Wednesday, June 08, 2011

London Summer

Hallo Everybody,

I'm another year older - yeayhe!

It seems rather odd blogging right now, as it seems there may be some reportable news quite soon. But perhaps it is better to keep people guessing and anticipating. I'm such a tease.

Until such time as I have anything of note to report I will share with you my recent trip to London to celebrate said birthday.

Firstly, and I hope you've all noticed, I have resolved not to use my blog as a purely ranting vehicle. Yeah, I know. This practically translates as 'does not blog so much anymore', but I'm making progress on becoming a better person. However I do have a brief rant to kick this all off.


God I hate airports. And I don't even believe in God. One of the reasons I most hate airports is that one of the things I hate most is waiting. And I seem to be doing more and more waiting at airports. I don't mind getting there early and reading a book for a couple of hours before the plane leaves. Hell no. That's relaxing. What I don't like is waiting in snaking queues with my shoes off and belt removed. I don't like standing in a queue only to then have to queue for another queue. I don't like waiting behind people who either can't read, or are too selfish/ignorant/stoopids to comply with simple security requests. I don't like waiting for distracted and self-obsessed airport security staff to eventually get around to whatever it is they are supposed to be doing. And, to add insult to injury (not to mention a ripping cliche), the airport security GOON who waved us through to join the end of the longer queue, only to open the barrier and allow the dozen people behind us into a freshly opened, empty security station. Well thank you very much.

This hate is made bewildering by the fact that I used to love everything about air travel. Actually, not everything - I have to put a caveat on that. I used to suffer quite badly from sore popping ears, which was a nightmare, but I seem to have mostly grown out of that. But now, give me a train over a plane anyday. No queues. No excess baggage checks. No separating liquids into clear plastic bags. No worries about carrying on a set of carving knives. You get the picture. And if you factor in the cab fares, parking costs, ancillary travel times, transfers, delays and everything else associated with air travel, then jumping on a train makes a lot of sense for most destinations. I have, however, discovered that the UK rail network is extortionately priced. Oh well.

So, there I am - back to old form. Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. Now we can get back to the rest of the trip.

We arrive to check into the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Wow. What a magnificent building. So handy, too. The train from Luton Airport terminates at St P, and it is a relief to just haul your bags down the platform and into the hotel. I didn't go too snap happy at the hotel, but here's a couple:

Concourse Roof - from our suite

Grand Staircase - think 'Spice Girls' first video clip

Another view of the Grand Staircase

Main Concourse Roof - in artsy-fartsy black and white

Concourse Roof - with added reminder of impending Olympics

There were probably hundreds of other photo ops in the entire building. Such a stunning restoration. Speaking of stunning, did I mention that all of the staff employed by the hotel, especially in the bar/restaurant, were practically supermodels? Didn't I? Just as well, I might start to gush. And this hotel has only opened within the last month, so everything is shiny and squeaky clean. I don't usually use this blog for shameless commercial endorsements, but next time you are looking for a place to stay in London you could do a lot worse than consider the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Not cheap but.

So Friday afternoon we venture out for a pre-theatre dinner at Bentley's Oyster Bar and Grill. Not often I get to have dinner at 4.30pm, but we did have a show to catch. More about that later. The food was generally good. We shared nine oysters of three different varieties with a selection of juices and toppings. These were good, but let down slightly by our waiter's confession that all of the oysters were farm grown and subsequently taste pretty much exactly the same. Had he lied and invented some individual characteristics of each variety we no doubt would have sniffed and savoured like good little oyster snobs and agreed with his wankery. As it was we were left with no choice but to feel a little ripped off. Our entrees were superb. Hers was actually Soup-erb, as she had soup. See what I did there? You can use that. It was a scallop based minestrone, and boy - they didn't skimp on the scallops. The tiny mouthful (that makes no sense... how could it have been a mouthful if it was only tiny?) I was allowed was delicious. My entree was smoked eel on mustard potatoes with something else... I can't remember. Anyway, it was freaken awesome. Oh yeah, now I remember. It came with bits of bacon as well. Maybe the bacon was too crispy, and perhaps the mustard was too subtle, but the smoked eel was delectable, and the potatoes were miraculously firm and creamy. I know! Impossible. I intended for you to read that 'Impossible' as the French 'Im-poss-i-ble', but it's almost impossible to make the phonetic distinction obvious.

