Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Service and Street Photography

William Klein + Daido Moriyama
Where: Tate Modern
When: November 2012

I love a good bit of street photography and this exhibition didn't disappoint.  Split into two sections, one for each artist containing a mix of photography and films that both artists have produced.  The first half of the exhibition is dedicated to Klein and kicks off with a short film about Times Square that feels like being thrown into Travis Bickle's New York.  In fact the film was shot 15 years before Scorsese's masterpiece.  Then there are lots of small "candid" shots of his native New York and his adopted home in Paris.  Off to the side was a fascinating short film where Klein explains his working process for capturing the perfect moment on film, watching, waiting for the figure to line up with their environment.  There was then a selection of clips from a number of Klein's films.  The rest was a little forgettable and played with Klein's notions of image selection as per the earlier short.

Next up was Moriyama's work.  His photos felt more constructed but lacking Klein's excellent powers of selection.  For every inspiring misty road there was something that left you feeling a little bit "meh" for want for a better word.  Where as Klein was fantastic at capturing people, Moriyama seemed better at capturing the landscape and all it's wonderful light and texture.  Overall this was an inspiring and worthwhile exhibition to attend.  Additionally by going during the week it was an oasis of calm allowing you to slowly take in the works on display rather than fighting from frame to frame, shoulder to shoulder with every tourist in London.


First impressions are important, but thankfully in my book they are not the be all and end all.  Whilst it's true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, it is equally true that you have all the time in the world to make up for it.  I had read about Brawn on one of my favourite internet resources, Chowhound where it was talked up to be a nice, simple, reasonably priced French restaurant, the kind of place that never seems to exist outside of France.  Alighting the Overground at Hoxton we were faced with a less than helpful station map as google maps refused to tell me where I was.  We then faced a wet walk past what must have been about 20 Vietnamese restaurants only to double back on ourselves through a dark and lonely council estate before arriving at some closed shops and a restaurant with no sign above the door and not many more customers.  "Is this it?"  "According to google maps I think so, let's go in".  After being greeted by a wall of staff behind the bar, one who was practising his 1000 yard stare, the man furthest from us twigged none of his colleagues were going to welcome us in so stepped up to the plate, welcoming us warmly and getting us settled in.  After the initial glares the service was decent, though I did get the impression a few of the staff seemed more interested in having a chat behind the bar rather than helping their customer's maximise the dining experience.
Menu's are created daily and split into 3 sections, Pig, Cold, Hot and don't come with much description as to what makes up a meal or exactly what it is you are ordering, so you are not sure if you are over or under ordering.  My partner was not feeling particularly well and this was reflected in her choice of food.  I had a lovely, if not over priced glass of Ardeche Red, a Tuscan Bean Soup to start, Pork Belly for main and treacle tart to finish, with copious amounts of freshly cut sourdough bread to keep me topped up.  The soup was delicious and after a cold and wet trek to the restaurant it was just what I wanted, however from the portion size it was definitely a main course soup and not a starter.  The pork belly started off with a slightly to fatty first bite and then moved to perfection from every bite that followed, crisp skin, plenty of soft meat and only a little fat holding it together.  The cabbage was seasoned with sage and plenty of salt and cut beautifully through the fat of the pork.  Dessert was nice, a rich without being sickly treacle tart, served with what may have been a creme fraiche ice cream.

My partner went with a green salad followed by a Beef Bourginion and she followed this up with a chocolate mousse.

It was a long hard walk back to the Overground, an even harder walk to the bus stop.  I don't think I've eaten so much in a meal since Charlie Palmer Steak in Vegas, at least this meal didn't need a trip to the Grand Canyon to help walk it off!  In all, despite the bad start to the service, the food was fantastic and the price was more than reasonable considering you could easily spend close to the same amount of money eating inferior food at your local Cote.  If I can get over the slight hipster pretensions I will definitely return for another round of food.

William Klein + Daido Moriyama - Tate Modern: Exhibition - 10 October 2012 – 20 January 2013
Brawn -  49 Columbia Rd, Bethnal Green E2 7RG - 0207 729 5692

Thursday, 6 December 2012

If Nietzsche Stole Ramen...

When: November 2012

OK, there's a reason for the silly title, it'll make sense if you read on, but for now it's time to talk noodles!  We found Shoryu by accident whilst waiting for the bus home on a cold November night.  Being fans in Japanese food we thought next time we're out in the west end we'll give this place a try.  A few weeks later such an opportunity came up and here we are!  Shoryu is owned and run by the same people as the Japan Centre across the road and serves up Tonkatsu Ramen in its various varieties accompanied by a few side dishes, beers, teas, sake and plum wine, what's not to like.  The service was good and friendly from the off, our food was served quickly and the wait staff seemed genuinely glad we chose their restaurant for dinner.  No too cool for school hundred yard stares checking out the clientèle and no tired and going through the motions service familiar from many of the great chain restaurants we often end up in.

