BlackBook Exclusive: Herringbone Los Cabos Exec Chef Alex Branch’s Ceviche Secrets

Share Button


Its provenance is hotly debated. Ceviche is said to have come from the Moors, who brought it to Peru in the Spanish invasion. Others declare it an Incan dish – invented somewhere between Ecuador and Peru. Polynesia, North Africa, the Middle East all come up in origin stories.

But no matter where it’s from, there’s a reason ceviche has transcended borders and cultures for thousands of years: its simplicity, light citrusy flavors, and natural cooking method make it a go-to dish from Latin America to North America to Europe. 

Alex Branch, exalted Executive Chef at Vidanta Los Cabos’ Herringbone and Casa Calavera, knows plenty about making a heavenly ceviche. He features them on his menus, using locally sourced ingredients (an essential component), in regular rotation. We recently had the privilege of sitting down for an life-altering ceviche brunch with him on a recent visit to the posh resort – where he imparted insider tips and exclusive recipes. 

Here’s what we had – and what you need to know to do it yourself.




The Insider Tips

Freshness is Everything: Always use fish that “smells like the ocean, not like fish,” says Branch. Buy from a reliable market, keep it on ice until ready to make your ceviche. Make sure to remove the bloodline in the fish too. It will add a fishy flavor.
Go Line-Caught: It’s a more sustainable method of fishing. Also, when fish are pulled out of the ocean alive, they’re less susceptible to absorbing bacteria from the ocean water.
Avoid Oily, Fatty, or Muscle-y Fish: The best fish for ceviche are semi-firm, white-fleshed fish like sea bass, striped bass, rockfish, snapper and cod. Avoid fish like mackerel, salmon, and swordfish.
Don’t Over-Marinate: Most chefs cure their fish for about 10-20 minutes or until fish is just opaque, depending on the desired doneness. Don’t overdo it or the fish could fall apart.


The Exclusive Recipes 


Tuna Poke

35 g Bluefin tuna, diced
15 g charred pineapple, diced
8 g Fresno pepper, sliced thin
10 g Maui onion, cut ¼” slices
5 sprigs fresh cilantro, divided
1 pinch chili powder
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 oz. Fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 oz. soy sauce
½ oz. sesame seed oil
Lime wedges for serving
Clean the tuna and cut into bite-sized chunks, set aside. In a bowl, mix the pineapple, onion, Fresno pepper, 3 cilantro sprigs, juices, soy sauce and sesame seed oil. When ready to serve, add the tuna to the pineapple mixture and top with the rest of the cilantro sprigs and lime wedges.




Totoaba “Sea Bass” Ceviche

Makes: 4 servings
80 g white fish like sole, sea bass or grouper
20 g kosher coarse salt
50 g lime juice, separated
30 g white onion, chopped
15 g olive oil
 5 g serrano chili pepper, finely diced
10 g California banana peppers, thinly sliced
28 g capers
15 g green olives, roughly chopped
80 g cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
20 g fresh cilantro leaves
1  diced avocado
Dice fish and add salt and lime juice to cure, set aside 10-20 minutes. Add in chopped onion, olive oil, serrano chiles, and Banana peppers, mix well. Add capers, olives, and tomatoes. Top with cilantro and a wedge of avocado.

Ceviche de Maiz

Makes: 4 servings
80 g white fish
25 g lime juice
20 g kosher coarse salt
30 g white onion, chopped
16 g olive oil
30 g sweet corn on the cob, removed from cob
30 g white corn on the cob, removed from cob
 5 g serrano chili pepper
20 g avocado, diced into cubes
20 g fresh cilantro leaves
Dice fish and cure with salt and lime juice, 10-20 minutes. Add chopped onion, olive oil, and corn, mix well. Add serrano chili pepper and avocado cubes. Top with cilantro and serve.



Above two images by Megan Martin

‘Queer Eye’ Foodie Antoni Porowski Opening New York Restaurant

Share Button


If like the rest of the civilized world you’ve just finished binge watching season two of Queer Eye on Netflix, you may be desperately craving a makeover. Or you’re at least craving some of food expert Antoni Porowski’s green goddess or guacamole. (Who says Greek yogurt can’t go with avocado?)

And during a recent cast panel, he went and announced that he’ll actually be opening his own restaurant – which he apparently isn’t supposed to talk about.

“I’m all about, like, cheese and pork belly and decadence,” he enthused. “And as a result of the increased vanity of being on camera all the time and working out and eating healthy, I’m developing a fast-casual food concept restaurant that I’m gonna be opening here in New York.”

Although the food snobs of social media haven’t always favored Porowski’s idea of the culinary arts, he’s maintained a loyal fanbase since the show premiered earlier this year. We’re guessing his new venture will prove the haters wrong.

BlackBook Exclusive: Phoria’s Gloriously Authentic Guide to Brighton, UK

Share Button


Just an hour south of London, Brighton is a storied seaside resort (read: Graham Greene’s classic novel Brighton Rock), with everything that goes along with being a resort town in grey old England (listen: Morrissey’s “Everyday is Like Sunday”). No surprise, it’s a place whose soul is a musical one – nurturing a legendary dance scene, and turning out a steady parade of singularly eccentric, inimitable acts…most recently the likes of The Kooks, British Sea Power and Bat For Lashes.

