Wednesday, August 5

Film: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation Click for more info

Ho hum. I guess it's probably asking too much to expect anything different, but nevertheless I did go into seeing this with some level of anticipation. But there really were no surprises here: we got good action, some funny bits, a pretty prominent (perhaps even overly so?) Simon Pegg and an insurmountable enemy that would stretch the IMF even further than last time.

So no, Rogue Nation wasn't a bad film per se, just not a very memorable one. Still, for a franchise that's hitting 20 years (yes, that's right, TWENTY years) that's a pretty impressive feat in itself.

Saturday, August 1

Food: Kasaba

Trying to remain objective can be a bit of a curse - take for example a world where generic Turkish grills really are everywhere: a place like Kasaba doesn't really add much value. And yet I still have to take time out of my busy life to log its existence because, you know, it qualifies as a new restaurant.

Okay, I suppose for those living in and around the Gants Hill area it's probably worth knowing about. And the food wasn't bad, just not really original. Service was decent if a bit rushed and I suppose it was nice having the shop front fully open on the warm August day that we visited.

But still, really, there's nothing novel or new to see here. I may as well point out where the local tube station is (it's right outside the restaurant).

Friday, July 31

Book: The Martian, Andy Weir Click for more info

Oh man, what a great book. I don't even know where to start with it. Is it that it's so well written and accessible? So engaging, without ever being cheap? That it almost reads like a screen play? Or perhaps that it's ultimately a nerd fantasy without being patronising about it? Well really it's all of these things and more; if anything I would suggest it's weakest point is in its characterisation, but the whole thing was otherwise so much fun I didn't even notice.

At its core, The Martian is a book of puzzles and answers, as Watney the protagonist and namesake of the book deals with the oh so unlucky situation he finds himself in. And if I'm making that sound flippant it's only because Watney himself does in such an effective and charismatic way. And the to and fro-ing doesn't end there - written in both the first person (via mission logs) and the third, the book almost tricks you into falling into a relationship with both the characters and the plot. It's pretty thrilling stuff. That and the level of research that's gone into it makes for a very comfortable read. The science in the book is both solid and fun.

I could gush on, but there's really no point. The book is free to distribute so there's no excuse not to read it really. Definitely recommended.

Tuesday, July 28

Film: Ant-Man Click for more info

Of course the biggest flaw of this movie is that Edgar Wright didn't get to complete it. I'm already certain that it would have been a far superior film - albeit perhaps only for some.

What we actually get is a middling okayish affair, enjoyable while it lasts but otherwise largely forgettable. Ant-Man as a hero worked though so who knows - maybe those with the power will be willing to take a bigger bet next time?

Recommended for those invested in the Marvel filmography.

Tuesday, July 21

Film: Terminator Genisys Click for more info

Opinions are funny things. By nature they're subjective, but I think most people have a handle on that. That's not to say they're random either - part of forming a relationship with someone for example is getting to know their opinions without them having to spell them out. Another example of their predictability are the correlations that form from them.

Take films for example. I'm the first to say that I have a pretty run of the mill and aligned taste in movies. Yes, there are are outliers (I'm going to love anything with Deepika Padukone in it, for example), but even these are not really that surprising. But on the whole I usually agree with critical reviews, and I tend to use Empire's star system to decide what to watch as I find it to be pretty aligned with my likes.

Which brings us to Terminator Genisys. If there was ever a film that had been universally panned it was this, the fifth film in the franchise. Apparently it was an unimaginative, nonsensical cash in which no one should have watched. But my friends and I did, because, well, Terminator.

And I actually rather liked it. To contrast with other recent sequels and cash-ins, I liked it more than Jurassic World and even preferred it to Mad Max. I found the film to be fun, clever, engaging and, basically, extremely enjoyable. It's exactly what I expected actually which I think is a credit to its producers.

Anyway you'll probably already know if you'll enjoy Terminator Genisys or not. For those who think they will, I recommend it.

Wednesday, June 17

Film: Jurassic World Click for more info

Oh man. Has it really been that long? It's actually quite amusing how the film itself asks the same question - and even concluding that audiences might be a little bored of the things that amazed us two decades ago. And yes, I suppose most of us would go to watch this for that exact fan-service - I was humming the theme tune in my head all day in anticipation of the film.

