Il Ristorante Restaurant at Bulgari Resort Bali.
Review: Il Ristorante Restaurant, Bulgari Resort Bali
High-end Bulgari brand combines with Italian cuisine and an idyllic Bali setting to create Il Ristorante Restaurant at Bulgari Resort Bali. We go undercover to review the result. Sometimes it’s the surprises which make for the best holiday memories.   I love venturing down the dining road less travelled to discover a quirky local café or – somewhat bizarrely in this case – a silver cloche being whisked away to reveal my main course.   Not so unusual in Europe but it’s certainly not what I expected to find in Bali. Then again, this wasn’t your usual restaurant.   Il Ristorante is the flagship fine diner of the Bulgari hotel group and my husband decided to surprise me with a romantic night out. [caption id="attachment_1216" align="alignnone" width="1000"] The dining room Bulgari Hotel Bali[/caption] The menu With an extensive Italian menu and matching wine list, this isn’t the place to come for a cheap nasi goreng (or, some might say, if you’re on a budget). Il Ristorante has been awarded Best Hotel Restaurant in the world and is priced accordingly. Most of the diners are cashed-up overseas visitors or, like us, travellers on a more modest budget out for a special occasion. [caption id="attachment_1218" align="alignnone" width="1000"] A candle-lit entrance to the signature fine dining at Bulgari Hotel Bali[/caption] The atmosphere A warm breeze heady with the scent of frangipani drifts through the restaurant’s two open air pavilions and lanterns cast a romantic glow as we’re shown to our linen-napped table for two. The decor The décor is a study in elegant simplicity with clean lines and a uniformly black colour scheme accented with low-key floral arrangements. [caption id="attachment_1217" align="alignnone" width="1000"] The table is set for an Italian feast at Il Ristorante at Bulgari Hotel Bal[/caption] Service Service is in keeping with a swish designer hotel but any concerns we’d had about it being obsequious are quickly dispelled by our friendly waitress. We order a glass of Italian wine which is offered for tasting by the sommelier and served in exquisite glassware.   Our meal is off to an impressive start with a theatrical amuse bouche platter of five delicate bites including a hollowed-out eggshell filled with silky egg custard suspended on a twirl of silver wire. We agree everything tastes even better than it looks which is high praise indeed.   Service is well-paced throughout the night and our mains arrive at just the right time. Two staff deliver our meals to the table simultaneously, whisking off each silver cloche in unison. The food Under one is a beef tenderloin sliced to show off its perfectly cooked centre, accompanied by a pavè of taggiasca olives, finely diced mushrooms and micro herbs sprinkled with edible flowers. The other reveals a slow-cooked duck breast served on a bed of celeriac puree topped with colourful exotic fruits.   Our audible gasps of delight have the waitresses smiling as they leave us to enjoy our meals, both of which feature organic local produce combined with specialty ingredients flown in from Italy.   The only marginal disappointment is a side of pan-fried pumpkin, thyme and honey that is rather soft and lacks textural pizzazz.   We’re tempted by the delights on the dessert menu but mains were generous and our belts are as tight as our budget by this stage so we opt to share something.   Our appeal for an extra scoop of ice cream in the interests of marital harmony is met with a chuckle and arrives as requested.   Fortunately for us the raspberry soufflé is equally generous - it really is too good to share – but we do. The Details Where Il Ristorante, Bulgari Resort Bali Jalan Goa Lempeh, Banjar Dinas Kangin Uluwatu, Bali 80364, Indonesia Contact: + 62 361 8471000 Notes Open: Dinner only from 6pm to 11pm daily. Tiana paid $180 for two mains, one dessert and two glasses of wine. There is also an eight-course degustation menu available for $130 per person (alcohol not included). Wine is prohibitively expensive in Bali and adds significantly to the cost of a night out. Tiana's two glasses of modestly-priced Italian vino added around $45 to the bill. The IT Verdict Tiana, who paid her own way and visited anonymously, says: “Il Ristorante may have the stunning looks of an Italian supermodel but this hotel restaurant is much more than just a pretty face. Well worth the trip to Uluwatu for a special night out.”
Shady Dell boutique accommodation in Bisbee Arizona.
