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Showing posts from 2006

Carmen at the Royal Opera

It was over a decade ago when I last saw Carmen at the Royal Opera - so I went to the first night of this new production of Carmen with much anticipation - Pappano conducting, Zambello directing with Anna Caterina Antonacci singing the title role, Jonas Kaufmann as Don José and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Escamillo.

It was a great production. A modern set and period costume by Tanya McCallin. There were loads of children on stage, a real donkey and Escamillo arrived on horse back (a real horse). The singing was also great - with much gusto and judicious acting. One could not help but be mesmerised by the whole experience. 

Theo Randall, London

Theo Randall (ex chef at the River Cafe) recently opened his restaurant at the newly refurbished Inter Continental Hotel at Hyde Park Corner (about time too). The restaurant has a Milanese chic with well spaced tables and Frette table linen.

The food? The simple dishes are done well - spinash with olives, pan
fried squid. Avoid the complicated ones - my Panna Cotta was a weird
grappa flavoured wobbly blob (which resembled a silicone breast
implant, though I have been told they don't wobble) with
not-sweet-enough Chestnut paste.

What was enjoyable? Spacious environment. Not hurried service and genuinely good natured staff. Good simple dishes.
What was not enjoyable? The more complicated dishes - Italian food is about simple dishes made with superb ingredients - it's astonishing how many English chefs try to jazz up La Cucina Italiana ... with weird concoction and tastes.

Maze, London

Maze is another restaurant under the Gordon Ramsay umbrella. It's location guarantees it a swanky (or even swaggering) clientele. While I ended up having the four-course tasting lunch menu which was not bad (the Orkney Ironbark pumpkin velouté with aged Parmesan and ceps was particularly nice on a cold wintry day), I was tempted by the "tapas" menu - endless dishes of small bites no doubt professionally prepared.

What was enjoyable? The staff were very helpful given my table was booked for 14:30 (last order) and I was not particularly hurried. The velouté was very nice. So was the peanut butter ice cream sandwich.
What was not enjoyable? The lighting could have been better - too harsh in places, and too 'orangey' in other. The bread plate was OK but the butter knife was too small.

Jenůfa at the ENO

I thought I was going to write about how Amanda Roocroft gave a fab performance of the title role Jenůfa, or how well the orchestra played the often demanding Janáček's score can be.
But no, it's far more exciting telling you how - during the interval, the stage crew positioned the necessary props onto the front of the stage area, and I noticed the safety curtain was slowly coming down (often the case for safety purposes) thinking "I hope they realise the new props are in the way".
Oh no, they did not. The safety curtain continued its journey and we heard a horrific ripping / crashing noise as it started to chop into the stage prop demolishing half of it like a guillotine!

Those who remained in the auditorium had their jaws on the floor - and then there was nothing, nobody came out for a good 5 minutes while we all pondered what's going to happen next. Eventually, the stage hands raised the safety curtain, dragged the chopped of bits of staging in and no doubt …

Frieze Art Fair

A fairly recent phenomenon - the Frieze Art Fair in Regent's Park brought the best of contemporary art to London in mid Autumn. The big name galleries were all present - though in much smaller scale compared to Art Basel. Good presentation of what's out there - though there weren't any new or exciting direction.

Apparently, it costs around US$100,000 to put a show up if you are not locally based.

Kurt Masur conducts A German Requiem

Kurt Masur brings his immense knowledge and understanding of the German Romantic movement to his interpretation of Brahms A German Requiem.

If you can put aside the acoustic challenges that St Paul's Cathedral imposes and minor orchestral and choral imperfections, this performance had depth and soul.

Kurt Masur conductor
Janice Watson soprano
Alastair Miles baritone
London Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir

La finta giardiniera at the Royal Opera

This will be my third "early" opera in a month. Having seen Janáček's Osud and Puccini's Le villi a couple of weeks ago, I went to the first performance of Mozart's La finta giardiniera at the Royal Opera last night. It was definitely the best of the three.

The set (see above) was suitably simple and clean - with a real fountain and a stream of water towards the pit area. Robert Murray's Count Belfiore and Patrizia Biccirè's Serpetta were both strong in voice as well as acting. Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists were on good form - projecting a forward and eager sound. The music itself is interesting - in that you are listening to ideas and themes that will manifest into the mature operas such as Idomeneo, Figaro and Don Diovanni. Though don't expect to be wowed by the music - this is still early Mozart (K 196) along the lines of the very early piano concerti and sonatas.

L'atelier de Joel Robuchon, London

The restaurant is one week old, but Joel Robuchon's latest venture L'atelier in Covent Garden already feels like an institution. My fellow diners felt at home and lively conversations could be heard around us. Effectively combining the eating styles of Japanese Sushi bar, Spanish tapas and French haute cuisine could be a tall order. Yet L'atelier has risen to the challenge. The Menu Découverture turned out to be an exciting and balanced menu - and one has to give them credit for serving this 7 course meal in 90 minutes without feeling rushed.

