Search This Blog

Wednesday, 30 June 2010


Daphne Todd's 'Last Portrait of Mother'

Every year The National Portrait Gallery houses the BP Portrait Awards. It features the paintings of artists from all over the world; with a first prize incentive of £25,000 this award can launch an artist's career.

This year there were 2,177 entrants, of which 58 works were selected. Subjects vary from intimate family portraits, revealing self portraits and even a few of familiar celebrities.

I was disappointed to find that the winners' portraits had been decided and the results displayed, as I found this affected my opinions of the works. First prize was awarded to Daphne Todd for her poignant painting of her mother on her deathbed.

Eliot Haigh's 'Quena'

My personal favourite in the show was Quena by Eliot Haigh. A soulful painting capturing a private moment of contemplation. My companion's favourite was Alan Coulson's 'Ciara', a portrait of the artist's wife that reflects the intimacy of their relationship. A large painting, the artist shows precise detail and yet still creates a painting of mood and character.

Portraiture is a subject that touches all of us. We see faces everyday, ours and other people's. The BP Portrait Awards are on until 19 September, and with a Visitors Award it's worth going to have your vote.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Women, Power and Politics: Then and Now at The Tricycle

The Tricycle is putting on nine short plays this month on the topic of women in politics, all written by female playwrights. The plays are split into two sets, Then and Now, that together make up the best part of seven hours. An epic project that reminds me of Wagner's legendary Ring Cycle.

The Tricycle Theatre is building quite a reputation for its interesting topical programmes promoting the work of new playwrights. Tucked away in Kilburn the Tricycle has a friendly inclusive atmosphere, with an inexpensive bar and relaxed seating areas. I was impressed to see such a diverse audience attending a such a specialised drama.

There is too much talent to mention here, both on stage and behind the scenes. On the whole though I preferred the Then section of the day, the plays were wittier and scripts more engaging. My favourite play would have to be the brilliantly funny 'Handbagged' by Moira Buffini. It explores the relationship between Margaret Thatcher (Mags) and The Queen (Liz) and their fall-out in the 80s. Particular mention must go to Claire Cox who acted brilliantly throughout, she often made eye contact with the audience making her performance all the more engaging. The verbatim reports that sporadically appear are very enjoyable; they feature snippets of politicians holding forth from Edwina Currie to Nick Clegg.

All but one of the plays are directed exuberantly by Indhu Rubasingham. These shows can be seen together but stand equally well alone.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 5

This week I wanted to introduce you to one of my favourite shops, Butler and Wilson. This year they celebrate their 40th Birthday.

Everything in this shop glistens and sparkles, every corner filled with the most outrageous of jewels. This is costume jewellery at its very best.

I’ve chosen the skull stud earrings for this week's Hot on the Highstreet. Skulls are everywhere at the moment, and are the trademark symbol of the epic designer, Alexander McQueen.

Butler and Wilson’s skull earrings come in an array of colours, for every occasion. At only £18 they are a budget way of adding sparkle to an outfit.

Buy here.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

The Riverside in Hammersmith

The Riverside in Hammersmith has always got something new and exciting going on. The theatre 'aims to be London's pre-eminent space for risk, inspiration and creativity', and from my experience it succeeds in this mission tremendously.

The Riverside boasts many other wonderful assets too. The comfortable cafe/bar is situated in the centre of the building and is a lively and friendly place to sit pre or post show. My favourite thing about the Riverside is the river terrace that can be found hiding at the back of the building. Here they offer delicious food and an impressive view to accompany your meal. If you don't wish to eat you can perch on the wall and sit at the river's edge. My friend and I sat here for a while before the show, with the beautiful sunset and rippling water surrounding us, it was quite spectacular.

We went to see Hens, the third play in Sky Arts Playhouse: Live season. A very enjoyable show in a great space.

In July the Riverside brings us previews of the best of this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival. With nearly 30 preview shows to choose from, there is sure to be something for everyone.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Carmen at The Royal Opera House

You can always expect a fantastic spectacle at one of London’s finest theatres, the Royal Opera House. And their current production of Carmen only enhances that reputation.

