Search This Blog

Friday, 29 April 2011

High Road Brasserie in Chiswick

High Road Brasserie, Ant and Dec’s restaurant venture on Chiswick High Road stole the site of my beloved childhood ice-cream parlour, Fouberts, so I wasn’t keen on it from the start. Though as summers have passed, I have watched and envied happy diners sitting there, sipping cappuccinos and gleefully tucking into delicious looking plates of food, so eventually I accepted the place into Turnham Green’s family of businesses.

Before the Grand National we went for brunch. The weather was glorious and after experiencing numerous brunches in NY, I am hooked on this mid morning meal. This brasserie has a luxuriously large outdoor space, thanks to the expansive pavements and so even on sunny days there are enough seats outside for everyone. We sat, lapping up the sun and ordered a big assortment of breakfast-brunch dishes to keep our hunger at bay till dinner.

The menu, and restaurant decor, is modern European with a French bias. The breezy spacious room with its tiled floor is reminiscent of a Parisian establishment. The freshest orange juice and water was delivered to us pronto, next light frothy coffees and then our chosen food. My friend had been craving Eggs Benedict and finally had the opportunity to order this classic New York recipe. I had a standard bacon sandwich, which was made with deliciously thick and crispy bacon and fresh wholemeal bread, lightly buttered. For brunch dessert (if such a concept exists!) we shared a portion of warm waffles with crème fraiche, ripe berries and maple syrup - it was perfectly assembled and full of sweet flavour. Service was quick and friendly.

I grew up around this area and so I’m delighted to have found such a nice place to return to for brunch, or lunch or dinner – these two menus looked great too. This stylish cafe epitomises Chiswick cool - have a delicious brunch in the sunshine and watch the yummy mummies go by.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Watteau Drawings at The Royal Academy of Art

The Sackler Wing of the Royal Academy of Arts is gloriously light and airy, so it's a shame it has to be so dark to protect the Watteau drawings presently on show there.It's a bit of a strain to see the artworks but necessary, I suppose.

Jean-Antoine Watteau was an elusive artist, and not much is known for certain about his life. He never signed or dated his work, and nothing of his handwriting remains. His career was short lived, he died at the young age of 37, and so there is a certain mysterious element to his work.

I felt touched by the RA’s new exhibition of this great French artist. They display a beautiful collection of delicate drawings, some that have never been shown before. Most of the works are studies, either created by Watteau to satisfy his own curiosity or in preparation for a painting. Even from the first few pictures it is clear to see what a fine draftsman he is - the drawings are original and sensitive and are done with great precision, though there is also a lovely sense of movement. Often the figures are placed independently on the page, with no background, this isolates the expression making it all the more powerful.

The drawings develop as his palette changes: greater description is possible when he begins to use black and white to complement the red chalk. Watteau depicted everyday subjects such as busy shop floors but also had a fascination with more imaginative ideas. He is known particularly for developing the ‘fete galante’ genre that shows a vision of high society enjoying the countryside. Romantic scenes show the emotional reserve of the rich and the importance of even the smallest gestures. He had a great ability to create texture and tone even in a drawing made with just one colour of pencil.

Watteau may be better known for his paintings, but from this carefully curated exhibition of his exquisite and subtle drawings, I think it’s clear he had a lot more to give.

Exhibition continues until 15 June 2011, book here.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Joan Miro at Tate Modern

Joan Miro's work has moved me since I was a child; every year my family visit the Fondation Maeght in the south of France and I have always admired his wonderful sculptures which are a permanent fixture of the gallery garden. They are bright but with a distinctly serene air. I was thrilled to find Tate Modern hosting a retrospective of Miro’s work, especially as I have not had the pleasure of seeing many of his early paintings or works on paper.

Miro was born in Barcelona in 1893 and grew up in this exciting, modern city with a strong sense of his Catalan identity. I was intrigued to discover that this sense was the reason he insisted upon using ‘Joan’ rather than ‘Juan’, a first name that now seems oddly feminine.

This collection of works shows Miro to be a true surrealist, pretty much throughout his long artistic career. I noticed obvious similarities to Dali and to Picasso, who was apparently his hero. Miro established his style very early on, and stuck with it, often the stylistic developments came from changes in his surroundings or the political climate. Though they can appear blissfully simple, playful and abstract, there is often a complex logic behind his work.

I found the room of Constellation pictures particularly enchanting. They are a group of works painted between 1940 and 1941. Miro uses gouache, watercolour and ink to create a cosmic and dreamy effect; I was so fascinated by the combination of materials I felt eager to immediately try the mix myself. They are contemplative images that reflect Miro’s escapist tendency at a time of war and unease.

As the show continues we see pieces that are more expressive and free. Two rooms contain bold colour field triptychs that contrast dramatically with the earlier intricate paintings. The final room's display demonstrates his diverse experimentation, and despite being well into his eighties we see an explosive creative energy.

Tate Modern's show seems appropriate for the fast approaching summer season: bright colours and magical shapes, it has an overriding feeling of optimism.

Joan Miro exhibition continues until 11 September, book here.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Operashots at The Linbury Theatre

Operashots is a brilliant idea: an evening of several brief operatic pieces. The programme began in 2010, commissioning brand new short works to display a new and exciting kind of contemporary opera. The night is certainly more manageable for those who struggle with extensively long operatic productions. Last year pieces by Orlando Gough, Nitin Sawhney and Jocelyn Pook were performed. This season composers Anne Dudley and Stewart Copeland are in the spotlight.

Last Saturday a few of us went to see the final night of the latest Operashots programme at The Linbury Studio Theatre. This smaller theatre in the Royal Opera House is a great platform for dramatic work. I performed here a few times in my teens with the brilliant W11 Children’s Opera but had forgotten quite how nice it is.

