Saturday, December 29

Food: The Parlour Click for more info

Who'd have thought that The Parlour - the default location for all our after-work-drinks do's - also had space to eat? Well at least I didn't until tonight.

What's more surprising is how much of a contrast it is from the much larger bar area, with its intimate yet open and breezy layout. Of course since we were there on a non-working Saturday the place was quite dead; this may have contributed to the sense of ease we had while enjoying our meal. I don't think it would have been as relaxed on a weekday.

The food itself was solid. I went for Fish Pie, which although was generous in size wasn't too much on taste. Still, it left me curious enough: the range in the menu does leave room for other dishes to perhaps be better.

At £15 per head for a shared starter and mains it wasn't too bad for the money either. So yes a decent enough place, just make sure you only head there for a Saturday night.

Monday, December 24

Film: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Click for more info

How can anyone think more LOTR a bad thing? Of course all good must come to an end, and the last chapter of the epic (was it really in 2003? Ten years ago?) did make us all want more. Lucky then that there's a whole lot of Middle earth left to cover, including the most awesome The Hobbit prelude.

The thing is, of course, that The Hobbit is a pretty small book. It's certainly not weighty enough to create a triple bill from. And yet this is exactly what we're being given, the size supplemented by stories from other books, and even some scenes plucked from thin air.

Is this a bad thing? Well no, because it is essentially more LOTR greatness, and the more of that we have the better. The acting is sublime, the effects amazing and the sense of scale awe-inspiring. Even the runtime didn't feel like the just-under-three-hours we were all dreading.

But the thing is that this just isn't The Hobbit, and for those who hold this book dear to them (which I'm not saying applies to me), the sense of lost purity might be a little jarring - particularly seeing how good a job was done of the LOTR films.

So as long as the film can be considered more a The Hobbit Remix, I thought it was pretty wonderful. Recommended.

Friday, December 21

Constellations Click for more info

The twist in this two-man play is that the same story is told not once, not twice, but multiple times, with scenes being played out over and over again with a variance in characters, as well as non linearly, with us flipping back and forth through time. Oh and look, one of the characters happens to be a Quantum Physics geek.

These two manipulated dimensions have different effects on the play. The first is on the metaphysical; to emphasise which events and situations the characters are going through are universally fundamental and which are vacuous - this is similar to how some religious people reconcile destiny and willpower, that some important things are inevitable and others are flexible.

The second dimension is pure theatrical play, telling us the conclusion of the story so we can more effectively feel the journey toward it.

The simple stage with minimal background and props underlines the strong performances and production values of Constellations, while the running time of around 70 minutes seems just about right (although if I'm honest the gimmick did wane a bit toward the end). All in all it was different enough to be enjoyable.

Monday, December 17

Film: Silver Linings Playbook Click for more info

A kooky, almost indie-feeling romcom here, with Bradley Cooper playing a guy struggling to deal with his recently diagnosed bi-polar condition. There he meets Jennifer Lawrence (who actually turns out to be quite likeable in this film), who is suffering through her own issues and once this common ground context is established, the rest of the film almost plays out automatically.

But it is well acted, and solidly put together - I would say that it felt a little too long yet I'm not quite sure where they could have trimmed the fat. A feel good movie different enough to be enjoyable too, it just about gets a recommendation from me.

Tuesday, December 11

Food: Vanilla Black Click for more info

Some restaurants are more about the experience than the food. Some may describe this as pretentious, but I think it's fair enough provided you know what you enjoy about eating out.

Take Vanilla Black for instance. Even the name oozes class. The fact that it's a fancy vegetarian restaurant adds to the certain sense of elitism that hangs about the place. And fancy it definitely is - I have to admit I was a little amused when the first thing I was asked was what name the booking I didn't make was under, particularly since the place was empty when we got there.

My other eyebrow was raised when presented with the menu. Perhaps my understanding of a la carte is wrong (very possible) but a fixed price for 2-3 courses is anything but. That's okay though - I don't actually mind set menus when they're genuine options, but what was weird was how there was no other choice of how to order. What was even cheekier was how they gave the dessert menu as a possible course after we had picked our starters and mains.

