Re-visiting Bon Appetit, Leh, Ladakh

Last year, I ate at and enthusiastically reviewed a delightful restaurant called “Bon Appetit” in Leh, high up in the Indian Himalayas.

In Ladakh this year, once again acclimatising for a 6000m+ climb, I spent quite a lot of time alone in Leh, and inevitably found my way to “Bon Appetit” several days for lunch.  I know there are many new places to visit in Leh, but working on the if it’s not broke, then don’t fix it principle, I knew from last year that I could get a fabulous salad there, if nothing else.  Plus delicious al dente pasta.  Plus it’s quiet.  Plus the views are gorgeous.  Plus the loo is spotless.

And this year they have free wifi.

What’s not to love?

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Every day I had virtually the same thing, oh unadventurous soul that I am : either a tomato and rucola salad (same price as last year) or the mushroom and chive pasta (Rs 20 more than last year).

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One day I branched out and tried the spinach and ricotta gnocchi which was OK, but not rave-worthy.

Most days I ended up having delicious local seabuckthorn juice, and always served in a recycled beer bottle, for some reason.

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Frequent power cuts meant, sadly, that I didn’t get to have as many iced coffees as I would have liked.

The last time I went there for lunch, the day I staggered back into Leh after 17 days camping and climbing, the charming waiter told me that they had had no power for 2 days –  so no iced coffee and no classical music piped quietly in the background.  But fresh salad…

Some trekkers I met told me they found “Bon Appetit” too expensive.  It’s not cheap, but the food is delicious, the service lovely and quiet and unhassle-y, and you can while away many calm hours there.

Enthusiastically re-recommended.

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Hotel Omasila – a delightful hotel in Leh, Ladakh

Having just returned from a pretty epic visit to Ladakh, including trekking, climbing, a debilitating bout of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and quite a lot of time on my own, acclimatising, I can safely say that the pretty, well-situated Hotel Omasila was a perfect base for all my adventures.

And for some weary downtime, too.

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What marked this hotel out from the other Leh hotels I have used over the years is its  genuine friendliness and warmth.  Every member of staff,  from the gentle Ladakhi owners, to the waiters and those dear strong ladies who heft bags up and down the stairs for exhausted climbers like yours truly – every single member of staff was kind, welcoming and considerate.

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Lovely chat one morning with the owner about flowers and politics and life in Leh and lots, lots more…

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Knocked pretty sideways by AMS, I returned to Leh alone, ahead of the rest of my climbing team, and the hotel staff couldn’t have been sweeter. They carried my luggage up to my room***, offered me tea, clucked over my sunburned face, and promised to hand over a padlock and key for the luggage I abandoned on the mountain for my teammates to bring down.
The single biggest plus that this hotel has – other than location – is an utterly gorgeous garden, with killer views. Shanti stupa. Stok Kangri. You name it, you can see it from the Omasila garden, and I spent many a happy afternoon there, reading and sipping tea in the shade of a tree.

 

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The rooms are OK size wise.

The bathrooms are also fine. Adequate but fine.

Food is copious.  I turned up late one day for lunch, having slept through my sickness, and yet they served me food, way after hours.

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But it is the kindness and the gentleness of the staff, and those views, that makes the Omasila hotel such a great place.

 

*** such a contrast with the hotel where I stayed last year…https://christinesreviews.com/2014/07/hotel-royal-ladakh-in-leh-ladakh/

These things really do count…

 

Personally recommended.  Contact the hotel (details below) for rates.

 

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And if you would like “my” view of Stok Kangri, ask for Room No.3…doesn’t get much better…

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Testing the Tata Zest

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Tata Motors is promoting its soon-to-be launched ZEST in a unique way, creating waves through social media.  50 bloggers were invited,via Blogadda.com. to test drive both the automatic and manual versions of this zippy, peppy car over a monsoon weekend in Goa, and I was one of these lucky folk.

 

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Let me state my credentials upfront.

I am not a car specialist at all, but I am a regular driver, and have been for many years.

I drive –  all the time, every day –  in Delhi where I live.

I drive myself, so safety and security will always be a consideration in looking at any car.

And obviously, fuel efficiency will always be a consideration.

 

After master classes and interaction with the designers and technicians from Tata, who were totally and enthusiastically passionate about this car to a woman/man, we were divided into groups of 3 bloggers and allocated 2 cars per group – the diesel automatic transmission Quadrajet 1.3 and the petrol manual transmission 1.2L Revotron 1.2T.

