Archive for January, 2016

Review #11 – Bun&Bar, Harringay

January 31, 2016

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After a morning of snooker myself and the youngest child were ravenous. Fortunately Bun&Bar is located just across the road from the Empire of Baize and I was in the mood for a burger.

B&B claim to make the best burgers in Harringay and since my only other burger-munching takes place in the McDo down the road I wasn’t expecting them to fail on that score. They didn’t. My burger was cooked to perfection, a good juicy lump of meat in a brioche bun and plenty of flavour. Rosemary salted fries on the side went down well and they have an impressive selection of beers on draft or in bottles.

Custom was brisk on a Saturday lunchtime and it’s not difficult to understand why. With a friendly welcome and good food at a reasonable price Bun&Bar can easily compete with the myriad kebab restaurants if you need a meaty fix on Green Lanes. I’m tempted to invoke the Nando’s Escape Clause* to be able to return for a snooker-burger one-two but I’ll try and resist so that I can try out more new options in Harringay.

8/10

*For the purposes of these reviews I define a restaurant as somewhere where the server brings you the bill at the end of the meal. Meaning that places where one pays up front (like Nando’s and Bun&Bar) can technically be visited on more than one occasion according to the rules of 2016.

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

Park Seo-Bo at White Cube

January 28, 2016

Tucked away between Jermyn Street and St. James’s Square the White Cube Gallery is not the easiest to stumble across in London. You have to know it’s there to go there. As it happens to be next to the library I try and pop in whenever they have a new show but have been rather neglectful of late. Fortunately it started raining as soon as I got out of the door yesterday and rather than ducking back inside to the books I stepped in to the white stark of the Cube instead.

Good move.

Inside they are currently showing the work of Park Seo-Bo, an artist of whom I knew precisely nothing before yesterday. He was a revelation. Minimilism is his thing; his technique involves painting a canvas white then making regular marks in pencil in the paint in a single sitting before it has had time to dry. The finished product is reminiscent of the American Abstract Expressionists while being wholly original.

To get an idea of the beauty of Park’s canvases you really have to see them in the flesh. Like Frank Auerbach (currently on show at Tate Britain – highly recommended if you haven’t been) a photograph can’t render the texture of the paintings – a texture that varies from work to work – the paint thicker or less evenly applied, some areas of the canvas left bare, and the looseness or tightness of the pencil marks creating entirely different moods. In fact the gesture of the pencil marks in the paint reminded me of music. While Park calls them Ecritures numbered individually one might equally describe them in musical terms such as legato or agitato.

In the handout it is said that Park is interested in reaching a sense of ‘pure emptiness’ to whose effect his use of white – ‘a signifier of immateriality’ – is fundamental. For myself,  I find that the best abstract paintings create a blankness, a space in which the mind can wander which it then fills with attempts to cohere the abstraction into something more meaningful, if only as a sensual experience. Park’s work to me seems entirely about nature. For example one of them, whose lower quarter was rough with unprimed canvas, was suggestive to me of a landscape with a horizon supporting sparse arabesques that might be clouds or lights in the sky.

My favourite is on the left in the photograph below. In this shot it looks rather anodyne but when you’re sitting in front of it it buzzes and hums with rhythm and energy, like a tidal pattern on a shallow beach. I can’t recommend this show highly enough for 30 minutes of contemplation away from the sales, the noise and the rain in the West End. The receptionist was friendly and the gallery is free to visit.

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Review #10 – Tito’s Peruvian Restaurant, London Bridge

January 28, 2016

Tito’s was a bit of a stab in the dark. Thinking to go somewhere in Borough Market we were turned away by both Roast and Arabica for being too early for dinner. We were too cold, hungry and tired to do the standing up thing (street food, yes?) and were about to go to All Bar One when we noticed Tito’s. Not an especially enticing prospect from the outside but neither of us had had Peruvian before (hard to believe in these cosmopolitan times I know, especially given the Ceviche Boom of 2013) so we rolled the dice.

Inside Tito’s is somewhat canteeny – big chunky tables, plenty of elbow room. The food too is on the rustic side. My starter of cod ceviche could have fed two easily – it was a shit load of cod (and red onion). The flavour was a bit robust for me – there was a nice citrussy sourness but the unmediated chilli was a bit overpowering. I couldn’t finish it, partly because of the volume, partly because of the raw heat. I was thankful for a Cusqueño to slosh around before the main event.

