Thursday, 1 August 2013

David Lynch Land

The Drowned Man
When: July 2013

Where: Temple Studios (Old Paddington Sorting Office)

I think I just visited the best theme park ever, or was it a cinema, the theatre or a real life open world game?  My three hours of The Drowned Man felt like I'd entered David Lynch Land.  One of our group said that it felt like queuing for a ride as we went in, they were not far wrong.  I originally thought that the lack of imagineering as Disney might call it was missing from the queue area, in retrospect I was wrong as going past the BBC watching people queue outside in the rain was far less glamorous than the metal walkway that led to Temple Studios.  Once it was our groups turn to go in we were sent down a serious of poorly lit corridors that were designed to disorientate us until we reached an induction room where we were given our masks.  After we were fully masked and slightly confused the real events began.

We entered a lift, it was like something out of Disney World complete with a uniformed, American accented guide telling us about the studio, the stars and the rather shady town that lay outside the studio gates.  The lift stops and our group begins to depart before the lift operator slams the door shut and takes us up a little further into that shady town.  We walked out of the lift feeling somewhat disorientated into the misty air filled with the smell of a dry ice induced fog.  There was a church to the right and a set of small caravans to the left where most people headed and not having been to one of these Punchdrunk events before I thought I'd follow the crowd around and began to explore the trailer homes, not feeling overly interested in the fight that had broken out in front of the church.

It was pretty obvious that the level of detail put into the sets was frighteningly good, newspapers, notes, magazines, artefacts, cigarette butts, posters warn out furniture, you really felt like you had stepped back in time and were invading somebody's home.  The other important thing became clear that music and lighting would act as our guide to focus our attention on to the performances.   The scenes we were witnessing were part of two parallel stories of man meets woman, who has an affair with another man and is caught in the act at a party.  The man becomes irreconcilably jealous and murders the woman.  One of the stories takes place in the studio, the other in the town outside, though many of the scenes, back story and incidents go between the two locations.

The best and worst things about the performance is that you have an almost free reign to wander anywhere you want, shops, buildings, restaurants as well as through the studios, offices and back rooms of Temple Studios.  It's great to explore in your own time, being free to examine props, enter the cinema and sit down, sit at the bar.  The downfall of this is that you can easily miss the performances that drive the story, or lose track of the story or character you were following.  I found it much easier to keep track of goings on in the town area (The William and Mary story) which was a lot less crowded than the studio story (Wendy and Marshall).  

I enjoyed most of the set piece dance performances, though there was a little too much theatrical rolling on the floor for my liking.  Possibly the most exciting part of the William and Mary story was chasing the two of them up to the sandy wastelands where Mary is strangled to death.  The Wendy and Marshall story seemed to fly past me.  I got caught up in the back story of casting and picking the star and following one actress to a sad death and another to the wrap party where she takes part in a rather fun magic trick.

One thing that I couldn't ignore was the Lynchian styling of The Drowned Man.  From the mysterious cowboys, the Americana, 50s and 60s pop music to the ambient noise that fills the air when a scene is about to climax it's hard to ignore.  Not only that, there was a room complete with a black and white checked floor, a man in front of a red curtain lit with a spot light who over sees a strange initiation ritual of the new star carried out by small men with deformed faces wielding baseball bats, all that was missing was the dwarf talking backwards!

To sum up, The Drowned Man offered an experience like nothing else, I didn't know where I was or what I was doing and the freedom to explore and see different things made for great discussion afterwards.  None of us saw both the murders or both the parties and we all saw scenes that the other three had not.  However, with the freedom comes frustration, it would have been nice to have been able to see all the scenes and all of the stories or for a little more guidance.  At times the only way to follow a story tranche was to run after the actors pushing past anyone that didn't step aside before they lost you through a serious of unmarked doors, corridors and stairways.  By the end of the performance I felt a mix of relief and disappointment and was left with one question that I could not answer, if I saw this again with the knowledge and experience of the first viewing would it be improved with repetition like a favourite film where the backgrounds, back story and references add layers of meaning and enjoyment, or would it all feel flat, boring and predictable once the secrets were uncovered?

Monday, 8 July 2013

Provencal Highlights

Living the Good Life
when: June 2013
where: St Remy, Aix en Provence, Cassis

You can read the full report here on Flyertalk.  Here are some highlights.