The idea was that we would all drive each car for 1/3 of the time, but as, essentially, the only driver in my test group, I was lucky enough to have the full 2 hour experience, and so got a pretty good feel for these 2 cars.

The impressive array of ZESTs waiting for us all to drive them away :

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Our first test drive was the ZEST diesel automatic transmission Quadrajet 1.3, and a very smooth easy drive it was, too.

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The car felt very peppy and handled the roads well. It had rained overnight, there were crowds in most villages, as people poured out of Sunday Mass, but braking and slowing down were seamless and smooth.  Overtaking was easy, and the car always felt firm.  Both versions of the ZEST held the road well, and all the time I felt completely safe in the the car (and that is a compliment to the car, I hasten to add, nothing to do with my driving.)

I had a bit of an issue starting both the cars, in as much as you need to depress the brake to start. There is nothing remotely rocket-science-y about this at all, simply a question of old habits die hard, and I kept forgetting.

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Since I was doing the driving, I let my co-bloggers do all the testing of the sound system, the air conditioning, and all the other features, especially the flagship Connectnext system. Their feedback was largely favourable, though to be brutally honest, we battled with the voice commands. You are supposed to be able to control the infotainment system through voice controls, which is a brilliant concept, but we couldn’t figure out how to get it going, which was a disappointment.  I was so looking forward to issuing orders to an on-board “gofer” but sadly it didn’t happen.  Perhaps it was us, the good folk of group D3 who were at fault, but we just couldn’t get the voice controls to work.

I found the diesel automatic transmission Quadrajet 1.3 to be a restful drive, but perhaps not as zippy as the manual version, and there is, of course, also the diesel vs petrol aspect.

When I switched, an hour later, to the petrol manual transmission 1.2L Revotron 1.2T, there was unquestionably more zip under the bonnet.

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We fairly flew along the pretty lanes and through the colourful villages, and the manual version has the amazing feature of being able to switch modes, while driving, simply by pressing a button. From city to eco to sport, we experimented with transiting these modes, and there was a definite difference.

Starting out in city mode, when I switched to sport, there was a noticeable thrust, and for a fleeting moment, as I barrelled along a gorgeous tree-shaded Goan lane, I felt like Narain Karthikeyan, who had made an exciting guest appearance at our masterclass the previous evening. OK, I exaggerate a tad, but all the same, the car fairly flew down the road.

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When we tested the Eco programme, the car felt a little more sluggish, but what I obviously do not know is the fuel economy involved, but it was no doubt considerable, and I’m sure this feature will be a definite selling point.

Most of the time, though, we drove in city mode, and at the risk of sounding repetitive, the petrol manual transmission 1.2L Revotron 1.2T handled well, felt very smooth, and –  well, quite simply, nice and easy to drive.  This is probably not a very “techy” type description, but both cars felt safe and reliable.

Overall, great car, and I had a positive feeing about both versions.

Niggles ?

All little ones :

1) The horn in the manual was way harder to depress than in the automatic model.  Sadly, in the current Indian driving context, one needs to use the horn…

2) After one pit stop, my passenger forgot to put his seat belt on, and there was no warning sound/light.

3)  The buttons to change from city->eco->sport are down low, to the left of the steering wheel, and since it is only the driver who will use these controls, I would have preferred them to be at driver-eye-height, not necessitating taking one’s eyes off the road to access them.

Good car.

Looking forward it seeing how this nice-looking car does once it is released.

For more information, check out the ZEST website.

Our first car was fitted with a GoPro camera, which was fun, and (I have to be honest here) we all enjoyed chatting (and perhaps hamming it up a wee bit) for the camera.

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Total bead heaven in Delhi

As I fossicked through the hundreds of necklaces and beads and yet more necklaces in Lall’s in Delhi’s Sunder Nagar, I remarked to Catriona, my fellow fossicker, that the shop reminded me of Lurgan Sahib’s antique shop in “Kim” –  only with electricity. Remove the lighting from Lall’s, and without too much imagination you could be in Lurgan Sahib’s amazing treasure house, sifting through mounds of objects and statues and jewellery from all over India.

Catriona had taken me to Lall’s especially to look at their Naga jewellery, and that was to be the beginning of an afternoon spent looking longingly through amazing necklaces, literally trunks loads of them, and we never even got started on the fabrics and the statues and the bronzes….

