Archive for January, 2017

Academic Writing, or the Slow Crawl to (Possibly Non-) Publication

January 25, 2017

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Is it wise to whine about the time it takes to get a piece of work published when you have two articles and a book chapter currently in the peer review process? Probably not. Probably not original either so I’ll just point out that I have had one little piece of work published recently, a book review for Cultural and Social History.* The book in question is a wide ranging collection of essays on childhood in the British world. If you want my opinion of it in more depth those charitable souls at Taylor and Francis have given free access for the first fifty clickers via this link:-

http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/FU6ANGEnYTYkheq4P43p/full

Enjoy.

* Simon Sleight and Shirlene Robinson (Eds.), Children, Childhood and Youth in the British World (Palgrave, 2016)

#History #British

Korean Art in London

January 23, 2017

There’s a welcome return for Park Seo-Bo at the White Cube Gallery, this time with a move away from the pale tones of his previous exhibition to the seething blacks of his ‘zigzag’ paintings.

Their seething, shimmering intensity doesn’t really come across in my photographs. canvases that have been primed with reds have thick, dark paint applied and scored across with diagonal gestures that give a metallic tang  reminiscent of industrial flooring.

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The large landscape at one end of the room is interesting but my favourite was a small canvas to one side. Fiery red patches are glimpsed between thick smodges of black impasto that has been torn and twisted, gouged and thumbed into shape. There’s a violence in the application that is far from the serenity of the work I’d seen by Park before.

Such expressionistic intensity is in marked contrast to a smaller display up the road at the British Museum. While visiting the South African exhibition (a disappointment that wore its politics too overtly on its sleeve for my taste) my attention was drawn to a small case by the rear entrance to the museum.

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It houses art from North Korea – two canvases, one celadon vase and a medal.Of the four pieces the vase was the most interesting to me. It depicts a modern city using ancient techniques in  curious mash up of modernism and traditionalism. The paintings on the other hand are good old fashioned socialist realism; unintentionally kitsch propaganda that is quease-inducing given the misery meted out to its own population by the DPK and the threat posed to its neighbours.

The art in each of these exhibitions seems to embody the difference between open and closed societies – the one engaged with the world and emotionally charged while the other is false and unconvincing. It’s one of the strengths of the British Museum that it acts as a cultural link with less open societies than our own, and its policy of encouraging loans from places difficult to visit really underpins its mission as a museum of world culture.

#Art #London

Resto #4 Quê Mę

January 23, 2017

Abutting the Yak on Stroud Green we paid a visit to Quê Mę in search of freshness and spice. We got both. A platter of sea nibbles to kick off was a good choice with battered this and soft shell that all being eminently munchable. Bun Hue for main was a richly flavoured bowl of soup with plenty of prawns and vegetables swimming around within.

Our waiter had apologised for being slow to take our order as it was his first night but he had no need to be concerned, everything went smoothly on the service side of things. A full room on an early Saturday evening (in contrast to La Porchetta a couple of doors along) showed that Quê Mę has successfully cracked the price/quality equation for this stretch of restos, where the competition is fierce. The only downside was a lack of good quality wine. I should’ve stuck to beer.

7/10

#Food #London #Vietnamese

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Resto #3, The Wharf, South Bank

January 15, 2017

Prior to a curious evening of Anglo-Russian (though mostly Russian it has to be said) art-mongering at the South Bank we returned to Gabriel’s Wharf after too long away. In a part of the city that is all too quickly becoming the hide-your-cash capital of Europe the Wharf preserves a corner of quaint charm of little shops and human-scaled restaurants. How long before it’s developed into a 20 storey cash-box with a slew of chain filler in its nether regions is anyone’s guess. But if Kempton can go what chance anywhere of note and memory to the average Londoner surviving the developer’s wrecking ball?

But I digress. We were there to eat and we ate well. Calamari to share as a starter was almost too much for two of us, so be wary before taking it on solo. Crispy batter and a tangy garlicky aïoli made it a winner. Next up a baked sea bream that was a thing of joy. Just fish perfectly cooked. Alongside a lot of spuds and a rash of beans. The spuds could have done with some moisture. Fortunately I had a bottle of floral NZ Sauvignon Blanc to hand to help me out with dryness of the mouth.

The service was excellent, which was a relief as I seem to remember the last time I was here (admittedly in high season rather than the muckiest bit of January) it was slightly more high tension.

We left in just the right mood for a fun evening out listening to Ralph Fiennes roll his eyes as Romeo to a significantly younger Juliet who happened to speak Russian. They seemed to understand one another though (the subtitles on the big screen helped, Ralph didn’t even need to put his glasses on!) so it was all good.

