Category Archives: Clubbing

To Be A Pirate King

After the signing on Saturday, Izzi and I rushed off to complete my pirate costume. Pirate costume? Perhaps I should explain.

You see, on Wednesday, my good chum Tiny Emma, who is well versed in the ways of debauchery, invited me along to an event held by an organisation known as Corset and Diamonds. This, I was told, was a burlesque-and-electro-swing evening themed around Pirates of the Caribbean, which is a film that I understand enjoyed a certain amount of success a few years ago.

Unfortunately, I’m currently rehearsing for a play that is on next week (you should come and see it, it’s going to be awesome) and so the amount of time available to produce a suitable outfit was somewhat limited. So, a certain amount of improvisation was needed. I decided a little research was in order.

Of course, it almost goes without saying that most of what we think of as “piratical” is more-or-less BS, invented by fiction writers, based on misunderstandings and half-truths, reinforced by years of retelling. For -instance, you know the old pirate voice, the “ha-harrr, Jim lad, splice the mainsail, keelhaul the mizzen-mast, belike and by thunder!” accent? That dates all the way back to 1950, derived from Robert Newton’s performance as Long John Silver in Disney’s version of Treasure Island. Now, there was some truth in his performance – he was a Cornishman by birth and based the accent on the sailors he used to see. But the near-universal Mummerset growl of Hollywood movies was nowhere near as prevalent as you might think. Particularly given that so many pirates were, you know, not English.

And you know the Jolly Roger, the black flag with the skull-and-crossbones? Again, nowhere near as common as the movies would have you believe. More common was the plain black flag, or the plain red flag. They both indicated that this ship was not part of any navy and therefore not obliged to follow any niceties of international law, and if you’d like to surrender now then I’m sure you’ll save us all a lot of bother. Most common of all, however, was to simply fly the colours of whatever country you were pretending to be from until the other ship was too near to run. This would arouse less suspicion than having, you know, a flag that basically says “HELLO WE ARE PIRATES” from a distance. Of course, for the pirate with a sense of style, an off-the-peg skull-and-crossbones wouldn’t do, and many prominent buccaneers went with a custom design. I rather like Blackbeard’s one, pictured below. By the way, the red flag was also commonly known as the “jolie rouge,” from which we get the term “Jolly Roger.” So there you have it.

But what about clothes? Your basic pirate costume seems to come in two forms. You’ve either got the foppish Captain Hook-style outfit, very elaborate, lots of brass buttons, or you’ve got the raggedy seadog look.

The reality, in fact, lay somewhere between the two extremes. Pirates did indeed like to dress up, they were basically the pimps of the sea in sartorial terms. But commonly, the elaborate clothes they were able to get were stolen. So you might get a seadog acting the foppish macaroni in the coat several sizes too large, tottering along in shoes a size too small.

However, your average sailor was also pretty handy with a needle and thread – they had to be, with sail repairs to be made. So they could rustle up their own clothes if needs be. And if a recent haul included silk, lace or other fancy cloth, those clothes could be extremely… do people still say “bling?” Am I using that word correctly?

So the conclusions I drew:

1. There is a lot of freedom, the only limits on an authentic costume being period accuracy.

2. The party is tomorrow and I don’t have much money, throw something together.

So, what I went with:

Shirt: They all laughed at me when I bought a frilly white shirt at the Stables in Camden, but WHO’S LAUGHING NOW? It came from that basement stall run by that rather theatrical-looking woman.

Trousers: I don’t own any breeches, sadly. There is a shop in Camden that has a lot of theatrical costume, including several pairs of breeches, but these were around the £35-40 mark, which was a bit much for me. However, in the Paws charity shop in Tooting I found a pair of black trousers. I hacked the legs off below the knee to create a raggedy look that might, if you didn’t look too closely, pass for breeches.

Waistcoat: I have a rather elaborate and shiny red waistcoat with brass and mother-of-pearl buttons. The style is a bit too modern for the Golden Age of Piracy, but with it worn open this wasn’t too noticeable. Just the sort of thing a dandy sailing lad might steal from a fat unarmed merchantman.

Footwear: If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from years of amateur dramatics, it’s that if you wear a pair of breeches and a pair of long socks, nobody can tell you’re not wearing stockings. Shoe-wise, I just wore my trusty black Oxford brogues. Ideally I’d have liked a buckle, but I didn’t have any.

