BA again – but this time with something good to say

Out of Copenhagen yesterday in economy. So I thought I’d just check in my bag as it saves so much hassle rushing onto the flight to get luggage rack space. Plus my colleague and I were blasé about how fantastic T5 baggage handling is these days. Mostly the bags are already going around the carousel by the time you get through passport control. Which might of course just be a testament to the inefficiency of the UK Border people. Well, what we forgot to take into account was the incompetence at the starting airport. In this case Copenhagen.

The result was arrival at T5 with no bags – for anyone on the flight! How can that happen? After logging the issue and meeting my driver I was told that he had had the same experience with several customers over the past few weeks – and all from Copenhagen. The BA baggage man who dealt with me also admitted that things are not good Copenhagen-wise right now. In fact he said that last week one BA flight arrived with 25 bags not making it at all!

Which brings me to my point: BA were fantastic. Can I believe that I have just said that?

After I explained that I had a flight to Oslo the next day and that while I could go and buy a new toothbrush and shaver, I’d really rather not, they pulled out all stops. First of all they never left me not knowing what was going on. Which meant three calls to me between logging the missing bag at around 17.30 and it being confirmed inbound on the next flight at 19.15. Second, the basic decent behaviour of the people from BA who called me. They actually sounded as though they cared. Plus the bag turned up as scheduled at around 22.30 last night.

Well, all I can say is great job BA – especially as it wasn’t really their fault in the first place – and a lesson learnt about not taking anything for granted in future.

Apple martinis again – in Copenhagen this time

The Marriott hotel in Copenhagen is a hotel you don’t really need to ever leave. Not only are the staff great but the restaurant is an excellent place to linger too. There was some very good Danish beef on the menu as well as the usual US fare, cooked in their open kitchen style restaurant, which has a pleasant atmosphere. Clean surroundings and excellent service with a reasonably priced wine list for Scandinavia, where prices are normally outrageous. A nice touch at the end was the complimentary mini barbeque with toasted marshmallows. Well, guess what, that’s Marriotts for you – service and quality like nowhere else.

With lemon and egg white!
With lemon and egg white!

Of more interest to the weary traveler however is the lobby bar.

On the eternal quest for the perfect apple martini we discovered Ronnie in the lobby bar. The waitress in the restaurant explained later that he is the occasional barman at the Marriott. But he knows just how to host a bar that you want to stay in. A sociable barman in pleasant surroundings, good service and a warm fire to sit by – why would you want to go out anywhere?

So we gave him the challenge and he came up first with his own apple martini recipe, which he explained included lemon and an egg white topping. They were quite sharp with little of the usual apple sweetness. Well, they went down so well that we had to also try the traditional recipe from the book!

... and the more traditional look
… and the more traditional look

I have to sat that although I’ve been to Copenhagen many times, I’ve never stayed in the city centre area before. Mostly it’s hotels way out of town at some impersonal business park. This was a nice change and for anyone who likes Marriotts then this is the hotel bar to try.

http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/cphdk-copenhagen-marriott-hotel/

Next week we’re back to the London JW where there is also a bar that you want to stay in for a long time!

Only Americans really know how to do Christmas properly!

It’s a fact – only Americans really know how to do Christmas!

Pfister hotel lobbyWe had to visit Milwaukee and were recommended to stay at this strangely old fashioned hotel called the Pfister. I don’t think Milwaukee is really known for its old architectural charms but this place had all the feel of a slightly world-weary central city hotel from Paris or Vienna during the last century. There was nothing old fashioned about the rooms or service I should add, but the most impressive part was the main lobby which had a rococco style to it complete with the wildest ceiling that you will find in any hotel. It looked as though it was inspired by the paintings from the Sistine Chapel, even down to the Salve at each end.

Of course being Christmas the place was wonderfully decorated and sported an enormous tree that would have put London’s own Claridges Hotel tree to shame. Naturally there is also a great lobby bar just asking to be relaxed in.

This is some ceiling!
This is some ceiling!

http://www.thepfisterhotel.com

There is something magical about a trip to the big cities of the north or east in the US around Christmas time. They manage to make everything so atmospheric and you can just feel the holiday thrill through the decorations and the lights.

The wildest lights everywhere!

