1 Restaurant Review: Jimmy’s Lodge

What’s the word for a fondue expert? A Fonduesier? A Cheeselier? Fondanatic? Whatever it is, I like to feel in my own way, I am one. I’ve had two birthdays in a row at Soho’s famous St Moritz and am the first to go for fondue whenever I’m visiting an even remotely Swiss country.
Rule number 1: it has to be cheese. I’ve never understood the appeal of cooking small slithers of meat in bubbling hot oil. It doesn’t make for a better meat dish and you just end up burning yourself. Don’t even get me started on chocolate fondue (not a thing). Rule 2: it has to boozy. Have a fondue in America and there’s a risk you get the under-21 version, I want to taste the kirsch. Finally, always drink red wine. There are plenty of side effects from eating your weight in cheese but red wine can help you avoid a fair few of them, especially the day after. With my rulebook in mind along with my many fondue experiences, I headed to the Southbank where Jimmy Garcia’s latest pop-up aims to bring this perfect pot of happiness to the people of London.

Jimmy’s Lodge: The Lowdown

This isn’t the first of Jimmy’s pop-ups I’ve been to. I was here in this exact spot in the summer where we were served delicious grilled meat and fish from Big Green Eggs. The space has been impressively transformed from a summer rooftop terrace to wooden Swiss-style cabin. They call it ‘The Refuge’ and it’s certainly a world away from the wind and cold outside.
Initially, we were worried it was still going to be a coats on occasion but suddenly, just like every wood cabin, there was a blast of warm air to keep us snug. We weren’t sure of the source but whatever it was it ensured that The Refuge remained just that. There’s probably about ten tables inside in total, it’s certainly cosy – and with unbeatable views of the Thames – a great place for a December dinner.

Jimmy’s Lodge: Eat and Drink

We kicked things off with mulled wine. The bar has all the mulled variations you’d expect and more. The only thing you can’t order is tap water. (Jimmy has yet to be granted permission for a permanent water pipe making this lodge on stilts an even more impressive feat.) They operate a set menu in two shifts, 5pm-7pm and 8pm-11pm, with the standard fondue menu coming in at a punchy £45 per head. That doesn’t include drinks as well as the various extras you’re offered on arrival.
On the steak sharer, you could upgrade your meat to a 600g ribeye steak for £12 or you could forget the fondue and have the Winter Feast (whole baked Mont d’Or, 400g British flat iron steak, venison and red wine sausages) also £12 per person. Why anyone would stray from the traditional fondue I don’t know but either way, a meal here (with drinks) will come in over £50 a head, so is it worth it?
Once we ordered, the starters came incredibly quickly. The kitchen is pretty much contained within the cabin so it’s no wonder they stick to dishes that can be prepared well in advance. We shared a burrata with coal-baked seasonal squash as well as smoked Scottish venison tartare and toasted brioche. They were both quite small but really delicious. At £45 a head you may start to worry you’ll leave hungry, but don’t forget the cheese is yet to come. And so, to the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the fondue. Small burner, check, skewers in hand, check, (slightly tiny) bucket of bread, yep. About Timers I’m happy to report it was an excellent fondue. Definitely enough of it (and they topped up the bread no problem), it was hot, stringy, boozey and moreish. Any fears I’d had were gently washed away by a tide of total cheesy bliss. As nice as it was we could’ve done without the chocolate tart that followed, but by then I was already in a fondue coma with no chance of waking up for several hours.

Jimmy’s Lodge: The Verdict

Jimmy has pulled it off again with his winter lodge. Yes it’s expensive but you’re paying for the positioning as much as the food itself. There’s no other place quite like this in London and combined with the winter market it will make a perfect (if slightly pastiche) Christmas evening. If you’re in a big group the igloos are an Instagram dream and provide a little more privacy than the refuge. Most importantly, it’s a great fondue. Nothing will ever drag me from St Moritz but then again, I’m just one of London’s Fondanatics.
Originally published on About Time Magazine. 
For more information on Jimmy’s Lodge and to book, see here
Opposite the Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX
Photo Credit: Ben Carpenter 

14 Restaurant Review: Roast

You probably haven’t looked up in Borough Market very much. Sure, the trains may have caught your eye once or twice, but if you’re anything like me you’re usually distracted by the array of (increasingly expensive) cheese, ham and bread available at one of London’s best markets.