Headgear: At Izzi’s suggestion, I picked up a black bandanna from a stall in Oxford Street. I also managed to get a brown tricorn at So High Soho on Berwick Street which looked a lot more elaborate than its price tag would suggest. The shop was closing for the day, but they let me dash in, which was cool of them. Incidentally, do you have any idea how hard it is to get a decent pirate hat that is both affordable and doesn’t look crap? Very hard.

Accessorising:  Primark really came through here. I found a cheapo pendant for £1.50 in the Tooting branch along with a battered-looking brown belt which was free because the guy on the till forgot to ring it through har har. I also added a couple of pocket watches and two more pendants to give the whole ensemble that more-plunder-than-sense look. The finishing touch was a sword from Escapade in Camden.

I met up with Anna K and we made our way to the party. I think the outfit was pretty successful, it was reacted to favourably at the event. It also seemed to make the hobo outside Colliers Wood Tube Station quite angry, but I don’t speak derelict so I couldn’t tell you why. On the way back I had a number of drunks shouting “Captain Jack Sparrow!” which would be quite witty, only I actually was deliberately dressed as a pirate, so not really.

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The Need for Speed

It just so happened that last night Yr. Humble Chronicler was presented with an opportunity to have dinner at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall. Such exalted circles I move in. The RAC may be familiar to you as a breakdown service. In fact, this is a spin-off of the main organisation, which is a gentleman’s club started to campaign for motorists’ interests.

The dinner for which I managed to wangle an invite was ‘Land Speed Legends,’ themed – as you might guess – around the Land Speed Record. The guest speakers were Don Wales, of the Campbell record-breaking dynasty, and Richard Noble, responsible for the successful Thrust record attempts in the 1980s and 90s.

Despite not being much of a petrolhead myself, and not even remotely a follower of motorsport, I do take an interest in the Land Speed Record. I think it might be because it’s one of the last remnants of that spirit of exploration that died out some time in the second half of the 20th century. With the globe mapped out and with humanity having got as far as the moon, there seem to be so few boundaries left to cross.

I think it’s also one of the few areas of engineering in which Britain still excels – decades of underinvestment have left us with an engineering industry that’s great for cutting-edge, high-end, one-off-type stuff, but not so much on the mass production side. It’s quite heartening to know that there are certain areas in which we can still fly the flag.

So therefore, I was rather looking forward to the evening. The RAC is a rather old-school club, not the sort of scummy place I normally hang around in, but I think I managed to avoid making a fool out of myself. What helped was the fact that most of the members are petrolheads, and car folk tend to be very friendly in my experience.

The decor was rather sumptuous in an early-twentieth-century way with, predictably, lots of paintings depicting motor sport. To my surprise, the lobby featured the electric car Bluebird (the latest in a long line of vehicles by that name) in which Don Wales intends to go for the record for an electrically-powered vehicle. With environmentalism a hot topic as ever, the pursuit of excellence in alternatives to petrol propulsion is to be lauded. Wales currently holds the record for a steam-driven vehicle and, er, a lawnmower. Seeing the Bluebird parked inthe foyer of a gentlemen’s club took me particularly aback, given the fuss my flatmates make when I park my car in the living room.

Dinner was utterly exquisite – I’ve noticed that often these places fall down when it comes to the food itself, but I have never had such fine duck in all my born days. That’s not some sort of 18th century euphemism, but it sounds like it could be.

After indulging freely in food and wine, Messrs Wales and Noble gave their talks. Andy Green, driver of the supersonic Thrust SSC that took the record back in 1997,  was also supposed to be in attendance but was unable to make it due to being an actual fighter pilot. Nevertheless, the talk was very interesting indeed if you are into that sort of thing, and I am.

Noble explained the Bloodhound SSC project to build the first car to go at over 1000 miles per hour (concept picture seen right). He described the difficulties faced in its design and some of the interesting findings they’ve made concerning the behaviour of vehicles at those kinds of speeds. Despite the best computer simulations available, this really is virgin territory – the smallest of factors can have dramatic effects on the final run. The value of these projects, quite apart from the fact that they are excellent promotion for British engineering, lies in the practical applications of these findings – today’s pioneering technology is that which we take for granted tomorrow.

