Saturday, August 31, 2013

Review: L'oreal Glam Shine Fresh lipgloss

I got this about 14 months ago, but until this Summer, had been using it sparingly. Now, however, it has become one of my favourite lipglosses.

Lipglosses usually lie quite a lot on the promises they deliver, "this lipgloss will make your teeth look whiter", "this lipgloss will make your lips look fuller", "this lipgloss will make you appear taller", yada, yada, but if anything, this lipgloss actually undersells on its promise to stay glossy for 6 hours. In fact, it's often stayed on my lips for the whole days, despite the lengthy amount of talking and consuming beverages I do. The pink colour I selected is perfect because it's a good trade-off between looking natural, but not so much so that you can't see the effect of the lipgloss, and the nib of the lipgloss applicant is a great shape to ensure no wastage of the product either. I'm a big fan.

Grade: A

NB: I bought it at its RRP, but I've just found a site that sells them for much cheaper! Score!

Review: Adidas Icy Burst Eau de Toilette

I got this in a pound shop purely out of curiosity a while back, and have been alternating between wearing this and the CK Eau de Toilette for work. It's a lot less musky than the CK one, smelling not so much icy as sharp, but with a fragrant floral twist. Strength-wise, it doesn't hold up against the CKIn2U, as by the time I get to work, the smell as worn off, meaning I probably won't be repurchasing it. For a quick fix, it's a sweet enough smell, packed in a small enough bottle that you can carry it around with you. A word of the wise though: for it to actually have any lingering effect, you'll need to top yourself up with it, a lot.
Grade: C

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

New China (Chinatown) review

Given the sheer volume of Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, it can often be difficult to choose which one to go into. For the uninitiated, they may just pop into one that's closest to Leicester Square, so they can duck out and do their tourist activities sooner if the food really isn't that impressive. New China, which sits on a corner just next to the Leicester Square cinemas, is one such restaurant.
The quality of the food was actually pretty good, save the sweet and sour chicken, which I was disappointed with. Prices were steep - regard the green veg in the photo. There wasn't much there and it cost us about £7, which didn't stretch far between three people. However, the pork was very well cooked, as were the noodles. Service was also commendable, as one of the waitresses obligingly took not one but three photos for me, as the first two didn't turn out great. This is very much appreciated by me, as I love my photos, and more often than not you'll encounter waiters who just hit click and bugger off without looking at their handiwork. For that excellent bout of service, I'm just about to forgive the cheeky prices, and given this restaurant several grades higher than it truly deserves.
Grade: B+

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Meals at work.

My work has a pretty sick canteen, and the prices are subsidized, meaning, depending on your luck, you can sometimes get restaurant-quality meals for three quid!

Last week the meals I had in the canteen were:
Vegetarian flat pizza with curry potatos and peas. £2.95. Mark: 7.5/10
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Garlic herb chicken, thick wedges and coleslaw. £3.20. Mark: 6/10. (the chicken wasn't great)
So not the high quality I know the canteen is capable of, but we'll see how my luck is this week!

The search for London's best breakfast: Poppin's Sutton.

My planned mission to trial various breakfasts across the capital has taken somewhat of a backburner to work, revising for my MSc, and that annoying thing that is having a social life, but the latter and my mission crossed over nicely when I travelled over to Sutton to see off my friend Rahim, who's leaving to go to the States for Uni today. I've been to a Poppin's before, in Chesham, but I don't remember the breakfast being as good:

