Eating at Smith’s in Wapping

In London for my birthday, we decided to eat locally, and since we were staying in Shad Thames, the choice was lots of nice but a bit run-of-the-mill-and-not-special-occasion-y places.

Or Smith’s.

Smith’s it was.

We walked across Tower Bridge and strolled along the river to Smith’s, a large, rather green, glass confection with great views.

Sadly, even though we’d called in person the previous day to book, and mentioned it was my birthday, we didn’t get a table with a view of the river as requested, but never mind.  Can’t win ’em all.  That’s what you get for having a birthday on a Saturday in London.

The restaurant was packed, and as an avid people-watcher, it was a fascinating crowd.  (I don’t live in the UK, just for the record, and haven’t for 40 years, just in case I sound weird in my people judgement).  But basically, I felt as though I’d time-travelled back to the days of City FX traders with lashings of money and very blonde girlfriends.  There was lots of champagne-drinking, girls in dizzying high heels & plunging necklines, and the people next to us ordered stonking great lobsters and caviar (but were both glued to their mobiles, which was totally 2017).

All quite fun.

Now, I must mention that we are not an easy combo to feed.

I don’t eat meat, and hubby is allergic to anything fishy or sea-foody…but it was my birthday, remember, so I was indulged and he had a côte de boeuf which he pronounced excellent.  He also drank white with his beef, because it was my birthday.  Nice man.

I had oysters to start.  Divine.

Then scallops.  Equally divine.

All very nice, and I guess it was childish of me to feel a twinge of jealousy when the lady at the table opposite us got the whole “happy-birthday-to-you” routine.  I went over to wish her, as a fellow-birthday-girl, but she smiled and told me it wasn’t actually her birthday till the following week…ah well, you can’t win ’em all Mark II.

We paid our bill, & I didn’t say that I blog or review.

Good.

Recommended.

A brilliantly located rental apartment in Rome

Disclosure time (& even my husband doesn’t know this).

When looking online for a flat to rent for our stay in Rome earlier this month, I was looking for places which seemed well located for running.  I’m a brand new, totally enthusiastic runner, and this “choosing a location so that I can go for a run” malarkey is also brand new.

So, looking at the map of Rome, and remembering bits and pieces of the city’s geography from my last visit there some 30 years ago, I thought, why not something along the river? It’ll be nice to run alongside a river in a big city, I thought.

Panorama Ripetta looked perfect.

On the river, & from the map it looked apparently quite close to the Castel Sant’Angelo, the Vatican, the Spanish Steps.  A little balcony on which to have morning coffee/evening drinks.

Perfect.

What I hadn’t quite realised that Panorama Ripetta is so amazingly close to all these iconic locations and more.  Looking at a map, I’d thought we would have longish walks to reach all these places, but instead it was literally a matter of minutes to reach so many of Rome’s major sights. Piazza Del Popolo, the Spanish Steps, the Borghese Gardens, the Vatican – all an easy-peesy stroll from our lovely apartment.

So, on location grounds alone Panorama Ripetta wins hands down.

Absolutely brilliant location.

The flat was equally lovely & spotlessly clean. Decent sized bedroom with hanging space, hangars, extra blankets; bathroom, large living room, with the kitchenette tucked away behind doors.

Panorama Ripetta is in a gorgeous old building just oozing charm and dignity, and with its high ceilings and quiet elegance, it was a delight.

The address is Piazza del Porto di Ripetta.

This is the building, with our very own slightly crumbly fountain.

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There is a lift, and our 1 bedroom apartment looked out over the river.  This was our view:

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There is traffic along the Lungotevere, but the flat has double glazing which cuts out the noise.

The tiny balcony was my favourite perch, to have my morning coffee

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my evening glass of vinoIMG_1699

and just to sit and watch the world go by:IMG_1471

There are plenty of shops and restaurants within a couple of minutes walk, and we shopped most days at the great little Carrefour just round the back of the building, which is amazingly well-stocked and open every day till late.