Bizet’s Carmen is definitely a crowd pleaser, with many singable songs. This production, by Francesca Zambello was first seen at Covent Garden in 2006 and continues to impress four years later, with Duncan Macfarland as the revival director.

Maija Kovalevska is stunning as the timid Michaela, her soprano voice soars on the expansive stage. Her efforts were rewarded at the curtain call when she received the most “bravos” and, for me, she stole the show. Carmen, played by British mezzo-soprano Christine Rice is suitably tempestuous. Rice definitely looks the part and vocally is passionate and alluring. Bryan Hymel is disappointing as Don Jose; he seemed to struggle, particularly in the earlier arias. The orchestra is conducted sublimely by Greek conductor Constantinos Carydis, although at times I was enjoying the music so much I felt it could have been louder.

Costumes and set are lavish and grand, aspects that I always expect and love at the Royal Opera House. Tall burnt-orange coloured walls surround the stage, particularly inspired for the final bullfight. The cast is large and often on stage. At the start children, donkeys, horses, chickens all run about, whether this authentically evokes Seville is debatable but it’s certainly fun to watch.

For those willing to stand at the back, there are great cheap deals.

Carmen finishes on 26 June, but with a fabulous summer programme coming up of Manon, Simon Boccanegra, Salome and La Traviata, it’s worth treating yourself.

Book here.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

I Love Leon

Everyday I order the lunches at work, if people don't like what I've ordered they're not happy. I try to order a wide variety but I find that I can't ever please everyone.

A few months ago I tried out Leon, a restaurant I had heard about from several foodie friends. Leon have a strong belief that food should 'taste good and do you good'. They use the freshest of ingredients to ensure their food is always full of flavour.

My office loves Leon and rejoices when it comes through the door. I get requests for Leon almost every day. The menu is varied, with options for all. Healthy but delicious. My favourite is the chicken and chorizo wrap, which comes warm, the meatballs and superfood salads are also great.

Leon has received numerous awards for its indisputably yummy 'fast' food. And if that isn't enough, they have their very own cookbook as well. So spread the word and go and try it yourself!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Tightrope at the Lyric

In the heart of Hammersmith lies West London’s most promising theatre, The Lyric. This venue offers an eclectic array of shows. Last weekend I went to see their current production, Tightrope.

Tightrope is a show performed by the Lyric’s resident dance theatre company, Amici, integrating able bodied and disabled performers. In this way it challenges the conventional expectations of theatre audiences.

When you sit down you don’t know what to expect. Performers of all kinds wander joyously onto the stage, some in wheelchairs others being helped by Amici performers, each has their own part to play in this story. Tightrope has everything you imagine a circus to have: clowns, strongmen, tightrope walkers and snake charmers.

On the street disabled people may have a low profile but here their talent is celebrated, and these artists love the attention. The wheelchair performers are particularly inspiring, one man rises from the floor (out of his chair) high into the air, another, ‘the wheelchair showgirl’ dances beautifully across the stage. A small band accompany the show and short poems, written by Amici member Chrissie Kugele are sung.

Tightrope may be uncomfortable for some at first, but as the evening progresses you appreciate the beauty of this show and the prejudices that it overcomes. And as you laugh with these performers there are smiles all round.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Idomeneo at the ENO

The ENO boldly present Idomeneo this month at Covent Garden. Idomeneo is the young Mozart’s classical drama.

This production is directed by the award-winning Katie Mitchell. It is presented in modern day dress, an interesting concept but one that occasionally overpowers the drama. I definitely miss the grandeur of the antique costumes you might expect in a Mozart opera. The staging is immense, with an almost constant rippling sea as the backdrop. The theme of water is central to the drama and you are reminded often of its importance.

Performances are impressive from the four leads. British tenor, Paul Nilon leads the company as the great Idomeneo. Nilon’s performance is staggering, he sings every virtuosic aria with ease and perfection, making the most of Mozart’s lyrical writing. Robert Murray is less convincing as the son Idamante, although sings well throughout. The two women, Emma Bell as the tormented Electra and Sarah Tynan as Princess Ilia have a wonderful dynamic on stage. Bell is ravishingly fiery and Tynan melancholic and gentle. Adam Green sings the role of Arbace with great gusto.

