Sunday, 30 December 2007

HOT: Sherlock Holmes Museum 221b Baker Street, London

I’ve always been a massive fan of Sherlock Holmes, and it seems that he has a large audience in Japanese girls and Eastern European men as well judging from the clientele of his museum. Pretty small for £6 entry (given the National Gallery and Tate Modern et al are free) but the kitsch mannequins are pretty frightening. The best bit though was the cute scrapbook with letters to Mr Holmes from people from all around the world wanting their mysteries solved, including a letter from HM Revenue and Customs wanting to know his current address for tax purposes.

HOT: Xin at Harrods 87-135 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge

Harrods Food Hall definitely makes my London ‘to do’ list although for lunch can be a bit of a bunfight. Nevertheless, we managed to find two low stools at Xin and enjoyed some not-bad yum cha and pretty jasmine flowering tea.

HOT: The Art of Lee Miller, Victoria and Albert Museum

Beautiful Lee Miller certainly led an amazing life as a model, photographer and muse. In particular, I thought her photographs of Egypt were beautiful, her stories and photographs for Vogue during WWII quite moving and stark and her photo-essay of her friends at work in her house was amusing.

HOT: Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft, Victoria and Albert Museum

I really enjoyed this free exhibition – the premise is that the use of craft to create art. I loved the massive red paper chains hanging from the walls, the old wooden table with ‘paint’ splashes (inlaid pearl) and dirty dust-sheets embroidered ‘paint’ splatters and the moulds of various parts of the body. Some of it is hard to explain so you’ll have to see it for yourself!

Thursday, 27 December 2007

HOT: Yauatcha, 17 Broadwick Street Soho

I'd been wanting to try this glamorous yum cha joint ever since Huy showed me its window display of dainty desserts in my first week of London. It didn't disappoint - fragrant tea and beautifully made little morsels served by waitresses who all looked like Singapore Airlines hostesses. A bit more expensive than your usual yum cha scrum (hence very few Asians inside), but nice for a special lunch occasion.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

HOT: Lord of the Rings Musical

The staging and special effects are amazing, the dancing and acrobatics are energetic and the incidential music creates the right atmosphere of doom and gloom for this adventuare into Middle Earth. Unfortunately it's let down by the terrible songs and twee scripting, especially in the cobbled-together love story between Strider and Arwen.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

HOT: TEA, Liberty of London, Regent Street

Three tiers of sandwiches (average), warm fruit scones with clotted cream and organic jam (great), three large pieces of cake (yes yes yes!) and a pot of tea pured into beautiful bone china set me back £17 for lunch, but what the heck - high tea in the tea room at Liberty’s was a congratulations to myself for my new job!

HOT: Enchanted, Odeon Whiteleys

I couldn't believe it when I read rave reviews about this kitsch Disney Christmas romcom, but given the other movie options on offer, off I went. Your standard fairytale cast was assembled - beautiful princess, the supposed prince charming, the real prince charming, evil stepmother, talking chipmunk. The film was quite charming, especially the Central Park song and dance number, although Tim slightly ruined the magic by whispering 'She's HOT' when the princess appeared.

Monday, 17 December 2007

HOT: The Alice Project, Camden's People's Theatre 58-60 Hampstead Road

I was mildly concerned when I was given a 'feedback form' with my ticket - would I be spending hours cringing through some school-production amateur play? Luckily, it was a great piece of fringe theatre - low-fi props and music, young versatile actors playing numerous parts and a whimsical storyline based on my favourite children's book, Alice in Wonderland.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

HOT: The Green, 2 Clerkenwell Green, Clerkenwell

The dodgy haphazard service didn't detract too much from the great Sunday roast on offer at this cosy gastropub. There's a selection of sirloin beef, corn-fed roast chicken, ham and everything comes with a mound of roast veges and a Yorkshire pudding. Perfect lunch for a 4 degree Celcius London winter.

NOT: My Chocolate Chocolate Making workshop, B1/16 Baldwin Gardens, Farringdon

I thought a course involving 3 hours of chocolate making would be just my thing. However, our over-crowded class watched the stressed and disorganised guy melt chocolate and caramelise sugar for about an hour before we got our hand dirty - to dip chocolate. I don't need to pay £40 for a lesson in dipping chocolate! So while I was happy with my final products, beautifully packaged in cellophane bags and ribbon, I thought the whole operation was a bit amateurish. If I ever give up the lawyering game I'm going to set up my own chocolate experience class (where the dark chocolate isn't 55% cocoa!). Disappointing overall.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

NOT: Golden Compass, Odeon Whiteleys

Sometimes it is really difficult to decide whether something is HOT or NOT. I had been looking forward to this movie, based on the Phillip Pullman book, as the new Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, the list of NOTs (Dakota Blue Richards, stupid lines, daggy predictable soundtrack, annoying daemon voices, truncated ending) outweighed the list of HOTs (the bear fight, flying Zeppelins. icy tundras).

