Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts

a miscellany of the wonderful and the banal

Posts Tagged ‘reviews

Places to Drink in London

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Unpaid tourist board work and/or gushing endlessly about London continues! [I have been living in this city for 10 years this September and I am still not sick of it].

PUBS & BARS

Green Carnation, Soho

An admirable partner to dinner at Balans and a good night out. Costly, flash, comfortable, and usually packed after about 7.30pm. The decor is incredible – greens and golds, flock and pannelling, squashy fireside chairs, a DJ for later in the night – and it has a bookable downstairs. Covered in Oscar Wilde quotes, with an extensive selection of cocktails to go with the enormous choice of spirits, wines and bottle beers. A gay bar with a slight lean toward professional, older men, but pretty much welcoming to anyone who fancies drinking there. I’ve celebrated my birthday in these environs several times, and quite frequently end up making friends doing so; barstaff are occasionally ditzy but attentive, friendly (and very easy on the eye). Worth the extra cash, particularly if you manage to steal one of the good seating areas, or book one for your party.

Three Compasses, Hornsey

A proper Local. There are two open fires, a decent amount of food, guest ales and wines, plenty of places to sit, and an apparently endless selection of activities taking place: I’ve been there for quiz nights, carol singing, big-screen sports, there’s a pool table, last time I ended up in there the back room had an Elvis impersonater … there is a “takeaway” service for two pints in a box if you so desire, and it’s entirely possible to spend all day in the pub vegetating on their extremely comfortable sofas. Barstaff range from efficient to friendly, and the set-up goes out of its way to make the place feel more like home than home does.

The Elk in the Woods, Islington

The website describes this Camden Passage hideaway as a “restaurant bar” but it is listed here under drinking places for the superb and delicious range of virgin cocktails it offers. The food is mid-to-good quality, but it is recommended as a mid-day stop-off while wandering the shops of Camden Passage, for both the drinks and the atmosphere. Try to grab the exceedingly comfortable armchairs by the fireplace as you come in, and don’t be put off by the large stuffed deer’s head hanging above you.

The BFI riverfront Bar, South Bank

Located directly under Waterloo Bridge on the South Bank of the river, right next to the excellent South Bank Book Market and within spitting distance of the National Theatre, this bar has become a favourite of mine in the last couple of years for many reasons: the location plays a great part, as does the year-round outdoor deckchairs allowing you to look out over the river while enjoying your drinks, but what’s kept me coming back are the friendly and inventive barstaff (on one occasion, unable to provide me with a strawberry daiquiri, one of the bartenders created a new cocktail for me), the seasonal cocktails, and the delicious pint-glass-of-sausage rolls. Obviously recommended for pre-screening drinks if you are attending a film at the BFI, but a worthwhile stop if you are visiting anywhere along the South Bank.

Post by Delilah. More recommendations can be found in the “where to go in London” tag.

Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

July 27, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Places To Eat in London

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I was reminded recently that my “where to go in London” post which I made in about 2006 hadn’t really been updated in a while, so I thought I’d make a series of new ones. Click the “where to go in london” category for more of the same.

RESTAURANTS

Balans, Soho

Atmosphere: Located smack bang in the middle of the Gayest Bit of London. I would say it’s impossibly trendy, but trends change every second, so what I will say is that it is very flash, very “vibrant”, and very loud. It’s the kind of place you go to eat if you have plans to do something afterward, like heavy drinking, dancing, or watching a show (very well situated for this given that it’s a stone’s throw from the West End, and you can walk in off the street and get a table).

It’s snazzy and loud and excitable and filled with cocktails and cute young waitstaff; there are mirrors on the walls and indirect lighting and floor-to-ceiling windows and a general sense of happening.

