior can feel cramped as mildly-stressed, black-shirted waiters and waitresses try to weave their way from the open plan kitchen through the too closely-packed tables. Early on a Saturday evening in the summer, diners may be surrounded by boisterous kids' birthday parties, families and even the odd group of twentysomethings dolled-up for a big night out, while a handful of people queue at the door.

Elaborate platter
As well as the usual pizzas, pasta and salad dishes, the Pizza Express menu now includes an elaborate meze (about £9) of olives, sun-dried tomatoes, hot and succulent slabs of bread, wafer-thin cured meats, small chunks of mozzarella, parmesan shaved over sugarsnap peas and peperonata sauce, all served on a slate platter. The three-course kids' menu, which is also good value for six quid, starts with dough balls and a smattering of crudite, followed by a choice of small passable pizzas or pasta dishes and then creamy, sweet sundaes. To wash it down, you can get iced tap water for nothing or pay about £2 a pop for fruit juices, while adults may prefer to reach for the bottles of Peroni or the fairly-priced wine list. 6/10