Friday, 14 December 2007

HOT: Ice skating at Somerset House Strand

The perfect end to a night of Christmassy fun is to go outdoor ice skating in the courtyard of Somerset House. Tiffany's have set up a massive Christmas tree which twinkles in the shadows of the Duke of Somerset's 16th century palace, and in the rink amateurs scream and topple while the experienced glide casually to the sounds of Kylie Minogue and Dolly Parton.

HOT: Tate Modern Restaurant Tate Modern, Southbank

One of my favourite spots in London - the Level 7 restaurant has wall to ceiling glass which provides the most incredible panoramic view of London from Charing Cross to the Gherkin. Lots of people must propose up here because it appears the only champagne they sell is Billecart. The hot chocolate and mulled wine are recommended as well.

HOT: Bankside Frost Fair, Southwark

Christmas market along the beautifully lit Thames Path, in front of the Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe. We had delicious churros dipped in chocolate and a very nice crusty pie from Pieminister, and wandered around the stalls selling decorations, accessories, chocolate and toys.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

HOT: Pines and Needles, 123 Shirland Road, Maida Vale

Apparently one of the best places to get Christmas trees in London. While the customer service wasn’t exactly slick, I’m absolutely delighted with my 6 foot no-drop Nordman fir – it looks so pretty now with all my Christmas decorations from around the world.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

NOT: Mem & Laz, 8 Theberton Street, Islington

The site of our team Christmas dinner and I can safely say not a selection I would have made. I was enthused by the menu but disorganised staff and sloppy food did not make for an enjoyable experience.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

HOT: Piotr Anderszewski, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank

I wasn’t really in the mood to head out after waking up at 5am for my cooking class – luckily it was pretty soothing classical music. I wasn’t much of a fan of the modern discordant piece (call me a traditionalist) but the Bach counterpoint was played very well.

Monday, 10 December 2007

NOT: Café Rouge, 30 Clifton Rd, Maida Vale

As far as chain restaurants go I really like Café Rouge – I can normally be assured of good hearty food and GREAT desserts (in faux French décor). Unfortunately this time I didn’t get my usual friendly waitress but a surly man, and the food was a bit substandard (very slap-everything-on-a-plate). Luckily I could still pay with my Teso vouchers J

Sunday, 9 December 2007

HOT: Fortnum & Mason, 181 Picadilly

This is a temple for Asian tourists buying tea and shortbread and rich Sloane-y folk buying tres expensive Christmas decorations (£15 each!). Everything inside is sparkly and lovely, and the chocolate counter was particularly tempting.

HOT: The Island Royal Lancaster Hotel, Lancaster Terrace

Great location right on Hyde Park, good ambience (busy but not too busy), a nice selection of food = good workaday restaurant.

HOT: Multi-Charity Christmas Card Shop, St James' Church, 197 Picadilly

Out in front of the churchyard was little market leading into a Christmas card grotto. There is a wide selection of high quality cards and every charity receives at least 80p in every £1 from their card sales. Worthy and festive.

HOT: National Gallery tour, Trafalgar Square

The National Gallery run free hourly tours twice a day which I think is one of the best things about living in London. Entry to the world-class gallery is free and you can just dip into a couple of paintings in depth with a guide. This tour didn’t disappoint – amazing what things you notice when someone knowledgeable points them out!

Friday, 7 December 2007

HOT: The Victoria Pub, 10a Strathearn Place, Paddington

This is the location for my monthly book club meeting and I thought it would be the perfect English pub experience for my German guests, Sasha and Isabelle. They were absolutely delighted with the roaring fire, the beautiful wood panelling and glass, the deep leather couches and the good pub grub (I recommend my fish pie and a glass of mulled wine). They liked it so much they returned again the next night!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

HOT: Twelfth House, 35 Pembridge Road, Notting Hill Gate

A coffeeshop (which is hard to find in London, the city of pubs) where they also do tarot card and tea leaf readings. It's so cosy that everyone who walks past looks enviously through the windows at the people lounging in couches, drinking their hot chocolate. Lovely.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

HOT: Millais at Tate Britain Millbank

This is a dramatic contrast to the conceptual art exhibited in the Turner. Beautiful ethereal paintings of intricate delicacy abound, and when you have a look at Millais’ earlier work, it’s amazing to think that he was executing them as a teenager. I particularly admired his series of lover set in historical moments.

HOT: Turner Retrospective at Tate Britain Millbank

The annual Turner Prize is the enfant terrible of the art award world and this retrospective exhibition of the winners shows why – there is a lot of crap on display (sometimes literally –elephant dung decorated with puffy paint featured). At least the range of art/crap provoked some spirited debate amongst my friends. My favourite was Anish Kapoor’s “Void”: three large cones of dark blue felt which sucked you into its dark cavernous space, engendering a strange sensation of floating queasiness and calm at the same time. My least favourite - last year’s winning entry of randomness painted over with insipid geometrical shapes. Even “Lights going on and off” had more to say.

