Saturday, 31 May 2008

HOT: Sex and the City, Barbican

I have never been in the presence of so much shrill oestrogen as in the foyer of the Barbican cinema, waiting to see this much anticipated movie. While I disliked the happy ending (I'm in the minority I think) the film didn't disappoint. In amongst the glamorous outfits, overt product placement and the wrinkles of the ageing cast, the best of SATC remained - those moments where a character said something or did something that really struck home for me: Carrie experiencing the most wretched heartbreak, unable to leave her bed; Miranda's suburban drudgery and grey loneliness on New Years Eve; the honesty and unconditional support of your friends. I don't know whether it was the three pre-movie cocktails or my hormones were running wild, but I found myself blubbering through many moments in the film.

HOT: Smithfield Bar and Grill, 2-3 West Smithfields EC1A 9JX

Not to be confused with the more famous Smiths of Smithfields. I don't know why more people don't know about this fabulous bar and restaurant, which serves 2 for 1 cocktails most days from 5-7pm, and 2 for 1 food when you book through toptable. Our group of seven dined in the sunken private dining room, furnished with a creamy leather banquette and our own glittering chandelier. The food was delicious all around, from mussels to garlic prawns to suckling pig to lobster. If the toptable offer continues, I will definitely be back for a Barbican pre-movie meal.

Update 16 July 2008: On a weeknight the glamorous bar turns into a raucous after-work venue with loud live music making for an unpleasant dining experience. Annoyingly, we turned up at 9pm and were told that our orders could not be taken for 30 minutes because of a large group - even though the dining room was only half full. And here I was thinking that a restaurant kitchen should be able to cope with full capacity. The food was a disappointment too - compared to our previous meal, the lobster was overcooked and the mussels starter was small.

HOT: Psycho Buildings, Hayward Gallery

Huy doesn't think that installations are art, but even he might be swayed by the structures in this exhibition, all framed around the intersection of art and architecture. Every work is designed to be explored in a different way - on the bottom floor you start off sniffing pepper and cloves suspended from pendulous lycra stockings (Life Fog Frog...Fog Frog), scramble through a jagged metal tunnel reminiscent of Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin (Life Tunnel), circle around an exploded room, suspended in time and space (Show Room) and admire the minute details of Fallen Star, a dramatic physical embodiment of the artist's cultural dislocation. Your entry to the upper galleries is a disaster area of destruction (To the Memory of H.P. Lovecraft), which leads to an ethereal floating staircase rising up to nowhere (Staircase - V), a plastic bubble where you can watch someone moving about as if suspended on a cloud (Observatory), and the best fun - rowing across the skyline of Southbank (Normally, Proceeding and Unrestricted With Without Title).

Friday, 30 May 2008

HOT: Saf Restaurant, 152 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, EC2A 3TA

Dinner at a vegan, raw food restaurant on a Friday night? I'm such a wild party animal. However, it seemed like a logical choice as Vanessa is currently on a strict dietary plan, plus I was curious to find out whether such food could be appetising. Well, I can confirm that on its own merits, this chic restaurant is fantastic - and you can walk out feeling angelic for being super-healthy. Our food was beautifully presented and there is no compromise in flavour despite the restricted ingredients. As poor Vanessa was late by an hour due to tube nightmares, I fortified myself with the delicious Boursin Trio of 'cheese' (made of nuts) and then ploughed my way like a manic food critic through beetroot ravioli, some of Vanessa's maki roll, wild mushroom croquette, macadamia cheese caprese salad, almond cheese plate, the tofu from Vanessa's Budda Bowl and the apple cheesecake.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

NOT: Breakin' Boundaries, Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road