The restaurant was completely full during our whole visit, the clientèle was mixed, but with a large part of the mix being middle aged Japanese.  I think this place was a whole lot less trendy then the many new ramen eateries up the road in Soho.  Anyway, we had seats right in the window and we were quickly given menus and asked for drinks.  My beer tasted fresh, cold and strong, just how I wanted it to be and my partners green tea was made with leaves and a strainer rather than a tea bag and was server in an attractive blue pot.  Our ramen followed shortly afterwards and although we'd ordered different kinds the only difference I could see was some mild chilli oil added to my broth (though after re-reading the menu online it appears to be green mustard leaves).  Anyway, on a frozen November evening this was heaven in a bowl and I really enjoyed my noodles.  We also took a side of gyoza which were OK, but I have to say I'm a sucker for the duck ones from Wagamama.  My main gripe with  the menu was it was quite hard to work out the differences between each of the ramen on offer and also it would have been nice to have a little more meat in the portion size.

In all it was a good value meal and I would be quite happy to return again for a pre or post film lunch or dinner.

On the Road (Walter Salles, 2012)
Where: Odeon Panton Street

There was something very telling about the screening of this film.  It was in a tiny, tiny room with a screen that wouldn't have looked out of place in the basement of a millionaires mansion, albeit one that had fallen on hard times and hadn't had the cash to renovate it since it was installed in 1984.  There was also one other noticeable feature of Screen 2 at the Odeon Panton Street, it was very easy to find the toilets, if the retro green, light polluting sign didn't get you then the stench of urinal cakes certainly does the trick.  Thank goodness this was an Orange Wednesdays screening!  Anyway, on with the film and I have to say I just about liked it.  For one it's beautifully shot: amazing landscapes, dirty apartments, the road, New York, San Francisco.  The jazz soundtrack is also very special and really fits the film well.

The problem with the film for me is that somehow the characters look and feel too clean, too modern.  I'd like to see more dirt, more broken teeth.  The other issue as well is the TV show Supernatural, every time Sal gave a big dumb grin it made me think of this show, I was waiting for a demon to pop up, a big bag of salt and some Dukes Of Hazard style driving (OK, we did get the Dukes of Hazard style driving).  Anyway, I'm getting side tracked.  If we ignore the modern looking characters and the fact that if you watch the show Supernatural you can't watch this film with a straight face we'll move on.  For anyone that has dabbled briefly with philosophy you will have as idea of Nietzsche's concept of the "superman" who lives every minute of life to the fullest, indulging in whatever he wants, whenever he wants.  Dean (Garrett Hedlund)is our Superman, with his wicked smile he leeches from friends, family with the promise of sex and good times.   When times are good everyone loves being with Dean, eventually they tire of being used by him, competing with him, being with him.  Our main protagonist Sal (Sam Riley)is case in point, struggling with writers block he follows Dean across the USA taking note of their adventures until he has a light bulb moment.  Trapped in Mexico and ill with dysentery, Dean abandons Sal as he has grown bored.  Later Dean bumps into Sal in New York, shivering with cold, nowhere to go, he appeals to Sal to take him in and promises a return to the good times they share.  Sal has moved on, smartly dressed, friends, a concert with tickets, not a hispter bar, sober, not under the influence.  Sal's writers block is over, the story is finished and so our film begins.

As I said, Dean's character is very hard to watch and impossible to like, as charming as he is.  The problem with the superman lifestyle is the harder you stick to it the more difficult it becomes running from whim to whim using up all those around you till like Dean you end up with nothing and nobody, does selling your body for sex really make you the ultimate superman...  Travelling home on the tube I felt good not being a Superman, living a varied life that wasn't just about me, it was certainly better than getting caught stealing ramen or sneaking into the cinema just in the name of living the life.

Shoryu: 9 Regent Street, London, SW1Y 4LR

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Tales of Brunch and The Bank

Lowry & Baker And The Bank of England Museum

When: November 2012

Yes, this is an unusual concept but somehow it works, a tasty brunch followed by a trip to the Bank of England museum, OK...  the brunch was better than the bank but that probably wont be a surprise to anyone.

