Sunday, 24 February 2008

HOT: Be Kind Rewind at Odeon Whiteleys

In the words of one of the characters, 'a movie with heart' from the director of 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' and 'Science of Sleep'. A quirky and funny film about a pair of bumbling no-hopers who accidentally erase a video store's entire collection and then try to recreate the movies using aluminium foil, tinsel, playground equipment and car parts. Their efforts bring their small town together as everyone pitches in to help save the video store from demolition, ending with a weepy happy group-hug.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

HOT: Say Nothing at Barbican

The Ridiculusmus retrospective brought this two-man, three-character play about the Northern Irish conflict back from the vault. I think it would have been much more topical (and ridiculous) ten years ago, and some of the political references were lost on me, but you have the admire the ability of the two actors to play all the characters while standing inside a suitcase full of grass.

HOT: Story Deli, 3 Dray Walk, Truman Brewery, Aldgate

Caroline had been raving about the organic pizza restaurant near her house but I'd never had the opportunity to go as I was always eating cupcakes at Upmarket when I visited Brick Lane. However, a quick pre-theatre meal was needed and we were early enough to bag a seat at the big communal table filled with big candles. Luckily the surly waiter didn't detract from the quality of the £10 pizzas - which were a little too crispy for my liking (and convenience) but full of great flavours - try the aubergine pizza especially.

HOT: Ally Capellino, 9 Calvert Avenue, Old Street

The wooden rustic store smells of leather when you walk in and every bag is touchable and covetable. I had gone there on a Huy-inspired pilgrimage to purchase a half-priceTimothy bag - a large waxed cotton bag with canvas straps which is big enough for pastries and copies of the Sunday papers. Look out for Huy and I being stylish twins when we take our Timothy bag on our weekend jaunts.

HOT: Huwundeki, 34 Marshall St, Soho

A cool underground shop selling vintage clothes and new clothes with a bit of a retro feel. It seemed to be full of Asians (maybe because of the small sizes) and I found a bright blue sixties stretcy jacket/mini-dress with draped hips which I've been wearing with black boots.

HOT: Sketch Parlour, 9 Conduit Street, Soho

Huy had been trying to wrangle afternoon tea at Sketch for a long time and I finally had some spare time in my diary :) Sketch is a fantastically theatrical complex of restaurants and afternoon tea is held in the grandly opulent Parlour with big glass bubble lamps, low tables and bijou couches. The high tea is very nice (especially the fruit scones) although I think for the price (£18.50) you get more cake at Liberty. And make sure you visit the famous bathrooms, fitted out with all-white futuristic egg-pod toilets which play farmyards noises.

HOT: The Boss of It All, Institute of Contemporary Art The Mall

A very funny film (albeit a bit long) from Danish Dogma director Lars Von Trier. The film is set in a software company and involves the machinations of an out-of-work actor pretending to be the boss of the company so that the true boss can sell the business and fire the staff. The situations are absurd, the dialogue (even translated and subtitled) is laugh-out-loud hilarious and the ending is fitting.

Friday, 22 February 2008

HOT: NME Shockwaves Awards Tour 2008, Brixton Academy Brixton

The Brixton Academy is one cool venue and a great place for people watching - although I felt like I was a middle-aged crank staring at all the young people in their cool outfits. Does It Offend You, Yeah had some great beats but was completely unoriginal, synthing their way 80s style through some shouty tracks. Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jongs were just plain boring. The Cribs really got it going and were much better than their last foray at the O2 Wireless Festival last year - great tunes, stage-diving and a tumble of the bass drum at the end.

NOT: Baan Thai, 401 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton

When I couldn't remember the Ethiopian restaurant I visited in Brixton last time, I decided to try a highly recommended Thai restaurant on toptable. Well, I'm not sure whether the visitors to toptable are educated about Thai food as this place had no ambience and served just ok food (which I suspect also gave me a bad case of the runs the next day). At least it was spicy enough.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

NOT: Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal at Sadler's Wells

I didn't think I was that much of a modern dance dunce but I hated this extremely influential work, the 'unmissable modern dance event of the year'. Cafe Muller was ugly, pointless and boring although The Rite of Spring, danced on a dirt floor, had it's moments - mostly due to the scale of some of the unison movements and the incredible Stravinksy score.

