Resto 35 The Oystermen Bar & Grill, Covent Garden

July 21, 2017

Oysters are attractive. Not in an aesthetic way (although I’m sure there are those who would disagree) but rather as an idea of what it means to live in London. So I was very happy the the Oystermen were laying on Essex oysters straight out of Maldon. Maldon is a town that recalls deep English history and also personal memories of long car journeys on crap Sundays to see people I still don’t know who they were/are. I’d arrived at the OB&G from the Summer Exhibition where nothing to my untrained eye had the emotional power unleashed by the simple scrawl Oysters from Maldon £2.00.

So we ordered six. Which on arrival turned out to be twelve, I guess they’d assumed we want six each. It didn’t matter, we had the capacity between us for a dozen of salty slithers seasoned with a bit of onion relish. We munched them in the window, observing the passing trade of tourists, workers and a curiously shaped man much gutted, not unwealthy and certainly confused. He passed by a couple of times yet did not seem to have reached his destination. The window of OB&G is a good place to sit and stare and I’m glad that we chose there and not a table.

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Two diners enjoy London’s brilliant parade.

The staff are friendly souls, friendly enough that I didn’t umbrage at a pat on the shoulder but instead reflected that I should be able to cope with physical contact from strangers after four decades of walking the earth. Plaice was next, simply grilled in its entirety (head and all) with samphire, butter and capers. Who couldn’t enjoy that? Chips on the side and a splash of Muscadet in the glass made for a good combination and having gone this far we decided to speculate on dessert.

Dessert was ganache or cheese. Ganache then, I was feeling quite full. Yoghurt ganache but too much of that for someone without the sweet tooth; strawberries and basil leaves worked well though. Did we want a digistif? Yes we did but we also wanted to get on with our evening.

It is a good place. The waiter/manager told me they’d been open for three weeks and I hope they make a go of it. Covent Garden has an awful lot of crap but the Oystermen aren’t involved in that scene, they cook straight up good food and serve it well  at a reasonable price for the area. I hope they thrive.

8/10

Resto 34 Chaseside Indian Restaurant, Enfield

July 19, 2017

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Warning: This post contains language.

Improbably finding myself in Enfield with a couple of friends on a Tuesday night and fairly refreshed we went in search of food. Chaseside Indian fitted the bill, it was that kind of evening.

We were surprised at how busy the room was until Tariq spotted the lure – Mondays and Tuesdays offered starter, main, side and stodge (rice or naan) for  £10.95 a head. No wonder the joint was packed with bargain hunting suburbanites.

We took a seat and surveyed the menu. This was stripped down to the classics so I went for onion bhaji, chicken naga, channa masala and rice. But first, lager. On tap there was Cobra. Now I’m not the biggest fan of Cobra but even after a day on the sauce this tasted rank. We struggled manfully through half a glassful each before giving up and asking if they had anything else. To his credit the waiter readily acknowledged that the beer was off (in that case why did he serve it in the first place you might ask) and replaced it with a bottle of Kingfisher. Serenity returned to the table.

The food was good enough, the bhaji being the highlight, the rest being adequate. I hadn’t been aware of our causing any out of the ordinary disturbance but halfway through the meal we were interrupted by a neo-Puritan of the old-baggish variety approaching our table to deliver a diatribe about our language. It was too ripe apparently.

Rather than take the obvious path of telling her to fuck off we apologised fulsomely. Perhaps too fulsomely? I hope fulsomely enough to make her feel that her journey had been worthwhile but also fulsomely enough to indicate to the chuckling couple next to us that we were taking the piss.

Told off for swearing in Enfield! Rather like being reprimanded for being overweight in Disneyworld. We settled the bill (under fifteen quid a head), made our excuses and left.

5/10

#Food #London

Resto 33 Pall Mall Fine Wines, Haymarket

July 16, 2017

We had a short window for lunch so fell back on an old favourite in Pall Mall Fine Wines in the Royal Opera Arcade. In the centre of tourist London this is a tranquil oasis where you dine on simple food in a calm atmosphere. Being wine merchants they have an excellent selection to choose from and simple plates of charcuterie and cheese to nibble on while you do that.

At lunchtime they have an offer of two glasses of house white or red and a mixed plate of cold for a bargain 15 quid. The ideal accompaniment to an hour of conversation and far more civilized that paying a similar amount of money per head for a sandwich and a can of Coke in the Pret around the corner. With charming service it mystifies me as to why PMFW isn’t more popular.

9/10

#Food #London

Resto 32 Great Court, British Museum

July 9, 2017

The Great Court used to be a family favourite when it first opened at the beginning of the millennium. However, over the years its standards declined quite markedly as it seemed to lose a sense of purpose – did it want to be a destination restaurant or did it want to be the kind of place the average tourist would think to pop into with the kids? But I’d heard good things since its revamp under Benugo management and as we were there for an evening of Hokusai (highly recommended) we thought we’d give it a go.

