The Chiltern Firehouse



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Every year on my birthday we try and do something special and this year to celebrate J booked us a table at London’s newest celebrity hangout, The Chiltern Firehouse. Anybody and everybody who is worth their celebrity salt has been, so why should we be any different?

It’s famously difficult to get a table at but getting a table here for lunch was a cinch compared to Noma and that would be my recommendation, lunch rather than dinner. The restaurant oozes California cool and has that kind of understated elegance that attracts the eclectic moneyed crowd from all over London and I suspect the local Marylebone and Mayfair set use it as their local.

The main room has an expectant, excitable hubbub with everyone is on the lookout for famous folk and on this occasion, the best we could do was Meg Matthews, not quite the dizzy heights of The Ivy Club where I shared a urinal with Liam Neeson.

Attentive staff fuss and flit, focused on getting us served quickly (we were told they needed the table back in 90 minutes when booking, all the pricey/posh restaurants annoyingly do this). Service is sharp but not stuffy and a businesslike sommelier guided us to a medium priced South African Cab Sauv which I figured would be worth the investment (it was my birthday after all). It was chewy and rich with a reassuring deep dimple in the base of the bottle, my not very scientific way of knowing if any wine is good. Julie quaffed nicely oaked but pricey Californian Chardonnay by the glass and we were all set.

After randomly bumping into another guy from Leeds in the toilets (I know), we got down to ordering from the confidently brief menu, which featured restaurant safe bets alongside interesting asides. There is no outrageous risks to be taken here — it’s all safe territory but done very, very well. Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes clearly takes the view that internationally famous folk and the well-heeled like their food recognisable and translatable but with a bit of a twist.

That said the crab donuts were a stunningly original confection, salty, seafoody. sweet and doughy. I wanted to order another plate right after I’d eaten them.

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My steak tartare starter was a classic DIY blokey dish with some much needed hot sauce on the side whilst J’s starter of cured sea trout was the hands down winner in terms of taste.

I think my main of unsettlingly (very, very) pink Iberico roast pork was the winner although served with raw and cooked sprouts, it sounds bizarre but it worked fantastically well. J’s monkfish was a plateful of meaty, fishy tenderness with bright, clean flavours. On the surface, the Firehouse doesn’t look like its expensive but the booze soon escalates the bill into Michelin territory although I would say the food isn’t in the same league as say Murano, but the prices are in the same zone.

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So is it worth the hype? On balance I’d say yes. It’s definitely an ‘event’ restaurant, a place to go when there’s a special anniversary and for mere mortals the price point dictates it’s not an everyday restaurant. Food and service is at the top end of efficient and competent and you can definitely eat better in London for less money. But it’s the overall experience that lingers: the sparkling candlelit patio, outdoor fire, the crackle and buzz of a room filled with people enjoying life.

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Manic Street Preachers

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I first saw the Manic Street Preachers at Leeds’ Town and Country Club on their Holy Bible Tour. It was the last night of the tour and to the collective astonishment of the audience, they smashed all their gear up at the end of the gig.

No encore,largely because all the instruments were in bits but it was a real shock to me — I’d not seen anything like that before. It later transpired that troubled guitarist Richie Edwards went missing after the tour and was never seen again.

Over the years, I’ve seen them at festivals primarily, their star gradually fading as new bands emerged and as such they slipped down the billing. But they always delivered a committed and powerful set from their vast back catalogue.

So when I saw they were to perform their seminal album The Holy Bible, in full, I had to be there for that. In truth The Holy Bible is one of the most uncompromising and inaccessible albums I’ve ever heard. I’ve always found it difficult to listen to it for longer that 15 minutes, never mind from start to finish.

The Manics’ later work is more rounded and radio friendly and over the years I think they have become better songwriters and the odd album aside, have a back catalogue any band would kill for. Last year saw them release the introspective Rewind The Film, a bittersweet meditation on age, followed up by the bold electronica of this years’ Futurology.

Last night was a gig of two halves; first half a bold, successful, crowd-pleasing experiment playing the ultimate Manics album from start to finish, in the running order of the album. The old songs sounded almost fresher than when they were first played, the sound production and mix giving them a taut and defined new lease of life.

The second half was essentially a greatest hits set peppered with gems and new songs. The Manics have never been afraid to play whatever they fancied but they didn’t shirk their responsibility to play the big hits alongside instrumentals and even a cover of Wham’s Last Christmas.

Overall it was a stunning, mesmerising evening of music delivered by a band with a palpable sense of renewed passion.

Nostromo

phildean1963:

Here’s post from the Archives…

Originally posted on DeanoBlog:

I make no apology for sheer geekiness of this post – it just bubbled up from some deep nerd chasm within my psyche!

Nostromo is the name of the space craft from Ridley Scott’s original Alien movie. I’ve been fascinated by every aspect of this movie since before it opened in 1979 and the production design made a huge impression on me when my obsession was art and design in every single form.