A long weekend living the tourist life in London instead of being at work, perfect, well, not exactly.  After spending a million hours deciding what we'd do during the run up to my birthday we settled on Lowry & Baker  just a short walk away and we'd then decide what to do over food.  Lowery & Baker is a small, earthy looking café serving the eclectic mix of customers you find at the Golborne Road end of Portobello Road and just out of reach of the average guide book tourist!  We had a nice table in the window and ordered some coffees and brunch.  We both went with poached eggs on toast, me with ham, my partner with smoked salmon.  The quality was excellent, perfectly cooked whites and soft runny yolks, the ham tasted nice as well, not like something from Tesco Value range or worse that you can often end up with.  The coffee was lovely as well, lots of different flavours going on for a simple americano, not your typical Costa Coffee blend!

 After stuffing our face to the point of bursting we debated and debated on what to do with the rest of our day.  After ruling out just about everything we settled on the bank of England museum and a nice walk along Portobello Road to Notting Hill Gate.  The museum had three things going for, it was open, it was free and we'd not been before.

 The museum is a few minutes walk from Bank station and we spent a few hours there (I'm not quite sure how!)  The museums patrons consisted of the retired, a few confused tourists and a group from a very posh looking school.  The museum traces the history of the Bank of England and the banking system from its birth till the present.  There are numerous display cases full of early forms of paper money, coins and relics from the bank.  There was a video about gold narrated by Stephen Fry and I managed to win a small prize, a small pin in the shape of a bar of gold.  Somehow it seemed as if this museum would have been just as good in a book for an 11-14 year old in a school library, though I can't imagine it ever getting taken out!
Lowry & Baker: 339 Portobello Rd, W10 5SA - 0208 960 8534

Bank of England Museum:  Threadneedle Street, London, EC2R 8AH - 020 7601 5545
Open: Monday - Friday, 10.00 - 17.00 Admission FREE

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Classic Korean

When: October 2012

Sometimes a simple, classic lunch is what you need.  So one lunchtime on a quiet side street in the West End we went to Arirang for a quick bite to eat.  Apparently Arirang is the oldest Korean restaurant in London, but would this mean a decent dining experience?

With one of us on lunch break it was important that service was prompt and that the food did not take too long to arrive.  We were shown to our table straight away and given menus.  Shortly after we put our menus down our server came to take our food and drink orders.  We both went with a set meal, Dol Bibim Bap that included miso soup, pickled vegetables, bibim bap and fresh fruit to finish.  I washed mine down with a bottle of hite Korean beer my partner went with some tea.

Drinks arrived quickly and the soup and pickles not long after.  The soup was refreshing but nothing to write home about but the pickles were fantastic even though they did not include the expected kimchi.  Just as we were finishing up our pickles the main course turned up.  The bibim bap was hot and fresh, the yolk of the fried egg was just right and ran right through the rice when cut in two.  The only negative was the small amount of minced beef under the egg and vegetable topping.  Once we had devoured our mains we were left a few minutes to let our stomachs rest.  Once the tables had been cleared we were given our orange segments to eat which had been imaginatively presented in their own skins.

With our meal over it was time for the bill and time to reflect.  This was a nice, quick and simple lunch and was certainly good enough for me to want to try something more interesting from the full menu for dinner.

Arirang 31-32 Poland Street, London, W1F 8QT

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

An Evening With Thomas

The Hunt (2012, Thomas Vinterberg)
When: 14th October 2012

Where: Vue West End

Wow, what a start to this years LFF for us!  We had the good fortune to see Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt introduced by the man himself with and a short Q & A afterwards.  Anyway, on to the film.  The Hunt is set in a rural community in Denmark kitted out with fashionable beards and woolly jumpers, armed with hunting rifles and are a close knit bunch.  Our protagonist, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is a little down on his luck, he has divorced from his wife Kirsten and hardly sees his son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm), living alone in his big house with just his dog Fanny for company.  He also recently had to change jobs, now minding children at the local nursery instead of teaching at the secondary school which recently closed.  However, Lucas has good friends that help keep him looking to a more positive future.  He takes pleasure in looking out for Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), his best friend Theo's (Thomas Bo Larsen) often neglected daughter who regularly wonders off unseen and is continually scared of stepping on the cracks in the pavement.  He even has a new love interest, Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), one of the workers at the nursery, who is an immigrant and speaks an interesting blend of English and Danish.  Lucas finds his son, Marcus will be living with him once school breaks for Christmas, his luck his changing.  Then, with one sentence spoken by one person his whole world comes crashing down.

We are shown the set up for the incident, one evening Klara is sat at home and her older brother comes back with his friend showing off the pornography he has captured on his iPad and is intent on showing it to and crudely describing it to his sister.  The next day at nursery Klara makes a small heart and a note and leaves it for Lucas.  She also comes up to him and kisses him on the lips.  Lucas is quick to tell her she should only kiss Mummy and Daddy on the lips and that she should give the heart she has made to one of the boys her own age.  Klara denies having made the heart, despite us seeing her making it and signing the card with it "Klara".  

