Tuesday, April 15

Film: The Raid 2 Click for more info

By what I assumed was design, the first Raid was a clinically pure and focussed beat em up action flick - that actually what made it great. As such, I had a feeling that the 2.5 hour runtime of its sequel would be a pivotal factor in it repeating that success: either the makers had managed to create 150 minutes of unadulterated bone crunching violence, or they had succumbed to the criticisms of the previous movie and decided to add irrelevances like "plot" and "characterisation".

And it turns out it was the latter, and unfortunately the film does indeed suffer for it. Granted a lot of that disappointment stems from wanting more of the amazing same that was delivered before, but even if we rebase our expectations and consider this a film in its own right, it does somewhat fall short of being the balanced film of action and depth that it strives to be. The plot is longwinded and, well, boring, with characters being manufactured out of nowhere just to progress it. It all makes for a film that doesn't seem to recognise it's own worth.

On the bright side the fluff is superfluous to, and not instead of, the real goods so with patience you do eventually get rewarded. The film is much more violent than the first, sometimes in a worse, more cringworthy way, but all that is excused for some amazing set pieces, some of which exceed that we saw before.

But alas the dilution is enough for me to recommend saving this one for a home viewing - who knows, perhaps by then there'll be the 90 minute edit this film really needs to be awesome?

Sunday, April 13

I Once Ran a Marathon

There are pivotal moments in every person's life which are so life changing they end up remembering them every year in the form of anniversaries. The obvious and generic ones are birthdays (which if you think about it might be more special for a parent than for a child) weddings and deaths, but there are many more which although more personal and intimate can be just as potent. The start of a new job maybe, or a season in which a Muslim performed a Hajj - perhaps even a house move. Some dates you just remember.

Today marks ten years[1] since I ran the London Marathon (back in the days when it was a Flora and not Virgin), and I've never understated exactly how much that day (as well as the six or so months leading up to it) had an effect on me. I could say that the lesson was that anything is possible with hard work or something, but I think what I actually learned was that everything in life has a cost, and the more major it is, the higher the cost. In those terms it's a pretty obvious statement to make, but then I guess most life lessons are.

Blogs (well this one for me anyway) are quite handy in that they catch the moment at its most raw; before one has time to process or even misremember it. I regret not having Radio Shak for many pivotal life events, but the two I do the most are the marathon that I ran and the Hajj that I performed. Still, I did manage to get a "one year later" post down, which captured part of what I was feeling at the time. On the other hand a part of me is disappointed with how hard I'm clinging on to the achievement, if only because this essentially implies that the last thing I managed to do of any great value was a decade ago - and that compounded by the fact that I don't really run any more at all.

But lament aside, I am proud of being in that club of people who have managed to run 26 odd miles in one go, and although I'm not quite sure where my medal is the whole day ten years ago does stay with me. Perhaps that's another reason why anniversaries are useful - to both remind us that not only is time always moving, but that it makes space for further achievements too.

[1] Well not exactly - we ran on the 18th of April in 2004.

Sunday, April 6

Sri Lanka, Day Fifteen: The Return

And there we have it, the end of my time in Sri Lanka. Just like the other wedding-cum-holidays I've been on (Australia, South Africa and Mauritius/Madagascar come to mind), this was a pretty complete and epic trip, consisting of friends, family, good times and some amazing travel. The people, food, natural scenery and overall vibe were all top notch and I honestly can't think of any downsides to the place. It would even make for a great honeymoon - it makes a great cultural compliment to a few days of relaxing in The Maldives for instance.

In all honesty Sri Lanka was never on any travel list of mine, and I'm very thankful for not only having a wedding to draw me to the country but also the opportunity of enjoying the place under such a wonderful context. My sadness at leaving is only consoled by a genuine desire to return (although perhaps without a wedding), and I've already begun to strongly recommend the place to everyone I talk to, and if you're reading this I really hope you consider checking it out in the near future.

