Sunday 27 April 2014

Toast E.D., Lordship Lane, south London

A stripped-back restaurant and shrine to wine, Toast E.D. puts flavour ahead of comfort. Although it is competing with a dozen or so eateries on East Dulwich's main drag, this new arrival seems to have no trouble filling its tightly-packed tables on a Saturday evening. As the prices are fairly high for south London, Toast E.D.'s popularity reflects the quality of its fare. The menu offers a mix of larger and smaller dishes, but none of them (even the £21 rump steak) is quite big enough to be a main course. Served rare, with a couple of fondant potatoes and glazed shallots in a rich gravy, the steak is delicious. There is enough meat, but the dish is short of carbs. The monk fish (£16), served with artichokes and in prawn broth, is cooked precisely. But the meaty flesh of this fish can be a little rubbery for some tastes. Among the smallish dishes, the moreish seranno ham, which comes with tasty bread and butter, is good value for £5. Another good dish is the asparagus (five spears for about £7.50), which is blanketed in parmesan cheese and enlivened by a sweetish dressing.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Cilantro, Bishopsgate, central London

Although it is surrounded by the gleaming glass and steel towers of the well-heeled financial services industry, Cilantro touts hot food at very low prices. The cafe itself doesn't seem to have a name on its facade, but it is in the base of the Broadgate Tower alongside competing eateries. As well as a selection of standard Italian dishes, you can get an English breakfast with okay coffee for about six quid. While the bacon, sausages and toast are appealing enough, the fried eggs can be over-cooked. You also get baked beans and it is undoubtedly good value. Although Cilantro is clean and the service is friendly, the crass interior could do with a revamp. The dappled table tops and mock wooden panels are out of tune with the bight red walls and pastel furniture. 6/10

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Sunday 20 April 2014

Renaissance Impressions, Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, central London

Running until June 8th, the Renaissance Impressions exhibition showcases a groundbreaking 16th century printing technique dubbed Chiaroscuro. Several galleries on the top floor of the Royal Academy are lined with 150 of these intricate, but somewhat repetitive and monochromatic, prints. Without the helpful video explaining the extraordinarily detailed and careful woodcarving behind these works, you might be underwhelmed. However, once you understand the techniques used by the masters of Chiaroscuro, you'll begin to appreciate the craftsmanship on show. Each of the artists has a distinctive style, but the prints lack vibrancy and immediate visual appeal - this exhibition is really aimed at history of art buffs. Still, your £10 entry ticket also gives you access to a gallery showing prints by Norman Stevens, a contemporary of David Hockney at the Bradford College of Art in the 1950s. Stevens' evocative work is far more accessible than that of his Renaissance predecessors. With a photo-realistic 3D quality, his verdant prints of lush formal gardens beautifully capture the way sunlight can play on leaves. Moreover, on the way out, you get to admire the neo-classical grandeur of Burlington House, plus the striking steel sculptures by Lynn Chadwick in the Academy's Annenberg Courtyard. 7/10

Friday 18 April 2014

Mottisfont, near Romsey, Hampshire

An eighteenth century manor house built on top of an Augustinian priory, Mottisfont is a heavily visited National Trust property in the valley of the River Test

Thursday 17 April 2014

Venus, Broadgate, central London

Office workers mill around the reclining statue of Venus in the Broadgate development above Liverpool Street Station. The voluptuous bronze statue, which weighs five tonnes, is the work of the Colombian Fernando Botero, who, as a teenager, trained as a matador in the provinces of Bogota

Christ Church, Commercial Street, central London

Built in the early eighteenth century and designed by the celebrated architect Hawksmoor, Christ Church is one of those monumental buildings that stops you in your tracks. As you emerge from Spitalfields market, you come face to face with the neo-classical columns, the grand arches and the soaring steeple - a welcome change from all the glass and steel around nearby Liverpool Street.

Trinity Church Square, south London

A tranquil neighbourhood in the shadow of The Shard, Trinity Church Square and the surrounding streets still have elegant Georgian terraces, cast iron railings and period lampposts.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

The Roebuck, Great Dover St, south London

A bohemian establishment with distressed miss-matching furniture, board games and big windows, the Roebuck is an appealing neighbourhood pub. Inside, there are wooden floors, elegant pillars and spherical period lamps. On tap, are a handful of rotating real ales from London, plus beers from Greenwich's Meantime Brewery. The Meantime lager is very dry and you may prefer the Budvar Dark, which was apparently voted Best Lager in the World at the 2012 World Beer Awards. Service at the Roebuck is chilled and friendly, while the outdoor tables are well placed to catch the afternoon sun. 7/10

Sunday 13 April 2014

Chalet Hameau, Verbier, Switzerland

The view from Chalet Hameau's terrace to the Mont Blanc Massif 
Sitting high above the centre of Verbier, Chalet Hameau is somewhat cut off from the resort's nightlife and the ski lifts. But what you lose in convenience, you gain in comfort. Part of a plush new development, this spacious and luxurious chalet has been finished to a high spec. The pale pine furniture is solid, the floor-to-ceiling windows are big, the lighting is high-tech and the bedding is luxurious. The decor is cool, calm and light. The building's external fixtures are finished in a quality copper trim.

