New York

Little Black Book to London 2018

Londoners don’t know how to stay in - and why should we? In a city where every evening brings another pop up bar or bijoux bakery, there’s simply far too much fun to be wrung out of the city.
Here’s our guide to the capital’s coolest new spots

 

Kettner's
Iconic London venue Kettner's has flung open its doors following a two year refurbishment by The Soho House Group and early reviews are glowingly good.
Kettner's - whose high profile past guests include Agatha Christie, Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde - now houses a champagne bar (that’s open until 2am) and a restaurant serving French comfort fare. Expect a Vol-au-vent of kidneys, sweetbreads, black truffle and vegetables, Omelette with smoked eek and hollandaise and Poulet de Bresse au foin (chicken cooked in hay) - all washed down with Ruinart.
If you’ve overdone the drinking, wander upstairs to the 33 bedrooms which boast William Morris wallpaper, twenties chandeliers and velvet fringed armchairs.
Kettners Townhouse, 29 Romily Street, London, W1D 5HP (http://kettnerstownhouse.com/)


Dominique Ansel

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Cafes and coffee shops abound all over the capital but the buzz right now is  about Dominique Ansel - the first London branch of the famous New York bakery.
On arrival, chances are you’ll be dazzled by the display of Cronuts ®  - a croissant-doughnut hybrid created and cannily trademarked by Monsieur Ansel. We doubt there’s a single food group in them but even girls who survive on a diet of spirulina and soups, have been known to go loopy over one of the most talked about sweet treats in history.
Once you’ve managed to drag yourself away from the cake counter, sink into plush banquette seating and wait for your goodies to arrive. In addition to the celebrated Cronuts, there’s the ‘DKA’, a caramelised deep-fried croissant and Dosa Mille Feuille - Puff pastry dosa shell, hazelnut coffee, whipped chantilly, lemon curd and candied lemon peel - to get stuck into, as well as a good selection of sandwiches and soups (we can vouch for the Avocado toast and Creamy roasted pumpkin & Yorkshire soup).
Cappuccino (£3) and a Cronut (£4.80) here can be a pricey experience, but it is special and staff are charming.
21 Elizabeth Street, London, SW1W 9RP (http://dominiqueansellondon.com/)


The Blues Post

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The folks behind Barbary London and The Palomar have opened The Blue Posts - a three storey food and drink emporium over on Rupert Street.
The ground floor is given over to a pub boasting a menu of independently brewed cask ales, craft beers & ciders including Mondo Brewing’s flavourful Denis Hopp’r, Sussex SeaCider, and  ‘World’s Best Pale Ale’ winner Sambrook’s Wandle.
More of an oenophile? Head upstairs to The Mulwray - a stylish cocktail lounge (expect a marble-clad bar and comfy velvet seats) where the drink to order is Forget It Jake, aka a Margarita with a twist.
Last but not least there’s Evelyn Table - a teensy, tiny 11-seater restaurant, led by The Barbary’s head chef Nacho Pinilla specialising in Modern European plates that all scream for attention.
Encompassing all things under one roof, this quirky, unconventional place shows what it’s possible to do with an old Boozer. Someone has done their homework here and it definitely shows.
28 Rupert Street, W1D 6DJ (http://theblueposts.co.uk/)


Hoppers
 

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If you have ever visited Sri Lanka and want to recapture that feeling, head here.
The Sethis, who are basically Midases of the restaurant world having brought us Gymkhana, Bubbledogs and Bao to name but a few, have opened a second branch of Hoppers - their acclaimed Sri Lankan restaurant.  Happily however for those who are averse to queing for hours on end, the new outpost is bookable.
Hoppers 2.0 is spread over two floors, with an extra 16 seats outside and a private dining area split into four private dining ‘vaults’.
The menu features signature Hoppers dishes from the original site in Soho - read String hoppers ( a bowl shaped breakfast dish made from fermented rice and coconut batter and filled with curry) and hearty mix of rice and curries, as well as new dishes such as Jaffna beef rib fry and Tuna and tapioca cutlets with avocado sambol.
Finish with a sensational watalapam - spiced ‘set’ coconut custard that’s addiction on a plate. If you’re in St Christopher’s Place this is a culinary must.
77 Wigmore Street, W1U 1 QE (ww.hopperslondon.com)