To be honest the film probably failed before it could begin: after all you can never redeliver dinosaurs for the first time. What you do get is a pretty fun dinosaur movie, with all the exciting, humorous, scary and villainous bits that you would expect. If I was being objective I would recommend it - just don't expect anything new here.

Sunday, June 14

The Play That Goes Wrong Click for more info

Although theatre has often used the breaking of the fourth wall, it's usually to progress a plot or transmit narrative; never have I seen it done in the way here. It's difficult to say too much without spoiling the premise of the show - most of the charm comes with the unexpected - but it's fair to say what results is a pretty multidimensional and meta experience. Oh and yes, it's also really funny.

Yes, some of the gags become predictable after a while, and yes, what remains of the plot is pretty weak. But watertight story lines isn't what this show is about - it's trying to figure out what's improvised, what's rehearsed, and how as an audience member you can affect what's going on.

Overall the experience is a lightweight one and so if you're looking for meat this probably won't suffice. But if you're after some light entertainment you can't really go wrong with The Play That Goes Wrong (bdum tish). And the £10 ticket offers that keep popping up just makes the whole deal that much sweeter.

Saturday, June 13

Food: Rodizio Preto Click for more info

Despite being relatively novel, I have actually done the whole Brazilian BBQ thing a fair few times now. And each time I was intrigued more by the novelty than the food.

Such is the case with Preto. You have access to a buffet (which to be frank resembles a salad bar) and unlimited cuts from the BBQ'd meat that does the rounds as you dine.

The food was okay, the service a little slow (perhaps that's the point?). The place itself was clean, but if I have one major issue it was with the cost - £25 for full access was pricey, particularity considering the state of the buffet, although I suspect the main reason for the lack of value in this instance was us restricting ourselves to the halal meat only (a total of 6 meats I think).

So yes, go for the novelty (maybe)... but don't expect a total experience.

Thursday, June 11

Food: Grill Krayzee Click for more info

As gourmet burger joints go, Krayzee is a tiny bit two bit. It's actually just past what one would expect from high end dirty chicken shop, which is surprising since the quality of food was actually pretty good. In fact, Krayzee out-burgers most of the burger places I've tried over the past couple of years (in fact I can only think of one notable exception) and if anything the only downsides I can think about were the parity of prices (Krayzee was actually rather steep for what it was) and some pretty bad milkshakes.

But other than that, the food was good. Recommended if you're in the area.

Film: Entourage Click for more info

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah. Although some (if not many) will wonder what the fuss was about, for fans of the show this film is so, so good. In fact this review is pretty easy really - the film was just another (albeit extended) episode of the show, so if you've checked that out then you'll know what you're getting. As an astute friend once described it the show is wish fulfilment pure and simple, and I can't but recommend it enough.

Book: The Path Of Daggers, Robert Jordan Click for more info

Book Eight in the pretty-much-the-definition-of-an-epic series felt like a bit of a coast. It was actually an easy enough volume to get through (well, in relation to the series thus far), with very few arcs and new characters present. In that sense it felt more like a transition piece, something to get us to the next book, but that in itself wasn't a bad thing; if anything it served as a bit of a respite in the chaos that was presented during the last two chapters.

There's still tons I'm sure I'm missing, but at least TPOD gives me a chance to catch up. Otherwise, it's onwards and upwards.

Tuesday, June 9

Food: Bengal Tiger Click for more info

I like to think I give things a chance. Where others may pour scorn on yet another generic Indian, I try to see if there's anything about a place that makes it stand out. And although I'm happy to say that many times there are, a few remain that make me regret this decision and pretty much bite me in the bum.

Bengal Tiger isn't a great place to eat. I mean, sure it's clean enough... but the positives stop there, with pricey and bland food, unexceptional service and a stunted atmosphere all present and resulting in a pretty boring experience overall.

Just do yourself a favour and skip it. There's plenty of better places within a 15 minute walk.

Sunday, May 31

Food: Wazir Click for more info

Lazy review time! Wazir was a pleasant surprise. It was local, clean, spacious, nice decor, decent food and provided great service.

I'd say it was a bit pricey considering what it was, and that there wasn't anything particularly exceptional about the place, but as an option it's certainly nice to have around. Recommended.

