Friday, 27 June 2008

HOT: Peyton and Byrne, St Pancras Eurostar Terminal

I love the Peyton & Byrne stall at Heals (the first stop on the inaugural Huy Fantasy Tour of London) so was very excited to see that P&B had opened an outlet at Eurostar. Unfortunately I don't think the less-than-salubrious decor, with plastic trays, plastic cutlery, paper plates and bad-caff thin chicken pie did the delicious cakes proper justice. So go, but focus on their £1 fig rolls - buttery shortbread with a not-to-sweet figgy filling and a big slice of their old-fashioned cakes for only £2.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

NOT: That Face, Duke of York Theatre, St Martins Lane

I had been looking forward to seeing this play, as it had been much hyped in the press, who gushed about the tight and finely-observed writing of 20 year old Polly Stenham. Well - it wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't a seminal work and the kind of mass hysteria which marked the climactic ending was not really my sort of theatre. I did think that the dialogue was occasionally sharp, witty and well-phrased and Ms Stenham clearly has talent which could develop into something. On the other hand, the theatrics were sometimes a bit over-the-top, and the characters were not particularly complex - uniformly nasty and dysfunctional with no redeeming qualities. Compared against any National Theatre Production (for which I pay £10), this play is a NOT.

NOT: Bertorelli, 44a Floral Street, Covent Garden WC2E 9DA

This restaurant, part of the usually great Chez Gerard chain, was so bad it was almost (not quite) comical. The hapless Eastern European waitstaff did their best, but (1) we were seated awkwardly in the corridor behind a pillar by the bar; (2) the staff didn't know that they had a pre-theatre menu - I had to remind them; (3) the £1.95 cover charge included some tasteless manna - don't know any Italians that serve that; (4) they needed three goes to get our order, and then only the third time did they tell us that the highlighted special truffle ravioli was no longer available - at 630pm (5) we waited, waited and waited for our second course of the pre-theatre menu, until I was seriously considering cutting our losses and heading to a felafel joint. We were again waiting for our bill when the food finally did come, so we decided to eat it given it was already 7:10pm; (6) the awful food was an embarrassment to Italians - a big bowl of sloppy pasta with practically nothing in it, oversweet tomato sauce, poor ingredients. Never again.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

HOT: Radiohead, Victoria Park

Kid A is the only album I play when I need a break from the hectic, chattering world - I lie down in my room in the pitch black, stare at the ceiling and rest my mind. Radiohead in the outdoor expanse of Victoria Park was a wholly different experience and this incredible gig was a breathtaking greatest hits show, including the tribal drumbeats of There There; the classic rock of The Bends; the angelic chimes of No Surprises and the ethereal Paranoid Android. To my surprise and delight, the band played my Radiohead Top Three: the first wail of "Everythiiiiiiing......" into the blue cloudless sky in Everything in its Right Place gave me chills up my spine and almost brought tears; then the immediate segue into the searing beats of Idioteque and the most thrilling moment: 40,000 fans singing back to Thom Yorke under a single spotlight "For a minute there, I lost myself" in Karma Police.

Monday, 23 June 2008

HOT: The Edge of Love, Electric Cinema, Portobello Rd, Notting Hill

The most amazing thing about this windswept movie is that it is based on true events around the complicated personal life of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys), his promiscuous wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller), his flighty childhood love Vera (Keira Knightley) and Vera's hapless husband William (Cillian Murphy). I think all of the characters could have been further explored given the bizarre relationships between them, but Sienna Miller did a credible job in making Caitlin multi-dimensional; difficult, disappointed, lonely and insecure. Unfortunately, the raspberry must go to Keira Knightly. While she looked ravishing in the glossy curled hair-red lipstick 40s ouvre (making even Sienna look plain), her on-off clipped Welsh accent was off-putting and her wooden yet flouncing acting style seems to not have developed any further since Atonement. Not a bad movie, but certainly not a must-see.

Friday, 20 June 2008

HOT: The Table, 83 Southwark Street, London Bridge SE1 0HX

After the stupid Cy Twombly exhibition, my outraged nerves were soothed by this restaurant's herby bread, whole John Dory with root vegetables and sticky toffee pudding. Clean wooden lines, good food and great prices (mains £12, desserts £4) means that I'll be going back for a pre or post-Tate Modern meal.

NOT: Cy Twombly, Tate Modern

sca·tol·o·gy –noun 1. the study of or preoccupation with excrement or obscenity. There are many references to scatology in the fawning exhibition pamphlet for this retrospective of 'one of the greatest living artists'; all I can say is that it was the most scatological nonsense I have ever had the misfortune to waste half an hour of my life. It involved room after endless room of infantile pencil scratchings ('ascetic traces of undulant pencil line') on white butcher's paper ('blanched light'), sometimes broken up with smears of fingerpainting resembling excrement and/or flacid penises ('heightened erotism'). One of the few exhibitions I've seen which had me storming out muttering expletives and feeling violent towards the art world for valuing and exhibiting this ridiculous, childish and self-indulgent crap.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

HOT: Skin + Bones, Somerset House, The Strand

This well curated exhibition explores the parallels and cross-pollinations between my two favourite design art forms - architecture and fashion. It includes architectural models and photographs from Zaha Hadid, Herzog & de Meuron and the Heatherwick Studios with clothed mannequins and catwalk films from Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen, Lanvin and of course the Japanese structuralist designers (Watanabe, Yamamoto, Miyake, Kawakubo) and groups them around various themes traditionally associated with one or another discpline, including shelter, deconstruction, draping, pleating and cantilevers. My favourites: Tod's Ometosando store, Viktor & Rolf's Russian doll collection and Watanabe's soft tulle structures.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

HOT: The Revenger's Tragedy, National Theatre, Southbank

I'd never heard of Thomas Middleton but apparently he's England's Other Shakespeare. His play of revenge, sex and murder was dramatic and witty and included the requisite amount of gore. This updated version was very effective in seting the tone of debauchery, licentiousness and treachery, with its setting of gaudy velvet chairs, gothic techno beats and the tones of a soaring counter tenor. Of the actors, I think the dense text was best interpreted by Rory Kinnear as Vindice and Elliot Cowan as Lussurioso. Four stars.

