Monday, October 28, 2013

Review: BlackBerry Curve 8520

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Having trolled many a football journalist relentlessly with my trusted BlackBerry Bold, I got a taste of my own troll medicine when the damn thing died on me, and stopped working, with nothing but an error message. I followed the instructions on online, but to no avail, the old BlackBerry was well and truly busted. As such, I had to revert back to my pink Samsung Tocco, which had most certainly seen better days, and with it, couldn’t access the internet. I found myself texting my tweets, and come on, that is just so two thousand and late.

Deciding I could cope no longer without a Smartphone, I took my dad’s BlackBerry and got it unlocked for a tenner in Chinatown. It was contracted solely to Orange, but now I can use it, and, whilst it is inferior to the BlackBerry I had previously in pretty much every way, anything beats the three months of torture when I had to survive with a phone that… didn’t have internet on it.

Having used both a BlackBerry Bold and Curve, then, I feel myself to be somewhat of an authority in comparing and contrasting the two, like they’re two romantic era poems and I’m sitting an English literature exam. Well, my previous BlackBerry was definitely more stylish. It was more streamlined, weighed less, and just looked sexier in its case, whereas the Curve looks like a brick compared to modern smartphones.

Furthermore, whereas the keys on my BlackBerry Bold were linked together seamlessly and made practically no sound when I touch-typed on them, I have no such luck with the BlackBerry Curve, where the keys protrude, and each time you touch one of the plastic keys it makes an audible sound. Not good, especially at work when I’m trying to surreptitiously send a text without the bosses knowing.

The fact that the Bold was introduced later than the Curve is also apparent in the Curve’s deficiencies in functionality. On my Bold, I was used to going to sleep, being awoken by various alerts from Twitter/email/Facebook/WhatsApp/texts, and just hitting one bar to see them all listed together. We do not get this with the Curve, where instead I have to manually check each individual thing. It’s fractionally more time consuming, but it’s just the psychological element of being ~in control of mai social networks~~~; I miss being able to see everything, on one page, and deciding which I’ll choose to reply to first. Other downsides of the Curve? I can't download songs, I can't load webpages with too many graphics, and there's no such thing as a Favourites bar, meaning I have to keep wasting time selecting an icon when I need it. Grr.

There is, however, one aspect at which the Curve trumps the Bold, and it’s a pretty major one: battery life. When I had my 9790, I would have to carry the charger with me everywhere because the damn thing lasted about four hours, on a good day. It let to much faction with my parents, who like to know where I am EVERY SECOND OF THE DAY, despite the fact that I’m 23. With the 8520, I’m actually able to give them the façade of thinking they know where I am, as the battery is much more durable. So, for all my gripes about how uncool it is, when it comes to the basics, BlackBerry did good on the Curve.

My contract expires in March, and whilst the BlackBerry 8520 is perfectly functional, safe to say, I will be down the mobile phone at the crack of dawn to get an upgrade. It’s not so much that the phone is terrible, more, we are spoilt with the plethora of genius phones on the market. In 2013, something like the BlackBerry Curve simply doesn’t cut it anymore.

Grade: D

A day without you is like a year without rain.

Another lunch in my rather pricey University canteen:

Salmon, chips (dunked in balsamic vinegar - nom!), and shortbread. £6.85.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Busaba Eathai (Goodge Street)

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A cosy Thai place, Busaba Eathai didn’t do anything totally wrong, but at the same time, didn’t get anything perfectly right either. On entering, we were directed to the corner of a table to sit (where there were already several parties dining). This set up, whilst probably economically efficient for the restaurant owners, severely detracts from the intimacy of a meal, and thus I wouldn’t recommend bringing someone here on a date, or even if you’re with mates and wish to have some proper alone time together. This all sorta jars with the Hollister-level low lighting, presumably put in there to create an ambience of closeness. As for the food, I was as impressed as could be given the unfriendly London price tags.