First up we saw ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’; a dark work composed by founder and drummer of The Police, Stewart Copeland. The narrative is based on Edgar Allan Poe’s story, a hideous murder and the killer’s resulting gradual madness. The music is stricken with terror, discordant chords and strange melodic intervals - harmonies clash with pained guilt. Richard Suart was highly expressive as Edgar, singing with excellent diction and vigour while scrunching up his face in a frenzy. Visually it was exciting: the set was stark but magnificent, and imaginative video designs from Finn Ross transformed the piece entirely.

‘The Doctor’s Tale’ was a much lighter, but longer piece for the second half. I have previously sung some of Anne Dudley’s compositions, so it was interesting to see the realisation of a whole opera by her. The music was amusing and enjoyable though I found the story too ridiculous... a loveable doctor is being suspended from work... because he is a dog! It was bizarre to watch, and I had a “is this really happening?” moment, while looking round in disbelief to find everyone else laughing jovially.

Watch this space for future Operashots programmes.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Hot on the Highstreet Week 48

Scribble 20th May down in your diary as a date to remember... set your alarm to get up extra early, and sprint as fast as you can to your nearest Chanel nail varnish stockist. It is time for their newest limited edition summer range of colours, ‘Les Fleurs D’Ete’.

I have been anticipating the day for a year now, ever since I got my grubby nail bitten fingers on Chanel’s ‘nouvelle vague’ (the luscious turquoise hue that was released last summer). From the three colours above: Beige Petale, Mimosa and Morning Rose, it is the bright banana yellow Mimosa that is set to be the must-have favourite. Every colour has been on the catwalks at some point, but a trend for yellow fingertips has to be the most radical. Paired with a glowing tan and bright outfit, Mimosa is sure to be a success.

If you can’t afford the steep £17 price tag, there are a few sunny alternatives: for a vibrant lemon yellow - go for Nails Inc in ‘Carnaby Street’ (£9.90 online here) and for a creamier tone - try Topshop in ‘Summit’ (£5 buy here). But if you are saving for the Chanel, get there quick, they don’t stick around on the shop floor for long.

And with this post I bring the news that my CHANEL BLACK PEARL GIVEAWAY winner is ... ‘COLOURS OF LIPSTICK.’ Please email me your address ( so I can send you your prize!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Precious Little Talent at Trafalgar Studios 2

A proud father, a frustrated daughter, an optimistic boy... these are the characters in Ella Hickson's sharp new play, ‘Precious Little Talent’. After the success of her debut, ‘Eight,’ Hickson brings us another impressive drama, written on the eve of her graduation.

Joey arrives in hectic New York to spend the Christmas season with her estranged father, who lives alone in a cramped flat.

George is beginning to suffer from dementia, he refuses to explain his condition to his 23 year old daughter, who has turned up unexpected, and uninvited.

Sam is pleased when he meets a pretty girl called Joey in Manhattan, they run round the city, share an impulsive kiss before she disappears. He works as George's carer, patiently looking after him and keeping him company.

In George’s home Joey and Sam meet again, there is an attraction, but also an obvious clash between Sam’s cheerful and positive outlook and Joey’s harsh cynicism. These opposing world-views hint at the politics of the time, Obama has recently won the presidency inspiring Americans with hope, while Joey in the UK has been stuck with a stale Labour government, and even after working hard through school and university cannot find work.

The Trafalgar Studios 2 is a tiny theatre that only seats one hundred, providing a second more intimate stage below the main auditorium. It is the perfect choice for this play, a drama that feeds off the claustrophobia. Lucy Osborne’s design utilises the small stage well, cutting diagonally through the audience. There are dark scene changes and flashing lights that effectively capture the pace and excitement of NYC.

The petite cast of three exceed expectations under the inventive direction of James Dacre. Anthony Welsh is a bright young actor, with a promising career ahead, he brings a touching humility and kindness to the role of Sam. Welsh is courageous and compassionate and completely magnetic to watch on stage. Joey is played by Sugar Rush and Lark Rise to Candleford star, Olivia Hallinan. With a lot of experience behind her she has no problems impressing in this powerful female role. She triumphs in her final reflective monologue. Ian Gelder is hard to fault too, a suffering man who shows glimmers of a bright personality through his grumpy exterior.

I was surprised at the instinctive nature of Hickson's writing, which captivates the audience. It is impossible not to sit up straight and concentrate, and at only eighty minutes, I was left wanting more.

Precious Little Talent continues until 30 April, book here.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Semele by Hampstead Garden Opera

Semele was the opera in which I performed at the Royal Opera House when I was 15, my one claim to fame on the great stage. We had a fabulously ornate set and my costume was so intricate it had to be made directly on me. I was so overwhelmed by it all, it felt like I was entering another world.

This opera is, in my opinion, one of Handel's greatest, featuring a host of familiar arias that have become just as popular out of context. ‘Where’er you walk’ and ‘Oh sleep, why dost thou leave me?’ are two memorable songs that have particularly beautiful melodies. The story of Semele is completely mad, and not worth attempting to explain! Handel wrote the opera/oratorio in 1744 and based the narrative around the classical myth of Semele, mother of Dionysus. It is an alluring but complicated tale of mortals and immortals, and the disastrous consequences when they meet.

Hampstead Garden Opera is a young company I’ve seen perform several times. A great vehicle for promising young singers, many of whom are embarking on music careers and get a rare chance, at the age of 23/24 to lead a company. HGO improves each time I see it, and staging this opera is its biggest challenge yet. Without the budget of the ROH, this little team has to be more stringent with production costs, and imaginative. I didn’t completely understand the vision though visually the ideas work well, and are, at times hauntingly dramatic.

Femme fatale Semele is taken on by a very competent Robyn Parton, throwing everything she has into this demanding temptress role. Her voice soars with confidence, even through the trickier, fiddlier passages. As a big countertenor fan, I loved listening to Tom Verney singing the alto part of Athamas, he is a charismastic and assured vocalist, and sings in his higher register with a sensual tone. Though there are many star soloists, one's attention is drawn to the chorus who seem to delight in playing the demonic spirits. Despite being quite removed from the orchestra they manage impressive movements while singing in perfect harmony, with a togetherness I couldn’t fault.