The ‘room’ of course remains unchanged. Nestled under Foster’s great glass roof though sadly one can no longer see into the Reading Room.* The décor is light and airy with generously-sized tables. Service at first was a little slow but improved subsequently. I went for the themed Japanese inflected dishes, starting with a teriyaki swordfish and finishing off with a green tea mousse. The swordfish was delicious but beware, it comes sans stodge; I was glad to have laid in a round of bread and butter on the side. I’m not much of a dessert man but this one I demolished very quickly, aided by an inspired decision to get a Grand Marnier to go alongside it.

With a bottle of wine the bill came to around forty quid a head which is not cheap but did reflect good value for the quality of food and ambience. I’ll be back.

8/10

#Food #London

*As an aside it’s an absolute disgrace that the Reading Room, one of the great sites of global intellectual history, is no longer open to the public. I do hope the new Director has plans to re-open it.

Resto 31 Millennium Balti, Leamington Spa

July 8, 2017

Having done Baba’s during Euro 2016 it was time to try their over the road rivals at The Millennium Balti. My first, indeed only, disappointment was that The MB wasn’t crewed by a Wookie but rather by a very charming young Asian feller. He did himself no harm in the tipping stakes by taking the opportunity of my son nipping to the loo to tell me that he recognised him as a regular who was ‘nice and quiet’. What this ambiguous statement actually meant I pondered then decided that it was a compliment.

On to the food. Popadoms with a choice from four chutneys were demolished tout de suite. As was a big bottle of Tiger (a snip at £2 odd), it being one of the hottest days of the year. Onion bhajis were perfect – not too greasy and a good lead in to a Chicken Rezalla which had the required amount of heat without being devastating. Despite the scorching weather a steady stream of customers came in through the door, a testament to the quality of Millennium’s offer. And at under 15 quid a head it was extraordinary value given that we’d had two rounds of drinks.

So how does it compare to across the road? Well, it doesn’t have the crazy edge that comes with King Baba’s random conversation generator approach to customer service, and I’d say that the whole product in terms of food, décor and service is at a superior level.

However, there is a place for Baba’s less polished style and so I’d encapsulate the two in this legend:-

Baba’s for mates, the Balti for dates.

8/10

#Food #LeamingtonSpa

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 30 Café Gandolfi, Glasgow

June 29, 2017

With a rather forbidding exterior (but then Glasgow is that kind of city) Café Gandolfi is surprisingly light and airy inside. A high raftered room and homely knick knacks and art around the room make for a warm atmosphere that is supported by friendly staff and the feeling that this is a place people return to time after time.

We kicked off with excellent gin and tonics while mulling over the grub. It’s big on local seasonal ingredients so I went for an asparagus and pea risotto which was absolutely delicious. A reasonably priced bottle of Muscadet helped that down after a few days worth of conference booze. An excellent culinary farewell to Glasgow where I failed to have a bad or even mediocre experience all the time I was stayed.

Though not reviewable within the rules special mention should also go to Gordon Street Coffee who provided me with breakfast rolls and excellent coffee three mornings in a row. If only my home city’s mainline stations could boast such excellence in their coffee provision I’d be a much happier Londoner.

8/10 for both

#Food #Glasgow

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 29 Paesano, Glasgow

June 28, 2017

In my brief visit to Glasgow I experienced three world class works of art that nearly reduced me to tears. The first was Seurat’s Boy Sitting in a Meadow in Kelvingrove. Every piece of Seurat’s that I’ve seen is memorable but this is the primus inter pares. Off-kilter simplicity that left me incapable of description. So I just sketched it and wrote ‘This is genius’ at the top edge where he has a strip of abstract sky and ‘As is this’ in the centre of the field which thrives under your eyes. It’s hard to explain.

The second was Chardin’s Lady Taking Tea in the Hunterian. There’s a certain similarity of atmosphere to Seurat’s canvas in that we are witnessing a moment in time, a moment of exquisite stillness. There’s also a similarity in that although both contain a significant human figure it’s the details of the background that grab the attention. In this case the red card table (with its typically open drawer), the brown teapot and the whisp of steam rising from its spout. It is perfection.

It is also flanked by two quieter masterpieces of a Cellar Boy and  Scullery Maid. These are fine pieces of characterisation and empathy. By contrast to the Dutch Masters’ depiction of servants (excepting perhaps De Hooch) Chardin always makes us empathise with his subjects rather than objectify them. And his servants have as much dignity as their masters. I like that.

