Author: bobthebiker

Bryn Williams at Porth Eirias

15/02/19

The Promenade, Colywn Bay

We’re in North Wales, visiting my parents, and we’re all eager to try renowned Welsh chef Bryn Williams’ new(ish) enterprise at Porth Eirias. Philip and I have had a sneaky peak – we met a friend here for coffee last time we were over – but we’ve not yet sampled the food.

These days, Colwyn Bay’s promenade is a delightful place to be: as well as revamped cycle paths, there are clean sands, quirky beach art, and, of course, Porth Eirias itself: a square, modern building, with a huge roof terrace. Fittingly, it houses a water sports centre as well as Bryn Williams’ restaurant, which somehow helps to give the place a real community feel: it’s here for people to enjoy. Inside, it’s bright and airy, all industrial pipework and high ceilings, with a glass wall facing out to sea. It’s frankly stunning.

We’re seated in the window, with a perfect view. It’s a remarkably sunny day for February, and the beach is looking fabulous. The service is friendly and relaxed. We order wine and sit back to peruse what’s on offer.

Mum, dad and I all opt for the set menu, which changes every week. Two courses cost a very reasonable £17, but naturally we all want three, which takes it up to £21. Today, our starter is scallops, served with salted grapes and a saffron emulsion. They’re perfectly cooked: charred just the right amount, with a delicious almost caramel aroma. The salted grapes are interesting too, a tangy counterpoint to the delicate fish.

Philip goes à la carte, and chooses the salt and pepper squid, which comes with spring onions, mint and a lime mayonnaise. It’s a generous portion: light, crispy and not at all greasy. He’s a happy chap.

The set menu’s main course is a beautiful piece of monkfish, with purple potatoes, charred leeks and a chicken beurre blanc that has me wanting to lick my plate, although I do manage to resist (well, I’m next to the window; anyone might see). We share some sides, of fries and roasted cabbage, and they are pretty decent too. Philip’s burger is an unusual choice for him, but he declares himself satisfied: it’s a juicy, meaty patty served in a brioche bun with lots of gherkins, and comes with fries & coleslaw. It hits the spot, he says, and eats it all.

For pudding, my parents and I have a pistachio parfait with chocolate and rhubarb, while Philip has vanilla rice pudding with a fruit compote and candied nuts. Both have the requisite naughty-but-nice factor that makes sweet food such a joy to eat. Yum yum!

We’re impressed with the restaurant’s accessibility too, and with the easy, breezy way the staff deal with my parents’ physical requirements (mum needs a seat with a lot of leg room, and somewhere to store her zimmer frame; dad struggles to cut up food, so they slice his into bite-size pieces in the kitchen: no fuss, just happy to help).

It’s a lovely place, and a really welcome addition to the area. We enjoy a gentle stroll along the prom, and pronounce ourselves content.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

 

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The Dark

12/02/19

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Nick Mahona’s story, set in Idi Amin’s Uganda in 1979, is based on his personal experience of being smuggled across the border to Kenya by his mother when he was just a small child. Performed by two actors, who take on a whole host of roles, the story is set mostly aboard a crowded matatu (or minibus) as it travels along deserted country roads after curfew, the passengers all risking possible execution if they are caught by Amin’s soldiers.

Michael Balogun makes an engaging narrator for the tale and he’s ably supported  by Akiya Henry, who plays Nick’s mother, several other passengers and various people who are encountered at stops along the way. It’s an ambitious undertaking, that mostly works. There are occasional moments as the story unfolds when it is not always immediately apparent which particular character is talking – an effect that is sometimes  heightened when both actors take turns at the same character – but it’s nonetheless an affecting narrative.

The staging is simply done with a variety of seats being moved about to represent various locations en route, and the bus roof looks like a huge overhead bedstead, suspended on ropes – perhaps symbolising a safe house somewhere in the world. There is also an OHP, which displays a series of vintage photographs and headings to let us know exactly where we are on the journey.

The atmosphere of fear and suspicion is chillingly conveyed and the actors give it everything they have. And this matters, because Mahona’s story is an undoubtedly powerful one and moreover, one that absolutely needs to be told.

3.7 stars

Philip Caveney

Art

11/02/19

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

I’ve been going to the theatre for a very long time now and, over the years, I must have seen literally thousands of productions.

