GT’s Best Of 2014

Best Of 2014 is a retrospective look back at my favourite items and experiences of 2014, a year which firmly reignited my childhood passion for fishing and included perhaps the best beach holiday I have ever had.

Best Hotel Experience

Four Seasons, Koh Samui. More small mountain village than hotel we were surrounded by forest overlooking a white sand beach in the Gulf of Thailand.

Best Dining Experience

Korobuta, Chelsea. Had a really memorable meal here reunited with friends in great spirits aided by a really well selected sake menu and their excellent Tuna Sashimi Pizza dish.

Best Experiences

Leaving a cold British January behind to attend a beach wedding in Koh Samui Thailand. Catching my first Salmon on the fly from the River Oykel in the Scottish Highlands.

Favourite Clothing Brand

Norse Projects. This Copenhagen based company creates seasonal collections which blend streetwear and classical workwear with high-end fashion.

Favourite Destination Visited

Benmore, Lairg, Scottish Highlands.

Favourite Album

Wild Beasts ‘Present Tense’. The bands fourth album is a masterpiece and you must listen to it. I will say no more on the matter.

Favourite Single

Rae & Christian ‘Happy’. Great new material from my favourite music production duo and an upbeat song that always lifts the spirits featuring vocals by Mark Foster.

Favourite Photograph

Benmore Lodge catching the sun over Loch Ailsh.
Pictured Above.

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The Pig On The Beach – Studland, Dorset

Well GT had a thoroughly delightful afternoon at The Pig On The Beach this week.

We arrived at The Pig via Poole and took the ferry across to The Isle of Purbeck. Purbeck is not strictly an island rather a peninsular but the four minute journey across the sea added to the magic of arriving at this turreted fairytale dwelling smuggled between a warren of country lanes, hills, beach and sea.

The building is a magnificent example of Victorian hideaway with turrets popping out of the gothic country house. The new owners have painted it yellow and sympathetically added extensions that are hardly noticeable from the original building. The fresh sea air blows gently around the property and there are magnificent views from both the restaurant and rooms that look out onto Studland Bay.

Inside the look is typical of the other three Pigs (New Forest, Southampton and Bath) from the Lime Wood group whose “focus is on authenticity and informality of design, food and service” and they have it nailed here with an almost film-set perfection of texture, colour and restrained opulence that never reaches trop. We want to move in immediately and live happily ever after.

The food is either grown in their Kitchen Garden (informal tours available) or sourced within around 25 miles of the kitchen. For lunch we sarted with the freshest oysters we’d ever tasted (really), some tasty ham hock Scotch eggs and a delicate ceviche of bass scattered with delicate flowers and herbs from the Kitchen Garden. For main we couldn’t resist lobster and chips x2.

The whole lobster was slightly blackened on one side from the chargrill and inside barely cooked giving an almost raw edge to the thick meat however thanks to the freshness it was unusual and delicious. The lobster was by far the most expensive main on the menu at £42 per portion. We wince now as it’s a little too much considering the current trade price, food miles, prep and cooking required but that’s what happens when you are at The Pig as you are whisked off into a fairytale where cost is an irrelevant factor in this tiny piece of priceless perfection.

Book for a few nights away. There are tonnes of local activities such as this, this, this, this and this, oh and this and this. Prices start around £120 per night.

Oyster Dish

Oyster dish at The Pig On The Beach

Typical cost of lunch at The Pig On The Beach:
£100 per person for us including SC. Ordering sensibly would halve this.

Food & Drink:
9 out of 10 – glorious menu but loses a point for the pricey lobster. They popped a cork on a fresh bottle of Bollinger at our request (£15/glass), perfectly matched a glass of Mâcon Villages (£11.50/large glass) to our meal and we WILL return for the Smoky Dirty Martini (damn you car).

Atmosphere:
The Pig makes people happy thanks to it’s magical charm. Just remember to book.

Service:
7 out of 10 – relaxed and quite attentive, some staff shone, others didn’t.
Tip: Don’t wear a pink shirt or you’ll be whistled over to clear plates and take orders.

