Most people know London is a series of villages that have, over the centuries, mashed together.

But in some ways Londoners still very much have a village mentality, in that they are extremely reluctant to visit a new or different part of town. Go south/north of the river – are you joking?!?!

So I wouldn’t normally venture to Southwark especially -shudder – Elephant & Castle (a gritty area that’s having £1.5bn invested in it) but I was invited to see the rather swish new hostel Safestay and go on a tour led by Blue Badge guide Sophie Campbell.

Fascinating stuff – tales of poverty, regeneration, Dickens, Chaplin, London’s oldest apothecary and some quirky shops & cafes (I definitely want to go back and check out the Electric Elephant).

I think my pics concentrate on the gritty side of things too much but it was a fascinating journey and reminded me that there’s much of London I have yet to explore. Next stop – the Hindu temple in Neasdon!

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Brits love New York – by which really we mean Manhattan.

Few of us venture over to Brooklyn though, the Shoreditch’y, Hoxton’y part of the Big Apple, which is a shame as it’s home to a gobsmacking amount of trendy little shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. And it’s all a short, easy subway ride away – or just take a stroll over the Brooklyn Bridge. Plus you get great views of the skyscrapery Manhattan skyline.

So here, foodie resident Erika Rose – founder of Musette Bakery – takes us for a stroll round her ‘hood.

Erika Rose - and may I say, never have wiser words been spoken Ms Child

Born and raised in upstate New York, Erika moved to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan at 17, and spent the next 7 years at university and law school there, before moving across the pond to London to practice law.  After four inspiring –  and delicious – years eating her way through Europe, she found her way back to New York, settling in Brooklyn in 2011 to pursue her dream of baking for a living.  She now runs Musette Bakery, co-founded with her brother, which aims to bring home-made baked goods to athletes and spectators.  She lives in Park Slope, where she is carrying on a love affair with brownstones.

Complete this sentence: Brooklyn rocks because….

To me, Brooklyn rocks because it combines the best of what I loved in London with what I love in New York.  I can live on a tree-lined street with a quiet backyard, have a neighbo(u)rhood and a park next door, and yet still have access to Manhattan when I want to experience the energy and noise that bring so many to the city.  People in Brooklyn are creative and unique, the food is astounding, and yet it’s still a bit of an escape for those of us who don’t necessarily want to live in a cramped space in the center of everything.

Don't be a dumbo - cross the bridge!

For the geographically challenged Brit reading this, how long does it take to get from central Manhattan to Brooklyn on the subway? What are the main trendy drags in Brooklyn for shops, cafes, bars etc.

It depends on where in Brooklyn you’re going: it can take as little as 5 minutes or as long as an hour.  Brooklyn is quite vast – if you annexed it from New York City, it would be the 4th largest city in America!  You can easily get to downtown Brooklyn in 10 minutes or so from lower Manhattan, and get a great view of the city from Brooklyn Bridge Park.  It’s a good start.  And, depending on the neighbo(u)rhood, there are many different main drag options.

Locally, I walk down to 5th Avenue in Park Slope, but I often find myself hopping on my bike to Court and Smith Streets, and Atlantic Aveune, where there are a whole host of antique and clothing stores, including Steven Alan and Jonathan Adler.  You could spend the whole day walking these streets, and would manage to wander through four neighborhoods in the process (Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill and Brooklyn Heights).  Red Hook has Van Brunt Street.  Fort Greene has Fulton Street.  And, Williamsburg has Bedford Avenue (Williamsburg also has the added benefit of being only a few stops from Union Square in Manhattan, so it’s an easy afternoon trek if you want to get a feel for the hipper side of Brooklyn in a short amount of time).  Each of these neighborhoods is close enough to Manhattan to make a quick trip, and each have something unique to offer.

Where should I be drinking right now?

My newest discovery is The Ides, a rooftop bar with a stunning view of Manhattan, in the trendy Wythe Hotel – I’m excited to try their restaurant, Reynard’s as soon as I can.  Radegast Hall and Biergarten in Williamsburg has high ceilings, great lighting, and is an all-around top place for a drink, especially with a group.  I’m also a huge fan of everything at Roberta’s, especially in the summer and fall, when you can hang out in their back garden.  Their gin & juice is downright addictive.  And the Clover Club is hands down my favorite local spot, with creative drinks and an amazing old-school atmosphere.  And for those in the mood for a non-alcoholic drink, the Tootsie Pop Float at the Brooklyn Farmacy, an old-school soda shop, hits the spot.

What are your favourite weekend brunch spots?