What was enjoyable? Everything was lovely, but particularly the Scottish scallops - just lightly cooked and dressed in seaweed scented butter.
What was not enjoyable? Worry about the rest of London descending to West Street.

Landtmann, Vienna

One can find Wiener Schnitzel everywhere in Vienna, but Landtmann's was not bad at all: the veal chop was evidently laboured and flattened to an enormous size, then deep fried to give that golder colour. It's simple yet very enjoyable. My dining companions had what looked like classic bolito misto which was light and flavourful accompanied by the classic sausa verde.

What was enjoyable? The casual dining environment especially when the sun was shining.
What was not enjoyable? Nothing really.

Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna

One can certainly Over Do art in Vienna. The beauty of the Liechtenstein Museum is its fine collection of paintings and architectural features within a manageable space. The building had been lovingly refurbished while the art works and exhibits were beautifully presented. Like Galleria Borghese in Rome, one can spend a leisurely morning strolling through the library and rooms without feeling pressured (unlike Musée du Louvre). If you have time, enjoy a cup of cafe melange in the court yard.

Le villi at Wien Staatsoper

Le villi - think Giselle. It's a quaint opera about lost love and revenge from the underworld. Jose Cura as Roberto was powerful, emotional and hot-blooded. The opera provided a glimpse of the great works to come.
What was enjoyable? Jose Cura showing off his voice and acting skills
What was not enjoyable? A collage of lumber jacks in the style of Pierre et Gilles as the back drop Why?

Osud at the Staatsoper

A seldom heard Janacek opera, Osud is about lost love and art was presented at the beginning of the new opera season in Vienna. While the story line offers interesting interpretation opportunities, the production failed to rise up to the challenge: transparent polystyrene hung from the ceiling rotating around a piano with monotonous costume. Very dull. While Janacek scores often present tonal and rhythm challenges, the orchestra was definitely under-rehearsed - scrappy string, wrong woodwind entries, and general untidiness.

What was enjoyable? The soloists gave their best in the lyrical moments with conviction.
What was not enjoyable? Everything else really - poor production, bad orchestral playing, etc.

Cecconi's, London

It's just off New Bond Street and across from the soon-to-open Abercrombie & Fitch store. One can be forgotten to walk right past it lugging shopping from Mayfair to Covent Garden. However, Cecconi's turned out to be quite a nice little gem serving Venetian cichetti and prosecoe on draft.

What was enjoyable? The laid back ambiance, good and simple food, attentive service (the waiter proactively suggested us to have the spinach rather than the broccoli).
What was not enjoyable? The Eurochics who visit this place can crowd you out!

Want to express your dissatisfaction in a restaurant / airplane / hotel?

We have all experienced it - below par food, service with an attitude, music too loud, too dark to see what you are eating, etc. I was in one such occasion not long ago with a dining companion - we thought the food was mediocre at best, the service was a wee bit less than attentive, and Evian was poured into our glasses of Badoir. My companion's displeasure was expressed expediently and explicitly. I was watching and observing - thinking how many time I have found myself in such situations.

So you want your displeasure known. Is there a "right" or "wrong" way of doing it?

First - gauge the environment before expressing anything:

Do observe your fellow dinners. Are they content? Do they look impatient?

Do observe the waiting staff. Do they look harassed? Bored? Grumpy?

Second - estimate the likely impact of any critical comments from you:

Do consider the practical options - if the food arrives luke warm because your table is a long way away from the kitchen, then the…

La Noisette, London

"One month and one day" was the reply when we asked the receptionist how long La Noisette had been open. My expectation was that the entire establishment should be on top form - making its mark on Sloane Street. We were taken to the bar on the 2nd floor for a pre-dinner drink. We were taken a back by the virtual emptiness of the bar - hmm - not a good sign on a Friday evening at 7PM.

Our drinks were accompanied by bar snacks - which comprised by some green olives (OK), long flat bread sticks and a ricotta-based dip. The menu made an interesting read. Apart from the "starters" and "main courses", it offered a "Summer Favourites" which comprised of seven dishes - all looked quite light and healthy, and an "Inspirational Menu". My guest and I were both drawn to this latter choice, which according to the waitress, is a series of dishes created by the chef on the fly. We were in an adventurous mood - so we both opted for this alluring choice…

Heaven is Shy of Earth, BBC Proms 32

It's not often you get to hear a world premiere. So it was with much anticipation we (friends et al) went to the Royal Albert Hall to hear this new piece by Julian Anderson in this year's BBC Proms.

Inspired by Emily Dickinson's poetry and recent events, the piece was a wonderful collage of sound worlds and textures - shiny in places, humorous in other. The slapping of the double basses was particularly fun! Angelika Kirchschlager gave a stunning performance of the vocal line, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performed well under the baton of Andrew Davis.

