Thursday, July 14, 2011

The finest Eggs Benedict ... in the world !

My global (sporadic and unstructured) quest to find the best Eggs Benedict may be at an end!
I'm a big fan of this classic dish. When a perfectly poached egg (well cooked, dry on the outside and still runny on the inside) is placed upon a properly toasted and (genuine) English muffin, this is a perfect treat. I'm easy on having either ham or bacon between the bread and the egg, so long as the bacon is crisp, and I prefer to have my hollandaise sauce on the side.

Marriot hotels internationally generally provide a very satisfying breakfast, and the Hong Kong Marriot does a fine Benedict, as does the Adlon in Berlin. The Hong Kong Club and Capital Club in Dubai both deserve commendable marks, but there is a small cafe in Phuket (off the beaten track and a 5 minute walk from the JW Marriot) that we frequented during our holiday, and that simple place was holding pole position in my mind till now.

This past weekend we had a few days in Prague, and The Augustine Hotel (a Rocco Forte hotel) may have stolen the prize.

The Augustine is a beautiful property. A converted monastery that opened as a hotel just 18 months ago. Nice rooms and impeccable service, and they serve an Eggs Benedict to die for. I must confess that this somewhat peculiar and random quest of mine has been on hold for the best part of a year since I started my "only fruit for breakfast" diet, but my partner in crime (my daughter Tia) is a big fan and connoisseur of the dish, and having her with me allowed me to continue and expand my global search further.

She ordered the dish on our first day. It came looking divine. The plate and dish were hot (this should not always be taken for granted) and although the sauce was pre-poured in this case, I had to let that go as it was my daughters preference.

The first and “crunch” test was to poke a fork through the yolk, and this revealed a golden flowing yolk inside the firm albumen. Cutting down, there were layers of finely shaved ham sitting atop a lightly crunchy English muffin. Tia and I smiled at each other. We both knew this was looking very promising and as my little girl put a rather large forkful into her mouth, I could see her eyes light up in tune with her taste buds. I watched her relish every bite, and then we reached the final test. The second egg! The first one was done right … to perfection, but was it fluke? Would the second egg have continued cooking in its own heat during the time the first egg was being eaten? In went the fork, and an identical flow of a deep orange liquid yolk dripped out. I couldn't resist. This looked almost perfect and I wouldn't let the opportunity pass, so I indulged myself with a bite, and then another, and then another. OUTSTANDING!

To cap this off, we repeated the order 2 days later and The Augustine proved they can deliver this dish to perfection consistently. Well done!

So for Prague, a beautiful city with castles and bridges, history and culture, fine crystal and good beer, here is another accolade to add ... IMHO, the finest Eggs Benedict in the world!


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

(Another) unpleasant flight experience !

Last week I flew from Moscow to London, a route I am frequently travelling and I chose the 10am BMI flight.

A lovely Moscow summers day made the wait on the street quite manageable. After the horrific terrorist attack in January, security has finally been stepped up and every person and every bag is being scanned at the entry of the airport ... Understandable, but they simply can't cope with the volume of travellers leaving on their summer holidays.
So 20 minutes later I was inside a packed Domodedovo airport. I made my way to check in counters, and at least could avoid the unwieldy lines by going to business class check in by virtue of Virgin gold card (which is recognised by BMI ... Or at least that's what I thought!). I handed my Virgin card and passport to the check in lady, who looked at the Virgin card with virtual disgust and almost threw it back at me! I asked her what was wrong and told her that this card is accepted by BMI.
"This is not a BMI flight" was her abrupt comment, at which point I looked up at the screen above her desk and it said check in for flight BD2904!
OK, I understand this is a code share flight, but since when did that mean the "sharee" took all the rights and the "sharer" had no rights?
I started to dispute this with the check in lady, but was clearly informed that this was a Transaero flight. I didn't have the energy to argue with her at 8am, and I was anyway getting the benefit of skipping the check in queue, so I left it ... Until I was told that my suitcase was 9kg overweight. I had to go to the Transaero cash desk to pay this excess, and I figured there may be a more sympathetic ear there.
So off I went, and handed the cash desk lady my "receipt" saying I had to pay some excess weight.
I announced "I have a Virgin gold card", to which she replied, "only Visa or MasterCard"!
"No, you don't understand. I have a Virgin Airlines gold card" I clarified.
"No shto" came the abrupt reply (basically translated as "so what" in Russian) "My Virgin card entitles me to some benefits on BMI and that includes some extra weight allowance".
"This is a Transaero flight" ... This was going nowhere, and at no point was there any form of a sensible explanation, or an apology, or even any form of basic courtesy.

So $150 later, I am on the flight along with my bag, but hugely disappointed. BMI has always been one of my favoured airlines for short haul in Europe, but this was a frustrating experience. What's worse, is that in this case I can understand that it was not entirely BMI's fault. While they are responsible to choose their code sharing partners carefully and get involved in how they act this just seemed beyond what they could have reasonably expected.
I can understand that on a hot day in a busy airport it is easy for staff who work there to get irritated, but this is no way to treat passengers and customers. I know Russia and especially Moscow well, and I like to think the country and capital city have developed a long way in the 17 years I have been travelling there, but this was back to Soviet era attitudes. Airports are the face of a country. A warm welcome and farewell by a nation to it's visitors leaves a lasting mark, as does rudeness, so it's truly a shame that a couple of ignorant people can  wield this much influential power. So come on Transaero ... Get your act together. I don't care about my Gold card status, I don't care that I had to pay the excess baggage, but I do expect some manners and politeness from customer facing staff.