Saturday, 31 October 2009

Aqua Nueva serving up some hot Spanish snacks in London

It's just about a month old when Aqua opened in London. And yes, it's the same Aqua as the one on No 1 Peking Road. Well, the entrance on Argyll Street makes a bit of a statement - crimson velvet decor with a sleekly dressed receptionist guiding you to the lift. When you get to the top floor, it opens out into a series of bar and dining areas.

My destination was Aqua Nueva - the Spanish part of this drinking-dining complex. That meant I was guided along an atmospherically lit corridor before I got to the the restaurant. It's well lit with a terrace looking out to a roof top terrace. Unlike Aqua in Hong Kong where it has the spectacular harbour view, the London one only looks out to a roof-top view.

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Rather than wading through the tapas and a la carte menus, I just asked the maitre d' to bring a selection of their tapas. I was pleasant surprised by the delicate croquette of mushrooms, lightly cooked octopus, braised pork, San Pietro fillets, Manchengo topped tortilla and flavourful Salamanca jamon. All was very well prepared and justly presented (after all it was tapas so there was no need for elaborate dressing). Though we had little room left, we still managed to squeeze in a dessert of pastry roll filled with orange cream.

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Given it's centrally located (one street off Oxford Circus), bright open space, roof top terrace, and half decent food, I think Aqua London may have a bright future. Let's see how it will do over the upcoming festive period.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Neues Museum, Berlin

The Neues Museum was the cultural highlight of my visit to Berlin. Freshly opened this month after extensive work by David Chipperfield.
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Never have I seen such sympathetic yet ingenious renovation work at a museum. The layout and flow was kept largely intact. The key exhibitions spaces continued with their clever framing (Egyptian antiquities had frescoes and colour palette that matched the exhibits, likewise for Roman antiquities). Yet the finishing touches were of a very high quality - from new brick work (see below) through to the perfectly aligned internal cladding and door fittings. Naturally, the architectural setting complimented the significant exhibits - such as the beautiful and life like bust of Nefertiti or the alter of King Akhenaten (strangely Philip Glass's opera of the same name sprang to mind).
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Atmospheric dining at Rodeo in Berlin

A friend in Berlin took me to this hip restaurant Rodeo on Auguststrasse. We approached it from the back street and meandered through some
staircases and corridors - all was very atmospheric with an
'underground' touch. Rodeo sits underneath a plaster cast dome (see below) that's more like a circular ballroom than a restaurant.

The fare was modern European (the best I could describe it). I had a crustacean soup which was light and flavourful. The fillet of Müritzzander was fresh and well cooked (nice) sitting on top of a bed of risotto that was too acidic (too much white wine). The meringue topped fig was rich and over the top. The service was good and attentive. Music of the jazzy-latin mix variety started half way through the meal, adding further hipness. A nice evening out all in all.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Hearing the Berlin Philharmonic at the Philharmonie

Those of us London-centric folks easily forget there are great concert halls in other parts of the world. I remember as a young kid buying DG LPs with von Karajan on the front cover conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. So as my first visit to the city, a visit to the Philharmonie to listen to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra was a must.
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Ivan Fisher started the evening's concert with Haydn Symphony 88. A light and delightful work. As I'd expected, the acoustic of the hall was amazing - probably a good 2.5 second of reverberation - and much more generous than the Royal Festival Hall in London. The strings sounded sweet and the timpani came through clearly with definition. The audience was then treated to Béla Bartók's Seven Pieces for Choir and Chamber Orchestra: the Berlin Phil reduced in size occupying only half of the stage while the Netherlands Youth Choir took the other half. These young performers (all female) sang in Hungarian from memory - not easy at all - and really delivered rich colours and tone.
The second half of the concert began with a weird presentation of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No 1. The solo instrument was the Cimbalom (sounded very much like a metallic glass harmonica). Oszkar Okros, a Cimbalom guru I presume, fluttered and hovered above this strange instrument accompanied by the orchestra. It sounded odd at places but made musical sense in other. The audience loved it - I think the showmanship rather than the work. Two Hungarian Dances by Brahms later, we arrived at Kodaly's Dance from Galánta which the orchestra played beautifully and full of contrast.
So that was my first evening listening in the Philharmonie. I was very envious of a city that has a concert hall with such good acoustics, audience facilities and above all an enthusiastic supporting crowd. Need to go back to hear Sir Simon conducting the band.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Thomas Allen made a worthy Gianni Schicchi at the Royal Opera

Many people associate Gianni Schicchi with its melodic aria O mio babbino caro! and not giving the complex score its due respect. This being a relatively late work (after La rondine but before Turandot), the texture and rhythmic quality of the music is rich and exciting. So it was great to hear it well performed by the orchestra under the helm of Pappano. Thomas Allen, as Gianni Schicchi, really brought out the deal-maker-cum-breaker. Of course, he was supported by a strong cast of many who made this farcical work come to life.

Still a naughty L'heure Espagnole at the Royal Opera

It was a couple of years ago when the Royal Opera showed the then new production of  L'heure Espagnole with Richard Jones as director. This revival brought back the hunky tenor-with-biceps Christopher Maltman as Ramiro and busty Ruxandra Donose as Concepcion who replaces Christine Rice. It still retained its naughtiness and frisson. Pappano, once again, brought this somewhat difficult score to life.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

A punchy Carmen at the Royal Opera

I went to see Carmen last night. It was nearly three years ago when I saw this performance of Carmen and I thought it was pretty good then. This time round, Elina Garanca was the alluring Carmen and a robust Robert Alagna sang Don José. It was a good match as both have strong voices and looked believable on stage. Bertrand de Billy who conducted in the pit seemed to have given this revival a good kick - with very punchy strings and brass. The ensemble of the chorus was rocked a bit but otherwise it was an enjoyable performance.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Mother Courage and Her Children at the National Theatre

Fiona Shaw gave a fantastic performance of Mother Courage at the National Theatre. I was not sure what to expect - especially when approaching the very open and hanger-like stage with lots of white noise.
The whole performance was very gripping - as the life of Mother Courage unfolded through the Thirty Year War.