Friday, December 27, 2013

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Yamal Alsham (Imperial Wharf)

Beautifully decorated on the inside but a little out of the way, Yamal Alsham is a Lebanese place that specialises in mezze dishes. I visited using a Wowcher deal that I had bought for £29, which claimed to be worth up to £85 worth of food. Having. A. Laugh. Nothing against the food we ate, which filled our appetites and tasted good, but in no way would that ever be worth eighty quid. What we ate was worth £29, and not a penny more; the so-called “deal” off Wowcher promptly put the “sham” in “Alsham”.


Discluding the fact that any “deals” you buy off Wowcher, Groupon or LivingSocial isn’t a deal at all but just you forking out the price of the meal, then, and Yamal Alsham is still somewhere I’d recommend. The food, on the whole, was good (the spicy potatoes were my favourites, it’s my most enjoyed thing about Lebanese cuisine, and the houmous was some of the best I've had), although not all of it was brilliantly presented – the curdled cheese just looked like cheese gone off. The wine that came with the meal smelt, and tasted like Sainsbury’s £6 wine, and was promptly left untouched. It was very annoying to be short-changed in the manner that we were, and had we not bumped into former premier league footballer Pavel Pogrebnyak, sat on the table next to us, I would be much more severe in my grading of this place. As such, I’m trying to be nice. If it’s good enough for a footballer, it should be good enough for me.



Grade: B


(There’s actually a Lebanese café just outside my work, where I often get my spicy potato wraps. On the balance of things, I still prefer that place.)

PUB REVIEW: Waxy O’Connor ’s (Picadilly Circus)

As you might expect given the prime touristy location of Waxy O’Connor’s, it’ll cost you an arm and a leg to get a drink here, alcoholic or not (one coke is £3.90, and a round consisting of an amaretto and coke and one Jack and coke came to an excess of a tenner). The place is cosy enough, especially the upstairs where I like to bring in my own Smirnoff vodka to decant into my drink. Cheeky as it may be, it’s also somewhat of a necessity given the extortionate prices they’re peddling their drinks for. However, you can only get away with this during 12-2-ish, because in the late afternoon, they instate a bouncer on the door to check your bags for booze. It’s almost as if they know their prices are ridiculous and that money-savvy people may be looking for ways around it.

The toilets are awful, most of the ladies’ toilet sinks weren’t washed and had poo round the sides, so it’s good to know that the high mark-up that they’re charging on their drinks is being spent on the customers, eh. The clientele are mostly pompous City types who work in advertising. So not clever, but think that everything they say is gold. Really quite awful.

Grade: E

(but, if you can sneak your own booze in, C. I recommend the upstairs because you’re less likely to escape detection; so understaffed is the pub, the baristas rarely come to clear the used glasses.)

Christmas Dinner.

This year, me and the brother were put on Christmas roast-cooking duty. These were the fruits of our labour:





We sprinkled a bit of cheese on our veg, just 4dabanta.



We marinated the turkey in lots of peri peri sauce.



Delicious food, all ready to be eaten!~~~

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Cape Town Fish Market (Oxford Circus)


A classy-looking joint, Cape Town Fish Market is particularly popular with tourists who want to give their tootsies a rest from shopping. It even boasts an actual fish tank with exotic fish in their venue. The food isn’t bad either, with the salmon teriyaki I ordered an absolute treat. The sauce accompanying the meal might just be some of the best teriyaki sauce I’ve ever had, so that’s well worth checking out (I suspect some wine may have been added into it to give it an extra kick; whatever it was, it worked!) My friend had sea bass, which also tasted wonderful. For starters, I ordered the fish cake, which was pretty decent (made more so by the fabulous sauce accompanying it), as well as a sushi nigiri set, which was relatively paint-by-numbers fare.

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Provided you use a Tastecard, the dining at Cape Town Fish Market is relatively affordable, but a word of warning: 1) the restaurant help themselves to a healthy tip, which doesn’t wash with me, because if the service is that terrific, you shouldn’t have to give yourself a tip, if you know your service has merited one from us. And 2) those bottles of water on your table that the waiters are all too happy to crack open for you? Yeah, £3.50 each. They’re there to lure you into a false sense of security. And then the waiters are all too happy to bring more to the table, even when you haven’t asked for any more. A real shame, as, had those two things not let the place down, I would be singing CTFM’s praises, especially that of its main dishes. As such, I left the place feeling a little hard done by.

Grade: B-

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Ten Ten Tei (Picadilly Circus)



A cosy Japanese restaurant off Shaftesbury Avenue that graciously dabbles in more than just sushi, I went to Ten Ten Tei with eight of my coursemates to celebrate making it through term one (trust me, it was no cakewalk!). It was selected ahead of the neighbouring Kulu Kulu because when I called Kulu Kulu to book a table for us, they vaguely said they didn’t take bookings and that we could “just all show up”, which sounded a bit fishy to me. I like things that I’m certain of, and Ten Ten Tei’s keenness to actually find seats for us is what immediately put me in its good books.

