Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Artistic delights

Our weekend began on Friday night when we met up to eat at Eat And Two Veg in Marylebone. The building was wonderfully cavernous with high ceilings, exposed brick and dark wooden furnishings, but the food was a little too stodgily vegetarian for my liking, featuring such old school ingredients as textured soya protein and quorn. I much prefer the fresher, more modern and imaginative vegetarian delights cooked up at Mildreds in Soho.

Saturday began with a rushed perusal through the Royal Academy's spectacular From Russia: French And Russian Master Paintings 1870–1925 From Moscow And St Petersburg exhibition. The place was so tightly packed with middle-aged and elderly out-of-towners that we were able to see very little, so we will return one Thursday after work when we're more likely at least to stand and admire paintings from C├ęzanne, Gauguin and Matisse to Kandinsky, Tatlin and Malevich at greater leisure.

Edward Burtynsky's magisterial photographs of large-scale quarries around the world (above) were on show at Flowers Central on Cork Street. This Canadian photographer is fascinated by the architectural possibilities of geography and landscapes transformed by industry, but despite this it is wonderfully unclear whether he is an environmentalist, an industrialist or simply a documentarist. The vast scale of his photos and their flattened, geometrical preoccupation reminded me of that other magisterial photographer Andreas Gursky.

Tim Simmons' elaborately lit photographs of snow at The Fine Art Society (above) on Bond Street were haunting, enigmatic and extremely cinematic and could easily be hung alongside contemporaries such as Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Gregory Crewdson.

I dragged M into Fenwick department store so I could use the loo but then used it as an excuse to also check out their baby department. And then we replenished our tea supplies at Postcard Teas on Dering Street. We bought second flush Darjeeling from the Fairtrade-endorsed, family-run Goomtee estate (left), some Japanese sencha from the Wazuka hills of Uji and a new tea we've never tried before from southern Korea - Hongcha. We love visiting this small tea shop because the owner regularly encourages us to taste his teas and has a story for each one. He told us how his Hongcha tea tasted remarkably and radically different when drunk in east and west London and we spent some time discussing how the different PH levels, chemical composition and processing techniques of London water affects how delicate teas taste.

After our disappointing experience looking for shirts on Jermyn Street a few weekends ago, we were extremely impressed by the Brooks Brothers store on Beak Street. Though the menswear and womenswear are a little too preppy for our tastes, the store had a wider variety of shirt collar styles that better suited M's preferences. The service was impeccable also and the store was uncrowded making the whole shopping experience much pleasanter. The best discovery was their fabulous Thom Browne collection (above).

We revived ourselves with chorizo and cheese (M) and Dorset ham and Montgomery cheese toasted ciabattas at Fernandez & Wells down the street, then walked along Great Titchfield to the Marco Bohr photographic exhibition Floating Cities at the Mummery + Schnelle gallery. The photos echoed the washed out, melancholy glaze preferred by many of the contemporary Japanese photographers I have seen and featured amateur musicians practicing their craft along the banks of the Tamagawa river on the outskirts of Tokyo - one of the few places they could play without disturbing others or being disturbed.

By this time, I was finally exhausted so we went home and chilled for a few hours before I had to head out again, back into town, for my friend R's 30th birthday celebrations in the St Alban on Regent Street. R looked fabulous, as usual. We used to work together at a development agency in London several years ago and bonded over the fact that we blatantly did not fit in with the non-profit, activist world (where I had to hide the fact that I enjoyed Coca Cola and occasionally shopped in Gap). Like me, she moved fully into the corporate sector before throwing in the towel for a life-enhancing trip to India and Hong Kong. Now she's back home in Ireland working in the corporate sector again and assessing her options.

St Alban features high-end comfort food such as charcoal grilled skate with capers, lemon and pine nuts and veal t-bone with olive mash and slow roasted Norfolk black pig with savoy cabbage and roasted quince. I had a moreish dish of slow-cooked lamb with chillies and chickpeas. The food was very nice, though a little too salty for my taste and I found the individual ingredients tended to overpower one another. But the company and the restaurant environment - featuring wall art by Michael Craig-Martin - were terrific and I was especially impressed that the car service the restaurant offered to ferry me back home (hey, I'm a pregnant woman, I'm allowed such luxuries!) cost exactly the same as a black cab.