Saturday, April 5

Sri Lanka, Day Fourteen: The Gap

And so it finally came - the last day of our tour. We decided to take it easy this morning and left the hotel at a relatively leisurely 10am, heading to the last major point on our itinerary, The Ella Gap. On the way we got to see the scenery we missed last night due to the rain and lack of light, but even those amazing views didn't prepare us for Ella - by this point I had given up trying to not be impressed by the things we saw. A small drive into the gap brought us to Ravana falls, which was nice too, but nothing beat sitting at the top of the gap in one of the hotels taking in the view with a milkshake.

Although we were running out of time (Colombo being over four hours drive away) we found it quite difficult to leave the area and managed to fit in both the Diyaluma and Bambarakanda Falls, each which had their own price to pay. Diyaluma was reached via a hour long drive on an under-developed road, which wasn't too fun but did present us with some more amazing views as well as the opportunity to visit some of the more smaller villages in the area.

Bambarakanda Falls required the use of rickshaws to get to a viewing point. In hindsight the whole plan turned out to be a bit of a disaster - further torrential rain, our rickshaw breaking down half way on the 20 minute trip and even leeches all made it a trip to remember - and considering how dry Sri Lanka had been over the recent weeks most of the waterfalls weren't as spectacular as they should have been (although sure, the aforementioned torrential rain did help a little with Bambarakanda).

But we eventually made the decision to make our way back to Colombo, tired, hungry, wet, but totally fulfilled with today and the whole tour. We got back to our hotel pretty late, hunted for dinner and got ready for bed, myself preparing for the flight I had back to London the next day.

All photos from today can be found here.

Friday, April 4

Sri Lanka, Day Thirteen: The World's End

Another unholy start meant we were out of our hotel and on the way to Horton Plains by 5:30 am. The main reason was to catch the trek at its best - visibility decreases as the day goes on - but for us we also wanted to be back in town for Jummah prayers. Early starts aside, the trek itself was worth it, if only to see the impossibly incredible sights from The World's End. I don't think my breath gets taken away too often but the sheer immensity of the gap was pretty gobsmacking. Also on show were waterfalls and other examples of natural beauty, and I strongly recommend anyone who visits Sri Lanka to make time on their schedule to check out the plains. Photos can be found here.

Although the trek is described as easy you do need to be of a decent level of fitness and surefootedness to get through it unscathed - oh and some sun protection as although the sun isn't particularly bright, it is searing. But complete it we did, although it turned out we should have left a little earlier as the normally 3-4 hour trek turned out to take a little more for our group. Still, a mad rush back to Nuwara Eliya ensured that we made it for Jummah on time, so it all turned out okay.

To treat ourselves we spent the afternoon checking out the Heritance Tea Factory (photos), a boutique hotel situated in the middle of yet more heavenly views. Although we had a lovely time having tea (which means milkshake for me) and cake, it was all too brief and another reminder of just how many shortcuts we were taking timewise during this tour. If only we had another couple of more days or so to plant ourselves in a hotel and relax - it would have been pretty great.

But alas it was time to say farewell to Nuwara Eliya and head to our final destination of Haputale - due to the lateness of travel we were cheated of the views, but what was even worse was the torrential rain that had decided to break during our drive - at time pretty scary. But we eventually made it to our hotel safe, if not a little damp.

Thursday, April 3

Sri Lanka, Day Twelve: The Tea

As we were not planning to stay for more than one night anywhere on this mini tour, early starts were vital to get the most out of the limited time we had. This morning we mopped up the remainder of Kandy, managing to visit both the Sri Dalada Maligawa (The Temple of the Tooth) and Kandy's Botanical Gardens (photos) before lunchtime. Both were pretty interesting and I would say unmissable in Kandy - get the timing right and you might get to see the Bhudda's Tooth enclosure like we did.

Kandy (photos) itself is a very pretty city, nestled in a valley leaving it a very magical and mysterious vibe - almost like it's a secret. I regret not being able to spend more time there actually, but alas we had to leave (oh, but not before visiting a "Gem Museum" - we managed to get away relatively unscathed).