Yet again, Klara is the last one to be collected from nursery that evening and whilst Lucas and Nadja are flirting in the kitchen (well she is doing most of the flirting), the head mistress starts talking to Klara and she says that Lucas showed her "his willie" and it was pointing out (much like the pornography her brother showed her the night before).  The Head teacher is in a state of shock and over the course of the following day she begins to unravel, offering us the perfect guide in how not to handle a sensitive situation.  We also see a "professional" person interview Klara which is tragically shocking to watch and was apparently a slightly amended transcript from a real police investigation.

After the head teacher tells everyone that Lucas is guilty of molesting Klara and possibly other children at the nursery the town turns against him.  Her simple reasoning is that children don't lie, why would they?  Lucas is shacked up with Nadja in his house, she asks him if he really did it and she jokes about how ridiculous the whole situation is.  However, the situation takes a turn for the worse as Lucas begins to realise what it's like to be presumed guilty of paedophilia, one of the crimes with about has high a social stigma you can get.  The head teacher called his ex-wife to tell her what "happened", his son finds out and comes to visit him. The emotional situation between Lucas and his ex-wife causes him to get upset and kick Nadja out of the house.  His son Marcus goes out to buy him some food but gets kicked out of the super market much to the annoyance of the checkout girl who is more interested in asking him out.  As Marcus arrives back at his Dad's house he sees him being arrested by the police but cannot get back in to the house as the spare key under the mat is with someone else (we think Nadja).  Left with no option he takes the long walk to his Godfather Brunn's (Lars Ranthe)house.  Brunn is somewhat the unifying force of the town.  He has the large house and organises the hunts and drinking events for the men. Brunn promises to fulfil his duty as godfather and see what he can do to make sure Lucas is treated fairly (he is the only one who falls down the middle, actually keen to wait to see if there is sustainable evidence against Lucas before making his mind up).

Lucas is released by the police due to lack of evidence in the case (the children described him taking them to his basement, Lucas does not have a basement in his house).  Whilst Lucas has been cleared in the eyes of the law, he has not been cleared in the eyes of the townsfolk.  Whilst staying with Brunn, the kitchen window is smashed with a rock and his dog Fanny is killed and left out for him to find in a refuse sack.  Trying to do something as simple as buying groceries from the supermarket, or attending church on Christmas Eve become like running the gauntlet, especially as Lucas is keen to confront those who stop him going about his business.  The situation comes to a head when Lucas confronts Theo at church on Christmas Eve and again later that night at Theo's home.  Theo is torn, as he cannot believe both his daughter and his best friend.  That Christmas night he goes up to check on Klara and finds her talking in her sleep.  She thinks he is Lucas and she apologies for saying what she did and not realising what would happen for making up what she said.  Theo's opinion of the situation changes because of what his daughter said without being prompted by anyone and he decides to pay Lucas a visit with food and drink.  The two men talk about happier times in their past.

A year passes and there is a large event at Brunn's house.  It is time for Marcus to become a man as he is now legally allowed to hunt.  Lucas has been accepted back into the community again along with his son.  He is back with Nadja as well.  Marcus is presented with the family hunting rifle by Brunn to rapturous applause.  Lucas is still getting what looks like an odd look from Theo's older son.  The next day they are out hunting and Lucas is about to shoot a deer only to find there is someone else there.  A shot is fired narrowly missing Lucas who is in line with the deer.  Lucas looks back, a real look of dread on his face to see a figure looking back at him.  A figure that is masked by the sunlight streaming through the trees.  Is he ever truly forgiven?

For me when a film comes out that could have been set any time in the last 50 years I ask one simple question, why now?  For me there are a number of easy answers.  The central premise of the film is a false accusation made by a trusted person.  That accusation is quickly repeated and becomes the truth.  Not once are the real facts checked before it's too late.  The result is a witch hunt against the falsely accused that almost leads to his demise.  For me the film seems to parallel with the way in which social networks are used today, cyber bullying, mischief making and media manipulation. We've seen everything from fake airport bombers on Twitter to fake screws for the iPhone 5 on web forums to the trashed houses of kids who thought they'd invite the entire world to their birthday party via Facebook.  You take something small, a comment that is copied and copied and then spirals out of the control of the person who made it.  People still trust things seen on the internet, it can often be hard to tell the truth from fiction, just like with children and the consequences for getting this wrong can be tragic.   For me this makes The Hunt interesting as the more recent trend in cinema is to deal with the criminals that got away with it, rather than the falsely accused. The best example of this is to compare Vinterberg's earlier film Festen, with The Hunt to see how the director and the world have moved on.

