Tag Archives: review

Severnshed, Review

The view from the Severnshed is one of the loveliest in Bristol and it held my gaze for most of the evening although it was mainly the smokers who enjoyed the fresh air on the balcony. The lounge / bar area to the left of the entrance is suffused with warm lighting in a comforting dark wood environment. The restaurant to the right is spacious and has a similar set of doors that look out towards the floating harbour and the houses on Redcliffe.

The Severnshed changed owners in March 2010 to the same people who own Coal Grill and Bar at Cabot Circus although apparently the staff stayed in place. Monday night provided an opportunity to sample the new wine menu and some new dishes. There were four of each and I expect they were either chosen for their differences in order to demonstrate the range of the kitchen or because they were the best of what was available. I’m hoping it was the former.

The first combination was lime and chilli king prawn skewers seasoned with just salt and pepper, accompanied by an Australian Riesling. The prawns are on the starter menu for £6.95 and they were quite under seasoned with no hints of citrus or spice. In contrast, the pineapple addition to the skewer was juicy and had a just barbecued, sweetly grilled flavour. The wine, of which I had a taste was pleasant and chilled enough.

This was followed by chorizo with garlic oil accompanied paired with a rose cabernet sauvignon tempranillo. The spicy sausage flavoured with paprika was thickly cut, full of flavour and the best dish of the four. The rose had a nice colour and was suitable for the dish. The cost of the dish at the restaurant is £4.50 for a small dish or £11 for three dishes out of a selection.

The lobster risotto had an actual piece of lobster which was cooked from fresh. Sadly the dish was slightly under seasoned and the parmesan cheese added a gloopiness to the very well cooked rice which was interesting if not actually useful. I’ve had better risotto so not sure how happy I would have been with the menu price of £11.95 for the slight blandness which was served.

The last taste was a dish of beef on skewers in meatball sized portions. I managed one of mine but it took so long to chew that I didn’t bother with the second one. It was served with a more robust merlot red wine which was nice enough and could have been a good choice for a meal.

For most people the highlight of the evening seemed to be the service and the cocktail served at the start. For me it was the atmosphere and the view although the latter was slightly marred by the blackboard by the balcony doors which had a list of drink prices. At £4.50 for a pint of Westons Organic Cider it would have made an expensive round for two. This slightly spoiled any thoughts of a future visit although the chorizo promises that there may be some hidden treats on the menu. Despite the waterfront location, seafood was not a winner on this beautiful evening.


Inception (3), follow up from Xen

Xen and I have been discussing Inception and this is the third part posted on Ephemeral Digest. The sequence of posts is as follows: Ephemeral Digest review, Xenlogic analysis and review, Ephemeral Digest follow-up post, reply by Xen from the Xenlogic site.

Ok, now that I’ve gotten to a proper PC, please bear with me. This is kinda long:

I thought your insights on the movie’s failures were rather deep and thought provoking. Yet, I somehow felt that they lacked a bit of sensitivity to the novelty of the material within the context it was used. For example, this:

Joanna:The idea that we find ourselves in the middle of situations in dreams and that they are circular, is not a profound one, it is merely reality (pun intended).

…would have been new to just about anyone who has not:

Joanna:studied dreams in [a] philosophy course at university and did some lucid dreaming practise at one point as well.

…which I imagine is the vast majority of Inception’s audience. It would be tantamount to me berating the Wachowski brothers for being unimaginative in how they pulled off the Matrix Trilogy (which we both seem to have a passion for 😉 ) because their cyberpunk interpretation of Descartes was just for the sake of imitating cool Japanimé special effects.

Have you seen Masamune Shirow’s “Ghost in the Shell“? Have you ever read William Gibson’s “Neuromancer“? If you had, then you’d have been equally as critical of The Matrix. None of the lines you’ve quoted from that movie were any more novel to anyone who has watched that Japanese Animation film or read Gibson’s book. All the Wachowski brothers did, was to merge two popular genres into a third one and create a whole new sub genre of Science Fiction in Film.

Chris Nolan’s Inception does exactly the same thing. In fact, you’d be surprised at how often Quentin Tarantino rips off Hong Kong cinema as he did with Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs – but I digress. I think you get the idea.

I can understand why you felt disappointed, but it hardly detracts from the quality of the film. We all have our individual influences and tastes – but that hardly means that our disappointment with the originality in a work of art means that it is any less well rendered. Wouldn’t you say?

Joanna:The scene at the cafe where Cobb asks Ariadne ‘how they got there’ is largely redundant for us because we also don’t know how they got there. We accept that in movies, fiction, theatre etc, there need to be stage breaks and we need to jump into other scenes with the same believability.