Overall:
9 out of 10 – they lose a point for the similar lunch and dinner menus that could limit guest enjoyment.

Summary in seven:
Charming whimsical hideaway celebrating local food

Details
The Pig On The Beach
Manor House
Manor Road,
Studland,
Dorset.
BH19 3AU
Tel:+44 (0) 1929 450288

Can you recommend anywhere else? GT are always looking for new places to visit.

Image Credit on exterior photo: Joseph Williamson
with special thanks to ©Ski Club Great Britain http://skiclub.co.uk

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5 Things To Do In Grenada

1. Snorkelling & Diving with Aquanauts

The dive centre team here are a friendly and professional outfit offering tours of sites suitable for both beginners and experienced divers.

Dive sites in Grenada include the worlds first Underwater Sculpture Park which GT visited, this was created by artist Jason de Caires Taylor to depict Grenada’s culture and help hurricane damaged coral to grow again. There are also some substantial wreck sites which look equally impressive.

Grenada has a huge variety of reef creatures from plentiful shoals of Yellowtail Snapper to the more elusive camouflaged Frog Fish, there are also large Turtles and Caribbean Reef Sharks. Aquanauts can be found on the marina at True Blue Bay resort.

Grenada Resort

View of True Blue Bay resort from a Boat

2. Lion Fish and Dockside Ale at True Blue Bay

While out diving or snorkelling with Aquanauts GT recommend you ask the instructor to catch a Lion Fish for you. These spiked predatory fish are a lesser known delicacy in Grenada which can either be served baked or fried with a taste somewhere between Snapper and Cod. Your instructor will be more than happy to catch some for your dinner to help keep the number of these predators down.

The restaurant at True Blue Bay restaurant will prepare your fish for you and when choosing a good drink to accompany your meal you are in luck as just next door you will find the West Indies Beer Company; an excellent microbrewery who produce Grenadas only real beer, Dockside Ale, which is exceptionally good and served exclusively in the restaurant and bar.

Grenada Waterfall

Tour guide Telfour Bedeau at Mt Carmel Waterfall

3. Take a Guided Tour of Grenada

GT was very fortunate to be introduced to Telfour Bedeau, Grenada’s very own Indiana Jones. Telfour is a sprightly 73 year old Grenadian hiking tour guide who is fitter now than most people in their 20’s.

Telfour is very engaging and wonderful company, you can ask him absolutely anything about Grenada and it’s surrounding smaller islands and he will have the answer for you.

We went on a mountain hike to Mt Carmel waterfalls and encountered all manner of interesting tropical plants on the way including the Immortal Plant which had bright red flowers, is almost impossible to kill and used historically to mark territorial borders. GT would definitely recommend this tour for a great chance to stretch your legs and discover more about Grenada’s tropical habitat.

You can reach Telfour Bedeau on his landline (473) 442 6200 you may need to leave a message to arrange your booking.

St George's Grenada

St George’s Grenada

4. Visit The Beautiful Capital City of St. George’s

On approach by road this bustling capital city greets you with a magnificent array of colourful roof tops and two looming hill forts which are either side of a horseshoe shaped harbour. You can visit the forts and see their secret tunnels which were carved out by French colonists in the 1700’s to secretly ambush invaders including the British who gave the city it’s current name.

The city contains plenty of nightlife and good restaurants including BB’s Crab Back, which GT recommend visiting to try their signature dish; a delicious combination of crab and cheese sauce, a big hit with visitors to St. George’s.

Cocoa Grenada

Cocoa Drying in Grenada

5. Visit the Belmont Estate

This farming estate provides an agro-tourism experience. GT visited their old plantation and original working factory which produces high quality chocolate for export.

It is more interesting than you may expect to learn about the specific fermentation and drying processes which are required before the cocoa plant can develop a mature cocoa bean suitable for chocolate.

GT was also surprised to hear that many Grenadians process their own cocoa to create what they call ‘Cocoa Tea’ an absolutely delicious hot chocolate drink made with cane sugar and spices like nutmeg.

For more inspiration visit the official website for the Grenada Tourist Authority.