Roast Restaurant: The Lowdown

It was only recently that I discovered – perched above the market – Roast Restaurant which differs from many of the stalls below by focusing on deliciously British produce. The room itself is amazing, with high ceilings and loads of natural light. Be sure to ask for a table near the window so you can watch the hustle and bustle of the market below. As it turns out I was visiting on a Sunday, so the market was closed but I imagine when it’s packed below Roast would be the prefect place to people watch from.

Roast Restaurant: The Food

The Head Chef here is Stuart Cauldwell, previously head chef at Gordon Ramsay’s and an Executive Sous Chef at The Wolseley. There’s definitely some experienced British cooking go on here. As this was a Sunday we decided to put their name to the test with the three course menu. To start we had tomato and mozzarella as well as a razor clam and squid dish. The tomato and mozzarella was actually a little bland; the pesto had a strange bitter taste whilst the balls them selves were somewhat hard and tasteless. Meanwhile the fish dish was a touch small but incredibly tasty and fresh – it was so delicious, I just wish there had been more.
If you’re gonna call your restaurant Roast, you better be damn sure you deliver. There was certainly a sense of anticipation when our roast pork belly and lamb dishes arrived. Fear not: they smashed it. The pork belly was incredibly soft and tender, encased by a salty crunchy skin. The meat was sat on a combination of gravy and apple sauce that complimented the whole dish perfectly. Meanwhile, the lamb was rich and herby. It was served with a giant yorkshire pudding and crunchy potatoes that just screamed ‘we know what we’re doing’. All in all I think it’s fair to say that this was one of the finest Sunday roasts I’d had in London for a while. I felt pretty full after and skipped dessert. My friend had the panna cotta which I then proceeded to eat half of (sorry Charlie) – the tip here is leave room for dessert, it’s worth it.
The prices aren’t cheap at Roast and with the slightly formal atmosphere and great wine list, I feel this is one for special occasions. In other news, their latest innovation embraces the international surroundings at Borough. They’ve just launched their new ‘Summer Staycation Menu’, offering customers the chance to enjoy a variety of holiday dishes – Spanish seafood paella, French moules frites and even American southern fried chicken – all created using the best British supplies. If their Sunday Roast is anything to go by, this will be perfect for people who used up their holiday days earlier in the year.
For more information on Roast, see the website here
Originally Published on About Time Magazine here
The Floral Hall, Stoney Street, London SE1 1TL

0 Hotel Review: Mas De Pierre

The South of France divides opinion: some go for the rolling countryside, the rustic chateaus, and tiny neighbourhood restaurants – then there’s the other side – the vast bottles of rosé, fish that’s more expensive than gold and beaches where every grain of sand is chopped up and sold to the highest bidder.
At times Cannes, St Tropez and Antibes (to name a few) seem to cater purely for the haves and the have yachts with the less opulent travellers still paying through the nose for fairly average French fare. Then there are French waiters, if you haven’t been humiliated by a French waiter, it’s a unique experience. The up-down look, the English replies to your broken French and, a particular classic the ‘thanks-for-coming-stand-there-while-I-ignore-you-for-fifteen-minutes.’

Mas De Pierre: The Lowdown

It was with this in mind that I took a weekend to visit the newly renovated Mas De Pierre. A Relais & Chateau hotel brilliantly located twenty minutes from Nice airport, and found near the outskirts of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. A five-star hotel in Southern France, I was pretty nervous turning up in my £45 Fiat 500 rental. How wrong I was; the hotel from the food to the staff and the setting encapsulates everything that’s great about this part of France.
From the moment we arrived, we were greeted warmly (by those who knew we were reviewing, but also those who didn’t) and shown around the amazing grounds of the hotel. It resembles a classic countryside home and, to be honest, the garden is worth the trip alone. More than three hectares of sights and smells make you want to leave London and never go back again. Around every corner were fountains by local artists, art hidden amongst the bushes and they even had their own vegetable patch. The bar? Set amongst a herb garden where the head chef was positioned cutting fresh herbs for that night’s dinner. This is a Provence to be proud of.

