Reviews

Boot Inn Pub Berwick St James Off A303

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With a hearty Christmas over and done with friends, it was off down to the West Country to visit family in Devon and Somerset.

The route from Richmond towards where the famous Cornish Pasty was invented is easiest via the M3 motorway and the long and winding A303 road that takes you through Hampshire, past Stonehenge in Wiltshire and beyond.

A typical trip might take 4 hours, so we decided to venture off the melting track and try and discover a local hostelry which served a decent lunch and, more importantly, a decent pint of real ale.

A couple of searches pointed to The Boot Inn, a beautiful pub snow-nestled in a quaintly named village called Berwick St James, just 7 miles from Salisbury.

We had booked a table as it was the holidays, and we did call twice on the way to say we were going to be late because of the damn traffic.

Fortunately they held the table, a snug one for the two of us right next to a crackling fire adorned with pottery beer mugs, and set about serving some cracking Wadworth 6X beer and pointing out all the different food choices they had on.

We could either choose from an extensive bar menu, or opt for a smorgasbord of British a la carte dishes all cooked to order.

Ashley went for the steak and cheese sarnie, while I plumped (literally) for the devilled chicken livers with mushrooms on toast AND slow-roasted duck and new potatoes with a glazed orange and watercress salad drizzled with truffle oil.

The liver and mushrooms was a kicksome creamy concoction; a pink-in-the-middle delight that simply oozed decadence (and I’m sure a large dollop of cholesterol too)!

I should have stopped there, but I had been intrigued as to what a glazed orange salad might turn out to be, and I wasn’t disappointed.

It appears the chef could be bothered to sprinkle the semi-tart orange slices with sugar and blow-torch them into a crispy sweet toffee that mixed with the duck, zesty orange and divine truffle flavour, created a taste bud sensation that I’m still fondly savouring 4 days later!

Ashley’s steak sandwich was gobbled up with some crispy potato wedges – consumed by way of defence from the cold I was told – and they even happily wrapped up half of the meaty/cheesy goo to be finished off by me the next day for lunch.

A quick double espresso set me up for the 2 hour drive ahead, and when Ashley paid the bill, the damage was a paltry £40 including tip.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I picked Berwick St James off the map, but I was not expecting the best pub lunch I’ve had in years.

Now I kind of wish it was Christmas once a month so I’d have an excuse to visit family via The Boot Inn more often.

Well……I did say kind of….

Vienna – What to Eat and Where

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We had a fabulous time at the Vienna Christmas Markets a couple of weeks ago.

One of the city’s other highlights though, is the food!

Microsoft Redwest in the Snow with Panasonic Lumix G2

I’m in Seattle right now for my last meetings of 2010.

Just bought a new camera – Panasonic Lumix G2 – and got to try it out for the 1st time just now.

It’s just started snowing here, so I popped out with my new Pancake (!) lens and took a few snaps.

It’s really just out of the box, but I’m loving the micro-four-thirds way of doing things.

The camera is much smaller and lighter than a traditional digital SLR, but it’s just the sort of thing I need for holidays and conference work.

More detail on how it’s working out soon…..in the meantime, enjoy our head office in the snow…I used Windows Live Photo Gallery for the editing…

 

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Dr Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort in Calistoga Napa

Trip to Napa Wine Country in California

During our wine tasting trip to Napa in California, we stayed in a couple of really great places.

The first stop for 2 nights was Dr Wilkinson’s Motel which boasts hot springs and a mud bath spa!

You can get some really good deals on a room if you take up one of their spa packages.

Ashley had booked us on a two hour jolly where we got to sit in a bath of hot mud for 15 minutes – bit weird, especially as you’re totally naked – but nevertheless an authentic and box-ticking experience.

Then we had a 10 minute whirlpool bath followed by a blanket wrap, which is essentially a “lie down” with a sheet covering your modesty.

The highlight was the massage, which was a welcome antidote to the long flight there, coupled with “post-wine imbibing twisted sleeping position” aches and pains!

Trip to Napa Wine Country in California

It was a totally grey few days, so these photos don’t give it true justice, but the motel was seriously 1950’s Americana in style which was excellent for an out of towner like me and really added to ambiance.

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There were two swimming pools, one heated and one fffffreezing cold, but I imagine on a nice Spring/Summer’s day (we went late October) they’d be gorgeous to lounge out by.

There are plenty of restaurants a few minutes walk away, but if you’re wine tasting, be aware you’ll get nobbled with a minimum $10 bill for each one, so I’d recommend popping to the fabulous supermarket next door and stocking up breakfast provisions and “to go” coffee, and scoffing them in your room before heading out for the day…….with a designated driver of course!

Jimmy Carr at IAB Engage 2010

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Last year it was Stephen Fry, this year the IAB managed to secure the acerbic services of Jimmy Carr to end their marvellous Engage 2010 event in London’s Mermaid Theatre.

