Resto 18 Bufala di Londra

June 11, 2018

As any Haringey resident who’s had dealings with the council over arranging a parking permit would testify it is the simple things that are often the most difficult to get right. Similarly, the preparation of a decent pizza and salad would seem to be a task that is beyond some restaurants. Fortunately Bufala di Londra doesn’t fall into that category. In fact on the food side of things it nearly hits Paesano level heights.

Being ravenous helps – after an afternoon of intense theatrical discussion I needed something filling and I’d had my eye on Bufala for some time. The room was fairly quiet on a Sunday teatime but plenty of pizza was going out the door for takeaway, an encouraging sign.

The menu is simple – classic pizzas with no gimmicky ingredients, just high quality Italian produce. I noted that they fermented their dough for 72 hours and started slavering in anticipation. The wine list is strong but with only house white (or red) by the glass. But that doesn’t matter if it’s a good straw coloured Sicilian with plenty of oomph. Some juicy Nocellara olives while we waited was a good idea.

I had a pizza with mushroom, truffle salami and chilli. And it was good. Such chewy dough that would have been a treat on its own without the addition of high quality mozzarella and deliciously bosky mushrooms. The rocket and parmesan salad on the side was big enough to share between two. I’m getting hungry all over again just thinking about it and I’ve only just eaten lunch.

With friendly, efficient service and a good table in the window the only way this meal could have been improved was if the restaurant was at the end of my street rather than being on the wrong side of the tracks.

9/10

#Food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016-18 check out my GoogleMap

The Crouch End Festival and Alfred de Musset

June 10, 2018

As anyone who read the post on Marivaux and last year’s Crouch End Festival piece, Corbyn Island, will know in adapting pieces I like to do some half-arsed research in the milieu of how the originals came about. And in contrast to Corbyn Island the update of A Door (Should be Open or Shut) is nevertheless a period piece rather than being located in contemporary Britain. Mid-century London wasn’t too much of a stretch for the update and fortunately the background and context for Musset’s play, Il Faut Qu’une Porte Soit Ouverte ou Fermée, was less unfamiliar to me if only because I’ve been something of a Delacroix obsessive for some time.*

Where’s the connection with Delacroix? Well, of course they’re both French Romantics though working in different disciplines, but the connection is much more personal than being inspired by the same mid-nineteenth century ideas. Delacroix was a great friend of the musician Frédéric Chopin and his lover, the writer Georges Sand. And Musset was previously a lover of Sand.

It was good to hear that Paul Kildea’s new book on Chopin’s Piano is in part concerned with recovering Sand’s reputation (in popular writing that is, it’s been a task undertaken with relish by feminist academics for decades) from its traducement by followers of Chopin (and Musset, especially his brother Paul) who have trashed her literary reputation largely out of unthinking misogyny.**

So as well as reading de Musset’s work I’ve been reading Delacroix’s diaries (an ongoing project over the past few years***, Sand’s memoirs and Paul de Musset’s (very) partial biography of his brother.

Props for 'A Door (Should be Open or Shut)

Props for A Door (Should be Open or Shut)

What did I take from this reading into the new production? Our production is set in 1940s Soho and when I realised that the production of Absolute Hell  would be using pretty much the same setting, and running at the same time as us, I was rather fearful that people would think that I’d been inspired by that. But in fact I was inspired by de Musset’s own life.

De Musset himself was a drinker. A serious drinker. As in he died of it. But this aspect of his life doesn’t bleed into the literary works that he created so I decided that to make the connection with his life I’d update the play from an aristocratic salon to somewhere more modern. Since we had a pub bar as a set it seemed natural that the setting I’d update it to would be one of London’s drinking clubs of the 1930s/40s.

Although there are references to Soho stalwarts such as Francis Bacon the model I was actually thinking of wasn’t the Colony Club. Rather I had in mind Foppa’s, which appears in A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. So we’re more in 40s Fitzrovia than 50s Soho. To someone who never knew either in their prime Fitzrovia offers a rather more literary locus which looks back to the 19th Century (and de Musset) rather than forward to the late twentieth and Jeffrey Bernard. Although the female lead is an artist.

A fun part of the production has been assembling props – a 40s Woodbine astray, an old-fashioned bottle of scotch, a cigarette case and a whiff of 40s in the costume of the characters. And the cast – Anna Rogers, Matt Griffin and Ruari Johnson – have been extraordinarily successful at bringing Musset’s characters to life in a faux-Fitzrovian setting.

If you’ve read this far why not book a ticket now to see the show? You can visit the Crouch End Players website or email cepfestival@crouchendplayers.co.uk 

Thanks to Paul Travis for the photo of the props, and for other shots of the preview night.

