Clean cut Mormon missionaries meet with poverty oppressed Africans with hilarious results. It sounds implausible, even offensive but this musical from the creators of South Park has been a runaway smash on both sides of the Atlantic and shows no sign of wearing out its welcome in the West End. The script is subversive and darkly comic but importantly never patronises its targets and is helped along by some of the cleverest, catchiest and downright scandalous tunes ever performed on stage.
Reports have suggested that inquiries about the Mormon faith have gone up by 50% since the musical started and it certainly didn't deter Mitt Romney from running for president (he lost but that was because his party was unpopular not because he was a Mormon). As the production pokes fun at some of the stranger beliefs of the Latter Day Saints, the underlying sentiment is that anybody can pick holes in religion but the hope that springs from it is undeniable and even transferable: deeds, not creeds if you will.
Adventurous Italian cooking in the heart of Soho is what the recently relocated Polpetto is all about. Commitment to the very best ingredients is the hallmark of any fine cuisine but it seems that it is even more essential in Italian dishes. This may have something to do with the fact that the regional food characteristics are so strong in that part of the world. Polpetto know all this by heart so you get green winter tomatoes from Sardinia, simply sliced and served with oil. This might sound rudimentary but the taste is indescribably good. Chef/owner Florence Knight is famous for her Baccala mantecato and happily it remains on the menu. A garlicky paste of salt cod on grilled bread, it is the ideal snack for these windy March days as it comforts the stomach while looking forward to warmer times ahead.
Polpetto also make the best scallops in town. Rather than swamp the delicate shellfish under a blanket of low-grade pork, they use lardons and cauliflower cream to elevate an already sublime dish. Desserts are sensibly palate cleansing, particularly the zesty blood orange sorbet and the Italian wine list is well chosen and reasonably priced.
Was the Regency period one, long BBC costume drama or was it gin-fuelled descent into debauchery? Well both really as it was a period of immense change at both ends of the social spectrum. The Georgians Revealed exhibition charts the period between 1714 and 1830 when the agricultural revolution led to people moving off the land and congregating in purpose built cities. With the rise of the professional middle classes, there came an increase in leisure time and a hunger for consumer goods and luxuries. Shopping, dancing and recreational gardening were unheard of before this time and if you think that the cult of celebrity is a modern malice, think again.
Mass print meant mass gossip and mass envy. Rumours lead to stock market crashes, riots and suicide: thank goodness we've all learnt our lesson. The exhibition acknowledges the stunning architecture and ambitious building projects that set London on its road to greatness but also looks behind the scenes at some of the personalities involved as well as looking at the lives of the ordinary people caught up in these revolutionary times.
The Jazz Cafe comes up trumps in March with two of the most influential reggae acts of the past thirty years appearing on its stage. Lee Perry is an artist, bandleader and producer yet he effortlessly transcends these roles. One of the pioneers of the futuristic Jamaican sound called dub, he was one of the first people to use the studio mixing console as an instrument in itself and unlike Phil Spector or the Beatles, he could recreate his sound on the live stage. Most of the ground-breaking reggae acts if the sixties and seventies passed through his self-built Black Ark studio and world music as a whole owes him an enormous debt.
In contrast to Perry's shamanistic on-stage presence (many now see Perry as more of a performance artist), the British reggae institution known as Aswad present their music with a mixture of professional gloss and high octane audience participation. With a string of popular hits to their name such as "Don't Turn Around", "Roots Rockin'" and the mighty "Warrior Charge", Brinsley Ford and Drummie Zeb are perennial favourites on the festival circuits in both Jamaica and the UK, yet the more intimate setting of Camden's landmark jazz venue will undoubtedly give audiences a chance to hear some rarities and B-sides.
We are continuously being told by health gurus that salads are not only necessary, but incredibly tasty when you put the right ingredients together. However, no matter our good intentions, we tend to neglect them when we eat out and opt for something that excites and intrigues us more; we are eating out after all. Salad still tends to be an afterthought that springs to mind when we are guiltily looking for a light lunch after a previous night's blowout and this is the mindset that Chris Kitchen seems to be debunking on a daily basis. Kitch is no rabbit food merchant. He has worked for Gordon Ramsey and run the kitchens in the Dorchester so he brings quality, precision and passion to his task.
Salmon smoked over Chinese tea and feta lasagne are great main courses but you could lunch on the salads alone, such is the attention to detail coupled with top notch ingredients on show. Three bean salad with cinnamon shouldn't work but it does. Apple and fennel with quinoa reads like a yummy mummy posted it into the suggestion box; yet it is so nuanced and well presented that you wonder why other chefs aren't doing the same. With a range of wonderful cakes and tea infusions, Kitch looks and feels like a local deli which is probably a good thing as it makes the treasures within even more exciting.
The story of a group of plucky ex steelworkers who decide to strip for a living started life on stage before it became a global movie smash. It has now come full circle and has an extended run in the West End which will be good news for lovers of classic soul music....among other things! Joking aside, the music is actually where this production has been able to improve on the film. There is now more time and space to bring in additional material and the play benefits greatly.