But I’ve never seen Art. Which is faintly puzzling when you consider how ubiquitous this clever three-hander is. Written by French playwright Yasmina Reza and translated by Christopher Hampton, it first hit the UK in 1996, and enjoyed a residence at London’s Wyndham Theatre that lasted for eight years. Since then, it has had many revivals in a variety of locations and featured a whole host of celebrity names. But, for whatever reasons, I have somehow comprehensively failed to catch up with it – so this touring production from the Old Vic provides an ideal opportunity to rectify the situation.

Serge (Nigel Havers) has recently bought a painting, an original by a much celebrated contemporary artist. What’s more, he has paid two hundred thousand pounds for it, much to the disgust of his long-time friend, Marc (Dennis Lawson). When he looks at the picture, all he can see is a large white rectangle, which he immediately brands as a piece of ‘white merde.’ Marc wants Serge to admit that he’s been duped and, to this end, he enlists the help of their mutual friend Yvan (Stephen Tompkinson, in what is arguably the play’s showiest role) to convince Serge of his mistake. Yvan is one of those mild-mannered souls who basically wants to please everybody all of the time, so it’s a delight to watch as he attempts to walk a precarious tightrope strung between his two best friends’ unshakeable egos. There’s one nervy extended monologue from him that earns a round of applause all of its own.

This is a play about art, about how we perceive it in different ways. It is also, to some extent about class, but it’s mostly about friendship and the importance of having people we can trust. And how, oddly, our friends’ responses to a plain white canvas can feel uncomfortably personal, a judgement on us all.

As the three old friends embark on a doomed attempt to enjoy a night out, their various differences come looming like flotsam to the stormy surface and the result is fast, frenetic and very funny. There’s an extended silent sequence where the three men sit in Serge’s living room eating olives that is so perfectly delivered it has me in fits of laughter at every clink of an olive pit.

Don’t go the King’s expecting a slow, leisurely unfolding of the plot. This is a lean, lively sprint, peppered with witty dialogue and delivered by three seasoned actors who have clearly played these characters enough times to know them like old friends – which, in a way, is the raison d’être for seeing this.

It’s only taken me twenty-two years to catch up but I’m glad I’ve finally ticked this one off my ‘to see’ list. Don’t leave it as long as I have.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

The Bonnie Badger

10/02/19

Main Street, Gullane

It’s nearly Valentine’s day, and that’s all the excuse we need. Tom and Michaela Kitchin have opened up a country hotel a few miles away in Gullane, and we’re really keen to try it. So when a promotional email pops into my inbox, I am very tempted by the Luxury Winter Break package advertised therein. Philip needs very little persuasion: he’s a fan too. We’re lucky enough to live just five minutes’ walk away from not one, but two, of The Kitchin Group’s fabulous restaurants, Castle Terrace and the Southside Scran, so we’ve a fair idea what we can expect.

Gullane is a forty-five minute drive from our home in Edinburgh; it’s a sunny day and the roads are quiet. These feel like good omens, and they are. The coastline is gorgeous, and there are deer in the road; this is a pretty village, a world away from the city bustle. We park up outside the attractive grey stone building, and head inside.

Our package includes a welcome drink and a mini afternoon tea, and these make the arrival process an absolute pleasure. We sit in the garden room, looking out at a wood fire, drinking Prosecco (me) and lager (Philip), and tucking into home-made baked goods of the highest calibre. There are scones, served with cream and thick fig jam, and little squares of lemon drizzle and carrot cake. We make short work of it, then head to our room.

We have a ‘superior room’ in a cottage behind the main building, and it is utterly charming. One wall is all French windows, which open up onto a private garden space; inside, there’re all the usual touches: a big bed, a fancy shower, thick towels and bathrobes. The hairdryer is a GHD (good choice), and there’s a Nespresso machine, although we don’t use this, because we don’t like the single-use plastic pods. It doesn’t matter: we’re being so well catered for on this short break that we don’t miss an extra cuppa.

We head out to the sea, which is a short stroll from the pub, and it’s utterly, breathtakingly beautiful. Gullane Bay is one of the cleanest beaches we have ever seen, and we’re there as the sun begins to set, climbing the dunes and walking along the sand. We can’t keep the smiles off our faces, not that we’re trying very hard.