Idomeneo is rarely staged, perhaps because of its length. Hopefully after this run at the ENO it will make it to our London stages more often.

Idomeneo continues until 9 July, book tickets here.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 4

Hello summer sales! There is so much to choose from this week ... I have decided on French Connection's Moroccan Suede bag. Reduced from £160 to £80, this bag is a real bargain.

I am a sucker for designer handbags, but this French Connection beauty caught my eye. It is made from good quality soft suede and has nice stud details that make it look much more high end designer than highstreet. It comes in black, pink and blue. My favourite is the pink, a bright and yet sophisticated colour that would perfectly complete an evening summer outfit.

This bag also comes in a leather option, also nice and even cheaper at £57. If you can't quite afford a Mulberry or Balenciaga I would say French Connection's Moroccan Suede bag is the next best thing.

Buy here.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Maison Martin Margiela at Somerset House

Exhibitions like this make me realise why I am doing a blog about London. There is so much to do, hidden in places you may not ever consider looking.

A Thursday night is a great time to do things in London because often galleries and shops stay open late, so it is easy to hop on the tube after work and see something exciting. This Thursday I went to the Maison Martin Margiela show at Somerset House with a good friend I managed to drag along for the ride. We sat in the Courtyard outside for half an hour beforehand in the glorious sunshine. After finishing our Nero coffees and muffins we went into the house to explore the coveted work of Margiela.

This fashion company was born in 1988, the same year as me. The Belgian stylist from which the name derives is known predominantly for his stark white garments and the transgressive themes that can be seen throughout his clothing lines, both ready-to-wear and couture. Maison Martin Margiela celebrates 20 years of the label.

A white caravan sits at the exhibition’s entrance then, walking through white arches, you are in a white, sparkling wonderland. The show is made up of films, clothes, documents and cleverly constructed installations. Everything seems carefully thought out, and the pieces are shown in such innovative ways that it makes you reconsider the purpose of the work entirely. There is a pervasive uncertainty that Margiela most probably intended, challenging all the time the conventions and traditions of clothing and fashion.

The space is otherworldly and magical, and garments hang as pieces of valuable artwork. The video clips are mesmerising – models stride the catwalk with their faces always covered - very disturbing. Secrecy remains central to the designer’s success, his clothes are isolated on the models (they are very much blank canvases) and Margiela kept an entirely private personal life too.

This exhibition is a rare opportunity to see Margiela’s vision in its full glory.

Open until September 5, 2010.

Friday, 18 June 2010

China Town's New World Restaurant

I have been going to New World since I was a child and I think it is the best Yum Cha experience in London's Chinatown.

The novelty of the trolley service never wears off, and the huge choice of dishes always excites me - even though I can be reluctant to trying new things. The restaurant is always heaving, and yet they always seem able to find you a table. I would recommend sitting downstairs where they seem more efficient. Upstairs is a little strange with annoying Chinese pop playing on TV screens everywhere.

Service can be rather lacklustre at New World (especially when the waitresses stop in their tracks to watch the pop music!) but this is pardonable because the food is so good. I particularly love the crispy chicken and pork fried wontons and the delicious jasmine tea that they bring you on arrival.

Not the best place for vegetarians - in fact we couldn't spot one veggie dish on the trolleys - not even their usual yummy broccoli was available, so my poor friend had rather an unexciting meal of egg fried rice.

Overall though New World is a fun, exotic experience and a good feed, and I always enjoy my visits.

Thursday, 17 June 2010


The three queens of Priscilla

Oh my God, do I love this show? ...even after the second visit I am begging for more. Priscilla Queen of the Desert is the ultimate feel good musical. It is no surprise that it won this year's 'Best New Musical' from What's on Stage, along with three other awards.

Adapted from the Oscar winning film, the story follows the journey of three friends across the Australian outback. They are outrageous, fabulous performers from the Sydney drag scene. Tick, Bernadette and Felicia head to Alice Springs in central Australia to visit Tick's ex-wife. Tick (previously played by Jason Donovan) is taken on by Ben Richards who sings and dances with vigour and elan, and yet is also able to show a more reserved side that is essential for his character. Don Gallagher is the stunning Bernadette, and Oliver Thornton the gorgeous Felicia. Thornton was born to play this role, and has an energy that is infectious. I have to admit that I really do love Oliver Thornton - beautiful in the flesh but strangely even more attractive as a woman.

