Wednesday, December 23

Film: Star Wars: The Force Awakens Click for more info

There's nothing like the start of a new trilogy in a franchise to make you feel old. Was it really over 16 years ago that we were introduced to the much hated Jar Jar? Apparently so. Except I seem to have better memories of the middle (or first?) three films; I found that I enjoyed and loved them as much as the classic trilogy, which probably means I'm not a real fan or something.

This personal context is important when considering the latest in the series of such a genre defining set of films. Like everyone else I was excited, force feeding the previous six films (in order of release, naturally) to the kids in the next generation in order to nurture the same anticipation we would hope to have for the seventh. Regardless of whether it fell short or not we would have enjoyed the experience I'm sure.

And yes the film was good. It had the same pace and action as the previous, and invoked some of the feelings I was looking for. However I am quickly coming to the conclusion that I don't like Abrams messing with my memories; alongside Star Trek he has this unique ability to temper and mute any deeper feelings of poignancy I was looking for. As such, some bits did jar (a few not really his fault). The cast was pretty awesome apart from a few head scratchers, and all the standard ingredients of set pieces, dialogue and hammy acting were all there.

We chose to watch the 3D version which although was able to provide a few extra thrills during the action sequences was still a personal distraction and thus made the film more effort to watch than would have been otherwise.

But overall none of the detail matters really. The film is more than Star Wars enough and provides everything you would expect to some level. Recommended.

Film: Bajirao Mastani Click for more info

Amongst most film industries, Bollywood particularly demonstrates a correlation between the type of a film and the actors in it. You pretty much know what you'll get from the cast list of each, and regardless of my personal bias a Deepika movie now implies great things. Well, apart from Chennai Express. And Happy New Year. So maybe all Deepika movies are great except for the ones that also star SRK then.

So running with the theory we have yet another film with Deepika and Ranvir. I loved the last one, and I also enjoyed this too, if only because it was more or less exactly the same. Having said that it's worth going to watch even if you're not a Deepika fanboy, just to see some of the performances within. Deepika seems to get better and better with each film, but alongside Priyanka and Ranvir (albeit never in the same number) there's a lot for those who wish to just veg out on the song and dance side of things.

So a decent jaunt then, with my only criticism being to do with the run time - the film does labour a little. Despite that it gains nothing less than a recommendation from me.

Saturday, December 19

Food: Red Iron Burgers Click for more info

Well before Stax, Loaded and even the famously disappointing Meat and Shake there was Red Iron Burgers. This was, at least for me, the place where the whole halal gourmet burger fad started - something which I feel gives it a pretty decent status in the now well saturated market of the stuff.

Its location of Uxbridge did mean that I wasn't really given much of a chance to visit Red Iron, and so it's a little ironic that I finally have; and that after already sampling most of what London has to offer. The cynical side of me couldn't believe that it could have lasted as long as it had - particularly when the newest and closest to me is also my current favourite. It almost seemed an exercise in futility to even bother.

But! It turns out that with age does indeed come experience and prestige; Red Iron turned out to be actually rather good, and that in all the places it counts. The service was great considering how busy the place was, the cost was decent (a healthy £15 per head for a burger and fries each, and shared wings and milkshakes) and most importantly of course the food was pretty amazing.

So yes, it seems that the original can be the (or at least, one of the) best. Red Iron easily gets a recommendation from me, it's just a shame it's so far... but then again, that's just another exercise in trying to figure out excuses to visit.

Tuesday, December 15

Film: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 Click for more info

Considering my distaste with the decision to split the last book into two, I actually rather enjoyed this, the concluding part to the whole Hunger Games franchise. I'm a little torn actually - I can never quite forgive authors and film-makers for the labouring of this whole young adult girl-power-for-the-sake-of-it theme we've experienced for the past decade... but if Mockingjay proves it is actually possible to enjoy something for what it is and overlook the flogging of a dead horse that went into its making.

Jennifer Lawrence was good once again, and once again her supporting cast was adequate. The action scenes were rare but of a decent quality, and I might be getting old but I'm sure the ending was changed somewhat from the book (considering I enjoyed the film that was probably for the better).

All in all though my conclusion is unchanged - Mockingjay Part 2 is only worth watching if you've so far invested fully in the franchise. Anyone else should just pass this one by.

Sunday, December 13

Food: Al Kareem Click for more info

Sometimes it's the simple things in life which brings the most reward. Al Kareem offers a very simple menu, a very simple decor, very simple service and wraps it all up with simple prices. What results is a very pure experience - it's just you and the food - which makes it very easy to determine exactly how awesome it is.

And awesome it was. Puri, Chana, some... Potato dish. It really was great. And very unhealthy, but some things are worth it. Recommended (but perhaps in moderation).

Saturday, November 28

Trapped In A Room, With A Zombie Click for more info

Room escape games have been gaining popularity for a while now - a few of my friends have raved about them and their mixture of fun, teamwork and gaming, and it seemed like one of the better team activities to try.

The one we booked had even more of a twist: it was set in a laboratory whose resident mad scientist had turned into a zombie. This made the game not only about the interaction between the twelve of us who attended and the puzzles, but also with the wild card element of someone who wanted to eat our brains (okay, fine, tag us out of the game).

As such is the nature of such things, it would be less than useful for me to talk too much about the evening. It was a whole lot of fun though, both with respect to the game itself and its puzzles, but even more so as a way to spend time with friends - you know, working as a team to achieve a single goal and all that.

Of course I have nothing (yet) with which to compare this variant of room escape, but I think the zombie did add more than a bit of fun to the proceedings. I'm sure other room escapes are as enjoyable though so when it comes to recommending I'd say to pick and do any one (or two, or three!) since you're bound to have a laugh either way.