HOT: Chez Gerard, 9 Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8YL

After a couple of disappointing meals at Canteen, Tim and I decided to try another pre-theatre venue at Southbank. Chez Gerard is an example of when a chain restaurant works - you can be assured of a consistent quality of food, attention to service and a willingness to seek feedback. Our £15.95 prix fixe menu including two courses were brought promptly, the French fare was pretty good (properly raw lamb, succulent red mullet) and we were constantly asked whether everything was to our liking, a change from the usual disinterest shown by London waiters.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

NOT: Cha Cha Moon, 15-21 Ganton Street W1F 9BN

This Hong Kong style noodle joint recently opened to much anticipation, so I was excited to try it out for myself. Unfortunately, it was a disappointing experience. I have made better dumplings than the lumpen balls we were served. The chilli prawn lao mein was reminiscient of the slop served at Tay Do, with a heavy flourescent orange gravy and a minimal number of prawns. Finally, the chicken fen pi had a watery dressing with too-strong flavours of rice wine (Tim thought it tasted like vodka). I thought I'd give it one more chance with Singapore Fried Noodles, but after waiting for 15 minutes for its arrival (when everything else had taken 5 minutes) the waiter looked at me blankly and asked whether I'd ordered the dish yesterday (???) - then our bill charged £10 worth of drinks which weren't ours. With such terrible service and a noisy crushed dining room, the only consolation was that each dish only cost £3.50. While prices remain low I might give some other menu items one more shot, as it seems unbelievable that an Alan Yau restaurant could be this bad.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

NOT: Alfred Brendel and London Symphony Orchestra, Barbican

The legendary pianist Alfred Brendel is retiring aged 77 this year and he's an old man with young man's hands. He brought a golden liquidity and smooth elegance to Mozart's beautiful C minor piano concerto but I think sitting in the second back row meant that the subtle nuances of interpretation were lost. Vlad, who had attended Brendel's first concert with the same program, was very disappointed with this performance. In the second half, nine double basses, two timpani sets, a bass drum, giant symbols, nine french horns, a wind machine, cowbells and a large sheet of metal were let loose for Strauss' Alpine Symphony. While the LSO probably played it very well, it was a brassy, strident and incoherent work which gave me a headache. In terms of programme music with similar themes, Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony and Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture do it better.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

NOT: Comptoir Gascon, 62 Charterhouse Street, Smithfields

I wish I could repay Huy's birthday generosity with a HOT, but my Blogging Code of Conduct means that, like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie - and this restaurant wasn't great. I had high hopes as I walked into the rustic French decorated interior, but my Gascony pie starter was cold on the inside and the creamy sauce was veering on sour, the medium-rare rib of beef was completely over-cooked and the side of fries was barely lukewarm. Plus I was still hungry after two courses! I might try the proper restaurant next time, but frankly I think there are much better restaurants around Smithfields.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

HOT: Dances at a Gathering/The Dream, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Sometimes paying £30 for a stall seat ballet ticket (instead of the usual £15 for amphitheatre) is really worthwhile - you can appreciate much better the ballet dancers' thoroughbred legs, the way their heads whip around as they spot their whirlwind pirouettes and the expressiveness of bodies, from their floating hands down to their dainty arched feet. Dances at a Gathering was a lovely but slightly repetitive and esoteric etude of wafting pastels set to Chopin's music, so I was surprised to discover that the choreographer was Jerome Robbins, as it was very different to the dynamic film choreography of West Side Story and The King and I. The Dream was a combination of all my favourite classical arts - music by one of my favourite composers (Mendelssohn), storyline of my favourite Shakespearean play (A Midsummer Night's Dream), and danced by my favourite ballet company (naturally the Royal Ballet). It was truly delightful, full of humour and charm.

Monday, 2 June 2008

HOT: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Electric Cinema, 191 Portobello Rd, Notting Hill W11 2ED

As Michael said, Indy 4 was never going to be a critical success. Frankly I think the only factors pushing it over to the edge of HOT was nostalgia and Cate Blanchett's perfectly cast cheekbones as the evil Russian chasing the 65 year old Harrison Ford across South America. The usual Indy set pieces were wheeled out: swarms of man-eating beetles; a snake gag; feisty love interest; improbable timelines (Peru to Iguazu Falls to Chicken Itza in the same scene); and extended car chases involving fistfights in moving vehicles. Harmless fun but I really hope they don't milk out an Indy 5 - although I'm assuming it's inevitable now that Indy has a long-lost son.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

HOT: Hamlet, The Factory, King's Head Theatre, 115 Upper St, Islington N1 1QN

I think The Factory's production of Hamlet would have been 5 stars for me if I hadn't gone to bed at 3am the night before - three hours of the Danish prince was an ordeal. Putting that aside, this unusual production had lots to commend it. While I think 'bring your own props' and 'obstructions' are gimmicks which tend to provoke inappropriate hilarity at tense, dramatic moments, you have to applaud the actors' ability to improvise, especially coupled with the fact that each act shifts to a different space: the stage; a garden; the crypt of an old church; the side seating of the theatre. In the end what impressed me most was actually what would impress me at a 'standard' Shakespearean performance: diction, projection, rhythm and the ability to bring out the nuances of the text. For those reasons my Oscar goes to the actors playing Hamlet, Claudius and Gertrude.