Category Archives: accommodation

Sweet Service Award goes to the Alvear Palace Hotel; Sour Service Award goes to Uber Buenos Aires!

 

The Sweet Service Award goes to the Alvear Palace Hotel, and its Food & Beverage Manager Alfredo Daniel Rodriguez, for its Service recovery. I shared an unsatisfactory experience in the Bar of the Hotel earlier this week with the Hotel Receptionist, who passed on my card to Alfredo. Alfredo emailed me, and then called me, apologised, and invited me for a make-good, to experience their true five star service. And that it was, being shown a behind the scenes set up for a Barmitzvah and then offered the Bar Menu, and invited to order what I wanted. I had a first Jameson in Buenos Aires, and ordered a mushroom quiche with a salad. All sorts of extra treats accompanied this order. Gracias Alfredo and the Alvear. Continue reading →

Manley Communications cannot distinguish between ‘copy and paste’ cribbing by Michael Olivier and a ‘review’ for the newly opened Grande Roche Hotel and Viande Restaurant!

It has been some years ago that I criticized lazy ‘copy and paster’ Michael Olivier for his lack of ethics in posting stories about wine estates and restaurants on his Blog. Earlier this week my eye caught a glowing thanks to Olivier by Manley Communications, as follows: ‘Thank you dearest Michael Olivier for the fantastic review’. Except that it wasn’t a review at all, it appearing that Olivier has not even visited the newly refurbished Grande Roche nor eaten at its new Viande restaurant! A PR company therefore praising its own media release content has morals as poor as those of the ‘copy and paster’ Olivier!

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Sweet Service Award goes to Fusterlandia; Sour Service Award goes to Hotel Inglaterra in Havana!

The Sweet Service Award goes to Fusturlandia, and its creator José Rodrigues Fuster, for creating the most visually dynamic suburb in north Havana, created with sculptures and tiles, creating a tourist destination that benefits his neighbours in the suburb, who all have tiny shops on their properties, selling arts and crafts. Fuster himself makes his money by selling paintings and some ceramics, not taking an entrance fee. A visual and sensory delight in Havana.  
 

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My eating experiences in Havana, Cuba! As little as possible!

I had not done much homework about the eating habits of the Habeneros, somehow thinking that there would be ‘Westernised’ restaurants should the Cuban food culture differ radically from that which we are used to. I was in for a big surprise!
 
 
 
I was in quite a shock about conditions in Havana, in general, and then when I walked past restaurants and bars, first in my suburb of Centro, an area that is very run down, and then when I discovered Old Havana. There was not one restaurant that has attracted me,  not in walking past it, nor from its descriptions in the Guide Book ‘300 Reasons to love Havana’, which I bought on the recommendation of a regular visitor to the city from Canada. 
 
The restaurants in Havana that were recommended with an international link were the following, the link itself appearing to give the restaurant kudos, if I have read the author of it correctly. 
 
#. Café Bohemia – this Italian style restaurant in an alleyway with Greek-blue trimming was recommended to meat lovers as well as vegetarians in my Guidebook. I ate a delicious gelato here. Emphasis here is on salads, which are named after literary works, including a seafood salad named ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, after Hemingway’s best known novel.  
 
#. Café Del Oriente – this is said to be where diplomats dine, serving rabbit, ostrich, Chateaubriand, steak tartare, and more, an international menu, and a classy old-world dining room.
 
#. Paladar San Cristóbal – it is owned by Chef Carlos Cristóbal Márquez, who ‘worked as a chef all over the world’, the Guidebook proclaims. The restaurant opened nine years ago, and President Obama as well as five other presidents, Bon Jovi, Sigourney Weaver, and other VIPs have eaten here. The chef claims to make the best mash in the city. South African wines are said to be in his winelist, worth checking out before I leave.
 
#. La Guarida – this majestic sounding restaurant, in the home of Enrique Núñez, opening in 1996, was the location for the movie ‘Freso y Chocolate’ (Strawberry and Chocolate), the only Cuban movie to have been nominated for an Oscar. It serves top level and innovative dishes. VIP diners include Jack Nicholson, Steven Spielberg, Beyoncé, and the former Queen Sofia of Spain. 
 
#. Casa Abel – this restaurant belongs to the father of my BnB owner Abel, and has a cigar salon too, not far from my BnB.   It serves lobster, and the speciality is ‘beer-can chicken’
 
#. Otramanera – this restaurant bandies the holy restaurant name El Bulli, the king of all king restaurants in the world once upon a time, its owner Chef Alvaro Dieu having worked in its molecular gastronomy kitchen.
 
