Surrealism and the Swan


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Title: Cocaine Nights

Author: J G. Ballard

Synopsis: 

Five people die in an unexplained house fire in the Spanish resort of Estrella de Mar, an exclusive enclave for the rich, retired British, centred on the thriving Club Nautico. The club manager, Frank Prentice, pleads guilty to charges of murder – yet not even the police believe him. When his Charles arrives to unravel the truth, he gradually discovers that behind the resort’s civilized façade flourishes a secret world of crime, drugs and illicit sex.

Review: 

Unsettling, addictive, shocking and slightly depressing Ballard has created another world of crime, sex and immorality. Switching from a high-rise to the Spanish south coast his laser-like observations on the world around him are magnified beautifully. As a reader I can never help but be drawn into the lives of his complex and disturbingly identifiable characters like a moth drawn to a flame. Another memorable venture into the fascinating mind of a great author – I await the forthcoming film of High Rise with anticipation.

 Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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What: Sunday Brunch with the Ladies

Where: The Swan at Shakespeare’s Globe, South Bank – London

Ambiance: Light, airy and fresh decor with big windows with which to admire the Thames banks including lovely views of St Paul’s Cathedral. Arriving a little earlier than my brunching partners, I secured a banquette which looked preferable to the long, shared dining table in the centre of the room -reminiscent of School dining halls. The service was good although slightly overzealous as we were asked about five times if we were ready to order before we’d been able to peruse the menu.

Food: As brunch has become de rigueur in the capital and competition is rife I was slightly disappointed to see a lack of choice and innovation. The standard three variations of poached eggs with hollandaise were there along with a full English.

I had the eggs Florentine with hollandaise on the side – after one sickly affair I am always nervous that my breakfast will be swimming in the rich sauce. Eggs perfectly poached, beautifully runny yolks on both, but the spinach was gritty, the muffin as lightly toasted as one could without it being bread and a cold hollandaise. Edible but not great. Complaints could have been made but the restaurant was hugely busy given the Globe was having an open house event so we couldn’t be bothered to wait any longer.

Still hungry after the eggs, the three of us shared a strawberry and pistachio cake which was a new combination and one that really worked  –  a mixture of sweet and salty. Alas the cake itself was dry and burnt on the outside which was a shame.

Drink: Lots of tap water – one of the party was hungover – and I had a Belvoir lemonade which was a revelation and one that I will be repeating!

My friend had rather an elaborate English breakfast tea which was accompanied by a mini milk bottle of which even the weakest tea drinker would have struggled – but the thought was there I guess.

Rating:  A disappointing 3 out of 10

 

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Date Night at Boulevard Brasserie

 

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Where: Boulevard Brasserie, Covent Garden

What: Traditional French Bistro

Ambiance: We were seated in the downstairs dining room at a nice corner table. The setting was relaxed, low lighting and dark wood furniture – classic with no fuss or kitsch antiques. The staff were smart, attentive and polite without being overbearing and with a friendly sense of humour.

Drinks: After a rather boozy Easter break we were both being good so we simply had the glass of prossecco that came with the set menu deal – it was supposed to be a Kir Royale but I hate cassis flavour so I opted for without. The wine menu was perused out of interest and I can confidently say it was extensive and impressive.

Food:

Starter: Smoked salmon with lentils and a hard-boiled egg – did what it said on the tin the salmon was a decent portion and had a lovely distinct flavour and texture without being slimy. The lentils were okay but nothing exceptional. Just lacking a blob or two of dill yogurt but black pepper served by the waiter added a nice contrast to the richness of the salmon and egg combination.

Main: Seabass with Green Beans, Olives, Tomatoes and Basil Pesto – the fish was grilled to perfection crispy salty skins with soft fish underneath that just fell apart at the merest touch. The green beans retained a slight crunch and were complimented beautifully by the slightly tart and vinegary olives and pesto.

Dessert: Creme Brulee – well, being a French restaurant it would be rude not to – the top emitted a satisfying crack and underneath was the smooth room temperature custard – sublime.

