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My Problem with Twitter

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Now, I bloody love twitter. I met my wonderful girlfriend on it, I’ve gained some new friends through it, and as a result of using it I’ve gained new and valuable insights into society, perspectives of which I’d otherwise be completely ignorant. However, one thing bothers me:

It is a truly terrible place to have a reasoned debate, but so often is chosen as the battleground.

There are several reasons for it being the worst place on the web to debate:

1)      The 140 characters
Let’s be honest, this is nowhere near enough to convey a reasoned, thought-out and coherent point of view. Abbreviated statements result in debate being littered with misinterpretation and misunderstanding, causing escalation into name-calling and aggression so quickly that it becomes impossible to regain any coherence. I’d challenge any politician, lawyer, university debating team, or anyone else who argues for a living to conduct a full, serious, and satisfying debate using only 140 characters of text. In fact, I’d pay to watch it.

2)      It’s dangerously public
With so many eavesdroppers, often so keen to jump in and add their own tuppence-worth, any reasonable discussion is lost amongst earwiggers and rubberneckers, many of whom are itching for a fight to brighten their day. Bandwagons form, “come and have a fight” hashtags fuel the fire, and before long it’s a full-on mud fight, with no hope of conciliation between the sides.

3)      It moves too quickly
A storm can build, break, and die on twitter within an hour, during which time tens of people may have slung their mud on the pile, burying any sensible discussion. From this, no sense can be made and, more crucially, few lessons can be learned. Which begs the question, what’s the point?

4)      It’s narrow by design
Users can follow who they like, which tends to be those with whom they agree. Thus, they become desensitised to anyone who doesn’t share the same beliefs, meaning when they do come across a conflicting idea, the default choice is to get rid of it as quickly as possible, rather than engage with it and understand it. I’ve had first-hand experience of this, and it’s not pleasant. It takes a lot of willpower to engage with someone who disagrees with you in a bid to understand another’s point of view, particularly with the anonymity and distance a social media platform affords.

Helen Lewis, Deputy Editor at the New Statesman, is today’s casualty. I won’t go into the reasons for her choosing to delete her profile, but suffice it to say that she left under duress. She’s definitely not the first, and she definitely won’t be the last. It’s a genuinely sad day when a social media network which seems like such a great, open space to share ideas, even those which directly conflict, ends up being used as a tool to remove from the debate those who disagree with a group of users’ views. Where did it all go wrong? And how can we stop it from happening so often?

There are some lessons to take away from this, then.

1)      We should all try to follow a more diverse group of users, to avoid Twitter becoming a self-satisfying, Liberal Left commune, where anyone who doesn’t agree with the norm is hounded out of existence.

2)      We should all take the time to engage with those who disagree with us, to accept any challenges in a reasoned way, and to be patient enough to listen to their points, however much we may disagree with them.

3)      We should all start to use other networks such as Branch as a place to move debate when 140 characters is limiting our arguments. With more space to breathe, we can reduce the risk of misunderstanding, cool the jets a bit, and hopefully all learn a bit more from a sensible discussion. Storify is often used after the fact to try to make some sense of an argument, but is too often a futile exercise which merely documents why it all went wrong, rather than being a preventative medium.

We can all do better with respect to debating online, but we must first pick our battleground more wisely. We must also think long and hard about the wisdom of hounding people off social networks for disagreeing with our own views. Where’s the fun in removing anyone who ever disagrees with you anyway? Surely it’s more fun to debate on a neutral, open ground, in a reasonable, good-natured way, and through this learn more about the beliefs and opinions of others?

After all, “it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles.”

Wise words.

TLL x

Brunch at The Blue Boar Smokehouse and Bar

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Blue Boar

For me, the mark of a good brunch is how it stands up against one of my hangovers. So, to properly road test one costing a breathtaking £45 I thought it best to get totally smashed the night before. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

It passed my test with flying colours. The food was fantastic – delicious, hearty, and plentiful. The drinks on tap certainly helped as well, as did the excellent live music provided by one man and his guitar.

The interior is beautiful, all hard wood, marble and leather, with two huge buffet tables – one for salads and other starters, and one piled high with hundreds of baby desserts. Main courses are available a la carte, from pulled pork, to grills, to the classic full English.

So, with my brain making a bid to escape my skull, I ordered a Bloody Mary and made a break for the starters table. Resisting piling the plate too high, I got stuck into a sample of 3 salads: smoked chicken and granny smith apple, Caesar, and some prawn and langoustine. All were excellent, particularly the juicy langoustine with gigantic whole prawns. The smoked chicken and apple was very good, the apple adding an interesting zing to the in-house smoked meat.

