Stuff I loved this year

I didn’t do nearly as much cultural stuff as I’d have liked this year, but below are some of the things I loved (and a few that I didn’t) in 2011. 
Best Films
Bridesmaids
Kristen Wiig is a genius.  I still think back to the wedding dress shop scene and laugh out loud. Comparing this to the Hangover is like comparing 30 Rock to Two Pints of Lager.
The Skin I Live In
Weird, insane and no less brilliant because of it.  I can understand why it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – the man I went with was too disturbed to speak afterwards – an added bonus.
True Grit
Coens back on form after the totally over-rated A Serious Man.  I didn’t think I could love Jeff Bridges any harder, post-Lebowski, but he’s almost as brilliant as Hailee Steinfeld.
Films I missed but wish I hadn’t
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Senna
Drive
Films I saw but wish I hadn’t
Potiche
Contagion
Midnight in Paris

(By the way, how sharp is this interior at the new Everyman cinema in Maida Vale?  When I first started going to the cinema, you were lucky if they had loo roll in the bogs.  Now it’s like walking into a double page spread in Elle Deco.)

Theatre
Jerusalem
Mesmerising, extraordinary, moving, hilarious and brilliant.  I had no idea how exceptional Mark Rylance was.  As good as the reviewers said.
TV
The Killing – Season 1
I loved the fact that at the end of every episode I was convinced I knew who the killer was.  And I’ll have you know I was right the first time (but not the following 18 times…)  Season 2 a disappointment, though I could watch Lund forever.
The Crimson Petal and The White
Beautiful, evocative, brilliantly cast.  Romola Garai was exceptional.  Chris O’ Dowd was so good in this, I could almost forgive his Oirish accent in Bridesmaids.
30 Rock
Alec, Alec, Alec, Tina, Alec, Kenneth, Alec, Tracy, Alec.
Music
Adele – 21
It really annoys me when blokes I know say this is an average album, just because it’s hugely popular and mainstream.  The reason it’s so popular is because it has heart and soul and passion and honesty and rawness, and just because something’s mainstream doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cack.  On a separate note it seems that everyone I really love this year is female (other than Daniel Craig.  Oh, and I guess Mark Rylance.  And Alec.)
Books
A Visit from The Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
Original, funny, clever, moving, brave.

The Illumination – Kevin Brockmeier
Original, sad, clever, ambitious, brave.
The Cure – Rachel Genn

Original, intelligent, poetic, wise, brave.

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Ms Marmitelover’s beautiful Boxing Day brunch

I was lucky enough to get a space at Ms Marmitelover’s Scandi-inspired Boxing Day brunch yesterday.

She is my new favourite person.  She loves the things I love (Nora Ephron, Charles Bukowski, food,) and I am nothing if not a narcissist.  But she is also a fantastic cook:

Knows how to make the perfect potato salad with divine home made mayo, dill and red onions:

And how to make eggs look spectacular:

That premium yellow caviar is from Kalix in Northern Sweden; Ms. Marmitelover can tell you more about it here.

How to make beautiful creme fraiche and sour cherry ice cream, in home-made crispy cardamom cones

How to make berries look pretty:

And bake lovely spicy gingerbread biscuits in festive form:

And these pussy-cat inspired Swedish rolls.  How cool are they?

But more importantly, along with being super-talented in the kitchen and a fantastically hospitable host, she is totally sharp and hilarious and entertaining.

Thanks also to her delightful assistants, the very talented blogger Bellaphon, and Ms Maritelover’s lovely and very smart daughter, The Teen.

Ms Marmitelover’s brilliant book, Supper Club, is on every Top Ten list of the year.  Buy it for yourself as your post-Christmas perk-up, and make a New Year’s resolution to go to one of her events in 2012.

London Marathon 2012

Does a 30 minute walk around Regent’s Park offset this lot?

5 rib 4rib

Skirt now too tight.  Will my mother kill me if I remove it at the dinner table?

