Month: December 2016

Hilton Edinburgh Grosvenor

31/12/16

Grosvenor Street, Edinburgh

It’s New Year’s Eve, and it’s grey and drizzly here in Edinburgh, so we decide to take our guests to the Hilton to sample their afternoon tea. It seems a civilised way to spend our time, talking and eating being two of our favourite pastimes.

There’s a range of sandwiches (smoked salmon, cheese and chutney, and a rather decent egg mayonnaise), and a selection cakes, of which the lemon drizzle and the carrot are definitely the best. There are scones too (fruit scones, which necessitate two of our party picking out sultanas with a grim determination), and these are warm and fresh and really very good. We polish it all off with ease, and wash it down with coffee and tea. The service is friendly and attentive, and we all enjoy ourselves.

So yeah, it’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with any of it, but it’s slightly disappointing anyway. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re sitting in what feels a bit like a corridor, and there’s barely anyone around. Maybe it’s the huge thick Costa mugs, and the full sized cutlery. It just doesn’t feel very luxurious; it lacks the refinement I expect from an afternoon tea. A decent nosh, then, just not much of a treat.

3.1 stars

Susan Singfield

HOME

30/12/16

Queensferry Street, Edinburgh

Maison Bleue at Home is a restaurant with a mission: to provide for the homeless. On Monday afternoons, it opens its doors to those of no fixed abode, and training and employment opportunities are also available for some of Edinburgh’s most disadvantaged people. A quarter of the staff working here have been homeless at some point in their lives, and all profits go to Social Bite’s parent charity. In short, it’s a business with a heart.

It’s also a very good restaurant. It’s Philip’s birthday, so there are four of us out celebrating, and we are off to a good start with a complimentary glass of fizz in honour of the day. It’s a special occasion, so we’re planning on indulging ourselves by going à la carte, but it turns out we all want things from the keenly priced set menu (£29.90 for three courses), so that works out well. We have olives and bread and wine while we’re waiting. We’re happy.

I start with a shellfish bisquewhich has such depth of flavour that I feel like I could dive right into it. It’s delicious. Philip opts for the Saigon beef, redolent with the flavours of soy and sesame, and he clearly enjoys every mouthful. His daughter and her boyfriend both have the fondue de Camembert; they allow us to sample a mouthful and we’re glad we do. It’s a creamy, indulgent delight.

For his main, Philip has the North African lamb tagine. The lamb is mouthwateringly succulent and tender, and the dish is robustly spiced. The rest of us all go for the Châteaubriand filet steak (which carries a £5 supplement). I like mine rare, and this is perfectly judged, very pink indeed but nicely warm and soft enough to cut without a special knife. It’s served with fondant potatoes and a ratatouille, both of which are bursting with flavour. The pepper sauce is a bit too peppery (I like a punch, but this is a more like a kick in the teeth) but it’s our only criticism, so that’s okay.

For pudding, two of us take the sticky toffee option, and it’s everything you’d hope for it to be. The other two sample the Xmas pudding brûlée, which is a festive delight, with Christmas spices adding an interesting twist to an old favourite.

The service is excellent: warm, friendly and relaxed. And of course we take up the offer to pay it forward, adding twenty pounds to our bill to pay for two homeless people’s Monday meals. It’d be wrong not to, wouldn’t it?

This is a lovely place to be. Try it. If it’s good enough for Leonardo di Caprio, then surely it’s worth a visit?

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Passengers

 

30/12/16

It has, for a very long time now, been my custom to go to the cinema on my birthday – and this year, Passengers was pretty much the only film on offer that we hadn’t already seen. We picked an afternoon showing at the small but perfectly formed Cameo 2 and we settled down to watch with open minds. I have to say that I enjoyed this film; it’s a slick futuristic creation that is centred around an interesting question. What are people prepared to do in order not to be alone?

Engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) wakes from suspended animation aboard the Starship Avalon, en route to the ‘Homestead Colony’, where he intends to forge a new life, but an unexplained malfunction in his sleep pod had led to him waking a little bit earlier than planned. Ninety years too early, in fact. And the problem is that none of his five thousand or so fellow-travellers have woken up with him. He is faced with the awful prospect of spending his entire life alone. To give him his due, he manages for about a year before finding himself on the verge of suicide – but then he notices another passenger asleep in a pod, writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). He reads her files, which include some of the articles she has written and he starts to think about waking her up.

