Posts Tagged ‘Living’


Venezuela in London: Mi cocina es tuya – Café Latino, Crystal Palace

Between the pubs and print shops of Westow Street in Crystal Palace is a fantastic little restaurant serving authentic Venezuelan cuisine. Mi cocina es tuya (My kitchen is yours) bills itself as London’s only Venezuelan restaurant – perfect for our World in London series.. If you know better, let us know in the comments below!
I went to meet husband-and-wife team Alexis and Mary yesterday to sample their coffee, and find out about their unique eatery. What started as an events catering business with a stall in Camden Market now has a more stable base in this Crystal Palace restaurant. During the past three years, Alexis and Mary have served their traditional Venezuelan cuisine all over London, from the Carnaval del Pueblo to the Venezuelan Embassy. For the last seven months, they’ve been concentrating on developing Mi cocina es tuya.
The menu offers delicious-sounding empanadas (patties), asado criollo (grilled beef and rice) and arepas (corn bread with beef, chicken or cheese). The most popular dish, Alexis tells me, is the Pabellón de carne: beef, black beans, rice and fried plantains.

“At first, finding the right ingredients was difficult. For example, this hallaca is a traditional Christmas dish, but it’s wrapped in banana leaves.” He shows me an intricately bound parcel of dark green leaves. “But, you can’t just buy banana leaves in Asda! Now, we’ve found out about the right vendors in Brixton, at the market, and we can make hallaca. Similarly, you can’t get the chilli beef for Pabellon de carne in a normal supermarket. Now, we go to a Columbian butcher in Brixton. It tastes just as good as the meat in Venezuela.”

As well as the traditional food, Mary and Alexis are proud to show me their Venezuelan drinks. Mi cocina es tuya is one of the few places in London you can enjoy typical Latin drinks like Malta, Sugarcane with lemon, and Cocada, which, I’m told, is like coconut milkshake, but much nicer.

“People are often surprised that our food is like food from Trinidad and Tobago, or Caribbean food. But really, we’re from the same part of the world. Chilean, Peruvian, Columbian, all Latin American people that come here will see and recognise the products we sell.”

Indeed, as well as being a lovely place for a traditional Venezuelan breakfast of Perico (scrambled eggs with chopped tomatoes, onions and coriander, black beans, cheese and arepa, or corn bread – much healthier, I’m assured than the Traditional English they also serve), Mi cocina es tuya is also something of a Latin American deli. You can by the white or yellow “PAN” cornflour, as well as Malta drinks and other typical delicacies.
With guitars and maracas hanging from the walls, as well as plenty of gorgeous pictures of Venezuela itself, I think Mi cocina es tuya is a fantastic representation of Venezuelan London. And the wonderful hospitality of Alexis and Mary means I’ll be back for more. That, and the promise of trying some Dulce de tres leche next time!

Visit Mi cocina es tuya – Café Latino at 61 Westow Street Crystal Palace, London, SE19 3RW. If you know any other examples of Venezuelan culture in London, let us know in the comments below.

Venezuela in London: Mi cocina es tuya – Café Latino, Crystal Palace – Visit London Blog

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>Snorkeling on the shore reef off the Water Villas on Rangali Island, Maldives

Rangali Snorkel Maldives @ Yahoo! Video 
Rangali Snorkel Maldives

Rangali Snorkel Maldives

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>Asado Negro in the NY Times!!!

