Dishoom: Breakfast

05/12/19

St Andrew Square, Edinburgh

We’re having breakfast out today and unusually (at least for us) we’re having it in an Indian restaurant. I’m sure I’m not the only person, who  – when the word ‘breakfast’ comes up – fails to automatically think of Bombay food, but Dishoom may be just the venue to change my mind.

Of course, we already know about this fabulous eaterie on St Andrew Square. Indeed, it’s one of our favourite places to eat dinner in Edinburgh, but lately it’s been annoyingly popular, and the last time we ‘dropped by’ for food, we were faced with the prospect of a  long wait for a table. And the problem is, Dishoom don’t take bookings (except for large groups) after 5.30pm. Then, the other day, a friend casually asked if we’d ever tried their breakfast menu. What the…? There’s a breakfast menu? How the chumping rollick did we miss that?

As you’ll no doubt have gathered, we didn’t need much persuasion.

So here we are, and actually, it’s gone 11am, so this is going to be more like brunch. There’s a convivial buzz about the place and the staff are, as ever, warm and welcoming. We take our seats, order coffees and peruse what’s on offer. Oh boy. We quickly realise that the main problem is going to be making a choice because everything sounds super-tempting but, eventually, final decisions are arrived at, and the food comes promptly on reassuringly large plates.

I’m having the wrestler’s naan roll, which is essentially a big, oven baked naan, all flakey and crispy and scrumptious, liberally stuffed with rashers of smoky bacon,  pork sausages and runny-yolked eggs. The meal comes with a little bowl of sweet chilli sauce on the side, which is particularly good on those peppery Ayrshire sausages and there’s also a scattering of fresh coriander. Umm. While this might not be the most photogenic meal I’ve had, boy is it good! I don’t so much eat it as fall upon it like a ravening wolf.

Susan’s vegan Bombay is certainly better looking than my dish and, happily, it’s equally mouth-watering. It comprises Beyond Meat sausages, vegan black pudding, tofu akuri, grilled field mushrooms, masala baked beans, grilled tomatoes and (whew!) a couple of home cooked vegan buns. The sausages and black pudding taste convincingly like meat, but the real revelation here is the tofu. I’ve eaten no end of flaccid, tasteless lumps of the stuff over the years, but this is a game-changer. It looks and tastes like spicy scrambled eggs. This may not be the point, but it certainly wins me over. (Confirmed carnivores should note that a non-vegan version of this meal is also available.)

The portions are definitely on the generous side, but I’m soon mopping my plate with the last scrap of naan, and already planning what I’m going to try next time. Finally, it would seem, Loudons has some serious competition in the breakfast/brunch arena.

If you’re bored with your morning toast and cereal options, this is a great tasting alternative and it comes at prices that won’t break the bank.

Go on. You know you want to…

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Goldilocks & the Three Bears

04/12/19

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s that time again. (Oh no it isn’t!) Well, yes it is actually and, as ever, when you’re talking about pantomime, the King’s Theatre does it better than just about anybody else in the business. This year feels particularly important, as it sees the return to the fold of  panto stalwart Andy Gray, prevented from appearing at last year’s show by serious illness. The extended applause he receives when he walks onstage at the King’s for Goldilocks & the Three Bears is heartwarming, to say the very least.

It feels as though the whole enterprise has had a bit of a reinvention this year. For starters there’s no mention of Christmas, and not a glimpse of the white-bearded man in the red suit. Instead, the theme here is the circus – the greatest show on earth – which gives the producers the perfect opportunity to throw a couple of high class circus acts into the mix. There’s a superb juggler, Alfio, who does things with hats you won’t quite believe, and The Berserk Riders, a motorcycle stunt troupe, who whirl dangerously around inside a metal globe. At one point, they literally have me holding my breath and crossing my fingers.

The plot: Dame May McReekie (Allan Stewart) and her husband, Andy (the aforementioned Mr Gray), run a circus where all the animals are allowed to run free. Meanwhile, their daughter, Goldilocks (Gillian Parkhouse), sings up a storm, and is all too aware that Joey the Clown (Jordan Young) is carrying a torch for her.