Betrothal in a Monastery, Glyndebourne

It's always a pleasure to head south to Glyndebourne on a sunny weekday. Think of all those poor people who have to stay in the office and work. I had never seen Betrothal in a Monastery - I don't recall it being staged anywhere recently, but what a delight. Although the plot was a wee bit complicated (based on Richard Sheridan’s 1775 play, The Duenna), the cast really pulled it off with flair. The constumes and the set were very effective. Lighting (done by Rick Fisher) played a strong role in portraying the umpteen scene changes. The music, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, was wonderful - both playful and humorous.

One Harbour Road at Grand Hyatt, Hong Kong

It is in a big Five Star hotel. It has it's own round lift taking you from the lobby to the restaurant. It has its own water feature. Beautiful view of Central and parts of the Kowloon peninsula. Welcome to One Harbour Road - an upmarket Chinese restaurant at Grand Hyatt hotel. It's Cantonese and everything is well presented (it uses some of the best tableware in town). The food is generally good (though we ordered too much and a couple of strange dishes). The service is polite and non-intrusive - my fellow dinner did not notice how many times his wine glass was filled until the bottle was emptied!

What was enjoyable?
The atmosphere, setting, table service and most of the food.
What was not enjoyable? Our waiter should have stopped us from ordering too much - almost half of the food was wasted because of that!

Green Tea House, Beijing

Has design gone mad? Without any preconception, I was quite shocked when I walked into Green Tea House in the Chaoyang District (朝陽區) - the very 90's Philippe Starck decor, elongated Ming chairs and arty-farty projections on the walls were so incongruous, so "designed". The food was too inventive - along the lines of My Humble House in Singapore. Yet it was strangely popular - by 8PM the restaurant was full with both locals and expats.

What was enjoyable? Hmm, not sure.
What was not enjoyable? The very trying food. The very trying decor. Even the black square bread plates weren't enough to make the dining experience enjoyable.

Source (都江源), Beijing (北京)

Source is situated within one of the Hutongs (胡同) in the capital. It consists of a delightful quadrangle of buildings. When the weather is agreeable (just has when we arrived), you could sit in the courtyard and enjoy the cool evening air. There is no menu - instead you order food based on the number of people at the dinner table or the collective appetite. The food is actually inventive without too trying - we had a nice melon soup (could be cooler), minced meat with beans, etc. - all of which was lightly cooked (not drenched in oil) and beautifully presented.

What was enjoyable? The ambiance, the food and the experience of (almost) being in someone's home.
What was not enjoyable? The staff could speak better English and clearer Putonghua, as well as being more knowledgeable about what they were serving.

The Forbidden City (故宮), Beijing (北京)

It's a sight to behold when you first enter the ground of the Imperial Palace - a vast vista with harmonious architectural proportions.

But after millions of tourists trotting about year after year, all the buildings are in desperate needs of maintenance and repair. At first, it seems obvious what needs to be done - dusting the place down, pull out the weeds, repaint the peeling walls. However, when one considers the age of some of these buildings and the building material used, one realises it is not an easy job. The Temple of Harmony (太和殿), the grandest building in the palace, is now under scarfolding. The positive sign is that the Palace Museum is working with expert restorers from Italy to conduct investigation and research, and to identify the best way to carry out restoration. It is expected to re-open in October 2007. Let's hope the Chinese government has the will to commit to an Eternal Restoration and Maintenance project for this historic monument.

The Young Foo Elite (雍福會), Shanghai (上海)

Set deep in the diplomat's district in the French quarter of Shanghai, the Young Foo Elite is a well appointed place. It oozes colonial old world opulence of a bygone era - the ornate place settings, the Chinese antiques mingling with European furniture.

What was enjoyable? The ambiance.
What was not enjoyable? It's a members' only club - but I guess if you know the right people, or have access to various concierge services, then all things could be arranged.

The Westin, Shanghai (上海)

It's only 5 minute's from The Bund (外灘) and a relatively new hotel, The Westin Shanghai ought to be a fantastic place for both business and pleasure. Quite a few tourist guides have also rated this highly. It took me about two days to work out why I never warmed to it. The reason? The sense of proportion is erratic across the entire hotel - some corridors are too narrow, beds too close to the wall (even though I was in a mini-suite), some staircases have irregular steps, etc. The list goes on.

What was enjoyable? The location. One could  stroll down to The Bund for dinner, drinks or the view. The staff are nice too - always trying to help.
What was not enjoyable? Where shall we begin - the fake palm trees, the tightly spaced cafe, the finishing touches, etc.