The ship itself is one of the major stars of the movie along with the incredible Alien itself designed, of course, by HR Giger. Alien was one of the first movies to portray space travel not as the clinical and precise vision we’d seen elsewhere but grungy and grim, worn at the edges and industrial. Ron Cobb was the principal production designer for the spaceships and he did an incredible job at creating the vision for a…

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Learning to draw changed my life

As a student at Jacob Kramer College of Art in Leeds, we had a most intimidating life drawing tutor in Laimonis Mierins. Cutting an intimidating figure dressed in black with silver hair, Lem would scare, bully, cajole and coax his students to be brave. If we didn’t take drawing seriously, he’d threaten us all with a tommy gun that was left over booty from the Second World War. Yes, he really did.

He started us off using pencil; soft and forgiving, then charcoal; sooty and pliable, but graduated—slowly, mind—to using the most unforgiving of media: pen.  One of the toughest mediums to draw with, ink is the ultimate in mark-making; no room for error, but what errors you make have to be incorporated and believable.

In this era of Instagram gratification, I still like the discipline of looking hard, committing and interpreting life into line. This drawing of the train station in Porto took a bit of time, gave me a few scares but rewarded my fragile patience, every detail burnt into the memory.

I worked with one of our designers at Turn Key, Brian, to add another dimension to the drawing by adding colour digitally. I gave him free reign to interpret the drawing how he saw fit. There’s two versions here, one without the lifework and one with it. I love each equally, the abstract one works for me as the artist who drew it, the lifework inserted in my imagination. The line and colour version works best for people who’ve not seen the original I think.

The image was submitted to an exhibition of other designer works to celebrate 30 years of Thompson Brand Partners. I was particularly pleased how the drawing skills I learnt all those years ago could still deliver in an engaging and contemporary way.

Lem would be proud I think.

 

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‘Anyone who writes an autobiography is either a twat or broke’

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Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys

by Viv Albertine

I don’t read many biographies to be truthful. I don’t know why really. In the book club, biographies are frowned upon as a lesser form of writing, quite why I don’t know, it’s on of our many weird rules: no biographies. On the QT, I like a bit of historical bio action and in the past I’ve voraciously consumed weighty tomes on Churchill, Hitler, Julian Cope and Humphrey Bogart to name a few randoms. In truth I don’t remember much about them and perhaps that’s the curse of the biography: ephemeral in many ways.

So when I was handed a copy of Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys I thought I’d slip it in between ‘serious’ book club books for a little light relief. The title comes from what her mum accurately surmised as her primary interests when she was younger, and sets the tone for a bright and honest journey from seventies London, being in a punk band and to be honest, an ordinary woman’s life with no holds barred. The opening chapter coverers in detail her lack of interest in masturbation this honesty sets the tone for the rest of the book.

The first half of the book is a solidly engaging and innocent romp through London seen through a teenager’s eyes: the beginning of punk, it’s magnesium-bright pinnacle and its inevitable fizzling out. As someone who was too young to catch the first wave of punk, this is a breathlessly enjoyable sequence that shines alight on the surprisingly random and quite frankly coincidental series of events that led to the watershed in music that was punk. Just after punk in the early eighties, we all imagined it was some kind of co-ordniated movement to dethrone the establishment, but it was just a bunch of disaffected kids who were in the right place at the right time—with wrong kind of attitude.

Viv’s voice is clear and distinctive. She confesses to the reader all manner of surprising feelings centred on inadequacy and fear which is refreshing when punk was all about conveying an attitude with a look. For her the veneer and sneer of sexualised punk was just that, a front but it gave her the permission to be different. But we’re in good hands with Viv throughout and she never fails to convince even when she makes some quite frankly crazy decisions. I can completely identify with the attitude that lead to her embrace punk is such a passionate way: we were post war kids and we were part of a new generation that felt the old ways had had it and it was in with the new. I even felt the reverberations of that in post punk—new wave took a sanitised version of punk and ran with it, leather keks and all.

The second half of the book is where it gets really interesting for me. After she leaves The Slits her life opens up in front of her and she realises that she has to do something with it. Her story then becomes one of education, families, relationships ending, illness and some successes. In short, the normal life of any woman. Viv is always true to herself though and the bravery (and innocence) that led her as a 14 year old to travel to Amsterdam and live in a squat manifests itself in all kinds of situations in her life. But she is always true to herself—eventually—whether it is music or relationships.

So this is no light relief biographical sideshow, it’s a moving and engaging story of an extraordinary life and an ordinary life, meshed together.

Anselm Kiefer

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Seeing the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the Royal Academy just after reading Martin Amis’ The Zone of Interest was quite an experience. The Second World War informs every pice of artwork on show, not just casting a shadow but engulfing everything in its blackness. This exhaustive (and exhausting) collection of the celebrated German artist’s work is an intense experience for the casual gallery goer looking for a mild diversion from Christmas shopping in London.