La Begude de Mazenc

This was a beautiful little town where we wondered the back streets and encountered some cute little cygnets

Gorge du Doux Velorail

The amazing views coming out of the tunnels towards the end of the route were well worth it despite the pouring rain.

Aix en Provence

A beautiful old town with lots of atmosphere and tourists to match.

Cassis and the Calanques

A beautiful day at the sea side.  Magnificent scenery from the boat tour and an amazing dinner to round it off.

St Remy and the Roman Ruins at Glanum

A stunning end to the trip.  Much quieter than Aix en Provence, a delicious lunch and the surprise of the Roman ruins made for one amazing and slightly sun burnt day!

Columbia Road Flower Market

Flowers and Food
When: May 2012
Where: Song Que Café

This was my second visit to Columbia Road, the first was on a miserable November night to eat at Brawn, home of the slightly too cool for school service but absolutely delicious French food.  That night didn't make me want to go back in a hurry.  One sunny Sunday in May Columbia Road changed my mind, as on a sunny Sunday with the flower market in full swing Columbia Road takes on a new life.  Colours, smells and shouting traders cut through the crowded street as people precariously balance their purchases with the hope of getting out alive (them and their flowers!)
After all that action we needed somewhere to eat.  We had planned to go for some Vietnamese food after the great experience we'd had in San Francisco at the Bodega Bistro a year earlier.  We knew the area was famous for Vietnamese food and had noted down some choices...  Well, that was the plan.  Unfortunately I had noted down the names and addresses for restaurants in a totally different part of London.  After a quick search on Chowhound we ended up at the Song Que Café not far from the Overground station.

Sometimes you have to get over first impressions.  Looking in through the windows the restaurant looks like the décor has been untouched for twenty years, however the place was pretty full.  I took another look at the reviews and we bravely entered the green dining room and were shown to our seats.

Service was fast and efficient and we placed our orders not long after sitting down.  We started with spring rolls and chicken satay.  The décor and brisk service was soon forgiven when the giant and delicious portions turned up.

For mains we took the rice with pork chop and shredded pork and the prawns with ginger and spring onions.  The meat was tasty but the vegetable garnish tasted like it had seen better days.  My partners battered prawns went down well.  Again the portions were huge.
 After our plates were cleared we then tried to pay the bill but nobody was interested.  Instead we queued up to pay at the counter.  All in all a real bargain of a meal and somewhere I'd love to return to and sample some of the other menu items.

Song Que Café 134 Kingsland Rd, London, London E2 8DY - 020 7613 3222


Amazing Arbutus
When: May 2013
Where: Arbutus

I really enjoyed our meal at Arbutus. It was a great place for a special occasion.  We arrived with a slight feeling of trepidation as the reviews are quite mixed, hopefully this evening would turn out like the majority of the good reviews we'd read rather than the negative ones.  There was a small queue when we got to the door including a polite couple that had either messed up their reservation or were trying it on.  Thankfully they were accommodated and it was our turn to have our coats taken and get shown to our seats.  The dining room is laid out in a "U" shape and we made our way round the "U" to our table not far from the window.  We were given menus and it was time to decide.

For starters I picked the asparagus, which went perfectly with the tangy Caesar dressing.

For the main I went with the rabbit.  The carrot and cumin purée really brought out the flavour of the meat.  Whilst I was initially sceptical of the cottage pie it proved to be delicious and light, banishing the ready meal nightmares from my head.

Finally my favourite part of the of always choosing chocolate, I went with the pistachio cake which was soft, moist and delicious.  The fresh strawberries and strawberry sorbet server with it made an excellent and refreshing palate cleanser.

All in all this was a really nice meal.  The ambiance of the restaurant was good and service was polished without being over fussy.  We felt that we could relax without a dozen pairs of eyes watching our every bite.  I would be more than happy to return to Arbutus again and perhaps try something a touch more adventurous next time.