Jean Georges, Shanghai

It's unlike me to eat global rather than local in fascinating cities such as Shanghai, but it is much talked about and it would be interesting to see what's on offer. Jean Georges is in No. 3 The Bund, which is a building devoted to stylish eating and drinking. The Jean Georges restaurant itself is stylish alright - dark marble set against translucent gold ceilings and sand blasted light fittings. The service was competent without being too fussy. The food - inventive without being "fusion" - the Watermelon Gazpacho was a very nice palate cleanser if you have space for three savoury course. The wine list was a standard fare - good selection but not too adventurous (my fellow dinner objected to his lame Ice Wine.)

What was enjoyable? The view of Pudong was great. The cooking was strong and not adulterated by any Chinese influence (let's hope it will last).
What was not enjoyable? Main course fork was smaller than the main course knife. No plate for petits fours. Smo…

Red Door 夏麵館, Shanghai (上海)

Arriving in Shanghai at the height of summer is certainly an experience - high humidity coupled with sweltering heat. It was a real pleasure to eat at Red Door - a modestly sized restaurant tucked away on a fairly quiet road. It served lovely small appetiser dishes (a Shanghai speciality), creamy and rich tasting fresh water prawns with Shanghainese crab roes, not to mention silkily cooked bean shoots.

What was enjoyable? A small unpretentious restaurant serving quality genuine Shanghainese food.

What was not enjoyable? Can't think of any.

NB: Please, if you like it, don't put it in any guidebooks - just enjoy!!!

Whitebait and Kale, Singapore

I only managed to get to Whitebait and Kale to join my friends for a drink (rather, a few glasses of champagne), but I was impressed by the decor (laid back South Beach) and the presentation of (my friends') desserts. The Espresso Martini is certainly a punchy way to inject some energy for a post dinner night out on the town.

What was enjoyable?  Enthusiastic staff, creative menu with a passion.

What was not enjoyable? Not sure whether I had a bread plate...

Asian Civilisation Museum, Singapore

It used to be a boring old building with lame exhibits, but the newly refurbished Asian Civilisation Museum at Empress Place is quite impressive. It's permanent collection contains a good selection of cultural relics from across South East Asia - with equally strong and balanced representation of Chinese, Islam and Buddhist exhibits. Also it provides the visitors the chance to wonder through a colonial administration building.

And it was a joy to see ERCO lighting throughout the museum!

No Signboard Restaurant at Gayland Road, Singapore

Right, it's in the red light district in Singapore (a bit of a contradiction in terms) and a semi-open air, but this restaurant (I think that's the name) serves up some mean white pepper crabs - enough edge and spice but really balancing the delicate meat of Sri Lankan crab.

What was enjoyable? The food - everything is really fresh and cooked in front of you - kind of as there is no division between the eating area and the kitchen.

What was not enjoyable? No napkins or wet towelette, let alone bread plate!

Restauran Sate R&K, Kuala Lumpur

I love satay / sate - and the best are done by native Malays in Malaysia. So, while passing through Kuala Lumpur on business, I thought I'd indulge myself. Since I have been to Jalan Achar (I think that's the name) lined with street food stalls, I decided to be more adventurous.

Restauran Sate R&K was recommended to me and it's not in a tourist spot - apparently it's one of the best in town. All sounds very good. After a difficult journey (braving the local transport PUTRA - trains, followed by wondering around the streets, followed by a clueless taxi driver), I eventually got to the place. It's essentially a one-dish-restaurant - beef and chicken sates with katoubat (rise cakes steamed in Pandan leaves).

What was enjoyable? The sates of course - succulent and fabulously grilled over a charcoal stove, think peanut sauce and a dedicated eatery. Wash basins for sticky fingers.
What was not enjoyable? A very basic restaurant (not quite on the street), staff don'…

Trinh Restaurant, Saigon

Tucked away from the main street, high ceiling, a staircase leading up to further dining area, works of local artists hanging on walls - all the trappings of a good hide-away eatery. Trinh Restaurant does Vietnamese food well - lots of interesting local delicacies (many variations on the them of a rice pasta spring roll), salad with marinated meat on sesame rice crackers. Nothing is hurried.

What was enjoyable? Food - everything was good.
What was not enjoyable? Staff don't speak that much English - with a strong reliance on "point and nod"

Square One, Park Hyatt Saigon

OK - if you want to go somewhere sleek in Saigon - Square One will pretty much fit the bill. Rather than just one open kitchen (a la Caprice at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong), there are SEVEN! Each focusing on a particular cooking technique (grilling, baking, steaming, etc.).

The decor is comfortable (armrests of armchairs too high) and the Vietnamese food is actually good and well presented.

What was enjoyable? Pho Beef Soup with rice vermicelli - nice clear stock, flavourful.
What was not enjoyable? Trying too hard perhaps? Everything is just a bit out of place - you could be any where - New York, London, Hong Kong ...

Xuan Spa, Park Hyatt Saigon

After a long day on my feet travelling from frantic Bangkok to Saigon, I very much looked forward to a relaxing massage before going to bed.