The third is the pizza dough at Paesano’s. We were seated (after a bit of a wait but we hadn’t booked) next to two tubs of fermenting dough. And then the finished product arrived. Two rough discs of beautifully cooked pizza that I could quite happily have eaten without any topping. But the topping was good too – one of tuscan sausage and asparagus, the other spicy pepperoni and peppers. It was the best pizza I’ve ever had, simple as that. Salads on the side and a bottle of red made me happy, as did the service from cheery Glaswegians.

9/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 28 Café Andaluz, Glasgow

June 28, 2017

Owing to the travails of a 5 hour train journey followed by pre-conference socialising my exact recollection of Café Andaluz is rather vague. My chief recollection is of a lot of food for your investment (set menu of six dishes for £16 quid or so a head) and decent wine. I can’t remember the service so it must have been fine.

?/10

#Food #Glasgow

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

The end of Marivaux

June 20, 2017

This being the first time I’ve produced a play I don’t know whether it’s a common phenomenon but I definitely feel like I have a case of post-show blues. From coming up with the idea to adapt Marivaux on a train to Paris in January to seeing the idea realised on stage in June has been an at times turbulent but always rewarding experience. And now all’s to be done is to think about how it went and come up with a new idea for the future.*

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The script – and direction notes

One of the things I was concerned to do in putting the play on was to position it for a twenty-first century audience. This meant throwing out Marivaux’s finale of reconciliation and replacing it with something much angrier. I feared that perhaps I’d misread the level of anger in this country but recent political and social events would seem to suggest otherwise. Although the snap election and its result did necessitate rewrites. And a change in direction for Jeremy’s character, who went from being a simple figure of fun (for some sections of opinion) to a genuinely inspiring figure (beyond his usual constituency) not just in reality but in the way that he/she was portrayed by us on stage.

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Jeremy in inspirational mode in Corbyn Island (© Emma Hare)

I certainly wasn’t the first to see the potential for a socialist reading of L’Ile des Esclaves. It was picked up in the 30s, a time when France was strikingly polarised between left and right, as representing a radical precursor to calls for social reform. But Marivaux was no socialist and definitely no revolutionary. Those on the right could take comfort from his apparent final advocacy of social hierarchy – for him a  paternalistic version of fraternity trumped equality as a means of attaining the common good.

But Alex/Cléanthis, who is the character I most drastically altered, is not content to live within Marivaux’s or Trivelin/Jeremy’s social order. I envisaged someone whose liberalism was more informed by a Thatcherite urge for individual liberty. Someone who chafed at the way in which Thatcher’s opening up of social mobility in the 80s – whether by the breaking down of the power of unions or of the opening up of professional bodies and the City to state school entrants – seems to be being increasingly closed off in our own age.

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Alex has an issue with Jeremy’s pacifism (©Emma Hare)

 

 

 

 

 

Or at least that’s what I thought, I’m sure the audience would have taken various views of what was going on on stage. If the plot lacked clarity then that was purely my fault as a writer, I couldn’t have asked for a more committed group of actors to take on a novice’s work and turn it into a coherent show that got a lot of laughs. I only wish we’d had a couple more nights to iron out the inevitable wrinkles that crop up in the transition from rehearsal to final production.

But I’ve learnt a lot and I’m grateful to Anna, our director and to all the cast for giving up their spare time to make it happen. Now, what next …

I’m also very grateful to Emma Hare for these fantastic images from our preview. I can heartily recommend her to anyone who is looking for a professional photographer.

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Eve and TC have a touching moment in the seduction scene (©Emma Hare)

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TC and Inglis don’t quite see eye to eye (©Emma Hare)

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Douggie doesn’t like the new ending (©Emma Hare)

*I have a couple or few. If anyone wants to use or read the script contact me here or at geoffreylevett@me.com

#Theatre #London

Resto 27 Assaggetti, Haymarket

June 14, 2017

On a sunny Monday lunchtime we strolled to Assaggetti tempted by their lunchtime offer of two courses for £16.95. It was a good choice. The room is massive and a trip to the loo can add significantly to your step count if you’re concerned about that sort of thing. Fellow diners were sparse (there’s a lot of competition in this part of London), being mostly office workers as far as I could tell.

The food was good value. Smoked salmon to kick off was a generous enough portion with a drizzle of balsamic and some shavings of sweet onion. The spicy tuscan sausage pizza was delicious and big enough for a larger appetite than I possess. I tried to finish the lot because the crust was delicious but I just didn’t have the capacity. The house white at just over 21 quid a bottle was fine and helped the conversation along.

The one downside for a musically sensitive soul like myself was their decision to play Sting after Sting after Sting. For me a little Sting goes a long way. I didn’t like it. The service however was excellent so if you want a quick cheap lunch around here, and you can tolerate wanky Geordies, Assaggetti isn’t a bad option.

#Food #London

7/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

 

 


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