Tuesday 31 December 2013

St George Wharf Tower, Vauxhall Bridge, central London

Space-age blocks of flats in the shadow of the new St George Wharf Tower on the south side of Vauxhall Bridge. At 50 stories high, the tower is apparently the tallest all-residential building in the UK.

Thursday 26 December 2013

Stepping Stones Walk, Box Hill, Surrey

The Burford Spur
Although the National Trust's Stepping Stones Walk is only a couple of miles, it incorporates a very steep ascent and descent, plus plenty to look at, so you'll need more than an hour.  Next to the Burford Bridge Hotel, there is a public car park and a gate into some woodland at the foot of the Burford Spur - an open stretch of land that climbs up to Box Hill. As you haul yourself up the grassy slope, you'll pause to turn around and take in the sweeping views north. As you near the top, you'll be engulfed in more woodland surrounding an old fort. You emerge next to the bustling National Trust visitor centre, complete with cafe and toilets. If you buy a coffee, be aware that there aren't any litter bins on the rest of the walk.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Angler Restaurant, South Place Hotel, central London

A Michelin-starred fish restaurant on the seventh floor of a smart modern hotel in the city, Angler is surprisingly good value. In the run up to Christmas, Angler offers a three course festive menu, with a complimentary glass of Devaux Grande Reserve champagne, for £45. Soon after you sit down, you might be brought an anonymous, yet tasty, appetiser, followed by some mouthwatering warm ciabatta bread. Among the starters, the crab cannelloni, served with buttered leeks, lobster and ginger bisque, is subtle, but delicious. The tubular cannelloni appears to be topped with black caviar, as well as the bisque.  For a main course, the perfectly cooked seared salmon, served with chestnut puree and queen scallops bourguignon, provides a fine balance of flavours and textures. For a desert, there are a couple of tempting sweet options on the festive menu, but the British cheese selection can make a fine finale. You get a blue cheese, a creamy cheese and a hard cheese, plus biscuits and raisin bread.  The a la carte menu is equally interesting and thoughtful. Without exception, the dishes are beautifully presented and the service is well-polished. On the massive wine list, the bottles start at about twenty quid, but the 2012 Sauvignon Gris, Kadun Vineyard, Vina Leyda (£36), from Chile makes a good accompaniment for fish. It is crisp with some zing. Predominantly white and silver, Angler's decor is cool and contemporary, yet comfortable. Large sloping windows illuminate the long dining area, while a patterned mirrored ceiling reflects light on to the crisp white tablecloths. Angler deserves to be a destination restaurant. 9/10

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya, Kalanchevskaya Street, Moscow, Russia

The view across Komsomolskaya Square from one of the upper floors of the Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya 

One of seven neo-classical skyscrapers erected in the Russian capital in the Stalinist post-war period, the Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya is an imposing Baroque-Gothic style building near the inner ring road. Although the hotel's sheer scale means it might belong in an Orwellian nightmare, the towering cream spires can give the building the air of a fairytale castle.  With an extraordinarily high and ornately-carved wooden ceiling held up by marble pillars, the grandiose lobby is illuminated by ostentatious chandeliers and light fittings. The incongruous wicker armchairs appear lost in their palatial surroundings.  The gilded conference rooms also seem to be hangovers from a bygone era. 

Restaurant April Cafe, Bolshaya Spasskaya, Moscow

Images from April Cafe's web site
Tucked away in a residential area with large apartment buildings, April Cafe can be hard to locate. In an unlikely spot, near Moscow's inner ring road, is a carefully and expensively designed restaurant. The eclectic interior mixes timber, glass, plastic, huge prints and even fake grass to create a slightly surreal ambiance. In December, the red fairy lights and a wildlife documentary, playing on the big screen, accentuate April Cafe's eccentricity. The menus offer a broad selection of dishes, covering both international and Russian cuisine. As well as the price, each dish is annotated with two or three mysterious numbers, which may signal the weight of the key ingredients. Although it can take a long time to arrive, the decent food is precisely and attractively presented. To start, the herrings (210 roubles), served with hot boiled potatoes and spring onion, are very fresh and have zing. The lamb stew (590 roubles as a main course) isn't as good, however. Firstly, it doesn't look like a stew - it comes as pellets of lamb and vegetables, coated in sauce, neatly arranged on a plate. Secondly, the meat can be bit tough in places.  For desert, the mixed chocolate desert (270 roubles) will be a real hit with cocoa lovers. Although far from perfect, the April Cafe is good value for Moscow. 7/10

Monday 2 December 2013

Premier Inn, Gatwick North, Surrey

Just a short walk from Gatwick's North terminal, this new Premier Inn promises a good kip before an early flight. There are scores of rooms in the eight or nine floors rising above Gatwick's car parks. The Premier Inn puts a big emphasis on automation, but the check-in isn't that intuitive and you may need the help of the solitary receptionist. Decorated in Premier Inn's purple hue, the rooms themselves are large and quiet with comfortable beds and flat screen televisions. And there is in-room WiFi, but you have to pay for it. Frustratingly, you can't open the window and it can get stuffy even with the air conditioning chugging along.  The en-suite bathrooms are spacious, but utilitarian. Still, the Premier Inn is good value and you shouldn't miss your flight. 6/10