Saturday, May 30

Nazeem Hussain: Legally Brown Click for more info

So here I am, almost a year after watching his partner Aamer Rahman perform on the same stage, writing about Nazeem Hussain. I've already come clean about not having heard of either of them before, but the mild enjoyment I got out of the last session had brought me back to see the other half, someone who, I was told, had more of a zanier and slapstick act to deliver.

And Nazeem wasn't half bad. I did laugh a lot, which is always good. The humour was both accessible and sophisticated, if a little passe and over topical (most of it was about ISIS). Nazeem also seems to have the art of self-deprecation sorted to a tee, and even when he bombed you couldn't help but laugh with him as he laughed at himself.

An hour's performance was just about right, and I wouldn't mind seeing him again.

Wednesday, May 20

Film: Mad Max: Fury Road Click for more info

I've always been weary of the Mad Max films. There's something about the staccato tribal dystopia style of the movies that creeps me out. Still, I was willing to ignore any misgivings for the latest instalment - the hope being that a modern twist would have toned it down and made it a little more accessible.

Well, if the makers did something right they captured the spirit of the previous films perfectly. Fury Road is a weird, colourful, violent and noisy film that makes no false promises about what it's about. Alas it also meant that it wasn't my type of film too - I wouldn't say that I hated it; in fact I actually enjoyed it in the main, but it was still rough enough to make me squirm in places.

Personal preferences aside, the film was well put together. The action was top notch, the story passable enough and the acting a bit wooden (I think Hardy must have said, nay, grunted, at most five words). I had a few issues with the editing, but I suspect that again comes down to preference and style.

So not quite a recommendation from me, but with the acknowledgement that others, if not most, will receive it well.

Saturday, May 16

Food: The Cinnamon Club Click for more info

I can't remember the last time I wore a shirt to dinner. Admittedly this is partly because I'm not really into dressing up for food (read: I'm lazy) but mainly because the modern diversity of London tends to override the pressures of class these days. A guy in a hoodie can now be more educated and earn more than that guy in a shirt, and appearances in the main are meaningless.

That's not to say certain dress isn't appropriate for certain occasions, but more that specifically that The Cinnamon Club is far from somewhere I'd make an effort for. You can kind of see is for what it is quite quickly: a posh indian, and a lot of that was confirmed during the actual experience itself. Mixups on the orders, undue influence and "suggestions" on what we should drink and major errors on the bill all contributed to the feeling that the appearance was all a bit of a facade, a place that once again caters only to those who want to tell people where they went on a Saturday night rather than those who want to have a good experience and food for themselves. And it may be a personal slight, but tonight was the first time a grande restaurant had denied a request to provide a small room to pray in.

Which is a real shame because quite frankly the food was actually rather wonderful. Due to the size of our party we stuck to the set menu which included three courses and a drink, and I had no complaints for any of it. The chickpea and peanut cake for starter was different (in a good way), the fish main was sublime and even the biscuitless cheesecake turned our collective misgivings into words of praise. The drink was the simple lemonade mixed with a choice of syrups and cordials which seems to universally work so well. Ad at £30 per head it was actually pretty decent value too.

So yes: a decent night was had with great food, only to be spoiled by a failure in service and focus on the superficial. I don't think it quite makes my list of places to recommend in London, but with a few tweaks The Cinnamon Club could be something pretty compelling.

Wednesday, May 13

Food: Stax Diner Click for more info

I've written at least twice about the proliferation of "style over substance" gourmet burger bars that have popped up all over London over the past couple of years. They seem designed purely with the dual purpose of a) giving haloodie bloggers everywhere something to gush about and take pictures of and b) convince Muslims with more money than taste buds to part with their hard earned in the name of treating their families (to things like obesity and heart disease). You can probably tell that I'm not impressed but as I'm not a) a haloodie or b) have any kids to fatten up I guess I'm not really the target market for these places anyway.

So it was with great trepidation that I sat down at Stax this evening. My initial expectation was to be greeted with something I had already had before, the identikit sandwich accompanied with the inevitable Ferrero milkshake, but this did start to change pretty soon after. I think the main difference I found was that this wasn't a place designed for and marketed to Muslims, but a burger restaurant that happened to serve Halal meat. That's significant in a world where Islam is increasingly being pimped out as a brand to be traded on and commoditised, as it means a seller has to focus on making a product universally good instead of just good enough to sell to Muslims who have no other options. Take for example how the server asked us how we wanted our meat cooked - something unheard of in other so called gourmet burger joints. That said, I did go for the medium so I suppose I'm hardly adventurous.