Speaking personally, I hope the Bloodhound succeeds because, well, it’s pretty cool. And I was drunk on free wine when they pitched it.

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Would you Adam and Eve it?

There’s a quote by P. G. Wodehouse that I think sums up my situation today. It goes thus:

I was left in no doubt as to the severity of the hangover when a cat stamped into the room.

Despite a substantial breakfast at the excellent Mike’s Café in Notting Hill (in my not inconsiderable experience, the severity of the hangover increases with the amount of time it’ll take you to get home), despite a long nap, despite having as many painkillers as is considered sensible for a person to have, it’s still with me. I choose to blame everyone except me. Particularly those damn bar staff, forcing me to buy Jägerbombs by having them there, all for sale and that.

Hold, let’s rewind and examine how I got into this situation in the first place. Along the way we will learn about some interesting bars in the West End.

You see, a friend is over from Germany, and therefore Becky B suggested a trip to the Adam and Eve in Fitzrovia. I was a little suspicious of the place (it describes itself as being based in “Noho” rather than Fitzrovia, a forced neologism that sets my teeth on edge) but was willing to bow to Becky’s recommendation. When I got there, the others were late. Curious, I asked the barman where the reserved table was. He said there was no such reservation. This was strange to me. I got a call a little later from Seb saying that they had arrived and had an entire area reserved. Now, okay, possibly the barman wasn’t aware.

However, the bar staff continued to fail to impress for the rest of the evening. One of them seemed very angry at my chums for showing up late – well, granted, it’s not great if we’re late for a reservation, but this fellow was complaining that they had turned people away because they were expecting us on time. Now, this was, I’m sorry to say, utter bollocks. The place was half empty, which for a bar off Oxford Street is amazing. If they were turning people away, that was stupid of them. And if it was really such a problem to keep the place reserved and empty, they could have un-reserved it. In either case, it’s not considered the done thing to berate your customers in such a fashion.

Another member of staff also complained to some of our chums having a smoke outside that the other staff had got the ashtrays messed up, which again is not the done thing in a customer service environment – it reflects badly on the venue as much as on any individual.

The place stopped serving at 10.30. This is strikingly early for a pub, particularly in the West End, but it’s their venue I suppose. Except that one of our party went up to get a round of drinks at 10.20 and was told that he couldn’t. When we went to investigate this strange state of affairs, for we had received no indication of last orders, the barman (the same one who told me they didn’t have our reservation) said, and I quote, “What’s in it for us if we do serve another round?” The correct answer to such an insolent question from a bartender is, “By god, you whelp of a diseased whore, I don’t know whether I’m more inclined to whip you for your impertinence or your master for his negligence, you will fetch me my drink or feel the toe of my boot up your backside!” but I restrained myself.

We did, with no end of complaints from the staff, get our drinks in the end. If it was really such an issue, they should simply have not served us. To serve us and complain and give us lip is quite beyond the pale. In conclusion, the Adam and Eve is shit.

Fortunately, Becky had an ace up her sleeve, and we went on to a basement cocktail bar on Rathbone Place rejoicing in the unusual name of Bourne and Hollingsworth. This was much more up my street. It’s a small venue, the preferred term I think is “intimate,” and the decor is very eclectic. More than one reviewer (and a member of our party) described it as being “like your grandmother’s house.” How they know what my grandmother’s house looks like is a mystery to me. The cocktail menu was superb, I am told by my cocktail-drinking friends. I stuck to beer myself. It did suffer from that cocktail bar disease of charging the price of a pint for a bottle, but the selection of lagers was suitably offbeat without being controversial. Oh, and kudos to the DJ for his taste in retro music.

When this place closed, Becky once more led the way – this time to an utterly charming place on Charing Cross Road, a members-only theatre bar known as the Phoenix Artist’s Club. I fell in love with the place instantly, it’s a proper boho old-school West End boozer. I’d love to say something meaningful about it, but by the end of the night I was utterly trashed and dancing like a twat. I should apologise to everyone who was forced to listen to me singing along to ‘Stars,’ as I recall my justification at the time was that Les Miserables is fucking awesome.” 

