Monthly Archives: February 2010

Bristol performs



Bristol performs, originally uploaded by still awake.

Graze, a comfy experience

Friday night in Bristol and it’s after 9 o’clock by the time a friend arrives to visit for the weekend. We stop off for a quick drink in the Big Chill Bar and they have just stopped serving food. We decide to try out El Puerto, a tapas bar opposite the Arnolfini, for some food although some friends have just gone for dinner at Graze. The Spanish restaurant is too full to even wait around for a table and we watch the couple in front of us get turned away. We pass by the helium balloons of the leaving party next to the door and head out and back to Queen Square to join the friends.

The time is after 10 by now and the group we join has just ordered but the staff at Graze are more than accommodating. They immediately move us all to a bigger table, ask if we all want to eat at the same time and with a slight encouragement for us to order soon they adjust and it all flows smoothly. Out of habit I order the house red and it turns out to be a light though not too mellow grenache, it was a nice selection. As a Bath Ale gastropub it seemed only suitable that three of the guys ordered the Gem Wild Hare (green label). The table was by the window and easily seated seven of us. The atmosphere was pleasant and even though Graze was nearly full there was no distraction from other noises.

Four sirloin steaks (£15.95) were ordered and there are six choices of sauce such as green peppercorns and brandy, port and Stilton, and a type of mustard sauce. I chose the Cornish Pollock (12.95) which came with curly leaf kale and some other red bits of salad.

One person ordered the duck breast and was very complimentary. The steaks were quite thick and cooked to personal taste and were served with a side of triple cooked chips.

I ordered some of the chips as well and they were very tasty. Not sure what the triple cooked part means but the chips have a thick crust and while they looked overdone they didn’t taste it.

Since we were so late to dinner we didn’t order a starter but I wasn’t willing to skip dessert. I don’t consider it a proper meal without at least two courses, preferably three. The last time I was at Graze it was for four hours on Christmas eve and my meal at that time was finished off with an amazing crème brulee. Surprisingly,the creamy custard part was slightly chilled and with a layer of mixed berries at the bottom. I wasn’t sure if I should be affronted at being tricked out of my usual favourite dessert but it was delicious. I hate to give away such an intriguing little surprise but it would be a shame to keep it secret.

Last night’s intriguing little version of the creme brulee was a banoffee one and it was served in a little pot with a smokier than usual burnt sugar crust. The delicious and delicate tasting toffee cream part sat on top of a layer of banana sweetness which was more fruit puree than syrupy goo. That is definitely going on my list of favourite desserts.

The cheese board that some friends ordered was incredibly varied, not only in terms of cheese but also a fun selection of bread and crackers.

Graze may not be the culinary extraordinary experience of places like Flinty Red or the Glassboat but it’s comfy and relaxing and the food tastes good. I think of it as a lovely choice right in the city centre and next to the beautiful Queen Square.

Graze, 63 Queen Square, Bristol BS1 4JZ, 0117 927 6706, graze@bathales.co.uk

Pink, purple, blue and yellow



Pink, purple, blue and yellow, originally uploaded by still awake.

Left over signs after the Bristol Half Marathon

Taking the fun out of hard work

My initial feeling at deciding to run a marathon was a quiet, bubbling, enthusiastic sense of excitement. Not for the completion or the success but mainly for the practice, the training and perseverance required. I pictured night after night of going out running around the harbour, towards the train station and around Queen Square, infrequently up at the Downs. Getting rained on, legs being elevated and iced, putting the hours in, eating right, lots of carbs, lots of water, those gel energy packs perhaps.

Mainly, what I envisaged was a lot of effort – physical effort. My intention was for my body to contribute a hell of a lot to this process and in return I would repay it with some tasty food and a sense of achievement.

Instead what I encountered was a month of barely running at all. After my first week of increased training my right knee hurt so much that I couldn’t walk up or down stairs properly and I couldn’t be out walking for more than 10 minutes without needing to limp and then going home to elevate and ice.

