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Ibis Hotel Manchester, Manchester 30/08/2013

No frills in a big city

Ibis Hotel Manchester, Manchester A deal worth taking advantage of Having been a student in Manchester many years ago, I had been thinking it would be interesting to go back and see how much the place had changed. In March 2013, I was looking at prices on and found a room at the Ibis on Manchester’s Princess Street for £29 midweek. I decided there and then that I wouldn’t find anything much better, and I booked a room for a Thursday night in August. I had to pay upfront by card and as it was a special offer I wouldn’t get a refund if I had to cancel, but it seemed worth the risk. sent me a text message straight away to confirm my booking, and a few days before I was due to travel I received an email from them with details of the hotel and my booking reference. Finding the Ibis and checking in I travelled by train, arriving at Manchester Piccadilly station. I had a street map with me, and as I didn’t have much luggage I decided to walk to the hotel. The route took me through the gay village where preparations were being made for Gay Pride, and tables outside pubs beside the canal were full of people enjoying the unusually warm summer weather. The Ibis is situated on the corner of Princess Street and Charles Street; it was easy to find, but there is another Ibis nearby on Portland Street, so it is important not to get confused between the two. It was just after 2pm when I arrived, and I was able to check in straight away. I had to fill in the usual kind of form, and my credit card ...

Koh Thai Tapas, Southsea 10/08/2013

Koh on - try some Thai tapas!

Koh Thai Tapas, Southsea Where did Koh Thai Tapas spring from? Originally a bank, the building at 8 Kings Road in Southsea seemed to lend itself surprisingly well to a restaurant premises. I visited the Brasserie No. 8 several years ago and thought the food was extremely good, but the brasserie died an early death. I can’t even remember the name of the next eatery that followed it, and I never got round to going to it before it too closed its doors. Then a few months ago, Koh Thai Tapas was launched there, and I began to hear favourable reports of their food. I hadn’t realised it was a chain until my son and his partner told me they had been to another branch in Bournemouth and had been impressed. They asked me if I would like to join them at Southsea’s Koh one Sunday evening, and I am not one to turn down the chance to try a new restaurant. We went at 6pm and found a table on the ground floor easily. When you enter there is a bar just to the left of the entrance; I believe it is possible just to go and have a drink, but I am not absolutely sure. The décor is quite dark, but there are plenty of windows along one side of the building so during daylight hours things are balanced. There is seating upstairs, and the upper area is actually like a balcony. We sat up there when we had dinner at the brasserie, and you can have an interesting view of the ground floor from there. I expect, though, that the upper area is not used until the ground floor is full. Chairs are upholstered and very comfortable. At ...

Frou Frou Restaurant, Tiverton 20/07/2013

A delightful dinner in Devon

Frou Frou Restaurant, Tiverton Finding Frou Frou On our way to Cornwall, we decided to break our journey for a night in Tiverton, Devon, as it was an easy place for my younger son, travelling by train from Bristol, to meet up with us the following morning. We stayed at the Best Western Hotel which has its own restaurant, but we decided to take a drive around the town in the evening to see if there were any interesting places where we could have a meal. I had a list of a few that were recommended on Tripadvisor, but one of them was closed and we didn’t honestly like the look of the others. We thought we might as well go back and eat at the hotel, but on our way we spotted Frou Frou’s on Gold Street. We were able to find a parking space nearby and then wandered along to look at the menu in the window. We liked what we saw - it had a definite French feel to it - and went in. The ground floor has seating for twelve people, and two tables were occupied by a total of six people when we arrived. We were shown to a table for four in a corner beside an open fireplace above which was a large French clock. It was evidently an old building, with genuine oak beams across the ceiling. Tables were dark wood, and I had a wicker chair with a cushion. A waitress brought menus and proudly told us that Frou Frou, which is fully licensed, stocks twenty-one varieties of gin. Small bowls of olives and popcorn (unsweetened) were served to us, and we enjoyed these while we decided what we were going to eat. The Menu Frou ...