Unfortunately poor old Vanessa Redgrave one chair along was having a right bloody nightmare, banging her hand against the side of her head to try and discover the source of the tapping noise every time she opened her trap. Had she perhaps slipped into some scat Xhosa? Or maybe she’d swallowed a xylophone! No, what she hadn’t realised was that the Pat Butcher-style earrings she was sporting were tapping against the mic lead, giving the sonic impression that she was delivering her stuff to a particularly agitated woodpecker. I hope her roadie sorted it out for the second half. In the face of such unexpected comedy we decided to retire from the scene lest we appear too frivolous for such high-brow fare.

8/10 for the restaurant

9/10 for the orchestra

6/10 for the thesps

#Food #London #AngryWoodpecker

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Resto #2, Kanada-Ya

January 12, 2017

Taking a break from marking a friend and I were looking for a quick, light lunch around Piccadilly. Shoryu was back on the agenda for the new year but there was a queue out of the door and one of my golden rules for life is never queue to get into a restaurant.* So anyway, we moved on.

Well, Stockpot may be gone but there are now TWO ramen joints on Panton Street, being nearest we popped into Kanada-Ya (or should that be KANADA-YA?) to see what was cooking. After the trad Japanese greeting at the door (or as close to it as a nervous French host could get) we were seated at a round table with the potential to have to share it later on as lunch got busy. It didn’t get that busy so we had plenty of elbow room.

The menu is shorter than at Shoryu, which I don’t mind. I did a random order thing and went for a bowl of ramen with pork in it. What I liked was that the guy asked me if I wanted an egg on top. Eggs make me feel seek at the sight of them so I was glad to turn it down in advance rather than forget to ask for an eggless ramen and have to remove it later.

The ramen was good and tasty – a good broth, quite a bit of veg and 4 chunky slices of pork. On the side edamame in truffle salt were too salty for me, and the truffle element seemed a bit pointless. But the ramen was what we were there for and that worked. Drinks are your usual suspects –  bottle of Asahi for about £3 isn’t too extortionate in these parts.

The room was fairly full by the time lunchtime got properly going with a good mixture of locals and tourists. The music was pleasingly subdued compared to Shoryu where sometimes the sound of chatter fighting to be heard over the speakers can be a bit of a chore if you want to talk to somebody.

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Ahh Martine’s – strict dress code, relaxed about grammar. 

Uneasy ‘highlight’ of lunch (and I’m not sure whether my fellow diner was aware of this, I forgot to ask him about it) was a couple of office workers across the way getting into the kind of dry humping session that one would normally witness a couple of teenagers indulging in after a night of Blastaways in Martine’s of Eastleigh. Chapeau, madamoiselle, I just hope he was worth the loss of dignity.

#Food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

*One of the most tragic scenes to be beheld in the West End is of poor saps queueing to get in to Pizza Hut on Haymarket.

Annie’s Burger Shack – First restaurant of 2017

January 5, 2017

Well, I’m kind of hooked on the reviewing thing now so this aspect of the blog will carry on into 2017. However, it would be daft to deny myself the opportunity of going to restaurants I enjoyed in 2016 so I shall revisit them as I will and only mention them if they have improved/declined noticeably in the intervening time.

I will try and keep the same spirit of novelty though and try to visit as many unfamiliar places as possible, starting with Annie’s Burger Shack in Nottingham. We were in town for the Miners’ Strike derby – that’s Notts Forest v Barnsley.* The match was a corker with a last gasp winner for the Tykes and plenty of baiting of the Nottingham folk for their dubious political allegiance during the 1980s. Being an Essex born Ipswich fan I didn’t have much skin in the game but was happy to enjoy the spectacle (ever the flâneur).

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NFFC v BFC

We laid in some stodge at Annie’s, a cavernous room in the centre of town that was selected by one of the beer aficionados amongst our group. He chose well. They’ve got a range of real ales on tap as well as a fistful of good lagers. The food majors on burgers (no shit Sherlock) but one of us went off piste with a hotdog. I took the Lemmy, which was a good hunk of meat with a mountainous (and I mean mountainous, I’m not exaggerating) helping of jalapeños. It was delicious. Skinny fries on the side were good too.

Service was brisk and friendly and the fact that a large room (with even more space in the basement, where they have big screens and music) was pretty much full for lunch shows that it’s popular with the locals. I’m guessing 12 quid odd for a burger around here is at the high end of the market around these parts but for someone from London it was fine.