But not all circuses are quite so charming. Baron Von Vinklebottom (Grant Stott, channeling Boy George) runs a rival enterprise, where he keeps his animals in cages and enjoys brutalising them at every opportunity. Boooo! When he claps eyes on the three talking bears who are to be the McReekie’s new headliners, he obviously wants them for his own show. Much hilarity ensues – and I really mean that. There are times here where I’m laughing so hard I have tears in my eyes and it’s mostly the result of the skilful interplay between the three lead players. Stewart in particular is a consumate comedy powerhouse.

As ever, the razzamatazz is cranked up to number eleven – and the lush production values on display challenge anything you’ll find in London’s West End. It’s also heartening to witness how subversive this uniquely British art form can be. Where else will you find silly humour aimed squarely at the youngsters, punctuated by risqué remarks about Prince Andrew and other topical subjects, directed at their parents? Whatever happens to hit the zeitgeist is picked up and added to the brew.

And of course, this being set in the world of the circus, there are animals galore – elephants, giraffes, monkeys and (naturally) bears, all lovingly rendered amidst a joyful  onslaught of sound, colour and general exuberance.

If a top quality pantomime is what you’re looking for, your search is over.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Strange Tales

03/12/19

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Strange Tales is clearly a passion project. Pauline Lockhart – who co-directs, co-wrote and co-stars in the production – was looking for a venture that could combine three perennial bedfellows (folk tales, the supernatural and, naturally, martial arts), when she came across Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. In collaboration with Ben Harrison, and supported by a whole raft of partners, including the Confucius Institute for Scotland and the RSC, she has created a quirky, dreamlike piece of theatre that lingers in the mind long after the applause.

Lockhart resolves any notion of cultural appropriation, both by being upfront in asking, “Is it okay for me to tell these tales?” and – more importantly – by casting Chinese and Malaysian Chinese actors Luna Dai and Robin Khor Yong Kuan to work alongside her. This three-hander, set on a stage that breaches the first few rows, breaks the fourth wall in a casual, almost familial way, as the performers tell us what the tales mean to them. For Lockhart, they are a recent discovery, but Dai remembers her grandmother telling them to her, while Kuan not only read the book, but watched a TV adaptation too. ‘Everyone knows Pu Songling, right?’ he asks us, the tumbleweed response making us confront a simple truth – that borders limit our knowledge.

There’s a delightful playfulness to this production, with humour taking precedence over terror. The tales are, indeed, quite strange, with ghosts and demons and fox-spirits moving between the living and the dead with apparent ease. The three actors perform a whole host of roles with consummate skill, and the action is cleverly enhanced by puppetry, video and choreographed movement. The sound effects are spectacular, and there’s a little bit of magic or illusion too, with a couple of vanishing acts that genuinely bewilder me. How did they…? Huh?

These are morality tales without obvious morals, highly entertaining and most unusual (to me, and this Scottish audience, at least). I’ve never seen anything quite like them.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Southside Scran: Festive Set Menu

01/12/19

Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh

‘Tis the season for festive dining, and here at B&B, we’re always on the lookout for good deals, so the announcement of a new festive set menu at the Southside Scran is something that needs to be investigated at our earliest opportunity. So here we are at lunchtime on December 1st (can’t get any earlier than that!). all ready to eat, despite the fact that the two friends due to accompany us have bailed at the last moment because of a not-so-festive lurgy.

We love the Scran; part of the Tom Kitchin group, not only is it a short walk from where we live, but – more importantly – we’ve never come away from this place disappointed. We take our seats and enjoy the fresh ciabatta, butter and goose liver paté that’s always served here. Then the starters arrive. I’ve been missing paté, due to the fact that it seems impossible to buy in this country, unless it’s encased in layers of plastic. So I’m happy to opt for the rabbit rillette, which proves to be light and creamy and full of flavour. It’s accompanied by salad and toast. Susan has the goats cheese vol-au-vent, a delightfully flakey pie, which comes with tangy red onion marmalade and drops of basalmic vinegar.

