Friday, 23 February 2018

Oxford to Moreton-in-Marsh by bike

The Evenlode Valley, between Wilcote and East End
About 50km as the B road winds, the ride from Oxford to Moreton-in-Marsh takes in some fine rolling countryside dotted with grand houses and sleepy Cotswolds villages. Once you break out of the university city's gravitational orbit, if you plot your route carefully, you should be able to escape cars almost entirely. Tempting as it is, you should avoid riding through Cornbury Park Estate, as you may get challenged by a ranger on a golf buggy. 8/10

Network, the National Theatre, the South Bank, Central London

Images from National Theatre web site
Making full use of the Lyttelton Theatre's roomy stage, this visually impressive production has an elaborate set featuring a full-blown TV studio, with working cameras actually projecting live footage onto a large screen at the back of the stage. There is a café-bar to one side where the cast mingle with some members of the audience. The TV studio swarms with a huge cast, including presenters, executives, sound and lighting technicians and make-up artists, all plying their trade on stage in full view of the audience. An adaptation of a successful film from the 1970s, Network tells the story of a news show that goes on a fraught rollercoaster ride, after its ratings dive and its anchorman loses the plot.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Giants of Smooth, The Hideaway, Streatham

Backed by top-notch session musicians, Noel McCalla and Dionne Bennett were supposed to take south Londoners on a tour of the celebrated jazz of Al Jarreau and George Benson. Although the former received plenty of air-time, Benson's music only made one appearance in the two-part set, which also featured an unusual version of John Lennon's Imagine and a couple of Randy Crawford numbers. McCalla's patter can be a bit wayward, but his charismatic vocals are impeccable, while Bennett's voice has plenty of power and depth. However, the highlights were the seemingly improvised instrumental interludes, particularly from the un-billed pianist and lead guitarist. At just £15 a ticket, this gig was a bargain, given the breadth of talent on stage. You should also budget for a splurge on the respectable food and alcohol at the Hideaway. The grilled breast of Jerk chicken, served with coleslaw, salad and chips (£15) is a good option to soak up the lager. Although you have to arrive very early to claim a seat near the stage, most of the tables have a good view of the musicians and the service is pretty fast and smooth. Live music at the Hideaway works very well. 8/10

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

The South Bank, Bermondsey, Central London

An eclectic collection of river boats dock on the South Bank in the shadow of Tower Bridge

Monday, 11 December 2017

Dusk in Dulwich Park, South London

After  a day of rain, snow, sleet and more rain, the weather in south London clears to reveal a vibrant red sky

Friday, 8 December 2017

Trinity Restaurant, The Polygon, Clapham Old Town, south London

Images from Trinity's web site

Bringing a touch of West End class to Clapham's Old Town, Trinity Restaurant offers fine dining in tasteful and spacious surroundings, presided over by a small army of well-drilled waiting staff. The refined decor of the downstairs dining room is matched by the crisp white table cloths, smart crockery and generous tables and chairs. In the evening, you can opt for three or four courses from the set menu at a cost of £55 and £68 respectively, before a discretionary service charge of 12.5%. You'll also be served various appetisers, as well as some mouthwateringly light and warm bread rolls during the meal. To start, the tuna, served with crab salad, apple and smoked almond milk, is vibrantly fresh, while the second course of smoked eel pissaladiere, served with red wine, garlic and olive oil, also makes for a scintillating mix of flavours. Even better is a third course of raised beef short rib in a rich and sumptuous Bourguignon sauce - the slow cooked meat is a tender and time-honoured tribute to a French classic. For desert, the rum baba, served with Madagascan vanilla cream and semi dried grapes, makes for a lovely mix of textures and tastes. The wine list is very extensive, but also expensive, starting at around £30 a bottle. The Specogna Pinot Grigio (£52 a bottle) is surprisingly pink, but still crisp and dry. It is very pleasant, but over-priced. Although it could break the bank, Trinity Restaurant is a good option for a special occasion. An extraordinary amount of thought and care has gone into conceiving the dishes, the cooking and the on-plate presentation. Trinity is smart, but not stuffy. 8/10

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Mountain Biking in the North Downs, Kent

A section of the North Downs Way, near Grangers Hill
In November, you'll find plenty of muddy bridleways and bumpy farm tracks in the hills around the south east section of the M25. As the North Downs can be pretty steep in these parts, you may have to get off and push in places. But the countryside can be picturesque (as well as puncturesque) and there are a clutch of handy train stations around Warlingham from where you can cut through the extensive grounds of Woldingham School to get to the crest of the North Downs.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Beginning, Dorfman Theatre, National Theatre, Southbank, Central London

Images from the National Theatre web site
A stripped-back production in many senses, Beginning involves just two actors, one set and one long, long scene. It can be intense. Depicting the aftermath of a house party, the play portrays an elaborate and feisty courtship between the hostess and a male guest she barely knows. One of the conceits is that the pair seem poorly-suited to each other - she is the managing director of some kind of agency with her own flat in Crouch End, while he still lives with his Mum in Essex. There is little chemistry. The result is long, awkward silences, twitchy body language, restless movement and continual shifts of position, as Laura and Danny manoeuvre around the open-plan lounge and kitchen, strewn with party debris, eating, drinking and trying to decide whether to touch each other.