Mas De Pierre: The Rooms

There are 48 rooms as part of the renovation each designed by Patrick Ribes who has done a good job at blending the contemporary (TVs, dimmer switches etc) with the traditional (beautiful natural stone floors and black and white low-key photography). The superior rooms start at €165, and that may sound a lot but for a five-star hotel in this area (and of this quality), it’s well worth it. Ours was one of the 19 deluxe rooms set around the gardens; each of these rooms has its own small balcony or outdoor space so you can take in the garden, without actually going into it.
The bathrooms are bright and big with plenty of local Fragonard products that you’ll want to cram into your bag (and sorry Mas De Pierre a couple did come back with me). And the whole hotel is set around a heated pool. Meanwhile, they’re proudly family-friendly with a table tennis table tucked away in the garden and even (slightly strangely) a bouncy castle hidden around a corner (we found it – it was fun).

Mas De Pierre: The Food

A French hotel, naturally, prides itself on its food. We had a table booked at La Table De Pierre where head chef, Emmanuel Lehrer, offers gourmet cuisine with regional specialties. The restaurant spills out onto the terrace overlooking the garden. With a setting like this it would be difficult to have a bad dinner, and this was, in fact, one of the best we’d ever had. We started with warm green asparagus, bacon royal-style, Iberico ham and a parmesan emulsion. I’ve never been sure about emulsions but I was more than happy for this rich, cheesy foam to form a delicious warm duvet around the combination of crispy bacon and fresh French asparagus.
The other starter was, well…vegetables. Not just your everyday veg though, oh no, these were from the local farmer, with turmeric lukewarm vinaigrette and grilled sesame. Each one was a lesson in what vegetables actually taste like when they’ve travelled from the sun to the kitchen in a matter of hours.
Our main course though was truly something special: a rib of beef to share between the two of us. Just what every steak lover looks for: crunchy and crispy on the outside, soft and rare in the centre. Carved at the table, this was French cooking at its finest. Did I mention the truffle mash? Just describing it I want to print this page out and eat it. With starters around €20 and mains €35, yes this is expensive but so special and actually in line with a lot of restaurants in the area. It was no doubt the best meal we had on our trip. A special mention too to the breakfast; I had an English breakfast at a hotel in Britain last week and this put that to shame. Fresh honey, fruit, bread and all the beans and bacon you could want.

Mas De Pierre: What to Do

If you do feel like leaving the poolside, the hotel is really well positioned and I would recommend renting a car. St Paul De Vence is under five minutes away. Although architecturally amazing, the town is now slightly overrun with tourist shops, parking signs, and selfie sticks. A much better bet one evening is Tourettes Sur Loup – head to La Cave in the evening for some of the best views in the area. Antibes is, of course, worth a visit, the brilliant concierge, and the hotel told us about Plage de la Garoupe. It’s an idyllic sandy beach with a good public area if you don’t feel like splashing out on a…sunbed. There’s also a few more casual places for lunch if you don’t want to break the budget.

Mas De Pierre: The Verdict

Overall this is a beautiful hotel in a part of France that has a reputation that doesn’t represent everything the region has to offer. Mas De Pierre takes all the best parts of Provence and plates it, plants or places it on your pillow. Yes, the French may have had the last say with a two-hour delay caused by a strike, but after a stay in May De Pierre, nothing’s changing my mind – I’m a convert.
2320 Route des Serres, 06570 Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France
For more information on Mas De Pierre, see the website here

2 Restaurant Review: Smiths of Smithfield

As someone who lives in Farringdon, I’ve been coming to Smiths of Smithfield for many, many years. It has always been one of the area’s most reliable spots for a buzzing atmosphere and, naturally, great meat. So it was with a touch of trepidation that I returned following a recent refurbishment. It turns out that Smith’s has been brought by big boys pub group, Youngs. They’ve spent the last few months putting their own twist on a restaurant which hasn’t changed in a decade.
smiths of Smithfield
The ground floor looks fairly similar: it’s the menu that’s changed. Although I didn’t eat here, they’re now offering a lighter menu with healthier options (one to try another day, perhaps). In my history of going to Smiths, I’ve never seen anyone on the first floor. For some reason, they never quite worked out what to do with it. With the refurb comes the latest iteration,‘Death + Victory’. No, it’s not a hard rock bar with a live death metal band. It’s a cocktail bar with a concept menu, again I didn’t try it on this occasion, but time will tell whether this will finally be offering that gets people up the stairs (it does look nice, see photo above).

