Sunday, 30 April 2017

In Which There is Food and Drink (And Jude Law)

My friend A has been singing the praises of  Hélène Darroze at the Connaught, and as we had tickets to see Jude Law and Halina Reijn in 'Obsession' at the Barbican for last Saturday night, decided to make a day of it, and have lunch at Hélène Darroze, followed by cocktails at The Alchemist  and then the play.

The food was sublime, and the service pretty awesome, too. Which, given that the restaurant has 2 Michelin stars is perhaps not surprising!

The menu comes accompanied by a solitaire board which you use to pick which dishes you want (you can chose 5, or 7, or the full experience. We went for the 7 courses, which meant a heartbreaking choice to discard 8 possible dishes...

While we struggled to decide, we were brought some amuse bouche,presumably to ensure we didn't starve while being indecisive.. There were fresh, raw peas, with pea shoots and creme fraiche on a savoury tuile, little teeny bites of gazpacho, and a little shot of mushroom consomme with a Parmesan foam.  Oh, and bread and 2 kinds of butter.
Gazpacho bites
Having made our selections, we sat back and let the food arrive. We ended up picking almost exactly the same things:

Salmon:-  this came two ways, another little straw with smoked salmon in, and a perfect disk of raw salmon, with tiny balls of apple and radish, ranging from white, to green, to pink, and a delicious apple and lime consomme.

Then there was foie gras, which came on a bed of ginger jelly, with slivers of rhubarb, after which there was possibly my favourite dish, the wild garlic and ricotta lasagna, with smoked eel, with a touch of lemon in there somewhere. And so pretty!

Wild Garlic and ricotta lasagna with smoked eel
After this we has the different dishes, mine was Scallop, which came with (mild but delicious) tandoori spices, and both purple and orange carrots. A had John Dory with white asparagus and samphire, which also looked delicious.

Then came duck - a little bit of duck breast crusted with herbs, and a chunk of duck-y sausage, with two sorts of potato. 

We then moved on to the dessert stage of the meal...

The first was rhubarb - there was some poached rhubarb underneath, with tiny pinkish meringues, and and the foam which involved rhubarb and ginger, with cashews on the top.

Second dessert was chocolate in a variety of forms, and with yuzu sorbet. It was delicious! 

That brought the meal as described on the menu to an end, but there were petit fours after that, and then, when we had paid, we were each brought a little box with a miniature savarin cake in, to take home! 

It was about 4.30 by this point  (because 3 hours is a totally reasonable  length of time for a meal), so by the time we had wandered through the park (spotting a heron en route, and also lots of TV vans prepping for the London Marathon the following day), and got the tube across to Aldgate, it was a civilized time for cocktails.

I've never been to The Alchemist before, but it was a lot of fun.  They go for 'molecular mixology', and it's all very theatrical, with bunsen burners, dry ice, and all sorts. And certainly the cocktails I had were very tasty! 

Lady Marmalade
Full food and drink album on Flickr.

We then walked down to the Barbican, to see 'Obsession'.  The play is created by Toneelgroep Amsterdam, based on the 1942 Luchino Visconti film, Ossessione (which in turn is based on the novel 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' . It features Jude Law as Gino and Halina Reijn as Hanna, the woman with whom he becomes obsessed, and is directed by Ivo van Hove.

I haven't seen the film, but I was not impressed with this stage play. It's fairly short (1 hour 45 minutes) but feels much longer, and not in a good way. The plot is fairly minimal - handsome drifter Gina meets Hanna, a bartender unhappily married to an older man. Hanna and Gino immediately start an impassioned affair, plan to run away together but split up when Hanna gets cold feet and returns to her husband. Her husband winds up dead an things end badly for everyone. 

The play seems a bit lost on the Barbican stage - it might work better in a much smaller space, and perhaps with a few more clues about the timescale, or indeed the location, of the action. (according to the programme notes, the original had lots of anti-fascist subtext, getting it banned by Mussolini, but none of that really comes through here.

The play also features Chukwudi Iwuji in a dual role as Hanna's Priest and a police Inspector, but the minimal costume changes (dog collar or not) mean it isn't always immediately obvious when he is playing which character.