Another thrilling musical display from HGO, Semele has now finished but judging by the success of this production, it might be worth booking ahead for their next show.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Betty Blue Eyes at The Novello Theatre

The critics are having a great time cracking the porcine punchlines for new musical ‘Betty Blue Eyes’, which stars a gorgeous furry animatronic pig. This is Cameron Mackintosh’s first new musical venture in a decade, and with a whopping budget of £2.5 million, I was expecting something magical.

Betty Blue Eyes is set in a Yorkshire town and is based around a plot to “pignap” an animal illegally raised by businessmen who hope to serve her up at a special party to celebrate the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. It is a witty adaptation of 1984 film ‘A Private Function,’ a bizarre and unlikely subject for a musical, but one that works surprisingly well. Thanks to talented writers, Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, the original story is kept intact with some hilarious additions.

It is no secret that I appreciate an enthusiastic feel-good production, but even I am a little tired of dreamworld musicals that envelop you in absurd utopian escapism. Betty Blue Eyes delights through a more realistic narrative; an ordinary couple and the struggles of frugal 1940s Britain, amidst ration hell.

The characters are endearing and here we see an impressively strong cast. The lead couple are both naturally brilliant on stage; Sarah Lancashire as social climbing Joyce Chilvers has a superbly strong voice and charming presence, her kind-hearted husband, Gilbert is played by Reece Shearsmith who pulls at the heartstrings with his optimism and has fantastic comic timing.

The villainous meat inspector was rather a caricature and reminded me of the dastardly baddies from children's literature. He is a strange character who has a penchant for painting; every confiscated piece of meat is passionately brushed with bright green paint. Though Adrian Scarborough was suitably vile, I found the role a little odd in comparison with the rest of the cast, and it occasionally broke my belief in the situation.

The adorable pig, Betty, is cooed at on every entrance, shipped from Australia specially, and with three understudies, she is quite the diva, flashing beautiful blue eyes and fluttering her eyelashes at every opportunity. Kylie Minogue’s voice has a fleeting role at the curtain call, though apparently it is not Miss Minogue that provides the creature’s funny farting and burping noises!

The music and movement is exceptional. Songs composed by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe complement the narrative perfectly, catchy tunes with sharp funny lyrics and just the right sprinkling of sentiment. Highlights are ‘Magic Fingers’ and ‘Nobody,’ a showbiz number sung by Mrs Chilvers who dreams of higher social status. Stephen Mears’ choreography is snappy, which is particularly evident towards the end of the show when the chorus take part in a spectacularly complex routine.

It is not often a new musical succeeds; shows like Wicked are certainly in the minority... but with our own royal wedding just around the corner hopefully the British public will go and see Betty Blue Eyes even if just for the sake of a happy coincidence.

Betty Blue Eyes continues until 22 October, book here.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Cause Celebre at The Old Vic

In his centenary year, the country has gone Terrence Rattigan mad, with revivals of ‘Flare Path’ and ‘Cause Celebre’ leading the pack. I am a massive Rattigan fan, I find him to be a very natural playwright whose scripts are both sincere and affecting; it is a shame that we need an anniversary to perform his plays.

Cause Celebre has just begun its run at the Old Vic. It is Rattigan’s final play, completed in 1976, and originally written for radio. Based on an actual 1930s murder trial, this mysterious story outraged and simultaneously fascinated the British public. It intrigued Rattigan too and stayed in his memory for forty years before he felt able to create a powerful play from it.

Alma Rattenbury and her 18 year old lover George are accused of murdering Mrs Rattenbury’s much older husband - an upper class scandal in Bournemouth that filled every newspaper, it was the story on everyone’s lips. Justice is forgotten as Alma becomes the target of everyone's prejudice; the media scorn her moral decisions, and her fate seems to be decided on these issues rather than the facts of the case. The public interest in this case led to the transfer from Bournemouth to the Old Bailey, a larger court to accommodate the queues of people wanting to watch.

As a sub-plot, alongside the Rattenbury outrage, we meet another woman, a fictional addition that creates another dimension and draws parallels within the narrative. Edith Davenport is an upstanding member of society, hoping to always do the ‘right thing’. She is in the midst of a painful divorce after discovering her husband's philandering ways, though with her dislike of sex her friend assures her that this behaviour is to be expected of him. She is also a devoted mother refusing to believe her 17 year old son to be a ‘man’, terrified of the dangers that arrive with his coming of age. Edith must stand as a juror on the Rattenbury case, despite protesting and claiming she cannot give ‘such a woman’ a fair trial, as her judgement is already clouded by the bad press.

Gossiping will never go out of fashion, it’s what women do best and Rattigan understands this. He is a perceptive observer of the female psyche, writing roles that are wonderfully dramatic and intriguing. Anne-Marie Duff triumphs as the playful leading lady, Alma Rattenbury. Duff rightly says: “we’re lucky us girls... Rattigan tends to use women in a brilliant way.” She returns to the stage for the first time since her winning performance in Saint Joan at the National in 2007. She effortlessly constructs this complicated character, her face is joyfully expressive, and her giant personality fills the stage despite the disappointingly sparse set.

Niamh Cusack takes on the part of Edith Davenport. I previously saw Cusack in ‘The Painter’ and wasn’t overly impressed, but here her worrying eyes and nervy nature fit the bill. Nicholas Jones is inspired as Alma’s defence lawyer, O’Connor, marching about the stage and providing a little light comic relief. Having recently done jury service myself, I was particularly interested by this court drama and was impressed with the intense realism of Rattigan’s writing. The only character I was dissatisfied by was the young Tommy McDonnell as the guilty lover, he is too aggressive to be attractive, and I just couldn’t completely believe in him.

