Dishoom Indian Restaurant, Covent Garden, London, England

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Dishoom is already a success story, with five restaurants in London and one in Edinburgh. I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to visit one. We chose the Covent Garden location – just a few steps from Leicester Square underground station.

It isn’t possible to book a table for less than six people after 6pm – you should expect to wait in line outside for up to one hour and we did (picture above was taken at 11.15pm so no line). As it was, I hadn’t seen my friend for several months and we had plenty to chat about while we waited. The line manager, who also registers you when you join the line, also offers hot Masala chai. I regretted not bringing a hip flask filled with whiskey. It isn’t possible for both to leave the line and visit a nearby pub – you’d need to take turns.

Once inside, the décor is that of a Bombay café – these Irani cafés of Bombay were set up by Zoroastrian immigrants who resettled there in the mid 1900s. Apparently only twenty-five remain. We were seated at quite a small table for two – others who were luckier sat at booths for four. I’m not sure if you can hold back and wait for the table of your choice.

The menu and wine list are on a double-sided piece of A3 paper. I found it difficult to read the 7pt font descriptions of each dish without the light from my iPhone. Our waitress, originally from Poland, was really friendly and helpful. My friend, Vrinda, assured her that we (actually not me) knew all about the food. We ordered a bottle of Terre di Monelusa Primitivo – good value for the location at £27. Tap water was free.

Vrinda went a bit crazy with the starter orders, explaining that each was a chance to try Bombay street food. All the starters were good value:

Vada Pau – a deep-fried spiced potato patty in a bread roll £3.90.

Pau Bhaji – a bowl of mashed potatoes with a bread bun for dipping £4.50

Dishoom calamari – small fried pieces £5.90

Bhel – cold and crunch puffed rice with pomegranate and spices £4.50 – forgot to take a picture of this.

The Vada Pau and Pau Bhaji were delicious. The calamari batter was a bit too sweet. The Bhel was, to me, like a bowl of spicy breakfast cereal without milk – Vrinda assured me the Bhel was good and pretty much how it should be.

It was a good experience and a nice change to the pappadums and samosas that I order without thinking.

For the main course, we ordered Mahi Tiikka £8.20, Jackfruit Biriyani £8.90 and a Chicken Ruby £9.50.

The chicken ruby was as good as any chicken curry I’ve eaten.

The biryani was authentic – apparently you can partly tell by the piece of inedible pastry left on the edge that is the remains of the cover. The biryani was really tasty.

I forgot to take a picture of the perfectly presented Mahi Tikka – the piece I tasted was delicious and I’d be tempted to order that as a starter on another visit.

The (clean) bathrooms were downstairs. I was surprised to find another part of the restaurant downstairs – sadly lacking the same character as the upstairs and also quite claustrophobic with low ceilings.

I would recommend always asking for an upstairs table, preferably a booth – even if that means you have to wait in line for longer.

We’d seated at 8 and suddenly it was 11.15. 12.5% service charge was added to our bill and I was almost tempted to tip our waitress a little more.

We really enjoyed our time at Dishoom. The food was excellent, waitress really great and the prices really reasonable. The biggest downside is having to wait in line outside. I think I would try and arrange to visit as a group of six to avoid the line.

Dishoom
12 Upper St. Martin’s Lane
London WC2H 9FB

http://www.dishoom.com/covent-garden/

Simpson Travel Ambassador Competition

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Simpson Travel is a family-owned, UK-based, travel company that offers bespoke package holidays to Europe and Turkey. I’m guessing that I’ve just reduced my chances of becoming one of their travel ambassadors, by using the word ‘package’ – their website doesn’t mention the P word. In my defence I did prefix it with ‘bespoke’!

The Simpson website has a competition to become a Travel Ambassador. Much as I like the sound of the title, I also like that the winner is also given £5000 to spend on a Simpson Travel holiday. The competition (closes in two days) is here: https://www.simpsontravel.com/about-us/competitions/become-a-simpson-travel-ambassador

I almost didn’t bother to enter (BTW @ Simpson T – this is my entry so don’t give up yet) as I tend to book flights, car and accommodation separately for the majority of my holidays. I like to choose travel providers based on my loyalty status (currently BA Gold, Hilton Diamond and Hertz President’s Circle), some trip advisor reviews and price. However, it does look like Simpson Travel are able to tailor their holidays to suit specific requirements, rather than offer one-size-fits-all packages.