NOT: Sa Sa Sushi, 422 St John St, Islington

Hard to judge a restaurant in 20 minutes but I popped in here for a quick pre-theatre nabeyaki udon and was not overly impressed - the noodles were slightly overcooked and there was hardly anything else in the dish. OK for filling my stomach on the night but not somewhere I'd choose to return.

Monday, 18 February 2008

HOT: Juno at Odeon Whiteleys

A charming and witty film about Juno, a 16-year old girl who accidentally falls pregnant and becomes the 'cautionary whale'. I think I would have found the crackling dialogue funnier if there hadn't been so much written about the film and spoiling the best lines, but there were still surprises in the dopey boyfriend and Juno herself, at times brash and vulnerable.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

HOT: Skylon, Royal Festival Hall

This high-ceilinged 'destination' venue is dark and sexy (with gorgeous flower arrangements) and has incredible twinkling views of the Thames from its floor to ceiling windows. We visited the more relaxed grill side for our absolutely free 3 course meal (normally £21.50 each) courtesy of my toptable points and we left happily content with very full stomachs full of good food.

Update 30 July 2008: Second free meal at Skylon thanks to toptable and this time I have to recommend them on their speedy pre-theatre service. Three courses in 1 hour left us feeling dizzy but every course was just lover-ly: prosciutto with melon, smoked chicken salad, duck confit with peas and pancetta, salmon and smoked haddock fishcake, sticky date pudding and chocolate mousse.

Update 16 November 2008: Third free meal at Skylon thanks to toptable and unfortunately it looks like standards have dropped. The chicken and foie gras terrine was covered in some radioactive picalilli, the onglet was uninspired and the hazlenut mouse dessert of the day had so obviously been pre-prepared that they might as well have covered it in plastic and given me a plastic spoon. And the free meal is now only two courses, not three.

HOT:Daniel Barenboim Beethoven Piano Sonata Series (Concert 8), Royal Festival Hall

Three weeks of intense piano recital attendance and now I'm not sure what to do with myself. After a slightly tired performance in concert 7, Barenboim was back on form, roaring to the end with superb power and passion. He came away from the piano looking overcome and drained, and I was almost moved to tears - such a monumental achievement by an incredible artist.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

HOT: Turin Brakes, Cadogan Hall

Cadogan Hall was an unexpected site for an indie-gig. Traditionally a classical music venue, it felt like we were at church or in a town hall, with cinema seats in the stalls and cushioned pews in the gallery. Turin Brakes are definitely not rawk (their sound guy was eating a banana in the wings instead of shooting up drugs), but I have always enjoyed its mellow sounds, especially Ether Song when on the Tube. I enjoyed this gig mainly because the audience were so appreciative and affectionate towards the band, and as a result the band gave that affection back, especially in their extended guitar improvs. That to me is the joy of live music.

NOT:Blushes Cafe, 52 Kings Road Chelsea

Chi-chi Chelsea is definitely not a place to find somewhere cheap for dinner. This throwback-from-the-early-90s cafe was NOT cheap but still nasty, god knows how it's lasted on Kings Road. Our experience involved twenty minutes to get 3 diet cokes (diet pepsis in fact), a completely elasticised burger patty (for £13!), penne drowning in creamy tomato sauce and a dodgy soundtrack of Genuwine and Montell Jordan.

Friday, 15 February 2008

HOT:Daniel Barenboim Beethoven Piano Sonata Series (Concert 7), Royal Festival Hall

Sometimes it pays to spend the money for a better seat. This was the only concert where I was unable to get my super-cheap concession tickets for my standard seat (Row C, piano side) so I was up in the choir stalls, sitting above and behind Barenboim. Well, it did all sorts of strange things to my hearing - the right and left hands didn't sound like they were in unison, and the balance was sometimes all wrong. Nevertheless, I loved the small little sonata played right after interval - perfectly formed and balanced.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

HOT: Getti Restaurant 42 Marylebone High Street

A good place for a casual weekday meal, with simple food, a nice ambience and smiling friendly service. My handmade parpadelle with duck ragout had a fantastic texture (though could have done with more salt) but the tiramisu had too much marscapone for my taste (not that it stopped it finishing it). With my tastelondon card, £12.75 each for both courses!

