« March 2007 | Main | May 2007 »

10 posts from April 2007

28 April 2007

Rio de Janeiro

I hope all my readers are well. I particularly hope that in the last week none of you have had any kidney problems, because if you did, your would have been up Corcovado without a nephrologist. I should know, because we have spent the last few days with thousands of them in Rio. It turns out that Rio has been the proud host of the 2007 World Congress of Nephrology. I'm sure nephrologists are nice people but they have been a pain in my side (geddit, side, kidney - fuggedaboutit). They have taken every room in every decent hotel in Rio. They also seemed to be at every tourist spot and every restaurant that we went to. They were easily identifiable with their polo shirts, shorts, trainers and white socks, whereas the locals favour tiny speedos, flip-flops and a six-pack. Those who have met me will appreciate just how well I fitted in.

Despite the influx of kidney specialists we had a fantastic time. We were a bit flummoxed by the whole safety thing. On the one hand we kept hearing Rio was no more dangerous than any big city, on the other, everyone told us we'd probably be mugged and not to walk by the beach late at night. I was deeply confused by the mixed messages, especially as we didn't see any trouble and didn't experience anything ourselves - although that could have been because we were cocooned in a cab for most of the time. The one bit of trouble we did have was with a shifty taxi driver trying to charge the wrong fare. With her acerbic tongue, Silverbrowess swiftly put him in his place.

The safety issue was put in stark relief when we visited a favela. This was a truly astounding tour around Vila Canoas and Rocinha, two of the city's favelas. Both of us felt far safer there than we did in the city - although as our guide pointed out that could have been because all the dodgy geezers had gone to fleece everyone on Copacabana beach. On the tour we were privileged to meet a few of the locals and in particular, visit a project for kids called Para Ti. We saw a side of Rio that people think they know thanks to fear-mongering or film. Both of us felt far safer in Rio that night, having had some of the myth of the favelas burst. Don't get me wrong, these places are exceptionally dangerous, our guide regaled us with stories of gun-fights, but they are not lawless and the people aren't all monsters.

We did the touristy stuff, went up Corcovada (home of Cristo Redentor) and Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) and were constantly wowed at the beauty of the city. The food was generally pretty mediocre, although we had a fun and decent lunch at Gula Gula, near the beach in Ipanema. I had a salad, Silverbrowess had some salmon teryiaki, it was fine, more enjoyable was watching the cariocas. We also had quite a pissed evening at Rio Scenarium. It reminded us of quite a hip TGI Fridays, with great music, decent cocktails and lots of deep fried food. The nephrologists in the house seemed to be enjoying themselves, which was nice.

Finally, as you might be able to tell from the photo above, we got the sun we needed and are now turning a very British shade of ruby.

22 April 2007

It is beautiful, but we need some sun

If you go on a holiday of a lifetime there is an assumption, especially if you're from the UK, that you'll go somewhere with great weather. For the past five days we have been putting up with pouring rain or sub-zero temperatures. As a consequence we are now making a dash for the sun. We're postponing Chile, we're ignoring the Torres del Paine (Towers of Pain, need I say more) and fleeing into the open arms of Rio and all she has to offer.

Not that the bad weather hasn't had some good points. One of the highlights has been El Calafate, a town in the middle of nowhere, that reminds me a lot of Cicely, the setting for Northern Exposure. Admittedly, it does err towards the twee, but sitting on the shores of Lago Argentino it has ready access to astounding scenery. Our guide book is less than complimentary about El Calafate, describing it as unattractive, yet they raved about Bariloche - the heart of the Argentinian Lake District. In our opinion they are wrong. Bariloche is an ugly little town, not helped by pissing rain. Whereas, El Calafate has some real charm to it. Although, in both places you pay through the nose for crap food and mediocre accommodation. If we were giving points on scenery, which in the end is what it is all about, El Calafate wins hands down.

I should say, that Silverbrowess is doing very well on keeping us on budget. So well, that I am writing this from the business class lounge at El Calafate airport.

20 April 2007


Getting Silverbrowess to walk up a mountain that afforded us scenes like this was not easy.