But anyway, food. It was good. Really good. I went for a double Insanity (you can pick up to five patties in your bun), which was supposed to be hot but wasn't really. But I didn't mind because the burger was really good (I may have mentioned that already). It was also really unhealthy - I don't think I've ever seen a burger dripping as much fat as the one I received today. But I didn't care because it was so good. Oh and I think we got some chips and a milkshake but I don't really remember much past the cow-in-a-bun.

Oh and I have to talk about the Stax Challenge: a five patty cheese burger with a family portion of chips and super sized milkshake is presented to the challenger, who is then timed to see how long they take to finish it all. There's even a hall of fame/shame - I was quite surprised at how long the list of failures were, until I saw how easily a colleague failed at his. I'll try it one day maybe.

Anyway if you haven't already figured it out, I loved this place and thoroughly recommend it, and am even happy to gush about it here on my blog. Be warned though: the place couldn't have had more than 30 or so covers and doesn't take bookings so make sure you plan ahead. Other than that I'm already planning my next visit.

Tuesday, May 12

Film: Piku Click for more info

I really don't think I need to justify my near fanatical admiration of Deepika anymore; even the most obstinate of haters now acknowledge (albeit with some surprise) that she actually might have some talent on the screen. Piku is another brilliant example of this - but one that isn't just a Padukone show. Some amazing performances from both Amitabh Bachchan and Irrfan Khan make this one of the most balanced, quirky and ultimately fun Bollywood films of the last couple of years.

The relatively short runtime of around 2 hours keeps things tight, and a decent road trip plot give the film direction. Half the value of the film lies in the script though, with some genuinely laugh out loud moments executed to perfection by the headlining trio. It really was a sublime experience and one wholly recommended.

Tuesday, April 28

Film: Avengers: Age of Ultron Click for more info

I guess it's inevitable that, once you consider how each film from the MCU is supposed to tie into one another, that they eventually feel like episodes in a long running TV show. Saturation and fatigue has to occur - it's almost by definition - and as each instalment comes out, the audience will become more and more desensitised to the action.

But this is a Marvel film, a Whedon Marvel film, and so fatigue in this context doesn't mean much. Not being as WOW as the first Avengers means Ultron is merely a brilliant film rather than an amazing one, and it would be a lie to say that I didn't enjoy it. Yes the bad guy could have been meaner, the Avengers could have been cooler and perhaps funnier, and of course there's never enough Hulk, but there were enough set pieces and action to justify the entry fee so there's nothing to complain about really.

Monday, April 13

Food: Kitchin N1 Click for more info

Oh a buffet. Because I've not done that for a while. Still Kitchin N1 is new to me so I guess there is some novelty there.

Fifteen quid gets you a midrange selection of adequately prepared food, a nice spread of desserts and access to a soft ice cream machine. I'm really struggling to write any more than that so I'll leave it there.

Not particularly exciting and in the absence of any other option, a strong choice. I seriously doubt that King's Cross lacks any other options though.

Tuesday, April 7

Film: Fast & Furious 7

F&F7 is one of those film that proves the existence of an x-factor. It has all the ingredients that we've come to expect from a Furious film: some great set pieces, hammy lines and lots of melodrama. This should have been a great film.

Yet it's clear from quite early on that something is missing - whether it's due to a new director or unforeseen circumstances forcing a script change I don't know, but I left feeling pretty unfulfilled and disappointed.

Still, the final action scene is pretty cool, so there is that. Otherwise F&F is most certainly one for the DVD pile.

Saturday, March 28

Food: Bird Click for more info

At first glance, Bird had held promise. Free range chicken and a simple menu was a pretty good combination, and I expected a fresh take on the dirty chicken shops we know and love (and hate).

And as it happened, Bird wasn't that bad at first. We started with a whole bunch of wings in various sauces and glazes (including one which was especially chilli) and things were good. The mains were less so, with "pathetic" being the only word I could use for the Chinese pancakes, while my waffle burger, although novel, not hitting the spot like I wanted it to. There was a regular fried chicken burger too, but that appeared adequate at best.