The kitchenette (below) folds away behind those doors.  There are 2 electric hobs, toaster, dishwasher, Nespresso machine  – when we were checking in (late), it was discovered that there were no Nespresso capsules for the next morning (oh disaster!) but they were delivered promptly next morning, which was a sweet touch.IMG_1598The other folding doors conceal a washing machine, and all the cutlery and crockery.  The crockery was of good quality but there was literally just enough stuff.  Meant we had to run the dishwasher after virtually every meal (& we ended up buying our own capsules as the few supplied ran out).  Similarly, the cooking pots and pans were fine, but j-u-s-t enough.

Nicely decorated and no visible signs of wear and tear.

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Bathroom was small but had everything including a heated towel rail, a hairdryer, and a first aid box which I thought was a nice touch.

Fire extinguisher, too.

We used the A/C a couple of nights to sleep, and it worked perfectly.

Free wifi.

We arrived late, and so had to pay Euro 25 as a check in fee, which was explained to us in advance.  A lady was waiting for us at the bottom of the building, checked us in, explained things – adequate English.  Since I speak no Italian, am in no position really, to pass judgement, am I?

There was also a Euro 30 end-of-stay cleaning fee, which I’m not sure I remembered seeing online, but there you go.

We booked online, through Expedia, and all emails were handled very promptly and efficiently, including queries about taxis etc.

Recommended.

Would I stay there again?  Oh, absolutely.

We paid our own way, and no-one knew/knows that I blog or write reviews.

Oh, yes –  the running was GREAT.  Along the river to the Vatican City every day –  too much fun.

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Where to stay in Venice for THE ultimate view? Altana Albachiara

We have just returned from THE most fabulous trip to Venice (for an equally fabulous family wedding) and we stayed at the ALTANA ALBACHIARA.  And loved it.

There are, however, 2 things that have to be made clear at the outset.

a) the view from the two rooftop terraces is absolutely breathtaking.

b) the 91 steps to get to the flat (& then a few more up to the terrace) are equally breathtaking.

If climbing up 91 steps is not a deal breaker for you (it a-l-m-o-s-t was for our family at one point) then do not hesitate.

Repeat do not hesitate to book this fully furnished, well-stocked, fabulously located 2 bedroom flat for your Venice trip.

The views from the 2 roof terraces (yes indeed, oh joy, 2 terraces!!) are beyond gorgeous.

As in this gorgeous :

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The description that the owner of the flat, the utterly delightful Chiara, has posted on sites such as Tripadvisor is 100% accurate:

“In the San Marco district, Altana Albachiara is an elegant charming 120 square meters penthouse at the top of a 16th century merchant’s building at the base of Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal, accessible from a private courtyard, offering the best view you can dream of Venice 360 degrees from the two large top roof terraces overlooking the whole city!

Restored respecting the original features of the typical venetian home, such as the timber beamed ceiling, marble floors, the fireplace and raw brick walls, the apartment is tastefully furnished, with a mix of antique furniture and contemporary conveniences to offer an authentic, cozy and welcoming atmosphere and every necessary comfort to feel completely at home.
The apartment is provided with wifi internet connection, self-regulating air conditioning and heating system, tv, dvd player and a complete hi-fi system for the whole house entertainment.
Full of natural sun light being located on the fourth floor and attic, it feels like the ideal quiet refuge of tranquility where you will be delighted to come back at the end of your days exploring the city.”

The location is unparalleled.  Right at the foot of the Rialto Bridge.  You could not be better located if you tried.

There are 2 well appointed, air-conditioned bedrooms, each sleeping 2 people. Cupboards, ample storage space, coat-hangars galore.  Sheets, towels, extra blankets.

One bathroom upstairs – loo, bath, shower, washing machine.

One downstairs loo.

Well stocked kitchen:

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Dishwasher, gas cooker, toaster, every kind of pot and pan you could wish for.  Even a basil plant on the windowsill:

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Kettle, coffee percolators (plural –  see photo above), loads of glasses, cutlery, crockery.