Holly House, St Austell 13/07/2013

A great base for Cornwall

Holly House, St Austell Why Holly House? Having decided that we would go to see Sigur Ros at the Eden Sessions on the last Sunday in June, we needed a place to stay for the Saturday and Sunday nights. I knew that St Austell was only about five miles away from the Eden Project, and I found that Holly House had good reviews online. Added to that, they had off-road parking, a double room, and a family room that my younger son and I could share. Luckily both rooms were available for the dates we wanted; I booked them and paid for the first night’s stay by credit card. Each room was £84 a night, including breakfast. Arrival Check-in at Holly House is from 4pm until 8pm, and we arrived in St Austell just after 4pm. The B&B is a short distance from the town centre; it’s not difficult to find, except that there is a lot of foliage in the front garden that partly covers the sign. Parking is round at the back in an open garage. From there we went down a path that led us into the back garden where our hosts greeted us. There are only two rooms at Holly House, so they realised who we were and didn’t check our identities or ask us to fill in any forms. Penny, our hostess, asked us to follow her straight upstairs to the landing. There she explained that, as the rooms were at the front of the house and the drains at the back, they had installed macerators in the bathrooms to avoid blockages. We were given strict instructions not to throw any rubbish down the toilets. As well as our room keys, we were given ...

Best Western Tiverton Hotel, Tiverton 07/07/2013

Stopping off en route to Cornwall

Best Western Tiverton Hotel, Tiverton The thought of seeing Sigur Ros performing at the Eden Project encouraged us to plan a trip to Cornwall, with rooms booked in St Austell for Saturday and Sunday nights at the end of June. We then decided that, rather than drive all the way from Portsmouth on the Saturday, we would set out on Friday afternoon and break our journey on the way. My younger son was travelling from Bristol by train on the Saturday morning to meet us somewhere, and we found that Tiverton was an easy place for him to get to. There wasn’t a huge choice of accommodation in Tiverton, however, and the Best Western seemed to be place to pick. I booked two rooms through, a double for £100 and a single for £70. This was slightly more than we wanted to pay, but the reviews I read of the hotel were full of praise so I hoped it would be worth it. I had to give my credit card details at the time of booking, but no deposit was taken. I received an email confirming the details almost immediately. We expected to arrive at the Best Western at around 6.30pm, but unfortunately we got stuck in a traffic jam because of an accident on the motorway and eventually arrived at about 8pm. Tiverton is not a large town and we easily spotted the hotel as we drove down Blundells Road. The Best Western has its own restaurant and also hosts conferences and other private functions, so it was not surprising that the main car park was already full. We followed the sign for additional parking around to the side of the ...

Bill's Restaurant, Bristol 17/06/2013

It fit the bill for a late lunch

Bill's Restaurant, Bristol After visiting Bristol City Museum and the Royal West of England Academy one Saturday afternoon, my son and I were looking for somewhere to have a late lunch. I had noticed Bill’s on the opposite side of Queen’s Road, and a glimpse at the menu in the window showed that it was quite varied. We decided to go in, and I was surprised how busy it was considering it was after 3 pm. A waitress soon asked us to follow her to a painted wooden table that was big enough for four. I squeezed through a narrow gap between our table and the next and sat on a comfortable, upholstered seat while my son made do with a wooden chair opposite. On each table were a small bucket containing serviettes and cutlery and a small cruet set. Menus were brought, including a small card with the day’s special dishes. I was tempted by the raspberry, peach and mango juice, but £2.95 for a regular glass seem a rather a lot, so I settled for a regular cloudy apple juice (£2.30) and my son ordered a large one (£3.05). Bill’s is fully licensed, and some wines are served by the glass as well as by the bottle. Our apple juices were served without ice, but I actually prefer mine that way. Bill’s starts serving their main menu at 11.45 am, although breakfasts are served from opening time until noon on weekdays and 1 pm at the weekend. Breads and starters range from marinated olives (£2.75) through mini Cumberland sausages (£4.25) to crispy lemon squid with chipotle, garlic aioli and lemon (£5.95). We were, however, ...

