Archive for the ‘London’ Category

Resto 12 Irvin, Crouch End

May 14, 2019

In Crouch End to celebrate a friend’s impending departure on a three month jungle placement we couldn’t get in to our first choice, Bistro Aix, due to a party booking. Irvin turned out to be an excellent substitution.

Arriving early we warmed up with a Bellini and had a look at the menu while we waited for the rest of the party to arrive. Irvin’s thing is Scottish-Italian food, making me think of Paolozzi, Nardini, Nutini, benedetti, Ianucci, Macari … in fact quite a dazzling array of good people in the Italo-Scot line.

The most obvious manifestation of Irvin’s lineage comes in the shape of haggis arancini. Well, we had to have some of those! They were excellent – nutty haggis meat and not too heavy on the stomach. My own starter of freshly prepared crab was also very good with a healthy flesh to veg ratio. A main of venison was cooked to perfection and arrived with a generous portion of roasted new spuds. I was tempted to splurge on dessert but wiser heads prevailed, despite the temptation of home made ices (I’ll have to go back for those).

A small but well-chosen wine list made it difficult to decide what to stick alongside but an Alto Adige white followed by a Puglian red was a knockout combination and helped conversation along admirably. And then, and then .. what this? Three grappas on offer? Well it would seem daft not to give two of them a go when celebrating. Thank heavens for the long-ish walk home to walk it all off.

With excellent service throughout and design that shows a close attention to detail Irvin is a very happy-making place. And the tempting bar makes it an attractive venue for a pitstop of wine and small plates during the upcoming Crouch End Festival. I’ll be back.


To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap …

Uncle Vanya at Hope Theatre

May 8, 2019

The curse of Sport v Art struck again last night as once more I missed out on one of the matches of the century in favour of spending an evening at the theatre. However, Uncle Vanya at the Hope Theatre was such an excellent production that I have no regrets whatsoever about missing Liverpool’s romping victory over the smug Catalans.

The adaptation, by Brendan Murray, skilfully strips away a couple of characters in order to deliver a sleek 80 minute version that loses none of the brittle tragicomedy of Chekhov’s original. This allows director James Stone to give us a very intimate view of the relationships between the characters in the small space above the Hope & Anchor on Upper Street.

Screenshot 2019-05-08 at 09.24.46.png

The set is minimal but filled with telling detail – I especially liked the map of Africa. In our group we disagreed about which performers we thought were the strongest but all agreed that they were excellent. I especially liked Adrian Wheeler’s Vanya, he delivered a performance which by turns (and often at the same time) brought out the comedy, bitterness and stoicism of a character with whom it was all too easy for me to empathise!

I heartily recommend this show.

#theatre #London


Sport & Leisure History Seminar 2019 #7

May 5, 2019

Monday May 13th 2019

How Could it be that You Just Want to Play a Game, and Somehow Somebody Somewhere has to Sanction it’: The 1994 Women’s Rugby World Cup.

It’s a real pleasure to be one of the convenors for the British Society of Sports History sponsored Sport & Leisure History seminar series at the Insitute of Historical Research. And for the new term we have a diverse range of speakers and subjects to pique the interest of the historically inclined.

The Rugby Union season will draw to a close in style with Lydia Furse of De Montfort University giving a paper on the second edition of the Women’s World Cup in 1994. Do come along for a story of female triumph over male machinations. Lydia has given us a sneak preview of one of her images from the tournament …

AF Thistle.jpgSo in this year of the Women’s Football and Netball World Cups do come along to celebrate another women’s sport and to listen to a talented young researcher. An abstract can be found below.

In January 1994, the Netherlands withdrew as hosts for the proposed second women’s rugby world cup. Within days of the news breaking, a determined group of Scottish rugby players had begun to arrange an alternative world championship in Edinburgh for April that same year. The 1994 tournament served as a test to the independence of women’s rugby, demonstrated the extremes of relations between male and female rugby administrations, and highlighted the irrepressible enthusiasm of women who just wanted to play their game. Individuals took action in the face of perceived injustice; whether explicitly feminist or not, these actions occurred in a wider political context. This paper explores the events surrounding the 1994 Women’s Rugby World Championship to explore how women’s rugby can be more than just a game.

