Travel: Passport - Loyd Grossman: Oh for the old days in Russia, when there was no good food around

"I'M AWFULLY fond of Thailand," says Loyd Grossman in his inimitable Bostonian drawl. In fact, his passport shows a total of six stamps in as many years for this part of Asia . "We love it so much, we go there every year, and usually stay at the Amanpuri on Phuket - it's supposed to be one of the best two or three hotels in the world.

"The kids love it - there's plenty of swimming, and these ridiculous white coral-sand beaches with palm trees and incredible blue water. I go for the scuba diving, and usually end up spending most of my time in Thailand underwater - there's some incredibly good diving."

And what does the Masterchef presenter and food critic make of the Thai cuisine? "I must confess, the food in Thailand is so fantastic, it's rather spoiled me for eating it anywhere else - it seems to lack the finesse or force in other countries. Being an island, Phuket has very good seafood, fabulous broad Thai noodles and squid. I also got to spend some time in their kitchens learning how to cook the Thai way. Fantastic."

Loyd and his family own a house in New England, Maine, and they make good use of it. "It's also on the coast, so there's plenty of sailing and surfing. But what I like most is that Maine's a great spot for antique shops, which I love browsing around. And they do the most incredible lobster in the world."

Fortunately, no trip abroad has gone drastically wrong for TV's biggest food personality. "If you do your planning and your research before going on holiday, there's no reason to have a disastrous time. You should know pretty much what you're getting into before you go. I'm a real fan of travel books - in fact, my holiday starts as soon as I buy the first travel guide."

And was there anywhere in the world that left Loyd speechless?

"Leningrad-stroke-St Petersburg. We visited in the very last days of perestroika, some time in '84 or '85. I'm a museum groupie wherever I go. Architectural history is my thing - and we saw Peter the Great's country palace and spent ages in St Petersburg's Hermitage.

"It was so beautiful it was heart-stopping. That was in the days before there were McDonald's and billboards, of course - in the days when the hotels were miserably uncomfortable and there was no good food around. It was easier to get hold of beer and Georgian champagne than a simple glass of water or orange juice."

Loyd Grossman is currently presenting the fourth series of `Junior MasterChef' on Wednesdays on BBC1 at 7.00pm.

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