15 April 2007

It seems we're not the only ones on tour

Before I start, my appearance on the blog comes with a disclaimer (is there a lawyer in the house? - Ed.) I am a lawyer by trade (I knew it - Ed.). Every ounce of creativity was knocked out of me at Law School, if not before. I enjoy a good read, but my creative writing leaves a lot to be desired, so bear with me. (shuddup and get on with it - Ed.)

Sitting in the back of our cab, crawling through BA's early morning rush-hour traffic, Silverbrow and I were delighted to be back in Buenos Aires. We were particularly chuffed that we had got a decent deal at Faena. It was in Conde Nast Traveller's Hot List, natch. The security men on the door (think Men in Black) were less than chuffed as we arrived, dishevelled, jet lagged, rucksacks in tow.

Veronica (beautiful, blonde) checked us in at the bar because the reception area - 4 imposing desks manned by BA's coolest - was overflowing with other newly arrived guests. "Vero" told us that Keane, Aerosmith and Velvet Revolver (Guns n Roses without Axl) were all staying at the hotel at various points over the weekend. We did our best to act nonchalant in the face of such giddyingly exciting news.

We ummed and ahhed about our room. I like a bath, Silverbrow is more of a shower-man. Our room, oddly didn't have a bath. They offered us an apartment instead, but Silverbrow was less than impressed with the incy bed. Magnanimously I gave up my bathing fetish for a decent night's sleep.

The hotel is very boudoiry - low lighting, lots of candles and little attempt to venture too far beyond dark crimson. Unlike the rest of the guests - the bands' groupies and BA's beau monde - all I had to wear were two pairs of combats, a pair of linen trousers and various fleeces. My 'traveller' friends would be very proud of me, but I was mortified.

We spent the afternoon chilling in Palermo Viejo, wandering round, having lunch at Bar Uriarte. Although we had a great meal, much better than ones we'd previously had at Sucre, it's sister restaurant, it appeared that I was the one on the menu. I counted 11 separate mosquito bites from lunch alone. Despite this, we were able to spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the laid-back, carefree atmosphere that pervades BA.

The security guards on the door of Faena could do with getting out more in BA and soaking up some of that atmosphere. Again, on our return, they looked less than delighted to see us and were weighing up whether these two scraggie tourists getting out of the car were more screaming Keane fans or guests. We flashed our distinctive red room key and were let in.

After a long afternoon of doing not much, the hammam beckoned. The reception desk at the spa was very white (apart from the bottle of La Prairie Silver Rain), in total contrast to the dark, moody, candle lit hammam. Silverbrow was very excited at the prospect of using the steam room, sauna and jacuzzi - I just saw scary, thin Argentinean women wandering around and wasn't so sure I would be using it. Whilst we were being shown around the gym, Silverbrow thought he saw one of the members of Keane (we're not sure of his name, but he's the tall, blondish one.) Once we'd checked out the spa, we decided to have a drink by the pool, and (subtly) star spot, hoping to catch up with Keane (we are far more interesting than any Argentinean babe). A lot of other guests had the same idea, but sadly we were all disappointed when Keane did a no show.

Dinner was an interesting affair. We ate dinner in the hotel because it was Shabbat and we would rather not eat out if we don't have to. We had planned on going to the hotel's brasserie, El Mercado, but that was fully booked. So instead, we were forced into The Bistro. Where much of the rest of the hotel is dark and brooding, this room is entirely white, very ethereal, complete with white unicorn heads (with red eyes - scary) suspended from the walls. The waiters wore white, the carpet was white, the crockery was white - you get the picture. We only had a main course because we'd noshed throughout the day. I ate a lovely (but rather unexpected) sushi like shaped cooked salmon dish. Silverbrow can't recall what he ate, that good eh?, but was less than impressed. He kept mumbling something about substance over style.