My local standby is always Buttermilk Channel – their cheddar waffles and buttermilk pancakes are enough to make my weekend.  I love the biscuits at Egg, the pies at Bubby’s, the chilaquiles at Vinegar Hill House, and the brioche french toast at Applewood.  And if I want to get outside and try a bit of everything I head to Smorgasburg, a collection of some of Brooklyn’s best food stands that pops up every Saturday on a pier overlooking the East River.

Lobster roll with a view, at Smorgasbord

Favourite evening restaurants?

I like to joke that my second home is Prime Meats, and it’s not far from the truth.  As someone in an episode of Portlandia might say, the dream of the 1890s is alive and well inside Prime Meats.  The German-centric menu is incredible, the bar is gorgeous (so is the daily punch offering), and you feel a bit transported every time you step inside.  Their sister restaurant next door, Frankies, serves excellent Italian fare.  Now that summer has arrived, my second home has turned holiday beach home at Littleneck in Gowanus, where I can be found gobbling up oysters, lobster and clam rolls at an astounding rate.  For fresh, farm-to-table offerings, I love Seersucker.  And locally in Park Slope you can’t go wrong with Al di La, a Venetian staple in the neighborhood, and Talde, an Asian-American restaurant run by a former Top Chef contestant, and featuring my current favorite menu item in Brooklyn: Hawaiian bread buns.  These buns are not to believed.

Any cool shops near you?

Yes, plenty!  Get your records, antiques, and coffee all in one place at Black Gold, clothes from Bird, Stuart & Wright and Kill Devil Hill, anything and everything from the Brooklyn Flea on the weekends, vintage furniture from Re Pop, chocolate from Mast Brothers, bread from Bien Cuit, ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery, and birthday cake truffles from Momofuku Milk Bar.

Ample Hills Creamery

Best place for a slice of pizza?

Hands down, no arguments allowed, best pizza in the WORLD (a lofty claim, I know) is L&B Spumoni Gardens, in my mother’s old Brooklyn neighborhood of Bensonhurst.  It’s more than worth the trek for this thick, crusty Sicilian-style pizza, whose secret is in the unconventional method –  they put cheese on before tomato sauce, so the cheese and dough sort of melt into each other to form perfection).  And save room for spumoni.

What’s the most random / coolest thing about your neighbourhood?

It’s a little thing, but every night my neighborhood lights up with the comforting glow of gas-lit streetlamps.  The streets are transported in time, everything looks as though it’s in a movie, and it never ceases to make me feel lucky to live where I do.

Brooklyn - brownstones and street lamps

For a tourist, apart from eating, shopping and drinking are there any sights to see in Brooklyn?

One of the biggest reasons I chose to live where I do was its proximity to Prospect Park, and I’d recommend it to anyone who comes to visit Brooklyn.  It’s reminiscent of Central Park (and, like Central Park, houses a zoo), but smaller and not as crowded/touristy.  It’s also home to the beautiful Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  The arch at Grand Army Plaza (see photo below) is sort of like a mini version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and is a fitting entryway into this beautiful piece of Brooklyn.  If you have the time, I’d see a film or live performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, America’s oldest performing arts center.  Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge for stunning views of lower Manhattan.  Stroll through Greenwood Cemetery and pay a visit to the likes of Basquiat and Bernstein.  And for cycling enthusiasts, there’s a real hidden gem at Floyd Bennett Field, which is a former airport that now hosts a weekly cycling series every Tuesday on the airfield.  High winds and cracked pavement?  No problem.  Tour de France, eat your heart out!

The arch at Grand Army Plaza

Snowy Prospect Park

Thanks Erika! www.musettebakery.com

All photos are copyright of Erika Rose 2012.

www.visitbrooklyn.org , www.nycgo.com

 

 

38 year old Tom Rixton is a Dorset-raised, Argentina-based DJ and record producer. Along with his wife Patricia he owns and runs Home, THE coolest hotel in Buenos Aires, and my go-to whenever I’ve stayed in the Argentine capital – contemporary, friendly, good value, a breakfast that will fill you up for the day, and all in all highly recommended.

I have to lay my cards on the table, BA is one of my absolute favourite cities on the planet. Argentinians (or is that Argentines?) are great people and stupidly good looking; when the Spanish & Italian migrants went down there, it seems they criteria for entry was based purely on cheek bones. But it’s been four years since I was last there so I thought I’d catch up with Tom when he was in London recently to get the low-down on his adopted home town’s coolest spots.

Tom Rixton

Where should I be drinking right now?

