Thursday 26 June 2014

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Café Het Paleis, Paleisstraat, Amsterdam

On a corner overlooking one of the tasteful canals just west of Amsterdam's centre, Café Het Paleis has outside tables well placed for soaking up the charm of this atmospheric city. But you may find the simple food a bit disappointing. Although the crispy chips (3 euros) are fine and filling, the grilled focaccia sandwiches (around 6 euros) are slim and the chicken and mozzarella filling can be overwhelmed by the jalapeño. The coffee is good quality, but the cups are small. Still, you can get free tap water and service by the young staff is smooth. Take your time and watch the steady flow of passing tourists and locals gravitating towards the picturesque waterways in this part of the city. 7/10

NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, Dam, Amsterdam

A sprawling hotel in the touristy heart of Amsterdam, the NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky claims five star status, but many of its communal areas feel jaded, rather than luxurious. The original 1866 building has been modified out of all recognition, making the hotel a confusing juxtaposition of old and new. The ground floor is a labyrinth and the lifts are in sore need of an upgrade.  Still, the bedrooms have been modernised and are comfortable and well-equipped with safes, decent WiFi, quiet air-con and other mod-cons. They are decorated with large stylish black and white prints, while the window might offer a view over the rooftops of old Amsterdam. There will be a large free bottle of water in your room.  The staff are well-drilled, but the check-in process can be wearisome. If you don't have a credit card, then they charge 100 euros to your debit card, which you can get back, if you don't spend it.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Tsuru Bankside, Canvay Street, central London

Primarily a lunchtime spot, this compact branch of Tsuru is a decent place to take the kids for dinner.  The decor is fairly clinical, but it is softened and styled by a wooden trim and tasteful black and white prints.  You can sit at a high wooden table on stools or at lower conventional table, while you eat using chopsticks, from heavyweight Japanese crockery. As an appetiser to share, the Tsuru taster (£8.70) works well. You get a platter of eight pieces of Sushi, featuring tuna, salmon and avocado, with soya sauce. The succulent pork gyoza dumplings are also a good buy at five for £4. Among the keenly-priced main courses, the salmon katsu (only £6.40) is a mixed bag. The "8 hour curry sauce" is rich and rewarding and the dish comes with a generous helping of rice, but the fried fish can be very crispy.  You may find the flavourful teriyaki dishes a better bet. The very dry, crisp Asahi lager (£4 a pint) makes a good accompaniment to the curries. There is also free tap water, but the soft drinks are cheap: You can get a decent apple or pear juice for £1.90 each, while a can of San Pellegrino lemonade is just £1.40. You'll be happy to pay the 10% service charge. 7/10

Saturday 7 June 2014

KaoSarn, Brixton Village, Coldharbour Lane, south London

A rough and ready Thai restaurant next to the main entrance to Brixton Village, KaoSam pulls in a steady stream of punters on a Saturday evening. Although there are a few tables inside, you are likely to be sitting in the shabby courtyard, possibly with a view of the big blue wheelie bins. You bring your own booze, but the restaurant does provide tap water, sometimes in warm glasses fresh from the dishwater. Still, the food can be excellent value - among the starters, the Tom Yum Goong (£4.90) is a  fine choice. You'll find fat juicy prawns floating in the vibrant lemongrass soup.  But the fried Geaw Tod is less successful. It can be disappointingly dry and crispy as the prawns and chicken encrusted inside the pastry may seem stingy and tired. The main courses tend to be more generous than the starters. The lamb massaman, served with steamed rice, is particularly good. There is plenty of succulent meat, potatoes and onions, while the coconut sauce is rich and satisfying. Great value for under a tenner. Although the service can be sluggish, when your meal is done, the staff may try to move you on quickly, so they can sit more diners.  In other words, a meal at KaoSam can be a mixed bag. 6/10

Thursday 5 June 2014

London from Gatwick

The view from a plane on approach to Gatwick - London's skyscrapers shimmer on the horizon, beyond the North Downs and the rolling Sussex countryside

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Nice, France

Nice has an abundance of beautiful nineteenth century buildings

Promenade du Paillon, Nice, France

Three years in the making, the imaginative Promenade du Paillon opened on 26th October 2013 on the site of a former bus station. It features water mirrors, ranks of fountains, inventive wooden playgrounds in the shape of sea animals, eclectic sculptures and many trees. The 12-hectare park snakes 1.2 km through the city from the Nice National Theatre down to the Med, via the Place Massena.

Novotel Acropolis, Nice, France

A boxy, but businesslike, hotel well placed for Nice's Acropolis conference centre, this Novotel is a comfortable, convenient place to stay. Although it lacks style and panache, the accommodation works well. The rooms are large, they have easy-to-use safes and the WiFi is free and reasonably fast. And the big TVs have scores of channels in an array of languages. Although there is no iron, the compact bathrooms have piping hot showers that create enough steam to remove the creases from shirts. Moreover, two bottles of water, one fizzy, one still, appear in the fridge every day. The air con is fine, so you shouldn't need to open the window to the occasional music and mirth emanating from the bar in the courtyard below the inner side of the hotel.

Place Masséna, Nice, France

Dating from the mid-19th Century, Place Masséna is a spacious and scenic focal point for the city of Nice. Mostly pedestrianised, its checker-board paving is sliced in two by the ultra-modern tram system.  

El Merkado, Rue Saint Francois de Paule, Nice, France

A relaxed tapas bar near Nice's grand Place Massena, El Merkado's outside tables can be packed early on a summer evening. Although the interior is large and appealing enough, both locals and tourists prefer sitting underneath the maroon awnings from where they can survey Nice's nightlight. Service is surprisingly quick and friendly and the tapas is pretty good.  The poached egg, with a generous helping of avocado, on rustic toast (4.9 euros) is delicious, while the patatas bravas with chunks of chorizo (3.9 euros) is mouthwatering. The homely meatballs (three for 3.9 euros) are chunky and filling. But the Pelforth beer, which has bite, is expensive at 6.6 euros for 50cl. El Merkado draws a laid-back bohemian crowd in the early evening, but the punters become a little more dressy as the cocktails start flowing. 8/10

Sunday 1 June 2014

The Flying Pig, East Dulwich Road, south London

One for alpha males, the Flying Pig majors on meat and beer. This East Dulwich pub's menu has a broad selection of burgers and baps, backed up by more comfort food, such as macaroni cheese with cauliflower or beer battered fish and chips. Some of the dishes have a bit of a kick, such as 'the spicy pig', a chorizo and jalapeno burger served with chilli mayo (£13). Among the pulled pork buns, the whole hog (£13), is probably best avoided. It packs in chorizo, streaky bacon and jalapenos, meaning there are too many flavours going on inside the bap - they overwhelm each other. The burgers and baps are served on wooden platters with some excellent handcut chips and delicious aioli. If you are hungry, the mac 'n' cheese side dish is tasty and huge for £3.50. You can wash it all down with one of the pricey British craft beers on tap, such as the Freedom Four (a very dry, but decent lager, at just 4% proof) and London Pale ale.