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6 Places To Eat In Madrid

Restaurant IO

What: The modern and bright gastro home of Spanish celeb Chef Iñaki Oyarbide. The menu is divided into large and small plates and four different groups; Lo de Siempre (the usuals), Lo Nuestro (traditional), Iñakis (invented by Iñaki himself) and From the World.
Dish: Carpaccio of Almeria Red Prawn
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their request form or by telephone (00 34) 91 344 05 56
Website: here

Restaurant Bar

The bar at Restaurant IO

NO Restaurant

What: Just over a year old this restaurant features a striking monochrome interior and a brilliant terrace that is private yet breezy. The Chef, Xavier Márquez,  trained in London and it shows with a British touch, less ingredients and higher prices than expected in Madrid.
Dish: Boneless Pig’s Trotters, Prawns and Pedro Ximenez Glaze
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their booking engine or by telephone (00 34) 91 431 64 56
Website: here

Terrace

The terrace at NO Restaurant

Lobby Market

What: Bustling all-day spot with a restaurant area with traditional seating and an informal “Gourmet Zone” with stools and high tables. The latter has a menu packed with pinchos and sharing plates, the former larger dishes with some options to share. The food is bright, fresh and traditional with a flash of the unexpected.
Dish: Crumbed Aubergines with Honey and Garlic Foam
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their booking engine.
Website: here

Market

The Gourmet Zone at Lobby Market

El Club Allard

What: Widely appreciated as Madrid’s best restaurant bursting with awards including two Michelin stars. They serve three menus at different price points to be eaten by the entire table; Rendezvous, Seduction, Revolution. Each of which are an example of the magic of modern Spanish cooking where each dish is a tiny piece of art.
Dish: After ordering you are brought a dip.. with which to eat the very menu you selected from. Brilliant.
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their booking engine, or by telephone for last minute availability (0034) 91 559 09 39.
Website: here

Restaurant Interior

El Club Allard Interior

Zalacain

What: Old school Madrileño establishment that has just celebrated it’s 40th birthday and naturally it frequently welcomes royalty, ministers and foreign dignitaries. The food is equally as grand with a modern flair and as much emphasis on their desserts as the rest of the menu.
Dish: Sirloin with Foie Gras and Minted Lentils
Reservations: Reservations can be made by emailing admon@zalacain.es or by telephone (00 34) 91 561 48 40
Website: here

Staff

Director, Chef and Sommelier at Zalacain Restaurant

Pandelujo

What: An old bread factory transformed by clever architecture that exploits “light, reflection and sensations” more effectively so after dark. Dishes are designed for sharing and are essentially Spanish with a Mediterranean flourish.
Dish: Try the dessert fruit platter that features at least 20 seasonal fruits and looks brilliant against the style of interior.
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their booking engine.
Website: here

Restaurant

Pandelujo Restaurant Interior

Casino de Madrid

What: The whole experience is beautiful and surprising from start to finish: The building itself (dating from 1836) is a marvel of painting, sculpture and opulence, the roof-top dining room is a modern version of similar elegance and the avant-garde food comes from a kitchen advised by Ferran Adrià. Tasting menu at night, set-lunch otherwise.
Dish: Shrimp Omelette (yes you can guess it won’t be that simple)
Reservations: Reservations can be made by email terraza.casino@nh-hotels.com or by telephone (00 34) 91 532 12 75
Website: here

Restaurant

Casino de Madrid Restaurant Interior

Mercado de San Anton

What: An old food market totally renovated to a bright and clean 3-floor foodie destination. The first floor hosts “traditional” market stalls, the second is a range of independent stalls serving ready to eat snacks ranging from basic to gourmet, the third is occupied by a restaurant very popular for watching the sun set over Chueca with a cocktail in hand from their brilliant terrace.
Dish: Select your raw ingredients from the first floor and the third floor restaurant will cook it for you or try the modern and traditional ready-to-eat bites from the second floor. Finish with a cocktail on the terrace.
Reservations: No reservations required for the market, grab a table and start snacking. To reserve a table to eat in the restaurant or on the terrace book online here
Website: here

Market

Arial view of the Mercado de San Anton

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East Coast Mauritius

On first arriving in Mauritius and leaving the airport a few things are instantly noticeable; the island is covered in a lush green blanket of sugarcane plantations with ancient volcanic mountains forming striking landmarks as they disappear into the clouds and audibly French is clearly the international language of choice.

