Wednesday, 30 April 2008

HOT: Babylon at Kensington Roof Gardens 99 Kensington High Street

A HOT place for a lazy weekend lunch and for the first time in 2008, accompanied by (moderately) HOT weather. I love the Roof Gardens for providing an oasis of green calm above the hecticness of Kensington High Street, and the gardens are even home to two carrotty flamingos. The two course lunch on the verandah was delicious and good value for £16.50 - we shared our starter and dessert and still felt very full as we strolled around the Spanish and Tudor English gardens. Watch out for the unusual basins in the toilets!

HOT: Contains Violence, Lyric Hammersmith

The creative concept of this play is what makes it exciting - you're given a pair of headphones and 8x40 binoculars, then you sit on the outdoor terrace of the theatre peering into the windows of the building across the square as the action unfolds, a la Hitchcock's Rear Window. The play itself is a confused jumbled loop involving penguins, peaches and vanilla, cross-dressing, obsessive love and a cherry-picker crane. Well worth the experience (our discussion on the tube ride home was very interesting) - just remember to rug up and buy your tickets quickly, as the sold-out session has just been extended until 10 May.

HOT: Sleeping Beauty, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, WC2

I always love the Royal Ballet but as far as ballet outings go, Cynthia and I agreed that Sleeping Beauty was far too long. The story of Sleeping Beauty played a neglible role, as the 3 hours was padded with country dances, royal balls and random visits from Red Riding Hood and Puss-in-boots. Nevertheless, Tamara Rojo was gorgeous as Sleeping Beauty (what beautiful arched feet) and Frederic Bonelli was dashing as the Prince. And I loved the evil witch's black outfit!

NOT: Snows on the Green, 166 Shepherds Bush Road, Brook Green

Not a true NOT, more a not-too-bad. The restaurant is light and bright near Brook Green, with proper white tableclothes and friendly service. The set menu was £13.50 for 2 courses and the food was ok, but not fantastic - the pasta was tasty and obviously homemade but the trout was overcooked or came from frozen as it was as tough as a well done steak.

HOT: Bar Shu, 28 Frith Street, Soho

Literally, as Bar Shu specialise in Sichuan cuisine. This is glamour Chinese - it's tastefully decorated with black and white photographs and painted lanterns, the furniture is dark wood, not sticky or covered with plastic tableclothes, and the rice bowls are square (which actually makes it very difficult to eat rice). Our Gung Bao chicken, dry-fried asparagus and spicy tofu with pork were all tasty and nicely spicy and our bill for 3 dishes, black sesame dumplings for Caroline and rice came to £20 a head. Recommended.

HOT: Afternoon Tea, Palm Court, Park Lane Hotel Picadilly

Afternoon tea is such a delightfully refined way to spend a Sunday afternoon, dahling. Thanks to, for only £21 each the four foodie girls were able to enjoy flowering tea, unlimited sandwiches, cakes and possibly the best scones ever - plain, fruit and cinnamon scones swaddled in white napkins. The lovely art-deco decor, pale green Chinoiserie wallpaper and harpist completed the setting as we sat on big cushy sofas eating and catching up on four months of news. Highly recommended for a not-as-pricey alternative to the big hotel teas.

HOT: Spitalfields Market, Brushfields Street, Spitalfields

I'd forgotten how brilliant Spitalfields is for unique young designer fashion. The same Japanese fashion students from Portobello Road seem to set up stalls here, but there seemed to be more of them and everything I liked was
really reasonable, about £25 to £40. Why would you shop on the high street for the same price and look like a Top Shop clone?

HOT: Treacle 110-112 Columbia Road, Hackney

A cute, yummy-smelling whimsical little cafe in the middle of the Columbia Road flower market sells adorable cupcakes and other nostalgic sweet things. Try a nice little lemon cupcake for 90p.

HOT: Columbia Road flower market, Columbia Road, Hackney

I had expected this Sunday market to be enormous but it was really just a local community market lined with cute homewares stores and cafes. The plants and flowers were very cheap (three bunches for £5) and if you lived in the area, it'd be lovely to stroll around on a warm sunny day, rest for a cupcake and smoked salmon bagel in one of the outdoor cafe courtyards, then take home bunches of flowers and pots of plants. As a West Londoner though it was a bit of a schlep and Toto, this isn't Kansas any more - Old Street is scary and dirty.