Friday, November 27

Film: Tamasha Click for more info

Okay, I'll admit it... a new film with both Ranbir and Deepika has had me excited since the first shots from set came out. And yes, that's purely because of my affinity to that film. Of course I went in with trepidation - these things inevitably disappoint after all.

But you know what? Tamasha wasn't actually that bad. Of course the first thing that hits you is how great it looks (of course that could just be a personal assessment, and Ranbir is looking a little tired) but the story is quite off beat for what is actually another broken-man-needs-fixing love story. The talent is also there, the chemistry between the two protagonists now almost inevitable. The music, despite not impressing during their air play, fits wonderfully in with the rest of the film too.

So yes, Tamasha was good and definitely recommended. Will it be as classic as YJHD? That only time can tell.

Tuesday, November 10

Film: Spectre Click for more info

And just like that, here we are with the fourth in the Daniel Craig series of Bond movies. It's astonishing to think that it all started almost a decade ago, and looking back I seemed to have enjoyed the transformation of the Bond movie to something a little more mature and darker that the usual.

And yet ironically the fourth movie seems to throw us back to the realm of the fantastical - and not always in a good way. Sure, the action is crazy and the cars lovely and the girls hot and the one liners snappy. But when you consider the level of manic of the villains, how dastardly their plans are and even the manner in which they are willing to expend harm... it all gets a little 70's and 80's at times.

That said, I don't think I minded that much since I did thoroughly enjoy the movie overall. I didn't even mind the convenient plot twists and retcons encountered; if anything I saw them as bonuses. So in conclusion, yes, a recommendation for a more hybrid throwback of a Bond movie.

Saturday, October 31

Food: Rocco's Click for more info

The hunt for a food bargain really does take you to the most unexpected of places. I never thought I'd spend a Saturday night in a small hotel in Gidea Park (!) but here I was with a bunch of friends ordering hand made pasta.

And it wasn't half bad. The food was adequate and the service friendly - this was a place with a maximum of 20 covers and it far exceeded expectations if scale was anything to go by.

And the best bit? A meal of three courses (well two and a half since we shared desserts) came to the princely sum of £8 each... which is a veritable bargain in anyone's book. That said, the preference would probably be to pay a little extra for a better overall experience, which kind of proves that the bill isn't everything.

Thursday, October 29

Food: Proper Burgers Click for more info

You know, I'm tempted to actually go ahead and create a "burger" tag - it seems like food reviews these days have become synonymous with fatty patties and hipster decoration.

But then a place like Proper Burgers comes along and, quite frankly, it makes digging through all the dross out there kind of worth it. The food was great, with my Brisket 4, a combination of patty and pulled meat, being pretty much sublime - if I have one comment it was the the 4oz patties were a little on the small side. We did overdo it with the desserts, not being able to resist ordering both the mess and the apple pie - all quite uniquely made on the premises and tasty for it. I think that demonstrated a larger sense of pride that Proper Burgers has over its contemporaries.

Service was top notch, although the place was pretty empty this Thursday evening. Price wise, we hit a expensive £16 per head although as mentioned we did go overboard with desserts. The Brisket 4 was also a special - all in all I think you could get away with a decent meal at around the £11-12 mark which isn't too bad for such good food.

If there were any downsides it was the hipster level infinity of the place (a wall of audio cassette tapes? Please). But hey, with food like this I can rise above that. Recommended.

Wednesday, October 28

Food: Chai Ki Click for more info

After having such a great time at its sister restaurant I, perhaps foolishly in hindsight, expected more of the same from the Canary Wharf location in the brand new Crossrail Place.

Instead we received all the things the lack of which I felt made Roti Chai so great. An overpriced menu? Check. A slightly hipster atmosphere and clientèle? Check. Good food that wasn't as great as it should have been? Check.

To be fair the service was great and ambience was good enough to allow our party of four to have a decent time. Quite frankly though even Dishoom was better than this place, with Roti Chai still topping both. And at £35 a head the bill was a bit of a shock, although some diners were a little frivolous with their ordering - with a little discretion I think you could expect a bill of around £25 which is still a little on the pricey side for what we got.

So not really a recommendation here - although a final qualification would be that, unlike Roti Chai, Chai Ki doesn't offer a street menu - something that could have been the missing ingredient tonight.

Tuesday, October 27

Film: Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension Click for more info

The first Paranormal Activity (2009!) was made with a budget of $11,000, and was instantly a cult hit as well as achiving a certain level of success at the box office. As the franchise as progressed, the budgets have increased and, perhaps unsurprisingly in a cynical world, the effectiveness of the concept has decreased.

The genius of the films is of course the implied horror - the door closing by itself, a creaking off camera, and the various witnessing of other things we weren't meant to see. But with budget comes a need to make this more explicit - instead of allowing our imaginations to run riot we're spoon fed the scares. Eventually you're left with a more regular ghost story, albeit one shot from the peculiar viewpoint of a character operated camera.

Such is the case with this, the sixth (and allegedly final) chapter in the Paranormal Activity series. That's not to say that it was a bad film; on the contrary I really enjoyed it and was caught squealing in terror more than once. It just was on the same trajectory as the previous sequels were on and so disappointed.

But still, if you're looking for a bit of a scare you can't go wrong with this and in that context it earns a recommendation anyway.

Sunday, October 25

Egypt: Faith After The Pharaohs Click for more info

The British Museum is hosting an exhibition covering the transient period of faith in Egypt; from the Pharaohs and their many gods to the lasting dominance of the Abrahamic religions.

It's a neat theme: transience itself brings with it a sense of organic change and humanity, something that is often juxtaposed with Godly concepts like religion and faith - thus bringing a possible challenge to the sensibilities of most people of faith.

Otherwise it's the usual gallery of pottery, crafts and literature. The exhibition is on the small side, so could probably be combined with a tour of one of the museum's other rooms. Otherwise it's pretty standard fare that just falls short of a recommended visit.

