Friday, May 31

Food: Qasida Click for more info

At first glance (or at least, taste) there isn't much too spectacular about Qasida. The Turkish food is adequate if a little bland and dry, the novelty private rooms are way too cramped and impractical and Whitechapel is hardly the sexiest of locations. We hedged our bets and shared multiple mixed grills, and as I've already mentioned there wasn't much to write home about. At £15 per head the price was on par if not a little cheap. The place looked okay too, with a simple and clean vibe that made it seem like the food equivalent of an Ikea store.

But where this place lacks in other aspects, it easily knocks it out of the park when it came to service. We were just very well looked after - almost to a point where the constant attention seemed a little imposing. A mini prayer room - eventually to be expanded to a 200 person space - as well as a planned crèche manned by two primary school teachers (which although slightly troubles me in principle is definitely novel) also manage to convey the impression that Qasida is more than just about the food.

But alas food is what makes a restaurant and without that the impact of everything else does drop. Which is a shame because if the kitchen did receive a bit more attention I can see this place becoming a decent solid option for a quick and easy dinner out.

Wednesday, May 29

SMBC Click for more info

I don't get the humour in today's SMBC comic:

Sounds obvious to me.

Sunday, May 26

Amena and Mohiyuddin

The first adjectives I think when trying to describe Amena are "class" and "poise". Unlike some of her sistas in society Amena seems to have managed to steer clear of bad manners, bad humour and bad language and as a result we're left with that well mannered and well spoken classic lady type which is oh-so-rare nowadays. This is important to note (and applaud) as it's a very rare quality in an age where loudness and vulgarity seem to acceptable (and even popular) traits for boys and girls to have.

That's not to say Amena's not a laugh; she just happens to be hilarious in a decent way - and usually all at her own expense. This self-deprecating humility comes not from insecurity but from smarts - but she will also know exactly how to humour her friends without being patronising about it. You're never offended by anything Amena has to say - and even then she's always quick to accept her mistakes and apologise for them. In short there is no shortage of emotional intelligence here.

As the co-creator[1] of the phrase "HBD", she's also a prime example of how we are all responsible for the way we feel and perceive things. I don't think I've ever heard her complain about the cards she's been dealt, again a very unique attitude in a world where it's more normal for us to demand what we're apparently owed. And she can bake, which is always a bonus.

I briefly met Mohiyuddin today, and it was clear from quite early on how much of an all round nice guy he is. Responsible and easy going, he seems to know exactly how to treat the people around him be they new introductions (like us) or old friends or, of course, family. I have no doubt that both will give each other their dues and it's this that makes them such a wonderful couple.

[1] actually it was I who created this term, but the context of this post doesn't permit me to state that apart from in a footnote.

Saturday, May 25

Book: Baudolino, Umberto Eco Click for more info

Some books are harder work than others. For instance, the series I had been reading for the past year (A Song of Ice and Fire) was almost a pleasure to read - not much was missed and it was just easy to absorb; albeit without sacrificing depth or complexity.

Then you have a book like Baudolino, a book that, well, made me feel a little thick. I think I must have only taken in around 70% of the story - there were times when I had no idea where the characters were, or how they got there... or even who they were. And on completion I still don't know where some of the main protagonists came from.

For me the problems came from both the pacing of the book (the friend who loaned me it aptly described it as "meandering") as well as the assumption that the reader understood the politics of thirteenth century Italy and Christendom. I found this lack of connection a little frustrating at first, but after a while I soon warmed to the book and was able to enjoy it despite the holes in my understanding of it.

The book itself (or at least the bits I engaged with) is pretty good. It's essentially a biography of the fictional Baudolino, from childhood all the way to old age, and explores themes of dogma, moral corruption and self justification of obviously bad acts like lying on a grand scale. It's actually a very good lesson on how perception can become reality, and by the end of the book you begin to understand and share the in-joke the author himself is playing on you, the reader - which kind of explains why you have to throw your objectivity out of the window if you want to really enjoy this book. The multiple disparate characters bring tons to the book, and are well laid out in contrast to each other - although they might not be that deep themselves, as a collective they generate bags of characterisation.

Overall though, although I don't have any regrets in reading it, Baudolino was a slog to get through. But although it wasn't completely to my taste it was enjoyable enough and I am sure that others might appreciate even more the journey they share with him.

Wednesday, May 22

Film: Star Trek Into Darkness Click for more info

Sometimes it's really hard to assess something you've seen. Maybe it's some magic ingredient that's missing or perhaps it's just the mood in which you were when you saw it, but there are times when your head doesn't quite agree with your heart and you don't know why.

Melodrama aside, I'm not exactly sure why I didn't enjoy Into Darkness as much as I should have. I mean it had some great visuals, excellent acting and the plot was good enough (but not amazing). It could have been because I was coming down from watching the amazing Fast 6 (and yes, I have no right to mention that here, but that was a great film).

Thinking about it further I do start forming some conclusions: technically, the pacing was well off; it was almost as if the beginning merged headlong into the climax, and there's something unsatisfying about a payload that gets delivered in that way. But a bigger problem that that was how it just didn't feel like Star Trek; it was all too nice, too easy... too sterile. The ancillary characters were a bit too ancillary, the locations way too incidental and all the reasons why I watching ST so obsessively over the years just weren't there, or at least weren't there enough.

But it is a good film (and chances are I would have been a little more forgiving had I not watched that other one on Monday), and I do recommend it. I guess I just expected a little more from my three-yearly does of Starfleet.

Monday, May 20

Film: Fast & Furious 6 Click for more info

Oh my, this was a brilliant film. I won't even attempt to justify that claim by talking about the plot or the acting - if you've seen any previous instalments of the franchise you'll already know where you'll stand when it comes to the film as art.