Right there lies the film’s moral conundrum – to wake her  would be, essentially, an act of murder – but he is going slowly insane with loneliness. Obviously, it’s hardly a plot spoiler to say that he does wake her and that, after a tricky start, the two of them hit if off – but as sure as eggs is eggs, it’s only a matter of time before Aurora discovers the truth about her awakening – and she is not going to be happy about it.

Morten Tyldum’s sleek imagining of the future is beautifully done and, given the absence of many actual characters in this story – the central duo are augmented only by android bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen) and one of the ship’s crew, Gus Mancuso (Laurence Fishburne) – it’s amazing that the film never drags. The Starship Avalon itself is a remarkable creation, a towering edifice of lights and movement and the special effects are generally well-handled, but this is essentially an intimate story about a relationship. Lawrence and Pratt make an appealing double act and Passengers is well worth checking out – but the galaxy may not move for you.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Tamatanga

26/12/16

Trinity Square, Nottingham

It’s Boxing Day and we’re both suffering from the after-effects of eating way too much in too short a time – a wonderful problem to have in such harsh times, but not one that is conducive to going out for dinner. But going out we are for a big family nosh-up and, happily, the chosen venue is Tamatanga, an upmarket curry joint in Nottingham city centre. After a glass or two of Cobra, I can detect a small part of my insides that isn’t totally stuffed – but still it seems wise to share a thali rather than having one each, which, I have to say, is probably a first for us.

A word or two about the venue. It’s a lively, vibrant dining place, pretty much open plan with an upstairs section to handle any overspill, and the staff are very attentive. A lot of restaurants go to pieces when the demand is high, but this place seems to be run with absolute precision, so we don’t have to wait very long for the thali, which arrives looking absolutely splendid (see picture). I love this kind of dining when you get lots of different flavours to try. The Tamatanga Thali comes with a choice of two curries – we choose Butter Chicken (rich, creamy and succulent) and, perhaps the star of the show, a Balchao Prawn Curry, fragrant with fresh coriander in a coconut finished sauce. There are also generously sized portions of Bombay Potatoes, Bhindi Do Piaza (okra with caramelised onions), daal, chutney, a delightfully fluffy naan bread and several poppadums. Our flagging appetites are revived enough to prompt us to order another naan to mop up the last of these mouth-watering juices, and we resolve that we will come again, when we have eaten less beforehand.

Around the table we see plenty of other colourful options – fabulous birianis, spicy salad bowls, and there’s a wide range available for the vegetarians in our group.  Would we recommend Tamatanga? Yes, for sure. This is classy Asian food, superbly cooked and beautifully presented.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

Dark Water

20/12/16

When it comes to celebrating the festive season, many people forget that Christmas is traditionally associated with the telling of ghost stories. Happily the team at the Cameo Cinema haven’t missed the opportunity, scheduling a short season of supernatural tales, under the title of A Warning To The Curious; and for me, the unmissable event this year was a showing of Hideo Nakata’s 2002 ghost story, Dark Water. Nakata is, of course, better known for his Ring films, but for my money, this is his masterpiece – a deceptively simple ghost story that exerts an incredibly powerful grip on the viewer.

Yoshimi (Hitomi Kuroki) is a young woman going through a messy divorce from her overbearing husband whilst desperately trying to hold on to  custody of their six year old daughter, Ikuko (an adorable performance from Rio Kanno). Badly in need of a home for them to share, Yoshimi rashly accepts the lease on a dilapidated riverside apartment and enroles Ikuko at the local kindergarten. But from the moment mother and daughter arrive, things start to go awry – a huge stain appears on the bedroom ceiling and begins to leak water, Ikuko has an unsettling experience at the kindergarten and a mysterious red shoulder bag keeps turning up in the strangest places. Meanwhile, torrential rain falls on an almost daily basis, making even the simplest journey intolerable. Bit by bit, Yoshimi begins to pick up information about the mysterious disappearance of a little girl, one year earlier – a girl called Mitsuko who lived in the apartment on the floor above Yoshimi and her daughter.

More subtle than the Ring movies, here is Nakata proving what every would-be horror director would do well to remind themselves; what we only glimpse is far more affecting than what we see in perfect detail. Nakata racks up the suspense with great skill, scene-by-scene, creating an atmosphere of steadily mounting dread, until events finally hurtle headlong into a terrifying conclusion – and then, just when we think it’s all over, there’s a heartbreaking coda which takes place ten years after the main events of the movie, in which a teenage Ikuko finally learns the truth about what happened to her mother…

Of course, I cannot urge you to go and see this 2002 movie on the big screen, because showings are rare, but it’s widely  available on DVD and download, and is intimate enough to come across well as a home movie. (It received the almost obligatory American remake in 2005, but that was a misfire – make sure you seek out the original).

