Sunday 30 October 2011

Best Western Galleria Inn, Redondo Beach, Los Angeles

In a non-descript suburb of south LA close to the international airport and a few miles from the ocean, the Best West Galleria Inn, Redondo Beach, is a workmanlike and depressing place to stay. At weekends, this motel seems to be popular with noisy night owls and you'll get to hear plenty of chatter in the early hours as party animals slowly make their way along the balconies that lead to the guest rooms. Still, the beds are comfortable and the Wi-Fi is fast and free. Although the decor is dull and unimaginative, the biggish rooms are equipped with just about everything you'll need, except a safe. You can help yourself to the basic buffet breakfast in the very compact lobby. The lame coffee comes from a machine and you have to toast your own bread. There are also cereals, milk, yoghurts and hard boiled eggs in the fridge. This Best Western is a reasonably convenient and cheap stopover after a long flight, but there must be better options. 5/10

Wednesday 26 October 2011

The Crooked Well, Grove Lane, south London

A new gastro pub in Camberwell, the Crooked Well is housed in a stately early nineteenth-century building with high ceilings, big windows and clean, stripped-back decor. Even on a Tuesday evening, it can be tough to get a table in the restaurant area, so you may be pointed to the bar. But beware, some of the bar tables are really too low to eat at. The food is traditional British fare, often enlivened with a modern twist. Among the starters, the pork belly, served with tuna creme fraiche, capers and gremolata  (£5.90), is a small and surprisingly-delicate dish. The presentation is superb and the swirls of pork crackling delicious, but the meat itself can be overpowered by the other flavours, especially the capers. For the main course, the hearty and hot fish pie (£26.50 for two) is a good choice on an autumnal evening. Beneath the mash potato topping, which is decorated with two king prawns, there is plenty of well-seasoned salmon. You'll also need a side order of vegetables, which are a further £3, but are nicely-steamed.  There is a lengthy wine list and some beers, such as Amstel, Doom Bar and Kronenbourg on tap. Although the Crooked Well is often packed, the service is polished and professional. 7/10

Monday 24 October 2011

Southern stretch of The Strand, Los Angeles, California

A 22-mile bicycle trail hugging the beaches along Los Angeles' South Bay, the Strand is a blessed relief from the car-clogged roads elsewhere in the city. Beginning at Hermosa Beach, the most southerly stretch often hugs wide tracts of sand running down to the Pacific Ocean. The beach here is patchwork of volleyball pitches and every few hundred yars, a sky blue, wooden lifeguard's hut surveys the shoreline. With a white-dotted line down the middle and an eight-mile-an-hour speed limit, The Strand itself runs as straight as an arrow for a mile or so to Redondo Beach.  Here, you have to veer off on to the coast road for a short stretch before working your way through a car park and a short 'no cycling' section at the head of Redondo Beach pier. Then you rejoin the sea front for a couple of miles until The Strand comes to an abrupt end.  But it is worth pushing your bike up the steep slope to the bike lane on the residential road that climbs into the plush Palos Verdes hills. You can work your way around the picturesque coastline on the sometimes busy, but wide, Paseo Del Mar, which offers some fine vistas over the ocean. You can rent a bike at reasonable rates from several shops near Hermosa Beach. The Hermosa Cyclery, for example, offers a standard hybrid bike for $36 a day or $125 for a week. 8/10 

Saturday 15 October 2011

The Millennium Broadway Hotel, West 44th Street, New York

Housed in a skyscraper a stone's throw from Times Square, the Millennium Broadway is a mid-market hotel on an industrial scale. It has 625 rooms across scores of floors, reachable via swift lifts from the plush marble lobby. For such a central location in such a crowded city, the standard rooms are surprisingly spacious and well-equipped with a large desk, comfortable bed and armchair. They also have ironing boards, irons, safes and WiFi (costing about $13 a day). The predominantly brown decor is contemporary and in good condition, but a little dull. Still, there are big windows with dizzying views of the neighbouring skyscrapers.  The en-suite bathrooms are also modern and well-maintained, but the dappled tiled floor and fussy marble sink tops won't be to everyone's tastes. The standard rooms can be booked at pretty keen rates and, if you want to keep the cost of extras down, there are plenty of nearby cafes and coffee shops serving breakfast and offering free WiFi. A good base from which to see Manhattan. 7/10