How about my tights?

True that
Stellar cheese

With packaging like this it’s rude not to.

 The-damage-is-already-done -***-it denouement…

Earrings now officially too tight.

Thank you to my wonderful, generous, talented hosts for cooking an amazing lunch, for allowing me to take photos of everything, and then letting me have a little lie down immediately thereafter.

Christmas Eve – pretty, pretty.

Can’t believe it, I’ve lived in London my whole life and have never been to the Royal Opera House.

Well, I can believe it.  I’m culturally unsophisticated.

And often more excited by the building:

And the funny Rudolph topiary spied from the roof of the building:

Than by what’s on stage.

In this instance, The Nutcracker.  Which was lovely – very Christmassy and pretty.

And then when I got home there was this sunset, which was also pretty, if not very Christmassy:

Meat Liquor – the famous Dead Hippie burger, and how I turned in to my dad.

The most hyped burger of the year in London, the one all these people are queueing for?

The Dead Hippie, at Meatliquor.  As ever, I’m late to the party.

In brief (long year, I’m tired): good enough burger.  Not the double-pattied nirvana the blogosphere promised, not a patch on this bad boy,  but tasty and carnal nonetheless.

Other highlights: the blue cheese dipping sauce that comes with the deep fried pickles.  (I hate blue cheese so I don’t say that lightly.)

The chicken in the chicken burger.  Brilliant texture, great crunchy coating, let down by a papery bun:

Deep fried pickles – conceptually great, executionally not quite: batter too soggy.

Onion rings – not quite crispy enough, again almost great.

A long, long time ago, when I was 12 and three quarters,  I went with my family for lunch to a groovy restaurant south of LA called El Ranchitos.  El Ranchitos was Californication-esque.  Grungy but not really grungy, dive-bar ish  but actually quite clean.  They played thumping loud 80s cock-rock, and more to the point they made mean burgers.

We’d been there a whole 5 minutes before my dad asked the hot tattooed waiter to turn the rock and roll down.  I can still remember the moritification my near-teenage self felt when the waiter said no, and my dad dragged us out of there.

Tonight, Matthew, I am my dad.  I can live with the Dexter-ish slaughter / blood themed decor at Meatliquor.

But the music’s TOO BLOODY LOUD.  I couldn’t hear myself think.

I stopped short of asking my hot tattooed waiter to turn the music down, but the thought crossed my mind.  Which made me feel old, which made me feel cross.

If I were 26 and on a date, I’d love this place.  It’s fun, it’s cool, and even though it knows it’s cool you can forgive it because it has a sense of wit.   I’d drink loads of the bourbon-based cocktails, wolf down the burger and think I was almost, almost in Williamsburg.

But I’m not 26.  I was out with friends, talking about adult things like babies and careers and unreliable builders.  And I was acutely aware that I wasn’t in Williamsburg, but I was 2 minutes from the back door of John Lewis, and had yet to buy most of my loved ones the right Christmas present.

So I didn’t love it.  I liked it though.  I really did.

E. Mishkin – E is for Effortful, Ersatz, and Enough Already

Hmmm.  I’d heard mixed reports.  Time Out gave Mishkin’s 2 out of 5, and my chef friend said the same.  Still, you’ve got to see for yourself, right?

After Spuntino’s exhaustive try-hardness, and Da Polpo’s very good pizzas, I thought it could go either way.  But Mishkin’s is basically quite nice food, hiding behind some faux ‘old-fashioned and Jewish’ shtick.

It has the usual surface charm of the Polpo chain – nice, young, good looking staff, nice lights:

Fashionably stocked bar…Sipsmiths anyone?

 And a toilet with willfully awkward taps and retro wallpaper:

The whole concept claims to be ‘a kind of Jewish deli’ – and the menu does have lots of nods to Jewish food (chopped liver, bagels, latkes, matzo ball soup).    However the entire experience is so-so, because Mishkin’s lacks what real delis (Jewish or otherwise)  have in spades: heart and soul.