Two drinks down, and I'm playing with my food. Classy Lad.

Two drinks down, and I’m playing with my food. Classy Lad. (Photo by Ashley)

Still feeling delicate, I went for the pulled pork for main course, which came with thyme baked rolls, homemade pickles, coleslaw, and smoky bacon baked beans. Whilst not quite the best I’ve ever had, it was absolutely delicious, hitting my hangover for six with its soulful, succulent, sweet goodness.

My pulled pork loveliness - juicy pork, pickle, rolls, beans and coleslaw. Mmmm.

My pulled pork loveliness – juicy pork, pickle, rolls, beans and coleslaw. Mmmm. (Photo by Ashley)

Desserts were a feast all of their own. I tried so many I couldn’t possibly name them all, piling my plate with bite-sized morsels ranging from mini cheesecakes, popping candy chocolate bark, chocolate puddings, brownies and fruit tarts. I could easily have stayed longer, but still had enough to not need to eat again all day. It was the perfect end to a phenomenally good meal.

Pick and mix desserts - heaven on a plate.

Pick and mix desserts – heaven on a plate. (Photo by Ashley)

It has to be said that the service was superb too, very friendly, attentive, and full of recommendations.

No, it’s not cheap. But you get a heck of a lot for your money, so if you’re making an occasion out of life’s most decadent meal, I cannot recommend The Blue Boar enough. Arrive hungover, stay for a couple of leisurely hours, and leave ready to take on the world. And a bit drunk.

What more could you want from a Sunday?

TLL x

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Sunday Brunch runs from 12:30 to 3pm, and is £45 a head including buffet style salads and desserts, a main course and side, plus unlimited bucks fizz and bloody Mary cocktails.

37-45 Tothill Street, Westminster, London SW1H 9LQ

020 3301 1400

http://blueboarlondon.com/

https://twitter.com/BlueBoarLondon

https://www.facebook.com/BlueBoarLondon

A Farewell to The London Lad (as you know it)

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There comes a time when the weight and variety of excuses force a rethink of one’s priorities. As you may be able to see, I haven’t written regularly on this blog for a while – nothing since October, in fact. There are lots of terrible excuses I could give, but the most honest reason is that I’ve lost interest in reviewing things on my own page. I’ve started writing for A Great Little Place in London, and am a regular Plus One for my girlfriend’s very successful blog, Peach Trees and Bumble Bees. Doing all that has made me rethink what I want to write about here, because having a blog put posting once every few months is, to be frank, a waste of time.

With this in mind, I’m refreshing The London Lad, turning it from a story of all the places I’ve been into a space for me to air my many views on this crazy old world. Essentially, this will be my rant space. I can’t promise that you’ll agree with me. I can’t even promise that you’ll be interested by any of my topics. What I can promise is that I’ll be honest, and I’ll be open to other views (and not a lot of opinion bloggers can say that, trust me).

The Blue Boar will therefore be the last review by The London Lad. And what a way to send it off…

Matilda The Musical

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Entertainment in the West End is expensive. But occasionally, it is worth every penny. The problem is, how do you know whether your well-earned, recession-hit pounds are worth the bother?

Winning a record number of Olivier awards is usually a good indication.

I am not just recommending Matilda – the Musical. I am ordering you to go. As soon as you can. Take an evening, take a friend, and go and be a kid again. It’s what Roald Dahl himself would have said.

I have seen a lot of the big musicals on the West End, and until last night none came close to the magical world of Wicked. Matilda re-sets that bar, with a wicked smile on its face. Its mixture of child-like mischief, beautiful naivety, wonderful music and razor-sharp lyrics just blew me away.

So, without revealing any spoilers, why am I still struggling for superlatives the afternoon after? In no particular order…

1) The set is stunning

Sitting down you’re immediately immersed in the world of Roald Dahl. The set is a live-in book, with a wordsearch of letters dominating the frame of the stage. The rest of the set design is equally stunning, the floor and walls seamlessly moving and rising to double as various panels and props throughout the show. It is quite simply the most creative, clever, spectacular piece of art (and make no mistake, it is art) I have ever seen in theatre. Quentin Blake’s wonderful illustrations made the books for me, and I was enchanted by how similar the sets were, and how vividly they brought back memories of reading “James and the Giant Peach”, “George’s Marvellous Medicine” and my favourite, “The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me”. Also, despite being in the upper circle, I never felt remote from the stage – a trick that’s hard to pull off and is often ignored.