For starter, we had spring rolls, which is a hard one to mess up, and, unsurprisingly, they went down well (it helped that we were absolutely famished). For my main I ordered spicy prawns, then instantly regretted it (I like to think that I have the stomach for hot food, but I ain’t great). Gracefully, they weren’t that spicy – I could have taken it stronger, and I love prawns, so that plate constituted a gastronomical win. My friend had the chicken curry dish, which was pleasantly moreish, even if the chicken could have been cooked a lot better. The rice was a little on the stale side, but no doubt the cooks will try to palm that off is "oh that's how they cook it in Thailand". To drink, I had cranberry juice, and got a rude awakening on central London restaurant drink prices - £3 for about 250ml? C’mon now.

By now means a failure, Busaba Eathai was an elegant enough venue, with edible dishes, classy toilets and noticeably high-end clientele. Perhaps that’s the problem – my palate is not quite that sophisticated yet, and there was something that all these people found so commendable in this place that went over my head. Charming, but not earth-shattering.

Grade: B

Dish of the week.

Roast chicken and all the trimmings (including copious amounts of gravy - nom!), work canteen, £3.20.

Restaurant Review: Kailash Parbat (Wembley)

After work a few Wednesdays ago, me and the girls went for a much-needed catch-up in Wembley. I didn’t actually realise that the place we were going to was purely vegetarian, but so well-cooked were the meals that by the time you pay the bill, you don’t even feel that meat was lacking in the dish at all. And, considering what an unadulterated carnivore I am, that’s some feat.

The starters dish, the chaat platter, was probably the most conventional of all the dishes we ordered, a well-balanced mix of carb and sauces, a bit like a more authentic version of poppadoms and their dips. I couldn't help making a mess when eating, but, in my defence, when the food's that good, I'm desperate to get it down me as soon as possible, at the cost of common decorum!

Our colleague ordered that was far too spicy for two of us, but as a compromise we picked the other two, of which one was Indian cottage cheese mix, which I adored. That said, even that was a bit spicy for me, and I had to indulge in a yoghurt drink, twice, to quench the thirst that eating the hot food bought. We were all thoroughly stuffed by the end (with rice to spare), and shelled just £15 each. I was thoroughly satisfied with both of the dishes pictured below - both were textured, appetising, well-cooked and moreish.
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Kailash Parbat is, in my opinion, the best Indian restaurant in Wembley. Of course, that statement would be rendered somewhat redundant if you consider that it’s also the only Indian restaurant I’ve been to in Wembley. But despite the lack of competition, what cannot be denied is that this was a great place (terrific portions, unobtrusive service [ironically, this is one of the few places in London that I'd deem worthy of a tip, and paradoxically, one of the few that doesn't help itself to a tip] and delicious dishes), and will certainly take some beating.
Grade: A

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dish of the week.

Pilau rice, bombay potatos, veggie samosas and Na'an bread. £2.95, work canteen.

Monday, October 14, 2013

New pumps.

Until recently, to work, I'd been altering between sandals, heels and my leopard print pumps. The latter, however, have crumbled apart, and I have had to look elsewhere.

These bad boys cos £10 from a random boutique on Oxford Circus, who's name I can't remember. I like them a lot! The muted brown colour means I can pair it with most of my chinos, without coming across as overly colourful (which is definitely a problem I have with my canary yellow pumps). Comfort is top.
The bow at the front is cute, and there is a stich detail around the side:
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The only major downside of these are a recurring problem I have with many of my pumps: the heel, after one week's wear, is already starting to rub away. However, this may be because I tend to drag my heels when I work, so I can't begrudge the shoes too much for that.
Grade: B+/A-

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bangerz (Miley Cyrus)

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Grabbing headlines for all manner of scandal or internet feud these days is Miley Cyrus, who seems to be on a personal race against time to shed her good-girl image of Hannah Montana. Critics across the field have slammed her for prostituting herself, others have said she’s actually a feminist, some have branded her a demon with a tongue that runs stray. One thing’s for sure though: I would never have given her album a second thought if it hadn’t been for the attention that VMA performance garnered her. So my suspicion is that, for all the cringe, girl knows what she’s doing.

