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.

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.

Monday, February 9

Florence Day Three: Siena

In what appeared to be a a majestic example of "winging it", we decided last night that we were going to attempt to cram in Siena. This was a town a few hours South of Florence and was said to be too beautiful to miss, so after a quick pre breakfast investigation we figured out which bus would be able to take us there and back in good time for our flight home that evening.

But first we had the little matter of Santa Croce to see. This was a basilica in Florence that contained the tombs of some pretty big and influential scientists and artists from Firenze history: Galileo, Michaelangelo and Dante amongst others were all buried here and it would have been a big shame to have missed it. After a whistle stop tour (photos here) we headed to the bus station across town to catch our ride to Siena.

By "headed" I mean "rushed like headless chicken", because it seems that for some reason any sense of timekeeping had totally been lost at some point on our trip in Italy. Although buses to Siena were regular throughout the day, the 11:40am that we aimed to get really was the only feasible option to take in order to get some decent time there. After collecting our luggage from the hotel and dropping it off at the train station's left luggage (adjacent to the bus stop) we managed to get our tickets and seats with minutes to spare. But hey, at least we were on our way to Siena and at around 1:30pm we had arrived.


It really was worth the hassle. The town itself was very pretty, both in aesthetics and sheer vibe, and I immediately regretted us not taking a much earlier bus - our return trip was leaving at 4:30pm so we really only had hours to experience it. The town square would have been so good to have chilled out in, and even walking around the numerous winding and undulating alleyways (replete with cute little archways) would have kept us occupied for hours. Instead we chose to have a hearty lunch and spend most of our time at the Duomo di Siena.


The cathedral was magnificent. I think the main thing was how different it was - it was difficult to decide where it had more of a classic or modern ambience to it, and again I felt a pang of regret regarding how we had painted ourselves into a corner time wise. But what we saw was better than having missed it, and it was with a heavy heart that we walked (read: raced) back to the station to catch our bus. You can click the following for photos of Siena in general and its Duomo.

And that was pretty much it for out time in Siena and indeed Florence and Italy as a whole. The bus was exchanged for a taxi, the taxi for a plane (with us naturally checking in our luggage just after the counter had closed), and before we knew it we were well on our way London, I for one looking forward to having my bed back that evening.

Sunday, February 8

Florence Day Two: Pisa

Ah, Pisa. For most people it's the town that contains the most iconic of Italy's monuments - the leaning tower. And yes, although I will admit to initially not realising just how close Pisa was to Florence, I was pretty excited to be making the two hour drive west to see it.

I have to say, I was pretty disappointed.

This shouldn't really come of much surprise really. After all, it is just, well, a tower at an angle. I wasn't really sure what else I was expecting. But still, we did eventually go along with the whole tourist trail, including paying the extortionate fee to climb the tower as well as constructing those photos:


The rest of them can be found here.

After a pleasant yet underwhelming morning we made our way to Viareggio by train, a beach town further west of Pisa. Viareggio alone may have been worth a visit; it's a charming little town with a wonderful seafront alongside majestic mountain views and due to its accessibility would make a brilliant segue to a morning climbing leaning towers. However the real value and surprise for us was that as it was February, we were smack bang in the middle of carnival season:


It really was a brilliant experience - most of the afternoon was spent walking/strolling/dancing with the floats and performers, taking in as many of the colours and political statements as we could. And when we were exhausted with that we had sunset on the beach to bring us back down again. It was a vivid, unique experience which I feel lucky to have had been a part of. You can see the rest of the photos here.


But alas the day had come to an end and we made our way back to Pisa and then onto Florence for a late dinner. Unlike today, the next had not been planned in advance, so I was a little anxious as to what it would hold - on the other hand I think the trip had already surpassed my expectations.

Saturday, February 7

Florence Day One: Firenze

It was clear from the start that timekeeping wasn't going to be a major theme of this trip. For a start I had only booked my flight a little over 24 hours before take off, but the real indication was when I arrived at an empty gate - as everyone had already boarded the plane. Yes, City Airport is super efficient and yes, in theory you only need to (baglessly) check in 15 minutes before your flight... but no, in terms of stress it pays to arrive a little early than you need to. Of course this was a once off and I had learned my lesson and would never be so lax in catching a flight again. Oh no.

