Posts Tagged ‘London’

Resto 38 St John Bread & Wine, Spitalfields

August 8, 2017

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To my shame I only became a client of St. John in 2017. My first visit was a literary lunch at their Bermondsey branch but that was a freebie so not subject to the rules.  Such was the excellence that day that when my friend suggested we try out SJB&W for a late supper I was very happy indeed.

It being late-ish on a Monday trade wasn’t brisk but that didn’t matter. The room is stripped back yet homely, you feel that everything about the design has been thought through but not in a twattish Soho way. The menu is pleasingly brief – around a dozen or so small sharing plates and then half a dozen bigger ones with a couple of specials on the board. I could have eaten anything or everything on there – St John is the place to go if you want to get out of a dining rut.

Famously, offal is king at St John and we had sweetbreads (I wanted to lick the plate the gravy was so good) from that side of things. But the veg is good too, kohlrabi was beautifully crispy crunchy. I was wishing I’d got one to myself. Half a mackerel with horseradish and beetroot made me want to cry with pleasure. Cheese to finish off was a bit of a bridge too far but I managed to squeeze some down.

Service too was outstanding. From our table I could see the chefs at work in the kitchen and at one point observed them debating the state of the pig skin. The waitress brought the dish to the table and told us that the chef wasn’t happy with the level of crunch: we wouldn’t be charged for them but they left it to us to try it out and see what we thought. I thought they tasted delicious, especially dipped in a sauce that was like a pumped up HP (and I don’t mean that as a criticism, HP sauce is the sauce of the gods). They were however chewy as hell so chapeau to the chef, he called it right. I was still glad we had them though.

The wine list is extensive and reasonably priced – we had a bottle Alsatian white at around 26 quid followed by a beautifully deep glass of Cahors red with the fromage. It was one of those evenings where everything went right; even the error added texture. I’ll be back.

Oh, and the bread! I want to go back as soon as I can please.

9/10

#Food #London

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

Resto 37 Walnut, Finsbury Park

August 2, 2017

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I was disappointed to find that the previous occupant of this site had closed a couple of months ago when I  was in search of my usual post-seminar, pre-quiz meal of pizza, Nastro and rocket salad. What had put paid to the outfit I’m not sure as there always seemed to be a steady enough stream of customers. I’m hoping that Walnut, the new restaurant, endures as this was an excellent meal.

It being early evening it was pretty quiet. The room hasn’t been altered much except the seating is now a mixture of café style and more formal dining (though not overly so). We warmed up with a round of cocktails (£5 in happy hour, worth doing as a post-work wind down on their own) while we had a look at the menu.

The selection on offer is big enough without making your brain ache. I went for the starter special of razor clam (one of my favourite things) in a salad with bacon. The clams weren’t drowned out by the salty bacon and the whole thing was despatched very quickly. The main of hake was perfectly cooked with plenty of crispy green beans propping it up. We shared some noticeably good chips (truffle and parmesan gave them a bit of oomph) and I wished I’d had a bowl to myself.

Alongside this a bottle of Pinot Gris was delicious and reasonably priced for the quality. Did we have room for dessert? Probably but we also had an eye on meeting friends down the road so we got the bill. Service was friendly without being too chummy and we left happy. Recommended.

8/10

#Food #London

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

 

Resto 36 Hanna Maria, Finsbury Park

July 25, 2017

We were looking for pre-quiz eats but it being a Monday most of Finsbury Park’s more refined venues were closed. So we turned to Hanna Maria, which has been around for a long time but which I’ve never visited before. My only previous acquaintance with it was Luca the Pizzaiolo from our football team. He had a dynamite right foot but was a determinedly erratic attender of football matches.

Thus service at Hanna Maria would make Luca proud. On arrival the man making the pizzas, having no English, gave us the Italian equivalent of a Gallic shrug before we sat ourselves in the back room. The room is a bosky bricolage delight. Past old album covers suspended from the ceiling one steps into a log-pannelled den facing a surprisingly well-appointed bar. I liked it.

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Eventually someone appeared to give us menus and after some confusion we ordered. Pizza is king at Hanna Maria and they have plenty of toppings listed. We took half a metre to share and though we picked two different toppings I couldn’t discern where one started and the other finished. It didn’t really matter, the whole thing tasted really good. Crispy charred dough around the edges and plenty of good stuff on top.

The side salad was bigger than expected and though it contained raw red onion (I spurned it) this was mitigated by some excellent olives. The Pinot Grigio was drinkable but nothing more. Several people popped in to ask us if our food was okay, which it was, but when it came to getting the bill we had to go up to the desk. For twenty quid a head it was good enough value for a filling dinner with booze on top.

So I’d recommend HM but with the proviso that you’re not in a hurry. The pizza is excellent but Luca’s spirit lives on in the randomness of its delivery.

7/10

#Food #London

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

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

#Food #London

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

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

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

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.

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

 

 

Resto 26 Bhatti, Covent Garden

May 28, 2017

Half three in the afternoon is a bit of a weird time to go to for a curry but we’d been to a concert and hadn’t had lunch. On our way to Dishoom (which we knew would be open) we were surprised to see that Bhatti, which screams trad Indian, also had its doors open. So we took a punt.

