Thursday, 25 April 2013


Small Plate, Big Smiles
Where: Polpo
When: April 2013

Another day another lunch...  The sun is out and it feels like the warmest day since the Olympics.  After an energising walk to the West End it was time for a quick lunch.  We decided upon Polpo, a trendy, small plates Italian (or to use their description, Venetian Street Food) restaurant.  The fun thing about a lunch out in Soho is the mix of clients; fashionable and traditional, young and old.  Being a lovely summery day the restaurant's windows were wide open at the front welcoming us into the depths of the restaurant.  The design is rustic tiles, chairs and wooden tables.  We were promptly shown to our table and given menus, our waitress was friendly, smiley and enthusiastic about the food and it felt very genuine.  The fact that the restaurant was largely full the whole time we were there and that the service charge was added to the bill made the good service all the more surprising, no miserable through the motions chain restaurant staff here.

We had a look through the menu.  For drinks there were a range of cocktails, spirits, wines and juices.  We went with a Birra Moretti and an apple juice (interestingly served with a wedge of lime).  The lunch menu was used as a place mat and was divided up into various sections: meatballs, pizzette, Fish, Meat, Salads/Veg and sweet stuff.  We went with spaghettini and meatballs and a pork shoulder and pickled pepper pizzette.  After a short wait the food and drinks were served with smiles.  The meatballs were large, moist and meaty, the spaghettini was just the right side of al dante and the tomato sauce was deep red and flavourful.  The pizzetti was light and crisp, the cheese strong and contrasted nicely with the acidity of the lightly spiced pickled peppers and the thin crisp slices of pork shoulder.

Next up was dessert and we both went with the flourless orange and almond cake.  This was an outstandingly good, soft cake, with a thick dollop of cream, orange zest and an orange sauce on the side.  It was heaven on a plate and after eating this we will more than likely be returning, perhaps with more time to try a few of the meatier options.  I downed my rich espresso, we paid, we smiled, we left.  Another great and simple lunch that made me want to come back for more.

Best Of Bond

Skyfall, Sam Mendes (2012)
When: November 2012
Where: Odeon Swiss Cottage (IMAX)

James Bond turned 50, he already has the fast cars, the trophy women and a rather well developed drinking habit so what now?  Skyfall answers a lot of those questions and sets up many more, it also continues the rich vein of form since Daniel Craig took on the role of 007.  There are a number of things that made Skyfall great to watch but my favourite was using the cinematic play of light and shadow to blend with the films narrative.  The Bond style is something we take for granted, the full size Ken Adam sets, the fight scenes, the use of the James Bond theme and the famous opening credits.  Mendes plays with it well, a polite British nod to the past, a modern British look to the future.

Rather than give this film any more free publicity I thought I'd talk about a couple of my favourite scenes in the film.  The first is the fight in the tower in China.  The scene is almost Batmanesque, however where as Batman has gadgets, a plan and an escape route costing millions, Bond rushes in using just the shadows and light to hide himself from the man he intends to interrogate and kill, this was classic Bond by nature but with a real cinematic touch, after all cinema is but light and shadow.

I also enjoyed the scene where Bond and Q (Ben Whishaw) fight to stop the Silva (Javier Bardem) from killing M (Judi Dench) and the MPs during the questioning.  The dead eyed, world weary, seen it all before rush hour crowd not bothered by a man jumping on to the back of a moving tube train.  The simple small room, confined shoot out with those questioning M and her methods shown up as cowards and the birth of the new M (Ralph Fiennes to follow.

Whilst I don't know if Skyfall is the best Bond ever made it is certainly the most cinematic and I really hope this continues going forward to keep the heart of my favourite film franchise alive and well.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


St Moritz Style!
When: March 2013
Where: St Moritz

I don't think there's much in the world that makes me happier than fondue.  Melted cheese, crusty bread, potatoes and/or meat with the possibility of fruit and chocolate to follow.  Despite living in London for many years we had yet to go out anywhere for fondue.  I'm not sure why but perhaps it's due to a lack of choice, the nearest restaurant to us seems like somewhere to do traditional German drinking, dancing and merriment and for me all I want is the cheese, the rest I can more than do without.  Finally we found the St Moritz restaurant in the West End, from the website they look a little old fashioned, they even suggest booking via fax rather than e-mail, but then again when it comes to fondue maybe the old ways are the best.  As the weeks came and went, birthdays and occasions missed we kept calling for reservations with little joy, until finally one Sunday the table for five we'd been longing for was ours.

When the time finally came it was the perfect day, freezing temperatures, a biting cold wind and the promise of light snow in the air, the perfect day for fondue.  Spying the Swiss flag above the door I waited for my dining companions as we entered what looked like a small rickety old house filled with relics that looked like something out of Roger Moore in For You Eyes Only, cow bells, cheese and 80s winter sports photos, this was already looking like it would be well worth the wait.  Then the smell of melting cheese hits, perhaps this is what heaven (or possibly hell) smells like.  We were taken up the stairs to our table, had our coats taken and were offered menus.  Here the kitsch continued and not feeling too brave we decided to go for 2 different kinds of cheese fondue between us, the Fondue Neuchsteloise: Dip fresh crusty bread into bubbling Gruyere & Emmental cheese and the Fondue Moitie-Moitie: Melted Gruyere and Vacherin cheese from Switzerland served with new potatoes and bread washed down with a nice chilled bottle of house white.