Food: Good stuff, reasonably priced. There is a wide range on the menu and a good selection of specials, and it serves breakfast through to supper; my favourites are the Big Chips and their steak is really quite good. Definitely worth indulging in the cocktails.
Goodman’s, Mayfair

Atmosphere: This is in Mayfair, so there is an instant sense of upmarketness; it is also quieter than a Soho restaurant. Unfortunately this does mean you will occasionally have to rub elbows with wankstain businessmen, but thanks to Goodman’s being large you at least won’t have to sit too near them. Waitstaff are not only polite and soft-spoken, they are knowledgeable about their area (MEAT) and will bring the cuts out to demonstrate exactly what you get when you order each thing. Recommendations are given with restrained enthusiasm.

“Quiet” is absolutely the key to this place – the oak panneling and and depth of the rooms from the street give a sense of being removed from the world in order to enjoy good food. This place is all about the food.

Food: Superlative. Their deserts are mouth-bothering, their starters are inventively delicious, small enough to whet the appetite but not to diminish it, and the meat is beyond description. Lindsay has made so-so motions about their burgers (the best burger place in London is Byron’s in High Street Kensington) but you don’t go to Goodman’s for burgers. You go for steak.

Guys. I cannot say enough good things about their steak. There simply aren’t words. I can fling about specifics of my favourite there – Irish grass-fed dry-aged for 28 days, T-bone – but it won’t do it justice. This is BEEF. BEEF the way BEEF should be fed to people – rich and red and virtually raw (well, the way *I* ordered it, which was blue, because I am a disgusting carnivore), and tasting extremely meaty. It stuns people to silence.

Succulent, perfectly-prepared beef. To use the sauce (choice of four) given with it would be sacrelige. Save that for the chips. Which are also delicious.

Banners, Crouch End

Atmosphere: Homely. Crouch End is a middle-class-ish area with a history rooted in stand-up comedy and 60s music, and although Banners is on a busy road it’s still a fairly secluded busy road. I cannot stress the eclectic, comfortable, laid-back charm of this place; covered in ancient posters, cork-boards advertising local community things, and framed prints in a strata of interesting things, a motley collection of naked, unvarnished wooden tables and chairs, odd hanging lamps, and a bar equipped with a cinema popcorn warmer. The menus are garish and strange and drawn by children; there is a slight emphasis on ethical interests, long-past boxing matches, and biker culture. It is like being in the living room of someone with a wealth of funny and fascinating anecdotes to tell and a warm and welcoming nature.

Very, very-much child-friendly.

Food: One of the things which sells me on Banners is their variety of choice which, in opposition to Ramsey’s rantings, they cook to an equitable and thoroughly delicious standard. There are small-portion options, a children’s menu with free ice-cream, and a slight bias toward Caribbean dishes. However, like the decor, the selection of dishes is delightfully eclectic and not wedded to one particular style or place.

The quality and presentation of the food is gastro-pub rather than restaurant, in that it is not fussy or frilly, and comes in sizeable, satisfying portions. “Comfortable” is the key with Banners, and rolling sittings from breakfast to supper it would be quite pleasant to spend an entire day there.

NB: While it is possible to book at all three so far, Goodman’s is about the only place it is really necessary to make a reservation at; walk-ins at Banners and Balans are the norm.

Grieg’s, Mayfair.

Traditional English food. Extremely good traditional English food and justly famous for its steaks. The key word for everything – fish, starters, prawns, steaks, pie, anything they serve – is succulent. Idiosyncratic and anachronistic setting, an impressive winelist and good service. Not for the faint of wallet.

Abeno Too, Leicester Square

Small and closely-packed, busy at every time of the day and therefore worth making a reservation; service can take a while due to this and the nature of the food, but it is worth the wait; food falls within the £10-£30 range and is mind-bogglingly tasty. The restaurant specialises in okonomi-yaki, a kind of Japanese Spanish Omelette which is prepared in front of you on a hot plate; the process of preparation is honesty some of the best dinner entertainment I’ve had in a while and there are few things as pleasing as watching a skilled professional plying their art.

Advice: Order smaller-sized okonomi-yaki as they are extremely filling, and try the plum wine squash, which involves diluting plum wine with lemonade to create a less sickly-sweet cocktail which pairs very well with the mains.