But I was on the flight and that's all that mattered really. Florence was never really on my list of places to visit (the first and only time I had previously been to Italy was Rome in 2003), but as some friends were already going I decided to crash and tag along. Three days sounded like a decent amount of time to spend in the region, and The Leaning Tower of Pisa just had to be something worth seeing. Other than that though I went in blind.

Although I initially cursed the insanely early flight it did pay dividends - after leaving the airport and checking into our hotel we were free to start exploring by noon. By virtue of it being situated right outside our hotel, the immediate sight to see was the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (photos here), a majestic cathedral with an immense dome that really did seem like something that belonged in a film. We bought a combined ticket that allowed us to climb both the dome and bell tower - there's not really much between the two in terms of views (of course the tower had a better view of the dome), but the climbs have their own sense of adventure in both. The ticket also allowed us entry into the baptistery (which was nice) as well as the museum in the basement of the cathedral (which was less interesting).


Next on our list was the Galleria degli Uffizi (photos here). This was a pretty sizeable art gallery containing the works of various classical Italian artists including at least three Ninja Turtles - I was actually quite surprised at how many I recognised, which is both a testament to the value of these pieces and a indication of my ignorance of the deeper aspects behind the famous art we see so often.


Our final stop of the day (both due to a lack of time as well as inclination - it appears three is the maximum number of museums we could handle in a day) was to the Galleria dell'Accademia (photos here), home of Michelangelo's sculpture David, and pretty much the reason we crossed town. The visit was whistle-stop, and the gallery did have other nice exhibits too, but the highlight was definitely the sculpture itself.


For our first night in Florence we decided to meander across Ponte Vecchio (photos here) to the south bank of Florence. We eventually ended up at Gustapizza, a cute intimate little stone baked pizza place that had brilliant food at a friendly price which I heartily recommend. After that we took a punt and visited Libreria Cafe la Cite, a bookshop-cum-cafe that offers live music at night.


It was a great way to end our first night in Firenze, and after day one I was already totally glad that I had been convinced to come. Random photos from the streets of Firenze can be found here.

Saturday, January 17

Food: Waterfall Kebab Centre Click for more info

I actually paused for a moment before deciding to review this place, something that appeared to be a typical high street kebab shop. I mean the line has to be drawn somewhere right? If I wrote about every new place I ate in then this place would be even more tired and mundane than it already is. Heck, I might as well start tweeting my every meal or something.

But then I realised firstly that I'm not really a food snob, secondly that no one actually cares about the ethics of food writing and thirdly - and most importantly - everyone needs to know about Waterfall Kebab Centre.

First up, let's start with the food: it was awesome. All of it. From the grilled meats (I had the Adana) to the fried chips to the salads, everything was prepared with such care and pride we started enjoying the food even before we tasted it. And once we did that I realised that this was a special place.

So on to service then. Our server was polite, chatty and engaging[1] - it was almost like we were visiting someone's home for dinner, and I guess in hindsight it's not really surprising that the place was a family run joint. We even started talking about movies and cake baking at two separate points. The free tea and baklava at the end was just the icing on the cake really.

Cost wise there were no complaints either; a tenner a head got us a spread of starters, a main each and a few drinks for the party. Totally worth it. If there was a distracting point it's that the place was essentially a kebab shop: it's probably not the place you would take the highly maintained Londoner date of today. Although quite frankly if they turned their noses up at this place I know which I would choose to stick with.

So there you have it, probably the best kebab shop I've been to. Totally recommended.

[1] And I challenge any of the guys I was with to deny fancying our server.

Tuesday, January 13

Film: Taken 3 Click for more info

Oh man oh man. What a dire film.

Maybe it was a lack of budget, or inclination, but there was none of the spirit, charm and charisma of the previous two films here. The plot sucked, the acting was poor, the editing awful and the action almost non existent. In fact the best thing about it was its merciful length.