The Cheat: Dark Arts

This week’s recipe is a raggedy Christmas number out of Venezuela called asado negro. It requires a fat roast of beef that is simmered for a long time in dark caramel, its sweetness tempered by vinegar. The result is sticky and unctuous beneath a cloak of peppers, onions and leeks. It looks mysterious and bold on the plate and at the start of a New York winter can conjure some degree of Latin American humidity and joy.
Asado negro has its primary home in Caracas, where it is often served during the holidays, alongside fried sweet plantains and white rice, with perhaps a tart green salad for contrast. The meat is napped in blackness that comes not from fire or smoke but from the absorption of all colors into one, a color as deep as space itself.
It is beef the color of a velvet dinner jacket seen across a dark lawn at midnight. It makes mockery of pot roast. And, as we shall see, it is exceedingly simple to make.
Hold on: blackened beef? I first had the dish at a restaurant called Mohedano, a flash place in Chacao, the relatively prosperous part of Caracas that is a stronghold of opposition to Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez. The neighborhood supports restaurants and shopping centers and has plenty of gated parking lots guarded by men with guns. It recalls Miami crossed with the Upper East Side of Manhattan, with a few blocks of London and Mexico City thrown in for good measure.
Mohedano’s chef, Edgar Leal, runs the restaurant with his wife, Mariana Montero de Castro, with whom he has also had a restaurant in the United States. They served asado negro as part of a tasting menu designed to highlight the traditional flavors of cosmopolitan Venezuela.
Leal is an irrepressible figure in his restaurant, a ham who cooks with grace and precision, a character out of Stoppard, the gourmand existing within the privation of a repressive state. “It looks burned,” he said of his asado negro, laughing as he often does, as he placed the plate on a table. “But you see what you think.” Then he put on a stage whisper: “It’s not burned at all!”
The beef was cut thin, against the grain, and it glistened with moisture. The sauce cloaking it was dark and deep in flavor — with a strong, nutty sweetness, yes, but a bracing sort, far from cloying and leading only to the desire for more.
Leal cooks his asado negro with papelón, the solid block of unrefined cane sugar that is known by various names across Latin America (boiled sugar-cane pulp, essentially, formed into small blocks that can be broken into shards or grated into drinks or sauce). Papelón makes for excellent asado negro, and if you can find some at your local market — where you’ll most likely discover it listed as panela or piloncillo — go ahead and use it for your own.
But you can also cheat, which, as Chávez might say, is the way of our nation. Norman Van Aken, the Miami chef and restaurateur who has done much to bring the flavors of the Caribbean and South America to the United States, and who included a recipe for asado negro in his excellent 2003 cookbook, “New World Kitchen,” said in a telephone interview that the home cook could replicate some of the complexity of papelón by making a dark caramel out of plain white sugar and water, then adding a few teaspoons of brown sugar at the end.
“Asado negro is not a dish that’s centuries old,” Van Aken said. “As near as we could figure it in our research for the book, it goes back to the 1960s or ’70s. You can definitely mess around with it a little and make it your own.”
And so we begin with caramel, a chemistry-class lesson for the home. Sugar is dissolved in water and heated until the water evaporates and the sugar molecules break down, turning heavy and dark. Add to this sticky pool some vinegar and dry red wine, which impart savory, acidic notes to what will amount to a braising liquid, as well as some brown sugar for rustic depth. Pour the liquids carefully, for the caramel will spatter and hiss. Then allow the sauce to become whole again, stirring occasionally.
Now we sear the beef, creating a crust on the bottom of the pan that will add heft to our meal, a beefy intensity to counter the sugars and acids. Removing the meat from the pot for a moment, we sauté a great deal of garlic and onion, celery and leeks, then combine these with the seared beef and the caramel sauce under a swirl of sliced bell peppers, and push the covered whole into the oven for a few hours. Some crazy magic happens in there.
Plain white rice dressed only with a pat of butter is the best starch with which to pair this meal. You might try to locate some ripe plantains as well, to slice into coins and fry gently in oil until they turn the same golden brown as the caramel you started with. (In a pinch, you can use bananas, though they are a great deal more fragile and sweet than a ripe plantain, and require close attention in the pan, lest they turn to mush.)
Leal adds a rustic Venezuelan salad to the plate, with fresh hearts of palm, avocado and diced tomato. You might do the same, but at this time of the year, you would most likely disappoint yourself: December tomatoes in the United States are generally a grim affair, to say nothing of our canned hearts of palm and rock-hard avocados. Better to find some hothouse lettuces — Van Aken suggests something peppery in the area of watercress or arugula — and to dress these in a lime vinaigrette.
There’s a new Paul Simon song out, “Getting Ready for Christmas Day.” It’s all strummy guitar and thumping Delta blues, Simon’s muted trumpet of a voice singing about money and war, the pain of family and the release that comes to all of us somehow, religious or not, on Christmas Day. This would make a fine final accompaniment to the dinner itself, along with some dark beer or a strong zinfandel, slightly chilled.

The Dark Art of Beef –

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Fantasy island

By Felix Milns
Published: December 3 2010 22:56 | Last updated: December 3 2010 22:56

Laucala Island
He may own two Formula One motor racing teams (one of which has just won the world championship) but Dietrich Mateschitz is not to be found among the champagne-swilling motorsport set in Monte Carlo. The 66-year-old Austrian businessman founded the Red Bull energy drink company, expanded it into a business with a turnover of more than €3bn and created one of the world’s most visible marketing campaigns. There are Red Bull football teams from New York to São Paulo, an aircraft racing championship and Red Bull-sponsored athletes in sports from snowboarding to surfing, cycling and canoeing.
Yet despite being a master of creating publicity for his brand, Mateschitz is known for shunning the limelight (so much so that it’s often said that he bought Austria’s leading society magazine purely so he could avoid appearing in its pages). So, when it comes to holidays, there’s only one choice – a private island.
Seven years ago, Mateschitz was on business in Fiji and was told by his lawyer that one of the country’s most exclusive islands was for sale. When he set eyes on Laucala Island, he was instantly smitten.
A mountainous 12 sq km island in Fiji’s northern Lau chain, Laucala is surrounded by a calm lagoon of the deepest blue, encircled by a reef. Its coves, curves, contours and long stretches of white sand beaches are the very essence of the South Pacific.
In private hands for more than a century, it was initially run as a coconut plantation by a British family before being sold to Malcolm Forbes, of Rich List fame, in the 1970s. Forbes kept the island as a private retreat, with a small plantation house and staff quarters, for entertaining the likes of the Rockefellers and Elizabeth Taylor, so it remained undeveloped until Mateschitz bought it from Forbes’ heirs in 2003.
Since then, Mateschitz has been developing Laucala into a paradise retreat complete with numerous high-octane boys’ toys in keeping with Red Bull’s adrenalin-fuelled image. Only 25 super-luxe villas are spread along 4.2km of coastline, all sharing facilities that could happily service a large hotel. Moored off the jetty are a dive boat, three sailboats, a waterskiing boat, a game-fishing pleasure cruiser and three lightning-fast jet skis. “The best way to get a real sense of the scale of the island is by jet ski,” says an instructor.
The diving and snorkelling are superb, with 40m-plus visibility. The island has 25 dive sites – look out for schools of hammerhead sharks – and is only a half-hour boat trip from the White Wall, Fiji’s top diving location. It is definitely worth the trip – you drift along a 60m-high wall covered in iridescent lavender and white corals before swimming through a narrow passageway into a garden of corals in a thousand shades of purples, lilacs, yellows and reds.