Since 2010, cleverly monikered electronic quintet Phoria have also been a part of that great tradition. Over three EPs and one full album, 2016’s stunning Volition, they have cultivated an aestheticwhich manages to seem both transcendently otherworldly, and utterly viscerally earthbound. NPR enthused that they make “Breathlessly pretty electronic music, in which every note sounds conspicuously human.”



A new album is in the works for early 2019. In the meantime, they’re teasing that big event with this dazzlingly chill-inducing double single, “When Everything Was Mine”/”RROTOR.” The former, with its lush atmospherics, ethereal instrumentation, and lilting dynamics, reminds of Sigur Ros without the Hopelandish; the latter is a strikingly visceral, almost psychedelic epic.

We also asked them take us around their famously idiosyncratic hometown, before gentrification attempts to iron out all its eccentricities.

“Brighton has lost a lot of its charm over the last few years,” observes the band’s Tim Douglas wistfully. “What was once an exciting city with oddballs on every corner and a tune from every window, has since turned into a Scooby-Doo corridor of overpriced emporia and VICE endorsed barbershops.”



Phoria’s Fave Places That Still Have ‘That Brighton Magic’


Marwood Bar & Coffeehouse

If you’re going to go somewhere to buy coffee – and let’s face it, you probably are – then you’d do us all a favor if you made it Marwood. It’s one of the only places that isn’t one of the other places. It has good music in the evenings, old cinema seats upstairs. Sometimes the effort can be seen, but the execution is so good in the end that it doesn’t really matter. Good bar, too.



VIP Pizza

This one comes with a caveat: don’t get a pizza from here unless you want to enjoy no other pizzas. If you live in Brighton, you’re fine, because you know the goodness is only a short sprint away at any time; but if you live elsewhere then your tongue/stomach’s demand to re-experience the glistening glutenous discs they pluck from the delicious dimension using their old wind-up clockwork fire (I think) will see your life spiral down into a haze of train tickets and wasted gym memberships. That said, it will all be worth it.

Wax Factor

If you want books, go to Wax Factor. Scour the walls. They have almost an entire section of L. Ron Hubbard novels (it’s right at the back), and usually the entire bibliography of Andre Gide. If you want CDs, go to Wax Factor. Do you want CDs? You might. They’ve got a fair whack of stuff that you won’t find on Spotify. A killer jazz and blues section. Do you want collector’s vinyl? Now we’ve got your attention. It’s an actual shop, with loads of different things in it and good music on the stereo. It’s not a sterile white room with minimalist displays of underwhelming products and a lone sales assistant swanning round with a iPad. You probably can’t pay with Apple Bone Marrow or whatever people use now, so take cash.




Is there anything wrong with independent giants? Their online service is the bane of independent instrument retailers everywhere, but go into the showroom and most is forgiven. There’s simply no better music shop. And which showroom? There are three different stores, for drums, tech/keyboards, and guitars. Each with everything ready to go. All with professional staff. We’ll go to the smaller places for a treat, to see what’s in stock, and to try and support them. Otherwise, everyone goes to GAK.

The Great Eastern

Talking of bars, The Great Eastern is only a five minute walk down a hill from the railway station. Has that sold it? How about the fact that it’s the best whisky bar in Brighton? It’s got lots of wood. The staff are nice. It’s also one of those places where the layout is primed for a natural atmosphere. Seriously, there’s loads of whisky. And special offers on whisky. Go to this pub.



Easy Hours

If you were dead before Easy Hours on Grand Parade opened, then you may not have visited it. Otherwise, you have definitely been here. They stock lots of things, but all you will see is milkshake, vegetable samosas, and entire cities of colourful cylinders reaching the sky. You can pick the cylinders from their housing. They are cans. They are cans of beer. You need refreshment…if you’re going to the beach.

The Beach

You’re going to the beach! Whatever your plans are, until you’ve been down to the seafront on a long summer evening with a bunch of good friends and a Tesco’s Bag For Life packed with cold alcoholic refreshment, you’ve not done Brighton. Find a spot among the pebbles, get comfy, get pissed, laugh, and watch the sun set. I think there’s currently planning permission to turn the entire promenade into a Costa Coffee vending machine, so get here quick before it gets as good as that.



The Soul of España: Indulging the Art, Food + Flamenco of Madrid

Share Button


A massive sign high up on Madrid’s City Hall read “Refugees Welcome.” A cynic could take it as being a bit glib; but in truth, the statement was genuinely characteristic of Spain, whose citizens have actually held protests urging the government to accept even more immigrants. It was particularly poignant, as our time there coincided with the re-escalation back home of Donald Trump’s spiteful (nay, ridiculous) plan to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

All socio-political machinations aside, we were actually in the Spanish capital to check out the exceedingly cool new Only You Atocha hotel. The brand itself had launched in 2013 with a very different sort of property: the Only You Boutique hotel, in the trendy Chueca district, an aristocratic 19th mansion converted by star designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán into a surreal but drop-dead stunning maze of differently themed public areas and plush guest rooms. He was enlisted again for the Atocha, this time giving a distinctly Spanish context to the lobby-as-hip-playground concept familiar to denizens of hotels like The Ace.