Monday, 11 February 2008

HOT:Daniel Barenboim Beethoven Piano Sonata Series (Concert 6), Royal Festival Hall

A pre-concert cup of tea revived my levels of concentration for this concert, which was lucky as he's rendition of the final movement of the second sonata meant the first interval curtain-call applause so far. The final movement of the final sonata was also spectacular as he took the audience on a journey of tension and lyricism.

NOT: Tosa Japanese Restaurant, 233 King Street, Hammersmith

A difficult call - the sashimi was very fresh and their famous yakitori smelled fantastic, but it took ages to get our set lunches on the day. It was heartening to see that the other clientele were Japanese and the online reviews consistently rave about it, so maybe I'd go again with a smaller group.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

HOT: Gold Mine Restaurant, 102 Queensway, Bayswater

With so many Chinese BBQ restaurants on Queensway, it's hard to work out which one to visit. Traditionally Four Seasons was the place to go for crispy duck, but then their BBQ chef opened his own restaurant, Gold Mine. Well, the £16.50 takeaway duck I bought for crispy duck pancakes was very nice - slightly crisp skin, juicy and not too fat (which could be easily stripped).

Saturday, 9 February 2008

HOT: Pearl Liang 8 Sheldon Square Paddington

It's a luxury to have yum cha available 2 minutes from my house. This undergound restaurant is decorated in dark purple and cherry blossoms and was comfortably full with a half Asian, half Western clientele. The wasabi prawn dumplings were great, as was the sponge cake with custard, but generally it fell short of Royal China's standards on some other dishes, including the egg tarts. A bargin at £11 each but I think I'd rather walk the extra 10 minutes to go to Royal China in future. I might try them for dinner another time.

Friday, 8 February 2008

HOT: The First Emperor, China's Terracotta Warriors, British Museum

I had forgotten about the grandeur of the British Museum's Great Court, and it is a great introduction to this exhibition, which is all about a grand Chinese dynasty. There are many artifacts and not that many terracotta warriors, but the audio guide takes you in detail through the history of the Qin dynasty, the world which developed as a result of the First Emperor, his mad egotistical mind and then up close to individually cast terracotta warriors, acrobats and birdlife. Fascinating and educational.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

HOT: La Tasca 63-64 St Martins Lane

As far as chains go, La Tasca isn't too bad - and with the dinner and theatre deal for £20, it was really great value for 3 substantial tapas and a glass of wine.

HOT: Dealer's Choice, Trafalgar Studios

I think I would have enjoyed this play more if I hadn't been feeling like a complete zombie - but still it was a witty, fast-paced and well-written play centred on a poker game, and the all-male cast were uniformly good. The small theatre is nice too - it has a steep slope so that all seats get a good view.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

HOT: Daniel Barenboim Beethoven Piano Sonata Series (Concert 4), Royal Festival Hall

OH MY GOD. Never in my life have I heard the Appassionata played like tonight. The whole audience collectively held its breath as he brought the passion, drama and intensity of the sonata to life in the most awesome mastery of the work. Barenboim knew that it was a great performance as well, getting up grinning and waving to the crowd like an Olympic gold medalist. This performance is one that will go down in history - and probably will never be repeated again.

HOT:Daniel Barenboim Beethoven Piano Sonata Series (Concert 5), Royal Festival Hall

I am slowly getting culture fatigue, as I found my mind wondering a lot during this recital. Even the Waldstein failed to move me in the same way as the Appassionata, but still I was in awe of Barenboim's control and mastery of tones.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

HOT: Die Zauberflote, Royal Opera House

My first opera at the ROH and it was the delightful Magic Flute by Mozart. Simon Keenlyside as Papageno stole the show with his comic timing, sweet pathos and the best songs, while Erika Miklosa was fantastical with the famous Queen of the Night aria (although slipping a few of the high notes). A magical set was completed by a flying winged carriage and a large serpent.