When I uploaded this to Twitter, quite a few commented on:
1) the lack of mushrooms. Not a problem, I don't actually like mushrooms.
2) "anemic looking bacon". That's actually the ridiculous flash on my camera, which I'm still not quite used to. The bacon was fine.
3) too many beans. This is probably the most legitimate point, as I didn't finish all the baked beans, and it adversely affects the presentation of the plate.
The meal was £4.60 (£3.60 for everything minus the hash browns plus an extra quid for the hash browns) and I was completely nourished by it. The meat was cooked healthily and I love the yellow yolk of the eggs. The only downside was perhaps too much baked beans; if they'd given me another egg or slice of bacon instead, that would have been perfect.
Grade: A-
Whilst in Poppin's, I also helped myself to a banana milkshake (KEY), and some pancakes:
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The banana milkshake, was, hand-on-heart, one of the best I've ever tasted. "We don't mess about", the waiter said to me, and he was right; the milkshake is pretty much pure ice cream mixed with milk, meaning whilst it probably ain't great for the heart, it was fantastic for the taste buds. The dessert was also wonderful, although a little too creamy at parts.

Overall, I loved Poppin's Sutton, and at £8.80, I really did dine in breakfast heaven.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bad Photography.

Celebrating some of the crappiest, blurryiest, most boring photos I've taken.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Restaurant review: Grappolo (Holborn)

My trip to Grappolo was the first time I bought anything off LivingSocial, and it was a good initiation into seeing the difference between what was being sold to you on paper (or screen), and the actual reality.

Located near London’s financial centre, Grappolo is a suitable upmarket-looking place, with attractive waiters and waitresses and an elegant ambiance. The deal I got online was £29 for a three course meal for me and a friend, as well as a bottle of wine to share between us. We both ordered different things, so I got to have a trial of six dishes in total. And overall, my impression is positive: five of the six things we ordered tasted great (the only thing that didn't was Theo's cheesecake dessert), and whilst, presentation-wise, they definitely peaked at the starters, the dishes looked perfectly presentable, if not Michelin-star level.

My personal highlight was the main course, which was the none-too-sophisticated but nonetheless delicious meatballs + cheesy mash blend. Theo had something which sounds much nicer in Italian, but simply put, was chicken and chips. The chicken tasted fine, but the chips themselves had a "bung the McCain's oven chips quickly in the oven and hope no one notices" touch about them that was never going to fool me (I spent half my teenage life in fish and chip shops, c'mon now). As mentioned, looks-wise, the starters were by far the best. We both had salads; mine was with prawn and the quantity and texture of it both looked and tasted brilliant.

Grappolo got a bit slack with the desserts. My tiramisu was perfectly edible, and such is my sweet tooth that I'll usually speak well of anything sugary, but looks-wise, it had, as with Theo's chips, a hurried look about it. Theo's cheesecake looked even worse, the red blob in the middle did nothing to appease his appetite and that was the only thing we left unfinished.

However, I'm nothing if not practical, and I know that for £29 for two people, including a bottle of wine that succeeded in getting us very drunk, you can't really ask for the stars, so for what I paid for the deal, I was very satisfied. Without the deal, you'd be paying £16.50 per person for a three-course meal, and I don't know how much the wine would be, but it'd probably bring you to over £40. Had I gone that route, I think I'd be a little less generous with my review, but such are the slim margins of a couple of quid~~~

Grade with the price I paid with my LivingSocial deal: A-
Grade had we eaten there without a voucher: B

Barrio Central (Oxford Circus)

Me and a few colleagues visited Barrio Central after work one Friday, and we really liked what we saw.

I had two cocktails and a beer and it came to £12, which for central London, is nothing short of a bargain! Furthermore, the beer was lovely and the two cocktails, whilst being flavours I've never heard of before, tasted great, and didn't skimp on the alcohol. As somewhere to go for pre-drinks before a big night out, I definitely recommend Barrio.

Lovelace (Rob Epstein, 2013)

Given the current furore over David Cameron’s proposal that we bad porn completely, the release of Lovelace, which charts the story of America’s most celebrated blue movie actress, could not have come at a more topical time. Starring Amanda Seyfried as the eponymous character, the film shows how she came to make porn movies, the ensuing glitterati that followed, before revealing how she was manhandled into it every step of the way, posing the question of just how “liberating” porn really is.

