Saturday, 25 September 2010

Experimental Food Society: 50% Awesome, 50% Must improve badly

Experimental Food Society

The minute I heard about the banquet for the Experimental Food Society I knew I wanted to go. Having been to the Courvoisier The Complete History of Food experience, which we enjoyed tremendously, and not having yet had the chance to attend a Rebel Dining Society event, I thought that we should treat ourselves to another culinary surprise.

Although overall we had a really great time, it is a shame that there are quite a few aspects that should be ironed out in order to make this event the absolute success it deserves to be. I really would love to say that it was a perfect night out and completely worth the money (a very respectable £75 per person without drinks) however little and not so little bits here and there took away from the overall experience I want it to be.

The most disappointing thing about it was how we didn’t really get to see many of the things announced, which raises the issue of not only maybe being better off just paying £5 to see the exhibition during the day, but also how to interpret what you have been sold and have bought into (jellymongers and chocolate painting for example).

Monkey and duck balloon hats by Miss Ballooniverse
Eager as we were, we arrived at 7.30 sharp at The Brickhouse restaurant and we treated to a lovely glass of Veuve Clicquot champagne and before we knew it we had the absolutely awesome Miss Ballooniverse right by our side showing us her skills and creating quite amazing food-related balloon hats. I can’t quite give her enough credit really, I don’t find balloon people so entertaining and I loved her, she really worked her act and she even made the BF a monkey balloon hat which was the envy of the whole restaurant.

We took seat in the upstairs area and could immediately spot the issue with the venue, as any people seating there would not be able to see the performers without standing up from their places. Since the layout was a long medieval banquet-like table it was definitely complicated for anyone seated next to the balcony or in the middle section to see much or even go to the loos. So we stayed right at the end of the table which gave us the chance to get up and see what was going on downstairs.
The stage from the 1st floor

The first treat was a shot of Pernod Absinthe. Everything needed was beautifully laid on the stage and after the explanation on how to pour yourself the best absinthe drink, off we trotted down to experience it ourseves. How silly of me that pouring water over a sugar cube over the absinthe makes me all excited. I am an absinthe convert and please could someone arrange it so it really gets back in fashion? The absinth drink was complemented by a delicious butternut squash and absinthe terrine canapé.

Next up, was the bread, but of course not as you would expect it. This bread had been moulded on the body shape of (appropriately named) artist Sharon Baker. She gleefully invited 8 people to slice her bread twin up after which the body was further chopped up and served to us accompanied by beautiful butter roses. I loved Sharon Baker, she was tremendously engaging and passionate and ultimately she ‘cooked herself’, how awesome is that?

Sharon Baker watches a diner slicing her bread boob

To follow up we had the most delicious Elisabethan pie (salmon and raisins) accompanied by a tuille parmesan crown and dill butter ball. This was the best dish for me. Absolutely delicious throughout, the dill butter ball was tremendously cute while at the same time complemented fantastically the fish.
Elisabethan pie and Colour changing cocktail

The main course was introduced by the good old Super Mario Shooting Duck game and our very own hunter who finished off the bird that got away. Of the ducks we were served a trio of seared foie gras, plum pudding and honey glass, duck tongues with braised red cabbage and edible gunshot and duck hearts with bone marrow and apple puree. There was a lot of ruffling at the table when the dish arrived as they lights had been considerably dimmed (I wonder if to encourage the less adventurous diners) and we were trying to find out which bits corresponded to each part of the duck. The most fun was the atomised beetroot sauce, which when sprayed made everything look appropriately bloody and a very wonderful vampire bite kind of way. I did enjoy very much the hearts.

Before the following dish there was a live performance by artist Caroline Smith. Unfortunately I don’t it worked as well as it could have, because of the layout and size of the dining area, because the event had begun to decline in pace noticeable and because she had the difficult task of trying to hold our attention while at the same time helping Brickhouse chef Matthew Reuther, who was bravely cooking chocolate mousse before us. I can see how Caroline’s act would really work in a much smaller and relaxed environment.

After a bit of a long wait, in which we got to know our table neighbours, desert was presented on stage. Roasted pig cake by Michelle Wibowo, Pop cakes circus by Clare O’Connell, floating hedges by Love to Cake and Marie Antoinette with a macaroon layered dress. While we got to have a good look at what was shown downstairs, by this moment all hell seemed to have broken loose with no attention being paid anymore to the presentation of the dishes and how they were served to us. While we were suppose to receive the cornucopian crown desert as well, we didn’t unless it was the shapeless chunk of glittery cake that appeared in my plate. While the true to size pig cake was exquisite in detail and impressive to see, the result was not as pleasant to eat  due to the thick layers of marzipan. And the absolutely delicious macaroons from Marie Antoinette did not really reach the tables.

