Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Miami V nice

My Transatlantic adventure continued when I waved goodbye to the girls and the handyman at JFK after a fabulous weekend and hopped on a flight to Miami. I got a flavour of what to expect at Miami airport waiting for my baggage at midnight....the skirts were short, the tops were even shorter and there were a lot of mahogany tans and varying shades of pink clothing going on.

On arrival at the W South Beach, however, good taste and cool vibes returned with a vengeance and even though it was 1am, I spent the next hour marvelling at my suite. Overlooking South Beach, it was enormous, with a mammoth bed boasting the best pillows I’ve ever slept on, and Wi-Fi, iPod docking station, DVD/CD player, plasma screen and a huge bathroom full of Bliss Spa products. Given that this was home for the next five days, I had to indulge my OCD tendencies and unpack immediately as you never know on a work trip when you are next going to see your room. This is why Miss Emma Cox and myself made full use of the lounger above at any given opportunity.

Breakfast was on the terrace with a balmy breeze blowing, and given the spread on offer, eggs Benedict, pancakes, bagels, smoked salmon, fruit, granola etc it was tempting to eat a day’s worth of food at one sitting...until I remembered that I was going to be hanging out with Elle ‘The Body’ Macpherson and the finalists of this year’s Britain’s Next Top Model, which returns to Sky Living later this year. That thought alone was enough to keep me in check, funnily enough.

While a touch of luxury is important, what is most important of all is great service and the service at the W is top notch. I’ve sampled their outposts in Sydney, San Francisco, New York, Montreal and LA and they all deliver on this score. The staff are friendly, full of initiative and eager to help without being in your face.

The pool, which is set back from the beach, is the perfect place to lounge during the day and the bar is a cool hang out for a cocktail in the evening. What more could you ask for...oh yes, the Wall Lounge, adjacent to the hotel, which had to be sampled purely in the interests of research of course, and was packed on Tuesday evening. It would give any West End club a run for its money.

I’m lucky enough to be invited on quite a few foreign jobs (commonly referred to in my house as journos holidays, I know not why) and sometimes you don’t know who you are going to be thrown together with, or how it is all going to pan out. You just have to hope for the best.

I have to say my fellow scribes and PR supremos Jakki and Justin were on top form, even when faced with a potential hijack situation in a taxi. We’d asked to go to the Miami Dolphins sports stadium but somehow ended up in Fort Lauderdale on a two hour $200 ride from hell. The driver stopped for petrol twice and the second time, with one of our number desperate for a pee and the rest of us fearful of ending up in a Miami Vice crack den, all of us piled out throwing ourselves over car seats as the driver paid for his petrol in our haste to escape a grisly fate. It turns out that when you ask for a destination in Miami, you must actually say Miami, otherwise you might end up in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Worth or maybe even Fort Knox.

Interviews done (Elle and designer Julien Macdonald were my highlights, she looks AMAZING and he is naturally a very funny man) we even found time for a swim in the waves, but not before Justin had scared the life out of everyone with his constant reminder to beware of sharks, followed by a very convincing impression of a shark attack (the fact that this took place in the pool meant that we lived to tell the tale.)

So, if you are lucky enough to be leaving the blink-and-you-miss-it UK spring sunshine for toasty Miami shores anytime soon, here are my top tips.

• The W South Beach on Collins – simply the coolest hotel in the best location with sublime service. We popped into a couple of other hotels while there...they didn’t even come close.
• Soho Beach Club – the Florida outpost of Soho House, this retro bar and restaurant is decorated with white pea lights and has exactly the feel you would expect of the London club on its holidays. You need your name on the door.
• Blue Door Fish restaurant at the Delano – this legendary hotel in Miami still has what it takes to impress. The Blue Door Fish was buzzing on a Tuesday night with a lively crowd who were ready to party after finishing supper. I am heartily recommending the crabvacat as well as the scallops...perfection. Wish I’d had the time to sample the rest of the menu.
• Sushisamba on Lincoln Boulevard – Craig David, who lives in a hotel suite in Miami, met our own lovely Kay from Heat for drinks here on Tuesday so we thought we’d give it a whirl the following night, minus Craig who was otherwise engaged on Wednesday...and Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The sushi is fantastic – tempura prawn iso rolls and spicy tuna rolls were my highlight and the prawn and vegetable tempura we kicked off with defy description. Just remember to take your ID if you want a glass of wine, the laws are strict and the waitress wouldn’t serve me until I flashed my Amex saying member since 93! I know I should be flattered but when that glass of prosecco was slipping from my clutches it wasn’t pretty.
• Quattro Gastronomica on Lincoln Boulevard – a cosy Italian trattoria which does a great spaghetti alla vongole, rivalling any I’ve had in Sestri Levante and San Remo.
• The Everglades at Coopertown – no great restaurants but plenty of alligators to admire as you power down the water channels in an air boat - just don’t trail your hands in the water!

Arriving back last Saturday night in Nice after three flights and 28 hours on the road (it’s tough at the top) was no anti-climax as the weather has finally turned to proper spring/summer temperatures. All angst ridden memories of almost missing my New York flight back due to ridiculous queues at security (a worrying pattern is emerging at airports) were wiped out by seeing the wisteria blooming, the pool climbing up to double figures in less than two weeks and the spring jasmine starting to flower and smelling divine. Much as I love being on the road and having adventures, it’s always good to get back home.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Big Apple

I’m writing this sitting at JFK one leg down into three flights home and remembering all the great bits about our stay in New York.

