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)

Friday, July 29, 2011

West Sussex Sunshine Secrets...

Late July on West Wittering beach.  A beautifully warm, sunny day; the temperatures - and mood - could have matched the Med, or the Aegean.  The crowds were there: families, singles, couples, groups of all ages and nationalities.  Where are they in this photo?  Well, the secret is that if you turn to the left, as you arrive, rather than the right, there are plenty of wonderful, almost secluded, havens to be found.
If you're lucky, you might also spot the horses wandering serenely by the shore, after their ride-out.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sky Blue Pink, again...

Yesterday's world of news was full of gloom, so, I thought I would cheer you (and me) with the beautiful sunset hues from my window, last night...

Amy, Amy, Amy...

Such sad news, last night.  As soon as Amy's name was mentioned on Radio 4 at 6pm, I knew - instinctively - what was about to come.  Tragically, and horrifyingly, it wasn't a huge surprise - even though it had a massively shocking impact. I felt a lump in my throat...

I remember the first time I heard her, on a London radio station - on a Saturday morning, in 2003 -  just before her fabulous debut album was released.  Such a fresh talent, a down-to-earth North London girl; she appeared untarnished, then.  A stunningly beautiful, deeply powerful, naturally unpretentious voice.  I bought Frank as soon as I could and played it almost non-stop, recommending it to others whenever I had the chance!  It's still a brilliantly fresh, vibrant album.

It took a (short) while longer for the whole world to catch onto Amy's magnificence, with the overwhelming, omnipresent success of Back to Black.  We all know, too well, of how celebrity seemed to accelerate Amy's fall into habits and company that did her no good.  Painful to watch and to learn about.  You wanted to scream at her "Stop, Amy, stop!".

I still recollect, all too vividly, the wretched image of her piteous bleeding toes.  Recent reports of her sorry state on stage were distressing to hear.  I, for one, simply felt deeply sad for her.  She seemed on an unstoppable course... yet, there appeared to be a very faint glimmer of hope that her strength would shine through and just perhaps she would overcome the demons dragging her down.  RIP, Amy Winehouse.  You will be missed.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Status: Quo Vadis - a London restaurant review

A pleasant tuesday evening, at the footnote of May and I was invited to dine at Quo Vadis, in Dean Street.  With keen anticipation, I climbed Hungerford Bridge (heading from Waterloo towards Soho) as my last visit to Quo's upstairs club, for a cocktail event, had been a true delight.  At 8pm, the restaurant was buzzing - impressive for the day after a Bank Holiday, considering reined-in times and the surrounding competition.

No vast menus to peruse but seemingly a decent choice, although I was denied the grilled fish I would have chosen.  (Informed by the charmless, unsmiling maitre d', that it was only possible to grill meat as "fish would fall through the grill plates"  - hmm...)   Desiring something light, I opted for two starters, instead. 

The first was the pretty, circular creation, you see above: a sea bass ceviche (interspersed with avocado, tomato and oh-so-trendy micro herbs). The cubes of sea bass were larger than I anticipated (finer slices would have been more fitting, in my opinion) but it was quite tasty - without making me crave more.  I had to ask for my glass of Vermentino, as it had still not arrived by the time I was mid-way through the plateful.  The wine, when it finally came, was good: refreshingly aromatic, perfectly dry with light acidity.  My companions both started with artichoke vinaigrette - which they enjoyed - the dressing more akin to a hollandaise, in appearance, the taste deeply mustardy.

My next starter (as main) of a petite crab salad - included a couple of 'bonus' stray shards of dangerously crunchy shell - scattered with the omnipresent micro-herb garnish.  I must confess that I was considerably more impressed by the Marks and Spencer crab salad, I enjoyed, at home, last week... My fellow table diners had the spotted ray, with curly kale and the battered haddock, with mushy peas and chips.  The ray was pronounced delicious, the kale optimally dressed with lemon - healthfully tasty; the haddock very mediocre - properly cooked in parts and undercooked in others.