The menu had a lot of variety, and between the nine of us we sampled six or seven different dishes, all proficiently cooked and presented. I’m a sucker for seafood, so I went for ten don. The prawns were absolutely brilliant; thick, juicy, generous slabs of the thing, and a big step up from Massala Hut, where I have a good mind to complain about false advertising, so meagre/non-existent were the prawn quantities. However, the rice was a little tasteless, and as I’d been a little carried away when ordering and asked for the large portion, there was also quite a lot of rice to slog through. Thankfully, the complimentary soy sauce on our table made the task much less gruelling.


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To drink, I had the plum wine. The quantity-to-price ratio of this left rather a lot to be desired - £4.90 for a teeny, tiny glass, but it did taste wonderful, and barely alcoholic at all. i don’t know about the concentration of the drink, but I was feeling merrily light-headed after my meal despite the small glass size, so, it must have been doing something right.

 photo SAM_1082_zps884dd21c.jpg We got complimentary miso soup with all our meals, a nutritional, flavourful treat, and I washed it down eagerly, vegetables included. From the remaining meals ordered, I detected that the meat parts were all artfully present and well-cooked, but the noodles and rice excited me, and the respective orderers, less. However, that could be said of pretty much all restaurants, and for the good quality offered throughout, nice portions and tasty meals, overall, my impression of Ten Ten Tei was a positive one.

Grade: B+

Thursday, December 19, 2013

I gotta have my bite, sir.

A rather immense ice cream sundae I had at my local Spoon's:


Saturday, December 07, 2013

Two buffet meals this week.

Diwana, Euston. £6.95 for vegetarian all you can eat.

 
There was a seriously excellent selection of food on offer, and the majority of it was cooked better than you standard bargain basement Chinese buffet. Such was the usage of quorn supplements that, like Kailash Parbat, you didn't notice the lack of meat in your meal. And the fact that it's a buffet means you can stuff your face to your heart's content, for a modest price :)
 
However, what let this place down was the horrendous, horrendous service. Abrupt waiters who didn't register a request and had to be prodded into reminding, and when you did remind them they glared at you like, gee, I don't know, it wasn't their job to serve us or something. One was in my way and didn't even have the manners to step aside. Charming.
 
So, for that, I'll have to give this place a B-. Shame as the food was lovely, but the waiters there really need to be schooled in etiquette, just truthing.
 
Pizza Hut, Oxford Circus. £7.50 for all you can eat.
 
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I went to Pizza Hut's lunchtime buffet out of nostalgia for when I did it as a kid, but was disappointed to discover that both the quality of the food, and the quantity, is nothing like what I was used to all those year's ago. There was one flavour of pizza that came out consistently: margherita. Also known as the most boring pizza flavour. The pepperoni one tasted flat and flavourless, and the less said about ham and tuna the better. Only the veggie pizza have anything going for it. The salad bar was also extremely paint-by-numbers and dull.
 
Factor in awful service (we ordered bottomless cokes and they seemed extremely reluctant to top them up, knowing that they weren't going to get any extra money for it) and the fact that every time I tried to make eye contact with a waiter, they purposely looked away, and I can safely say I will not be going back to this dive in a hurry.
 
Grade: D

Friday, December 06, 2013

It's all gravy.

Just a lil' tribute to one of my favourite elements of a good meal: gravy.


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Sunday roast, Wetherspoon's.

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Cottage pie, work canteen.

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Vegetarian toad-in-the-hole, work canteen.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Massala Hut (Euston)



Following the roaring success of Raw Spice, here was an Indian restaurant I was far less impressed with. As with the previous place, I ordered a prawn dish, as I thought I’d compare the quality between the two kitchens. It was distinctly lacking here – there was plenty of jalfrezi, but basically no prawn. On closer inspection of the vegetables in my dish, and I’d be extremely surprised if they weren’t past their sell-by-date, and the cooks had clearly piled in the spices thinking “Jalfrezi! Ah! That means spicy!” without any consideration for the customer’s taste buds. I was not happy, particularly given the menu makes it sound like they were going to be generous with the prawn quantities. The other dish, the lamb pathia was even worse. Liquidy and runny, it was basically an extremely spicy soup! Such was the consistency and the hotness; it also meant that barely any of it could be eaten. So there’s your waste of food, which only exacerbated my mood (I hate leaving leftovers).

The pilau rice was pretty uninspired, meaning that the highlight of this excuse of a meal was probably the coconut naan bread; the one item the kitchen managed not to fuck up. And if the bread was the best thing about the culinary experience that is dining at Massala Hut, you know it’s not going to be somewhere I’m recommending to friends.

Grade: E

Saturday, November 30, 2013

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Raw Spice (Hendon)



With a distinctly bar-type vibe to the place and Las Vegas-level brash lighting, Raw Spice was different from any other Indian restaurant I’d been to before. Thanks to a menu that offered a lot of range as well as my mate's Tastecard, I ate extremely well, and huge quantities (with enough to take home for the family), for just £12 covering tip! Glorious!