This is only the one of a number of series of stimulating talks to be held at the IHR in the S&L series. For the details of seminars forthcoming in 2019 go to the IHR’s website. The talks take place in the John S Cohen on the second floor – doors open from 17:15 and the seminar to start promptly at 17:30. I hope to see you there.


Tomasz Lis

April 29, 2019

Chopin. Good at the piano.

It’s a long time since I wrote about music. Not because I haven’t been to anything interesting but more because I got out of the habit. To review big concerts or productions seems pointless when the major critics/media outlets cover that kind of thing quite well.* And while I’ve been to dozens of small concerts over the past few years I haven’t come across many that were outstanding, even if most of them were enjoyable.

Well, yesterday I did attend a small concert of disproportionate excellence to the venue and crowd, Tomasz Lis performing for the Chopin Society at Westminster Cathedral Hall. The first half of Mozart and Bach was good but would have benefitted from sticking to a rondo and Partita – the Bach cantatas, while crowd pleasers, gave us a little too much of a good thing before the bog break. It didn’t help that Bach had seemingly written his Partita less as a solo piece than a chamber work for piano, hearing aid and death rattle.

Fortunately, the excellence of Lis’s Chopin playing in the second half was such that I didn’t even notice the grunts, coughs, mumblings and general crapness of the Westminster crew. His playing was a of a technical standard and emotional intensity that few of the pianists I’ve seen perform this material (and that’s a lot) have been able to match. An encore of Bach’s DMinor Concerto (cribbed from an oboe piece of Montecello) capped off a perfect sequence of music.

It’s subjective I know but on this performance I do hope Mr Lis gets a gig in the splendid venue he deserves very soon.

*One exception to this being the absence of coverage of Good Cop/Bad Cop’s gig at King Tut’s the other week. Alas, Matt Helders’ début as a frontman was one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen. And that includes Radioheads’ bizarre outing as support to The Sultans of Ping at the Riverside in around 1991. Never has a support act been so misaligned with the headliner. I can still picture the beer bottles of disgruntled Ping-ites raining onto the stage.


Matt Helders’ moonface shines through the luminescent fog of his own incompetence.

Resto 11 La Petite Auberge, Islington

April 25, 2019

Our go to pre-Almeida place is usually Radici but this week we fancied a change. La Petite Auberge is only marginally more distant from the theatre and at six on a Tuesday there was plenty of room inside, and given the state of traffic on Upper Street a pavement table wasn’t especially alluring.

The room is French-themed without being over the top, while on the sound side we had a mega-mix of mostly not-so-obvious chansons.

The menu is old fashioned bistrot fare. A good thing.  I didn’t see any need to look beyond the specials and took an artichoke salad up front with a pan-fried trout to follow. The salad had a good balance of flavour while the trout was excellent – skilfully filletted and done to perfection with plenty of buttery sauce.

This was neighbourhood restaurant cooking of a standard that you don’t find in Paris so much these days unless you know where to look. With a house white to wash it down we were set up for an excellent night of Chekhov.


To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap …

A Soldier’s Song Script

April 19, 2019


It’s few weeks after the last performance of A Soldier’s Song and now it feels like I’m ready to move on to writing something new. Fortunately there’s the Crouch End Festival to think of, as well as a piece of historical writing to be done on Frantz Reichel. But if anyone would like to give me feedback on the script for ASoSo it can be found below …

A Soldier’s Song Final Script

Sport & Leisure History Seminar 2019 #6

April 18, 2019


Recreational football in the 1950s

April 29th March 2019

‘More than an inconsequential weekly kick-around’: but what did it mean? Some reflections on recreational football in twentieth century England

It’s a real pleasure to be one of the convenors for the British Society of Sports History sponsored Sport & Leisure History seminar series at the Insitute of Historical Research. And for the new term we have a diverse range of speakers and subjects to pique the interest of the historically inclined.