#Theatre #London #crouchendfestival

* I’ve written about him before and I’m looking forward to visiting the blockbuster show of his work at the Louvre later this month.

**You can listen to an excellent podcast with Kildea here.

***i.e. the French unedited edition lies next to my bed. And has done for some time! The Phaidon edition in English is what I’d recommend if you want to read pretty much the best writer on art of the nineteenth century as well as one of its key practitioners.

Resto 17 Khoai Café, Crouch End

June 9, 2018

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After Matthew’s Kitchen I’m slowly munching my way through Topsfield Parade during the Crouch End Festival prep. In fact not prep because my visit to Khoai was a pitstop on the way to the excellent Storm in a Teacup, which acted as a phenomenally good curtain raiser to the dramatic freebies on offer.

And it was a good pitstop too. For my dining companion it was memorable as once being the venue for a date with a man who turned out to be a (fortunately non-lethal) knife obsessive. For me it was memorable for overturning my harrumph at the could be better Kho of the previous week. What Kho got wrong Khoai gets right.

Starting with the service. I was early so the room was pretty empty (I think a younger member of the Khoai crew was doing her homework in one corner) and it was a pleasant thing to be told to sit pretty much anywhere. The room is good for either getting in the window and gawping or tucking yourself away; I did the latter.

A requested cold beer was delivered promptly and I’d slugged it down as the rest of the party arrived. We went for soft shell crab up front then a spicy Bun Hué for me. There was a good amount of crab and rather than any stickysweet sauce  there was a pleasingly simple garnish of fried onions and chilli. I’d gone for the Bun Hué as I fancied a bit of heat and boy did I get it! A rash stuffing of the bird’s eye into the maw of a hungry man brought on a chilli induced apoplexy followed by the enjoyable sensation of one’s mouth returning to acceptability. There were plenty of prawns in there too and the whole thing did what I wanted it to do, i.e. fresh veg, fresh noodles and flavoursome soup.

At around twenty quid a head invlud my drinks in this was not fine dining but it was good value in an area of London that suffers from a slew of hipper places (I think Khoai is family run) that charge a premium for having such crucial things as curated music and cutting-edge fonts on the menu.

8/10

#Food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016-18 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 16 Koh Thai, Southsea

June 5, 2018
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Koh – probably more difficult to get into now than when it was a bank.

Well, this was an odd one. It was a sunny evening in Southsea, a part of the country I’m not familiar with, and we were looking for spice. Koh seemed to fit the bill. The restaurant is in a pretty impressive building (probably a former bank) in a residential area and when we entered it was to find an equally impressive room with a bar at one end and tables on ground and mezzanine floors.

A hen party lay in one corner of the room and a smattering of other diners populated the rest. We asked the maitre d’ for a table for two? She eyed us suspiciously, ‘Let me have a look’ she said before retiring to a far away computer. Once there she spent five minutes sizing us up like Johnny Wilkinson  addressing a difficult 60 yard punt from the left touchline. Then she went to another computer and had a look at that. Perhaps it was linked to the Criminal Records Database. I turned to my son and said, ‘Ok, let’s go’ and just as I turned to leave he tugged my elbow and muttered, ‘She’s coming back!’ So I turned back to find her about a foot from my eyeballs. Apparently she’d managed to locate a spare table. And we’d cleared the security check.

So that wasn’t awkward.

This fitful start out of the way we looked at the menu. Koh does Thai tapas, a nonsense term that could not disguise the fact that the menu was your standard fare such as you’d find listed in pretty much every local Thai joint in the country. We were offered a taster menu but decided to go for a crispy squid and spicy spring rolls up front followed by a red curry for me and stir fried noodles for him. Did we want cocktails? Two for one was tempting so we ordered some prawn crackers to go with them.

My Kohparinha (geddit?) arrived with the crackers. The prawn crackers were legion and excellent. The cocktail on the other hand was a tame beast. The other one (which was better) showed up just about when we’d finished the crackers and I was ready for a beer. Draught Singha being off we had a couple of Koh’s own  lager which did the job. I had the feeling that everything was skew-whiff and that there was a gap between what the management thought their restaurant was (an exclusive hip eatery in a buzzy part of the city) and what it actually should be (a friendly local restaurant serving excellent food).