Jimmy used to be in marketing at Shell, so was well placed to take the p*ss out of us advertising folk, something he did in spades. Not that anyone minded because of the hilarious way he did it, leaving Richard Eyre, chairman on the IAB, speechless on more than one, if not most of the time Mr Carr was on stage.

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Sat in the front row, I couldn’t resist asking a question when the time came, and wondered what brand would Jimmy like to do a voice-over for or represent in a TV commercial.

At first he said, “Show me the money!” but then actually got quite serious citing that celebs have to think really hard about what brand they align with because it has to help them in their careers as well as them helping the brand.

He mentioned what the John Smiths ads had done for Jack Dee’s early life as a comedian and how Peter Kay had perfectly picked up the baton and run with an evolved advertising campaign with the same beer-maker to great success – not just in sales, but for the personal brand of Peter Kay.

It was genuinely interesting stuff from a bloke who’s obviously as super-sharp as the suit he was wearing!

Review: Morimoto Japanese Restaurant in Napa

imageIt’s not often I eat the perfect meal at a restaurant.

Ask my wife and she’ll recount stories of me sending food back for being cold, getting shirty with waiters for not laughing at my jokes, and just general glumness – especially in the UK – at the flippin’ prices of mediocre dishes that are far from memorable.

Okay, so the 2nd story was a joke, but Morimoto in the California wine country town of Napa isn’t!

Ashley had booked the table a few weeks before – you have to as they are generally jam packed every night – and we sat in the corner with a great view of the whole, light and cavernous room.

To be honest, on 1st passing the door, it looked like no one was eating there as they have a couple of tables in the window, but once inside you hear the cacophony of conversations and satisfied stomachs as you’re lead through to the main part of the eatery.

I went for sake, which was delivered in a jug on a decorated bed of ice – nice touch – and Ashley stuck to beer.

We shared a soft shell crab roll – big, crispy, divine and perfect for 2.

Ashers was then delivered the biggest bit of braised black cod we’ve ever seen. It was cooked to perfection in a soy reduction and well worth the $23.

I plumped for “ishi yaki buri bop” to test my palate as well as the service, as it’s yellow tail cooked in a stone bowl with rice and veg at your table. The server said the bowl was heated to 400 degrees (!) so I couldn’t lick it clean if I had wanted to………..and I did. It was an awesome eating experience – great tasting and professionally prepared and delivered. It came with a secret sauce which added some intrigue to the mix.

Following up the rear was some chocolate ice cream sandwich concoction, perfect for sharing and just enough without getting sickly post some delicate flavours preceding it.

Topping it off with a slug of Glenmorangie “Lasanta” – which I had to show our server how to drink (with an equal measure of water at room temperature) as it was in danger of being ruined “on the rocks” – the bill came to less than $150 including tip!

The service was so good that when I asked for recommendations for foody blogs in the US, our waitress came back with them all written down!

Here they are: SF EaterDavid LebovitzChez Pim

We’ll be tucking into them with the same gusto we tucked into our meal at Morimoto.

I seriously don’t wax this lyrical about places we eat at, but this was one worth every penny. Better than Zuma in London which is twice the price!

Can’t wait to visit their sister place in NY very soon…

PS: Just discovered the owner Chef Morimoto on Twitter

Review: Howard Jones in Concert at Epcot Orlando

As part of their International Food and Wine Festival, those folks from Disney hosted Howard Jones in concert at the Epcot Center last night.

Through a bizarre set of connections, all to do with social media, I got wind he was playing. As I was in Orlando for the ANA Masters of Marketing and a HUGE fan, I duly coughed up the $80 odd entrance fee, bought a bud and plonked myself near the front of their outside theatre.

Howard would play three sets of 30 minutes between 5.15pm (I thought that’s when pop stars got out of bed!) and 7.45pm.

On Twitter he had promised “Hits Baby, Hits!” and we weren’t disappointed.

My earliest memory of his music was at school. Way back in 1984, albums like Human Lib and then Dream into Action were the ones that got the most scratches because they were played so much on our common room record player – yes I can remember vinyl!

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I guess his popularity was about the great songs, the fact he was solo with banks of synths and drum machines to accompany him which all us boys (I’d have been about 12 then!) found super-cool, but for me it was his vulnerability and positivity that shined through.

He obviously thought about what he was writing, wrote from personal experience and didn’t particularly care who thought he was cool or not. It was all about the music!P1040741

He was an ordinary guy from High Wycombe who wrote about life and love in a more approachable way than many of the songwriters of his generation.

After the second set I overheard a guy telling a friend he’d left his wife in the mid-80s and went back to her after listening to one of Howard’s songs…..and they’re still married.

Coupling those lyrics with great melodies made those two albums sell millions and helped make him an international star.

Everyone I asked in the US knew who he was!

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Anyway the gigs obviously took a bit of time to get going, in that the 1st was in the early evening and the crowd hadn’t quite warmed up.

Kicking off with Pearl in the Shell, a heart-stopping moment came at the start of the second song when his pedals malfunctioned. A low battery was blamed and Howard laughed it off as a techy was getting fixed saying, “I’ve been beset with technological problems the whole of my career!”