Friday, 30 November 2007

HOT: Billy Elliot at Victoria Palace

This hit musical just reinforced my penchant for skinny white boys and ballet dancers. I particularly enjoyed 'Merry Christmas Margaret Thatcher' with MT puppets and the pas de deux between Billy the boy and Billy as a young man, both while turning a chair under their hands (very tricky). It is a great adaptation of the film, and the boy who plays Billy really holds everything together - great acting, spirited dancing, fancy acrobatics. Standing ovations all around.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

HOT: Interpol at Alexandra Palace

The Ally Pally is a gigantic venue with Victorian vaulted ceilings and rose windows set on a hilltop (which reminded me of the lookout in the Dandenongs). In fact, the trek out to Wood Green + shuttle bus felt about as far as a trip to the Dandenongs as well - never again on a school night. Interpol sounded same-y to me the whole time but the night was saved from being a NOT by the very good support band, Blonde Redhead, and discovering that people really do pee into beer cups at gigs.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

HOT: Villandry, 170 Great Portland St

This delightful combination of foodstore, deli, bakery and restaurant selling all manner of delicious artisan food is a Jetsetting Joyce wet dream. I darted around the counters picking up beautifully wrapped chocolates, sniffing cheeses and peeking at the pies behind the glass counter. Also the start of the Great Mince Pie Quest 2007.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

HOT: Corney & Barrow Wine Bar, 10 Paternoster Square

An excuse really to catch up with my usual friends while enjoying Mallesons' free hospitality. This wine bar was dimly muted a la Melbourne, the mulled wine flowed freely, the canapes were delicious and in the goodie bag - this year's edition of Mallesons Report. Aw, I felt right back at home again.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

HOT: Ukai 2 Westbourne Grove, Bayswater

The UK doesn't really do good sushi at a reasonable price, so discovering Ukai so near my house and at 50% off has been the highlight of my week. The free edaname beans and refillable green tea, fresh sushi and sashimi platter, warming vegetable udon noodle soup and green tea and vanilla pannacotta (all for10 pounds!) in stylish cosy surroundings definitely make this a HOT. It has a sibling in Portobello Road as well.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

HOT: Romeo and Juliet at Royal Opera House Covent Garden

A sumptuous and passionate ballet interpreted by Profokiev's music and Kenneth MacMillan's flowing choreography, although I think I liked Mayerling better. I was apprehensive about my cheap 'partial view' ampitheatre seats but if I hadn't been wedged into my seat by the extremely fat woman next to me (initially I couldn't flip my seat down as her massive thighs overhung my side) I probably could have craned my neck to spot the obscured bottom right corner of the stage.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

NOT: All Star Lanes, Whiteleys, Bayswater

The site of Kel's birthday drinks was only a rainy, freezing 15 minute walk away from the comfort of my house, but frankly if it hadn't been for a special occasion I wouldn't have gone. It was fine as far as the genre goes: American style bar (selling Coors beer), bowling alley and diner (serving thin grey steak sandwiches) - but if you don't drink, can't bowl and can't bear bad food, then there's not much appealing about it. We retreated to the ever-reliable Kiasu Restaurant instead.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

HOT: Anchor & Hope, 36 The Cut, Southwark

A thwarted attempt to be in the TV audience for Parkinson's chat show (another story) led us to a consolation dinner at one of the best gastropubs in London. Its reputation was well deserved - smiling efficient service, fantastic comfort food (braised lamb's neck and potato gratin, bramley apple and prune steamed pudding) and decent prices in lovely warm surroundings.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

HOT: The Masque of the Red Death at Battersea Arts Centre

This is the most incredible theatre-going experience I've ever attended. You put on a Clockwork Orange mask and silently enter the macabre world of Battersea Arts Centre, transformed into the set of a gothic Edgar Allen Poe story. Inside, a maze of dark and eerie rooms to explore, every door holds a surprise, and you discover parts of the storyline as you chase the characters along tiled corridors, dark crypts and ballrooms. I’m asked by the owner of the opium den to pass a message to the ‘Tailor’ who then gives me a black cloak, the apothecarist presses some perfumed mud in my hand and whispers ‘this is for your protection only’, the fat Frenchman serves me wine called the Red Death and the servant draws me into the laundry and tries to kill me after sitting me on a chamberpot. The show is sold out but there are returns available - steal or kill to get a ticket.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

HOT: Janina Fialkowska at Queen Elizabeth Hall

You can generally guess how a pianist's tone will sound by examining their forearms - and Janina had strong sinewy arms which produced an amazingly confident and ringing tone from the Steinway. I loved her intrepretation of Romantic pieces from Mendelssohn, Schubert and Chopin, including the Duetto from Songs Without Words, one of my old exam pieces in my previous life as a would-be concert pianist.