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Between us, for mains, we ordered a lamb dish, a chicken dish, and a prawn dish. We also had two portions of rice (which as you can see in the photo, is a pretty healthy portion), two starters and some naan bread to share. They were all brilliant, and thanks to the kitchen cooking all the meat dishes on mild, they were tangy without causing my nose to run and eyes to water, which is all too common an occurrence when I visit Indian restaurants, unfortunately.

 photo IMG00083-20131128-1804_zps58f6a859.jpgThe best dish was the prawn one, which graciously actually had prawns in them (I went to another Indian restaurant the following day and there were about three prawns in total in the plate I’d ordered; disappointing to say the least). The other two meat dishes didn't skimp on actual meat either, which was refreshing, because usually in restaurants they'll excel at a couple of dishes but sell you short on another. No such case here. The “chicken lollipops” which we had as one of our starters weren't, as I’d feared, undercooked or over-seasoned, but rather, totally edible as a meat-on-a-stick type thing and didn't even require any sauce, so crunchy and spicy were they on their own. Compared to other restaurants in London, booze was also extremely well-priced (in the range of three quid rather than four or five), and the menu boasted some fantastic cocktails and mocktails, all very-well created.

Possibly the only foible with the place was the service, which was a little pushy, a little patronising (we'd arrived before the kitchen opened, 6. We were told that fact, and we gladly said we'd have drinks in the meantime, but then they hammered the point home that the kitchen didn't open until 6, as if we were thick. C'mon now). I would also suggest that they could have offered us a wider range of dips to come with the poppadoms (there were two, I'm usually used to three or four in other places) But in terms of food (both palate of flavour and geneorisity of dishes), vibe, and value for money, bung a Tastecard along and you really can’t do much better than Raw Spice.

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Grade: A-

RESTAURANT REVIEWS: Assa Japanese and Assa Korean (Tottenham Court Road)

Since attending a central London-based university at the beginning of October, I’ve wined and dined at several of the restaurants situated around the Tottenham Court Road/Oxford Street/Goodge Street area. Terrific for my tummy, less so for my poor River Island purse!

I went to the Japanese Assa a month ago, for lunch.


Being a sucker for salmon, I opted for the salmon tray, and had Japanese beer. It was a very well-presented dish, and I have absolutely no qualms with the quality of the salmon, which was tip-top. The sushi and dumplings also tasted great. In fact, the ensemble was only really let down by the lump of rice, which was presented unimaginatively, and tasted completely bland. There was also not nearly enough. I don’t eat half as much as I do for dinner at lunch, so I shudder to think how starving I’d be had I come here in the evening, but even for a quick lunchbreak between lecturers, even with the extra calories of a beer, I wasn’t near fed enough. My friend had a similar-style dish, again, presented stylishly enough, but not enough there. Thus, in terms of efficacy of a RESTAURANT, I’m afraid I have to give Assa Japanese a C-.

 photo SAM_1007_zpsa37adbf8.jpgThe Korean Assa was visited on Monday evening, and I had a much better gastronomical experience, for smaller prices! We had a seafood pancake to share for starters (wonderful, and delightfully moreish), and for my main I had spicy chicken stir-fry, which, gracefully, didn’t burn my tongue off, but tasted great. The fact that drinks were on the house (cold Korean tea) added to the appeal of visiting this place, and for central London, it was very reasonably priced indeed. I can definitely see myself going back, particularly as it’s so close to my uni. A-.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Fish and chips watch: London Fish & Chips

 
London Fish & Chips has a pretty prime location, just off the Strand. There are two floors for seating (for which you'll have to pay above the rate which you'd pay for just a takeaway). The experience was.... eh. Firstly, they only had two waitresses manning the two floors, meaning they got orders mixed up, and I asked for a tartar sauce that never arrived. This was extremely vexing because the waitress had promised to bring it, and as such, I'd paced myself such that I ate about half of my meal, dipping it all over the tartar sauce, and when the second tartar sauce didn't arrive, I had to eat them bare. EH. This was extremely different from how I'm used to things at work, where all the tartar sauce is out in a plate and we can help ourselves. That's how it should be. That wasn't the end of the poor service though, oh no. The woman on the till when I was making my order was extremely curt. Admittedly, I was taking a bit of time to decide, but she was so short, just saying "do you want to go over there and decide?" There wasn't even anyone behind me in the queue! Charming.
 
As for the food itself, it was acceptable, not amazing. The fish tasted better than the chips, which were utterly stale and I had to cover in vinegar to be able to taste anything. The tomato ketchup was awful! So runny. They must've bought it from Costco, so there's your class. Overall, the whole dining experience is not worth the high amounts (in excess of £10) you'd be paying for it, and you're much, much better off just going to your high street.
 