We kick off (arf!) with Prof Dil Porter of De Montfort University who has chosen to peer below the depths of élite sport and look at what the playing of the game meant for the ordinary man and woman in the street who did that thing in their local streets and parks.


Recreational football in the 2000s

This is a subject on which I (and many others I suspect) will have strong views; and no little nostalgia. Do come along for will be a fascinating exploration of history from below with one of the nation’s leading historians of sport. An abstract can be found below.

‘More than an inconsequential weekly kick-around’: but what did it mean? Some reflections on recreational football in twentieth century England

Cultural and social historians, if they have reflected on football at all, have tended to focus on the elite game; what happened in and around stadiums, rather than what happened every weekend in the park, on the marshes and in other spaces devoted to public recreation. Yet as Ross McKibbin observed in Classes and Cultures, ‘football was played by more people more enthusiastically than any other game’. The intention is to explore ways in which club archives, local newspapers and other sources, including autobiographies and fiction, can help us connect with and reconfigure our understanding of ‘the people’s game’.

This is only the one of a number of series of stimulating talks to be held at the IHR in the S&L series. For the details of seminars forthcoming in 2019 go to the IHR’s website. The talks take place in the John S Cohen on the second floor – doors open from 17:15 and the seminar to start promptly at 17:30. I hope to see you there.


Resto 10 The Clydeside Distillery, Glasgow

April 17, 2019

This is the still room (not the café!)

After a disappointing experience with Gusto we were determined to find somewhere that celebrated local Scottish produce and boy did we get it. We’d already decided to do a tour at The Clyde Distillery but had an hour to kill before the only one available was due to begin. It seemed natural that we’d do that in TCD’s café, especially given that this stretch of the Clyde isn’t (yet) blessed with other eateries.

The menu is simple – local produce served on platters to share if you want more than a sandwich or a soup. We were happy to pile into a platter and saving our powder for the tour decided to skip the rather tempting whisky flight with matching cheese in favour of a small glass of white each.

On the platter you get a selection of high quality Scottish munchies – salmon cured two ways, oat crackers, olives (?!), meats and the stars of the show, three local cheeses. Of these the Tain Cheddar was an absolute beauty and I want more of it soonest. It could have done with a bit of veg though. Service was excellent and the staff well-trained in explaining the origins of the food and the nature of the multitude of whiskies available alongside.

At under fifteen quid a head it was the perfect warm up for an excellent tour of the distillery with a very able guide (I know a thing or two about such things). Such things tend to stick to a fairly predictable routine but TCD, whose whisky is yet to be mature enough to serve, give it a wrinkle by giving you five classic Scotch samples paired with locally produced vegan-friendly chocolates. With spectacular views up the Clyde it was definitely a highlight of an excellent weekend in Glasgow.


To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap …

Working on ‘A Soldier’s Song’ in the London Library

March 21, 2019

With ‘A Soldier’s Song’ due to première in a week’s time it’s time to pay my respects to the London Library – without the benefits that membership brings I doubt that I would have got the project off the ground.

The EU flag flies over St James’s Square from the Cypriot High Commission’s balcony

One of those benefits is that it is by far my favourite place to work. Without the woof-ish distractions of my desk at home there are communal spaces or solitary nooks to suit my changing mood. Few nooks have as good a view as the one in the photograph above. Mental pauses can be spent watching the circling taxis, strolling pigeons, and scattered characters in St. James’s Square.


Mucho Marivaux at the London Library

It just so happens that this desk is where Marivaux likes to hang out. Occupying three shelves of French Lit. you’ll find his novels, essays and plays – as well as critical studies of his work. This allows the translator/adaptor to access a comprehensive range of resources, all in one place.


Yes, they are real. And they are spectacular.

And not just to access them – since the LL is a borrowing library you can take them away to study on the hoof. Much of the work on Les Fausses Confidences/A Soldier’s Song was done on trains to various cities and towns of the Midlands where I’ve been teaching over the last couple of years. Of course I wouldn’t take a 1732 edition of Marivaux’s work on the London Northwest Train to Marylebone, that’d be reckless! But it’s a nice object to contemplate as one struggles to wrestle marivaudage into the twentieth century.