Jack Solomons
There’s a new speakeasy bar in town: take a bow Jack Solomans which opened at the end of 2017, on Soho’s Great Windmill Street.
Inspired by the legacy of Jack Solomons, an iconic Soho character whose boxing gym was located here throughout the 1940s and 50s, Jack Solomons Club epitomise a bygone era of London clubs: look out for the pewter-metal bar counters, shaded velvet furnishings and red leather walls.
Entry is via a hidden door accessed via an after-hours street-side deli, that brings you to the bar area where a live band play. Descending the stairs you’ll pass a glass wall peering into the neighbouring kitchen’s butchery chamber before reaching the basement - home to a subterranean speakeasy cocktail club to one side, and dance floor to the other.
Even better? Entrance to this pleasure pit is absolutely free, all of which means that a night out in Soho doesn’t necessarily equal financial destitution.
41 Great Windmill Street, W1D 7NB (www.jacksolomons.com)

View the post at: http://www.justabouttravel.net/2018/01/25/little-black-book-to-london-2018/

Big Apple bites

New York has been dazzling visitors for years. Its pleasures are eternal, but the particulars of where to stay, eat and play are ever in flux. Kaye Holland has the low-down on the hangouts that are creating the biggest buzz right now

 

Why go
A visit to the Big Apple is like walking through a film set: yellow taxis, Bloomingdales, the Empire State Building, Tiffany’s, Fifth Avenue, Times Square, Central Park, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Furthermore there’s no bad time to visit: New York shines in all seasons.
 

Culture vulture
Leave the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock to the first timers and wander to the Whitney Museum of American Art – aka New York’s newest masterpiece. The much revered museum moved from Madison Avenue and 75th Street to an exciting new home earlier this year. Located between the Hudson River and the High Line, the $422-million stately steel-and-glass structure – the brain child of Italian architect Renzo Piano – boasts 50,000 square feet of gallery space meaning the museum can showcase more modern American art than ever. Expect to see works from the likes of Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock and Georgia O’Keeffe among others. You’ll also find two fine restaurants where you can refuel in between bouts of browsing.


Best building
In the aftermath of the 14th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks by al-Qaeda militants, a trip to the One World Observatory,which opened to the public back in May, is a must. Housed on floors 100, 101 and 102 of One World Trade Center — America’s tallest skyscraper — the observatory deck serves as tribute to the fallen Twin Towers symbolising resilience and defiance. As well as agonising memories, the site also offers spectacular vistas of the city, the Bronx and beyond, and is home to the National September 11 Museum. The building is open from 9am-8pm with the last ticket sold 45 minutes before closing.

 

Show time
Tickets aren’t cheap (they can easily cost upwards of US$100) but no New York experience is complete without seeing a show on Broadway. Wondering which play or musical to catch this autumn? Classicists could plump for The Phantom of the Opera – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sweeping love story is marking its 30th anniversary on Broadway. Alternatively look to the Jersey Boys – which tells the story of the rags to riches rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – and will be celebrating a decade on Broadway (no small feat) in November. However if you’re looking for a new show to see, may we recommend An American In Paris, a musical adaptation of the beloved Oscar-winning film which revolves around the romantic story of a young American soldier, a beautiful French girl and an indomitable European city, each yearning for a new beginning after the end of World War 11. Expect dexterous dancing, great Gershwin songs and two appealing Tony nominated leads in Robbie Fairchild & Leanne Cope – both professional ballet dancers making their Broadway debuts.
 