Smiths of Smithfield: The Grill

Finally, to the floor I was here to review. At first glance, the main restaurant at Smiths looks fairly similar but on closer inspection, plenty has changed. The room is much lighter and brighter than before; the furniture has been updated and there are booths running down the market side of the building. The staff now wear matching aprons and there’s large hunks of meat on display as well as a whiteboard with the special cuts crossed out as they sell, unsurprisingly there’s also a new name for the second floor; ‘The Grill’. So far so good, the refurbishment seems to have been predominately about updating and refreshing whilst the space and atmosphere of the original restaurant stays largely untouched. But what about the food?

Smiths of Smithfield: The Food

We shared starters, firstly a Devon crab and Markham Farm asparagus salad with citrus dressing. This was a generous portion of white crab meat with delicious, fresh asparagus. The dressing was really well balanced and didn’t overpower the delicate crab. Not bad for a steak restaurant. Meanwhile, our second fish starter (there was plenty of meat to come) were seared Cornish scallops smashed new season peas, smoked bacon loin crumb, and lobster sauce. Yes, this isn’t a menu that seeks to revolutionise cooking, but what these starters showed was that Smiths had stayed true to what made it popular: simple cooking with strong flavours and a familiar menu.
Now, usually when reviewing it’s good to try a couple of different dishes on the menu. However, when you have a 16oz, 28 day aged Scottish bone in ribeye available, the rules go out the window. Ultimately most people will come to The Grill for steaks, so we both ordered ribeye and hoped for the best.
Here’s the truth: the steak I had was much better than any steak I’ve had at Smiths before. Before this refurb, the steak selection on offer was much more limited. Now, I was faced with a perfectly cooked ribeye on the bone. The meat had just the right amount of char on the outside whilst staying juicy and tender in the centre. The triple cooked chips were that rare thing where you could actually tell they’d been triple cooked, with a hard crunchy shell encasing soft potato. The waiter was knowledgable about the meat which isn’t actually from the market next door, but instead sourced from carefully selected farms. That attention to detail pays off with what, for my money, is now one of the best steak restaurants in the area.

Smiths of Smithfield: The Verdict

Pleasantly surprised and cheese board polished off we popped off to have a look at the top floor. This has lost a lot of the pretentiousness from before and is now just a slightly swankier version of the restaurant below. They have even more meats on offer including plenty of sharing cuts. The balcony up here is worth the trip upstairs alone; speaking to the staff there’s a real energy and enthusiasm driven by the clear investment by the new owners. Indeed, many of the staff have remained the same, which can only be a good sign. All in all the new Smiths is brighter, lighter, just as fun, and with even better steaks. Take a bow Youngs.
For more information on Smiths of Smithfields, visit the website here

3 The Bull in Ditchling: Hotel Review

The World Cup has finished, Wimbledon slipped by under its shadow and there’s even talk of the end of the very un-British weather. It’s no wonder that heads are drooping and spirits are deflating in offices and homes across London.
There’s only one thing for it: it’s time to pack the bags and get out of the city. And no sooner was I planning on a countryside break, when I was contacted by the kind folks at The Bull in Ditchling. Admittedly, I’d never heard of Ditchling, but it turns out it’s just over an hour out of London. Get off at Hassocks on the train to Brighton where you can either walk or grab a quick cab to the chocolate-box town. Despite being pretty small this town packs a punch with plenty of nice shops, pubs and even a museum of Arts and Crafts.