The Old Vic is a beautiful theatre, I always feel like I’m inside a giant box of chocolates sitting inside this building. With youth comes theatre bargains and the Old Vic have an exceptional offer for 25s and under... I sat for a mere £12 in the centre of the front row stalls, scintillatingly close to the action. If you refuse to pay the ridiculously high prices for Flare Path, get your Rattigan fix at the Old Vic’s cheaper, but equally brilliant production.

Cause Celebre continues until 11 June, book here.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Hot on the Highstreet Week 47

I’d like your opinion on WILDFOX, the American vintage-inspired women’s knitwear brand. Childhood friends Emily Faulstich and Kimberley Gordon felt that things had got too serious in the fashion world and started the Wildfox brand inspired by dreams, fairies, sleepovers and having fun. Since opening in 2006 they have had huge success and have extended the reach of their designs as well as introducing Littlefox, the new kids division, in 2009.

Celebs seem to go crazy for Wildfox, and images of them in their favourite tees and jumpers have been cropping up in magazines for a while now. My first impression was that the clothes were tacky, covered in bright patterns and quotes. After visiting the Wildfox section in Harvey Nichols my mind began to change. The clothes are well made, soft, comfortable and incredibly fine fitting. All the tops I tried sat perfectly and were surprisingly flattering.

But for £60 a t-shirt and £95 a sweatshirt, I wasn’t going to splash out on something I wasn’t 100% sure on. I left empty handed and tried not to think of Wildfox’s alluring designs anymore. Then a few days later, while browsing on the King’s Road, I noticed Adhoc’s eclectic display, which includes Wildfox garments. I went into this colourful madhouse to discover they have a permanent Wildfox sale on in the shop and online, selling the classic designs from last season at up to a third of the price! I bought a super soft, white baggy t-shirt, with a simple peace symbol design, costing £20 rather than the original £65!!

The other shop assistants assured me that new Wildfox stock would be coming in every week, so pop along and have a look. You’ll be killing two birds with one stone: checking out Wildfox’s exuberant collection and experiencing the wacky wonderland of Adhoc.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Wastwater at The Royal Court

Wastwater, by Simon Stephens is a curious triptych of stories, each connected by seemingly unimportant coincidences. Odd little clues are revealed throughout and gradually allow the audience a deeper understanding of the characters and their relationships, though I guarantee you will still leave baffled by the numerous unsolved questions.

Each forty minute piece shows a couple, making a life defining choice; each pair is located somewhere nearby Heathrow airport. The significance of the airport is debatable, it is a soulless place that often enables new beginnings. Its presence is eerily felt throughout with excruciatingly loud plane noises blaring dramatically over our heads.

We first meet Harry and his foster mother Frieda. She has seen many of her kids come and go but feels differently about Harry, who is a thoughtful and kind boy, albeit occasionally stubborn and troublesome. They stand together in Frieda’s garden pondering Harry's fast approaching departure and watching the planes cross overhead.

Next we see Lisa and Mark, an awkward couple who appear to be about to embark on an affair, though neither seem sure why. They are stationed in a comfortable but bland hotel room near Heathrow. Lost and lonely, they give fragments of their stories as they get to know each other.

Finally, in a damp and dingy cellar-like space, Sian and Jonathan are discussing the imminent arrival of a child he has arranged to illegally adopt/buy. This simple transaction soon reveals information about these two characters that is rather more sinister. It is an unpleasant exchange.

Of the three parts, I found the second by far the most engaging, with very strong performances from both Paul Ready (Mark) and Jo McInnes (Lisa). In the third story Sian is spine-tinglingly nasty in her enthusiastic rendition of Stephens’ dialogue, I couldn’t help but be terrified for the quivering Jonathan (Angus Wright) even if his intentions are horrific. I found the opening scene a little pointless, a dull conversation that showed little imagination, I felt sorry for Tom Sturridge (Harry) and Linda Bassett (Frieda) who take on these less exciting roles, and work with what little they have very well.

The whole cast are superb and deeply convincing, characters with little background must be challenging to convey. Each duo has a great set to work with from talented designer Lizzie Clachan. The cold stagnant sensation is conveyed by the set, miraculous considering the warm luxurious feel of this stylish theatre.

This Wastwater trio is intriguing but irritatingly ambiguous, even the choice of title seems a little too abstract (Wastwater is England’s deepest lake and is mentioned once in the play). I suppose as with many contemporary plays we, the audience, are expected to explore and assess the reasons and outcome of the drama ourselves, and each make our own judgement. Wastwater gives free rein and possibility to do this - for me the conclusions are bleak and scary.

Wastwater continues until 7 May 2011, book here.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Things to do in New York

New York, New York, a place I had only ever dreamed of, a city of giant buildings and whizzing bumblebee cabs. At last I was going to see the delicious big apple and aquamarine lady with my own eyes, but first I had to get through the dauntingly long flight.

Arriving to constant rain and a shockingly harsh wind was a little disappointing, the weather was even worse than in London. We were staying in a heavenly loft apartment in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn - stylish modern decor and clean comfort made this the perfect little home for our New York adventure (website to book here). I had already planned an extensive schedule; with so many interests the opportunities were infinite. Theatre, music, art, food, fashion and the sights - I insisted on doing it all. I could ramble on forever about what an awesome time we had but instead I’ll write about some things I would recommend doing if you are taking a trip over the Atlantic.

As I spend all my time in London going to the theatre, I limited myself to one musical and one opera while in NY. It was tricky picking a Broadway show, there are so many, and every friend I asked had a different suggestion. I decided on ‘Memphis’, winner of four 2010 Tony Awards, including ‘Best Musical’. Tickets were not cheap, and no deals were to be found anywhere. The production was certainly a spectacle, and the audience were lapping up every note with satisfaction, beaming and cheering after every song. With ticket prices so high, I guess this kind of entertainment is just for special occasions, not like my daily theatre fix! I was mightily impressed with the visuals though surprised that the vocals weren’t better, and the storyline of Memphis is certainly weak.