The album itself is actually a disappointment in the gossip stakes. Music-wise, she plays it safe in terms of her collaborating partners (Ludacris, Nelly, French Montana). It is notable that the Princess of Pop herself, Britney Spears, makes an appearance on the SMS (Bangerz). Miss Spears herself has been in the public eye a fair share of the time, but one thing that Britney always excelled at throughout was the music. Miley’s got the headline-seeking down to a T, better than Britney herself. But the quality of her art still has some way to go.

The album opens with Adore You, a flat piece of schmaltz that fails to make much of an impact. It’s followed by We Can’t Stop, her smash hit single, and my pick for the highlight of the entire ensemble. With an effortless swagger, Miley advises her young following to “Remember only God can judge ya / Forget the haters 'cause somebody loves ya”, which could also been read as a prescription manual for how she is currently living her life. Unlike several of the other songs on Bangerz, the use of autotune actually suits the song and doesn’t feel excessive. It’s an easygoing, casually amoral tune that makes for fun to bop along to.

We Can’t Stop, however, doesn’t redeem the sheer volume of duds on the album. 4x4, which tries to amalgamate Cyrus’ country-music roots with her current RnB target market, plays like a hot mess of hoedown brawl with Nelly hollering “MOTHAFUCKAS” when he feels like it. I cringed throughout. Bangerz is equally sloppy. Whilst I have nothing wrong with girls bragging about their promiscuity in music (hell, men have been doing it for years), Cyrus seems so keen to ram the “I CAN STRUT. I CAN FUQ WHOEVER I WANT. I HAVE LOTSA FUQ BUDDIES ON SPEED DIAL” message down our throats, that it just sounds a bit awkward and desperate, again, hailing memories of that trffic VMA performance. And My Darlin' feating Future, samples Ben E. King’s Stand By Me, with dire consequences.

The majority of the love songs on here aren’t bad, to be fair to her. Wrecking Ball is clearly stealing from the formula Lana del Rey used in Off to the Races in how she’s singing about a destructive love with a bad man, with Lana’s version being far better, but it’s catchy and affecting enough in its own right. FU is my second favourite song on the album – you can feel vitriol and rage at an ex that I can completely sympathise with. Maybe You’re Right captures the whiney rage of breakup that I prefer in Taylor Swift songs, but it’s still listenable.

As a singer, I actually think Miley Cyrus is pretty talented. She holds her own in On My Own, a decent shout for female independence, and in Hands in the Air, an engaging RnB ditty, she exhibits her skill for warbling. The main problem with Bangerz, then, isn’t her voice. The problem is that these collection of songs – some good, some bad, some utterly horrific, doesn’t have a common thread; it all feels terribly disjointed. Does she wanna go all Destiny's Child and be an #IndependentWoman? Does she want to make a whole album about casual sex and how liberated it makes her? Or does she want to sing ballads about failed love? Like a child with ADD, Miley Cyrus seems to want to cover all bases at once. In the end, she covers none.

Personally, I prefer the songs were Cyrus tones it down and sings songs about doomed love, as I feel that plays well to her vocal range, and her background in acting suits her delivery of the more heartfelt, dramatic lines, which she belts out with excellent gusto. But she needs to pick a focus for her next outing. Bangerz currently plays as a mishmash of poorly-thought out tunes that may have sounded good in theory, but doesn’t quite work in practice. An example, perhaps, of art mirroring the artist’s life.

Grade: D

Inamo (Soho)

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I had a completely new dining experience on Monday evening in Inamo, a fusion Asian restaurant where the tables have a touchpad on the side, and the table itself serves as a giant screen. From this, you can order food using technology rather than hailing a waiter and omit that awkward small talk. In addition to this, you can choose the “ambience” to be projected onto the table, whether it be photos of palm trees or a pattern, as well as play games whilst waiting for your order, be it alone, or with others.

