Monday, May 26, 2008

La Porte des Indes, London

This is a charming and upscale Indian restaurant in the heart of central London. Seconds away from bustling Oxford St, but you would never have guessed it. La Porte des Indes specializes in Indian food with a French twist. The cuisine in the former French colonies of Pondicherry in the south, Chandannagore in Bengal etc, is heavily French-influenced. So this figures prominently in the menu. However, other popular dishes are also available. Entrees from the a la carte menu are a tad on the pricey side. A three course set menu is around 34 pounds. But you pay for the exquisite colonial ambiance, the immaculate service, and the chance to eat on tables with pristine white and starched tablecloths, laden with silver plated cutlery.

Aah, but there is a more affordable option, without having to sacrifice your exposure to any of the above. Sundays is buffet lunch day, when La Porte puts on a lavish 'all you can eat' extravaganza for only 25 pounds per person. You start downstairs where there is a delectable range of mouthwatering appetizers, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. You then walk up the strategically-positioned spiral staircase, allowing you to spy on the other customers, before you begin to sample the entrees. Don't forget to try the fresh coconut juice, which you drink from the coconut directly. It is unbelievably refreshing!

The place is usually full on Sundays with families celebrating birthdays, friends celebrating an engagement, or simply the single diner who wants to have well prepared Indian food. There is also a live jazz band to entertain you while you enjoy the food. The band was excellent the last time I went. However, my family have been entertained by an Indian Elvis on one occasion, who was reported to have been pretty good too.

There you have it - if you're in London on a Sunday, and would like to try different and delicious Indian food in a lovely setting, make a date with La Porte Des Indes. It is best to make a reservation beforehand. Click here for more details.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tips for a wonderful stay in Couples San Souci in Ocho rios, Jamaica

Remember these things, and you'll have a great time:

  • Attend the Orienteering session to acquaint yourself with the resort. A lot of people skip this, but that's good, because only you'll know about the little hideouts
  • Always ask for Appleton Rum for your rum-based drinks
  • Go for a massage or facial. These services are excellent, and what better way to relax than to have your muscles massaged outdoors to the sound of the waves
  • Try at least one included water sport. I recommend the catamaran sailing with a qualified instructor. You don't have to sail it yourself; just let the staff know and you can just sit back and relax
  • Eat at the Bella Vista if you can - the food here is better than at the other restaurants
  • Grab a bike and ride around the resort pond
  • Go the 'Au Naturel' beach at 5:30 to view a stunning sunset ( people are/should be covered up by then) - see below
  • Buy souvenirs/blue mountain coffee from the duty free shops in the airport instead - they are marginally cheaper than at the hotel shop.
  • Be nice and friendly to the staff - they will gladly go that extra mile for you!
Have a great stay.

Couple San Souci

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Another day in Ocho Rios

This morning, Abhijit and I decided to hit the glass-fronted gym. It was 7 am, the sunlight was dappled, and the resort belonged just to us. The soft light and breeze held promise of things to come.

Never has 30 minutes on the treadmill been so soothing. At first I was disappointed that the treadmills faced away from the glass windows and the beach view. However once I started, I could just as easily enjoy the vista by looking at the mirror in front of me.

After a quick shower, we made our way to the breakfast room. People were starting to trickle in. Everyone seemed to be moving in slow motion, relaxed, reflective and content. Freshly prepared 'Blue Mountain' coffee and orange juice set the scene. Banana bread and danish pastry followed by exotic tropical fruit and smoked salmon left us more than satiated.

When we finally retired to our lounging chairs under the umbrella, I was in heaven. This is what dreams are made of. Remember those holiday ads, where a sultry blonde is lying on a beach, and gets multi-colored cocktails served to her by smiling waiters in Bermuda shorts? Apart from the blonde bit, everything else was just like that ad. I looked around to observe the other sun and aqua worshippers.

In spite of being in the middle of paradise, some still looked ultra miserable. There was a perfectly tanned and toned Italian couple in front of us, partners of considerable age difference. The trophy 'wife' began to look increasingly agitated as the husband waved his arms around. People pretended to read while staring at them discreetly through their oversized sunglasses. A septuagenarian couple rubbed sunblock lotion on each other with warmth and love. A huge woman treaded gently into the ocean with her rake-thin man. A young English couple next to us read for hours without saying a word to each other. Who needs a book when there are all these dynamics to scrutinize? Oh, here comes my Pina Colada...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Summary of activities in Jamaica - Day 1

After waking up to the azure beauty of the Carribbean, we were prepared for day of action. This is how we spent the rest of our first day:
  • Gourmet buffet breakfast at Palazzina's
  • Orientation of the resort followed by fresh guava juice by the mineral pool
  • Pina Colada with Appleton Rum from the beach bar
  • A nap aboard a hammock
  • A swim in the mineral pool
  • A delectable lunch comprising local fish, cajun chicken, almond pie and pistacchio mousse
  • A bike ride around the resort and a game of tennis
  • Strawberry Daiquiri followed by rum punch...ummmm
  • Another swim in the mineral pool followed by a dip in the hot tub surrounded by tropical foliage, gazing at the sunset
  • A swim in the ocean
  • Dinner at the wonderful Bella Vista, feasting on caloola and cod quiche, jamaican red snapper and coconut ganache
  • Relaxing in the in-room jacuzzi with rum and pepsi, before finally retiring to bed.
Sublime. Above is a picture taken from the bar at the mineral pool at Couples Ocho Rios.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The first night....

After the usual trial and tribulations associated with connecting flights and delays, we arrived at our resort at 12:10 am. Checking in was a breeze as you would expect at that time of the 'day'. Starving, we were guided to the beach hut for our first all-inclusive meal.

The Beach Hut is open from 11 pm to 6 am daily. What better introduction to Jamaica than a dining under the stars on a plate of steaming hot jerk pork and a glass of their famous Red Stripes beer, with the waves of the Caribbean Sea crashing on the shore a few feet away, at 1 am in the morning. Pure bliss.

Our 'Oceanfront Jacuzzi' suite was just a few yards across from the beach hut. When we woke up in the morning, this was the view that greeted us.

All-inclusive resorts

Have you been to an all-inclusive resort? In Hawaii, Mexico, Dominican Republic, or even Jamaica? What's your take on them? I would love to hear from you about this.

We picked an all-inclusive package for our vacation to Jamaica. For us the pluses were unlimited free alcoholic and other beverages, unlimited food from a choice of restaurants and cuisines, inclusive room service, watersports, mini bar, tipping...need I go on? We just didn't want to have to worry about all that.

Expedia offered us with a choice of resorts, and we picked Couples San Souci in Ocho Rios. It certainly was what we were looking for, and not a bad deal at under $3000 total for two people with flights for four nights!

Sometimes, it's hard to decide where to eat, having the cash to tip everyone who assists you, or limiting yourself to just that one cocktail because of the exorbitant prices. An all-inclusive resort in that case was just what the doctor ordered.

If you've never tried it, think about it. Then do your research. All the main travel sites should have packages you can look at. Look at the Couples and Sandals websites for more information on their packages.


On the way to Ocho Rios...

The cab driver remarked in his heavy-set Eastern European accent "Are you sure you want to go up in the sky?" In England we have the expression 'raining cats and dogs.' Put plainly, it was miserable here in Chicago. But it made the prospect of vacationing in Jamaica all the more sweeter. I made sure to check the weather report for Ocho Rios and it was 87 degrees. Everday. So yes, I was sure I wanted to go up in sky. I wanted to soar high above those miserable clouds and say 'na na na na na.' I just couldn't wait to fly :).