Blog Archives

Lasarte – a culinary gem in Barcelona

Lasarte restaurant

Lasarte restaurant is centrally located on C/Mallorca, 259

Lasarte restaurant in Barcelona is one of three 2-Michelin Star establishments in the city. It is located in hotel Condes and is the brain-child of re-known Basque Chef Martín Berasategui.

Lasarte is a very intimate restaurant, it caters to a sophisticated crowd that enjoys good food as much as it does privacy, hence the size – only 30 seats. We decided to come here for lunch and  found the atmosphere extremely stiff – almost cold.

You can go for the tasting menu, several small dishes that take you on a gastronomic journey through the Basque region or, as we did, stick to à la carte.

It is not easy to recommend what to order in a Michelin star restaurant, everything is of course amazing. We opted for the fish dishes, tuna belly and roasted sole, and were very much impressed. The dessert menu is obviously another classic.

Restaurant Lasarte is one that you pencil into your calendar to celebrate a major occasion, like your uncle’s 90th birthday. It is not an everyday experience or a place to have a fun or relaxing time with friends. And maybe it shouldn’t be, it is a culinary event to wait for and when it arrives, to savor with pleasure.

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Bab Al Bahar hotel in Dakhla – a small paradise on the Tropic of Cancer

Bab Al Bahar hotel

Bab Al Bahar hotel

Dakhla is a coastal city on the Atlantic Ocean located 1700 km south of Casablanca, right on the Tropic of Cancer. Its claim to fame is kite-surfing with hundreds of enthusiasts and professionals descending on this small city on a regular basis.

However, if you are not the bucket list type and prefer to go for a relaxing fishing trip rather then risking life and limb flying through the air on a surf board, then Bab Al Bahar hotel (part of the Best Western chain) could be something for you.

It is located in the town itself; right on the bay where you in the morning can hear the waves rolling onto the shore – not the worst kind of a wake-up call.

In the evening, enjoy dinner at the restaurant and dig into those shrimps, oysters, whatever seafood you fancy. If you happen to be there on a Saturday, don’t miss the special seafood buffet dinner, 20 Euros and you are set for the evening. Of course, a nice selection of wine is there to make this an even more enjoyable experience.

Bab Al Bahar hotel is well-known among those who venture to this part of the world. If you get a chance, spend a weekend here, it is definitely worth it.

La Vigie Restaurant in Monte-Carlo – summer lazing in style

A peckish customer (without a yacht) outside La Vigie restaurant

Sure, it’s still a few months before summer kicks in but if you plan to visit La Vigie Restaurant in Monte-Carlo, you better start saving up some money now (this is no surprise, but everything in Monaco requires a few wads of cash).

Located in the Monte-Carlo Beach hotel complex, La Vigie offers exquisite Mediterranean inspired dishes in a tranquil setting. Chef Paolo Sari, an Italian who learned the trade in Italy, Switzerland and the US, specializes in seafood. We tried the buffet and grill during lunch-time and we can definitely vouch that this is one of the better places around. The meal is complemented by a grandiose view of the sea and an excellent selection of wine.

You reach La Vigie by taking a small path from the Monte-Carlo private beach, or, if you happen to arrive by yacht (damn, we are NOT jealous…okay a little bit maybe), the restaurant also has its own landing-dock where you can moor your boat. It’s a nice little amenity that is appreciated by the “floating villa owners”.

This small gem is only open two months a year (28 June – 25 August), so if you happen to be in the area on those dates, we can definitely recommend this elegant place for some great food and boat watching. La Vigie Restaurant will not let you down.

 

Les Bar des Bergues in Geneva – the place to be seen

Les Bar des Bergues terrace

The Four Seasons in Geneva is one of the best hotels in the city, so no wonder Les Bar des Bergues on the ground floor is where the local high society types and the world’s rich and famous mingle. If weather permits, La Terrace is where to lounge and contemplate life over an exquisite cocktail. It’s by far one of the most chic places in town.

When we visited Geneva in September, we came to Les Bar des Bergues on a couple of occasions and sat both inside and outside for a quick lunch. Now, this is Four Seasons, so no reason to write about excellent service and so on, that’s pretty much clear.

However, even though this is technically a bar, the food here is absolutely fantastic. They have a reasonably light menu with plenty of salads to chose from (though our favorite pick was the hamburger, not exactly what one would refer to as light fare but trust us, it was irresistible).

