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Life restaurant Rome

Why do some people run restaurants? Do they think nationality is their rite of passage? Because the Life restaurant in Rome is rubbish!

Let’s face it, anyone with a modicum of acumen knows that being a restaurateur is hard work, nay a way of life! The Life restaurant in Rome, nestles in the back streets near the Spanish Steps in Via Della Vita and the main shopping street of Via Condotti, some of the staff are pleasant enough, but our meal included a fillet steak that was really poor, but worse still and frankly more to the point; when we politely complained we had to tolerate a barrage from the manager explaining why the Life Restaurants fillet couldn’t possibly be poor and as a result they wouldn’t deduct the cost! Perhaps we veered away from the all too common and poor quality pasta they couldn’t cope!

Eventually they did deduct the fillet from the bill but I wouldn’t go there; I really would not. The manager is arrogant and seems to feel that because his rather indifferent restaurant is in Rome it just must be good! Regrettably all too common exploitation of tourists I’m afraid.


Spanish steps Rome

Do you know, you just have to ask yourself what the deal is about the Spanish Steps? They go up – true! You can come back down them – true… Oh! and there’s a fountain at the bottom – again, true – but so what? (I hear you say) – whats for sure though is that on a balmy summers evening there is something soothing, romantic; na wonderful about spending an hour or two sitting on the steps, chatting, taking in the atmosphere and just people watching – seems nuts, but on a trip to Rome, the Spanish Steps is a must do!


On returning from a World Wide tour…

Well I hope there is some readers still out there and you haven’t died of boredom, after all, we returned to the UK late in January and have focused on developing and promoting the guide as well as having to put in a decent days work (boring).
Some good stuff though as we’re quite excited that the specification for the creation of a much improved website has been written (with the help of Patrick and James). James is also creating a new design and including new ideas about navigation which we think will be fantastic – oh, getting away from Flash also after Steve Jobs (he of the iPad etc) effectively shattered the idea of using “Flash” technology for the moving images.
We really enjoy writing about our trips and of course creation of this website was a primary reason for the last one, but goodness, does it take a long time to get it right! We’ll keep you informed though and thanks so much to people like Paul and Veronica who follow us avidly (which is quietly flattering)


Where to eat in Singapore

Restaurants in Singapore? (rhetorically) seems such a simple question, yet with four core culture’s (Chinese, Malay, Indian and Caucasion European) there is the most fantastic array of different places to eat.

I guess generally though, the rule of “don’t eat in the tourist areas” is again true as the famous Clarke Quay is great fun for a party, but food is often poor and very expensive and the same regretfully goes for Boat Quay. If you love good food – avoid both.

Today though we went… wait for it… French. Truly!… right in the middle of this Asian melting pot we enjoyed the most wonderful French lunch at “The French Kitchen”, which is a little off the beaten track at 7 Magazine road, #01-03 Central Mall Singapore 059572 (just off Solomon Street).

Chef proprietor Jean Charles of The French Kitchen

Chef proprietor Jean Charles of The French Kitchen

We were tipped off about the French kitchen by Diego (Chef at the Light House) who has become great friends with Jean-Charles and we were not disappointed.

Jean-Charles comes from a family of chefs – his father was a chef, his grandfather was a chef and 3 uncles are chefs also. Coming second in the “under 30s” classification for “Best chef in France” some time ago, Jean-Charles (as one could imagine), was head hunted by some of the world’s best hotels, accepting as he did the job of Executive Head Chef in the famous Raffles Hotel Singapore, where he worked for 5 years before venturing out to set up his own restaurant.

Would I be wrong to say that the French Kitchen’s great strength is without a doubt,” what it lacks” and that’s pretentiousness – this small, intimate restaurant, serves the most sumptuous dishes, skilfully produced by a humble, personable chef who is as passionate about his food as any I have had the pleasure to meet.

Asked about his favourite dish; Jean-Charles responds immediately that as an enthusiastic hunter, Wood Cock, cooked traditionally as a pot roast with selected cuts blended with truffles and gratinated under a salamander would be his personal choice – now that, I would love to taste.

This lunch time in Singapore though, we enjoyed a 3 course table d’hôte, which cost less than a jug of margarita on Clarke Quay a couple of nights ago and as such, is incredible value. The amuse bouche was a scallop on pumpkin puree with parmesan crisp – our starter a sumptuous lobster bisque with tiger prawn beignet and leak custard followed by braised cheek of Aberdean Angus beef served with Aubergine caviar, hand cut French fries and tarragon jus, then (a twist on the classical of) a gratinated red berry syllabub with wild forest ice cream, which was a dessert to die for – if you’re in Singapore – eat there! And give Jean-Charles our regards.


