Taste of Hastings: Lough Neagh Eel

It’s Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink, and Hastings Hotels have fully embraced the best of seasonal produce on offer. Passionate about food, they believe, and I tend to agree, that eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. They champion local producers in their six hotels, and they work closely with all staff to make sure everyone gets the best out of the Northern Irish larder. This year, it’s just a little bit unusual.

Throughout July, they chose to highlight two dishes fished from Lough Neagh.

Lough Neagh (pronounced Loch Nay) is a freshwater lake, the largest lake, supplying 40% of Northern Ireland’s drinking water. Owned by the Earl of Shaftesbury, it’s 20 miles west of Belfast and is about 20 miles long and 9 miles wide. Fishing has been a major industry here. The eels make a 4,000-mile journey from the Sargasso Sea to the mouth of the River Bann and make their way into the Lough. They stay here to mature for up to 15 years before making the return journey to the Atlantic to spawn. The eels are shipped all over the world, and a PGI protects the Lough Neagh Eel.

For the first dish, the Eel was served cold with pickled rainbow carrots and beetroot. Armagh apple adds a sweetness which cuts through acid. Slices of Comber potato, just 7 miles from Holywood, have an incredibly creamy texture which works well with the firm fish with its delicate smoke.

Smoked Eel

Pollan is a freshwater white fish, similar to herring, found only in five Irish lakes, Neagh being one. It’s been a staple in the region for hundreds of years and was lightly fried, served with burnt lettuce and slices of Comber potato. Capers, beetroot and tomatoes are added to the dish, topped with a slab of lemon and herb butter.

Pollan, Lough Neagh

You don’t have to go to great lengths to enjoy smoked eel, and while you might not get your hands on a Lough Neagh fillet, it’s often available in high-end supermarkets and online. A simple recipe is all that’s often needed to showcase the brilliance of the ingredients, and this is an indulgent lunch or dinner party canape.

Ingredients

2 tbsp creamed horseradish
142ml carton double cream
100g smoked eel fillet
Thinly sliced brown or rye bread
Salt and pepper

Beat the horseradish with the double cream until it’s thick. Season to taste. Cut the eel at an angle into thin slices.  Top the bread with a dollop of horseradish cream, add a slice of eel and enjoy.

Culloden Estate & Spa

From the moment you arrive and step through the stone archway at Culloden, something magical happens. All the stresses of modern-day life disappear, and you feel as though you’ve come home, this is 5-star Irish hospitality at its absolute best.

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Culloden Estate & Spa is on the outskirts of Belfast and is about a ten-minute drive from the centre, even less from George Best City Airport. Built in 1867, the Hotel has been modernised and sympathetically extended. Formerly a Bishop’s Palace, it nestles within 12 acres of manicured lawns.

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It has a magnificent sweeping staircase and stained glass window feature. Very Downton Abbey.

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There have been a couple of additions to the original house which include additional bedrooms on an ivy-covered wing and conference and banqueting suites.

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The award-winning Spa has had a recent upgrade and undergone a total makeover. ESPA spa treatments are on offer in eight treatment rooms. There are two relaxation rooms, a gym and a Medispa.

In the original house, it’s all panelling and painted ceilings. Look upwards to see some real works of art or find a quiet corner to tuck into a book or admire the views.

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My visit took place over two days, and I brought my Mum along for company. The Lady Dufferin Suite was to be our home; even I was speechless and a little breathless for a few seconds because this it’s pretty impressive.

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The beds are worth a blog of their own. We slept like babies, on a mattress which Goldilocks would have trouble stirring from, and we woke to views that took us straight into the garden and beyond to Belfast Lough.

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The bathroom is almost as large as the bedroom, covered in marble from floor to ceiling. There’s a bath and decent power shower along with Jack and Jill sinks so there was no fighting for mirrors. Slippers and bathrobes were on hand as well as ESPA toiletries and the Hastings signature rubber duck. There’s complimentary wi-fi, tea and coffee on hand and a turndown service.