It's such a shame seeing how much I loved the first and liked the second. What a disappointing turn out.

So not recommended - just pretend there are only two films in the series.

Saturday, January 10

Food: Zi's Click for more info

Ilford is quite the location for a variety of food, if not that of consistent quality. Still, we tend to give local business a chance when we can and stonebaked pizza is still a novelty in these parts so our party for 10 were all ready to give it a try.

There were ups and downs. The garlic bread was a little strange, and came with a bitter taste we concluded was due to an abundance of raw garlic. On the other hand, the pizza mains were great in their simplicity and solidness - I went for the chilli peperoni (the meat is all halal) which hit the spot pretty well.

Otherwise the place was clean, the service more than adequate and the ambience well suited for our party. Prices were decent, even after you consider the special opening offer of all pizzas for 6 quid.

In short, Zi's has pretty much become the go to place for Pizza in Ilford, and although that might just be by default that shouldn't take away how much of a decent place it is. Just avoid the garlic bread.

Thursday, January 8

Book: Watchmen Click for more info

As I had already seen the film (albeit ages ago), I was quite looking forward to reading Watchmen. After continuously being told how much off par the movie adaptation (which I liked) was from its source as well as how often it's billed as the most important graphic novel of all time there was not really anyway to be anything but excited really.

And yes it was good - the depth of the characters and plot and how it all unfolds is pretty magical, and I suspect can only really have been told by a graphic novel. Did I fall in love with it though? Well honestly no, I can't say I did. Just why it didn't take I'm not entirely sure since on paper it should have been right up my street, but I suppose it comes down to the fact that ultimately I'm not as passionate as comic books as those who cherish Watchmen are.

Having said that I am now off to revisit the film, so there must be something it's done right.

Monday, January 5

Link of the Day

On the Phenomenon of Bulls**t Jobs

It actually started with my stumbling across what appeared to be a couple of 200 unauthorised posted on the tube (see here and here). On searching for the quote I reached the original source, an article by David Graeber originally written in 2013 when it appeared in Strike! magazine.

Amongst other things, the genius of the article is in its length, conciseness, clarity and especially in its content: I don't think there will be many people reading it who wouldn't have been doing so while nodding their heads in agreement. For me personally, it was able to vindicate some of the things that friends and I would have concluded a long time ago; that productivity of a workforce doesn't equal the number of man-hours expended. And as someone who has long established their relationship with work (I certainly know my own answer to the "What would you do if you won the lottery?" question), I thought some of the ideas in the article were bang on.

Sunday, January 4

Karachi 2014

It's telling that on my last trip to Karachi I had only posted a handful of travel articles. As my trips back home become more and more frequent (it had actually, amazingly, been less than a year since I had last visited, which is a record in itself), I appear to have less and less to say as my time there becomes more and more run of the mill and less special. This in itself isn't a bad thing - on the contrary actually: I like being a part of the furniture there and being able to skip the sometimes awkward stage of regaining familiarity with relatives and the environment.

That said this trip was different, mainly because I was travelling with my wider family this time instead of just my folks. This meant that the trip was largely tailored to the kids in our party: I have never been to as many Karachite attractions, museums and fairgrounds in two weeks as I had on this trip - heck I didn't know Karachi even had as many attractions, museums and fairgrounds in the first place.

In fact the whole trip was pretty exhausting, and that not necessarily in a bad way... it was just different to what I was accustomed to. In any case, as part of my intention to return more frequently there'll be plenty of chances to have a more low key visit in the future.

Tuesday, December 9

Book: Lord of Chaos, Robert Jordan Click for more info

Before I start with the review proper, there are a few observations I'd like to note. Firstly, it has now been (well) over a year since I started the Wheel of Time series. That's a long time to read any series, and although I suppose it is yet to top GoT I am still under half way through.

Secondly I just found out that this volume, Lord of Chaos, was published in 1995. That's like 20 years ago. For context, the Wheel of Time series as a whole completed this year. I'm not quite sure how or even if I could have travelled with a story over that much time, but it does feel like I'm cheating. With a time machine.