Monday, 12 November 2007

HOT: Elizabeth - The Golden Age at Electric Cinema,191 Portobello Road

Nothing can really top a cinema-going experience at the Electric Cinema, where you can laze around on your own two-seater leather couch, eat chocolate icecream and brownies and swoon over dashing Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh. I enjoyed the first Elizabeth film and equally enjoyed this sumptious sequel, despite the sometimes woeful lines and revisionist version of historical events. And Cate Blanchett corsets down to 20 inches!

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

HOT: The Wolseley, 160 Picadilly

Although it may seem like I lead a Michelin-starred eating-out life, I can still be awed by glamour dining. Which brings me to The Wolseley, my most glamorous outing to date. An ex-car showroom (of Rolls Royces I suspect, not Honda Civics) has been transformed into a marble-decorated split level restaurant full of people wearing real designer clothing (I saw the Chloe tag on the woman's coat next to me). The food didn't blow me away, but the gorgeous surroundings did.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

HOT: Spamalot, Palace Theatre

This beautiful Victorian theatre’s façade is currently built like a Roman battlement because it’s hosting Spamalot, a musical based on the Monty Python movie. The production includes all the silliness and ridiculous comedy you’d expect from a 2 hour Monty Python sketch, and features your usual singing and dancing interspersed with coconut shell horse-riding, French soldiers who ‘fart in your direction’, baguette sword fighting, hairy Cousin It-styled Knights who say ‘Nee’ and a ferocious teeth-baring rabbit puppet. And to top it off – an audience singalong to ‘Always Look On The Bright Side of Life’.

Monday, 5 November 2007

HOT: Tom's Kitchen, 27 Cale Street, Chelsea SW3 3QP

Sw3 is not just another postcode, it's a whole other world. A world where the hairstyles are unanimous blonde, where everyone's perfect bodies hang from razor sharp cheekbones, where designer handbags are from Bond Street, not Bangalore and where the pregnant women don't get fat, they just wrap their designer bumps in Chloe. In the midst of such Vogue Living perfection is this buzzy restaurant serving honest, no-nonsense food with a friendly smile. To whit: perfect fish and chips with properly made tartare sauce (left) and the world's biggest foie gras (right). I highly recommended this restaurant - and next time I go I'll be looking out for Sienna Miller

Saturday, 3 November 2007

NOT: Hereford Road, 3 Hereford Road, Notting Hill

I am feeling the Wrath of Joyce. I really wanted to like this new restaurant: rave review in Time Out, protege chef of Fergus Henderson (of St John fame), British seasonable fare at good prices and near my house. Unfortunately, after gushing over the skylit dining room, it was all downhill. 1:15pm: everyone is seated. 1:45pm: we finally catch someone's eye to take our order and then find out the 'seasonal' 'daily-changing' menu item of pheasant is already unavailable. 2:30pm: we request some bread and water in a Soviet gulag attempt to stave our clenching hunger. 2:45 our meals arrive, including a cold, overcooked 'rare' beef onglet (photographic evidence). The only saving grace was the company of good friends and the restaurant acknowledged the bad experience, so took one dish and two bottles of wine off the bill. But you can bet that I won't be going back and I'll be telling everyone I know to avoid it. Sorry.

Friday, 2 November 2007

HOT: Windmill on the Common, Guy Fawkes Fireworks at Clapham Common

Clapham is a pain in the ass to get too, but everytime I go I find things I like about it. The Windmill is a lovely indoors/outdoors pub right on the Common, and it was hugely busy because of the nearby fireworks in celebration of Guy Fawkes, some Catholic bloke who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. It was a nice change to see a massive fireworks display without having to jostle for position with a million other people hours beforehand - just a casual wander from the pub and then retiring back there afterwards.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

HOT: First Floor, 186 Portobello Road, Notting Hill

Beautifully decorated upstairs pub dining room serving reasonably priced comfort food. My pork belly was lovely, as was the apple crumble (with interesting shortcrust-like pastry instead of the usual crumble) but given there were only two tables, why it took so long to get our meals?

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

HOT: The English Surgeon at Times BFI London Film Festival

A moving and inspiring documentary about British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, who has visited the Ukraine regularly for the last 15 years bringing his knowledge, skill and second-hand medical equipment to his friend and fellow neurosurgeon Igor Kurilets and Igor’s impoverished patients for free. It wasn’t just a weepie feel-good film but a portrayal of a generous man trying his best to do his little bit to help others. The most poignant scene was Marsh slumped in his chair as he remembered a young Ukranian girl who became disabled and died as a result of his treatment. Afterwards there was a Q&A with the director and Henry Marsh, and the man in real life was as humble and dryly witty as he was in the film.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

HOT: Henry Moore, Kew Gardens

Beautiful exhibition of Henry Moore's sensuous sculptures set in autumnnal Kew Gardens. The show was not a retrospective but a panorama through his major thematic influences - reclining figures, mother and child and internal/external forms. Mostly I liked his abstract works because as you walked around each one you discovered beautiful lines and vistas from every different angle.