I’ve never taken a Simpson Holiday. They ask ‘We’d like to know what inspires you about our holidays‘. I decided to take a look and was immediately impressed at the level of personal service they provide – this isn’t a company that just sends you some flight tickets and a hotel voucher. It seems that every hotel and villa has been visited by a member of their staff. Personal chef? Nanny for the children? All possible. I was actually surprised that you can select and book a holiday via the Simpson website. I book almost all my travel online, but that’s probably the last thing I’d do with Simpson – I’d want to call and chat about the accommodation, how many steps to the Sea and, of course, are their mosquitoes or wasps?

The Simpson destinations include; France, Spain, Italy and Turkey. What I found exciting was that despite visiting all these countries, Simpson seem to have found places that wouldn’t be immediately obvious, nor found by a Google/Trip Advisor search. And I suppose that is their unique selling point; truly local knowledge and bespoke service.

I really enjoy the television series ‘The Trip’ starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. They visit unusual places and dine in some fantastic restaurants – plus it’s very funny. I would imagine that Simpson Travel would be able to organise something exactly like that – they should contact Michael Winterbottom and offer their services for the next ‘Trip’.

Before I post a series of my favourite holiday photos, I should also mention some minor things that I’d change about Simpson Travel – no doubt further reducing my chances of becoming a Travel Ambassador:

  • I struggle with the name Simpson Travel – I want to write Simpson’s Travel, or, because they are a family concern, Simpsons’ Travel.
  • Their ‘On Travel’ magazine is A4 Portrait size and that makes it awkward to read on a screen.

Now to the holiday photos (all taken using my iPhone). You can guess the location for each picture – answers at the end:

Answers:

I’m also posting some oil on canvas paintings by my partner, Martina Krupičková, as we travel together:

 

 

Saint Valentine’s Day 2018 in Prague, Czech Republic

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Saint Valentine’s Day isn’t a Czech tradition – the ‘Czech Day of Love’ or ‘Svátek zamilovaných’ is celebrated on May 1st. Prague lovers tend to visit Petřín hill and kiss under a blooming cherry tree. Legend has it that a girl who is not kissed will wither and die in twelve months.

However, February 14th (a Wednesday this year) is the name day for Valentýn (the day of Svatý Valentin). Western influences have resulted in plenty of Czech restaurants and florists embracing the event.

A number of Prague fine-dining restaurants are already advertising a Valentine’s Menu:

Bellevue – An expensive five-course Menu for 2890 CZK per person

Mlynec – Four courses for 1390 CZK per person

Kampa Park – Five courses for 1 795 CZK per person

Hergetova Cihelna – Five courses for 1 125 CZK per person

But the best value for fine dining in my opinion is:

U Emy Destinnové – with a good four-course menu for 800 CZK

If that’s still exceeds your budget, the James Joyce Irish Pub is offering a Valentine’s Day menu for two for 985 CZK (for two not per person) including a free bottle of Bohenmia Sekt. Click on the image when the link opens to see the menu.

The Royal Theatre is screening the classic Audrey Hepburn movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Two tickets and a bottle of French wine for 690 CZK. I’m glad the Royal have started to be innovative again as they seemed stuck in a rut of repeating burlesque shows.

If you hate everything about Valentine’s Day, there are places for you:

Beckett’s Irish Pub has an anti-Valentines Day Party with live music from Neil Brooks. They promise that there won’t be a love heart in sight. And only a few hundred metres away, California Republic has the same idea with another anti-Valentine party with a welcome drink, free comedy show and live DJ.
Obviously romance is out of style in Vinohrady – well I guess the Royal Theatre still counts as Vinohrady.