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Chiara even welcomed us with a bottle of Bellini and some chilled beers.

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Large living & dining room, with books, videos, CDs, jigsaw puzzles – it’s truly just like being in a home.  And such a nice relaxed home, too.

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Chiara, the owner, could not be nicer nor more helpful.  From the first email enquiry, she was enthusiastic, helpful, charming.  Fabulous English.  She came to meet us from the ferry station, along with her equally charming daughter (whose baby photos are in the flat), and they settled us in, helping us carry our luggage on our first ascent of those 91 steps.

There were lots of lovely touches.  The Bellini, the beers, chocolates on our bedside tables, visiting cards for a range of shops and restaurants, leaflets, ferry timetables fridge-magneted onto the kitchen fridge (those are the lovely homely touches), a pile of guide books and maps…even a pair of binoculars.

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Ah yes, but what about the two terraces, I hear you ask.  They face in different directions: the lower one has a dining table and chairs and faces Piazza San Marco.

The other, a few steps further up, faces the Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal and has a sofa and chairs.

Too, too perfect.

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Totally, unequivocally recommended.

Would we go back and stay there? In a heartbeat.

Book online via any of the main booking sites, such as Expedia, Tripadvisor.  Just Google “Altana Albachiara” and you’ll be spoiled for booking choices.  The price varies according to the season, I think, but you can figure all that out from whichever booking website you use.

Enjoy your fabulous, unparalleled views.  After all, you have climbed up a lot of stairs to get there.

Enjoy your morning coffee view :

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And enjoy your evening cocktail view:

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We paid our own way, and Chiara doesn’t know that I blog.

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Want a good running shop in London?

I live in India, where I haven’t yet been able to track down the gels that I am told are vital for running a marathon.

So on a recent trip to London I was thrilled to find a specialised running shop in East Sheen, just a few minutes drive away from Barnes, where I was based.

Aptly called ‘Up & running”, the shop has a quiet, unpushy air of professionalism about it.

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When I explained that not only was I new to running, but was also thinking about transiting from half to full marathon, the young woman in the shop could not have been more helpful.  A marathoner herself, she answered all my questions in great detail, explained about gels, gave me several (free) to take home and try, and was totally charming.  No hard sell, nothing but relaxed friendly service.

Just wished I’d needed more stuff…would happily have spent hours in Up & Running.

I paid my bill (a very snazzy belt to hold said gels) and did not tell them that I blog and write reviews.

Recommended, from one very pleasant interaction.

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Starbucks, Connaught Place, New Delhi

It’s taken a while, but I finally visited a Starbucks in India.

The fact that I ended up in the wrong Starbucks for my first-time meeting with a well-known author is not especially relevant to this review, other than the fact that sitting alone (in the wrong place, you remember) gave me time to observe my surroundings.

And jolly impressive they were, too.  Now please don’t take this wrongly, all ye diehard “Mera Bharaat Mahaan” people, but sitting in Starbucks in Connaught Place, you could have been anywhere in the world.  Which is what you sort of expect in a Starbucks, right?

I knew I was in India, because of the very polite service and the “Ma’am” added to every sentence, but in case of doubt, here you go:

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But what was totally un-Indian (and y’all know I love India.  Live here, remember) is the feeling of space.  It’s lovely and restful, when you find it.  And it was quiet and the cappuccino was excellent.

So all round great experience.

Too bad I was in the wrong Starbucks for my meeting.

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India_Starbucks_8891Oh yes.

Price.

Rs 147 for a very generously sized cappuccino.  Not bad at all.

Himalayan Trout House in Nagini Village, Himachal Pradesh

We have just returned from yet another delightful stay at the Himalayan Trout House, a cute lodge in Nagini village, run by Shefali & Christopher Mitra, who (in the interests of full disclosure) have now become friends, rather than simply lodge-owners.