HOT: Kew Grill, 10b Kew Green

One of Antony Worrall Thompson's restaurants (famous TV chef) and very highly recommended. It was everything your neighbourhood bistro should be - cosy ambience filled with comfortable brown leather chairs, cheerful service and most importantly, classic comfort food done consistently brilliantly (roast pigeon, duck breast, rack of lamb, creme brulee, apple crumble, chocolate fondant pudding). Yes yes yes!

Saturday, 27 October 2007

HOT: Ratatouille at Odeon Whiteleys

A delightfully charming and funny film about a rat with a well-developed palate in Paree. I love how Pixar are able to animate tiny gestures or facial expressions on animals or objects that you wouldn't normally associate with having feelings. Quote of the movie from the 'Grim Eater', dour food critic Anton Ego: "I only swallow if I love it".

Friday, 26 October 2007

HOT: Carlos Acosta with Guest Artists from Ballet Nacional de Cuba at Sadlers Wells

A joyous and vibrant performance from the high-leaping Carlos Acosta and his old ballet company. I've never seen anyone do a switching full turn grand jete like him and it drew gasps from the audience. I liked the company's style too - at times comical, classical, jazzy and emotional. All that litheness and lightness made me feel like a cloven-footed lump of lard.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

HOT: Water at Lyric Hammersmith

I love the Lyric - modern funky on the inside, ornate cosy on the inside and the crowd is full of Bright Young Things. The multimedia staging of this production was very creative - all the sound was created by sound technicians on stage and the actors using various pedals, microphones and everyday objects and the transitions between different scenes and different characters (played by the same group of actors) happened seamlessly on stage. The interweaving storyline was interesting too, melding in themes of loss, identity, change and climate change.

Monday, 22 October 2007

NOT: Rendition at Odeon Marble Arch

I think it was a bit much to watch another torture movie within a week. Not a bad film, but none of the characters were particularly well developed and the storyline was too neat for my liking - but I think guess there was really no other ending possible other than a happy ending in Hollywood. Hopefully it will at least make audiences question the principles and the legality behind extraordinary rendition.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

HOT: Afternoon tea at the Lanesborough Hotel Conservatory

There is nothing more luxurious on a Sunday than dressing up in a pretty frock to enjoy tiers of sandwiches and cakes in an elegant hotel. I really loved the décor of the Lanesborough’s conservatory – flowered settees, wooden colonial furniture, big palm trees with a pianist and trickling fountain in the background. I’m salivating just remembering the unlimited coronation chicken sandwiches, fruit scones and chocolate mousse cake and I think I might be addicted to High Tea.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

HOT: Golden Age of Couture at Victoria and Albert Museum

Thanks to Huy’s corporate largesse, I was able to enjoy this exhibition of delicious clothes for free. Sigh. It just made me want to shop afterwards and wear nothing but pretty dresses.

HOT: Cajun Dance Party at Club 229 Great Portland Street

The bouncer stared at my face and my ID incredulously “1979???”. Quickly doing the maths, that would make me probably 10 years older than everyone else at the school gym hall cum ‘Club 229’ for the gig of up-and-coming London rock band, Cajun Dance Party. As we looked around at the baby-faced crowd, Caro and I played ‘guess his age’ and the boys calculated the youngest girl they could date acceptably (half your age + 7 years). The support act was particularly disturbing with a kohl-eyed mini-skirted ingénue breathily singing into the microphone. CDJ were very good and with experience could become really big - the lead singer had the requisite skinny jeans angsty look (holding his head in his hands a lot) and the lead guitarist was very talented. Keep an eye out on these youngsters.

Friday, 19 October 2007

HOT: Broken Social Scene at Koko

So hot I fainted in the mosh pit. Ugly man band = great music from my experience and BSS were true to type. Good songs, fantastic energy, funny banter.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

HOT: Redacted at the BFI London Film Festival

A harrowing doocumentary style film based on the true rape and murder of a 15 year old Iraqi girl in Samarra by US troops. I thought this film was really effective as it used a mixture of first hand filming, documentary, Iraqi news reports, interviews, video blogs and VOIP video conversations to capture the feelings of the main characters before, during and after the event. I wondered how US audiences would react though as it highlights another US war crime in which the authorities did nothing.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

HOT: Stephen Osborne for the International Piano Series at Queen Elizabeth Hall

A young gawky British pianist playing a lovely and uncontroversial programme of Debussy, Beethoven and Rachmaninov as part of the International Piano Series. I loved his crystal clear tone and lightness of touch especially in the Waldstein Sonata.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

HOT: Rafta Rafta at National Theatre

Funny and poignant play about a British Indian family set in an amazing dolls house set where you could peek into every room. I was worried when I first started watching that I'd need subtitles to understand the mix of Indian and Northern accents but the jokes about being a migrant and growing up in another culture really hit home for me.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

NOT: Dimitri Hvorostovsky and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra at Barbican

A canter through two centuries of Russian music, from church hymns to opera to movie themes sung by the famous baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. His voice was pleasant (not stunning) and it was hard to take him seriously as he was dressed in a open-necked pirate shirt and skintight polyester trousers. After the second encore I was starting to dream about heading to bed but the Russians in the audience all seemed to enjoy it, yelling Bravo! and bobbing their heads to all the familiar tunes.