#. El Ajibe – this was recommended to me by two sets of persons, but its description of it as a take-away chicken outlet with an excellent wine cellar seems too bizarre for me to try it. 
 
#. TocaMadera – this is billed as the first Gastropub in Havana, and its owner Chef Enrique Suárez, is described as a leader in Cuba’s ‘New Food Movement’. His international cooking experience includes Barcelona and Marseilles. He serves ‘poor people cuisine’ with ‘strong flavours’
 
Havana has no fast food restaurants, no known brand name restaurants. There may be advantages (it is too expensive for many Cubans, given their extremely low incomes, and it will prevent an Americanised fast food culture from developing in the country, given the love-hate relationship between Cuba and America); and disadvantages (tourists may feel less comfortable with the local traditional food and therefore may find it hard to find good restaurants serving their type of and taste in foods). 
 
Pizza restaurants seem to be extremely popular, especially amongst locals, and I have seen queues of locals standing outside a ‘hole in the wall’ pizzeria on Obispo, a very touristy street. 
 
Observing the food scene for a few days after my arrival, I realised that most of the Havana food offering is not to my taste: it consisting of rice and black beans, both starches I do not care for; tapas style restaurants are not my thing, with bread as its base; and the hassle of explaining in English how I would like a dish prepared was too risky if there was miscommunication between myself and the waiter. 
 
I therefore decided to partake in the Breakfast offered in the San Lazaro 115 BnB every day, costing 5 CUC per day, and consisting of a platter of fresh fruit (guava, pineapple, mango, paw paw, and banana); a generous glass of freshly squeezed juice, the juice of one of the fruit types, varying daily; tea ( I must have pulled up my nose at the offering of green tea, the only tea they had at the BnB initially, and the next day a magic Earl Grey tea bag was presented, bought especially for me, savouring this daily gift; an egg choice, choices having been medium (my choice) boiled eggs, scrambled, fried, and omelet. I became so comfortable at the BnB that I started making my own cheese omelet, and boiled my own eggs, as I could not get them to get it to 6 minutes. Toast was supplied from rolls which were sliced and toasted. One portion of butter is provided, and a choice of jam or honey. This breakfast sustains me throughout the day, not being hungry, and not eating much else. One drinks a lot of water, and of course the Mojitos and Daquiris are the national drink, amongst tourists at least, and the locals drink local Cuban beer or Havana Club rum (Alain the BnB Manager mixes a local version of Red Bull with it, and adds ice). The locals certainly do not drink cocktails. 
 
Supermarkets in Havana are something else, unattractive, and not selling anything fresh, with some exceptions. In the main they sell a limited selection of tinned or dry foods, pasta, juices, water, and Cuban alcohol. There is no fresh bread (that is sold by the Pan Man, riding through the suburbs on a bicycle trolley, calling his customers with his offer), no fresh fruit or vegetables (these are sold at corner fruit and vegetable shops in the most unhygienic conditions, covered in flies, and largely past their sell-by date, and limited to bananas, mango, paw paw, pineapples, guavas, cucumber, small tomatoes, and onions in the main. Alternatively one sees mobile fruit and vegetable street vendors, pushing a wooden trailer, with the most delicious looking large avocados, and one or two other fruits. One supermarket close by, on the scenic Malecón promenade, was the most modern and organised I experienced, and also selling a sipping yoghurt (but only in strawberry flavour) with frozen meat (chicken, sausages) as well as blocks of cheese (a light cheddar, called Maasdam, sold at 13 CUCs per kg) unusually offered too. So my dinner, when I was hungry, was some cheese and avo, the latter lasting me four or five days, they being so big. They cost 1 CUC for two, an absolute bargain at R7,50 each. With that was the luxury of my left-over Woolworths trail food, which I had bought for the Camino. 
 
I soon became aware that I was starting to lose weight, walking a good 10 – 15 km a day, in temperatures of around 32 C with humidity, therefore drinking a lot of water. I call this my ‘Cuban Diet’, working wonders! 
 