April Skiing in Verbier, Switzerland

Renown for its upmarket nightlife, the smart Swiss ski resort of Verbier still has something of a buzz in the second week of April. Although many of the chalets stand empty and you can walk straight on to the Medran gondolier, the sun terraces of the town's bars can still get busy come 4pm. Most of the pistes face south, so if you want half decent snow at this time of year, you need to stay above Les Ruinettes station at 2,200 metres. Up here, there are several wide sweeping red runs from the Attelas and Fontanet stations. On the way down to Ruinettes, you can branch off towards La Chaux, from where you can catch a big cable car (3 Jumbo) up to Col Des Gentianes (2,950 metres) and the glacier. The 150 capacity cabins seems to leave every 10-15 minutes, but it is worth the wait. Up here, the views are tremendous and the challenging red run down to La Chaux can be blissfully empty first thing in the morning. Many of the skiers wait for another cable car up to Mont-Fort, which boasts 360 degree views of 4,000 metre mountains. From here, there is a fiendishly steep black mogul run back down to the Col Des Gentianes station - not one for the faint-hearted.

Saturday 12 April 2014

Restaurant Le Dahu, La Chaux, Verbier, Switzerland

One of the better places to eat on the slopes above Verbier, Le Dahu has a reasonable self-service canteen with tables inside and out, plus a large, but respectable, restaurant. If you want table service, you may have to join the queue thronging around the amiable host on the upstairs terrace. Again, there are tables outside, plus a large modern dining room with a mezzanine level. Although Le Dahu has space for hundreds of covers, it can still be packed. The menu offers a good selection of mountain food. The cheese fondu (27 Swiss francs a head) is rich and satisfying. You get a pan of creamy cheese, bubbling on the little stove, accompanied by a big basket of hunks of slightly stale bread, plus  a bowl of gherkins and pickled onions. Le Dahu also offers sizeable and sumptuous pizzas (starting at about 20 francs). You can get big jugs of tap water to dilute the beer, wine or coffee and keep you safe on the slopes. Despite the deluge of diners, the service is fairly fast and efficient. And Le Dahu seems to recruit waiters and waitresses with personality and a sensor of humour.

Thursday 10 April 2014

Al Capone, Verbier, Switzerland

Outside the heart of Verbier, near the Savoleyres chair lift, Al Capone is a bizarre mix of Italian pizzeria and Swiss chalet. The cosy main dining area is all solid wooden beams and rafters, adorned with rustic curtains. The annexes around the back have less character, but are comfortable enough. The menu lists about 20 pizzas, starting at 18 Swiss francs for a basic margherita, rising to 29 Swiss francs for a tartufata, which is stuffed with truffle cream, local cheese, ham, mushrooms and peeled tomatoes. The pizzas are passable, but some of the ingredients can be a little lame. You may be tempted to try one of the dishes marked as "local", such as a roasted half chicken (20 francs), served in a basket in a tasty bĂ©arnaise-style sauce. You are encouraged to order a green side salad, but it is boring and pricey for 9 francs and a small bowl of fries, which are thin and mediocre, for 7 francs. Still, the waiter will refill the bowl when you run out. Another dish, billed as local, is essentially a big plate of decent ham (19 francs).  You can get a respectable Swiss pilsner-style beer,  with a bit of a kick, for 6 francs (in a 4dl glass) or a bottle of wine (starting at 41 francs) from the shortish, but well-selected, list.  Deserts are also pricey and you might settle for a ball of the good ice cream for 3.9 francs. All-in-all, Al Capone is an expensive and complacent establishment, which doesn't need to try very hard, particularly on a Wednesday night when many of Verbier's chalet staff have their night off. 6/10

Chalet Carlsberg, Verbier, Switzerland

An inviting mountain restaurant just off the piste down from Attelas to Ruinettes, the Chalet Carlsberg has a fairly plush sun terrace next to a massive air bed you can snowboard on to. By mid-afternoon, the restaurant's sound system will be pumping out pop music and you might be tempted to stop for a drink or a late lunch. But be prepared for slow service - this place can be woefully understaffed with just two waiters patrolling dozens of tables. You might have to secure your own menus, which offer a fairly limited selection of dishes. The well-presented, but paltry, open sandwiches arrive on a piece of slate with a well-dressed and fresh salad. But you only get one round of bread, despite the 17 franc price tag. The Planchette Valaisanne (a plate of meat and cheese shavings with bread) is more substantial and better value at 21 francs. There are a handful of kids dishes, such as sausage and chips, for 12 francs a head. Wash it down with tap water or you can get a pint of Carlsberg for seven francs. If the service wasn't so bad, Chalet Carlsberg might be one of Verbier's better mountain restaurants. 6/10

Monday 7 April 2014

The Self, Le Ruinettes, Verbier, Switzerland

Although it is handily placed at the top of Verbier's Medran lift, the Self isn't a great option for lunch. This self service canteen offers lacklustre food at Swiss (high) prices. The predictable options include a very watery goulash (no obvious meat) for 8 Swiss francs, ordinary spaghetti bolognese (about 14 francs) or modest sandwiches (about 7 francs). Be careful with the coffee machine - press the button twice to fill up the cup and you'll pay 7.60 francs for a cup of mediocre coffee. The utilitarian Le Self has indoor tables and an outside terrace with plenty of metal chairs, but it is ring fenced by large plastic panels that take the sheen off the mountain views. 5/10

Wednesday 2 April 2014

The Phoenix, Denmark Hill Station, south London

Occupying the elegant heart of Denmark Hill's fine Victorian station, the Phoenix oozes charm and character. In the main room, the double ceiling height and large arched windows in the bare brick walls create a light, airy space. A massive station clock hangs from the rafters, overlooking a jumble of leather armchairs and wooden benches and tables. A spiral staircase winds its way up to a mezzanine level overlooking the main bar. Outside, there are benches well placed to catch the early evening sun. On tap is a broad selection of ales, lagers, pilsners and ciders, including London Pride, Doom Bar, Sambrooks Junction, Peroni and Addlestones cider.  Popular with staff from nearby King's College Hospital, the Phoenix's seductive appeal must have seen many a train home missed. 8/10