There's also a lot of cliché; at one point, Law stands, in despair, against a backdrop of projected waves. At this point I thought it was supposed to be a clifftop, and that he was going to hurl himself off (which, frankly, would have come as a relief to everyone at that point). He even had to run on a treadmill to symbolise his attempts to escape his obsession... 

It's a shame, as the actors are all good, it's just that the play really isn't. I have to admit I left with the assumption that the reason there is no interval is because they were afraid no-one would come back afterwards, if there was any chance of escape, but I have to admit that a lot of the other audience members seemed rather more enthusiastic, so either they were all fans of 1940's Italian cinema or they just liked watching Jude Law take his shirt off a lot.

In the event that this hasn't put you off, the play is on at the Barbican until 20th May and is being broadcast by NTLive on 11th May.

Where I've Been

You may have noticed the lack of blogging for the last week. This is because I  was on holiday in Venice, with trips to the theatre at either end of the week.

I shall be blogging about all of those things over the next week or so as I have time - there was so much to see and enjoy! 

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Garden, and Birds

Those of you who know me on twitter may have seen that I had an unusual visitor to the garden on Monday.

I'm used to seeing a range of small birds - there are lots of sparrows, a couple of robins, a pair of blackbirds, and regular visits by jackdaws and crows.

However, Monday's visitor was a little more impressive! I didn't see it strike, just looked out through the kitchen window and saw it on the lawn.

It's a Sparrowhawk, and, true to its name, appeared to have caught a sparrow. At first we thought it might have got a young jackdaw, as there was a jackdaw on the shed paying a lot of attention, but on inspecting the left-over feathers afterwards I made a tentative sparrow-identification, so perhaps the jackdaw was just hoping for left-overs. (In which case, it will have been disappointed!) 

I shall be keeping a look out to see whether it visits again!

I have been doing a little more in the garden over the last few days, planting out some of my seedling tomato plants, and the Hydrangea and Fuchsia cuttings I took from my parents' garden last autumn, which I've been bringing on in pots. I'm hoping that they will in due course, become a smallish shrubbery inside my front fence, although that will take a few years! 

And my little baby apple tree is coming along nicely, it has quite a few leaves, and its blossom is starting to come out, on all three branches.

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Mikado

As well as our trip to Muchelney, my parents and I also took a trip to the theatre, to see a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Mikado'.

I like Gilbert and Sullivan, and while I had some reservations about this production (it is an all-male version, and I was doubtful about whether that would really work)

Alan Richardson, Richard Russell Edwards,
James Jukes, Ben Vivian-Jones, Richard Munday
It was a lot of fun. The production is done as a dream sequence. One of the campers is seen being teased by others, then falling asleep, after which the opera itself begins...

This allows for the everything to be done with no additional scene changes and very limited costuming.

The singing was excellent; very impressive to have all the female roles sung in the correct key etc, despite being sung by men. Katisha ( Alex Weatherill) has a particularly fine voice, as did Yum Yum (Alan Richardson).

Ko Ko's 'As someday it may happen'  song (I've got a little list')  had been updated but other than that there was very little in the libretto which was changed.

It's very entertaining, although even having seen it, I'm still not convinced that a mixed production would not have been at least as good, or better, but still fun!

The production is on tour until July. Details here.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Muchelney Abbey and Church: A Grand Day Out

My parents were visiting for a couple of days after Easter, so when it came a nice day, we decided to go out, and to visit Muchelney Abbey and Church.

Mulcheney was one of the villages which suffered particularly badly in the flooding in 2012 and 2014, so I became used to seeing it on the news, but I have not ever had reason to visit. However, having recently joined English Heritage, we looked around to see what sites there were locally we might be able to visit, and decided on Muchelney.

Muchelney Abbey and Abbot's House

Muchelney Abbey was originally an Anglo-Saxon Abbey, (There is, apparently, a record of a grant of land by Cynewulf, in 762,  then later (in the 10th C) it was re-founded as  a Benedictine Abbey, before being dissolved under Henry VIII in 1538. It was never as powerful or well known as Glastonbury, but was pretty wealthy, and was responsible for draining much of the surrounding moors for farmland.