While the drinks were disappointing the food continued to be top class. Spicy spring rolls were genuinely spicy – tight little rolls of fiery veg in a crispy shell. The squid was fluffy battered good stuff with a sweet chilli dip. Then my red curry also delivered a powerful dose of heat but with plenty of flavour to back it up. With a chef like this Koh deserves to be a success whatever shenanigans the front of house team were getting up to. The room remained resolutely half-full throughout our stay and with three people behind the bar and three or four waiting staff it was a mystery as to why the service was so hit and miss. The kitchen deserves better.

5/10

#Food #Southsea

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016-18 check out my GoogleMap

Sport and Leisure History Seminar

June 5, 2018

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One of the perks of being a part-time academic is having to do lots of unpaid work aimed at raising one’s profile within your discipline. However, sometimes this work is more a pleasure than a chore. Such is the case with being a co-convenor on the IHR’s (Institute of Historical Research) Sport and Leisure History seminar series.

Our next seminar is led by Dr Melanie Bassett of the University of Portsmouth who will be talking about the role of sport in the training and recreation of workers in the Royal Dockyard in Portsmouth. Having just spent a couple of days in Portsmouth myself I can testify to the continuing importance of sport in the culture of the Royal Navy, especially given the amount of land given over to sports grounds in the city centre.

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The Royal Dockyard glittering in the Pompey sun 

Abstract

Royal Dockyard workers in late-Victorian and Edwardian Britain were an essential component of Britain’s imperial defence. They were employees of the state who built the nation’s fighting ships. However, in an era of ‘high imperialism’, preoccupied with efficiency and racial degeneration, the Admiralty paid very little mind to the fitness and health of a vital and highly skilled section of their workforce.

In contrast to the men of the Royal Navy, who were by the late 1880s subject to the beginnings of a movement to ensure their efficiency and moral welfare through gymnastic instruction, the Royal Dockyard Workers’ activities were not centralised, nor were they particularly encouraged. Instead, the availability of sporting provisions was generated by the workmen themselves and more akin to what was occurring in other industrialised workforces but without the paternalism.

The paper will outline and evaluate the context which shaped the sporting and physical fitness provisions for Royal Dockyard workers during the period. It will first explore the contextual historiography to show where gender, class, and imperialism have intersected in order to illustrate how historical enquiry can inform an understanding of sport and the British people. The paper will then address the differences in attitudes and provisions for military and civilian employees of the Admiralty before turning to explore working-class exposure to prevailing attitudes to sport, masculinity, and the British Empire. Finally, the paper will highlight how the Royal Dockyard worker used the discourses of imperial efficiency and self-improvement to gain advantages in a world of expanding leisure opportunities.

The examples will show the wide ranges of sporting activities in which Royal Dockyard workers took part and will also explore the idea of ‘playing at being soldiers’ through involvement in the Volunteer and Territorial Forces was viewed by the Admiralty. Rather than being merely ‘caught’ in the intricate web of imperial discourse, this paper will demonstrate the innovative and self-starting attitude of various Royal Dockyard workers and the rhetoric they employed in order to turn the situation to their advantage.

Dr. Bassett will be speaking in the Past and Present room at the IHR at 5.30pm on Monday 11th June 2018. 

#History #royalnavy #Portsmouth

Resto 15 Matthew’s Kitchen, Crouch End

June 4, 2018

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Looking to lay in some bait prior to a date with the Players on a Friday night we had a stroll around Crouch End, open to suggestion. Bistro Aix had its door open was a bit Marie Celeste like with music blaring out, provoking us into a rapid retreat.  Matthew’s Kitchen on the other hand looked very inviting with it’s window open onto the street and a friendly smile from the waitress as she showed us into the room. Early on a Friday evening the room soon filled up with a good selection of locals while we looked at the menu.

MK specialises in fish (though you can get meat off the grill if you’re a carnivore and veggie dishes if you’re a herbivore). Smoked mackerel with beetroot and horseradish leapt off the page at me as a good test of a fish restaurant. This warhorse can be memorable or forgettable depending on whether it’s served or cold both in temperature and creativity. I took a main of cod loin with veggies and a bit of mash potato on the side.

The mackerel was only ok – a generous piece of cold smoked fish with plenty of beetroot but not a hint of horseradish in the sauce. I know that horseradish is a powerful beast but I do want to taste it if I’ve ordered it. The cod on the other hand was much superior. Perfectly cooked and just what I wanted. Even better looked the bacon-wrapped monkfish across the way.

A very good Riesling for 30-odd quid was a good accompaniment. I’d go back to Matthew’s Kitchen – for Crouch End on a Friday evening it was very peaceful with a perfect atmosphere for a bright summer’s evening.

