Royal Dragon Restaurant, Gerrard Street, London, W1

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Royal Dragon is in the heart of Chinatown on Gerrard Street. Decorated in browns and creams; when you step in, it is calm, away from the bustle just outside the door.

We had dim sum to start, Prawn dumplings and pork dumplings served in stacked bamboo servers. These were very flavorful and they were accompanied by a small dish of sweet chilli sauce and a dish of hot chilli sauce.

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This was followed by crispy duck with pancakes and a plum sauce. The duck was deliciously crispy, the pancakes were hot and fresh. We finally had lobster with ginger and spring onion. I am a bit of a lobster novice, but this was amazing. It was a huge portion of lobster served on a platter of noodles in a succulent ginger sauce. It even came with its own implement, a lobster fork, the first time I have seen one.

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To be honest, I forgot to check the wine list, I don’t often drink wine with Chinese food. There were three brands of beer on offer, Asahi and Carlsberg were the names I recognised. The service was excellent.

It is a relatively small restaurant, for Chinatown, we were there in the early evening and the place was busy without being packed. It is open late and it does Karaoke between 11pm and 3am. The waiter said that this happens in private rooms, so it should not disturb your meal. While we ate, there was background music; it was quiet and unobtrusive.

If you are looking for somewhere quiet and smart, and you want to stay in the centre of Chinatown, the Royal Dragon fits the bill.

School Of Rock, New London Theatre, London, 2017

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School of Rock’s plot has more holes than a polo mint factory. I almost had to talk myself into suspending my disbelief. However, when I did, this show has funny lines, great tongue-in-cheek, rock songs, and some very talented children.

The opening song “I’m too hot for you” is a clever parody and “Stick it to the man” and “School of Rock” are crowd pleasing, audience participation, stadium rock pastiches. There are other good songs too “You’re in the Band” is catchy and I liked the “Faculty Quadrille” which has recognisable Lloyd Webber moments.

David Finn is likeable and irritating in equal measures as Dewey, but this is as it meant to be. The plot involves him living out his teenage fantasy by changing a class of nerdy kids into 1980s style rock stars. The story is fun, ridiculous and there is a big enjoyable finale, where the crowd goes wild. The children play all their own instruments and their acting and singing is excellent.

This show is a real crowd pleaser, the whole audience was involved by the end and there was a standing ovation. The cynic in me saw a lack of narrative, did not see the ending as happy and felt a bit manipulated. However, I took a lesson that I learned from the “Book of Mormon” song “Turn it Off” and did just that.

Put away your critical eye, embrace your inner teenager, and you will enjoy it too!

The Jugged Hare, Barbican, London EC1

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This is a smart looking bar at the front with an attractive bright restaurant at the back. It was very busy at 5.30pm on a Tuesday when we were there, we would not have found a seat in the bar, but luckily we had a table booked in the restaurant. As you might expect from the name, the menu is very meat orientated, indeed, the only vegetarian main course is simply listed as “vegetarian” with no description – just a price.

We had the devilled plaice while we discussed the menu, nicely crisp but hardly any spiciness. We also had the dish of large olives, they were indeed large, they were nice but not particularly flavourful.

There are two types of hamburger on the menu, each made with a different breed of cow, the waiter was quite specific in enquiring which one we wanted, we had one of each but were not able to find much difference between them. They are quite expensive, but very substantial, both people who ordered them left half. I had the pork belly, which was unlike any pork belly I had had before, it was like a huge pork chop. However, it was very good and I forgot to enquire afterwards. The “vegetarian” dish was reportedly “fine”.

The hamburgers and the pork were all served on flat wooden boards, I thought we had moved on from this irritating fad, and they are totally impractical for a dish served with gravy.

The wine list has plenty of choice, the prices are at the high end for the quality. The service was excellent and it is very handy for the Barbican. Overall, it was good, without exactly setting the culinary world alight.

The Design Museum, Kensington High Street, London

 

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1970s Olivetti Advertisement at the Design Museum

 

The Design Museum has a new building on Kensington High Street. The setting is lovely, right on the edge of Holland Park. The building itself is, as you would expect, beautifully designed. The interior is bright and spacious, filled with indirect light, the curves of the roof are attractive, the stairs and levels of the building are cleverly arranged to describe a pleasing combination of form and function, the atrium widening as it rises, with built in seating among the stairs on the lower levels and along the walls, further up.

I like the way, that even now, when it is open and in use, it still has the look and feel of the architect design drawings that would have been put on show at its conception. It will be very interesting to see how the building ages, I have great hopes that the clean lines of the wood, marble and glass will hold the elegance that it has now.

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The free exhibition on the third floor is good too, larger and more interactive than it was in the old museum. It is still packed with examples of outstanding design and has many of the pieces that were on display in its old home on the South Bank. The exhibits include the design development of many common household items, for example clocks, phones and headphones from their earliest designs to current iterations.

It will also hold paid for exhibits, currently these are Love and Fear, and Imagine Moscow. However, the permanent exhibition is worth the trip even if you choose not to visit the chargeable offering.  If you go on a fine day, Holland Park is a very pretty park to walk through too, it is well maintained and has nice ordered gardens.

The new Design Museum with regard to its building, setting and free exhibits has to be regarded as a complete success.

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An Afternoon on the Bentota River, Bentota, Sri Lanka

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Seneka, our driver, said “I have a cousin who has a boat, for US$10 he will take you out on the river. For another US$10 his brother will show you everything and act as a guide. His English is very good. There is lots to see.” So, we agreed to go.