Thursday, October 22

Food: Band of Burgers Click for more info

Move on, nothing to see here.

Okay fine. The food was good - I mean it was most certainly not the worst burger I've tried. Otherwise BoB was pretty much another in the long list of gourmet burger joints, this time in Camden.

Which reminds me, I really need to go back to Stax.

Wednesday, October 21

Film: Back to the Future Trilogy Click for more info

I'm not really one for "my favourite" questions. Ask me what my favourite song or country visited is and I wouldn't really know. The same goes for movies: the best I can answer that question is: "I don't have an ultimate favourite movie, but I know Back to the Future is in my top ten and I'm always able to watch it when it's on".

I was pretty young when Back to the Future was released here in the UK. What's striking is that I still remember the first time I had heard of the film: it was on a BBC breakfast show, and they showed the scene where a relatively unfamiliar Marty McFly creeps into a deserted house that is full of clocks, jacks up a huge speaker system and trashes himself and the home on his first riff. Now I knew the film was about time travel, but apart from the clocks on the wall there was nothing I saw in that scene that related to time or even science fiction. And yet, somehow, I knew I had to watch it. Another memory: Shreddies were running a promo for the film and I managed to collect at least three of the adventure books on offer.

And yet I don't quite remember if I had watched Back to the Future in the cinema. Parts 2 and 3 I do remember, and that vividly, but as it stood BttF was the one that would have always been relegated to the smaller screen. Until today, of course, the future day on which Marty and Doc arrive in part 2. When I heard that cinemas up and down the country were planning on playing not just one but all three films from the trilogy I just knew I had to see them.

Of course the films themselves are pretty perfect - and I don't think that's just nostalgia talking. There's just not much that comes out of a negative assessment of the films. For a start the soundtracks are perfect, with the main theme still making me well up each time I hear it. The screenplays are amongst the tightest I know - I can't think of any scene, shot or script going to waste, which is why even the previously intimidating six-plus hours we spent in that single sitting actually flew by. I never looked at my watch once. This lack of fat in films is most certainly a generational thing, but Back to the Future did the best out of its contemporaries.

Then there were the cast and characters. Doc Emmett Brown did inspire me to both science and science fiction; I shared the love of Jennifer Parker (both of them); I was simultaneously intimidated and allured by Lorraine Bains; and of course I wanted to be Marty McFly (and yes, I bought a skateboard). I over each viewing of the movies I learned all their lessons and experienced all their feelings.

As a genre Back to the Future tends to be mislabelled as science fiction. Now I'm not a movie buff, and most certainly am not in a position to override the more obvious and well established categorisation of the films, but I really don't think the primary driver of the films is sci-fi; in fact if anything they're really bad time travel movies. What these films are really about are the plots (of which there are sub-plots) and character development (of which there are many progressions). In that context time travel merely becomes a prop on which to hang themes of survival, interpersonal relationships and escape, of which it may have been possible to transpose all to a different story, but not at the same time. It's this genius that allows us to have a third part which is almost exclusively set in the Wild West but still fits in perfectly with the rest of the series. And of course it also allowed us to have a baddass flying DeLorean. And I have to admit, watching the three films back to back as a trilogy did have an enhancing effect - there were themes and references I didn't notice before, and an increased appreciation of part 3, which was previously considered by me to be the weakest.

It's a testament that the film is still going strong. It's difficult to see which films released this year we'll still be watching and talking about in three decades' time. On a personal note I'm glad I got a chance to revisit the trilogy in the cinema and then write about my love of the series. I do still hum the theme to myself often, I do still pretend to be driving a flying DeLorean or riding a skateboard, and I still get goosebumps each time my speedo hits 88mph (on private track days of course).

And after watching the trilogy my my opinion has actually changed; the trilogy is no longer one of my favourites but the favourite. In some ways it always has been, but I achieved the explicit realisation the moment I watched Marty McFly race down Main Street in a DeLorean toward a clock tower in order to consume a lightning strike that would send him home. All with a tear in my eye. If something that invokes that reaction is not something that can be considered the favourite I can't imagine what else could.

Tuesday, October 20

Book: HorrorStor, Grady Hendrix Click for more info

I tend not to read too much horror - I think the last time I really engaged with any was way back in the Point Horror days. But I cam across this novel (in paperback of all things!) and it seemed like an easy enough read so I thought I'd give it a try to see if it could convince me to explore the genre in more depth.

I think the first word that came to mind was trashy. Horrorstor isn't a very sophisticated read. The plot is daft, the characters one dimensional, and the writing accessible (which after two years of WoT is actually quite welcome). Overall the book is quite fun, both in its story of an Ikea-a-like store going crazy as well as how the physical volume itself resembles an Ikea catalogue, and since it's such a cheap read it's hard to knock it too much.

I wouldn't go as far as recommending it however, but if you have it and a few hours at hand you could probably do worse.

Food: Enoteca Super Tuscan Click for more info

I've been clamouring for Italian for a while now, so I was looking forward to visiting Super Tuscan this evening. I did approach with caution however; the place was primarily a wine bar after all, so there was a chance that the food could lack.

But my fears turned out to be unfounded and I found the place to be pretty decent. The food was good, if a little pricey for the portions and the place itself was intimate and comforting but where Super Tuscan really shone was with the service. The attention and care we received was pretty striking and well worth the entry fee alone - and yes fine I may have left with a bit of a crush on one of the waitresses.

The bill was a little surprising at £30, although I would suspect discerning vegetarians could get away with £25 for a three course meal. Despite the cost I'd still recommend it, and not just for the pretty waitress.