Main was king prawns in a spicy sauce with quinoa for stodge. This worked much better. While not being the most delicate plate of food it was tasty and a good volume of sauce meant the quinoa wasn’t too dry. Service was excellent but then again at 4.30 pm on a Wednesday afternoon we were the only people in there. Prices are reasonable and it’s the kind of place I could imagine going to when I was starving before going to the Charlton match. They really ought to spruce up the loo though – that’s a mark down.

6/10

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

Review #9 – Mélange, Crouch End

January 26, 2016

A quick review for what was a quick but satisfying bite. Mélange has become an old standby for a steak-frites fix in North London and it’ll be something of an interesting chore to try and find somewhere as dependable for my fix in future. I took the precaution of booking well in advance for a table on a Saturday night – when we got there they were turning custom away for lack of space.

The room is a game of two halves. At the front you have the screen showing films (silently) which I find a bit distracting, although I guess it might be welcome if you have especially tedious company. At the back of the room this isn’t an issue. While busy I didn’t feel too squashed in to our table though I wouldn’t have minded a little more room. Chunky individuals might want to consider whether they want people brushing past them on their way out.

Service was bright and friendly without being exceptional (should you pour out the second glass of wine before the customer has gone through the formality of sniffing it for funkiness? Probably not). We went for calamari to share as a warm up (ample for two, good crunchy batter) and then I had a fillet steak. The steak was cooked to perfection, as were the fries on the side. With a shift of haricots verts it was just what I was looking for on a hungry Saturday night. So hungry in fact that we split a crème caramel for dessert with an Armagnac to wash it down. In an area where restaurant value can be highly variable Mélange is dependably consistent in its product at a reasonable price.

7/10

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

The Soane Museum

January 21, 2016

With an idle hour or two between teaching and meeting a friend at St Pancras I found myself wandering down to Somerset House, drawn by the lure of coffee at Fernandez&Wells and art at the Courtauld. Walking through Lincoln’s Inn fields I noticed that for once there was barely a queue outside the Soane Museum. Serendipity is a good thing. I had an exactly Soane-sized hole in my afternoon.

The last time I went to the Soane it was for an evening function with the whole museum lit by candlelight. This time, it being a public day, it wasn’t quite so atmospheric but nevertheless low lighting within and a gloomy afternoon without meant that the Soane’s peculiarly crepuscular feel was undiminished. The peculiar light, and the classical nature of the bits and pieces that scatter the rooms, put me in mind of the Rothko room at Tate Modern. They share a sombreness that silences even the squawkiest of visitors.

Which doesn’t sound like much fun! 

But it is. While his museum feels sombre it is clear that Soane had a sense of humour, which is particularly apparent in his Gothick Monk’s Room in the basement. Photography isn’t allowed so I can’t SHOW the uninitiated what treasures lie within but only describe a very personal selection of highlights, some of which will have universal appeal and some of which may be peculiar to me. The Soane is that kind of museum. It’s a collection that the architect himself developed over years, adapting the building to accommodate new acquisitions and to record tragic events in his own family (the death of his wife, his eldest son’s early death from TB and his younger son’s wastrel ways), as well as his friendship with some of the great figures of the Georgian age.

As I said,  the most apparent parts of the collection are the architectural features, some original and some plaster casts, that are spread throughout the building. It’s worth getting into all the nooks and crannies (and the whole house is a feast of n’s and c’s) to find your favourite. Amidst this plethora of classical works it is easy to forget that the museum is also one of the great art collections of London. Hogarth features highly (An Election Entertainment being my favourite) but on this occasion it was two works by the British Indian painter Hodges of Agra and Futtypoor that caught my eye.*

  

Of the collection of Great Man Memorabilia the two things that stood out were a maquette of Pitt’s statue in Westminster Abbey and a beautiful little miniature of a young Napoleon. Not in the same room alas but nevertheless a nice juxtaposition in the mind. And Walpole’s desk, which proves to be the desk of a midget. 

The last item that I’ll mention was a model and painting of Soane’s design for his wife’s mausoleum. She dies young and like Queen Victoria half a century later, he blamed the death on his son and failed to come to terms with her loss. The painting of the tomb showed it with that of Rousseau in the background in the idyllic setting of Ermenonville.

The reality of the tomb’s site is somewhat less Arcadian. On leaving the museum I walked up to St Pancras, where the tomb is to be found in the churchyard of the old church. The church is somewhat Soanesian in its eclectic amalgam of styles.

  

The church is out the back of St Pancras station on the way to Camden. As you walk north past the shiny new station, British Library and Crick Institute a bit of old London that I’m sure Soane would have approved of is clinging on for dear life. 

