Saturday 17 March 2012

England vs Ireland, Six Nations, Twickenham

Savour the  Twickenham atmosphere - tickets are expensive, but worth every penny, when the Irish are in town

Friday 16 March 2012

Lunch at the Sanctum Hotel, Warwick Street, central London

A smart and sleek establishment just off Regent Street, the Sanctum Hotel's No.20 restaurant can be surprisingly quiet on a weekday lunchtime. That makes it a good place to talk, but a skeleton staff means service can be sluggish. Fish is well represented on the "modern British" menu, but there is also a decent selection for meat-eaters, including Cumberland sausages and beef and kidney pie (both about £17).   Featuring fat juicy prawns and chunks of salmon and pollock, topped with creamy mash potato and cheese, the fish pie is very good for £14.50.  A side order of vegetables costs a hefty £4 and the spinach can be a bit watery, but there will be enough for two. The shiny decor is a bit bling, but No. 20 is a comfortable place to chew the fat with a business contact. 7/10

Sunday 4 March 2012

Babur, Brockley Rise, South London

A contemporary, almost futuristic, take on the traditional curry house, Babur is an eye-catching designer restaurant. Through the all-glass doors, is a long, narrow dining room divided up by blonde wood partitions and enclosed by bare brick walls.While the tables, chairs and lighting are sleek and modern, there are also some ethnic Indian touches, such as the ornately carved wooden mirror frames. The carefully-constructed ambiance is only marred by the occasional rendition of "Happy Birthday" played over the speaker system. Babur's menu is also imaginative and thoughtful - many of the dishes listed, such as "Laverstoke Park buffalo lal maas", are unusual, but they are well-explained and are accompanied by a specific wine recommendation. If you prefer beer, a very large bottle of cold Cobra costs £4.50.

Beetroot - a recurring ingredient
As an appetiser, you can munch your way through a pile of poppadoms, with a selection of four lively chutneys (about £1.25 per person). One of the best starters has to be the venison chapli (about £8), which contains spring onions and peppers and is served with creme fraiche and beetroot. (At Babur, beetroot seems to be a recurring ingredient). These meaty chapli have a great combination of flavours. Less successful are the ugly goat patties, which are a bit dense and lack flavour. The vegetable beggar's purse - pastry filled with paneer, cashews, potato and peas - is also a bit small, bland and disappointing for almost £7. Among the mains, the chicken biryani (£13.95), served in a sealed pot with lots of rice, is very good and very filling - you probably won't need the slightly-dry naan bread (a mixed basket, including laccha paratha, garlic nan and roti costs £4.25). The sea bream (£14.25), with curry leaf mash, is fresh, but lacks a little zing. Service is very attentive, to the point where the waiters fill up your glasses for you. All in all, Babur is a little pricey for a curry house in Forest Hill, but it does offer a refreshing twist on the Indian restaurant experience. 7/10

Saturday 3 March 2012

Barcelona Rent A Bike, central Barcelona

"The best way to discover Barcelona is by bike" contends this bicycle rental company, which has two outlets - one near Plaça Catalunya and one on Barceloneta's main promenade. And it is probably right, unless you are in the Catalan capital at the height of the summer. For the rest of the year, the climate is either mild or warm - ideal cycling conditions. Better still, there are plenty of cycle lanes, fully segregated from the cars, particularly along Barcelona's extensive seafront. These lanes do fizzle out from time-to-time, but no-one seems to mind if you ride along the broad promenades overlooking the beaches and the marinas. Barcelona Rent a Bike offers a choice of very sturdy and very heavy, black Dutch-style bikes (upright with three gears), folding bikes, tandems or children's bikes. The rates are reasonable (ranging from 6 euros for two hours to 55 euros for a week). Theft insurance (which reduces the amount you pay if the bike is stolen from 250 euros to 100 euros) is a further 3 euros a day, but you may not need it - the bike comes with both a hefty chain lock and a built-in back wheel lock. You also get free child seats and helmets (although no-one seems to wear them). Just make sure you get the shop staff to pump up the tyres before you go. 8/10 

Thursday 1 March 2012