7/10

#Food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016-18 check out my GoogleMap

Translating Musset

June 3, 2018

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After having had a pretty good experience producing Corbyn Island in 2017 I found myself in the dull gloom of January turning over ideas for the Crouch End Festival in 2018. Again, it being a Festival piece, I wanted something relatively short and preferably fewer characters than the Island. If I was going to be directing it myself (a new experience) I thought it’d be a lot easier with less traffic to manoeuvre on stage.

I’d seen a production of Alfred de Musset’s Il Faut Qu’une Porte Soit Ouverte ou Fermée in Paris the previous autumn in a production by the Comédie Française. A one act two-hander, it concerned itself with an on-off relationship between two French aristocrats at a Parisian salon in the 1840s. The CF had updated it to contemporary France, setting the actor in a sculptor’s studio, while retaining (naturellement!) the original language of Musset’s masterpiece.

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Musset’s Confession – a classic of romantic literature

Further research revealed that de Musset hadn’t written the piece with the intention of staging it at all – rather it was theatre de fauteuil, that is ‘armchair theatre’ written to be read as a literary piece like a novel or a short story. But it had become established as a classic of the French theatrical repertoire by the end of the twentieth century, produced every year by the Comédie Française to the extent that it was part of the social calendar in the early twentieth century.

However, post-World War Two it was performed much less frequently. Presumably the market for rom coms about brittle aristocrats was in decline in the age of Camus, the theatre of the absurd and existentialism. In fact I beleive that the production that we saw was the first at the Comédie Française for some forty years.

So my challenge was how to make it relevant to a Crouch End Festival audience. My initial instinct was to make the couple same sex but to wangle Musset’s text into the correct shape to do that proved beyond my translation abilities. I gave it a few hours of grappling on the commute to Leicester and then gave up.

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The tool’s of the translator’s craft – a biography, an autobiography and a Pléiade edition of the original. All that’s missing is the Chamber’s dictionary.

I then toyed with the idea of just translating de Musset’s original and staging it as a work of art. I would designate a chair in the Great Northern for people to read a printed translation of the play which they could borrow from the bar. But then if I was going to the trouble of translating the play (a much simpler business than tackling Marivaux, though with the peril of ruining the exquisite poetry of de Musset’s language) I did rather see it acted out.

So I needed to find some other way to create tension in the potential pairing (or not) of these two characters. And I think I came up with a good solution. But to find out what that solution was you’ll have to come along to the show!

But I can tell you that I updated the action to 1948 London, with the characters now meeting in a private club on a wet Sunday afternoon.* I’ve added a third character of a barman, played by Ruari Johnson. The female lead is taken by the director of Corbyn Island, Anna Rogers, and a newcomer, Matt Griffin, takes on the role of her suitor.

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Part of the fun of staging a period piece is assembling (and drinking) the props.

This year we’re producing the show as part of the Crouch End Players’ contribution to the Festival with our show running with an original piece of writing by Jen Richardson, The Road Not Taken, as part of a rom-com double bill. Running time will be around an hour in total with a break for drinks.

Performances are again in the upstairs bar of the Great Northern Railway Tavern, who have once more proved to be excellent hosts, and take place on 15th, 16th and 17th June 2018 at 7pm and tickets (which are FREE!) can be obtained by emailing crouchendplayers@hotmail.com. More details are also available at the Festival website.

It’ll be the perfect evening out for World Cup widows and widowers but if you are a football fan don’t worry, the Great Northern will have the games on the big screen in their back garden and the shows are timed to make sure that you miss very little of the action from Neymar and his chums!

#Theatre #Comedy #London

*Yes, I know this has shades of Absolute Hell! But our production has an entirely different sensibility.

The Crouch End Festival

May 29, 2018

Another post very quickly (as no-one likes a whinger) to talk of much more positive things associated with the Crouch End Festival. Last year’s Festival was my first experience of putting on a theatrical show and it was such a tremendously fun thing to do that I’ve decided to do it again.

But I’ll talk of that another time. The purpose of this post is to flag up other shows which are being put on by the Crouch End Players, who are a fine company of individuals who have just come off the back of a very successful production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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As part of a double bill with my play, A Door, Jen Richardson (the director of AMND) will star in an original piece of work of her own called The Road Not TakenBoth works are romantic comedies that discuss the nature of love and relationships. And both use the upstairs bar of the Great Northern Railway Tavern as their setting.

Another show that I’ve had a small part in producing (as co-writer with the highly talented Victoria Welsh) is The Trial 3: The Dinner Party. Regular Festival goers may have already seen a previous edition of this show which stages a courtroom thriller as an interactive piece of theatre which lets the audience question the suspects.