So far, so innovative. Credit to the creators behind this idea, the novelty of it definitely didn’t wear off on me throughout my stay at Inamo, and I would have happily spent even more time exploring all the functions of the interactive table. But my chief reason for attending restaurants has and always will be for the food, and the prices and quantities at this place were nothing short of exorbitant.

For starters, we had three dumplings, which cost £5.75, but they were so small, that you could easily have chomped all three in one bite. Don’t get me wrong, it was wonderfully presented, the sauce was fantastic and the dumpling itself didn’t taste bad either, but nearly six pounds for what was essentially the ingredients of ONE decent sized dumpling, spread out over three, was taking liberties.

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The mains weren’t much better. The Nigri set was £13.75, and as you can see from the photo, it wasn’t anything more than just eight pieces of Sushi. From a supermarket, you could have gotten that for about £4, and even in Wasabi, this would have clocked in less than £7 and tasted just as good. So that was disappointing. The Berkshire Pork Neck - the highlight of my dining experience at Inamo -  fulfilled expectations better. Again, quantities weren’t great (the cooks sneakily disguised the meat under layers of sauce, giving the appearance of there being more than was actually there), but from the rich taste, you sensed that some thought had actually gone into the inception and preparation of the meal. I don’t usually like pork, but in the blend of spicy chocolate sauce, red wine reduction & crushed wasabi peas sauce that came with it, it tasted wonderful.

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The dessert was a strange one. Three different flavours of homemade ice cream was served, to varying degrees of success. They tasted more organic, and thus healthy than that you might get elsewhere, but one of them was far too tangy for my palate, and as such, I couldn’t eat too much of it. The spongy texture also gave me an ill-feeling that it was soap, and not something edible, that I was tucking into.

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All this left me unsure of where I stood on Inamo. I did have a great time there, but that was mainly down to the child-like glee the table bought out in me. The food, however, left a lot to be desired. Only the Pork Neck actually satiated my appetite; the others, whilst intricately displayed, left me thoroughly disenchanted, not least because there was just so goddamn little of it there. Perhaps if they’d spent less time fussing on the technology and took a bit more time thinking about feeding their clientele, I’d actually want to go back there.

Grade: C

Saturday, October 05, 2013

New canteen.

Now that I'll be spending all my Mondays and Tuesdays at university, should I feel too tired to set foot out of the building to sample random restaurants, then there is always the option to eat in the canteen. This is what I did last Tuesday. And, I have to say, so far, I'm prefering my work canteen.
The chicken stir-fry thing on the left wasn't bad; the chicken was proficiently cooked and the sauce tasted great. However, when I have meals at my work, they always serve it something carby as part of the main meal, be it rice or potatos, just to balance out the food groups a bit. There was rice on offer, but you had to pay extra for it, and having already shelled out £3.90 for the chicken, I wasn't really feeling it. Another talking point is the price. A main meal at my company would be £3.20 for a meat dish, £2.95 for a veggie one, and it would be more balanced. However, I understand that my uni's in central, whereas my company's in zone 3, so, them's the breaks.

The dessert was pretty good, again, I'm used to cheaper (at my company it would be a round quid, whereas here it was £1.70), but the taste was fine. I think I'm just going to need some getting used to central London prices, so used have I been to subsidised canteen prices at the firm! Thankfully, though, the food (what  they serve of it) itself is great, so I can have no complaints about that.

As it was Orientation week, there were some freebies in terms of refreshments! I took the liberty of snapping a few of them:

One of the various plates of sandwiches we were given. There was also a seafood platter (the salmon sandwich was heaven!) and a meat platter.

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Free alcohol at the Student Welcome Party. Needless to say, I helped myself ;)

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More delicious nibbles! The satay chicken was wonderful, but my favourite was actually the veggie nibble on the far right (just out of shot). It wasted quite curry-ish, and the dough on the outside complemented the filling wonderfully.

