Thursday, December 15, 2011

Le Café Anglais - A Winter Review

Gastronomist Rowley Leigh, is the tour-de-force behind (or even in front of) this glamorous venue, on the site  - unbelievable but true - of a former McDonalds, located on the top floor of Whiteleys shopping emporium.

A statement chandelier and red velvet furnishings make an impressive impact, as you cross the threshold, through the heavy frosted-glass doors. The staff are smiling and welcoming.

We sat on a pastel green banquette, facing the busy, open kitchen. Rowley was in attendance over his brigade – whom he appeared to treat with total respect – resulting in an overriding vibe of calm and harmonious efficiency, dedicated to producing great food, to a timely schedule.

My two companions (regulars at the venue) had the Christmas Set Menu, (three courses at £35), as they craved the seasonal main of Roast Goose, with Christmas Pudding, to finish. I decided on a light starter of Beetroot and Boquerones (Spanish anchovy fillets), at £5, followed by the deliciously creative, vegetarian main – comprising roast chestnuts, fennel, cavolo nero and polenta slices, in a richly- flavorsome, tomato-suffused stew sauce – (£12.50). It was super-filling (although not heavy) and a perfect counter to December weather. I couldn’t finish it all but was still ‘lured’ into a dessert (I had to join in with my table, you understand!)… So, I indulged in the decadent, deep-dark chocolate soufflé, with its complementary, home-made hazelnut (including crunch) ball of ice-cream (£9.50). Divinely intense and, again, impossible to finish.

A brilliant setting for taste, quality and contented good service; useful to bear-in-mind that it’s also possible to enjoy a light, reasonably-priced meal, throughout the day - in the Oyster Bar - located close to the entrance. Grade: 9.5 out of 10.

Le Café Anglais, 8 Porchester Gardens, London W2 4DB

Friday, November 25, 2011


I was in two minds about seeing 50/50 ... not because of the title, you understand (doh!) but because of the subject matter.  Aware that it was a comedy - about cancer - I felt some trepidation (as it has touched my life, albeit at one close remove, over the past year).

My worries were assuaged, as the film opened, with an upbeat soundtrack and the introduction of instantly engaging characters.  Adam (brilliantly personified by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is inspired by screenwriter, Will Reiser's own youthful encounter with the disease and his attempts not just to survive, but to do so with a healthy injection of humour.  Seth Rogen, as Kyle, relives the experience he underwent with real-life best-mate, Will. 

Set in vibrant Seattle, where Adam and Kyle work at a radio station, the title has continuous resonance.  Adam's deplorably unempathetic consultant is patently clueless, when it comes to breaking life-changing news. The serious spinal cancer diagnosis has tragicomic elements: hard to take-in the implications and impact but tempered by its (semi-)hysterical name.

Superficially, it appears that Kyle will be little help to Adam. Soon, though, we realise that his way of coping (divertingly taking advantage of the situation) not only provides a quirky springboard for comedy but also lightens Adam's load. Although their relationship is core to the film, significant others include charming fledging therapist, Katie (excellent Anna Kendrick) and Adam's mother (Anjelica Huston).  Not to forget, adorable, retired racing dog, Skeletor, who provides much-needed solace to Adam, in lonesome moments of despair.

Unsurprisingly, poignancy has a strong presence throughout the movie; 50/50 equally encompasses the tear-jerking elements as the scenes bestrewn, and lightened, with laughter.  I left the cinema with a fresh perspective on day-to-day concerns...

50/50 is in UK cinemas from today.

Credit: photo courtesy of Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

We are Three Sisters

We're in a modest dining room in the Parsonage, at Howarth, in 1848. The wind howls audibly through the moors.  Seated around the dining table with her sisters, Charlotte Bronte, reflects on their mother's death.  Restless, slender Emily coughs (gently); Anne writes in her diary - it's her birthday.  In spite of the gloom, there's a small sense of contented anticipation in the air, as the sisters discuss an outing to London. Until their dour father, Patrick, accuses his daughters of being like men... with their scribbling, philosophising and reading of fat books. 

The entrance of an eligible curate, the presence of the hopeless, love-struck doctor and dramatic disruption caused by wayward Bronte brother, Branwell, enliven the setting.  The doctor's passion for whiskey, altruistic concerns, pessimistic ruminations - combined with references to fundraising and music - all add tangibly to the pervasive evocation of Chekhov.