The show delivers room after room of powerful art, all on a big scale. Big in size and big in emotion, Kiefer is all about emotional impact, which is by and large dark and foreboding with the odd respite here and there. We see exquisite books packed with pencil drawing and watercolour, huge canvases with layer upon layer of paint, mud and god knows what. We have spectacular sculpture too thrown in for good measure.

Across all media there is a consistency of thought and spectacular execution from star-like diamonds embedded in dense back canvases to lead books whose pages turn and crumple like paper — the lead itself reclaimed from the roof of Frankfurt cathedral. The craft of the work is spellbinding too, often more convincing than the work itself at times. I was taken with his idea of using the original zinc baths that the Third Reich gave to every family to make submarine sculptures, depicting the loss of life underwater. Idea and craft working seamlessly together.

Time after time the holocaust surfaces in his work, burned into the artists’s consciousness, a palpable driving force behind much if his work if not all in some way. It got me thinking about how art deals with horrors on the magnitude seen in Germany and how the artist must feel responsible in some way to try to interpret what’s happened, not make sense of it, but to process it in some way to ensure it must never happen again.

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The Zone of Interest

The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis

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Before I read this book, the first question I asked is does the world need another holocaust book? The death camp Holocaust story has been told powerfully many, many times in film, book, stage and for me there has to be a very good reason to put the reader through it again. But after I’d read it, I had to re-appraise my view.

Firstly I have to say I found the The Zone of Interest one of the most brutal, empty, morally void, ambivalent and unflinching books we’ve ever read. At times this book was unreadable—in a good, bad way.

Amis is clearly a writer of real stature, a ‘proper’ author who uses words to massive effect (often ones I have to look up in a dictionary, so he must be proper). He’s that good. He perfectly captures the stark contrast between the captors and the captives – each suffering in their own way. I was reminded many times of Maus, a very different take on the holocaust but no less powerful.

I like at 1st how we didn’t know when the story was set. The picture gradually revealed itself, which usually frustrates but I enjoyed this reveal. Initially it could have been any time in history or the present day, which I’m sure was an intentional dramatic ploy.

The multi-voice narrative was bold, powerful and immersive. Confidently painting the darkest picture imaginable. Unusually, this was easy to navigate, displaying the author’s prowess. The impeccable research and exquisite German cultural detail sat alongside horribly accurate concentration camp atrocity. I felt the book laid bare the German psyche: the reasons, the impact, the retribution, the horrific fallout and consequences of their actions. Amis casts an unswerving eye on Germany as a whole and whether involved directly in the mass murder or not, everyone is guilty by implication.

The notes at the end of the book were most enlightening: the immersion and desire to understand what happened and the philosophical arguments that to somehow understand why it actually happened actually validated the actions. These discussions actually helped me to make some sense of the book.

There was of course a mini drama being played out against the harrowing backdrop: Hannah, Thompson and Doll’s complicated relationships seemed at first petty and pathetic, annoying details set against the enormity of industrialised death. It seemed horrifically banal. But in the final chapters, the bitter love story developed into an insightful filter by which we could observe and understand how Germany came to be like this and the dreadful outcome. The relationship was unexpectedly but satisfyingly resolved in the end, in a typically and brutal fashion, the long, icy fingers of the past creeping into the present.

This book made for a truly unenjoyable read: not in the sense that it was hard to read or that it was laborious prose, but because to turn each page was to unearth inhumanity. In the end I didn’t want to turn the pages but I felt compelled to. At times I felt hollowed out by it. There was no triumph of the human spirit to be had here. The atrocities were laid bare, responsibilities clearly handed out and the complicated aftermath only just beginning. Amis revels in the moral ambiguity of his characters, challenging the reader at every turn. At the heart of it were meticulously drawn characters – not sketches – but Leonardo-esque in their detail and accuracy.

I actually love reading history books about the Second World War: Anthony Beevor’s Stalingrad and The Second World War are immense and immersive accounts of man’s inhumanity to man (both credited by Amis I noticed in this book). But for me personally, the veneer of factual history literature protects me from the grab you by the balls detail of a novel, where the writer has unfettered access to our imagination—the imagined more powerful than the actual, for once.

And yet his book digs deeper. Gets under the skin of the Third Reich, using the collective German psyche as a prism for their actions; gradually, imperceptibly becoming truly horrific. The book maps out the moral maze Germany faced: everyone implicated from locals turning a blind eye to grey snow and the stench to corporates like Bayer, who still exist today in our everyday lives, quietly making products like Alka Seltzer.

It’s not often I wheel out words like elegant, intense, powerful, truthful. But this book is all of these. I’m not sure it’s ‘fearless and original’ as the blurb describes (back to my earlier point about does the world need another book about the holocaust) but In The Zone of Interest demands the attention of the reader until the very last page and I’ve scored it high because the book held me in its vice-like grip to the very end.

Impossible to pick up, impossible to put down.