Haché, Camden

A gourmet burger place within easy stagger of Camden station, sandwiched between bars and a market, Haché is narrow and gregarious, and very welcoming; the décor is interesting to the point of distraction. The burgers themselves are fat and juicy, prepared however you wish, with a variety of themes – my party ate our way through the Mediterranean with a Spanish-themed burger featuring choritzo, a Scillian burger topped with parma ham and mozzarella… the most charming touch, to my mind, was the fries, served in tiny little frying baskets.

Recommended: the chocolate brownie. Highly satisfying, if you can fit it in after one of Haché’s substantial burgers.

Not recommended: hot chocolate. It was rather unpleasant.

Movie Review: Thor And The Legion Of Improbable Armour

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Thor

On Wednesday I went to see Thor with my boyfriend. On Wednesday, during the day, on one of those Orange Wednesday deals, cinemas almost relent in their pocket-gouging, wallet-devouring expense sufficiently to make them worth going to. Also during the day the Wood  Green Vue is empty enough that the desire to commit genocide doesn’t begin until after the film has finished and I’ve been spat back out into the middle of a hideous shopping thoroughfare.

It is important that you understand the circumstances: this was a cheap film, I was bored, and I have a lot of homework to distract myself from. So when I say “it wasn’t a waste of money” you will be aware that I didn’t actually spend any money, and that when I say “it wasn’t a waste of time”, you will be aware that I was actively looking to squander some.

I’m less educated about Norse myths than my other half, who is something of a fan (possibly because he looks like a wizened version of the God of Thunder himself), but the film is of course based on the Marvel Comics Avengers-member Thor. Now my opinion in this area is probably unpopular (they usually are), but I think I liked the comic-book Thor best in Ultimates – the Marvel reboot which also saw Captain America turn into a raving dickhead, and fulfilled many a teenage boy’s long-lived dream in Ultimate X-men by making Colossus gay; in Ultimates, it’s actually debatable whether Thor is really the god of thunder from Asgard, or whether he’s just a mental with superpowers. Oh, and he’s a rabid environmentalist.

The movie, which if there is any justice in box office returns will not make a great deal, leaves us with no such ambiguity. It also leaves us with approximately no surprises whatsoever, broadcasting every single event, character, and line from a thousand miles away. You do not have to be Heimdall, possessed of world-penetrating sight, to spot them, either.

Every single fight scene is dotted throughout the course of the film with precision, and I can’t help thinking someone has sat down with a stop-watch and a copy of the script and some focus group responses in order to place them in exactly the right spots to maintain peak interest from the core audience. Said audience are clearly not me, as I found them enormously boring: continuing the current tradition whereby so much swooping, shaking camerawork is involved in hand-to-hand combat scenes that it’s no longer necessary to choreograph them to make sense – no longer necessary and no longer even possible.

Thor and Jane Foster

Quaint Handholding And Armour From Homeware

There is little point getting into the dialogue, which thuds along, merrily pleased with itself and its banal quips and occasional knowing asides to Marvel fans in the audience OH LOOK THERE’S HAWKEYE and a lot of the Asgardians standing around Talking Like Wankers. At least the last part is, unfortunately, canonical. I promise I am expecting very little from comic book movies – some jokes which actually make me laugh, a little charisma from the lead, a little chemistry with the romantic lead that is mandatory in almost every big-budget movie, and some heavy-handed moralising which I’d rather not have but know I’m not allowed to live without. Oh, and Stan Lee, who in this turns up in a truck trying to pull Mjolnir from the crater in which it has landed.

It is customary to find things one liked, or didn’t actively hate, about a movie one is reviewing (no but seriously do we have to have explanatory flashbacks and the same computer-animation sequences from Lord of the Rings but in different and highly implausible armour?), so I shall lay off Anthony Hopkins phoning in his performance in favour of being pleased with Stellan Skasgard instead; I shall be pleased with Kat Dennings in general for being at least vaguely interesting, and praise Natalie Portman for gamely struggling with an abysmally dull character who – in spite of being a driven and apparently intelligent woman in the manner of female Hollywood scientists who Do It Because Daddy Did – magically lost her spine and personality the minute she became infatuated with a large blond wall, Nickelback in a plaid shirt, the All-American Hero as portrayed via Norway.