The Xuan Spa was a very pleasant surprise. The staff was very friendly and the atmosphere of the spa was tranquil - a world away from the screaming mopeds on the streets outside. The therapy room was big, with an en suite shower and lovely foot bath. The massage was good - classical Swedish - and at a leisurely pace. Subsequently I had a very good night's sleep.

Tosca, Royal Opera

We all said "goodbye" to the Franco Zeffirelli production and eagerly awaited to say "hello" to the new production of Tosca at the Royal Opera. Well, there it was - the set and production certainly met my expectation when I saw it tonight. Pappano was intelligent with his tempi (given the last minute tenor replacement as Alvarez was ill) while the orchestra responded wonderfully to his demands.
What was enjoyable? Bryn Terfel - oh my god he can do a convincing Scarpia. Second act scenery was particularly good - loved that torture chamber behind a fake library concept - quite appropriate.
What was not enjoyable? Angela Gheirghiu - didn't really like this "Oh look - I am acting! Look! Look!" approach to her Tosca role. The train of her dress looked idiotic - and it looked silly with that tiara ...

Vitra Design Museu

"It's a 15 minute taxi ride from Basel in Switzerland to the Vitra Design Museum in Germany" said the hotel concierge to me. I rushed back to my room, got my passport and took off (in a taxi) with my friends to this famous design museum. I sit on a Vitra chair every day (.03) so naturally I'd quite like to visit its birthplace.

It is located in the middle of nowhere (Weil am Rhein) on ... wait for this ... No 1 Charles-Eames-Strasse!!! I normally object to the idea of a guided tour but in this instance, it's worth it because I was taken to see the buildings designed by Gehry, Grimshaw and Hadid. The latter was amazing - as Hadid designed this angular slightly deconstructed "Fire Station" that is now a function facility. Visitors on this tour could roam freely inside this building - check out the funky locker room or the masculine breakfast table on the first floor.

Restaurant Gundeldingerhof, Basel

I have not found it easy to find interesting food in Switzerland. Don't get me wrong - I love the traditional stuff, like Rösti and Gruyere, but have not always come across gastronomic excitement. Restaurant Gundeldingerhof did the trick. Tucked away in a side street, it's Prada green deco was pleasing and conveys an air of sophistication.
What was enjoyable? Fried fresh water prawns from the Rhine and stuffed courgette flowers with sausages were delightful.
What was not so enjoyable? No bread plate, limited dessert menu.

Art Basel

It's such a short hop from London (just over an hour by plane) to Art Basel where I saw, a very high concentration of contemporary art galleries, works and displays. Since it's a trade show, you can actually buy stuff from the exhibitors. I was very drawn towards the Fontana and Manzoni works (it seems all established Italian contemporary art dealers must have at least one for sale). Of course, if I had the money, I would have picked up a few dozen pieces ... alas ... may be by December 06 in Miami

Pied à Terre, London

It was back in November 2004 at Heathrow Airport. I'd just arrived back in London from a one day trip to Seoul when I picked up a voice mail message from the restaurant Pied à Terre saying my table for the following evening was cancelled due to a fire! I was much saddened by the news as I was always fond of Pied à Terre - a tucked away gem (from the limelight) cooking up inventive and aesthetically exciting dishes. Luckily, it reopened last winter and I made my much delayed visit to this exciting restaurant.

The narrowness of the site makes the restaurant cosy. The use of a dark chocolate brown / grey makes for a somewhat indulgent feel. The food was excellent (I had a scallops cerviche followed by pigeon breasts done pink). The service impeccable without being overbearing.

What was enjoyable? The food, the service, the decor of the restaurant - all the right ingredients to make a lovely gastronomic night out. Nice bread plate. Great variety of petits fours.
What was not enjoyable?

Die Fledermaus, Glyndebourne

A lovely "champagne" production of Die Fledermaus. I saw it on BBC TV last year and thought it looked stunning, so seeing it in the flesh last night was even better. Very good acting from the cast especially Sir Tom Allen. Jurowski also conducted very well - with grace and a touch of Viennese decadence.
What was enjoyable? The whole production - from start to finish - very well polished.
What was not enjoyable? No surtitles - even though it was sung and acted in English, it's not always easy to listen to the words when sung (in whatever language) so surtitles do help. If the English National Opera is doing it, I am sure Glyndebourne can accommodate too.

Bar Shu, London

After La Belle Hélène at the ENO, we found ourselves in a new Sichuanese restaurant in Soho (north of Shaftesbury Avenue so technically not China Town). The deco is authentically Chinese but a bit cramped. Lots of small wooden tables. We were shown downstairs in a small basement room. I ordered Dan Dan noodles, beef in a spicy soupy sauce and smoked chicken slices. The "heatiness" or "spicyness" was very authentic, comparable to what I have tasted in Shanghai.
What was enjoyable? Authentic Sichuanese food authenticated by mainland Chinese customers.
What was not enjoyable? Wrong kind of noise - the staff did through the crockery and cutlery about, noisy customers (may be because of the small room) and not an enthusiastic service.
A review of this restaurant can be found on

La Belle Hélène at ENO

I have never been a big fan of Offenbach - so when a friend dragged me along to see La Belle Hélène, I thought why not!
What was enjoyable? Dame Felicity Lott - as always, though I have never seen her doing a role with such a big speaking part - and it was thoroughly enjoyable. The trashy seaside stage set also worked very well with the story - kind of not taking anything too seriously.
What was not enjoyable? Hmm, lack of leg room.

