Sunday 21 August 2011

The Red Lion, High Street, Arundel

A welcoming pub on the main drag in the historic village of Arundel, the Red Lion's interior is an eclectic mishmash of contemporary fixtures and fittings. Painted in bright colours, the walls are covered in modern art, which is for sale. Some of the bar stools have leopard skin prints. Out the back is a shabby beer garden, which can be marred by junk and full ashtrays. The menu is unambitious pub fare. Still, just eight quid will you get a chunky beef burger, topped with bacon, cheese and fresh tomatoes, which is delicious. It comes with some skinny, floppy chips and mayo or tomato sauce.  There are some local ales, Addlestones cider and the usual lagers on draft. The Red Lion's bustling, young staff are very chirpy, particularly when they are preparing for a live music gig on a Saturday night. 6/10

The White Horse, Shere, Surrey

An appealing timber-framed pub in the prosperous village of Shere, the White Horse has a warren of rooms and a large, plain garden. Owned by the Chef and Brewer chain, the food isn't expensive, but it can still be disappointing. Fish pie topped with cheese and potato (£8.75) isn't particularly large, while the salmon and prawns inside can be overcooked. The accompanying vegetables might suffer from the same problem and can be limp and tasteless. Still, the roasts look better and more substantial, particularly if you pay extra for the "go large" option. Moreover, some of the deserts will fill you up - the chocolate fudge cake (£4.40), served with a big dollop of ice cream or cream, is massive and moreish. On tap, are some cask-ales, plus standard lagers and ciders, such as Fosters and Strongbow. Service by the black-shirted "team members" is very friendly and cheerful, but the White Horse isn't a culinary experience. 6/10

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Cycle ride from Amberley over Wepham Down and Rackham Hill, Sussex

A circular route beginning and ending at Amberley train station, this 15 mile off-road ride takes you up into the South Downs for sweeping views across Sussex. You start the ride with a stiff climb on tarmac, before threading your way south along bridleways across rolling download towards the hamlet of Burpham, where you might be tempted by the boisterous pub. There is another stiff climb out of the village and up into woodland where you head east on a forest trail past frequent Angmering Park Estate signs warning you  not to climb on the log piles.  As you emerge from the trees, you veer north towards Lower Barpham along an exhilarating path overlooking a very steep hillside. Just before Wepham Down, you head east again across open fields with distant views to the sea and then north to join the South Downs Way. Here, you head west back towards Amberley. From the top of the ridge, you get almost continuous vistas across the bucolic countryside to the north. Near Amberely, you'll see the sixteenth century stately home of Parham on the edge of the woodland below. This rewarding off-road ride is detailed in the Ordnance Survey book of cycle tours in Kent, Surrey and Sussex. 8/10

Monday 8 August 2011

Walk from Ightham Mote, Kent

From the National Trust car park at Ightham Mote, there is an enjoyable one hour circular walk up nearby Wilmot Hill. Clearly marked by green arrows, the walk starts with a dull climb on a wide mud path lined by weeds and woods. But stick with it. After about a mile, the route cuts through some trees and, just before the top, there is a small bench with a spectacular view across the forests and fields below. The path then descends on the edge of a surprisingly steep and dramatic escarpment, offering more timeless vistas through the precarious and sometimes ancient trees. Shipbourne's sturdy Victorian church is one of the few buildings to intrude on this snapshot of rural England.  The route then rolls back to Ightham Mote where you can get a well-earned slice of coffee and walnut cake in the restaurant overlooking this Medieval moated manor house. 8/10

Friday 5 August 2011

Bistrot Bruno Loubet, St John's Square, Clerkenwell Road, central London

A light, airy and spacious restaurant, Bistrot Bruno Loubet mixes traditional French hospitality with a cool, contemporary interior. In August, even on a Friday lunchtime, the bistro doesn't seem that busy, giving the chatty waitors plenty of time to show off their knowledge.  There is a big selection of dishes, including specials, and the food is good, but a tad grand for a lunchtime, with main courses starting at about £13 and deserts and starters at about £6. Still, the steak is an impressive slab of meat and the summer fish cassoulet (£18), served on a bed of broad beans and other vegetables, features a fillet of salmon, a fillet of white fish and a kind of fish sausage. Although the seasoning may be excessive for some tastes, the fish is expertly-cooked and nicely-presented.  If you're hungry, you'll probably also need the mash potato and garlic side dish, which is around four quid.  Deserts include an impressive summer pudding, ringed by raspberries and three flavours of decent ice cream. Bistrot Bruno Loubet is a pleasant, but pricey, place for lunch. 7/10

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Masseria Fumarola, Villa Castelli, near Martina Franca

Only a few miles out of the fine town of Martina Franca, Masseria Fumarola is an upmarket hotel set in extensive, pristine grounds. The white-washed main building, which has a comfortable and stylish lounge, is housed in a cluster of converted trulli, each topped with the distinctive white egg cup shape stones. In front of the hotel, raised stone terraces with smart gazebos sheltering glass tables, rise like islands out of a sea of white shingle. Some of the grounds are given over to carpet-like lawns, punctured by the occasional mature olive tree (one of which is dead) and bordered by low and neat stone walls. A safe distance from the hotel is a curvaceous pool surrounded by white stone. The overall effect is striking and architectural, but rather stark. Moreover, the hotel’s high prices can leave the place feeling rather empty and lacking in atmosphere.

Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy

A charming and compact town, white-washed Locorotondo shimmers invitingly on the top of a hill, its cathedral towering imperiously above a cluster of old medieval streets. After you've admired the fine facades of the town's clutch of churches and the cathedral's dome and belltower, there isn't a great deal to see. But it is worth wandering around the atmospheric alleyways, overlooked by elegant town houses with unusual pitched roofs, or eating lunch al fresco at one of the handful of decent restaurants. You should also make your way to the well-maintained small park, from where there are captivating views across the iron-railings and the trulli-studded landscape below. 7/10

Monday 1 August 2011

La Taverna del Duca, Via Papatotero, Locorotondo, Puglia

Targeting discerning tourists, La Taverna del Duca has a handful of outdoor tables in a charming alley near the old heart of this appealing whitewashed hilltop town. At lunch time, there is likely to be a very limited selection of dishes, but don't let that put you off. Catering for its international clientele, La Taverna's menu is translated into English, but the food is  pure Puglia. The portions are generous so you may not need to spend 12 euros on the antipasti. Among the primi courses, the mashed beans with chicory is quite creamy and moreish, while the oriecchiette with ragu sauce and meat balls is also good value (both 8-9 euros), as is the even cheaper orecchiette in a tomato sauce. But the black beans and pasta (7 euros) in a rich, salty sauce is the best of the lot. Another delicious dish is the ripe and flavoursome tomatoes with baby mozarella (6 euros). However, the bread you get in exchange for the two euro cover charge isn't so great and the only coffee on offer is an expresso. Moreover, you have to clamber through some cleaning equipment to get to the toilet. Still, La Taverna del Duca's service is slick and engaging, while the setting is idyllic Italy. 7/10