Sunday, October 18

Food: Souk Bazaar Click for more info

Sister to a previous place I've written about, Souk Bazaar is still a generic Moroccan restaurant that thinks it's more than it is. Despite the years that have passed and the change in location, the review is pretty much the same - the private lounge (accidentally) provided to the seven of us did lend itself to comfort and intimacy and a decent enough vibe, while the food was (literally) not much to write about. The star of the show for me was the tagine lamb with prunes, with both the meat and fruit doing their bits to make a pretty awesome dish.

Everything else was mediocre, but we were all well fed by the alleged seven portions of the set menu we collectively ordered. The price came to £12.50 (no drinks, but we did get tea and baklava included) which although in theory was a special offer, turned out to be a fitting cost for what we got.

So yes, like it's bigger sibling it's hard to make any recommendations here.

Wednesday, October 14

Book: Winter's Heart, Robert Jordan Click for more info

In real time, I've now hit the year 2000 or so in terms of when this book was released. I've written before how much of a time machine it feels reading through a series that spans so many decades of real life; of course this is more of a side observation than anything to do with the book per se.

The book itself marked a return to the more direct storytelling theme of the earlier volumes in the series; for sure it was long and there are still characters mentioned who I'm sure I'm supposed to know but seem like strangers to me. But that's okay - I've long since made peace with the fact that I'll never really follow what's going on 100%: I suspect one would need to read through the books at lest once more before that happens.

But plot wise it really was pretty straightforward, and hence a joy, to read. It almost felt like tons of distance was being covered - characters developed, plots progressed, and by the end of the book I didn't quite want it to end.

So that's nine down now, and for the first time since beginning the books I can actually see the end coming. It's exciting and poignant stuff and I both can't wait for and am apprehensive of the end.

Tuesday, October 13

Film: Sicario Click for more info

Even after having had some time to process it, I'm still unsure about how I feel about Sicario. The good is obvious - it has a solid yet pure and simple plot, it has a pedigree of talent to boast about (which for most of us watching meant Emily Blunt), and it's shot and edited brilliantly.

But there was something missing. Maybe a certain level of depth, or characterisation? Maybe the technically simple plot had a bit too much implied, making it all more hard work than it needed to be?

Whatever the case, it was enough to tarnish an otherwise brilliant film. It still gets a recommendation, but just not the one of "film of the year" strength I was hoping to give.

Monday, October 12

Film: Singh is Bliing Click for more info

Oh man. What a horrid film. It's not often that I actually regret having spent the time to watch a movie, but Bliing not only made me feel sad and ashamed about my life and how I'm spending it but has been the film most able to push me the closest to actually leaving it half way through.

Even Amy Jackson couldn't save this one. Awful awful awful. Avoid like the plague.

Sunday, October 11

Film: Hotel Transylvania 2 Click for more info

I can't say Hotel Transylvania 2 was ever on my watch list, but how often do you get the chance to watch an animated film at 11am on a Sunday morning?

That said, there wasn't much particularly amazing about the clash of culture story that this, the sequel, expands on. There are funny bits, there are sad bits, there are heart pulling bits. Cue credits.

Still, the nephew and niece seemed to enjoy it so I guess there's that.

Tuesday, October 6

Film: The Martian Click for more info

I like to think I'm immune to the whole "if you've read the book then you'll hate the film" reflex that most people describe as having. If a film sucks I think it would always have regardless of any personal experience I've had with its plot or characters - I understand that it's impossible to represent a full volume in the relatively small number of minutes available on screen, and I'm generally happy with the distillation most novels go through.

Which is why it's easy for me to say that The Martian was a good film. It was well made, coherent, engaging and thrilling at the same time. It's a pretty easy recommendation to make. It looked and played great, and I left being totally in love with Jessica Chastain.

But it's not a patch on the book. And I guess that's what's most disappointing really - that the pure genius and talent of the book has been left to its pages and that the majority of people who have watched the film will never know it. That makes me pretty sad.

So yes, I do recommend The Martian, the film. But I super recommend The Martian, the book and I implore that you all read that too.

Saturday, October 3

Food: Restaurant 92 Click for more info

Restaurant 92 was pretty much what was expected from another on site hotel restaurant. The food was of a standard high quality (if that makes any sense at all), the vibe suited to quiet but fun conversation and all the other little things that makes a evening out decent were lined up pretty well. More detail on the food: soups and smoke salmon starters were thoroughly enjoyed, with the (halal) chicken mains hitting the spot adequately.

There was a bit of a service failure with desserts, with us having to wait an astonishing 45 mins for our three items, but were one of the highlights when they eventually came. The Eton mess in particular was gorgeous. We eventually were offered all the desserts complimentary which was a neat touch considering.

Overall, we had a pleasant enough evening; but unfortunately for Restaurant 92 being pleasant in central London doesn't quite cut it.

Saturday, September 26

Food: Director's Cut Click for more info

I feel that I've been on a pretty good roll when it comes to food recently. I can't remember the last place I went to that I was truly disappointed with, and a lot of cynicism I had with regards to what's out there has dwindled as I swallowed one pleasant surprise after another. A lot of that cynicism was directed against identikit gourmet burger places and other hipster joints, but finding places like Stax and Uptown has taught me it's worth giving them a try.

Alas by its very nature luck cannot last forever, and I was always going to find myself complaining about a lame burger place sooner or later. And unfortunately that place appears to be Director's Cut.

The place was decent enough I suppose. Service was charming if a little confused, atmosphere was lacking (we were the only ones there), and the food was adequate at best - we chose not to stay for dessert. On the positive side the bill didn't break the £10 mark (after a 10% NHS discount) which is always impressive. But the true test of a place is whether we'd see ourselves there again and in this case the "no" was pretty unanimous.

