Royal Thai treat
Visit old Bangkok in the Blue Elephant's new Blue Bar, Fulham Broadway. The bar is a reproduction of the Suphannahong - the Royal Barge of Thailand - complete with figurehead fashioned in the shape of a swan (hongsa) and an intricately carved and gilded hull. The 12.5m-long bar has been carved out of a single trunk of teak. Apparently, master craftsmen laboured over the bar for more than four months (paid at least the UK minimum wage, with luck). Feathers were carved, then applied with 50,000 sheets of gold leaf and inset with more than 3,000 pieces of stained mirrored mosaics - "so that you feel you are floating", says a spokesman. And drinks? The classic cocktails, plus a few newcomers: Apple Breeze, Coconut Cooler and Krabi Lemonade. To nibble: deep-fried, air-cured, marinated strips of beef; salad of young sour mango, palm sugar and roast coconut.
Here's one for the stocking: Wine Label clocks. Fiona Boobyer, wife of rare wine specialist supplier David (01749 840320) has come up with a novel way to commit your favourite wine to more than memory with a range of clocks displaying wine labels. Available either as framed wall or desk clocks, on full or half bottles, Boobyer says no commission is too large or small.
Now you don't have to wait to drink vintage port with Quinta do Noval's Silval. Aware that Quinta do Noval's vintage port is snapped up fast (especially when Robert Parker gives scores of 100 for the 1997s), Christian Seely set about developing sources of top-quality grapes from outside the Quinta's immediate boundaries. This includes the Silval vineyard, beside the Pinhão River. Result: a vintage wine from this and other selected vineyards, with a backbone of Quinta grapes, that is different in style to the classic vintage wines. And Silval 1997 is still available - from UK agent Paragon Vintners (020 7887 1800).
Now's your chance to mug up on French wine with An Encyclopaedia of the Wines and Domaines of France by Clive Coates (Cassell, price £50). The publisher claims it is "the most up-to-date, comprehensive and detailed study of France ever written". Coates certainly has all the right credentials - he's an MW, for starters. He explains every single appellation and highlights the best growers.