Then it’s back to the hotel to get ready for dinner, which is served in The Stables restaurant. Our package includes a bottle of house wine; we go for the white, which is a French blend of Roussanne, viognier & grenache blanc – and very light and tasty it is too.

To begin, Philip has the smoked ham terrine and quail eggwhich he declares a triumph, while I have the Orkney King scallops, served with cauliflower and raisins. These are soft and delicate and perfectly cooked, with the raisins adding an unexpected but very welcome sweetness to the dish. We’re off to a flying start!

For my main, I have the Highland Wagyu sirloin steakwhich is cooked on ‘the big green egg’ (a barbecue of sorts, outdoors) and is as succulent as you’d expect, served with chips and roasted vegetables. Philip’s fish pie is also rather marvellous, robustly flavoured and generously filled with smoked haddock and prawns. He also orders sides of chorizo potatoes and honey-glazed baby carrots; the potatoes are a spicy, garlicky delight, and the carrots – though tamer – are rather lovely too.

For pudding (of course we have pudding), Philip plumps for the treacle tart, which he opts to have with vanilla ice cream. The tart is as sticky and sweet as it should be, but lighter than the stodgy stuff we used to love at school – and a good thing too after the meal we have just had. I have the vanilla cheesecake with poached rhubarb, which is a remarkable thing indeed, all light sweet creaminess and tart fruit, the tangy rhubarb sorbet being especially inspired.

We retire to the bar for a nightcap, then stagger back to our room, where we find two small flasks of hot chocolate and some cookies waiting for us. It’s a lovely touch, but we can’t face the cookies right now. We wrap them up and put them away to enjoy another time.

In the morning, after a good night’s sleep, it’s time to start eating again. We can scarcely believe it, but we’re actually hungry, so we shower quickly and head over to the bar for breakfast. The atmosphere is very relaxed; we’re sitting next to the window, looking out at the quiet high street. We’re offered coffee, and then plates of food are brought to the table: there’s Prosciutto, Swiss cheese, smoked salmon and avocado; fruit bread, rye bread, little croissants, pains au chocolat and the tiniest, sweetest cinnamon swirls. There’s freshly squeezed orange juice, home-made jams, a pot of honey – everything is here. We order poached eggs and bacon and sausages too, because we’re greedy, and all of it, everything, is just wonderful. Best of all are the pots of home-made granola with rhubarb compôte and Greek yoghurt. Phew!

It’s time for us to check out, so we do, but – once we’ve packed everything into the car – we head back to that beach, because we really need to walk off some of what we’ve consumed. It’s no hardship: we spend ninety minutes walking five miles in glorious sunshine, exploring that gorgeous stretch of coast. It’s a wonderful end to a wonderful treat.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

All Is True

09/01/19

All Is True is a gentle affair and, actually, a perfect Sunday afternoon film. You know what I mean: it’s one to settle down in front of when you’ve eaten too much dinner and you want to engage with something clever but not challenging, fun but not frenetic. It’s a quality piece; how could it not be with its fine pedigree? With Kenneth Branagh starring and directing; with Judi Dench supporting; with Ben Elton providing the script? (Okay, I know Elton has his naysayers, but there’s no denying he’s good at this historical comedy stuff. Blackadder is still up there, I think, and Upstart Crow is pretty decent too.)

It’s the tale of William Shakespeare’s latter years, back in Stratford with his family after living apart from them in London. But now his theatre – the Globe – has gone up in flames, destroyed by a misfired prop cannon; he’s lost his mojo and he needs somewhere quiet to lick his wounds. Returning home also gives him the belated chance to mourn his dead son, Hamnet, who died of the plague while his father was away, and to repair his fractured relationship with his daughters and his wife. But there is scandal in small towns as well as in cities, and Will’s no stranger to it. His own father was a thief, and now his daughter, Susanna (Lydia Wilson), is caught up in a lawsuit, accused of adultery.

Interestingly, this is the second fictional interpretation we’ve seen of this affair (the recorded facts are sparse, but we do know that her accuser was found guilty of slander and excommunicated for his lies) – the first, The Herbal Bed by Peter Whelan, was performed at The Lowry in 2016 – you can read our review of it here: https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2016/04/02/the-herbal-bed/.