Friday, September 25

Food: Steak & Co Click for more info

Another steak restaurant and another qualification that no, I'm not actually that big a fan of steak. The exceptions have been pretty rare (bdum tish) - an Argentinian in Buenos Aires for example, or halal ostrich in Capetown - but given the choice I'll always choose the convenience of a burger over a slab of filleted meat. The point being that if I do actually like an offered steak then I must have found it special. Now it's easy to argue that the steak served today was more gimmick than substance, but I'm not sure that it was. But wait a second: I'm skipping ahead.

The novelty at Steak & Co is in the presentation of your food. It all starts when ordering - My medium rare was downgraded to a rare, while my colleagues' well dones were substituted for mediums. This was for our own good, as the steaks themselves are presented on a steak stone hot enough to cook the meat further to your exact taste. You're given butter and seasoning too, so it really does become quite the involved experience.

Now my initial reaction when presented with the concept resembled a little bit of denial - I don't cook at home so it would be almost perverse to do so while eating out. I even asked if we could do away with the hook and just get the chef to cook the steak. Luckily the look of disbelief given to me by the server convinced me to give the experience a try and I'm actually glad that I did.

Leave aside the novelty of eating meat you've prepared yourself, I do actually think cooking the meat myself added something to the taste and texture of the steak. Without even really realising it, I was experimenting with different amounts of butter, seasoning and time on the stone, meaning each bite was quite unique. Of course I'd be fooling myself if I ignored the fact that most of it was due to the preparation in the kitchen, but I do genuinely believe that the hot stone thing made a good steak great.

Along with drinks and dessert the bill came to a healthy £25 per head which isn't the cheapest meal, especially considering I had to cook it myself (that's a joke. Maybe). But overall I would recommend Steak & Co over some of the other more popular steak options out there.

Saturday, September 19

Food: The Bermondsey Square Hotel Click for more info

If you haven't already figure it out, one of the main sources of restaurant discovery for a particular group of social eaters I dine with is cost: we regularly avail ourselves of offers, Gourmet Card listings and budget dining. That's not to say we will lower ourselves to dirty chicken; oh no, some of the places we get to visit can only be described as gems.

Take this, the on-site restaurant of the Bermondsey Square Hotel. It's quiet, intimate, offers great service and allowed our arty of 8 or so to enjoy a pretty decent evening of good conversation and food. I stuck to the fish and chips which turned out to be a pretty solid choice, but I did sample some quiche and squid. Desserts were more than adequate too.

The price came to a hearty £12 or so, which was a bargain considering. Still it's a little difficult to recommend going out of your way for; but if you happened to be lost in Bermondsey and needed something to eat I'm sure you could do much worse.

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: Roti Chai 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 clientèle). 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.

Monday, August 31

The Barton, Poughill Click for more info

I've written before (here and here) about the accessibility of holiday homes in the UK. If done correctly they really can be magnificently quick wins in terms of time, planning and cost. That ease in logistics however does place more of a burden on other parts of the holiday - there isn't usually a lot to do in and around the countryside so it pays to prepared.

Luckily there are plenty of options to fill the time these days. Boardgames and good old fashioned conversation are the staples, but as the future keeps getting closer we now have streaming sticks, tablets and portable videogames to add to the list. We had all these as well as a cricket bat, and so thinking back I can't really remember a bored moment in the converted barn we called home this weekend. We were staying on a farm so had some stock to checkout, although chickens and sheep do get boring after the first minute or so.

Although there is plenty to do in Devon, it's a big place and we happened to find ourselves in a pretty secluded corner of it. Still after a bit of research we did head out a few times to see what we could find to do. Canonteign Falls was probably the biggest attraction in the vicinity, although we did choose to stop our visit after seeing from afar what claims to be the highest falls in England. Torquay was then the closest seafront; it was a bit of a shock to the senses to be honest with what I imagined it to be contrasting sharply with reality.

Finally we also spent sometime aimlessly wondering around Exeter University. Now ordinarily I'd be quite excited to hang out in a uni (cough splutter) except it was a Sunday during the Summer close and so pretty much deserted. Still we did manage to get into the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies which was kind of cool.

The biggest theme of the weekend however had to be the food. Whether it was lunch or dinner, we were very well looked after. I can't of course, lay claim to any of the credit but considering it was all top notch and came to £20 per person over the three nights it couldn't not be the biggest success of the weekend away.

So yes, Devon is nice, but if anyone is thinking of going it might pay to check out what's going on in the area.

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?

Monday, March 16

Cyanide & Happiness Click for more info

Aaah, sometimes reassurance is a great thing:


Saturday, March 14

Decoloniality London Workspace Launch Click for more info

Although I initially attended tonight's event in order to offer my personal support, it turned out that it was actually myself who had been the lucky one to be invited. The crowd was large and engaging enough anyway, and even before the evening began it was clear that much success had already been achieved in having them all gather in one place.

If I've skipped forward a little, it's only because I'm writing this with the same sense of discovery that I had at Mile End. At first glance it was just a larger and better lit Rebel Muzik, a room full of hippies-but-not-really who were just going to have a bit of a intellectually poetic party for a bit. But no, it soon became clear that this was much more than a jolly; this was to be academic and structured (although they will pour scorn on me for saying so), well presented and accessible. If there was any question of whether good organisation really kills a message tonight was proof that it can be done.

But what is Decoloniality London? To be frank I don't think I understand it enough to do it complete justice here, but it appeared to be a commentary on the exact immensity of control that the establishment has on society. Okay, so it was a little western and white bashing at times, but it did manage to get away with it on the whole.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to hang around for the whole of the session, but the presentations that I did see were illustrative, fun and (in my opinion most importantly) accessible and manage to engage even the biggest cynic in me; as cheesy and facebooktastic as it sounds I learned a lot from the interactive game of Simon Says we played. I was actually a little disappointed that I had to leave early, but I will be catching up via the recordings.