Best bites
The NY food scene – very different from other areas of America – is sure to put a smile on the face of any gourmand. Think pizza (introduced by Italian immigrants in the 1900s), cheesecake (immortalised by Lindy’s restaurant in Midtown in the 1920s), Pastrami on Rye aka the New York sandwich, warm pretzels with Dijon mustard, designer cupcakes (blame SATC’s Carrie Bradshaw if you will) and cocktails (the Tom Collins and Manhattan were invented in NY in 1874 and flourished during the prohibition era in the speakeasy bars that sprung up all over the city). For something more formal, make a reservation at The Carlyle Restaurant. Situated inside the Carlyle Hotel – an Upper East Side landmark featured heavily in shows such as SATC and Gossip Girl – the restaurant is one of the most elegant not only on the Upper East Side, but in the whole of New York. Dine on dishes such as Sautéed Dover sole and Lobster Thermidor in English manor style decor, among the grand dame’s cashed up clientele.

 

Top shop
The mammoth four store department store that is Century 21 sells deeply discounted designer clothes, accessories and shoes and was once the Big Apple’s best kept secret. Fast forward to 2015 and the secret is out: every New Yorker knows about this Cortland Street gem. It’s still the place to pick up a bargain but be prepared to trawl the avenues and aisles with tonnes of other tourists. To beat the crowds (and get the best deals) forgo the lie-in and arrive early – the store usually opens around 8am.
 

Best burb
Right now, Brooklyn is where New York’s at. Younger and edgier than Manhattan, this once down at the heel neighbourhood has undergone an impressive renaissance and its superb shopping (wander to Williamsburg and Atlantic Avenue), galleries (the Brooklyn Museum has the best collection of ancient Egyptian art in the US) and gorgeous Prospect Park make it more than a match for Manhattan. Don’t believe us? Just ask actors Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer and Maggie Gyllenhaal – all of whom have upped sticks and moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn in recent years. Clearly there’s more to Brooklyn than the bridge…Alternatively, given that 2015 marks the 100th Anniversary year of Frank Sinatra’s birth, why not make a pilgrimage to the birth place of Ol Blue Eyes: take a bow New Jersey. Need an extra incentive? You’ll enjoy bigger, better views of Brooklyn Bridge, The Empire State Building et al in Joisey - and cheaper prices too.


Park life
When the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple gets too much, the FDR Four Freedoms Park acts as oasis. As well as being a lovely, leafy green space, the enclave – the last work of the late Louis I. Kahn, an iconic architect of the 20th century – serves as a memorial to the former President in his home state of New York. Located on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, the Park celebrates the Four Freedoms, as outlined in FDR’s famous 6 January  1941 State of the Union speech in which Roosevelt revealed that the way to justify the sacrifice of war was to create a world centred on freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. The park honouring the president who made America a super power, opened to the public on 24 October 2012.

 

Sleepover
Wondering where to stay in the Big Apple? Most people will tell you to stay in a hotel in Soho but personalIy I’d advise avoiding the pre packaged path and checking into Airbnb abode, where you’ll get character and local charm rather than inflated prices.
I stayed with Shane and Jo – a friendly couple in their thirties – in the TriBeCa (which stands for ‘Triangle Below Canal’  district. In doing so, Imanaged to escape New York’s exorbitantly priced hotels and hostels (with their inconvenient check in/out times, dull rooms and ridiculous mini bar fees) but more than that: I got to live their immaculate Tribecca life. Every morning I opened my eyes to breathtaking views of the Hudson River before venturing up to their rooftop for my morning coffee and bagel. And as a base, Tribecca was ideal enabling me to hastily tick off the sights and then lose myself in the street life.
 

Getting around
Most of the city is compact enough to walk around and the easy to navigate grid system means that New York novices can find their bearings in just a few days. Don’t fancy pounding the pavements? New York’s subway system is the fastest and safest way to get around the city. It’s dirt cheap too, at only US$2 per ride. That said, it’s worth splashing the cash and climbing into the back of a Yellow cab – a NYC rite of passage  – at least once during your stay. However for days when you can’t face public transport or coughing up for a cab, make like the taxi loving New Yorkers and turn to Uber – an affordable ride-sharing app that’s crushing thetaxi industry that has dominated NYC for decades.