We decided against dessert, selecting instead a mini sweet-mouthful, in the form of the Petits Fours selection (for which they cheekily charge £3.70, for four little pieces).  Overall rating 6.5 out of 10 - not appalling but a disappointment - could do (much) better, especially in the area and at the price...

June Serenity by the river

An image of riverside serenity to welcome-in sunny June... Taken on the towpath, between Hampton Court and Kingston, it looks out onto the house I admire most, from a distance, each time I wander that way.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

May in the Rose Garden

Now is the time to visit Hampton Court Palace's glorious Rose Garden. 

A joy - for the exquisite scents permeating the air, combined with the sumptuous sights - abundant in every flower bed.  Colours range from palest cream to deepest burgundy; this gorgeous mid-pink variety has the deepest fragrance and fullest bloom...

Visit soon - entry to the garden, situated close to the West Gate entrance, is free - to experience the sensory delights, at their seasonal best.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Happiness on West Wittering Beach

Apologies for the slightly blurred (phone camera) pic but I couldn't resist capturing the contentment of the charming English Sheepdog, basking blissfully in the warm sand, on beautiful West Wittering beach, yesterday.  Is she contemplating a surf or just enjoying the scenery?

I had a brilliant time exploring, dreaming of living nearby; wandering for miles along the scenic stretch of white sands, colourful beach huts and verdant South Downs backdrop - wonderfully friendly locals, too!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Signs of Spring

When do you know that spring is on the way?  Not, for me, a specific calendar date but a subtly transformative sensation in the air  - alerting and enlivening all the senses.  Gradually lengthening days with (hooray!) brighter skies; happy bursts of colour burgeoning all around; blossom precociously composing itself for star status, smiles more prevalent on friendly faces.

Yesterday afternoon, in royal Richmond Park, the temperature remained chilly but the sun shone abundantly - encouraging spring shoots to nudge their way above ground.  I was captivated by the open-faced charm of the early-flowering white clematis, strewn beguilingly with deep-pink freckles.

Strange the contrast  - a mere few yards up the hill - where a faintly forlorn coterie of snowdrops are close to their annual curtain call, making way for new life.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Feel-good Friday

There's some brightness on the horizon, today.  It may be close to freezing-point but the sunshine has helped to make my heart sing (a little)... along with the deliciously scented panoply of pink roses, enjoying pride-of-place in my living room.  What has made you smile this Friday?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Flea in Her Ear at the Old Vic

It's several decades since Feydeau's 1907 Belle Epoque farce last featured on the London stage; the current Old Vic revival is a triumph.  Laughs ensue from the outset, when Victor's butler takes the opportunity of a missed appointment, to share his concerns with his master's doctor - proceeding to complain, at length - about his painful ovaries...  

Unsurprisingly, the Coq d'Or hotel, frequented by ladies of the night and their clients, is a natural setting for farcical romps, frolics and faux-pas...including a rollicking series of interludes, when the (ahem) bit-part, rampant, sex-starved German officer becomes known as Herr Shut Yer 'Ole.

Hilarious Rev star, Tom Hollander, is feverishly funny in his dual-roles: as upper-crust Victor and contrastingly lowly, bell-hop, Posh. The entire ensemble are uproariously impressive; Emma Campbell-Jones - standing-in for ailing Lisa Dillon - as Victor's distraught wife, Raymonde, was a seamless success, on the night I was in the audience.  The much-missed John Mortimer's wonderful translation only enhances the glee - along with Richard Eyre's superb direction.

If you're in need of an injection of fun and laughter in your life, to counteract London's grey days, there's no better place than the glamorous Old Vic Theatre - a stone's throw from Waterloo station.  The run concludes on March 5th - enjoy it, while you can!

Production flyer courtesy of The Old Vic

Saturday, January 22, 2011