 

Things to hate about travel (5) – the nudger

The person, who no matter how much space you give them, still nudges you from behind in the queue for security, passport control or boarding. It all starts with a gentle pressure against your bag or the back of your legs. Sometimes it is accompanied with a whiff of something pungent from last night’s garlic-laced meal, wafted via an effusive or impatient exhalation of breath. Once you’ve noticed it there is no turning back. No way out of the downward spiral of aggravation and latent aggression that you start to experience. You think of all the outrageous things you want to say and do, but somehow you keep it under control. After all, isn’t that what differentiates us normal people from the psychopath?

The nudging pressure is gentle but insistent. But soon it gets more forceful. You move forward a little, but like the ever-decreasing stopping distance of cars in a decelerating traffic queue, the pressure intensifies. Before you know it you have a major incident on your hands. Pushing back has had no effect and if you don’t do something soon they will be level with you and then in front. There’s a theory that if you let someone in front of you in a queue, or in a line of traffic, if it happens enough times you will end up back where you started. Maybe that’s why we just stand there, fuming, rather than taking the logical action which is to move aside politely saying ‘Why don’t you go in front of me, your journey is obviously very important and you are in a hurry … BEFORE I RIP YOUR SODDING HEAD OFF!’

The best vodka – it’s official and it’s English!

It’s official – I have found the best vodka. It is made from potatoes and believe it or not comes from rural west of England – Herefordshire. Discovered this in Waitrose on Saturday and we drank the bottle at a dinner party on Saturday night. Sunday I had the hangover to prove it – I think it must have been the champagne.

I normally stick to Russian or Polish vodka. It always tastes right. For me vodka needs to go down smoothly with a clean aftertaste that lets you know you’ve had a drink, but doesn’t overpower. Some of the muck you get, branded ‘premium’, just shouldn’t be on sale. So this was a bit of a risky purchase. There’s a lot of competition in this market and some silly prices on display. This is priced sensibly between those ludicrously expensive Polish and French brands and the good old standards from Russia. Although I do wonder how much you pay for the flash box it comes in. The website says it was voted best vodka at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2010. Now that’s a show I think I would like to attend.

There is a great website you can look at (www.chasedistillery.co.uk) and I think I’m tempted to buy a bottle of marmalade vodka next!

La Buvette – a noisy gem in Richmond

This was the second helping for me at this intimate French restaurant tucked away beside the church in the centre of Richmond. A group of us ended up here in the summer after an intense session at the Richmond Gate Hotel where we’d been learning how to recognise stress in different personality types. Yes, even tortoises get stressed. It was quite by chance as this normally quiet suburb of London wouldn’t be the venue of choice for a working event. At the time Olympic Madness had descended on London and you couldn’t get a hotel location for love nor money in central London. Needing somewhere to unwind in the evening, a quick look at the Hardens Guide threw up this place. If you haven’t found Hardens yet then you need to (www.hardens.com). It is a great site to find a well-reviewed place to eat just about anywhere. The Tortuga lives by it.

The evening we all went out together we sat outside in the courtyard under the awning. It was the height of summer and beautifully cool and a great atmosphere on what was otherwise an uncomfortably humid day. We all liked the place very much and wondered what it would be like to eat inside. So when the Tortuga announced that we were going to the theatre in Richmond on Saturday and going to La Buvette for pre-theatre dinner I thought that at least the dinner would be good. As it turns out I was right … at least the dinner was good. I have a low boredom threshold for organised entertainment. The Richmond Theatre is a wonderful old place where we have seen some great plays. Regrettably this evening just wasn’t one of them.

La Buvette is traditionally French. In fact the website describes itself as ‘the perfect French Bistro’. The staff are excellent and the man in charge clearly knows his regulars. Which is a good sign. Unfortunately Richmond does rather tend to attract the self-satisfied crowd who just have to let everyone else know how clever and successful they are. Unfortunately there was one such foursome, two couples in later middle age, sitting next to us. They were noisy and I felt rather thoughtless in a loud self-congratulatory way. Also the tables are rather close to each other. So a thoughtless party of diners in close proximity can rather ruin things. As in this case.

To compensate, the food was excellent. Unfussy and well prepared. Crab beignet with soy and ginger to start, followed by scallops and onglet. All accompanied by a 2008 Pessac-Léognan from a balanced wine list that did not contain any silly prices. Round about £100 for the two of us I thought was good value for the standard of the food. The only notable item was the onglet which featured the note ‘served rare’ on the menu. Being a French place I was expecting it very rare, but of course it wasn’t, but then this is Richmond!

www.labuvette.co.uk

Maze – rams it to its customers in Mayfair

Perhaps my expectations were just set too high, but this was a real disappointment. Gordon Ramsay is the only person I know of who swears more than I do. Well, he needs to get back into his kitchen at Maze and start swearing at his restaurant managers.

