Sunday 25 October 2015

Naughty Piglets, Brixton Water Lane, south London

Images from Naughty Piglets' Instagram account

A small and cosy neighbourhood bistro, Naughty Piglets describes itself as a "charcoal grill restaurant and a natural wine bar". In practice, that translates into imaginative modern European food served tapas style, encouraging you to share and taste multiple dishes, supported by a lengthy and pricey wine list, starting at £23 a bottle and rapidly rising to more than twice that. Bewarned, the advice from the waiting staff can be erratic. Do not be tempted by the Riesling (£36 a bottle), which can have an unappealing apple aftertaste. Fortunately, the food is more reliable, if a tad expensive. The scallops and chorizo (£6) amounts to three tasty morsels, while the measly ham croquettes (two mouthfuls for £4) will leave you hungry for more. The portobello mushroom and egg yolk (£5), served with hazelnut pesto,  is also very good. Among the larger dishes, the leg of lamb (£16), served with shallots and kale, is earthy and delicious. To finish, the panna cotta, served with plums, and the salted caramel chocolate pot and hazelnut (both a fiver) are expertly done and hit the spot. However, the modest portion sizes mean particularly naughty pigs may leave either hungry or broke. 7/10

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Terranea Resort, Terranea Way, Rancho Palos Verdes, California

Tucked away on a picturesque peninsula just south of Los Angeles' suburban sprawl, the Terranea Resort is a spacious and plush hotel complex overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Dotted with villas, the well-watered grounds enclose several swimming pools, bars, restaurants, cafes, shops, car parks, jogging paths and a nine-hole golf course. The high-spec rooms are suitably luxurious and comfortable. They are also well-equipped with a spacious safe, good WiFi, an iron and ironing board, flat screen telly and bathrobes, and well-stocked with toiletries and glossy magazines. You may also have a balcony ideally-positioned to watch the sun set. There seem to be extremely helpful and excessively cheerful staff just about everywhere. Although it ain't cheap, the Terranea Resort is a fine place to while away a few days. You won't want to leave, partly because it is very pleasant and partly because a taxi into LA proper costs an arm and a leg. 8/10

Tuesday 13 October 2015

The Angel, Bermondsey Wall East, south London

A salt-of-the-earth riverside pub where you can still get a pint and a packet of crisps for less than four quid, the Angel offers panoramas of Tower Bridge, the Shard and London's docklands. Refreshingly old-school, this Sam Smiths run-establsihment still has its original Victorian interior with dark wooden screens, snugs, open fireplaces, old fashioned prints, vintage radiators and paned sash windows. There is a small open air terrace on the river, as well as a comfortable upstairs lounge with captivating views over the Thames. The punters at the Angel favour loud conversation, punctuated with the occasional obscenity, over music. This pub is a precious throwback to a London fast disappearing into the mists of time. 8/10

Sunday 4 October 2015

Oulton House Farm, Norbury, Stafford,Staffordshire

Surrounded by lush rolling green countryside, Oulton House Farm is a cluster of single-storey and double-storey converted barns capable of housing 30 or so people. The site, which still has a handsome Victorian farmhouse, is a tad isolated. But you can walk into the village of Norbury and the nearby Shropshire Union Canal. Although the barns appear to have been furnished quite recently, they have been kitted out on a tight budget. You may find the double beds narrow and short, while the mattresses can sag. The windows won't open very far and the rooms can get stuffy. Still, each house has a spacious kitchen and large lounge, complete with WiFi, big sofas, armchairs and television. In the grounds, there is a slightly dilapidated tarmac tennis court, a table tennis table, and a games room with a pool table, as well as trikes and other stuff for the kids to mess about on. At the back is an enclosed paddock with a football goal and a trampoline - active families will like Oulton House Farm. 7/10

Saturday 3 October 2015

The Sutherland Arms, Tibberton, Shropshire

Having added a large extension in November 2014, the Sutherland Arms feels slightly schizophrenic - half historic country pub, half modern hotel restaurant. Moreover, the fresh and fancy decor is a bit incoherent - wooden slats are mixed with arts and crafts swirly wallpaper, glitzy chandeliers and tiled floors.  The Sutherland Arms, which claims to be able to sit 60 people for dinner, certainly isn't very cosy. If you are a large party, you might be offered a three course menu featuring three choices per course - the options tend to be old-fashioned and unimaginative pub fare.  To start, the prawn cocktail can be poor, but the soup is better. Among the main courses, the steak and ale pie is not bad. Although the accompanying chunky chips can be a bit greasy, they are tasty all the same and you get a pile of nicely-cooked vegetables. For desert, the apple pie can be a little lame. Moreover, on a busy evening, the waiting and kitchen staff seem extremely stretched and the service can slow almost to a halt. Fortunately, the Cumberland beer on tap is very smooth and goes down a treat. 6/10

Norbury Junction, Shropshire Union Canal, Shropshire

The meeting point of the Shropshire Union Canal and the now defunct Shrewsbury Canal, Norbury Junction is a popular place to park your narrowboat. For landlubbers, it is also a good starting point for a canal-side stroll. If you head south along the lush, green towpath, you'll pass under elegant stone bridges and through atmospheric woodland. On your return, you can grab a drink in the surprisingly edgy pub or the unsurprisingly chintzy tearoom.

Thursday 1 October 2015

London Riviera, near Tower Bridge, central London

A pop-up bar with its own palm trees, brightly-painted deck chairs, heavy duty sound system and alligator, London Riviera brings many splashes of colour to the austere charcoal and steel palette of the More London complex. Serving cocktails, beer, fruit juices and fast food, typically with chips, this sprawling establishment seems to be a bizarre fusion of European and American Latin styles.