And indeed, everywhere you might turn, there was something to grab your attention. To the right of the entrance, The Bakery by Mama Framboise, which serves decadent Tartaletas MF, a dozen flavors of macarons (goat-cheese-figs-pralines!), and Iberian ham toast all day. To the left was the Latin-Asian Trotamundos restaurant, with its buzzy corner cocktail bar. And just beyond, a dizzyingly dramatic atrium, where nouveau jazz happenings regularly bring in the city’s modern day hepcats.



But probably our favorite part of every day was shuffling off the hangovers while lingering over a lazy breakfast against spectacular views at the 7th floor Séptima – where in the evenings DJs soundtrack the Panoramic Drinks Sessions…thus perpetuating the hangover cycle.

Upstairs the rooms were a great deal more plush and stylish than those in typical hipsterrific hotels, with smartly patterned bedspreads, exposed brick walls and white tiled bathrooms. For a particular splurge, we can’t stress enough the fantabulousness of the sprawling Terrace Suite – whose outdoor space could easily accommodate 10-12 enthusiastically gyrating party people.

Madrid itself – sometimes mistakenly passed over for the more archly hip Barcelona – comes especially to life as winter passes into spring, with its scores of pavement cafes, its teeming plazas for sexy-people watching and its streets that buzz late into the night (really, more like 6am). The food is transcendent, the nightlife is some of the best on the Continent, and its grand boulevards / grandiloquent baroque architectural icons make it a city that gleams in the April-May sunshine.

Here’s what we did.


The PradoThe Reina Sofia

The thing about classical art in Spain…it’s just different. It’s a country that still has a king, after all. And so a great deal of la historia de España is still told in a place like The Prado. It’s indeed a very Spanish museum, and even if you’re a contemporary art geek, you’ll find yourself drawn in to the narrative as told through the dramatic works of Velazquez, Goya and El Greco. The jaw-dropping collection also boasts Rubens, Titian and Hieronymous Bosch’s proto-surrealist masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights. Don’t kill too much time on the stiff royal portraits.
The Reina Sofia, just a short stroll from the hotel, is Spain’s most important museum of 20th Century art, with treasures by Miró, Juan Gris, Pablo Serrano, and, of course, Picasso – whose influence can be appreciated in the current exhibition Telefónica Collection: Cubism(s) and Experiences of Modernity. The museum also holds more contemporary works by the likes of Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman, Man Ray, Julian Schnabel and Richard Serra.


Prado Museum 2017

El Prado


Art Gallery Tour

It’s not Berlin, surely – but Madrid’s contemporary art scene has genuinely started to garner international attention, with its annual ARCO fair having become one of Europe’s most important. The Art Gallery Tour people are your best bet for getting an insider’s view, with tours of specific districts like the hip Letras and posh Salamanca. They will also curate private tours to suit your taste. You can add a wine drinking element, should you wish to pontificate on what you’ve seen over a glass or two of Ribera Del Duero.

Barrio de Las Letras

Also a short stroll from the hotel, Las Letras is just that sort of neighborhood that defines Madrid, with atmospheric streets where charming little bars and cool indie boutiques reign – and there’s not a chain outlet in sight. The outdoor cafes on Plaza de Santa Ana and the narrow streets around it are great for lingering and people watching.




Palacio de Cibeles Restaurant Terrace

Atop the spectacular municipal building on the Plaza de Cibeles is a hidden away 6th floor restaurant and terrace. There’s a full gourmand’s menu – but come for cocktails, views and to soak up the vivid afternoon Madrid sunshine.

YOUnique Restaurant at Only You Boutique Hotel

Just being in this gorgeous hotel is an indescribable aesthetic pleasure. Its signature restaurant is a particular delight for a long, lazy lunch (okay, there’s really no other kind in Madrid), with Valencian paella, oxtail cannelloni, and skipjack carpaccio all beautifully presented. Ask for a table in the verdant, art-adorned garden. Come back in the evening, as the YOUnique Lounge is a stunningly designed setting for fancy cocktails – and the surrounding neighborhood jumps at night.




1862 Dry Bar

Spain’s is a wine-beer-sherry drinking culture. The cocktail thing, mercifully, did not sweep into its major cities and strap all of its bartenders into old-timey suspenders. 1862, for instance, is distinctly Spanish bar, not some awful Brooklyn imitation. A crowd of urbane Madrilenos come to sip updated takes on the classics (Gimlet, Sazerac, Manhattan) by drinks wizard Alberto Martinez. Spread over two floors, it’s one of the city’s buzziest scenes.