Interestingly when previously asking around about Nuwara Eliya I seemed to get the exact same response from all Sri Lankans: That it's a little England, it's a bit cold, but the views you see on the drive there are pretty amazing. Starting from the last point, the views were pretty stunning, with vast tea fields, rolling mountains and hills and some of the most amazing vistas I've seen anywhere.

It got so much that there came a point where I gave up taking pictures because 1) there was always another similar or better view coming along, 2) pictures really didn't do much justice to what you could see and 3) I wanted to spend as much time experiencing them with my naked eyes than through a camera.

Speaking of tea, we did stop off at a tea factory where we saw how the stuff was produced, as well as given the opportunity to purchase some freshly packed tea.

But we finally arrived late in the afternoon. It turns out that the universal assessment of Nuwara Eliya was based on truth - between the British architecture and climate it really did feel like we were in a quaint little countryside village in England. We even managed to find the time to walk around town - it soon became clear that this was another place I wouldn't have minded spending a couple of nights in instead of just the one we had.

More photos of Nuwara Eliya can be found here.

Wednesday, April 2

Sri Lanka, Day Eleven: The Elephants

Okay so I lied - yesterday wasn't the end per se. Those of us who are still in Sri Lanka began our mini tour of the country this morning and it was in the early hours that we packed into a van to head to Kandy.

On the way we stopped at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, exactly what it says it is, and got to see a whole herd of elephants bathing and feeding by the river. Now I've certainly seen elephants before, usually in zoos and the like, but seeing so many of them so... free was quite special. You could almost feel the power these animals had. Going into full tourist mode we paid a few extra rupees in order to feed the animals, which was a surreal experience in itself.

More photos of the elephants at Pinnawala can be found here.

Since we were on an organised tour in Asia, we were fully expecting to be introduced/stitched up by various "cultural" shops along the way. The first of these was a herbal medicine shop where we were given a no obligation tour of a herbal garden and even a free massage before being given the hard sell. Judging by the amount we spent they seemed to have done a really good job (on us). I look forward to using the snake oil we were sold.

We eventually hit Kandy this evening where we caught a somewhat entertaining cultural show full of dance and acrobatics after which we called it a night and headed to our hotel. Oh and if you were looking for a place to stay in Kandy, the Earl's Regency is top notch.

Tuesday, April 1

Sri Lanka, Day Ten: The End

And so this was it: the last day on the wedding itinerary.

After an unholy start of the day in order to catch a dive this morning (which had actually turned out to be one of the best I have been on), the rest of the morning was spent lounging on the beach, dossing, joking and playing beach volley - hanging out for what would probably be the last time under such circumstances. It was nice but poignant - a lot happens in a wedding week to bring people together and it's a bit jarring when you face the reality of having things go back home.

But indeed after lunch back home (by which I mean Colombo) we did head. Our hosts provided us dinner (haleem: amazing) one more time, and then that was it: it was all over.

Monday, March 31

Sri Lanka, Day Nine: The Beach

As a further testament to exactly how well the baraat was being treated by our Sri Lankan hosts, we were all to be taken to a beach resort in Ahungulla for a couple of days and a night in which to bond, enjoy each other's company and bid our farewells - a sort of long winded but very much appreciated goodbye if you will.

The resort was, of course, beautiful, with a semi private beach we all spent way too much of today on. The Indian Ocean (which I've never actually stepped in before) was wonderful: just the right temperature to stay comfortable while popping in and out of, while the waves were of just the right level of thrilling and calm in which to have fun in. I don't think I've spent so much time in the sea before today.

We built castles and faces in the sand, drew diagrams and messages and even buried people. It was the kind of carefree fun that only really happens during that perfect moment after a wedding while on holiday (that is to say: not too often). Sunset eventually came, and with it showers and dinners.

The late evening was spent with all of us (so around 40 odd) playing games including quizzes, charades and truth or dare: more silly stuff that took us well into the morning of the next day. It really was Sri Lanka Good Times.