Back on dry land, there’s an equestrian centre, tennis courts, mountain bikes and a perfectly manicured championship-level golf course designed by David Mclay Kidd, famous for the Castle course at St Andrews in Scotland and Bandon Dunes in Oregon.
Ten greenkeepers keep the course in immaculate condition, making it arguably one of the most beautiful and exclusive in the world. Those less fond of golf should not despair, however, as the course cannot even be seen from the resort, the main hub of which is built around a show-stopping swimming pool.
At 5,000 sq m, it is the largest pool in the South Pacific. There’s a stunning lap pool, a raised glass box that sits above a cluster of organically shaped pools that flow down over pebble-lined waterfalls into a vast lagoon with multiple sandy bays. It’s extravagant, bold and a little crazy.
As such, it epitomises the whole project. One fellow guest, a French banker on a seven-week worldwide honeymoon, put it succinctly: “We have travelled to some of the world’s best hotels but this beats everything. It’s like one man’s crazy dream. Yes it’s absurdly expensive but, even so, you know you are getting a bargain.”
The reason being that it has been built on such a grand scale for so few guests. Such is the air of exclusivity that, despite first opening in December 2008, the resort is still scarcely marketed and the management team is almost loath to see the hotel run at full capacity. There were three other couples on the island during our stay and, unless it was an exclusive booking, it’s unlikely you would ever share with more than 10 or 15 other guests.
With a permanent staff of 329, at first it seems almost criminally extravagant to offer such a high level of low-key yet immensely professional service for so few guests but that is at the very heart of the Laucala philosophy. Maja Kilgore, a co-manager, says: “We don’t want you to have to pre-book your diving or spa, whatever you want to do will be ready for you whenever you want.”
Unsurprisingly, it does not take long to get into the groove. Waking up one morning to some tropical rain, we put in a quick call to the spa over breakfast and saw out the storm with a three-hour treatment.
The same philosophy extends to the catering. There are five different restaurants to choose from, including a fresh grill at the beach bar, excellent Thai food at the Seagrass Lounge and fine dining at the Plantation House restaurant, plus the option of eating whatever you want, wherever you want, anywhere on the island.
Aside from the colonial-style Plantation House, which Mateschitz had rebuilt three times before he was happy with it, the architecture is rooted in a traditional Fijian aesthetic, with a very organic approach. There are no straight lines, only soft curves and free-flowing shapes.
The attention to detail is eye-catching. Not a single nail has been used in construction; instead the hardwood beams are joined by magi magi – coconut thread produced on the island – and all the buildings are thatched with local sago palm.
Some of the roof lines of the public spaces are particularly dramatic, the pool bar is almost a miniature of the Sydney Opera House and the roof of the beach bar opens up like the petals of a flower.
And yet the resort takes up only a fraction of the island, most of which remains a dense jungle, barring the farm in the south-west corner that supplies the restaurants. There is a tour of Laucala that provides a fascinating insight into running a private island.
When Mateschitz advertised for managers, he was looking for a couple with luxury resort experience as well as knowledge of forestry and farming, a spectacularly tight brief. But in Thomas and Maja Kilgore, he found exactly what he was looking for. Not only do they run the resort with an exacting eye for detail, the agricultural side of the island is thriving. To date the island is more than 70 per cent self-sufficient, producing most of its own fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and seafood. The farm rears pigs, sheep, beef (although they also import Australian Wagyu), chickens and ducks, while vast gardens and hydroponic greenhouses produce salads, herbs and vegetables.
After a golf buggy tour of the gardens and the back of house, we swapped to horseback for a ride through the avocado trees and fields of pineapples to the palm-fringed golf course. We trotted past duck ponds, grazing cattle and mangrove swamps but it was not until we reached Long Beach that we really let out the throttle, the horses happy to be galloping through the surf.
Getting to Laucala takes time – we flew via Hong Kong with a two-day stopover – but it is a quite remarkable island. And don’t worry about the jet lag – there’s Red Bull on tap.
Bailey Robinson ( offers a 10-night package at Laucala Island ( from £18,500, including all meals and drinks, activities and a day in the spa. Felix Milns travelled from London to Fiji with Cathay Pacific (; return flights from £1,050) and stayed en route at the Four Seasons Hong Kong (; double rooms from £378) / Travel – Fantasy island