Fine dining is on offer in The Mitre Restaurant with Paul McKnight at the helm who’s an experienced pair of hands. While Northern Ireland is celebrating a year of food; the hotel group have been championing ‘local’ for years, and they’re right behind the initiative. Local produce from local suppliers is key to everything they do here. Executive Chef, Brian Donaldson keeps up-to-date with food trends and takes inspiration from social media and the plates are a testament to this. Their kitchen offers some inspired food and inventive flavours to rival any Michelin starred restaurant. Expect plenty of seafood and top-notch meat all paired with a decent wine list.

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It’s also here in The Mitre where the Hotel serves its not-to-be-missed breakfast. Small artisan producers are brought together on the Culloden’s menu, all with one thing in common, high-quality products whether that’s from the natural yoghurt to the sharp apple juice.

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A bowl of pin oatmeal, served with cream and a generous tot of Bushmills Irish Whiskey, is an absolute must and will set you up for the day if you don’t fancy the full Irish.

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J B Crozier, the Bishop of Down, Connor and Dronmore built a private Chapel during his time at Culloden.  It’s now a bright, airy bar, named in his honour.  The gin selection is one of the best I’ve seen for a while.  There’s great support for Irish gin brands as you’d expect, including Jawbox and Shortcross, and a couple of decent names closer to home.

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Wander around the gardens and be sure to sample some of the herbs the Chefs are growing.

A short stroll away, there’s the Cultra Inn a restaurant and bar serving a more relaxed menu, the emphasis again on fresh and local.

Afternoon tea is something of a ritual here, and you’ll be taking it in the Drawing Room. Be sure to skip breakfast; this is a marathon, not a sprint.

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We hired a car and found it pretty simple to get around. We drove to Giant’s Causeway,

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skipped around The Old Bushmill’s Distillery and went to Bangor for a stroll.

We didn’t make it to Belfast to explore the Titanic Museum, the Botanic Gardens, the Waterfront or the historic St George’s Market. Next door to the Hotel is Cultra Railway Station with direct links into Belfast and beyond.

Culloden Estate and Spa, 142 Bangor Road, Holywood.

Laguna Beach Hotel, Orange County

Drinking sundowners on the terrace of our suite are just one of the special memories I hold from the Laguna Beach Hotel, part of the Montage Hotels and Resorts group.

Laguna Beach Hotel. Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach Hotel. Laguna Beach

This 248-room, 60-suites residence is on the coast overlooking the Pacific and is spread over thirty acres. Well known for its vibrant arts community, Laguna is midway between Los Angeles and San Diego.

Laguna Beach Hotel. Laguna Beach

During the winter, a walk along the 7 mile stretch of sandy beach reveals not only migrating grey whales, dolphins and playful seals but a vista reaching as far as the Island of San Clemente Island, the southernmost of California’s Channel Islands.

Laguna Beach

Mr and me stayed in a one-bedroom suite with views directly over the main pool and sea. We had a separate lounge area, a large walk-in wardrobe and a large marble bathroom with Jack and Jill sinks, both a deep bath and power shower. Slippers, bathrobes, marvellous toiletries, including a great brush loofah and Bose wireless speaker were among the items that made the stay extra special.

Laguna Beach Hotel. Laguna Beach

The Nespresso machine was temperamental but once mastered, produced excellent coffee, although if I were picky, milk in the mini-bar would be a welcome addition.  The complimentary half bottle of Piper Heidsieck was a lovely gesture.

The bed, although high, has a mattress that sends you to the Land of Nod almost immediately your head hits the 450 thread count cotton pillowcase.

Suite, Laguna Beach Hotel

Laguna Beach Hotel

There’s a well-equipped Life Fitness gym, an on-site Spa and a chance to have your hair coiffed by celebrity stylist Kim Vo.