(Photos of my time in Ahungulla can be found here)

Sunday, March 30

Sri Lanka, Day Eight: The Valima

Another easy going day, with lunch hosted for my immediate family at the Colombo Club at The Taj. It was yet another great meal with great company (I lose count how many I've had this trip) and yet slightly poignant as it also marked the end of the first chapter of this trip: our time in Colombo.

Tonight's Valima at the Cinnamon Grand was the last of the wedding events and a nice way to end all the proceedings. Guests and family had started to leave by this point too so it was also a chance to say goodbyes and make promises to cement the new relationships and keep in touch - as well as maintain existing ones as by yet further chance I bumped into that honeymooning couple again (I think they were getting bored of serendipity by this point).

Saturday, March 29

Yasmin and Kashif

It's definitely a blessing having so many people around me getting married, but sooner or later there was bound to be a clash - in this case a total of three couples tying the knot in three different continents, all on the same day, meant I had to miss out on witnessing the celebrations. I guess I should be thankful that it hasn't happened before till now. If there was a way to have travelled the distances involved to attend all three I would have done so.

Yasmin is one of those pretty smart chicks who has the uncanny ability of being easy to talk to - I'm sure it has something to do with intelligence or being a good listener or something - and I've had a lot of wisdom from her over the years, particularly when it came to the whole game of finding a spouse. For sure, a part of me will miss the trading of stories and advice, but it's a small price to pay to see her on the other side.

My disappointment in missing Yasmin's wedding is only tempered by knowing how happy she is to marry Kashif, but the good news is that I'm sure I'll have the opportunity to catch up with them as they begin this amazing journey of theirs.

Imraan and Zeenat

Some friendships just naturally lend themselves to analysis. Take mine and Imraan's for example: we live a continent apart, have only met once (although that "once" did involve crashing at his place for a few days) and yet when we do talk it's like we're old friends (qualification: this may be one sided, but I don't care). Of course it helps that we have some things in common - a paradoxical blend of cynicism and optimism, that level of literacy and articulation that allows the efficient transfer of opinion and idea, and finally of course the innate ability to navel gaze. Sure we don't speak as often as we should, but when we do it's always fun.

Both this friendship and commonality make his marriage today particularly striking, and not least in a "if he can do it there's hope for the rest of us" way. Seeing him happy and excited makes me happy and excited, primarily for him but also for myself, and I expect to learn a lot from seeing Imraan get on with things. As is becoming way too common I haven't yet met Zeenat, but I am looking forward to doing so and I expect it will happen sooner rather than later.

My only regret is that I wasn't able to attend - but for sure it was only a family wedding in Sri Lanka that could have stopped me from doing so.

Sri Lanka, Day Seven: The Nikkah

And so, the day had arrived, the reason so many in the family had travelled (not that anyone was complaining - we had pretty much fallen in love with Sri Lanka by this point): the wedding day.

Midday was spent at the mosque witnessing the Nikkah, after which we began the mad dash to get ready for the wedding reception in the evening.

I don't think any of us could quite believe that only a week had passed - we had managed to cram a lot over the last seven days and it wasn't even over yet.

Friday, March 28

Sri Lanka, Day Six: The Lagoon

The wedding itinerary officially marked today as a "free day", which in we, in hindsight, should have exploited a bit. Instead a lazy start to head to Jummah, followed by an even lazier lunch before a meander to the Old Dutch Hospital for tea and small shopping resulted in the squandering of what time we had today - having said that I don't think anyone was complaining too much as it appeared we had pretty much exhausted most of the things to do in Colombo over the last week.

Dinner was at Lagoon, a wonderful fish restaurant at the Cinnamon Grand - most certainly the best food we had had in Sri Lanka so far.

Thursday, March 27

Sri Lanka, Day Five: The Culture

After the events of last night we decided to focus on a being tourists again, so as we gained confidence in the street of Colombo we walked the 30 minutes or so to the Colombo National Museum where we spent a couple of hours taking in the exhibits. It wasn't a particularly amazing museum, but given the time I would have spent some more there.