When the bar closed, the survivors staggered through the ruins of the Gay Pride event to get a cab back to Becky’s place in Notting Hill. I forget exactly how things ended, although I did wake on the floor, staring at a bra (I don’t think it was mine). Hungover as all hell, we grabbed breakfast at Mike’s Café on Blenheim Crescent. Mike’s is an extremely old-skool place that offers a very hearty breakfast at a very reasonable price – I accessorised mine with one of their gorgeous milkshakes. With Notting Hill increasingly falling prey to chains, it’s good to know you can still get something really special.

Now I’m off back to bed. Goodnight.

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Charlotte Street Blues, we hardly knew ye

God damn, but this is sad news.

http://www.charlottestblues.com/

For those of you who didn’t click on that, Charlotte Street Blues in Fitzrovia has closed down. I mean, I just wish I’d got to know it better, you know? It was an awesome place for standing around, looking cool, listening to fine music, drinking fine beer.

Tempus fugit or something.

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The Mask of the Red Death

(Warning – this entry probably NSFW, we’ll see how it goes)

Having engaged in the usual Halloween activities of placing razor blades in apples, poisoning Haribo and breaking several dangerous psychopaths out of prison to roam the streets, I’m fully prepared for the trick-or-treaters the evening may bring. In the meantime, I probably ought to recap the events of Friday and the Last Tuesday Society’s Danse Macabre event.

The day did not go well. Two of our party cancelled, a cashpoint ate my card and it was raining when I set out for the evening. When I got to Borough, the intent was to meet with the Directrix and others at her new studio – unfortunately, I managed to balls up the communications there. On the way in, I bumped into someone who directed me in a play a few years back, which continued the tradition of weird coincidences around Last Tuesday Society events.

Nevertheless, I managed to meet up with Tiny Emma and some others who were new to all this. We went and queued up, where we were delighted to meet some of the security staff. I don’t know where the staff came from, but they seemed to be quite determined that however much fun we were having standing in the cold, we should be having less of it. The Society handed out bananas, which improved matters somewhat (and you know what? Banana skins really are slippery!).

Eventually we got in, and I tried to seek out the Directrix’ party in an effort to unite our two groups. Unfortunately, I was hampered by the fact that the event was extremely crowded, and my mask made it kinda difficult to see.

Overall, the costume – pictured left – was a bit of a hit. I lost count of the number of people who wanted to take a photo of or with me. I also managed to startle quite a few people, and had a couple of women who wanted to kiss the skull. Not bad for a customised £3.50 mask from Sainsbury’s.

As for the event itself, it seemed a little less OTT than previous balls. I think there were fewer freaks than usual – I certainly didn’t see as many, but as previously mentioned, I had trouble seeing anything at all. A lot of people seemed utterly bewildered by the whole thing (“There are naked people! In the buffet!“).

I wonder if this was perhaps because, with it not being strictly a masked ball this time, people were less willing to drop their inhibitions. There were a lot fewer people at the hot tub this time by the time we got there, for instance.

The bar service, credit where credit’s due, was a lot better this time around. Separate bars had been set up for those who just wanted water or beer, which helped, and the staff seemed a lot more competent. So kudos there.

These two delightful young ladies were very complimentary about the mask.

As previously mentioned, we weren’t too impressed by the security people, who seemed rather overzealous. One of our party bitterly noted that the plastic club (about the size of a truncheon) that formed part of his costume had been confiscated because it was considered to be an offensive weapon. Upon his pointing out that several people had canes and the like, which are far more offensive as weapons go, he was told “We’ll get around to them.” In fact, he seemed rather annoyed that I still had my cane. I’ll be honest, I got the impression that he didn’t like me much. He was Tiny Emma’s ex, and such people tend not to like me. I don’t know why, it’s not like I’m some Adonis who’s going to whisk their former girlfriend away. Seriously, I don’t even have a face.

Still, there was much to enjoy – the pop-up cinema was showing the classic of silent horror cinema, Nosferatu, and Tiny Emma was mildly horrified by a man who offered to put hoops through her spine and suspend her from the ceiling. I told her she should have gone for it, but she remained sceptical. So much for open-mindedness.

Oddly enough, I managed to remain pretty sober throughout. I don’t know if this is a by-product of the diet and exercise, but the alcohol just didn’t seem to have any effect. Given the amount of effort it took to drink anything with that mask, I thought this was jolly unfair.

