Brillant performance by Kenneth Cranham in The Father

Kenneth Cranham & Claire Skinner  Photo credit Simon Annand

Kenneth Cranham & Claire Skinner
Photo Simon Annand

A standing ovation was given to Kenneth Cranham last night for his performance as André, the father in the theatre production The Father which opened recently at London’s Wyndham Theatre.
The thought provoking play keeps you spell bound throughout its length of one hour and a half hours without a break. A sequence of short scenes is done by blacking out the stage, which is outlined in lights that crackle. What might have been an electrical fault is in fact intentional, and relates to the subject matter.
The play is initially set in an apartment in Paris. In the beginning I found it rather confusing as one scene after another told different stories. Sadly it soon became apparent. Andre has Alzheimer’s, and the scenes bounce from reality to what is in his imagination.
Florian Zeller, the author, describes his play as an attempt to understand the situation of an old man who has lost all his bearings and arrived at that moment where his kingdom dissolves. A sad subject brilliantly portrayed by an excellent cast – a must see. Booking until November 21, 2015.

Wyndham’s Theatre,
Charing cross Road, London WC2H ODA.
T. 0844 482 5120

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Trendy Ghent Restaurant

Prominently positioned on the bank of the River Leie in the historic centre of Ghent, The Belga Queen Restaurant doesn’t look anything special from the outside apart from lots of tables and chairs with, on closer inspection, a stand filled with ice on which sits mountains of oysters.
However, once inside the glass doors it is a trendy, stylish venue. Multi-talented designer, chef and owner Antoine Pinto has converted a grain storehouse dating back to the thirteenth century, putting his stamp on everything from the lighting and furniture to the black and white uniforms. The ground floor is primarily a bar although food is also served including such delicacies as Siberian Oscietra caviar.
Belgium and beer go hand in hand with several hundred variations. Tony my partner is hooked on Trappistes Rochefort Beer, which comes in different strengths, and he says is smooth and velvety. I like fizzy wine, and have discovered crémant. The Belga Queen served a delicate light rosé version which I found was actually champagne mixed with fruits of the forest. There is also an extensive gin list with sixteen varieties. Gin, with different flavoured tonics, is apparently a very trendy drink in Belgium. There is an extensive wine list but what is so interesting is that all the wines are either produced in Belgium or made by Belgium producers with the majority of winemaking countries represented.
The main restaurant on the first floor can be accessed by a glass lift or stairs, which have chrome banisters, all very much part of the décor. The seating is in comfortable leather chairs, and something I have never seen before but a good idea is that the tables are easily moved around. While we were there the two tables adjacent to us were moved next to a table behind us to accommodate a party of six.
The menu is predominately shellfish although there are also meat and vegetarian options. Typical Flemish dishes are included although they have been adapted to modern tastes and cooking. Tony started with rare thinly sliced Belgium Charolais beef served in the vein of carpaccio with a delicate sauce flavoured with mushrooms and truffles, and covered with shavings of Old Roeselare cheese. He followed with a local speciality Ghent Waterzooi, a cream based stew made with cuckoo. It tasted, he said, and looked like corn fed chicken, cooked with boiled potatoes, and thin vegetable shavings. I choose the Belga Queen platter a tray of crushed ice filled with shell fish which included different types of oysters, lobster, langoustine, prawns and shrimps, sadly too much food for me to eat it all. €70.
Desserts included melting chocolate cake with icecream and vanilla bourbon, crème brulée, and a selection of Belgium cheeses.
The open plan kitchen is easily accessible on the next floor. The top floor however is a party area with a lounge and restaurant, and there is a D.J. open Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
A bonus for me was that Poppy, my well-behaved dog, was welcome in the restaurant. I also understood from Wahim, their charming manager that plans are afoot to give the front area a face-lift.