The Bull: The Lowdown

The Bull takes centre stage on the crossroads of Ditchling, and it’s one of the oldest buildings in the town dating all the way back to the 18th century. Inside, it’s like many country pubs you may have been to, but don’t be fooled just like the town, The Bull has more to offer than first meets the eye. The pub was the winner of Great British Pub of the Year in 2016 and has since spent the past year expanding; it now has 6 bedrooms (up from 4) and a new glass-fronted dining area, directly attached to the more traditional bar.
However this is July, so we headed straight out into the garden. Hidden from the road and complete with its own veg patch, the garden now benefits from its own pub shed. You can order drinks without ever leaving the sun and, even better, there are wood-fired pizzas and burgers cooked on Britain’s new favourite BBQ, the big green egg. We hadn’t even checked in yet and we were already enjoying a chicken burger and a pint of cider in the sun. Now that’s my kind of weekend.

The Bull: The Rooms

Lunch digested and skin frazzled, it was time to check out the rooms. The bedrooms at The Bull are hidden up a secret staircase behind a wall that doubles up as a door by the bar. As soon as you’re through it, you move away from the hustle and bustle of the pub below and into a far more refined, serene area. The rooms are beautifully decorated; they retain the character of a country pub, but add much of the comfort and luxury you look for on a weekend away.
The bathrooms come equipped with Cowshed products whilst there’s a separate lounge/sofa area for watching a good film. I’ve never really known about bed sizes, but let’s just say this one is giant which comes as a relief to anyone over 6ft.
If you’re only in Ditchling for the day then after lunch head up to the Ditchling Beacon. Grab some supplies from the town and ask The Bull staff for directions. The walk is about 45 minutes uphill, but it’s well worth it. You get sublime views over the South Downs and there’s plenty of spots to sit and reflect on whether the England team were really that good after all.

The Bull: The Food

Thanks to their new extension The Bull now has a separate restaurant so you don’t need to feel like you’re having dinner in the pub or the bar. The restaurant serves modern British food with the majority of ingredients sourced from their own garden, as well as the local farm estates and short-range boats.
Starters of crispy beef brisket and vegetable tempura got us off to a good start: this was definitely not ‘pub grub’ with some really interesting combinations of flavours elevating both dishes. For mains the suckling pig belly with mustard pomme dauphine, asparagus and kale were as good as anything you could find in London. The belly was perfectly cooked (if you don’t mind rare pork) with a delicious deep jus.  I could’ve eaten two plates. My partner had a steak –  she didn’t share so I can only assume it was excellent.

The Bull: The Verdict

The Bull is a brilliant option for escaping the City over the weekend. In just over an hour you can be surrounded by rolling countryside, brilliant BBQs, great British cooking and comfortable countryside bedrooms.  It may feel like the summer is over and all is lost, but a night away at The Bull is just what’s needed to get everything back on track.

0 Tonica: Restaurant Review

There’s a certain nervousness when one of the best chefs you know flies into London for one evening only. Luckily for me, I live within walking distance of what might just be the nicest foodie street in the capital. There’s no shortage of great restaurants on Exmouth Market, with a buzzing atmosphere and no cars – it’s usually only the weather you have to worry about. Berber & Q, Morito and Caravan already provide very reliable spots for food and drink (provided you can get in), but this time I was here to try something new.

Tonica Review: The Lowdown

Portobello Road Gin, the team behind The Distillery, has just launched Tonica their brand new sister venue on Exmouth Market. Yes, I’d never been to the original restaurant, or even heard of the group behind it, but my thinking was, you wouldn’t go up against the likes of Moro or The Eagle unless you had something pretty good to offer, right?
Anyone who had been to the short-lived Celio Blanco at this site before will be familiar with the venue. A mixture of booths, and large tables in a 100 seater restaurant and bar that is a little more casual than some of its neighbours. The focal point of the dining area is a cascade of foliage and planters which are suspended from the venue’s ceiling. It has a relaxed atmosphere that at times, no thanks to the fairly base-y music, feels a little more like a bar than restaurant.