Lord of Chaos itself was a strange book. Like some of the other so far, it felt like it had a big middle rather than a proper flow of start-middle-end; it's a pattern I've come to expect now. Climaxes do occur though - usually ones which catapult the story - so it's not all bad.

I'm still finding the reading quite hard; I have to reread quite often to get my head around what was actually being said and if I'm totally honest I don't think I even grasp all the characters and politics fully. But thankfully the book does work on many levels so I don't even feel like I'm missing out too much.

All in all LoC was a good chapter in the saga that is enveloping my literary world - and for once I want to actually race on to book 7 straight away instead of picking up something else in between.

Thursday, December 4

SMBC Click for more info

I'm not saying I'm old, but...



Whatevs.

Wednesday, December 3

Film: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 Click for more info

Maybe I'm just becoming cynical, but these deliberate stretches of books into movies are beginning to grate a bit. I mean there really isn't much happening in Mockingjay Part 1 that could have been edited out in a longer single film but hey, I suppose ticket sales are key now.

Still, the film (and its predecessors) is better than the (half-) book, and I suppose for that I am thankful. Jennifer Lawrence is watchable of sorts and the rest of the case supports her well; it's just a shame it labours more than it really needs to.

Hopefully this would be addressed in the next (and final?) film, so for the sake of continuation and completeness I suppose I will have to recommend this, albeit begrudgingly.

Saturday, November 22

Food: Hoi An Click for more info

It's hard to believe that it's been over two years since I visited Vietnam, but on of the things that I do remember is how easy we had it, food wise. I'm not that much of a fussy eater but with that ingrained preconception of far east food those of us who are Muslim or Pakistani (or both) have, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the cuisine we came across during our tour.

Which makes me wonder why it's taken so long to find Hoi An, a halal Vietnamese joint right here on my front step. Now if I'm totally honest I can't really make any claims to the authenticity of the place - I'm far from discerning enough to specify that - but the food tonight was just as good and enjoyable as I remember it being. I stuck to the relatively simple prawn pancake and chicken curry dishes, and they were both sublime in their simplicity.

If there was one complaint it was that of the price: £20 quid a head put today's food miles away from what we had in Vietnam as part of the fun of eating there was the embarrassingly low cost to eat. I guess it was cheaper than a plane ticket, but I can't help but feel it could have been more appropriately priced given the experience. Still, I would go back and I suppose in that sense Hoi An is recommended.

Friday, November 14

Film: Happy New Year Click for more info

It was an especially good year in 2013 for Deepika fans - so it went without saying I was going to see Happy New Year. That said I'm not a total Deepika fanboy: I still haven't watched Finding Fanny for instance, but this film has been on the radar for a while now so was pretty much unavoidable. That's in spite of my misgivings of what appears to be yet another ugly Farah Khan film. But hey, that video alone would have been worth the ticket entry alone.

But what's this? It turns out that Happy New Year wasn't actually that bad after all. In fact it was more than pretty good - it most certainly ranks as one of the funniest Bollywood films I've seen. Yes there are bad bits, but not enough to ruin the film. And yes, that video was a highlight, but even I would have to admit that the remaining DP scenes came second to the giggles the rest of the film had to offer.

It didn't even feel like the three hours it ran for. I wouldn't call HNY a work of art, but as something to enjoy on a rainy grey winter evening it hits the spot and then some. Recommended!

Tuesday, November 11

Film: Interstellar Click for more info

I always hold a level of fear while going to watch a new Christopher Nolan film. That OCD-like behaviour I portray in other spheres of life tends to manifest while watching films too, which means I need to know everything about what happens, the mystery has to work out and everything needs to fall into place. That's not to say that I'm bothered by loose ends - it's never my fault if a script sucks (I'm looking at you, Equilibrium) - but it does bother me when I know it's my lack of concentration or ability to follow that's lacking.