Also there is more dramatic substance given to the lives of the individuals involved. The play seeks to put the view of the wives and girlfriends across instead of portraying them one dimensionally as saints or victims. The dancing is still wonderfully ropey though which is a good thing. One sure fire way to ruin this tale of working class male insecurity would have been to bring in a group of buffed up Chippendales. It may have drawn the hen parties, but they would have had to change the name to Dull Monty.
This searing first hand account of slavery in America's Deep South is a film everyone must see even if they come away feeling unable to comprehend mans inhumanity to man. Chiwetel Ejiofor turns in a career defining performance as a free black man kidnapped in New York and sold to a southern plantation owner. Because this is a true story told by a man who had lived free for so many years, each humiliation and indignity seems to be magnified and deepened.
Black Londoner, Steve McQueen is the ideal choice of director. An African American would feel that he had to resolve the wrongs done to his people while a white film-maker might have crept on egg shells around the subject. McQueen forces us to look at the characters and their circumstances with an unflinching if not altogether comfortable gaze. Twelve Years deserves every award that is coming to it.
Firmly established as one of the top attractions in the West End, Matilda has gone on to conquer Broadway and is set to gain a lasting worldwide audience. Children's author, Roald Dahl has always provided rich material for theatre directors. There's plenty of fun and fantasy mixed with a large dollop of attitude with Matilda benefitting from having a lead part that every precocious little girl in the land would crawl over broken hair slides to play. Dahl wrote about the challenges of childhood but also about what happens when childhood gives way to a disappointing adult life. The secret to staging these stories is to make sure that the supporting cast is as strong as the star turn.
This is where Matilda excels. Mrs Trunchbull is a mad mixture of megalomania and insecurity while Miss Honey radiates subliminal goodness wherever she goes. Matilda's parents turn pig ignorance into a comic tour-de-force. In the middle of all this stands Matilda: a cutely subversive ten year-old genius. Spitting complicated lyrics and bouncing around to the infectious music, she effortlessly wins over the audience with a mixture of vulnerability and bravery which we wish we possessed now, let alone when we were ten.
Safe, sensible building projects for the community get a roundhouse kick in the chops at this startling collection of work from seven of the most avant-grade architects working today. There's scant regard for captured sunlight and green roofs here as full immersion is the order of the day. This takes the shape of spooky wooden towers with arrow slits and indoor bamboo forests; indeed, wood seems to have made a welcome return to favour here. The main aim seems to involve monitoring peopl's response to confinement and subtle changes to lighting.
Textured surfaces are used to diffuse projected light in order to calm the sense and to a large degree, the experiments are a success. The installation by Kengo Kuma uses scented strips of timber that give the impression of languid flames while Francis Kere fashions a chilled environment out of modular spaces that bring to mind a giant beehive. Do not be surprised to come across some of these ideas on the next series of "Grand Designs".
Nowadays, when a restaurant wants to signify to would-be hipsters that it is indeed on-trend, it can approach it's choice of decor in two ways. Approach number one is to opt for the Nordic wood-ceiling look so beloved of modern art galleries. Secondly, it can expose every single brick and ventilation pipe in a fifty metre radius. Presto! Instant "Industrial Chic". Trip Kitchen goes for the latter route and it's location under the railway arches of E8 gives it a head start. Haggerston forms a handy link between the silly prices of Shoreditch and the experimental pop-ups of Dalston. The area is a happy hunting ground for foodies in search of the next big ethnic gastrocraze.
Trip gets its inspiration from the Turkish Cypriot background of Head chef Selin Kiazim who avoids the overly carnivorousness of some of his compatriots, opting for a well balanced menu of small plates. These include lamb with pomegranate and grilled sardines with a sort of Turkish tapenade. A variety of spiced rice puddings feature on the dessert menu which along with the mains and starters is as well priced as it is delicious. Trip Kitchen is a welcome addition to an already thriving East London dining scene.
Andrew Lloyd Webber has downsized a bit for his latest foray into the West End. Known usually for his towering ballads and historical sweep, he has in Stephen Ward focused on a small, yet important footnote in Britain's journey towards social transformation. Stephen Ward tells the tale of the eponymous doctor who moonlighted as a social fixer in the early sixties London. His friendship with politicians, call girls and spies lead to the Profumo scandal in which a government minister and Russian spy were alleged to have shared a mistress.
In the resulting fallout, the government fell and the press lost their fear of the upper class. Ward was denounced as a pimp and took his own life. Christine Keeler gained life-long notoriety. Lloyd Webber's production uses wit and catchy songs as weapons in a battle to resurrect the doctor's reputation. The fact that it partially succeeds in this mission is down to the period charm of the compositions and the strong singing of the entire cast. A wry, entertaining look at class snobbery and government hypocrisy.
The 1953 film starred some of Hollywood's biggest names but the story stands up by itself even without the star wattage of Sinatra and co. Eminent lyricist Tim Rice returns to West End production duties after a decade away and teams up with composer Stuart Brayson and director Tamara Harvey in a bold attempt to uncover the true story behind the glitzy movie.