Tonica Review: The Drinks

I wasn’t surprised when the waitress was quick to tell us about their speciality: Tonica’s Gin and Tonic Plus. They describe their gin and tonics as “blurring the lines between the traditional G&T and the cocktail; an experimental new serve that uses fanciful garnishes, interesting tonics, bitters, tinctures, fresh herbs, juices, jams and even liqueurs, to take the classic ‘spirit and mixer’ to dizzyingly delicious new heights.”
It’s a pretty punchy explanation for what I always thought was a pretty straightforward drink (the clue is in the name). That said, we followed their advice and soon enough came three giant multi-coloured goblets of gin. I looked over at my guest worried I may have bought them to a Marbella beach bar in the Market. How wrong I was. Turns out the Gin and Tonic can be elevated, and damn these drinks were delicious. Each one had its own unique flavour with subtle hints of orange or peppercorn adding an element of surprise. The Ngenious! was a winner, but followed closely by Nordes which featured hibiscus liquor and edible flowers. So far so good, but I wasn’t going to be able to win over my visitor with gin alone.

Tonica Review: The Food

Tonica’s food offering is tapas and small plates, inspired by Spain’s vibrant culinary culture. They pride themselves on seasonality and use plenty of British produce married with imported Spanish delicacies. It’s a much more varied menu than you might expect; yes there’s patatas bravas and the ever-trendy Padron peppers, but there’s also plenty of things on the menu here that you may not expect from tapas in London.
We ordered croquetas, a selection of tapas and a plate of their signature Inka Roast Iberico pork. As soon as the first dish arrived I knew we were onto a winner. In fact, there wasn’t a single dish from what we ordered that I wouldn’t recommend. Everything we tasted was, just like the gin and tonics, tapas plus. The signature solomillo pork was cooked to perfection: tender and full of flavour. Amongst the tapas, the tortilla, smoked cauliflower and kale dishes all stood out as simple yet sumptuous Spanish cooking that more than stands up to any other restaurant in the area. The great thing about tapas is when done well it lends itself to such a fun, relaxed atmosphere – and halfway through even the music had grown on me.

Tonica Review: The Verdict

As with a lot of sharing restaurants, the price can really depend on how hungry you are. The dishes here are fairly generous, but you’ll probably end up spending £40 a head if you want to taste a fair chunk of the menu and the gin and tonics too. That said, Tonica is well worth it and is a great addition to Exmouth Market. It’s fun, the service was great and most importantly – the food was delicious. With my important guest safely in the back of the cab I breathed a sigh of relief; sometimes it pays to give the newbies a go.
For more information on Tonica, visit the website here
55-57 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 4QL

As Seen on About Time Magazine 

0 Restaurant Review: Claw

Carnaby Street is usually somewhere I only associate with buying shoes. However, hidden behind the Office and Schuh shops, Kingly Court now houses several of London’s best up and coming restaurants including Señor Ceviche, Rum Kitchen and Pizza Pilgrims. It was only after five minutes of searching there that I realised that Kingly Street (not court) is where Claw has opened its first site, on an even nicer, more hidden, street running parallel to Carnaby.
Nestled next to zagging ad agency BBH, Claw is a cosy, perfectly lit venue that immediately makes you feel welcome on entry. The room is buzzing with an energy and passion that really only lives in the first bricks and mortar site of a young restaurant.

Claw: The Concept

Don’t be fooled, however, the team behind Claw are not total newbies. Founder Fabian Clark set out in 2015 to change perceptions that seafood is an expensive luxury. He started (as many great new restaurants do) street-side dealing directly with fishermen to ensure top notch quality, but also to keep costs down. Meanwhile head chef Joshua Levy has been in the team since 2016 having worked with Gennaro Contaldo at Jamie Oliver’s restaurants, whilst studying at catering college. I was intrigued to see whether their street food concept could translate to the table, and where better to start than with the crab claws.

