What Jessie Did Next...

...being the inane ramblings of a mundane Yorkshire bird.

Tag: reviews

Three weeks to go until the album launch gig (got your tickets yet?) and a little pile of press coverage has come in – mostly positive, the odd bit of “yeah she dropped the ball at that point”, but generally damn fine. Colour me pleased!

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I always enjoy reading food blogs, especially when they’re local – but I was exceptionally chuffed to see Leeds Grub blog heading down our way to review Deli Central in Wakefield, just off the Bullring. More of that please!

Some time back my Gaggia Baby-D coffee machine died in a leaky can’t-maintain-pressure-and-piss-water-everywhere way. It was a sad loss mourned in our house given that Gaggia-the-company had also died and been taken over by Philips who weren’t honouring warranties, especially not on the ‘refurb’ unit I owned. I resorted to making espresso on the hob using my Italian espresso pot but I really missed the steamer and the convenience of it all.

Meantime, over on a UK techies maillist there was a discussion of bean-to-cup machines. Nicky and I had a few savings from birthdays and anniversaries and I talked her into letting me buy a DeLonghi-branded Magnifica ESAM4200. That was back in July; I figured I’d let the dust settle before I blogged any sort of review of it, but the short version is that I like it 🙂

It’s a nice unit, and tends to do everything for you including cleaning itself (an absolute boon as far as I’m concened – dismantling and cleaning the Gaggia was one of the onerous pains, especially since bits of it weren’t dishwasher-safe). Beans go in the hopper in the top, and it chucks out little coffee-poos into a box inside once finished.

It’s also fast – powerup to dispense is less than 30 seconds, and the steamer is ready within 15s from pressing ‘the button’. Thanks to this, if the daughter forgets to switch it on in a morning (the usual state of affairs) I can still grab a very quick coffee before work. In that regard, it’s quicker than the kettle if a little noisier with its ‘clunk’ and ‘whirr’ and ‘grrrtangfrrrrvvvv’.

As for coffee control itself, it’s pretty flexible – there’s the usual quantity and strength dials on the front, as well as a hidden knob to alter the grinder so the beans can be coarse or fine (I’ve left it on the default setting). It’s consistent and reliable, leaving a rather delicious-looking crema on the top every time. The coffee I’ve been using is the 1kg sacks of beans from CostCo (Starbucks brand) – although if you really want you can use pre-ground coffee just by moving the strength dial all the way back.

There’s a couple of things which are a bit tedious: the grinds disposal bin isn’t big enough so after six or seven shots it still needs emptying; similarly the water tank is a bit small (and it uses water on startup/shutdown to clean itself so doesn’t last very long). Keeping a jug or an old mug under the spout is mandatory as it dispenses a small amount of water whenever it cleans itself and the driptray could get full (and is more hassle to clean than a mug!). It’s a bit noisy, but the build quality is much better than the Gaggia though and seems to cope with the amount of coffee I require it to throw out on a daily basis.

It’s also important to set the water hardness correctly on installation – I waited (well, to be fair I didn’t read the instructions properly) and it nagged me for a descaler cycle after a month when it didn’t need it. Once that was triggered there was no way of telling it to stop nagging without doing a full descale which takes about an hour and requires the DeLonghi-specified descaler solution (or it invalidates your warranty).

If you want one of these units I’d recommend shopping around: for example, John Lewis list them at £399, but I managed to get it sub-£300 by going online to Amazon (though at time of writing they don’t seem to have any available direct). Still, recommended and seems to have been a good buy!

Recently I blogged about Long Division Festival 2011, which took place a couple of weekends ago.

In short, it was utterly mindblowing and Wakefield did us proud (for the most part but we’ll get to that later). Six venues were involved on Saturday: Mustang Sally’s, The Hop, The Graziers, Wakefield Cathedral, Wakefield Town Hall and Henry Boon’s; you needed a wristband to get into each one, which involved forking out the pithy sum of £12 to see 40 acts throughout the day and evening. A phenomenal bargain when you consider some of the acts playing – hell, The Wedding Present would charge that for a single gig. It was all the brainchild of local fanzine editor Dean Freeman and local promoter Chris Morse (aka Morsey), both familiar faces on the scene and both of whom I enjoy a pint with occasionally.