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Still a player: guitar legend Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck

Guitar legend: Jeff Beck

By Stephen Wilmot

Published: September 30 2010 18:01 | Last updated: September 30 2010 18:01

Most musicians are known for a particular sound, style or song. But not rock guitar legend Jeff Beck, who says the secret of his staying power has been the ability to “move on to something else”. It’s a journey that has taken him – via rock, heavy metal, jazz and soul – to his current world tour, backed by a full string orchestra.
“I’m at home with anything that’s got a groove to it,” says the ex-Yardbirds guitarist, pointing to a DVD he is making in tribute to legendary guitarist Les Paul and 1950s jazz. “I get just as much of a kick from that as I do coming up with something from tomorrow-land.”
But Beck’s taste for experimentation does not stretch to his finances – something in which he claims to have no interest but just a little “intuition”. He was almost persuaded to buy a portfolio of shares just before the financial crisis; luckily, he decided at the last minute not to sign. “It was a near-miss for me. But I said no, because I wasn’t satisfied with – or didn’t understand – what was being proposed. When people talk bank-talk, I glaze over after five minutes,” he admits.
Beck now uses the London-based private bank Duncan Lawrie, mainly because it offers a reassuringly old-fashioned experience. Lamenting the passing of the days when “you could almost have a pint with your local bank manager”, he remembers how he and his former concert manager grew frustrated with the impersonal service and “incompetence” of their high street bank. After doing research, manager settled on Duncan Lawrie and suggested Beck switch too.
“I felt nervous at first, because I didn’t really know whether I was making the right decision. But I’ve no complaints. It’s so important to have a one-to-one talk with someone at your bank. They’re handling your money, after all. You go around the world and make your money, and you want to be sure it’s being looked after.”
Beck is currently on the second leg of his world tour. He is still basking in the success of his latest album, Emotion & Commotion, which was released in April and is now up for eight Grammys. He says it is the best response that he has received since 1975, when he teamed up with Beatles producer George Martin to make the album Blow by Blow.
Fans have been particularly struck by Beck’s lush use of strings as backing for his electric guitar. “There’s no substitute for a full string orchestra,” he explains. “I was fulfilling a dream – I wanted to do it back in 1966, but couldn’t afford it. I was always impressed by people like Tina Turner and the way that kind of record was produced. It’s a beautiful sound that can only be achieved with acoustic instruments.”
Beck is also pleased with the popularity of Emotion & Commotion because singers, not instrumentalists, tend to dominate the charts. The guitarist has been wary of working too closely with singers ever since he parted ways with Rod Stewart – then the unknown lead singer of his up-and-coming band the Jeff Beck Group – back in 1969.
“Rod was a bit of a problem because his name wasn’t on the ticket, and the whole ego thing kicked off. I said if you put your name on the ticket you won’t sell any seats, but he wasn’t happy being treated as a sideman,” Beck laughs.
Stewart left to join the group the Faces, which seemed a career upset for Beck, but turned out to be liberating. “The singer problem was gone when Rod left. Rather than see that as negative, I thought: the doors are open.” He says it was working with the New York jazz-rock group Mahavishnu Orchestra in the mid-1970s that made him realise there was “life after singers”.
Beck considers the US his second home. He cites American rock and roll, blues and jazz as his original creative sources, and the US still gives him the warmest reception. It was there he spent a year in tax exile in 1977, which ironically was to pay for his English home – an Elizabethan manor house in the Sussex Weald that he fell in love with on first viewing.
“It was complete lunacy, as I didn’t know if I had the money. But when the estate agents opened the door I just wanted them gone,” he reminisces, grateful that his home turned out to be a good investment too.
Beck struggles to single out one highlight of his career, which has spanned four and a half decades and at least 10 different groups. “The big highlight is that I’m still in the business,” he says with another raucous laugh. / Special Reports – Still a player: guitar legend Jeff Beck

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Taking your time in Geneva

Sat, Nov 13, 2010
The Swiss city is expensive to visit but don’t let that put you off – you get what you pay for, writes Adrienne Cullen
AS YOU MIGHT expect from Switzerland, Geneva is living proof that quality of life doesn’t come cheap. While it has an almost permanent presence in the world’s top five most attractive cities, you’ll usually find it in the top five most expensive as well.
Don’t let that put you off though. Again as you might expect, you get what you pay for – in this case the buzz of a global financial centre, the sophistication of a city that’s home to a telephone book full of international organisations, and a whole lot of local history, colour, and charm as well.
Plus, you’re in the home of high-end watches. That means you get to use as many watch, clock and time-related puns and references as possible during your stay. Hey, watch it! Just a second! This transport system runs like clockwork. That chimes with me. Don’t be alarmed . . . you get the picture.
Geneva is all about its physical setting. In the background there’s the awe-inspiring vista of the snow-covered Alps, with Mont Blanc visible on a clear day. In the foreground there’s the glamorous waterfront of Lake Geneva. So not surprising-ly, the big leisure time pursuits here are sailing and skiing – sometimes both in one day.