You’re missing the point of the dialog in that scene. The audience also doesn’t know that they’re dreaming – and neither does Ariadne, hence duplicating the exact same effect as if one were dreaming. 😉

Joanna:A teenage girl offering profound insight and saving the day (her name was a cheap shot) is a device found in comic books in teenage male worlds (correct me if I’m wrong but it screams of Manga more than Charles Dickens).

There are immediately two problems with this critique:

1. Most people wouldn’t have figured that the name Ariadne is significant to the plot (just as how most people still don’t realise that the name “Thomas Anderson” was significant to the plot of the Matrix) – at least not unless they Googled it.

2. A black man providing profound insight (as is in The Matrix) is not exactly Shakespeare either (forgive me for not using “Dickens” in the same context). Have you ever heard of a plot device called “The Magical Negro“? (a la Spike Lee) The Wachowskis exploit this wantonly and indiscriminately. So did Robert Redford in The Legend of Bagger Vance. That it’s a plot device from other material doesn’t mean that:

Joanna:Nolan’s storytelling is weak and his devices are weaker.

It only means that the storytelling recycles plot devices – which every great movie / novel / story is guilty of – every single one of them.

Joanna:I liked that one although in the context of the movie it becomes a cheap didactic shot at the idea that we try to escape reality to find happiness or at least Cobb is doing so.

I respectfully disagree. It only appears to be cheap because it lacks novelty. I too am familiar with the quote, but I would hardly berate Nolan for his choice. For while it does ring a bell for me, the film doesn’t lose its intrinsic effect of selling to the audience that it’s all a dream. The director needs the audience to make that connection for the movie to have its desired effect, whether or not we’re familiar with the source material. I see movie critics make this kind of mistake all the time. No one has ever done a movie like this and used that quote in the way it was to achieve the effect it was designed for – and thus, the effect achieves its goal, whether or not we’re scholars of the source material.

Joanna:So dream / reality distinctions aren’t that hard once you start along this path although it was a nod towards the same argument that Descartes uses in his Meditations.

I agree – ONCE YOU START ALONG THIS PATH – which is the KEY distinction here. How many people seeing Inception even know that such a path exists? Hmm? 😉 If you don’t know the path exists, how do you know where you’re going in the first place? You can’t know that you’re going somewhere unless you know where you’re going. It’s a catch 22 – and that’s precisely why the plotwise design achieves its desired effect.

Joanna:I didn’t believe it then because I know you can tell the difference.

True, but the point of the film is that Cobb can make this distinction up to a point. The idea behind Inception is that once you’re deep enough, you can accept a reality such that it becomes reality, because you no longer remember what the key distinctions between dreaming and reality even are.

Joanna:However, in movies like the Matrix, the storytelling doesn’t have to worry about ignorant fears such as ‘oh no, what if I’m stuck in a dream’, it realises that there are bigger issues such as the reality in which we are dreaming. What if that is fake?

AAH! But Inception asks that VERY same question! That’s what the final shot was for! 😉

Joanna on The Matrix (1999), Morpheus:What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can hear, what you can smell, taste and feel, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.

By the same opening logic of your post, I wouldn’t call that profound. I would quote that as Rene Descartes! See where I’m coming from? All of the other profound quotes you used suffer from the same fallacy. By this reasoning, we are inadvertently rendering what is “profound” as being synonymous with “novel”!

I will admit though, Joanna, Agent Smith had some really good lines. 😀 My personal favourite:

Agent Smith:I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.

Now that, my dear, is AWESOME!

Joanna:Nolan seems to ignore the storytelling rule of “show don’t tell”.

That perception may only be a function of exposure. For if that were true, then how do you explain why so many people were confused about what the final shot meant? It was pretty blatantly obvious to me (and to you as well). But most other folks were like “WTF?!” LOL! Do you think if that final shot wasn’t there, that you’d have re-examined the rest of the film and thought it was all a dream?

Joanna:He wrote weak dialogue and weak characters on purpose?

OMG! And yet you forget that last scene in Limbo where Cobb says that his projections of his wife, Mal, are only a shadow of her former self? C’mon! Don’t tell me you missed that! That’s a key part of the puzzle! 😀

Joanna:Excellent point that the totem at the start of the movie doesn’t fall down but then we know that it’s a dream because the children are there.

The children weren’t in that scene. The children were shown very briefly as a part of a series of flashbacks near that scene. I think you DO need to see it again! 😀

Joanna:Not sure that his subtle foreshadowing works well alongside the obvious one of ‘who would want to be stuck in a dream for 10 years’.

