15 Nov 2010
Wolfgang Wagner
The thing I like most about travel is the constant challenge to discover something new and cope with the unforeseen

Manchester has hundreds of restaurants and bars, but one real famous one: CLOUD 23 at the Hilton hotel. If you want to get in this bar on weekends, it is necessary to make reservations 2-3 months in advance – so they say…

Home of Cloud 23

As the name suggests, it is located on the 23rd floor of the building and offers the best views in town.

The bar itself is highly modern and stylish with a huge counter where the world´s famous drinks are mixed.

A real thrilling feature is the glass bottom – when you stand on it, you can see 23 floors down.

Glass bottom in Cloud 23

Cloud23

Hilton Manchester

www.cloud23bar.com

9 Nov 2010
Christina Lund Sørensen
I'm a keen collector of refrigerator magnets and I have a newfound passion for 'usu nigori' - sparkling sake

I’ve blogged about the food I’ve been served on some of the flights I’ve been on. And I’ve blogged about something you can hardly call food. I’ve been called brave by readers of the blog to bring up the subject of the quality of the food on Finnair’s flight and I even expected that some of the blogs would generate a comment or two from someone within Finnair. However, my criticism has been met with absolute silence. I’ve taken this as a good sign. A sign of Finnair being bold enough to let us Quality Hunters write about, what we experience without censoring anything. Thank you for that.

This weekend my three weeks long Europe trip had ended and I was heading back to Asia, where I started the QH journey. The destination was Hong Kong and I was flying Business Class. More than anything else I was looking forward to being served decent food and NOT the Finnair Sandwich as my fellow hunter Wolfgang calls it.

On flight no 1 from Manchester to Helsinki I was being served smoked reindeer rillette on rye bread, which instantly topped my list of best things I’ve eaten on an airplane. The salmon that I had for main course was so-so. It was eatable, but the dill potatoes were impossible to eat as they had been cooked to destruction.

Yummy reindeer rillette

On board on the flight from Helsinki to Hong Kong I decided that I wanted to check out the menu even though I wasn’t at all hungry after the meal I had on the Manchester-Helsinki flight. The flight attendant asked me if I was interested in trying a new test menu that Finnair was trying to introduce called ‘Superfood Dinner’. Anything that is called ‘super’ sounds fine to me so I accepted and I had the most delicious meal.

Finnair's new 'Superfood Meal'

The entrée was salad with beetroot and giant prawns. The main course was poached pike with mushrooms (chantarelles even!), vegetables, spinach sauce and a side salad. And for dessert the menu offered fresh fruit, berries and organic honey. It was world class!

Super indeed!

This was such a delicious and tasty. I couldn’t believe that I had been served this on the same airline that serves this:

In fact, I was so busy eating that I forgot to take a picture of the main course, but I assure you that it was nicely presented and very, very tasty.

This shows a new and very promising future for the Finnair Cuisine that I’ve criticized a lot so far. Now, if the airline somehow can implement the ‘Superfood Menu’ as a choice for passengers on Economy Class that would, in my opinion, be very high quality.

8 Nov 2010
Wolfgang Wagner
The thing I like most about travel is the constant challenge to discover something new and cope with the unforeseen

As my time was up in Paris, I headed back to Helsinki for an overnight and then on to London. The way to the airport was quite painful as French rail operator SNCF decided to schedule maintenance work on the airport line of suburban rail system RER during the weekend. And I only learned about it after having paid for the ticket and standing on the platform where I wondered why no train was going to the airport, but just to the other terminus of Line B. Only then I discovered a  note on one of the screens which stated that no service was offered to the airport, but there would be shuttle buses from the other Terminus Mitry which is about 15 kilometers from Charles de Gaulle airport – communication could be significantly improved here especially as the announcement was only in French and a lot of non-french speakers stood helpless on the platform.
So I had not choice together with quite a few other fellow passengers and we took train and shuttle bus – all in all 100 minutes from downtown to the airport – no easy ride.
At the airport, checking in and security was quick and friendly.
The departure gate offered newspapers in all languages in abundance – why can´t Vantaa do this as well?
Flight in a new A319 with really good seats in eco – the ones with adjustable headrests – on time.
At the end the twinkle: After I had received and eaten the already famous warm Finnair  sandwich, I went to the rear of the cabin where I saw the flight attendant having dinner as well – grilled salmon filet with potatoes and nice looking vegetables. No solidarity between crew and passengers these days…..