I didn’t eat Breakfast, but I did sample the food at the Hotel, and overall it was pretty good. The Poolside menu consisted of Nachos, BLT’s, and inspired cocktails. The service here is excellent, and the young men and women working here cater to everyone’s needs. In fact, that goes for the entire site, nothing is too much trouble, and everyone is courteous and duties carried out with a smile.

Laguna Beach Hotel. Laguna Beach

We had a couple of run-ins with the Hotel’s unofficial guests, scavaging for leftovers and stealing pool toys belonging to the kids. A menace in any country.

Laguna Beach Hotel. Laguna Beach

The Montage at Laguna Beach has three restaurants, and if your room view proves too good to leave, they’ll bring the food to you.

Laguna Beach Hotel. Laguna Beach

We also ate at the fine dining restaurant, The Loft. The presentation was beautiful, especially this Yellowfin Tuna Tartare with Avocado Mousse.

The Loft, Laguna Beach Hotel

A clam and mussel dish was exceptional, and a request for extra anchovies caused no problems.

The Loft, Laguna Beach Hotel

We ate in a large group, and most everyone enjoyed what they ordered. A steak, crusted in coffee though wasn’t great. The menu splits into First, Soup and Greens and then splits into Land, Sea and Harvest. On warmer evenings, the terrace is a magical place to eat.

As the sun goes down, the firepit is lit, and there’s nothing better than grabbing a hot chocolate or an S’mores kit from Hospitality and toasting marshmallows, even if we didn’t get the hang of it.

Firepit, Laguna Beach Hotel. Laguna Beach

Toasting S'mores, Laguna Beach Hotel. Laguna Beach

The Lobby Lounge is a relaxed space and great for drinks, I was impressed with their single malt collection.

It’s a family friendly Hotel with the kids club ‘Paintbox’, for which an additional fee is payable.

There’s plenty to do in the surrounding area from exploring the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park’s coastal canyons’ flora and fauna, Laguna’s Art Museum, take to the water on a dolphin and whale watching tour or hire a car and hit the Happiest Place in The World, Disneyland in nearby Anaheim.

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach Hotel. Laguna Beach

The Laguna Beach is the perfect ocean hideaway, great for families, equally as relaxing for couples.

Montage Laguna Beach, 30801 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach CA 92651.

Review: Estiatorio Milos, The Cosmopolitan Hotel

Our suite at the Cosmopolitan Hotel had one of the best views I’ve ever had …. from a bed.  A peek out of the window revealed fountains and the Eiffel Tower, but I was thousands of miles from Paris.  The rooms are large, modern and have floor-to-ceiling windows that offer unparalleled views.  I feel compelled to write more about the hotel in another post, so keep your eyes peeled if Las Vegas is of interest.

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Vegas is an embarrassment of riches, and you can visit the ‘world’ in a day.  From Egypt to Venice with a little Paris in between, this desert destination has to be seen to be believed.

The Cosmopolitan boasts three swimming pools (one an ice rink when we visit in December), 17 food and drink outlets, nightclubs and of course, the all-important gaming tables.  They have a performance arena, a spa and hammam, a wedding chapel and a crystal chandelier that lights three stories.

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Restaurant obsessives will absolutely love Las Vegas and the Hotels here all have ‘signature’ dining.  We had lunch in the Cosmopolitan’s Estiatorio Milos restaurant, the brainchild of Chef and Restaurateur Costas Spiladis, who opened his first in Canada in 1979, he now has seven.

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The food centres around their plentiful stock of fresh fish cooked very simply.  Greek cheese, yoghurt and produce from small farmers all feature on this menu which is full of fabulous ingredients.

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”My Sister’s Olive Oil,’ blends pine-scented oil by mixing extra virgin olive oil from the estate of Costa’s sister, Vivi Manolakos, in Olympia, Greece, with oil from northern Greece.