HOT: L Restaurant & Bar, 2 Abingdon Road, Kensington

A great find off Kensington High Street which even got the Huy seal of approval, and we all know he doesn't hold back if something is below par. The menu was Modern European with Spanish influences and my scallops with chorizo starter and grilled sea bass main were perfectly cooked and delicious. Dessert was let down by a lack of imagination - if I hadn't wanted to extend my very enjoyable night with my bestest friends I probably wouldn't have bothered with it. The place was completely packed on a Saturday night and the classy undergound fitout was saved from gloominess due to its conservatory glass roof. The service was a bit space cadet ('Crutches? Aren't they in the sleeves of your coat?) but sweet and friendly. The best thing - 50% through toptable, so my 3 course meal (without wine) came to £24.

Friday, 18 April 2008

HOT: Goldfrapp, Royal Festival Hall Southbank

Listening to Alison Goldfrapp's sexy voice, especially while seated in the sleep-inducing Royal Festival Hall, was like slowly sinking in a warm soothing bed of feather down. But it was getting me all sleepy after a hard week at the office, and the white-robed string section (except for the guy in white tennis shorts playing the guitar!) and Polyphonic Spree-style choir didn't help. Luckily one brave soul started dancing in the balcony corridor, and then he was joined by other excited fans who had obviously been itching to dance, and the whole place turned into a glam pop disco worshipping at her little booted feet. My final thought: How many clown outfits does Goldfrapp own?

Sunday, 13 April 2008

HOT: Concrete Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre

I loved the interesting decor of this funky cafe attached to the Hayward Gallery - pink toilet paper art,funky red-knobbed coat stands, grey industrial seating and a Tonka truck full of fruit. My mix of three salads with foccacia was delicious and great value for £5. A perfect Melbournian restaurant in the middle of CentralLondon, and great for a pre or post-exhibition drink or meal.

NOT: Alexander Rodchenko, Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre

Two arts dates with Huy, two NOTs in a row. Actually, Rodchenko left me indifferent rather NOT but I don't think I've ever gone to an exhibition and finished it in 45 minutes. His work was distinctly Soviet, with lots of gymnastic formations, peasants towing the fields for Communism and women in headscarves. I wasn't particularly impressed by his camera angles or his photomontages, but as Yalin pointed out maybe they were revolutionary for the 20s, where photographs were generally stiff portraits.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

NOT: Speed-the-Plow, Old Vic Theatre

This play was terrible. I was indifferent to all plight of three whiny characters, Mamet's text was dense, unwitty and soulless, and the plotline unbelievable. I could barely keep my attention, floating in and out of sleep and finding myself wondering about the angling of the floorboards of the set and the clingness of the secretary's jumper. The only saving grace was seeing Kevin Spacey and realising his great skill as an actor when compared with a slightly wooden Jeff Goldblum and the insipid girl. A disappointing waste of time and money.

HOT: Waterloo Bar and Kitchen 131 Waterloo Road

A really nice pre-theatre restaurant - light and airty, good food, friendly attentive service. My cod was a bit steep for £14.95 but the chive mash was delicious with the mixed vegetables, and for once not in the traditional overcooked, British-style.

Friday, 11 April 2008

HOT: Portishead, Hammersmith Apollo

Beth Gibbons' voice has matured and deepened from the wispiness of Dummy - but the trippy beats and emotional energy has remained the same from one of my favourite down-beat bands. The crowd went crazy for their big hits from years ago such as Glory Box, and I think their new tracks of tribal beats and current-issue lyrics means that their upcoming album will be a hit. I also liked the shots of the band on the big screens, where sound seemed to be translated into light streaks emanating from the guitar strings, cymbals and microphones. Finally, bring on more gigs at the Hammersmith Apollo - a large Art Deco venue with a sloped floor (good for shorties like me) plus so convenient to get home on the tube. I think I like it more than Brixton Academy (gasp)!