Excellent point! BUT, 90% of the film’s audiences didn’t get that! Where you say Nolan wasn’t subtle, they would say he was being too vague! LOL!

Joanna:A big problem I have with the story is that once we know that he is trying to escape reality (he is the only one who doesn’t want to distinguish between reality and dreams, everyone else has a totem) there is nowhere else for the story to go.

That’s amazing. Would you believe me if I told you that Michael Phillips made exactly the same criticism of The Matrix (1999)? Word for word even!

You should become a professional movie critic (if you aren’t already). No joke. I think you’re good enough for it.

Joanna:He had to escape into a dream and the story had to follow this particular arc because there was no other storyline.

Again, you’re missing the point. The audience would not have known that without the final shot. The final shot is what makes all the difference.

Joanna:I like the idea that it might have been reality but you don’t leave much room for it in your analysis.

If it was reality, then all of your criticisms of the story would be flawless and Inception would be a rip off.

Joanna:Why call her Mal though which means evil or bad?

A plot device – similar to the one where the architect is called Ariadne. But in this particular case, it was a part of a trick meant to convince the audience into thinking that she is a villain, when if fact, she is Cobb’s only hope.

Joanna:However it was quite creative and enjoyable at times.

– hence, “cleverly written“. But I concede to your point. Perhaps I could’ve worded that differently. Maybe “cleverly conceived“?

Joanna:The idea of inception itself isn’t one that I find particularly original.

…and that was the whole point of my original rebuttal and why we’re having this most entertaining discussion! 😀

Joanna:Also, one last point: how sitcom and soap opera-like were those glances that the other characters give him when he passes customs? Was that really needed?

LOL! Yes, even I can admit that was a tad over done – but only for the likes of us. The rest of the audience gobbled it up though. Remember, the movie needs to make money! If all audiences were as perceptive, Hollywood would go bankrupt! lol!

Do you do any other movie reviews? I’d love to read them. Actually, I love the way you write – period. It’s very deep, provocative and satisfying. So I’ve taken the liberty to follow you up on Twitter. I’m going to plough through the rest of your blog. Great stuff, Joanna. I love your mind. 🙂


Fishers, a seafood restaurant in Clifton

There are two Fishers restaurants, one opened in Oxford in 1995 and the second in Clifton, Bristol, in 2001. The second location was the setting of our dinner on Saturday and 11 of us gathered to celebrate two birthdays.

The restaurant interior is designed in a nautical theme: ventilator pipes, sails on the celings, ships lanterns – even the kitchen doors have portholes. The seafood theme is so consistent that it even surrounded the clientele from the walls.

The dominance of seafood on the menu was not surprising but there were a couple of vegetarian dishes as well. The starters included a seafood soup, scallops, 0.5kg of mussels with white wine sauce, deep fried brie and oysters.

A friend and I shared a starter of battered tiger prawns with a soy dipping sauce. £6.95. Crispy thick batter around sizeable chunky prawns made the portion of five seem just right for two. The soy dipping sauce was thick and had a hint of ginger.

Bread. Nice white bread, tasted even better when dipped into the soy dipping sauce.

I had the beer battered haddock with chips, mushy peas and gherkin for my main course. £10.50.

The reference to the gherkin is misleading, by the way. They forgot to mention that it would be found within the tartare sauce. The sauce, with the specially referenced gherkin, was enjoyable, light and tangy.

It was a large portion of fish and chips. Bright green mushy peas were silky and lumpy and most fun. I think the chips were triple cooked for they were similar to the ones at Graze. Not crispy or soggy.

That’s about it for my dining choices and they were all very nice. The part that I’ve left for last however is something that I didn’t try but appeared to be the most wonderful thing that could be found on any menu. The dessert chosen by the person next to me was the Vaspretto, a scoop of organic vanilla ice cream, a shot of amaratto and a shot of espresso. In other places this is called an affogato, “drowned”, and at Flinty Red it was served with Calvados and vanilla ice cream, or PX and Maple and Walnut ice cream. £7 for either.

At Fishers the dessert cost £4.65 and there was only one option of ice cream. I’m not sure why the name is different. I’ve only been able to find it referred to Vaspretto at the Fishers restaurants and while it looked amazing I didn’t try it.

I’m not sure which restaurant I’d prefer to visit for the dessert but it will probably be Flinty Red. Fishers was very nice and enjoyable but I wasn’t exactly blown away. It’s a place I would take family rather than a date and it’s pretty specific about its menu choices. The seafood theme is not misleading at all.

