The Show Must Go On….(?)

Criticism is relevant and specific, just as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. For me, a person gains or loses credibility after a three part examination of :  how they eat, how they speak and their understanding of culture, all within a 10 minute face to face conversation. That’s more than enough info to give you a balanced idea of what that person is all about.

In the past month, I have done a lot of moving around…so I haven’t had time to write any new posts. I promise once everything makes senses again, Memoirs Of A Retina will be back on track. For the time being though, here are some good and bad experiences I’ve had in London recently…a basic argument of “triumph vs trash”.

What’s On (and should stay on) :

Clybourne Park @ Wyndham’s Theatre, Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0DA – It’s been a while since I’ve laughed so hard in a play and was so impressed by such impeccable acting.  Every single member of the cast was perfect. Simply put, this in-your-face comedy is nothing less than superb. The best chance you have to get tickets is to queue up before the theatre opens and hope you are one of 10 lucky people to score day tickets for that night’s performance. Each person can only get 2, so bring along a friend & some coffee for the wait.

Frankenstein @ The National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX (Until Mon May 2…so hurry!) – Make sure you go on the night where Jonny Lee Miller is acting as the monster…otherwise, I’m not sure if the performance will be what you expect. Miller was by far the star of the show, who was awe-inspiring…but I’m still trying to figure out where they found the rest of the cast. PEOPLE, don’t get caught up in the hype, pay attention to the acting……(for more incite on the play see previous post)

The Woman in Black @ The Fortune Theater, Russell Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2B 5HH – If you’re into getting spooked, this is the show for you. The play asks the audience to use their imagination in order to get into the essence of what the actors are trying to convey, but its easy when you have such brilliant performers like Patrick Drury and Antony Eden.

Ghost Stories @ Duke of York’s Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4BG – A dark, damp, eerie and heart-pounding theatrical experience that should not be missed. I would recommend a drink or two before the show to get you into the mood….

The 39 Steps @ The Criterion Theatre, 2 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 4XA – Definitely this show falls into the category of “Entertaining things to do on a night out”. Well worth the visit and the money spent on the tickets. In addition, there are a lot of British cultural references…so if you’re from here, this is right up your alley!

Roller Disco @ The Renaissance Rooms in Vauxhall, London – Its a bit random that I added this here but…..Wooooohoooooooooooooooo!!! Get your pink spandex out and party it up roller disco style. I never knew drinking & skating was so much fun when done together. Watch out for the expert skaters, don’t get in their way…and make sure you take EXTRA comfortable shoes for when the night is over.

What Should Be Off (forever…) :

The King and The Minotaur @ a weird and unknown location – …………..I still don’t know how to describe that night. A part of me wants to forget, and another part of me wants to deal with the tragedy of the whole situation. If the purpose of 21st Century “artists” is to disgust, annoy and make you feel pity for them, this is was a great success. For those who appreciate art exhibitions, galleries, and talented people….STAY AWAY from this place. Being weird for the sake of being weird is not artistic or special. Some people need an earth shattering dose of reality.

The Children’s Hour @ The Comedy Theater, Panton Street, London, SW1Y 4DN – You would think that an AMAZING cast would produce an AMAZING product. Turns out…it really doesn’t. I cannot fault Ellen Burstyn and Carol Kane because they are fabulous no matter what…but as for the rest………oh dear lord. As a result of this play I will never watch another Keira Knightley movie again and every time Elisabeth Moss has a scene in Mad Men, I promise to close my eyes. As for Bryony Hannah , she has officially canceled out her amazing performance in Every Good Boy Deserves  a Favour, and is now on my Top 10 most hated actresses list. It truly is disappointing when the audience & certain critics don’t try to find quality in what they are watching, and instead are mesmerized by movie stars acting like crap on stage. I might just write a review for this play because there is SO much to say….In a nutshell: terrible acting, unbelievably bad American accents (that switched back and forth to British every now and then), stupid dialogue and mind-numbingly boring.

P.S:  Head over to Mr. Kong for a bite to eat if you’re ever in lost in Chinatown….or if you’re hungry after a night out in the West End.


Mixed reviews for Danny Boyle’s FRANKENSTEIN

Slowly I learnt the ways of humans: how to ruin, how to hate, how to debase, how to humiliate. And at the feet of my master I learnt the highest of human skills, the skill no other creature owns: I finally learnt how to lie.

This was by far my most anticipated play of the year… Having booked tickets 2 months in advance, I was ecstatic when the day finally arrived that I would see Danny Boyle’s vision of Frankenstein come alive on stage. And come alive it did…

From the opening moment when Jonny Lee Miller flopped around on stage naked as the creature, stripped off everything, bare and exposed, to the closing scene, where we see him evolved to an almost human – he delivered a beautiful charismatic performance making me laugh, cry and simply fall in love with his character. I cannot stress how amazing and genuine he was! Told almost entirely from his viewpoint – he became the beast who was hated on stage but embraced and adored by the audience.

What was most unfortunate however and really made me furious was the remaining atrocious supporting cast – who were not even remotely close to the standard of the National Theatre actors. I have never seen such weak performances in a professional play, a play of such notoriety and with such a huge production. What was Danny Boyle thinking while casting these actors?! It almost mocked and demeaned the high rate – vastly superior performance of the creature.

The production itself was impressive, with a live fire, sparks and rain falling on stage. I sat right at the front and it all seemed very real to me…with JLM gracing me with his extremely close presence on several occasions… but regardless of the brilliant lead performance, the spectacular set & atmospheric visuals, the play was let down by the supporting cast who fell flat and lacked depth. Even Victor Frankenstein was not given the adequate opportunity to develop as a character. The script itself, adapted from Mary Shelley’s novel by Nick Dear was shockingly weak, and regardless of tackling some of the existential questions posed in the original novel, this rendition came off as superficial and amateur. You could almost have a hit with the muted performance of the creature alone, without the drab and shallow dialogues.

