Listings and reviews (92)
‘Beauty and the Beast’ review
When a young boy can't sleep through the anxiety of moving house the next day, his two older siblings decide a bedtime story might be just the tonic. And so they start to make up a tale based around the rose bush in their bedroom, a beautiful young girl called Bella and her adventure to try and save her poisoned father with the help of the mysterious Beast. Pre-Covid, the Rose, and its Youth Theatre, was on a winning run with its annual festive offerings. Wisely, new(ish) Rose artistic director Christopher Haydon hasn’t changed things for the sake of it, with regular writer Ciaran McConville returning once again. And the hot streak continues here with probably the best Christmas show so far. Lucy Morrell's direction encourages performances that almost burst off the stage ably led by professionals Daniel Goode and Paula James, but it's Eamonn O'Dwyer's music that steals this show – almost Lionel Bart-esque – with the cast all thumbs in waistcoats and elbows high on a couple of numbers. It's confident, raucous, imaginative and perfectly paced – they have, quite simply, nailed a great Christmas show. Go.
Al Boccon Di'vino
Richmond town centre has more than its fair share of good Italian restaurants: you’ll run out of fingers to count them on within ten minutes of strolling around. But the one the locals like to keep to themselves, the one you simply must try, is Al Boccon di’Vino. You’ll need to book ahead for the no-choice banqueting-style menu, which costs around £60 per person plus wine. Oh, and don’t be late: on our visit a couple turned up half an hour into the evening and were close to being turned away until they agreed to forgo the starters they’d missed. Sat in a row of brightly lit competitors, Al Boccon’s entrance is easily missed, but a ring on the bell will gain you entry to a cosy room for about forty, the wood-panelled walls lined with wine bottles and eclectic pictures. Manageress Simona confirms what we already know – there is no menu or wine list: ‘Everyone eats together and everyone eats the same thing. Now, red, white or rosé? Don’t worry, they all go with the food’. She’s not wrong. Turns out, the chef-owner is also a wine and food writer for a magazine back home: he clearly knows his stuff. And so to the procession of food, apparently based on how a Venetian wedding would play out: enjoy the chat, and the wine and the raucous atmosphere, but don’t fall behind. You’ll get ten or eleven offerings: salads, plates of antipasti, polenta, pasta and shellfish, all with a North Italian twist, all of it unfussy but full of flavour. Then, the grand finale: a roast pig, which is par
Richmond is the kind of place that’s primed for a pub crawl. And yet, locals and visitors alike tend to find a favourite and stick to it – like The Tap Tavern. The ex-Richmond Arms is head and shoulders above the competition, one of the area’s most in-favour drinking holes thanks to a huge range of craft ales and great accompanying grub. In summer, the doors are flung open and punters spill on to the street, and when the nights draw in, drinkers can glug in the slightly dim, warm and cosy glow indoors. Adding to its appeal, the pub has opened a ‘hidden’ (I mean, opposite the loos and signposted) saloon upstairs. It’s small enough and busy enough to encourage table reservations, with room for 20 people in among the eclectic mess of rugby and music paraphernalia on dark wooden walls (the bar is loosely Irish-themed, but you can’t really tell). While there are more extensive whisky lists in London, what’s on offer is well-chosen, poured in 35ml measures that start at £7. Along with that, and ale, a few cocktails are also on offer – coming in at £9-ish they are almost half the price of drinks ‘up town’ but, in truth, they’re made with half the finesse. Staff are enthusiastic and eager, though, and there’s a 1am licence, even on Wednesdays and Thursdays. With a few tweaks, this bar could reach the heady heights of the pub down below.