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Classic dishes include grilled Mediterranean octopus, lightly fried fresh calamari and one of the best tzatziki & Kefalograviera cheese dishes I’ve ever tasted outside of Greece.

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As the temperature is on the cold side, the terrace is closed.

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This area alone seats up to 75 people and the views, well they’re pretty special.  The restaurant has a busy lunch service on the go, and some guests are eating at the seated bar as the main tables are working at full capacity.

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We pick from a lunch menu that is great value ($29.15) for three courses, provided you don’t veer off into the supplementary territory.  There are also sunset and moonlight menus on offer, operating at certain times.

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To begin, Mr and I share a couple of Milos’ signature dishes.  ‘The Special’  ($32) is lightly fried zucchini (courgette) and eggplant (aubergine) with tzatziki and Kefalograviera cheese.  A tower of lightly coated tempura-fried vegetables is supported by a fork which when ‘wiggled’ reveals the most delicious thick yogurt studded with cucumber.  Hot sticks of the Kefalograviera PDO cheese, which is a cross between Kefalotyri and Graviera cheeses, had been deep-fried and were nutty, salty and comforting.

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The fried calamari ($29) is deep-fried in a spiced batter, simply garnished with lemon and a sprig of parsley.  Heaven.

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On to the main menu and we share a plate of grilled octopus.  Sashimi-quality octopus is charcoal-broiled and drizzled with an olive oil, red onion and a lemon dressing.  This is a stunner.  Again, proving that brilliant ingredients treated with respect result in a plate of summer even when it’s winter outside.

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The main courses include Dorade Royale, Organic Salmon from the Shetland Isles, lamb chops and a classic Shrimp Saganaki.

Mr had the Grain Fed Chicken Breast Skewer with grilled mushrooms and onions and served over a chargrilled pita.  No complaints.  No bulk pre-cut chips either, these were hand cut like you’d get in any Greek taverna.

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I had the Nova Scotia Deep Sea Lobster Pasta a linguine dish bathed in a light tomato sauce.  The food looked fabulous, but there was no real depth of flavour and despite a search for some chunks of tail meat, there weren’t many.

Lobster Pasta, The Cosmopolitan Hotel, Las Vegas

Probably best to opt for the simple grilled fish on which this restaurant prides itself.

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We couldn’t manage the dessert on the set menu, but expect fresh Greek yoghurt, fresh fruits and Karidopita a speciality walnut cake served with kaimaki (mastic) ice cream.   In Greek cooking mastic is known as the ‘tears of Chios’, so-called because it’s sap from a tree native to the island and produces droplets or tears.  It’s dried and then offers up a pine or cedar aroma and flavour.

Service was attentive, bearing in mind just how busy it.  Lunch for two, including tip and two alcoholic drinks, was $200.

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I would go back to Milos just to gorge on the calamari and that’s a very real possibility.  A branch has recently opened in St James in London so I don’t have too far to travel from home to get my Milos fix.

If you’re in Vegas, this restaurant is definitely worth a visit.   Fresh fish after too many carbs, something of an inevitability in America, is a welcome relief.

Estiatorio Milos is open seven days a week.

I had a $150 credit, given to me by the Hotel.

The Cosmopolitan Hotel, 3708 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, Nevada

Review: Hotel Byblos, St Tropez

It’s been another perfect day by the pool, topping up my tan and I don’t think anyone’s noticed I’m more high street than haute couture.

Pool, Hotel Byblos, St Tropez

Byblos, St Tropez

Hotel Byblos, St Tropez

This is St Tropez at the start of the summer season, the playground of the rich and famous, and I’m staying at the Grand Dame, The Byblos.  Anyone who’s anyone has stayed here from the sixties siren Brigitte Bardot to present day A listers.  From the moment you check in the Byblos experience is personal, discrete and flawless.

Reception, Hotel Byblos

The hotel began life in the mid-Sixties,  built by a Lebanese businessman (it’s a long story, well documented), now it’s in the hands of the family-run Groupe Floirat.