The service was a little hit and miss: food took a while to get to us, an oddity considering the fried nature of the stuff. There were a few errors made in the order that were quickly addressed, and overall all the staff had looked after us. The bill came to around 15 a head which although not earth shattering did just about fail to justify what we ate.

Although a good idea in principle, Bird does fail in execution and so just falls short of a recommendation.

Friday, March 20

Book: The Circle, Dave Eggers Click for more info

I had mixed feelings about this book.

On the one hand I totally understood the message that the author was trying to convey - as someone who hates the Internet (or rather, the abuse of the Internet), I share both the fear of what by now seems the inevitability of an all encompassing quantified reality as well as the frustration experienced when trying to even discuss the matter with the great unwashed. As a book it's not too bad either - although they never appear to developp muchm the characters are interesting enough.

On the other hand I did feel that the pace of the story was a bit off - the plot laboured a bit, and at times it seemed that the only point of progression was to deliver some cheap thrills, sometimes even forcing some pretty obvious twists. This as well as the rushing of the ending, where not much is addressed (perhaps the point?) left me a little unfulfilled.

So The Circle ends up being a decent enough book whose message will unfortunately be easily dismissed, partly because of its delivery but mainly because not many will give it the attention it deserves. But hey, there's always real life to teach us eh?

Monday, March 16

Cyanide & Happiness Click for more info

Aaah, sometimes reassurance is a great thing:


SO IT'S NOT JUST IMPERIAL!

Saturday, March 14

Decoloniality London Workspace Launch Click for more info

Although I initially attended tonight's event in order to offer my personal support, it turned out that it was actually myself who had been the lucky one to be invited. The crowd was large and engaging enough anyway, and even before the evening began it was clear that much success had already been achieved in having them all gather in one place.

If I've skipped forward a little, it's only because I'm writing this with the same sense of discovery that I had at Mile End. At first glance it was just a larger and better lit Rebel Muzik, a room full of hippies-but-not-really who were just going to have a bit of a intellectually poetic party for a bit. But no, it soon became clear that this was much more than a jolly; this was to be academic and structured (although they will pour scorn on me for saying so), well presented and accessible. If there was any question of whether good organisation really kills a message tonight was proof that it can be done.

But what is Decoloniality London? To be frank I don't think I understand it enough to do it complete justice here, but it appeared to be a commentary on the exact immensity of control that the establishment has on society. Okay, so it was a little western and white bashing at times, but it did manage to get away with it on the whole.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to hang around for the whole of the session, but the presentations that I did see were illustrative, fun and (in my opinion most importantly) accessible and manage to engage even the biggest cynic in me; as cheesy and facebooktastic as it sounds I learned a lot from the interactive game of Simon Says we played. I was actually a little disappointed that I had to leave early, but I will be catching up via the recordings.

As the title of the night says, this was actually marking the launch of a set of educational modules based on the subject of (de)colonisation and the effects and conditioning it's had on us as a population. There's more info via the title link of this post, and I would suggest it's well worth checking out the Decoloniality London website for a more in depth presentation of how exactly they're trying to end the world.

Friday, March 6

Food: Kazan Click for more info

I guess I was tempting fate by complaining about the flooding of Turkish food options on the London Muslim's menu during my last post - I suppose it's no coincidence that my second meeting with a Muslim crowd landed me in yet another Turkish place this week. But as Efes showed, one can still be surprised even in the middle of ubiquity, so I did manage to go in to Kazan with a relatively open mind.

I think the immediate impression given by Kazan was one of a more "posh" Turkish place. This was reflected in the decor and clientele; this is a place that would appear very out of sorts in the middle of Whitechapel, say. The menu was also pretty difference too; yes, the mezze's were pretty standard, but the mains consisted of various gourmet platters and even a naked burger. Interesting and somewhat refreshing stuff then.

I went for the naked burger (and will admit that I was both surprised and embarrassed when it arrived without any sign of a bun), and it was more than just pretty good. It was perfectly portioned, tasted great and went down well - and looking at the platters received by others at the table it seemed that this assessment was to be pretty common across the board.

Atmosphere was decent but not the best - it wasn't quite the place to go for a quiet and intimate meal, but it was perfect for the medium group catching up like we were. The bill came to just over 30 per person including drinks; not surprising but still a bit on the pricey side for what we actually got.