Having thoroughly explored the island we can recommend the east side of the island for a more tranquil holiday. The more tourist friendly north and north-west of the island does have it’s merits and offers more affordable accommodation but this GT was looking for relaxation away from package holidays and closer to the best beaches.

There are several inclusive resorts ranging from the outstanding 5 Star option Le Touessrok to other luxurious but a little more affordable destinations such as Lux and La Maison d’Etè.  I, however, chose to go down the self-catered route staying in a villa at the SO Beach complex. There are several things to consider on the island with self-catering, firstly you need to hire a car, this is an absolute must with most destinations a good distance apart so we recommend this is factored into your thinking.

Villa

Early Evening at SO Beach Villas

Day trips from East coast Mauritius included visits to the Pamplemousses Botanical Garden, thoroughly fascinating, but only worthwhile with the guided tour to explain the tropical plants who charges a mere £2 per person.

With the main export of the island being sugar and rum a visit to one of the local factories makes an interesting afternoon and a good excuse for a drink, we can recommend the Rhumerie De Chamarel. We learnt that a favourite local cocktail called ‘Rum Punch’ is simply slices of lemon muddled with cane sugar and white rum and especially welcome on a hot day.

A very popular tourist destination is the Il Aux Cerfs (Deer Island). The island features stunning beaches, snorkelling, shallow water and a few restaurants. This all sounds great but do be warned it is very touristy and our advice would be to book an individual guide and boat trip to avoid predictable mass boat tours that cash in on tourism.

We found the locals to be very laid back and not particularly interested in tourists which really helped us to explore as we pleased. The only hassle we encountered was from an over eager local fisherman who brought fresh lobster to our door, it’s a hard life being on holiday!

We would suggest avoiding the capital Port St. Louis as this was a rather disappointing visit and the trade off of a day spent away from the coastline simply isn’t worth it.

We found the main influence on local cuisine to be primarily Indian food, fresh vegetables were in abundance at the local markets that felt very much felt like a little slice of India. There is also to a lesser extent a significant Creole influence, something of which we hope to explore more on a future visit.

A restaurant GT can thoroughly recommend is Chez Tino;  a good honest local establishment with authentic food, a hot tin roof, spacious veranda and gaudy decorations including puffer fish lampshades.

I sampled the local specialities of a starter of Palm Heart Salad and a main dish of Octopus Curry. The Palm Heart Salad was light and the Palm Hearts which are taken from the heart of a young Palm Tree were the perfect combination of crunchy and refreshing. The Octopus Curry erred on chewy yet this Mauritian speciality was a delicious curry,  medium-spiced with a tomato base.

Food

Palm Heart Salad & Octopus Curry

Rum
When it came to libation we were really impressed with the local Phoenix Beer and in particular Green Island White Rum which featured delicious caramel notes from the sugar cane, keep an eye out for this, a real find.

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6 Places To Eat in San Francisco

Lazy Bear

What: Underground fine dining, secret location, no dish ever repeated.
Dish: Albacore with Bonito Gribiche, Fried Shallot, Horseradish and Kombu Relish.
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their request form or check @lazybearsf for last minute cancellations.

Dish

The Albacore dish at Lazy Bear. Photo taken by David Barzelay

Bar Jules

What: Lunch, organic and market-fresh, neighbourhood cafe in Hayes Valley.
Dish: Red Perella Lettuces, with Radishes, Cucumbers and Creamy Herb Vinaigrette.
Reservations: Half the restaurant is retained for walk-ins or you can email reservations. See their website for details.

Exterior

Night service at the neighbourhood café, Bar Jules

NOPA

What: Buzzing restaurant with open kitchen, late night serving until 1am.
Dish: Pork Chop, Fresh Shelling Beans, Grilled Mutsu Apples, Broccoli di Ciccio and Mustard.
Reservations: Recommended, can be made from a month in advance on their website.