Monday, 4 February 2008

HOT: Daniel Barenboim Beethoven Piano Sonata Series (Concert 3), Royal Festival Hall

You know you have a hot ticket when scalpers start touting 'any spare tickets' in front of Royal Festival Hall for a classical piano recital. I'd been looking forward to this particular concert as Barenboim was playing the Pathetique, one of my AMUS exam pieces. I know the hours of work I had to do strengthen my fingers and wrists for those repetitive rolling octaves and to perfect the clarity of the descending trills, so could appreciate his fluidity and stamina. When you know a piece inside-out you can spot the wrong notes and minute changes in tempo, but his playing of the most difficult movement of all the Beethoven's sonata was an extraordinary triumph.

HOT: Canteen at Royal Festival Hall

The Observer Food Monthly's best UK restaurant in 2007, this restaurant is so hot that its virtually impossible to get a table (or a booking, they book out two weeks ahead) for a pre-theatre meal. With the number of harried and hungry people waiting, I was impressed by the unfailing politeness and friendly manner of the wait staff. When I finally did get a table, it was in a little padded cubicle with an arched lamp, which reminded me of the study cubicles at the library, except much nicer. And the food was great. Quick, fresh, tasty and generously portioned, my daily pie and mash with service came to £11.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

NOT: Idlewild, 55 Shirland Road, Maida Vale

I wanted to like Idlewild for its beautiful interior of delicate white and gold wallpaper, crystal chandeliers and dark wood but the food was so disappointing. My ale-battered plaice was awfully soggy (compared even with a dodgy fish and chippery in a rural English town) and I suspect that the chips came out of a packet. Annette's steak looked a bit non-descript and they didn't ask her how she wanted it cooked. One main course course, tap water and service came to £18 a head, so I won't be coming back except for drinks.

HOT: Daniel Barenboim Beethoven Piano Sonata Series (Concert 2), Royal Festival Hall

I wasn't on sleep-inducing drugs for this concert so was fully able to appreciate the beauty of his playing. It amazed me that he could draw such an incredible range of tone from the piano - at times delicate, sonorific, playful and tender. My favourite pieces were the final movements of all four sonatas that he played. I came away feeling privileged to be able to attend this wonderful experience.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

NOT: 2 Days in Paris, Prince Charles Cinema, 7 Leceister Place, Soho

I had been looking forward to this film but unfortunately it wasn't as funny or charming as I expected - instead it seemed to fall back on cliches about cross-cultural misunderstandings and French and American stereotypes for most of its storyline. Plus I didn't think the lovers had enough chemistry to be convincing. A nice DVD at home with takeaway movie, but certaintly not a must see. Just a note too about the Prince Charles Cinema - I love the fact that the movies are cheap, but the upward sloping screen made me feel a little bit seasick like I was in a cruise ship cinema.

HOT: Villandry 170 Great Portland Street

Despite it's no-man's-land location, I loved loved loved this place. The building includes a delightful food store (great pastries), a French-styled bar serving bar food, then at the back is a glamorous but understated dining room with a changing daily menu. My scallops were juicy and delicious with creamy leeks, Tim's lamb was the best meat he'd had since he arrived in London and the squash with amaretti side dish was a hit. Just keep away from the doughy bread and butter pudding and go for the flamed baked alaska. With toptable's 50% deal, only £20 a head for a very HOT dinner.

HOT: Juan Munoz at Tate Modern Southbank

I don't know whether my swimming-induced deafness also affected my ability to understand things, but I found myself perplexed by the guide to this exhibition. I didn't understand any of the concepts until near the end, when I finally grasped that he liked to explore the 'in-between' spaces, neither ascending or descending, with his sculputures of staircases, bannisters and lifts hanging in mid-air. My favourites included: Many Times, the large group of short smiling Asiatic men engaging with each other, as I found it strangely positive, not creepy; Shadow and Mouth, with a disconcerting statue whispering into the wall and One Figure, with his face pressed against the mirror as if he was trying to look into his soul.

NOT: Tate Modern Members Room, Tate Modern, Southbank

I love feeling like a VIP but this members room was not the cooler-than-thou locale I was hoping for - more like airport lounge scrum. I think in summer the terrace might make the space feel more exclusive, but I'd much rather stand at the long bar on the sixth floor restaurant with the plebs.