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.