As the title of the night says, this was actually marking the launch of a set of educational modules based on the subject of (de)colonisation and the effects and conditioning it's had on us as a population. There's more info via the title link of this post, and I would suggest it's well worth checking out the Decoloniality London website for a more in depth presentation of how exactly they're trying to end the world.

Friday, March 6

Food: Kazan Click for more info

I guess I was tempting fate by complaining about the flooding of Turkish food options on the London Muslim's menu during my last post - I suppose it's no coincidence that my second meeting with a Muslim crowd landed me in yet another Turkish place this week. But as Efes showed, one can still be surprised even in the middle of ubiquity, so I did manage to go in to Kazan with a relatively open mind.

I think the immediate impression given by Kazan was one of a more "posh" Turkish place. This was reflected in the decor and clientele; this is a place that would appear very out of sorts in the middle of Whitechapel, say. The menu was also pretty difference too; yes, the mezze's were pretty standard, but the mains consisted of various gourmet platters and even a naked burger. Interesting and somewhat refreshing stuff then.

I went for the naked burger (and will admit that I was both surprised and embarrassed when it arrived without any sign of a bun), and it was more than just pretty good. It was perfectly portioned, tasted great and went down well - and looking at the platters received by others at the table it seemed that this assessment was to be pretty common across the board.

Atmosphere was decent but not the best - it wasn't quite the place to go for a quiet and intimate meal, but it was perfect for the medium group catching up like we were. The bill came to just over 30 per person including drinks; not surprising but still a bit on the pricey side for what we actually got.

So Kazan ends up being an interesting proposition, perhaps for those already in the area, but falls short of a total recommendation - but only because there are already so many other options in London that just about pip it to the post.

EDIT: So it turns out that I had already been to Kazan, albeit a fer number of years ago. Review here.

Tuesday, March 3

Food: Efes Click for more info

I think that I've spoken before about my boredom with the generic Turkish restaurants that I inevitably come across so often whenever it's a group of Muslims deciding to eat food with. I place Turkish food in the same category as Shisha and Dubai: bland and unoriginal things that have fast become the defacto standard options that we pick. It's a shame firstly because it limits the exposure we have to other cuisines and experiences, but also because the whole class of food falls in danger of becoming pretty generic and common denominated. I mean can you tell the difference between the lot?

Well it turns out that you can - and when this happens it's a bit of a revelation. Take Efes - yes, the menu is pretty generic and on the surface the place looks like a clone of the many other Turkish's in the area. But the real difference comes when you receive the food - this was good, solid and clean grilled meats in the main, with mezze's and condiments that kept up the refreshing standard of quality and taste. It's by far one of the stronger options for Turkish in the vicinity. Cost wise, everyone was well fed and watered for just under 20 a head, which is neither cheap nor pricey.

The place is relatively new so it's still an open question whether it will last the distance or fall victim to the Turkish-by-numbers others do, but for now it's a decent place that you really can't go wrong with. Recommended.

Thursday, February 26

Book: A Crown of Swords, Robert Jordan Click for more info

Book Seven down, and I am officially over half way through the WoT series. This volume was better than the last, not least because stuff actually happened, but it also seemed to flow a bit better. That said there were some pretty slow bit and I'm left hoping that the pace doesn't become the norm going forward.

Oh and I'm still confused about exactly what's going on. But hey! On to 8!

Tuesday, February 17

Film: Project Almanac Click for more info

Depending on the audience, time travel can be a tricky subject to film about. For the general (read: normal) public it's all about the drama involved with meeting dinosaurs or killing Hitler/your grandparents, but for the geeks (you know, those brought up on TNG) it's more about expressing the mathematical beauty of causality and the elegance of balancing the formula of temporal relocation. These guys need a tight storyline otherwise they probably won't enjoy it.

Which, as Project Almanac proves, is a load of bokum. I think it's fair to say that Almanac treats time travel with very little respect - the whole presentation of the concept and its consequences is pretty shoddy, inconsistent and cheap; it's clear from the start that the film is all about the drama of... well okay, there were no dinosaurs or Hitlers and most of the issues that the protagonists used time travel to deal with were wholly of the teenage angsty kind.

And yet, the film wasn't that bad really, not once you stop looking for holes and inconsistencies. What's left is quite fun, if not at all deep, and the film just manages to be decent enough to watch.

It still just falls short of a recommendation though. And oh, if you did want to watch an extremely tight film about time travel you should definitely check out the excellent Los Cronocrímenes or Timecrimes (credit to Mash for that one).

Tuesday, February 10

Florence Day Four: Rome

Except we didn't actually make it home on the day we were supposed to. Grabbing the latest flight leaving Florence meant flying via Rome - an inconvenience for sure but better than the alternative of catching the direct flight to Heathrow at 1pm. Ordinarily this would have been nothing more than an irritation, but it turns out that whatever magical curse had blocked our collective ability to keep time was still in full effect; after dinner at Rome's airport (which included a chocolate cake which pretty much sealed our fate), we found out that our connection to London had decided to leave without us.

To be fair it was our pride that was damaged the most. Missing a flight is pretty unforgivable, especially given the context here, but I guess the luck we had been riding on for the trip had to run out at some point.

And so there we were, refusing to the accept the fact that we would indeed have to spend a further night in Italy, this time in Rome, in order to catch the earliest flight to London the next day. It's probably something we would laugh about later (if not during sooner), but the real joke was how we were about to again miss the rescheduled flight the next morning. I think I would have given up at that point.

So there you have it - a last minute adhoc trip to Florence that ended up being full of culture, laughs and surprises. That's not bad for a destination I had never before considered visiting; I even learned how to use Snapchat (which kind of blew my mind by the way), so any misgivings or apprehension I had with booking the last minute trip was totally worth it.