Arbutus 63-64 Frith St London W1D 3JW 020 7734 4545

Thursday, 23 May 2013


 Perfect Princi Pizza
When: May 2013
Where: Princi

I can't think how many times I'd walked past this place wondering what on earth it was.  With the white walls and metallic tables and bustling atmosphere it always looked a little off putting.  However, in truth I couldn't have been more mistaken.  As they don't do bookings we were a little worried that we'd not get a table but although the place was busy there was plenty of place in the pizzeria side of the restaurant where we ate.  We were quickly shown to a nice table in the corner, far away from the road works outside.  We were soon given menus by attentive serving staff who were proactive in looking to see if guests needed helped.  The menu was a simple mix of pizzas, and a couple of pasta dishes and salads.  We went for a juice and a beer to drink and a Quattro Formaggi Pizza and a Valerio (ham and  mushroom) pizza.

We did not wait long for our food and drinks to arrive and when they did we were not disappointed.  The pizza tasted like a real Italian pizza from our trip to Rome (yes, I know this place is Milanese but still...).  The base was soft and crisp and thoroughly delicious.  The cheese was tasty and each of the four cheeses was distinctive and of course there was no tomato sauce.  The ham and mushroom pizza was also good though it was a touch disappointing that canned mushrooms were used considering the time and quality of the ingredients elsewhere.  Feeling suitably filled we thought we'd put Princi to the test and order some coffee.  I have to say that the double espresso here was possibly the best I've ever had in the UK and yet again memories of Rome came flooding back.  This espresso was rich, strong and perfectly done, the coffee was hot but not burnt and I even had to add an extra spoon of sugar.

In all a fantastic lunch, great atmosphere, value for money and possibly the best espresso in London, we will be back!

Princi - 135 Wardour Street, London, W1F 0UT, 020 7478 8888

Ansel Adams

Emotional Images from a Beautiful World
What: Ansel Adams: Photography from the Mountains to the Sea
When: April 2013

Where: National Maritime Museum

What a day by the river.  What a breathtaking exhibition.  I'd been wanting to see Ansel Adams' exhibition at the National Maritime Museum for some time.  I became interested in his work after watching a documentary on his landscape photography technique.  His careful black and white manipulations of waterfalls, geysers, rivers and the oceans are a sight to behold.  What makes Adams' interesting as the candid way in which he discusses his technique of finding the right place, the right time and moment to take the shot and then using the dark room to manipulate the image for it show the emotion he felt inside when taking it.  He also talks about the advent of digital and the future of photography, it was a shame he never got to see any more than its early beginnings.

Fresh from our time with Ansel it was then time to take a scenic walk along the Thames and marvel and the river and the surrounding landscape just to contrast a little from the empty coastlines of America to the simple beauty of the London wasteland.  A great day if ever there was one.

For Details Ansel Adams: Photography from the Mountains to the Sea

Thursday, 25 April 2013


Small Plate, Big Smiles
Where: Polpo
When: April 2013

Another day another lunch...  The sun is out and it feels like the warmest day since the Olympics.  After an energising walk to the West End it was time for a quick lunch.  We decided upon Polpo, a trendy, small plates Italian (or to use their description, Venetian Street Food) restaurant.  The fun thing about a lunch out in Soho is the mix of clients; fashionable and traditional, young and old.  Being a lovely summery day the restaurant's windows were wide open at the front welcoming us into the depths of the restaurant.  The design is rustic tiles, chairs and wooden tables.  We were promptly shown to our table and given menus, our waitress was friendly, smiley and enthusiastic about the food and it felt very genuine.  The fact that the restaurant was largely full the whole time we were there and that the service charge was added to the bill made the good service all the more surprising, no miserable through the motions chain restaurant staff here.

We had a look through the menu.  For drinks there were a range of cocktails, spirits, wines and juices.  We went with a Birra Moretti and an apple juice (interestingly served with a wedge of lime).  The lunch menu was used as a place mat and was divided up into various sections: meatballs, pizzette, Fish, Meat, Salads/Veg and sweet stuff.  We went with spaghettini and meatballs and a pork shoulder and pickled pepper pizzette.  After a short wait the food and drinks were served with smiles.  The meatballs were large, moist and meaty, the spaghettini was just the right side of al dante and the tomato sauce was deep red and flavourful.  The pizzetti was light and crisp, the cheese strong and contrasted nicely with the acidity of the lightly spiced pickled peppers and the thin crisp slices of pork shoulder.

Next up was dessert and we both went with the flourless orange and almond cake.  This was an outstandingly good, soft cake, with a thick dollop of cream, orange zest and an orange sauce on the side.  It was heaven on a plate and after eating this we will more than likely be returning, perhaps with more time to try a few of the meatier options.  I downed my rich espresso, we paid, we smiled, we left.  Another great and simple lunch that made me want to come back for more.