The Metropolitan Opera is considered to be one of the most exciting and prominent opera houses in the world, hosting some sensational singers and producing elaborate and exciting productions. Coincidentically my favourite opera, Tosca by Puccini, was on while I was there, so of course I had to see it. We managed to get $40 tickets (about £25) high up in a box, with an okay view. The singers were the best in the business, big voices filled with emotional energy and power. Starting at 8 pm and with two long intervals, it lasted a little too long, and both of us began to feel sleepy way before the final curtain.

The food in New York is spectacular, every meal was delicious, and much better value than overpriced London eateries. We had a range of cuisines including cheap Mexican snacks from La Esquina and Caracas, which were fresh and yummy; on the final day we had a breathtaking lunch at ‘Jean Georges’, where extraordinary chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s astonishing creations have earned the highest restaurant accolade - three Michelin stars. This French cuisine was perfection - dazzling dishes and elegantly assembled flavours made the meal truly memorable. At $40 for three courses, this restaurant is insanely good value and we could even afford a glass of bubbly each. Spotted Pig was probably my favourite meal of the trip, a popular gastropub in the West Village. This place is full of character, with dinky anecdotes all over the walls. Spotted Pig is famous for its blue cheese burger and shoestring fries, which after trying I can confirm is fully worth the hour wait.

Shopping is endless in NY - vintage, designer, jewellery, make-up, food, anything and everything you could ever want. I knew I’d be overwhelmed, so instead of seeking out the best shops I waited to see what I came across. A few stood out as firm favourites at the end of the trip: firstly the wonderfully eclectic vintage shop near our apartment, Olive’s Very Vintage in Carroll Gardens. Here I found a retro wool Versace skirt, with a colour block design that is perfect for this season’s trends, and a brilliant patterned crop jacket from Saks, probably dating back to the wild 80s. The classic NY stores provided the expected thrill - Bloomingdales, Dylan’s Candy Store and Victoria’s Secrets, and I picked up little purchases as memorabilia from each. Greenwich Village/Soho was definitely my favourite shopping district with a jolly mix of vintage, designer and cute independent shops. I found a home at Bleeker Street in this area where we gorged on Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, and I bought some beautiful perfume from Bond & Co, a very New York company that produces scents to represent each of the districts. Stylist extraordinaire of Sex and the City, Patricia Fields, also has a shop which is well worth a visit.

Most of the museums and art galleries hover around Fifth Avenue, running alongside Central Park. Each one holds a vast collection of magical works, and requires a lot of energy, so I wouldn’t recommend visiting more than one or two in a day. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) was by far my favourite, currently showing the most remarkable Picasso Guitar works. The Guggenheim is an architecturally awesome building, and has a good permanent collection, and the Metropolitan is of epic proportion with an equally epic shop. We also visited the decadent Neue Galerie that holds a small group of German and Austrian works. Most exhibitions cost from $10-15 entrance fee.

There are many tourist sites that define NYC, some more interesting than others. On the second day we went on an unbelievable helicopter tour and saw most of the famous buildings. The Staten Island Ferry is worth trying... this ferry is free and runs every half hour, 365 days a year, bringing thousands of travellers back and forth. It is a 25 minute trip each way and is a great way to get a closer look at the Statue of Liberty. Other sights include Wall Street, World Trade Centre, the Friends Building, Palace Hotel (Gossip Girl), all worth visits even if only fleeting. I managed to get last minute tickets to the Knicks basketball game so we also had the pleasure of visiting the world renowned Madison Square Gardens (the venue for the match). This game was a definite trip highlight for me, it was such an American experience with costumed cheerleaders, dancers, celebrity spotting and even a filmed marriage proposal; all that and the actual game of course.

My time at University was spent avidly watching Sex and the City, and that taught me that NY has the best cocktails so I wasn’t going to leave without trying at least a few. New Yorkers use different cocktail making techniques which I discovered when I was given a daiquiri served with a great deal of crushed ice... not so nice. You have to specify exactly how you want your drink. The best bar we discovered for cocktails was ‘Death & co’ a spookily realistic speakeasy, mock prohibition bar, that with no windows you barely notice from the street. Inside it is magically lit with tea light candles, and only a little electricity to reveal the spectacular bar selection. The man behind the counter made us some delicious concoctions that were authentic and interesting tasting. In Brooklyn we visited a fun bar too: Clover Club serves up classics as well as its own specialities and sells at reasonable prices.

There are so many wonderful things to do in NY, it is hard to pick. I’ve already started a list of things to do next time, I can’t wait to return.


Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Scouting for Girls at Wembley Arena

‘Scouting for Girls’ isn’t my first choice of band to see in concert, but it is someone else’s and I was the happy recipient of the accompanying ticket. The band have been together since 2005 and have a fun pop sound. You may know them from popular singles like ‘She’s So Lovely’ and ‘This Ain’t a Love Song’ which made it to number one in the charts.

We drove out to Wembley Arena to see the gig, and joined a swarm of excited teenage girls. The venue is much bigger than I’d expected, and was full to its 10,000 capacity. We had good seats in the middle of the arena, I was relieved to be a little higher up than the beer-splashing pit this time. I needn’t have worried though, the fans were too preoccupied by the music to be disruptive or rowdy - everyone was content just having fun.

It was a very spirited occasion and I definitely became more of a fan as the evening went on. Although the four musicians had some difficulties living up to the secure sound of their records, and occasionally the songs sounded a little thin. Lead singer and pianist Roy Stride was full of contagious energy and was constantly encouraging the audience to join in. This was mostly lovely but there was a little too much sentimental chat about the fifth member of the band (us!). As is often the case, the crowd were less interested in numbers from the new album and instead calling for the favourite hits. ‘She’s So Lovely’ came as a final encore and was magnificent - I sang along and felt energised by the band’s passion. It was clear they were equally thrilled by the enthusiasm of the fans.

‘Scouting for Girls’ is a very likeable band and it was a pleasure seeing the boys perform. I couldn’t help myself humming their tunes all the way home.