Monday, 8 October 2007

HOT: Chowki at 2 Denman Street, Picadilly

A nice retreat from the neon fast-food madness of Picadilly with tasty and reasonably priced Indian food (with 2 for 1 toptable offer it came to 10 pounds per person), although for some reason in a half empty restaurant they did try and shunt us out after our meal.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

HOT: Hummingbird Bakery, 133 Portobello Road, Notting Hill

The line of women snaked out into Portobello market in anticipation of some of the best cupcakes in town. Despite the surly service, these cupcakes really were the bomb - lovely flavours, just the right amount of icing, soft spongy cakes. I could eat a dozen of these at once - try their bestseller, the red velvet.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

HOT: Julie's Restaurant and Bar at 135 Portland Road, Notting Hill

A beautifully decorated and unique rabbit warren restaurant and bar in an elegant and sedate part of Notting Hill/Holland Park. Every room was decorated differently - light and airy conservatory, Victorian Gothic, chandeliered salon, underground medina. It used to be an old morgue and retains many of the gothic features and was the location for Prince Charles' bucks night. Oh, and the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs with hot chocolate were great too.

Friday, 5 October 2007

NOT: Holding Fire at Shakespeares Globe

Slightly dull play about the Victorian Charterists movement which tried to weave in a personal element with little character development. The best bit was 80 year old Tony Benn coming up on stage and encouraging the crowd to turn up to Trafalgar Square on Monday to protest the Iraq war.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

HOT: Mary Poppins at Prince Edward Theatre

This production is definitely SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPEDIALIDOCIOUS (with manic clapping dance moves to match). The songs and story are happily familiar, but having it transformed into a stage production was just magical. Seeing rosy-cheeked Mary Poppins taking her hatstand out of her carpet bag, the amazing 3 storeyed Banks house (complete with cosy furnishings) and seeing Burt dance upside down on the ceiling of the stage made for an absolutely delightful experience.

Monday, 24 September 2007

HOT: Atonement, Odeon Whiteleys, Bayswater

A beautiful film of my favourite Ian McEwan book. The cast and scenery looked ravishing and although I didn't love Keira Knightley's acting all the time, the moment where she and James McAvoy meet in the cafe after years apart had me all choked up.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

NOT: Hat and Feathers, 2 Clerkenwell Road, Islington

More of a lukewarm really - I loved the bright white high-ceilinged room, the chocolate fondant and my pork belly with savoy cabbage and pancetta. I hated the bread that looked like it came out of a packet and the terrible service, which caused us to resort to a table-wide Mexican wave in order to get the waiter's attention. Good value with 50% off toptable deal but I think there are other gastropubs that do it better.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

HOT: A Disappearing Number, Barbican

A really imaginative production of a play about mathematics and its impact on two intertwining relationships - the Cambridge mathematician GH Hardy and Indian prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan, and on the other hand Ruth, a mathematician obsessed with Ramanujan's work and her husband. There was great use of Nitin Sawhney's music, videos and images, moving screens and dance. I really like the Barbican too, with its fountained courtyard and sixties concrete exterior.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

NOT: Brick Lane Music Festival

A tiring and stressful day spent trudging up and down the bottleneck known as Brick Lane in search of people, food, music and a place to sit down. Never again am I going to the east on a Sunday unless it's to the sedate Spitalfields Markets (which are a HOT). Call me a grandma but I can't do pushing, crowds and lining up on a Sunday.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

HOT: HK Diner, 22 Wardour Street Soho

You have to line up to get in, it's clean, the service is quick and it's filled with young Asian people, all a good sign. The food proved to be fantastic and cheap. I love their dry beef stir fried noodles - I hate it when noodles are gluggy and full of sticky sauce. Our snow pea sprouts had the proper kick of garlic and the salt and pepper pork was tender and tasty. A great place in amongst a lot of other Chinese dross in Chinatown, and open till 4am!

Update 13 February 2009: Part 2 of Martin's introduction to proper Chinese food was another success. Without even realising it, we ordered the same food as my previous visit - noodles, snow pea sprouts, pork - and it was just as good. Also great was the seafood and tofu hotpot and the sesame bubble tea. I'd avoid the lettuce wraps though, as I thought the filling was a bit too soggy.