The service was great and surprising at the same time. Prompt delivery of food was completed with one member of our party not receiving his main for an additional seven minutes. His sole had been forgotten. Our waiter put up with our loud chatter, and delays in ordering, beautifully. However, just a few minutes later he was loudly taken to task for delivering a glass of wine five minutes late. I’m inclined to believe that the gentleman diner was at fault, but even though our entire table went instantly silent, we didn’t hear much more.

A very pleasant evening for the celebration of lovely friends but it was no Rockfish or LFR. The choice was just right and casual enough for us to be left undisturbed even after everyone else in the restaurant had left. That was at 10.30 and as we walked past the still half-full Zizzi it felt a little early for the staff to be sweeping up. A good time for me to head home though while the rest went to the pub. It worked well.

35 Princess Victoria Street, Clifton Village, Bristol BS8 4BX, Tel: 0117 974 7044, Opening Times: Mon – Sun Lunch 12-2.30 and Dinner 6-10.30 (Sun 10)

Folk House Cafe, Bristol

In the last few years, my experience of visiting the Folk House has been one of walking through the alleyway off Park St, walking into the little concrete garden, noting that there was no one about and then walking swiftly out again. I must have done it three or four times so this time I became determined I would stay and eat something.

The cafe reminds me of some type of school / Uni / community centre dining room where it all feels casual and affordable. The best dressed person in there is a teenager who is in his school uniform still wearing his blazer.

There is a coffee and muffin deal for £2.70 and the choice is either apple and almond or raspberry and banana. I opt for the first and note that the cakes are more of the cup size than muffins and have no icing.
The tables are covered in easy to clean vinyl tablecloths. There is a little ant on mine who keeps trying to find something exciting but to no avail. It walks up to my mug of black coffee and back towards the edge of the table again.

The ‘muffins’ are quite airy and more sugary than fluffy but that’s probably the almond part. I have two poached eggs on toast (buttered) (£3.50) and they are quite nice but there is no visible salt and I don’t ask for any. They already have a little bit of pepper added.

The breakfast was lovely enough and the environment pleasant with the uni students next to me reading the Guardian. I didn’t mind it but nothing particularly stood out although it does seem to offer a lot more than just food and beverages. There is a board by the door outside the cafe where a whole host of activities are listed for all hours of the days of the week. Dancing, writing, cooking, poetry, singing and lots more. The community feel to the cafe may be better explained as a consequence of all the other activities going on. At least I managed to visit this time and stay for a while. Next time I’ll have to take part as well.

40a Park Street, Bristol BS1 5JG, 0117 926 2987 http://www.bristolfolkhouse.co.uk/

Dogtooth, a reflection

A couple of warnings about Dogtooth, stay until the end and don’t get lost in the content. The synopsis describes it as a film about a dysfunctional family where the parents keep the children away from outside influence in a utopian setting. A slow breakdown of this reality ensues when the father brings in someone to satisfy his son’s sexual needs.

This Greek movie is a powerful examination (and I do mean slammed against the wall and then struggle to catch your breath kind of powerful) of relationships and what holds people together.

This blog has moved. Read the rest of the review at this link.

Dogtooth is screening at the Watershed in Bristol until May 6.

Alphabeat, Bristol

Two location changes saw Alphabeat‘s gig move from the green and prettily located Anson Rooms in Clifton, down to the centre and then to the back-of-an-industrial-estate feel of Bedminster. Through an alleyway, in the rain, I made my way to Fiddlers and got there eight minutes early. He arrived eight minutes late which gave me plenty of time to absorb all the smoking going on around the door and note with interest a car pull up with a young woman driver. She offers to sell two tickets and then gives them away after mentioning she had won them on the radio. Two girls rather indifferently take said tickets and then use them to get out of the rain rather than wait for their friends who had theirs.

My ticket’s arrival in the pocket of my beautifully luminous friend saw us make our way into a much more pleasant setting. Fiddlers was small enough to let us get quite close to the stage and at the same time spacious enough to host six or seven tables on one side, a large bar in the middle (cash only) and a stage with a setup that provided a pretty great sound.

This latest Bristol gig for the Danish band was six months to the day (and date) since they last entertained us at the Thekla. The supporting acts last night were Pearl and The Puppets and Eliza Dolittle. I heard the strains of the first act when I was out by the front but only really caught Eliza’s act properly. The soulful, coffee shop jazz was wonderfully melodious with the aid of a guitarist/ukulele player and a double bass. I loved the music which could have just as easily set the mood for drinking whiskey in a smoky, dark, little room with a saxophone just out of sight but winced at some of the contemporary lyrics about banisters and poles and skinny jeans. Fusion cultural offering at its best and probably easy to get used to once I give it another try.