BELIEVE IT OR not, Geneva’s best known sight, however, is neither the mountains nor the lake. It’s bang in between. The Jet d’Eau, at 140m high, is the tallest fountain in the world, visible from virtually everywhere in the city, apparently even from an altitude of 10km.
But don’t be content with seeing the Jet d’Eau from a distance. For the sake of the children, take the trip out to the stone jetty on the left bank of the lake and you won’t be disappointed.
Better still, do it at night when it’s beautifully illuminated in different colours. But watch out, the slightest change of wind direction and you’re drenched . . . this is advice based on personal experience.
Having dried off, it’s time to head across the River Rhone to the main shopping district, tucked between the neighbourhood of Les Eaux Vives – where the Jet d’Eau is located – and the ultra-discreet banking district.
The streets to look out for are Rue du Rhone, Rue de Rive and Rue du Marché. Once there, it’s strictly a matter of willpower: there are boutiques to rival London or Paris; all the timeless watchmakers, Patek Philippe, Piaget, Raymond Weil, Omega, Swatch et al; art and antiques, and chocolate – as much as your wallet can handle . . . or perhaps simply window shop.
A quick(-ish) lunch at La Favola on Rue Jean-Calvin – certainly the best Italian restaurant in Geneva – and when you emerge after a refreshing petit café , you’re ideally positioned for an afternoon in the Old Town, a stone’s throw to the south.
Two places not to miss: magnificent Cathedral Saint Pierre, which has great views of the lake and the mountains; and the Town Hall, where the League of Nations and the Red Cross were both founded. The 14th-century Maison Tavel, the oldest house in the city, now a museum, is also worth a visit for the flavour of history.
As evening falls you’ll be glad that Geneva is packed with Michelin-starred restaurants, nine this year in the city and canton combined. The most renowned is Restaurant Hôtel de Ville in Crissier, run by Switzerland’s foremost chef, Philippe Rochat. It’s on Lake Geneva, but closer to Lausanne than to Geneva itself, unfortunately.
Still, for my money, there’s nothing as Swiss as a bubbling cheese fondue. In which case, first choice has got to be Restaurant Les Armures in the Old Town (near Maison Tavel, in fact). A plaque near the door marks a visit in 1994 by Bill and Hillary Clinton.
There’s always something to do in Geneva as night turns to morning. If you have a slush fund for cocktails, head for Gold Platinum on Quai du Seujet, where the city’s moneyed 20- to 40-year-olds gyrate on the dance floor and sprawl in the VIP lounges. It’s cool. It could be anywhere. But the prices are certainly Swiss!

Where to stay, where to eat and where to go

5 places to stay

  • Hotel Beau-Rivage. 13 Quai du Mont-Blanc, 00-41-22-7166666, Old-world opulence sums up this magnificent five-star hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva and in the heart of the business district. It has two well-regarded restaurants, Le Chat-Botté and Patara. Doubles start at 800 CHF (€598).
  • Hotel les Armures. 1 Rue Puits-Saint-Pierre, 00-41-22-3109172, Known for its excellent restaurant, which specialises in traditional Swiss cheese fondue and raclette, this hotel is a favourite with visiting celebs. Jimmy Carter stayed; the Clintons just dined. Doubles from 674 CHF (€500).
  • Mandarin Oriental Geneva. 1 Quai Turrettini, 00-41-22-9090000, Perfectly situated on the bank of the River Rhone, at the edge of the financial district, this building has beautiful art deco detailing and a fabulous roof garden. Doubles start at 590 CHF (€440).
  • Hotel de La Paix. 11 Quai du Mont-Blanc, 00-41-22-9096000, A lovely elegant establishment, totally renovated in 2006, Hotel de Paix sits on the shore of Lake Geneva with great views of Mont Blanc. Its restaurant, Vertig’O, has just won its first Michelin star. Doubles start from 497 CHF (€370) prepaid and non-refundable, otherwise 585 CHF (€437).
  • The Warwick. 14 Rue de Lausanne, 00-41-22-7168000, Very much a business hotel, well located opposite the railway station, just 10 minutes by car from the airport, and not far from UN HQ. Double rooms from 378 CHF (€282).

5 places to eat

  • Le Chat-Botté. 13 Quai du Mont-Blanc, 00-41-22-7166666, Located in the opulent Hotel Beau-Rivage, this restaurant, run by chef Dominique Gauthier, is reputed to have one of the best wine cellars in Switzerland. Groups of up to eight can reserve a “chef’s table” in the kitchen.
  • La Favola. 15 Rue Jean-Calvin, 00-41-22-3117437, Regularly described locally as “the best Italian restaurant north of Bologna”, this is also a contender for Geneva’s best restaurant. Just taste the Risotto alla Milanese au Safran.
  • Restaurant de la Cigogne. 17 Place Longemalle, 00-41-22-8184040, The panelled dining room, friendly but not overpowering service, and most of all the food – try the Turbot Façon Grandmère – make this an experience worth paying for.
  • La Perle du Lac. 126 Rue de Lausanne, 00-41-22-9091020, Apart from the food, the real attraction of this restaurant is its fantastic location right on the shore of Lake Geneva (also known in French, by the way, as Lac Léman). Terrace tables must be booked.
  • Café du Bourg-de-Four. 13 Place du Bourg-de-Four, 00-41-22-3119076, A charming bistro-style restaurant in the Old Town dating back to 1874. Perfect for a relaxed traditional meal.