There was some grumbling about the packets of ketchups etc but as the waitress pointed out we could have added on a fresh sauce for 75p. I had no complaints, this was the perfect way to kick off 2017 in the company of friends new and old.

8/10

#Food #Nottingham

*County also have the same grudgery from BFC.

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

 

Restaurants of 2016 – the round up

January 1, 2017

New Year’s Day doesn’t seem the most psychologically astute to consider how much time and money one has spent on consuming food and drink over the preceding year. The grip of hang lends a jaundiced eye to even the sunniest experiences while the stinkers on reconsideration become full blown catastrophes.

However, on a day such as this it is wisest to remember how fortunate are those who have the leisure and lucre to dine out. I don’t take my good fortune for granted.

Ratings

The average rating over the year was just over 7 out of 10, suggesting that the standard is pretty steady across the industry. Or I could be a generous reviewer. No restos received a 4, 2 or 1 out of 10 rating with three getting the dreaded zero for utterly crap service that led to a walk out.  Below I’ll recap the worst experiences of 2016 though not at too great length.

To my surprise there are fourteen 9 out of 10 ratings, which means I’ll have to whittle down for a top 10! I’ll give weight to those restaurants which over-deliver on value for money.

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Location

It’s not surprising that the centre of London tops the charts for eating but it’s also been a very French year, which looks likely to last into 2017 with the eldest going to university in Paris (exam results allowing).

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Cuisine

I often feel I could do with a curry so I was not surprised to see that they come out on top of visits, confirming the trend that Indian cuisine is the nation’s favourite. No Chinese (except for the Uighurs) is a bit of a shocker though!

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Okay, so that’s the stats, time to dish out the gongs and the rotten toms.

The stinkers

Let’s get these out of the way eh? I should emphasise that all of the opinions are based on what happened at the time and things may have improved since then.

The Botany Bay

Worst dining experience of the year from a culinary point of view was undoubtedly The Botany Bay, an evening that was only saved from being truly hideous by the patience and good humour of my wife.

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Botany Bay. Go for the view rather than the food.


2. Gustavo’s

Now sadly defunct Gustavo’s turned the pizzeria experience into a marathon from which I thought I was never going to escape.

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Gustavo’s. Their mysteriously non-functioning pizza oven is still in the building though no-one’s set up shop.


3. Cafe de l’Opéra

I asked the waiter for a Coca Light, he brought me an espresso. What a prick. Tourist Paris at its very worst. Doesn’t merit a picture.

Special mentions go to BFI Riverside and Vapiano for having such charmless staff that I didn’t even order anything.

The Good Stuff

In no particular order ten of the best of 2016.

Autograf

Save it for winter because they tee you up with rye bread and pig fat before giving you some serious amounts of wholesome Polish food.

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Autograf on Green Lanes. If you like pig this is the place for you.

2. Standard Tandoori

The go to Indian for the last twenty years. I couldn’t leave them out of a top 10, Tariq would kill me.

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The décor occasionally changes but everything else remains reassuringly the same at the Standard.

3. Bistro Aix

As authentic a French bistro as you’re likely to find in Crouch End or any other London ‘burb. Good cooking, great value and friendly service. A real find.

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Bistro Aix – the set meal is a bargain.

4. De Belhamel

Canalside eating in Amsterdam and a good laid-back feel in the room. I liked it.

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De Belhamel – the best of a good weekend in Amsterdam.

5. Karamay

It felt like dining in someone’s front room but in a good way. Uighur cuisine at its best, or so my Uighur savvy fellow diner informed me.

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Karamay – recommended for a post-rugby feast.

6. Rule’s

Sometimes you want to leave a restaurant light of wallet and heavy of stomach. Rule’s will do that for you in style.

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Rule’s banquette. Sat on by some mighty ass.

7. Vagenende

On the recommendation of Ian Nairn we found Vagenende largely unchanged since his visit in 1968. A good thing.

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Vagenende – keeping up standards on the hell that can be Boulevard St. Germain

8. Pizza Express British Museum

Like the Standard an old reliable that hasn’t lost its charm over the years.

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The near original and in my opinion the best.

9. Salt Yard

In a year packed with Spanish food Salt Yard came out the champion. Top class.

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Salt Yard – pick of the festive season.

10. Le Voltaire

Saving the best till last. It’s not cheap but where else could you dine a historic building, eat perfectly good food and have dignified waiters indulge you with bouts of table shenanigans?

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Le Voltaire. I’d happily di(n)e there.

All of these got 9 out of 10 but so too did Rowley’s, Le Fumoir and Les Babines. Join me in 2017 for more eateries.

#Food #London #Paris #Amsterdam

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

 


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