The musical boasts 25 dance floor classics, these familiar songs are bound to be one of the reasons for Priscilla's resounding success. Audiences worldwide recognise the tunes, many singing along and even getting up to have a dance. It is a marathon for the performers, with spectacular choreography throughout. My experience of Priscilla was quite special this time around. I was one of the lucky few picked to go up onstage and dance with the cast during the performance, a very memorable and hilarious experience.

Visually this show is quite staggering with over 500 costumes, 55 wigs, and 200 head-dresses. Designers Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner won an Academy award for their costumes for the film and now, with a bigger budget they have made the musical's outfits quite dazzling, imaginative and witty. They have the best bodies to work with, bronzed (they have a StTropez booth backstage) and toned, these women, sorry men, would make any woman enviable.

A journey to the heart of Fabulous, for sure. I wish I was up there performing in Priscilla Queen of the Desert every night.

The beautiful Oliver Thornton

The Fantasticks

The Fantasticks is a simple romantic tale of a boy and a girl and their fathers who scheme to make them fall in love. It is based on the play The Romancers by Edmond Rostand. It is a universal story that should appeal to all, though unfortunately I can't see how this production would.

The show has been a long-running hit on Broadway, and now a new Japanese production brings it to London's West End. The Fantasticks suits the dinky Duchess theatre in Covent Garden. It is an intimate space that serves well for smaller scale musicals, and has a certain charm about it that makes the show more intimate. Thank god because if it was any bigger the audience wouldn't be able to hear the voices of the two young leads: Lorna Want (Luisa) and Luke Brady (Matt) who certainly benefitted from the limited space. Carl Au who played The Mute moved fluently across the stage, but was rather a pointless additional character with little necessity in the story.

The more mature actors in the show, Paul Hunter (Mortimer) and Edward Petherbridge (Henry) were much more convincing and managed to squeeze an occasional laugh from the audience. Clive Rowe and David Burt, as the two fathers were full of energy and worked well together onstage, the only chemistry of the night. Hadley Fraser had charm and charisma as the narrator and held the whole show together. Unfortunately these actors had little to work with, as the music is pretty average, the song 'Try to Remember' is definitely the musical high point. The narrative is poor too, with most of the action over by the interval leaving little anticipation for the second act.

The Fantasticks has many West End wonders to contend with at the moment, and unfortunately by comparison is not too fantastic a show.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The Book Club Cafe

View from inside the cafe

The Book Club is a new cafe-club in Shoreditch, hidden away on Leonard Street. I spent last Sunday afternoon there with friends.

I love one-off little creative havens. In Manchester I adored TROF, a cafe-club that served delicious food and drinks, was relaxed and comfortable, with good smiley service, interesting artefacts on the walls and excellent evening gigs. Everything you could ever want or need. The Book Club seems similar in style and character.

Often these arty places feel they need to be dirty and scummy to be 'vintage' and hip, particularly in East London, a ridiculous notion. The Book Club is clean and still full of creative flare, with inventive artwork on the expansive walls. The ground floor is huge with comfy seats, and a ping-pong table; downstairs there's a pool table, DJ booth and bar. Food is served all day, and the big breakfasts on the menu look particularly appetising. Delicious fresh juices like pear and raspberry also feature - my personal favourites.

I've heard The Book Club comes alive at night. Live music, art workshops and dance classes are all on offer. Often these nights are free entry, especially if you arrive before 9pm. I urge you to check it out!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Crucible at Regents Park Open Air Theatre

The Salem girls

The weather forecast had been 'heavy rainfall' so I was delighted to find the sun still shining when we arrived at Regents Park Open Air Theatre. This production of Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible' relies on light. A long play, it seems surprising that it begins as late at 8 o'clock, but as the interval finished and the trials of the second half began, it became apparent that this production uses the inevitable nightfall to its advantage.

