Best pre-theatre dining – London

I was recently asked to recommend a good restaurant to take visiting family to, before a Saturday night outing to the theatre. Somewhere nice enough to take parents, that would be reasonably priced and a bit different from your average restaurant (with good food, of course).

Well, here’s two recommendations.

Situated close by one another on Drury Lane (at the heart of London’s theatre-land) two quirky restaurants offering pre-theatre deals and fine food are Sitaaray (an Indian, Bollywood themed restaurant specialising in kebabs) and Sarastro (a Turkish, opera themed place offering mezes, set menus and live entertainment).

If you’re after a pre-theatre dining option or just feel like being an ‘early bird’, both Sitaaray and Sarastro are worth experiencing.

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Sitaaray – Lardbutty restaurant of the month – Feb 2010

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Sarastro – Lardbutty restaurant of the week – April 26, 2010

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Knock knock! …who’s there?

“Pickfords Removals. Can we be of assistance Mr Brown?”

One of the most talked about shows this season has been the UK Government Competition. Audience viewing figures continued to rise throughout the contest. And, having now exceeded all other reality TV contests in popularity, it looks like this series is going to end with a nail-biting cliffhanger, leaving us in suspense til the autumn.

Hats off to the party leader contestants who rehearsed, performed and really battled it out – each demonstrating a singular determination and desire to win. Not one of them has been afraid to learn all their lines by heart, though each resorted to condescension when the heat was on.

In an early round of the contest, media coverage indicated that Nick Clegg might do well. They talked us live through Nick Clegg doing well. Then reflected at length afterwards on how Nick Clegg had done well (eerily similar to an episode of Master Chef). Nick Clegg.

Nick Clegg – now a household name. Yet the mystery of who he hangs out with leaves us wanting to know more. Is he a loner? Are there others who hang out with him – and if so, what are their names? That story-line may not unfold until the next series.

We’ve had all the insight and analysis – at the scene – from the fabulous Laura Keunssberg (following the Big Brother’s Little Brother format but with fewer pseudo-psychoanalysts). And viewers watching online saw the most popular performances rated via The Worm (web tool reflecting the responses of a focus group scattered around Britain).

Viewers weren’t allowed to phone in their votes in the finals of this competition (not very X Factor) causing great confusion among some of the less attentive. While the reason for this is unknown, speculators claim that Britain’s telephone networks would certainly have jammed and shut down, had phone-voting been permitted for a popular reality contest on this scale.

Postal and in-person voting methods were immensely popular: queues at some polling stations were so long that many people waited hours and still didn’t get to vote. Some were – understandably – very cross. In such a close contest as this, everyone wants their say, rather than defaulting to the show’s creators to decide, in the event of a tie-break.

Voting over (or turned away) and counting continued through the night.

Imagine then, waking up to the final results this morning only to find that Gregg Wallace isn’t the winner and will never govern Britain.

BBC script-writers may have changed the ending of this first series right at the very last minute, to avoid the one true winner getting leaked to the press. But will the next series be as formulaic?

Under competition rules, the final decision lies with top-ranking judge, Queen EIIR. It is reported however, that QE II will not return to London today to select a winner (whose prize is to be UK PM for the foreseeable future). Rather, she is thought to be seeking guidance from the top UK expert in this field, Simon Cowell, and will remain in Windsor until their assessment of each orator is over.

Cowell and QE II are expected to play back footage on the three party hopefuls from all heats of the competition and thoroughly analyse the potential of each. Re-viewing may take about three weeks; an outcome is not expected soon.

Government analysts predict that more ballot papers may be distributed if a re-match (general election) takes place in the autumn but were not prepared to go on record. “There’s been such overwhelming interest from the public since the first general election contest was announced just over a month ago, we don’t want to ruin the plot for those who are on tenterhooks for the next season to start. Some of them get so into it, it’s like real life”.

A tired Brown offered to bring back the Minister of Cuts to act as interim winner (PM) until autumn before realising he would – again – be unable to deliver.

So Sarastro – a theatrical dining experience

How do you describe a restaurant where the decor and theme is all things opera and theatre, and great Turkish food is served amid live entertainment? Delightfully quirky?

An unusual sight on a busy central London street, the immense greenery and flower-jungle on the outside is an indication of the eccentricity within; and the smell of fresh rosemary an invitation to enter.

Sarastro – Lardbutty restaurant of the week
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Once inside, Sarastro initially has the appearance of an old theatre props junk shop. All of the decor and tables (some are ‘theatre box’ boothes) creatively relate in some way to opera or theatre.