The blurb sounded so promising "a mind blowing audio visual experience, will see audio visual artists taking films from the early 20th century, modulating, dissecting and thrusting them into the future propelled by a good helping of some of the best electronic music to date." The reality: Guantanamo Bay-style techno torture which left me stressed and headachy. Who told these 'artists' that their work should be inflicted on the unsuspecting public? Micropolis was a dull work full of crackling static (like listening to wood burning) interspersed with booming sounds and beeps that made me feel like I was in an electronic uterus. Dr Caligari was fifteen minutes of epilepsy-inducing strobe lighting accompanied by head-searing screaming white noise (HELP) - so awful that I was praying for a power blackout. There were two more works but I simply couldn't handle anymore - my insides were screaming 'MAKE IT STOP'.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

HOT: Rambert Dance Company, Sadlers Wells, Rosebery Avenue EC1R

This mixed bill from 'Britain's leading contemporary dance company' was one of the most enjoyable modern dance productions I've seen in a while. Scribblings started with a dramatically oversized lampshade swinging like an ominous pendulum as dancers writhed, leaped and ran backwards (!). I particularly the enjoyed the melting and tangled pas de deux as the pair reminded me of claymation animated characters, twisting up and sinking into the ground. Carnival of the Animals (set to Saint-Saen's music) was witty and joyous, and I loved the delicate filigree of the waltz. Anatomica #3 started with the bizarre vista of many Queen Elizabeth clones dressed in a pink hat, pink shift dress, holding a white handbag. One by one each dancer stripped to reveal rippling muscles to don streetwear, ending the evening with pounding drumbeats and dramatic physicality.

NOT: Old Pack Horse, 434 Chiswick High Road, W4 5TF

Regular HOT OR NOT readers will know that I'm not a huge fan of Thai food in pubs. The food at the Old Pack Horse still wasn't the greatest Thai I've ever had, and my duck curry came out with pieces of slices processed duck - but at least I had the foresight to ask for it extra hot meant so that it wasn't the watery, insipid concotion that's normally dished out at these kind of places. On the plus side, the restaurant had a sunny atrium area and the service came with a smile.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

HOT: Never So Good, National Theatre, Southbank

Sometimes it's handy having a boyfriend in politics because he can spout facts and quotable quotes about any politician you care to name. So Tim's 20 Facts on Harold Macmillan (eg Tory, WW1 veteran, Churchill, almost killed in WW2, Prime Minister, Suez Canal, Profumo) provided a useful background for this new play about the life of Harold Macmillan, the man who famously told the electorate that 'You've never had it so good'. The play was interesting, educational and well-written (although I suspect some of the best bon mots were quotes from real people). The cast was very solid and Hollywood star Jeremy Irons, looking very old, was believable as the awkward, slightly bumbling Macmillan. Definitely worth seeing. Finally, our star-spotting evening was capped off by a sighting of Dustin Hoffman filming at Southbank.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

HOT: Bombay Bicycle Club, 47 Maida Vale, Little Venice W9 1SH

Thanks to Tesco Vouchers, I can enjoy free takeaway when I don't feel like cooking. Even if it wasn't free I'd recommend the tasty Indian food which doesn't come swimming with grease and repeat on me for hours after.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

HOT: Satay House, 13 Sale Place, Paddington W2 1PX

This local Malaysian restaurant had been on my go-to list for a while, as Time Out had said that it was full of Malaysians, so the food must be good. I was expecting a sticky-tablecloth kind of place but was pleasantly surprised by a two-storey terrace house with a bright and modern interior. The food was fantastic and good value, and I recommend the whole mackerel with tamarind sauce, fresh gado gado and the rose syrup with grass jelly drink. Book ahead though, as it's small and very busy.

HOT: Powerplate at Powertone Studios, 13 Maddox Street, Mayfair W1S 2QG

The vibrating Powerplate machine markets itself as the way to get a 90 minute workout for those with only 30 minutes to spare. However, the trainer at my local gym was pretty unenthusiastic about it, saying it was a gimmick, so I thought I'd try a free introductory class at a proper Powerplate studio. Each exercise only lasted for 1 minute, but after 25 minutes of strength and massage exercises, I was a hot, tired, wobbling mess - I felt like I'd been doing weights for 2 hours and could barely lift a cup to my mouth. Amazingly, I didn't feel sore the next day at all. I'm converted!