The rest of the day was pretty easy going. I caught a massage at the hotel which was... interesting (more so than the ones I had in Vietnam and Cambodia which I never thought possible). Buyer beware I suppose.

The evening was spent at the Peethi of the groom where all sorts of gate, slipper and messy mendhi games were played, including some of the most drawn out negotiations for the return of chappal I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Still, the food was awesome and we got to see someone being thrown in the pool so the late ending was worth it.

Wednesday, March 26

Sri Lanka, Day Four: The Dance

Another free day, and so we went into full tourist mode and grabbed rickshaws to the Galle Face Promenade for bit of a wander and lunch. Oh a bit of a warning regarding rikshaws: although you can choose to limit yourself to metered cabs only the chances are that your drivers will compensate by taking the scenic route to your destination. Having said that even inflated rikshaw fares are dirt cheap so you might just want to gloss over the con this time. After lunching at The (somewhat overrated) Gallery Café my family were then taken to The Kingsbury for pleasant company and high tea which was a wonderful way to spend the remainder of the afternoon before the busy evening ahead.

Tonight's mendhi marked the first event of the wedding proper. It was a ladies only affair in the main, during which the men were treated to a lake cruise with dinner and live singing which I thought was a genius stroke in the recent age where men usually get left out to dry in the frivolities. It was well received and much appreciated and I something I hope becomes the norm as people choose to maintain segregation during (mainly Muslim) wedding events. Anyway, rant over.

After the majority of guests had left the remaining (mostly family) men did eventually join the mendhi proper: our side had some routines planned and they all seemed to go pretty well - I was hoping it would considering the weeks of practice we had put into it. We had a total of five tracks (including one with us wearing lungis), although I did manage to sneak one in with the bride's side too - only the two of us knew it was coming and I think everyone else was pretty surprised when we did it.

It was all a lot of fun, but sitting here thinking about the day and how it's Wednesday already makes me realise how quickly stuff is happening on this trip. We're blazing through our time here, which kind of sucks as we're having such a brilliant time so far too.

Tuesday, March 25

Sri Lanka, Day Three: The Curry Leaf

The day was left to us, so my father, cousin and I took the opportunity to meet a local family friend. Going at it alone was helpful as it allowed us to explore and observe Colombo a little more freely. Not only did we get a bit more of an idea of the geography of Colombo - most strikingly with how small the city actually was - but also the demographic and social make up of the place. Quite surprisingly halal food is plentiful and readily available in most places and between that and the availability of butt showers in the toilet (I know, right?) it became quite strikingly clear how Muslim friendly Sri Lanka is. And the best thing? Ironically that it wasn't a Muslim country and so was immune to some of the issues that brings. In short, Sri Lanka is possibly the most friendly non-Muslim country I've visited.

And yes, the women are also beautiful here which always helps.

Dinner was again a wedding related affair, although I did happen to randomly bump into a couple of friends who were honeymooning in Sri Lanka. I'll gloss over the coincidence (if only because it happens way too often to keep calling it that) only to agree with them with how good a destination Sri Lanka makes for couples.

Monday, March 24

Sri Lanka, Day Two: The Sizzle

Today was mainly family stuff - visiting the in-laws to be during the day (there were a lot of them) and also joining them at a steak restaurant for dinner. Wedding things might not give you a tourist view of a place, but it does a native one which in many ways is even more handy - knowing the layout of a place more than the centre for example, or seeing how native Sri Lankans deal with the everyday in their home town - these are insights that one might not necessarily get as a tourist.

The most striking thing I learned was how nice the people are here. Our hosts aside (who were actually wonderful), the people on the ground were amazingly smiley, polite and all round nice wihtout being overbearing - the kind of attitude that unfortunately seems to only come from a country that had been through a war relatively recently. Another shocking observation was how incredibly clean Colombo was; enough to shame those of us who call Karachi their second home. The cynical side of me wondered if these behaviours would stand the test of time, but for now I just accepted that brown people can actually do a decent job of their homes if they want to.