A true modern day treasure house, worthy of Rudyard Kipling.  Except it’s air-conditioned.

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The tribal jewellery from the North East –  especially Nagaland – is what fascinated me, and there are some truly lovely things on offer.  And, oh joy of joys, they mostly have price tags, which makes a poor haggler like me feel instantly more relaxed :

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See, I told you, price tags (below).

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And when I said there are trunks full of treasures, I bet you didn’t believe me…

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There are statues and fabrics and brass objects and…and…and…

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The staff were polite and (another joy of joys) totally un-pushy.  I can’t abide shops where the salesmen try and entice you in, and then follow you round the shop, stuck to you like iron filings to a magnet.  Nothing like that here.

I didn’t tell them that I blog and write reviews.

Obviously we shopped.  And obviously we paid our own bills.

A good find.  To be re-fossicked.

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They take credit cards but, like so many shops in Delhi, charge you an extra % for using them.

 

Ivy & Bean: fusion Oz food in Delhi’s Shahpurjat

I have mentioned in other reviews of Delhi’s Shahpurjat district that this little urban village is changing at the speed of light, as a recent hot humid afternoon’s wandering confirmed.

There are boutiques a-plenty and new restaurants and cafés, and seeing it through the eyes of my house guest, a European first timer to Shahpurjat, it really has become a super buzzy little place.

5 of us went for lunch at “Ivy and Bean”, a cute place serving Australian fusion food.

Absolutely loved the look and feel of the place.

We ate inside, in the air-conditioned dining room, but the gorgeous outdoor area (shown below) is clearly crying out to be frequented, once the weather cools down a little :

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The honesty library, below.

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Everyone enjoyed their food, other than Nisha, who said her pizza was “ordinary and nothing special”.  3 of us had fish, and all loved it  –  interesting mashed potatoes –  and Anjulie’s stuffed peppers were apparently delicious.

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The Basa (above) and peppers (below):

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The portion of fish wasn’t huge, but after the large, fresh salads, it was actually exactly the correct amount of food.

Service was a tad on the slow side, but to be fair we did order in dribs and drabs, as our group straggled in at different times.

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The current menu can be seen on the zomato website.

I didn’t tell them I blogged, nor that I write reviews, and we paid our own bill.

Will I go back?  Most definitely.

I can foresee a lazy late morning coffee and some browsing from the honesty library, come the winter.

 

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How is the Holiday Inn Express, Hong Kong?

Last week on a lovely escape to Hong Kong for a few days, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Soho.

We chose the hotel on the basis of:

a) affordability

b) location

and, yes,

c)  free wifi

and on all those 3 counts it couldn’t be faulted.

It is a smartly run, efficient hotel.  No frills, no fanciness, but spotless rooms and bathrooms, good shuttle service.

And a great location.

And fast wifi.

I asked for a room as high up in the tower as possible, and our views from the 29th floor were pretty impressive :

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The room and the bathroom were both small, it must be said, but spotlessly clean and with everything you need for a stay (except extra space…but this is Hong Kong, remember).

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Choice of firm or soft pillows…

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Liked the touch of providing an adaptor.

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Long live no smoking hotels…

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A buffet breakfast was included in the room rate, but the food wasn’t up to much and the buffet was ridiculously crowded –  the hotel was packed to bursting with Mainlanders, Tawianese and Israelis all 3 nights we stayed.

Sharing tables with strangers who pile their plates to danger levels with a weird mixture of food, just because it’s there and “free”, is not my way to start a day.  (It was the baked beans on top of lettuce, I think, at the table next to me one morning that marked a buffet lowpoint…)  I managed to time it so that I never had to queue, but there were often long lines.

So, to be honest, chuck those free breakfast coupons and head out to a neighbouring coffee shop, unless you especially like buffet food.

The staff at the hotel were without exception kind, polite, and very helpful, drawing us maps of where we wanted to go, and in my case writing out in Chinese for me the address I wanted in Kowloon.

Front office staff all spoke good English.

What else ?

Oh yes, there is a shuttle bus that ties in with the Airport Express train, which makes life very easy.

 

I didn’t tell them I blog and write reviews, and we paid our own way.

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Would I stay here again ?  Yes, definitely.