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But that’s the thing, he didn’t have a paddy, got it fixed and carried on, winning over the crowd even more as he stormed through the night with hit after hit – No One is to Blame, Everlasting Love, Conditioning, Like to Get to Know You Well, What is Love, Things Can Only Get Better and New Song.

Guessing there’d be some die-hards in the audience that’d come to all three sets – we had to leave the theatre and queue up again to get in! – he mixed up the running order and had new surprises in each one.

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With a back catalogue like his, 30 minutes isn’t really enough to do history justice and the glaring omission was by far my favourite song – Hide and Seek – the song he sang at Live Aid.

Guess I’ll have to wait until 6th of November when he’s performing Human Lib and Dream into Action in their entirety at London’s O2.

It’s set to be a very special night, and if anyone’s in any doubt whether he’s up to the job, last night’s note/pitch perfect performance showed HoJo’s got it more than ever!

X-Factor wannabes – if Howard Jones ever learns how to bottle his talent, you’d better be first in line when he sets up his stall, or come on the 6th, soak it all up, listen and learn!

Enjoy the slideshow above!

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Windows Phone 7 Features Video

From the Windows Phone team:

“Go ahead and stare the user interface of the Windows Phone 7 deserves it. That’s the reaction we got at Mobile World Conference in Barcelona when we revealed this new holistic design system that brings together form and function based on key principles — informing every aspect of the phone. See what everyone is talking about by checking out this video.”

I’ve seen one.

I’ve even touched it.

I’m getting one.

Will you?

Review: Whiting Bay Golf Course on the Isle of Arran

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Some friends have been saying for a long while that as I do so much travelling, why don’t I write about that as well as all the tech and media I talk about.

Well, in the first in a series of travel reviews about our recent trip to the fabulous Scottish Isle of Arran, here’s a taster of the couple of hours I spent at the Whiting Bay Golf Course on the south east of the island.

At 20 miles long and 10 miles wide, you wouldn’t have expected to find SEVEN golf courses on Arran. But as the ferry trundles towards it from Ardrossan, you can’t help but see the adverts talking about the fabulous views and hospitality that awaits all ages and proficiencies of the great game of golf.

Last Sunday, I took the opportunity to let my wife – Ashley – do a spot of reading on the balcony of our lovely B&B – Ellangowan House – while I trotted off to thwack 9 holes for the bargain “after 4pm” price of £10!

I had rung up earlier to book a tee. I asked if they hired out clubs and was told, “We can give you a set for free but they aren’t very good!”

Replying that neither was my golf, I duly turned up at the allotted hour.

The lady behind the bar was very helpful in showing me a 10 hole route that would get me back to the clubhouse in time for a pint of Arran Ale before she clocked off for the evening.

So off I went.

Now I’m no Monty, but I managed to keep in single figures for all the holes which are mostly par 3s and 4s.

One hole called “The Plateau” was an incredible ride. Just 81 yards, it called for a skied shot “up and over” with very little room for error.

Suffice to say it got the better of me as I over-egged it a couple of times before landing a few feet away from the pin for an embarrassing 7!

The main wow-factor of this course is not that it’s just so well maintained and while I was there, virtually empty, but that the views are simply stunning.

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Click on the above panorama which I made with Windows Live Photo Gallery to see just how beautiful the sight from the top of the course is.

Being on my own with not a soul around, it took me about 80 minutes trudging up and down to finish the recommended ten holes, none of which disappointed.

Back in the clubhouse, I was warned not to let Ashley know it was the highlight of my holiday so far, and settle down to a well earned beer!

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I can honestly see a return trip to Arran for a seven courses in seven days adventure.

It’s not often you get such value for money in quality of course and scenery to boot!

1st Wedding Anniversary in Painswick in The Cotswolds

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Taken at the top of Painswick Beacon in The Cotswolds, Ashley and I were having a romantic moment after a long walk in which I’d taken a wrong turn and nearly had us squished like a fox on a B road!

I’d surprised her with a trip having suggested she pack a swimsuit and her passport.

As we drove down the M4 she kind of twigged as we zoomed past the Heathrow turn off!

We stayed at Byfield House which caught my eye as it’s the number one B&B in the Cotwolds on Trip Advisor.

Jill and Brett’s hospitality was just amazing. Greeted like long lost friends with TWO bottles of wine, we were sloshed before we got to the pub to devour wood pigeon, duck and fish and chips!

£75 a night to stay in an antiques haven, with a healthy breakfast instead of a heavy cooked one, meant were able to enjoy some great food after exploring the countryside at the Royal Oak and St Michaels Restaurant the following night who did us a nice chocolate cake for our anniversary….after we’d scoffed some sumptuous puddings and cheese!

[Loosens waistband.]

We had such a lovely time. Think everyone should make a trip this part of the world as it’s just 2 hours max from London.

Seems we have a habit of climbing hills with romantic notions.

The last time was when we got engaged!

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