Archive | February, 2012

Hello spring!

26 Feb
It looks like spring has finally sprung. This weekend has seen London bathing in warm, sunny sunshine. Bring. It. On.

I took the opportunity to make my first outing to Richmond Park to see what all the fuss was about. It was great! Herds of deers roaming freely, parakeets, and miles of leafy lanes, lakes, and fields to relax in. A slice of the countryside in the city. I could almost pretend I was back home in the west country – if it wasn’t for the Heathrow flight path.

Not complaining though. It’s such a relief to finally be out in the sunshine and to be able to strip off my coat, scarf and gloves.

Can you spot the deer?

How about now?!

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La Reve at the Cafe de Paris

26 Feb

Well, what an evening I had on Friday! Great food, great friends, and great entertainment – doesn’t get much better than that. Time Out had been running a special offer for discounted entry to La Reve with a complimentary cocktail so I’d booked up for B, A, J, K, and I to go. La Reve is a weekly night of cabaret and burlesque in the heart of London (Cafe de Paris is located just off Leicester Square, cafedeparis.com) – but so much better than I’d been expecting.

The show didn’t start until 8.30pm but seating (or in our case standing space) is first come, first serve. We nipped into Soho for a quick bite to eat – handmade dumplings, crispy pork, and an adventurous menu of drinks – at Jen Cafe then left the chaos of Leicester Square to step back into time to the golden age-style bar that is Cafe de Paris. I’m not sure what I’d had in mind when I’d first booked up but the show was so much better than imagined – a hula hooping whiz-kid, silent comic, hilarious Jessica Rabbit presenter, and fire-blazing tipple-tassing-shaking burlesque dancer. M would have loved it! 😉

Afraid to say I was so in awe of the performances I didn’t take any piccies, but check out some of the performers on YouTube (links below).

The boy with tape on his face

Craig the incredible hula boy

Raymond and Mr Timkins

Kitty Bang Bang

Homemade beetroot cake

19 Feb

What better way to start a Sunday morning than with a spot of baking! Just made my first ever beetroot cake and, if I don’t say so myself,  it’s yum! Was a bit worried about staining my hands red and looking like an axe-murderer for work tomorrow but fortunately my fingers are only the slightest shade of pink. Mixed grated beetroot with chopped walnuts, mashed banana, flour, sugar, eggs, oil and mixed spices and have created a more-ish and, I like to think healthy-ish – must be one portion of veg, at least 😉 – tea loaf. Just had my first sampler with hot custard. Mmm!

Lucian Freud Portraits, National Portrait Gallery

19 Feb

National Portrait Gallery

I really did have a day of art work yesterday for, after enjoying the morning at the V&A, I headed next to the National Portrait Gallery to catch up with B and take in the newly-opened Lucian Freud exhibition of his portraits. It had only just opened so was very busy – booking ahead is an essential. Despite the crowds though, it was a fantastic collection of Freud’s work spanning from pieces such as Man with a Feather, painted when he was 21, to Portrait of the Hound, the last, and unfinished piece he was working on at the time of his death last year.

Runs to 27 May, npg.org.uk

I rounded off the day with a light bite to eat at the nearby Mishkin’s, self-described as a ‘kind of Jewish deli with cocktails’. Delicious meatballs (lamb and pistachio, and chickpea, spinach and ricotta) with chips and slaw, and the tastiest gin cocktail I’ve ever had (the London Cup, a refreshing blend of gin, lime, campari, and grapefruit juice), served in old jam jars no less; LOVE IT! mishkins.co.uk

Golden Spider Silk Cape at the V&A

19 Feb

As the exhibition of Cecil Beaton photography took less time to go around than expected (see previous post), I was excited to find I had time to swing by the display of spider silk that I’d been hearing a lot about – and it’s well worth a visit! It contains one cape and a shawl, woven from the silk of over a million golden orb spiders from Madagascar. Each item is such a vibrant yellow, it dazzles as if made from gold.

Spider’s silk is one of the strongest threads in the world – one strand can bear the weight of 200g – but is exceptionally hard to harvest. The silk is strongest when extracted from the spider itself, not the cocoon, so a team of dedicated craftsmen have spent the last five years gathering 24 spiders a day, placing them in an extraction contraption (see diagram below) to harvest their silk, and then releasing them back into the wild. I’m not sure how I feel about the process, which sounds far from pain-free, but the result is undeniably out-of-this-world.

Don’t take my word for it, go and see for yourself – these pictures hardly do it justice. Runs to 5 June, vam.ac.uk

V&A, London

V&A, London

V&A, London

The silk extraction process!

Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton at the V&A

19 Feb

I’m so excited about The Queen’s Jubilee this year – much more so than I was for the Royal Wedding. So, when I heard that an exhibition of Cecil Beaton’s photographs of The Queen was opening at the V&A, I put it straight in my diary and made a date to go. It opened earlier on this month and I headed along yesterday, getting there first thing to avoid any crowds.

Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) was a fashion and portrait photographer, who worked for the likes of Vanity Fair and Vogue. He was also principal photographer of the Royal Family for three decades, and one of few to get such a personal insight into their lives. His pictures capture Elizabeth II’s momentous journey from princess to monarch and key moments are all portrayed here – her 18th birthday, the Coronation in 1953, the births of her and Prince Philip’s four children, her final sitting in 1968 (see below).

The exhibition only took an hour to go around so is perfect if you’re in a rush. But, even though the collection is select, the photographs provide a powerful and informative insight into the woman behind the title.