Frank’s is a members-only’ish bar in Palermo Hollywood – you need a code to dial in the phone box for the secret door to swing open, but Patricia or I can get that for you. I love the Oak Bar at the Park Hyatt in Recoleta too – it’s just pure, old-world glamour where the walls are lined with 17th-century oak that was brought back from France in the 1930s. Belushi is another winner, as is Tiki Bar.

Portenos seem to stay up even later than Spaniards – when is too early to go out?

If you have dinner at 8.30 your only dining companions will be American tourists. I’d say aim for dinner from 9, hit the bars around 11 and never ever go to a club before 1 or 2am.

Downtown Buenos Aires

Where can I find the best steaks in town?

Don Julio, which also has a great sommelier; Azema, above all for the fillet; El Puestito del Tio (more of a sandwich kiosk- ask for a choripan) and, as I’m a die-hard Boca Juniors fan (“la mitad mas uno”), I’ve got to add Kike’s place at their stadium – he used to be head of their barra brava supporters, and his reward is the only parilla in the actual stadium itself.

Forgive & forget nothing - it wasn't a bloody goal!

Are Palermo Soho & Palermo Hollywood still the go-to neighbourhoods for tourists for shops and bars etc? What are some other up and coming areas?

Villa Crespo is the new area – great cafes full of hipsters but not so much nightlife yet.

Any cool new local bands I should be looking out for on YouTube?

Placer; Emisor, Un, Tongo, Juli en las Rocas, Trasvorder, Coco, El Dependiente and Travesti – although be careful with that last one on YouTube; it means transvestite so not sure what might pop up.

Are the “Closed Door” restaurants (chefs cooking in their own homes for the public) still popular?

Yes definitely – Casa Felix has been on the scene for a few years and is still going very strong. Then there’s a great one run by Christina Wiseman, originally from New York City, and another new one called 12 Servilletas with Ernesto Oldenburg, who is one of Argentina’s top food writers.

Palermo neighbourhood

If I want to practice some tango, which milongas would you recommend?

Parakultural in Salon Canning – Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays from 11pm. They usually have a band, there is always good energy, it’s great for all ages and it’s tourist friendly. Or La Catedral on Tuesdays from 11pm =- old chairs, and post-punk/neo-goth oddities on the walls. Attracts a young crowd and again foreigner-friendly. Nino Bien on Thursdays attracts many stars of tango. Then there’s Sunderland if you’re around on Saturday evenings after about 11.30pm – it’s actually a basketball court but there’s a really good quality of dancers.

What’s your favourite day trip out of town?

Fly fishing with The Masters of the Fly in San Pedro (north west of Buenos Aires) – the main catch there is dorado but last time I was with my dad I caught piranhas, which was just amazing.

What about shopping? Where do you get your cool threads?

Correa is an exceptional shoemaker – Howard Hughes’ son recently bought 16 pairs there for a cool US$8,000. For men’s fashion, Hermanos Estebecorena always hits the spot, then there’s the likes of Felix, Bolivia and Balthazar. As for ladies’ stuff, you’re asking the wrong man but I know my wife gets a lot of her clothes from Lupe.

Gracias Tom!

www.homebuenosaires.com

Argentina Tourism , LATA

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(Hey folks – please don’t cut, paste & steal this content, or any other from my blog; please get in touch if you would like to discuss using my writing)

After years of isolation, Burma seems to be THE must-get-to destination of 2012. So must-get-to in fact that flights to Rangoon are chocca and hotels in the country are full to bursting too.

Many years ago in a galaxy far, far away (erm, Camden) I worked with Nick Pulley at Bridge the World travel. Since then Nick has gone on to set up his own successful tour operator, Selective Asia, specialising in South East Asia, an area of the world about which Nick is unbelievably passionate and knowledgable. Having used Selective Asia myself to travel to Vietnam last November (and highly recommended they are too), I chatted with him recently to pick his brains on all things Burma.

Nick (in Cambodia not Burma.) "Just popping out for a pint of milk, love".

 Does Burma live up to the hype?

In every conceivable way, yes. Even given its insanely fast ascendance to the pinnacle of Asia’s, perhaps the world’s, travel experiences over the past 9 months. It is worth every one of the accolades that has been bestowed upon it. That is not to say that the sensationalism is necessarily accurate at times – you will not actually be the first traveller to set foot in Maymyo, or the first to explore the Anonda Pagoda, and there isn’t actually any great necessity to visit this year rather than next – however it is unquestionably one of the planet’s great travel destinations right now and is set to remain so for many years, in my mind.

How many times have you been out there?