Interior

The interior of NOPA restaurant

Outerlands

What: Strong vegetarian and vegan options, ex-surfer owners means arty, rustic and lots of driftwood.
Dish: Turkey Sandwich with Shaved Carrots, Pickled Red Onions, Coriander & Serrano Aioli, served with a side of greens.
Reservations: Non for lunch or brunch. Dinner reservations can be made from a month in advance on their website.

Sandwich

Outerland’s turkey sandwich

Hog Island Oyster Co

What: Local sea fayre of oysters from their own farm, Dungeness Crab, Chowder and Steamers.
Dish: Hog Island Sweetwater (Pacific) and Hog Island Atlantics (Atlantic) raised in Tomales Bay, CA.
Reservations: Non, go early and queue. See their website for details.

Shucking

Shucking at Hog Island

The Slanted Door

What: Modern Vietnamese, unusual wine list, perfect view of Golden Gate Bridge even better at night.
Dish: Wood Oven Roasted Boneless Niman Ranch Short Ribs, Madras Curry, Thumbelina Carrots, Summer Squash, Eggplant.
Reservations: For 6 or fewer can be made online via their website, otherwise call them directly.

Interior

The dining room at The Slanted Door

6 Places To Eat in San Francisco as recommended by George Healey of The Gentleman Traveller

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Mondrian South Beach, Miami

On a recent last-minute dash to Miami, we booked a flight and hotel deal with BA, staying at the Mondrian on South Beach. However, it was only after completing the reservation that we really got our heads around the geography and realised that the hotel stood on the Biscayne Bay side of the ‘island’.

We wondered whether we had made a terrible mistake not opting for one the beach-fronted hotels, but needn’t have worried. It turned out to be ideally placed for nipping over the bridge into the business district (sadly, the trip was justified by a few meetings), has a glorious view over the Miami skyline, and is only a short walk to the mayhem of Ocean Drive and the boutiques around Lincoln Road.

In fact, the Mondrian offers the perfect combination of all the best bits about Miami – minimalist white décor, great tunes in the lobby and around the pool at all times, world-class spa. The BA booking meant that we got upgraded to a suite and, even better, it turned out to be a super-stylish apartment with kitchen, dining table and lounge area. Apparently there are those who check in and never check out – the hotel has a number of permanent residents.

Our spacious balcony looked out over the pool – which sounds heavenly but actually wasn’t ideal: we were on the third floor and the partying around the pool put paid to any hopes of an afternoon siesta. Unable to beat them, we joined them –  sauntering down to the poolside bar for vodka tonics and people watching. Miami is all about the posing, so remember to pack your best white shirts and tailored shorts.

Room

Our room at Mondrian

Cost of hotel and flights:
£913.50 (3 nights and one economy flight from London)

Room:
7 out of 10 – Great value. Huge, stylish, just wish had been on a higher floor

Atmosphere:
9 out of 10 – Cool, relaxed, friendly

Service:
10 out of 10 – Tops marks for the concierge

Overall:
8 out of 10

Summary in seven:
Discover your inner-poser. See and be seen.

Details:
Mondrian South Beach
1100 West Ave, Miami Beach
Tel: 305 514 1500

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The Alvear Palace Hotel, Buenos Aires

Located in the affluent Recoleta neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, The Alvear Palace Hotel is a grand hotel in the European tradition. Dating back to 1932, it offers timeless luxury and superlative service –  perhaps not the trendiest spot in town, but this kind of class never really goes out of fashion.

Just walking into the marbled lobby makes you stand a bit straighter. Our room was large and luxurious with fresh flowers and fruit delivered each day. On our day of arrival I popped my head into the gym for five minutes, but soon came to my senses and wandered down for cocktails in the cigar bar, which is the perfect little hideout for an old-school sharpener before heading out for the evening.

In the morning we slinked down to the beautiful Orangerie for breakfast, not a little worse for wear after a night on the tiles in Palermo Hollywood, but the light, airy room had us feeling better almost instantly. It’s often true that even the best hotels can come up a bit short at breakfast, perhaps punishing those who prefer not to eat in their room. Not so here – the spread was superb and the service exemplary. We over-indulged but walked it off in the historic Recoleta Cemetery, just up the road, before heading back to the room for more snoozing.