For my initial involvement I’d volunteered to do photography together with a small team of friends – John J, Nicky and Laurie Cooper-Murray (of StageZero photography). Morsey knew I’d lit the Cathedral for the Dr Feelgood gig last year and asked if I’d do the same again for the acts there – no problem, but a few days before the festival started he also asked if I’d got a rig for the Town Hall too. Um, OK, in for a penny and all that 😛

So Saturday came: the first job was rigging up the Town Hall. I got there with Ellie at about 9:30am to find nobody around and the stage in bits… turns out everyone was already running a little bit late! Middy, Harry and the StagePro chaps (who were doing sound for all the venues) showed up presently and I lent a hand lugging stuff around before I had to disappear to deliver Ellie to orchestra practice. Home for a quick shower and change of shirt and I’m off in with the camera kit to get started, calling at The Hop to pick up a press pass and my yellow Long Division t-shirt (photo courtesy of John J).

First band I saw was Blood Oranges, catchy indie-pop up at the Town Hall. Nice guys, very enjoyable and I was pleasantly surprised how many people were there from the start – the Kingswood Suite was almost full already and some foot-tapping going on. Good one. This also gave me a chance to get the lighting right and take the first photos of the day in a non-stressful atmosphere. Earplugs in and off we go!

I figured I should get used to the headline venue, Mustang Sally’s, so strolled down there to catch The Finnlys – again, jangly guitar indie but I find it hard to take a band seriously when the lead singer looks like Roy out of The IT Crowd. The red saturation in the venue was horrendous (quite probably the worst conditions in which I’ve found myself shooting) and we’d already had a stipulation of ‘no flash’ – I did try a couple early on to see what it’d be like but really it was absolutely awful.

The next band on my list was Dinosaur Pile Up. Last time these guys were on at The Hop, John had photographed them and said they were loud – bizarrely this time round they were quieter! This was a distinction which didn’t carry through the rest of the bands upstairs at The Hop: despite sound engineer Tom’s efforts the new PA rig is just a bit too loud for that small room I think. Some work needed.

Once I’d got enough shots there I wandered down to the Graziers (stopping in at the Bull & Fairhouse en-route for a sneaky half-pint with Lisa the landlady). I’ve not photographed down there before and was surprised to find a full stage although there was no lighting which reduced me to the sole gig where I had to resort to flashgun. On-stage was Standaloft, a young rapper beatboxing various comedic songs (and some not so comedic) along to a backing on an iPod. I was pretty impressed actually, not usually my cup of tea but songs which wouldn’t be out-of-place in Joel Veitch‘s repertoire.

A stroll back down to catch my only act at Henry Boon’s: a lass called Clemence Freschard backed by various members of David Tattersall’s band The Wave Pictures. It was packed in there and very little air circulation but I stayed long enough to grab some shots and listen to her singing. Very pleasant stuff, made even more pleasant by the French accent (via Berlin, apparently) – I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff. Both Laurie and I didn’t last in there cramped in a corner and disappeared off to the bar to find a quiet half-pint – how the heck Nicky managed to do the whole set of The Wave Pictures themselves I don’t know.

The Wind-Up Birds weren’t on the Long Division band page so I was largely in the dark regarding their style when they hit the stage up at Mustang’s. Not too shabby, quite similar in style to the Cardiacs (the lead singer bore more than a passing resemblance to Cardiacs frontman Tim Smith) and they played an extended set as the subsequent act had pulled out.

I left in time to get up to the Town Hall for one of the bands I definitely didn’t want to miss: Fonda 500. Both John and I had been seriously impressed with this lot when they visited The Hop earlier in the year and we expected a treat. Unfortunately, although the band went through the motions I don’t think the lead singer really wanted to be there and seemed out of sorts consistently stating that ‘this might be our last song’ after the first couple. Boo. Don’t let this minor aberration stop you from seeing them in the future though!

It was at this point I’d got it noted down to go to the Cathedral and set the lighting up for Emmy The Great. Lots of folks told me to try and catch her, and I was fortunate to find the band were soundchecking when I arrived. As I cabled the lights around them I got my own little show which was lovely and I resolved to go back later on and catch at least some of her set. A wander back up Westgate via Subway for a hurried tea, getting goosed by Rachel of Chat Noir who was on a hunt for cheap vodka.

The next ‘must-see’ was Darwin Deez. Pete Fabs (he of Obvious Pseudonym) told me of their stage antics, and they really did not disappoint: choreographed dance moves between toe-tapping bittersweet songs, and the venue was packed out for it. Photogenic guy, I stopped for the entire set and bought the album on my way out: not the first Amazon 1-click iPhone order of the day, certainly not the last.