I’ve now been three times, initially visiting as a backpacker around 11 years ago, and then returning in 2010 and 2011. Whilst the more recent trips have undoubtedly been work based, with numerous hotels and site inspections factored in amongst the more enjoyable travel elements, the amazing thing about Burma is how little it has changed since I first visited. That will of course alter, and in fairness the speed of change over the past year has caught us – along with the travel industry as a whole –  completely by surprise. However I do feel the press have given Joe Public the impression that within two years this will be another Thailand. Another 300 years, or 30, then yes. In reality unique, fulfilling travel experiences in this wonderful country will be accessible for many, many years to come. We are currently only just scratching the surface.

Burma seems to be flavour of the moment – how difficult is it to get flights and hotels? 

Very! Hotel rates have soared in recent months, with some hotels increasing their rates by as much as 200 per cent! Despite this, hotels are not struggling to fill rooms and the occupancy rate is as close to 100 per cent many months in advance. This is not to say that the overall holiday costs have increased by this much, however we are seeing total increases in the region of 30 per cent from last year’s prices (i.e. for a complete, tailor-made travel ‘package’).

Another difficulty is the speed at which we can confirm holidays. If you were booking a holiday in Cambodia with me today, I’d be able to confirm all our services as well as the hotels tomorrow. With Burma this process takes 4–5 weeks, sometimes longer due to the long delays with hotels returning calls and sending written confirmations. This is not intentional on their part, they are all just buckling under the weight of enquiries. Even with our well established, close relationship with favoured hotels the wait is still considerable.

The solution? Travel in the shoulder seasons (May, June and September, October) – either side of the peak season –  when availability is a little easier, also take your foot of the gas. Burma will still be there next year and in many ways it will be even better!

And although things have opened up, how do you ensure you’re directing your money away from “the regime” who still own hotels and so on. Or are things just not that black and white?

I’d say its grey. Despite what most travel companies state, and what everyone would like to believe, most hotels and businesses in Burma have some sort of less-savoury connection. Some of these ‘connections’ are stronger than others of course and there are numerous hotels we avoid on this basis. However to say that it is possible to avoid lining any junta pockets altogether is wishful thinking in my opinion. Perhaps it’s not appropriate for me to say so, however it’s the truth. It’s also important to remember why this demand for Burma has soared recently. Why? Because, if we believe much of what we are told and read, things are improving and the government is sticking to its promise of a delivering a more democratic approach to governing the people. There are many groups that would disagree with this statement and I am not just about to state either way which I believe to be true as this is not my position to do so.

What would be your ideal itinerary as an introduction to Burma and how long? 

I always encourage clients to include the Big 4 (Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake) as they are un-missable, but also to allow time for other, less visited destinations. Hsipaw is wonderful, and I have enjoyed several trips to the Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo (in fact I have climbed up from the lower base camp at Kinpun to the rock twice). Many of the towns between the key destinations are also of real interest, so allowing a little extra time for them is essential in my opinion. Whilst I would discourage clients from thinking of Burma as a beach destination, it does have a wonderful stretch of coastline with minimal development so a few days of R&R at the end of a holiday is forgivable!

What’s your favourite thing to do in Burma that’s totally off the tourist trail

Trekking in some of the further flung spots of Shan State is certainly amongst my personal highlights, overnighting in homestays as you walk into the back of beyond of this remote country. Unique, unforgettable experiences happen on a near daily basis and thanks to the skill of a great guide, the lives of the people you meet along the way are brought to life. Likewise its great to be able to share your life and travel experiences with them

Any general, top Burma tips?

Allow time and stay flexible – both when booking and once on the ground. Book as far in advance as you can and try not to set your heart on certain hotels if you can help it. In this current climate it’s very possible that some won’t be available and anyway, a country such as Burma isn’t about the hotel ‘experience’. Don’t try and squeeze too much in in too short a period of time. You probably won’t go back, so allowing a few more days can convert a good trip into an outstanding one.

Any favourite restaurants?

Aah, now we’re getting down to the little secrets. We’ve sourced restaurants of all standards and types across the country and these are the sorts of details we like to keep for our own!

OK, I’ll let you in on a few: My favourite restaurants in Yangon and Mandalay are both Indian, although anyone that knows me won’t be that surprised. (You’ll find great Indian, Chinese and Thai food across the country as well as Burmese of course).

In Yangon look out for Asoka if you’re keen on excellent Indian and the very good Feel serves some of the best Burmese food outside of the market stalls. In Mandalay, Spice Garden is fantastic and the seafood specialists at Lashio Lay also deserve a shout.

THANKS NICK!

www.selectiveasia.com

 

 

 

We don’t really “do” brunch or breakfast out in Britain the same way they do in America and Australia – I blame the climate, and of course some folks just aren’t morning people.

