Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The weekend

Late on Friday afternoon, as my work day was winding down, M called to say he could leave on time and that it was unlikely he would have to work this weekend. Hurrah, I had my husband all to myself for two and a half whole days and nights! Failing to get into one of our favourite Japanese restaurants Kikuchi on Hanway Street, we decided to try South Indian restaurant Malabar Junction on Great Russell Street, as we've passed it many times without going in.

The spacious atrium dining room had a very colonial feel about it and was romantically illuminated by a huge skylight. Some, but not all, of the foliage was plastic; the decor was pleasingly dated; the atmosphere was soothingly restrained; the wait staff were attentive and courteous; the clientele largely middle-aged academics or well-to-do tourists. We were certainly the youngest there on this evening and I felt a little under-dressed in, albeit dark, jeans. M fitted right in with his black suit and grey tie. A good number of diners were Indians, which is always good to see in an Indian restaurant.

The food was delicious, with the flavours all perfectly balanced. We started with parippu vada made from gram mixed with red chillies, curry leaves, ginger and onions and served with chutneys. Plus a plate of vegetable upma with sambar and coconut chutney. For mains, M had a Kerala king fish curry and I had Cochin king prawns with spices, coconut, cocum and curry leaves. We also had a crunchy side dish of spinach and, you guessed it, coconut.

We walked it off with a stroll back into Soho. We popped into Borders for the latest copy of the excellent Portfolio magazine, and into Foyles to browse. There we picked up Paul Auster's Travels In The Scriptorium and Andrey Kurkov's The President's Last Love. Then down the always-heaving Old Compton Street for the creamiest, flakiest Mille Feuille in London at Patisserie Valerie. We washed it down with heady lapsang souchang tea then treated ourselves to black cab home.

I awoke on Saturday at 4.30am unable to sleep, so I went into the living room and finished reading Haruki Murakami's surreal and sublime After Dark and started on Ryu Murakami's Piercing. Reviews of these in another post.

A few hours later, M was awake and we headed to the Ben Brown Gallery for Candida Höfer's glorious and monumental photos of Portuguese cultural institutions and the Louvre (above). The attention to architectural detail was magnificent - every intricate detail could be seen and I felt as if I were inside the buildings themselves. Reviewers always try to attach political significance to Höfer's work, but refreshingly the photographer herself states, "To highlight social function is not my concern". She is simply concerned with exposing the glory of her subjects.

Matthew Barney's installations and drawings at the Serpentine referenced Japanese whaling practices and marine life, used materials such as shrimp shells, petroleum jelly, 'self-lubricating plastic' and cement, and utilised the limitations of his entire body to produce the work. Objectively, the concepts were interesting even though I'd heard it all before. But the work simply didn't rouse me. I'm no art critic, despite the amount of art I see, so an emotional response - whether positive, negative or all the shades in between - of some kind is necessary for me. This work left me nonplussed.

At Fernandez & Wells, we lunched on flaky, flavourful goats cheese tart with roasted vegetables and pesto, salami ciabatta, dark chocolate and raspberry tart, Sicilian lemon tart, and my favourite coffee in the whole of London.

At the Frith Street Gallery on Golden Square, Tacita Dean's impressionistic photos and film footage of a poet, translator and owner of an orchard of apples - some rare - grown from pips, eased me into its narrative so calmly that I was positively soporific by the time I came out.

We also wandered around the contemporary Asian art gallery Aicon again to check out their latest exhibition. Among the artists on show from Kerala to Kolkata, Subodh Gupta's paintings of everyday items from rural India such as steel kitchen utensils hanging from the tented roof of a roadside cafe (above), impressed me the most.

To Habitat for spice jars and a new white duvet cover and pillow cases - my favourite colour of bedding - so crisp, so clean, so inviting. And to the Minamoto Kitchoan on Piccadilly for some delectable Japanese desserts - hanatsubomi or steamed whole yuzu filled with white bean jelly (left), miyamanokuri or chestnut paste wrapped in sweet red bean jelly, and maccha manjyu or green tea jelly.