The majority of the buildings, including the Abbey church, were demolished after the abbey was dissolved, and a lot of the stone reused for building elsewhere. However, the Abbot's House (built in the late 15th / early 16th Century) survived, as did a small portion of the cloisters and parts of the kitchens, and a separate 'reredorter' (the monk's lavatories) also survives.

The Abbot's 'Great Chamber' 
 I enjoyed seeing the Abbot's House. There is a set of 3 or 4 rooms; the 'Great Chamber', where important guests would have been entertained, and which has a wonderful carved mantelpiece, with two slightly improbable looking lions above it. 

The wooden settles are 19th C. but incorporate some medieval panelling.

Lion (from the carving above the fireplace in the Abbot's Great Chamber
There are also some smaller rooms, including one which still has traces of the original wall paintings, and a very nice barrel vaulted ceiling.

Painted room
After visiting the internal rooms we also wandered around the ruins a little, then visited the Parish Church, next door to the Abbey.

From the outside, the church seems fairly ordinary, however, inside, it is a different story! 

When the Abbey was dissolved, some of the medieval tiles from the Abbey church were removed and re-used in the parish church, where they remain. And were decked with coloured light from the sunlight shining though the stained glass windows, when we visited.

Even more spectacular is the ceiling of the nave, in the church.

It is painted with wonderful, Jacobean angels and cherubim.

The ceiling was apparently painted in the early 17thC and is very unusual, both simply by having survived the Puritans, and based on the style - some of the angels are very feminine, which is unusual, and several are bare-breasted, it is believed that this is intended to symbolise  innocence and purity.

It is stunning, and such an unusual thing to find in an English church (and because this is the Parish Church, and not part of the Abbey, it isn't mentioned in the English Heritage information about the Abbey)

It was fascinating.

We were not able to visit the Priest's House, originally built for the priest of the Parish Church in 1308 and almost unchanged since the early 17th C; it is now owned by the National Trust but is only open 2 days a week, and this wasn't one of them. It looks very pretty from the outside, though! 

It was a grand day out!

(complete photoset on Flickr )

Saturday, 15 April 2017

The Mentor

Friday was a bank holiday, and on impulse, I called the theatre to see whether they had any availability for The Mentor, a play by German novelist and playwright, Daniel Kehlmann. This is, I think, the first English production. It's directed by Laurence Boswell, who also directed Intimate Apparel and Trouble in Mind

The production stars Oscar winner  F. Murray Abraham, as Benjamin Rubin, an ageing playwright persuaded, by a cultural institute,  to spend a week as mentor to a young, up and coming writer, Martin Wegner (Daniel Weyman).

Daniel Weyman, Jonathan Cullen, Naomi Frederick and F Murray Abraham.
Photograph: Simon Annand
They are joined by Martin's wife, Gina (Naomi Frederick) and Erwin Rudicek (Jonathan Cullen), the Institutes's representative, an unsuccessful painter.

We first meet Rubin as he arrives at the villa, simultaneously complaining to Rudicek about the driver sent to meet him and the furnishings in his room, and snubbing him. 

I don't want to spoil the plot, but it it very funny, and mercilessly skews the egos of both writers, in different ways, in between discussing questions around the subjectivity of art appreciation, and success.

I suspect that Murray Abraham, in particular, was having  lot of fun with his role.

It's not a lengthy play - just under an hour and a half, and perhaps some of the themes, such as Gina's back story, but it is well worth seeing, and great to see such a strong cast, and the intimacy of the Ustinov studio works very well for this play.

The Mentor is at the Ustinov until 6th May. If you are in or near Bath, and get the chance, go!

Monday, 10 April 2017


This weekend, the weather has been lovely, warm sunshine, blue skies - what more could one ask?

I have primroses blooming in the garden, the tulips appear to be on the brink of bursting into flower, and further afield, trees are covered in blossom (and my baby apple tree is going to have blossom any minute now!) 

I cut the grass for the first time this year, on Sunday, and have planted out some of my tomato and pea seedlings, so shall have to hope that the nice weather continues and they all survive!