Cost: Booktable £22 for three courses + a champagne cocktail + service = under £30 

Overall an extremely pleasurable early dinner and a restaurant I will certainly visit again and one which is perfectly placed for any pre-theatre / opera dining plans.

Rating: 8 out 10

A Debut Author and a bit of Spice

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Title: The Girl in the Red Coat

Author: Kate Hamer

Summary: She is the missing girl. But she doesn’t know she’s lost.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the story was written from two different voices, that of both Carmel and her mother Beth. A style of writing which I always find gives a richness and depth to the story by offering two distinctive view points on one incident. As the chapters are quite short, and in order to accommodate this technique, you really do need to read this book in relatively big chunks (not half the book!) in order to follow the story and get drawn into the pace and intrigue of the kidnapping and resulting fall out.

The more poignant and heart-wrenching story is that of Carmel’s mother Beth. Carmel is her world, especially after her husband left her for another woman. Even before her daughter’s disappearance she is a worrier and struggles with being overprotective. After the kidnapping, her life is blown apart and as the time passes her plight becomes more desperate as the police and well-meaning friends soon forget and leave her to her own guilt, fear and loneliness.

This is a stunning and intricate debut that draws you in and keeps the momentum and question of whether mother and daughter will be reunited to the bitter end.

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Where: Cinnamon Soho

What: ‘Signature modern Indian food with a nod to British favourites’

Service: Not great they were either understaffed or just surprisingly busy but it was slightly haphazard and inattentive – waited quite some time for both menus and a simple jug of tap water.

Drink: A welcome cocktail – this was a mango smoothie tasty but unnecessary. Then we asked about what beers they had from a waiter rushing past and without much information we defaulted to Tiger – a pint was brought and ended up being £5 which seemed expensive – also we weren’t offered any size options.

Food: Booktable deal offered 8 dishes tasting menu for two people.

  • Steamed chickpea cakes with coconut chutney (v)
    When this arrived we weren’t 100% sure what it was – it was bit like eating a spicy Victoria sponge cake with a green mouse –  but it was surprisingly light and had a hint of spice.
  • Indo-Chinese style chicken with burnt chillies
    This was my favourite. The chicken was moist and sticky with the sauce and the burnt chillies packed a mean punch that lingered long after the chicken had been demolished. Definitely could eat this as a main course!
  •  Papdi Chaat – crisp wheat, spiced potatoes & chutney (v)
    This was served surround by a nice cooling yogurt, the crisp wheat was a new taste and texture for me and was really well balanced with the soft chunky chutney.
  •  Stir-fried shrimp with curry leaf & black pepper
    Great helping of prawns that were slightly crispy and tasted lovely and fresh with zesty undercurrents from the lightly pickled cucumber and carrot salad.
  •  Slow braised pork belly with honey & chilli glaze (GF) 
    Melt in the mouth the sizable piece of meat cut like butter. Although I have to say we both thought it was beef cheek or braising steak as the flavour and colour was unlike pork – either way whatever meat it was,  was utterly delicious.
  • Tandoori salmon with dill & mustard (GF)
    Flaked beautifully, nice and soft the spices weren’t overpowering. The dill mustard tasted like wasabi – which I usually love but this wasn’t at all pleasant.
  • Plain naan OR black lentils (we somehow got both!)
    Naan was thin and light which I prefer to the stodgy thick versions you can often get. The lentils (24hr coooked?!!!) were amazing it was like a saucier version of dahl.
  • Sticky toffe pudding with banana ice cream
    Dark, sticky, rich and delicious – would have preferred a simple vanilla ice cream as the banana version made it super thick and a bit of a heavy texture.

Price: £24 p/p for the dining deal + £5 pint of tiger beer + service = £32 p/p

Rating: 7 out of 10 – Overall fantastic food and great value for money – the only thing I’d like is a bit more service, especially if you’re going to charge me 12.5% for the pleasure.