Across the road in Hauser & Wirth we saw some art that made me swoon. Michael Raedecker's large canvases combined thread and paint to form ethereal netherworlds - objects such as a vase of flowers, laundry on the line or a ruined homestead (below) rendered so obliquely that I was never sure whether they were surfacing to life or to death.

Finally to Arigato, Fresh & Wild and Nicolas in Soho for provisions. Then home sweet home, where M caught up with the Arsenal match on TV (his sister and cousin had watched the match live at the Emirates earlier on) and then made steak with two Vietnamese dipping sauces - lime and ginger, and green chillies and fish sauce. He served them with green tea soba noodles and spinach with sesame seeds.

Savouring our selection of Japanese sweets, we settled in to watch one of our YesAsia films - the charming Thai love story by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang Mon-rak Transistor about the fate of young dreamer Pan who longs for pop stardom.

Sunday was a much quieter affair for us. Still in bed, we drank big mugs of coffee surrounded by numerous Japanese guide books and made a start on planning our itinerary for our 2 week holiday to Tokyo and Kyoto next week. Then M went to the gym and I popped along to the Indian stores on Turnpike Lane for provisions such as fennel seeds, hing, curry leaves, drumsticks, toor dal, paneer and more. I came back and cleaned the house, did laundry, and made a start on writing this post. Then settled in with a book until M returned home.

We headed into town and popped in the Photographers' Gallery for another viewing of Taryn Simon's An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar. We snacked on some curry puffs and deep-fried sweet potatoes at the C&R Café in Rupert Court - not the restaurant but the takeout place opposite where we sat perched at a bar in the window and watched people pass by. Then we scooted over to Selfridges to buy some Mandarina Duck luggage for next week's trip and cabbed it home.

M started on his tax return while I cooked us a spicy dish of Keralan coconut lamb, slow cooked for two hours, and a sweet and sour sambar. Recipes will follow in another post. I served it with chapati and luckily it lasted into tonight's dinner too. We ended the weekend watching Beat Takeshi's Blood And Bones - a harrowing, brutal, true-life drama about a poor young Korean immigrant who turns his life around by opening a steamed fish cake factory in Osaka but whose obsession with money and power affects every life he comes into contact with, from his long-suffering wife and mistresses to his numerous children and employees. A disturbing yet powerful movie.

And now it's the beginning of another work week.


Bombay Beauty said...

Where to begin my dear? You have style (though I never doubted this). I pass by Malabar Junction almost every day but have never been in. Now it's on the list!

I'm a fan of Valerie -- but you never mentioned where you had the tea -- there as well? I'm also a fan of Auster (saw him read some translations of French poetry once -- a gifted writer and a great looking man, just like the back of the book -- by the way has a very attractive wife and daughter -- the daughter sings -- altogether too perfect).

Mathew Barney is very much on the top of my list -- I do find his work bizarre, but by evoking a sense of dread, disgust, displacement he is trying to utilize aesthetic channels that are usually ignored.

A friend introduced me to Minamota. What a wonderful place.

And finally: Mandarine Duck. As I said my dear, you have style.

How wonderful to live a vicarious weekend in London while I was in NY.



Olivia said...

How DO you fit so much into one day? I think you live a "busy idyll" :)

I know that Japanese sweet shop on Piccadilly. I've bought something there before...a chestnut paste sweet, probably.

Su-Lin said...

I love the fresh mochi at the Minamoto Kitchoan - none of the premade ones you find at the Japanese and Chinese shops can compare.

Planethalder said...

Thank you BB. Yes, we drank the tea in Valerie.

Olivia, You know me by now, always doing this, that and the other - it's in my genes.

Su-Lin - I agree, the mocha are the most deliciously delicate here.

mumbaigirl said...

I've never really enjoyed Malabar junction-neither has my husband, a Mallu. Maybe I have just ordered wrong the two times I have been there.

Planethalder said...

Hi MumbaiGirl - yes, I guess no restaurant can appeal to everyone, thank goodness.