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.