But in terms of cars, bang and wallop Fast 6 has spades of the stuff. I'm actually struggling to think of a moment where it sat still. It was funny, loud and so, so much fun. Gal Gadot adds tons to the film too.

But that's not even to say this was a mindless popcorn flick - there were so many "Oh my god" moments, so many "Oh, snap!" exclamations, so many coverings of the mouth in awe that I felt like a cheerleader at times. And now it seems I am gushing.

Definitely recommended - and without doubt my film of the year so far.

Saturday, May 18

Food: R.S. Hispaniola Click for more info

"Back in the 80s and 90s, if you brought a date to the Hispaniola it would pretty much be a done deal."

Not that it mattered much to me (of course), but this was the tagline that was prescribed to us in the week coming to the birthday party we were to have in this place. Leaving aside the graphic detail (chi chi), the sentiment is sound in theory - what could be more romantic than a meal on an, albeit permanently moored, boat on the Thames?

It certainly was novel, that's for sure. I mean sure, I've lost count of the number of times I've eaten on a boat, but there was something different about this place, this setting. It could have been the Thames, but more likely it was the fact that this was restaurant first and boat second. Perhaps that's why the rocking was so unsettling (and for some of us, nauseating). Buyers beware then, although I suspect it's better on the outside deck where you know you're on the water. I'd also suggest heading out there if you did actually happen to bring a date. It'd pretty much be a done deal.

Due to our party size we went for the set menu which allowed us to pick one, two or three courses (yes, you could just have dessert) from a more-limited-than-usual selection - even more so for the majority of the table, who just happened to be Muslim. It said a lot that almost all of us ordered exactly the same starter (a salmon dish) and main (fish and chips).

Points were scored by the restaurant when they mixed up a fresh batch of ale-free batter, but immediately lost when the salmon starter came without the potato pancakes that were described. The well fought for table salads in compensation didn't save them, but at least the food was good. A good selection of dessert ended a pretty well rounded meal, food wise.

But otherwise service was adequate, and I have to say I quite enjoyed the live piano too - the inevitable happy birthday ditty went way beyond the call of duty.

So yes, a decent enough night out, for a decent enough price - most paid £20 for three courses - and assuming you did actually get what you wanted out of it (wink wink, nudge nudge), that's pretty good value there. For the rest of us who are just going for the food and dining experience, I would say that there are plenty of other options out there for a fancy night out.

Sunday, May 12

Food: Caraway Click for more info

You know, I thought I was done with generic Indians. Yes, in my even-less-imaginative-than-I-am-now days, I wouldn't have even thought of going to anywhere else than a curry house for a dinner out, but since discovering that London has so much more to offer than boring yet solid baltis, barring a few exceptions I tend to experience a much wider range of cuisines each month. And yes, full qualification here: I wouldn't have even tried Caraway if I hadn't been given some vouchers to use there.

I'll start with the good. Which is pretty much just the food - it was actually pretty good. The meat was well cooked, the flavours bursting, the mango lassi just about refreshing enough to pass. If food is why you go out to eat, then you won't be disappointed with Caraway. Oh and the place itself was clean and well presented.

However the place does fall short in other aspects; mainly in the customer service department. Having to eat on a clock doesn't really make for a great dining experience, as doesn't the inflexibility around how or when I was able to use my gift voucher. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for rules and discipline, but it doesn't take much to realise that fancy restaurants are actually in the hospitality industry, and in the hospitality industry service means more than food.

The bill came to a total of 70 quid or so which I thought was a bit too much considering what we ordered, but then on the other hand the portions were generous so perhaps we over ordered. But alas at the end of the day Caraway is just another generic Indian, which is actually a bit of a shame as it has the groundings to be so much more.

Saturday, May 11

Cyanide & Happiness Click for more info

Here's an arbitrary comic I found funny! Nothing to do with me of course.

I repeat, this has nothing to do with me. I don't even own a hat.


Osama Rahman

2 months ago  -  Shared publicly
Liar. We've seen you on the telly with a hat on! (Or rather a topi.)

Friday, May 10

Food: Momo Click for more info

It shows how long it's been since I last visited a place when it doesn't appear in my blog. But I have been to Momo's before, which I suppose is a good indication of how memorable it is. The romance starts before you even get there - tucked away in a corner behind Regent's Street, it almost feels like a little secret part of London that only a few know of.

Which of course is silly, particularly after you see how busy it can get there. The occasion today was a long overdue get together with some university mates - a good test to see how amicable and accessible a restaurant can be. Top marks to Momo then, as we found it pretty easy to regress to a bunch of rowdy and loud students sitting around the perfectly sized round table in the corner of the place. I express the detail here because it really is important.

Service had few complaints - perhaps the constant reminders that we had to be out by 9pm or the threat of a fine for a no show while booking left a sour taste in the mouth - but that was soon forgotten once we got the food. I rarely rave about meat but tonight I got to taste some of the most succulent chicken and melt-in-the-mouth lamb I'll have this year.

Cost wise, we had to pay around 25 quid per head (for just the food, excluding drinks) which was of adequate value considering we shared all our dishes. It was a very satisfying night out overall, and perfect for act of rediscovering friendships.

Wednesday, May 1

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

I'm not sure why, but this is a comic that struck me a little. I'm not even sure I understand it all to be honest.

Perhaps it's the whole anti-capitalism vibe? Or just how it rings with the attitudes I encounter during the more "significant meetings" I have in life? It's interesting how, given a new perspective on things, we realise how much of the stuff we universally take for granted is man-made.