Restaurant of the week: Cucina Asellina

Although it’s a relative newcomer to the capital’s restaurant scene, a recent visit to this classy Italian establishment – located on the ground floor of the five star ME Hotel - revealed it to be heaving with well heeled types. Step inside the modern, understated entrance and it’s not hard to see why.

The overall appeal of the place – that’s based on the popular Asellina in New York – is pretty big: think high ceilings, a theatrical open kitchen, stylish wooden floors, roomy tables and soft leather banquettes.

As for the food, diners get to choose from a selection of elegant, uncomplicated Italian dishes, all of which are beautifully presented. The Arancini  – more’ish rice filled balls bursting with basil pesto and mozzarella – make for a satisfying starter (although admittedly it’s hard to muck up such a simple dish) while the Frittura mista (calamari, whitebait, prawn and lemon) were so good we couldn’t help but hoover them all up…

Similarly mains also impress. Standouts include the traditional Square spaghetti with tomato and fresh basil and the Tortelloni Di Ricotta with black cabbage and walnut pesto. The proportion of pasta to sauce is just right – enough to coat the tortelloni without drowning them in sauce. Meanwhile the wood fired pizzas that the table next to us ordered appeared to have bubbly thin bases bursting with high quality ingredients: we watched as our neighbours polished off every piece with a huge smile. If you’ve got room (portions are generous) round off with the Caprese – a chocolate cake as rich as Bill Gates that’s served with a seriously good hazelnut ice cream and caramel sauce. To drink, there’s an extensive range of wine although the emphasis is arguably on cocktails.

Prices match the glamour but service is impeccable and the surroundings suitably handsome. Essentially Cucina Asellina is unlikely to ever become a serious destination dining venue – it’s too near Cecconi’s and Cafe Murano for that – but it does provide a welcome injection of style to The Strand and is worth knowing about if you’re in the area and looking for a pre or post theatre dining spot.

 

Where the experts holiday: Ben Anderson, author, filmmaker and a winner of the Foreign Press Award

Acclaimed war journalist, author and documentary filmmaker, Ben Anderson, has travelled to some of the world's most fearsome hotspots. He shares his travel experiences with CD-Traveller readers

What do you like to do on holiday?
The great frustration with filming abroad for a living is that you don’t get time to just wander around and soak up a place- having casual conversations with strangers, getting lost, being surprised and changing plans on a whim. So now, when I do go, I have to have something to do, and learn, to try out a whole new lifestyle and culture. The problem is, when I start enjoying it, I want it to be my life.

Where did you last go?
For work- it was Rio. But I was with the drug gangs, militias and police who run many of the cities favelas. It’s a military occupation by three different groups, so what I saw was the exact opposite of all the images that spring to mind when you think of Rio. It was an eye opener - I used to love that city, until I saw the violence and corruption that exists just a few miles from the famous beaches. The last holiday I had was two years ago. I went to Round Hill in Jamaica and for the first time in my life, I spent five days relaxing in a small villa that had an open-air living room. I haven’t felt so good, or slept so well, anywhere else. I now want to hibernate to a place like that every winter, just to read, write, and recharge.

Do you know where you’re going this year?
Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Colombia, CAR, Bangladesh and hopefully the literature festival in Jaipur and the film festival in Sedona. I’d love to get back to Jamiaca after all that.

Of all the places you’ve been to, which was your favourite and why?
It’s a strange thing. I’ve almost died in Afghanistan a number of times, and seen some horrendous things, but I love the place. The people are some of the kindest, most hospitable and humble I’ve ever met, even when they have nothing and are in the middle of a seemingly endless war. Jason Elliot captured it perfectly in his book An Unexpected Light. And there are so many lies being told about what we’ve done there- so that we can leave with our pride intact, that I feel committed to reporting what we’re actually leaving behind there, which is a terrifying future for most Afghans.

Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?
I had a long lost many years ago, there are just four places left from that original list- Ethiopia, Buenos Aires and Beirut. I would also love to one day visit the safer provinces of Afghanistan- Mazar I Sharif, Bamiyan and Herat. I’m uncomfortable with the fact that I only ever visit, and report on, the worst places.

In your own country, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides? Daunt bookshop on Marylebone High Street. The Joint in Brixton Village (for the best BBQ wings, ribs and pulled pork buns in the world). York Hall in Bethnal Green for boxing matches. St. Johns Bakery in Bermondsey for the best doughnuts in the world! And I’d love to see Speakers’ Corner become as important as it was many decades ago.

How do you plan your holiday?
I like the Bradt guides, but I mostly try and read really good travel writing. If I do get a few days in a nice hotel, Tablet hotels is always reliable. I’ve never had a bad recommendation from them.

How often do you go away?
At the moment a few times a month. It’s too much. You need a month somewhere, at least, to even begin to understand a place. My job means I often have to leave just as I feel I’m beginning to learn, which is frustrating.

Who do you travel with?
For the time being I’m travelling with two cameramen, because I’m working on a series Vice make for HBO. But I prefer travelling alone. You’re forced out of your comfort zone, living with the people whose stories you’re trying to tell, 24 hours a day. You form bonds and learn things you’d never learn if you were there with a group. You’re also free to follow your curiosity wherever it takes you, which is the greatest freedom to have when travelling.

Where do you see tourism in your country, in 10 years?
I’m fairly depressed with tourism in London. There’s a London for tourists that Londoners avoid unless they work there. Like Times Square in New York. The London that tourists see isn’t the same city I live in. And because so many areas are looking for the tourist money, they are all looking and feeling the same. Maybe things like Airbnb will change that. I hope so.

Ben Anderson  has filmed, presented and produced over 40 films, including The Battle for Marjah for HBO Films. His first book, based on 300 hours of footage he shot while embedded in Afghanistan, is NO WORSE ENEMY: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan

I love London, so why did I leave? (Part six)

Continued from last time

Before I knew it, a year in Beijing had flown past and I found myself faced with a dilemma. In the words of The Clash: “Should I stay or should I go [...] now? If I go there will be trouble, An if I stay it will be double.”

A big part of me felt compelled to stay put for I had, unexpectedly, fallen head over heels in love with the city since arriving at Capital Airport back in June 2010. Jianbing (a sweet, salty and crunchy ‘Chinese crepe) for breakfast, followed by a stroll through Jinshan Park, shopping at Xiù shuǐjiē (aka the Silk market) and dinner at Donghuamen night market, Da Dong duck restaurant or any one of Beijing’s 60,000 restaurants where you can eat like a king for humble prices: yes there was an awful lot to love about living in Beijing.

Sure, from time to time I would moan about the traffic (Beijing’s roads resemble a video game), pollution and corruption and conjure up other cities where life is cleaner. But in essence I had become a Beijinger. And if visiting friends, family or Shanghainese (the rivalry between Beijing and Shanghai is similar to that of New York and LA) ever had the audacity to breathe a bad word about Beijing, I would bristle and tersely tell them that if they didn’t like my adopted city trains and planes left every few minutes.

Nonetheless I spent July 2011 debating whether I should sign on for another year. I’m not great at goodbyes and had been knocked for six at being forced- such is the transient nature of expat life - to bid adieu to four of my closest friends in Beijing: take a bow Geraldine, Katharina, Lisa and Fernando. Yes Em, Donald, Devin, Amanda et al were still there and I knew I could make new friends but questioned: did I have the desire, nay energy, to attend meet and greet events, all over again? Plus as fascinatingas life in Beijing was, it could infuriate in equal measure.

Part of my problems can be attributed to the colour of my hair. I’ve been a blonde ever since my mother frog-marched me to the nearest hairdresser, after a teenaged disaster with Sun In – the spray hair lightener that turned my hair a spectacularly unflattering shade of yellow and gave it the texture of straw.