Found in one of those parts of west London ill-served by the tube, Sufi is a good 15-minute walk from the nearest station, so on a dark Monday night in the middle of a torrential downpour we were surprised to find it so busy. It has the ambience and decor of a good café rather than a restaurant, where you’ll find a young man rolling out thin taftoon (leavened bread) and baking them briefly in the oven at the front of the shop, while the owner takes orders, committing them to memory rather than paper (and, in our case, forgetting the extra bread with the mains). Starters aren’t that inspiring: yoghurt with a range of additions and accompaniments dominates, though somewhere in all that we found an olivieh (a chicken and potato salad) which was more egg and potato mayonnaise in truth but, with the hot fresh bread, still hit the spot. Better are the mains, and stews in particular, where this restaurant excels. Take the khoresh ghaimeh: a lamb dish chock-full of meat, dried limes and split chickpeas. Its sweet tomato sauce had a faint bitter tail which increased to a luscious citrus heart once we were encouraged to squeeze between fork and spoon any limes we found, stirring in the hot juices. A fessenjan – chicken in a pomegranate sauce with grated walnuts – was sweet and sour in equal parts. Of course, it would be a pity to miss out on the skewered kebabs. Our tip? Order them as sides: they’re quite the bargain. If you must have dessert then go for sweet and sticky baklava. We’
Shola Karachi Kitchen
Shola is in the wrong place for a debut opening: at the rear end of Westfield, a short stroll from White City tube in a new development only used by daytime workers. As a result, it’s only open for four hours every weekday lunchtime. It’s the kind of site where you would normally open a third branch after the first two had knocked it out of the park. Which is a great shame, because if Shola was in Soho or Shoreditch, there would be queues around the block and plans for a second already. A light and roomy space, there was a warm and enthusiastic welcome from chef Aida Khan from behind the counter as we arrived. A word of warning: don’t procrastinate too long, as we did; it’ll only lead to intense salivation and over-ordering. Don’t miss the crispy masala fries and the crunchy chicken pakoras, each of which were accompanied by sweet and tangy house chutney. Treat those ‘bites’ as starters and you have the excuse to explore the ‘bowls’ and ‘coals’ as mains. The mere size of the khatti daal warrants topping up on roti and buttery parathas. While the chicken karahi was a gingery, garlicky explosion that created a fork-fight for the last piece. Highlight of the visit, though, was the Pakistani builders’ tea – my companion had hankered for a gulp since her visit to the subcontinent a few years ago, she confirmed its sweet, cardamom and clove-infused authenticity. All that Khan would reveal of the recipe was that it was ‘made with love’.
‘Snow White’ review
For ambience, Richmond Theatre never fails to deliver at Christmas time: tinsel and sparkle as far as the eye can see, red, gold and green decorations and a warm glow all around. The locals always contribute too – hats, scarfs and coats, even on a mild December evening, peeled off to reveal their Sunday best and a fervent appetite for sing-a-longs, bad jokes and the usual quips about nearby towns. For this year’s pantomime ‘Snow White’, Jo Brand is the starring attraction as the wicked Queen Lucretia. Surprisingly, for someone with her comedy background, she feels a touch off with her timing and slow in her retorts with the audience – I assume it will get better as the season continues. Keeping her ticking as best he can is ‘BGT’s Jon Clegg, who was in last year’s ‘Peter Pan’ offering. He’s good, but there were plenty around us saying ‘he did this last year’ to a few of his numbers – that said, his ‘smart men felt smart’ routine at the end was a real crowd-pleaser for kids and adults alike. Scene-stealers and panto-saviours, though, are the ‘dwarves’: seven average-size men scuffling around on their knees with woollen legs attached to them. Bumping into each other, falling over and generally just having fun, it’s this type of chaos that the audience will remember.
‘The Snow Queen’ review
Eight years ago, while the Rose Kingston was still struggling to establish its Christmas shows, its adaptation of ‘The Snow Queen’ was a real low: two hours of your life that you could never get back. The very thought of trying it again must have sent a shiver down the spines of all those associated with the theatre, as well as the ticket-buying public (particularly those with a long-enough memory). But here, nearly a decade later, is a great new version from Ciaran McConville. This is a slick and expeditious production against a brilliant, yet simple, set design that is easily and quickly transformed from town to pirate ship to forest to ice castle and so on. In a tale that comes with a few scary moments that might be too much for the very young, Gerda shows her friend Kai a bit of magic that attracts the attention of the wicked Snow Queen, who has been looking for the young girl for some time. To lure her into the open, the Queen takes Kai to the far north as bait, and Gerda does not disappoint. Along the way to the final showdown there’s laughs, songs, dances, a life-size puppet reindeer who nearly steals the show, and Father Christmas. As usual, this is Rose Youth Theatre’s annual showpiece – I’ve never seen them in better form. There have been some bumps along the way, but the last three or four years have proved that McConville and his team have cracked the Rose Christmas show, and this one should get local families inking the date on their calendars for years to come.
The K Bar
Walking into the reception of The Kensington hotel, the low hum is unmistakable: the sound of a lively bar, where people are having fun. There’s no more inviting noise in the world. At early evening, The K Bar benefits from guests either returning or preparing for a night out. Either way, they’re after top-notch drinks and have come to the right place. Table service is as good as you’d expect from a quality hotel, with oak-panelled walls and a marble-topped bar adding to the air of opulence. It’s a relatively small area and despite large, comfy sofas lining the walls, you might struggle to find a seat at peak times. But that all adds to the aforementioned buzz, really. Cocktails, meanwhile, are all expertly mixed. The 'deluxe' menu's Sazerac is as good as you’d get anywhere in London – and that’s saying something in a city that’s fully embraced the Louisiana drink - while for the nightcap crowd, there’s even a couple of dessert cocktails. What’s clear is that standards here are set high. Given west London’s dearth of decent cocktail bars, this could be either a blessing or a curse. As The K Bar’s head barman points out, ‘People usually like to move on when they go out. But when they come here there’s nowhere near for before or after.’ My tip? Stay at The K Bar for one more instead.