I’ll leave you with the first stanza of the poem Máj (May), written by the romantic Czech poet Karel Hynek Máchay:

Late evening, on the first of May—
The twilit May—the time of love.
Meltingly called the turtle-dove,
Where rich and sweet pinewoods lay.
Whispered of love the mosses frail,
The flowering tree as sweetly lied,
The rose’s fragrant sigh replied
To love-songs of the nightingale.
In shadowy woods the burnished lake
Darkly complained a secret pain,
By circling shores embraced again;
And heaven’s clear sun leaned down to take
A road astray in azure deeps,
Like burning tears the lover weeps.

Byl pozdní večer – první máj –
večerní máj – byl lásky čas.
Hrdliččin zval ku lásce hlas,
kde borový zaváněl háj.
O lásce šeptal tichý mech;
květoucí strom lhal lásky žel,
svou lásku slavík růži pěl,
růžinu jevil vonný vzdech.
Jezero hladké v křovích stinných
zvučelo temně tajný bol,
břeh je objímal kol a kol;
a slunce jasná světů jiných
bloudila blankytnými pásky,
planoucí tam co slzy lásky.

And a picture of the famous photograph ‘Kiss by the Hotel de Ville’
by Robert Doisneau:

 

 

 

How secure is the safe in your hotel room?

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I’ve seen a number of stories over the years regarding the security of hotel safes. These are the keypad operated safes that you find in most hotel rooms – you press reset, enter your own code, close the safe and press close. Obviously the hotel has a secret code that can also open the safe – otherwise the safe would be unusable if you forgot your code. That means someone in the hotel can open your room safe, although we hope that the secret code is kept secret.

The safes tend to be stand alone and battery operated. That’s probably a good idea as otherwise your valuables would be inaccessible during a power outage. Equally this means they aren’t connected to a centralised system, where each safe can have it’s own secret code. My guess is that the same secret code is used for all the room safes – can you imagine a hotel bothering to keep a log of secret codes, different for every safe?

But imagine if the hotel didn’t bother setting the secret code for every safe that was installed. What if they left the default code set by the manufacturer? The video below is by a YouTube user called ‘LockPickingLawyer’:

I’ve no idea if pressing # twice followed by a series of 0s, 123456 or (Hitler’s Password) 999999 will actually work, although I intend to try next time I’m in a hotel room with a safe. If you decide to experiment with your hotel room safe, don’t store your valuables, nor a bottle of Lagavulin – just in case there is some security lock out and you can’t get back in.

Even if the hotel has changed the default to their own secret code, your room safe is only as secure as the security procedures within the hotel.

Obviously any potential thief also has to gain access to your room, but that includes cleaners, maintenance and turn down service. In the past you could leave ‘do not disturb’ on the door handle, but following the gun attack from a hotel room in Las Vegas, hotels have stated that they can ignore those signs if the room is reported inaccessible for over a day.

The good news is that in all my hotel stays across the world, I’ve never had anyone steal anything from a room safe.

Momoichi Japanese Coffeeteria/Restaurant, Vinohrady, Prague, Czech Republic

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Momoichi opened in Vinohrady mid-2016. They actually call themselves a ‘Coffeetearia’ and I’m not sure if that is a deliberate misspelling in line with the trendy theme or simply a mistake.

I’d pretty much ignored Momoichi until they announced they would be running a special dim sum day on Saturday 13th January 2018. We booked for 7pm.

Once inside, the place has a modern, stark, cool theme – it isn’t cosy. The friendly waitresses all wear black t-shirts with fun slogans such as ‘smile for me’ and ‘ask for a hug’. Trendy lounge music was playing. The place was busy and attracted a young eclectic crowd:

The waitress poured us two glasses of water. These were topped up during our meal, although I noticed other tables had a carafe. The dim sum menu looked good:

We went for two dim sum sets. The sake was pretty expensive and I’m not that big a fan of sake anyway. We took a look at the standard menu that also listed some wines. The choice of wines was really limited and the prices completely ridiculous: 1dl of Austrian Frankovka was 85Kč – so a large glass of what is already an over-priced wine in the shops (maybe 280Kč a bottle) was 170Kč.