As you can probably tell, nothing makes me happier than free food :'D

Local Friends (Golder’s Green) / False Advertising Kings

This week, I started a part-time Masters, the campus of which is in central London. We get 1 ½ hours for lunch breaks, as opposed to the half hour I get at work, which means I have quite some time to kill, exploring London. I like the make optimal use of that time by just hopping off at a random tube stop and ambling to the first restaurant that piques my fancy. On Wednesday, it was Golder’s Green, and a Chinese restaurant just a road across from the station, Local Friends. It was also a lesson, or should that be a re-affirmation, that when it comes to Chinese restaurants, if it looks too good to be true, that’s because it is.

They advertised a lunchtime deal that boasted a soup, meat and a side dish for £6.80. I thought this sounded great; I love being able to choose a whole “package deal”-type things. And you could choose exactly what meat you wanted, be it chicken/beef/pork, and what type of sauce (eg sweet and sour or black bean sauce). However, if you wanted a seafood dish, you’d have to shell out a bit more, which completely goes against the photo they put outside the restaurant, where prawns were featured.

The quality of the food was mixed. For soup, I ordered the hot and sweet sauce, which tasted like pretty much every other one I’ve had in Chinese restaurants; it’s very hard to get wrong, but always tastes wonderful. For main, I had beef in black bean sauce. The sauce was great, but I felt the beef was undercooked, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was, as the food was laid out for me less than three minutes after I’d ordered it, which did seem like suspiciously swift turnover. As it turned out, it was. Add in the fact that the rice had absolutely nothing going for it, then I’d really have to say the lunch was more miss than hit, with the high point coming at the start with the soup.

The final unpleasant surprise of my Local Friends-going experience was when the bill came. The sign outside the restaurant quite clearly stipulated £6.80. We’ve already touched upon how the photos were misleading because the actual menu excluded prawn. Well, the price itself was yet another lie, because turns out, Local Friends aren’t so friendly after all: they helped themselves to a 10% service charge. That, too, was not on the sign. I learnt one crucial life lesson on Wednesday: the Chinese LOVE their false advertising. The next time I eat Chinese food in London will be at Chinatown.

Grade: D

(if you would like me to review your restaurant, drop me an email at and I'll get back to you.)

Friday, October 04, 2013

Tampa (Alissa Nutting)

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Celeste Price is a stunningly attractive, 26-year-old school teacher living in Florida. She is married to a good-looking man with a hefty trust fund who dotes on her, meaning that despite her teacher’s salary, she can drive about in a gorgeous red sports car. At her job, both the kids she teaches, colleagues and the parents of her students remark favourably on her looks. Life, then, sounds pretty sweet. Just one thing: she’s a massive paedophile, and nothing will do for her but a particular type of 14-year-old boy.

Tampa has been hailed as the female version of Lolita, and whilst Celeste does share attributes with Humbert – chiefly, their sexual aberration, the meticulous lengths at which they plan to ensnare their prey, being blessed in the looks department and thus having their pick of anyone normal aged should they desire it. But Tampa is an altogether different sort of book from the seminal Lolita. Whereas Lolita played with form and language to depict Humbert Humbert’s atrocities, Nutting leaves little to the imagination, vividly describing encounters with such fierce eroticism that you cannot but blush, especially when reading this book on public transport.

In fact, I would argue that Celeste is even more reprehensible than Lolita’s Humbert. Whilst he manipulated, bribed, blackmailed and used every tool in his arsenal to possess Dolly Haze, Nabokov was at pains to express that she herself, whilst definitely used and abused, was completely aware of the effect she has over men, and wasn’t afraid to use it.

Celeste’s chosen victim, an innocent-looking, slightly skinny boy with the double first-and-surname of Jack Patrick, is far more naïve than Dolores, deludedly believing himself to be more than just a fucktoy to his teacher, and they actually have a future together. In Lolita, you ended up despising both Humbert and Lolita, whereas in this book, it is much more black and white who the monster is. This, then, makes rooting for Celeste completely out of the question, and judging her, much easier.