Corral de la Morería

Flamenco is way hotter than you might actually think – and five decades after opening, Corral de la Moreria is still one of the hottest tickets in Madrid. In a classical but sensual setting, with Arabic touches, watch some of Spain’s top names in the genre heat up the stage (and the audience) with their visceral, passionate performances. It’s actually quite an intense, even somewhat aphrodisiac experience.


Flamenco Madrid

BlackBook Exclusive: Summer Cocktail Recipes From the New Green Room at London’s The Curtain

Share Button


When Michael Achenbaum opened The Curtain hotel and members club in Shoreditch in spring of 2017, it represented a challenge to the primacy of the existing Shoreditch House in London’s trendiest neighborhood.

As it turns out, that can both exist and play nice – and The Curtain has indeed since become a galvanizing point for buzzy young London, hosting a steady parade of fashion, music and entertainment “It”sters, Pixie Lott, Ella Eyre, Gemma Chan, Georgina Campbell, Henry Holland and Dougie Poynter among them.

The scene just heated up with the opening of the new Green Room lobby bar, which is pretty much what it says it is. With a gorgeous interior by Ellie Horwell, it looks like the greenhouse of your flamboyant, eccentric auntie, with blue and pink velvet seating, a strikingly green-tiled bar, lots of hanging and potted plants, and huge windows framing the scene outside.

Jenny Willing, formerly of the Mondrian, is heading up the drinks program – and house specialties have cheeky titles like Rough Trade and Holiest Harlot.



“We’ve drawn on the area’s history of great pubs, and also on local products from our neighborhood,” she explains. “Our wine list is curated by Passione Vino and The Knotted Vine, both local suppliers with lots of heart.”

To kick off the summer, we asked her to reveal the “magic” behind two of their most popular tipples.
“The cocktail list doesn’t take itself too seriously,” she offers. “You can tell from the pairing of London-made Bloomsbury Amer and tuck shop classic, foam bananas. Our priority is our guests having a great experience and hopefully trying something a bit different.”

Cocktail Recipes from The Green Room

MaBelle (pictured top)

20 ml Bombay Sapphire
10 ml fresh lemon
30 ml Italicus
10 ml Crème de Cacao liqueur
75 ml Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic
Add all ingredients to a Highball glass, half fill with cubed ice and stir. Add ice to the top and garnish with a bay leaf.

Baby Grand 

40ml of you’re favourite rum, we like Bacardi Cuatro or East London Liquor Company Demerara Rum
15ml good quality honey
20ml fresh lime juice
One dash of Angostura bitters
Pinch of turmeric
25ml Champagne
Optional egg white of one egg if you have cocktail equipment and strainer.
Mix the honey with the pinch of Turmeric then lightly heat just until it softens up. Add all ingredients apart from Champagne to a cocktail tin, shake with spring first (if adding egg white) then add ice and do a short hard shake. Strain into a glass and add Champagne and some broken up Crunchie to the top.
If that’s too complicated see below:
Mix the honey with the pinch of Turmeric then lightly heat just until it softens up
Add all ingredients apart from Champagne to a cocktail shaker, shake hard then strain in to a coupette. Add a splash of champagne.

Charli XCX to Kick Off W Hotels Music Series this September

Share Button


Over the years, we’ve taken in a lot of pretty stimulating music at various W Hotels around the globe – from Cassius’ Boiler Room session in Paris to Cee Lo and De La Soul poolside in Scottsdale.

The nightlife-loving hotel group’s latest series, cleverly titled WAKE UP CALL, will kick off this September, just in time to offer up a cure to those end-of-summer blues. Indeed, from 9/1 -9/3, W Hollywood will host a head-spinning lineup of international superstars, including Charli XCX, Betty Who, Phantogram, Chromeo and Léon…plus Dancing Pineapple Presents: Codeko, Papa Ya, Christofi and Curt Reynolds.


W Hollywood


From there, WAKE UP goes full intercontinental, with Martin Solveig, Gorgon City, Thomas Jack and Pete Tong on the bill at W Barcelona (9/21 – 9/23)…then Angus & Julia Stone, along with Nightmares on Wax bringing the tunes in exotic surrounds at the W Bali – Seminyak (10/4 – 10/6).

But it won’t just be about getting your groove on. Included in the festivities are spa treatments and fitness sessions, plus specialty food and cocktail selections specific to WAKE UP CALL. Marriott and SPG members get access to special privileges – so sign up now, and line up those “big shot” credentials ahead of time.


W Barcelona 



From Anchovies in Dubrovnik to Donuts in Zagreb: An Exquisite Culinary Whirl Through Croatia

Share Button
Panorama Restaurant & Bar, Dubrovnik


Carving out enchantment in Croatia isn’t difficult – but visits to this pearl of the Adriatic Sea should absolutely extend beyond the more obvious cities of Dubrovnik and Zagreb. Indeed, in this ethereal land known for its otherworldly sites – as vividly depicted in Game of Thrones – there’s so much more to see.