HOT: Helvetica at Institute of Contemporary Art

A gallery and cinema hidden away on The Mall (a pleasant cycle through the parks from my house), the only sign of it was a bunch of cool arty-looking types in skinny jeans loitering out the front. The doco Helvetica traced the development of the most ubiquitous typeface since the 50s, and interviewed the graphic artists who were adamantly for and against its use (in passionate nerdism). My conclusion: I liked Helvetica for it's clarity and simplicity, and it really is EVERYWHERE once you start looking.

NOT: Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant, Queensway

This is apparently the best place for crispy duck but I wasn't overly impressed (although I'm willing to give it another chance). The first duck we had was really dry, to the point where I actually had to ask for a replacement (after a bit of arguing with the waiter). Our veges were a too oily, and the stuffed bean curd was gluggy and the stuffing was a hard little rock of not much prawn.

Friday, 7 September 2007

NOT: Emperor Jones at National Theatre

I don't know whether it was Friday night tiredness or because I'm not as literary as I thought, but I found this play pretty incomprehensible and was secretly relieved that it only went for 70 mins. The positives were the interesting use of space and light, the live music soundtrack, the lead actor was fantastic and it involved lots of really built sweaty men stripped to the waist.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

HOT: Prince at The O2

For a man with SO MANY HITS (as he kept proclaiming) I didn't know 50% of the songs - but the 50% of the songs I did know were fun and fantastic and took me back to my daggy primary school days when hearing 'Cream' in the same room as my parents made me feel uncomfortable. My favourite moment was actually a non-Prince part with his keyboardist and amazing saxophonist, ringing the notes throughout the arena. I also wished that I was leggy with long brown hair that I could swing around like the Twins as they writhed on the dance floor.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

HOT: Aesop facial, Liberty of London, Regents Street

A relaxing way to end the day with Ingrid's magic hands massaging beautiful smelling Aesop products into my face and shoulders. The 40 pounds redeemable with purchase charge makes it really good value and I have a cupboard full of Aesop products to prove it.

Monday, 3 September 2007

HOT: Knocked Up at Notting Hill Coronet

I'm going to go more often to this creaking old world cinema - on Tuesdays it's only 3.50 (and with my still-valid student card, also 3.50 on Mondays) and all of their preview notices (Don't Smoke etc) have a crackling 60s style print. I quite enjoyed Knocked Up but I'm sorry, the whole story about the beautiful girl falling for the slobby pot-head really didn't ring true for me. And I certainly wasn't expecting the graphic birth scene - you could hear the whole crowd shriek at that point.

HOT: Gate Restaurant, 87 Notting Hill Gate

I have no idea why more people haven't discovered this place as it does fantastic tapas in a subterranean environment right near two cinemas. Everything comes quickly, beautifully presented and served with a smile. The homemade bread is unbelievable.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

HOT: Green & Red Bar and Cantina, 51 Bethnal Green Road

Very good churros - crisp and hot and not too sugary, though chocolate dipping sauce could have been hotter. Though apparently nothing could be as hot as the Adrien-Brody lookalike bar man who managed to kill all conversation while everyone (except me) gawped. I'd like to go back and see whether the Mexican food makes up for the boring brown ambience and decor.

NOT: Hookah Lounge, 133 Brick Lane

It looked so promising - low stools, casual atmosphere, hearty food - but the dodgy service rapidly put me off. We sat for ages without menus, then had to gesture to order food, ordered twice for more bread to go with the dips, they tried to take our plates away before we were finished then didn't take our dirty empty plates away for ages, wouldn't let me order baklava at the counter as they were 'coming to our table', had to gesture to get them to actually come to our table and take our baklava order.The last straw - ONE piece of pita bread cost 1.50 pounds! However, an interesting "Close Encounters" email exchange with a mysterious admirer came out of it....

Saturday, 1 September 2007

HOT: Ping Pong, Soho and various locations

Going inside made me want to eat again (dim sum) but we just popped in for a drink as no other bars were open. Big high stools and a sleek black curved marble bar serving what I'm told are reasonably priced cocktails - I had a yummy mocktail.

HOT: Restaurant Tokyu, Japan Centre, Picadilly

Great food, free miso soup refills and lots of Japanese patrons - a great find. My salmon and ikuru don was delicious (I'd never had salmon roe that big and juicy before) and it made me realise how much I missed that kind of food. The grocery store downstairs is well stocked and I'm told cheaper than Chinatown, plus the takeaway sushi is ridiculously cheap - 2 pounds for 8 california rolls!

NOT: Regents Street Festival, Soho

I think they should make Regents Street pedestrianised all the time, but otherwise the crush of people at this fizzer of a festival was like battling through Oxford St on a normal day without the advantages of shopping purchases. A couple of random stages and looong queues for food.

HOT: Portobello Markets, Notting Hill

I used to live around the corner and never truly appreciated the fashion gems there (probably due to lack of funds). The hoards of tourists who stop in silly inconvenient places are a bit annoying, but otherwise I love the food section and the clothing - this week there seemed to be a preponderence of Japanese fashion students manning the stalls. Luckily I wasn't in the market to buy clothes after my spending spree in Stockholm.