With very few people remaining on our floor, more confusion ensued when the cheese course was announced. The cheese was ready since it had been landscaped earlier in the day (something that didn’t please the people in our table), however the kitchen was not and the accompanying oat cakes were not ready until at least half an hour later. The kitchen was so unprepared though that we were given the cheese in a cup, no cutlery. This is where I have to really say, what were they thinking? I have been to the Brickhouse before and service and food has been excellent. I feel for the chef as I would imagine having mistakes of this kind  in your restaurant cannot be a pleasant experience, and definitely not a reputation booster. Alternatively, if you’re going to give me cheese on a cup, make a point of it, make it fun, make it seem intentional and not a failure.

The cheese issue brought a heated argument to our table since to me the fault was with presentation and lack of the companion oat cakes, whereas our dining neighbours seemed quite concerned with the fact that it had been out for too long. Aaahh... foodie fights J

There was a surprise however, and since by all diners on the first floor had already left, the remaining couple and us were presented with the chocolate mousses cooked on stage before and a tray of delicious chocolates of which the outstanding Paul A Young truffles left us speechless. At this point we should have been entertained by a performance by chocolate painter Sid Chidiac, however it is unclear why it didn’t happen.

We left with a bittersweet taste in our mouths and it unfortunately wasn’t because of the chocolate.

I believe this event has a lot of potential, and I wish it succeed in pulling itself together with better organisation, more attention to detail and above all care for the diner. It is after all people passionate about food who will be willing to fork out to be part of a vanguard movement, but that doesn’t mean they are not looking for value and quality as well.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

I finally went to see the men in tights. In tights and full make up, fake eyelashes, tutus and pointe shoes.

I first heard of Les Trocks back in Spain so it must be over 4 years now. Until now I hadn’t really had the chance to go and see their much  talked about performances.

They’re a love it or hate it kind of company. You have to like ballet at least a little bit, you have to like classic music and you must love slapstick and drag. Fotunately I love all four of those, but how was I to take the boyfriend along? He certainly loves ballet and classical music but he will run a mile from drag queen shows, so that was going to be a bit tricky. So as any good girlfriend would do I bought the tickets and deceived him. I said that it was going to be a surprise (true) and hoped that he would like it based on his really enjoying ballet, and that he could see past the very hairy dudes in tutus in front of him. To enhance my chances I ensured that there was a minimum amount of alcohol consumption before the performance and off we went.

To be fair, give it a try he did. But it wasn’t very successful. So, I am leaving the details of our evening here while I move on to the performance itself.

After the mandatory cast change announcement and a brief introduction of the evening’s program (which they extended with 2 unannounced pieces)  we started the Chopiniana (Les Sylphides) which included the most enthusiastic ballerinas and the most emo male lead I have ever seen. All part of the comedy act is the fact that the characters interact with each other much more than in a regular ballet, that is, in a spontaneous manner. Whereas in ballet every interaction is choreographed, here, the first shock was to see that while keeping the choreography and the perfect poses, the corps dancers laughed and winked at each other, they looked longingly at the moody male, they moved rhythmically with the music when they were supposed to be part of the background. And you know what? That was lovely to see. Used to the professionalism of the Royal Ballet dancers, you can’t help but wonder if they ever feel tempted to act like that (clap enthusiastically at a cast-mate that has just nailed her solo, comment with your fellow fairies how beautiful was that particular arabesque...)

After a break we were treated to the bonkers Points in Space by Merce Cunningham. Now, I have yet to see how different the original version is from the Trock interpretation but I cannot help but think that it may actually not be that far from the real deal. In any case judging from the audience reaction, and there were at least 3 people close to chocking of laughter, it was a winner too.

We then saw my favourite, the pas de deux from Le Corsaire. This ultra famous, mega high energy excerpt is not only one of the most performed by companies worldwide, it is also very well known by the public due to Nureyev’s electrifying performances. My experience when seeing this ballet performed by the Bolshoi this summer in London was not a very good one. I thought it quite flat, quite boring in many areas and was sad to see the male lead have such a small part in it outside of this famour pas de deux. Seeing this best bit by Les Trocks was quite interesting since only the fun choreography remained. Interestingly they did not pull many of the previously seen gimmicks (unstable ballerinas falling over) and we were treated to most of the choreography uninterrupted. And yes! This included over 20 fouettes (en pointe of course) for her and all the tours a la seconde for him. While I was definitely expecting to see a technically good company however I was not prepared to be so impressed with what I saw.