DSCF2381 T. +32 9280 0100 Ghent, Belgium

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Great value stay at stylish boutique hotel in the Northern Cape


The African Vineyard guesthouse just outside Upington is the ideal spot for discovering the Northern Cape of South Africa. Surrounded by vineyards on an island in the middle of the Orange River the ten, soon to be twelve-bedroom stylish boutique hotel was formerly on the site of a raisin farm. The bedrooms are named after wine-producing grapes, mine was muscadel and decorated in shades of grey with a stone bath incorporated into the bedroom. A bonus was the soft fluffy bathrobe, and a decanter containing Rooi Kalahari, a South African aperitif made from jerepigo grapes.
The manager Dion Anderson is also a trained chef, and cooked us a delicious oxtail stew for dinner made with redwine, dates, ginger ale, star aniseed, cinnamon sticks, and cloves, a dish I haven’t thought of cooking for ages.
My visit in July coincided with the South African winter where the days are warm but the nights are very chilly. A feature I really appreciated was the open log fire in the lounge. The guesthouse has a small swimming pool and lush gardens with a canal and tributary of the Orange river running through their groundsk a great plus for an otherwise dry area. Two dogs and a cat, who were not allowed inside, contributed to the lovely atmosphere.
Activities include a 4 IMG_1175km walking trail on their premises. We went to a mountainous location overlooking great stretches of land on the ‘quiver tree route’ for a sundowner, your favourite drink, sipped while watching the sun which is a deep red colour, disappearing. There is no dawn or dusk in South Africa so darkness comes very quickly.
Currently, the pound is very strong against the rand so visiting the country offers great value for money.

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Liege’s Historic Five Star Hotel

Belgium’s Crowne Plaza, Liège

Le Selys Restaurant

Le Selys Restaurant

The 126-bedroom dog-friendly Crowne Plaza Liege is the city’s only five star hotel. The hotel incorporates two former town houses from the 16th century the Selys Longchamps, and the Comtes de Mean on the Mont Saint-Martin. The Sélys Longchamps is a listed Wallonia heritage site built in Gothic style and renovated in the 17th and 18th centuries. The house was designed around two courtyards with, on its ground floor, their gastronomic restaurant Le Sélys. This is made up of two dining rooms one of which is particularly beautiful the Lovinfosse named after a Liège artist, and listed as an outstanding Walloon heritage with ancient wooden flooring, Chinese frescos and paintings from the 18th century in shades of green, blue-green and gold. The restaurant has a south-facing terrace with views of the city.

Chef Samuel Blanc has a Michelin star. Diners have the choice of a three, four or five course menu with the option for their sommelier Catherine Warbinet to choose suitable accompanying wines. Catherine persuaded us, it wasn’t hard, that this was a good way to taste wines that we would perhaps not have otherwise picked – three courses €55.00 per person plus €22.00 for accompanying wines.IMG_0930

We were given a palatial suite in the Sélys Longchamps stylishly decorated with high, exposed timbered ceilings. Our bathroom was incorporated in the bedroom but fortunately included a walk-in shower, and separate toilet! The hotel has a wellness centre with a 50m swimming pool, and treatment rooms. Parking is a short distance from the hotel but there is valet service so we were able to drive up to the door, unload, and have the IMG_0922car whisked away, and parked for us.

A bonus, Poppy my white fluffy dog, was allowed everywhere in the hotel except Le Sélys Restaurant. She was even allowed to join us for breakfast usually served in their brasserie. As there are jazz lunches on Sundays, it was moved to their magnificent ballroom, allowing us the opportunity of seeing the room. Part of the Comtes de Méan townhouse, the room is decorated in the style of Napoleon lll with a nine-metre high glass roof, crystal chandeliers, and frescoes.

Liège is small enough and the hotel centrally placed for us not to need the car while in the city. On the one occasion we did, we used a taxi. Prices are set so you know exactly how much it is going to be. A bonus too is that there is no need to tip anywhere except when you have exceptional service and wish to, although rounding up is standard practise. T. 0032 4222 9494

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Audrey Hepburn photographs at the National Portrait Gallery

Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon opens tomorrow at the London’s National Portrait Gallery just off Trafalgar Square.

IMG_1140If there is anyone that I would have wanted to be in looks and style, she would have been it. Not for her character, which I know little about, but for her style, elegance, and the way she looked. The film ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ in which she starred must be my all time great. I was also delighted to find that her dog Assam was a Yorkshire Terrier. Her son Lucca Dotti described her as “A girl who never expected anything, and was always amazed by life.”

Photographs in the exhibition include some from the private collection of her two sons that have never been on public display. A film star, humanitarian, and fashion muse the photographs embrace her life from her early days as an unknown to those taken by well-known photographers such as Norman Parkinson and Cecil Beaton.

Hepburn rose to fame at a time when the roles of women in society were continually being redefined, and used fashion to define her individuality. She and Givenchy enjoyed a life-long friendship and collaboration, and her name remains synonymous with Givenchy’s style.