Review: Shady Dell, Bisbee Arizona
Enamoured with experiencing a bygone era, Jo Stewart heads to the Shady Dell to bed down in a Polynesian-themed bus from the post-war glory days of auto travel.
Sunset drinks by the resort pool.
How to experience Fiji luxury for under $250 a night
We find out if you REALLY can get that luxury Fiji resort experience for less than $250 a night. Here's what we found...
The ocean views from Banyan Tree Koh Samui.
Review: Banyan Tree Resort Koh Samui
The idyllic Thai island of Koh Samui is a little more sophisticated than her larger, brasher sister Phuket. Quentin Long went in search of the ultimate Thai island escape.
Propeller Island Hotel, Berlin.
Review: Propeller Island Hotel, Berlin
As weird and wacky goes, Propeller Island is more than just a work of eccentric design aesthetic. David Whitley books in for a hauntingly peculiar experience.
Venetian Palazzo Resort Las Vegas features gondolas around the hotel
Review: Venetian-Palazzo Resort, Las Vegas
What do you get when you cross the city of Venice with the extravagance of Palazzo Versace, then plonk them both in the Nevada desert? Either the best or worst of two worlds colliding. Mark Juddery went to Vegas to find out which. Background Las Vegas’ five-star Venetian-Palazzo Resort promotes itself as the world’s largest resort, and if you discount natural features like beaches – which tend to expand resort properties – that claim appears to be true. [caption id="attachment_464" align="alignnone" width="1000"] The lobby fountain at the Venetian Palazzo Resort[/caption] The Venetian was huge when it opened in 1999, and it now has 4027 suites.   The addition of the adjoining Palazzo in 2008 meant another 3066 suites, many of them with three or more TVs, fully stocked work centres, and all-marble bathrooms with TVs of their own (in case the ones in the living area weren’t enough).   Sure, it is grand opulence – at a remarkably good price – but would staying in one of these suites truly make you happy? Answer: who cares? If I want spiritual fulfilment, I’ll go to Tibet. The room For those looking for meaningless thrills, nobody does glitz quite like Vegas – and while the exterior of this resort is indeed garish, the suites themselves are designed more tastefully than you might expect. [caption id="attachment_461" align="alignnone" width="1000"] There's no shortage of glamorous touches in guest rooms at the Venetian Palazzo Resort[/caption] In my room (like many, though not all, of the others), the generous sleeping area was linked by a few steps to a “downstairs” work/living-room zone big enough for a cocktail party. Facilities In a resort this size, the huge lobby occasionally resembles a particularly well-decorated airport ticket counter, though the cheerful staff now has it down to a fine art, ensuring that – if you’re happy to carry your own bags – you’ll be in your room before you know it. Just go through the casino (see how this works?) to the elevators. [caption id="attachment_465" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Tao Lounge at the Venetian Palazzo Resort[/caption] Other hotel facilities are generally very impressive. The Canyon Ranch SpaClub offers not just spa and fitness centres, but also physiotherapy, nutrition counselling, gait analysis for runners and the Canyon Ranch Café, a glam health bar.   Only the swimming pools are a letdown, as they’re either decorative, which makes them ill-suited for actual swimming, or open for only a few hours a day – which is fine if you plan to sleep in until lunchtime.   Of course, physical exercise is probably not the most common recreational activity in Vegas, so it is churlish to complain.   Vegas doesn’t have beaches, naturally, but it’s still synonymous with entertainment and misspent adulthood – the scene of countless Hollywood movies and TV shows, showing people having enormous fun gathered around a roulette wheel. Casino The resort’s 9755m2 casino includes 1400 gaming machines and 139 table games, so you have plenty of choice in how to fritter away your money.   