The physical exhaustion made no appearance and instead I started to lose all enthusiasm for anything. I found runners even more mesmerising than usual and all of a sudden everyone seemed to be out there and training. My sister would tell me about her runs and a friend would remind me of how she had increased her time on the treadmill. I, on the other hand, was not out there hitting the pavement, I was sitting, or more likely lying, at home working on my leg muscles. Intellectually I knew that this was a temporary setback and I was doing more good for myself in the long run. I would hopefully be harder, better, faster, stronger by the end of it all and even more excited about training.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, I encountered a real gap in my exercise regime which, once running was elminated, was reduced to bouts of walking around town and to the station. I stopped going to the gym because the only thing I wanted to do was go on the treadmill. Instead of leaping enthusiastically into the marathon lifestyle I dibbed and dabbed into bits and pieces of advice but on a piece-meal basis. I read and followed the advice by Steve Halsall and switched to eating a proper breakfast of porridge and some fruit. I read the occasional post on marathon training and took some comfort from similar injury stories from realbuzz.com. Mostly, however, I ignored it all and hoped it would go away. I slid into a softer physique and it wasn’t hard to extend the Christmas lifestyle into January and February.

I continued to do my exercises though and this week there was no pain at all in my knee. The Bath half-marathon is taking place on March the 7th and I was asked whether I wanted to try running it. The surge of happiness I felt was incredible and I felt a little more alive than normal. The physio/osteopath guy advised that there was always some risk and that if I wanted to play it entirely safe I could avoid the half and train just for the marathon (nope!). I asked what I should watch out for and he said that if I started to hurt enough to need to alter my running then this would be a cause for concern. Ultimately though there was no pain right now and I am back to training every other day.

I went out around the harbour yesterday and according to the little Garmin I only ran 3.48km and at a little over 6 minutes a km. A voice in my head kept saying, does that even count as a run? Yes it bloody well counts as a run!

Now I just need to raise £1000 for GAN but that’s another post for another day.

Fountain, excitement



Fountain, excitement, originally uploaded by still awake.

Taken in Barcelona, July 2009.

Ponyo, just magical

Ponyo is a wonderful tale of a love that moves heaven and earth and is as loud as the piercing exuberant scream of a five year old. There are two sides to this love and while the first is the risk-taking part where a whole lifestyle is sacrificed with boundless joy and excitement, the second is the practical and responsible love which is filled with determination and acceptance.

That’s the message that I understood from Hayao Miyazaki’s animated tale about Ponyo, a perky little goldfish who adventures on to land and is rescued by Sosuke, a 5-year-old boy who lives on a cliff above the ocean and promises to protect her always. Their friendship strikes in Ponyo a burning desire to become human, but the actions she takes to achieve her dream trigger a catastrophic tsunami that floods Sosuke’s village. How will they put the natural world back in balance? A visually wonderful, truly unique and charmingly gentle mix of fantasy, adventure and affection (Watershed).

The beautifully drawn and animated Ponyo has already won seven awards (including a BAFTA) and been nominated for more than 10. The English version is showing at the Watershed in Bristol until tomorrow evening. I’m looking forward to seeing the Japanese version as well.

Oh, and Mark Kermode loved it as well!

Watershed, 1 Canon’s Road, Harbourside, Bristol, BS1 5TX. 0117 927 5100, info@watershed.co.uk

Starting my day at La Bocqueria (July 2009)



Starting my day at La Bocqueria, originally uploaded by still awake.

Face to face with Mark Kermode

Mark Kermode is a film critic who expresses his opinions through many media such as his show on Radio 5 live, Friday 14:00 – 16:00, his film blog and other places such as the Observer. On Monday, 22 February, he was telling us all about it at the Watershed in Bristol where he was talking about his new book “It’s Only a Movie“.

In the same cinema last summer, I saw the movie Moon which was directed by David Bowie’s son (Bowie of Space Oddity fame et al) and screened in Bristol for the last time on a day with a lunar eclipse. The universe seems to rearrange itself with all sorts of synchronicities when it comes to favourite loved things. Mark Kermode told us that it was a shame that Moon didn’t get nominated for an Oscar and he went on to describe all the reasons it hadn’t been, such as the production company not backing it and no promotion being actively pursued. It won a BAFTA and is a great movie so this little bit of information was a welcome tidbit from the great reviewer. It all felt personal. Most things he said felt intimate and as if he was interacting and not broadcasting. It was easy to get involved with his gripping tales.