The dim sum was excellent:

It was so good that we ordered a third plate to share. I couldn’t face another glass of the world’s most expensive Frankovka and went for a Gin OMG & Bohemsca tonic 135 Kč. The waitress returned to say that they’d ran out of that gin and only had the more expensive Gin OMFG & Bohemsca tonic limited edition 165 Kč – I accepted that, but really I think they should have just provided the more expensive version at the same price.

The standard menu had some interesting items on it, but was almost impossible to read with the font size 5pt or less.

I realise that this a place for young people, but I coincidentally had an eye test at the optician a few days before and was told I had perfect vision without need for glasses – luckily the Momoichi menu wasn’t part of my eye test as otherwise I’d be walking around like Harry Potter now!

An electronic Japanese toilet is installed in both mens’ and ladies’ washrooms:

I didn’t try this version, but my previous experiences in Japan have mostly resulted in a disconcertingly warm seat and water spraying upwards – don’t press the buttons while looking at the pan!

We asked for the bill and were told to pay at the counter. I suppose that’s fine for a coffee shop – less so for a restaurant. And that leads to the question – is this a restearant (sic.) or a coffeetearia (sic.)?

The food was good, but I don’t think I will be back because of the wine choices and prices. If you decide to visit – take a magnifying glass!

Momoichi Coffeetearia
Římská 1199/1199/35,
120 00 Praha 2-Vinohrady

http://www.momoichi.cz/en/

OPENING HOURS

Monday – Friday: 10:00 am – 10:00 pm
Saturday: 10:00 am – 10:00 pm
Sunday: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm

E-mail: lukas.kubin@momoichi.czPhone: +420 721 364 002

The Best of 2017

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Thanks for being part of BugAdvisor.com – here are my favourites from 2017:

January:
The New York Bar from Lost in Translation, Park Hyatt, Tokyo, Japan

February:
Bugs of Peru

March:
The toboggan ride in Funchal, Madeira

April:
The Prisoner Convention at Portmerion Village, Wales

May:
Events in Prague, Czech Republic to Commemorate the 75th Anniversary of Operation Anthropoid

June:
Beauty Contest in Czech Nuclear Power Station causes sexism row

July:
The Borrowdale Hotel, Borrowdale, Cumbria, England

August:
Papilonia Butterfly House, Prague, Czech Republic

September:
Pasta & Vino Restaurant, Salzburg, Austria

October:
Sightseeing in Nuremberg – The Rally Grounds and Documentation Centre

R2-D2 appears on top of a nuclear bunker in Prague, Czech Republic

Mail Rail at the London Postal Museum, London, England

November:
Nervous Trees and where to find them

December:
Santa vs. the Mazací tramvaj (Grease Tram) in Prague, Czech Republic

I’d also like to thank my guest reviewer for these excellent restaurant reviews in August:

Upstairs at No 1 Cromer Restaurant, Norfolk, England

The Grove Restaurant, Cromer, Norfolk, England

The Gunton Arms Restaurant, Norfolk, England

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous 2018!

Museum of Senses, Prague, Czech Republic

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The Museum of Senses opened recently on Jindřišská street, just a short walk from Václavské náměstí (Wenceslas Square) in Prague. The closest tram stop is Jindřišská (Trams 3, 5, 6, 9, 14 and 24 stop there).

The entrance is via the archway, first door is the gift shop and exit.

Entrance for adults is 290 Kč, which is a little expensive, but I’m guessing they are paying quite a lot to rent in such a central location.

There are lockers available, where you can leave coats and bags.

Your journey begins through a small mirror maze – that leads to a room where you can create a multi-coloured shadow on the wall:

The floor of the next room has a photograph taken from the top of a high-rise building. The idea is that you can take a picture that looks like you’re walking a high wire above the buildings. We found it difficult to get a good photo of this and I needed to Photoshop at home to get this image.

Next is a wall of convex Einstein faces. Apparently your mind can trick you that these are concave rather than convex – but they looked convex to us. You’re then in a central room, surrounded by various other rooms and artifacts designed to trick or awaken your senses. There’s also a play area where you can try various puzzles.