Grade: D-

Saturday, November 23, 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: Midnight Memories (One Direction)



(this review is of the Deluxe addition of Midnight Memories, which features three more songs than the standard version).

A year on from Take Me Home, the nation’s most lusted after boyband have gotten up to all manner of adventure, from Harry’s failed relationship with Taylor Swift irking her so much that she felt the need to blast him on various public occasions, to Zayn being accused of cheating on Little Mix’s Perrie, only to follow it up with a proposal, classic. The boys have shown they are now fully-fledged #adults by inking various parts of their body (even little Niall has a tattoo now!), and in between that, they’ve managed to star in a Morgan Spurlock documentary, and, oh yeah, make some music.

The album opens with the somewhat ambitiously titled Best Song Ever. It’s not quite that, but it’s a sufficiently cheerful pop number with a catch chorus, making it a shoo-in for playlists in upcoming Christmas parties (I’ve already heard it in upmarket bars!). Happily has a charming country music vibe to it, all strings, banjo, and feet-stamping. Perhaps I’m biased, but I really don’t see the criticism that the boys can’t sing, especially when their voices sound so strong on this track, all without an autotune in sight.

Story of My Life has deepness and maturity that we normally expect these five to eschew, featuring Zayn’s heartfelt delivery of “but baby, running after you is like chasing the clouds”, a gorgeous line of poetry that drives home the sad point that no matter how much you love someone, it might not work. Unfortunately, it was slightly let down by the Mumford and Sons-esque riff in the background, a band I associate with mawkishness. Don’t Forget Where You Belong channel Take That, in a good way, with a cheeky WMYB nod: “and the proof is in this song”. The refrain is absolutely swoon-worthy, exhibiting the vocal talents of the band’s two fittest members, Louis and Zayn (just dictatin’), who’s voices complement each other’s terrifically.

It doesn’t take Alfred Kinsey to work out that in the three years since the band’s inception, One Direction have racked up a few notches in their bedposts, and this worldliness comes across in their music, which is more adult, more self-assured. The album’s title track Midnight Memories serves up GQ-type swagger, boyband style. The line “5 foot something with the skinny jeans” hails 30H!3 Starstruck and its more lascivious “tight jeans, double DDs” with a sexy, rock-style, whilst teetering on the right side of naughty (“Same old shhhh but a different day”) such that pre-teens’ parents won’t refuse to buy the album. Little Black Dress, a throwback to vintage rock that Louis and Liam helped co-pen, simply exudes sex, and is all the better for it. And Alive, which casually glazes upon the topic of sex addiction, features angel-faced Niall reciting “I whisper something in her ear that I just can't repeat”, which is certainly something.

These days, it seems an album isn’t anything without a cheeky bit of dubstep on it, and the token dupstep track of Midnight Memories is Little White Lies, a song which addresses an issue that is under-represented in mainstream pop music by men: that woman want sex just as much as guys do. “I know you want it/ I know you feel it too/ Let's stop pretending/ That you don't know what I don't know/ Just what we came to do” they sing in two-beat, and because this is One Direction, the topic of female desire makes for jaunty music-making, whereas in the hands of Robin Thicke, it just sounds creepy. You see, presentation is everything.
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At 18 songs, the law of averages would dictate that there will be some non-entities, and this album has (possibly more than) its share. Diana is filler song in motion, and the Tears for Fears vibes of Everyone Wants to Rule the World-sounding in the background cannot redeem the ambiguity with the lyrics “I don't think you even realize baby you'd be saving mine” with regards to whether the song is about Princess Diana puts it in the vaguely poor taste category. You and I isn’t as affecting or sweet as their other love songs, and “not even the gods above can separate the two of us” reminds me of the first song (can’t remember the name) on Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz album. It’s never good when a song reminds you of Miley Cyrus, just truthin’. And Strong is a tad corny for me, whilst Does He Know is forgettable, and two of the few songs I would angle the “all One Direction songs sound the same” criticism at. And whilst Midnight Memories had a tolerable amount of Mumford and Sons similarity, Something Great sounded too much like M&F than I felt permissible.

Where I complimented the lads on their braveness to try their hand at falsetto in the Take Me Home album, they clearly had fun doing so, because there’s some more on Right Now, with Zayn pushinghis vocal range at “You know I can't fight the feeling” like a pro. The final song of the deluxe edition, Half a Heart, seems a gloomy tone to depart on, but what it lacks in happiness it makes up for in pure emotion, with Zayn belting “I'm half a man- at best / With half an arrow in my chest/I miss everything we do/ I'm half a heart without you”. It really is true what they say; an artist has to suffer to produce true art, and in the same way, it helps, as a someone appreciating the work if you’ve suffered the pangs of disappointed love, because the lyrics of Half a Heart really resonated. And it seems quite apt that the legendary player of 1D, Harry, ends the song, and the album, with the last sad word.