Monday, February 9

Florence Day Three: Siena

In what appeared to be a a majestic example of "winging it", we decided last night that we were going to attempt to cram in Siena. This was a town a few hours South of Florence and was said to be too beautiful to miss, so after a quick pre breakfast investigation we figured out which bus would be able to take us there and back in good time for our flight home that evening.

But first we had the little matter of Santa Croce to see. This was a basilica in Florence that contained the tombs of some pretty big and influential scientists and artists from Firenze history: Galileo, Michaelangelo and Dante amongst others were all buried here and it would have been a big shame to have missed it. After a whistle stop tour (photos here) we headed to the bus station across town to catch our ride to Siena.

By "headed" I mean "rushed like headless chicken", because it seems that for some reason any sense of timekeeping had totally been lost at some point on our trip in Italy. Although buses to Siena were regular throughout the day, the 11:40am that we aimed to get really was the only feasible option to take in order to get some decent time there. After collecting our luggage from the hotel and dropping it off at the train station's left luggage (adjacent to the bus stop) we managed to get our tickets and seats with minutes to spare. But hey, at least we were on our way to Siena and at around 1:30pm we had arrived.

It really was worth the hassle. The town itself was very pretty, both in aesthetics and sheer vibe, and I immediately regretted us not taking a much earlier bus - our return trip was leaving at 4:30pm so we really only had hours to experience it. The town square would have been so good to have chilled out in, and even walking around the numerous winding and undulating alleyways (replete with cute little archways) would have kept us occupied for hours. Instead we chose to have a hearty lunch and spend most of our time at the Duomo di Siena.

The cathedral was magnificent. I think the main thing was how different it was - it was difficult to decide where it had more of a classic or modern ambience to it, and again I felt a pang of regret regarding how we had painted ourselves into a corner time wise. But what we saw was better than having missed it, and it was with a heavy heart that we walked (read: raced) back to the station to catch our bus. You can click the following for photos of Siena in general and its Duomo.

And that was pretty much it for out time in Siena and indeed Florence and Italy as a whole. The bus was exchanged for a taxi, the taxi for a plane (with us naturally checking in our luggage just after the counter had closed), and before we knew it we were well on our way London, I for one looking forward to having my bed back that evening.

Sunday, February 8

Florence Day Two: Pisa

Ah, Pisa. For most people it's the town that contains the most iconic of Italy's monuments - the leaning tower. And yes, although I will admit to initially not realising just how close Pisa was to Florence, I was pretty excited to be making the two hour drive west to see it.

I have to say, I was pretty disappointed.

This shouldn't really come of much surprise really. After all, it is just, well, a tower at an angle. I wasn't really sure what else I was expecting. But still, we did eventually go along with the whole tourist trail, including paying the extortionate fee to climb the tower as well as constructing those photos:

The rest of them can be found here.

After a pleasant yet underwhelming morning we made our way to Viareggio by train, a beach town further west of Pisa. Viareggio alone may have been worth a visit; it's a charming little town with a wonderful seafront alongside majestic mountain views and due to its accessibility would make a brilliant segue to a morning climbing leaning towers. However the real value and surprise for us was that as it was February, we were smack bang in the middle of carnival season:

It really was a brilliant experience - most of the afternoon was spent walking/strolling/dancing with the floats and performers, taking in as many of the colours and political statements as we could. And when we were exhausted with that we had sunset on the beach to bring us back down again. It was a vivid, unique experience which I feel lucky to have had been a part of. You can see the rest of the photos here.

But alas the day had come to an end and we made our way back to Pisa and then onto Florence for a late dinner. Unlike today, the next had not been planned in advance, so I was a little anxious as to what it would hold - on the other hand I think the trip had already surpassed my expectations.

Saturday, February 7

Florence Day One: Firenze

It was clear from the start that timekeeping wasn't going to be a major theme of this trip. For a start I had only booked my flight a little over 24 hours before take off, but the real indication was when I arrived at an empty gate - as everyone had already boarded the plane. Yes, City Airport is super efficient and yes, in theory you only need to (baglessly) check in 15 minutes before your flight... but no, in terms of stress it pays to arrive a little early than you need to. Of course this was a once off and I had learned my lesson and would never be so lax in catching a flight again. Oh no.

But I was on the flight and that's all that mattered really. Florence was never really on my list of places to visit (the first and only time I had previously been to Italy was Rome in 2003), but as some friends were already going I decided to crash and tag along. Three days sounded like a decent amount of time to spend in the region, and The Leaning Tower of Pisa just had to be something worth seeing. Other than that though I went in blind.

Although I initially cursed the insanely early flight it did pay dividends - after leaving the airport and checking into our hotel we were free to start exploring by noon. By virtue of it being situated right outside our hotel, the immediate sight to see was the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (photos here), a majestic cathedral with an immense dome that really did seem like something that belonged in a film. We bought a combined ticket that allowed us to climb both the dome and bell tower - there's not really much between the two in terms of views (of course the tower had a better view of the dome), but the climbs have their own sense of adventure in both. The ticket also allowed us entry into the baptistery (which was nice) as well as the museum in the basement of the cathedral (which was less interesting).

Next on our list was the Galleria degli Uffizi (photos here). This was a pretty sizeable art gallery containing the works of various classical Italian artists including at least three Ninja Turtles - I was actually quite surprised at how many I recognised, which is both a testament to the value of these pieces and a indication of my ignorance of the deeper aspects behind the famous art we see so often.

Our final stop of the day (both due to a lack of time as well as inclination - it appears three is the maximum number of museums we could handle in a day) was to the Galleria dell'Accademia (photos here), home of Michelangelo's sculpture David, and pretty much the reason we crossed town. The visit was whistle-stop, and the gallery did have other nice exhibits too, but the highlight was definitely the sculpture itself.