Linda Lovelace, real name Linda Boreman’s beginnings are no different from many an American good-girl-gone-bad. Raised by a Bible-bashing mother (an unrecognisable Sharon Stone, commendably playing against type) and a meek, hardly there father, Linda’s only bouts of having fun are at her local roller-disco with best friend Patsy (the ever-lovely Juno Temple, adding another independent movie to her growing collection). It is there that her shy, wide-eyed charm captures the attention of Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard).
Traynor is an extremely seedy fella, owning a stripclub where he casually turns a blind eye to his strippers’turning tricks, as well as hitting on Patsy the second Linda’s back is turned. But he can be the most charming man in the world when he wants to be, and that is how he cons Linda into being his betrothed. A few months down the line and Chuck’s various shady dealings land him in serious debt, and it is here that Linda tentatively stars in the movie “Inside Deep Throat”, about a woman who’s clitoris is inside her throat. The first part of the movie makes porn seem like no big deal, almost fun, with its witty sex jokes and repartee among the cast and crew, not to mention the glamour parties with Hugh Hefner. The second part, however, shows us the ugly scenes after the parties, where we discover that Linda was not a so-called empowered woman embracing her sexuality, but rather the victim of her controlling, monstrous husband.

The movie poster for Lovelace boasts a litany of Hollywood A-listers as well as independent movie darlings, but blink and you’ll miss a couple of them. Chloe Sevigny, horrifically underused as one of Lovelace’s various interviewers, is in it for the best part of 10 seconds. However, that’s not to say there aren’t some great performances. The Simpsons’ Hank Azardia as the director who pompously thinks his movie “transcends porn”, is a riot. Sharon Stone is completely dislikeable as the overbearing mother who won’t give her daughter an inch of freedom, but her personality is exactly the type that would drive a girl to porn, and thus, is utterly believable. She's so caught up in her Bible readings that she can't see that her little girl is getting abused. Stone's branch of Christian crazy channels Piper Laurie in Carrie, and we all saw how well that turned out.
Seyfried is pretty good in the lead, although she’s let down by one element that’s not so much to do with her acting per se: Seyfried has usually played it safe with her movie roles, such as Mamma Mia!, or pretty Cosette in Les Mis, so to see her wide-eyed as America’s most famous porn star is a bit of a stretch. Linda Lovelace herself definitely had a bit of a “been around the block” look about her, whereas Seyfried spends the entire movie looking virginal, which doesn't quite go with the image of her character. Peter Sarsgaard is fantastically odious as her partner. I doubt there’ll be a single person watching Lovelace who can like or sympathise with Chuck, but Sarsgaard is completely committed to his oily, disturbing performance. Mao Zedong once famously said, “power grows out of the barrel of a gun”, and it’s with a little handgun that Traynor wields his influence over his poor wife, pimping her out to strangers in clubs and coercing her to give blowjobs on screen. He’s a terrible person, but Sarsgaard gives an excellent performance.

In the end, I was left feeling far too sorry for Linda Lovelace to have any kind of impression of this as a piece of art. Although we as the audience are happy that Linda escaped the chain of violence at the end, as a biopic, it had no message other than “don’t stand for abuse”. Pertinent as that is, I like my biopics to say something more, for example, 2005’s Capote about Breakfast at Tiffany’s writer Truman Capote cannily captured just how much of yourself you have to sacrifice for the sake of your art. Tonally, it was also suspect. Sex jokes in one scene, then brutal depictions of spousal abuse in the other… it didn’t sit with me. So, because of the lack of message, as well as the movie being so completely at void of redemptive characters apart from the lead, and the terrible tonal modulations, I left Lovelace feeling short-changed.

Grade: C+/B-

Monday, August 05, 2013

Copenhagen, 2013.

For this year's holiday, I spent a few days in the capital of Denmark. Photo time!