Two other diners and the waiter were the only other souls in the room. Most of the other restos on this stretch of Great Queen Street have gone upscale but Bhatti has stuck to it guns and retains a whiff of the 1970s in its décor. The menu is solid British Indian staples at pretty reasonable prices for this location but how was the cooking?

Mixed. My starter of aloo chat was some watery spuds and lettuce in an insipid sauce. Reports from across the table on the state of the onion bhaji were not encouraging. However, the main of a chicken jalfrezi delivered the required heat if not being altogether a taste sensation. Good naan bread and okra compensated slightly but it was rather disappointing that two chilled mugs couldn’t be wrangled for our Kingfishers – I had to settle for the warm one.

Service was good and it was obvious that they only had a skeleton crew on for the afternoon crowd. I would hope that things improve once the evening session gets started but if you want the trad Indian in this part of London it’s a better option to hang on if you can till The India Club starts cooking.

5/10

#Food #London

The Crouch End Players and the Comédie-Italienne

May 24, 2017

Corbyn Island with Cast 2

Artwork © Nick Kobyluch

Since translating Marivaux’s comedy L’Ile des Esclaves for the Crouch End Festival I’ve been immersing myself in the culture of the early eighteenth century in France, partly with an eye on working on something more ambitious sometime in the future but also with my mind on costumes for Corbyn Island, the updated version that’s in production with the Crouch End Players. One way I felt that I could tie the modern adaptation to the work that inspired it would be by having two of my modern characters in fancy dress that had a whiff of Baroque France about them.

Naturally my thoughts turned to the Wallace Collection in Marylebone, whose building is a little bit of France in the West End. The 18th Century French rooms I’d tended to skip through on previous visits – all that flouncy, sleazy Boucher is a bit quease-inducing even if you have the reward of the more civilised Watteau alongside.  I prefer the more sober pleasures to be had in the company of Poussin and De Hooch.

So it was a surprise to find that not only did the Wallace have plenty of canvases depicting eighteenth century French fashion it actually had a picture of our antecedents as interpreters of Marivaux, the Comédie-Italiennes.

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The Italian Comedians by a Fountain, Nicolas Lancret


The painting depicts the actors in theatre dress with the stock characters Pierrot and Arlequin most obvious – each in his distinctive costume with Arlequin also masked. Arlequin appears in L’Ile des Esclaves as the slave to an Athenian aristocrat and displays all of the attributes that his audience would expect whichever production he appeared in. He’s a cheeky, rustic joker who has simple tastes – food, drink and the ladies, not necessarily in that order.

In Marivaux’s production he would have been played by Thomassin, the most famous Arlequin of his age and probably the man depicted by Lancret in the painting above. Our own Arlequin (who now goes under the name of TC, a little nod to the Assistant Coach of my football club, Ipswich Town) is played, I have to say magnificently, by Ric Lindley. He doesn’t have to perform the acrobatics that would have been expected of a seventeenth century Arlequin, nor did we direct him to adopt a ‘high-pitched voice like a parrot’ as described as being characteristic of the part by contemporary accounts.* But I think he definitely captures the earthy qualities of Arlequin, as well as his sentimentality and good-naturedness.

Lancret is one of those artists who seems to be permanently overshadowed (like de Hooch by Vermeer) by a more illustrious peer for seemingly no good reason. Watteau of course is the big name here but they had very similar backgrounds starting as apprentices under the theatre scenarist and artist Claude Gillot. For some reason Lancret seems to be treated as the apprentice to Watteau whereas in fact he was much more of a rival. So researching Lancret’s painting was a lot more difficult to do than if it had been Watteau’s. There are (justifiably) books by the yard on Watteau in the library but very little, even in French, on his fellow painter.

Lancret’s ability is shown by many canvases in the Wallace but is nowhere more apparent in London than in the marvellous Gallery A at the National. Tucked away either side of a large canvas from the studio of Boucher (isn’t that telling of Lancret’s neglect, he could probably chat to Guardi about it who has a little picture up the row) are four canvases depicting the four ages of man. Philosophical pieces describing childhood, youth, maturity and old age, they are little gems that deserve a wall of their own.

They also led me to reflect how one would depict the life cycle in the modern age. Childhood and youth separate? It hardly seems that a tot is out of nappies before it is turned into a consumer and given a screen to suck on. But then how to separate youth and maturity when middle-aged men go shopping in the supermarket in leisure wear and spend their cultural capital yarning the ins and outs of superhero franchises. So, it would seem, we go straight from youth to senility. But I digress.

True, Watteau was the pioneer of the fête galante but it was a genre that Lancret developed and proved to be a master of very quickly, as shown by the portrait of the Comédies-Italiennes. The vividness of their characters brought them into the modern age for me as I was standing in the Wallace and gave me the feeling that even if I’ve twisted and mangled Marivaux out of shape as an author, as a company we’re still communicating with these people through four centuries of theatre history and revivifying the roles that they created. It’s a tremendous credit to Ric, Sophie, Richard, Mia, Victoria, Mike, Nadia and Vic that they’ve taken this project on and given it life beyond the page. If only we had Lancret around to immortalise them.

#Theatre #London

 

*François Moreau, Le goût Italien dans la France tocaille: théatre, musique, peinture (Paris, PUPS: 2011), p. 40


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