Cyrano de Bergerac, Royal Opera

Cyrano de Bergerac with Plácido Domingo singing the title role at the Royal Opera was an interesting experience. It took me most of the first act to realise it is a fairly modern opera (early 20th century): Franco Alfano was influenced by many of his contemporaries. Also, I had to sever, in my head, any links between Alfano and Puccini so that I stopped anticipating those big sentimental moments.
What was enjoyable? Domingo's still ringing voice. Visually it's beautiful - pretty to look at.
What was not enjoyable? The fact that I probably won't remember any of this.

Yauatcha, London

Yauatcha - modern Chinese restaurant that does good dim sum, patisserie and tea. The latter is remarkable - as Yauatcha is one of the few places in London that does Chinese tea properly - rather than the twigs and leaf flakes you get in other places.

What was enjoyable? As always, a clean modern decor with good food. The waiter / waitresses did not hurry us today and decidedly left us alone when we had our business meeting after the dim sum dishes.

What was not enjoyable? OK - why is the bathroom so dark and virtually without mirrors???

Any top tips? Request a table on the ground floor - its bright and you can see the world outside.

Booking a table at the Fat Duck

Got some relatives coming in a couple of months time and I thought let's go to Fat Duck for lunch. Although it is no longer the world's top restaurant as it got knocked down to second place by some journalists, I am sure it is still a very good restaurant and its tasting menu will continue to be an exciting gastronomic experience. So bravely I dialled their number. After a short wait, I found myself actually speaking to a lovely lady who took my reservation with the minimum of fuss. And the best bit - there is no time limit on our lunch table!

Götterdämmerung, The Royal Opera

This was the last opera of Wagner's Ring Cycle of the current production by Keith Warner at the Royal Opera at Covent Garden. It was a pretty full house last night and the slightly earlier start of 3 PM made the whole day manageable (imagine having to dash from the office to the opera for a 4:30 start and finishing at 11:00!)

What was enjoyable? Pappano's pacing of the music - the opening prologue of the Norns was unusually slow and the pace duly picked up by the time we reached the climax of the Siegfried and Brünnhilde's duet in Act 1; Siegfried's Rhine Journey (with a slightly futuristic and digital projection that worked); John Tomlinson's Hagen (even with his wayward intonation at those particularly evil moments); Mihoko Fujimura's Waltraute had real meat in her voice.

What was not enjoyable? The beginning of the immolation scene - why was Brünnhilde stuck right at the back of the stage when her voice was dampened by the distance and the orchestra in front? …

Baltic, London

Baltic is a Polish restaurant serving middle European food. And if you like alcohol, the varieties offered at the Baltic are quite astonishing (Sorbetska - mango sorbet with champagne and vodka). Airy room with good natural light - especially in the summer months.
What was enjoyable? The marinated herring with blinis and the beef and sausage goulash. Good attentive staff explaining some of the more unusual dishes.
What was not enjoyable? No bread plate. They could have made smaller plates of blinis as canapes. We thought we ordered a plate of blinis with a combination of salmon, mushrooms and herring; three LARGE plates turned up instead...

Modernism, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

What is it? Ever wondered what the word "Modern" really means (in the context of design and culture), pop down to the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. The current exhibition "Modernism 1914-1939" gives quite a broad and fascinating look at the whole moment then.

What was memorable? An early London Underground map and one of the first fitted kitchens.

The Wolseley, London

The Wolseley (some people pronounce Wolsey) is an elegant brasserie serving delectable classics with a heavy Viennese influence (Wiener Schnitzel, Kaiserschmarren, coffee served with a gulp of water). It's a great place for breakfast, lunch and supper. The clientele varies considerably, from hedge fund managers doing power breakfast to tourist having afternoon tea cakes. Lunch today (day before Good Friday) was a really mix of business people, lady shoppers (before they hit Old Bond Street), tourists (round the corner from Green Park) and locals!

What was enjoyable?
The ambiance - an airy, spacious and expansive hall. All the dishes are prepared well with good quality ingredients. Attentive service without overly fussy. Ah, there does not seem to be a time limit on tables.

What was not enjoyable?
No bread plate. And smoky if you are unlucky to have sat next to a bunch of smokers.

Being dislodged from your dinner table

Some restaurants will say at the time of booking "Oh, we need the table back by 9PM." That's the less-than-polite warning to say there is a time limit. At this point, I will be thinking "I am going to spend a reasonable amount of money at a top restaurant and you are telling me I only have 120 minutes to eat my meal?"