Hotel Royal Ladakh in Leh, Ladakh

I stayed in this hotel last August, pre and post my Mentok Kangri climb.  All the team stayed there, and by and large it was an OK experience, with just a couple of quibbles.

Location, first of all.

The Hotel Royal Ladakh is a little way out of town – way too far to walk in the heat –  which is a negative.

It does, however, enjoy fabulous views and has a pretty garden where you can sit out, which is a huge positive.

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On my first stay there – pre climbing Mentok –  I had a lovely ground floor room with a great bathroom and super (if rather public) views.  There were nice touches, and there was TV, so it was a good place to have tea and rest up before the climb.

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On my exhausted return, post successful summit but nursing a broken shoulder that I didn’t yet realise I had broken (does that make sense?) I was put in a room up a couple of flights of stairs.  I explained in vain to very bored staff that I was feeling dreadful, was physically exhausted and please could I have a ground floor room.

Nope.

Could someone please carry my luggage, since my right arm was in a sling?

No one free, sorry.

So I lugged it myself (with a broken shoulder) until a kind waiter took pity.

Could I eat in my room, since I was too exhausted to go down?

Nope.  No room service.

That kind of indifference, sad to say, negated the first experience.

 

Would I stay there again?  Not so sure, mainly because of its location, which does preclude wandering into Leh.

The hotel is clean.

The rooms are decent sized and the bathrooms are good.

Food was the usual bland, indifferent buffet food, but that is pretty standard in all Leh hotels, to be honest.

 

I didn’t tell them I blogged or wrote reviews, and I paid my own bills.

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The Tibetan Kitchen in Leh, Ladakh

I first visited this iconic Leh restaurant in 2009.
Fast forward to 2103 when I ate there again. ***
Decor hardly unchanged. Same easy going friendly service. Same intriguing Tibetan food.

On both occasions we ate outdoors, and both times the place was packed, and buzzing.  Both times, we ate there at night.

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The restaurant is tucked down a little lane, and is quite simply a good place to sit out, enjoy momos and thukpa, and soak in that brilliant Leh vibe.

 

I did not tell the staff that I blog or review, and we paid our own bill.

Thoroughly recommended.

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***And yes, I will most definitely head there to eat, when I am back in Leh in a few weeks.

Revisiting The Potbelly in Delhi

Almost a year to the day from my first visit –  a totally unplanned coincidence, by the way –  I revisited The Potbelly in Shahpurjat with Sonam and Ahilya, a young friend visiting from Singapore.

And what a pleasure it was to have lunch there again.

No dip in standards, equally great food, still a lovely location – as in thank goodness nothing has come up to spoil avery special airy view over the treetops – so yes, well worth a revisit.

We spent hours there, and lingered long after we had finished our delicious food, but there was no hint that we should hurry along.    A lovely, relaxed place.

Just as we did last year, we started with a pakora basket –  too, too good :

 

Sonam had chicken “ishtew”, and pronounced it excellent.

Ahilya had a pudina iced tea which she also declared delicious :

 

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I had Posta dana machhli (fish with poppy seeds) and it was very good, and the helping was nicely generous :

Just like the previous visit, I didn’t tell them I blog or write reviews and we paid our own bill.

 

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 Personally recommended.

 

Clock Heaven in South Africa

For years, Dullstroom has been a constant fixture on our drives to the Kruger Park.

We always stop there.

We always eat there.

And we always shop*** there.

From a pretty but small stop-over in the late 1990s, we have seen Dullstroom grow into an increasingly sophisticated little place, complete with smart shops and smart places to eat.

One of the fun shops we always visit in Dullstroom is The Clock Shop, which sells clocks (obviously) but in quantities you never knew existed, in every shape, size, design and colour of the rainbow.

To wit :

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There are theme-based clocks:

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Music…

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Sport…

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There really is something to suit every taste and budget, from cheap ‘n cheerful, to kitschy, as well as seriously expensive.

By expensive, think fabulous old grandfather clocks:

 

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There are some clever designs:

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There is a repair shop :

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So yes, all in all, pretty much clock heaven, I’d say.

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Oh come on, watch the video clip below, and then tell me – who doesn’t secretly rather like a cuckoo clock?

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Oh yes, those *** up top.

This is what we bought last month in The Clock Shop :

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We bought the bird song version, which I promptly hung up in my Delhi study, and once an hour I am transported back to Africa.

 

The shop is on the main street.  Just ask anyone where it is.  It’s that kind of place.