But apart from these "logistical" issues I thought Vanilla Black was pretty good. The food was decent enough - although I do think I may have picked the wrong things for myself on the whole there were some weird and wonderful tastes and textures hitting our taste buds. The place was clean cut and roomy and decorated in a classic but sophisticated style, more state homely than otherwise and the service was top notch.

Which brings us to the damage. At thirty quid per head for the two courses (we stuck to tap water), I thought it was way too expensive for what it was, and I've eaten better vegetarian for much less in many other places. Essentially, it really wasn't worth it.

So yes, a really nice place and one I would recommend for a very special occasion purely for the experience; and yet not somewhere I see myself going back to any time soon.

Monday, December 10

Film: Seven Psychopaths Click for more info

I'm sure there's some kind of self referencing commentary on film-making that a real film reviewer would pick up on while watching Seven Psychopaths. I didn't quite get it myself, choosing instead to enjoy the randomness and fun instead.

It certainly is random. We have vigilantism, dog-napping, cancer, Quakers and even Vietnamese priests making an appearance. And yet it all makes a weird kind of sense.

At most, I can call this a decent timepass; as I mentioned there's probably a deeper message I'm missing that would have unlocked even more reward... but as it stands Seven Psychos is worth a DVD recommendation at least.

Friday, December 7

Light from the Middle East Click for more info

The Victoria and Albert Museum is currently hosting a collection of photos originating from the Middle East. In fact it seems that the theme of the exhibition is more about photography (meta-photography?) than geography, and in the main it's all very modern arty and manipulated stuff. This is no bad thing albeit of a certain taste, but for those who are less adventurous and more traditional about the medium there's enough regular photography to keep interest.

Which brings me on to my picks of the exhibition. Tal Shochat's Trees were quite nice, and Hassan Hajjaj's take on fashion poignant for a cynic like me. Sadegh Tirafkan's 'Human Tapestry' was impressive from it's scale and finally I liked Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige's take on Beirut, somewhere I really want to visit one day.

The exhibition itself is well laid out, with plenty of information around the photos to keep you engaged and inline with the story being told. The whole thing is free and will take only 45 minutes to cover, so if you do check it out make sure you have supplementary plans (like checking out the museum proper). However you manage it, it's definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, December 2

SMBC Click for more info

People often look at me funny when I rant and lament about how acceptable the need for public validation has become (I mean I can sense you all doing it right now). But sometimes it takes an insightful comic to pass a message, like the one below.

I would ask you to pass this to all your mates, but I suspect you'd resort to Facebook to do it.

Saturday, December 1

Vietnam-Cambodia, Day Fifteen: Going Home

It turns out that a 4:30pm flight is pretty convenient. It gave us the whole day to mop up the remaining parts of Phnom Penh - the morning was spent checking out various palaces, monuments, temples and wats. It didn't take us too long to cover the basics (which loosely translates to "Shak was done being a tourist"), and after taking the requisite number of pictures (here) we headed back to the hotel to meet up with the rest of the party.

The final attraction we wanted to see was the Russian Market, partly to buy but mainly to soak up the local vibe, and our now host of Phnom Penh was generous enough to oblige taking us. We dipped in and out of the market - sometimes even haggling for items we did or didn't need - while picking up various bits of street food to keep us going. It was a fun way to spend our remaining moments; we finally ended up in a quaint little cafe for a lovely pre flight lunch.

And that was pretty much it for us. After picking up our luggage from the hotel and saying our goodbyes to our new friend we headed to the airport for the long flight back.

It's funny: I was feeling pretty reluctant in the preceding few weeks before this holiday and I did fly with a higher than normal level of trepidation two weeks ago. But here on the other side I am happy to admit that I was totally wrong about how this trip would turn out - whether it was my prejudice or just age that made me cautious I don't know. But what I am sure about is that both Vietnam and Cambodia are amazing places to visit, and more so the way we did so - and the pretty impossible amount we packed in - made the whole thing that much better.