A bed of nails, where you can lay down, press a button and nails rise up to form the mattress:

A room where the design makes one person small, the other big:

A ‘head on a plate’ illusion:

A tiny disco, made bigger using mirrors:

An upside down room:

When I first took the picture above, I wasn’t that impressed, until I realised the trick was to rotate the photo 180 degrees.

A bridge runs through a vortex, which spins and makes you feel like the static bridge is rotating – be careful if you suffer from motion sickness. I tried to take a picture but could hardly stand up there.

There’s also another room designed to confuse your senses – I felt queasy as soon as I walked in there.

A large kaleidoscope tube creates some interesting effects:

The staff are really friendly and keen to demonstrate how things work – they will also take pictures for you.

The toilets continue the theme – this is the washbasin:

We enjoyed our visit which lasted about 1.5 hours. You could stay longer if you wanted to complete all the play area puzzles and really focus on the wall pictures depicting various classic optical illusions.

If I could add anything, it would be the installation of cameras in the best positions to capture the illusions, including rotating the upside-down room picture. Maybe a hand-held clicker so you could pose and shoot. Then a console where you could email the pictures to yourself. But that would require some investment in technology to identify each group and present the photo set at a console.

MUZEUM SMYSLŮ
Jindřišská 939/20
110 00 Praha 1-Nové Město
T: 00420 608213749

Adults: 290 Kč
Children (between 5 and 15 years): 170 Kč
Children until 5 years: Free admission
Family: 690 Kč*
* Includes 2 adults with maximum 2 children age 5-15

Monday – Friday
10:00 – 22:00
Saturday – Sunday
09:00 – 22:00

http://muzeumsmyslu.cz/en/

info.cz@museumofsenses.com

Santa vs. the Mazací tramvaj (Grease Tram) in Prague, Czech Republic

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In January 2015, a special tram was launched in Prague. Red/Orange in colour with an ‘M’ on the front and the rear of the tram cut off – like a pick up truck. The tram’s purpose – to grease the tram lines. It is called Mazací tramvaj – there is only one. The grease tram is a 25-year old type-T3 tram no. 5572 that was previously used as a snow plough and hauling tram. Operation starts daily around five in the morning and ends late in the evening when it returns to the Pankrác depot. Each day the tram covers more than 200 kilometres.

In 2016, the tram was refitted with a large new canister fitted to the rear. The tram also has a webcam on the back that streams a live video while it drives around Prague. You can watch the tram’s progress via this site (sadly has a small advert(s) before the live webcam). This webcam was used to taunt me, by a friend who knew I watched the tram’s progress at lunchtimes:

This year, he decided to ride his Harley Davidson around Prague, dressed as Santa Claus, trying to follow the grease tram’s path – while I provided directions and watched the streaming video.

I’ve lost count of the times where the tram has passed by me – I always wave. But as always, if you look for something you can never find it. So it was with the grease tram. It has a timetable, but on Friday 22nd December it looked like the timetable had been thrown away and the tram was on a random joyride around Prague.

I could see the tram heading up the hill at Nuselské schody toward IP Pavlova in Prague 2. Santa was not far away in Náměstí Bratří Synků. However, regular traffic isn’t allowed on the tram lines at IP Pavlova, so he headed to Karlovo náměstí to catch the tram there. Santa missed it.

The tram continued to Lazarská, Václavské náměstí and Bílá labuť – just as Santa was about to appear, the tram went into a hidden siding and had a rest.

The chase continued through Žižkov, Flora, Strašnice, Zelené Město (where it had another rest in a hidden siding) until finally I was able to screen capture Santa behind the tram.

Apparently there were plenty of people taking pictures, not knowing Santa’s true purpose that day.

The Prague Transport Authority website http://www.dpp.cz/sledujte-putovani-mazaci-tramvaje-prazskymi-ulicemi/

There is a Mazací tram Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/mazacitramvaj?fref=ts.