I am a little unsure how many times we have stayed with Shef and Christopher – 6,7,8 times? – and we are the newbies in our fishing group, some of whom have been staying there for 14 years.  So this is a long, happy relationship.

The lodge, as the name implies, caters for trout fishermen, who are drawn to the lovely Tirthan Valley and its clean rushing waters, but there is no “requirement” to fish.  I have never touched a fishing rod in my life, but am still made to feel welcome and at home there.  And that is the key to the success and charm of this little hotel –  you never actually feel as though you are staying in a hotel, but rather as a very welcome guest in someone’s home.  The dogs flop, there is a fire in the chilly evenings, people drop by for a drink, for lunch, for a chat, and in the evening Christopher gets out his guitar and a sing-song inevitably follows.

When we arrived at the Trout House last week, after a beautiful drive up through the hills, there were 3 other groups staying there, 2 of whom we had met there last year, so it was more like a reunion than anything else.  Hugs all round.  Exclaim how the children have grown in a year.  Greet the gillies, all local boys. Admire the new kitchen extension.  And then sit round the fire with a glass of wine and catch up on the news.

For fishermen, there is all the infrastructure you need, including the possibility of lessons, of renting equipment, of buying any flies you need, and of course, there are the knowledgable gillies.  You need a licence to fish, but Christopher does all the paperwork for you.

For non-fisherfolk like me, there are long walks to be had, along the narrow road that connects the little villages, strung our along the valley.  Walking through the villages is a pleasure –  especially if you live in an aggressive city like Delhi, as I do.  People greet you, children wish you “namaste’ automatically, the local bus driver slows down and waves.  A delight.

Or you stretch out in the eating/general hang-out area and read the afternoon away, with only the sound of the river for company.

 

There is a range of accommodation (check their website for details), and we have stayed in almost all the rooms over the years, and they are uniformly cosy, spotlessly clean, and with great bathrooms.  On our first visit there (in 2007) we even stayed in a tent, with Ready the family dog barging his way in every night and sleeping with us, too…I swear Ready remembered me when we arrived last week.  As well he should.

The food is home cooked and delicious.  To be honest, I cannot tell you too much about the variety of the menu because I have the same thing for dinner every night, year in, year out –  trout.  Too delicious.

Even though the trout fishing season is drawing to a close for this year, the lodge stays open until December, and re-opens in March, when we fully intend to return.

Cannot praise this charming place, and the even more charming Shefali and Christopher, too highly.

Personally recommended, over many years.  (And in case you were wondering, no, the Mitras do not know I have written this review.  I know they read my personal blog, but the subject of this review blog has never arisen with them.)

And obviously we always pay our own bills.

Oh yes, there’s wifi too.

For rates, bookings, any further info, check their website.

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India. Himachal Pradesh state. Tirthan Valley.

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India. Himachal Pradesh state. Tirthan Valley.

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Sanskruti resort, Gokarna

In my most recent review, on the Om Beach Hotel in Gokarna, I mentioned that when we stayed there in January there wasn’t really a viable option (price-wise).

Now there is, because a charming little hotel called Sanskruti Resort opened in February.  And so, last week on a return visit to Gokarna, we decided to stay there for one night and check it out.

Negatives first –  the property is small-ish, so there are none of the lovely established gardens of the Om Beach Resort.  The rooms are smaller, too, and close to one another.

And that is about it.

Otherwise, for service, smiles and even food, it is already ahead of the competition.

Plus they have a big pool.  2 actually, one shallow (for children, I imagine) and a deeper one, separated by a little bridge.

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So, we first visited for a look-see as we drove past, and the staff kindly showed us around.  Then we made a snap decision to change hotels, and when we rolled up for the 2nd time in half an hour, it was to even bigger smiles.

We were given a discount, too.  We were told that rooms with a view were Rs500 more expensive than those without a view, but were given the former for the latter price, without asking.  To be honest, the view isn’t actually up to much, but the thought was sweet.