If you are on a tight travel budget than avoid Les Bar des Bergues like the plague, but if cash is not an issue, this is the place to mingle and nestle in with the crème de la crème of Geneva.

Palais de la Méditerranée – a Nice-ish hotel

Excellent location

Excellent location

Palais de la Méditerranée is one of the more recent additions in Nice, having opened after restoration in 2004. It is located on the Promenade des Anglais, the main boardwalk, and is only an arm’s length away from the turquoise water and fantastic beaches. The location is definitely as good as it gets: close to the city center, restaurants and bars that are in abundance here.

Palais de la Méditerranée-lobby-Nice

The lobby

However, although Palais de la Méditerranée describes itself as a “luxury hotel” it still has a lot of work to do to actually become one. For starters, the service is not very efficient, there are long lines during check-in and check-out and only one or two persons at the desk dealing with customers. The rooms are clean and functional but more of a 4-star level. The restaurant has breath-taking views of the sea but there the glamour ends: the food is mediocre, the service abysmally slow. Not what you would expect when sipping an over-priced glass of wine while waiting for your starter.

The room has nice colors but it's pretty basic for being a five star

The room has nice colors but it’s pretty basic for being a five star

There is one thing that really stands out and that is the concierge service: also slow-ish but nevertheless you will get your reservation in a popular restaurant. Even if you need a vet (we did for Sam) they will go the extra mile and find one for you. But that was probably the only pleasant experience we had at Palais de la Méditerranée.

You are much better off at Hotel Le Negresco a few blocks away, where you for more or less the same money get surrounded by stylish luxury and history.

Rating: 3/5

More about Nice: 24 Nice hours

Le Meridien – tradition meets modernity

Le Meridien Hotel in Vienna

From outside, Le Meridien Hotel in Vienna radiates old-fashioned luxury, along the lines of many other buildings in this city. But once you go inside, you’ll see something completely different.

Le Meridien is ultra-modern and its fashionable design starts in the lobby and continues all the way up to the room. We can guarantee that your stay here will be a completely new experience. Just take a look at the bathroom – it’s an avant-garde masterpiece!

Elevators

Elevators

After a long day strolling around various Christmas markets, the fitness center at Le Meridien will definitely get you into the right mood. Unwind in the beautiful SPA, have a nice sauna or why not go for a hot steam bath before getting ready for dinner.

The SPA

The SPA

The restaurant and bar are exquisitely decorated and offer some fun fare (we remember that the horseradish ice cream was a killer).

Location is as perfect as Bristol Hotel (which we reviewed earlier), just across the street from the Vienna Opera and next door to plenty of sights.

 “Luxury has a soul” – should we say more?

Junior Suite

Junior Suite

All photos are courtesy of Le Meridien Hotel in Vienna.

Hotel de Crillon – number one in Paris?

Hotel de Crillon, Paris

Hotel de Crillon, Paris

Hotel de Crillon, located next door to the U.S. Embassy and a stone’s throw away from Champs Elysées, is considered one of the best hotels in the city. Maybe even THE best? Well, the jury is still out, we would say it’s probably between Hotel de Crillon and Hotel George V.

Individual service is one of the main selling points of this hotel. When you arrive, you are seated while doing your check-in (keyword “seated”, you don’t stand in a queue at the reception desk). Makes you feel very comfortable after a long trip.

The standard rooms are smallish but nicely decorated in a baroque style. At your disposal there are several restaurants (the stylish restaurant Les Ambassadeurs and L’Obé, which is more relaxed) where you will encounter some of the best French cuisine. After your meal, you may want to enjoy a late digestive at the piano bar – it is renowned as a major meeting point in Paris among the powerful and famous.

The hotel was built in 1758 and has seen history in the making for over two centuries. During the past decade, it has changed owners several times and, according to the French media, the hotel was bought in 2010 by a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family.

Although it is in excellent shape, a few bits and pieces do look border-line shabby and when we asked the staff about it, we were told that the new owner plans to close it down in 2013 for a major refurbishment.

One can only imagine how Hotel de Crillon will look after it had been thoroughly polished through. Then it just might beat George V.

Enjoying a Belgian Beer at Newark Airport

I (Alex) ended up in early December flying from the US back to the desert from Newark Airport in New Jersey. After passing through all the formalities, I noticed a new addition to the traditional eateries one usually finds in all US airports: the Belgian Beer Café. Yep, that’s what it is called. And on top of everything, this happened to be their opening night. I couldn’t pass such an opportunity and decided to check the place out.