Persevere with Midnight Memories. Sticking two filler songs within the first five tracks of the album wasn’t too clever, but there is quality on it, not to mention some emotional lyrics that render some of the songs almost as layered as an onion. That being said, I don’t think it surpasses Take Me Home. It ends with less of a bang, and whereas even the filler songs of Take Me Home survived the repeat listening test (I’ve since completely altered my view of Heart Attack, which I’ve decided is brilliant), I imagine you’d have to pay me to re-listen to some of the duds on this album again. However, it’s still better than 99% of the crap that’s out in the music industry, and once again, exhibits that One Direction are so much more than just five pretty faces.

Grade: A-

Fish and Chip watch: Work Canteen.

Work canteen, £3.20 for haddock, potato wedges, tartar sauce and mushy peas (which I forgot to put on so went back for after) :p
Grade: B+.

FILM REVIEW: Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen, 2013)



Socialite Jasmine French (Cate Blanchett) had lived the charm life in New York, married to a canny, popular financier husband (Alec Baldwin) in a huge mansion. However, her world came crumbling down when said husband was done for being a Ponzi scheme-running crook, and sent to prison. With no life skills, work experience or educational training of her own, she is forced to re-root to San Francisco, where her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) lives. 

The fallen Park Avenue princesses’ transition from entertaining glamorous parties to hosting Ginger’s fiancée Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and his rowdy mates takes some getting used to, and further culture clashes arise when Jasmine takes up a job as a secretary for a dentist, and tries to better herself by “learning computers”.

Blue Jasmine is, on several levels, a difficult watch. Many of the scenes are painfully cringe-inducing, from the opening sequence, where Jasmine is gabbing away to a stranger on the plane about her husband and how great her life had once been, to the various times she is shown talking to herself. Make no mistake, our protagonist is troubled. 

As the film flits back and forth between Jasmine’s excruciating attempts to settle into San Francisco and Gingers’ meagre surroundings and that of the opulence she was used to before everything went sour, we initially begin to feel some sympathy for her. Jasmine is spoilt, no doubt, but going from Louis Vitton to off the rack is a conversion very few would relish.

But the problem with Jasmine is that she is so goddamn superior. Channelling Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, Jasmine has no qualms about sneering publicly at her sister’s life, job, and choice in men, and in doing so, putting Chili’s back up. Factor in Jasmine’s predilection for delusion (both to herself and in deceiving others about her history), reliance on Valium and vodka and frail mental state, and you can see why parallels have been drawn between this film and Tennessee Williams’ seminal play.

In some ways, Woody Allen takes it even further than that. The dodgy dealings of Alec Baldwin that made him his fortune but then landed him in jail, is an all-too-familiar reminder of things that actually did go on during the financial crisis and the fallout when several families much less wealthy than him also lost it all, due to their misplaced trust. And, whilst I felt Blanche was a true tragic heroine, I felt a lot more ambivalent about Blanchett’s character here, who flitters between a compelling, frail woman to egotistical snob, and back again.

Kitted out impeccably throughout (she was forced to sell her jewellery after her assets were liquidated, she whines, but somehow manages to keep hold of a Hermes handbag and some designer dresses), she carries herself with the poise of a woman who feels, nay, KNOWS, that she’s something special. The only difference is, whilst in Manhattan, all her social circle indulged her bloated self-esteem, in San Francisco, ain’t nobody got time for that. Chili wants Jasmine out of Ginger’s flat as soon as possible so he can get married and move in with her, and Ginger’s ex-husband and father of her two sons Augie (comedian Andrew Dice Clay, playing it straight) still harbours resentment at the way Jasmine’s husband Hal swindled them out of their one shot at escalating out of working class, no doubt what led to the downfall of his and Ginger’s marriage.

So, a lot of characters to get through in less than 100 minutes, but Allen tells his story confidently and economically. The film’s driving force is undoubtedly Cate Blanchett, who has rightfully already garnered Oscar buzz for the performance. I think it is her best work. Jasmine is less likable than Blanche Dubois but equally as tragic- in the flashback sequences, we learn that not only was Hal a swindler but he was equally dishonest when it came to his marriage, having various affairs behind Jasmine’s back. Jasmine suspects, but, blinded by gorgeous gifts from her husband, chooses to look the other way. In Blanchett’s needy performance, we can tell that deep down, she knows, but is choosing to pretend it isn’t true because she would lose too much if she chose to acknowledge it.

Where actresses have often channelled Woody Allen’s own neurotic performances, played for laughs, Blanchett goes the other way, playing it straight. The result is tragi-comedy nonetheless, but of the squirming, uncomfortable kind. The way Jasmine casually tramples all over Ginger, Chili and their friends’ lifestyles of boozing, pizza and sports on the box is insulting and irritating, but Jasmine has no self-realisation, and it is to Blanchett’s great strength as an auteur that she conveys this. We don’t so much as like her – I don’t feel Allen intended that anyway – as see where she’s coming from. And cringe, a lot. With the cinematography working overtime to highlight Blanchett's gaunt cheekbones, bags under her eyes and smudged mascara, we don't so much root for Jasmine as live Jasmine.