For all the clichés, Vegas wouldn’t be so popular for holidays if it only had gambling dens. Visiting for a conference, I ensured that I took part in some of the entertainment on offer, but I didn’t do any of those things your mother would warn you against. Things to do Though I was there for three days, I didn’t gamble, see a drag queen (to my knowledge), watch a tribute show, or get quickly married – by Elvis or anyone else – and only once went to a funky nightclub at the Venetian-Palazzo… when I thought the queue was for the Blue Man Group show. Which explained why I had to show my ID.   Along with the casino, the lower floors of the Venetian-Palazzo are an assortment of boutiques, formidable restaurants (including Wolfgang Puck’s CUT, the Grill at Valentino and the celebrity-magnet TAO Asian Bistro), nightclubs and popular shows. This is the Pentagon of resorts.   You could spend a week here without ever going outside. When I talked about going elsewhere, one of the staff seemed surprised: “Why would you go anywhere else?” She was joking, I think, but she had a point.   The two structures, shooting into the skyline, would upstage every other building anywhere else, but this is The Strip in Vegas, where many buildings are outrageously tall and bright. Picture New York’s Times Square, only less subtle. Reproduced Venice Possibly the most interesting part of the Venetian-Palazzo Resort is… well, Venice. [caption id="attachment_15235" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Gondalas at the Venetian Palazzo Resort Las Vegas[/caption] The Grand Canal Shoppes area reproduces Venice’s Grand Canal, with cobbled walkways, “streetside” cafés and restaurants, street performers and gondoliers who sing “O Solo Mio” and ­other standards in wonderful tenor, making you fall in love with whoever is next to you in the gondola.   Above is a bright blue sky, with pretty white clouds. I did a double-take when I saw this, because it was late afternoon.   In Vegas, even the sky is artificial, though this wide ceiling, covering a wide area, is bizarrely convincing in its mimicry of nature. But Vegas deals in fantasy.   In the real Venice, it occasionally rains; the sky of Vegas’ Grand Canal remains clear and bright, though the lights are dimmed in a timely fashion to provide a romantic, early-evening feel.   The Venetian-Palazzo does fake Venice with aplomb, but does it offer a taste of the real ­Vegas?   In a city where Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty miniatures decorate the main street, where Elvis, Sinatra and the Beatles still perform, authenticity might not be the major selling point.   This is as “real” as anything else in Vegasland. The Details Where? The Palazzo is at 3325 Las Vegas Blvd S. The Venetian is at 3355 Las Vegas Blvd S. +1 702 414 4334 Notes Both hotels offer special packages from $172 per night for a luxury suite, which includes extras and a 20% discount on 60-day advance bookings. Breakfast isn’t included, but the specials allow you discounts at many of the on-location restaurants. These are remarkably good prices for what they offer. Of course, their real profit isn’t in the rooms, but in the casinos, so… best of luck! What’s the gossip? “Over-the-top room décor (multiple flat-screen TVs, sunken living rooms, and mini-bars stocked with everything from champagne to La Belge Chocolatier desserts) belies the eco-friendly construction of [the Palazzo]. With a two-storey fountain gushing in its entry, the 3066-room high-rise resort is a memorable new arrival to the hotel scene.” Travel + Leisure The IT verdict: Mark Juddery, who paid his own way, says: “It’s basically a complete manufactured holiday – the Spice Girls of travel destinations – which is, of course, the archetypal Vegas experience.”
Sofitel So Bangkok, Thailand.