2 Nov 2010
Wolfgang Wagner
The thing I like most about travel is the constant challenge to discover something new and cope with the unforeseen

When you think Switzerland and especially Geneva, automatically one thing comes to mind – Chocolates. At least that applies for me! As I walked the streets, I saw all these nice shops and I wanted to find out how they are actually made.

I arranged a tour at Chocolaterie Stettler, the best known brand in Geneva.

Chocolaterie Stettler Headquarters

The building is located right next to the United Nations and from the outside, it looks like an ordinary café. I was then guided to the back of the building where the main production site was – they call it the Laboratory. Before you enter, you have to put on protective clothing – looks strange.

Visitor outfit

Mr. Menière who is the resident “Chocolate Créateur” is giving me the tour – I got an exclusive one as the other group members did not show up – all chocolates for me!!!

Mr. Menière at work

He started from the roots – beans come mostly from Central and South America where they are cultivated and dried. They are then shipped to the main chocolate manufacturing companies such as Nestlé, Lindt, Hersheys, etc. where the beans are grinded and the various ingredients are seperated. Out comes the known chocolate powder which serves as the basic raw material for the chocolatiers such as Stettler.

Cocoa beans

Chocolate Mixing Device

Once the chocolate base is ready, it will be processed and put into various forms. Depending on which special flavor you want other ingredients are added. Afterwards, the toppings made out of marzipan are added.

Marzipan topping

The whole process is hand-made – machines are just used for mixing the basic chocolate fluid. A total of 10 people are working there generating about 9 tons of chocolates each year which are either sold directly in their own shops or sent out to retailers.

Stettler shop

Chocolate packaging

One important thing I learned – when you buy a box, you do not have to eat them all at once. They keep fresh for about three months – so take your time.

Chocolaterie Stettler

49 avenue Blanc, 1202 Geneva

Phone: + 41 22 738 17 20 / Fax: + 41 22 731 30 03

Email: info@chocolaterie-stettler.ch

Opening hours form Monday to Friday 6.30am – 4:00pm

31 Oct 2010
Wolfgang Wagner
The thing I like most about travel is the constant challenge to discover something new and cope with the unforeseen

Finnair check in Shanghai

It had to happen – after four weeks of seamless travel without major incident, today I missed my long haul connection from Shanghai via Helsinki to Geneva. The plane in Shanghai had to wait 1 1/2 hours for take off clearance and therefore was not able to make up the lost time until Helsinki where I had a quite tight connection for Geneva.

Check-in at Shanghai airport was really good – the Finnair counters were all open and the counter agents worked very efficiently. Boarding was also smooth and everybody was on the plane 20 minutes before scheduled take off. But then the authorities said no.

As I was checking the day before my departure from Shanghai for any problems, the flight showed the same delay with the same consequences for a lot of passengers – stranded in Helsinki. This is either twice bad luck or there is some general problem with the scheduling of this flight which Finnair operations should look into. It is no good from a marketing standpoint to promote easy and smooth connections via Helsinki if you cannot keep your promise.

The flight was long including the wait and the food again was really bad – main course consisted of fatty chicken with rice and some vegetable.As dessert  the cheapest cheese you can buy for money and a non-tasting cake was served. The value of these ingredients cannot exceed 2 euros at the max. I had much better food in Shanghai at the market for 80 cents. My fellow travellers must have felt the same as a lot of trays remained almost untouched. Next to me sat three Danish guys who stated:” We always thought that SAS had bad food, but this one is worse.”

Arriving in Helsinki, the way led me to the transfer counter. Fortunately I was one of the first ones to pass security for the transit area so I did not have to queue too long – five minutes later, however, there was a queue of about 30 people waiting for only 2 agents handling transfer problems from the Shanghai and other delayed flights. This could have taken longer.