Previously I have seen 'The Boyfriend' and 'Hello Dolly' at Regents Park Theatre, both light witty musicals. This year they are proving their versatility by tackling two rather more sombre plays, 'The Crucible' and 'Macbeth'. Miller's play is, if anything, more effective than the musicals I'd witnessed in its use of the space. The young Salem girls sit surrounding the circular stage almost throughout the show, with haunted blank faces, reacting occasionally to the speech before them. Their silence is sometimes even more poignant than Miller's most dramatic words.

The cast, together capture the dark hysteria wonderfully. John Proctor (Patrick O'Kane) towers above the young Abigail Williams (Emily Taafe), a physical contrast that emphasises the struggle for justice between them. O'Kane's bellowing voice carried across the park, and his gradual desperation is developed very naturally by the actor. For me though it is Philip Cumbus as Reverend John Hale who gives the most compelling performance of the night. The Reverend interacts with most of the other parts in the play and is therefore crucial to the play's credibility. He twists and turns with the story perfectly. Christopher Hunter gives a chilling performance as Judge Hathorne and Susan Engel as Rebecca Nurse also produces some powerful characterisation. Director Timothy Sheader should be congratulated on this eerie realisation of 'The Crucible', adapted well for this al fresco venue and yet staying true to the playwright's intentions.

The play, written in 1953 is still just as politically and culturally relevant making the performance all the more poignant. Towards the end I found myself gasping and begging for a consoling outcome, but to no avail. The cold night and the chilling drama left me shivering as I left the park. I would urge you to catch this production before it ends on 19th June, it is a stunning rendition of Miller's classic. However if you prefer something a little more light-hearted, opt for Sondheim's 'Into the Woods' on at Regents Park from 6th August.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 3

Worn in turquoise, as a skirt

I'm afraid this week's pick is not very wacky - but is still, I believe a hottie on the highstreet at the moment.

It is difficult to find simple staples that you can trust. American Apparel is the place to go, and god knows what we did without it on the London highstreet a few years ago. After searching high and low for a black skirt that could be worn for smart and casual occasions, I found the solution at American Apparel. The skirt is actually advertised as a dress, but like many of this shop's items can be customised and worn to suit your individual needs. Made from stretchy cotton is can be long or short, dress or skirt. I wear mine as a skirt with a loose top on top, or with a shirt tucked in for a smarter look.

Worn in black, as a dress

Only £25, I guarantee you will wear it again and again, and be relieved when you find it to be the perfect bottoms to go with that new special top. If black isn't your thing go for one of the other six colours, including white and black polka dots (to go with last week's spotty tights for glorious clashing!)

A cheap, smart, affordable skirt suitable for both work and play, night and day.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The Pirates of Penzance at Kingston's Rose Theatre

All male production of The Pirates of Penzance! I was excited. (I have always had a bit of a thing for a man in make-up.)

This show, at the Rose Theatre, was recommended to me by several friends, so I was grateful to get tickets for the final night. I went along, wearing my appropriate McQueen skull scarf especially for the occasion. It is the Gilbert and Sullivan classic with a sexy twist. I don't mean to be vulgar, but it really was a feast of men. The operetta began with a short and sweet introduction on the piano from Musical Director, Chris Mundy who then continued to accompany the whole show. Seventeen men bounded onto the stage with contagious energy.

Gilbert & Sullivan isn't always my favourite, but this show was absolutely genius. It worked so well with the all male cast that I began to question if it had originally been written for just men, and why any company would choose to include women. It was, of course also the fantastic acting that made each pun so thrillingly funny.

The choreographer, Lizzi Gee had an important role in this production with numerous dance numbers throughout. Her vision was spot on, and I was surprised to see how polished the routines were, every man seemed completely confident with the complicated steps. Special mention is due to Alan Richardson, who played the shrill-voiced Mabel, he did a masterful job hitting all the top notes and still acting with convincing authority.

The Rose Theatre is a gem in the centre of Kingston Upon Thames. Under the leadership of Artistic Director, Stephen Unwin and Director Emeritus, Peter Hall, the standard of work at this theatre is quite astounding. It only opened in January 2008 and I feel it is my duty to raise awareness about this theatre, whose shows are often more exciting than those in London's West End. The theatre space is intimate and friendly with a small pit area for some audience members. These tickets are more affordable and perfect for students trying to save money.