Best Of Bond

Skyfall, Sam Mendes (2012)
When: November 2012
Where: Odeon Swiss Cottage (IMAX)

James Bond turned 50, he already has the fast cars, the trophy women and a rather well developed drinking habit so what now?  Skyfall answers a lot of those questions and sets up many more, it also continues the rich vein of form since Daniel Craig took on the role of 007.  There are a number of things that made Skyfall great to watch but my favourite was using the cinematic play of light and shadow to blend with the films narrative.  The Bond style is something we take for granted, the full size Ken Adam sets, the fight scenes, the use of the James Bond theme and the famous opening credits.  Mendes plays with it well, a polite British nod to the past, a modern British look to the future.

Rather than give this film any more free publicity I thought I'd talk about a couple of my favourite scenes in the film.  The first is the fight in the tower in China.  The scene is almost Batmanesque, however where as Batman has gadgets, a plan and an escape route costing millions, Bond rushes in using just the shadows and light to hide himself from the man he intends to interrogate and kill, this was classic Bond by nature but with a real cinematic touch, after all cinema is but light and shadow.

I also enjoyed the scene where Bond and Q (Ben Whishaw) fight to stop the Silva (Javier Bardem) from killing M (Judi Dench) and the MPs during the questioning.  The dead eyed, world weary, seen it all before rush hour crowd not bothered by a man jumping on to the back of a moving tube train.  The simple small room, confined shoot out with those questioning M and her methods shown up as cowards and the birth of the new M (Ralph Fiennes to follow.

Whilst I don't know if Skyfall is the best Bond ever made it is certainly the most cinematic and I really hope this continues going forward to keep the heart of my favourite film franchise alive and well.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


St Moritz Style!
When: March 2013
Where: St Moritz

I don't think there's much in the world that makes me happier than fondue.  Melted cheese, crusty bread, potatoes and/or meat with the possibility of fruit and chocolate to follow.  Despite living in London for many years we had yet to go out anywhere for fondue.  I'm not sure why but perhaps it's due to a lack of choice, the nearest restaurant to us seems like somewhere to do traditional German drinking, dancing and merriment and for me all I want is the cheese, the rest I can more than do without.  Finally we found the St Moritz restaurant in the West End, from the website they look a little old fashioned, they even suggest booking via fax rather than e-mail, but then again when it comes to fondue maybe the old ways are the best.  As the weeks came and went, birthdays and occasions missed we kept calling for reservations with little joy, until finally one Sunday the table for five we'd been longing for was ours.

When the time finally came it was the perfect day, freezing temperatures, a biting cold wind and the promise of light snow in the air, the perfect day for fondue.  Spying the Swiss flag above the door I waited for my dining companions as we entered what looked like a small rickety old house filled with relics that looked like something out of Roger Moore in For You Eyes Only, cow bells, cheese and 80s winter sports photos, this was already looking like it would be well worth the wait.  Then the smell of melting cheese hits, perhaps this is what heaven (or possibly hell) smells like.  We were taken up the stairs to our table, had our coats taken and were offered menus.  Here the kitsch continued and not feeling too brave we decided to go for 2 different kinds of cheese fondue between us, the Fondue Neuchsteloise: Dip fresh crusty bread into bubbling Gruyere & Emmental cheese and the Fondue Moitie-Moitie: Melted Gruyere and Vacherin cheese from Switzerland served with new potatoes and bread washed down with a nice chilled bottle of house white.

 As we sipped away at the wine the theatre of the fondue experience began to build.  First setting the table, then bringing the burners, lighting the burners, bringing the bread and then...  two steaming hot saucepans of molten cheese pleasure and some potatoes!  I have only one rule for good fondue, eat until I'm about to be sick.  St Moritz did not disappoint and many a dip of bread and potato later I was feeling that every little bit less in heaven and another bite closer to hell.  With a small puddle of cheese left in the pan and my dining companions having long since given up it was time to throw in the pick and extinguish the flame.  Fondue had one won only a double espresso could save me.

We will almost certainly be going back to St Moritz again, the food was excellent, the service friendly and professional and there were a number of non-cheese items on the menu that looked rather good.  I also wanted to try some of the desserts which we were too full to manage.  In all a perfect nights dining, I can't wait to do it again!