5 places to go

  • Le Jet d’Eau and Le Jardin Anglais. Quai du Général-Guisan, 00-41-22-3119970 (tourism office), The Jet d’Eau is the big must-see in Geneva, though given its height of 140m, you can’t really avoid it. Le Jardin Anglais next door is famous for its flower clock, a 1955 masterpiece of technology and floral art. It has the largest second hand in the world – more than two and a half metres long.
  • Cathedral Saint Pierre. 6 Cours Saint-Pierre, 00-41-22-3117575 , This site has been occupied since at least the 4th century. John Calvin gave sermons here in the mid-16th century. Climb the 157 steps of the north tower for the best view in the city. Phew!
  • United Nations. Palais des Nations, 00-41-22-9171234, This is the European home of the UN, its second largest complex after New York. It’s where both the League of Nations and the Red Cross were founded – and regular hour-long tours are available in 15 languages.
  • Musée d’Art et d’Histoire. 2 Charles-Galland, 00-41-22-4182600, If you’re an art lover, you’ll find exceptional works here by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso, and sculpture by Henry Moore. Reason enough on its own to visit Geneva.
  • Villa Voltaire. 25 Rue des Délices, 00-41-22-4189560, Institut et Musée Voltaire, also known as Villa Voltaire, is the great philosopher’s Palladian villa, where his library and manuscripts are available to visitors. Fascinating for its uniqueness.

Hot spot

  • La Clémence. 20 Place du Bourg-de-Four, 00-41-22-3101096, Place du Bourg-de-Four is the very heart of the Old Town, and La Clémence is where gossip of every sort changes hands, over coffee by day and over wine after nightfall.

Shop spot

  • Geneva is an international shopper’s paradise. It’s so high-end that even the Plainpalais Flea Market feels chic. The main shopping streets are Rue du Rhone, Rue de Rive and Rue du Marché, adjacent to the banking district. And you’ll certainly need to nip to the bank!

What to avoid
Confusion over the euro. Switzerland is not a member of the EU, and its currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF). The euro is widely accepted, especially in areas favoured by tourists, but you can’t count on every shop and hotel accepting them.
A good night out
Restaurant Les Armures. 1 Rue Puits-Saint-Pierre, 00-41-22-3109172, A cheese fondue is more than just a meal here, it’s a night out. It’s entertaining, great fun for groups, and delicious. Chef Gilles Legay and his staff do their best to make your visit special.
Get in the mood
How about a DIY fondue? Essentially it’s your favourite cheese melted slowly in warm white wine, then scooped up on cubes of bread. First to drop bread into the cheese does the washing up! If you’re planning to visit Villa Voltaire, re-read Candide .
More information
You’ll find plenty of local info at the official website,, and at An alternative is, although I think when whey say “Get Out” on the home page, they really mean “Get Out and About” . . . at least I hope they do.
Go there
Aer Lingus ( flies from Dublin and Cork to Geneva. Ryanair ( flies from Dublin to Grenoble in France, an hour-and-a-half by road from Geneva.
© 2010 The Irish Times

Taking your time in Geneva – The Irish Times – Sat, Nov 13, 2010


BMW’s Ultimate Driving Machine Is a Tiny Little Electric Car

BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer knows the future is about more than high-performance suburban status symbols

