Laith Al-Kaisy

Laith Al-Kaisy

Laith has worked as a hack on national papers and magazines. The Review Magazine is home to his restaurant reviews and travel writing.

This image shows the Shangri-La Suite

Shangri-La at the Shard 

The first Shangri-La I stayed at was in China, where the hotel looms on the upper floors of Beijing’s World Trade Centre complex. Not exactly subtle. The one in Paris – my favourite – is set in a Napoleonic family mansion, where you can wake up to an eyeful of the Eiffel.

Regnum Carya, Antalya, Turkey

500 miles away, our country is at war. You wouldn’t imagine it here though, where despite warnings of terrorist attacks, the only immediate threat is running out of champagne. Antalya’s coastline is a tinny concentration of the photo albums you thumbed through as a child. There’s a sense of nostalgia and familiarity here, one that typifies the great British holiday: that hot-but-not-too-hot, different-but-not-too-different compromise to get on a plane and test our burdening Britishness against cultures that are generally friendlier, happier, less self-loathing, and not half as pretentious. But tourism has changed a lot over the years—as has the world, for that matter—and the simpering irony of sending a luxury-travel writer to this corner of…

Big Trouble In Little China

As we coast through a jigsaw of traffic, my guide points out the sights. “On the left, there’s a new office building. On the right, there’s a government office building. Up ahead, that’s one of the city’s first five-star hotels”. For a country so staunchly proud of its politics, China is overtly obsessed with the superficialities of capitalism. Only here could a bland office block be of any interest, yet there is something forgivably earnest about it. I ask the driver to put some music on, and in the spirit of no-nonsense socialism, he produces a CD simply called ‘Disco’. Welcome to China, where irony just shrivels up and dies….

The Globe & Rainbow, TN17

Goudhurst. I couldn’t even pronounce it properly, let alone find it on the map. But this is where Gemma, the other half, decided to bring us for my birthday. We’ve been scouting villages around London, making a shortlist of places that are charming enough to call home—you know, buy a house, get nestled, and eventually fire out some little ones. So this was as much a reconnaissance as a celebration. One of the great, incontrovertible truths about England is that, deep down, we’d all rather be in the countryside. If you don’t feel it now, you will. The English weren’t built for the city and its Faustian promises. We’re too…

Fiji

Bula. A word said so many times that it would lose all meaning by the end of the trip. You see, in Fiji, it’s more than just a word. It’s a sound, an exchange, a feeling that embodies positivity and means almost everything: hello, welcome, ‘sup, health, happiness, love, life, existence, sex, yes, thank you, and pretty much everything in between. Fijians like to philosophise about the subtle abstraction of the word, but there’s nothing subtle or abstract about Fiji or its people. They’re best amongst us: the pure of heart, the good Samaritans, the hopeless inertia of honesty and hard work, the transnational smile, the lazy breeze that cools…

Likuliku Lagoon Resort, Fiji

The sound of choral singing skips like sunlight across the sea as we approach Likuliku. The staff are out to greet us, stood on the edge of the long wooden pier, dressed in traditional garb of sulus and bark-made warrior skirts, with guitars strumming to the echo of the ocean. I can taste the water spraying in my face as our boat speeds toward the resort. As their carol gets louder, the joy is palpable; a welcome as warm as the climate. We didn’t know it yet, but this type of reception is typical in Fiji: serenaded on arrival, gifted with a traditional seashell garland, and showered with cocktails. Typical,…

Taveuni Palms, Fiji

It’s raining. What’s Plan B, Barry? “There is no Plan B.” Other than ‘the bride’s done a runner’, these are the last words you want to hear on your wedding day. But here we are: Taveuni Palms, north east Fiji, hoary clouds sagging low in the sky, and a tangible unease as we quaff champagne and smoke cigarettes, praying for the sound of patter to dissipate. We’d arrived the day before, landing at Matei Airport, which more closely resembles a wooden shack, where one man sits, glances at your passport and waves you through with a resounding ‘bula’. Colleen, one half of the husband-and-wife team who manage Taveuni Palms, is…