Visit Scouting for Girls website here.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Opera Tavern Restaurant

Tapas is a tricky style of cooking to get right. I rarely feel satisfied by it, too greasy, or bland, and little variation. However I must congratulate ‘Opera Tavern’ for cracking the problem with their supreme menu of delightful dishes. The restaurant is located in Covent Garden amongst the theatres, and opened in January, only a few months ago. They already have a keen following and are fully booked most nights. Get there early to snatch one of the first-come-first-served bar places, which is how I managed to eat here a few nights ago.

The mini Iberico pork and fois gras burger seems to be the most enticing treat on the menu - I’ve read reviews that only talk about this signature dish! It is absolutely sensational, arranged in a little toasted bun with sweet onions, a lettuce leaf and a touch of creamy aioli... I devoured it within seconds. It is always best to have too little, and be left wanting more - Opera Tavern’s mini burgers left me wanting so much more I had to order another after finishing the main course.

Other divine dishes include: chargrilled chicken with chorizo, curly kale and Jerusalem artichokes... a delicious mix of fresh ingredients, stacked in sizzling red chorizo jus. Spring green vegetables with ricotta gnocchi, wild garlic pesto and pinenuts is a healthy accompaniment that is packed full of flavour and contrasting textures. We also enjoyed the fried young artichokes with poached egg and a smoked garlic and shallot vinaigrette. Each plate is small, and costs about £5/6 so you can have as few or many as you want. Be warned, you WILL get serious food envy as you watch other choices being delivered to adjacent diners.

I was quite full after our selection of savouries, but too tempted by the dessert menu to resist so my companion and I shared the pannacotta with Clementine sorbet and blood orange granita. It was without doubt the best dessert I have ever tasted (I have tasted a LOT of desserts). Beautifully presented in a glass with curly, icing sugar dusted biscuits to accompany. The silky homemade pannacotta is flavoured lightly with vanilla pod and is creamy without feeling to heavy and rich. On top sits a delicate ball of melting pale orange sorbet, sweet with a touch of citrus, shards of brighter red granita sparkling through, a unique and exceptional combination.

When we left at 7.30 the sun was still shining bright, so we strolled back to the car and reminisced about the perfect evening. I absolutely loved everything about Opera Tavern, I think it might just become my new pre-theatre hang out.

Visit website and book here.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Hot on the Highstreet Week 46 - WAH NAILS

WAH Nails has become a cult beauty bar, the ONLY place to get your nails done in London. The original Wah is located on Kingsland Road in Dalston - a nail and hair salon for only the hippest of gals. It started up in 2005 “providing a space for a new wave of street smart feminism”. Founder Sharmadean Reid, a graduate of Central St Martins, wanted to open a salon where you could have whatever you wanted on your fingertips, and so WAH seemed like the logical name!

Wah has now expanded to Topshop Oxford Circus too, so you don’t have to trek all the way to East London to get your nails looking pretty. I went along to experience the whirlwind of activity myself. Running there in the limited time of my lunch break, I couldn’t have the skilful nail art pictures done, so instead I opted for a fresh shape and paint and a few crystal gems to add some sparkle and jazz. It looks great and I’ve had lots of comments, better still, three days on and it is perfectly intact!

Next time I will definitely be trying one of their designs, perhaps the strawberries or the multi coloured leopard print that is unique to Wah. When I walked into the Topshop concession for my appointment the first thing I noticed was the array of nail varnish colours, every hue you could hope for. They don’t stick to one brand at Wah either, if Essie has a pale mint green that you can’t find anywhere else they’ll have it. On the wall are the fabulous designs, all different wacky patterns to choose from, some of which you can see in the photos above. Prices start from £12.50 for the designs: the cheapest are Breton Stripes and Leopard tips both costing £23; but for the more ornate patterns like Aztec print it costs around £36-39.

Don’t be shy, go wild and join the WAH Nails revolution!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Yohji Yamamoto at The V & A

While thousands of miles away Japan deals with the aftermath of recent disasters, the V&A houses a solitary but striking exhibition of Yohji Yamamoto’s beautiful creations. This retrospective explores the work of this prolific Japanese designer and is the first exhibition to include his menswear.

Yamamoto was born in Tokyo in 1943 but spent a formative period in Europe after receiving two prestigious awards and drew influences from all over the world. His first collection, a ready to wear line for women was presented in Tokyo in 1977. He has always shown a deep interest in textiles and once said: ‘fabric is everything’. Through his collections he plays with tradition and challenges convention creating work that is unusual and never without a sense of humour.

This show is located throughout the V&A, and features several site specific installations. The central gallery features over sixty of Yamamoto’s creations and a multi-media timeline that demonstrates his wider output. The main room is flooded in bright white light, a clinical starkness that contrasts with the impressively tall statement garments. Though there is obvious Japanese influence in shape and design, Yamamoto departs from the traditional. In his 1994 collection he used Japanese dying techniques for kimono designs, producing a wonderful collection, signalling his arrival to the world of design.

Many characterise Yamamoto’s work by his frequent use of black, and though these evening outfits are simple and bold, it is the colourful clothes that most attract me: highly decorative two piece suits - I liked one which looked miraculously like a duvet skirt with dinky fur lined jacket, fun but sophisticated. Drapes feature a great deal and often the curve or shape of a garment is completely disguised by the billowing excess of material. The importance of shape is about the falling curves of the fabric rather than framing the woman’s figure, a mysterious and androgynous approach that Yamamoto is obviously aware of, stating: “All I wanted was for women to wear men’s clothes.”

My favourite men’s item is a marvellous jacket in gloriously bright pink and red with a tiger sewn on the back. It is radical and eccentric and would look wonderful on, but is equally breathtaking standing alone as an artwork. You certainly would have to find a brave man to wear many of the clothes on display here, wild and sometimes quite feminine, certainly cumbersome, they are not for your average jeans and t-shirt guy.