Midtown Grill Restaurant, Christmas Brunch, Prague, Czech Republic

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The Midtown Grill is part of the Prague Marriott Hotel. The Marriott is opposite the Hilton on V Celnici street in central Prague. It’s been several years since we had brunch at the Marriott – that experience wasn’t bad, but was nowhere near as good as the Zinc Restaurant brunch in the Hilton. Both run an all-you-eat Sunday brunch with unlimited wine, beer, soft drinks and hot beverages.

A combination of the Hilton being full on Sunday 17th and that we will be at the Hilton brunch soon, meant that we booked the Marriott. It was much better than last time. Here is the entrance to the hotel:

The lobby had a large gingerbread house:

On our last visit, all the tables were in the main restaurant. This time the restaurant had been extended to include tables and some food options in the bar area:

One thing the Marriott does better than the Hilton is large round tables. The Hilton restaurant is not set up for large groups and you end up in on a long table, often broken into 3s and 4s, which makes seating and conversations difficult.

Doors opened just after noon (Hilton is 12:30) and we were ushered to our large (for 8) people in the main restaurant. There isn’t a cloakroom as in the Hilton, but there were plenty of coat stands. The waiter was quick to pour us prosecco and they also had non-alcoholic sparkling wine which the Hilton doesn’t offer. Bottles of still and sparking water were already on our table.

The main buffet was still in a small bleak room and there were only a couple of hot dishes available, plus the carvery – something we didn’t like on our previous visit:

There were plenty of prawns and some oysters – but not half lobsters that grace the Hilton buffet.

In the bar/lobby area was a sushi bar:

There was also a pancake station and a large selection of puddings – being seasoned buffet visitors, we snagged the crème brûlées in advance as they are always the first to go. There wasn’t any traditional English Christmas pudding – that reminded me to ask the Hilton if they could put this on their menu and they said yes!

There was live music, but only in the bar area – so if you would like music, ask for a bar area table.

Santa visited tables, engaging both the adults and children:

All children were given a pack of sweets:

The carvery meat was still hot when I finally visited around 2pm:

I’ve mentioned several times to the Hilton that their carvery meat goes cold, but it’s the same each year – this year they advised that the chef will make different arrangements.

The wine flowed freely. The food was all delicious. Everyone enjoyed their visit.

The price 1390Kč per person (I think children are 590Kč).

This was a much better brunch than our previous visit. I wonder if this was just a Christmas thing and that the standard brunch doesn’t extend into the bar. That would be a pity if all food was forced into the small buffet area.

We’ll be visiting the Hilton for brunch soon and I’ll review that, then create a comparison chart.

Midtown Grill Restaurant
Marriott Hotel
V Celnici 8
Praha 1, 110 00
Czech Republic

https://www.midtowngrill.cz/nedln-brunch-1

Underground Prague, Bunkr Parukářka, Prague, Czech Republic

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‘Illuminate the Underground’ or ‘The Day Underground’ ran for the second year in Prague on November 25th and 26th 2017. On these dates, numerous hidden underground locations opened to visitors for free.

Tickets went really quickly but we managed to get them for four locations:

It was already dark when we arrived at Parukářka Park, Žižkov – luckily we found an open gate with some people waiting in a courtyard. Well courtyard is actually too posh a name for this run-down, graffiti-covered, space. The exterior door to the bunker was open:

But the interior door was locked:

We signed another disclaimer. We still had our badges from the sewer tour.

A previous tour exited and we were guided down a large winding staircase:

At the bottom of the staircase were the corridors of the bunker. It felt claustrophobic and smaller than the nuclear bunker in Folimanka. Our guide was pretty entertaining (in Czech) and nothing like the serious guides whom we’d met on the previous three underground tours.

The other difference between this bunker and Folimanka was that rooms were staged like a museum/exhibition:

At the end of the tour we had to climb the staircase back up to the entrance – there’s a lot of steps.

It was interesting, but I prefer the place just left deserted, where you can explore empty corridors by yourself. The Folimanka Bunker is open, one Saturday each month and you can just turn up and wander around. I think that is much better.

But if you want to see this bunker, check the http://nadenpodzem.cz/ website early November next year for tickets. Or you can try and contact the bunker direct here: http://www.bunkr-bezovka.cz/museum-home-page-cz