You have missed out on the Pirates but with lots of great shows coming up check out Kingston's Rose Theatre yourself.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Opera Holland Park Presents Carmen

Poster from an 1896 American production

Holland Park is my favourite summer opera venue. Every visit promises to be magical. As a child I performed regularly with the company, and so feel at home within the theatre, but it is a pleasure to now sit and enjoy the operas as a member of the audience.

For those of you who haven't yet been, the theatre is located in the middle of the park. With picnic and bar areas it caters for those wishing to stay the whole evening to leisurely eat, drink and experience lovely music. On the occasional balmy summer evening, it is a pleasure to be outside rather than in a stuffy West End theatre. More often, when the weather is typically English and wet, it is advisable to bring a blanket or coat, although I often find I am kept warm by the spirit of the music.

On Monday night I was lucky enough to be given tickets to see Bizet's opera comique, Carmen. A boisterous opera set in Seville, telling the tale of a gypsy girl working in a cigarette factory. Carmen is a femme fatale who lures and tempts men to fall in love with her, an attitude that Hannah Pedley portrayed beautifully with her seductive performance. The part is written for a Mezzo-Soprano, unusual as the leading lady's part is more often written for a higher Soprano. Pedley's voice was dark in tone and rough around the edges, not to everyone's taste, but I loved it, and felt it added greater realism to the character. It helped that she looked perfect for the part, a scruffed up, red lipped version of the stunning Rachel Weisz.

The voice of the night for me though was Mark Panuccio, who played Don Jose. Each and every aria was sung beautifully with ease and control. Snagged in Carmen's web of destruction, the final scenes show Don Jose in an unbearable state of powerless misery. Even as he plunges a dagger into his lover we feel great sympathy for this poor wretch. It is a tricky part to play convincingly, Panuccio did it justice. Another notable singer was Susan Young playing Micaela, not a very meaty part but certainly one with some fantastic music. Special mention must go to the superb Helena Dix who stepped in at the last minute to sing the role of Frasquita from the orchestra pit, covering the brave Stephanie Bodsworth who continued to act onstage. The chorus were hearty and the children well rehearsed. Matthew Willis' conducting was fluent throughout, he handled the orchestra firmly to ensure all of the risky dance rhythms were kept in time.

There are six productions at Opera Holland Park this summer, so there is no excuse not to go along to at least one opera. If you are lucky you might even hear the peacocks in the park singing along.

Thursday, 10 June 2010


The EXPOSED timeline

EXPOSED- Voyeurism, Surveillance & the Camera is the photography exhibition currently on show at London's Tate Modern. We all enjoy watching others once in a while but do we know who is watching us?

You certainly get your money's worth at this show - with 14 large rooms to wander round you will need a good hour. EXPOSED explores the idea of the 'unseen photographer' and the interesting qualities of snapshots taken often without the subject's permission. The result is intriguing and sometimes shocking.

Amongst the lesser known artists you can spot some celebrated photographers including Guy Bourdin, Lee Miller, Helmut Newton and Man Ray.

I was particularly excited by the earlier rooms which explore the tactics of some undercover photographers and displayed the objects within which the cameras were concealed: shoes, walking sticks, even inside suit jackets. Do they still make these detective like items? If so where can I get my own?

A Photograph display in the EXPOSED shop

A few rooms on, in a rather more crowded space, are hung photos of celebrities. I began to think of a time when cameras weren't so accessible and photos of our favourite celebrities not so common and widespread. Teenagers would attend a concert to not only hear the music but to catch a glimpse of their idolised singer. Imagine the excitement of seeing a band for the first time after only having listened to them. Nowadays we expect to see every move every celebrity makes through photographic images, almost all curiosity is lost.

The final rooms of EXPOSED were not so appealing to me, and by the time I got to them I was exhausted from the rest of the exhibition. Photos and documentation of violent events are displayed. These are surprisingly harrowing to see and bring home the reality of those suffering. It is not an exhibition for children, but for those interested in photography and the way it insidiously records us whether we like it or not, it is worth a visit.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Chain Restaurants in London - Black and Blue and Del'Aziz

Inside Del'Aziz

Sometimes you just want comfort food... but where to go?