Oh, and I bought a new washing line and now need to make a deeper whole to put it in, because it turns out the new lie is bigger than the old one, and needs a deeper hole to put the stalk in..!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

A quiet weekend

Having spent the past two weekends with trips to London, first to see Hamlet, and then for work and to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I was ready for a more relaxed and low-key weekend, so was glad not to be going anywhere this weekend.

Two weekends ago I did a little gardening, planting an apple tree* which I ordered a few weeks back, and which had just arrived. Loki took a keen interest in the process, and in particular in the hole I dug in the back lawn.

(*I say tree. It came as a bare-root plant, and it isn't very big, so it's basically a stick. A very expensive stick.)

I was a little concerned about whether it would be OK, particularly as the weather turned very wet as soon as I got it into the ground, and I worried it would get waterlogged and rot before it could get established.

However, having checked on it yesterday, it appears (crossed fingers) that it is settling in, as it has produced some little baby leaves. It wouldn't do that if it were planning to die on me, would it? It is a family apple tree, with 3 grafts, so if it survives and produces fruit, it will produce 3 types of apple (and be able to self-pollinate). 

I think it'll be another 2 - 3 years before it starts to produce any apples,but hopefully it will settle in and look nice, even before then.

With a view to other (quicker) home grown stuff I planted some tomato seeds a couple of weeks ago, and have just transplanted the seedlings into individual pots, and have them on various windowsills around the house. 

Given the uncertain weather and the rather disappointing crops I have had for the past 2 years, this year  I am planning to keep some indoors (probably on my office windowsill at work, which is spacious and well lit) as well as planting some out into the garden. It's the nearest thing I have to a greenhouse. So I shall need to find some large pots, suitable for an office environment!

On a less cheerful note, I managed through a combination of clumsiness and a gust of wind to bash my leg with the door of my car, leaving a *very* painful (but oddly unimpressive, visually) bruise. So yesterday afternoon involved a certain amount of sitting with my foot up, and a ice-pack on my leg.

Today was beautifully sunny, and I spent time [trying to] dig up docks and dandelions from my front garden, although I also resorted to some spot-on weedkiller for the more deeply rooted ones which I couldn't dig out by hand. I also planted out a Hydrangea which I have been growing from a cutting since last autumn, which may one day become part of a hedge at the front of the house.

And Loki remembered ( I assume) how warm the tile roof of the shed gets when it is sunny

And also demonstrated his walking-along-the-top-of-the-fence skills, which allow him to go all around the garden without ever setting food on the ground!

A pleasant, low-key weekend. 

Of course, I should have been energetic and done lots of housework and such, but I didn't.

 And I don't regret it, much. 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Probably)

I've seen Hamlet 5 or 6 times (most recently a week before this show) but I've never seen Tom Stoppard's 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead', but a friend is a huge fan of the play, so when I saw that it was going to be performed at the Old Vic (50 years on from its premiere there) I suggested that she and I get tickets and I could see what all the fuss is about.

I'm glad I did.

We started by meeting up for lunch and cocktails, at 'The Cut', the restaurant at the Young Vic, which were awesome. good food, good booze, and good company!.

We then headed over to the Old Vic, for the play.

In this production, Daniel Radcliffe plays Rosencrantz, (well, probably) and Joshua McGuire, Guildenstern (most likely), with David Haig as the Player, who steals every scene he is in, with great skill and good humour.

The partnership of McGuire and Radcliffe works really well. McGuire's character is the more showy role, with Radcliffe as the quieter, more troubled half of the duo.

Its a lot of fun as they wander, confused, behind the scenes of 'Hamlet', unsure of who they are, what they are doing "were we sent for?"  and what is happening, riffing off philosophical ideas as they go. It reminded me a little of 'Waiting for Godot'.

Luke Mullins' Hamlet, seen only briefly, came across as supercilious and not even a little mad, and, frankly, not one to be missed upon his demise. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's puzzled distress when they learned of his betrayal of them was particularly poignant.

A very enjoyable production. See it if you can. 

The play is at the Old Vic until 6th May, and is also going to be broadcast via NTLive