First of all, it’s a fact that the front of house staff are fantastic. They were friendly, attentive, presentable and couldn’t do enough. It’s the food that lets it all down. We went for the Chef’s Menu with the drink pairings. I have to say that at £70 per head and £125 with the wine it’s nothing short of a rip-off. I know it’s an expensive Grosvenor Square location, I know it’s rip-off London, but that’s no excuse for mediocre flavours and to be honest, wines that didn’t do the food any favours at all, but were rather more an interesting wander around some unusual choices.

For me, especially at these sorts of prices, the wines have to be absolutely perfectly matched, so that they change on the palate when coupled with the food. This just doesn’t happen here. My guests were from the Lebanon and one of them knows a thing or two about wines. He was politely interested in the selection, but you could see he wasn’t impressed. Rice wine and pear cider? These are interesting on their own, but are never going to enhance any dish other than mussels.

The portions were very mean, even by degustation standards. Watercress soup, yellow fin tuna, terrine. You can check out the menu for yourself. The lobster dumplings were very good, the lamb also, but it was unfortunately fatty and there was a lot of it. Fat, that is. We waited in pregnant embarrassment for maybe five minutes for one of the plates of dumplings to arrive. How hard can it be to manage to serve seven diners at the same time on the same menu? Then for pudding there was the inevitable assault of black forest gateau. With the odd assortment of wines, sake and cider, I have to say that my insides were feeling bombarded and well fermented by the time it all ended. It required a long walk home to settle matters.

The website talks of David Rockwell’s stunning restaurant design. Well, all I can say is that it is very noisy, lacking in any ambience and the people who sat behind us were treated to a nice view of the backs of our heads on one side of our table. I’d have been very pissed off if I had been sitting there.

This was my one and only venture into a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. I thought it was formulaic and lacking in any real differentiation from say, a Chez Gerard. Personally, I would give this place a miss and stay at home.

www.gordonramsay.com/maze/

Wroclaw airport reborn

I meant to add a footnote to a previously very disparaging note about Copernicus airport in Wroclaw. I have to take it all back, the transformation is amazing post Euro 2012. The people are friendly – all of them – the airport is clean and airy. What a transformation. It even won Poland’s Friendliest Airport 2012 competition. Just goes to show that those sociologists were right, environment is everything!

The Bols Experience on the road to Moscow

Getting to Moscow is just painful. Not only is it necessary to spend three and a half hours getting there from London, but it’s three hours ahead which means that however you look at it just about any flight you take means wasting most of the day unproductively in the air. Which is fine if you want to sleep, but not much use on the work front. I think I’ve finally worked out the least painful way to do it, but it involves going to Amsterdam first.

Step one is to take the early flight to Schiphol and spend the day working in the city. Step two is to arrive back at Schiphol about two and a half hours ahead of the eight-something evening KLM flight to Sheremetyevo. This bit is important, because there is a later Aeroflot code share flight with KLM. You do not want this flight. Take it from me. The ‘plane is a zoo, just like flying with the Penquins of Madagascar. Last time they took away my boarding pass to change it and then tried to have me thrown off the flight because I didn’t have a boarding pass. Early arrival at the airport gives ample time to negotiate a seat as far forward as possible. This bit is also critical, because you need to exit the ‘plane at the other end as quickly as you can in order to get ahead of the immigration queue. Failure to do this can seriously effect your mental well being.

Now comes the best bit. Make your way to Holland Boulevard between piers E and F. Here you will find the Bols Experience. It is a cocktail bar where you can get proper cocktails, but all made with Bols. The woman who runs it is a bit of a tyrant. She doesn’t like you to mix cocktails and she doesn’t like you to have too many. In fact, she will stop serving you if she considers you’ve had too much to fly. Try giving her any lip and you also get to instantly regret it.  It’s clearly not her business.

So, have just the two cocktails. Honestly, they are strong and you don’t need any more. Plus a burger which she will bring you. After this proceed to your flight at a leisurely pace, fall asleep immediately you sit down in your seat and in a miraculous feat of time travel, wake up at Sheremetyevo three hours or so later, refreshed. And because it’s half past two in the morning there is no immigration queue – and anyway you’re at the front of it so you don’t care. You can then afford to take a further nap in your hotel room because you are now three hours ahead of London and even if you don’t get up until ten, it’s still only seven in the morning back home.

Life from the customer's view