The Italian hairdresser in my home town succeeded where Sun In failed: transforming me from a mousey brown into a blonde bombshell. It wasn’t a pain free process but the results – a head of shiny, golden locks – were worth every minute in bleach.Back home, I felt fearless following a peroxide fix. In Britain, blondes definitely have more fun.

Not so in Beijing where I soon learnt that lighter locks come with a price… my highlights easily identified me as laowai (foreigner) and meant I faced more trials and tribulations that brunettes in Beijing. From the local police station who kept sending me away when I tried to register, only to then fine me for failing to do so within 48 hours of touching down in Beijing, to the vendor on the street corner who insisted on selling me a sweet potato for 5RMB but would shave 2RMB off his asking price for the Beijinger in the queue behind me. Want more? There’s the taxi driver who wouldn’t turn the metre on because clearly he saw my hair colour and thought “Ah ha! There goes a dumb blonde I can make some money off.” No matter how hard I tried to master Mandarin, the experience (as a blonde) was always the same. For the first time in my adult life I was no longer dye-ing (pardon the pun) to be blonde - which also, in Beijing, presented something of a practical problem. Local salons simply weren’t happy when it came to highlights (I tried five and, without fail, always emerged with hair the colour of custard).

Being an artificial blonde in Beijing wasn’t the only thing I was getting browned off about it. While I wasn’t upset about Facebook being banned in China (turns out I can quite easily cope without knowing what my cousin in Ely ate for dinner that day, or checking out pictures of peoples’ holidays or new houses), press censorship proved a big bete noir. Case in point? I once wrote a piece on how China’s capital welcomes professionals and families yet isn’t, it seems, quite so keen on courting anyone with a disability. (Tourist sites, shops and restaurants all lack wheelchair friendly ramps while the disabled find themselves being photographed by curious strangers, suggesting that disabled people have long been hidden from society.) Needless to say, said article never saw the light of day.

On a separate note I found that while it was possible to survive as a vegetarian in Beijing, it was difficult to thrive. I lost count of the occasions I ordered so called ‘vegetarian dishes’ only to find, as I poked my chopsticks around, asparagus swimming in a duck based sauce or some meat in the middle of my mi fan (rice). Beijing does have a few designated veggie eateries but, while they serve up some of the most delicious dishes (sans meat) imaginable, they are - or were -  pretty pricey if, like me, you were earning a local wage.

Cuisine issues aside, the biting winters were also testing. Even though I was born and raised in London, a city known for its cold Christmases, I never got used to them. But London winters seemed positively balmy when compared to Beijing’s big freeze and qiuku (aka long johns) quickly became a necessary, if unwelcome, addition to my winter wardrobe.

But my biggest gripe was reserved for the widespread pollution - caused by the 1,000 new cars that take to the capital’s roads on a daily basis. Subsequently despite sporting a pollution mask that made me look like the late Michael Jackson, I still managed to succumb to the Beijing cough – a hacking, lung ripping cough that left me gasping for breath. On occasions, the thick brown stuff was so severe that Beijing International airport was forced to close. Make no mistake, the severity of the smog can’t be denied: lung cancer rate in the capital has risen by 60 percent (despite a decrease in the number of smokers) over the last decade.

Bottom line? While Beijing - with its intoxicating combination of cutting edge architecture (the CCTV headquarters and Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium), historical sights (The Temple of Heaven and Forbidden City), exciting art scene and scores of wonderful restaurants catering to every palette and pocket - was a dynamic place to call home, it wasn’t a healthy one. Long term, I couldn’t live somewhere where I had trouble breathing. And, in the 21st century, I didn’t see why I should have to.

All this coupled with turning 30, the arrival of a cornucopia of invitations to attend the weddings of friends and family back in Blighty and the buzz building around the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and 2012 Olympic Games, led me back to London once more.

This time around the decision was mine but regardless, returning proved to be the hardest posting of them all...

To read part seven of Kaye’s expat tales, don’t forget to log on next month!