Clos Maggiore

Mr Jones and I went to see La traviata the other night at the Royal Opera House.  The stage set was exactly the same as when we saw it last year, which perturbed me a little because I like to think that the huge fairytale fantasy worlds which we see at the opera are constructed freshly for each one. The soprano singing Violetta was very competent, but couldn’t compare to Renee Fleming who was playing this role last time we saw it – so few people can. But as always the opera left me enchanted. I love how Traviata has all these big pop hooks – in every act there’s a tune that you end up singing to yourself later, even if the glorious and agonised swell of  ‘Amami, Alfredo‘ doesn’t stay in your ears and heart for weeks afterwards.

Although you know – once, just once, I would like to see an opera where there’s a man with a dissolute past who falls in love with a powerful woman, but then she leaves him and he dies of heartbreak/TB/hara-kiri before she returns having seen the error of her ways. Also I would like to see an opera or, let’s face it, any story ever in which a lady has a dissolute past and then goes on to enjoy her life, spending her hard-earned money and dying peacefully at an advanced age, surrounded by admirers.

So the music was lovely, although the audience were rather ill-behaved. Not one but two mobile phones went off and there was an outbreak of unbearably loud coughing. Here’s a tip, Traviata audiences: the only person who is supposed to be coughing in here is the lady who’s dying of consumption on stage. Got it? Thanks.

Afterwards, Mr Jones and I pondered where to go for a brief bite to eat. ‘Oh well’, he said with that insouciance that I like so much about him, ‘we could go to Clos Maggiore if you like’. I nodded like a little nanny-goat. I didn’t know what Clos Maggiore was.

Well, friends, it’s a jewel. It’s dark and French and cosy, all made of stained wood, tasteful red leather banquettes, coloured glass and brass. It has a pig with wings on the counter at the front. About fourteen people say good evening to you as you walk in, and they smile while they’re doing so. And then at the back…well, look upon this grainy camera-phone photo and try not to sigh. (more…)

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Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 10:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Old Brewery, Greenwich

Tons of tuns

The Meantime Brewery in Greenwich makes a mean(time) selection of bottled ales. I’ve enjoyed their IPA before now and savoured their stout – it’s respectable, but it’s no Beijing Black or Milton Nero. But I love the idea of brewery restaurants. I went to the Montana Aleworks in Bozeman once and I still remember the salmon and mango salad and big brown ale I enjoyed with it, all surrounded by naked brick walls, lively art and cheery people. So I was all for it when Dr X, in town for the day, suggested a meal in the area.

Set in a handy corner of Wren’s spectacular Old Naval College, the brewery is easy to find – but you could do far worse for places to wander round aimlessly while killing time before dinner. The Naval College is one of the great architectural gems of London, sitting in immense, white dignity at the foot of the park, looking out onto the river. There’s much that’s touristy and naff about Greenwich, but that can’t take away the patina of history around the streets, especially when they include buildings which are both breathtaking in size and scale but also just symmetrically pleasing on a human scale – full of lovely rounded walkways, tactile flagstones, steps to loll on and pillars to hide behind.

On to the brewery! We arrived a little before time, having taken the riverboat from London Bridge and found the little tucked-away courtyard with ease.  It was full of clean wooden tables and chattering folk with golden pints in front of them, condensation pooling down the sides of the glasses.  The smell of chargrilled meat pumped smokily out into the sunny evening.  Suddenly, a drink and a steak seemed like a very fine idea. (more…)

Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 9:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ariana, princess of Persia

Ariana is an unassuming restaurant in a location which is both splendid and awful. The back, including a covered dining area with warm friendly lights and a chance to enjoy the summer breezes, abuts Mile End Park and is therefore surrounded by healthy, relaxing green space which is maintained in a state of carefully managed wildness and features joggers, strolling families, young guys playing cricket and people of that ilk. The front end lacks this good fortune and opens onto Burdett Rd, which is a bit of a scumhole. Well, not your really awful kind of scumhole, obviously. But rather rough around the edges – it’s a major thoroughfare linking the whole east of the city with Limehouse and the Docklands, and that’s enough to rub the gilt off the nicest of neighbourhoods.

Somewhat surprisingly, this is quite a favourable place to find somewhere to eat. The Orange Room on the other side of the road provides good Lebanese food and Cafe Meds up the street does excellent coffee and mighty omelettes. But Ariana’s where you want to come for dinner really, especially on a balmy May evening when a curry is too heavy and a salad is too light.

The sweet smells and verdant spread of the park outside were echoed in the cooking with generous use of fresh herbs and complex seasonings. This is food with varied, unpredictable flavours which manage to be punchy and subtle by turns.  The dishes aren’t dominated by oil, ghee, garlic or chilli – the classic starter was a well-received plate of large fresh mint and tarragon leaves with a slice of mild curd cheese and some walnuts. You couldn’t imagine anything simpler, but it was so satisfying when wrapped up in a square of fresh bread that I would have happily just dined on that alone.  It was accompanied by a slinky, smoky, divinely tasty aubergine dip, a pink-orange marvel which knocked standard-issue baba ganoush into a cocked hat. (more…)

Published in: on May 27, 2010 at 4:02 pm  Comments (2)  
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