Saturday 28 February 2015

Waterloo Bridge at night, central London

Looking east

Benugo Bar & Kitchen, the British Film Institute, Southbank, central London

Housed in a vast space with a soaring ceiling, a shining flagstone floor and framed by glass, criss-crossed by diagonal girders, the Benugo bar and restaurant is an attractive and atmospheric place to eat. In the evening, the leather armchairs in the intimately-lit bar and lounge can be buzzing with cultural chatter, creating an arthouse ambiance. Although the menu is quite short, it is divided into seasonal, land, farm and sea, thereby covering most of the bases. For a main course, you can choose from pork belly, sea bream, gnocchi, sirloin steak and other fashionable favourites priced up to £21.50. The creamy butternut squash risotto with parmesan cheese (about £12) is excellent, boasting a lovely mix of flavours and perfectly-cooked rice. But the portion is a little light. The rocket side salad (£4.50) with cherry tomatoes and parmesan is also very fresh and enjoyable, but is similarly modest. As well as a wine list, Benugo BFI offers beers, such as Amstel, on draught. The service, which comes with a genuine smile, is warm and relaxed. 8/10

Tuesday 17 February 2015

The Brick Lane Area, East London

The streets around Brick Lane in east London are a world away from the nearby glass and steel skyscrapers of the City. With period lampposts, timeworn brick buildings, venerable old shopftronts and the odd stretch of cobbles, this area conjures up Dickensian London.

Pancake Races on Dray Walk, Shoreditch, East London

Saturday 14 February 2015

Toast E.D., Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, South London

At Toast E.D., it's all about the food and the wine. The decor is stripped back to bare brick walls and functional furniture. On a Friday and Saturday evening, the dining rooms are usually overflowing, but you might get a seat at the bar.  Although the quirky and unusual combinations on the daily changing menu may not look very appealing, give it a go and you will probably be pleasantly surprised. The chatty and knowledgeable serving staff advise you'll need two or three dishes (about £4-£18 apiece). Duck hearts with polenta and watercress is full of flavour, while the lamb shoulder with lentils and yoghurt is a lovely dish. Lamb, anchovies and cabbage also make for a delicious combination in the hands of the Toast E.D. chefs, but the partridge and butternut squash is less exciting. Moreover, the braised red cabbage (£5) with pumpkin butter is a bit too sweet. There is a lengthy and imaginative wine list that caters to most tastes and wallets, but the house wines are unusually good. The smooth  Syrah/Grenache 2013, Est├ęzargues, Cotes du Rhone, is great value at £14.55 for 750ml or £9.70 for 500ml. You'll enjoy being Toasted E.D. 8/10

Wednesday 4 February 2015

The Book of Mormon, the Prince of Wales Theatre, Coventry Street, central London

A highly energetic and entertaining parody of both The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and western preconceptions of Africa, the Book of Mormon somehow manages to be both a feel good and a feel bad musical. It opens in the mission training centre in Salt Lake City with the trainee elders, complete with gleaming all-American teeth, practising ringing door bells and introducing the occupants to the book that will change your life. This well choregraphed scene also introduces the audience to the high-tempo music, edgy lyrics, comic timing and highly-expressive acting that are the hallmarks of this extraordinary production. Soon afterwards, the two lead characters - Elder Price and Elder Cunningham - are saying goodbye to their parents as they prepare to board a plane to Uganda to begin their mission. Suddenly, the parents leave, the lighting changes and a black woman in tribal regalia, complete with leopard skins, appears on stage and belts out a powerful African anthem. Moments later the parents reappear and thank the singer, who has never been to Africa, for giving their boys a fine send-off.  By the writers of irreverent cartoon South Park, the script mixes this kind of subtle and unexpected humour with crass obscenities and school-boy style-repetition of the earthy line: "I have got maggots in my scrotum."