We next saw the dying swan solo from Swan Lake which was nice, and well performed but didn’t really say as much to me. It’s the one where I could really see how they could have played it comically (shadow shapes with hands, playing more with the space...). As nice as the swan was, it left me a bit indifferent.

Lastly we saw La Vivandiere where the cast returned to a winning combination of technical and artistic ability with comedic timing. I may be silly and an ever sillier sense of humour but to see a tiny male dancer paired with the tallest ballerina who’s beaming with excitement really gets me in a giggly mood. They were both phenomenal and  the potential dangers of such partnership only made it even more delightful.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it and marvelled at the exquisite pointe work of the cast, these are men who really know how to work those pointy shoes! I would have liked them however, to have a wider variety of gags which played more with the unique personalities of the dancers, with the stage space, with shadows or props, etc.

And although I am happy to have seen them, next time I go I will make sure to bring another drag loving companion.

Go see them and laugh and love it!

For more ballet info you can check The ballet bag

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Don Pasquale

One of the great things about leaving the summer season (and I love summer the most) is that going into Autumn feels a bit like going back to school. And although this means less outdoor playtime it also represents the start of all the exciting extra-curricular activities, and London more than anywhere the place to be. New plays, new ballet season, new fashion, new courses, so many things to do! 

So like a kid with new shoes, I always approach the fall with a lot of excitement about what will shape my evenings for the following 5 months, trying to make the most of my entertainment budget.

I was most surprised and pleased then when there was an earlier commence than planned for all those activities. On the one hand the visit from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is something I could not let pass (again!). So I decided to turn it into a surprise evening for the BF, who really likes ballet, especially the classic ones with lots of tutus. He’s in for a great surprise!

On the other hand, I was extremely lucky to be invited to see Don Pasquale at the Royal Opera House. Since I enjoyed so much L’Elisir d’amore last winter, this was also a must-go no brainer.

And so off I went to meet a fellow Spaniard and opera lover to watch a performance of which I knew little about. While on occasions this is a great way of allowing yourself to experience the libretto as its original audience would have, I am normally more on the ‘go to Wikipedia to see what I can expect’ camp.

The opera itself was directed by Jonathan Miller who seems to be directing everything in London lately to the point of exhaustion. His take on ‘Cosi fan tutte’ earlier this year at the ROH was quite interesting, although I prefer more elaborate sets. In this instance we were not disappointed as the cute as a button doll house set was as much a highlight as the artists themselves. The plot of Don Pasquale is fairly silly and a bit dated, definitely more relevant back mid 19th century,  seeming just the excuse to write some fun moments for the audience to giggle and secondary to the music. While Act I was a bit slow and no as catchy, as soon as they character of Norina got on stage things perked up and we thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the story. One word of caution though, when the performers are deep inside the doll house the acoustics are pretty awful with the orchestra drowning voices all round.

All in all, I was happy we both enjoyed the performance and to be able to share our stories about living in London.

With more to come this week, I really cannot for my first ration of men in tights!!

Monday, 13 September 2010

New to blogging

Good Morning reader!

I don't know who you are or what may have brought you here, but welcome!

This is my first post and I must confess I am a bit nervous. I admire people who have blogs and consistently and brilliantly maintain them. I am going to endeavour to do the same, but understand if I am, to start with, a little bit aprehensive. After all, the internet is so vast and there are so many interesting people!

In this blog, I am going to cover mainly 3 topics which are may main passions. They don't necessarily always blend well with each other, but they make me who I am and shape my thoughts and life because I have chosen them to do so.

First of all there is dance
Particularly ballet, but not just. I lvoe dancing and I love watching dance performances. To me all forms of art have immense merit, but dance has got to be the most expressive one. There are still photographs of my ballet school performance where we were smurfs (I know! A smurf ballet! This idea should be revisited) and you can see my face is pure joy.

Then there is fashion
Again, since very little I had my very own ideas about style and had the luck of having a master trainer in the shape of my mum. Together, she taught me to shop, the importance of cut and fabric and how to spot and avoid mistakes. She also watched endless classic Hollywood movies with me, which formed the the standard of chic and style I use up to this day to appreciate fashion.

Finally there is science.
Technological advance is impressive, especially nowadays when we take for granted things we would have never thought of having at an average person level 50 years ago. I find immense pleasure in reading about pthe more comprehensible (for me) natural sciences: psychology, sociology, animal behavious, medical advances, ethology, etc. I do try with what little I can understand of physics, chemistry and mathematics, although these are the powerful fordces of our world. As a convinced sceptic I applaud those who can communicate the facts of this world without resorting to otherworldly causes.

So this is now my map and what I will try to share here will be related to one of the topics above, which hopefully will create interesting reading and conversation.

Many thanks and welcome to my blog again