No liquor permit as yet, but I imagine that’s just normal start-up scenario.

So, here was our room :

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All the doors were a bit sticky in the room – had to push hard to make them close – but I imagine it’s a case of new wood etc etc.

Our bathroom was totally adequate, though they might want to put a shelf/soap dish in the shower area :

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Nice flat screen TV and powerful A/C.

There is the teeniest of sit outs :

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and for us, we had a 3 second walk to the pool.

Straight out of room in fact :

 

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Lots of pretty floral arrangements

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The food was better than Om Beach, with delightfully attentive service.

A cute place and I wish them well.  They are building more rooms at the back, by the way, so I am sure this resort will take off.

It deserves to.

I didn’t tell then that I review/blog and we paid our own bill.

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Om Beach Resort, Gokarna

The pretty little temple town of Gokarna, on the Karnataka Coast is a magnet for pilgrims and beach lovers, and justifiably so.

Well, to be honest, I can’t speak for the temple bit, since I was excluded from entering, since I am not an Indian, which always gets me irritated. Can you imagine the uproar there would be in Europe if a church excluded Hindus from entering?  I can see the headlines. I can imagine the lawsuits.

Yes, you’re right, I digress.
So, yes, back to Gokarna.

We were there in January of this year (2014) for a couple of days, when we stayed at the (then) only reasonably priced hotel, Om Beach Resort, run by Jungle Lodges.

 

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We have experience of this chain, having stayed a few times in one of their fishing camps on the Cauvery River, so the mix of polite-if-rather-dreamy service and nice-but-rather-scruffy-round-the-edges-accommodation was familiar.

Our room was large, with a little sit out, a pretty garden view, and an inside sitting area, but there was an air of benign neglect over everything.

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Spotlessly clean, but shabby.

Broken panes of glass on the front door, with paper to replace them.

 

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Bathroom tiles peeling off.

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Plaster peeling.

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That kind of shabbiness.
Kind service.

No pool, sadly.

Weak connectivity –  best reception in the reception (no pun intended).
Lovely location.

Pretty garden.

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But oh so dull food.

Oh so very, very dull.

You eat at a pretty platform, with a lovely view, but the buffet food is downright uninspiring.

To be honest, it’s the sort of place you stay in because there isn’t another clean reasonably priced option.

Fast forward to last week, mid April, when we were once again in Gokarana for 2 nights.

We booked into the same hotel and got the exact same room.

With the window pane still broken, the tiles still falling off, the walls still peeling.
Time had stopped still for nearly 4 months.
Not impressive.  It just re-confirmed the air of shabby neglect.

The food was still dull.  But the service was kind.

For example, when it was a choice of either meat or fish, since we are the original Jack Spratt couple (I don’t eat meat, hubby doesn’t eat fish) they served us both.

And when we checked out after just one night (more anon) there was no demurring.  They didn’t charge us for the extra night.

Nor did they ask why we were leaving.

 

JUNGLE LODGE

Wild Mahseer, a perfect colonial getaway

Last year, instead of heading straight to Kaziranga from Guwahati as we usually do, we took the scenic route and stopped for a couple of nights at the deliciously nostalgic, beautifully maintained “Wild Mahseer” near Sonitpur village in Assam.

Wild Mahseer consists of a series of tea planters’ bungalows set amidst acres of gardens, tea bushes, shady lanes, and you feel so at home there, it is hard to remind yourself that this is, after all, a hotel.  Actually, hotel is wrong.  Call it rather a fabulously welcoming home stay.

We were a party of 4, and – such a treat –  had the place to ourselves, and we all quickly felt as though we were, indeed, house guests.

Although we went out exploring and went on the river and went for a jungle walk, the most wonderful parts of our stay were lounging on the deep, shaded verandah, reading and day-dreaming.

We stayed in the main bungalow, called the Heritage Bungalow, and it could not have been bettered.

Perfect rooms.  Perfect unobtrusive, welcoming service, fab bathrooms, great food.