On the detailed timeline I was most interested in the costume features: Yamamoto’s collaborations with the theatre and stage, including groups like the Pina Bausch dance company. In 1993 he designed the costumes for Wagner’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’ for the prestigious Bayreuth Festival. The statuesque garments are said to have complemented the pared down set perfectly.

There may only be one main room of Yamamoto’s designs at the V&A but this single space gives a stimulating insight into this master’s work showing him to be a daring, avant-garde, free-spirited artist.

Continues until 10 July 2011, book here.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg at The Geilgud Theatre

Based on the 1964 Jacques Demy classic film, ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ in a new stage version is currently showing at the Gielgud Theatre, presented by Kneehigh Company. Emma Rice’s adaptation is close to the original with the addition of a few extra characters. Essentially it is a doomed love story, but the narrative is weak, lacking any oomph or depth. A garage mechanic, Guy falls in love with young Genevieve, who works begrudgingly in her mother’s umbrella shop. They are inseparable, but when Guy is sent to fight in Algeria for two years, Genevieve must decide whether to wait for his return or to accept the marriage proposal from a rich local merchant.

I felt sorry for cabaret artist Meow Meow as the maitresse, she had the difficult role of pre-show warm up but even after an impressive climb through the stalls failed to get the audience going. After this cringeworthy introduction was over, she improved immensely, and later performed a stunningly dark rendition of "Sans Toi," so alluring that it became my evening's highlight.

Michael Legrand’s romantic score works triumphantly well, and the large live band drive the show. ‘I Will Wait For You’ stands out as a particularly weepie central song, an emotional lilting melody that returns again and again throughout the drama. It is a shame that much of the singing cannot match the calibre of the music, sounding rather feeble, especially when harmonising is required. Lez Brotherston’s set is fantastic, with numerous imaginative touches, and thankfully where the plot lacks interest the delightful stage design compensates.

Carly Bawden is lovely as pretty Genevieve, innocent but confident with a shining smile, Andrew Durand’s portrayal Guy looks a little pathetic beside his strident lover. I enjoyed watching Joanna Riding as the smart Madame Emery, (mother of Genevieve) and thought her both convincing and amusing. A chorus of matelots prance about in cliché striped outfits assisting the main players by physically moving them around, it is a strange concept but one that adds fluidity to the action and reveals some nicely choreographed steps.

The theatre was pitifully empty when I visited with several angry viewers leaving at half time protesting that: "this show has no story". The American couple next to me giggled rudely throughout and when leaving I overheard several groups disappointedly comment that they hadn't realised the show is a musical, completely sung from beginning to end. So sadly, it seems that this sentimental French tale is lost on us Londoners, perhaps Meow Meow was right when she joked at the start that we were a typically English audience, keeping our feelings hidden away under our bowler hats.

Continues until 1 October 2011, book here.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Icecreamists

I first heard about ‘The Icecreamists’ on a hen weekend when all the girls were chatting furiously scandalised by the ‘breast milk’ ice-cream. Apparently it was the latest gossip, and I knew nothing of it. I was soon brought up to speed, a new off the wall ice-cream parlour in Covent Garden selling unusual and bizarre flavours. Labelled ‘baby gaga’ (for which the similarly named singer is suing, by the way), this extreme variety of ice-cream is actually made from real human breast milk.

Located down a side street in Covent Garden, I popped along there one lunchbreak to experience the revolution myself. Annoyingly the flavour in question had run out, the plastic uniformed girl assured me more would be coming in next week. Then she told me her opinions on the matter: “it is nice, and quite sweet, you’d never guess it is breast milk”. I am intrigued, though admittedly a little relieved that there wasn’t any for me to try. Instead I tasted ‘Priscilla Cream of the Dessert’, appropriate I thought as it is my favourite musical, and luxuriously made with white chocolate, baileys and horlicks it sounded appealing. It was delicious especially with the pretty crunchy decorations that are sprinkled generously on the top. I was also tempted by ‘the sex bomb’ which I read is made from fior di latte, citrus and natural stimulant (!) and ‘cold sweat’ which is a combination of chilli, ginger and lemongrass, so all the essential ingredients of a Thai curry then?

The venue is tiny and feels a bit like a burlesque club, decked out in black and bright pink. A sultry place, with relaxed vintage music purring gently through the speakers and girls perching on stools ready to assist. Cocktails and coffees are available to accompany your dessert. Ice-creams are served, one ball in a cone for £3.95 or two balls in a tub for £5.90, so not cheap, but the trendiest snacks never are. If you are feeling really hungry there is also the gluttonous option of a knickerbocker glory, my favourite childhood pudding, costing a whopping £12.95. Despite only opening a month ago there is already a keen following and gothic merchandise is available, a particularly glitzy brooch caught my eye.

Matt O’Connor, the man behind the operation, is not your ordinary ice-cream maker. He says he would like to serve ice-cream to the Israelis and the Palestinians as a peace initiative! And with his wacky flavours like breast milk he has become the newest anarchic Willy Wonka. You can tell he is a man with a sense of humour from the decor of the parlour, fabulously camp slogans like ‘God save the Cream’ and ‘Miss Whip Lash’ adorn the walls, and he even has a quote from Voltaire: “ Ice Cream is exquisite, what a pity it is not illegal". Well I don’t think you need to worry about that one Monsieur V, O’Connor seems to have almost succeeded in making it illegal – he recently won the battle to serve his breast milk ice-cream when Westminster Council tried to have it taken off the menu.

Whether you love or hate his ideas, everyone is screaming about the Icecreamists, so go on ... ‘lick your addiction’.

The Icecreamists is located at 15 Maiden Lane, WC2. Nearest station: Covent Garden.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Spuntino Restaurant

Spuntino is the latest labour of love from Russell Norman, the restaurant entrepreneur who brought us Polpo and Polpetto. If you’re someone that chooses your restaurant by location you won’t come across Spuntino. Squeezed in between the gaudy sex shops of Soho, this inconspicuous little eatery is reminiscent of a secret speakeasy. With frosted windows and a blank sign outside, we walked past several times before eventually spying it.

