Tuesday 23 October 2012

Crowne Plaza, Redondo Beach, California

Showing its age, this Crowne Plaza is undergoing a much-needed renovation. It has a cavernous lobby, bedecked with pot plants and pillars, which can be eerily quiet, and an adjoining restaurant-bar called the Splash Bistro. The bedrooms are a respectable size, but the fixtures and fittings are looking pretty tired - the flowery curtains are old fashioned, as is the mock antique desk and wardrobe. The en-suite bathrooms have mirrors with fussy "gold" frames. If you pay more for a room with an ocean view, that view will also take in the coast road, a car park and a marina. On the downside, the Wi-Fi costs $5 for four hours and $10 for 24 hours and the TV is a bit ropey with only US channels. On the upside, you get a balcony, an ironing board, an iron and a safe. The immediate  area around the hotel is a bit dead - it is more lively a mile or two up the coast at Hermosa beach.  The Crowne Plaza, Redondo Beach, is also disturbingly close to a major industrial plant. Still, the hotel is pretty good value, if you avoid the extras. 6/10

Monday 22 October 2012

The Terrace, Washington Blvd, Venice Beach, California

A colourful cafe-bar just off the oceanfront in Venice Beach, the Terrace serves brunch with a buzz on a Sunday in October. The tables on the shaded terrace and the suntrap pavement can be heaving, but the diners turn over fairly fast. Below the bright yellow hoardings, the walls are plastered with garish pictures of flowers and shrubs. The Terrace's orange juice (about $4) isn't great, so you might prefer the free iced water. For 10 bucks, you can get three eggs cooked any way you want and served with ham, bacon, pork or turkey sausage, hash browns and an English muffin. The portions tend to be generous, but the ingredients aren't that good and the scrambled eggs can be a little overcooked. The bill comes with an automatic service charge of 18%, but the fast service probably warrants it. The Terrace is in a fine location, but it's food isn't anything to write home about. 6/10

The Strand Bike Path, Los Angeles, California

A well-marked, flat and fun bike path that hugs the Pacific coastline for about 20 miles, cycling the Strand in the sunshine is a great way to soak up California's outdoor vibe. Most of the route either runs alongside or through large swathes of fine fawn sand, taking you past scores of quirky ocean-front villas. As you roll north, the white apartment blocks of Venice Beach shimmer invitingly in front of the Malibu hills in the distance. On the beach, athletic locals throw themselves around volleyball pitches and there are wooden, skyblue lifeguard huts every few hundred yards. But it is not all so picturesque. The Strand takes you past a power station, a refinery and very close to Los Angeles International Airport - the planes fly alarmingly low over the understandably empty Dockweiler Beach.  And you have to go inland for a couple of miles, crossing a dead straight canal, to circumnavigate Marina del Rey on your way to Venice Beach - the famous cocktail of muscular posers and grungy streetlife - and then Santa Monica pier with its sedate fun fair. If you ride The Strand on a Sunday morning in October, you'll be joined by scores of other cyclists, joggers and assorted fitness fanatics.  9/10

Saturday 20 October 2012

The Palmerston, Lordship Lane, East Dulwich

A well-established gastropub on Lordship Lane, the Palmerston is something of an institution among local carnivores. With a bar at the front and a dining room at the back, it still has the feel of a traditional Victorian pub with wood-paneling and ceilings and walls painted a deep red. Changing daily, the mostly British menu typically features half-a-dozen starters and half-a-dozen main courses with meat well-represented. While you are choosing, you can nibble on an artisan-style fresh bread roll. One of the starters on offer may be some decent mussels swimming in a creamy, salty soup. It is pretty moreish, but there is not really enough for £8. The main courses might include a juicy and mouthwatering steak (about £18). This will likely be a decent slab of beef, but it may be let down by the lackluster side dishes, which cost a few quid each. The fries might look like they belong in McDonalds, while the green beans, tomatoes and new potatoes are fairly mundane.  The Palmerston boasts a lengthy wine list, starting at about £14 a bottle, spanning the new and old worlds, plus some real ales, such as the Cornish Doombar, which has a bit of bite. If you can't manage a desert, the Palmerston does impressive Irish coffees. Service can be sluggish on a busy Friday evening, but is cheerful enough. 7/10

Wednesday 3 October 2012

El Paso, Old Street, central London

A hybrid hang-out for high-tech hipsters in Hoxton, El Paso doubles as both a Tex-Mex cafe and a workplace, equipped with free Wi-Fi, abundant electric sockets, tables, desk-lamps and even lockers. The predominantly white decor, over two floors, is mostly stripped-back and minimalist, except for large stencils of revolvers, ten-gallon hats and cacti. And in one room the walls are decorated with zany, cartoon-style muriels. A fiery breakfast burrito containing chorizo, mushrooms, peppers, onions and chilli will set you back £6. You'll need the accompaying guacamole. If you want something less spicy, you can get a generous and delicious bacon sandwich in a granary baguette for about four and a half quid. The coffees are on the small side, but are pretty good and you get a glass of iced water. El Paso is a pleasant place to graze and work. 7/10