Despite the general lack of freaks, this event lasted rather longer than the others. Usually things start to properly wind down around 2.00, or so it seemed to me. This time, things were still going pretty much full swing when the party came to a close at about half four.

Goodness me, I don’t have much space between these two pictures… Ah, that’s better.

With the party over, I made my way back through the mean streets of Southwark and Elephant and Castle to Kennington, where I got the night bus home. One of our party asked if it was entirely wise for me to be wandering through the rougher parts of South East London at this time of night. I pointed out that dressed like this, it was unlikely that I would even be approached, let alone mugged. And it was so.

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON'T TAKE YOUR MEDICINE, BILLY

I arrived back home just in time for my alarm to go off, indicating that I had now been awake for 24 hours. Not bad, really. Between that and the clocks going back, my body clock is royally screwed. Oh well.

Roll on New Year’s Eve Eve, I say.

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The Beautiful and the Damned

Halloween is coming, hurrah! And that means the Last Tuesday Society (them again) will be holding another ball this Friday. Of course, Yr. Humble Chronicler will be in attendance.

This time, though, I have an extra motivation for going. This isn’t really a “personal” blog, so I don’t like to get too emotional on ya (though that doesn’t stop me from inserting my own opinions and crap jokes into every entry). But this is kind of important for me, so please forgive the general sappiness upcoming. You may want to skip a couple of paragraphs.

You see, for a very long time, I’ve been overweight. I mean, we’re talking twenty years here. We are talking at school. I’m not trying to paint myself as some kind of victim here, nobody forced the chocolate down my throat, but it isn’t exactly fun to be a fat guy. You get an awful lot of jokes made at your expense, and if you actually say “Hold on, guys, I have enough trouble getting trousers that fit without you prodding my belly and demanding that I chuckle like the Pillsbury Doughboy,” then you’re seen as a bit of a spoilsport. In my case, it became a sort of vicious circle. The only way I could feel good was to eat more, which of course made me feel worse in the long run. I’ve actually heard armchair psychiatrists suggest that it should be okay to ridicule fat people, because it might encourage us to do something about it – anybody who’s struggled with their weight knows what a lot of bollocks this is.

What got me to actually work on shifting the poundage was a number of factors. First of all, vanity. I was having real difficulty finding clothes that fitted. Nice ones, anyway. Secondly, health concerns. Hell of a lot of diabetes in my family, and I realised how much crap I was eating. And thirdly, bloody-mindedness. I read that only 2% of diets work, so the stubborn bastard within me thought, “Oh yeah? We’ll see about that!

The method was simple – I don’t believe in miracles, and whatever method I chose had to be sustainable. Therefore, I started thinking long-term about food. In other words, “This cake is nice right now, but if I don’t eat it, I can be thinner in the future. I will enjoy the cake for a few minutes, but I can enjoy being thin forever.”  The food I did eat had to be nourishing and well-balanced, and in the last couple of months I began a strenuous twice-daily exercise regime.

The end result was that, upon measuring myself yesterday, I discovered that I am, in fact, now a healthy weight. Given that the exercise programme was designed to build up muscle as well as burn fat, simple weigh-ins weren’t going to be a reliable indicator of progress. So, as with so many things that are important to a man, I decided to measure my progress in inches. Men should be aiming for a waist-hip ratio of 0.95, I’m now 0.93. There’s still work to do, but I’m feeling better about my body than I have in years.

That is my additional reason for looking forward to this ball – at last, I can work it without looking ridiculous.

A lowered budget has forced me to be creative about my costume. The theme for the ball is “The Beautiful and the Damned.” I’m going with something inspired by the excellent Poe story, ‘The Masque of the Red Death,’ which features people who are both beautiful and damned. Fortunately, I had most of what I needed in my wardrobe already, and what I didn’t have I was able to obtain inexpensively. I don’t want to show you the whole thing just yet, but here’s part of it.

In accordance with the style of the Last Tuesday Society, I’m going for something Victorian-esque, but a bit more bohemian than the standard top hat and tails. The real bitch was finding a mask I could wear comfortably over my glasses and customise to my design. I suspect I’ll be making adjustments right up to zero-hour.