Celeste, SW1

I haven’t been eating out much lately. I’ve been hiding, avoiding terrorism on public transport, and preparing for global economic meltdown and the third world war. You think I’m pulling your bratwurst, but I’ve never penned a more unsmiling opening paragraph to a food review. Except that one about the maître d’, the chambermaid, and the hair in my soup. Actually, that’s not the reason I haven’t been eating out – but it’s more believable than the truth. You see, I took my brother to Pollen Street Social for his birthday, and it fundamentally changed me. It’s frayed the fabric of my being. It’s left me ashamed, victimised, confused, unsure…

Interview: Dolf de Borst, The Datsuns

“All hail The Datsuns, heroes of the New Rock Revolution,” read the front cover of NME in October, 2002. “The Datsuns are what the world needs,” said Dave Grohl of Nirvana and The Foo Fighters. And so they descended, an antidote to a stagnating UK music scene, introducing a new generation of kids to no-nonsense rock and roll, alongside bands like The Strokes, The White Stripes, and The Libertines. After a ferocious battle between record labels, The Datsuns finally signed an exclusive licensing deal with Richard Branson’s V2 for an unprecedented six-figure sum, going on to collect numerous best-thing-since-sliced-bread awards, and promoted heavily by such deejays as John Peel and…

Top Dishes of the Year

I’ve never given anything ten out of ten. Not food, not sex, not a book, not a film, not an album, and certainly not a restaurant. Imagine the existential impasse, the cultural cul-de-sac of grading things immaculately.  What would be left, except to die the perfect death? To me, nine out of ten is the highest possible accolade. If you get a nine, that’s an idiot’s ten. But don’t be fooled – it’s still not perfect. Perfection can only be judged once you’ve tried everything else. When I’m on my deathbed, only then will I go back and revise all the eights and nines, because only then will I have…

Palm, SW1

I was looking forward to Palm, mainly because of its ethnicity: an American steakhouse in London. Steak is properly Yankee. Where the French do poncey fillet mignon, America serves cuts of beef that are bigger than a trucker’s steering wheel. I’d recently been eating pokey bits of meat with dribbles of sauce, so was ready to tuck a table cloth into my shirt collar and tackle an animal in gravy; something I’d have to dislocate my jaw to eat. The menu is definitely, definitively American. Everything is bigger and better, like Toys ‘R’ Us on a plate. To start, we shared jumbo shrimp and calamari fritti. The portions were perfect….

Apsleys, SW1

There’s a certain pretension that comes with food critique. When starting out, it’s a marvel. I appreciated every opportunity to travel, eat and write. I was putting odder things in my mouth than most Dutch prostitutes — although sea cucumber (a giant slug, not a fruit) could be mistaken for a flaccid businessman. But that’s the deal: digest food, regurgitate words, by any means necessary.  It doesn’t last. Soon enough you find yourself skipping dinner with friends because the restaurant doesn’t bake its own bread or clean its vegetables in holy water. Critics get snobbish and bloated with expectation, like foodie traffic wardens, ready to slap tickets on the slightest gastronomic…

Sake No Hana, SW1

I never liked the idea of sushi. Or sashimi for that matter. What’s to like about raw fish? I can see why the Japanese like it – after all, they’re masters of self-punishment – but the rest of us? To start with, sushi and sashimi are cold. Some of it looks clitoral, the rest looks labial, and not in a good way. The whole process of eating it is very animalistic, very therianthropic. Then there’s the smell. Ever been to a fish market? Exactly. It’s an offence to the olfactory and fishier than a politician’s expenses claim. So, when asked to review Sake No Hana, a sushi restaurant, I didn’t want…

Table Manner, On the Coast

Beyond the front garden, over the dusty earth, the azure sky meets pristine water. Tufts of emerald-green shrubs sporadically hug the terrain. A disused winding gear struggles to stand, weathered and terminal. I’m in Pendeen, where you’ll find nothing but deafening silence. Silence: that unmistakeable coastal dialect. Words – Laith Al-Kaisy My only connection with Cornwall is a suitcase. Well, a suitcase and a girlfriend. Cornwall is either one of the UK’s should-have-beens or yet-to-bes. It can’t quite decide; neither can I. It’s a thought that inquisitively tugs on my sleeve throughout the holiday. For the people who live here, the rest of the world may as well not exist. Cornwall…