But the story has to start with the stress filled journey getting to the airport, as nothing is ever simple in the Kershaw household. There we were all packed, fairly organised and waiting for the girls to come home from school so we could leave for Nice and our flight, which had recently been changed from 3pm to 5pm.

As I checked through passports, travel documents and many pieces of paper, I found the original booking and thought it might be useful to print off the updated flight times. Imagine my horror at 1.30pm when I logged onto the booking to see the original flight time 3pm flash up. After many minutes frantically scrolling through, it finally dawned on me that it wasn’t connecting NY flights to London that had been changed, it was my mum’s forthcoming May flight home from our house, which happened to also be at 3pm and have the same flight number!

Cue major panic as we bundled the cases, girls and dogs into the car, drove manically to Fi’s to turf out the dogs, who then started chasing our car off the drive in rain, leaving BSL precisely one hour before our flight was due to take off. We made it in 25 mental minutes, and after dumping them and the cases at kiss and fly, I parked and legged it complete with heavy hand luggage to the terminal, arriving just as check in was closing.

As we sat on the plane we worked out that less than an hour before, we were at home in meltdown mode. Amazing what you can achieve when the traffic is with you and the adrenaline is pumping. What a start to the trip!

Arriving at JFK, the girls were desperate to get into the city and watching their faces as the Manhattan skyline came into view was nothing short of magical. I think it is one of the world’s best views, it never gets any less exciting no matter how many times you have been to New York. We arrived at The Element Times Square West, a brand new eco-hotel which is part of the Starwood group, famous for the brilliant W hotel chain which I have stayed at many times.

It’s a more budget conscious, slightly less lux version of the W. Urban pared down utilitarian chic best describes it, and it’s a brilliant choice for anyone with a green leaning and a mid budget. Certain aspects are similar to the W....amazingly comfortable beds and pillows, fantastic Egyptian linens, plasma TVs and well appointed bathrooms. There are no overpriced mini bars, where moving a can of Pringles invites a $6 charge on your bill instantly, instead The Element boasts kitchenettes, so you can buy less expensive versions of the mini bar contents at the local mini mart.

They also do a great complimentary breakfast but you have to be up early to get the best choice of fresh fruit, bagels, muffins and hot breakfast. One niggle, no toasters which renders bagels and English muffins a bit redundant. Plus there is a great little apero each week night Monday to Thursday, where they lay out wine, Caesar salad and nibbles, again gratis to hotel guests. The gym is also well equipped and the hotel is so central to Times Square and mid town Manhattan that getting around is very easy. Check it out if you are heading to won’t regret it.

We did Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Centre and had a fab view of the Empire State Building, which you don’t get if you are viewing from the ESB instead, took the Staten Island ferry to look at the Statue of Liberty and explored SoHo, Greenwich Village, Wall Street, West Village, Central Park, Fifth Ave, in fact all the usual haunts as well as spending most of the morning in Forever 21, a teen heaven which sells fashion at ridiculously low prices. As it was raining and it was Livvy’s 16th birthday, I relented and spent almost an hour in the changing rooms giving my opinion on their many dazzling outfits.

We headed to Abercrombie so the girls could have their photo taken with the topless hunk at the front door. Yyou may or may not be relieved to hear that I (reluctantly) passed on this photo opportunity myself. Then it was off to Tiffanys on 5th Ave, minus the croissant Audrey H had when she went, which was deemed too cheesy by far to re-enact. The marvellous assistant there helped the girls choose a necklace and a charm within budget to remember their trip by.

We also passed Ground Zero, which still has an eerie atmosphere and sends chills down the spine when you look at the vast open space amid all the other skyscrapers. A year before 9/11, I took my mum to the top of the Twin Towers to look at the views across the river and we wandered around the shopping mall immediately below. There is a very moving memorial in the West Village with hand painted tiles inscribed with messages to those who lost their lives that day, I defy anyone not to shed a tear while reading them.

We headed to the Mercer Kitchen for lunch in Soho and had a fab birthday celebration before spending the rest of the afternoon on foot while the girls pretended to be Gossip Girls and spent huge amounts of dollars. Other great finds include Sardis, a famous old theatreland restaurant a lot like Joe Allens where the walls are lined with caricatures of famous Broadway stars. Ever since Jimmy Cagney’s was stolen on the day he died, the owners have insisted on two identical caricatures, one of which is given to the star so that if one is stolen it is able to be replaced. Ruhlman’s, opposite the Rockefeller Centre, is another NYC stalwart, with a sunny terrace and great brasserie menu. The lobster rolls and fries were amazing.

Harrisons in Tribeca was buzzing at the weekend, it’s the closest New York has to a gastropub and the stand out dishes were the lightly fried skate and home-made gnocchi. The only place that was over-rated, touristy and uninspiring was Seaport in South Street.

Mother’s Day was spent wandering around West Village in the sunshine before we headed for the airport so that the guys could fly home and I could fly to Miami...but that’s another story for another day.