Friday, 16 May 2008

HOT: Milk and Honey, 61 Poland Street Soho W1F 7NU

This unmarked bar was the site of our first inaugural MEL 2003 Articled Clerks reunion. We had to hold it in London, as most of us have defected to Old Blighty for better work, better pay and of course, the magnificent weather. The bar itself? I hate the elitism of members-only bars, but when you have a group of people trying to get together for drinks, it can be a handy option. It was dark, busy, the booths were great for a group and the service was friendly and prompt. But not as full of beautiful people as I was expecting, and certainly not somewhere so cool I'd be dying to get in again.

HOT: Duke of Cambridge, 228 Battersea Bridge Road SW11 3AA

A cosy library-themed gastro-pub serving your standard pub fare, but done really well. My chicken pie was unusually presented, as it came with mash on top, and then capped with a crispy pastry top. Huy also really enjoyed his burger. Not somewhere I'd travel to eat, but great if you're in the area.

HOT: Just To(o) Long? at Battersea Arts Centre, Lavendar Hill London SW11 5TN

Billed as a 'dinner party with a difference', this one hour theatre experience as part of the Burst festival was set in mystery location (a drool-worthy apartment in Battersea) where a random group of six sat at a long dining room table, covered our eyes with an eye mask, and then tried to make sense of sensory fragments. We heard snippets of dinner-party dialogue and sounds of scrubbing, felt the breeze from a floating tablecloth and sniffed freshly ground pepper. At various times I found myself slurping spaghetti bolognese very loudly with a duckbill umbrella over my head, shooting a water pistol at another hapless dinner party guest, eating a sweet macaroon and holding a birthday gift. Definitely an unusual experience.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

HOT: The Birthday Party, Lyric Hammersmith

Harold Pinter's seminal work about the stifling of individualism was panned when it first premiered at the Lyric 50 years ago, and when I watched this I could understand why - it has quite stilted dialogue, a strange plot and was probably unlike every other play which was being presented in the 1950s. Now, it is a classic, and while it is still strange and confusing (a quick scan of wikipedia was needed) it at least engendered an interesting discussion between Sarah-Jayne and I as we tried to unravel the plot and the motivations of the characters.

HOT: High Road Brasserie, 162 Chiswick High Road W4 1PR

The brasserie for the plebs who aren't able to get into the members area of High Road House. I loved the colourful floor tiles and the bathrooms, and the food was well-executed British - lemon sole, chips, pear crumble - but not particularly spectacular. So, the major reason it was a HOT? It was paid for courtesy of the company credit card!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

NOT: In Conversation with Jonas Kaufmann, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

My current-favourite tenor swung into the studio, relaxed in jeans and an open-necked shirt, and my heart started pounding. But mid-way through his conversation with Edward Seckerson, chief music critic of The Independent, I found out he was MARRIED. With KIDS. Pooh.

HOT: Food For Thought, 31 Neal Street, Covent Garden WC2

The delicious and reasonably priced menu of this vegetarian cafe attracts a mixed clientele - from the expected hemp-wearing arts students, to middle-aged tourists for their trip into the Big Smoke and men in business suits. My spinach and feta filo was enormous (full of mint, dill and peas too) and it was accompanied by a healthy serving of mediterranean vegetable salad and pita with hommus. For only £7! A perfect pre-theatre meal.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

HOT: Listening Post at Science Museum, Exhibition Road South Kensington

Listening Post is a fantastically mesmerising installation which explores the intersection between science and art, data and meaning, and public and private lives. Algorithms scrape fragments of uncensored text live from online chatrooms and a grid of small screens displays the words in symphonic 'movements' while a disembodied synthesised voice reads the text out, sometimes accompanied to music, sometimes just to beeping and keyboard-tapping sounds. The most interesting movement was the series of flickering text starting with "I am..." as it reminded me that there was a human element to the green-screen text. "I am 16" "I am 85" "I am hungry" "I am from Ontario, Canada". Take some time to see this and immerse yourself in the curiousity and connections of our online age.

