Tuesday, September 15

Film: The Visit Click for more info

Ah, Shyamalan. Having enjoyed perhaps a couple of his films I've quite confident in my opinion of him being a bit of an overrated filmmaker, albeit one who is able to pander to the plebs. But Unbreakable and The Village did prove that I could enjoy the stuff he made - and if anything there is enough there to convince me to give him a chance when I can.

The Visit is his latest flick and a return to his more esoteric style of story telling. As always the premise is very simple - two children decide to spend a week with the estranged grandparents whom they have never met. As is par the course with a Shyamalan film anything more than that is certain to spoil, so I'll stop the recap there. The film is very funny though, quite possibly Shyamalan's funniest.

What I can tell you is that the talent in the film is pretty tremendous. I'm still struggling to decide who exactly stole the show for me, but the two kids and the grandmother gave some wonderful performances - the film is worth going to see just for them.

So yes, I can definitely add The Visit to the short list of Shyamalan films that I like, and so it goes away with a sold recommendation to watch.

Friday, September 11

A Brimful of Asha Click for more info

For those of us perpetually on the same, it's always compelling and relevant to listen to someone recount their own story about being on "the hunt". The twist in this tale was that the story was told not only by the protagonist Ravi, but also with his mother, the titular Asha.

I guess the main hook here is the sheer charm of the whole thing. Asha (or "aunty" as I feel compelled to call her) is genuine and authentic, right down to the inevitable mistakes, missed lines and awkwardness on stage she warns the audience about. By its very conversational nature the fourth wall is constantly stripped down, and it becomes quite difficult (in a pleasant way I suppose) to figure out what's real, what's fiction and what's improvised. In fact, it's Ravi's clear experience on the stage which sometimes detracts from the whole thing, as his performance repeatedly reminds us that ultimately he is an actor on a stage.

Otherwise it's a pretty typical story - set a fair few years ago Ravi's parents want their son to get married and are happy to resort to the ol' emotional and physical blackmail to do it, the son refusing to marry for anything other than romance and love. It was a bit of a biased story toward the latter - the cynical side of me saw it as mere pandering to a progressive audience (I, of course, finding myself agreeing mostly with aunty). The fact that Ravi admits he did get married a year after the story was set kind of explained a lot and ultimately detracted from the potency of the message; but hey it is only a play after all.

Very funny and touching, I'd recommend A Brimful of Asha - it's playing for a very limited time here in London so catch it while you can.

Food: Woody Grill Click for more info

It's hard to place Woody Grill. On the one hand it's a typical turkish kebab grill place - it serves the same kebabs, kofte and skewers that they all do. It has the vibe of a greasy local, yet the franchise does also shine through too.

So instead of trying to box the place in a category I'l talk about the food: solid, tasty, clean there wasn't much more for us to ask for when we received our kebabs. It was cheap to boot, with a generous dish with fries coming to £7 or so.

It's hard to recommend Woody Grill as a place to actually set out to visit, but as a pre-theatre quick win, it, uh, quickly won.

Friday, September 4

Food: Chai Roti Click for more info

For most in London the faddy Indian cafe scene pretty much amounts to one choice: Dishoom, a place that serves good food at a decent price, but also a place that is not without the flaws that come with manufactured trendiness (in short, bad service and a certain clientele). It's a shame because apart from these almost dealbreakers Dishoom could be a great place.

But it turns out that there are alternatives: Roti Chai is a little more underground, a lot more classy and overall a lot better for it. You get to keep the great food, swap out the stressed service and enjoy a meal in a more chilled out atmosphere. To qualify, we stuck with the upstairs - the "street cafe" as opposed to the the main dining downstairs so the vibe may have had a lot to do with that. It's also worth noting that a new branch has opened in Canary Wharf... so yeh.

Speaking of food, we kind of had a scattergun approach to ordering - highlights included the buns (chicken beat kebab), the chicken lollipops and lamb curry, all deceptively portioned but ultimately generous. The bill came to a slightly expensive £17 per head, but I guess that's the price to pay for avoiding the lah lahs.

Sunday, August 23

A Matter Of Procedure

If my blog was an actor, it'd probably be unshaven and drunk on a park bench somewhere. And that pretty much sums up the way I feel about writing these anniversary posts, this one marking the eleventh year (heck, the fact that I'm actually writing this on the 13th of September says a lot really). I wouldn't describe it as dread; more indifference I suppose. Kind of like having to talk to that aunty from Pakistan on the phone.

But principles and etiquette do matter and as strange as it sounds I do feel I owe this place at least one explicit acknowledgement per year. Whether that's to remember the past or maybe even give some self encouragement to start writing again in the future it just feels like the right thing to do.

It's telling that the "blog" folder in my newsreader goes weeks without any new items. The web feels like it's becoming less so in it's adolescence, and I guess ultimately it's the anti-establishment, self-righteousness that drives me to write even the more inane posts here. The fact that those personal blogs that I still produce content rank amongst the richest I read. So yes, "in my day" it really was better, and spending the time to write and remember that in such a meta way seems important.

On the other hand if I really did care I'd write more - it's just easier not to. But hey, only a few years left till retirement, maybe I can pick it up again then.

Friday, August 14

Food: Uptown Burger Co. Click for more info

Despite previously complaining about the abundance of so called gourmet burger joints here in London, I have since found The One that is my favourite, the rest now forgotten. On the other hand, good food is good food and a good burger is still a good burger and it's always handy to have options, especially if they're close to home. Uptown Burger manages to do just that, providing a solid option for those in my part of town.

Simplicity seems to be the key with Uptown - the menu is very straight forward and maybe even limiting for some (they don't even offer dessert which I found amusing). The combinations on offer appeared to be pretty unique, with jerk sauces, pineapples and a clutch of dill pickle variations on offer. Prices were also pretty decent - we snuck in at under a tenner per head for a shared starter and burger each and came away pretty satisfied with what we got for that. Service and the level of cleanliness were also sufficient.

Tidy and intimate, Uptown is definitely a place I'll check out again for a quick local bite. Recommended.

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.

Tuesday, August 4

Food: Doner Kebab Click for more info

First of all, major kudos to any restaurant for being able to grab a name like that. It's like calling a pizza place, well, Pizza.

Other than that the premise is a bit of a strange one. Doner Kebabs are supposed to be cheap, of dubious quality and in some cases even dirty. Trying to clean them up and add a little class is ambitious at best; to then go ahead and charge for that was always going to be a challenge.

But still, we gave it a go and I have to admit that it almost worked. The place was clean, the service excellent and the food good - in fact it was one of the best doner kebabs I have tried. The unfortunate thing then is that "the best kebab" isn't actually saying much, and despite enjoying the meal it was still painful to pay the 8 quid or so for the privilege. It's just not scalable I'm afraid.

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?