Back to the Town Hall for I Like Trains. I was still a bit worried about the lighting rig falling over as it was wobbling a bit, but this particular band were somewhat gentler. There wasn’t much illumination to the front of the stage by now owing to closed curtains and some fading light but a few fisheye shots were squeezed out and then dashed back to Mustangs to catch Piskie Sits.

Well that was the plan anyway. I got there to see Harry and co soundchecking but was distracted by Morsey waving frantically from the other end of the stage to check my phone which read “urgent sarah needs photos at hop quick”. I made a swift exit and dashed across Westgate narrowly avoiding the Saturday traffic where landlord Ian Fisher was waiting for me, “the sponsor for upstairs needs photos, it’s a condition of the sponsorship, it’s rammed up there though…” – hardly surprising since the next act was Los Campesinos! and even I’ve heard of them.

The thought process went something like this: “250 people, I reckon, all squished into a room which wasn’t designed for 250 people. Hardly any aircon, windows wide open. I look across the venue to where I need to stand, co-photographer Jon Pinder has chosen the easy corner near the door and I need to get to the other side. Urgh. Right. Excuse me please mate, can I just get thr… what the f…” I felt myself being bodily lifted up, camera kit and all, raised aloft on a sea of wristbanded hands. It’s years since I last crowdsurfed and at the age of 37 I wasn’t really prepared to do it again. Too bad, the only thing going through my mind was “Er, crap, there’s a wide open window coming towards me, and we’re on the first floor!” – so I nosedived, landed head-first on the aluminium crowdbarrier and almost hoofed the poor teenager behind me in her mush with my boot. But there I was – I grabbed the required crowd photos plus some of Los Campesinos! themselves and reversed the process to get to the door (which was, mercifully, a lot easier).

At that point I’d guess it was around 8:30pm. The Piskies were still on at Mustangs but I had a stinker of a headache by that point, almost a migraine. I wandered outside The Hop and bumped into Dean (Freeman) who commented I didn’t look too well, but I needed to man up and get the Piskies on their largest stage gig. Back at Mustangs the lighting hadn’t improved but there were quite a few folks watching the band, mostly stragglers from the Darwins set or who had arrived early for The Wedding Present. Long-standing drinking buddy Bez had arrived by then and bought me a beer which did nothing to improve the migraine situation but rehydrated me enough to get the shots I needed in the final two songs of their set.

A wander back to the Cathedral to listen to some of Emmy The Great with Laurie. Both Nicky and John were already there: I’d missed a lot of the set plus this migraine was really kicking in by now. Laurie had suggested I chug a can of full-fat Coke and some ibuprofen which seemed to do the trick at least temporarily: I soaked in the beautiful sounds in the Cathedral while dumping off some photos onto the netbook hard disk as I’d run out of CF (or at least the non-Kingston CF, and remember the last time I used those). Some quiet long-lens photos of Emmy, some relaxation, and then I was raring to go again.

Headliners The Wedding Present were trumpeted, not least because it was their first visit to Wakefield in 20 years. I arrived at Mustangs after the set had started and annoyingly I’d already missed my favourite Weddos song ‘Kennedy’. The sound wasn’t fantastic but quite literally the joint was jumping – too much in fact and the bouncers kicked off at the poor punters. While bearing in mind that the bouncers are usually used to a raucous Saturday night Wakefield crowd they were completely out of order – any exuberant pogoing and you got ejected out the back door with a few well-aimed punches from the door-staff at the same time. Very very sad and put a damper on what was otherwise a fantastic day. For my part I was right above where the bouncers were kicking off and managed to get a couple of photos of the ruckus but nothing useful. The gig was stopped while the bouncers were ejected from the premises – I mean, it must be bad for the security staff to get thrown out of the gig they’re meant to be policing!

After all of that, Gedge and co went back on, I took lots more photos, it was pretty good, and once they’d finished I went back outside to find Saturday-night Westgate in its typical unsurprising state of pissed-up perma-tan tarts and Ben Sherman meatheads. A bit of a scene-change. John, Laurie, Jon P, Nicky and I decided it was time for a hard-earned pint and repaired to The Jam Inn (the new chillout bit of The Hop) for a jar of Yorkshire Blonde and a chinwag. Hardcore to the last, Laurie caught Middleman (as they’re “his” band) but I was just too knackered and I’ve seen them before a few times anyway.