After breakfast on Saturday morning, we went for a walk around Puerto Madero (the area we were staying in,) we intended to walk as far as the Casa Rosada, but who were we kidding? As it happens, it started to pour down with rain (I was in a linen skirt - forgot about that one), both of us got absolutely drenched which was excruciatingly embarrassing when we arrived back at the hotel and yet again were scrutinised by hotel security. We had lunch and then spent a couple of hours lounging round the hammam and spa. The low lighting hid a multitude of sins and it was surprisingly relaxing there. The steam room was particularly cleansing and liberating ( I was frizzy by this time anyway.) Luckily for me, I was treated to a massage as a birthday present from my in-laws. Although slightly painful at the time, I foolishly opted for deep-tissue, it was just what I needed to rid my body of all the legal knots in my shoulders and get the creative juices flowing.

14 April 2007


Olsen is a Scandinanvian restaurant in Buenos Aires. This seemingly incongruous setting for a restaurant with a culinary heritage steeped in snow, reindeer and blonde hair, works pretty well. The melding of the two, is not quite as odd as it might first seem because BA is such a melting pot. Additionally, smoked salmon seems to be the national food here. We have yet to find a menu where it doesn't appear.

Olsen, like many places in Buenos Aires, very-trendy. The restaurant is in a converted warehouse in the advertising and TV heartland of Palermo Hollywood. Blonde wood sweeps up the white painted walls towards the soaring roof-light, forty feet above the restaurant. It is big and airy, yet retains a cosy atmosphere. It is not as self-consciously up its own arse as Sucre.

The furnishings, cutlery and crockery all look like they've been bought from Skandium or designed by Georg Jensen. In BA, design detail is everything and they've done well here. All too often though, detail when it comes to food is not quite as important. As we found at Sucre. At Olsen, they are significantly more successful, especially with the starters.

I started with salmon rillettes, Silverbrowess with a grilled goats cheese salad, with rocket and roasted peach. My rillette was a creamy, unctious pate, with a good smoky flavour, mellowed by fresh dill and a sprinkling of soused, diced onion. On the side were what looked like thin bagel crisps. Silverbrowess' salad had similarly bold flavours. A bit like Scandinavian design: keep it simple, make sure the quality is good, and it will all work.

They forgot this simple mantra when it came to the mains. Silverbrowess had a blackened tuna. Blackened from some sort of dry rub that had it been put on it, two of the three nuggets that were served, were overcooked - turning the blackened tuna, grey. Worse, though was that at least one of the nuggets was well past it's serve-by date. It reeked of the worst kind of fishyness. My smoked trout was bland in the extreme. Taste the stuff that Foreman & Field produce and you'll know just how cooked this humble fish can be. Eat it at Olsen and you could be tasting any old steamed member of the piscine genus.

We didn't go for desserts. Partly because we were knackered, still recovering from jet-lag, partly because the rake thin waitress scared us into dieting. I'd recommend a trip here, the caiprinha's were good and they have a decent selection of vodkas, courtesy of Absolut. It's failings are the failings of a lot of the bad food we have had in Argentina - when they try too hard it goes tits-up. When they stick to simple stuff: steak, wine, ice-cream, it's the best in the world. I imagine Olsen Madrid will have to raise it's game if it is to survive in Spain. However. when compared to our meals in Sucre at the end of last year, Olsen was a much better meal.

Olsen, Gorritis 5870, Palermo Hollywood, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Tel: +54 11 4776 7677

What others think

Frommers - Fish is the main point of this place, and a few of the meat dishes, though flavorful, tend to be on the dry side.

13 April 2007

Art in Buenos Aires

Nico Alligator, Murdock lookalike, might just be the ideal specimen to investigate further the age old conundrum of when genius meets insanity. His form of scrap yard art isn't my cup of tea but the guy has a sense of humour.

12 April 2007

Silverbrow & Silverbrowess are leaving the country

We're off. Later this week, we will be departing these fair shores and balmy weather for the autumnal/arctic/sub-tropical continent that is South America. The current plan is to visit , , , in that order.

I will write when I can. It goes without saying that I will still be writing primarily about food, but there might be a bit of travel writing thrown in for good luck. Silverbrowess might even make an editorial appearance.

Adios for now.