I’ll let you know how the night goes. If there’s time – I’m also going to a party on Saturday and another Sunday, so basically I’ll be dead by next week. Appropriately for the occasion.

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Going home?

Going home, as in returning to the place where you grew up, tends to be a weirdly alienating experience. Almost melancholy, in its way. Everything is slightly uncanny, at once familiar and yet different. It’s a bit of an odd time to make this observation, given that it’s not like I never see my family, and in any case I only live about an hour and a half away by public transport (20 minutes by car – what the hell, Boris?). Perhaps it is the march of age that makes me so reflect, or perhaps it’s the fact that I forgot to mail myself the entry that was originally going to go here and needed to come up with something else in a hurry.

I grew up in Twickenham, you see. The first few months were lived in Baron’s Court in a flat overlooking the Underground line, which perhaps explains a lot about this blog. But the vast majority of my childhood was spent in that leafy suburb. Oddly enough, I’ve never been a rugby fan – to me, all a rugby match meant was that the buses weren’t running and it would be a bugger getting a train.

Eel Pie Island, back in the day

The thing I particularly noticed on returning today was how very swish it’s all become. Very gentrified. I remember when the waterfront at Twickenham was mostly notable for the derelict swimming baths that my mate Tim swore were inhabited by vampires. These have now gone – there was an uproar when it was suggested that they might be replaced with a shopping complex, but happily a garden now stands in their place (do gardens stand? I don’t know).

I was also pleased to note that the waterfront now boasts a sign concerning Eel Pie Island. The Island, less well known as Twickenham Ait, has a significant place in the history of British music, with artists as varied as the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Hawkwind, Black Sabbath and Long John Baldry among many others playing at the Hotel. If you speak Internet, Long John Baldry was the one responsible for the “PINGAS” meme. If you don’t, then don’t worry about it. These days, it’s the closest thing Twickenham has to a bohemian quarter. Well worth a look if you get the chance.

Twickenham, King Street. The bank is still there, virtually everything else has vanished or been rebuilt.

Also nearby is Twickenham Museum, which is a really excellent museum given that it’s basically two rooms in a house. That sounds really patronising, but it genuinely is worth a look if you have an interest in the West London suburbs. And the Mary Wallace Theatre, in what was once a soup kitchen, has some good (albeit amateur) stuff on. So gutted I just missed a production of Glengarry Glen Ross there.

During the day, York House Gardens are a pleasant place for a walk. If you’ve ever seen Alfie, the sanitarium scenes were actually filmed here. I’ve heard there was a remake of this film starring Jude Law, but this seems ridiculous and I think we should all agree that such a thing could not possibly have happened, maybe burning anyone who says otherwise. The area is very popular for filming, due to the proximity of Twickenham, Teddington and Shepperton Studios. Off the top of my head, two of the Beatles movies (Help! and A Hard Day’s Night) were filmed here, as were A Fish Called Wanda and The Krays. There have been many others.

The reason I was here was to celebrate the Bro’s birthday. We were dining at a little Italian restaurant called La Serenata. By not being called La Dolce Vita it instantly gains a couple of points in my book. The thing I like about this place is perhaps the thing that most people would hate about it – it’s a proper retro Italian place. Faux wooden beams, family-run, wax-encrusted wine bottles as candle holders. You know the drill. The food is robustly Anglo-Italian, the menu clearly dating from an era when people were just starting to get the hang of Italian food but weren’t yet familiar with concepts like “balsamic vinegar.” Some would call it unpretentious, others would call it basic. But what they do, they do well – I particularly recommend the steak in any of its forms. I’m told that it’s to die for in the brandy and dijon sauce. The only things that were rubbish were the chips, but this was one black mark on an otherwise superb meal. As I’m no foodie, you can take or leave my recommendation.

Alas, it rarely seems to get much custom – we were the only ones here tonight, and reviews of the place seem to be singularly lacking. It’s the sort of place that Gordon Ramsay would come to and totally revamp while exclaiming “Faaahk me!” as often as possible. But I like it.

The trouble with this diet is that when I actually do get an opportunity to indulge myself, I can’t do so quite as much as I used to. This three-course meal has left me feeling utterly bloated, and more than a little stretched. I guess you can never really go back.

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