Friday, 31 August 2007

HOT: Sitaraay Indian Restaurant, 167 Drury Lane, Soho

Introduced my former secretary and her husband to an extremely satisfying Indian 'tapas style' meal, meaning lots of little morsels brought to you until you ask them to stop! Especially loved the naan.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

NOT: $ Grills & Martinis, Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell

Exmouth Market is a nightmare to navigate on a cold rainy evening if you're not familiar with it, so I was grumpy to begin with. Inside didn't help matters - slow service and uninspiring food. My burger with 'sweet potato, feta cheese, rocket and herb polenta' ended up being a burger bun with a patty containing said sweet potato, feta cheese etc, plus some limp iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

HOT: Locanda Locatelli, 8 Seymour Street, Marble Arch

I like a restaurant with cream leather booths and flattering lighting, especially when I'm having a bad skin week. And the cooking certainly isn't bad either - oxtail ravioli, roast pigeon with lentils, garlic puree and truffles, chocolate degustation with pine nut icecream. Happy Birthday Swino!

Sunday, 19 August 2007

HOT: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, BFI Imax, Southbank

I love Harry Potter books and I can normally grit my teeth through the films (Hermione is particularly annoying). So the latest Harry Potter movie on 'the biggest screen Britain's ever seen' was something I couldn't miss. The corridors of the Ministry of Magic, giants in the Forbidden Forest and Lord Voldemort came alive in front of my Edna Everidge style 3D glasses. Ooooh scary.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

NOT: Selfridges Oyster Bar, Oxford Street

French champagne - tick. Large freshly shucked oysters - tick. Swanky department store - tick. But unfortunately that wasn't enough for me because the Oyster Bar is in the food hall of Selfridges, a stressful madhouse of shoppers. Not the relaxing luxurious place you want to be sipping your glass of Laurent-Perrier (from 10 - 15 pounds!).

HOT: Tea Palace, 175 Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill

A white-tableclothed cafe to rest weary shopping feet after tramping around Portobello Road market and the Notting Hill shops. Sherryl and I had a delicious light lunch there (salmon cakes for her, grilled courgette and feta parpadelle for moi) accompanied by special tea tonics, selected from their tea library. Apparently they do great high tea there at half the price of the big hotels (as we were leaving peope were putting their names on the waiting list) so I'll have to give a follow up report.

HOT: Gail's Bread, 138 Portobello Road, Notting Hill

Gail's Bread was opened by Gail Stephens, founder of Baker and Spice (another HOT entry) and you can tell from the quality and the display of the delicious baked goods. The pastries were buttery and flaky, the omlette sandwich was filled with a bright yellow organic egg omlette. Best of all was the green olive loaf I took home - I polished off 4 slices slathered with avocado and tomato for dinner! Plus if you buy their reuseable canvas bread bag for 5 pounds (it comes attached inside a larger carrier bag, very cute) then you get 10% every loaf. What a fantastic idea - I'll definitely be going back, bag in tow.

Friday, 17 August 2007

HOT: Saint Joan at National Theatre

It amazes me that sometimes it is cheaper to see world-class theatre than it is to go to the movies in London. For 10 pounds I went to see George Bernard Shaw's Nobel Prize winning play Saint Joan (about Joan of Arc), 3 rows from the front, right in the middle. The elegiac music was ghostly, the use of chairs as furniture, drums, dance props and a burning pyre was incredibly imaginative and effective and because I was so close I could see every spray, every little twitch of expression. I was particularly impressed with the supporting actors - the Dauphin, the Inquisitor, the bastard son of Duke of Orleans. The play wove themes of religion, state, nationalism, politics, ambition, justice and truth into the fascinating story of Joan of Arc leading the French Army to her execution as a heretic, burned at the stake. A richly rewarding Friday night.

Monday, 13 August 2007

HOT: The Simpsons Movie, Electric Brasserie and cinema, Portobello Road, Notting Hill

This is the place for the ultimate dinner + movie date. Breezily hip on Portobello Road (where everyone is glamorous), delicious unpretentious food (pork belly with waldorf salad, tuna nicoise, chips and peas to share) and they'll get you to your movie next door with a smile. The cinema is a small treasure, with super comfortable single leather lounges and individual footstools. The movie is negligible to the whole experience - I fell asleep halfway through The Simpsons Movie.

Friday, 10 August 2007

HOT: Picnic at Kew Gardens

Where to go on perfect sunny Sunday? Trip down the District Line to Kew Gardens, one of the world's leading botanic gardens. You have to pay (12.50) but inside there are conservatories, hot houses, random temples and pagodas and of course lush greenery to enjoy. I was so inspired I came home with a tomato plant, a bay leaf plant and a carnivorous plant (named Audrey, of course). I'll be going back to enjoy the sculptures of Henry Moore from September - there is one already installed which I loved.