For all the hoo-hah about Netflix shifting the viewing paradigm from traditional television to streaming via computer or set-top box, it wouldn’t mean a thing if its content fell short. So far, Netflix has relied on buying in films and TV shows, but ‘House of Cards’ is its first self-made series. And, on the basis of the opening two episodes, it’s outstanding. Ian Richardson was always going to be a tough act to follow as the scheming politician at the heart of the original British series from the 1990s. Thankfully, Kevin Spacey is little short of impeccable in his place, bringing all his years of complex villainy to bear on Congressman Frank Underwood.
Underwood, having helped engineer the re-election of a president, is denied the role of secretary of state which he believed was his. And so – urged on by his equally Machiavellian wife Claire (Robin Wright) – begins Underwood’s revenge mission where the collateral damage looks considerable (he asphyxiates a dog in the opening scene) and the burdens of conscience don’t apply. Journalists, colleagues and, eventually, the viewers become complicit as Spacey breaks the fourth wall with all the practised ease of a former Richard III.
Washington DC, as director David Fincher depicts it, is a cold, threatening place: a viper’s nest, one step removed from the city he depicted in ‘Se7en’. It’s dense, absorbing and chilling: we’d advise against watching all 13 episodes in one sitting, however. Too much misanthropy, however seductively packaged, can’t be good for the soul.
The Black Penny
It was a marketing wheeze that really, really worked. This new café/takeaway in Covent Garden sold every dish for a penny on opening day, and when we went a few days later there were huge queues waiting for tables and (mostly) takeaway. It reminded us of the old drug dealer’s trick to get new clients: ‘the first one’s free’. Addiction to Black Penny may become a recognised medical condition, but it won’t be because of cost – low though that is. When you finally reach the counter, you see dishes that look like those at many another coffee place: soup, sandwiches, salad, quiche, a stew, lots of baked sweet things. But when you finally sit down in the small back dining room, you realise this isn’t the stuff of two-for-a-penny cafés. The quality is high in both sweet and savoury dishes. Salads are a particular strength, with confident seasoning in the dressings and excellent assemblies of sprightly ingredients to carry them. The kitchen has a masterful pasty-maker, as we saw in both a savoury tart and a Pennsylvania-Dutch-style apple pie. They also had a good ceviche on the menu when we were there. Portions are enormous and prices eminently reasonable - £7.50 for a salad box that some people would be happy to share between two, sandwiches just under a fiver. In the food, the only downer was inelegant presentation of salad selections. The separate components were piled together so that their flavours blended in some unappealing ways: ceviche on top of couscous is never a good
Venue says: “In the heart of Covent Garden, serving breakfast, lunch, cakes & coffee from The Roastery Department. Talk to us about private bookings.”