But things are changing, certainly in London, led to a large degree by a bunch of Aussies and Kiwis who’ve opened up cafes with more than just a hint of Melbourne and Wellington about them, which is no bad thing – think avocado and Vegemite, rather than baked beans and HP.

So if you’re visiting the capital and fancy an early morning treat with an added dose of g’day and a flat white, here are five of my recommendations.

Lantana (and Salvation Jane)

Lantana interior

Tucked down a lane not far from Tottenham Court Road, Lantana works well on several different levels – in winter it’s supremely cosy, while in summer it manages to be light and airy, and there are a few tables outside. If there’s a downside it’s that it’s small and gets busy quickly, but fear not – Salvation Jane, near Old St tube, is its sister and opened this month offering a very similar menu and atmosphere but with heaps more space. If you’re feeling healthy there’s warm poached fruit with Greek yoghurt and crushed pistachios for example, while at the “oh sod it” end of the scale you’ve got maple French toast with crisp bacon, grilled bananas and candied pecans.

Brunswick House Cafe

Inside Brunswick House Cafe

Brunswick House Cafe is the odd one out, being (I believe) the only one of the five that doesn’t have a direct Aussie connection. It’s in an odd spot, near the horrid roundabout system just in front of Vauxhall station’s bus depot (ah, the views!)  but it’s only a quick whizz down the Victoria Line and once you get there you’ll agree there’s no more eclectic place for breakfast in London. Basically, it’s like being a large village hall which is having a jumble sale, as you can see from the photo above.

Caravan

Caravan, Exmouth Market

Hop on the 38 or 19 bus from the centre of town because Caravan, at the end of Exmouth Market isn’t really near a tube unless you want a long’ish stroll from Angel or Farringdon. When I went for brunch on a Sunday morning, I got there for opening at 10am and by 10.10 every table was full and people were waiting. Coffee is roasted on site, service pleasant and dishes on the right side of decadent – if you don’t want to push the boat out, you may as well stay home in your jim jams with a bowl of Weetabix. If you do want to vaguely kid yourself that you’re being healthy go for the banana caramel porridge with cream (concentrate on the words “banana” and “porridge”) or smokey black pudding, maple roast apples, fried egg and toast perhaps with a side of slow-roasted tomatoes. Yum.

Workshop Coffee Company

Workshop Coffee, when it was stil St Ali

Until a few month’s ago, Workshop was called St Ali, a London branch of a Melbourne coffee shop. Maybe the name change is something legal? Anyhow, this Clerkenwell spot is always busy with people just popping in for a flat white (they roast on site) or staying for something more substantial.  It’s open for brekkie and brunch every day from 7am. Toasted banana bread, date and orange jam and espresso mascarpone sounds good to me. Or how about corn fritters, baby spinach, grilled haloumi, kasundi** and poached eggs? (A quick google suggests ** that’s some kind of Indian-style mustard).

Granger & Co

Bill's happy because he's just had a ricotta hotcake

Bills in Sydney is a yummy-mummy’tastic brunch institution but unfortunately when Bill Granger wanted to open in London, someone else had already got there with the name Bill’s, so instead it’s Granger & Co (are you still with me?), located in the equally yummy-mummy tastic Notting Hill / Westbourne Grove area.  But let me save you some time here because there is only one thing you should have from the menu. Not that the rest of the offerings aren’t any good, just that the ricotta hotcakes with fresh banana and honeycomb butter are the stuff of absolute legend. Seriously, you and your elasticated trousers will thank me.

If, for whatever reason none of those take your fancy then honourable mentions go to the Wolseley (THE place to go for that crucial first meeting with potential future in-laws or to impress out-of-town business clients, but do book well ahead);  Dishoom (a Bombay-style cafe near Covent Garden / Leicester Square, and always easy to get a table in. The chai alone is worth it, not to mention the bacon naan. Word on the street is that a second location in Shoreditch may well be on the cards); Bills in Islington (as mentioned, nothing to do with Mr Granger – in fact this mini chain started out in Brighton; the better-known London branch is near Covent Garden but I have been to that one several times and found the service off hand at best – this spot near Angel tube is much friendlier);  Kopapa (also near Covent Garden and with the added bonus that you can book a table for weekend brunch – always a plus in this busy part of town); Kaffeine (really nice little spot tucked away near Oxford Street and with more than a hint of friendly Melbourne cafe) and Riding House Cafe (actually, almost opposite Kaffeine, but bigger and more corporate – like Kopapa, it has the advantage of taking bookings for weekend brunch).

Now, go eat, people!