Friday, January 15, 2010

Popstar to Opera star

Well, how could I not? I've sung chorus bits in three opera now (yes, three!), which makes me as qualified Titchmarsh.

Yep, Alan Titchmarsh is co-hosting this ITV1 venture into high culture with Myleene Klass, popera poppet Katherine Jenkins, a tenor with curly hair called Rollando, Meatloaf Llewellyn Bowen, who gets into the judging panel because he's a bit Welsh and...umm flamboyant.

First up is Jimmy "one take" Osmond. He gets "O Sole Mio" (Just One Cornetto, peasants), and does quite a nice job. I've nearly forgiven him for Long Haired Lover from Liverpool....

We missed no. 2 because the Ocado order came in, but Kym Marsh's Faure was pretty good (was it Faure? Not sure). The audience are very encouraging and lovely. This is difficult stuff, after all. Kym and Myleene manage to be fairly civil, though Kym never ever looks Myleene in the eye.

Alex James is our John Sargent: flat, weird and floppy haired. A cheesemaking ex-Blur bassplayer who says: "There are punchers and strokers. I'm a puncher". He punches his way flatly through a famous bit of Rossini with more chutzpah than Harry Redknapp's accountant and charms the socks off the judges. Meatloaf pronounces it best opera performance by a rock bass player this evening. Errm. OK

Now, three years ago, I was stuck in a tent in Hyde Park with Marcella Detroit warbling at me for . Then I had to walk around London in my bra in the middle of the night. For Charity. I raised £500 but still Marcella Detroit has a lot to answer for. She weeps and strops her way through rehearsals, while the rest of the world admires her severe bob. Her performance is...OK. Good pitching, but no control over her voice, and very little emotion, but pretty good for only a week's intensive training. The judges love her. I'm not so sure. But then I am biased.

The McFly is the rather useful guitar boy, Danny, singing La Donna e Mobile. Not very well. He's nervous, and his voice is a bit weak, but he does the long notes rather well so maybe it's a confidence issue. Meatloaf jumps out and waves his hands around theatrically.

Next up is a Saturday called Vanessa who has a rather sweet voice, but is breathy and a bit static in the dyamic dept.

Darius has to sing "Nessun Dorma", but he's got a nice baritone voice. Bit thin, but he's very sweet and he has good focus. Meatloaf waves his arms around and says "dude" a lot.

Last up is Bernie Nolan, who spent most of the 70s in Spandex being in the mood for dancing. She sings the famous one from Tales of Hoffman, and does OK. She hits the notes, and actually gets some emotion in, and stays in time (most of the time).

Wish they'd all stop doing operatic gestures, like waving arms around during the big note.

The Big Vote is tomorrow, but I'm not sure if this show will last that long. I mean, they've done lots of the Big Arias this week. How many weeks before we hit the Harrison Birtwhistle? Do you really want to hear Darius sing Peter Grimes?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

BBCFour and why I love it

Now I would continue reviewing Le restaurant but there doesn't seem to be much point now that my favourites have been dumped and those shark-eyed winking no-hopers James and JJ have survived thanks to their ruthlessly competent and increasingly contemptuous sous chef. This year's crop have been the most hopeless yet, and I can't see Raymond Blanc risking his sanity and reputation for another run next year.

So I'm going to warble the praises of BBC4 instead. It's great. In fact, I'd like the BBC board to divide my licence fee equally between BBC4 and Radios 4 and 5live. Someone else can pay for Eastenders.

This week's offerings have been a fascinating history of Russian art -in which I discovered that Peter the Great had stayed in Deptford, a French murder mystery and the utterly magnificent Wallander.

The French murder mystery is called 'The Poisoner' and tells the apparently true story of a middle aged woman torn apart by jealousy and village gossip. It's beautifully filmed in harsh grey and leached colour for the village scenes: and warm browns and reds for the Parisien scenes. Marie is a country widow who refuses the advances of her neighbour. Neighbour and best friend (who also slept with her late husband) conspire to spread the story that Marie poisoned her husband so that she could run off with her German lodger - this all takes place in 1947, so feelings about Germans run a little wild. Marie is arrested and the weasly investigating officer ain't no Morse. At the end of the first episode, she's about to go to trial, having been tricked into a confession by ber cellmate (working for M N'est-pas Morse). A campaigning young journalist has taken up her cause and she has a cute lawyer, so things may be looking up (for the journo and the lawyer anyway)