Perhaps it was the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch was taken ill that evening and it may have upset the order of things (granted his understudy was not bad at all)… Or perhaps too much work went into perfecting the role of the creature and not enough attention was given to hiring decent actors for the minor roles, but whatever it was, it took so much away from what could have truly been the best play on the London stage!

5* for JLM

3* for the play

1* for the supporting cast

Opera Tavern

The decision to go to dinner had turned into a dilemma. I had a long list of places I wanted to check out in the area and after some thought, I had narrowed it down to two: Opera Tavern and 32 Great Queen Street. After walking in circles through Covent Garden, by sheer randomness we finally ended up at the doorstep of Opera Tavern. And thus began our gastronomic voyage for the evening….

The first order of business was to ask if there were tables available, as it looked quite busy. A polite hostess in her well-mannered approach (an unusual & rare sight at busy London restaurants) informed us that we could have one until 8:30, and seeing that it was only 6:30 at the time – we gladly took up her offer and were seated at our table upstairs.

Upstairs, the decor and color combinations suited the restaurant’s personality but one look at the size of the tables and I got scared. I am not a fan of small tables, especially ones that are in close proximity to the adjacent tables, but I knew I had no choice. We were greeted by our waitress for the evening, Ella, who was all smiles and asked to take our coats. When Ella returned with our menus, I began to realise that this kid would be a star. Let me explain…

I never know what I want to drink, and I love making a conversation out of my indecisiveness. The only thing I knew was that I wanted beer, so I commissioned Ella as my guide for the evening, and we would start at the drinks. The choices weren’t many and as I do not care for blonde beers, my choices were limited. Ella suggested the draft beer and I made a joke about tasting it…..but the joke turned into reality when she left and came back with a sample for me to try. Impressed, I tasted the beer I would never normally order and something weird happened. Instant flashbacks from my childhood came flooding down: the sound of dice, the crunching of nuts and the gold glistening of my granddad’s cold beer which he let me sip whenever I did something good. In honour of this trip down memory lane, I had to order a half pint. Meanwhile, Ella helped my friend with a couple of great wine options. And now it was time for the food.

After much deliberation, we called Ella back to help us narrow down our choices. She was brilliant – you could tell she had tasted every single dish. The order was chiselled down to this:

Courgette Flowers Stuffed with Goats’ Cheese and Drizzled with Honey – A three-part rollercoaster ride of flavors. Frying is my least favorite way of cooking, and usually I avoid it like the plague. This however, I could eat with pleasure. First stop the baby courgette, which was cooked perfect, reminding you that beneath the crispy batter there is a crunchy vegetable. Then came the flower, a delicate texture on the outside, and a soft sharp taste on the inside, balanced with the sweetness of the honey. The final bit to this tasty treat was the crusty top where the flower is twisted to keep the filling in (if you’re lucky to get it), which reminded me of Loukoumades, a very traditional sweet I used to eat as a kid. A splash of lemon was the only component missing from this dish.

Fried young artichokes with poached egg and smoked garlic and shallot vinaigretteI Artichokes…Gooey poached egg + artichoke + vinaigrette = party in my mouth. This officially inspired breakfast/brunch for this weekend.

Grilled Ibérico Presa with Capers, Shallots and LemonOMG. Gone are the days of fearing Trichinosis… I do believe we live in a time where it is finally acceptable to eat pork medium rare. I’m sure my grandma would disagree, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! I could have easily had an entire plate of this for myself…. Again…PARTY in my mouth.

Mini Iberico Pork And Foie Gras Burger It fully lived up to my slider expectations and I could have eaten 5 on my own. Pink on the inside, juicy and full of flavor. It was a bit tricky to share, but when there’s a will there’s a way…

Gratin Of Gnocchi, Taleggio, Trompettes and MigasAs Ella warned, it was heavy…but good none-the-less. I don’t think I would eat more than what I ate, but only because my body would hate me for it afterwards.

Crispy Squid And Sea Purslane With Chilli AioliThe squid was ok, and the aioli was very nice, but I think the batter was too heavy for the delicate nature of the squid. A tempura batter, or even just dusted with flour and fried (Greek style) would make it a sure winner.

Steamed Sea Bream with an Anchovy, Caper and Olive Oil DressingI wouldn’t say it was the best fish I’ve had, but it was a decent, tasty little plate with various flavours bouncing back and forth.

Mixed Leaf Saladvibrant and a necessary side-dish

Cheese Gnocchi, Mixed Vegetables with Pine Nuts and Pesto Dressingchock-full of flavor! The perfect and light accompaniment to all the heavier stuff.

Bitter Chocolate Fondant with Salted Pistachio Caramel and Milk Ice CreamAlthough at this point I had had enough, I did try the fondant. It was all right, not the best I’ve had thought. I would change the Ice cream texture from a sorbet to more of a Gelato-type smoothness.

I am fully aware that this was too much food for two people, but it was impossible to stop. If our stomachs were up for the challenge we would have eaten everything on the menu.

Conclusion: Service 10/10 (Ella you were a star), Food 8/10 (with some tweaking here and there it could go to 10), Atmosphere 7/10 (music, colours, décor all worked but it got a bit loud), Experience 9/10 (I would go back, and I would recommend it to friends), Professionalism/Training 10/10 (good job owners/manager)!

Opera Tavern – 23 Catherine St, Covent Garden , London WC2B 5JS (I didn’t add any photos of the food, I think it’s better to go explore for yourself!)