Claw: The Food

The Claw team have expanded the menu but you imagine most of us are there for the claws. There’s really nothing better than getting stuck into a bowl of crab claws (in my case with my dad) covered in a rich garlic and lime butter. They’re messy, they’re meaty, they’re moreish and most of all, they’re delicious. So far so good. The claws may not be for everyone – anyone who doesn’t like mining for their meat (although they do come cracked) may prefer some of the other crab dishes – and the good news is they wont be disappointed.
The crab mac n’ cheese is not to be missed (trust me). It’s a really generous portion, and every bit as indulgent as you want it to be. Meanwhile grilled Colchester oysters provide another option for fish lovers looking for something a little less crab based. The real surprise was when we headed on land the food rivalled any other London meat-led restaurant. They may not be haute cuisine, but one of our favourite dishes were the chicken wings with a sticky sweet caramel skin. I’ll leave the wing reviews to our Poultry Editor (yes we have one), but I think he’d be pleasantly surprised by these.

Claw: The Verdict

So can a street food business translate to a  traditional restaurant? If Claw is anything to go by, than the answer is an undoubtable yes. I would even go a step further and say that what was so great about Claw was that it had none of that established restaurant stuffiness; it was just really friendly service, a fun atmosphere, great food and all at a very reasonable price. Next time I’m in the area, it won’t be shoes I’m there for.
21 Kingly St, Soho, London W1B 5QA. For information on Claw, visit their website here
Originally published in About Time Magazine 

0 The 5 Best Documentaries You Haven't Seen

It's great to see that documentaries are slowly becoming more and more popular. They even have their own category now at the Oscars. The only problem is that most people only ever watch mainstream docs, the Michael Moore's, Man on Wire, Project Nim etc etc. I guess the problem is that the lesser known but equally brilliant ones are difficult to find. If only someone curated a list on their obscure blog...the wait is over:

1. My Kid Could Paint That.

This is a brilliant doc, totally absorbing. It's in the same style as other, more well known factual films like 'The Imposter' in that it's full of twists and turns and you never know quite what to think. The film follows the story of the 'young prodigy' artist Marla Olmstead whose work is launched into artistic fame when her art is noticed by local dealers etc. Her art keeps rising and rising in value until questions begin to be asked about its authenticity. The clever thing about this film is that it becomes as much about the making of the film as it does about the subject matter. Art can be boring, this film isn't.
Trailer Link

2. Mitt

This originally completely passed me by (and probably most of you guys too). Anyway, anyone who is remotely interested in politics and in particular U.S politics should watch this. Amazingly the director, Greg Whiteley, had access to Mitt Romney over a period of six years and he shows us for the first time what it's like to be running in big political campaigns in the USA. The only worrying aspect is that access may have come at the expense of neutrality as Mitt certainly comes over as an awfully nice guy. That said, the film is amazingly personal and deeply revealing. 

3. Big Brother Watching Me: Citizen Ai Wei Wei

I knew about Ai Wei Wei before I watched this film, 1 hour and 12 minutes later I was obsessed with him. This documentary shows Ai Wei Wei for what he is, a crazy, fearless, random, GENIUS. The timing is perfect as it begins the moment he is released from Chinese prison. Whereas most journalists are stuck just shouting questions at him on the streets, this documentary crew follow him into his home where we see the effect captivity has had on him (he is even madder). For me, this man is one of the most important in China and therefore by association so is this film.
BBC Link 

4. Deliver Us From Evil

With Mea Maxima Culpa coming a close second this is easily the most shocking and disturbing documentary I have seen on the subject of abuse within the Catholic Church. The completely outrageous thing about this film is that it's subject, potentially one of the most evil men I've ever seen, is one of the main contributors. The fact that he agreed to be on this film seriously enhances its impact with his cold words juxtaposing the raw emotion that his victims are feeling. This is certainly one of those documentaries that makes you really angry and would turn anyone,  against the Catholic Church. I think it's such an important film so sit down and take note.  Trailer Link

5. The September Issue

So I thought I would balance out the last one with something a little lighter. I'm not that interested in fashion but this documentary is fascinating from a journalism point of view. With unique access it follows the making of Vogue's September 2007 issue, with all the office politics and preparation that goes into making the edition. By no means is this the best documentary on this list but it's very watchable and provides an interesting REAL insight into the fashion business.