Sunday was a quieter, more local affair. As usual, M went to the gym. I cleaned the house, did some laundry and read the weekend papers. Then I met up with M outside his gym and we browsed the local Mothercare. From Ambala we bought some sweet and sour, crunchy namkeen and from our favourite Indian supermarket we bought homemade vegetable samosas, pakoras and potato and pea kachori which we lunched on back at home with sweet lime and chilli pickle, that made Little Planethalder dance around inside me, and a clean and crisp raita M made (above).

M prepared a knuckle of lamb with whole and crushed black peppercorns, sat it on some whole garlic and shallots then popped it into the oven to slow roast at a low temperature for five hours or so while we vegged out for the rest of the afternoon with the engrossing and epic 10-part World War II drama Band Of Brothers on DVD. This TV series is incredibly addictive. I love the high production values, the washed out, metallic hues and how each episode focuses on a particular aspect of the war - whether it is the impact newcomers to the battlefield had on the more seasoned, battle-weary members of Easy Company, or the role of medics, or the effect fear in the battlefield had on all.

Our dinner guests at night were M's sister and one of her best friends - a recently qualified doctor who entertained us with all sorts of gruesome stories from her night shifts at A&E. M served the roast lamb with pumpkin mashed with chillies and cumin and a salad of watercress salad with peas (above). All so delicious. M's sister remarked what a lucky woman she was having a brother like M. I can only agree!

Oh, and here's my belly at 21 weeks and 5 days. That's all baby, promise...


Olivia said...

Omigosh, you have a lil babytum! :)

As for the rest, where do I start?

We used to love Fenwick when we lived here before. My Mum used to have her hair done there. Then when I moved back to the UK and she visited, Fenwick is where we first discovered Carluccio's!

However, I do find it a bit of a poky little place now.


If you and Little P enjoyed those Indian snacks at home, and you want exciting-not-stodgy vegetarian food...take some stuff home from Sakonis! Personally I loooooooooooooove their mixed chat and bhel puri (I love to eat bhel puri with the dahi yogurt thing). Also their dhokla cakes are yumalicous and adding a sprinkle of fresh coriander leaf on everything adds the magic touch.

I know Ambala, our intro to it was when our Sikh friends gave away boxes at their son's wedding at Ascot a few years ago.

At the moment I am addicted to spicy bhoondi. Ooooh man...can't get enough of it, and being made of gram flour is much healthier than the puffed rice stuff.

Have you been into the Brook Bros women's store on Regent Street? I am almost too small to be preppy, love shirts but can't wear them, even though I did indulge myself with a crisp blue Ralph Lauren shirt sporting a classic crest and cufflinks (petite of course and the first shirt with a collar that doesn't cover my ears!)

Have you visited the baby store on Regent Street, Mamas and Papas (?), with sliding doors?

Aie! I know I always write overly long comments on your blog! Sorry!

30in2005 said...

Terribly disappointed with the statement about activists - but I guess it's where you work right?! I'm with an organisation where most people pride themselves on being activists but it takes a gentler if firmer form and includes everyone no matter that they drink coca-cola or use Nestle products. I can't imagine working in the cut-throat -ness of corporates. Life is not cut and dry.

And if on Drummond and you want super samosa's I would bypass Ambala and try Gupta sweets opposite the spice shop. Authentic and far tastier!

Planethalder said...

Hi Olivia and 30in2005 - thanks for the tips for more Indian savoury goodies! 30in2005, my comment on activists was not about all activists - just the particular organisation I worked in. I've worked with other activists who were not like that at all. Didn't mean to offend anyone :-) Moreover, everyone is different and I find myself thriving in the "cut throat" corporate environment - we're not ruthless or particularly cut throat so that helps.

choxbox said...


just read abt little PH and had to de-lurk. congratulations!

also second the opinion that gupta's is better than ambala's as far as samosas go.

Planethalder said...

Welcome Choxbox (fabulous name!) and thank you. Do comment more and thank you for de-lurking!