For me the best thing about the drama is how the film manipulates your feelings for Lucas.  The film sets us up to feel sorry for him due to his work and family situation.  As you watch his reaction to the accusation against him your feelings for him change from sympathy.  You wonder if Vinterbeg will flash back to a scene confirming the accusations against him to show you up for rooting for Lucas.  You wonder if he will pack up and leave, or perhaps just put a bullet in his head.  Instead he fights as best he can and slowly you root for him but always worry that he wont make it to the end of the film. 

Just a little end note on the Q & A after the film.  Despite the best efforts of the presenter at miss-interpreting the audience's questions and managing to ask some pretty uninteresting ones of her own, Thomas Vinterberg  held is own and delivered his answers masterfully.  It was shame the Q & A didn't go on for longer as he gave good answers to good questions and I would have been happy to pay extra for my ticket if I knew he was turning up for a proper Q & A.

The Hunt goes on general release in the UK on 30th November 2012


French Touch

 Crêpes and Cinema
When: 21st September 2012
Where: The Kensington Crêperie
           Ciné lumière at the Institut français
Once upon a time I was going to start a blog called "Dinner and a Movie" to celebrate two of my favourite things.  Although it never came into being it is the inspiration for a number of my posts as when done just right there is no better thing than a great meal out followed by an even better film.  After an unintended break it was time to return to one of our favourite spots,  Ciné lumière at the Institut français , but before then it was time for some French food to go with a French film and what could be more appropriate than a  crêperie.

Like the film this evening crêpes are a simple premise that can be deliciously filled with endless possibilities from savoury to sweet.  However, in the wrong hands they can also easily burn, the filling could be uncooked, or they  can be too sweet or too salty.  Thankfully like the film we saw, this place had it nailed!  Service was quick and efficient, our crêpes were cooked perfectly and the cider was nicely chilled.  My dessert wasn't bad either, waffles and chocolate sauce washed down with a nice double espresso.  A great  follow up visit to the  Kensington Crêperie.  With our main course over it was now time for the real dessert, the film.

Untouchable (Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano, 2011)       There are a number of reasons why I really enjoyed Untouchable, the first was going in to the film with no expectations of what it would be about, a rare luxury these days.  This helped me really enjoy the film thanks to the way it introduces our two lead characters.  The film's opening scene takes place around 3/4 of the way into the plot of the film.  We hear the upbeat and happy melodies of Earth, Wind and Fire, a blue Maserati is speeding along at night.  Bright blue police lights and blazing sirens are not far behind.  We hear our characters discuss placing a bet on the likelyhood of a police escort.  The driver is young and black, dressed in a tracksuit.  His passenger is a scruffy old man with a beard.  You wonder what kind of crime they have committed and how they intend to escape from the police.  They certainly don't look like they belong in that car.  

The police officer asks them both to get out of the car, the black man says his passenger can't and to "check in the boot".  We are expecting something bad, in fact it is just a wheelchair.  Do they have the perfect scam going on?  The old man starts frothing at the mouth and coughing, he needs to go to the hospital.  

We still don't know the truth, after all if you've watched your fair share of Coen brothers films you'll know to be particularly wary when the words "Based on a true story" flash up at the beginning of a film.  Either way, forcing us to judge the characters upfront to expose our prejudices is a great move in my book.

We soon find out about who these two characters really are and the heart warming story of a rich, upper middle class man with a life changing disability who meets someone from outside of his social circle to take care of him and give him a life again.  

Coming out of this film, that opening scene stuck in my head and it made me think just for fun of a probably already green lit Hollywood remake of Untouchable.  I mean Hollywood aren't afraid to ruin the odd French classic here and there!  Why not something like Meet the Parents meets Dumb and Dumber.  The possibilities are endless.  My favourite would be Robert De Niro as the man in the wheelchair and perhaps Chris Rock as the man from the ghetto pushing him around, it could be a laugh a minute gross out joke fest with just the  Earth Wind and Fire track left in to stay true to the original.  I'm sure this re-making of the film would more than make back its money but something would be missing, my crêpe would have been overcooked on the outside but left the cold in the middle.