Clearly this kind of luxe doesn’t come cheap, but when the experience is so much more than just getting your head down for the night, it’s got to be done.

Hotel Room

Cost of room:
£320 per night (non-refundable)

Room:
9 out of 10 – spacious, spotless, beautiful bathroom

Atmosphere:
8 out of 10 – classic charm

Service:
10 out of 10 – perfect

Overall:
9 out of 10

Summary in seven:
Think the South American cousin of Claridge’s

Details:
The Alvear Palace Hotel
Avda. Alvear 1891, Buenos Aires
Tel: 54 11 4808 2100

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The China Club, Hong Kong

Hong Kong on business is never a chore, and especially not when old friends are waiting for you on arrival to whisk you off to The China Club for restorative drinks and dinner after a long flight.

I would refrain from calling David Tang’s wonderful China Club camp, but the décor is a most distinctive mix of pseudo-1930s chic and tongue-in-cheek colonial. The atmosphere will be vaguely familiar to fans of Tang’s outrageous basement restaurant at The Dorchester, but this is the real deal.

Set over several floors, the labyrinthine layout allows guests to get gloriously lost whilst soaking up the superb private art collection that seems to grace every wall. By the time you are sipping your first of many G&Ts at the Long Bar, you know you have arrived. It’s time to sit back and enjoy the ride.

The highlights of our dinner were a braised conpoy (dried-scallop) soup with shredded duck, some wonderfully crisp deep-fried chicken and their famous Peking Duck. We did drink some (French) wine but it wasn’t really anything to write home about.

Like everywhere in Hong Kong, the service flits from the sublime to the ridiculous, both attentive and chaotic, and only periodically downright rude. It’s all part of the fun. We ended the night on the glorious rooftop terrace smoking cigars and drinking whisky while plotting world domination and daring adventures – this place really gets under your skin.

View

View From The China Club Terrace

Cost of meal:
Approximately £50 per person (but didn’t see a bill)

Food:
9 out of 10 – like the takeaway you’ve always dreamed of but never found

Atmosphere:
9 out of 10 – great dining room, Blade Runner view from terrace

Service:
4 out of 10 – polite, rude, helpful, hilarious

Overall:
8 out of 10

Summary in seven:
Not faultless but still marvellous. So HK.

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Rocka Beach Lounge and Restaurant, Buzios

Buzios is Brazil’s answer to Ibiza and is seemingly reserved solely for Rio’s most beautiful holidaymakers. Littered with beaches for every taste (surfing, sailing, walking, and hiding) and a vibrant nightlife, it is truly something to behold.

The highlight of our trip came courtesy of Rocka, a gem of a restaurant and beach lounge located on Praia Brava beach, a short buggy ride from the centre of town. As you approach down the sandy steps, it’s the beautiful bay that strikes you first, then the yellow of the Veuve Clicquot sunshades, and then the beautiful people lounging under each and every one of them. We did our best to fit in.

The restaurant is run by two young guys who have clearly trained and invested well, and as a result live an enviable beachside life. So far, so Buzios. However, the real surprise was to come: the food is from the very top drawer.

Having decided that this was one of those times when you just hang the expense, we started with bubbles on the loungers while we waited for a table to come free. Once seated, we kicked off with an octopus carpaccio with green apple and a white fish ceviche with mango – presented with the precision of Marcus Wareing, but served on a wooden terrace by a guy in board shorts! We shared generous mains of squid and piglet with salads and sides – nothing was anything less than faultless. These boys could go far, but if I were them, I’d stay firmly put!

Food

Cost of meal:
£100 per person (with champagne)

Food:
10 out of 10 – food may never be the same again

Atmosphere:
9 out of 10 – have knocked a mark off as a cloud came over at one point

Service:
10 out of 10 – friendly, funny, charming

Overall:
10 out of 10

Summary in seven:
Would still be there if we could

Details:
Rocka Beach Lounge and Restaurant
Praia Brava, Buzios, Brazil

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