Meanwhile, the Warning To The Curious season continues at the Cameo tonight (December 21st) with a double bill of The Signalman and Whistle and I’ll Come To You. Be there, be scared. After all, isn’t this what Christmas is really about?

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Life, Animated

18/12/16

Owen Suskind is autistic. He’s also a huge fan of Disney animations – and this passion has saved him from an isolated life.

This documentary, based on a book by Owen’s newspaper journalist father, is beautifully directed by Roger Ross Williams, with a lightness of touch that allows Owen to shine. And shine he does.

This could have been a tragic tale. Owen’s parents, Cordelia and Ron, tell of their despair when they realised that Owen, aged three, was regressing; their fear that their son was lost somewhere inside himself, losing both his physical and cognitive skills, losing his ability to communicate. Like all parents would, they did their best to help him, taking him to a range of specialists and learning all they could about his condition. But nothing seemed to work. The only thing that kept him calm, kept him happy, was watching Disney animations. And so he watched a lot of them.

And then, one day, Ron realised that Owen could communicate if he used the language of the cartoons, that he’d been using the films to make sense of the world. And this was the breakthrough they needed to help Owen access society again.

Of course it’s not all plain sailing; Owen still faces huge obstacles, and the documentary does not gloss over these. But he’s out there, growing up, learning to live independently, and experiencing all the highs and lows of a human life. And yeah, he’s lucky: his family is wealthy, intelligent, stable and well-connected, so he has an awful lot of the right kind of support. And thank goodness for that. Because Owen Suskind has a lot to offer the world and it would have been a tragedy if he’d stayed locked inside himself.

Funny, heartbreaking, uplifting and educational. Really, this is a must-see film, and a late contender for one of our favourites of the year.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Ong Gie

17/12/16

Brougham Place, Edinburgh

I’m almost ashamed to admit that, in all my years on this planet, I have never eaten Korean food before – and we pass by this neat, pristine little restaurant on Brougham Place nearly every day of our lives on our way to the Quartermile – so, we tell ourselves, why not give it a whirl? I’m very glad we do.

There’s a scrupulously clean interior and a decidedly friendly atmosphere at the Ong Gie. A gentleman called Wan strolls over to the table and introduces himself. This is his place, he tells us and, if we need recommendations or advice, he’s happy to oblige. Wan, it has to be said, is a bit of a charmer and in moments we’re chatting happily away as if we’ve known each other for years. I can’t help feeling that every restaurant should have somebody like Wan front of house.

For starters, we choose two dishes – Jumbo Chicken Wings and Seafood Pancakes with spring onion and courgettes. The former are just what we expect – four generously sized pieces of chicken with a crispy coating and a deliciously sticky sweet chilli sauce. The other starter, however, is a real surprise – four chunky potato pancakes, generously stuffed with prawns and satisfyingly glutinous. These have a soy dipping sauce. Both starters are spot on and we look forward to the main courses. (I should perhaps point out that the service here is excellent, Wan clearly running the place with precision.)

For mains we order Crispy Rice with Seafood Stew –  the rice makes a deliciously crunchy base onto which is poured an aromatic casserole featuring king prawns, mussels and squid. There’s a lovely touch of theatre when the stew is poured onto the rice at the table making a delightful hissing sound. Talking of theatre, we also opt for the Yang Gogi Jumool Luk, which is a lamb barbecue. It hasn’t escaped our notice that set into each table is a rectangular grill. The spicy marinated lamb is brought to the table in a bowl and we are invited to cook it ourselves, bit-by-bit or all at once. It certainly makes for an appetising experience as the meat hisses and sizzles in front of our very eyes. Once it’s done to our satisfaction, we pop it into a lettuce leaf, add some sauces to taste and away we go. With the main courses we share a bowl of Udon noodles, served cold and simply perfect to cut through the exotic flavours of the marinaded meat.

As if all this isn’t exciting enough, I feel I have to say something about the price. This place is extraordinary value for money. Our meal for two, including a bottle of prosecco and a Tsingtao beer, comes to around sixty pounds. Have we enjoyed our first meal of Korean food? Oh yes we have. Would we recommend it to others? In a heartbeat. And will we be coming back again. Try and stop us.

5 stars

Philip Caveney