Which brings us to Nolan. The wonderful thing about his films is how watertight they are. Everything makes sense (well within the bounds of the fiction his films are set in), all the pieces fit and the payoff when it all clicks together is almost always ecstatic. The downside is, of course, how damn difficult it is to watch a Nolan film to it fullest extent. I'm still not sure I understand Inception fully and the last time I watched The Prestige I think I picked up at least a handful of new insights. Nothing comes for free I guess.

Interstellar is a great film for both old and new reasons. It has the same multilayered, multidimensional (is there any Nolan film that doesn't play with the passage of time?) and puzzle box feel to it, yet appears to be the most accessible Nolan film to date. There's no head scratching here - okay fine, perhaps I'm overestimating the general level of physics knowledge out there, but I really don't think the science jargon was as much a barrier as, I dunno, dreaming within dreaming or running a film backwards. Even less so for all the trekkies and Whedon geeks out there for whom this will all be par for the course.

But Interstellar was also an action film, a character drama and, okay fine, a space opera (of sorts). You didn't need to put down your popcorn to concentrate if all you wanted was a good story. It was there.

There were flaws though. Some of the answers to the puzzles were a bit weak for Nolan, a result I feel of the lower cost of entry, and the whole thing just didn't feel as water tight as his previous films. Rather than see that as a step back however, I think its a sign of a maturing film maker who has realised enjoyment doesn't necessarily come from making your audience work very hard.

At the end of the day Interstellar is a brilliant film and one that has to be watched. Recommended.

Saturday, October 25

Food: Ariana Click for more info

I think the fatigue any Londoner has with Persian food is well deserved - I'm still waiting for the identikit cuisine to best fish and chips or curry or whatever the nation's current love is, but I don't think it'll take too long. As such there's really not much to say about Ariana really; you'll already know what to expect as you would have tasted it all before.

However what made Ariana different was the subtly brilliant time we all had. Eating out isn't necessarily always about the food (most certainly not for a non-foodie like myself), and it says a lot that we were able to enjoy our time there for over three hours on a Saturday night, lounging away on the staged platform seating. There's not many places a party of six or so could have done that, so Ariana does get major credit for creating such an ambience.

Oh and yes, the food was okay too - generous portions didn't have us wanting for more, although at 8 quid for a main no points were won for any special level of value. But the desserts sucked so you may want to avoid those.

Otherwise I can't think of any place local where we would have had such a lazy and enjoyable time and for that alone Ariana comes recommended.

Wednesday, October 15

Food: Le Chef Masgouf Click for more info

So apparently there aren't many Iraqi restaurants in London - they're all more Persian or Lebanese - which might explain why I was excited to check out the venue today, recommended by an Iraqi friend. I guess it was my own ignorance of cuisine that meant I couldn't really tell the difference: as far as I could tell it was the same humus for starters and the same mixed grill served with the same rice for mains that we received. That wasn't an issue in itself as it had been a while since I enjoyed such a menu - and on top of that the food turned out to be rather good stuff. Tasty and juicy in the exact right ways, I even embraced the grilled meat and chops, the bits that I usually avoid.

As the meal was paid for I can't quite comment on price, but in terms of food it was all solid and a good alternative to the usual fare you'd get a few metres away in Edgware Road (spit).

Monday, October 6

Food: Jimmy's World Grill Click for more info

Oh dear. Three consecutive buffets in three consecutive months? Even if you take account of the fact I didn't review the few places I have already written about that I visited in between the three buffets, that's still a pretty poor show. I won't be offended if you walk away now.

On the other hand, it does put me in a pretty good position to compare - a sort of buffet veteran as it were. I now know how to navigate the tables, how to pace myself for maximum taste and variety, and where to focus my attention on in order to experience the largest range of food possible in the given two hours or so these places think it's normal to allocate.

So Jimmy's then? Well it was decent I suppose. It had a middling range of food, most of which was halal. The quality varied but most was above average - the mexican stand was a pretty novel idea. Desserts were above average too, although the gimmicks like an ice cream machine and chocolate fountain were available to make it seem we were getting more than we actually were.