So that was my Saturday. We gigged on the Sunday but that was about it – I’d planned some more photos from the Fringe but was just too shattered and I’d got over 20,000 photos to sort through. There’s some good reviews of it all including this one at Sweeping The Nation and Dean’s account of the day from an organiser’s perspective (just in case you think I nicked his idea for this blog, I actually started writing it the day after the festival… best laid plans though, I’ve had a lot of photos to sort and I forgot to take the following Monday off work!).

A selection of photos from the day are being uploaded to my Long Division set on Flickr and there’s some pics from other photographers in the Long Division Flickr Group. Full sets of bands are gradually going up to photos.jml.net as I’m sorting through them. Should be finished in the next few days hopefully.

(A postscript: Monday morning came and a delivery van showed up with a large box of CDs. The moral? Multi-venue festivals and iPhone Amazon 1-click don’t mix. Ouch.)

Waiting For Godot is one of those plays my father attempted to get through my thick skull when I was young. I remember sitting through a version of it as part of a Beckett television season sometime in the mid-80s and being bored stiff – pretty much how I viewed Hamlet last year.

So, being honest, it was my wife’s excitement and the rather excellent cast which drove me to obtain tickets to see the West End staging of the play last weekend. Of course we had already seen Patrick Stewart in Hamlet (here playing Didi), but he was joined by Ian McKellern (as Gogo), Simon Callow (as Pozzo) and Ronald Pickup (as Lucky).

(Sidenote: Godot itself has been discussed to death elsewhere by people much more qualified than I to give reasoned opinion, so please don’t expect philosophical discourse!)

First off, Ian McKellern was wonderful. I realise Beckett wrote some quite precise stage direction but it was carried off with perfect comic timing. His voice and mannerisms where absolutely spot on. There is little more I can say about that, but I am exceptionally glad I have now seen him on stage.

Simon Callow as Pozzo played, er, Simon Callow. Or maybe Pozzo played Simon Callow playing Pozzo. Or… I don’t know – the role was so suited that it could be any variant really, a role that commanded the bluster for which Callow is so famed.

Lucky’s single soliliquy I suspect is quite difficult to perform (not to say I wouldn’t mind a go) but Ron Pickup did it bang on as well.

Then Patrick Stewart – I’ve not seen him do any comic acting (aside from the odd comedy episode on Star Trek but I feel that doesn’t really count). It was just the right mix of comedy and tragedy in the part although maybe on reflection I felt he hammed it a little at the end of the first half. Nothing to be done.

To be honest, I’m now tempted to dig out the 1977 version (which may have been the one I saw back in the mid-80s on television) and view it with fresh eyes.

Anyway, I suspect the run is sold out now but you should really go and catch it – try and sit fairly centrally in the theatre though as quite a lot of ‘the action’ takes place towards the wings (we were sat at the side of the Royal Circle which meant some rubber-necking and craning was inevitable).

Last Sunday we went to the National Railway Museum in York – not to visit the museum, but to see the York Theatre Royal production of The Railway Children (website here). Most folks are familiar with the book, the film, the made-for-TV remake, however this is the first time I’ve seen a stage version of it and it was most enjoyable.

Firstly, it’s a new adaptation by Mike Kenny. It’s written from the point-of-view of the children narrating the story (presumably retelling as adults, although this is never really established), and features the occasional argument (“No, it happened like this…” “Perhaps you want to tell this bit…” “I’m sure that never happened…”) making it all the more fun. The children feature of course but they’re all played by adults.

This brings us onto the cast – a fabulous line-up with several familiar faces: Marshall Lancaster plays the amiable Mr Perks the stationmaster (the Bernard Cribbins role in the film), an actor who is best known as being DC Skelton in Ashes To Ashes and Life On Mars; Sarah Quintrell (Carrie & Barrie) plays Bobby; Colin Tarrant played Inspector Monroe for 12 years in The Bill… the list goes on. Of course, we turned up to see Robin Simpson – he’s Nicky’s cousin you see 😉

And then there’s the staging. The production takes place vaguely ‘in the round’ – the audience sit on either side (“Platform 1” and “Platform 2”), with a track running through the centre, across which platforms are wheeled to create several levels – the museum are also very fond of saying that it features a ‘real live steam train’, in this case an 1870 Sterling Single engine, although it makes very brief appearances. At one end of the ‘station’ is a footbridge, and at the other end a ‘tunnel’.