One of the biggest criticisms angled at Blue Jasmine is that it’s unabashedly classist, and, in this, I am inclined to agree. When Jasmine talks down to Ginger about Chili and her ex-husband Augie being “losers”, you don’t so much feel it is Jasmine saying these words as Woody Allen himself, who has clearly never spent any time with working class people in his life, and thus has a caricature built up in his mind of them as simple, beer-loving, ripping-phone-out-of-wall-when-vexed, people. This jars with his representation of the poncy Park Avenue folk Jasmine previously took company with, who, whilst painted lightly satirically as gossiping schemers, does not delve anywhere near as deep as he could if he really wanted to go to town on them and their habits. In short, Manhattan and wealth, in Allen’s eyes = good, good, good. San Francisco and living paycheck to paycheck = bad, bad, bad. Simplistic, to say the least.

Fortunately, the goodness of Jasmine’s poorer acquaintances shines through, regardless of their poor wardrobe choices (Ginger is dressed in unstylish prints and brash colours, quite at odds with her mousy character). British actress Sally Hawkins does a thoroughly convincing West Coast accent as Ginger, and her loyalty to Jasmine throughout is commendable, particularly given the woe her adopted sister has caused her. Bobby Cannavale, in a slight digression of the Stanley Kowalski character, exudes warmth, and we genuinely feel for his plight, of simply wanting to make Jasmine feel like she fits in, only to be told her isn’t good enough. Alec Baldwin and Peter Sarsgaard (as a potential suitor for Jasmine, rich, naturally) reach Robin Thicke levels of smarmy, but that suits their characters well. And Andrew Dice Clay is quietly heartbreaking as Ginger’s defeated ex.

The overarching message of Blue Jasmine, it seems, is the perils of self-deception, as well as the importance of helping someone see the truth if they won’t do so themselves. In thus, I embrace the movie with open arms. Whilst the crude class depictions aren’t for everyone, and the melancholy tone and recession-set austerity doesn’t render this film escapism in any way, what it does make for is a gripping morality tale. I rank Blue Jasmine as one of Woody Allen's darkest films, but it is all the better for it. It was too little, too late for Jasmine, but it needn’t be for others. Reality checks are the way forward.

7.5/10

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Yazu Sushi (Mayfair)

Continuing with my penchant for buying food package deals off LivingSocial/Wowcher/Groupon, I forayed back into Wowcher, despite the last deal I got from them being an exercise in false advertising. This time around, the restaurant didn’t so much do differently as it said on the tin, as the reality and the pretty photos placed online being absolutely worlds apart.

Here is what we really had, take in the grubby-looking chipped plates and the unwelcomingly sad looking sushi:


And this is how the sushi was presented on the website. Notice all the glowing wonderful colours that were missing from the real photo.


As for the meal itself, the fish, rice and vegetables were all cooked pretty proficiently, despite the ridiculously small portions (look at that prawn! Look at it! Not looking? That's cos there's barely any there). The tinyness of the food did mean that we ate everything in one bite, and didn't get enough time to savour the taste. However, I haven’t contracted food poisoning yet, a miracle in itself, given how grotty the surroundings were. Let me paint a picture for you: you know how in Yo Sushi, there’s about 10 conveyer belts, and people sit around one of the 10 conveyor belts? Well, Yazu Sushi WAS just one of the conveyor belts. That was it.

Add in the fact that the owner of the restaurant was utterly unwelcoming, greeting me with the kind of abruptness that I’ve come to expect from Chinese folk, but I expected better from the Japanese. His frosty behaviour reached Alan Partridge-levels of hilarity when he told me, about three times, that I was occupying too much room around the conveyor belt, and he practically manhandled me into the corner (so there's yer sexual harrassment) where I was so cramped, it was amazing I could even breathe.

Thus, whilst the food was well-cooked enough, all I can really remember about eating there was the measly portions; inspect the photos for yourself if you don’t believe me. Never in a million years is that enough to feed two people! Factor in that we had a surly host, and frankly, Yazu Sushi is lucky that I’m not giving it an even lower grade.

Grade: D

Friday, November 15, 2013

Just doin' my bit for Children in Need.

Delicious chocolate cake and shortbread, bought from work canteen, as part of a bake sale to raise money for CIN.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Quarter pounder watch: North Ealing.

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Price: £2.50
Taste: B+

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Cha Cha Moon (Soho)

The first impression I got when setting foot in Cha Cha Moon was that it reminded me a bit of Busaba Eathai, in that tables for each individual party weren’t segregated, and instead, you were seated as part of a long table. Whilst the restaurants favour this seating arrangement because it means they’ll get more customers, and thus, revenue, as with the Thai restaurant, it makes the place have a bit of an impersonal vibe, which doesn’t put it in my best books to begin with.