Quality in small doses was obvious with the next band as well who were of course the main act. Friends were surprised that the venue was so small for such a big act although at the time it all seemed just right.

Anders and Stine were friendly and social in between songs taken from their last two albums. Fantastic six kicks off the night and Stine tells us that it is the last night of their tour. They cover songs such as Hole In My Heart, Chess and Heatwave from the new album The Beat Is. The latter song is quietly appropriate as the music venue keeps getting hotter during the night. I looked up to see whether there were any heating vents but apparently it was just the enthusiasm of the crowd. Anders needed a towel and his enthusiastic loping dancing was a little more muted as he dripped with sweat. With a towel around his neck he was still energetic enough to sing Touch Me,Touching You, Go Go and 10,000 Nights of Thunder.

As at the previous show, the end came way too fast and with Stine announcing their last song, my equally dismayed friend looked down on me and prophetically said but they haven’t played the Spell, DJ or Fascination. So then they did. The latter two were brilliant encores. To be seconds away from such fortune telling was quite impressive although it was all a bit forgotten when Anders threw his towel in to the crowd to excited and disappointed gasps (mine for being too far!).

The crowd was a mix of younger afficionados of skinny jeans, older shuffling dancers, joyful vivacious lovely blonde girls and some sportily attired fans. I’m sure that everyone walked out feeling cheerier than when they came in out of the grey, rainy evening. A later curfew at Fiddlers meant the walk home was at a time closer to midnight than 10pm and through the edge of Bedminster rather than the prettily lit Queen Square. However it was nice to be so close to a charming band although the location and heating may be a reason that it was available at such short notice for the band’s last change. No complaints though as it was a fantastic band which provided for a fascinating evening.

Thai Classic, Whiteladies Rd

Just over a year ago I went speed dating at the downstairs bar at Channings in Clifton. Each date lasted around four minutes. The 20 women stayed at their allocated table and the men moved around the room. I found it amazing how much you could pick up about people from such a short space of time. Someone would sit down and the atmosphere would all be sucked away, just like that. One guy sat, exhaled, looked curiously upwards and had nothing to say. That was a very slow date. To make some conversation I started asking questions and one of them was ‘what restaurants do you like in Bristol?’ A couple of guys said they didn’t go to restaurants (!) and three others mentioned Thai Classic.

The surprising thing was that it was the first time I had heard of the Thai restaurant on Whiteladies Rd and I was probably one of the last people to discover it. Thai Classic is half way up Whiteladies and in one of the slightly sunken restaurants. The place was made up of two cosy and cluttered rooms that looked like they’d done a lot of living before we arrived. The atmosphere was pleasant and there was a special dinner menu which was a three course meal and a glass of wine or beer for £15 each. A great price. We thought we’d share starters and we chose chicken satay, satay gai, and goong sarong which was king prawns wrapped in pancake.

I really liked the satay dip which was served on the side and tasted like it was made with some coconut milk. My companion liked it but wasn’t as impressed by the meat which was quite soft. The portions were ample with six chicken skewers and five wrapped king prawns.

For our mains, my friend ordered the chicken green curry (gang kia wan gai) and I chose the pad thai. My dish was casual and delicious although there was a lot of care taken with the presentation. There were some spices on the side of the plate which could be mixed in at my discretion. There was salt, sugar and perhaps chilli or paprika.

There was a great texture to the pad thai noodles, as if they’d been griddled in addition to being boiled. Very tasty. The chicken green curry was also nice but nothing extra fantastic.

The house white wine was pleasant and tasted like a pinot grigio with its slightly honeyed taste. The third course was dessert and they didn’t have my favourite sticky rice pudding with mango. I had pumpkin and coconut custard instead which was lovely. My friend had pancake with a coconut filling. Both were delicious and we’d finished the dishes before I remembered to take any photos.

The food was fun, pleasant and tasty and the price was a bargain. I’ll definitely be going back although the one thing that didn’t quite work brilliantly was the speed of service. The friendliness was slightly offset by the slowness of the delivery. We didn’t spend two hours there on a Wednesday night because we were enjoying each other’s company. The speed dating had paid off and given me something new to try and I was pleased. While the night out was a casual one, the two hours were spent in a more comfortable atmosphere than Channings last year, the only thing that was missing was the speed. It wasn’t much of a loss though.

Thai Classic, www.thaiclassic.co.uk, 87 Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2NT, 0117 973 8930