We both want the turkey ballotine for the main course (though we’re torn between that and the roasted pumpkin risotto, which we’ve had before and loved.) But turkey wins the day and it looks and tastes amazing, with chunks of brussel sprout, potato, crispy salty lardons and a pretty heritage carrot on the top. There’s a jug of rich, red wine gravy to finish things off. Those who feel a roast dinner should occupy half an acre of plate may look down on this, but it encompasses all the flavours of a Christmas dinner and is suprisingly filling.

Room for pudding? Well, go on then. It’s almost Christmas!

I choose the chocolate mousse & citrus sablé, which is satisfyingly rich, while Susan opts for the mincemeat and frangipane tart, served with brandy crème Anglaise. This too is an utter delight and I say that as somebody who has only been able to eat mincemeat for a relatively short while, due to a long childhood aversion to the stuff, now conquered.

The three course set menu (£30 per head) comes with tea or coffee, and those hearty types who still have some room to spare can add a cheese course for a little extra. Of course, you can also mix and match. We add a couple of sides from the bistro menu at £4.50 each – some warm, crunchy French beans with hazelnuts and shallots and, as ever,  a bowl of macaroni cheese, because… well, because we’re hopelessly addicted to the stuff. And don’t tell me it doesn’t go with turkey. Macaroni cheese goes with everything. Fact.

All in all, this is a superbly satisfying way to get the festive season off to a perfect start. And it’s also excellent value for money.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

An Edinburgh Christmas Carol

29/11/19

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Does anything embody the theme of Christmas more perfectly than a generous helping of Charles Dickens? A Christmas Carol remains one of his most popular books – indeed, the images it contains pretty much sum up the British public’s entire concept of Christmas. Victorian costumes, decorated trees, festive feasts and of course, copious snow tumbling from the heavens. Tony Cownie’s spirited retelling of the story adds an extra ingredient: Edinburgh. And it works like a charm.

Actually, there’s solid reasoning behind this addition. There’s evidence to suggest that Dickens found inspiration for his most enduring character during a visit to Canongate Churchyard, where he spotted a tombstone commemorating a certain Ebenezer Scroggie, and even made a note about it as a potential character name for future use. Sadly, the gravestone is no longer there (lost during restorations in 1932), but Dicken’s inventive story still dazzles.

In An Edinburgh Christmas Carol, Scrooge (Crawford Logan) is a dour, curmudgeonly man, forever sneering and rolling his eyes at his good natured clerk, Rab Cratchit (Ewan Donald), and nimbly avoiding all who ask him for contributions to good causes. This sprightly version sticks fairly closely to the original story, but throws in a local legend in the furry shape of Greyfriar’s Bobby, still sleeping on his master’s grave, and in danger of being banned from the city for want of a licence. Would Ebenezer like to contribute to the cost of buying one? Bah! Humbug!

The addition of Bobby is a bit of a master stroke. This is the most family-friendly festive offering we’ve seen at the Lyceum, and the youngsters in tonight’s audience are clearly entranced by the puppet versions of Bobby and Tiny Tim. It’s not all lighthearted. There are those pesky ghosts, for starters. A little girl sitting behind me finds the presence of a headless drummer momentarily overwhelming, but she’s soon back to being delighted by all she sees.

There’s also plenty for older audience members to enjoy, not least the gorgeous set design by Neil Murray, which captures the somber beauty of Edinburgh, and when combined with Zoe Spurr’s dramatic lighting shows off the city to great effect. There’s humour too in the witty dialogue, and those who enjoy a festive singalong are well served by the presence of the Community Choir, who offer a series of rousing carols throughout the production. What else do we need to create a perfect Christmas treat? You want snow? You’ve got it!

Even a dedicated Scrooge like me emerges from this production with a warm glow inside (and I swear it’s not just the mulled wine!). Christmas cheer seems to be in rather short supply this year, so why not head on up to the Lyceum for a much-needed top up? I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy the experience.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Frozen II

28/11/19

Disney’s Frozen II  is facing a hard slog with this particular critic: I’m not a great fan of fantasy/quest stories, power ballads don’t really float my boat, and sequels are rarely much cop. But, being firmly of the opinion that opinions can and should change, I’m determined to approach it with an open mind. After all, there are great tales in every genre. In the end, if it’s done well, I’m happy.