The thing that makes Untouchable the perfectly cooked crêpe is the balance that is found in the film.  Both the characters judge each other horribly, much like we judge them in the opening sequence.  Phillipe (Francois Cluzet) thinks poor old Driss (Omar Sy) should be taught the lesson that an honest days work means an honest days pay.  Driss thinks I might as well just turn up to the interview, get them to sign my papers so I can keep claiming unemployment benefit, it's not as if he's going to hire me.  These initial assumptions of both characters backgrounds are regularly and evenly played off against each other without too much judgement as to which is better.  They both laugh at each others hang ups in equal measure and both help each other get their lives back on track.   In all such balance makes for a great bit of entertainment that anyone can enjoy and identify with, whatever side of the tracks you come from you see yourself somewhere in Untouchable, you can really identify and bond with the situation however far from day to day reality it seems and apart from the Earth Wind and Fire you don't need a classic Hollywood score to tell you how you feel.  Please go and see this film as perhaps then they would make more like this rather than the kind of remake that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

The Kensington Crêperie 2-6 Exhibition Road, London SW7 2HF
Cine Lumiere 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT

Friday, 12 October 2012

Escape From the Carnival Part 2: Undersea Chaos at SEA LIFE London

The BP Portrait Award 2012

For day two of the Carnival we had planned an alternative escape route.  Rather than hiding out at Stonehenge, we would take part in some urban camouflage in the heart of the Southbank.  Before the main action we made a small detour to the National Portrait Gallery to check out the BP Portrait Award 2012.  This was a great warm up for the day ahead, below were a few of my favourites from the exhibition in no particular order:

Mr Kitazawa's Noodle Bar, Tokyo - Carl Randall
Still Waiting - Antonio Barahona
Rasputin always wins - Paul Moyse
Wes's Dream - Erin Wozniak

You can view the above pictures and info from the exhibition here: BP Portrait Award 2012

Las Iguanas
After a little taste of art it was time to fill our stomachs.  We settled on Las Iguanas, a Central and South American themed restaurant on the Southbank.  Las Iguanas appealed due to the cheapish looking lunch menu, the lack of a wait for a table and a feeling that if it were half as good as Wahaca we'd have a decent lunch.  We were quickly shown to a nice corner table in the downstairs part of the restaurant.  Sadly a common trick was in use today, advertise a cheap deal outside on the menu board, but once you get the customer sat down the deal is nowhere to be seen.  Instead we were offered a two for one on cocktails which we gladly accepted.  The cocktails weren't amazing but they did make for a very pretty picture.  The food was decent and came quickly, nicely presented and full of flavour.  Service was fine.  It was time for the bill and the chance to join the crowds for the privilege of queuing for the London Aquarium, or Sealife London as it calls itself these days.

SEA LIFE London Aquarium

Thankfully we had booked our tickets for the aquarium online that morning.  We took advantage of an after 3 PM special offer with reduced price entry and access to the priority queue.  If we hadn't have booked this offer we would have certainly walked away as the main queue was chaotic and slow moving and the admission charge is high.  Thankfully we waited barely ten minutes in the priority queue.  We hadn't been to the aquarium in some time and I remember it was busy in places on that occasion too.  Today however, it was crazy with people pushing each other in the dark on the way down to see the fishes.  The aquarium was worth about three hours plus of our time and we enjoyed watching the small children point out the "Happy Feet" and the "Finding Nemos"!  After a while of getting accustomed to the crowds and staying clear of the pushers it became an increasingly enjoyable visit thanks to the huge range of sea creatures on show and the chance to get up really close to them.  We also got to take some great pictures as well.

I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock, 1953)
I was looking forward to the next part of the day as we approached early evening on the Southbank, Alfred Hitchcock's, I Confess at the BFI.  I am a big Hitchcock fan with Vertigo and North by Northwest being two of my favourites but I was looking forward to I Confess as it looked like a simple tale of guilt and suspense.  The film is about a priest (Montgomery Clift) who is framed for killing a man thanks to a less than plausible alibi.  He is unable to clear his name, as the perpetrator of the crime Otto Keller, (O.E. Hasse) is someone close to him who has admitted to the crime whilst in confession knowing that the priest cannot say a word to anyone as it is against his faith to do so.  As the film progresses, the priest becomes more and more involved in the murder case.  However, he stays true to his beliefs by not giving up the suspect.  Eventually cracks appear, but it is not the priest that caves in.  After being found not guilty in a court of law to the disgust of all in the court room our priest walks free to cries of abuse from the crowd who all expected him to be found guilty.  Our murderer still can’t help himself and as his wife tries to give him up he shoots at her and the priest, fatally wounding his wife and giving the game away.   As the police and the priest chase him down he is still unaware and has deluded himself into thinking the priest finally talked as he is shot down by the police.   I Confess is a really well put together film in that all the characters have something to hide, have all trusted the wrong people or have betrayed the ones they love.  There is also an interesting political element/allegory with the criminal being German.  I was now looking forward to a tasty dinner to discuss the film over.

