Sunday 29 January 2012

The Standings Cross, Matfield, Kent

A non-descript pub-cum-restaurant in the prosperous, rambling village of Matfield, The Standings Cross is a mixed bag. Around 2pm on a Sunday, the service can be slow and the portions meagre, but some of the food, particularly the deserts, can be very good. While you are waiting and waiting, you get to nibble on some nice, fluffy bread, served with olive oil. The Sunday roasts (choice of chicken, lamb or pork for £13 each) can be disappointing. The Yorkshire puddings are good enough, but the apologetic chef might run out of lamb and top you up in person with pork or chicken. Moreover, the roast parsnips and potatoes can be singed around the edges and the meat fatty. The roast chicken, moist in its skin, is probably the best bet. Alternatively, the monk fish wrapped in bacon and served with Parmesan risotto looks the part, but is on the small side for £15. Kids' portions are half price. You'll probably need a desert and, fortunately, they are good. The sticky toffee pudding is rich and oozing sugar, but it could do with some ice cream. The well-presented apple crumble (in a mannequin dish) isn't so sweet, but has a lovely flavour and comes with fine ice cream. The choice of beers includes Harveys and a few standard lagers. But you might find a latte, which is big, frothy and very good for £2, to be the highlight of the meal. Service at The Standings Cross tends to be slow, leaving you plenty of time to gaze at the garish modern art on the walls. 5/10

Friday 27 January 2012

Crowne Plaza, Wiesbaden, Germany

A keenly-priced, business hotel near the centre of this historic German city, the Crowne Plaza Wiesbaden is a comfortable, but rather soulless, place to stay. The lobby and bar are sleek, but empty and feel like they belong in an airport, as does the bureaucratic checking-in process. Upstairs, the rooms are quiet, but cramped, especially if you need to use the ironing board.  The views from the windows aren't anything to write home about and the decor is ultra-modern and too clinical, while the striped carpet and curtains are "in your face". A day's Wi-Fi access costs an extra 12.5 euros. But the rooms are equipped with a safe and flat screen television with a 100 or so channels in many different languages. The best thing about this hotel is the buffet breakfast - you can have omelets made to order or help yourself to the appealing fried eggs, hash browns, bacon and sausages. The fruit salad is also good (although you need to pick the pips out of the grapes) and there is an impressive selection of yogurts and fruit juices. The only let down is the underwhelming coffee. The Crowne Plaza is good value. 7/10

Monday 16 January 2012

Sunset in the city

A red sky at night forms a dramatic backdrop to the Houses of Parliament

Saturday 7 January 2012

The Mayflower, Rotherhithe Street, south London

A nautical 17th century pub right on the river, the Mayflower oozes history. Downstairs, the atmospheric bar and adjoining snugs seem to have changed little in the past three centuries. The black wooden beams are awash with lanterns, model ships and other maritime paraphernalia. If you are lucky, there might even be a regular with a black-eye and broken nose propping up the bar. Upstairs, the Mayflower boasts views over the Thames through the fine old lead-paned windows, while the tables bear elderly candlesticks and the battered walls are strewn with yellowing prints and pictures. On tap, the usual lagers are accompanied by a few real ales, such as Speckled Hen.

Winter walk through Bermondsey

A palatial period property in Wapping on the north bank of the Thames

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Dusk on the South Bank

Silhouettes of the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament 

Monday 2 January 2012

The Royal Oak, Hurdlow, Derbyshire

Perched on a hillock in a rather desolate patch of the Peak District, the Royal Oak serves top notch pub grub in its fairly non-descript dining room and more atmospheric bar.  There is an exceptionally long menu featuring most of the pub classics. On a Sunday the selection is smaller, but you can have one of the customary roasts. If you fancy something lighter, the salmon with prawns (£10.50) is cooked with precision and served with delicious chunky, dark chips and a good salad. The fisherman’s platter (£11.95) is also impressive featuring fat, juicy mussels, prawns, a fishcake, smoked salmon and boquerones, accompanied by lots of luke warm potatoes, a bread roll and salad. It's fresh and generous. The good quality children's meals are also substantial: Your offspring might struggle to make it through the three sausages, fine chips and peas. The chicken goujons, which contain decent pieces of meat, might be a healthier option. The Royal Oak's beers include an unusual ale from a local brewery: Hartington bitter. The only real gripe is the pub's frothy cappuccinos can be tepid. But the attentive and friendly staff are happy to make you another one. The Royal Oak is a real find. 8/10

The Stable Bar, Monsal Head Hotel, Monsal Head, Derbyshire

After hiking up to Monsal Head on a winter's morn, the Stable Bar is a warm and welcoming place to stop for lunch. Although the ancient flagstone floor is cold and hard, a wood-burning stove pumps out heat and the bar offers real ales, mulled wine and spicy apple concoctions.  It can be tough to get one of the inside tables, which are enclosed by high wooden screens, making them cosy, but cramped. If you don't want a big meal, the lamb chorizo and rocket in ciabatta, with chips and a bit of salad, hits the mark. It is salty, but meaty and good value for about £8. For kids, the fish and chips with mushy peas is excellent for £5.50. But you may need to be patient - the Stable Bar is often full of hungry walkers and the food can take half an hour to arrive. 8/10