2013’s original Frozen is a case in point. Despite myself, I liked it. A lot. Of course, this second outing can’t benefit from the freshness of the idea, and is bound to suffer – to some extent – from trying to replicate the original’s huge success. You can almost hear the songwriters’ straining for this year’s Let It Go. 

It’s three years after Elsa’s coronation, and everyone in Arendelle is enjoying Autumn. But then Queen Elsa hears a mysterious voice calling to her, and feels compelled to follow it. But her sister, Anna, won’t let her go alone, so – quelle surprise – they are accompanied by Christoph (Anna’s boyfriend), Sven (Christoph’s reindeer) and Olaf (the chirpy snowman). The voice leads them to the enchanted forest where, years ago, the women’s grandfather was killed. Elsa’s mission, it turns out, is twofold: to heal the rift between the Northuldra tribe and the soldiers of Arendelle, all trapped together in the forest since the fatal fight; and to appease the elemental spirits angered by human folly.

The songs, sadly, are all so-so ballads, with little to distinguish them, and none as memorable as Let It Go; more variety would really perk things up. Olaf’s constant joking is less adorable in this outing; I find myself wishing he’d shut up. And honestly, I’ve no idea why Anna and Elsa wear dresses, high heels and full make-up for hiking in the hills.

Still, the animation is glorious: the water horse (or Nokk) and the earth giants are particularly impressive. The plot is convoluted and a bit silly, but it skips along nicely and holds my attention.

The verdict: Frozen II is… lukewarm.

3.2 stars

Susan Singfield

Dolemite is my Name

27/11/19

Whatever happened to Eddie Murphy? It’s a question I’ve often asked myself.

For those who weren’t moviegoers during the early 80s, it’s hard to convey the seismic impact he had on cinema. I still remember my first sight of him in Walter Hill’s 48 Hours, sitting alone in a prison cell, earphones in and singing raucously along to Roxanne. It was evident at a glance that he was going to be a massive movie star. And through that decade, that’s exactly what he became in films like Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop.

But during the 90s, things went awry. A combination of poor film choices, and personal disasters contrived to push him further and further out of the public consciousness. With only occasional flashes of the old brilliance, it seemed to be over for him. So hearing that he is starring in a new movie, released without fanfare direct to Netflix comes as a bit of a surprise – as does the discovery that Dolemite Is My Name is actually pretty decent.

Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore, a real life comedian/filmmaker, often referred to as the ‘Godfather of Rap’ and, moreover, a man who Murphy has often cited as an influence on his own early career. When we first encounter him, Moore is working by day as the manager of a Los Angeles record store; by night, he’s performing as a music club emcee, but failing to connect with audiences.

When Moore hears a homeless guy reciting  bawdy poetry about ‘Dolemite,’ a legendary character amongst older members of the local community, he spots an opportunity to reinvent himself as a standup comedian. Donning an afro wig, and some some flamboyant clothes he hits the stage. In his brash new potty-mouthed persona, he makes an instant connection with the customers, and his fame begins to spread.

When he subsequently offers his act to record labels, they shy away, horrified by the unashamedly sexual nature of the content. Undeterred, he decides to  record some albums himself with the aid of friends and relatives; and pretty soon, he finds himself on the billboard charts, selling records by the ton.

And then, one evening, a disappointing trip to the cinema gives him another idea. Why not write and produce a Dolemite movie? No film company wants to take it on, so once again, he has to find unconventional ways to make it happen…

It’s lovely to see some of Murphy’s old familiar spark being reignited here. Moore’s story is that of the classic underdog, the kind of guy who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer and whom audiences just can’t help rooting for. I’ve never caught up with the original Dolemite, but it’s clear from the scenes lovingly recreated here (and reprised in their original form in a post credits sequence) that this Blaxploitation classic belongs in the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. This sparky film, directed by Craig Brewer, tells the story with aplomb and the presence of Wesley Snipes as louche actor D’ouville Martin and (an uncredited) Bob Odenkirk as a predatory movie executive add to its appeal.

Anyone interested in seeing this can catch it any time they like on Netflix. As for Murphy, he has a Coming to America sequel in the works. It remains to be seen if that endeavour will be afforded the luxury of a theatrical release.

Fingers crossed.

4 stars

Philip Caveney