Thursday, 31 January 2013

London to Dubai, Business class with Royal Brunei Airlines

One of the most keenly-priced airlines linking London with Dubai, Royal Brunei Airlines runs civilised morning flights out of Heathrow.  But the return flight might leave the UAE at 3am in the morning. Although Royal Brunei is a dry airline, business class passengers can use the well-stocked, well-equipped and well-run Etihad lounge in Heathrow's terminal 4 before they board the flight.  On board, the crew are attentive, but the catering can be poor, particularly when they run out of certain dishes. Following the canapes, in theory, you should be offered a choice of starters (the salmon with marinated beetroot is surprisingly meaty and fresh) and main courses. Avoid the spinach and cheese cannelloni, which can look and taste like a sloppy microwave meal, even though it is served on plush china and with crisp white napkins. To follow, there is a choice of cheeses, such as brie, and deserts, such as Haagen-Dazs ice cream. The chunk of smoked Austrian cheese may be small, but it is accompanied by plenty of fruit and biscuits. Before you land in Dubai, you'll also be offered a snack and a drink. The entertainment system is passable and the attendants keep the hot towels coming.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Radisson Blu, Dubai Media City, United Arab Emirates

A smart, sleek hotel spread across two stumpy glass and steel towers, the Radisson Blu in Dubai's Media City is squarely aimed at business travellers.   Tastefully-decorated, the standard rooms aren't spacious, but they are well-equipped with fast, free WiFi, effective air conditioning, a (pricey) mini-bar and a safe. The only significant thing missing is an iron and an ironing board, while the English language TV channels are limited to CNN, BBC Worldwide and their ilk. Connected by a spaceship-style glass walkway, each tower has its own second floor terrace - one with a pool and a bar, the other adjoining a comfortable business lounge.  You can sit here and enjoy a drink in the shadow of skyscrapers. Unfortunately, the lobby, with its portraits of enrobed Arab leaders, is a bit bling.  The buffet breakfast (just 72 dirhams - about £13), which you can eat inside or out, is big on choice, featuring everything from scrambled eggs to chicken sausages to noodles and other Asian dishes. There are also plenty of cold options, including a broad selection of fresh bread rolls. The smoothies, particularly the banana one, are well worth trying, but the coffee can be lacklustre and tepid.  On the top floor, the Radisson Blu has a fairly funky open-air terrace and bar, which hosts DJs and live music in the evenings, turning this conservative business hotel into an unlikely nightspot.  7/10

The Buddha Bar, Grosvenor House, Dubai Marina

An over-the-top restaurant for an over-the-top city, the Buddha Bar is in the lively Grosvenor House complex, which draws wealthy locals and some scantily-clad companions in spray-on dresses. Outside, there are Ferraris, Bentleys, Porches and the like. Inside, the Buddha Bar offers dining on a grand, theatrical scale. The spectacular main dining room has a twenty-metre glass wall overlooking the harbour, not to mention a towering statue of buddha, a cascade of chandeliers and a very long bar where you can sample a cocktail. There are also a clutch of smaller, cosier alcoves and rooms decorated in an opulent Asian fashion. Unfortunately, the Thai, Chinese and Japanese food doesn't always live up to the venue. The half a dozen "homemade" dumplings (90 dirhams) - two filled with "squid ink prawn", two with chicken and two with vegetables - are disappointingly short of flavour and very uniform. You need the accompanying chilli and soy sauces. By contrast, the fried Cajun soft-shelled crab is succulent and really delicious - its sizzle is offset nicely by the accompanying rocket. Among the main courses, the Thai green chicken curry (170 dirhams) is quite runny and nowhere near as spicy as the waiter makes out. Still, the flavours are nicely balanced and the accompanying Jasmine rice is precisely steamed. As you would expect, the service is attentive, the wine list is long and the music is chilled, but the venue is the main event - the Buddha Bar is a destination restaurant. 8/10

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Barasti Bar at Le Meridien Mina Sehayi hotel, Dubai

The view of Dubai's massive Palm Jumeira (the artificial palm-shaped peninsula) from the Barasti Bar at Le Meridien Mina Sehayi hotel. A pint of beer at this mellow and sprawling beach-side bar costs a hefty 35 dirhams (about £6.50).

Monday, 28 January 2013

Towers of Dubai Marina, Dubai

The sun begins to set over the building sites and skyscrapers surrounding the fashionable Marina district of Dubai

Pascal Tepper French Bakery, Dubai Media City

A cool, clinical cafe in Dubai Media City, the Pascal Tepper French Bakery's fresh, simple food attracts a mix of chic locals and expats. With a magenta, white and black colour scheme, this spacious eatery has a contemporary, clean, light and airy ambiance. The menu is more fuel, than fine cuisine, but you can get a decent breakfast or lunch. The sandwiches (38-48 dirhams) are generous and filling, as is the "French" burger and chips (45 dirhams). The "tradition" grilled sandwich - turkey ham, butter and elemental cheese - is simple, but effective. Each dish comes with a heavily-dressed salad and a large basket of bread. Served with a glass of water, the strong filter coffee (14 dirhams) is good, as are the thick, satisfying smoothies (26 dirhams) - blackberries, banana and apple juice is a good combination. The service is pleasant, if unhurried. 7/10

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Sunday brunch at the Prince Regent, Dulwich Road, South London