One of the first international stars, Hepburn’s Broadway debut in Gigi 1951, and her BAFTA and Oscar winning role in Roman Holiday established her as a leading actress. She appeared in numerous films including Gigi, the Nun Story and my favourite, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
In 1988 she was Appointed Ambassador to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and until her IMG_1138death in 1993 dedicated herself to the work as their International Goodwill Ambassador. Although she died in 1993, the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund continues her humanitarian legacy.

The exhibition runs until 18 October, 2015 with an associated programme of events and talks.

National Portrait Gallery, St. Martin’s Place, London WC2H 0HE. T. 020 7766 7344 Open 10.00 – 18.00 Thursday and Friday to 21.00.
Entry £10.00/concessions £8.50 includes a voluntary donation

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I Won a Competition – Dinner at a Michelin star restaurant


Someone has to win!

Do you ever bother to enter competitions? Usually people don’t. Well I won dinner for two at Michelin star restaurant Murano By Angela Hartnett’s in London’s Mayfair.

IMG_1027The three course Italian menu plus canapés had wines to accompany each course. We started with a glass of prosecco and canapés. Prosciutto of course on an Italian menu, and arancini, fried rice balls mixed with truffles, mozzarella and ementhal cheese. Our first course was a creamy summer risotto using Italian carnaroli rice mixed with asparagus and peas, and topped with crunchy pine nuts. Our mains, we all had the same, were Hogget short loin cooked with crispy sweetbreads, almonds and goats cheese. None of us at the table knew what Hogget was, but it appears to be sheep’s meat somewhere between lamb and mutton! I love lamb but sadly this wouldn’t have been my choice as a bit too tough or perhaps it needed a jus!

Dessert was apricot and caramel cream in a puff pastry served with a lemon and lavender sorbet. Everything was beautifully presented and the service couldn’t be faulted.

It all came about as I am a Gold Card holder of the Automobile Association, andIMG_1033 decided to look at what that meant. There was a competition with a chance to win dinner for two at Angela Hartnett’s Michelin star restaurant Murano in Mayfair. As this is up my street, I entered and actually won. For the occasion, the AA took over her restaurant for the evening. Angela was at the restaurant, and took time from the kitchen to talk to us. She has a lovely sense of humour. A protégée of Gordon Ramsey Angela was awarded an MBE in 2007, and opened her own eatery the following year where she still cooks. Currently, Murano has 4 AA rosettes, and is one of the Good Food Guide’s top 50 restaurants for 2015. Murano is the first independent restaurant to be in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot.

Murano By Angela Hartnett

20 -22 Queen Street, London W1J 5PP.     T. 020 7495 1127

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British Museum promotes Treasures from the Waddesdon Bequest

IMG_1010_2The Rothchilds were among the greatest collectors of the 19th century. The Waddesdon Bequest was donated to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild on his death in 1898. The Baron’s aim was to possess a special room filled with splendid, precious and intricate objects in the tradition of the European courts of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

The public can now also enjoy the items on display, which have been moved to what used to be the reading room of the British Museum, made possible through a donation by the Rothchild Foundation. The collection, originally housed in the New Smoking room at Waddesdon Manor, has since June 11, 2015 been moved to a more prominent position at the British Museum. The Baron wanted it to be free. “You collect things to tell people you are not going anywhere”. The collection demonstrates how, within two generations, the Rothchilds expanded from Frankfurt to become Europe’s leading banking dynasty, and reflects the way in which they enhanced their power and status through discerning collecting. They valued virtuosity, and demonstrated discernment and a sense of history in selecting their treasures. Baron Ferdinand’s ambition was to rival the great court collections of Europe.

Film at the side of some of the displays allows visitors to see the intricate detail of the items that might otherwise be missed. An amber tankard from the 17th century has panels carved out, representing the seven deadly sins. Not to be missed is the Holy Thorn Reliquary, made to contain a thorn supposedly from the Crown of Thorns that was placed on Christ’s head before the crucifixion. The Reliquary is enamelled with gold, sapphires, rubies and pearls. Several of the exhibits are known forgeries.
The Bequest is named after Waddesdon Manor near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, a FrenchIMG_1008 chateau built by Baron Ferdinand from 1874 – 83. At the back of the room on the wall housing the collection is a film showing rooms at Waddesdon which is now a National Trust property.
Admission free. The British Museum, London.

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