Redemption came almost immediately, however. I visited this place using a voucher I bought off Groupon, which entitled me to £40 worth of food there. The deal cost £20, so it was the same as using Tastecard (which I don’t have). However, I was pleasantly surprised when the waiter told me that the deal didn’t just extend to food, but encompassed drink too. This worked out fantastically, because after getting drinks, we had exactly enough for a starter and main each, and thus, didn’t have to over-stuff ourselves just to meet the quota of forty quid.

The cocktails, though not remotely alcoholic, tasted very nice. I had a lime concoction in honour of my e-mail address, and Jake had this cool dragon drink. It’s also a testament to the strength of the cooking at Cha Cha Moon, and the chefs not relying heavily on sauces, that aside from the cocktails, I didn’t require any liquids throughout my meal. I say this because from my extensive experience of Chinese restaurants, I usually need like a gallon of water just to hydrate my body from the copious amounts of soy sauce they bung into the meals.

For starters, we had steamed broccoli (nothing special in my opinion, and if you were paying full-price for that, it was literally £4.50 for a couple of veg, there’s your rip off), and chicken-and-prawn dumplings, which I loved but there was barely any of, and thus only left one for the other guy :p I also enjoyed my main – seafood ho fun. Ho fun is my go-to dish in Chinese restaurants, and it was cooked passably at Cha Cha Moon, without being the finest of the dish I’ve ever had. The scallops went down a treat but the prawns could have done with being de-scaled, and my other main gripe was that there wasn’t enough seafood, and a bit too much ho fun and peppers, the latter of which I would have been happy to see none.

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Fortunately, due to Cha Cha Moon’s generosity in letting my voucher include drinks in it meant that I left the place feeling merrily tipsy, and thus I will return the favour by artificially bumping their grade up a few notches, given that my extensive experience with Chinese restaurants rendered this place really quite unremarkable.

Grade: B

Monday, November 11, 2013

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Asadal (Holborn)

Prided on the authenticity of its Korean dishes, Asadal is blessed with the prime location of being literally just next to Holborn tube station, so prospective diners really can’t miss it. From the interiors, it quite clearly has delusions of grandeur, with its plush seats and royal-looking décor, and all this clashes with the outside appearance, which is actually quite shabby.


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The food is edible, but not fantastic, and certainly not value for money considering that our bill came to an excess of £60. We ordered spicy chicken appetisers (very nice), cod fishcakes (instantly forgettable and horrendously overpriced), beef tofu (the beef wasn’t very well-cooked, but the vegetables accompanying the meal were, so very much a mixed bag), and pork belly. I was most excited about the latter, as it actually employed the hot plate at the centre of the table, but unfortunately, turned out to be a monumental disappointment. The pork belly slices weren’t good, and the vegetables that we’d ordered to eat it with (on the waiters’ recommendations) didn’t complement the meat well.


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A further word about the waiters. They weren’t great. I asked them if we should have plum wine or rice wine, and they rolled their eyes as if I’d asked some dumbass questions. Sorry for having questions! All throughout the meal they were surly, and whilst they should have cooked the pork belly for us, they buggered off, meaning we had to do it ourselves. I expect this of sulky restaurant workers in Chinese restaurants who are there from circumstance, not choice (that degree in Art not working out for you, sunshine?), but the last time I was in a Korean place, the staff were altogether much friendlier, and it was a rude awakening to have to deal with that kind of crap on Thursday. Suffice to say, I didn’t tip.

Grade: C

ALBUM REVIEW: Salute (Little Mix)

Little Mix’s second album is as bright and bold as their previous, with the girl group having newfound swag from their globe-trotting exploits to add to their music-making. As with DNA, Little Mix take co-writing credentials on the majority of their album, meaning that Salute is truly the concoction of fierce foursome Perrie Edwards, Jesy Nelson, Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Jade Thirlwall, as opposed to the bland music industry play-by-numbers girlband that many would expect from the product of a Simon Cowell TV show.



Romantic “Towers” exhibits their growing emotional maturity, a moving ballad about doomed love, a theme that I am personally feeling too strongly too much right now. “Once we were made like towers / Everything could've been ours / But you left it too late now my heart feels nothing, nothing at all” they croon forlornly, to a swelling, majestic string orchestra overlayed with RnB beats. It helps that all four of them are all talented performers, so the delivery of the lyrics sound heartfelt, when the song could have turned out mawkish in lesser vocal talents.

Being unafraid to borrow from their hip-hop sisters is another thing I really rate about Little Mix. They channel both Amerie and Lady Gaga in standout track, “About the Boy”, a feisty, sexy track about a fella who’s just got that one thing. Fabulous harmonisations, an extremely catchy beat, good blend of singing/spoken word and another topic that I have a personal experience or ten of makes for a wonderful song. And the crème de la crème comes at the jazzy refrain, where soon-to-be Mrs. Zayn Malik, Perrie Edwards gets to exhibit her fantastic pipes in her high note, which has to be heard to be believed. And then heard over and over again, because it is just that good.