Lonely Planet Devon, Cornwall & Southwest England - Oliver Berry, Belinda Dixon 31/05/2013

Going West

Lonely Planet Devon, Cornwall & Southwest England - Oliver Berry, Belinda Dixon I originally bought this guide as I was visiting Dartmoor and Cornwall for the first time in 2012. For the majority of holiday destinations I might have been content with borrowing a guidebook from the library, but since one of my sons lives in Bristol and we sometimes meet up with him in Bath, it seemed like a worthwhile purchase that I would continue to use in the future. The guide has a double-page map in colour right at the beginning of the book, and the area it covers extends to the New Forest in the east and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in the north. The area actually covered by the guide is shaded in grey to avoid confusion. Major towns, cities and attractions are indicated, and these include Bristol, Torquay, Corfe Castle, the Eden Project and the Isles of Scilly. An eight-page section of colour photographs follows; featured here are St Michael’s Mount, Glastonbury Tor, Exeter Cathedral, the Lizard and fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast, to name a few examples. The only other photographs in the book appear in another eight-page section in the middle, entitled “Best of the Southwest.” Included here are outdoor attractions like the South West Coast Path, food and drink delights such as Devon cream teas, and rainy day activities that feature museums, the Thermae Bath Spa and the Eden Project. The first sixty or so pages of text cover topics such as itineraries, history, culture, outdoor activities, the environment, and food and drink. In each of these ...

Veranda Indian Restaurant, Wickham 21/05/2013

More Indian delights in the village of Wickham

Veranda Indian Restaurant, Wickham For some strange reason, the village of Wickham near Fareham, Hampshire, is blessed with two Indian restaurants that are superior to any we have been to in Portsmouth. Having enjoyed Kuti’s a few weeks earlier, my son, his partner and I decided that we would give the second one, Veranda, a go. We didn’t book a table, but it was a Tuesday evening and when we arrived at about 8pm we were easily accommodated. Poppadoms and a chutney tray were brought to the table while I was taking my coat off, and the waiter told us they were complimentary. Veranda is housed in a timber frame building with large windows. The tables, without cloths, are dark wood and the chairs are upholstered in a rich red that echoes the colour of the flowers on each table. We felt that the place had a definite cosy feel about it with plenty of character. Indian pictures decorate the walls, and here and there are statues. We chose a table at the back of the restaurant and I noticed that the wall nearby could do with a coat of paint, but somehow that didn’t seem to matter. The lighting is very low so you probably wouldn’t notice unless you sat in same seat that I did. After ordering a fruit juice each (but I should point out that Veranda is fully licensed), we started to look at the menu. Rather than ordering starters, we decided to go straight for the main course but to have one or two side dishes as well. My son and I both like the sound of the Fish Malabar (£11.95), which is filleted sea bass cooked in ...

French Club Book 1: Bk. 1 - Rosi McNab 15/05/2013

An early start to language learning

French Club Book 1: Bk. 1 - Rosi McNab A few months ago I was asked to start tutoring a five-and-a-half-year-old girl in French, as one set of her grandparents were living in France but her parents spoke very little French. Having taught French to three- and four-year-old children for a number of years, I already had various teaching aids such as flash cards and a picture book, but I decided it would be a good idea to have a workbook to go through. Looking on Amazon, I found French Club Book 1 and was pleased to see that it had an accompanying CD. The book is recommended for children aged seven to eight but I haven’t found it beyond the capabilities of my pupil, who hasn’t yet reached her sixth birthday. Author Rosi McNab has taken a very systematic approach to the learning of French while at the same time making it fun with the use of stickers, drawing and colouring. The first topic in the book features animals at the zoo; this makes sense as a place to start because many of the French words are very similar to our English words except in pronunciation. After this, numbers up to ten are introduced and used initially along with the animals already presented. The numbers then provide an opportunity for the child to learn how to say how old she is in French. There is an activity where various children state their ages, and the child draws the appropriate number of candles on the birthday cake. The next vocabulary topic is colours, where the child colours in different styles of hats and caps, each with a ...