 

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Our boat arriving to pick us up

 

We had hardly left the shore when we saw a water monitor, at least two metres long, sunning herself in the garden of a riverside house. I was impressed. Our guide was less so “Water monitors, there are many, look in the trees” I looked up, indeed in the branches almost directly above our heads, there they were – just as big. I was less impressed and more nervous now. “Don’t worry” he said “They have no interest in people. Oh look! A chameleon.”

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And there it was, showing off, changing colour as we watched, becoming less green and more stick coloured as it moved away from the leaves. Dotted along the banks of the river were jetties, some with boats some without. One had a man sitting on it, with a baby crocodile beside him. “Is that a crocodile?” Michael asked. “Oh yes, it’s his pet”. We pulled up. “Would you like to hold him? It’s quite safe” The baby crocodile was thrust into Michael’s hands before he could refuse. I was secretly very pleased my hands were full with the camera at that point.

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“Will they keep him as a pet?” I asked. “Oh no, he will go away before he gets big, we will see very big ones soon” The river is wide but we stayed close to the edge because crocodiles like to be submerged in the shallow water and the shade, away from the afternoon sun. Michael had the camera again and was on the water side of the boat watching out for the crocodiles. I was on the side near the bank. I noticed the boat driver gesticulating at me. “Duck your head down low, now!” Michael said, in an ominously calm, yet urgent, tone of voice. I complied immediately. I looked back as I did so and I was confronted with a Green Vine Snake less than a foot away from my face.

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I paled, but I did not scream or jump out of the boat. I’m proud of that. Michael leant in  to take a photo. Our guide announced “It’s a Green Vine Snake; very pretty, but it is poisonous.” Michael leant away again. “It’s not interested in us, it mostly eats frogs and lizards.”  I obviously appeared horrified. “Oh look, Bee Catcher Birds” he said pointing upward.

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There were a pair in the tree above our head. They do actually eat bees, they pull out the sting and then eat the rest whole. These larger Blue Tailed Bee Catchers also eat wasps. The wasps in Sri Lanka can be very large and dangerous. His distraction worked. The snake was forgotten.

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The next strange thing was the shop, on stilts, in the middle of the river. Nothing near it, and no customers, but it was definitely a shop. It appeared to sell coconuts, fruit, soft drinks and boxed groceries. It seemed rude to question why it was there, so I didn’t ask. Soon after this we began to see the crocodiles. We saw four or five, but they were hard to photograph, partly because we didn’t want to go too near and partly because they stayed mostly submerged in the cool water – out of the warm sun.

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On the way back we saw Giant Fruit Bats. They really do look like the batman motif when they fly and they are surprisingly big.

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We took a shortcut through the mangrove forest on the way back, which was pretty but eerie. It made us very happy that we had remembered to use our mosquito repellent before we set off.

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We saw egrets, ducks and herons. We also saw a mongoose that was too quick for us to photograph. In total we spent about two hours on the water, we had a fantastic time. It was a great introduction to Sri Lanka, after all this was still our first day there.

Photos courtesy of Michael Jolly.

 

 

 

 

Brasserie Zedel, Piccadilly Circus, London.

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Here is a restaurant and bar complex with the Wow! factor. This really is a hidden gem. Its address is Piccadilly Circus because it is underneath it, but to find Brasserie Zedel, you need to stand on the corner between Regent Street and Shaftsbury Avenue and look up the narrower street between them. Its entrance is actually in Glasshouse street, you will see a few tables and chairs outside, under a red awning.  Enter the unassuming looking café with and descend the circular staircase and you will arrive at a subterranean vestibule that looks like the set of a 1950s French film.

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This alone is surprising, it has a number of  doors and passages off it. One for coats, one for toilettes, one with a dinner suited man inviting you to the Bar Americaine, a post WWII, French/American style cocktail bar. One of the doors leads to Brasserie Zedel, a huge opulent ornate dining room, replicating a high end Parisian restaurant from some more glamourous era.

The room is very big and it is decorated in pink marble, polished chrome and mirrors, which makes it seems even larger when you first enter. It is busy and noisy and you feel like you have stepped into some hidden world. It is hard to believe that you are beneath Piccadilly Circus.

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The menu is French, and in French but our waiter offered to translate, if we needed. The food is good, without being as spectacular as the surroundings. The prices are reasonable for central London and there appears to be some good value fixe price offers available. Despite its size, it is worth booking or there is a good chance that you will eat sitting at the bar, this is perfectly comfortable place to eat, but if you come here, you will want to get the full experience.

It has a nice wine and cocktail list, many good wines by the glass and wine by the bottle seemed good value for the quality. The service is good, although there are so many staff that you will be served by many different people on the one visit.

Our experience here has been good, and it is very handily situated if you are looking for somewhere to eat, either before or after the theatre.

The real reason to go here, however, is for the amazement of your party when you bring them into such an astonishing venue, so centrally located, in the heart of London.

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London City Airport, Silvertown, London

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If you are going for a short getaway, this is the place to fly from. It is 20 minutes on public transport from London Bridge to the check-in desks, and it is even less from the city. Once you arrive, unless you are unlucky, it will be no more than 10 minutes from station to airside. This airport really shortens your travel time, important if you are only having a few days away.

When you check in, try to get a window seat because the views of London from take off are spectacular.  The runway is straight in the direction of the city and the planes fly relatively low over town. This provides passengers with a better prospect of the London skyline than the London Eye, The Shard and the Skygarden combined.  If you are lucky enough to have an evening flight arriving into the airport, on your return, you will have an added bonus of the approach into London’s glittering city lights and the glistening river Thames. The takeoff and landing views are worthy of being a London attraction all by themselves.

All in all, London City Airport provides a truly premium experience and should be considered, if you are visiting London and planning a short side trip away.

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