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Review of The Innocents (Francesca Segal)

The Innocents opens with a quote from Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (and adapted in a 1993 film by my favourite director, Martin Scorsese), and it wasn’t until after I’d read the novel and googled it that I twigged The Innocents is actually a modern day reworking of said novel. Whilst this probably says more about my horrific lack of knowledge of literary classics more than anything, there could not be a better advertisement for Wharton’s book than The Innocents, which moves the setting from 19th century New York to London, but aside from the setting, the themes, characters and decisions that are central to the novel transition effortlessly.
The plot centres around Adam Newman, a nice Jewish boy, and his upcoming marriage to nice Jewish girl Rachel Gilbert, whom he has dated for 12 years, since they were 16. Adam works as a lawyer for Rachel’s dad’s law firm, and lives in the comfortable bubble of Hampstead, where his close friends and family all live nearby. He loves Rachel dearly and is utterly content with his life arrangements, until her 22 year old cousin Ellie returns to London from New York, on the back of several scandals, one of the chief being that she got kicked out of Columbia University for appearing in a porn film. Adam is as fascinated by Ellie as he is scared by her, and as the customary pre-wedding jitters kick in he finds himself pulling away from his fiancée, and drawing closer and closer to her enigmatic cousin.
In her debut novel, Francesca Segal cannily paints a world which she is fully accustomed with. Her descriptions of Jewish north London are both lovingly and playfully rendered. Hebrew phrases are littered in conversation throughout, which, whilst somewhat confusing for the reader (although a minor background of watching Will and Grace, Sex and the City and Woody Allen movies has, I would like to think, imbued me a vague understanding of the mainstream Jewish sayings) add to the realism of the world Adam inhibits. That there are jaunty football jokes littered about further contributes to the quietly amusing tone of the book, and references to pop songs like Akon’s “I Wanna Fuck You” make it accessible to the Bieber generation.
The best part of her writing, however, is the detail of the characters, who are completely believable, if not totally likeable. Adam’s fiancée Rachel is dubbed a “perfect north London clone”, rather pejoratively by her cousin, and she doesn’t deviate from that throughout.  Rachel is undoubtedly a sweet girl and a loving wife, but she is also unremarkable. She definitely lacks that spark that Adam has lived his whole life without, and didn’t realise he was missing until Ellie came along. 

Ellie, I felt, was even less likeable than Rachel. I felt for her tragic past – she lost her mother in a bombing and from them on her father couldn’t care about anyone – but her way of acting out – some textbook (drugs, self-harm), some more out of the box – carrying on with several married men, one for money, and her borderline predatory behaviour around Adam, the betrothed of her cousin, seemed completely selfish to me. Perhaps I’m being unnecessarily brutal to her character, but we all have our afflictions, and I wasn’t convinced that Ellie was righting any of the world’s wrongs by the way she behaved.
It was Adam, the protagonist, who I connected with the most, in particular how he felt stifled by society’s pressure on him to conform. Most of his life he lived by the book, and he’s been happy with that, until he witnesses what else is out  there, outside north London. He’s a flawed guy, who makes some very dubious, selfish decisions in the book, but that’s humanity. Segal recognises than nobody is perfect, and the redemption offered for Adam, I feel, was a bittersweet one.
The last part was by far the emotive of the novel for me, and I was sobbing as I turned the closing pages. It is as the novel closes that you truly come to realise the significance of the book’s title: this is a story about loss of innocence, above anything. Adam grows up, and his inner-monologue is one of the saddest soliloquies committed to paper, particularly as he pines for his father, who passed away when he was 8, and who’s absence he never really recovered from. And for all of Adam’s infuriating dithering, the importance of family is really highlighted in the closing pages of the book. Segal does not, as would be fashionable to, denounce family ties and social norms, but instead puts attention to just how important they are, and how when the chips are down, your friends and family will always be there for you.
Francesca Segal’s novel is an emotionally rich, touching one. Despite being constrained geographically, its thematic scope is wide, but what it all boils down to is being grateful for what you have, and the importance of family. These are home truths that have been peddled so much that they seem like platitudes, but by going through Adam’s journey, you see just how true they are.  I recommend it to everyone.
Grade: A