We took the Kompas Adriatic Cruise on M/S Stella Maris, the compact luxury ship that allows for unprecedented access to sights and delights of those lesser known gems. Beginning in Dubrovnik and sailing north towards its final port-of-call in Poreč, the ship’s gracious and knowledgeable staff complement unique personal touches like lively info sessions, surprise island detours, and Croatian language lessons.


M/S Stella Maris


We were admittedly on a gastronomic mission – and thankfully, there’s an ocean’s worth of culinary gems at every stop.

Croatian fare is something of a crossroads of diversity and regional specificity, perhaps most easily divided up by coastal and mainland/continental fare. The former utilizes a lot of fresh seafood (squid, shrimp, lobster, octopus) and plenty of their award-winning Croatian olive oil – which is enhanced by an ample dose of fresh herbs and spices (think oregano, marjoram, cinnamon, rosemary); you’ll also recognize quite a lot of Mediterranean influences and resemblances to Greek and Italian (Venetian) cuisines.




The latter is heavily characterized by Slavic influences, as well as some Austrian, Hungarian, and Turkish (due to proximity and historical rule). You’ll see meat, fresh-water fish and vegetable dishes fortified by headier ingredients such as sweet paprika, roasted garlic and black pepper; and moreover, instead of olive oil, it’s sunflower oil and/or animal fats, such as pork lard for cooking and frying.

Highlights in the overall include cheese made from fresh sheep or goat’s milk from the Island of Pag, spicy sausages (kulen) from Slavonia, Dalmatian prosciutto, truffles from Istria…we could go on.

Here were some of the highlights.



Take the cable car up Srđ Hill and soak up sweeping panoramic views of the Old City of Dubrovnik, the island of Lokrum, the bay of Lapad, and the Elaphite Islands. Perched atop the hill is Panorama Restaurant and Bar; and considering your location along the Dalmatian coast – here, you must exercise your gustatory duty to eat freshly caught seafood. We recommend the Dalmatian Trilogy, a swimmingly delicious trio of octopus, marinated shrimps, and anchovies – best enjoyed with a glass of summer à la Grgić Pošip (2015).


Panorama Restaurant & Bar



Take a stroll through Mljet National Park – this cherished green island oasis is situated on the Dalmatian south. It is the oldest national park along the Adriatic sea and hosts a wealth of flora and fauna, along with two unique features: the Great Lake and Small Lake. The latter on which you can take a small boat over to the Isle of St. Mary, where the 12th century Benedictine monastery awaits. The building is a bit of an anomaly; due to it being redesigned numerous times, architectural styles collide: Renaissance meets Romanesque meets Baroque. For a break from the history lesson, wander down to Restaurant Melita. With views overlooking the lake, enjoy a romantic meal on the terrace with local cheeses, black risotto and our favorite, grilled mljet lobster.


Millenia-old winemaking traditions are revered here. So a visit and chat with Mr. Branimir Cebalo in his Lumbarda vineyard at Grk Cebalo is very much in order. Located about two miles from the Old Town of Korčula, they offer tours of the grounds and wine tasting: we recommend his Grk white wine, which offers reserved intensity and is gorgeously layered. Then make your way back to the shoreline to Lešić Dimitri Palace Restaurant – or more simply, LD Terrace. It recently entered the Michelin Guide and their Dalmatian fare with contemporary flourishes ideally complements the patio-perfect views of the Adriatic Sea. We recommend the gambero rosso & rose galić dish, which features local sweet, raw prawns, and a lush bisque that’s finished with a drizzle of herb-infused oil.


Lešić Dimitri Palace Restaurant 



You probably know it as the island where international celebs and folks with fancy yachts congregate; but beyond the ritzy-glitz, there’s authenticity and charm waiting to be discovered. Wander the streets of this seaside town and make your way over to the Španjola, a Spanish fortress built in the 15th and 16th centuries. As you stand on historic antiquity, take in sunny views of the quaint town, the Adriatic and nearby the Pakleni Islands. Then head to the local Hvar Market for a basket of the freshest, sweetest strawberries you’ve ever tasted in your life. Sometimes life’s simple pleasures are just as sublime.


Part of the Dalmatia region, this bustling city is the second-largest in Croatia and spread over a central peninsula. Head below ground for a brief respite from the crowds, explore the palatial rooms beneath the surface of a Roman Emperor’s namesake Diocletian’s Palace, deemed a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. Then, wander over to the chic and lively Bokeria Kitchen and Wine bar for stellar Croatian wines (we recommend a medium-bodied white Stina vugava, from Brač); pair with the smoked and charred octopus, made with sweet stewed chickpeas and tomatoes.


Bokeria Kitchen 



Located in the northeast town of Sibenik, Krka National Park is accessible nature at its finest. It’s a natural karst phenomena and rich in endemic species, but allows for leisurely strolls due to the many wooden paths. There are 360°views of lush forestry, streams, and seven waterfalls to behold –  of which the most famous and stunningly beautiful is Skradinski buk. After a jaunty workout, grab a seat by the sheltered overwater patio at Konoba Toni. The mixed grill is a must and features locally caught orada (sea bass), brancin (sea bream), calamari, clams, and shrimp. Fresh, sweet and tender – all else that’s required is a drizzle of local Croatian olive oil, lemon and salt.