St Moritz: 161 Wardour Street, London W1F 8WJ
Telephone: 0207 734 3324

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

To The Wonder: Valence, Varda and the Pirate Tavern

Helping Me Find My Inner Child, To the Wonder: The Pirate Tavern et "un Peu de Varda a Valence"
Where: Valence, France
When: March 2013

 At last an excuse to get writing again, it has been so very long.  During the regular "spring" trip to France there were some fun things to write about.  Well, one good exhibition, some beautiful scenery (though sadly I only get to talk about the stuff on film) and well...  lunch at the Pirate Tavern...  But really, more than anything else it was time for me to explore my inner child and how much fun it can be.  It all started on the drive back from the airport, at least for me it did, "Oh look, a Pirate Tavern!  How exciting."  Or words to that effect, who knows whether this innocent comment planted a seed, gave someone an excuse or whether it was just a passing comment on the inevitability of things to come.  Anyway, I dislike the idea of eating at a themed restaurant as much as anyone but somehow the idea of going to eat at one brings out my inner child.   The pain of it all.  Anyway, later that week we ended up at the Pirate Tavern for a birthday lunch.

When you see the name Pirate Tavern you expect excitement, parrots, pirates, tankards, and the smell of the sea; generally something pretty rowdy.  However the Pirate Tavern in Valence did not have this idea in mind, in fact it was all rather polite, complete with smiling pirates and relaxing sea shanties playing for background noise.  The only hint of chaos was the crossed knives and forks.  The menu was destination themed and we each chose a set menu from a different country where pirates may or may not have ventured, Thailand, Morocco, Italy and France - perhaps French pirates sailed different oceans to the British...


The food was nicely presented and pretty tasty.  Not being a fan of things from the ocean I went with the Moroccan option.  I actually quite enjoyed my meal it was full of flavour and my lamb was very tender and soft.  It certainly was not what I was expecting and didn't feel very piratey but it was a good lunch nevertheless.

 Now if the pirates didn't bring out my inner child then potatoes certainly would.  There was an Agnes Varda exhibition on and this was something I was really looking forward to.  There were two pieces in this small exhibit that really engaged my inner child.  The first was a film about a photo, Ulysse.  The photo was a black and white shot of a pebbly beach with what looked like a father and son together in the mid area and a dead sheep in the foreground hidden amongst the stones.  With a childlike curiosity Varda tracks down those in the photo many years after it was taken and explores all the angles.  The young boy is now a man, married with children, the young man is now an old man.  The beech is still there and sheep are still plentiful.  Varda questions those involved about the time of the photo and how their lives have moved on creating a narrative and explanation of the photo above any conventional understanding.  She also shoots the film in such a way recreating elements from the photo in the different scenes.  It was immensely enjoyable.  The second memorable moment was watching the installation of potatoes going through various transformations with age, inspired by the heart shaped potato in the The Gleaners & I (Varda, 2000)

With pirates and potatoes my inner child was enjoying itself but it then decided to grow up and go and watch a film.  I have always been a big Terrence Malick fan, well as big as one could be with just a handful of releases over the majority of his directorial career.  Of late he has picked up the pace.  How would To the Wonder compare with the acclaimed (and at times up its arse) The Tree of Life (Malick, 2011) and his prior works?  To the Wonder is really a companion piece to The Tree of Life.  Whereas The Tree of Life seems to focus on masculinity, To the Wonder sees the same story from a more feminine angle.  For me the film was all about the failure to obtain the perfect life these characters wanted.  For the woman, Marina (Olga Kurylenko) a loving perfect family, for the man, Neil (Ben Affleck) a natural life of his own, with his own child.  For the priest, Father Qunitana (Javier Bardem) to find God again, but amongst beautiful shots of Paris, Mont Saint-Michel and the farm lands of Oklahoma in the American mid-west I just stopped caring about these characters.

Visually this was perhaps the most beautiful and mesmerising of Malick's films, the dusky magic hour sunlight, midnight in rain soaked Paris.  Maybe it was all too subtle but I found there was nothing to get my teeth in to, nothing to get all that emotional about.  They say films are made in the editing suite but if we put To the Wonder back into plot order it would be nothing to write home about, just another make up/break up film...  Hopefully the next one will be better.