So Kazan ends up being an interesting proposition, perhaps for those already in the area, but falls short of a total recommendation - but only because there are already so many other options in London that just about pip it to the post.

EDIT: So it turns out that I had already been to Kazan, albeit a fer number of years ago. Review here.

Tuesday, March 3

Food: Efes Click for more info

I think that I've spoken before about my boredom with the generic Turkish restaurants that I inevitably come across so often whenever it's a group of Muslims deciding to eat food with. I place Turkish food in the same category as Shisha and Dubai: bland and unoriginal things that have fast become the defacto standard options that we pick. It's a shame firstly because it limits the exposure we have to other cuisines and experiences, but also because the whole class of food falls in danger of becoming pretty generic and common denominated. I mean can you tell the difference between the lot?

Well it turns out that you can - and when this happens it's a bit of a revelation. Take Efes - yes, the menu is pretty generic and on the surface the place looks like a clone of the many other Turkish's in the area. But the real difference comes when you receive the food - this was good, solid and clean grilled meats in the main, with mezze's and condiments that kept up the refreshing standard of quality and taste. It's by far one of the stronger options for Turkish in the vicinity. Cost wise, everyone was well fed and watered for just under 20 a head, which is neither cheap nor pricey.

The place is relatively new so it's still an open question whether it will last the distance or fall victim to the Turkish-by-numbers others do, but for now it's a decent place that you really can't go wrong with. Recommended.

Thursday, February 26

Book: A Crown of Swords, Robert Jordan Click for more info

Book Seven down, and I am officially over half way through the WoT series. This volume was better than the last, not least because stuff actually happened, but it also seemed to flow a bit better. That said there were some pretty slow bit and I'm left hoping that the pace doesn't become the norm going forward.

Oh and I'm still confused about exactly what's going on. But hey! On to 8!

Tuesday, February 17

Film: Project Almanac Click for more info

Depending on the audience, time travel can be a tricky subject to film about. For the general (read: normal) public it's all about the drama involved with meeting dinosaurs or killing Hitler/your grandparents, but for the geeks (you know, those brought up on TNG) it's more about expressing the mathematical beauty of causality and the elegance of balancing the formula of temporal relocation. These guys need a tight storyline otherwise they probably won't enjoy it.

Which, as Project Almanac proves, is a load of bokum. I think it's fair to say that Almanac treats time travel with very little respect - the whole presentation of the concept and its consequences is pretty shoddy, inconsistent and cheap; it's clear from the start that the film is all about the drama of... well okay, there were no dinosaurs or Hitlers and most of the issues that the protagonists used time travel to deal with were wholly of the teenage angsty kind.

And yet, the film wasn't that bad really, not once you stop looking for holes and inconsistencies. What's left is quite fun, if not at all deep, and the film just manages to be decent enough to watch.

It still just falls short of a recommendation though. And oh, if you did want to watch an extremely tight film about time travel you should definitely check out the excellent Los Cronocrímenes or Timecrimes (credit to Mash for that one).

Tuesday, February 10

Florence Day Four: Rome

Except we didn't actually make it home on the day we were supposed to. Grabbing the latest flight leaving Florence meant flying via Rome - an inconvenience for sure but better than the alternative of catching the direct flight to Heathrow at 1pm. Ordinarily this would have been nothing more than an irritation, but it turns out that whatever magical curse had blocked our collective ability to keep time was still in full effect; after dinner at Rome's airport (which included a chocolate cake which pretty much sealed our fate), we found out that our connection to London had decided to leave without us.

To be fair it was our pride that was damaged the most. Missing a flight is pretty unforgivable, especially given the context here, but I guess the luck we had been riding on for the trip had to run out at some point.

And so there we were, refusing to the accept the fact that we would indeed have to spend a further night in Italy, this time in Rome, in order to catch the earliest flight to London the next day. It's probably something we would laugh about later (if not during sooner), but the real joke was how we were about to again miss the rescheduled flight the next morning. I think I would have given up at that point.

So there you have it - a last minute adhoc trip to Florence that ended up being full of culture, laughs and surprises. That's not bad for a destination I had never before considered visiting; I even learned how to use Snapchat (which kind of blew my mind by the way), so any misgivings or apprehension I had with booking the last minute trip was totally worth it.