Situated along the Dalmatian coast, the past and present greet one another with a cool connectedness. With over 3000 years of history, a wander through the Old City of Zadar and you’ll be face-to-face with Roman forum ruins. Then encounter the present/future with art installations by Nikola Bašić along the coastline, which feature his psychedelic solar-powered Greetings to the Sun and water-symphonic Sea Organ. Then, get an ample fill of people watching on the patio of Pet Bunara as you tuck into Croatian-Mediterranean fare such as stuffed calamari that’s filled to the gills with a mixture of barley, Dalmatian bacon, goat cheese, fish sauce, capers and chives. And remember to take a peek inside the restaurant itself; its digs are built upon the archaeological ruins of the Old City walls – which you can see through their glass floor.


Pet Bunara



It’s hard to resist the charms of this impossibly romantic town. Situated on the western coast of the Istrian Peninsula, Rovinj’s Old City is a basket weave of narrow winding cobbled streets, stone archways, flower-dotted window sills, and a central harbor lined with little batanas. Wander up to the foot of the Church of St. Euphemia for inspired views, baroque architecture and insights into its famed namesake martyr; then snake down around the back (with swimsuit in tow) to the Plaža Baluota and its swimming nook. Enjoy the crystal waters of the Adriatic Sea and views of neighboring Katarina and Banjol islands. Afterwards, head over to Gelateria Italia for baseball-sized scoops of gelato (two, if you please) – obvious winners are the pistachio and the Crema Siciliana (blood orange).


From that final port of call of Poreč, opt to venture into Zagreb, the capital – the three-hour drive meanders through majestic mountains and evergreen farmlands. Upon arrival, make your way over to St. Mark’s Church, and don’t be surprised to be surrounded by numerous wedding parties and a sea of brides in white waiting their turn outside in the courtyard to tie the knot at this historic 13th century gem. To this day, it is picture-perfect, even though a portion of the building was constructed in 1880; it still features the medieval coats of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia, and the emblem of Zagreb. Ironically, the Museum of Broken Relationships happens to be situated a few feet away from all the “happily-ever-after” related going-ons. If the name isn’t enough of a giveaway, it showcases stories of heartbreak from all over the world. If you consider that the love of food is the most reliable form of affection, seek it out a block over and dine at local favorite Konoba Didov San, for Croatian comfort food. The restaurant inside is a tiny, cozy nook of a spot but in warm weather, seek out patio pleasures with charming views of the neighborhood and the Magdalenić-Drašković-Jelačić Palace. Try the Snails à la Dida – plump puževi sit in a rich gravy that includes roasted garlic and onion, and it’s served with crunchy polenta that’s riddled with crispy lardons. But true love will be found in the form of their fried fluffy donuts, served with their exquisite homemade cheese – the perfectly delicious ending to a delectable tour of culinary Croatia.


St. Mark’s Church




Skittish Sheep, Hotel Poets and Majestic Church Bells: BlackBook Does Dublin

Share Button


It seemed fitting that we’d arrived in Dublin for the first time just days after The Pogues’ frontman Shane McGowan’s very well-documented 60th birthday party. The guest list, hardly surprisingly, included the likes of Nick Cave, Johnny Depp and Bobby Gillespie, all of whom had checked into the Conrad hotel, where we also happened to be dropping our bags. For us, the lobby (and surely the bar) had been “consecrated” in advance by their visit.

Now we’d over the years clocked considerable time and kilometers in England, Scotland and Wales; but the Dublin soil had yet eluded our soles. Charmingly, the first “attraction” our airport driver brought to our attention? “Those are U2’s offices,” he beamed, pointing proudly to a strikingly modern looking building along the River Liffey, as if it were the Parthenon.



But what we eventually would come to most appreciate of the Irish capital was that it felt decidedly more Euro than Anglo – and our new friends there seemed happy we’d noticed just that.

A special treat? We had taken an Aer Lingus flight from New York, which also happened to be carrying one Peter Dinklage – decisively confirming that the filming of yet another season of Game of Thrones was well underway in the far reaches of the Emerald Isle.

But despite all that, surely nothing reminded us more profoundly that we were, indeed, in Dublin, than the Conrad’s in-house…poet. It was surely the highlight of our trip.

Here’s what we did.


Christ Church Cathedral

Perhaps owing to our particular aesthetic inclinations, we genuinely relish any and every opportunity to ponce about in an extravagantly gothic house of God. And dating to 1030, Christ Church doesn’t even have to use the “neo” prefix of so many of those English cathedrals. We were afforded a particularly special privilege: that of climbing up to the bell room to actually ring the enormous church bells – and the music they made was all the more majestic for that proximity (mind, they are also really heavy). Surprisingly, they’re actually short of ringers there – so if you’re seeking employment that might also take you a few steps closer to divinity, Christ Church should be your first call.
Downstairs in the “crypt” were a mummified cat and rat, discovered in the 1850s trapped in the church’s pipe organ. Do not leave without visiting them, nor the on-site Foxy Friars gift shop.