We had meatballs (good flavour, texture too firm), onion rings and fries (not quite crisp enough.)

We had a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel which came with a soft boiled egg.

This was the closest we came to good.   The fish was delicious – Severn & Wye salmon – and the egg was perfectly cooked, but the bagel was a 6 out of 10 bagel: not fresh enough, no crisp exterior to give bite, no soft yet chewy innards – just flavourless, too firm dough.

Come on guys.   It is not that hard to source a decent bagel in London in the 21st century.  You’ve spent so much time making sure your decor and fonts are cool, why not spend twenty minutes talking to someone who knows a bit about bread?  Try Carmelli’s, or Panzer’s.

As we left, the waitress handed us a brown envelope, inside which was a copy of Ezra Mishkin’s story.  Ezra – who ‘dreamed of owning his own restaurant‘ and established Mishkin’s in 1931.  (25 Catherine Street, site of this spanking new restaurant, was previously Taste of India curryhouse. ) The powers of the internet provide no evidence of a real Ezra Mishkin.  The internet does of course tell us that Mishkin’s is owned by the same two guys who run 4 other themed restaurants in central London, all established in the last 3 years….go figure…  I have little choice but to cynically assume E. Mishkin is a marketeer’s fictive creation.  Which is fine.  My sources tell me that Ronald McDonald isn’t real either. 

Except that the legend of Ezra Mishkin goes on to describe Ezra, shivering over a bowl of soup and pondering desperately his flight from the Ukraine, to escape being murdered – as his parents had been.  Class: chuck in some murdered 19th Century Jews to give your restaurant some personality.  Now that’s  cool.

Don’t get me wrong.  This is not bad taste on a Clarkson scale – though really who takes Jeremy Clarkson seriously anyway?  (He’s a paunchy middle-aged attention seeking bloke who says provocative things to help his career – just ignore him if he bothers you.)  However it is, to me, proof that the food doesn’t stand up on its own, and needs the whole ‘back story’ thing built around it – which is a shame.  More attention to bread, less attention to cutesy, pretentious wank, please.

If you are the type of punter who loves a trendy contrived narrative to go with your trendy contrived menu, then, as they actually do say at Katz’s deli, ‘enjoy…’

On the other hand, if you are in Covent Garden and crave decent old-fashioned European kind of Jewish food, your money would be better spent at The Delaunay – the newly opened restaurant by the folk who brought you The Wolseley.

The Delaunay is gorgeous, grand and elegant – though not quite as buzzy or pretty as The Wolseley.  I didn’t take photos as it’s really not that sort of place (Gordon Ramsay, Janet Street Porter, and possibly Shelley Von Strunkel were all there on the night we were.)

The food is good enough.   We ordered a cheese-stuffed weiner, and a cheese-stuffed bacon wrapped weiner, purely so we could engage in a lengthy conversation about weiners with our poor waiter.  The weiners were delicious – proper well done trash food, served with amazing waxy potatoes in a grainy mustard dressing.  The side dishes (sprouts with chestnuts, carrots with ginger) lacked seasoning.  The puddings were disappointing (pear and blackcurrant millefeuille thin and slightly soggy –  not a patch on Pierre’s millefeuille).  The two sittings next to us both ordered the Salzburg Souffle for 2 which looked absolutely spectacular – a giant, golden puffed up colossus, with a soft middle – resembling a cross between a Baked Alaska and a souffle.

I probably wouldn’t hurry back – not because it’s not good, but because it’s Wolseley light, or actually Wolsey dark – darker room, less lively.  Next time I’m in Covent Garden, I’m going to Benito’s Hat for a burrito: my cash isn’t paying for the interior design, and I know the food’s going to taste delicious.

Call me old fashioned and Jewish, but isn’t that the point?