Exterior, Hotel Byblos, St Tropez

Built up and on over the years, the Hotel now looks like a small Provencal village, with 41 rooms and 50 suites dotted over the site.

Swimming Pool, Byblos Hotel

Mosaic, Byblos, St Tropez

I’m staying in a duplex which is plenty big enough with bath, shower and rose-smelling toiletries.  There’s a safe in the room and there’s also a Hotel safe for your Rolex’ and rocks.

Duplex room, Byblos, St Tropez

The bed is so comfortable I don’t want to get up for breakfast but a full buffet of everything you could want, both hot and cold, and some things you don’t but can’t help but try, is something you can’t miss.  Sitting outside in the sunshine is a bonus and something I haven’t done for a long time.  It’s bliss.

Breakfast biscuits

The Sisley Spa has six treatment rooms, a VIP treatment suite with its own Turkish bath and a Hammam enjoyed to the full by one Mick Jagger and his new wife Bianca.

Hotel Byblos, Spa

A five-minute stroll and you’ll find yourself at the historic Port which is fuller than normal as yachtsmen taking part in the 63rd Giraglia Rolex Cup are moored here. This three-day in shore sailing race takes place around St Tropez, ahead of a 243 off-shore sailing route, ending in Genoa, and it’s no wonder they’re getting into the party mood.

Port, St Tropez

St Tropez, Port

When the sun goes down, the restaurants come alive, and when the candles burn out, the queue forms outside the Hotel’s legendary nightclub Le Caves du Roy. This is one place where age is no barrier to a good party and you can expect to find sugar daddies rubbing shoulders with models, actors and F1 drivers, in fact, anyone who can afford to get in and stay all night.  Thankfully it was shut when I visit but just to give you the ‘heads up’, a glass of wine or water is almost €30.  You can expect to see the big hitters go for the Methuselah of Dom Pérignon, Rosé of course, a snip at €150,000. This is the place to indulge in the one sport I love world-class people watching.

Caves du Roy, Hotel Byblos, St Tropez

Right in the heart of the town, the Hotel’s within walking distance of dozens of designer stores and plenty of cobbled, narrow streets filled with bars and restaurants.

Streets, St Tropez

If shopping or wandering through the quaint streets is not your thing, it’s a short ride to the nearest beach (the hotel has a VIP shuttle) and in the south of France they love a beach club.

Club 55, St Tropez

Le Club 55 is a great place to eat lunch, and you can catch a glimpse of how the other half live. I arrive in the shuttle bus while three tables arrive by their own yacht, collected by the Club’s tender.

Club 55, St Tropez

Club 55

If, like me, your yacht is moored elsewhere and you have no place to float, you can either hire The Byblos’ yacht the Algandra, a Princess V62, or retire to the three-mile stretch of beach, where Bardot shot the 1958 film And God Created Woman, back then it was empty, now 30,000 visitors visit every day during the Summer.

Pampelonne Bay, St Tropez

I’m staying at The Byblos because there’s an opportunity to cook with a protegé of Alain Ducasse. Vincent Maillard is in charge of the Rivea restaurant and still works closely with Ducasse to develop the seasonal menu.

Vincent Maillard, Chef, Rivea, St Tropez

It reads like a catalogue of summer with both French and Italian influences. You must try the magnificent pizzetta, cold meats, which include the awesome fat-dense Lardo, lobster, prawns, sea bass, octopus, veal, beef and a variety of salads.

Staff, Rivea Restaurant, St Tropez

 

Pizetta, Hotel Byblos

Dinner, Rivea, St Tropez

The desserts range from chocolate rich tarts to their very special Zuccotto bomb, made for sharing.

Bombe dessert, Byblos, St Tropez

Eating under the stars, by the pool in the ‘B Restaurant’  is a very relaxed affair and the small plates are delicious.

