Monday 25 April 2011

April skiing in La Plagne, France

With a glacier and slopes as high as 3,000 metres, La Plagne is popular with skiers and boarders looking to get their fix in April. Even in the balmy spring of 2011, there was a respectable covering of snow on the dozen or so pistes above 2,300 metres, but they can get pretty crowded during the school holidays after 11am or so, when scores of reckless teenagers and their parents pad out the lift queues. Most of these higher slopes are cruising blues or reds, supplemented by a couple of blacks. But experienced skiers tend to head-off piste.

Saturday 23 April 2011

Roche de Mio restaurant, La Plagne, France

Built from wooden beams, in traditional Alpine style, this large, modern restaurant at the top of the Roche de Mio bubble lift has large sloping roofs, big windows and expansive views across to Mont Blanc from the large, sunny terrace. Inside, the walls are lined with a collection of vintage skis and other memorabilia. But the charm ends at the self-service, canteen counter, where the staff can be abrupt and hurried. Most of the fare is expensive junk food, but the portions are generous. You can get a greasy piece of chicken and a mountain of chips for 12 euros, for example. The daily specials, for 14 euros, can be better. The ravioli is made with seemingly fresh pasta served in a tasty, creamy sauce, topped with a heap of grated cheese, but another special is just a couple of bland, fat sausages served with bland pasta. Drinks are quite expensive, with a small beer costing 4 euros, but the prices reflect the fantastic views of majestic snowed-topped Alps towering over green valleys. As Roche de Mio is in the heart of the La Plagne ski area, there is a constant stream of skiers stopping for sustenance, but getting one of the many outdoor tables usually isn't a problem. This is quite a pleasant spot to linger, especially when there is dance music thumping out of the sound system, manned by a couple of grizzled DJs in sun glasses, swigging beer. The terrace is also a good vantage point from which to watch the rescue helicopter take-off and land. 7/10

Esprit at Les Deux Domains, Belle Plagne, France

Probably the biggest and the most swish of the Alpine chalet hotels used by British tour operator Esprit, Les Deux Domains is a short walk from the slopes and the small cluster of shops, restaurants and bars in Belle Plagne. Built to last from solid wood and heavy slate, Les Deux Domains is a modern hotel with very large, well-equipped rooms and plenty of amenities, including a decent swimming pool, luxurious spa, sunny terrace and a big, well-organised boot room. Some of the family suites are almost apartments with two large bedrooms, two bathrooms and even a large separate WC, as well as their own balcony. But your kids may have to sleep on a shaky sofa bed. The hotel has about a dozen floors, with the top level best placed for the village, which can be a problem when one of the three interconnecting lift systems isn't working. Moreover, the foyer and bar, with their uncomfortable high stools, cushioned benches, bold carpets and contemporary lighting, feels like it should be in an airport. Still, the large dining room, with big windows overlooking the mountains, is more welcoming and cosy.

Thursday 21 April 2011

La Face Nord, Belle Plagne. France

A traditional Alpine restaurant in the modern Belle Plagne ski resort, La Face Nord attracts a lively mix of families, couples and local workers, lining the bar. The appealing wooden facade is decorated with Christmas-style frosted foliage, while, inside, antique skis hang on the walls, cute teddy bears sit on the window sills and dark red curtains frame the wood-panelled walls. There are candles in old-fashioned candlesticks on each table and the overall effect is twee, but cosy. The traditional savoyard fondue (19 euros per person) is served with boiled potatoes and lettuce. You get a basket of tough bread to dip in the comte, emmental and beaufort mixture, which is heated by a small gas stove. It is thick, creamy and tasty and there is more than enough cheese. Another, even more filling, dish (about 25 euros a head) features a pan of warm reblochon cheese, served with cold meats, boiled potatoes and salad. The reblochon is very rich with a strong, moreish flavour and, as it cools, it gets pleasantly crusty. Even the green salad (six euros) could be fattening - it features lettuce, walnuts and a generous dressing. To complete the apres ski culinary experience, you can get a 46cl pitcher of the punchy house red for about 10 euros. Service by the young staff is friendly, but can be hurried and inattentive. 7/10

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Lola Roja, Northcote Road, South London

A classy, contemporary tapas bar in the heart of a prosperous London suburb, Lola Roja can get uncomfortably crowded with young professionals on a Saturday night. Diners are packed in and you should try to avoid sitting at the table right next to the toilet. Still, Lola Roja has a sense of style, with deep red crockery and striking modern art framed by whitewashed walls and tables. Moreover, many of the dishes on the mainly Catalan menu contain a combination of finely-judged flavours. The delicious chorizo "lollypops", with quince in a garlic mayonnaise (£4.40), are suitably spicy and have real impact, while the excellent, well-seasoned seafood paella (£11.80 per person) features chunky, fresh prawns and other shellfish. The cheese croquettes (5.50) are very moreish, as are the Iberian ham croquettes with piquillo peppers sauce. Another good dish is the succulent and very fresh baby squid, served with sobrasada, honey and spinach, but the comfit of suckling pig (£8.25), with apple puree and excessively crispy vegetables, is disappointingly fatty and overly-dominated by the meat. As the portions tend to be small, you might want to get some Catalan bread with tomato, which is generous at £2.60 a round. There is a broad selection of Spanish wines, but choose carefully - the Rioja Pinturas is a bit innocuous for £20 a bottle. You may prefer the reliable Estrella Damm beer at £3.75 for 33cl. Lola Roja levies a service charge of 13.5%, but the Iberian waitresses can be a bit brusque at busy times. 7/10

Sunday 3 April 2011

Hisar Restaurant, Lordship Lane, South London

A no-nonsense, neighbourhood Turkish restaurant, Hisar has a garish facade and a spartan, dated interior, with a tiled floor and unflattering lighting. But don't be put off. This place is excellent value. The best way to sample the array of starters (about three or four quid apiece) is to order a mixed meze. You'll probably get some fresh, warm pitta bread, tasty morsels of mince meat and onions, wrapped in vine leaves, plus pastry rolls filled with feta cheese and parsley, accompanied by big bowls of hummus, taramasalata and tzatziki. Among the many mains, the knuckle of lamb casserole (about £12) is substantial and delicious, if a little fatty and salty. The meat falls off the bone and the tomato sauce is full of flavour. The brief wine list is dominated by Turkish wines, but they are mostly keenly-priced and surprisingly good, while the Shiraz from Puglia is a bit lackluster. If you don't fancy wine, the Turkish beer Efes is a pilsner with a pleasant malty flavour. Hisar can get busy at weekends, but it is a big restaurant with plenty of staff. 8/10