Where to eat – Hoi An, Vietnam

There are many restaurants within Hoi An village Vietnam and about 400 shops, and restaurants in total, but as we said earlier, tourism is really quite a new experience to these lovely people and whilst learning English is now compulsory in Vietnamese schools, service staff often struggle to understand and you will need a lot of patience and smiles, although if anything we felt that added to the charm.

Whilst restaurants (and a few wine bars) here find their feet and get used to the market, prices vary to an incredible extent and we experienced examples from US$7.5 (about £5.00 sterling) for a 6 course meal to 3 times that for only one course at the “Mango Room” where the menu is pretentious, quality questionable and hugely overpriced.

Cargo Club (Bach Dang Street), on the other hand offered a really nice range of authentic Vietnamese food, desserts and pastries, where a (huge) chocolate brownie with both vanilla and caramel ice cream came to US$1.5 or about £1.00 sterling and our main course of squid stuffed with pork was beautiful and great value at US$4.5 or about £3.00.

The “White Marble” wine bar (corner of Nguyen Thai Hoc and Le Lo)was nice to relax in and watch the World go by, even if its Pinot Noir cost about US$7.00 a glass or roughly £5.00 so a bit on the expensive side.

Our supper at “Nha Hang Pho Hoai” by comparison was not only disappointing, tasteless and served on cold plates, but service was so slow that people were cancelling their order and leaving – don’t be persuaded by the buzz and nice layout!

The service was polite although regrettably slow also at “Dem Hoi – Festival Night”, just around the corner from our hotel, but we realised that absolutely everything was freshly prepared and so I think I’m going to recommend this small street side, open fronted cafe on Pham Hong Thai Street, where the food was worth the wait and I’m sure (as long as it doesn’t sound I’m patronising them) that they will get better.

At the end of the town where Bach Dang and Nguyen Thai Hoc streets merge (next to the bridge at the West end of town), you will find many a street hawker who sets up an instant kitchen in the evening on the grass next to the river and serves the traditional and authentic Vietnamese “Pho soup”; a tasty noodle dish with chicken stock, herbs, spring onion, chicken or beef, chilly and lime and all for about US$0.75 – yes, about 50 pence!

Riverside Hoi An Vietnam

Riverside Hoi An Vietnam

I could go on at infinitum as there are many places to eat, but I think the best advice I can offer is to check the prices before you go in and avoid the brash over Americanised imitations that are trying to make a fast buck (oh and come back and look again as we will be writing more)


Hoi An – Vietnam

Hoi An - Vietnam

By comparison, what a delight we found the ancient town of Hoi An, Vietnam, after a one hour flight from Hanoi. Placed about halfway down this long thin country, Hoi An is an ancient town, recently listed as a world heritage site and I guess like the rest of Vietnam, very new to the concept of tourism, although “to the man” everybody we spoke to expressed their support for the change which, whist not bringing wealth (yet) has certainly changed the lives of many.

Our hotel was the Life Heritage Resort and Spa, which resides by the river at one end of the town and whilst the beach is about 3 kilometres away its proximity to the town more than compensates as there are plenty of restaurants, countless shops, galleries and tailors. The rooms in the Life Heritage Resort were clean and well equipped, the staff wonderful and service attentive, if the restaurants we felt a little dark lifeless and limited although in reality, we felt that’s probably the one downside of being so close to the town.

We took a guided tour with Ho un (yes, close to the name of the town), who calls himself the “Hoi An Easy Rider” – cheesy I know (ok, really cheesy), but a really nice chap whose relaxed, knowledgeable motorcycle tour took us through the back streets, past paddy fields and fishing villages where we were the only foreigners and we felt quite privileged to meet and speak (through an interpreter) to such lovely people and get an insight into their lives.

Back in Hoi An itself, Alex couldn’t resist buying some dresses and a jacket that were all hand-made in about 24hrs, which like any man would have brought a chill to my spine, were it not for the price of roughly £20 each and there are lots of tailors to choose from.

Laundries that will hand finish your washing for next to nothing in 24hrs and bring them beautifully pressed (of whom Anh Vu, is a good example on the corner of Phan Boi Chau and Pham Hong Thai), plus picture galleries, a market selling a huge range of fresh, locally grown produce from an even wider choice of stalls, bicycle and motorcycle hire (don’t do it – really… don’t) and spa’s add to the eclectic mix of shops and services on offer, but perhaps most notable (we both agree) was the welcome from and friendliness of the people of Hoi An, who smile readily and bid you “good night” as you head past their shop at the end of the evening.

China beach in Hoi An is well known to be some 30 kilometres of long sandy beach, but is seeing huge development at an incredible pace, with golf courses and condominiums abound, so just how long this budding resort will manage to keep its character I don’t know.