2) The story is beautifully adapted

For anyone who knows the book, it is fairly clear that in order to make the transition to stage, the story needs a bit of “creative adaptation”. Some things have been altered and some things added from the book, although I won’t say what for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t want to give anything away, but secondly I don’t think you’ll notice without a cheeky google of the plot on your way home. It’s been a while since I read the original, but it is testament to Dennis Kelly’s fantastic writing that changes are made with such love for the character of Dahl’s writing that they blend perfectly with the original material. I’m not about to say they’re improvements, but I am still smarting from the horrific film adaptation of “The Witches” where they CHANGED THE BLOODY ENDING, and I will say that I love what Kelly has done with the story.

3) The music and lyrics are beyond compare

One of the main selling points of the show has been Tim Minchin’s involvement. This is a bit of a shame, because it is so much more than ‘The Tim Minchin Show’ – and I’m a big fan of his. However, it cannot be denied that the music and lyrics are utterly brilliant. Minchin effortlessly captures what I call the “Pixar value” – simultaneously and equally appealing to both adults and children, through the funny, the happy and the sad points. Songs such as “When I Grow Up” and “Naughty” have equal resonance for all ages – just have a read of the lyrics. The number of adults crying during the former reminded me of watching Toy Story 2, and seeing parents wiping away tears during “When She Loved Me”. A lot “X – The Musical” shows come across as desperate attempts to make money – I’m looking at you “Shrek” – but Minchin’s mischievous mastery of words, combined with the energy, power and above all earnestness of his music makes you wonder it was written to be a musical from the start. It’s that good.

4) The cast are fantastic

Being honest, there’s usually one or two average performances in any show, but not here. The supporting cast are phenomenal, the Wormwood family (and Rudolpho) are deliciously vile without ever straying into pantomime, and Miss Honey grows beautifully from meek wallflower to lifesaving heroine. Plus, the idea of casting a male for the part of Miss Trunchbull is simply inspired, and gives the character a magnificent sense of aggressive intimidation which steals virtually every scene. The infamous pigtail hammer throw defies description.
What more can be said for Matilda herself? Last night the part was played by Lara Wollington, who was superb. I was stunned by the perfect combination of every element of the character – bravery, strength, naughtiness (obviously), selflessness and real intelligence were all there in spades. Her voice was beautifully natural too, often slightly missing the mark to add a wonderful sense of humanity to the character. This was all heart, no ‘Glee’.

And very well-deserved they are too…

‘Matilda’ is a masterclass in direction, production, casting, choreography, vocal training and musical theatre performance. Being brought up on his stories, the obvious love of and faith in the strength and heart of Roald Dahl’s original was fantastic to see. It wasn’t twee or melodramatic, instead it was a lovely, faithful retelling of a story written with real imagination and joy.

And if you needed any more convincing about whether to go, my only criticism was the sound quality, which was a bit fuzzy at times. I can’t think of a more positive criticism, that the only thing I didn’t like was not being able to hear more.

So stop growing up. Be a child again. Save up, fork out for a ticket, and go. If you need me I’ll be in my parents’ loft, looking for my old Roald Dahl books.

Matilda – The Musical

Tickets from £25 (upper circle) – £85 (premium stalls/premium dress circle)

Cambridge Theatre
Seven Dials
32-34 Earlham Street
London WC2H 9HU

Box office: 0844 412 4652

http://uk.matildathemusical.com/

http://www.facebook.com/MatildaTheMusical

Champagne + Fromage

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The UK is the number 1 importer of champagne in the world. But around 80% of that bubbly comes from the “Big Houses”, the likes of Mumm, Veuve Clicquot and Bollinger. Given that there are an incredible 15,000 other growers of champagne in the region, 5,000 of which are also makers, there’s still a hell of a lot yet to be discovered by us Brits, wouldn’t you say?

Educating us all is the one goal of the wonderful Maud Fierobe  and her husband Stefano Frigerio (an Italian, I know, but he’s apparently been forgiven), joint-founders of French Bubbles. In their own words, they want “to bring access to authentic, fine quality ‘True’ Champagnes at great prices in the UK”. And having invited us to their first shop, Champage + Fromage, to experience a proper artisan champagne tasting, I’m fully on board.

Just opposite the Lyceum theatre in Covent Garden, Champagne + Fromage is an unassuming but lovely little place. It’s a small venue, seating at most 25. And they won’t take many more than half of their seats in bookings, saving the rest for walk-ins. Part French Bistro, part wine shop, part tasting room, despite the high-end reputation of 1 of its 2 eponymous products the outstanding characteristic is one of simplicity. Tartines, cold meats and cheese boards are the main food groups here. And that is because, as Maud explains with an unrelenting and contagious passion, Champagne, like any wine, can and should be served with any food. Except olives.