A pub separates Delhi Orchid from its nearest rival and with both menus on display, which are similar in range, you would understand diners choosing to opt for the (very slightly) cheaper neighbour. But as in life, you get what you pay for: Delhi Orchid is for those in the know. To start, if you’re can’t make your mind up – and are sufficiently hungry – get the mixed platter, a generous starter sampler where every morsel is excellent. Otherwise, a must-try is the coco jingha – five perfectly tandoor-cooked king prawns marinated in coconut with a hint of ginger. Next up, the jalfrezi had an excellent flavour, though it could have done with a tad more heat: turns out you can order any dish hot (or hotter), you just have to let them know. Also useful: all veggie mains can be ordered as smaller side dishes. Go for the dal makhani: silky smooth and moreish, it’s guaranteed to start a frantic naan fight for the last scoop in the bowl.
To be an Italian restaurant in Richmond is to have a hell of a lot of competition. So if, despite all that, you’re a restaurant that’s not just busy, but packed out in the middle of the week, you’re doing something right. To say that Treviso is popular would be an understatement. ‘We’re not busy tonight’ says the convivial owner, with not a seat to spare, but pointing to the empty outside terrace (it’s chilly and raining) says, ‘order off menu, any pasta dish, our chef will do it’. He visits each table, sitting with regulars and cracking jokes, or initiating débutantes to the minimal menu with his personal recommendations. It’s all good and, better yet, very reasonably priced. For primi, chunky king prawns in garlic and white wine just about outshone the polpette floating in a mouth-wateringly tart tomato sauce and topped with crispy pancetta. Pasta comes fresh and steaming from the pan: we would return for the tagliatelle with flaky salmon in a cream sauce alone. Our fresh fillet of sea bass, sitting over a pile of green beans and potatoes, was simple and faultless. Being a short walk out of town, on the ‘other side’ of the roundabout, some diners might think it’s too much effort to get there, especially with other Italians on offer a lot closer. They’d be advised to think again.
Ah, the enigma that is Richmond’s riverside on a sunny day. Crossing the bridge into Richmond, on the left: not a blade of grass available as the masses, serviced by three or four pubs, jostle for a few extra inches… just enough to perhaps sit comfortably. And on the right, a two-minute walk away? Manicured lawns, meadows, an underpass that extends the abundant space to the quiet fields and gardens of Richmond Hill – enough room to cartwheel and picnic by the tranquil Thames should the fancy take you – but no pubs. Britain in a nutshell. Beer respite, for those that do decide to turn right, comes quite literally in Stein’s – venue and receptacle – although smaller versions than the 1 litre jugs are available. Six or seven Bavarian brews – a good range from Erdinger and a particularly refreshing Adlerkonig – keep the atmosphere, erm, chatty. But take note: this faithful homage to the beer gardens you find next to streams in Munich parks is not a pub. In fact, you have to be eating to be drinking, but that’s no real hardship here. Imported sausages, in particular the currywurst – smothered in a sweet, tangy sauce, and schnitzels as big as your face should be the first on any order. An overly processed meatloaf maybe not so, while spud accompaniments come in the form of excellent ‘sliced and pan-fried’ with bacon, mashed, or a rather zesty potato salad. Busy times will see you sharing the bench seating and lending to the German Beer Festival feel – in fact, the only thing miss
The long stretch of Portobello Road feels quite tired nowadays, the occasional hip bar or restaurant jump-starting its heartbeat now and then. Japanese-influenced Ukai, at the Ladbroke Grove end, is such a place, serving great food and drink to dyed-in-the-wool trendy locals and inquisitive tourists. On the back of Ukai’s success, the team have ventured into the Italian market and opened this little number a few doors further down. At the front, it’s light and airy, with a big window on the world; at the back it’s air-conditioned and dominated by a fair-sized plastic tree. Unfortunately, somewhere, the magic seems to have been lost. Maybe we were expecting too much, given the quality of its sibling, but Artisan really is just a run-of-the-mill pizza and pasta spot, and a few months into launch we were surprised to be told the simple stuff, like bruschetta and parmigiana, were unavailable. For starters then, we sampled an avocado-infused burrata on top of some tiny crispy pasta. Novel and tasty enough, but £10? Meh. Pasta main courses were no more generous, but were fresh enough. A starter of wood-fired garlic bread pizza was dry and flavourless; larger pizzas can be as wild as prawn and pesto, but our ham and mushroom was all we needed to know not to expect anything ground-breaking from this place. There are better places to eat in these parts, and if you’re not specifically after pizza, then Ukai is a much better shout.