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Sarastro decor

Eating from the Tenor menu (pre-theatre menu @ £14.50 for two courses) this evening, H and I had mushroom borek (pastries) and hummus starters between us, and both opted for Anatolian lamb with mixed vegetables and mashed potato (slow cooked lamb shank which fell off the bone). Perfect.

Already, we’ve got intriguing, quirky surroundings; excellent value food, and very tasty too; a comprehensive wine list, and, at 8.30pm – live entertainment to complete the spectacle (musicians don’t play every night so check before visiting).

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3.5 / 5
~ Type: Turkish / opera
~ Menu: Sarastro menus
~ Postcode: WC2B 5SU
~ Nearest station: Covent Garden / Charing Cross
~ Website: Sarastro website
~ Location: Sarastro map
~ Multi-media (poor quality mobile-phone video of musicians):

Gary Numan gig

30 years of The Pleasure Principle

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Gary Numan released a 30th anniversary edition of The Pleasure Principle in September (mentioned recently) and is currently touring, playing all the old tracks – initially recorded as Tubeway Army – along with newer industrial tunes.

Last night’s gig at Indigo O2 was immense (support band aside) – Numan’s still the king of electronic music. And while it was the most outstanding gig I’ve been to in years, there was – endearingly – a very high bald-head count!

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More:
~ O2 Indigo gig photos (professional)

~ O2 Indigo gig photos (my snaps)

~ Gary Numan gig, my video clips

~ Gary Numan’s official website

~ BBC’s music page on Gary Numan

~ Gary Numan, BBC radio 6 session

1999-2009: Ten Years Saving Orang-utans

From Forest School to Freedom

It’s 10 years since the Nyaru Menteng (NM10) orang-utan rescue and rehabilitation centre opened in Borneo. Last night, founder, Lone Droscher-Nielsen was in London to talk about her team’s work to save this endangered species, and to raise much-needed funds.

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Recognisable from TV series’ Orang-utan Diary (BBC) and Orang-utan Island (Animal Planet), Lone’s talk at the Royal Geographical Society, Kensington, covered these issues:

~ rainforest destruction, and the rise in palm oil plantations
~ orang-utans’ loss of habitat, often killed
~ the continued decline of orang-utans at current rates means they may be extinct in a decade
~ the need for sustainable palm oil + protection of the orang-utans’ natural habitat

More:
~ Photos of Lone – Ten Years of NM10
~ Video-clips of Lone’s talk on Ten Years of NM10
~ Borneo Orang-utan Survival website
~ Orangutan Land Trust website

Bonfire night at Battersea Park

Bonfire night, or Guy Fawkes night is one of my favourite celebrations in the British calendar: the bonfire, home-made guys, fireworks, Yorkshire parkin and not forgetting mulled wine.

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This year is the 404th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot; the attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament and assassinate the monarch, King James I, and most of the British aristocracy at the state opening of Parliament in 1605. In the Stuart period, Britain – like much of Europe – was divided between Protestants and Catholics. Under Britain’s Protestant rule, Catholics faced oppression, and the Gunpowder Plot orchestrated by Robert Catesby sought to change this.

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The explosion and assassination will be carried out by Guy Fawkes, an expert in gunpowder explosives and a Roman Catholic from York in the north of England. Having enlisted in the Spanish army in the 1590s during the Wars of Religion in Europe, he’s learnt his skills from the Spanish.

Renting a cellar under the House of Lords in Westminster Palace (later to be called the Houses of Parliament), the revolutionaries secretly stash away 36 barrels of gunpowder over several months. It’s enough to blow up all of Westminster Palace and everyone in it!

By warning a fellow Catholic who’s attending the state opening, word of the planned explosion leaks out and reaches the king. During the night, early 5th November 1605, the King’s men search the cellar, finding not only the gunpowder buried under firewood and coal but also Guy Fawkes making his escape.

Arrested and tortured for several days, Fawkes is imprisoned in the Tower of London. In his trial, 31 January 1606, at Westminster Hall (the grand entrance to the Houses of Parliament) Fawkes is found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered along with his comrades, at the very place they plotted to blow up.

Weak from torture but ever the hero, Fawkes declines the hanging choosing instead to jump from the ladder up to the gallows. Breaking his neck, he takes his own life.

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More:
~ Photos of bonfire night 2009
~ Guy Fawkes feature in T+C Weekly News Nov 2009

London on fire

Last night’s fireworks display over the Thames was the closing event of this year’s Thames Festival. It struck me, amid the crowds gathered along the river watching the illuminated sky that it’s almost 350 years since crowds gathered at the same spot under an illuminated sky, fleeing for safety from the Great Fire of London.

Read my feature about it here.