Monday, 12 May 2008

HOT: Tosca at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

My overriding impression of Puccini's glorious 'melodrama in three acts' was Jonas Kaufmann's sex appeal, which radiated even to the upper reaches of the Royal Opera House amphitheatre. Good looking, swarthy and passionate, he was the perfect Cavaradossi - besides which his voice was stunning. He even overshadowed the main character, a rather 'bouncy' Tosca who hammed up the drama to an almost comical degree (Shani told me that when a Tosca is particularly large-boned, when she throws herself to her death she has been to known bounce right back up from the mattress hidden on the stage floor).

HOT: Neal's Yard Salad Bar, Neal's Yard, Covent Garden

Get away from the effing tourists blocking up Covent Garden and retreat to this brightly coloured courtyard which is home of one of my favourite London cheap eats, Neal's Yard Salad Bar. You can sit on the courtyard benches, upstairs or take away the delicious vegetarian/vegan food, including an incredible vegan mango ice-cream (you won't believe it's non-dairy!) and Brazilian sweets.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

HOT: China Design Now, Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington

Another fanastic exhibition from the V&A (and thanks to Huy). China Design Now covers the gamut of design mediums (graphic poster art, pop magazines, CD covers, fashion and architecture) interpreting, whether consciously or subconsciously, a single theme: the translation of an Eastern design aesthetic in an increasingly Western world. For me, the most interesting aspects: the added layer of meaning which Chinese pictograms gave to graphic art; the stark contrast in the aspirations and living conditions between the rich and poor of Shangahi; and the dynamism of new Beijing architecture.

HOT: Babylon at Kensington Roof Gardens 99 Kensington High Street

When you haven't felt the warm of sunshine for a long time, it feels like there's an imperative to eat outdoors; hence my second visit to Babylon in a month. The food and service were just as good as last time, with the added thrill of a Real Magician entertaining us in between courses with tricky card tricks and slights of hand.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

HOT: Happy Now National Theatre Southbank

I had bought tickets for this play ages ago, and couldn't remember anything about the plot or why I thought I might enjoy it. Well - the reason it's sold out is because it's a perfectly observed play about two couples and their gay friend who are mired in the drudgery of their suburban, kid-raising, home-renovations life/hell. Their petty arguments, over-reactions and barely-keeping-it-all-together perspectives were funny, relevant and just a little bit scary - this could be my life in ten years time.

HOT: The Waterway, 54 Formosa Street, Little Venice W9 2JU

A recipe for relaxation for a sunny Saturday: sip Pimms on The Waterway's outdoor terrace watching the narrowboats putt their way down the leafy canal, enjoy a light lunch of the felafel with pitta bread, avocado and yoghurt sauce, then stroll to Rembrandt Gardens for a snooze on a stripey red deck chair.

HOT: Lisboa Patisserie, 54 Golborne Road, W10 5NR

The first time I walked past this dingy little caff, I couldn't work out why there was a massive line outside. Then I worked out the whole Portugese community of Golborne Road, plus some cluey neighbours, were lining up for their nata (egg tarts). And yes, they really are that good.

Friday, 9 May 2008

HOT: Serenade/Rushes/Homage to the Queen, Royal Ballet Royal Opera House Covent Garden

Thanks to a £18 Facebook friends offer, I decided to take the opportunity to introduce Huy to the ballet and Annette to the Royal Opera House. A programme of three disparate works demonstrated the wide possibilites of ballet - it's not all swans and tutus. Serenade was a calm, elegiac work from Balanchine; Rushes was a modern, athletic work (with a dynamic pas de deux with Carlos Acosta and Alina Cojocaru) and Homage to the Queen was a sumptuous ballet in the grand classical tradition, with a firecracker performance from Kenta Kura, the highlight of my night.