Norway in this movie, incidentally, is rendered in CGI.

The title character and supposed hero of the story actually does very little in the way of character development – he’s boorish and annoying, gets a slap on the wrist, can’t lift his hammer, falls in love with a pretty girl, becomes less of an asshole, is suddenly able to lift the hammer (because he’s PROVEN HIMSELF WORTHY, DO YOU SEE?), and then has a fight with his brother and mopes around being all manly and sad while his father blames the Little Freak he adopted.

Tom Hiddleston

Tom Hiddleston: Actually Acted

Which is the main thing I found iffy about the film: Loki, who is one of the great characters of mythology, is masterfully portrayed by Tom Hiddleston. He is determined to act while all those around him are standing around reciting lines, chewing scenery, or extending a hand for their paycheques, and he brings far more sympathy to the role of the envious, nervous, devious outcast than anyone manages to bring to any of the Good Guys. He is also the only person from Asgard who doesn’t suffer from Talking Like A Wanker syndrome; possibly because he’s not an Asgardian, but an Ice Giant. This is painfully obvious from the get-go; what’s less obvious is his motivation, until he more or less spells it out during a final fight with his adopted (blond, huge, All-American, Shiny White Teeth) brother.

Thor

Thor: Also Likes Mascara

Such exposition is at least in keeping with the grand tradition of Marvel. It is very hard to forget, for example, the precise moment and manner in which John Byrne had Northstar out himself …

What about Loki’s storyline left a bad taste in my mouth? Well, apart from the idea that anyone not physically strong is automatically a traitor, the distrust of eloquence (although given the quality of writing it’s not hard to see why the script might favour a Wit Is Bad approach), and the undercurrent of “adoptees are not to be trusted”, there is the crescendo of the movie, in which Loki looks to his father for validation that he could at least have successfully destroyed Jotunheim (yes! He wanted to destroy the Ice Giants instead of defecting to them, and all for his father’s approval) had Thor not prevented him. Rather than a tactful “you could have done it, but you shouldn’t have and you didn’t need to prove anything to me”, Odin’s response is effectively “LOL NO”, after which Loki commits Pseudocide, or Disney Falling Villain Death of the “there’s no corpse so he can have him back later” school, over the edge of the world. Charming.

Overall:

Women who do anything: Frigga, Thor’s mother, draws a sword against Laufy, the King of the Frost Giants (in Norse Mythology, Laufy is the mother of Loki), but immediately gets walloped aside; Jane Foster chases “disturbances” and then large blond men with unsupportable claims without doing a great deal of questioning and is more or less portrayed as a pair of delighted ovaries with a passing interest in sciense; and Lady Sith kicks some arse for a little bit while hanging around with the most boring, badly-scripted, pointless non-sidekicks imaginable.

Take away message: Adopted kids are evil, it’s okay to play favourites with your kids, everything works out if you’re big enough and blonde nough.

Special effects: Excellent when in our world, but Asgard and Jotunheim appear to have been envisaged by an imagination-deficient savant after several watchings of Lord of the Rings and a few leafings through the Encylcopedia of Fantasy & Sci Fi Art.

VERDICT: Kind of dull but an inoffensive way to pass spare hours. Will not be watching it again.

Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

May 6, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Review: Black Swan

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This is what how my NYE started out:

I spent time with many different groups of friends, saw the midnight fireworks on the river, and went to seven or eight different bars, pubs, and clubs, woke up at my own house in my own bed with clear memories of how I got there, and had a disproportionately small hangover in the morning. Much better than last NYE, in the end.

In other news, I was lucky enough to be given tickets to an advanced screening of Black Swan and I went and saw that, and OMGWTFBBQ NATALIE.

(Some very minor spoilers, nothing you couldn’t get from the trailers.)

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Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

January 2, 2011 at 1:26 am