The restaurant has no phone number and no reservations creating exclusivity and consequently crowds queuing up to get in. To make things worse, Spuntino only seats twenty-six diners (that includes the single ‘kissing stool’). If you’re tactical you might just get in without a wait. The restaurant operates long opening hours and off peak times tend to be less busy, even at weekends. We went along for a snack at 6pm last Sunday and found two spare stools instantly, though ten minutes later there was a queue of eight.

After sitting down I was alarmed by how cool this place actually is: low hanging lights, hip tattooed staff, a vast variety of Bourbons behind the counter, and even bubblegum ball machines near the loos, all giving off a definite New York vibe. A sweet waitress told me about the history... it had previously been an Indian takeaway; Norman removed all the nasty decor to reveal the original beautiful old tiling that you can see in the photo above.

The place settings are dressed with Spuntino brown paper menus explaining the different small New-York inspired Italian dishes. They recommend two or three each. A mug of complimentary spiced popcorn was brought to us, which we munched on while choosing our food. From the ‘sliders’ section, we chose ‘Ground beef & bone marrow’ (£4.50) which is basically a mini burger... super cute and super yummy. Shoestring fries (£3): delicious and moreish and providing a perfect salty side. For a more Italian taste, we picked ‘Zucchini, chilli & mint pizzetta’ (£6) a small crispy pizza with thinly sliced courgette and grated cheese, a pretty smattering of chilli and mint specks. The flavour was sensational and very unusual, I was surprised too by its lightness.

For dessert we tried the ‘Peanut butter and jelly sandwich’ (£6.50) – slabs of triangular peanut butter flavoured ice-cream, with crushed raspberries between, and crunchy nuts sprinkled on top. It was strange and very filling; I found the nutty taste a little overpowering, with not enough juicy raspberry flavour to contrast, but I absolutely love the idea of it.

There was plenty more to try, I’ve heard the ‘Truffled egg toast’ is to die for, and the ‘Brown sugar cheesecake, grappa prunes’ looks dreamy, but we visited after a lunch of my dad’s unrivalled lasagne so I couldn’t fit it in. Perhaps I can try them if I manage to get in for a second time. Soho’s best kept secret, let’s hope it stays that way.

Website and info here.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Hot on the Highstreet Week 45


M&S - £9.50

Wolford tights are my everyday luxury. Working in an office means I need to look smart on a daily basis, though comfort is also essential. I’m really not a trousers kinda girl, I never even wear jeans, and so good tights really are a necessity. A few years ago I found Wolford’s Velvet de Luxe and have never looked back: silky and smooth, uber comfortable, these tights are heaven on your legs, and lasting a year or so, are worth every penny of the £18 pricetag.

Aside from their standard collection, Wolford bring us amazing luxury and pattern tights every season. These beautiful leg adornments sadly come at a higher cost, some even reach £50... for a pair of tights! Celebrity girls are regularly seen sporting the latest design and often Wolford sell out almost instantly if a pair has been caught on some famous pins. Cheryl Cole has recently been seen in the striking ‘hero’ tights that have a cool bondage style pattern.

For my last birthday, my super trendy grandfather bought me a pair of the hero tights... he has a sixth sense about fashion. They are beautifully made, cunningly interwoven ribbons create an incredible pattern that slashes diagonally across your legs - unique and flattering to natural curves. The tights come in two colourways: nude and black, or black and black. I received the nude variety which are more eccentric and incidentally now completely sold out; they are priced at £33. I wore them first for my exciting lunch at DINNER, and they certainly wow-ed everyone around me, but they laddered within half a day of wearing them. I was absolutely furious with myself but also upset with Wolford’s unreliability.

So I’m afraid now I’m going to be a bit treacherous, and tell you about an impressive cheaper alternative to Wolford. M&S are currently excelling with their wide range of exciting tights. The Autograph Sheer Bandage tights are very similar to Wolford’s ‘hero’ pair, and at £9.50 are less than a third of the price. There are some other brilliant designs to see in their newest collection too, including the white lace pair that I have included a photo of above. At least if the M&S ones snag it isn’t £30 down the drain.

Friday, 1 April 2011

'Sex, Drugstores and Rock & Roll' at Proud Chelsea

Has the Kings Road always been a cool place to hang out? When I was at school this street was the place to be seen and we're being persuaded it still is.

Proud Chelsea is currently exhibiting a small collection of photographs illustrating why the area is London’s hottest borough, ‘Sex, Drugstores and Rock & Roll’. This show parades pictures from the early 60s through the 70s and 80s, documenting the evolution of the Kings Road over these radical decades.

I went along to the private view last week to get a glimpse for myself. The gallery was absolutely packed, so it was quite tricky to see the images without being shoved out the way by another punter. I struggled through the crowd, notebook in one hand and a nice cold glass of bubbly in the other.

There is always a permanent collection of works downstairs, but I felt like I recognised some of those displayed upstairs too. It seems there were still several Beatles photos up from the last show; images that could craftily be classified within both exhibition themes. ‘Sex, Drugstores and Rock & Roll’ showcases the work of influential photographers including Philip Townsend, Terry O’Neill, Colin Jones, Harold Chapman and Janette Beckman. Above is shown the brilliant photo by Beckman of the Kings Road boys, sharp and cheeky with a real sense of the culture of the day.

The photos create a powerful group. They depict an amazing hubbub of creative activity; actresses, models, musicians, artists - each with a unique flair and style that seems so far from today’s Sloane ranger uniformed Kings Road. I particularly enjoyed seeing the natural images, those taken without an agenda... they have a real energy and joyful spontaneity about them. Also seeing the shop fronts and signs from back in the day - Vivienne Westwood’s famous ‘SEX’ shop in the 70s and other adorable little stores with signs like “mini skirts cleaned 2D per inch,” summing up the character of the 60s completely.

Exhibition runs until 8 March 2011, visit website here.