This makes for a fantastic experience! The acting is flawless, the are no ‘curtains’ giving the cast an opportunity to interact with the audience as they enter and exit; the staging is imaginative and even fast flashing lights make us believe an express train is passing through Howarth; the humour and seriousness of each character is perfectly timed. As a measure of how good it is, the play kept both our children transfixed for almost two and a half hours, and left tears in my eyes as the train pulled back out to leave a silhouette of Father in the steam on the platform.

If you’re at a loose end and anywhere near York, make a special trip. It’s on until 23rd August and you can book here – there’s no chance of it transferring anywhere else, it’s been specially designed. Well worth a visit, and if you don’t believe me then read some more reviews.

Wandering up into Clapham Junction this morning to find breakfast I discovered Jack’s Cafe, where for £3.50 I got a full English breakfast and unlimited mugs of tea. Well worth a visit if you’re at a loose end first thing in the morning.

The best review I’ve seen so far – and the least “ooh look it’s Dr Who!” – has been over at The Independent, and Nicky found an article regarding the dialogue cuts which have been criticized in some reviews.

(My scribblings based on the preview we saw before the press launch are here, nyah nyah we saw it before you, etc.etc. :P).

The main reason we came to Stratford-upon-Avon this weekend was to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet. It was intended to be a wedding anniversary weekend away for myself and Nicky, albeit a late one since the run didn’t start until this week (and then only in preview). We even joined the RSC to be in with a pre-sale chance of tickets.

The verdict? In short: “Wow”.

The cast is phenomenal. Aside from the much-publicised appearance of David Tennant as Hamlet, the company also featured Patrick Stewart in the role of Claudius (King of Denmark), Oliver Ford Davies as Polonius, and Penny Downie as Gertrude. Other faces were familiar from a variety of film and television roles making the strongest cast I think I’ve ever seen in a production.

I’d seen Hamlet before, produced by a troupe in Castleford of all places – my father took me to see it when I was 12ish I think and I recall hardly understanding it, getting bored and falling asleep. No danger of that here: despite the play being three and a half hours long in total we were continually hanging on the continued tragedy and fall of Hamlet into insanity, the madness and subsequent suicide of Ophelia, the calculation of Claudius and the geriatric amusement of Polonius. This is the sort of production English pupils should see – not the forced reading aloud of cobwebbed books by reluctant children in a classroom (shame on you Mrs Illingworth)!

Despite having a native Scottish brogue, Tennant himself used his ‘television English’ voice which I wasn’t expecting, although it was really very effective. Nicky pointed out it would have been rather odd to have him speaking a different accent to the rest of the company and it may have made some of the 17th-century turn of phrase hard to understand.

Yeah OK, he’s typecast and as a result there are a lot of fans coming to see “David Tennant as Dr Who”. Talking with the barman prior to the performance, he said that it’s fairly easy to tell them because they get bored when he’s not on-stage, fall asleep or yawn. That said I was so wrapped up in the play that I didn’t notice save for the first few minutes of the second half.

The run is sold out, but there are limited numbers of returns available from the box office. If you can get there, go. It’s off to London after this run, there may be tickets still available there.

Me and N are in Stratford-upon-Avon this weekend, mainly to touch Mr Tennant’s bottom (well, according to Nicky). Last night we arrived mid-evening and needed feeding so wandered into the town to see what was available.

Our first two choices were booked up (or at least would want us to wait 2-3 hours for a table), but our meanderings led us to a restaurant called Carluccio’s on Waterside. Well, I say “restaurant”, it’s more of a shop with a bloody big Italian cafe in the back of it.

We had a full dinner – I opted for chilli prawns to start, calves’ liver, and rounding off with a pear and ricotta ice-cream. Nicky went for bread, rib-eye steak, ice-cream. We washed it down with a bottle of the ‘house’ red, a reasonable Sicilian red ‘Sicani’.

Not bad. Although the prawns were pricey for what they were (£7.95 for a side-plate of five plus rocket salad) they were quite tasty. The liver was cooked to perfection and for once Nicky asked for ‘rare steak’ and actually got rare steak. In fact on the main course the only valid wah was the rosemary potatoes being undercooked, a complaint mitigated by the absolute perfection with which the spinach was wilted.

Pear and ricotta ice-cream. Who’d have thought it? Going to try making that one myself I think…

A nice touch was asking whether we’d like a mild or strong blend for our coffee (we usually prefer stronger blends and I find the usual ‘Italian Restaurant’ fare to be a little too mild for my tastes).