When former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived for lunch with BMW Chief Executive Officer Norbert Reithofer in late 2008, she brought along an unexpected guest, Joschka Fischer, a one-time left-wing radical. In the early 1970s, Fischer was fired from GM’s Opel unit for trying to organize a communist revolution among his fellow workers, and in 1973 he was photographed clubbing a police officer in a street protest. Later, disavowing violence, he entered mainstream politics, rising to prominence in the Green Party and serving as German foreign minister from 1998 to 2005.
Now he has a new job. After that lunch, Reithofer hired both Fischer and Albright to help BMW win support within the company and around the world for its Megacity Vehicle. Battery-powered, and built of carbon fiber and aluminum, it is meant to win BMW a place in the fastest-growing markets—sprawling urban megalopolises.
“The Megacity Vehicle is a must-have for BMW,” says Reithofer at the company’s landmarked headquarters in Munich. Reithofer, who has been at BMW for 23 years, is an unprepossessing man of 54, rarely seen in anything but a dark, three-button suit, with all three buttons fastened. He lives in the same modest Bavarian village where he was born. He owns a beagle. But with this new vehicle, Reithofer is attempting something radical, pushing BMW beyond its core strengths of speed and style, and toward solving different problems, like global warming, oil depletion, and the shift in growth from the West to the East. China is, in a sense, the ultimate destination, a land of exponentially growing megacities—and the pollution, traffic snarls, and huge spending power that come with them.
Reithofer’s challenge is to secure a place for BMW in this new world without sacrificing its status as a rarefied drive for the open road. “We don’t see threats; we see opportunities,” says Adrian van Hooydonk, an 18-year BMW veteran whom Reithofer installed as design chief last year. “That’s an indication of how this company thinks and the kind of energy that Dr. Reithofer brings to the company. ‘It is what you make of it,’ that’s what he always says.”
Inside BMW, the Megacity message didn’t immediately resonate with all of BMW’s horsepower-driven managers. Their resistance is understandable: BMW is doing quite well as is, building beautiful cars that go fast. In 2005, it bested archrival Daimler’s (DAI) Mercedes-Benz in sales, and the company has come roaring out of the recession, expecting to sell 1.4 million vehicles this year, just off its 2007 peak, while raising margins to 6.6 percent. With both the trendy Mini badge and Rolls-Royce’s silver lady under BMW control, the Bavarian manufacturer is on more solid footing than at any time in its 94-year history. Despite its success, however, BMW is still a much smaller company than its rivals. It lacks the giant bus and truck operations that allow Mercedes to amortize research costs. Volkswagen, with a stable of 10 brands including Bentley, Porsche, and the aggressive Audi nameplate, sells nearly five times as many cars as BMW and has vowed to topple it as the biggest premium automaker by 2015. “Because of its size, BMW can’t allow itself any mistakes,” says Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany, and a former manager at Daimler’s Smart unit. “If the Megacity Vehicle doesn’t work, BMW will have considerably less room to maneuver.”
Reithofer grew up in Penzberg, a former coal-mining town about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Munich. Living a short distance from the house where he was born, he’s stayed in the area to be close to family and the Alps, where he unwinds by skiing and mountain biking. After studying machine tools and operating science under Joachim Milberg, BMW’s former CEO and current chairman, he joined BMW in 1987 as head of maintenance planning. Later he moved to South Africa as technical director of BMW’s plant in Rosslyn. From 1997 to 2000 he managed BMW’s factory in Spartanburg, S.C., where the company manufactures the X5 and X6 lines of sport-utility vehicles. He credits his stint in the U.S. with streamlining his management style.
“In the U.S., I learned to take quick decisions and not hold long speeches,” he says. “When I got back to Munich, it struck me right away how long it took to make decisions, but we’ve changed that now.”
Part of his plan for the Megacity project has been to leave some of the long speeches to Albright and Fischer. The two spoke separately to auditoriums filled with hundreds of BMW executives and engineers, discussing trends like urbanization and global warming that threaten to make BMW’s athletic sedans obsolete. The result has been a groundswell of enthusiasm for the electric-car program, which came out of Project i, BMW’s internal think tank for the future of transport.
Ulrich Kranz, a former Mini developer, runs Project i, and says more people want to work for the unit than he can hire. Project i has grown from a handful of diverse experts in late 2007 to a team of more than 250 people, as BMW readies for the launch of the Megacity Vehicle in 2013. “Reithofer has provided more than 100 percent support,” says Kranz. “He is an absolutely enthusiastic motivator.”
He’s also a listener, and that helped BMW navigate the financial crisis without slipping into the red. In late August 2007, on a routine swing through the U.S., Reithofer met for a light lunch with a half dozen of BMW’s top American dealers. The meeting at the carmaker’s customer center near its factory in Spartanburg was upbeat; sales were heading for a record that year. When conversation turned to prospects for 2008, however, the salesmen voiced concern about credit markets and warned that problems in the subprime market could spill over and hurt demand.
Reithofer could have been forgiven for ignoring the warning. It was after all more than a year before Lehman Brothers’ failure set off the financial crisis. Instead, when he returned to Munich, he started putting crisis plans in place. The early warning helped BMW scale back production quickly, which prevented a glut of unwanted cars eating up cash and depressing prices. The company trimmed 11,000 workers from its payrolls through attrition and buyouts, and reduced hours for another 25,000, but was able to get through the crisis without layoffs.
Reithofer also used the crisis to reduce purchasing expenses and lower development costs, hoping to move profit margins to at least 8 percent by 2012. “The crisis accelerated the process,” says Reithofer, who personally test drives competitors’ vehicles and visits dealers anonymously to get an unfiltered view of his company. “We’re farther along than we otherwise would have been,” he says. That progress is reflected in the company’s stock performance. The shares have risen 50 percent this year, outperforming Daimler’s 20 percent advance and Volkswagen’s 40 percent gain.