Watching Wallander in Swedish is hard work. You can't help but see names from the IKEA catalogue all over the place. So they'll talk about a murder in Malmo and you'll wonder what if it was a problem with the assembly instructions. And blood! Everywhere! Not to mention scenery, snow, wind and a lead character who always appears to be on the brink of a breakdown, aided by his equally glum daughter and her on-off boyfriend. Wallander takes us on a tour of Sweden's darker side, and we discover that it's just like home, only colder.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


For another week, the good people of Bristol are accosted by strange men (and the occasional woman) bearing trays of food. Raymond summons the couples on board a big boat and places a bunch of keys on a barrel top. It's a bit like a swingers' party, only with restaurants. Raymond sends them un petit amuse bouche to inspaire them to create somezing that demonstrates the essence of their vision and then give it away to the people.

Team Winker nab a rather posh venue with a big terrace and high five each other annoyingly. JJ appears to have been traumatised by last week's debacle, and refuses to do any actual cooking, apart from squeezing vaguely at a scotch egg. The boys manage to chat up a lot of blondes and do lots of annoying high fives. Even the waiters are high fived as they lay the tables, poor chaps. JJ cowers at the pass while other chefs assemble sausage rolls with salad and stuff for the "indoor picnic" concept. Raymond turns up at a full restaurant, which is nice. Except that it's full of very hungry people who have been waiting for over an hour for their scotch eggs, and only two waiters. James claims that everything is absolutely fine, and that everybody's happy. No really they are....absolutely. While Raymond interviews dozens of hungry, pissed-off people James runs upstairs and sobs into his spangly ABC jacket.

Team NotGay get a nice little place in a pleasant district and do a fairly good job at selling their restaurant to the public. Nathan screws up the service on the first night, and there are the usual scenes with annoyed diners getting their coats after waiting for two hours, but they like the food, even if they replaced haddock with cod.

Team Blonde get what looks like an old chippy with an non-working oven, which puts the dampeners on their amuse bouche of goats cheese parcels in filo pastry. The goats cheese is from France, and god only knows where the bread came from, but they still market their local food for local people concept with goats cheese on toast. That's cold goats cheese on cold toast. With a nipple of squished chutney. Somehow they get a full restaurant on the first night, but then Blonde number 2 forgets to cook anything. This isn't a good move. After all, people don't usually go into a restaurant to sit on uncomfortable chairs and chat. You go to pubs for that.

Team Nigeria offer suya to the masses. Lucky masses - though kosai (sp? - spicy little deep-fried puffs made of bean paste) would have been even nicer. The ladies get a restaurant in downtown Bristol and hire some African dancers to entertain the masses. Sarah still worries about their cooking (she's not into chewy goat), but says they know how to make a girl feel welcome.

I think Mark may be right about Team Miliband, maybe we should change their name to Bez/Miliband. Badger decides to dress up in a badger costume because name. However, badger costumes are hard to find, so he wears half a gorilla suit and paints his head in black and white. They serve half a strawberry smeared with cream and some parma ham and melon for their Modern British cooking concept, but at least it doesn't look like a giant blackhead on toast. Short on customers, Badger visits the local barracks and drums up a few of Our Boys to brave the cameras for an evening. Bez throws himself around the kitchen and worries Raymond with his instabilité and inability to make an edible sauce. The soldiers seem to like it though, and Team Bez/Miliband win restaurant of the week for actually managing to serve most of their customers and not having any walkouts.

Team Essex call their place The Front Room, because they serve food that you could cook at home, I suppose. Mrs Essex frets about people getting bored and walking out, so she hires a magician and a saxaphone player to entertain the punters. Mr Essex sighs and starts sharpening his knives meaningfully. They attract hearty blokes wanting slabs of pure MEAT without any fussy stuff, and even the sax player pockets a tidy sum - though he saw Mrs Essex coming when he told her his charges. Two hundred quid in London would get you a four piece band for two solid hours, and they'd help with the washing up if you offered them food.

Raymond doesn't want this lot of candidates cluttering up his manoir, so they all convene in the winning restaurant to learn their fate. Team Blonde are sacked for being blonde and a bit useless.

Next week: Sarah comes close to shouting at Raymond again, and James from Team Winker snivels behind a door.