Calamari, Hotel Byblos

Foie Gras, Hotel Byblos

A perfect opportunity to enjoy the rose wine, great company and the acoustic live band which serenades the tables.

Poolside dining, Hotel Byblos

Vincent runs cookery classes and he’s showing a small group how to make a couple of dishes using courgettes and artichokes.  All the fruit and vegetables for Rivea come from a local farmer and as you’d expect only the best make it through. Beautifully fresh trumpet courgettes along with the regular yellow, green and their flowers are used in the recipe.

Courgettes, Byblos, St Tropez

A Mediterranean paste is made to stuff and cook the courgette flowers.

Paste for courgette flowers

Courgettes are prepared, chopped and cooked down to make a soup.

Sweating courgettes

Globe artichokes are prepared and cooked for the risotto, along with parmesan crisps to garnish.

Globe artichokes

Chefs arrive and begin to prepare for the dinner service as we plate up and eat in the restaurant.

Risotto, Rivea, St Tropez

 

Risotto with Veal Reduction, Byblos Hotel

The famous Tarte ‘Tropizienne’ dessert has already been prepared, light sponge sandwiched with a tangy orange custard, dusted over its crumble-top with icing sugar and served with a bitter marmalade sauce.

Tropizienne, Byblos, St Tropez

Whilst I can cook risotto, I learnt some new dishes, but for me the chance to work with a magnificent chef highly regarded by Alain Ducasse is priceless.

Everyone should experience the atmosphere and hospitality offered at the Byblos Hotel, a cheeky overnight is do-able if you’re on a budget, just keep away from the nightclub!

The cookery course costs €190pp and includes tuition, lunch, wine and a small gift.  Single rooms start at €340 in low season and €575 in high season. Continental breakfast €36 and full buffet €42.

British Airways fly to Nice, St Tropez is a good 40 minutes drive away.

The Oitavos Hotel, Portugal

The Oitavos is a magnificent 5* golf and spa hotel in the Portuguese town of Cascais, just a half an hour drive from Lisbon.  I wrote a short piece for my Huffington Post blog but didn’t manage to cram in as much as I wanted.  Eight hundred words isn’t enough to do this place justice.

The Oitavos

One of the things I was most impressed with was the food on offer and with plenty of seafood, great meat and a larder of sun ripened fruit and vegetables on their doorstep, it’s easy to see why. But you can’t make great food without great chefs and The Oitavos has chosen well. At its helm is Cyrill Devilliers and his wonderful Pastry Sous Chef, Joaquim de Sousa who is a demon with desserts. There are two main restaurants on the site, along with a pop-up Japanese bar, a pool bar and the Chef’s Table, inside the kitchen, which can be booked in advance. The Ipsylon Restaurant & Bar serves traditional Portuguese and French food both from a bistro and fine dining menu.  Starters from the evening Spring menu include Potato crostini; onion confit and double cream, bresaola and smoked milk (14€) Sweetbreads and crayfish, mushrooms and a tarragon perfumed light broth (28€) Oysters and shells ragoût, baby broad beans and basil (17€).

Cooked Oysters, The Oitavos

Raw and cooked vegetables salad, pig´s trotters croquette, truffle vinaigrette (18€).

Raw and cooked vegetables salad, pig´s trotters croquette, truffle vinaigrette

Lobsters and other crustacea are kept in a large tank.

Blue Lobster, The Oitavos

My ‘friend’ finished life in a dish with chervil butter, mushrooms and asparagus ravioli (45€).  Meaty lobster, peeled perfectly from its shell with a delicate sauce, steam-rollered thin pasta and pencil-sharpened al dente asparagus.  Divine.

Lobster, The Oitavos

The meat here, is as I expected, top quality and a great cut – my Black Angus matured tenderloin was huge, moist, juicy, a lovely charred exterior with a ruby-red centre.  A mouthful of the plate contents to include the shallot compote, bone marrow, Morrelles, and red wine sauce was explosive (34€).