The musical tells the story of a group of American soldiers stationed on the beautiful island of Hawaii. War with Japan is imminent but the troops seem to be fighting personal battles of their own. Illicit love affairs and professional tensions split the men apart at the very time that unity is needed the most. The blues based score sets the tone for moody introspection and explosive confrontations.
Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes is the brains behind this highly-anticipated musical which is set to be a must-see for families visiting the capital. Based on the evergreen children's story by Roald Dahl, the production features brand new songs and music, along with jaw-dropping set and costume creations recreating the crazy world of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Douglas Hodge stars as weird and wonderful factory supremo Willy Wonka, while the cast also includes former Young Ones star Nigel Planer as Grandpa Joe, and young newcomer Jack Costello as Charlie Bucket.
The story charts the adventures of Charlie as he becomes one of the few fortunate children who through finding a Golden Ticket, win a tour of the top secret sweet factory, run by the Oompa-Loompas. Greedy boy Augustus Gloop, spoiled brat Veruca Salt, endless gum chewer Violet Beauregarde, and gaming addict Mike Teavee are his fellow winners and companions, who all get their just desserts at the hands of Wonka's mad contraptions.
With cheery economic news an almost daily occurrence, London's restaurant scene has seen the return of the super-size eaterie. In the noughties, this sector was ruled by the Conrad empire as Quaglino's and Mezzo fed the city's foodies to much acclaim. In 2013, new faces have arrived in the West End to satisfy London's seemingly never ending hunger for new places to eat. Chotto Matte is split into several levels and can comfortably seat over 200 guests. The food is a deliciously fresh take on the Nikkei style of Japanese cooking with dedicated areas for sushi lovers and a Japanese barbecue.
The atmosphere is gregarious and fun with a DJ and live music in selected rooms; perfect for the after-theatre or pre-clubbing crowd. Entrepreneur and owner, Kurt Zdesar has a solid track record in London having launched the first Nobu restaraunt here and he seems to have judged this opening perfectly. So as a raft of new shows hit the West End, expect to find the cast, crew and audience toasting one another at Chotto Matte
Roast chicken is set to replace the burger this year as middle class types seek to enhance their street cred by lifting ghetto cuisine out of the council estates of London and placing it on the trendy West End stage. Viewed as a superior Nando's, Clockjack Oven take their name from the spring driven technology used to rotate meat and aim to re-invent the rotisserie chicken concept in London.
In this bustling eatery near Piccadilly, service is brisk and friendly and portions generous. The chickens are on display and are roasted vertically after being marinated with a secret sauce. A whole bird can be cut up French-style so that every piece contains breast meat and this is ideal for those wishing to share. Chicken salads and sandwiches are delicious alternatives to whole roasts and the wine list is short but good. There seems to be an indistinct line in London between street food for cool people and stuff that only street folk will tolerate but Clockjack with their free range Breton chickens, cooked to crispy, moist perfection are firmly in the former camp.
High rise dining is becoming a more common occurrence in the capital, thanks to the recent proliferation of downtown skyscrapers. The views tend to affect the prices which, in turn, affect expectations. Oblix unapologetically go for the City boy pound by offering such favourites as crab cakes, scallops, rib-eye steak and lobster cerviche. These are all tried and trusted meals so beloved by the transatlantic suits and suitesses who frequent Oblix by day.
In the evening, the lights dim and the views become even more entrancing. From this vantage point, you can actually track the progress of underground trains by the way their lights leak through cracks in the ground. A lounge menu and live music give Oblix the same kind of ambience that can be found in the New York Grill in Tokyo's Park Hyatt hotel immortalised in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation movie. It's no surprise, then, to discover that these two high-flyers share the same origins. Both have been conceived by Rainer Becker, who with Arjun Waney also launched Zuma and Roka,
A shining example of high-style Indian cuisine even before its rebirth 12 years ago after being destroyed by fire, what was once a classic has reinvented itself with an even greater commitment to contemporary dining, style and service. The recent reincarnation pays homage to the original Red Fort built in Dehli by Shah Jahan who also constructed the Taj Mahal, by incorporating the same materials but updated to modern demands in a lush and sultry setting.
The chefs come from a 300 year old line royal cooks and have mastered the art of "dum pukht", a form of steam cooking which imbues regional biryanis with an added edge. A wide selection of refined dishes includes dum ka lobster, which is steamed in cumin-infused broth and murgh mussalam, poussin with Kashmiri chillies and browned onions.
The legal eagles that work in and around High Holborn like to get together with their City-based contemporaries around this time of the year. Many a grand strategy is hatched over a bottle of vintage French Red and Brasserie Blanc Chancery Lane is the ideal venue for such an undertaking. Many upmarket eateries bow to the seasonal pressure of providing customers with some form of traditional Christmas stodge in order to come across as festive, here that temptation is elegantly resisted.
There's a duck or cod alternative to the turkey option and all come with slow roasted seasonal vegetables. Before that, pumpkin and kirsch soup is a perfectly wintry starter but the dessert option is where things get interesting. Along side the traditional puddings is the fruit explosion of guava sabayon with passion fruit sorbet.
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