The tasting was a veritable masterclass, the food was fantastic, and the champagne exquisite. It’s a real, honest and earnest lesson, served with an indomitable energy that’s hard to resist. I learned a phenomenal amount from Maud and her husband, about food, about champagne and about my own tastes. But the champagne is the real star. 25 fantastic award-winning grower Champagnes are available, most by the glass to enjoy with the food, or to take away by the bottle. Glasses are £9, and bottles start at £29, no more expensive than bog standard brut at your local All Bar One. The place is brilliantly versatile too – go for a quick bite, stay for a whole evening, or book a tasting with friends.

We enjoyed a wonderful and relaxed experience, a real taste of France in the heart of London, brought to life by Maud and Stefano. All of us there agreed – we’ll be buying a bottle, to continue our education.

So, if you don’t yet know your Blanc de Blancs from your Bruts, I urge you to book yourself an appointment. Or just drop by!

Cheese boards start at £8
Champagne by the glass start at £9
Tastings start at £40 per person (4 champagnes matched with food)

http://www.frenchbubbles.co.uk/Champagne-Fromage/

http://www.frenchbubbles.co.uk

22 Wellington St WC2

0207 240 1604

Golden Bee

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It seems like every week a new cocktail bar pops up somewhere in London, each offering something slightly different. One such place is Golden Bee, just up the road from Old Street. Opened a matter of weeks ago, it’s built on 2 levels, with its crowning glory a fantastic rooftop bar, perfect for a summer evening. The cocktails are excellent, imaginative and carefully crafted around an extensively stocked bar, with the added offer of “bespoke cocktails” – name a spirit and suggest a flavour and they’ll rustle up something delicious. The atmosphere was distinctly un-Shoreditch, a welcome relief in my opinion, with no pretence and a relaxed feel. All in all this has the potential to make a big impact in EC1, and given that I work round the corner I’ll definitely come back when the sun does!

A flamboyant sign above the door…

An even-more-flamboyant chandelier inside..!

A very well-stocked outdoor bar. A sure-fire winner.

An excellent fruity twist on an old-fashioned…

The infamous Haribo cocktail!

The wonderful raspberry mojito…

One of the many cute little booths…

A nice little touch with the decor – shot glass lighting!

————————————————————————————————————————

Cocktails from £8

http://www.goldenbee.co.uk/

http://twitter.com/GoldenBeeEC1

http://www.facebook.com/goldenbeeshoreditch

Singer Street
London
EC1V 9DD

Tel: 0207 253 1110

Vapiano – Great Portland Street

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In my last review, of The Anthologist, I talk about a theme which strayed too far into gimmicky realms. In Vapiano, I have found a gimmick which infuriates me to the point of exhaustion. I would love for somebody to guide me in the advantages of “Fresh Casual” i.e. a self-service Italian restaurant, because for the life of me I cannot figure them out. Prepare yourselves, reader, for this is a tale of First World woe worthy of a Danny Wallace column.

I went with my girlfriend, at 8pm on a Wednesday evening. Being Oxford Circus, it was absolutely heaving. Entering, it reminded me of a scaled-down version of an American Food Hall – rows of benches in the middle kitchen counters round the sides, and people queuing to order and/or pick up their food. I thought I knew what the concept was, so I thought I was ready for it. What I wasn’t ready for was being told that our table was upstairs. This made very little sense to me, as I presumed we’d have to leave our bags and coats with our seats to get our food. I’m not particularly paranoid, but the thought of leaving my stuff out of sight in a busy restaurant did not appeal. My girlfriend, slightly more concerned, immediately saw the flaw in the layout too. Hmm. We went upstairs, had the concept brusquely explained to us, a menu and a card to scan when we ordered handed over, and we were led to our table.

We were immediately confused. Did we order things course by course? What if I wanted pizza (which takes 15 minutes) and Ashley wanted pasta (done in 5)? Where did we get starters from? Were we OK to leave coats and bags in view when every other shop, bar, café and restaurant in the area says “thieves may operate” there? We tried asking another member of staff but, being seemingly employed to clear plates and not converse with customers, the only person we could flag down didn’t speak any English, despite (bless him) trying his best to help. Already, this was turning farcical. We were hungry and tired (and god knows, being placed not 5 minutes from Oxford Circus we were surely their regular demographic), and this was making our heads hurt.