Southsea Coffee Co, Southsea 09/05/2013

A café for the community

Southsea Coffee Co, Southsea Considering how many cafés and coffee shops Southsea has, it would be a brave soul that decided to open a new one. A few weeks ago, however, Tara Knight of Southsea Coffee Co created a Facebook page and a Twitter account, announcing that she had taken over the old Holland and Barrett shop on Osborne Road with the intention of turning it into a café for the community. I followed the progress of the coffee shop with interest, and I loved the fact that Tara began involving her followers by asking them what kind of tea they would like to be served, whether they would like large communal tables or small private ones, and what kinds of music they would like to listen to. These questions generated plenty of response and must have made people feel that this was a place they would definitely want to go to. Southsea Coffee Co finally opened on Saturday 4th May 2013, the start of a bank holiday weekend, and the local About My Area website published an article on them with a photo that same day. When I tweeted that I was looking forward to sampling their coffee, I got a reply from Tara encouraging me to come and say hello as they were very friendly people. I managed to get there on the bank holiday Monday just before midday, along with my son. Most of the tables were occupied, but we were able to find one of the smaller ones that was free. The menu is listed on a large blackboard behind the counter. Coffees are detailed on the left, with teas and cordials on the right; tea is ...

Stinky Cheese Man And Other Fairly Stupid Tales - Jon Scieszka 02/05/2013

Not your run-of-the-mill fairy stories

Stinky Cheese Man And Other Fairly Stupid Tales - Jon Scieszka It is probably obvious from the title that “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales” is a collection of alternative versions of traditional fairy tales. Author Jon Scieszka offers “Cinderumpelstiltskin”, “The Tortoise and the Hair”, “The Princess and the Bowling Ball” and “Jack's Bean Problem” to name but a few. “The Stinky Cheese Man” of the title is an alternative to “The Gingerbread Man”, but the cheese man smells so dreadful that nobody wants to chase him. The title page has the words “Title Page” set in huge letters, and on the next page the dedication is printed upside-down. The reader is clearly in for an off-beat ride. “Chicken Licken” opens the collection of stories, but this time it isn't the sky that is falling down: it's the Table of Contents, and it squashes all the characters. “The Really Ugly Duckling” doesn't grow into a beautiful swan but a really ugly duck; Scieszka tells it like it is. The heroine in “Little Red Running Shorts” arrives at granny's house before the wolf. When he finally knocks on the door, her response is “My, what slow feet you have.” End of story. “The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales” is a wonderful, imaginative picture book. Those who like their traditional fairy tales untainted will have to steer clear of this collection. On the other hand, anyone tired of the same old stories that often don't seem to have much logic to them will welcome Scieszka's creative twists on children's tales. Characters from ...

Sir George Staunton Country Park, Havant 27/04/2013

Park Life

Sir George Staunton Country Park, Havant The fact that Staunton Country Park is situated very close to the less-than-desirable housing estate of Leigh Park probably explains why it took me so long to get round to visiting it. Having looked at the website and had recommendations from people who had been there, I decided that I should give it the benefit of the doubt and go and have a look round. Located on Middle Park Way just off the B2149, it is a listed Regency landscaped parkland and forest covering over a thousand acres. I arrived at Staunton just after midday on a gloriously sunny Saturday in April. I knew that part of the park was situated south of the road and another area north of the road, and I decided to start on the south side. A tree-lined path led past the car park on the left, and a few yards further down a path to the left went to the shop. Here there are plants for sale outside along with tables and chairs where you can sit and have a drink or an ice-cream. The shop also sells some attractive gifts and a few bars of chocolate. After a quick look round I went back to the main path. Veering off the right, it led to the Visitor Centre where a few people were queueing for tickets to enter the area where there are farm animals and gardens. I hadn’t yet decided whether or not I wanted to go into the paying area, so I went back along the path and crossed the road to see what was on offer in the area to the north which is completely free of charge. Once again there was a tree-lined path, and other paths ...

Naz Indian Restaurant, Fareham 18/04/2013

Were we dazzled by Naz?