But Elton’s scope is wider than Whelan’s, focusing too on the strange details of Hamnet’s death, and his twin sister Judith (Kathryn Wilder)’s reaction to it, as well as on Shakespeare’s own insecurities as a grammar-school educated merchant’s son, occasionally mocked by the upper-class university graduates he counts as his peers.  There’s a meandering quality to the movie that suits its Stratford setting; the light is gorgeous and the period is beautifully evoked. It’s funny too, and informative. There’s no denying it’s a slight piece of work, a little bit of whimsy to while away the hours, but it’s entertaining and engaging, and, provided you’re not in the mood for something more demanding, perfectly enjoyable.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Velvet Buzzsaw

08/02/19

On paper, it all looks very promising.

In 2014, writer/director Dan Gilroy gave us Nightcrawler, a brilliant movie with arguably career-best performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo. Velvet Buzzsaw, set in the LA art world, must surely be an opportunity to pull off a similar trick, making us care about essentially unlikable people… mustn’t it? Unfortunately, the characters who inhabit this movie are such an appalling collection of poseurs that it’s hard not to cheer when awful things happen to them. Which is only the first of its problems.

Gyllenhaal plays Morf Vandewalt, an influential art critic. One word from this man and an aspiring artist can kiss goodbye to his career (Hmm. I wonder what it’s like to have that kind of influence?). Morf has a bit of a thing for Josephina (Zawe Ashton), who works as an assistant to hard-nosed art dealer, Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo). Josephina has lately been struggling in her career but an unexpected opportunity arises when reclusive artist Vetril Dease drops dead at an art launch and she chances upon a massive haul of his paintings hidden in his apartment. Despite the fact that Dease left strict instructions that his work should be destroyed in the event of  his death, Josephina steals his pictures and, with the help of Vandewalt and Haze, sets about selling them to the highest bidders. But Dease was a troubled soul and his paintings have taken on certain aspects of his personality – probably because he used bits of his own body tissue when mixing his paints.

To be fair to Gilroy, he sets out his stall expertly, skewering the world of contemporary art and pointing out that, in this day and age, it is inextricably bound up with commerce. In this film, people cannot mention an artist without pointing out how much his or her work is currently selling for. But having created this world, Gilroy seems to have nowhere interesting to take his characters, except along an extremely well worn path of bumping them off in increasingly unpleasant circumstances. Which would be all right, if it weren’t for the fact that this is supposedly a horror movie and it fails comprehensively to generate any sense of terror. More damning is its predictability. The demise of rival art dealer Gretchen (Toni Collette) is so clumsily signalled, you know what’s going to happen to her well before she does.

And then there’s the little matter of the film’s own internal logic. Many of the deaths here  really don’t make sense in terms of the premise that has already been established. That catchy title by the way, refers to Rhodora Haze’s previous incarnation as a member of a punk band of the same name. It also leads to one of the film’s most tenuous plot twists.

This Netflix Original has certainly divided opinion. I’ve heard a lot of people decrying it and just a few speaking up in its defence, but I have to say I’m with the naysayers. This is, frankly,  a massive disappointment.

Interested parties can find our review of Nightcrawler here: https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2014/11/03/nightcrawler/

2.6 stars

Philip Caveney

The Cat in the Hat

06/02/19

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

We went to the theatre to see a new show:
The Cat in the Hat – we were happy to go!
The venue was heaving with Dr Seuss fans,
Lots of kids and their parents, who’d clearly made plans
To have a good laugh and a really nice time –
And this being Suess it was mostly in rhyme.
Now I know that I’m old and the stuff on the stage
Was aimed at those fans of a much younger age,
But the thing about Seuss (and the cast get this right) –
It needs to be pacy and racy and light.
The staging was clever, the effects were supreme
(Though the songs weren’t as catchy as they might have been).
The parts that worked best were the bits that were busy,
When Things One and Two made us all feel quite dizzy!
And the Cat in the Hat had to clean up the mess
That was causing the little ones so much distress.
I’d say this works best for the youngest ones present
(The older kids may not find things quite so pleasant).
So if you have youngsters who need entertaining,
You could do much worse – on a day when it’s raining!

4 stars

Philip Caveney