Sunday, March 23

Sri Lanka, Day One: The Arrival

It is a bit frustrating when any advantage a direct flight has gets clobbered before even taking off by a flat tire. On the other hand, safety considerations aside, it was quite amusing to hear that our plane had one - and since the air stewardesses were nice enough to feed us I guess I wasn't too upset on the whole. For me holidays start at the originating airport - checking in, transit prayer, cute hostesses and cabin food are all part of the experience, delays or no, and so far the epic holiday which was to be in Sri Lanka had started off relatively well last night.

I think the first thing that struck me when landing was how green the place was. Seriously, it was almost like landing in a jungle. Still, Bandaranaike International Airport is actually an hour or so away from Colombo, so it made sense that we didn't get to see our home for the next week from the air. The drive to our accommodation did build up the excitement though, even though today was mainly about settling in for the days ahead. We were here for a wedding and that in itself promised a lot, but the fact that this was the first time the extended family had travelled anywhere was also something for me to look forward to and so far it seems my excitement wasn't overstated.

(Photos of my time in Colombo are here)

Wednesday, March 19

A Softer World Click for more info

Once again, ASW says it how it is:

Lucky how contentment comes from within though, eh?

Friday, March 7

Food: Loaded Gourmet Burgers & Fries Click for more info

Gourmet Burger seems to be the in thing now, with various "unique experiences" popping up all over London. Of course, it takes more than fancy decor and a doubling in price to make a place worthwhile, so sometimes it takes a good look to figure out if a place is decent or not.

We go there early - luckily so as the take away queue soon left the building. I don't think the place had been open that long so I'm assuming this was more due to novelty than quality, but either way it's not a terrible sign. Alas the staff did seem to buckle slightly under the weight of their popularity and there was a few mix ups when it came to ordering, and I'm still not sure if I got what I wanted - and I had finished my meal before my friends had even received theirs. Oh and the milkshakes had run out. Not looking that great any more.

What I did receive was a little on the cold side and visually had seen better days, but it tasted okay. The chilli fries were a saving grace I suppose.

So overall not particularly impressive, particularly as they charged a premium - a tenner got my my burger and half share of fries which is more than GBK, and would buy two (better) burgers in other (better) places. That said, it wasn't a complete disaster and I do see myself going back if only due to its vicinity to my home. I just hope some of the teething problems would have vanished by then.

Friday, February 28

Book: The Expats, Chris Pavone Click for more info

Everyone loves a good twist in a tale - it's probably one of the few times one doesn't mind being duped; cheap tactics not withstanding. And a book about an ex CIA expat mum of two is bound to have its fair share of twists. However this is where I get stuck: due to the nature of plot turns it's probably not a good idea for any review to talk about them too much, but I will say that The Expats was flawed in the way it delivered.

But quality of suspense aside the book was overall a decent romp. It's not the most sophisticated book I've read but it appears to be well researched though and for those who are familiar with the European setting that is something that could be appreciated. Characterisation is, well, appalling to say the least - the protagonist Kate is such a cliché I couldn't decide whether the author was doing it purpose or not. The style of writing grated a bit as it flipped back and forth between times and places - I see a book that makes you work hard to figure out what's going on as a bad book.

If you have a quick week to spare you could do worse, otherwise there isn't that much to recommend here.

Friday, February 14

The Annual Inevitably Cynical "I Hate Valentine's" Post Click for more info

Oh don't worry: the fact that this is my tenth post of vitriolic rambling is as depressing for me as it might be for you. On the other hand, I am impressed by the sheer stamina of the theme and although I don't know how they would look, I reckon I have at least another ten posts in me. Crikey. Ten! You can click the title link for the rest by the way.

But what exactly do I talk about this year? Could it be the unprecedented increase in apparent losership (a clear sign of whippage in my opinion)? Or how about how pervasive it's becoming in places I previously thought immune (oh why Karachi, why?)?

No, perhaps what I will talk about is my increasing indifference to the theme here, not because I denounce most forms of blatant commercialism, but because I've become even more cynical about anything and everything, of which my distaste of this day is but a mere iceberg tip.