The charming lady at the counter handled my case really well. She rebooked me to next morning´s flight to Geneva and instructed the arrival hall agent to book me into a hotel and take care of my luggage. She also told me that she had recognised me as Quality Hunter – yes!! And for the missed connection, she handed me the new boardingpass where she had upgraded me to Business Class for next morning´s flight as some sort of making up for the trouble.

In the arrival hall, I was greeted by another agent who handed me the hotel and dinner voucher, an overnight kit as my luggage could not be retrieved and off I was for the hotel Cumulus Vantaa. She said that the luggage will automatically be  put on the morning flight to Geneva. Tired as I was from the long flight  I fully trusted her!!! Big mistake!!!

 

Overnight kit provided by Finnair
30 Oct 2010
Wolfgang Wagner
The thing I like most about travel is the constant challenge to discover something new and cope with the unforeseen

After 3 days of traffic, noise, pollution and millions of people I had enough of Shanghai downtown and asked my friend Mr. Ji whether he would be willing to drive with me to some nice rural place outside town. He laughed and said that this would require at least a 2 hours drive.

So off we went direction west towards the ANHUI region. It took us about an hour until we crossed the city limits of Shanghai and then another hour to arrive at our destination. In between for about 100 km just industrial agglomerations and high rises under construction – this is China.

About 130 km west of Shanghai close to the city of Suzhou there is TaiHu Lake, one of the largest sweet water lakes in China. There are several islands within the lake which are connected by white bridges.

TaiHu Lake bridge

The whole area is a preferred weekend/holiday resort for the middle/upper class of Shanghai with golf course, boating marinas, meeting hotels and vacation homes close to the lake.

Once you get away from the beaten track, you encounter almost unspoiled nature and rural life. We stopped at a small village called Mei Yuan which is the capital of plum horticulture including a plum university. Life is still at a very slow pace – we went by some crab fishers and at the local street market.

Fresh caught crabs

Crab fishermen

"Local supermarket"

Up from a hill, we had a splendid view on the plum gardens – the famous plum liquor and everything out of plum is made here.

Plum garden

On our way back, we had lunch at a very elegant hotel just right at the lake. We were the only guests as the season was over. Nevertheless, they managed to cook us a meal from local incredients within 20 minutes – white fish from the lake, specialty soup, some vegetables (no idea what it was) and porc with tofu. All tasted special, but was very good.

Our way back took another two hours with some detours as the roads into Shanghai were as congested as ever – but we made it back. Quite an adventure for two hours of relaxation at a lake.

27 Oct 2010
Wolfgang Wagner
The thing I like most about travel is the constant challenge to discover something new and cope with the unforeseen

Seen today at a local market in old town Shanghai – most expensive meal was 8 yuan.

Sweets

27 Oct 2010
Wolfgang Wagner
The thing I like most about travel is the constant challenge to discover something new and cope with the unforeseen

When in Shanghai, I always try to hook up with my old friend Ji Xiaoming, in short Mr. Ji. He is a successful business man working for automotive companies mostly in Europe and speaks German fluently. He studied in Germany in the mid 80s when China was not yet a super power and studying abroad for a Chinese was really an adventure.

My friend Mr. Ji

As usual, he selected the restaurant. We went to a classical Chinese dinner place where real spicy food is served and where you get a good show on top.

Chinese entertainer

We talked a long time about the Chinese economy and the role of the Expo for Shanghai. He feels that the Chinese economy is growing at a very rapid pace and will continue to do so over the next years. This has specific negative repercussions for the Chinese people as the real estate market is also booming and the prices are going up skyhigh. He told me that he bought his apartment five years ago and could now resell it at five times the original purchase price.

To my surprise, he admitted that he had not been to the Expo yet and will not do so before it ends – too many people, long waits were his explanations. He sees some advantages coming out of the Expo for the Chinese people, but says that the last six months had also its negative effects – hotel and restaurant prices went up sharply, too many people at the known tourist spots and also in the restaurants. On the positive side, he clearly sees that all the newly created infrastructure and security measures will make life in Shanghai more livable in the future.