Total bill for aperetif-starter-main-dessert-coffee for two, plus a bottle of wine: £75.50. A little pricey for what is essentially a cafe with plastic tables, but in the context of ‘dinner in Stratford-upon-Avon’ it seems to be average. Back to the hotel for a Remy and a Baileys, collapsing in the corner in a contented heap.

The Italian shop at the front looked interesting. I think we may wander that way a little later.

Last night I stopped at Orac’s flat and we went out for dinner in Finchley. Our usual haunt was out since I’d already had fish+chips this week so he took me to ‘Izgara’, a Turkish restaurant on Hendon Lane.

I’d had a big lunch so I wasn’t in the mood for a starter and such, and jumped to the main course. Lots of interesting things on the menu alongside stuff which sounded like the sort of kebabs you get in takeaways; nothing could be further from it though. No elephant’s foot here, the meals were large and very well cooked. I went for a ‘lamb liver kebab’ – odd I know! I’ve had curried liver tikka before but this was more like a grilled liver with Turkish herbs. Very nice, and a huuuuuge plateful I couldn’t finish. Matt went for his ‘usual’, the #1 kebab which is basically sliced lamb steak.

I shall look forward to returning there for a larger meal soon 🙂

For Nicky’s birthday last night we’d got a plan to join some friends for dinner at Rustico, an Italian restaurant which has been attentive and good food in previous visits. To be fair we hadn’t booked, they were very busy when we turned up, and the waiter said he’d get us a table for 8:30pm – not a problem, there’s a very good pub across the road. Returning at 8:30pm there were no tables ready for us, three tables full of people hadn’t been seated in front of us, and we were herded upstairs to a bar with no space and a very confused waitress – total chaos and Gordon would have gone mental in the kitchen. Plan B then.

Out of the window and across the road we saw “Magdalene’s”, a fairly new restaurant specialising in ‘Mediterranean cuisine’ (it’s pretty much next to the Talbot & Falcon, where Cantors used to be). A short walk over there for a recce and we got a table within a minute. Salvation!

Magdalene’s menu is primarily Greek and Turkish, with a couple of interesting house specials alongside more traditional dishes – and no predictable kebabs! I started with ‘keftedes’, herbed meatballs in a tomato sauce which tasted freshly-made; it’s always nice to be able to identify ingredients but it not detract from the dish as a whole. They probably batched the meatballs but they were very well cooked, remaining firm without being tough or overcooked.

My main course was ‘Sarsem fish’, small pieces of halibut, salmon, king prawns and calamari cooked with red onions and asparagus, and flambeed in ouzo. The flambee was evident in the slight crispness of the calamari on the outside but not to the point of them being singed to rubber, and complemented the sauce (it’s easy to get sauces wrong on calamari, it being a subtle flavour). Served with rice to soak up the sauce, the portion amount was just right with not too much or too little, leaving with a simple feeling of well-being rather than over-stuffed.

(It being Nicky’s birthday we couldn’t get away without a pudding, although I didn’t partake. Nicky’s vanilla cheesecake was home-made, and Alice’s chocolate cake was very light and fluffy apparently.)

The service itself was excellent – our attentive and friendly waiter Taf was never far away, and the price was right. We were served quickly even though restaurant was about three-quarters full. Very much recommended, we’ll go there again.

(They have a website which, had I seen it first, would probably have put me off… so quite glad I didn’t see that first!)

It’s been quite a while since we last visited Wolski’s: it was my favourite eatery in Wakefield for a while, but went through quite a bad phase with the lunchtime ‘buffet’ being little more than left-over slops and the evening meals having so much sea-salt as to be almost inedible. However, that was a couple of years ago so last night myself and Nicky went to see what they were like now.

The first impression seems to be that it’s quiet. We turned up at 8:30pm, and had a bit of a battle getting through the front door with two smokers blocking our way and reluctant to shift to one side (we later discovered that they either worked there, or were friends with a waitress). Once inside, we ordered a gin and tonic each and browsed what was on offer.

The menu hasn’t changed much – they offer a range of nice dishes such as lobster, New Zealand mussels, and various cuts of ostrich, alongside the usual 70s-style cuisine of prawn cocktail, etc. I went for a starter of chicken liver pate followed by lobster in cream and garlic, whereas Nicky ordered duck spring rolls followed by rib-eye steak.