 As we sipped away at the wine the theatre of the fondue experience began to build.  First setting the table, then bringing the burners, lighting the burners, bringing the bread and then...  two steaming hot saucepans of molten cheese pleasure and some potatoes!  I have only one rule for good fondue, eat until I'm about to be sick.  St Moritz did not disappoint and many a dip of bread and potato later I was feeling that every little bit less in heaven and another bite closer to hell.  With a small puddle of cheese left in the pan and my dining companions having long since given up it was time to throw in the pick and extinguish the flame.  Fondue had one won only a double espresso could save me.

We will almost certainly be going back to St Moritz again, the food was excellent, the service friendly and professional and there were a number of non-cheese items on the menu that looked rather good.  I also wanted to try some of the desserts which we were too full to manage.  In all a perfect nights dining, I can't wait to do it again!

St Moritz: 161 Wardour Street, London W1F 8WJ
Telephone: 0207 734 3324

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

To The Wonder: Valence, Varda and the Pirate Tavern

Helping Me Find My Inner Child, To the Wonder: The Pirate Tavern et "un Peu de Varda a Valence"
Where: Valence, France
When: March 2013

 At last an excuse to get writing again, it has been so very long.  During the regular "spring" trip to France there were some fun things to write about.  Well, one good exhibition, some beautiful scenery (though sadly I only get to talk about the stuff on film) and well...  lunch at the Pirate Tavern...  But really, more than anything else it was time for me to explore my inner child and how much fun it can be.  It all started on the drive back from the airport, at least for me it did, "Oh look, a Pirate Tavern!  How exciting."  Or words to that effect, who knows whether this innocent comment planted a seed, gave someone an excuse or whether it was just a passing comment on the inevitability of things to come.  Anyway, I dislike the idea of eating at a themed restaurant as much as anyone but somehow the idea of going to eat at one brings out my inner child.   The pain of it all.  Anyway, later that week we ended up at the Pirate Tavern for a birthday lunch.

When you see the name Pirate Tavern you expect excitement, parrots, pirates, tankards, and the smell of the sea; generally something pretty rowdy.  However the Pirate Tavern in Valence did not have this idea in mind, in fact it was all rather polite, complete with smiling pirates and relaxing sea shanties playing for background noise.  The only hint of chaos was the crossed knives and forks.  The menu was destination themed and we each chose a set menu from a different country where pirates may or may not have ventured, Thailand, Morocco, Italy and France - perhaps French pirates sailed different oceans to the British...


The food was nicely presented and pretty tasty.  Not being a fan of things from the ocean I went with the Moroccan option.  I actually quite enjoyed my meal it was full of flavour and my lamb was very tender and soft.  It certainly was not what I was expecting and didn't feel very piratey but it was a good lunch nevertheless.

 Now if the pirates didn't bring out my inner child then potatoes certainly would.  There was an Agnes Varda exhibition on and this was something I was really looking forward to.  There were two pieces in this small exhibit that really engaged my inner child.  The first was a film about a photo, Ulysse.  The photo was a black and white shot of a pebbly beach with what looked like a father and son together in the mid area and a dead sheep in the foreground hidden amongst the stones.  With a childlike curiosity Varda tracks down those in the photo many years after it was taken and explores all the angles.  The young boy is now a man, married with children, the young man is now an old man.  The beech is still there and sheep are still plentiful.  Varda questions those involved about the time of the photo and how their lives have moved on creating a narrative and explanation of the photo above any conventional understanding.  She also shoots the film in such a way recreating elements from the photo in the different scenes.  It was immensely enjoyable.  The second memorable moment was watching the installation of potatoes going through various transformations with age, inspired by the heart shaped potato in the The Gleaners & I (Varda, 2000)

With pirates and potatoes my inner child was enjoying itself but it then decided to grow up and go and watch a film.  I have always been a big Terrence Malick fan, well as big as one could be with just a handful of releases over the majority of his directorial career.  Of late he has picked up the pace.  How would To the Wonder compare with the acclaimed (and at times up its arse) The Tree of Life (Malick, 2011) and his prior works?  To the Wonder is really a companion piece to The Tree of Life.  Whereas The Tree of Life seems to focus on masculinity, To the Wonder sees the same story from a more feminine angle.  For me the film was all about the failure to obtain the perfect life these characters wanted.  For the woman, Marina (Olga Kurylenko) a loving perfect family, for the man, Neil (Ben Affleck) a natural life of his own, with his own child.  For the priest, Father Qunitana (Javier Bardem) to find God again, but amongst beautiful shots of Paris, Mont Saint-Michel and the farm lands of Oklahoma in the American mid-west I just stopped caring about these characters.

Visually this was perhaps the most beautiful and mesmerising of Malick's films, the dusky magic hour sunlight, midnight in rain soaked Paris.  Maybe it was all too subtle but I found there was nothing to get my teeth in to, nothing to get all that emotional about.  They say films are made in the editing suite but if we put To the Wonder back into plot order it would be nothing to write home about, just another make up/break up film...  Hopefully the next one will be better.