NOT: The Forge Restaurant 14 Garrick Street, Covent Garden

I wanted to like this restaurant as soon as I spotted the deep aqua upholstered chairs and crisp white tableclothes. However, I came away agitated and unsatisfied as my two course dinner was more like two plates of tapas - so small that I had to down two packets of 'baked not fried' pretzels from Boots afterwards.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

HOT: The Year of Magical Thinking, National Theatre

A one-woman show with Vanessa Redgrave was bound to be a winner. I'd heard a lot about Joan Didion's book about the time after her husband and daughter died, and how she coped and lived through her grief. The play was a looping and poetic narrative about the moment of death when time froze and everything changed in an instant, the stories of their lives together in Malibu, Honolulu and New York, and her loving relationship with her husband and her wish to protect her daughter. Sometimes the prose threw me (a sparrow has no eyes) but Redgrave admirably conveyed the poetry in the prose without resorting to histrionics.

HOT: Pilot, 56 Wellesley Rd, Chiswick, W4 4BZ

A nice local pub with a friendly Australian barman, right near my work. They have a courtyard where you can eat your lunch (highly recommend their dips and bread) and take advantage of the Spring sun.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

HOT: Persepolis Gate Cinema, Notting Hill Gate

An engaging and charming animated autobiographical film about a young girl growing up in 70s and 80s Iran. It's amazing how a few line drawings could convey such humour and poignancy, and I most enjoyed Marjane drawn as a strong-willed and questioning little girl. I empathised with her sense of dislocation when she moved to Austria as a teenager, her repressed spirit when she moved back to Tehran and got married at 21, and mostly I learnt about a period of Iranian history of which I'd never really known. Futher, the Gate Cinema is a lovely old-school venue with a plastered decorative ceiling, but refurbished with comfortable chairs and side tables.

HOT: Ottolenghi, 1 Holland Street, Kensington

An adorable chocolate-cake of a shop filled with delicious goodies on white cake stands. Their passionfruit meringue tart is simply the best I've ever had.

Update 25 July 2008: Sorry readers, there will be no pictures of Ottolenghi's window-display of goodies due to their completely nonsensical 'policy' - you can take pictures from outside but not from the inside. It's not the bloody Mona Lisa - cameras aren't going to hurt the cakes! And if it's about protecting the intellectual property in your pastries (??) then why is it ok for me to take photos from the other side of the glass? Sorry guys, your stupid policy's just lost yourself a customer.

HOT: Harvey Nichols, 109 -125 Knightsbridge

I've never shopped at Harvey Nicks - all those perfectly coiffed saleswomen intimidate me. However, they are the only stockists of BCBG in London, so a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do when she spots the perfect limited edition dress, even at an exorbitant price. Carrying that big white bag around made me feel just a little bit taller, beautiful and richer that day.

Friday, 2 May 2008

HOT: No 14 Boulangerie and Patisserie, 14 Holland Street, Kensington

This little street off Kensington Church Street is a nice respite from the bustle of Ken High Street. This bakery has a large rustic communal table from where you can choose fresh salads for lunch and tempting cakes and pastries.

HOT: Bethnal Green Working Man's Club, Bethnal Green

I'd been wanting to visit this venue ever since I read about this tatty working man's club that hosts all manner of bizarre acts. We spent the night watching the fancy-dress crowd, dancing to the DJ's wildly verring music tastes - but the highlight of the evening was some fat, hairy blokes in obscenely small crop tops and underpants energetically performing a saucy aerobics routine. Fun was had by all and Huy was still picking glitter off this bald head the next morning.

HOT: Cay Tre, 301 Old Street

A friendly, clean, funky, two-storey Vietnamese restaurant with no Vietnamese people inside? Toto, we're not in Kingsland Road anymore. However, what we did get was delicious soft-shelled crab, crispy bahn xeo with coconut flavours, duck curry, fried fish and a myriad of prawn dishes (much to Caroline's chagrin). If I'm in the area, I'll be back.