Hotel Metropole, Hanoi, Vietnam

The Hotel Metropole, Hanoi, Vietnam

The Hotel Metropole in Hanoi, (which is part of the Sofitel group as mentioned) is an oasis in the manic and slightly crazy city of Hanoi. The hotel was built in 1901 and is of the French Indochinese colonial style and is often quoted as the ”Grand Dame” of Hanoi.

 The new opera wing blends in seamlessly with this lovely old hotel and staying in the old heritage part in a “luxury heritage room” we felt as though we had somehow been swept back in time. Boutique luxury hotels  are few and far between and we try and stay away from “chain” hotels but are pleased that we chose  the Metropole even though part of the Sofitel group.

 The standard heritage rooms were adequate in size, decorated in colonial style with some lovely design touches though the bathrooms were a trifle small. The rooms themselves though, were nice if not outstanding. Do not expect either, great views from any of the rooms as these look out onto the busy city roads, unless you  book a room with a view over  the garden or  internal swimming pool in the courtyard.

All this however, is compensated by the reasonable room rates, convenience of the hotel to the  Hoan Kiem lake and old French quarter. The hotel also has a wonderful spa, lovely pool, nice bar and helpful and attentive staff (even if a little confused at times). Vietnam has only recently fully opened up to tourism and they are trying their best, so to expect their  English to be perfect is I think a little unfair.  The Hotels own Spices garden Restaurant for our first venture into Vietnamese food was also good. There is a  terrace bar ( La Terrasse Du Metropole)which runs outside the corner of the hotel  and looks like a quaint Parisian cafe but faces  a busy road. It was too cold to sit outside at La Terrasse and we are not sure what this would be like in warmer weather with the exhaust fumes of so much traffic.

We loved the Bamboo bar by the pool. The pool itself looked gorgeous with fairy lights all around and even though we were in Hanoi off season as it was cold the pool was warm enough to have a welcome swim  after sightseeing in the grimy city. The Bamboo Bar had gas heaters and blankets against the cold which we snuggleed up in with nice cup of hot chocolate!

It has to be said though (if you are to trust this Wold Travel guide) that there is not a great deal to do in Hanoi and we advise it should really be regarded as a base for excursions outside of the city especially to Ha Long Bay. The Bustle of the Old French Quarter though, is worth a visit and a walk around the lake in an evening watching the local life going on. If you do chose to visit Hanoi make it a short stay, but stay at the Metropole!


Hanoi, Vietnam

We arrived in Hanoi the afternoon of the 6th January. We knew it would be colder in the North but Hanoi was having the worst cold snap they have had in ages so after Singapore we immediately felt the cold.

There are boards everywhere warning of taxi scams at the airport and as we did not pre arrange transport with the hotel we went to the information desk as suggested and booked a taxi for USD30 which was a bit of a scam in itself as our return trip back to the airport arranged through our hotel was only USD10!

Our first impressions of Hanoi were quite disappointing. We had expected a congested , bustling city but  that is really an understatement. Hanoi is a noisy, dusty ,dirty, congested, industrial and polluted city. If you have chest complaints you may struggle with the pollution and most locals wear face masks for protection against the exhaust fumes and dust with all the building work going on. In general there is dust, rubble and rubbish everywhere.  

Our hotel was in the old French Quarter so on our first afternoon we hired a rickshaw to take a leisurely trip through the maze of narrow streets and what an experience!  The roads were absolute mayhem but a great way to see the street life. Just outside our hotel were a couple of small squares busy with kids practising break dancing of all things- American street culture in Vietnam a bit of an oxymoron. Badminton courts were marked on the pavements near our hotel and in the early evening we would watch people play next to the busy streets with their pollution masks on which was a bit incongruous.  Market traders and street hawkers everywhere and a complete culture shock to say the least.

Having said all that, you just have to see the funny side: The traffic is just manic! And worse in the old town; we experienced a kind of, “human motor” grid-lock where we were standing in the middle of people, motor bikes and ladies setting up impromptu roadside cafe’s – none of us could move!

At cross roads, it is only by mutual agreement and some kind of intuitive understanding that everyone needs to get to the other side and that traffic somehow moves on. With some 7million motorcycles and not too many cars you have to wonder how there isn’t constant roadside carnage in Vietnam  however somehow it seems to work. The (Vietnamese motorcycle) riders use their motorcycles and bicycles as work horses, they drive on the wrong side of the road (even motorways) they undertake “U” turns on the motorway and build ramps to get over the barriers that some safety minded official had the affront to build across their daily route to work.

 All of that though pales into insignificance though when it comes to crossing the road. Nobody stops for you,(nobody!) and nobody seems to care for pedestrians, but after a few nerve racking, frightening attempts you realise that you too are part of the intuitive body, somehow connected by a kind of sub-conscious whole – look both ways, walk slowly and consistently – remember, don’t stop – the traffic will move aside for you (although having said that, I accept no responsibility if you prove me wrong) Hanoi Vietnam – one heck of an experience for a couple of days stop over.