Woah there, this post almost became seriously dark. Let's bring the humour back:

But hey, at least I got my own back on the day - Krispy Kreme offered me some sweets if I was to complete the old "Roses are red..." poem at the time I was claiming. I did so, humorously so I might add, and got not just one but two original glazed doughnuts as a reward. That extra doughnut was the difference between me being exploited and doing the exploiting, and so I see no problem seeing it as a win for the little man. There's no need to thank me.

Thursday, February 13

Book: The Dragon Reborn, Robert Jordan Click for more info

With three down and eleven to go, for me The Dragon Reborn was a bit of a turning point in the WOT series. So much happens in this book both in terms of plot and character development I find myself both curious and excited to see what else has been left for the rest. It became clear that this will be pretty epic, with more layers and more depth unravelling with each story (kind of like Dragonball Z if I could possibly make the comparison), but I'm left hoping that Jordan hasn't paced himself out of a good story (again, like Dragonball Z).

I found the book much more enjoyable to read on a technical level too, with the flows and jumping around much smoother and less jarring than the first two books. If I have any comment it was it was a bit "middling"; I didn't even realise I was at the end of the book until it hit me, but I guess this is par for the course in a series that spans so many volumes.

Wednesday, February 12

Food: Gaylord Restaurant Click for more info

I challenge any East London schooled lad to resist chuckling at the name of tonight's restaurant. I mean: seriously? That being said I did already know that the place had been around for a while, well before its name became commonly used in a 90's school playground. But still, chuckle.

What made tonight really interesting (and possibly something I should be writing about separately, except I'm too lazy), was that it was actually hosted by a restaurant reviewing website I contribute to. This meant three things: firstly that it was to be a free meal; secondly that we were to be treated like royalty; and thirdly that it was to be a free meal. Now I'm not a foodie (which by the way is exactly how I had introduced myself to everyone tonight - insecure much?), but I do believe I have credibility and integrity and so apart from the over done transparency in this paragraph here's my official disclaimer: I have no doubt that my experience will be different to that which you might receive, and so if you choose to ignore this review I wouldn't blame you. It is only for completeness that I write it at all.

Gaylord in many ways is a typical Classic London Indian restaurant, and in many ways reminded me of my poignantly favourite of the bunch, Khan's of Bayswater. The menu (we had a special one created for us. Wowzer) was derivative of the normal; which is absolutely not to say it was bad, just not unique. We had the standard kebabs, tikka, prawns, butter chicken, paneer, dhal, chickpeas, nan, rice and poppadoms (I may have messed up the order a little). Of these the chops were the most visually impressive, being the size of my face, even though they didn't quite hit the spot taste wise. Oh and although we had them first I have saved mentioning the best for last - some amazingly novel amuse bouche consisting of gol guppay (or pani puri in my tongue), bhel puri and some papri chaat, all joyously delivered to us. It was a genius stroke as it really did literally get the party started. I'm not sure whether these were available on the a la carte menu, but if you visit make sure you ask for them anyway. Desert was kulfi and a flaming ball of gulab jamun laced with spiced rum - I of course took the virgin (and hence flameless) version. It looked more exciting than it tasted.

The service deserves a paragraph of its own. I don't think I've ever been to a medium class Indian joint with such good service: the servers were professional yet informal, and it almost felt like we had friends serving us at times. The manager was in a class of his own: words like humble, sweet, polite and conscientious immediately spring to mind. So yes, top marks for service (although I do have to once again point out that dastardly second paragraph up there. I know, boo). Price wise I cannot comment, but I would find it really hard to imagine a meal costing more than twenty a head here.

The overall evening was massive fun and a big part of that was, as always, due to the venue, and as my more experienced diner friends pointed out, some things can't be faked. But if I normalise my experience and remove the context, I think I would settle with saying Gaylord is a very solid place about which I have nothing special, but more importantly nothing bad, to say and if I ever happen to be in Oxford Street and fancied an Indian, I now know where I'd go.