On initial inspection, I was completely flabbergasted since I have never seen a selection of Belgian beers like this one outside of Brussels before. They had it all: Ambers, Dupples, Trappist and Abbey beers, even (unheard off!) Fruit Lambics. A beer lovers paradise in an Airport? These guys must be joking? Well, apparently they weren’t.

The owner, Jeffrey Daunt (Senior Operations Director for HMS Host), explained that since Newark was an international airport they felt that there was a niche to fill by offering high-end Belgian beers. I wondered where they find such a variety of beers. “Not easy, we have to buy from five distributors to fill the bar, but we hope that our customers will enjoy a beer or two before they fly.” Sure as hell, I did, a few to be exact (they had some excellent food as well).

If you are ever in Newark Airport and love beer as much as the other guy, don’t miss the Belgian Beer Café (operates in several countries), you will be reminiscing about it – thousands of feet in the air.

Well, one can’t blame Alex for not being creative when taking photos. Here he is apparently lying down horizo…(hey, wait a minute, was this picture taken AFTER trying out all the beers?)

Carlton Hotel Guldsmeden in Oslo – perfect for a weekend

Cozy but not much space to maneuver a big suitcase

Cozy but not much space to maneuver a big suitcase

The Carlton Hotel Guldsmeden in Oslo is an eco-friendly establishment that doesn’t fall under the category “luxury hotels”. However, we would still like to review it on our blog since we thought it offered amenities that made this hotel somewhat special. (I shouldn’t use the royal “we” since Alex unfortunately couldn’t join me. I also know that he would have insisted on staying in the Grand Hotel or something along those lines. You know him by now, right?)

Anyway, I ended up at The Carlton Hotel Guldsmeden for a couple of days in July when I was in Oslo doing some research for a travel story for the National Geographic Traveler. I was kind of in a hurry and I was desperate to find a hotel that could accept my fury friend (Sam). The Carlton Hotel Guldsmeden was the first hotel I found where dogs were allowed (that in itself is worth an extra star in my book).

The Carlton Hotel Guldsmeden is small, family-owned and quite centrally located on Parkveien 78. The rooms are nicely decorated in neutral earth tones, but, they are really small. Really, really small. This is definitely a weekend hotel so you should keep your luggage to a minimum (there is no closet, only a coat hanger). But the fact that the room was tiny didn’t really bother me too much. Everything was clean, fresh and the service was super-friendly and that is more important than anything else.

The breakfast room had a warm and cozy atmosphere and the buffet offered a wide range of mainly locally produced, organic food. Natural yogurt, cereals, wide selection of nuts, home-made jams… (I can go on forever). If I wasn’t in such a hurry, this is definitely the place to sit down with a warm cup of tea and chitchat with other hotel guests for hours.

If you are visiting Oslo for a weekend and are not dragging along a big suitcase (and you’re not planning to spend most of your time in the hotel room), I would definately recommend Carlton Hotel Guldsmeden.

Rating: 3/5

Hotel Splendide Royal in Rome – Not splendid, not royal

Hotel Splendide Royal

The 5-star Hotel Splendide Royal in Rome is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World and advertises itself as “designed to be royal and luxurious.” We really don’t know what royalty they are talking about but suspect those that have lost all their money gambling and now reside in this hotel that at least has “royal” in its name. We stayed in a suite that was smaller than most standard rooms in an average 5-star hotel. The so-called living room could barely accommodate two people. The bedroom wasn’t much bigger.

The lobby

The top floor Restaurant Mirabelle boasts of having one Michelin Star. We suspect the Michelin people have not been checking on their client recently. Sure, the view from the 7th floor over Rome is amazing, mesmerizing and the atmosphere romantic. But the food was really below any standards. The pasta was overcooked and the sauce tasteless, the fish a bit chewy. There is no bar downstairs and the one upstairs closes in the evening when the restaurant opens. To call it a bar is probably a bit pushing it since there are only two bar stools and enough space for about 3-4 people to mingle without getting their elbows into each others faces.

Hotel Splendide Royal definitely does not deserve its 5-stars, 4 maybe, if not 3.5. Or it needs a major face-lift to get up to the level it professes it is already.

Rating: 2/5

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