“Reithofer was very underrated when he came in, but he’s since become one of the most respected CEOs in the industry,” says Philippe Houchois, an analyst with UBS (USB) in London. “He’s not flashy but rather an inside guy who gets the work done.”
Reithofer’s strategy is based on maintaining BMW’s independence, keeping in mind the rescue funded by Herbert Quandt, who had inherited a stake in BMW from his father. In 1959, BMW was losing money and needed cash to develop a mid-market car. Mercedes’ parent, then called Daimler-Benz, made an offer for BMW, which was rejected by Quandt because of opposition by the workforce and small shareholders. Quandt scraped enough money together to provide BMW a life line, and today his descendants still own nearly 47 percent of the carmaker. Says Reithofer, “The advantage of our major shareholder is—among other things—that they give us the stability to think long-term.”
The long view has pushed BMW to build electric vehicles and the smaller cars that will be needed in the new urban world. BMW staff traveled to Tokyo, Mexico City, and Los Angeles, among others, to talk to mayors, city planners, and even regular folks, whom they followed on their commutes and into their homes to see how they lived and traveled. They determined that a car still had a place in crowded cities as a symbol of individuality and refuge from the bustle, but it had to be sustainable.
Tom Mouloghney, a new kind of a car nut, exemplifies the new BMW culture. Though he has a Porsche Boxster in his garage and a DeLorean in his past, he has gone electric and isn’t going back.
“It’s my intention to have at least one electric vehicle from now on; I hope the options are available,” says Moloughney, who pays $600 a month in the second year of a lease of one of BMW’s electric-powered Mini E test vehicles. “I don’t see any way around us having to reduce our dependence on oil.”
Moloughney installed solar panels on the roof to generate electricity for his daily 60-mile commute between his Italian restaurant in the New Jersey suburbs of New York and his home in rural Chester. Explaining the extent of his commitment, he cites energy independence, cost savings, and environmental concerns.
“What people like about this car is that it has no oil, so it’s not hurting the economy, it’s not hurting the environment, and it’s not supporting countries that are not friendly to the U.S.,” says Moloughney, who has a bumper sticker that says “Starve a terrorist! Drive Electric!” on his Mini. His license plate reads EF-OPEC.
There are many contestants, of course, in the race to build an electric car. Later this year, Nissan Motor will introduce the battery-powered Leaf, and General Motors will launch the electric Chevrolet Volt, which extends its range with a gas generator. More of a threat to BMW is Daimler, which has a broader development pipeline. A battery-powered A-Class compact will debut at the Paris Motor Show later this month, adding to fuel-cell buses on the streets of Hamburg, electric-powered Vito vans in Stuttgart, and a test fleet of 1,500 battery-powered Smarts in places such as Berlin, Paris, Rome, and London. The view from Munich is that the rivals are pedestrian.
“Since we’re BMW, we don’t want to create just any old electric car,” says design chief van Hooydonk. “We want to deliver what people so far think is impossible: the combination of joy and zero emissions.”
Though the Mini is popular and seems to carry some component of joy, the electric version of the car is nothing special technically. The rushed project pushed out in 2008 is a simple conversion, which placed more than 5,000 laptop batteries where the back seat is supposed to be.
BMW also has a checkered past with alternative fuels. The company spent years developing hydrogen-combustion technology, using hard-to-handle liquid hydrogen, which needs to be cooled to minus 253 degrees Celsius, just 20 degrees above absolute zero, to become a fluid. BMW showcased the technology in 2007 by outfitting 100 of its 7-Series sedans with bulky hydrogen tanks; the fuel, however, boiled away despite insulation equivalent to 17 meters (55 feet) of Styrofoam.
Perhaps the most daring part of Reithofer’s plan for the Megacity is that he expects to make money with the car, despite the use of costly materials like lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber. The company has set up a $100 million factory near Seattle, together with partner SGL Group, to make the carbon fiber for the car’s passenger safety cell. The use of carbon fiber is key to BMW’s strategy for the Megacity, which will be big enough for four people and be marketed under a new BMW subbrand. Because the material is 50 percent lighter than steel, the carbon fiber will reduce the size and cost of the battery needed to move the car. Until now the automotive use of carbon fiber has been limited to Formula 1 race cars and other high-performance autos, where price isn’t an issue. But BMW insists it can mass-market carbon fiber components, which will be glued together to form the safety cell. In addition, BMW is preparing a new test vehicle—the ActiveE, a converted 1 Series coupe—which will have lithium-ion battery packs developed by BMW and its partners Samsung SDI and Robert Bosch, as well as new electric motors.
BMW is also planning to expand its conventional business, adding more small cars to its namesake brand and expanding the Mini line with at least a roadster and coupe. It is, too, considering a new factory to support demand in Russia, India, and other emerging economies. All told, the company is looking to sell more than 2 million cars annually by 2020, an increase of 55 percent over 2009.
“I would have decided to produce the Megacity Vehicle even if, contrary to our expectations, it doesn’t make money in the first generation,” says Reithofer, who hasn’t been afraid to break with traditions such as adding front-wheel drive models to the BMW brand, exiting Formula 1 auto racing, and linking with rival Mercedes to save purchasing costs. “As a leader, you can either be an entrepreneur or an administrator. I see myself as an entrepreneur.”
When Reithofer shuttles between Penzberg and Munich, he surges down the A95, a speed-limit-free stretch of highway that begs for a car like his 12-cylinder 7-Series. But his view these days looks past the surrounding Bavarian countryside and toward the crowded avenues of Shanghai and Mumbai. Those streets demand a different type of car.

Chris Reiter is a reporter for Bloomberg News.

BMW’s Ultimate Driving Machine Is a Tiny Little Electric Car – BusinessWeekvar addthis_config = { ui_cobrand: “MasterBlog en Español”}

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