Saturday, February 8

Food: Mandalay Burmese Restaurant Click for more info

I'd be lying if I said that Burmese food was ever on my list of cuisines to try. But this being London I guess it's not surprising that there's at least one restaurant offering a menu, and I have to admit I was quite excited at the prospect of checking it out. I didn't really know what to expect.

The place itself was a little slummy. We're talking a family owned, not-more-than-thirty-covers cafe style establishment here, but considering the acceptability of most chicken shops I don't see how that in itself can be cause of complaint. The menu was halal so we had lots of options - the fritter and spring roll starters were pretty good in my opinion, while the chilli chicken, mint lamb, fried fish and meatball curry were all decent if a little unfulfilling - both literally and metaphorically in fact. Service was a mixed bag: the staff and owner were very friendly but also very slow, but everything we ordered did come eventually. The place was packed this Saturday night and at least two reservation-less groups were turned away while we were enjoying our meal.

The bill was a very pleasant 12 quid a head which I found to be definite value for money. On balance though Mandalay was very average - a place I wouldn't go back to unless I was actually passing - which in a city full of options is no bad thing.

Saturday, February 1

Ferozkoh: Tradition and Continuity in Afghan Art Click for more info

Ferozkoh is a small and intimate exhibition held in Leighton House Museum in Kensington - don't worry, I hadn't heard of it before today either. The concept was pretty novel: there were 18 pairs of pieces on display, with each pair consisting of a historical item (loaned from the Doha Museum of Islamic Art) and a linked contemporary piece created by students of the Turquoise Mountain Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture in Kabul, Afghanistan.

I didn't get it at first, but after a while I began to see the links between the, sometimes quite disparate, pieces - viewing this exhibition was therefore more active than usual. I even played a game of guessing which item was historical and which was contemporary, although there were only a couple that were genuinely puzzling - a testament to the contemporary artists I think.

My only disappointment was that it was all over very quickly - 18 pairs isn't a lot. But still, the House Museum itself was a pleasure to check out (the Arab room pretty much a must see if you're in Kensington) and if you haven't been it, along with the Ferozkoh exhibition, is well worth a visit.

Food: Princi Click for more info

I would say that Princi was a hidden Italian gem just off Soho, except judging by how busy it was it kind of felt that we were the ones late to the game. But it was rightfully popular - clean and modern with some super friendly staff treated us well before the food turned up. The menu itself is a little limited for those who don't eat meat, but the pizzas we ordered were good enough to make me want to go back - the plan would be to check out the cafe side rather than sticking to a la carte like we did today.

£15 a head isn't the cheapest lunch in that area, but for a place to chill and enjoy the company you're with I can't think of many alternatives. Recommended.

Monday, January 27

SMBC Click for more info

Who said logic and love aren't compatible?

Get this comic and you get me. Although I'm not sure I understand it fully (which in itself kinda makes sense).

Wednesday, January 22

Film: Waar Click for more info

Objectively there isn't much going for Waar. It has some questionable acting, some interesting effects and a quite broken plot. I think "amateurish" is the word I as looking for, and a lot of the time in the cinema I felt I was watching a YouTube fan film rather than a international release. I don't really buy the whole "we should remember that it's a Pakistani film, bechara" argument as there have been examples of relatively well produced films coming from the country (like Bol). There's no reason this needed to be so shoddy.

Which is a shame, because the film did have potential. In fact I would say that its biggest mistake was in its ambition - Waar tries to be way too many things, follow way too many characters and tell us way too many stories. If it had cut down its scope a little I think it would have been pretty good. A special mention has to go to the hammy English (including a garden variety of swear words) - I think I was more shocked than I was was first witnessing Deepika kissing on screen. I guess that's progress though.

So not quite recommended then - unless you're a bit of a patriot. Which, judging by the applause given by the audience I was in, is a perfectly valid reason to watch Waar. And if I'm honest I didn't totally hate it; and might have even enjoyed it a little - but then on the other hand I can't quite help feel a little patronising when I conclude that it was a jolly good effort.