 In conclusion Hanoi is an experience  but use your stay in Hanoi as a stopping off point for excursions out of the city.

We stayed in the Hotel Metropole, Sofitel which was a quiet, highly welcome oasis in the old quarter of the city and would recommend this as a base. It was a real respite from the dirt and fumes of the city. Try their chocolate buffet, A great treat for all you chocoholics out there-all you can eat exquisite chocolates ,chocolate truffles,chocolate fountain, hot chocolate and chocolate crepes…Yum!


Ha Long Bay Vietnam

A comparatively short, but exhausting  journey of some 3 ½ hrs North East of Hanoi, lays the famous, World Heritage listed, Ha Long Bay of North Vietnam. “exhuasting journey”, because the roads themselves are in need of repair and so congested progress is slow. Plus, the and towns we drove through, industrial,dirty unkempt and poor – not a nice journey.

Although we went in January (not the best time to visit the North of Vietnam) Ha Long Bay itself though, is an experience not to be missed and is perhaps one of the more difficult experiences to portray in words. With over 2,000 small sandstone island outcrops of the archipelago, we were taken by luxury Junk, quietly and almost serenely weaving in and out of the most breathtaking views of which our photographs fail to do justice, though it has to be said the grey overcast New Year weather did nothing to help.

Fishing Village Ha Long Bay

Fishing Village Ha Long Bay

As part of our particular trip we visited the Ha Long Bay fishing village where during the 18th Century, some people fled to take up this incredibly austere life-style rather than work for, or fight the French. Whilst even today some still live, eat and sleep on their boats, conditions have been slightly improved by World Heritage funding and the whole fishing village enjoy’s television and the ubiquitous mobile phones of modern life. Generators now provide electricity and small houses float on polystyrene blocks.

Many of these fishing people in Vietnams Ha Long Bay welcome the tourist intrusion, as it brings them (if only in limited quantity) the all important “American Dollar”, but truthfully we did feel a little like intruders; as though we really shouldn’t be there, peering as we were into their homes and lives for a few photographs of a world we formallyk new nothing of and the fact our US$10 tip to the young man who rowed us around the village for almost an hour, brought such woops of admiration and comment – only proved us right.  

View from Surprise caves, Ha Long bay

View from Surprise caves, Ha Long bay

Having said all that, the people mostly smiled and children happily waved as even the smallest rowed their way past making it a very special experience that we would recommend wholeheartedly.  Be aware though that there are many, many tour companies running trips like ours and they vary from 1 to 3 days. Our advice would be to take a luxury Junk as even “luxury” is not expensive and go for at least 2 days. Another point worth considering is that the second visit of our Ha Long Bay cruise was a visit to the “Surprise caves” in Ha Long  Bay and whilst worth the visit felt herded  and very “touristy” even out of season – goodness knows what it would be like at the height!

Jasmine Luxury Junk Ha Long Bay

Jasmine Luxury Junk Ha Long Bay

Small Boat, Ha Long Bay

Small Boat, Ha Long Bay


Cocktails at the Fullerton Bay and Dining at The Fullerton

Lantern Bar view from The Fullerton Bay Hotel, Singapore

Lantern Bar view from The Fullerton Bay Hotel, Singapore

… After visiting Lau Pa Sat , we went to the sister hotel of the Fullerton – the Fullerton Bay and spent the rest of the night drinking cocktails and coffee next to the roof pool at the Lantern Bar overlooking the city only heading back to bed when our eyes just wouldn’t stay open any more.

The next day we enjoyed a truly Asian breakfast at the Fullerton’s “Town Restaurant” whilst overlooking the Singapore River, then went for a swim at the Fullerton Bay as guests of either hotel are allowed to use the amenities of both. Later we had been invited to take a tour around both hotels and were introduced to the Executive chef of the Fullerton’s signature Italian restaurant – The Light House;

Dining at The Lighthouse Restaurant, Singapore

Dining at The Lighthouse Restaurant, Singapore

Chef  Diego Martinelli, invited us to join him for a glass of Prosecco that evening and who could refuse such an offer, but that also rather made the decision of where we were going to eat that evening!

It took us a little by surprise though when Diego said to the waitress (with a smile) “don’t you dare offer them a menu” and announced he was going to create a degustation (tasting) menu for us. What struck us though and is so often “the” defining point about a truly great restaurant, is the passion and personal interest that a chef takes in their work and Diego was no different, interacting and chatting to many of the customers often bringing dishes into the restaurant himself and explaining about his culinary creation.

When asked about the dish he most likes to prepare, Diego was quick to respond – Risotto! because it’s all about the stock (he explained) if the stock is poor, so will the risotto be; if it’s wonderful so will the risotto be (as we were later to find out).

Tomorrow though, we are again up early for our flight to Hanoi Vietnam.


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