Runs to 22 April, vam.ac.uk

V&A, London

A world away from London weekend in Norfolk

12 Feb

Just back from Norfolk and a much needed weekend retreat away from the city. I went with my two lovely friends B and L, whose parents have a holiday home right on the coast near Holme. So, after a busy week in the office, Friday night saw B and I catch the train from King’s Cross to King’s Lynn, where L was picking us up. It was then just a short drive to the cabin – yes, it was a wooden cabin! – and what was to be our weekend oasis of calm.

Saturday, after a lazy lie-in, the three of us plus dog, set off for a leisurely walk through the sand dunes to a nearby pub, The Lighthouse Inn (lighthouseinn.co.uk), where we enjoyed a cosy and hearty pub lunch – fish and chips, fish pie, and haddock risotto. Yum! Fortunately for us the weather was stunning – clear skies and bright sunshine – albeit it a little of the brisk side so, after being outside in the chilly, snowy weather, it was a welcome break to be inside by a warming fire.

In the afternoon we walked back, along the beach this time – slightly strange to be walking across the sand in the snow – then nipped out to a nearby deli(villagedelithornham.com)  to get provisions for the evening. En route we passed a hedgerow covered in icicles from top to bottom. It was truly incredible. If only we’d been able to stop for a photograph!

The evening was spent snuggled in with DVDs – Thelma and Louise (can you believe I’d never seen it!) and The Pelican Brief – and mountains of pudding. The perfect end to the perfect weekend.

B and I traveled back to London today with heavy hearts. Both brought up in the countryside, it’s always a tear to leave it for the bustling concrete streets of the city. Hey ho. It won’t be for long. Now Norfolk is on our holiday raydar, we’ll definitely be going back!

Sushi club at Maggie Jones’s

9 Feb

Last night was the monthly installment of Sushi cub, which for new followers of this blog, started off as a group of friends and I sampling London’s best sushi places but which has developed into a good excuse to try out any restaurant in London that takes our fancy – the quirkier the better!

It was my turn to pick the venue and, after literally four weeks surfing the internet trying to find just the right place, I stumbled across Maggie Jones’s, a gem of a place tucked away off Kensington High Street, just five minutes up the road from High Street Kensington tube station. The restaurant is based in a town house and spans three floors. Rustic tables and wooden booths are crammed into every nook and cranny while nick nacks and antiques grace every ledge and area of wall. We got there for 7 and there was already a healthy buzz – thank goodness we’d booked!

Dinner is honest fare – hearty pies (creamy fish, chicken and artichoke, steak and kidney) or, my choice, wild boar bangers and mash, as well as some classier dishes like venison, rump of lamb, and guinea fowl. Portions are refreshingly generous – especially for the puddings – soul-warming bread and butter pudding, and crumbles – with custard of course. And for those who like a tipple, you can get a magnum of wine, paying only for the amount you drink. Genius. Prices range from about £15 to £25 for a main, so there’s something for most budgets – but watch out for the sneeky cover charge (£1 per head).

That aside, I’d definitely recommend and I’ll be going back – M’s already made me promise to take him.

maggie-jones.co.uk

Billy Elliot and the Park Plaza

9 Feb

Hooray! At long last I can tick Billy Elliot off my list of must-see musicals. After wanting to see it ever since it opened in 2005, Tuesday night saw me treated to a night at the Victoria Palace Theatre in Victoria.

But, before I recount the show (which was great!), I have to tell you about the scrummy dinner I had first. I headed to the Park Plaza Hotel (parkplaza.com), just around the corner from Victoria station. It may be a hotel, and the restaurant was pretty quiet, but don’t be put off. This is one over-looked gem. Melt-in-the-mouth venison on a bed of braised beetroot with parsnip chips, and walnut ice cream were my choices and they couldn’t have been tastier. The venison was honestly some of the best I’ve had in a while. I got talking to the hotel manager while I was there and there are big changes afoot, with the restaurant about to receive a rustic Italian makeover. I’m sure it will be just as good but don’t miss your chance to experience the foodie wonders on offer now – and check out the unique artwork while you’re there. Can you work out what the poem is written on the wall?

Now to the show! If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know it’s the story of Billy, a 12-year-old boy with a passion, and talent for ballet – not an easy career path at the best of times let alone for the son of a miner growing up in northern England during the strikes of 1984/85. The music’s been put together by Elton John and the show is packed with catchy, toe-tapping numbers, as well as the obigatory tear-jerking ballads, but the real draw is the dancing. It’s energetic, jaw-dropping and creative from start to finish and the child stars are amazing; I felt exhausted just watching them and have left with that time-old urge I get whenever I’ve watched a bit of ballet – to take it up myself! Watch this space; that will be next up on the blogroll! billyelliotthemusical.com

The Madness of George III

1 Feb

Apollo Theatre, London

My mum and dad saw this at the Theatre Royal in Bath before it opened on London’s West End and told me if I ever got the chance to see it, to go. Luckily for me one such opportunity came up and, yesterday, my brother and I rendez-voused at the Apollo Theatre  to see David Haig of Four Weddings and a Funeral fame take on the role of King George.

The play, which is written by Alan Bennett, is set in 1788 and recounts the King’s first severe mental breakdown (something which has now been attributed to porphyria, a rare metabolic disorder), and the consequent threat to his reign. Watching Haig take King George from an overactive and enthusiast ruler to a frenzied and confused maniac is harrowing, not only because the treatment he receives is misunderstood and extreme (blistering and straight-jacketing) but also because Haig’s performance is thoroughly convincing. He takes you on every step of his journey into a pit of despair with a passion and attention to detail that must be exhausting – especially when you think he’s doing this day in, day out. You wouldn’t tell it though and the standing ovation he received at the end was well deserved.

Take heed of my mum’s advice and, if you get the chance to see this, go – you won’t be disappointed.

Runs to 31 March, nimaxtheatres.com