Trailer Link

2 10 of the Best American Mob Films

To add to the growing number of film lists I have decided to compile my own fairly unoriginal list of ten of the best American mob films. This is one of my favourite genres overall so this was quite a hard list to make. As usual feel free to comment with anything I may have missed.

1. The Godfather- Trailer

The most obvious choice for this list. This is one of the best films of all time. It makes you want to pick up a gun, go to the newsagents and start asking for protection money. Watching all three films in one sitting should be on a list of things to do before you die. Marlon Brando's performance is only topped by a flawless Al Pacino. I was never a big fan of the third film but it's still pretty good. Anyways if you haven't seen it yet, buy it now. And if you have, watch it again.

2. Scarface- Trailer

Al Pacino again, killing people, again. The best thing about this film is watching Tony Montana carve out his own version of the American dream. First he gets the money, then he gets the power and then, as with all Mob bosses he gets the overconfidence. The rise and fall of Tony Montana is the classic mob story brilliantly written by Oliver Stone. For sheer timelessness, it deserves to make this list.

3. Blow- Trailer

Blow is a 'true story' film about the American cocaine smuggler George Jung. To give you an idea about the plot, it is based on Bruce Porter's 1993 book called "Blow: How a Small Town Boy Made $100 Million with the Medellín Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All". This is one of Johnny Depp's best films and just like Scarface I like the way we watch the journey from petty criminal to a mob boss, again I guess the Americans love the idea that the American dream is possible even for criminals. This film is sometimes overlooked, it shouldn't be.

4. American Gangster- Trailer

Another one based (very loosely I imagine) on a true story. I like how the personal lives of both the mobsters and the police are explored in the film. Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington are equally enjoyable as leaders on different sides of the law. It's well directed by Ridley Scott, who does a good job of not making it too 'epic' or action-packed and in doing so produces a really good modern mob film. 

5. The Interrupters- Trailer

So it's not really an 'American Mob Film', but you should watch this to understand the true consequences of organised crime. This is an amazing documentary (probably the best that came out that year) which follows three 'violence interrupters' who try to protect their Chicago communities from violence. The interesting aspect is that they were all once involved in it themselves including the daughter of one of the major bosses. 

6. Goodfellas- Trailer

This list would feel strange without a contribution from Martin Scorsese, and what better contribution then the 1990 film Goodfellas. Once again we watch one man's rise to Mob boss heights. Except for this time we watch Henry go right from being an enthusiastic kid to De Niro's sinister deputy. Goodfellas is one of the best of these mob films at taking one character from the very bottom to the very top and inevitably, back again.

7. Reservoir Dogs- Trailer

This could also be a list of some of the U.S's best Directors as they have all seem to have entered this genre at some point. Quentin Tarantino is no exception with what was his debut film as a writer and a director. Reservoir Dogs is not like any other Mob film on the list, like most of Tarantino's films he tries to reinvent or at least refresh the genre. The soundtrack is spotless and the violence is brilliant.

8. The Usual Suspects- Trailer

This film was almost overlooked as it was initially given a limited release. Thank god it got noticed as it is really one of the best Mob films around. Unlike the others, this film doesn't focus on one boss, but instead a group of mismatch criminals who meet in prison. The use of flashbacks makes this film original and intriguing. 

9. Gangs of New York- Trailer

Martin Scorsese teaming up with two of my favourite actors. Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio (who has never been in a bad film?) are both brilliant as leading members of the rivaling gangs the "Natives" (those born in the United States) and recently arrived Irish Catholic immigrants. This film has some of the best visual scenes of any of these mob films and a very eclectic soundtrack. It's not a traditional American mob film but still, it easily makes this list. 

10. The Sopranos- Trailer

Okay okay so I know it's not a film but with eighty-six episodes it might as well be the longest-running American mob film ever. If anyone is wondering what American series to watch, look no further. This is the one that started it all, the original and the best everything about the Sopranos is pretty much perfect. The characters are brilliant- James Gandolfini is the perfect mob boss/ family man ever and the show really does take us on a journey. Also for those of you who have seen it, yes I do love the ending.  

Cass For Questions Copyright © 2011 - |- Template created by O Pregador - |- Powered by Blogger Templates