While not an official CEP production Storm in a Teacup, created by Sue Irwin-Hunt and Denize Levett, is from the same stable and again is a revival of an established format. It’s an improvisational comedy set in the homely surroundings of the Haberdashery.

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And last but by no means least CEP present What’s the Point?, another original work created by Virginia Vassura and her co-star Caroline Allouf which combines song, comedy, drama and a unicorn to talk about mental health and relationships.

Both The Trial and What’s the Point are to be staged in Hornsey Town Hall so this may be a final chance to get a shufty at the place before it is subjected to the developers. I hope to see you there!

Go to the Crouch End Festival website for details of all timings and venues, and of course to book your tickets! And look around for other great free stuff going on at the Festival. June isn’t only about the World Cup!!

#theatre #comedy #London

 

Resto 14 N4 coffee fruit, Stroud Green

May 29, 2018
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A perfect coffee served in the German Gymnasium.

Hmm, a coffee shop rather than a resto really and strictly speaking not within the rules since I paid up front. But sometimes the quality of service in an establishment is such that one is forced to comment on it even if only to encourage the management to put things right. With this in mind the description will come first and the notes on how to improve things afterwards.

N4 coffee fruit (Yes, lower case. It used to be known as the altogether less irritating Vagabond.) is a pleasant enough room to sip coffee and do the crossword. If you have coffee. Being mid-morning the room wasn’t busy and I was the only person in the queue. I waited for the guy by the till to look at me so I could make my order.

But he was busy. Busy making coffee? No. Busy out back? No. Busy tidying up tables? No. Just busy not serving customers. He was looking down at something. What could it be? I turned it over in my mind. A generous man would say he was looking through a stack of orders and making sure that he’d memorised which one belonged to which customer. Subsequent events would suggest otherwise.

He eventually looked up and I ordered a double espresso and sat down. And waited. I perused the paper and observed a few people come in and order after me. Including a man with a cute fluffy dog, who was obviously a hit. After about ten minutes I was starting to wonder where my coffee was so found it less easy to focus on Janan Ganesh’s skewering of the Brexit crisis and its catastrophic effect on strategic policy thinking among our political leadership. I observed that everyone in the coffee shop had arrived after me and also that they all had coffee.

The till guy was chatting to a friend on a table at the window and occasionally looking at his phone. I fixed him with a basilisk stare. He looked up absently then went back to his phone. The woman on the coffee machine was similarly gripped by social media. It must have been 15 minutes or so since I’d gone in.

So I got up on my hind legs, walked to the counter and asked for my coffee. ‘Coffee?’ ‘Yes, a double espresso.’ ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ Till guy was still absorbed in his phone. The coffee arrived without comment from either party and I drank it and left.

This was the worst service I’d had since a legendary dinner in Margate. But in a spirit of generosity I offer a few pieces of advice from one customer service worker to another.

  1. When a customer comes into your business look at them. It will help you to realise that they are a human being and not just a disembodied voice. You might also consider taking the experience one step further by smiling at them.
  2. While you have customers in the room observe them – do they need anything? Make eye contact to give them the opportunity to speak to you. Not only will this make them feel looked after it might also encourage them to buy more things.
  3. If you do make a mistake apologise.
  4. If you do make a mistake apologise.
  5. If you DO make a mistake apologise.
  6. In person. Don’t let a colleague do it on your behalf.
  7. Do not under any circumstance play jazz lite over your sound system. Combined with the combined nervating effect of high amounts of caffeine and bad service this could result in a Falling Down style situation. You don’t want that. And more to the point nor do your customers.

0/10

#Coffee #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016-18 check out my GoogleMap

 

Crouch End Festival 2018

May 14, 2018

New Writing Image for Programme

Now that A Midsummer Night’s Dream has finished it’s time to flag up my own next production with the Crouch End Players as part of the Crouch End Festival. As part of an evening of new writing I’m directing a new translation of the French classic, A Door (Should Be Either Open Or Shut).

The original is a short play by the Romantic writer Alfred de Musset, perhaps most famous in this country for being the lover of Georges Sand which inspired both of them to write classic memoirs of their time together.

The original concerns the romantic tribulations of a pair of aristocrats in mid-ninteenth century Paris but I’ve updated it to post-War London with saltier dialogue and a real period feel.

The venue once more is the Great Northern Railway Tavern, who were such excellent hosts for Corbyn Island in 2017 and there will be three shows at 7pm on the 15th, 16th and 17th June. Tickets are free and available from crouchendplayers@hotmail.com. It would be great to see you there!

#theatre #London #Musset


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