  

Then to the tomb itself. It looks a bit mournful (well, I suppose it is a tomb!), not to say neglected. At first this made me sad, that an object whose design Soane had taken so much care over should end up bedraggled in a grotty corner of North London. The contrast with the hyper curated and cared for space of the museum could hardly be greater. But then thinking over his love for Rousseau and his own sense of the Gothick I reflected that maybe he wouldn’t be so concerned that the tomb has been left in a state of nature, to decay over time and add to the melancholy romance of his wife’s early demise.


So I would urge a visit to the museum and then a brisk 20 minute walk to the churchyard. The museum is free but numbers are limited, so be prepared to queue. You won’t regret it.

* Hodges’ work features heavily in the Artist and Epire exhibition at Tate Britain, which I hope to blog on soon. It’s a good exhibition but has its flaws. Another highlight of the collection of paintings is Soane’s own portrait by Thomas Lawrence (who I’d commission to do my own portrait if he were still available – his depiction of Castlereagh makes a Byronic hero of someone that Byron himself loathed. A masterstroke of irony to the arch exponent of the gap yah). 

Review #8 – Sergio’s, Fitzrovia

January 18, 2016

Hmmm, so this is a tricky one. How to judge a restaurant when you’re still suffering the after-effects of an ‘action-packed’ weekend? I arrived at Sergio’s in the company of a smattering of family having spent an unexpected night in Lille (one of Duke Ellington’s lesser known late tracks), and then hared back on the train to do a guided tour in the chuffing cold sans breakfast. So I had a headache, I was tired and I was starving hungry. Prejudicial conditions for a benevolent review.

In a way Sergio’s was the perfect place to go to. As I’ve said before traditional Italians, such as you might find described in Powell or Hamilton, are becoming more and more difficult to stumble across in London. Sergio’s is one of a dying breed and to my mind is a perfect example of the genre.

We were seated (gratifyingly) at a round table and the room soon filled up around us with locals and tourists – spillover is accommodated downstairs in a surprisingly large room. The menu was a greatest hits package – Tricolore Salad, Prawn Cocktail and the like for starters with grills, fish, pasta and pizza as mains. My tricolore was big and my pizza was bigger with good, soft bread, chunks of salty anchovy and plenty of olives. I was ravenous but still couldn’t finish it – definitely to share between two if you have a European appetite.

The service was uniformly charming and courteous despite a certain amount of curmudge coming from our side of the relationship. Just the right amount of twinkly facetiousness in the face of a few sarky hand-grenades.

The biggest mystery was the music. Ok, so Dino doing ‘That’s Amore’ on arrival seemed a little clichéd but in a forgivable way. Then the mandolin started again and Dino gave us an encore. And again. And again. Some agitation to my left when even one of the more tone deaf people of my acquaintance began to realise that Amore was on a permanent repeat. For myself I was curious to see how long this experiment in cheesy Minimalism (Chinimalism?) was going to go on.

In fact the enforced listen to ‘That’s Amore’ for a seventh time set up a certain level of excitement as I realised that I was listening to a tune in an old-fashioned way – the way I used to listen to records before I could afford more than one a week. In an age before digital music where the only thing you could listen to was what Mike Read selected or that you had in your own vinyl collection (and who misses those days?!). What did Gedge say there? How DOES Johnny Marr get that guitar sound?

It’s a curious production, ‘That’s Amore’. The opening has a slightly chilling minor chord mandolin riff with a choir singing about some shit in Napoli. Then Dean comes in with a reassuring switch to a major key to sing some clichéd nonsense of what love is for Italians. It’s a metaphor for the subjugation of Italian culture to American kitsch under the cover of a benevolent interest that mirrors the political process consequent to the Allied victory in 1944, and the subsequent requisitioning of the Italian state to US foreign policy goals in the ensuing Cold War.

That’s what I was thinking on the 8th listen anyway.

On the 9th listen Mike to my left was getting restive. I was thinking about how technically perfect Martin’s control of his voice is. He can convey humour and benevolence in a way that the more lauded Sinatra could never do. Could you imagine Sinatra smiling without looking like he was going to knife you?

On the 10th listen I was wondering just exactly what is a ‘Gay Carabella’?

Ok, by the 11th spin I was getting seriously fed up and the question was put to the manager whether Dean Martin hadn’t recorded any other material? He assured us that he had.

‘That’s Amore’ came back on again. We were resigned to our fate. But no! It was just a cheeky little counter-thrust on the part of Sergio’s team and for the next hour we were treated to a 70s megamix featuring KC and the Sunshine Band, The Real Thing and Wilson Picket.

