Tuesday 31 March 2015

Bar Ristorante Lo Retsignon, Ciarcerio - Frachey, Champoluc, Aosta Valley, Italy

A homely eatery near the top of the futuristic funicular up from Frachey, Bar Ristorante Lo Retsignon is not a bad place to be stranded if the chairlift up the mountain is closed by high winds. The table service is warm and efficient, while the food is good value. As well as offering decent Italian staples, including a creamy carbonara, several polenta dishes and gnocchi, this well run restaurant offers a few local dishes such as the filling and tasty zuppa alla valdostana - a solid soup made of bread, butter, cabbage and cheese (about 8 euros). The menu also features some respectable salads and kids dishes, including a hearty frankfurter-style sausage and chips. 7/10

Friday 27 March 2015

Bermondsey Street, south London

The brick warehouses lining Bermondsey Street house many bars and coffee shops. In fact, the area feels like a satellite of Shoreditch marooned south of the river. Beards and fixed-wheel bikes are commonplace, as are co-working places.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Brunch at No. 67, Peckham Road, south London

An upmarket cafe housed in the South London Gallery in Camberwell, No. 67 offers an enticing brunch menu featuring everything from a simple croissant and jam (£2) up to a full and filling Spanglish (£10.50) - two eggs,  chorizo and morcilla, beans and mushrooms on toast. The Eggs Royale (£8.50) makes for a delicious half way house. It consists of trout, spinach and poached eggs, doused in a creamy hollandaise sauce, served on an English muffin. The fine coffee is strong, but stingy. You can sit in the back room with its very high ceiling, garden view and long central table or in the more intimate front room with a large bay window overlooking Peckham Road. No. 67 has cracked breakfast. 8/10

Friday 13 March 2015

The Hop Exchange, Southwark Street, central London

Built in 1866, the grand and ornate Hop Exchange now houses offices. Yet it retains its extraordinary facade of iron columns, its airy central atrium, surrounded by balconies with green cast iron railings, and its soaring glass roof.

Thursday 12 March 2015

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, central London

Telling the thought-provoking story of Christopher Boone, a shy and vulnerable teenager with an extraordinary command of mathematics, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is an unlikely and uneven West End hit. Although the storyline is quite clever, most of the major plot revelations come before the interval and the second half meanders somewhat. Moreover, the acting isn't all it could be. While some of the miming and the choreography is captivating, the delivery of the dialogue can be a little flat and even strained.  That could be to do with the script - it often falls back on swearing to generate cheap laughs and convey emotion and exasperation. Unconvincingly, Christopher's father (played by Nicolas Tennant) seems to spend much of his time at or near boiling point. And you are often aware of the acting, rather than being immersed it.

Thursday 5 March 2015

Hotel del Mar, Plaça Pla del Palau, Barcelona

Occupying a handsome neo-classical building on a square near the harbour-front, Hotel del Mar looks appealing from the outside. The interior is less enticing, however. Although it is enlivened by old nautical maps and antique diving gear in glass cases, the decor is pretty tired and the lifts are sluggish. The dingy bedrooms are also drab with plain walls and budget furnishings, but are quite spacious for Barcelona. You'll find a reasonable flat screen TV, a small safe (the key costs 2 euros a day), a large desk, lame air con and an adequate wardrobe. The WiFi is free, but can be slow or non-existent, if a lot of people try and get online in the evening. Still, the en-suite bathrooms are more up to date and the hotel can be pretty quiet, particularly if you keep the window closed.

Moll de la Fusta, Barcelona

Running along Barcelona's waterfront between La Rambla and the Barceloneta district, Moll de la Fusta has a very wide pavement that accommodates scores of joggers, cyclists and tourists. Dotted with striking pieces of modern art and lined with palm trees and nineteenth century architecture, this 1km promenade is a diverting and enjoyable place to stroll. Although there is a sunken dual carriageway between you and the sea, Moll de la Fusta is high enough to provide views of the city's bustling marina. The best time to visit is early evening when the setting sun gives the city's grand stone buildings a golden hue.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Barcelona waterfront

The view of Barcelona's harbour as you come into land at El Prat Airport