Book or arrive early for Sunday brunch at the Prince Regent, an handsome wood-panelled pub steeped in natural light and old-school charm. The French chef turns out fine food at tasty prices, pulling in the punters. You can choose from the breakfast menu or the lunch menu. With a chunky slice of ham on a muffin, drenched in hollandaise sauce, and accompanied by salad, the eggs benedicte is very large and very good for £6.50. A decent plate of ham, eggs and handmade, but very salty, chips is about the same price.  From the lunch menu, the fatty roast pork belly (about £13), served in a red wine sauce and accompanied by a pot full of lentils is rich and delicious. Veggies will enjoy the excellent creamy leak and gorgonzola risotto with truffle oil (£9.60). You can wash down the nourishing nosh with one of the unusual real ales, a bog-standard lager or something from the respectable wine list.  8/10

Sledging in Brockwell Park, South London

South Londoners equipped with sledges, snowboards and even skis flock to the gentle slopes of Brockwell Park to enjoy the snow.  Wooden sledges are the way forward 

Saturday, 19 January 2013

The Club Room in the Northcote, Northcote Road, South London

A longstanding pub at the foot of Battersea Rise, the Northcote has a recently-refurbished upstairs room that you can hire for free for a private meal.  Aiming for a smart, but contemporary feel, the Club Room's decor is an excessive mix of materials, colours and patterns, exemplified by a bizarre chandelier made from antlers. The striped carpet says conference centre, but the wooden blinds, panelled walls and black and white prints are more stylish. You eat from white crockery on bare wooden tables. Still, this is a good venue for a sports club annual dinner - the cheerful young staff in the Club Room don't seem to mind serving raucous groups of men.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Look Mum No Hands, Old Street, central London

A conspicuously trendy mecca for cyclists, Look Mum No Hands combines a workshop with a cafe-bar in a large light-industrial space. Facing the big windows is a wooden bar with electric sockets and high chairs. Behind that, are more conventional wooden tables, plus an extended corner seat with comfortable padding. Look Mum No Hands would be a good place to work, if the WiFi wasn't so flaky. The white walls are decorated with arty prints of cyclists and there are a couple of bikes hanging from the ceiling in front of the windows. The grungy staff have tattoos and piercings and one even has extended ear lobes, reminiscent of a prehistoric tribe. The vittles are quite expensive: A smart pot of tea, plus a caramel slice, will set you back almost a fiver. Even so, Look Mum No Hands is usually packed with a cosmopolitan clientele and seems to have cachet with cyclists. 7/10

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Grand Union, Camberwell Grove, south London

A big branch of the small Grand Union chain, this pub is popular with staff and students from the nearby King's College teaching hospital.  Inside, the mock-period decor has run wild with flowery wallpaper, fussy chandeliers, decorated paper fans, naff paintings and ornate picture-frames and mirrors. Bizarrely, the staff all wear checked, lumberjack-style shirts. A weird mishmash, the overall effect can be overpowering and won't be to everyone's taste. Moreover, the free WiFi is flaky and the selection of beers unimaginative. Still, there are plenty of cocktails on offer and the leather sofas are comfortable. And, in the summer, the Grand Union's benches in the lane running between the handsome Georgian houses on Camberwell Grove and Grove Lane can make a fine sun trap. 6/10    

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Sun, Clapham Old Town, South London

An appealing pub in a handsome nineteenth century building in Clapham Old Town, the Sun has plenty of comfortable seats, big windows, white wood-pannelled walls, classical pillars and some impressive chandeliers. In the winter, the Sun's small back bar, with tiled walls and large leather sofas, is a cosy place for a pint. In the summer, the shaded and enclosed stone patio can be packed with lively and affluent locals. Not a budget option, the Sun has an eclectic selection of premium beers from around London and the world, including Meantime London pale ale (£4.55 a pint), Sambrook's Junction from Battersea (£3.85), Jamaica's Red Stripe (£4.35), the American wheat beer Blue Moon (£4.75) and Sharps Cornish Orchard Cide (£4.60) - a good place to try a new tipple. 7/10

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Cycling the Tamsin Trail, Richmond Park, South West London

Running more than seven miles around the edge of Richmond Park, the Tamsin Trail is a well-maintained brown gravel track that can be ridden on just about any bike. It hugs the perimeter of this massive 2,500 acres of green space, so you can join the trail at the Roehampton Gate, the Sheen Gate, Richmond Gate, Ham Gate, Kingston Gate or one of the half-dozen pedestrian gates. It is a fun ride, taking in some fine vistas, both of this rolling royal park and over the meandering Thames. Threading its way through patches of mature trees and bracken, the Tamsin Trail is fairly flat, but there are a couple of short, steep climbs and descents, particularly Broomfield Hill, between Robin Hood's Gate and Kingston Gate. Cyclists share the trail with walkers and runners and there is a 10mph speed limit on many stretches. On a Sunday afternoon, there can be pedestrians spread across the path, forcing you to hit the brakes and even come to a virtual halt. If you find the trail too slow, you can venture on to the perimeter road route and mix it with the cars. A lap of the park should earn you a good bacon baguette (just £3.50) and a decent coffee at the Roehampton Cafe (near Roehampton Gate), popular with cyclists and those hiring bikes from Parkcycle next door. If you want to extend the ride, you can cut across the picturesque heart of Richmond Park on one of the traffic free roads. 8/10