Like the sass in DNA’s “How Ya Doin’”, the four girls strut their stuff proudly here too, with lyrics like “Boys will be boys, I got plenty knocking on my door / but none of them compare, you’re the one I’m waiting for” in "Nothing Feels Like You". For some reason, Little Mix have the likeability to carry off lyrics like this, whereas in lesser talents, such as Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’tcha”, they could have simply come across as arrogant.

As with most albums, there are a few duds. “These Four Walls” didn’t affect me in the same way as “Towers”, despite it going for the same thematic field, and the frailty that the producers were going for in the girls’ voices comes across as just weak vocals, which definitely undersells them. Similarly, in “Good Enough”, the girls demanding “Am I still not good enough? / Am I still not worth that much?” simply comes across as whiny, and jars with the girl power vibe of the rest of the album, however well-sung.

Thankfully, the rest of the album is all about unabashedly celebrating girls and how terrific we are. “Boy” has serious Destiny’s Child-esque vibes, in both the beat, singing style and the Say My Name-type themes. Their single, “Move”, which they performed recently on X-Factor with gusto, is a hugely enjoyable dance track that is pure pop, with some cool rapping to boot. Perrie is my favourite singer of the four, and she belts out the bridge tremendously, showing an enviable opera-esque quality to her voice that complements her band members well.

In the void left by Girls Aloud, there hasn’t really been a girl band that have reached the heights of them. The Saturdays made a fair crack of it, but they lack a certain je ne sais quoi. Little Mix may have been fashioned as a cynical money-making ploy to fill that gap, but the make some damn good music. From the military-style Beyonce-esque drumming, messages of not allowing men to play us and cheap and cheerful RnB components, there is nothing in Salute that you won’t have heard before in millions of other songs, but such is Little Mix’s energy, that it all comes off into a pretty decent end product. I salute their second album.

Grade: B+/A-

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Meal of the Day.

Vegetarian tofu stir-fry, £2.95, work canteen.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Review: BlackBerry Curve 8520

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Having trolled many a football journalist relentlessly with my trusted BlackBerry Bold, I got a taste of my own troll medicine when the damn thing died on me, and stopped working, with nothing but an error message. I followed the instructions on online, but to no avail, the old BlackBerry was well and truly busted. As such, I had to revert back to my pink Samsung Tocco, which had most certainly seen better days, and with it, couldn’t access the internet. I found myself texting my tweets, and come on, that is just so two thousand and late.

Deciding I could cope no longer without a Smartphone, I took my dad’s BlackBerry and got it unlocked for a tenner in Chinatown. It was contracted solely to Orange, but now I can use it, and, whilst it is inferior to the BlackBerry I had previously in pretty much every way, anything beats the three months of torture when I had to survive with a phone that… didn’t have internet on it.

Having used both a BlackBerry Bold and Curve, then, I feel myself to be somewhat of an authority in comparing and contrasting the two, like they’re two romantic era poems and I’m sitting an English literature exam. Well, my previous BlackBerry was definitely more stylish. It was more streamlined, weighed less, and just looked sexier in its case, whereas the Curve looks like a brick compared to modern smartphones.

Furthermore, whereas the keys on my BlackBerry Bold were linked together seamlessly and made practically no sound when I touch-typed on them, I have no such luck with the BlackBerry Curve, where the keys protrude, and each time you touch one of the plastic keys it makes an audible sound. Not good, especially at work when I’m trying to surreptitiously send a text without the bosses knowing.

The fact that the Bold was introduced later than the Curve is also apparent in the Curve’s deficiencies in functionality. On my Bold, I was used to going to sleep, being awoken by various alerts from Twitter/email/Facebook/WhatsApp/texts, and just hitting one bar to see them all listed together. We do not get this with the Curve, where instead I have to manually check each individual thing. It’s fractionally more time consuming, but it’s just the psychological element of being ~in control of mai social networks~~~; I miss being able to see everything, on one page, and deciding which I’ll choose to reply to first. Other downsides of the Curve? I can't download songs, I can't load webpages with too many graphics, and there's no such thing as a Favourites bar, meaning I have to keep wasting time selecting an icon when I need it. Grr.

There is, however, one aspect at which the Curve trumps the Bold, and it’s a pretty major one: battery life. When I had my 9790, I would have to carry the charger with me everywhere because the damn thing lasted about four hours, on a good day. It let to much faction with my parents, who like to know where I am EVERY SECOND OF THE DAY, despite the fact that I’m 23. With the 8520, I’m actually able to give them the façade of thinking they know where I am, as the battery is much more durable. So, for all my gripes about how uncool it is, when it comes to the basics, BlackBerry did good on the Curve.

My contract expires in March, and whilst the BlackBerry 8520 is perfectly functional, safe to say, I will be down the mobile phone at the crack of dawn to get an upgrade. It’s not so much that the phone is terrible, more, we are spoilt with the plethora of genius phones on the market. In 2013, something like the BlackBerry Curve simply doesn’t cut it anymore.

Grade: D