Review: Sofitel So Bangkok
Sofitel So Bangkok is said to be the more stylish sister of the older Sofitel brand. Here is our verdict on whether this hotel in this tourist hotspot is a winner. If ever there was a hotel to spark a fierce row between my younger self and my inner old man, Bangkok’s Hotel Sofitel So is it.   The emphasis at the So is pretty clear: style matters. It’s the offshoot’s second hotel – the first is in Mauritius – and it’s a clear attempt to sex up the luxurious but kinda older Sofitel brand. Think of the So to Sofitel as the W is to Sheraton, and you’re not far off.   The So is dressed to impress. Dark seductive lighting is the general rule in common areas, but closer inspection shows some fabulous ­set-pieces. The moat of pools and water features around the lift shaft is particularly impressive. [caption id="attachment_429" align="alignnone" width="1000"] A room interior at the Sofitel So, Bangkok.[/caption] The reception A vibe has been created to match. The reception is essentially the lobby bar. As I checked in at just after 6pm, a DJ was already manning the decks. Music is inescapable in the hotel; there seems to be a concerted effort to make it feel like a Café Del Mar-esque chill-out club. Whether that’s a good thing or not ­depends on musical taste.   The hotel has been themed around four main elements – earth, metal, water or wood in the guestrooms – with a fifth element, fire, in many of the common areas. It seems I’d drawn metal. [caption id="attachment_430" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Interior of an "Earth Elements" room at the Sofitel So, Bangkok.[/caption] The room I’d gone for the cheapest “So Cosy” category of room, and braced for it to be “cosy” in the duplicitous real estate agent sense of the word. Not a bit of it.   Everything in my 14th floor pad was a dazzling white and silver, while cleverly designed sliding doors and glass bathroom walls (shielded by electronically drawing a curtain) made it look far more spacious than it is. The views out over Lumpini Park and the city skyline were pretty darned splendid too.   The bathrooms are lovely. There’s a big, deep tub, and a giant walk-in shower with both rain and normal heads. Meanwhile, the little his and hers amenities bags are filled with so many goodies that the average travelling kleptomaniac will have a field day. [caption id="attachment_431" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Interior of an "Water Elements" room at the Sofitel So, Bangkok.[/caption] Little design flourishes add personalisation. A giant metal flower sculpture is mounted on the bathroom wall, while there’s a chance to “feel your element” on the desk. In my case, that means two metal balls to clack around in a strangely addictive manner.   Alas, it sometimes feels as though the designers have never stayed in a hotel room before. There are precious few plug sockets, and those that can be found are either in use or hopelessly positioned. The lights require needless amounts of tinkering, and the ­useful hotel information is accessed via endless clicking on the TV remote, rather than a quick flick through a booklet. And I’d prefer not to have to close a curtain before I go to the toilet; the loo can be seen from the bed. The pool The outdoor infinity pool on the tenth floor is a triumph, though, especially when lit up at night and with the bar, The Water Club, operating alongside. Meanwhile, the private rooftop cabanas – available for drinking and dining – had not yet opened when I visited, but the idea looks fabulous. [caption id="attachment_433" align="alignnone" width="1000"] The terrace of "Park Society" dining at the Sofitel So, Bangkok.[/caption] The food I especially liked the Red Oven restaurant. There are a couple of other dining choices – a chocolate-focused sinfest on the ground floor and a high-concept fine dining joint at the top, Park Society, where you tell the chef which ingredients you want him to make something with.   But Red Oven worked best for me. It’s ­essentially a hyper-posh, sumptuously dolled-up buffet with the option of ordering a la carte dishes. But with chefs at every station, ­impeccably mood-lit industrial-chic looks and a genuine buzz, it somehow feels perfect for lone dining, a group meal and a romantic date.   In a way, Red Oven sums the hotel up. [caption id="attachment_434" align="alignnone" width="1000"] The interior of the "Park Society" dining room at the Sofitel So, Bangkok.[/caption] It looks and feels wonderful. But then you notice that half of the dishes aren’t labelled so you haven’t the faintest idea what they are.   Enticing and adventurous, yes. Seemingly obvious practicalities, no. The details Where Hotel Sofitel So Bangkok 2 North Sathorn Road, Bangrak, 10500 Bangkok, Thailand. +66 2 624 0000 Notes David booked through, paying (inclusive of tax) $230 for one night. This didn’t include breakfast, but included a US$80 credit for spending at the hotel as an opening offer. Similar rates – without the bonus credit – are currently available later in the year. What’s the gossip? Here’s what other reviewers have said: “Located in the city’s coveted Lumpini Park district, the property draws on the expertise of five local designers teamed with architect Smith Obayawat and designer Christian Lacroix.” Alisha Haridasani, Business Traveller. The IT Verdict David Whitley, who paid his own way and visit anonymously, says: “The Sofitel So looks great, and they’ve got the big set-piece ideas so right. But they’ve also got the little things so infuriatingly wrong. It’s a hotel that will enhance a good mood, but exacerbate a bad one rather than alleviate it.”
Babylonstoren farm hotel, South Africa.
Review: Babylonstoren farm hotel, South Africa
As historic farms go, Babylonstoren farm hotel is a new arrival in South Africa’s popular Winelands region.'