Wednesday, 30 July 2008

HOT: Her Naked Skin, National Theatre, Southbank

A difficult call. On the one hand: a worthy subject matter; mobile prison grille set with different tableaus sliding from underneath the frame; Lesley Manville's lovely upper-class English voice and National Theatre's wondrous £10 ticket scheme. On the other hand: independent and scattered vignettes rather than a storyline; a lesbian affair lacking chemistry and credibility and a very slow-moving second half. In the end, I lean slightly towards HOT if only because it gave me appreciation, however shallow, of the intense strength of will of the suffragettes and made me resolve to not take for granted my right to vote.

NB To the sweaty-hoofed person sitting somewhere behind me - keep your nauseating smelly shoes on next time!

Monday, 28 July 2008

HOT: The Dark Knight, Electric Cinema, Portobello Road, Notting Hill

I have to admit the only reasons The Dark Knight is a HOT for me is because of Batman's cool eject-a-motorbike arising from the rubble of his Batmobile; Bruce Wayne's well-cut suits; a really spectacular chain explosion of Gotham General; and Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine playing Batman's older, wiser statesman. Someone who was able to hear the mumbled dialogue behind the various masks, disfigurements and gunfire might have achieved a better understanding out of the deep, thematic arcs of the storyline (oooh! ambivalent message on the war on terrorism!), but frankly for me it was more of the same from the Hollywood genre of comic book adaptations - kinda good but a throwaway film.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

HOT: Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, Clive Steps Kings Charles Street SW1A 2AQ

Supertourist Sunday stop #2 was the fascinating underground war bunker of Churchill's WWII War Cabinet, and an extensive museum documenting the life and achievements of this brilliant man. It was depressing to think of the War Cabinet and all their staff working, sleeping and eating in dark, dank and windowless concrete rooms for 6 years - and amazing that after VJ day, they just tidied their desks and went home, leaving everything exactly as it was until it was opened up by the Imperial War Museum in the 70s. The adjoining Churchill museum was an in-depth exploration of Churchill's life and his impact on history filled with interesting exhibits, interactive touchscreens, videos and old radio broadcasts. My favourite exhibits included an examination of his stirring speeches and speech-writing techniques; his wife's letter lovingly reminding him that his difficult behaviour was starting to alienate his staff and colleagues; and examples of his humour and wit in his dealings with others. Well worth the trip - and if you have a overground railway ticket, you can get 2 for 1 off the entry fee.

HOT: London Eye, Southbank

Supertourist Sunday got us up so we'd be one of the first people on the London Eye, the world's tallest observation wheel. It's a very pricey 30 minutes (£13.95 pre-booked via website, £15.50 to line up with the hoards at the gate) but when you've got good weather in London, you have to make the most of it. High above the Thames, you can appreciate the vastness, history and white Georgian beauty of my town.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

HOT: Impress Food Oriental Supermarket, 169 Queensway, Bayswater

Excellent oriental supermarket within walking distance from my house and the Chinese restaurants of Queensway. The prices are reasonable, and the range is extensive. I've bought a bamboo steamer, peking duck pancakes, jars of hoisin sauce, asian veges, glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaves and pork buns from them, and I should really make more trips to support its trade - it's an essential stop for my pantry needs.

Friday, 25 July 2008

HOT: Chegworth Farm Shop, 221 Kensington Church Street W8 7LX

I enjoyed a small £2 tub of pear and ginger sorbet in the summer heat from this stupendously expensive farm shop. It sells lots of gorgeously presented fruits and veges bursting with freshness and colour, but is only affordable if you live in a 20-room mansion in Notting Hill.

Update 4 August 2008: Thanks to Chegworth Farm Shop for reminding me about the lovely ice-cream was from Taywell.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

HOT: Monkey: Journey to the West, Royal Opera House

It's great to know that Damon Albarn isn't just a poncy private schoolboy pretending to be a rockstar. Together with James Hewlett, his Gorillaz collaborator and the Chinese director Chen Shi-Zheng, he has created a rocking, colourful and energetically vibrant modern opera performed in the grand ornate Royal Opera House. The production is based on the ancient Chinese story of the Monkey King and his journey to the west (India) with his troupe: Tripitaka, Pigsy, Sandy and the Dragon Prince. Tim, being a Monkey Magic fan from childhood, was able to follow the story much better than me, but the wonderful combination of jaw-dropping Chinese acrobatics, funky video interludes and creative sets (my favourite being the giant floating Buddha hand) made it a very enjoyable production. I would love to see it again, if only to see the quarter of the stage that was obscured from our stall circle seats.

Update 5 August 2008: Albarn and Hewlett have brought Monkey and his friends together for the BBC's title sequence for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I really love it - it's unusual, witty and fun!