Black Angus Steak

Bistro dishes are lighter and include tapas, salads, fish and meat.   but I use this term loosely, the rocket, cherry tomato, salted shrimp and parmesan cheese salad (14€) was filling and kept me going until supper.

Shrimp Salad

Like a time-lapse sequence from a nature film, this flower blooms at a rate of knots.  The ‘surprise black flower’ (15€) comes on an iced plate, topped off with hot creme Anglaise.  The temperature difference is so great that it causes the ‘petals’ to open. But it’s not all about theatre, this chocolate mousse has sour cherry sorbet and fruits for company, as well as edible fruits and is a great marriage.

Other desserts include Chocolate, praline and yuzu (10€)

Chocolate, praliné and yuzu

Coconut, meringue, mascarpone and passion fruit “Pavlova” (8€) was a deconstructed fruit pavlova.

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This vegetable box is a lovely idea as you can see, tempered chocolate forms the box, encasing a light fluffy sponge, covered with crystallised veg and a sharp raspberry sorbet to bring it all together (8€).
Tart from our garden
The family have their own vineyard, look out for Quinta do Côtto served throughout the Hotel.  The Paço de Teixeiró is creamy with hints of lemon and orchard fruits.  Maybe even a little spiced honey.  It begins life in steel before it’s transferred to oak.
The Oitavos Wine

I managed to get a red home thanks to the amazing Wineskin but didn’t get a look in.  Mr snaffled the bottle in a few sittings. Berry on the nose, rich and plummy and a really nice example of a Portuguese red. Over at The Oitavos Dunes Clubhouse, in the Verbasco Restaurant the food is less formal but seafood is still plentiful.  A really nice view to see both the course and the Atlantic Ocean, either sat inside our outside on the terrace.

Verbasco Restaurant, The Oitavos Dunes

Portuguese mussels either natural or in a garlic sauce came in huge bowls and were fat, a deep orange (10.50€).

Mussels ,Verbasco Restaurant

Delicate slivers of fresh fish were laid on a plate like a child-like sun collage, all that it needed was a squirt of lemon to bring the wafer-thin ceviche of salmon, tuna and sea bass, to life (11€).

Ceviche, The Oitavos

The classic octopus salad was a total joy (8.50€), grilled meaty chunks of purple leg meat are served almost naked, save for a dressing of  the amazing Portuguese Olive Oil and a sprinkling parsley.

Octopus salad, The Oitavos Dunes

Vegetables were full of flavour, straight from the grill, helped along with a fat disc of Mozzarella and drizzled with pesto (15€).

Grilled vegetable salad

Red snapper, flash grilled and served on a mound of rice and fresh, seasonal vegetables.

Red Snapper, The Oitavos

The breakfast is a great start to any day with so much choice on offer, eggs, a buffet of hot and cold meats, fresh cheese, fruit, pastries, Prosecco.

Fresh Fruit, The Oitavos

Pastéis de nata, The Oitavos

Breakfast, The Oitavos

Portuguese cheese

The food didn’t disappoint once and I’m not sure I can say that for all the hotels I’ve stayed in over the past few months.  The menus showcase the kitchen’s competence and the dishes  executed well. The atmosphere is relaxed and service prompt, but not overbearing.

The Oitavos, Rua de Oitavos, Quinta da Marinha, 2750-374 Cascais.

Portuguese Sign

123 Sebastopol Hotel, Paris

Paris is an annual pilgrimage for me and Mr and two very dear friends, T & S.   ‘Feaujolais Nouveau’ is what we’ve dubbed our week-later-than-usual, trip to Paris for Beaujolais Nouveau weekend.  Finding a decent hotel in the city is always a chore and when you find a great one it’s a case of ‘return to avoid disappointment’.   This year we threw caution to the wind, conducted a little internet research, and we weren’t disappointed in the least.  In fact, 123 Sebastopol is a total find.  It’s from the Astotel stable, a solid, French hotel group with a raft of hotels in the City, who clearly know what they’re doing when it comes to tourism.