Helad’Oro was an ice cream shop which was highly recommended in my Havana Guidebook, and I went there five times in a week, when exploring Old Havana. It was First World, in offering wafer cones or cups, with a host of flavours, including a delicious dark or white chocolate, salted caramel, peanut, coffee, Spekulaas (a Dutch Christmas ginger-spiced biscuit), Nutella, lemon pie, Mojito, and tropical fruit flavours. They charge 2,50 CUC for two scoops and the wafer cup. I also indulged in a small cup of Churros without chocolate sauce, at 0,50 CUC, at a mobile vendor near the chocolate shop in Old Havana. In this suburb too I ate delicious home-made gelato at Café Bohemia, with a scoop each of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, more expensive at 5CUC.
 
I visited the Pool Bar at the five star Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski once, and while their menu is very Westernised, the salads had ingredients I did not care for. So I settled on a Tiramisu, not too badly made, although I missed the liqueur in it, at 6 CUC.  An ice cream dessert at the five star Packard Hotel was very disappointing, a hotel which charges astronomically, a single tot Jameson costing 8CUC plus an automatic 10% service fee, even if the service is highly deficient, and one is not always told about this charge on the menu.
 
I am interviewing locals about their eating habits at home, and will report on that in a separate Blogpost.
 
 

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein

 
 
 
 

Sweet Service Award goes to Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski; Sour Service Award goes to El Corte Ingles Madrid!

The Sweet Service Award goes to the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski in Havana, and its PRO Ingrid, for the effortless assistance in booking a room at the five star hotel. I asked to see a room, was shown it by Ingrid, who spoke perfect English, and then advised me to book via the internet as they offer better rates there. She brought her laptop to the front desk, and made the reservation for me, with assistance from the Sales department. By the time I had returned to my BnB, the confirmation of the booking had arrived, without any demand for credit card details or upfront payment.

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Hotel Review: Parador ‘Hostal dos Reis Católicos’ in Santiago de Compostela oldest hotel in the world

As a final treat to end off my Portuguese Coastal Camino walk last week, I booked the last night of my stay in Santiago de Compostela at the Parador ‘Hostal dos Reis Católicos’, a five-star luxury hotel located adjacent to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and closely linked in history to the pilgrimages made to the city, to pay respect to Saint James, whose remains are in a silver casket in the Cathedral. Continue reading →

Sweet Service Award goes to VP Plaza España and its Gynkgo Sky Bar; Sour Service Award goes to Espahotel Plaza España!

The Sweet Service Award goes to 5-star VP Plaza España in Madrid, and its Guest Experience Manager Samuel Vela, for his kindness to me, despite not staying at the hotel. On my arrival in Madrid, I mistakenly tried to check in at the hotel, having been dropped off outside its door by my Uber driver. Samuel showed me where the hotel that had been booked for me by an airport travel agency was. A day later I needed a beer, due to the heatwave in the city, and as my hotel did not offer this service, I went to the VP Plaza España. Samuel suggested I go up to their Gynkgo SkyBar on the 12th floor, with a lovely view of a lit-up Madrid, and of a thunderstorm, with good service. Continue reading →

Parador Hotel Pilgrim Lunch, a tradition dating back to 1499, a highlight of my Camino, but not for the food or service!

On Saturday I had the amazing fortune to enjoy a Pilgrim Lunch at Restaurante Enxebre, an informal restaurant which is part of the five star Parador Hotel in Santiago de Compostela, with seven other Camino pilgrims. To experience a Pilgrim meal is almost as much of a high as walking the Camino, and making it all the way to Santiago de Compostela, this tradition dating back to 1499. Continue reading →

Sweet Service Award to Pilbeo; Sour Service Award goes to Alda Eustacion Pontevedra!

The Sweet Service Award goes to Pilbeo luggage transfer service in Portugal and Spain, and its operator Jesus Capeans Viña, for the excellent reliable service they offered in collecting and dropping off my suitcase on each of my 15 Accommodation nights in the Portuguese Coastal Camino, starting in Porto in Portugal until I completed the walk in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. When I developed a bad blister underneath my foot, I could be transported with my luggage to the next destination, at the cost of an additional ‘suitcase’. Two changes to my schedule/accommodations were efficiently handled. Continue reading →

Alex von Ulmenstein Acorn awarded as one of 30 best under 30 in the UK Hospitality industry!

I have never written about a family member on my Blog before, but today I salute my son Alex von Ulmenstein in his success in receiving a The Caterer Acorn Award 2019, as one of the 30 best in the UK Hospitality industry under the age of 30. Continue reading →