St. Ann’s Church 

For dark-hearted literary types, this is sort of like visiting the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris, where one can kneel before the graves of Baudelaire, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. But St. Ann’s was actually the site of Oscar Wilde’s baptism in 1854, and Bram Stoker’s wedding in 1878. Fittingly, the latter’s bride, Florence Balcombe, was also making time with Oscar. Would you have expected anything less?



Iveagh Gardens

For a particularly ethereal immersion in the unique Europeaness of Dublin, we slipped behind the National Concert Hall to discover the elegantly discreet Iveagh Gardens (tip: you’ll want to make sure to bring your best garden-sauntering soundtrack with you.) Built by Edward Guinness, Lord Iveagh, he was to Dublin what the Medici were to Florence – an aesthetically defining patron. There is some English influence, but the Iveagh is most notably marked out by its Italianate fountains and its French style waterfall and promenade. Truly lovely, and delightfully furtive.



Tea at Lemuel’s

Taken in London or Bath, tea can be a bit…twee. But The Story Teller Afternoon Tea at Lemuel’s, the Conrad’s chic, Art Deco style bar and lounge, was distinctly Irish – encouraging as it does some mid-day tippling with your rarefied nibbles. It’s anything but traditional, with hibiscus infused scones, white chocolate and pistachio cake lollipop, and a free range egg sandwich with chive truffle aioli. We added cocktails, specifically the brandy based Sorcerer’s Tipple, and the Brobdingnag Sting for the gin lovers amongst us. All the signature drinks have backstories culled from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, a fittingly literary touch – and the selection of specialty loose leaf teas is head-spinning. Classy, but fun.



Teeling Whiskey

Despite its ostensibly mythic status, it turns out Irish whiskey makes up only about 4% of the worldwide total consumption. But the lads at Teeling are not having it, and have been leading a renaissance – which was perfectly encapsulated in their eye-catchingly modern city centre distillery and tasting rooms. At one of the latter, a 007-meets-Illuminati private enclave, we learned the intricacies of their small batch, single grain and single malt whiskeys – like, how one hits the throat, and another the gut. Their lush, amber single grain is literally a symphony of flavors, one of the most satisfying whiskey experiences we can recall. There’s also a swank new bar on site, should your tippling preferences tend towards swish cocktailing or fancy Irish coffees.



The Pig’s Ear

You wouldn’t think from the name, but this is one of the more romantic eateries in a city where you’re just as likely to be romancing a demon spirit as a beautiful lass. In one of the art-and-fireplace-adorned rooms, we dined rapturously on St Tola goats cheese, Earl Grey Tea cured Irish salmon, and duck liver, pork & smoked black pudding terrine. It was also an ideal opportunity to take a break from the hard stuff – their sommeliers are totally aces.



Coburg Brasserie

The Conrad’s exceedingly stylish signature restaurant, the Coburg is a buzzy scene from breakfast all the way through to late night. We first did time at its chic Champagne Table for an expertly led course in whiskey and gin tasting – and fell hard for Irish Gunpowder Gin, with its juniper base enhanced by flavors of coriander, cardamom, star anise and, naturally, gunpowder tea. Coburg’s menu is approachable but intriguing, and dinner highlights might include smoked steak tartare, whole grilled mackerel, rack of Irish lamb, and a 35-day dry-aged Irish beef fillet so flavorful that it will likely have you requesting a few cuts to smuggle home in your luggage.



The National Concert Hall

We were most thrilled to just take in the nighttime view of The National Concert Hall’s luminously illuminated facade from our suite at the Conrad. But this is where you would come to experience an elevated program of music in Dublin: Weill, Schubert, Beethoven, opera and more curated contemporary offerings. We took in Imagining Ireland: 21st Century Song, for a fascinating narrative on modern Irish music. It makes for a refined break from the city’s more rockist live music offerings.




Dublin is one of those destinations, like Florence, where you haven’t truly visited unless you’ve gotten out of the city. And really, when was the last time you were invited out to experience something, you know…neolithic? For certain, Newgrange is a must for Neanderphiles, a Stone Age monument dating to 3200 B.C.  An ancient passage tomb – now a UNESCO World Heritage site – it was conceived to capture a shaft of sunlight at the Winter Solstice, and still, amazingly, performs that function. The complex, mathematical construction makes it all the more shocking that it was built 5000 years ago. An incomparable experience.



The Hill of Tara

An ethereal, Iron Age archaeological site, it’s home to a number of ancient monuments, all with fascinating backstories…as well as some mind-blowing sun circles. We climbed the hill for its awe-inspiring vantage point – and there encountered a herd of sheep we were hoping to make friends with. Alas, the cleverly skittish little fellows were cagey enough to avoid our advances – amusingly matching our movement step for step. Meaning, we never really even got close to them.
While you’re there, do make sure to pop in to The Old Book Shop, which is exactly what it sounds like it is – with an owner, Michael Slavin, that you should plan to spend some time chatting up about the area’s history. And a couple of doors down, Maguires Cafe is a buzzy but charming spot for a long, lazy lunch.



