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

Tonica
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

Tonica
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
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.  

16 Exclusive Interview: Frédéric Bourdin-'The Imposter'.


Anyone yet to see “The Imposter” you should as it really is one of the best docs around.

After watching it I read that the central character, Frédéric Bourdin, was unhappy with the way he had been portrayed. I also felt that some aspects of the film might’ve been unfair. Rather then simply letting it go, I decided to try and get in contact with him.

Once again Twitter proved its worth and the following day I had the man himself on the phone from France:



Thank you for doing this I guess I saw the film and I thought it was an amazing story. However I wondered how accurate it was and therefore I wanted to hear from the man himself. I guess I never thought I’d ever be able to speak to you. But here we are. Have you seen the film?

Yes I did. I saw it about a week ago maybe less. Actually it was exactly last Tuesday, Tuesday last week.

What are you reactions having seen it?

I like that I get to speak and they actually say what I was looking for and let me actually explain myself and that’s the good part. The bad part is that they made me wider or bigger then what I am. They magnified me, which I will never be happy with. I don’t like people to think I am some kind of super freak.

How long was the filming process, as they seemed to use a lot of moments where you are smiling at the camera or looking quite amused by the story. Is this what you mean by magnified?

They spoke to me for two days, hours and hours a lot of time…what I am saying is that sometimes those faces were just put in the middle of the movie. When I actually did it I didn’t react to other people, when they spoke to me they spoke to no one else so actually its very misleading that I make those faces in the middle of the movie or at different times.

Why did you agree to help with the film?

Because I believe in the good faith of people. It’s like you asking me for an interview…you are a student and I’m helping because you spoke to me nicely and I am that kind of person. I don’t feel like I’m Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise or some kind of super actor.

I agreed to speak to them and to work with them because they sounded honest. They said they wanted to understand what happened, and they wanted me to explain it to them. That’s why I agreed to it. Because I really believed that they were honest.

Something that’s not really talked about in the film is what motivated you to take on over five hundred identities.

You know the real thing was, I was from a horrific family. My grandfather is a racist and wanted my mother to abort because she conceived me with an Algerian man and he couldn’t accept that. I grew up with my grandmother and I had an Uncle in the house who wasn’t very nice to me. There was a sort of paedophile next door and I felt like I was just a little kid abused in every kind of possible way so I was I ashamed of who I was, I didn’t want to be who I was. I wanted to be a normal person, like the ones you see on TV, a normal kid with a family who loved me and a mum and dad.
The only way for me to actually get that was to create the person I wanted to be. So I invented names, I chose a young age and a different nationality because people don’t like Arabs. So I wanted to be someone that actually could be loved and I found it in most people around the world, every day of my life for years. So- yes- it was a lot over five hundred characters that I took on.

You say you’ve been all over the world pretending to be the person you wanted to be. Do you look back at it as something that was fun?

Sometimes it was fun, sometimes it wasn’t. You never knew. It was like any kind of job- you get good days and bad days. Sometimes you feel like you have a really good job…if you get a good result. And sometimes you’re going to feel like you have a shitty day. Most of the time it was not easy but it was necessary.

You’re now married and you have kids. What does your wife (Isabelle) think about your past?

My wife didn’t marry me for who I am. My wife understands why I did the things that I did. She understands that I needed to save myself from the horrific past that I had and that I needed to reinvent myself as the person who could be loved. My wife understood that. Now she’s not saying, “bravo Frederic you took so many identities and you lied to people.” She’s not saying that’s a nice thing I did. But she doesn’t judge me as she understands why I did it.

And do you have a normal job now?

Yes (laughter) I do have a normal job now I am a salesman, I sell things.

I bet you’re good at that…

Well actually not all the time. It’s not that easy. You ask someone who was very good at doing one job to do another job. There’s worse then me.

Going back to the Barclay story, this is now the second film and you’ve done other interviews. They’ve put you in the spotlight. If you could go back, would you have chosen a different person? Do you feel lucky that you chose this particular family?

It’s a very ,very difficult question because the fact is that if I hadn’t done what I did in the States then I would not be married to my wife and would not have my kids. My wife first heard of me because of a French show that I was doing there after I was arrested so if I didn’t do it all the same again then my wife would never have known of me. I can’t say that I would not have done it again I have to say that I would.

You would do it again?

Yes, I would do it better! (laughs)

Have the family or Charlie Parker tried to contact you since the film came out?

(Laughs) No, we had an argument on YouTube. When they made the first movie ‘The Chameleon”  we had an argument, we exchanged insults under the video of the trailer of the movie.

And what about Charlie Parker?

Who are you saying? I don’t know that man! (laughs) You read my comments- you know what I think of him. He has no legitimacy inside that story. He hasn’t done a thing to deserve to be in that story.

The only thing that actually got me arrested is not Charlie Parker, it’s the FBI, the fingerprints, the DNA, the grand jury not Charlie Parker. I mean he took an opportunity. He is a very old man and it’s the only thing he can hold on to. But he hasn’t discovered a thing. Not one.

Do you feel you were given quite a harsh prison sentence?

No I don’t. I was charged for perjury and lying to an FBI agent and lying under oath to obtain a US passport and I broke the rules. I made those people look like idiots. I deserved the time they gave me. I deserved it and I’m thankful for it as it gave me experience of life that I didn’t have before. It made me a great deal of Mexican friends and it was a very important experience in my life and if I didn’t have this experience maybe I would be nothing today. Maybe I would be dead today. I needed that. 

I suppose the final big question is do you feel any remorse towards the Barclay family?

(He sighs) I feel remorse for Cody, the son of Carey. I feel remorse for Chantelle, the daughter of Carey. I feel remorse for the brother of Nicholas. I feel remorse for innocent people like Bryan. But I don’t feel remorse towards Carey and Beverly, the sister and mother of Nicholas because I didn’t lie to them. They already knew everything.

I didn’t lie to them because they already knew their son was dead. If the FBI kept them for two or three days inside a closed cell and put some pressure on them, they would find Nicholas…I’m convinced of that…I know that. And that is what I am so sorry about.

The only remorse I had was not collaborating earlier with Nancy Fisher and the FBI and the Police Department and not helping them to get to know where Nicholas’s body is. I am sure I could’ve helped them and I really hoped that with the documentary they will do something about it.  The only thing there is to do, before Beverly dies, is to put her in some closed space with two agents in her face and put pressure on her for two or three days and I guarantee a result.


*


I hope you enjoyed my interview. From a personal point of view I thought Frederic seemed like a really nice guy and when he talked about his past I started to understand why he did what he did. Not out of craziness but more sadness about his upbringing.  He also gave an interesting perspective on the making of the film and in particular the inflation of the role of Parker (who is an amazing, if not slightly mad character). I’m glad he was honest with me and said he would do it all again. It seems that this is a result of his new found enjoyment of life -  finally as Frédéric Bourdin.
 

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