On the rare occasion I feel like eating somewhere other than my beloved Pizza Express, I turn to good London chains such as Black and Blue and Del'Aziz.

On Saturday stood in front of Kensington Church Street's top burger joint, my brother and I pondered for a while why Black and Blue's facade was not designed in black and blue but instead, annoyingly, green and silver. This restaurant is a simple but classic burger chain, with six branches across London it has quickly grown in popularity. The menu is clear with a select choice of burgers and a few salads, all you need from such a place. (It irritates me when I am offered a million different dishes at a burger restaurant, if you want a good burger go somewhere that has little else on the menu.)

The ingredients are fresh and the meat high quality. The chips are, I would say about a 7 out of 10 (a high rating considering the perfect chip is almost impossible to find!) I had a delicious bacon & cheese burger and for dessert four of us shared one portion of the peach and champagne sorbet - delicious and palate-freshening after the rich meal.

Another chain I recently discovered, at Westfield is Del'Aziz which advertises itself as an Eastern Mediterranean deli and restaurant. They serve light, flavoursome food with great sharing plates. The best thing about the restaurant is the fabulous entertainment they put on every night. A resident belly dancer dances amongst diners and sometimes they have folk musicians or flamenco to get you in the Med mood.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Puccini's Tosca at the ENO

The Original Poster for Tosca

The opera Tosca is, above all, an epic love story. Every year you are sure to find Puccini's masterpiece on somewhere, this summer it is being performed at the ENO.

My first encounter with the opera was at the age of 15 when I was given the part of Shepherd Boy (in my case they made it into Shepherd Girl) at Holland Park Opera. The power of the music blew me away, ever since it has been my favourite opera. This time around the music moved me close to tears.

The ENO's production is stunning. The three central protagonists: Tosca, Scarpia and Cavaradossi are all played by singers that seem fully engrossed in their roles; this makes the audience's job to watch and believe very easy. South African singer Amanda Echalaz makes a pretty Floria Tosca, her voice is unfaltering, but it is her acting which particularly impressed me. She is entirely convincing throughout and has genuine chemistry with her leading man. Tosca's suicide which concludes the opera is spectacular with Amanda falling backwards off the rear of the stage with shocking grace.

Julian Gavin who plays Mario Cavaradossi has a wonderfully creamy tenor voice, a pure delight to listen to. It is a difficult role to sing, but he easily hits the notes and manages to fill the entire theatre. The baddie, Baron Scarpia must be a fun part to play, in this production Antony Michaels-Moore takes it on with gleeful terror. Such a nasty character that the audience even booed when he came on to bow.

The set had a Neo-Classical feel that worked well with the production as a whole. Cavaradossi's painting in the first act is an important feature, and it is a shame that it is shown as a strange mosaic type picture, but apart from that the set is appropriate.

Conductor, Edward Gardner does a sterling job with the orchestra, although the music needs little help to sound beautiful. Puccini himself commented, 'Only with emotion can one achieve a triumph that endures' and this is entirely true of Tosca, which I believe has some of the most passionate, overpoweringly emotional music of all time.

Any well known opera is open to great criticism, but I have seen four productions of Tosca in my lifetime, and this is hands down the best. It is on until the 10th July, I promise you won't be disappointed, this is a show not to miss.

Book tickets HERE.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 2

Spotty tights have been everywhere this season and last, and VOGUE have featured them in several shoots recently. Fun, flirty and sheer they are ideal for breezy English summer nights.

I searched high and low for them; apparently the VOGUE ones could only be found in Paris. Eventually I found them hidden away at TABIO. If you've never been to Tabio before you are in for a surprise. It is a sweet shop of foot accessories; every style, every colour, every pattern - they are beautifully made and reasonably priced.

Alexa Chung in her spotted tights
These spotty tights are £9.95 and are currently number 7 on their 'Daily Top Sellers' list. They come in black, brown and beige and are also available in a heart or ribbon variety. I think the spots are the most classic.

Check out Tabio's knee high socks as well - great with summer dresses.