The Conrad Dublin

It’s mentally exhausting, listening to every new hotel’s endless proclamations of “immersion in local culture.” But the Conrad Dublin totally nails it…by the utterly genius employment of a “house poet” (what could be more Irish?). To be sure, natty young lad Stephen Clare sits in the private dining room at Lemuel’s, tapping away on a typewriter (in a totally non-hipster way), and turning out poignant yet startlingly mellifluous poetry, considering its unpremeditated spontaneity. (Being in Ireland, we asked him grace us with some ethereal words on Christianity – and were nothing shy of awestruck by the result.)
As for the hotel itself, it might well be Dublin’s best, drawing the likes of J-Lo, Bill & Hillary and, aforementioned of course, the occasional debauched rock star, with its 5-star goodies and utterly brilliant staff. And while the smartly art-adorned public spaces dazzle in their unstuffy elegance, the rooms and suites exhibit a more subdued chic, with their white-and grey color schemes, soothing light woods, plush bathrooms and generous windows, framing the surrounding city centre. Request one with views to the Neo-Classical National Theatre, or over to the lush St. Stephen’s Green just up the road.
It also has a distinctly fun side, with a basement pub, Alfie Byrne’s, that can go head to head with almost any local for authenticity, vibe, beer selection and spirited clientele (who went totally mental upon the Irish beating the French in Six Nations Rugby). Though, admittedly, we were at our most content cocktailing the night away back up at Lemuel’s, where a couple of rounds of Dublin Daisies – made with Teeling whiskey, naturally – capped our visit to a city (and a hotel) that we must admit we fell pretty hard for.
Indeed, return plans are already in the works.



Six Things We Love About the New AC Hotel New York

Share Button


If you wanted to find yourself at the molten center of the current media zeitgeist, proximity to the presidentially-dubbed “Failing New York Times” would surely be a good start. And so the opening of the new AC Hotel New York Times Square, right across the street from the offices of The Grey Lady, comes with a particularly zeitgeisty frisson. (Plus, looking out your window towards the paper’s dazzling Renzo Piano tower makes for a breathtakingly NY experience.)

In fact, if you’re hoping to pick up some hot media biz gossip, this is surely now one of the best places for a bit of casual eavesdropping. (Not that we’re condoning it.)

But there are so many reasons to fall for this hotel – the latest in a growing Stateside portfolio for the Spanish brand (partnered with Marriott since 2011). Especially as the company itself has a long standing love affair with architectural statement-making.

Here’s what we’re loving about it.



The Architecture

A hallmark of the AC brand, the entrance hall announces the sheer, awe-inspiring grandiosity of the property. With its marble floors, cool mid-century furnishings, soaring ceilings and overall sense of wide open space, it begs for casual business meetings (what client wouldn’t be impressed?), or lingering over a book from the hotel’s own library. And, of course, Instagramming.

The Rooms

Paradigms of cool understatement, the rooms here are focused on the guest user experience – with an exceedingly well-thought-out dedication to ergonomics, and an easy sense of style. The sleek wood floors and leather headboards give each chamber a real touch of class. N.B. – Some have a wall of windows framing the skyline, still others have views of the Empire State Building.



Korres Bath Products

Face it, those Molton Brown and Bulgari toiletries just don’t seem all that special anymore, do they? Rather, AC has a new partnership with the forward-thinking namesake Greek brand founded by Lena Korres (described as a “modern green apothecary”), whose products have a unique herbal/floral base, and distinct homeopathic-therapeutic qualities. It just feels good using them.


From its perpetually trendy Flatiron original, Boqueria has become a genuine New York phenomenon, with current locations in Soho, Brooklyn, the UES…and now at the AC in Midtown. Here, its endemic sultry style adopts some of the aesthetic signifiers of the hotel – warm woods, subdued but elegant color schemes – while still serving up a similarly sublime menu of Spanish specialities. Lunch and happy-hour/dinner are equally abuzz here, for classic tapas (gambas al ajillo, pintxos morunos), as well as charcuterie, Barcelona bowls and pitchers of delicious sangria.



Castell Rooftop Bar & Lounge

Sure, you can’t throw an artisan ice cube without hitting another rooftop bar in NYC – but most are fairly quotidian and obligatory. The absolutely stunning Castell, however, has quite an excellent sense of style and design flow – giving the whole place a remarkable feeling of chicness and energy. The vibe is more sophisticated than sceney…yet they do certainly know how to have fun. With its Spanish soul, specialty gin cocktails are a thing here; but be here at the right time, and the cava will be free-flowing, as well. Seriously, this is now unquestionably one of the best rooftop destinations in the entire city.


Perfect for theater buffs, obviously, as it sits right at the edge of the Broadway perimeter (if that’s your thing, make sure to also pop in to the delightful Drama Book Shop right next door). But it’s also a casual walk to Central Park – and an easy subway ride to just about anywhere in Manhattan.