It is ridiculous and I have only experienced this in London - not anywhere else. Don't get me started on "why" restaurants do this. Typically, a sweet looking waiter / waitress will approach your table after dessert and ask whether you would like to take "coffee in the lounge". This is the code word for "your time is up!" Recently, I came across the phrase: "Gentlemen, I have arranged your coffee at the lounge, would you like to retire there now?" at Gordan Ramsay at Claridge's in London.  So what could you do in such situations?

Excuses to hang around:
"Sorry, I don't drink coffee."

Moro, London

What is it?Moro is a restaurant serving food with heavy influence from the Iberian peninsula and North Africa. I was going to say "Spanish cum Moroccan" yet it does not sound quite right. Good honest food and an interesting Spanish wine list - at dinner last night, my friends from New York were quite perplexed by such an unfamiliar wine list!

What was enjoyable? The food - it's always well executed with a lot of wholesome flavour. The service is attentive without being overbearing. And no smoking!!!

What was not enjoyable? No bread plate.

Top Floor of Smiths of Smithfield, London

What is it?Top Floor at Smith of Smithfield is one of the four eating places in this gastro-complex. It is a restaurant, as opposed to the brasserie on the floor below, though I can't really tell the difference as neither have bread plates. Eating in Clerkenwell is always an interesting experience - because it is such a transient place: as my friend and I arrived in the evening, there were still loads of people wondering around the area moving from pub to pub, but by the time we left, the queue for Fabric (dance club that attracts a young-ish crowd) had already formed. Yet during the week, it's a business district where many marketing and design agencies are located. Of course, at 4AM we have all the huge lorries turning up with meat for the London meat and poultry market.

What was enjoyable? A laid back restaurant with a half decent view of the dome of St Paul's Cathedral. Well cooked food without being too gimmicky.
What was not enjoyable? While the Top Floor has a door th…

Patara on Greek Street, London

What is it? A well appointed Thai restaurant with modern deco in the middle of Soho. The quality of cooking at Patara is much higher than the surrounding Thai outfits.
What was enjoyable? It is tucked away from the maddening Soho crowd. Good food with a zing. Good ambiance with background music staying in the background. No rush.
What was not so enjoyable? The staff are slightly clueless about wine.

Where is the "new" luxury?

Where is luxury today? In the old days, luxury could only be had by the few powered / moneyed people - think Darcey in Jane Austen. So the poor and those lower down the social hierarchy had always wanted some of this luxury - a form of transcendental emancipation I guess.

Not so long ago, buying your first Rolex watch meant you have left the lower echelon in society - because you have the money for the physical good and the power to earn the money. But now, luxury goods and services have become cheap (in real economic terms) and anyone could have a slice of it (e.g. Chavs buying Burberry's, Chinese tourists in Louis Vuitton stores in Hong Kong). If we follow the power-emancipation line of argument, then the new luxury will continue to be power-based and perhaps more transient rather than physical and static. Owning a Vertu phone is not a luxury (because it does not free you from anything!), but having the power over a three-star restaurant is - "I want my table tonight and I …

Godron Ramsay at Claridge's, London

What is it? Gordon Ramsay's "diffusion" restaurant at Claridge's Hotel in Central London. The restaurant oozes Art Deco opulence.

What was enjoyable? The pre-dinner snacks - white truffle mousse and taramasalata (no, not together!) served with french toast and italian flat bread. The waiters and waitresses were laid back and not too bossy. Good "Menu Prestige" tasting menu - just the right quantity.

What was not enjoyable? Being asked to take coffee and petit fours at the lounge because our allocated 150 minutes was up! For a dinner at nearly £100 a head, it's a bit of a shock to get that kind of treatment and it's very sad that this situation is endemic in London. Can somebody do something about this?

Nahm at Halkin Hotel, London

What is it? A Thai restaurant set in one of the more secluded and exclusive hotels in London.
What was enjoyable? The Nahm traditional dinner menu where you can enjoy a selection of delectable starters, main dishes and desserts coupled with good service.
What was not enjoyable?
The waiters / waitresses over explain the menu and how you should eat.


Some Central London hotel suggestions

A friend asked me about hotels in London and specifically St Martin's and The Great Eastern.

St Martin Lane. It's on the edge of Covent Garden - a Philippe Starck hotel done in the late 90s with innovative colour wash lights by Isometrix. It's OK and the location is convenient for the theatres, restaurants and main tourist sites. I am not sure whether one would have a memorable stay though - it exudes a strangely underwhelming feeling.

Great Eastern Hotel. It's a Conran designed hotel I think. It's next to Liverpool Street - full of, hmm, business people. Not too relaxing I would not have thought. Plus the trains will be coming and going all day long!