The Riverside
After years and years of walking past and saying no, we decided to try the Riverside at the BFI for dinner and it was a great choice, albeit the menu is a touch limited for regular visits.  The food is decent value for money and best of all there was no need to queue to get a table which on the Southbank is a big bonus when you are often quoted an hours wait for restaurants you'd not normally give the time of day to.  I went with the pulled pork burger with chips washed down with a pint of Heineken and finished up with a cup of coffee that smelt better than it tasted.  We then enjoyed the scenic walk back across the bridge to Embankment tube and off home, hoping we'd dodged the carnival for another year.

National Portrait Gallery - 2 St.Martin's Place London WC2H 0HE
SEALIFE London - County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7PB
BFI - Belvedere Road, South Bank SE1 8XT

Monday, 8 October 2012

Simple Pleasures Part 2

Mixed Doner, Thanks...
When: 5th October 2012
Where: Fez Mangal Ladbroke Grove

Fez Mangal 104 Ladbroke Grove London, Greater London W11 1PY

Festival Fun 2012 Preview

London Film Festival 2012
When: October 10th - 2012
Where: London!

This year I will be attending two films at the festival.  The first is Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt which I am very much looking forward to.  The combination of creepy James Bond villain and the director of Festen, one of my favourite films from the times of Dogme 95 should be well worth watching.  I will try and write up a review of sorts before the film goes on general release here in the UK.

The second film is Michel Gondry's latest The We And The I covering that magic moment of the last day of school.  As with some of the other Gondry films this may not get much in the way of a cinema release in the UK much like the excellent The Thorn in the Heart that we saw at a previous LFF.

These two should keep me going until Skyfall.  James Bond + IMAX = a great night out!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Dinner With Work

You've Got To Try It All
Where: Zeytoon, Cricklewood
When: August 2012

It's rare that I have a good or interesting dinner with my work colleagues, but on those occasions we have flexibility to spend our own money rather than vouchers we have always had a decent night out.  Zeytoon is a Persian/Afghan restaurant in Cricklewood.  We arrived around 8 PM and were quickly shown to our table.  The restaurant was around a third full. One of our party had been doing some additional fasts after Ramadan so he was pretty hungry and we let his enthusiasm for food get the better of us.  There was a wide choice of well-priced food on the menu and unable to decide we let greed get the better of us.

To start, we went with bread and mixed starters.  Strangely enough the items I was least looking forward to tasted the best and the normally safe hummus was pretty awful.  The Salad-e-Olvieh with chicken, egg and potato was good but my favourite were the two warm aubergine starters and I'm really not a big aubergine fan, Kashk-e-Bademjan which is a mashed aubergine dish and my unexpected favourite Burani Bademjan which was marinated grilled aubergine.

For our mains we started with a mixed grill with one skewer each of four kinds of Kebab, this was a great bargain as it worked out at around £11 each with loads of well marinated meat and lovely saffron rice.  In all honesty we didn't need the other dishes but I was more than glad I tried them.  I'll let the pictures do the talking.

To finish our gluttony we had two of the Afghan dishes and these were really nice and both something I'd not tried before.  The first, pictured below was Mantu, which is a little like an Italian ravioli with tomato sauce, but topped with yoghurt.  This was really tasty and reminds me once again how cuisine travels around the world.  The second which escaped my camera was Qabli Polow Lamb Shank which was a delicious lamb shank that had been cooked in fruity brown rice.  Wow, this was good and despite being full to bursting from the mixed grill I managed to eat my portion of the lamb.  We finished our meal £25 lighter of the pocket but most likely 25lbs heavier than when we came in.

Zeytoon 94-96 Cricklewood Broadway, London, NW2 3EL

Escape From the Carnival Part 1: A Trip to Salisbury

No Druids Here!
Where: Salisbury and Stonehenge
When: Carnival Weekend 2012

Every August we suffer with the same dilemma, do we embrace the Notting Hill Carnival or run to the hills, henges, and mountains or wherever else seems quiet, peaceful and relaxing?  The last few years we have managed to escape abroad but this year we stayed in the UK and after trawling the English Heritage website for things to do we settled on Salisbury as it was a cheap train fare and there was enough for us to do to keep us out of the house from morning till night.  We set off early in the morning to Waterloo where we arrived with plenty of time for our train and settled in with an M & S breakfast of fruit and pastries for the 90 minute ride into Salisbury.  Before we knew it we were there and after a squeeze through the crowded ticket gates we found ourselves at the bus stop for the tourist bus to Stonehenge.