Sebastopol 123, Paris

This boutique, film-inspired Hotel is geared for the French film buff in mind and if you are, then all the movie stars with floors named after them will be second nature to you.  We remained a little baffled, but didn’t care too much to ask.  Our floor was named after the Oscar-winning film Director, Claude Lelouch.   This 4-star hotel was designed by the architect Philippe Maidenberg, the go-to man for hotel refurbishment it seems if you’re in Paris.

123 Sebastapol, Paris

On the fifth floor (Room 524), we had a superb superior double room with an incredibly comfortable bed, there was a flat screen television with access to free movies 24-hours each day.

Bedroom, 123 Sepastopol, Paris

The mini-bar was stocked with free soft drinks and replaced each day.  A turn-down service happened every night and we were left with a ready-to-slip-into-bed and rather delicious chocolates.  The free wi-fi lasted for our entire stay – logging on every 24-hours in some hotels drives me crazy and in the end I just don’t bother.

The Hotel has been fitted out to an exacting standard and the emphasis is very much on style, check out the nod to the Palme d’ (Golden Palm) in the red carpet that is laid throughout.

Sebastopol 123

Palme d'or, Hotel Sebastapol 123

Everywhere you look there are subtle reminders of the film theme – we absolutely loved these miniature Box Stories by the Parisian artist Gatz, and fab art in general.

Seabstopol 123, Gatz

Wall Art, Sebastopol 123, Paris

The Breakfast buffet was a fine example to all hotels offering breakfast and it was available right up until 11am.  Between 12 and 6pm this was replaced with snacks, canapes and free hot and cold soft drinks.

Guests who arrive early on the train were invited to tuck straight into the buffet breakfast which I thought was a lovely touch.

The reception area is very grand, and definitely has the wow factor.

Seabstopol 123, Paris

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Films made by any of the stars the Hotel showcases are shown on screens throughout the main areas.

Hotel Sebastopol 123, Paris

We enjoyed the cocktails served in the Hotel’s bar, which had a really nice pre-dinner buzz, four drinks was an expected 61 Euros and worth it, we all agreed.  It’s designed to look something like a film set.  The drinks menu includes film-inspired cocktails from Black Swan to Kill Bill but cocktails that aren’t on the list can be made to order.

Cocktail, Sebastopol 123, Paris

Bar, Sebastopol 123, Paris

Bar, Sebastopol 123, Paris

In the basement, you’ll find the Cinema, a fabulous space which shows films each day.  If you have a favourite you’d like to see, ask nicely and they may just show it for you.

Basement, Sebastopol 123, Paris

Cinema, 123 Sepastapol, Paris

On the same level, there’s a small gym with basic machines for those who just can’t cope without a spot of training, ideal to work off a croissant or three.

Gym, 123 Sebastapol, Paris Hotel

The Hotel is in a wholesale beauty and for those who are familiar with Peckham, very much like the High Road, so lacks a little Parisian charm.  Safe enough though both during the day and night (with male escort).

The outside patio area is small but perfectly formed.

Patio. Sebastopol 123, Paris

The service here is just exemplary and we could not fault anyone – at all.  A special mention for Delphine on the Reception desk who made us feel like VIPs – well done Delphine, you have succeeded in securing a return visit from us.

Reception, Sebastopol 123, Paris

The Hotel is a short walk from Gare du Nord and the Eurostar, and just four stops for those with large pieces of luggage –  the nearest metro stop, Strasbourg Saint-Denis is a short walk away.  Across the road, just past the small square is Réaumur-Sébastopol.

Book direct with the Hotel to get the best deals.

Hotel 123 Sebastopol, 123, boulevard Sébastopol, 75002 Paris

Tel : +33(0) 1 40 39 61 23

http://www.astotel.com/uk/hotel-le123sebastopol-paris.php