Naz Indian Restaurant, Fareham After visiting Kuti’s Indian Restaurant in Wickham, Hampshire, I signed to receive their newsletters and promotional offers. In the second week of April, they sent me an email offering a discount at either their own restaurant or Naz Indian Restaurant in the nearby town of Fareham. The offer was for 15% from Sunday to Thursday, and 10% on Friday and Saturday. We decided to take advantage of the offer the following Sunday evening, and we thought it was worth giving Naz a try this time. I visited their website and made an online booking via Top Table for 7pm that evening. Naz is on West Street, Fareham’s main shopping precinct, and we were able to find a space in the nearby car park. The restaurant is quite a small one but easy to find. As soon as we went in we were greeted and I mentioned that I had booked a table for three. We were shown to a table for four in a corner where menus had already been put out. The waiter kindly took my coat to hang up, which doesn’t often seem to happen these days. We were then left to study the menu for a few minutes before the waiter came to take our order for drinks. Although the restaurant is fully licensed, we all wanted fruit juice; the choice was between just pineapple and orange, but that suited us. Remembering how much I had enjoyed the Tandoori Salmon at Kuti’s and not having eaten fish for a while, I decided to see what the choices were. Salmon was on offer again but I decided to have a change. I was tempted by the Monkfish Curry ...

We Honestly can look after your dog - Lauren child 13/04/2013

The case of the disappearing dog

We Honestly can look after your dog - Lauren child Charlie and Lola go to the park one day with their friends Marv and Lotta. Marv brings his dog, Sizzles. Lola is dying to have a dog so she asks Marv if she and Lotta can look after Sizzles. Both girls try to impress Marv by telling him that they know everything about dogs. Marv shows them that Sizzles knows how to sit when told to. Charlie sees some friends playing football and tells Marv that Sizzles will be safe with the girls while they go and join in the game. Marv gives Lola and Lotta some rules to follow, the most important of which is not to let Sizzles off the lead. Once the boys have gone, Lola and Lotta start bickering about which of them is in charge and about how best to hold the lead. Before they know where they are, Sizzles has disappeared. It doesn't take them long to find him, but another identical dog appears on the scene as well. How can they tell which is the real Sizzles? Eventually one of the dogs sits when commanded to, so they think that must be Sizzles. When the boys return, Marv shows Lola and Lotta that Sizzles has a dog tag showing his name, owner and address. The girls pretend they knew about it, and the story ends with them commenting that Sizzles would never get lost because he is so clever. Lauren Child's “We Honestly Can Look After Your Dog” is of course a book in the ever-popular Charlie and Lola series. This particular story is the ideal one for any child who loves dogs. There is plenty to learn here about the serious business of looking ...

Pie and Vinyl, Southsea 12/04/2013

Music, mash and much more

Pie and Vinyl, Southsea Pie and vinyl - an odd combination, I hear you say. But this is Southsea’s first and only (to date) record café. Situated on the fascinating Castle Road, it is close to Palmerston Road shopping precinct and Southsea Common yet far enough away from the crowds. I had been in to browse the vinyl just out of curiosity and to buy gift vouchers just before Christmas, but it wasn’t until the middle of March that I finally got to sample a pie. I met my brother and his wife there early one Thursday afternoon. It’s a tiny place with only about four dining tables at the front while the vinyl is on display at the back of the premises, beyond the counter. My brother had got there first and secured a table for four people, and the other tables were all occupied. It seemed that as soon as they were vacated, they were occupied again, such is the popularity of the place. At first I considered sampling a slice of homemade cake, but my sister-in-law fancied lunch so I decided I would have a main meal too. There is a good variety of pies to choose from, and they are listed on a board on the counter as well as on the menus that are kept on the tables. Just one was no longer available and had been erased from the board. The choice includes steak, chicken, venison, ham hock, fish and one or two vegetarian options. Some of the pies come from local butcher’s Buckwell’s on nearby Osborne Road, while others are made in the West Country by Pieminister. A pie on its own will set you back £3.75, or you ...
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