Furthermore, by the end of the book, Humbert Humbert does at least gain the self-awareness to realise that his peculiar predilections ruined both his and Dolly’s life. We get no kind of self-realisation from Celeste, who actually in her mind fantasies that Jack had died, just so she can reach orgasm when masturbating. Unsurprisingly, it is only a matter of time before her rampant libido gets her found out, but even after a run-in with the authorities and the threat of jail time for her actions, she doesn’t learn her lesson, only becoming more sneaky in her conquests. She’s a real piece of work, and this is coming from me!

As you can probably tell from the book cover, the novel doesn’t skimp on sex scenes, and, whilst the sex is infinitely more realistic than anything in the 50 Shades of Grey novels, at points, even titillating (the reader will be disgusted at themselves for feeling this way, but trust me, they are), by the latter third of the book, you definitely sense that Nutting is trying a bit too hard to shock, as she ups the ante from the textbook 18-rated smut that you’ll find in any Mills and Boon novel, the altogether more deviant exploits. These don’t make for pleasant reading, and that she spends so much detail on anatomical after-effects of the screwing is definitely something I could have done without.

Still, it’s an extremely dark read – I chuckled to myself at various points, particularly at how Celeste dupes her adoring husband with lies upon lies, not to mention the odd bit of self-medicating to make having sex with him bearable.

Another quality she shares with Humbert is her mordant, amoral wit. Later on, she actually half-dates Jack’s father (parallels of when Humbert tolerated Lolita’s annoying mother Charlotte), just as a ruse to allow her to spend more time in his house, and whilst the heartless way she leads him on isn’t altogether pleasant, there’s a cruel comedy to be taken from such a sexist pig getting his comeuppance.

Ultimately, I don’t feel this book justifies its “female Lolita” reputation, but it is still an entertaining, well-paced, black-as-the-night story. It’s also extremely disturbing, and the most morally dubious thing I’ve read for years. Its ultimate downfall, however, is the uneven tone; it is unable to decide whether it truly wants to challenge the reader, or to turn them on. I can’t say I liked Tampa, but I definitely paid attention to it.  


Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Review: Robin Thicke at the iTunes festival (Roundhouse)

Most recently grabbing headlines due to Miley Cyrus grinding her half-covered ass in his crotch, Robin Thicke has really been loving life since the release of his quasi-rapey song “Blurred Lines”. I must preface this review by saying that I am not at all a fan of his, and we won tickets to go see him in the Metro. Watching Robin Thicke live is not an activity I would normally pay money to do; quite the contrary – you’d have to pay me.

Credit where credit is due, he’s well-dressed enough, coming out in a sharp three-piece suit (the outside of which he took off at one point and threw into a crowd of screaming girls) and aviator sunglasses. But whilst he looked the business, his performance was sadly lacking. Grunting “UH” repeatedly into the microphone as if he was romancing a particularly large woman and taking a breather to give the crowd a smarmy speech about how wonderful his life is, does not entertainment make.

Blurred Lines received criticism, in part because of the amount of nude women who pranced about in the uncut music video for it, and the “backing singers” of Robin Thicke’s performance don’t wear much more – just a croptop and pants to cover their dignity. This wouldn’t be a problem if they actually, you know, sung, but, alas, that they don’t, instead choosing to paw at Thicke, and bend over at suggestive angles for the audience. To be honest, the girls don’t do a bad job of what they have to do, it is more the smug gurn Thicke sports throughout the show, obviously feeling that he deserves to be worshipped, oh he of God-like status. This is epitomised in how he will often drag a 3-minute long song to about 10 minutes, but hollering the last three words over, and over, and over, and over again.

A big issue is also that none of Thicke’s songs are all that interesting, catchy, or just good. Thicke tried to engage the audience in his slower, more heartfelt love songs, but the lyrics of them were so generic that they simply felt cheesy. Magic was probably his best song, a passable blend of catchy jazz and lovey-dovey schmaltz, but I forgot the names of all the other songs he sang. He even wheels out the piano to show that he’s a #musician at one point, but it’s a lost cause really. This man epitomises slimey, and unless you somehow find that sexy in a man, you’ll do nothing in this other than roll your eyes repeatedly.

Grade: E