Archive | January, 2011

Review: Berwick Lodge

19 Jan

As a waitress, Sundays are a precious commodity that are not so much to be enjoyed as to be spent indulging other people’s brattish offspring.  As such, it was a great luxury to be free last Sunday to have people serve me, and some work friends, at ‘luxury country hotel and fine dining restaurant’ Berwick Lodge

The day began early, at Whiteladies Road Boston Tea Party, and then onto the number one bus, which takes you to within a twenty-minute walk of the Lodge. Our journey began before the rain, and was a pleasant preamble to what was sure to be a delicious,  expensive and boozy lunch.

When we arrived at the hotel, we were confronted with a rather scary fountain surrounded by broken-down old-fashioned streetlamps that must have escaped the hotel’s five years of regenaration, and a surprisingly small, but impressive, building.

Inside,  all was plush, and subtlety forgotten. We enjoyed pre-dinner drinks in a luxurious room on luxurious sofas, where heavy interiors and furnishings were completed by an over-the-top chandelier, Georgian-inspired furniture and a strangely mismatched modern painting whose presence apparently attests to the hotel’s ‘arts and crafts’ status.

Of the five of us, only four were given a menu, as one guest was vegetarian, and not generally catered to.  We were told that the kitchen had put together a pithivier for our herbivore friend, but disappointingly, the specifics of her special menu were not communicated to us, until she got up to ask the waiter, who had to bring a chef out to explain.

On to the dining room, and we were suitably impressed. We had a large oval table for just the five of us, and this room was much more simple and elegant than its predecessor, with sweeping white curtains draping large windows, and a more simplistic approach to interior design.

To start, we chose a bottle of As Laxas Albarino (£29), which was complemented by the delicious bread selection, and the starters, which were primarily fish, with three of the group choosing scallops. I ate pidgeon with walnuts, pistachio, cherry, cocoa and Turkish delight. It was absolutely delicious; the flavours complemented each other perfectly, and the turkish delight was especially savoured, as I tried to make it last the pidgeon (it didn’t). The scallops were reportedly under-salted; I did taste them, but didn’t take much notice, being distracted, as I was, by my own dish.

Pidgeon starter

Prior to the main course, we moved on to a bottle of red – a Prophets Rock Central Otago Pinot Noir (52), that was perfect – light and smooth, and chosen by our most wine-cultured diner (that certainly wasn’t me) who could surely describe it more aptly.

With the main course, I continued on a meat theme, and was not disappointed. My duck with foie gras, kumquats and red cabbage, was perfectly cooked, beautifully presented and completely satisfied my high expectations. The foie gras – which I have only eaten once before, and whose ethical questions I am vaguely concerned by – was perfectly textured – like a mousse, but somehow lighter and more substantial – and not nearly as rich as I would have expected.

Duck

The others ate halibut, beef, chicken and ravioli, and all reported happily. I maintain (smugly) however, that mine was the best choice.  To pudding, and I wanted something light to follow my first two courses, and opted for the creme brulee with apple sorbet and compote. This was lovely and light, with welcome sharpness from the compote, but the sugar top was disappointingly lacking in the satisfying crack that you should experience when first breaking in to a good brulee. My friend’s chocolate coulant was over-cooked, but her disappointment was somewhat dissipated by the £25’s worth of ‘frozen brandy’ that she had to accompany it. I had a single shot of said brandy, and whilst it was undoubtedly very good, I did feel a pang of guilt at discovering that I – a non-brandy drinker or fan – had spent a lavish £12.50 on a digestif.

After lunch, we asked each other whether we would visit again. The general consensus, was ‘probably, but only after quite some time’. Perhaps for those more fiscally endowed, a repeat visit would be a nearer eventuality, but for myself, such spending on lunch must be spread out (occasionally) over various places.

My rating: 7/10

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Review: Fela!

8 Jan

In a change of tack that I think is apt for the new year, I will begin 2011 and a regrettably long blogging hiatus, with a London-based review of the musical Fela! that I saw this week at Southbank’s National Theatre.

When I have mentioned this show to some of my ill-cultured friends, the response has invariably been surprise at the misguided notion that there is now a musical hit based on Shakespeare’s Othello.  I want to dispel this notion at the get-go, though who knows what Lloyd-Webber may be working on at the moment.

Fela! is a musical based on the life of Fela Kuti, a Nigerian Afrobeat musician who might be described – if somewhat reductively – as Nigeria’s answer to Bob Marley. Like Bob, Fela was a black musician whose political music transcended his own country in a time when racial equality was not what it is today.  Iconic, not just for his music, but for his twenty-seven wives and the Lagos Shrine within which they lived, Fela’s life story is rich with theatrical opportunity.

In the show, this opportunity is seized with such gusto that the audience feels not only like spectators, but like a part of the life that is musically depicted for them. From the very moment we sat down, the stage band and dancers had already begun to build a tantalising atmosphere that it would be impossible not to feel a part of. The buzz of anticipation was not one that is always seen in big shows, and to add to the colour and sound coming from the stage, were the posters and large video screen plastering the walls of the theatre, that depicted still and moving images of Fela, his mother and other players in Fela’s Afrobeat and political movements.

When Fela himself came on (played by hugely charismatic Brit Rolan Bell), it really felt like we were in the presence of a great star. He led the way telling a story whose path did not follow any one straight line, but which jumped from event to event with surreal yet convincing talks with his hugely influential late mother, Funmilayo, represented not only by actress Melanie Marshall, but also by a portrait that loomed large above the stage, eerily glowing whenever Funmilayo was mentioned.

Fela! masterfully avoided the kind of cheesiness that is so often synonymous with musical theatre, by weaving music throughout every facet of the play so that it was not just a story-telling device, or an opportunity for singing along, but an essential part of the very feeling and essence of the show.

As Fela, Bell sometimes spoke, sometimes sang, without there ever being a significant diversion from one to the other, and the amazing dances that were performed by the Shrine’s ever-present ‘area boys’ and Queens never seemed contrived, only a natural part of the show’s rhythm. The audience was encouraged to join in, and was for the most part, shaken out if its initial shyness. By the end of the evening, Bell/Fela’s calls for us to sing back  to him (‘Yeah yeah!’) were heartily, rather than tentativeley responded to.  I would have liked to see an audience, not bothered by English sensibilities,   getting involved in the dancing and singing of Fela! but cannot pretend that I was at the forefront of the audience participators. Never-the-less, the change in audience participation by the end of the show was itself, testament to the show’s triumph.

The only negative comment that I could make about Fela! was its length, which had me waning towards the end, but for everything else this is forgiven. I would absolutely recommend that anyone see this show, even if they do go expecting a musical take on a Shakespeare classic.