Absolutely not a word to be said against Wild Mahseer.

The entrance to the Heritage Bungalow

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Sweet  – the graves of 2 family pets, under a shady old tree.  Makes you feel really and truly at home

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The fabulous deep cool vernadah

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Entrance to one of the other cottages on the property

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Our bedroom in the Heritage Bungalow

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The dining room, which serves great food, in a totally relaxed “at home” way

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Signs galore

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For prices and packages, contact Wild Mahseer, since they offer many different combinations of stays and activities.  We opted to be active, but next time, I might well skip all that walking and rafting and just read the hours away…

http://www.wildmahseer.com/

Personally recommended.

Peshawari at ITC Mughal Agra for great food

Last week I was the guest of ITC Hotels at 3 of their properties, as part of an exciting initiative called TheDuoEscapade.  Along with a seriously accomplished food blogger, young Charis Bhagianathan, we ate and travelled and ate and shopped and ate and…you get the picture.

So, yes, eating was a big part of this trip, and never more so than at lunch in the gorgeous ITC Mughal in Agra, where we ate at Peshawari.

The cuisine of the North West Frontier is the obvious speciality here, and so as a long-standing non-meat eater I was a little –  well, not exactly worried – let’s just say a little puzzled, as to how my dining experience would be.

No need to worry, since the ever efficient staff at Peshawari simply substituted fish for me.

And in any case I could have made lunch out of nothing but their signature dal.

But I am getting a little ahead of myself.

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The decor of Peshawari both here and (as we would later discover) at the ITC Rajputana in Jaipur is reminiscent of the ITC group’s flagship Bukhara, and like Bukhara you are asked to eat with your hands.  And, as I have done on the 2 earlier times I ate at Bukhara, I requested cutlery.  30 years in India, and I still cannot eat dal or paneer with my fingers.  There is a nice rustic feel to the place, with much use of brass and copper, and a boulder-y feel to the walls.  Long wooden dining tables, and a hefty wooden menu card :

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But we took the lazy but oh-so-informed way out and let the charming Chef Amruth do all the choosing for us.

Chef Amruth was a delightful and helpful guide through the culinary lanes of Peshawari food, telling us about what was being cooked for us, and spoiling us with treats and surprises all the time.

Papad and snacks to start with :

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And then, in an indication of the serious things to come, we were each given a bib to wear.

Charis looking happy in her bib (but then again, I never found her anything but smiling in a week of travelling together):

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Probably to everyone’s frustration, Charis and I photographed everything, all through the course of our long, leisurely delicious lunch.

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Seriously delicious lassi, by the way,

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Raita :

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Vegetarian kebabs to start with for me :IMG_3955 1

And meat with everything for Charis and Anchal, our long-suffering PR guru.

They both pronounced everything delicious.

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Told you –  we photographed anything and everything :

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The fish was absolutely fab.  Ate far too much of it…

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Then, as if we weren’t already seriously over-eating as it was, out come The Signature Bread –  a fabulously shaped Turra Naan –  & the oh-my-goodness-me utterly fab Signature Dal Buhkara :

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To my shame I ate every last morsel of the dal, and most of the turra naan, too.

We then sort of went walkabout, to watch one of these fabulously OTT breads being made in the glassed-in kitchen.  Bear in mind, please, that (a) it was taken through glass and (b) with my iPhone…

So, we watched the chefs making a selection of naans and rotis, and here is the moment when the turra naan emerges :

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Great fun.

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I am not a fan at all of Indian puddings, so I let Charis be the taster here :

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Paan, which I didn’t have but which was excellent, I am told :

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And then it was back to the turra naan, which sort of processed its way round the restaurant with everyone taking pictures and posing with this ginormous naan – we would meet it again that evening, when it had cleverly been turned into our dinner menu card !IMG_3994 1

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IMG_3995 1Great dining experience.

Super friendly staff who put up with our photographing and wandering around with great good humour and great style.

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