01 June 2015

May Favourites

I was out of the country for the first half of May, but managed to pack a fair amount in to the latter half, catching up with friends back in London. Here are some things that tickled my fancy this month.

1. The Riding House Café. When I lived in Marylebone, I used to go to this chic and colourful Fitzrovia bistro fairly regularly, but the past few times I've tried to go, it was booked up way in advance. We did, however, get lucky and score a table for a girls' brunch on Saturday. I've had the burger there many times and it's great, but I was in more of a brunch mood and went for the avocado benedict: poached eggs with hollandaise sauce over smashed avocado on a toasted muffin. It was, of course, delicious. Most of the cocktails are riding-themed, in line with the restaurant's name, and I ordered the Horse Whisperer: gin, apple liqueur, rhubarb bitters, ginger and egg white. What a nice way to spend a sunny Saturday!

2. Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami. Thirty-something Tsukiko bumps into her former high-school Japanese teacher in a small Tokyo bar one night. Both are lonely and a tentative friendship develops between the two of them. Not much more happens in Kawakami's novel, but it is so atmospheric, tender, beautifully written and funny. For anyone who has ever visited Tokyo, this story will evoke the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Japan's enchanting capital city.

3. Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Partly because Strange Weather in Tokyo put me back in a Japan frame of mind and partly because it's mentioned most weeks in the advertorial segments of several podcasts at the moment, I decided to check out David Gelb's excellent documentary on Netflix. The eponymous Jiro is the head chef at a three-Michelin-starred sushi restaurant in Tokyo's Ginza district and the film explores what it takes to rise to the top of a hugely competitive industry. In particular, Jiro's lifelong devotion to becoming really, really good at one single thing is fascinating and inspiring. We meet Jiro's two sons — one of whom still works under him and one of whom now has his own restaurant — as well as critics, suppliers and customers. I wish I'd known about Jiro's restaurant when I visited Tokyo, although getting a reservation is very hard, as it sounds like it would be an unforgettable meal.

4. K Place. My brother and sister-in-law lived in Korea for a couple of years, where they met while teaching English. As such, they are the experts in our group of friends on the most authentic Korean BBQ in London. We've always enjoyed going to The Old Justice, a pub serving Korean food near Bermondsey Station, but they have now relocated to Monument and rebranded as K Place (I thought The New Old Justice would be better). They officially open today but we went a couple of weeks ago during their soft launch. The prices are, unfortunately, more in keeping with its new City location and the only soft-launch discount was off the all-you-can-eat buffet, but the food was even better and still pretty good value. We ate our fill of beef bulgogi, pork and sides, with a few beers and some soju for about £25 per head. They don't seem to have a website or anything yet but you can find them at: 1 St Mary at Hill, London, EC3R 8EE (tel: 020 7621 0002).

5. Mad Men series finale. There are only a few TV shows that I have watched at the time of first broadcast and from the beginning throughout their run: Friends, Dawson's Creek, Gossip Girl and now Mad Men. When Matthew Weiner's show made its début in 2007, it quickly became my favourite show, and while it didn't pioneer the antihero, Jon Hamm's Don Draper managed to be charismatic, compelling, mysterious and intensely frustrating in equal measures. When The Good Wife arrived on the scene in 2009, that soon took over as my favourite show, but I still loved watching Mad Men each week. It's the very definition of 'slow burner' but the attention to detail, the fine acting performances and the flawed but complex characters kept drawing me back, even during the weaker fifth and sixth seasons when there seemed to be too many characters for the small seasons.

I was also annoyed by the decision to split the last season into two halves, but the second-half of season seven was really good and although the ending wasn't perfect, it was very fitting and gave viewers perhaps more resolution than they might ever have hoped for. If you haven't watched the show, I would recommend giving it a try, but I do suggest that you don't binge-watch. A few of my friends quickly burned out by trying to watch too many episodes in one go; slow burners are definitely more enjoyable if you don't rush them. Mad Men, I'm going to miss you!

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