The mains were not so good. She ordered octopus salad. Who goes to an oyster bar and grill and orders a lousy octopus salad? I know you're reading this but, jaybus, I don't care what YOU wanted, how do expect me to share mine when you've got a plate of overly vinegary rabbit food and octopus tentacles? Oh sure it was okay, if you think a side salad is worthy of my birthday dinner. I guess that you ordered the skinny chips so I didn't have to makes it slightly more worthwhile.

My main sounded great. Lobster spaghetti. The way it was described sounded exactly what I wanted. Until I got to order, at which time I was politely told they didn't have any spaghetti. 'We can do it as a macaroni' they said. Macaroni? It just didn't sound right from the get go, but I was going to have to recalibrate my expectations and study the menu again to make another choice, so I just said 'Sod it, I'll take the macaroni'. Well, you can stick a feather in your cap and call it whatever you like, but the macaroni was a fail. Sure it's pasta and, sure, they heaped a whole bunch of lobster over that thing (I'm convinced they gave me extra to sweeten the deal), but when the head waiter brought it to our table and pulled a face when announcing the dish I just knew I'd made a huge mistake. It still tasted okay. I mean, I could see the promise in what they tried to do. But folks, don't ever let a restaurant substitute macaroni for spaghetti. It's just not right.

For atmosphere and opulence and all that it was a lovely place for dinner. Old school London.

In the words of Stevie Wonder - Isn't She Lovely?

In the words of Stevie Wonder - Happy Birthday To You (Mistah Pungwin came along for dinner, too)
So after dinner it was off to the Royal Opera House for some kulcha. Macbeth - The Opera. I don't know why, perhaps it is because I am a philistine, but I anticipated some modern adaptation of Shakespeare's classic play. I was kinda expecting a disaster, but was fascinated to see how they managed it. Little did I know that Macbeth - The Opera is one of Verdi's earliest, and most acclaimed, operas. Didn't I feel like quite the fool?

In a word it was brilliant. If you read that very literally it's actually three words, but you'd have to be pretty petty to pick that up. The opera itself is really very good. Very true to Shakespeare's play. Of course much of the wonder in the original play Macbeth is the wonderful language, something which is all but lost in an Italian translation meant for singing, but the storyline follows the same familiar lines, and the dramatic elements remain intact.

The stage, set, orchestra (including conductor Antonio Pappano) and cast was quite brilliant. The soprano, Liudmyla Monastyrska, was incredible. She was a blowtorch that shone white hot throughout. Yet it was that monster Monastyrska that highlighted the only failings of the evening's performance. She was so good as to cast everything else in her shadow, even going so far as to undermine Verdi's score as lacking in power and quality for the male leads.

How can Lady Gaga sell more units than this woman?
As I mentioned, everything else about this show was top-notch, but none of the male soloists could hold a candle to her. In fact she out-sang the entire chorus in full flight. Bravo Liudmyla. Bravo!

Apart from Liudmyla's performance, one of the highlights of the evening was recognising Aton Enus (SBS news anchor) in the crowd. I was >< this close to saying hello. I settled on him noticing that I recognised him - which appeared to give him a little thrill. I thought I'd best not spoil both of our nights by being a dick. So I was happy to leave it like that. Much like my Dave Graney story, but I'll save that for another time if I get enough requests.

Did I mention that the Opera House in Covent Garden is rather spectacular in its own right?

The audience were in tiers - ARF!

Captions would also have been necessary had this been in Scottish

The Atrium of the Main Bar - with added Anton Enus

This... this was ridiculous.
As you can see from the photos above, the English really know how to do old school architecture. But this last photo - it really appears as if the seats up there are in some kind of elevated capsule. It took me ages to figure out what was going on here. I'm not about to spoil the illusion, but if you should ever find yourself sipping champagne at the Royal Opera House, look up. You may just be startled.

The rest of the trip was quite good also. However, giving someone permission to buy a summer dress due to London turning on the most spectacular of June days proved to be a test of my gentlemanly good nature. I could have been in a bar somewhere. As it was I eventually escaped in time to see Switzerland embarrass Ingerlund over a few local pints. Nice.

Here are a few more happy snaps from Ol' Lundin Town.

And whilst walking through Soho on Saturday afternoon I spied this monstrosity:

Yep. Seriously, it's a Porsche Carrera that has been totally chromed. Off the chart.

People, until next we meet - it's been great.


1 comment:

shalini akhil said...

happy belated. did you get my sms? by the way, what's your news? and whats the dave graney story? and what's the deal with the seats and suspended capsule thingy? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?