The mysterious QR card…

Eventually, I ventured downstairs, where nobody seemed to know what was going on, and after a short wait in a queue, ordered a sharing platter of antipasti. I waited a bit longer, grabbed my tin tray with its paper ‘tablecloth’ and was given my starter. Climbing the stairs, I made for my table, trying hard not to look like a waiter for the first time since my time at “The City Inn” Glasgow, c2004. Putting the platter down, I then went back to the bar for our wine and water. I felt like I was on a training shift.

The admittedly very good Antipasti Platter. A rare highlight.

(Good) Wine!

To be fair, the antipasti was good, and so was the wine. The plate of Parma ham, salami, pepperoni, roasted vegetables, mozzarella, and bruschetta was impressive. However, I felt like I had earned a discount by doing about a third of the work to get it to the table, whereas the price tag valued it at about as good as Pizza Express, and certainly no better.

The wine was very good, although give me a decent Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc for under £25 and I’m happy. It was sloppily served to me (to carry to the table) by the barman, who put the bottle and both glasses in the ice bucket, and with no towel with it or napkins on the table, our part of the dining room soon looked like we’d had a small water balloon fight.

Then came the main course, which is where it all descended into restaurant-based anarchy. Having carefully planned our attack on my preference for pizza and Ashley’s for pasta, I went first. I ordered my Pizza Calzone (by this point I was starving), scanned my card, twice, after it failed first time (even for a daily oyster-user, it was a faff to get it right), and was given my brick-shaped “paging system”, which I was assured would “flash, beep or vibrate” to tell me my food was ready. This confused and annoyed me, because, not knowing exactly what it would do (or if I’d notice over all the noise), I basically had to keep my eye on it the whole time, meaning I was forced to be antisocial if I was going to avoid missing my order.

My pager…

Anyway, I got back to my seat, to watch my pager for the next twenty minutes, and Ashley left to order her pasta. 20 minutes later she was still not back, and my pizza wasn’t ready. It turns out that making pasta to individual order takes time (who knew?!), and so she was waiting in yes, you guessed it, another queue. After a few false starts of people’s phones buzzing on our bench, my beeper went off in my hand, but Ashley not being back, I couldn’t leave my seat to pick it up. Nightmare! Just as I was about to chance it, she arrived, fully afluster, with her pasta con pesto rosso. It looked alright, actually. I left to get my pizza. It was pretty good, the dough light and the toppings rich and hearty. Spot on Italian food. However, again, I couldn’t help but compare it to its rivals – I’ve had just as good in ASK, Zizzi and Pizza Express, for the same price, but without any of the self-service stress. As it turned out, Ashley’s pasta was distinctly average , the pasta was overcooked and the sauce was bland. Given it was cooked to order, it was really poor.

The Pasta counter…

The Pizza counter…

By this point both of us had had enough, too hot and bothered to stay for dessert – the first time I have ever left a restaurant early. We grabbed our stuff, paid off our cards (after yet ANOTHER queue) and left.

What frustrates me is this notion that people don’t want to wait for food. WRONG. People don’t mind waiting if they can be allowed to do something whilst they wait, for example, talk to those they have come to dine with. The two of us were up and down the stairs like yo-yos, never at the same time, and so never managed a single meaningful conversation between us all evening.

What most people also don’t mind when out to dinner is service, even if they have to pay 12.5% for it. This was all the Bad of fast food – the mass-production, the chaos, the queues – without any of the Good – the speed. It took us over an hour and a half for two courses. I’d happily have paid 25% more to skip the stress and eat at Pizza Express. In fact, that should be their new jingle. And I’ll want paying for it.

Having done some more research, it turns out Vapiano originated in Germany, which explains a lot. On a cultural understanding level, this is akin to a Mongolian setting up a fish and chip shop chain. (Interestingly, they are yet to open a single place in Italy). It is stressful, overpriced, badly thought-out and lazily executed from start to finish. Even as a casual place to grab some post-shopping scran, it’s a terrible choice when you consider what surrounds it – Wagamama, Itsu, Wasabi, Square Pie and Leon are all far better for the price range.

By the way, upon leaving, our “waiter”, who had shown us to our table at the start, apologised for it being so busy. How nice, I thought. He then, without a shred of irony, said he wished we’d come in the morning, when it was quieter. Unbelievable.

According to its website, Vapiano is going to change the way restaurants do business. I weep for the future of dining if this is the case.

Awful. Avoid.

TLL X

An entirely inappropriate slogan!

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Dinner for 2 – c£50

19-21 Great Portland Street, W1W 8QB

http://www.vapiano.de/uk

http://www.facebook.com/Vapiano.London.Great.Portland.Street

http://twitter.com/VapianoUK

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7268 0082

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