Service and atmosphere were both okay - this place was noisier than JRC so probably more suited to larger parties. The cost was also pretty decent, coming to around 14 quid for the session.

Out of the three I've most recently visited Jimmy's most certainly wasn't the worst - I guess the decision to go lies on those intangible things like mood and company. However just like the other places I can't quite bring myself to recommend it fully; I guess you just have to accept buffets as a part of the food scene now.

Wednesday, September 24

Book: Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn Click for more info

Yes fine, I'll admit it - I only read this book because of the upcoming film release. I guess it's a kind of bandwagon jumping, although I did resist reading when most of the London Underground was so there's a bit of a moral victory there. But of course I had already decided it for what it was: a trashy populist thriller aimed at the common denominator of readers - the type who feel clever because they're reading something off a paper page and not an iPhone screen.

But what's this? I was... wrong? Well let's start at the beginning. Gone Girl has some pretty decent levels of the stuff I look for in a book - characterisation - it's almost even a bit too much as the main protagonists exceed reality and become a little caricature at times. But still I have to applaud the author for creating character so refreshingly deep and multilayered, and in fact it's the depth of character that the book rides on for the most part; the plot is a little shifty, although the writing standard itself is sound.

But toward the middle of the book it all starts going terribly wrong. As genius as the "method writing" of the author is (I actually reckon she might be a little unhinged in real life), the cracks do start to show as the plot fails to keep up with the people portraying it. In fact it all reduces to something a bit feminist and propaganda-ry by the end of it, and that's not even mentioning the ending which by all measures was just a cheat.

It's a shame actually because for me it was just enough to spoil the book. It was great while it lasted, but ultimately the prophecy came to pass and Gone Girl did turn out to be just another trashy page turner designed to please the masses. Ironically though I do think it'll make a better film.

Wednesday, September 17

Food: JRC Global Buffet Click for more info

In a town full of generic identikit all you can eat buffets, anything different can immediately be seen as something really special. Take JRC Global Buffet for instance - it's huge for one, quite well done up for another, and at first glance has a pretty decent range of food to pick from. There were Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese and Continental kitchens, each with the staple, if not comprehensive, dishes that you would expect to find.

But looks can be deceiving, and things start unravelling a little for a Muslim visitor when they realise that not everything is halal - the Chinese in particular appeared off limits. But still there was plenty to compensate; in particular I don't think I've been to a buffet that has sushi and teppanyaki - I think I saw staff walking around with a stick of BBQ too at one point. The quality of food was more decent than otherwise - surprisingly the beef lasagne was worth the entry price alone. Desserts were also of a decent nick and range, although I was a little rushed for time so didn't get to investigate as much as I'd like to.

Otherwise this was pretty standard stuff, albeit if a little above average. At £15.99 it was priced on par, and even the drinks were of a decentish value.

I'd definitely like to visit again at some point, at which point I'd hope there would be slightly more of a choice. As it stand though JRC is a good effort in a sea of mediocrity.

Saturday, September 13

Burq Off Click for more info

On paper Burq Off didn't stand a chance - an autobiographical one woman play telling the story of her repressed upbringing in a Pakistani family home and her coming of age rebellion as she discovered her sexuality (amongst other things) while living away for uni. Sigh etc. And yes if I'm honest I really didn't have much more than contempt for the cliché (and I guess by implication Nadia) itself.

And yet I came away having really enjoyed the show. The reason? Well it turns out that Nadia Manzoor is actually good - really good - at what she does now: theatre. Putting aside the genius and talent that comes with a one actor show (the final character count was 21 which is pretty impressive), she was brilliant at taking on the disparate roles and evoking emotion in us, the audience. In fact it went so far that at times it was quite confusing - we were supposed to feel bad for her when she was laughing? Laugh at her when she was crying? It was a bit of a roller coaster at time, and I found myself mentally tripping up quite a few times. I think intense was the word I immediately used when talking about the show afterwards.

So I guess for me Burq Off was just another example of raw talent shining through bad content. I'm perfectly fine with that - after all, it's not like Manzoor's next show will be telling the same story.