Some were fascinating enough on their own such as the great description of Werner Herzog being shot during an interview, accent added for our viewing pleasure, and the Helen Mirren story about calling the movie ‘The Queen’ a TV movie as opposed to one destined for the screen. The stories were interesting enough but what had me fascinated for over an hour and a half was Kermode himself. His accounts were gripping because he talked with a passion and a real determination. When he said that if you had an opinion you should be brave enough to say it to the person and put your name to it, I nodded in agreement. Whether I agreed with him or not I found myself fascinated by someone who was so direct in expressing himself. I edit and re-edit every thought at least three times and Kermode spoke harshly against qualifying things. He was funny and charming, personable and dynamic enough to stand in front of an audience for a while and keep everyone entertained.

I went off to dinner quite motivated and determined from then on to express pure, unadulterated opinions and lamented the lack of recognition of Moon. The movie with Sam Rockwell acting in diverse and brilliant modes is one of my favourites from the past year and one of the few I recognised from many of Kermode’s classic and cult references. The restaurant was the lovely Flinty Red and the atmosphere was quiet and subtle until it was time to go.

I put my jacket on and the twanging guitar from an acoustic grunge era started to distract me. Could that be Nirvana with a version of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World? I wondered in amazement. There was no eclipse on Monday night but the universe was still there rallying around and making itself heard. Maybe I was just looking for signs but the song was quite an unexpected validation of my opinion that Kermode sold it all very well, face to face, when he talked of was and when. What else could I do, I made my way back home.

Update (27-02-10): A friend reminded me that Mark Kermode promised to come back to the Watershed and literally eat his shoe if David Lynch ever made a 3D movie. Let’s see!

Anchor Rd



Anchor Rd, originally uploaded by still awake.

Flinty Red, an adventure

I don’t even know why I was so excited about Flinty Red but I was nearly tripping to Cotham Hill last night. Admittedly, half the semi-skips up Park St were shuffle-and-hops to keep up with my longer legged companion, he of the “are you sure you don’t want to go to Nando’s” wit. He was joking of course and in fact the restaurant was his selection. However, I had read some great reviews of the food and I couldn’t wait. If he hadn’t been joking I would have chosen the restaurant over him with little hesitation.

Flinty Red was a subtle, intriguing, exhalation of understated elegance. The table had a dark chocolate polished surface that was almost, but not quite, warm to the touch. The wine glasses were clear and large enough to allow a fair measure to be poured, whilst leaving enough room for the wine to be gently swirled. The setting was quiet and we were the only two people in there for most of the time. We were dining on a Monday, however, and two days previously they were fully booked for Saturday night.

The menu was divided into categories such as raw/pickled/salad and cured/smoked/preserved. We had tapenade and toast from the first group a salchichon Iberico with nutmeg from the second. The dark olive tapenade was light and delicious with flecks of caper, and an accompaniment of fragrant garlic-flavoured oil on toasted bread.

I understood little of the food menu and even less of the wine one. Since the owners also run Corks of Cotham, the independent wine merchants just a few doors down the street, the selection was vast and fascinating (no Merlot in the condensed list that I saw). This dinner was much closer to an adventure and the waitress was more than helpful, and definitely necessary, in explaining different dishes and providing a recommendation for the wine selection. The Portuguese red Dos Roques (£25) was a pleasure to drink and a lovely accompaniment to the five dishes of various sizes. The plate of salchichon Iberico and nutmeg was a delicacy and the incredible pumpkin and chestnut ravioli was served in a portion of three with a butter sauce.

The grilled beef dish was presented sliced and with colourful swede, and hispi cabbage accompaniments. The meat was served so rare that the dark hue was not unlike the fresh pomegranate presented with a separate quail dish. All of it was wonderful and the olive oil served with the bread was peppery with a deep flavour while tasty enough not to need a balsamic addition.

I chose the crème brûlée for dessert while he opted for the forced rhubarb, meringue and Seville orange curd. The crème brûlée’s vanilla cream was thick and silky with a delicate crispy burnt sugar covering, while the rhubarb treat was sweet, sharp and heavenly. The dinner experience made me feel like a tourist and the service was discreet and friendly. This wasn’t an inexpensive dinner but the price was evident in the quality of the food. As my beautifully eloquent companion phrased it, “it’s not beans on toast, is it?”. Not even close.

You’ll find the restaurant at 34 Cotham Hill, Bristol, BS6 6LA.
Telephone number: 0117 9238 755, email: info@flintyred.com, http://www.flintyred.com/