The Pléiade edition records the first performance of Les Fausses Confidences in March 1737.

Of course adapting is a more impure task than translation. For translation you require an original text, a thinking mind, perhaps a dictionary. For adaptation you have to imagine the original into another world – whether it’s a switch of genre or a switch of setting or gender. And by setting the action for our play in a house in 1919 London with a military man as the protagonist all kinds of resources that the Library has to offer were useful in capturing the language and feel of the period.

The resources deployed can be obvious – for example using histories of fashion to inflect the wardrobe or military histories to give a backstory to the young soldier, Hector.


The Bing Boys – Ted Jeavons was a fan

Inspiration can come more obliquely too – Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time was a rich resource, especially the sections where Ted Jeavons reminisced about spending his leave from the front during WW1 in the music halls of London. In the end we didn’t use any songs from The Bing Boys Are Here but part of the joy of rattling round the stacks in the library is knowing that I could go from Uncle Ted’s fictional reminiscences in Fiction to specialist works on the music hall in S. Music Halls &c in two ticks.

And soon the show will come alive – as I said to the cast at our last rehearsal in a local church hall yesterday evening, the play is theirs now and not mine. The final process of adaptation is enaction. The text was once fixed by Marivaux in 1737. Then it was unfixed by the Comédie Italiennes for the King. And once more what was fixed by myself has been unfixed by the Crouch End Players and will become a living creation of their own.


Actors – you gotta love ’em!

Go to the London Library’s website for a fuller flavour of the benefits that membership brings. Or pop in, they’re a very friendly bunch.

A Soldier’s Song runs from 27th – 30th March 2019 in the Moravian Hall, Priory Road, N8 7HR. Tickets are available now from


Resto 7 Lao Café, Covent Garden

March 6, 2019


The first birthday dinner of 2019 was a leftfield choice. Lao Café is the only Laotian resto in London, possibly the UK. One of us had been to Laos (not me) so knew what to expect – leaning more towards Thai food than Vietnamese but quite distinctive. I was happy to try it out.

Lao Café’s interior is refreshingly modern and zappy with a great big mural on one wall. We had a table in the window. In fact we’d commandeered two tables to cope with the amount of food that we’d ordered, so I felt a bit guilty since there was a queue at the door by the time we left but the owner didn’t seem to mind.

I sucked on a glass of wine while perusing the menu – my interest was immediately piqued by ant eggs. This was a new thing to me. I’d have them as part of a Lao mushroom curry. Alongside that we took a Lao papaya salad and a fish dish for two with some grilled sticky rice.

“You want that spicy?’ enquired the owner. ‘Yes please.’ She looked sceptical. ‘One, two or three chillis?’ I looked at Karen for guidance but she stared back inscrutably. ‘Three, why not?’ ‘You’re sure?’ I sensed a challenge being laid down. I nodded resolutely but ordered a beer just in case.

I definitely needed that beer! The heat was slow to arrive but ferocious when it did. In a good way. At least that’s what I said in between glugging down cold booze by the brace. The fish was excellently cooked – meaty and bony so requiring delicate knife skills. Ant eggs were less of a delight, although the curry they rode in on had an excellent depth of flavour with a high mushroom content that would make it a good lunchtime option. The Lao element to the papaya salad appeared to be hard-shelled baby mud crabs, which I was happy to deposit alongside the fishbones uneaten. I was also less than enamoured of the grilled sticky rice, though that may be due to the fact that I’d had a tooth extracted at the weekend and the hole in my face rapidly turned into a sticky rice mine.

Despite ordering less than the recommended amount of two salads and two mains we still couldn’t finish everything that was brought to us. The service was outstanding – really friendly and quick. I especially liked the feller with the low slung jeans who brought us the wrong bill (lower than we expected) and quite happily admitted his own doofishness about it. Even at the higher rate the bill was reasonable for this part of town for the amount of grub/drink we’d got.

I’ll be back to Lao for curry but without the ants or crabs – this is a place where it’s good to know your way around the menu.


To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap …

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