Naturally, I proceeded to suggest other possibilities. The Covent Garden Hotel - stylishly central, discrete and full of 'A' list film directors (you see, they have a built in cinema). It's sister hotel Charlotte Street Hotel is also very stylish - London enough but not in-your-face touristy. Or the latest So…

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Went to see Les Troc  last night at the Peacock Theatre. It was fantastic - I think the size-12 pointe shoes made a real difference to those familiar numbers in Swan Lake. The transformation was breathtaking - the Dying Swan solo was hilarious, with feathers flying everything and those tongue-in-cheek expressions. The Royal Ballet may have a thing or two to learn from Les Ballet!

Check out Les Ballets !

Eugene Onegin

I did not think much of the last Eugene Onegin in the 90s - a bit too baren - too literal. The latest production which I saw tonight at the Royal Opera has improved quite a lot. For a start, we had Dmitri Hvorostovksy and Amanda Roocroft singing Onegin and Tatyana respectively - two strong well matched voices that sparked off a reasonable amount of passion between the two! The production was exciting too - with a believably real "river" running on stage. It's not often you get Tatyana jumping into the river and splashing about on stage. Then there was the frozen river with Moscow in the background - there was almost real ice skating on stage just before the Imperial Ball scene. Much fun. Very enjoyable.


It's always interesting seeing an opera for the first time. Having seen
loads of Verdi, I don't know why I have not seen Macbeth any earlier. Last night at the Royal Opera was my first time.

The production was quite effective. Given the darkness of the story, the stage set was effective while the choreography helped portray the trance-like passages. I thought the spinning gilded cage, which I presume represented the poisoned throne, was quite a powerful device.

The singing and conducting was both good - rhythmic in the right places and had enough fluidity to support the more lyrical arias. Good singing from the chorus - from witches to masses at the coronation scene.

FishWorks on Marylebone High Street, London

Went to FishWorks on Marylebone High Street.

It was fun having to talk through the fishmonger before getting into the restaurant. It's such a powerful visual impact - reminding you that "you are about to eat fish!"

The modern deco in the restaurant was comfortable enough and the use of blue continues the fish theme. The fish dishes? I'd ordered the Tarama as a light started - probably a touch too much mayo and not enough smoked fish roe. That's my personal preference I guess. The Mediterranean fish soup tasted fresh and fairly authentic. Deserts were a let down - nothing exciting to write home about.

Le nozze di Figaro

Just got back from the Royal Opera having seen the first night of Le nozze di Figaro.

I could not quite figure out what Pappano was doing with Mozart's score. The tempi were quite elastic. For instance, the Countess' aria at the beginning of Act II was beautifully sung by Dorothea Röschmann though there were quite a few recognisable rubati. The stage direction was superb (by David McVicar) and the excitement that the cast brought to the production more than compensated for the occasionally wayward tuning.

Ervin Schrott as Figaro was very good - he had flair and energy.

I think Pappano was taking the entire cast with him - given the elastic tempi - there were many places that could have taken a bad turn yet I could feel everyone on / off stage was giving their best.

Verdict: Go see it.

Asia de Cuba at St Martin's Hotel, London

Asia de Cuba at St Martin's Hotel, London.

It must have been 8-10 years when I last set foot in this Starck
designed hotel in the middle of London. It was one of the hippest
places opened within a month of its sister hotel Sanderson near Oxford
Street. Asia de Cuba, the main restaurant, has not changed much since
it opened all those years ago. There other restaurants within the St
Martin's have had more radical changes.

How was the food? I had the Cuban Bento Box - essentially an eclectic
collection of fusion (Japanese meets Cuba) dishes presented in a
Japanese bento lunch box lacquer ware. Mine included a couple of pieces
of chicken skewered /grilled, a tuna tartare stacked with tortilla
chips, a deep fried wonton and pan fried udon noodles. The taste of
pleasant without being offensive, though I was not entirely sure about
pineapple slices with the grilled chicken (was never a fruit and meat
fan). In offensive - though no gastronimic  experience.

I ordered a chocolate brownie with caramel…

Caprice at the Four Seasons Hotel, Hong Kong

Went to Caprice just after Christmas 2005.

It's the "posh" restaurant at the new Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong. The decor is very glitzy - with chandeliers and thick carpet. The centrepiece of the restaurant is its open plan kitchen - kind of an interpretation of the gastropubs that you would find dotted around London. Trying too hard I thought.

How was the menu? OK - classic French restaurant menu though nothing was written in French ... shame as that's one of the little things that reminds you "This is a French restaurant". Or was it a French restaurant?

And the food? Everything was cooked well, but not exciting enough to warrant a postcard home. My mum and sister ordered the Bresse chicken dish for two. It's carved at the table and served as two courses. It looked good but I was told the dish tasted of chicken.

And the service? Yes, interesting. The four of us arrived and I had to attract the attention of one of the garcons to get served a drink (sur…