27 Oct 2010
Christina Lund Sørensen
I'm a keen collector of refrigerator magnets and I have a newfound passion for 'usu nigori' - sparkling sake

Der Goldene Hahn

Some times when I travel, I feel it can be difficult to keep trying to be creative about restaurants choices. The big question is always, where to go? There might be plenty of restaurants around, but where is the food good?

In Berlin I met up with my sister and her boyfriend. My sisters’ boyfriend, Rasmus, is the head chef at an Italian restaurant in Copenhagen called ’Fiat’, so naturally he is keen on eating Italian food, when he travels to get inspired. My sister and I are just keen on eating, so when he suggested that we should go to an Italian restaurant in Kreuzberg a friend of him had recommended, we said yes immediately.

A lot of U-Bahn stops and a rather long walk later we were finally there. And we were famished to the point, where we the blood sugar was low enough to make us a tad cranky. We entered the door and it was obvious that there was a private event going on in the restaurant. Disappointed we almost turned around, when the owner of the restaurant asked us, if we wanted to join. We looked at each other, looked at the owners smiling face and decided to accept his invitation. This turned out to be one of the smartest decisions we’d done in a long time.

The restaurant is also a bar

‘Der Goldene Hahn’ hosted a wine-tasting with four different wines from a small Italian winery called ‘Rattalino’ (www.massimorattalino.it). We had a Nebbiolo, two different Barbarrescos and a Barolo. They were exquisite. And the homemade pasta we had for one of the Barbarrescos (the pasta was actually the reason, why we came to the restaurant in the first place) was to die for – pumpkin ravioli with sage butter – I almost haven’t got words for how delicious it was.

Pumpkin Ravioli in sage butter

There probably wont be a wine tasting every night you stumble into ‘Der Goldene Hahn’, but there will for sure be homemade pasta, food at reasonable prices, great Italian wines and the friendliest service I’ve had in a long time. I can highly recommend a visit to this restaurant if you happen to be in Berlin and have a craving for homemade pasta.

Happy people at wine tasting

Der Goldene Hahn

Pücklerstrasse 20

10997 Berlin

Phone: +49 (030) 618 80 98

26 Oct 2010
Ella Marshall
I am a self-confessed foodie, I am always seeking to test my taste buds.

I’ve not done any food related posts (my favourite!) in a while, so when I stumbled across this restaurant near my hotel, called Khrua Nai Baan, it seemed like the best opportunity to share with you the tastes of Thailand.

Quiet and unassuming at times, I was informed by locals that this low key restaurant was actually a hit with Thais in the area for the low price, high quality Thai feasts on offers….

…on first impressions I wasn’t so sure. The murky looking partially covered kitchen paired with the tablecloths that had seen better days didn’t instill me with the greatest confidence. Nor did the lizard that refused to remove itself from my table.

But as I’ve found throughout this journey, some of the best quality comes in the roughest of packages!

A menu offering the usual suspects of Thai cuisine led me to order the national favourite Tom Yung Goong (a hot and sour soup with shrimp and lemongrass) with a side of morning glory (also known as Water Spinach or Tung Choi in Chinese) fried in garlic and chilli.

And if you’re wondering just how fresh the food is at the restaurant, here’s your answer:

From tank to tummy in minutes!

The meal itself was great.

Fresh, authentic and tasty. In a word…quality!

I can’t say the service the best that I’ve received in Thailand (waitresses too busy nattering to take your order, slow to bring the bill), but I guess it’s the kind of place that you go to more for the food and authenticity. And the low price (around 300 THB, including drinks) didn’t hurt either.

If I’m honest, restaurants such as these- a so called ‘hole in the wall’- aren’t unique in Thailand. This is how locals eat, everyday. But as Westerners we’re often surprised when we come across such venues; places that are a little rough around the edges but produce exceptional quality, food-wise. But why? Why should quality, good quality, be synonymous with refinement or elegance? I wouldn’t dream of eating at a place like this back in London (er, hello salmonella), yet it seems that when abroad I am happy and willing to lower my boundaries and standards in the quest for good quality. Why is this?

What about yourselves? Do you find that when travelling you are more laid back in your quest for quality? Or do you maintain the same standards as at home?

Khrua Nai Baan

94 Langsuan, Lumphini, T: 02 253 1888, www.khruanaibaan.com

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