The tourist bus is timed to leave shortly after the London train arrives and you can easily spot which bus it is from the sign and the queue of assorted accents waiting underneath.  The hop on hop off bus the goes from the station to Stonehenge, Old Sarum and back to town again.  The fare is £20 including entry to Stonehenge and a pre-recorded tour in English that 75% of the occupants talk over as they don't understand a word of it. Thankfully for the non-English speaking tourists aboard the bus the audio guides at Stonehenge had a much larger range of languages.  The bus takes the scenic route through town and the not so scenic stop at Salisbury Bus Station before taking the road towards Stonehenge.  One big advantage of the tour bus is fast track entry to Stonehenge which on a busy day is great as you bypass the whole queue and go straight through to pick up your audio guide.  It's not quite the stuff of VIPs but it is a great time saver.

To access Stonehenge you need to pass through a small tunnel under the road and on the other side you are treated to Stonehenge itself.  I'm not a particularly spiritual person but the effects of walking around Stonehenge are something special, contemplating the mammoth effort it would have taken to erect such a structure that still stands many thousands of years later.  The most amazing thing is despite all the examinations of the site nobody really knows what it was built for or exactly how the stones were transported to the area.  Although the area and Stonehenge itself is quite small we spent an hour wondering around the site listening to the audio guide and taking photos.

We then hopped back on to the hop on hop off tourist bus and headed to Old Sarum.  We weren't expecting much from Old Sarum as when we passed it on the way it just looked like a couple of ruins laid on top of a hill.  Thankfully this couldn't have been further from the truth.  Old Sarum was actually the town that was abandoned before Salisbury was formed.  Luckily for us there was also a theme day complete with Knights in armour, medieval cooking and activities and entertainment for those with young ones.  Additionally Old Sarum also provides amazing views out over the countryside and again, luckily for us we got to see some old fashioned aeroplanes fly over and people parachute jumping out of them.  After all that excitement it was time to head into town and pay a visit to Salisbury Cathedral.

A short bus ride on the hop on hop off bus later and we were back in Salisbury town centre.  The town centre is typically quaint and English filled with plenty of pubs and tea & cake places that reminded us a lot of Canterbury.  The cathedral is not hard to spot as it has the tallest spire in the UK!  We arrived a little later than planned but thankfully we had enough time to have a quick look around the cathedral but not quite enough time to catch the Magna Carta exhibit as it was closing just as we had arrived.  The roof and colour of the cathedral interior was quite special and although we had to rush we managed to get a few nice pictures and soak up the atmosphere before evensong started.  We then had a short walk in the cathedral grounds and took a few more pictures before heading back into town.  As it was too early to eat we had a walk through the town centre and along by the river.  It really was a perfect early evening for a relaxing walk.

We then headed towards the pub we had picked out from Trip Advisor, The Cloisters.  It was set in a nice old fashioned building but was very quiet on arrival.  We actually ended up getting table service which I always find a bit odd in a pub.  We started off with a couple of much needed pints whilst reading the menus.  A while later our waiter came back to take the orders, he was nice and polite but there seemed to be an air of the disorganised and unkempt about him, something I can be equally guilty of myself.  I ordered the lamb shank with veg and my partner ordered the burger and chips.  After a reasonable wait the food came.  The lamb was nice and tender and fell right off the bone.  However, for me the meal was spoiled slightly by the inexplicable serving of some over boiled, unseasoned canned vegetables on the side.  They were completely unnecessary and took away a lot from a decent piece of pub food.  Apparently the burger was pretty good as well.  We also ordered dessert and coffees which seemed to throw our waiter a bit but we got two large and rather lovely warm slabs of chocolate fudge cake and some decent coffee.  It was a really nice way to finish the meal.  We were accidentally double billed for one of the items but it was instantly taken care of without question.  Overall it was a good meal to set us up for our trip back home to London.  It was a shame the pub was so quiet and lacking in atmosphere, maybe we were just there too early in the evening as there only seemed to be a table with tourists and two men that spent more time going out for a cigarette than eating or drinking.

We took the short walk back to Salisbury train station along a road filled with sweet little houses and after managing to avoid the drunk patrolling the platforms we were on the train and headed back to London to see if our flat was still in one piece.  Walking back from White City the signs were not too bad, just a few groups of harmless drunks until we turned into the road near home with a large crowd spilling out into the road from both sides thanks to the take away and the pub.  Thankfully the noise didn't really spill over at all and it was nice and peaceful by the time we got home.  With the first day of the carnival successfully avoided we needed to catch some sleep as tomorrow we would hit the town tourist style!

Stonehenge Tour Bus
Salisbury Cathedral
The Cloisters 83 Catherine Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP1 2DH