Once shown to the table the starters arrived, and they were very good – there was a lot of pate and not much bread to balance it out with but I understand the economies of scale in these things. A substantial amount of foliage accompanied, and I left a lot of it with the thought that if I ate it all I wouldn’t have enough room for a main course. Nicky’s duck spring rolls were stuffed full of meat – very substantial, and according to her very tasty. Good start so far.

At that point it occurred that we had no drinks, and it took a few attempts to order a bottle of wine (I must admit, if I’d forgotten to serve wine when I worked as a waiter back in the early 90s I’d have probably been disciplined!).

The main course arrived and I had feared the worst – yes the lobster was smothered in way too much sauce again, drowning out the delicate flavour of the lobster (which at least had been dressed properly). Judicious use of a knife to scrape away large dollops yielded a reasonably cleaner dish, and again piles of seasoned salad had been provided to pad the meal out. Nicky’s steak was chewy, and the large jenga chips were a bit crozzled, but otherwise OK.

For dessert I tried a raspberry creme brulee – way too heavy, and the vanilla cookie with it was surplus to requirements owing to the sheer stodge. Nicky tried a toffee crumble which was largely a pile of sweet sludge. Low points on the pudding, chaps.

In general, it’s got better – maybe they’re good at larger parties of fixed menus, just not a la carte offerings for a quite meal for two. Perhaps we just caught them on a bad night, or something – the waiting staff weren’t very attentive, and I still object to having a mandatory 10% ‘gratuity’ adding on to a bill (I’d probably have left that anyway if the service was reasonable but gratuity does not mean mandatory in my book).

Two of us on a three-courser including a bottle of wine and two G+Ts came to just short of £70 – still a bit overpriced for what it was, but it’s showing upward signs in what was once Wakefield’s premier restaurant.

After the public and private comments on the customer service (or lack of it) in my last blog post regarding Oracle Bar in Leeds, I gave it another chance today: the MD had offered to take us, and despite a few of our team not being mad chuffed with the place we nodded and got bought lunch in the sun.

To be fair, it wasn’t bad. Aside from a 45-minute wait for a glass of diet Coke (!) and the waitress getting my order wrong (“it’s a new menu”) it was a reasonable outing. Still bloody expensive for what it is: the Oracle burgers (which resemble more a game of Kerplunk than food) were dried out and had a ‘pre-cooked’ feel, but at least we got fed on time.

Had we not been at the MD’s discretion of a slightly longer lunch I think we’d have timed out, and given there were empty tables outside I still don’t think it’s a good lunch venue if you’re on a tight schedule. It’s more an after-work place I guess, where – for a pint and a sit in the sun as you watch the totty wander over the bridge – it’s pretty good.

(By the way – the last couple of comments in my last post looked suspiciously like either staff or Oracle’s PR agency – make it a bit more believable next time, guys :P)

Just got back from lunch after a totally and utterly failed trip to Oracle Bar in Leeds, and I felt that I should document our experience because it was utter bollocks. They actually take quite a bit of money off us in this company – we had the MD’s birthday lunch there last week, and I’ve visited there with other staff as well.

So, we arrived and sat at a table. And waited. And waited. And after waiting for a waitress for a while, one of us goes to the bar and gets beers ‘cos it’s quicker – and find out the reason we’ve not been served is that we’re not “in a food area”. Ok – the food area’s not delineated and there’s no indication but never mind, we move. And wait. And wait. And wait. Eventually we manage to flag a waitress.

“We’ve got 15 minutes – can you feed us two burgers and chips?”
“Sure.” she answers. “Let me just check with the kitchen.”
That’s fair, so off she potters.

Then we get pounced on by another waitress carrying a clipboard – looks like the manager or something asking if we’d been served – yes we have thankyou, at which point she just… ‘hovers’. Then the original woman comes back and says “No, we can’t – waiting time of 20 minutes on burgers.”

So (only having a short time for lunch) we think “never mind” and start finishing our beers so we can grab sandwiches elsewhere (from Yum Yum in fact, highly recommended), and not two minutes later Clipboard-Waitress (who knows we’re about to leave anyway) comes back to say “oh you can’t sit here, you’re not having food.” Mention no fact that there’s another 9 empty tables around us.

There’s an epilogue: while leaving, we got chased by Clipboard-Waitress who attempted to return us somebody else’s credit card. Not sure we’ll be going back there. Anyone got any other suggestions for lunchtime beer-n-burgers?