For our first night in Florence we decided to meander across Ponte Vecchio (photos here) to the south bank of Florence. We eventually ended up at Gustapizza, a cute intimate little stone baked pizza place that had brilliant food at a friendly price which I heartily recommend. After that we took a punt and visited Libreria Cafe la Cite, a bookshop-cum-cafe that offers live music at night.

It was a great way to end our first night in Firenze, and after day one I was already totally glad that I had been convinced to come. Random photos from the streets of Firenze can be found here.

Saturday, January 17

Food: Waterfall Kebab Centre Click for more info

I actually paused for a moment before deciding to review this place, something that appeared to be a typical high street kebab shop. I mean the line has to be drawn somewhere right? If I wrote about every new place I ate in then this place would be even more tired and mundane than it already is. Heck, I might as well start tweeting my every meal or something.

But then I realised firstly that I'm not really a food snob, secondly that no one actually cares about the ethics of food writing and thirdly - and most importantly - everyone needs to know about Waterfall Kebab Centre.

First up, let's start with the food: it was awesome. All of it. From the grilled meats (I had the Adana) to the fried chips to the salads, everything was prepared with such care and pride we started enjoying the food even before we tasted it. And once we did that I realised that this was a special place.

So on to service then. Our server was polite, chatty and engaging[1] - it was almost like we were visiting someone's home for dinner, and I guess in hindsight it's not really surprising that the place was a family run joint. We even started talking about movies and cake baking at two separate points. The free tea and baklava at the end was just the icing on the cake really.

Cost wise there were no complaints either; a tenner a head got us a spread of starters, a main each and a few drinks for the party. Totally worth it. If there was a distracting point it's that the place was essentially a kebab shop: it's probably not the place you would take the highly maintained Londoner date of today. Although quite frankly if they turned their noses up at this place I know which I would choose to stick with.

So there you have it, probably the best kebab shop I've been to. Totally recommended.

[1] And I challenge any of the guys I was with to deny fancying our server.

Tuesday, January 13

Film: Taken 3 Click for more info

Oh man oh man. What a dire film.

Maybe it was a lack of budget, or inclination, but there was none of the spirit, charm and charisma of the previous two films here. The plot sucked, the acting was poor, the editing awful and the action almost non existent. In fact the best thing about it was its merciful length.

It's such a shame seeing how much I loved the first and liked the second. What a disappointing turn out.

So not recommended - just pretend there are only two films in the series.

Saturday, January 10

Food: Zi's Click for more info

Ilford is quite the location for a variety of food, if not that of consistent quality. Still, we tend to give local business a chance when we can and stonebaked pizza is still a novelty in these parts so our party for 10 were all ready to give it a try.

There were ups and downs. The garlic bread was a little strange, and came with a bitter taste we concluded was due to an abundance of raw garlic. On the other hand, the pizza mains were great in their simplicity and solidness - I went for the chilli peperoni (the meat is all halal) which hit the spot pretty well.

Otherwise the place was clean, the service more than adequate and the ambience well suited for our party. Prices were decent, even after you consider the special opening offer of all pizzas for 6 quid.

In short, Zi's has pretty much become the go to place for Pizza in Ilford, and although that might just be by default that shouldn't take away how much of a decent place it is. Just avoid the garlic bread.

Thursday, January 8

Book: Watchmen Click for more info

As I had already seen the film (albeit ages ago), I was quite looking forward to reading Watchmen. After continuously being told how much off par the movie adaptation (which I liked) was from its source as well as how often it's billed as the most important graphic novel of all time there was not really anyway to be anything but excited really.

And yes it was good - the depth of the characters and plot and how it all unfolds is pretty magical, and I suspect can only really have been told by a graphic novel. Did I fall in love with it though? Well honestly no, I can't say I did. Just why it didn't take I'm not entirely sure since on paper it should have been right up my street, but I suppose it comes down to the fact that ultimately I'm not as passionate as comic books as those who cherish Watchmen are.

Having said that I am now off to revisit the film, so there must be something it's done right.

Monday, January 5

Link of the Day

On the Phenomenon of Bulls**t Jobs

It actually started with my stumbling across what appeared to be a couple of 200 unauthorised posted on the tube (see here and here). On searching for the quote I reached the original source, an article by David Graeber originally written in 2013 when it appeared in Strike! magazine.

Amongst other things, the genius of the article is in its length, conciseness, clarity and especially in its content: I don't think there will be many people reading it who wouldn't have been doing so while nodding their heads in agreement. For me personally, it was able to vindicate some of the things that friends and I would have concluded a long time ago; that productivity of a workforce doesn't equal the number of man-hours expended. And as someone who has long established their relationship with work (I certainly know my own answer to the "What would you do if you won the lottery?" question), I thought some of the ideas in the article were bang on.

Sunday, January 4

Karachi 2014

It's telling that on my last trip to Karachi I had only posted a handful of travel articles. As my trips back home become more and more frequent (it had actually, amazingly, been less than a year since I had last visited, which is a record in itself), I appear to have less and less to say as my time there becomes more and more run of the mill and less special. This in itself isn't a bad thing - on the contrary actually: I like being a part of the furniture there and being able to skip the sometimes awkward stage of regaining familiarity with relatives and the environment.

That said this trip was different, mainly because I was travelling with my wider family this time instead of just my folks. This meant that the trip was largely tailored to the kids in our party: I have never been to as many Karachite attractions, museums and fairgrounds in two weeks as I had on this trip - heck I didn't know Karachi even had as many attractions, museums and fairgrounds in the first place.

In fact the whole trip was pretty exhausting, and that not necessarily in a bad way... it was just different to what I was accustomed to. In any case, as part of my intention to return more frequently there'll be plenty of chances to have a more low key visit in the future.