HOT: Ben's Cookies, Covent Garden Piazza

I wished my cookies turned out perfect every time like Ben's Cookies. Ben, I salute you! Your dark chocolate cookie, milk chocolate cookie and milk chocolate with hazelnut cookie are just the right size for a double-hand hold, have the perfect level of squishiness and are extremely moreish.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

HOT: The Greenhouse, 27a Hay's Mews, Mayfair W1J 5NY

Dinner at this beauteous Michelin-starred restaurant was a belated birthday gift from my favourite homies, Swino and Huy. The resort-hotel-esque entrance, with its red carpet and incongruous tropical plants, fed into a dimly cool, calm dining room. The food was eclectic European via France and delicious all around, while the service was efficient and friendly. In between our three course menu for £65 (for moi: scallop with a truffle shaving, a dash of mushroom foam and a swipe of pigeon giblet sauce; milk-fed lamb with teriyaki sauce, smoked eel and orange powder; raspberry and rhubarb millefueille with leaf sorbet) we were presented with little tastes of watermelon jelly, tomato consomme, macarons, mini chocolate truffles and absolutely delicious bread rolls (I had four!). A lovely place for a special occasion.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

HOT: The House of Viktor & Rolf, Barbican Centre

As Yalin said, V&R are performance artists than mere clothing designers. This exhibition is a retrospective of their ready-to-wear and couture collections since 1993, displayed on miniature dolls in a giant white dolls house, as well as life-size dolls posed in front of screens looping catwalk shows. Beyond some of their more outlandish collections (sleeping bag gown and a giant pillow for your head, anyone?) was some beautifully cut and creative clothing. One of my favourites was the use of bluescreen technology to project images onto clothes made from chromakey blue - so dresses became cloudscapes, coats became a row of tanks and trousers projected the sunset.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

HOT: Black Watch, Barbican Centre

As one audience member said, it's rare for the Scottish to get worked up about a piece of theatre. But there's reason to get worked up about Black Watch, a brilliantly choreographed play about the famous regiment's deployment to Camp Dogwood, Iraq. The play explores the prism of a military life: the golden thread of history that draws the young men of Dundee, Fife and Perth to enlist in a 300 year old tradition; the boredom and heat of a desert war; the flashes of fear and the training that automatically overtakes the fear; the raucous dirty banter which hides the aggressively strong bond between you and your mates; and the poignancy of missing home. During two intensely emotional hours, the most stirring moment for me was the proud regimental march ending the play - a fitting way to draw in all of those themes and to salute the soldiers of the Black Watch.

NOT: Malmaison Bar & Brasserie, 18-21 Charterhouse Square, London EC1M 6AH

This slightly snooty underground hotel bar and restaurant serves delicious food - but the prices are exorbitant for what you get (£20 for a pasta - yes it was lobster, but there wasn't THAT much lobster). Luckily I had a Taste London card which gave me 50% off, so I might return for a pre-Barbican meal as they were very accommodating about our need to leave by a certain time, and next time I might choose a more wallet-friendly dish.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

HOT: Duke on the Green, 235 New Kings Road, Fulham SW6 4XG

An above-average corner boozer in the Sloaney enclaves of Parsons Green. Their burger was one of the better ones I've had, with a properly medium-rare patty, fresh tomato relish and good potato wedges (you could also choose to substitute the mozzarella for foie gras). If you're in the area it's worth a try as it's pleasant and looks out over the Green, and it's a surprisingly easy trip from Paddington as the District Line doesn't require a transfer at Earl's Court for Wimbeldon-bound trains.

Monday, 7 July 2008

NOT: Daylight Robbery - What happened to the $23 billion?, Frontline Club, 13 Norfolk Place, Paddington W2 1QJ

This BBC Panorama film was a music-video style, graphics-heavy, "Youtube generation" doco about a serious matter - an estimated $23 billion lost, stolen or not properly accounted for in Iraq. I understand that the filmmakers were limited by their 1 hour slot and the wish to reach a younger, mass audience (rather than the traditional current affairs crowd) but I thought that it was just on the wrong side of news-lite. I would have liked more focus on fewer issues, a stronger thematic approach and letting the shocking facts speak for themselves. Some of the audience seemed to agree with me during the Q&A session with the reporter Jane Corbin and editor Peter Norrey.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

HOT: Pret-a-Portea, Berkeley Hotel, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge SW1X

I think I would have been quite happy as a peasant in the time of Marie Antoinette, ordered to eat cake instead of bread. Afternoon tea is my favourite meal and the Berkeley Hotel's version also appealed to my fashionista side by serving cakes and pastries inspired by the S/S O8 collections. This meant three tiers of all-you-can-eat biscuits, mousse, chocolate macaroons, green tea madeira cake, canapes and sandwiches plus a cute handbag shaped cake box to take home some extra goodies. It's a lovely girly day out and good value for £35 if you 'eat for the team' like me!

Friday, 4 July 2008

NOT: Romeo and Juliet, Open Air Theatre, Regents Park

I think the Open Air Theatre is a magical venue for Shakespeare, so this production could have tipped the balance to HOT purely on that fact. However, on its own merits I don't think I can recommend it. The modernised fifties setting added nothing to the story, the rhythm and cadences of the language were often lost (so that I lost whole chunks of meaning as the lines were delivered thump-thump-thump-thump), and I found Juliet's agitated forearm shaking and Romeo's constant finger-pointing distracting and unnecessarily overwrought. Not convincing and almost dull.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

HOT: Le Nozze di Figaro, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Delightfull and light-hearted (albeit a bit too long), Le Nozze di Figaro remains my favourite opera - it's filled with gorgeous lilting melodies, from the overture to Cherubino's charming arias, which means I don't have to follow the surtitles for much of it but can just let the music take over. This production has a fantastic classical stage set and makes the most of the opportunities for comedy. I think most of the audience enjoyed it as much as I did, enthusiastically bravo-ing the cast, especially Aleksandra Kurzak as Susanna and Anna Bonitatibus as Cherubino, and one man boomed out 'cinque....dieci....trenta' as he left the opera house.

HOT: Just Falafs, Covent Garden Piazza, Covent Garden

The name gives me a little giggle, and the 'good mood food' tastes great - £4.50 for wrap bursting with felafel balls, pumpkin and feta spread, carrot and beetroot makes a healthy and quick pre-theatre meal.