Branwell's mature (married) lover, (fortuitously named) Mrs Robinson, in remarkably vivid green silk, introduces light-relief and ridicule.  Emily, far from downcast by her surroundings, or 'tales of woe', exudes quiet joy, in her lyrical recitation "there is a silent eloquence in every wild bluebell, that fills my softened heart with bliss" - countering despair.

The infusion of Chekhov with the Brontes is a successful, thought-provoking partnering - in all its guises and references.  Calm, dark, reflection on the tribulations of life, loneliness and potential for love are interwoven - beautifully and skilfully - by playwright, Blake Morrison. Barrie Rutter's spirited direction and the consuming performances, of a flawless cast, ensure that Charlotte's words, in the final scene, ring true " the end, we will be remembered."

Northern Broadsides We are Three Sisters runs at the Rose Theatre Kingston, until Saturday, 19th November 2011.   Tickets £8-£25.

Credit: We are Three Sisters photo © Nobby Clark

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lysistrata - Greece on the Brink...

Athens is deeply troubled, the stability of the nation and its inhabitants on the brink, discontent and unease tangible; chaos and mayhem at risk of taking over.  Not as you might believe, impressions from a current news bulletin but scenes from Aristophanes' Lysistrata (first staged in 411 BC).

The aod production, at Kingston's Rose Theatre, has been impressively updated by classicist, David Stuttard.  Under James Albrecht's direction, the energetic cast of (just) five demonstrate their versatility and passion, as they morph from youthful protesters to Zimmer frame wielding pensioners.  The language is ripe and ribald (to the extent that it caused several senior members of the audience to leave early on). In contrast, the group of A' level students, behind me, constantly laughed raucously and hysterically, accompanied by a whispered commentary on the staging of their favourite scenes.

The pace is fast-moving - with never a dull moment - hard to believe around 90 minutes had elapsed, when the performance came to a close.  The piece demonstrates how little has changed, in thousands of years, from sexual passion to political posturing and gender power balance.

During the post-show discussion, talking about the intense three-week rehearsal period, director Albrecht spoke of the "struggle to find the level of truth underneath the absurdity". The actors enthused about what fun it was to perform, if frenetic with the rapid-fire change of character and clothing (not to mention application of giant appendages).

Aod's Lysistrata runs at the Rose until Friday 11th November (tickets from a bargain £8).  It's the perfect antidote to grey gloomy days - with the proviso that it's not ideal for those with easily-offended sensitivities, or under 16s.  There are plans for an extensive tour in 2012 but if you can't wait until then, or won't get to the Rose in time, aod offer a DVD of last year's production.

Credits: Production photos courtesy of aod

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Once upon a time, as a French BA Hons student, with a tendency to quirkiness (eh oui!), the latest Woody Allen was a must-see and an eagerly awaited treat, for me, and for many of my contemporaries; post-viewing we analysed it to the hilt, mostly among like-minded enthusiasts.  Then, all of a sudden, (or so it seemed) my passion waned (for a considerable while) until Woody's current oeuvre intrigued, and enticed, me back... to the big screen.

Midnight in Paris is a vibrantly shot, imaginative outing, a tender billet-doux to the city of dreams and the literary and artistic icons inspired by it.
Owen Wilson plays an impressively updated Woody-alike - with an offbeat charisma and allure.  The stellar cast - featuring characters of renown - including Pablo Picasso, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, et al, contribute to the deeply evocative vibe, cleverly transporting the viewer and Gil (aka Owen-Woody) to 1920s champagne-suffused, angst-ridden, joyous Paris (once the clock strikes midnight, bien sur).

Artist's muse, Adriana (charming, former Piaf-esque, Marion Cotillard), along with her string of admirers, adds intrigue and allure, ensuring that real life (2010 Paris) can't quite compete. Gil's (aka Owen Wilson) fiancée is no match for the gaiety and excitement offered by inhabitants of earlier decades.

It may not be difficult to predict the outcome, but the journey doesn't disappoint, and I confess, I'd be happy to see (and relish) the film again, at short notice...

Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics 
(Pic 1 shows Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson - as Adriana and Gil - strolling late-night '20s Paris)
(Pic 2 shows Woody and Owen mid-shoot)