Good times.

7/10

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

 

 

 

Critique #7 – La Cage Aux Fioles, Lille

January 17, 2016

Alors, le petit-déj à Londres était une déception, comment vont les choses à Lille? Mike à réserver La Cage Aux Fioles, un Resto dans la vieille ville. Mike a bien choisi. La salle (en fait deux ou trois salles) est énorme mais sympa. Il semble d’être une grande maison autour une cour couvert.

Bonne cuisine et bonne service, le meilleur étant un Parmentier de bœuf avec un goût profonde et satisfaisant. Avec une rouge j’ai quitté la chambre beaucoup plus content que quand je me suis arrivé. Et ça, c’est le signe d’une bonne adresse.

9/10

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

Review #6 – The Booking Office

January 17, 2016

On a day trip to Lille (unknowingly to become an impromptu mini-break) we assembled in festive mood in the Booking Office at 7.45. Three quarters of an hour to spare to get to security. No problem.

The room is grand,maybe a bit grand at first a.m., when people are thin on the ground.

Okay, so the tea was good and prompt. But delivery time on the three breakfasts was a patience tester. Especially given that the room was bare of customers. At these prices that’s unforgivable. Hell knows what got me to choose pancakes and bacon for breakfast but I did, so no one else can be blamed for that. Bit dry.

We made the train in time for boarding. Alas, it was a different story in the evening.

3/10

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

Review #5 As U Like It, Petts Wood

January 14, 2016

On the way to do some filming (!) I found myself in a strange town. Petts Wood. Deepest London ‘burbs and somewhat reminiscent of the Southchurch Road of my Sarfend youth. A good thing.

So I could have gone to a local branch of McDo or got a sandwich from the supermarket. But instead I went to a caff. As U Like It – so old school it doesn’t even appear on GoogleMaps. Sitting at table I thought to myself, ‘What would Terry McCann order?’ Well, a fry up obviously but in the post-festivities régime that wasn’t an option. So I went for a ham sandwich with English mustard and a cup of tea.

The sandwich was on good bread with the salad on the side. Liked it. Tea in a big mug. What’s not to like? The art in the room not to my taste (I remember selling such stuff in Darlo market in the 90s) but inoffensive and the clientèle a good smattering of mums, grans and tots. The perfect refuge from a chilly January day when you’ve half an hour to kill.

Recommended.

7/10

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

Review #4 – La Fabrica, Stroud Green Road

January 10, 2016

After a slightly disappointing lunch I decided to try somewhere completely new for a family dinner in the evening. I’d heard encouraging things about La Fabrica from friends so had been keen to try it out for a while. Stroud Green Road has a lot of good restaurants and so it’s easy to just go back to somewhere reliable; say Petek, Exeter Street Bakery or Season. I think La Fabrica offers a significant step up and unlike those previously mentioned is a restaurant worth travelling to Finsbury Park for even if you don’t live in the area.

The room is larger than it looks from the outside with a smattering of tables at the front next to a bar (you can dine at the bar) with a larger section at the back. The décor is sort of stripped-back industrial, fairly low-lit (good for a date I’d say) with the music (tasteful soul) noticeable but not obtrusive.

The menu offers tapas – a wide variety of tapas with a hefty amount of daily specials. I like to test a new Spanish place by trying the cold meat and cheese offerings as an intro to see what the quality is. In this case it was peerless – a generous helping of 5 or 6 different meats, each with an individual taste and texture and four varieties of sheep cheese. With some good soft bread and a glass of fino they went down a treat.

The waiter was happy to wait for us to scoff the planchas before we ordered some tapas for the main event. For these we went for a mixture of the familiar and the moderately exotic – padrone peppers, baby squid, squid ink rice, scallops and some other stuff (yup, was definitely getting the big eyes!). There’s an extensive wine list, lots of organic, and I opted for a red from Tenerife – something you don’t often see on a London menu.

It was v good. As was the food, in fact the food was better than v good. The ingredients were typically Spanish but executed beautifully, each plate a little picture that it seemed a shame to carve up between three. But we did and polished the whole lot off to the last crumb and tentacle. I was game for dessert but wiser post-Christmas counsel prevailed and we had an espresso instead (in a deep cup that kept the coffee satisfyingly warm to the last drop).

To cap it all off the service was tip-top. The waiter had obviously tasted everything on the menu and also knew about the wine in detail – a sign of an employee committed to the project. La Fabrica will be the joker for this year. A restaurant with high-end central London standards in N4 is a keeper.

9/10 (Only because I don’t believe in perfection)

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

 


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