Friday, November 06, 2009




Only seven couples remain to fart for zeir restaurants, while the director struggles to make Bristol look vaguely attractive in the connecting shots (half of which appear to be of Clifton instead). This week our budding restaurateurs have to run high street chain restaurants for a day, so they get to know the meaning of hard work and can have their naïve dreams re the catering industry brutally squashed. They have a day of training and learning the menu, and then are thrown into the deep end the next day.

There is a pan-Asian canteen called Tampopo that I haven’t heard of. The stern manageress says they have to give everyone their main dish within ten minutes. Team NotGay and Team Winker are sent to work there. During their training day, Chris nails the cookery but JJ and his hateful floppy hair struggles to control the wok. The following day, The Notgays seem to have no problems, food comes rattling out five minute after the order, Nathan is calm and efficient, and even Sarah can’t find anything to complain about. Team Winker start off all cocky and “Bring it on, chap!!” but are gratifyingly hopeless. “You’re supposed to take away my menu” Sarah hisses icily, as soon as James leaves with her order. JJ is instantly behind as James takes fifteen orders in the space of a nanosecond. Soon there is an hour wait for dishes (which James consistently lies about, even to Sarah, David and Raymond) and there are lots of shots of JJ panicking, messing up and getting dishes completely wrong while the guy who trained him basically stands around laughing. Stern manageress says it is UNACCEPTABLE. Raymond goes into the kitchen and brusquely orders JJ to clean up his station, not like that! Do it properly! LOLs. James says he did a great job and it is all JJ’s fault. Sarah, who understandably seems to have her hate on for these two, says it is partially James’ fault for not communicating properly. The NotGays were my faves from week one and seem to be the only ones who coped at all this week. Winkers to be fired soon pls thx.

Teams Essex, Blonde and Milliband (Barney looks more like Bez, methinks, esp when he starts panicking and running around in a flop sweat, which I predict will happen every week) are set to work in a Yo Sushi conveyor belt restaurant and have to learn all the names of the different sushi/nigiri/mako shapes etc. Team Essex are all “Eww!! raw fish!!” and Badger says “Ee by gum , we don’t have stuff like this oop north”, having presumably never heard of places like Manchester, Leeds or Newcastle. They just about cope at lunchtime, but baldy Yo Sushi bloke correctly predicts that they will be fucked in the evening when it is actually busy. That night the restaurant is completely rammed and the cooks neglect the conveyor belt, so more people order off the other menu, which means the conveyor belt is neglected even more. Cut to Raymond glaring at a sad solitary edemame bean trudging round the conveyor belt like a drunk asleep on the Circle Line. The regular chef seems to spend the whole evening shaking his head in disgust, and everyone struggles apart from Blonde waitress, who does very well. To be fair, the problem is compounded by the artificial set-up where each waiter can only work with their designated chef. It would have made more sense for two of them to do orders and one to stock the conveyor. There was a nice scene where David talked Mrs Essex into trying some raw fish and finding out it wasn’t too bad. I found David to be a bit of a blank last series, but he seems a lot more relaxed this time and is almost matching Sarah with his hilarious facial expressions. Team Blonde are dark horses at this stage. Team Essex have potential, but I fear that Team Miliband will fall to pieces at the first sign of stress.

Finally, Teams Nigeria and IKEA are despatched to Pizza Express, where a scarily fervent Pizza Express lady explains that the folded menu spines have to be perfectly aligned with the Earth’s magnetic fields or something. A hot chef explains the exact number of pepperoni slices and exact weight of cheese for each dish. At lunch time, the Nigerian ladies (who seem really likeable and are my second favourites after the NotGays) cope Ok while Mrs IKEA soon falls behind, getting her dishes wrong and turning out mutant, vaguely pizza shaped, dough-based hybrid things, while George Best keeps simpering to her about how wonderful she is. Boke. Sarah pretends to have a nut allergy to test their menu knowledge skillz, so George Best, trying to read the menu over her shoulder, promptly recommends her two nut-crammed death pizzas. One of the judges tells us that making pizzas from instructions in a glossy ring binder is not exactly hard. Cut to Mrs IKEA saying making pizzas from instructions in a glossy ring binder is harder than you think. The evening is a complete disaster. Team IKEA fall behind instantly and Team Nigeria fall behind at a more leisurely pace and end up offering free drinks. Scarily fervent Pizza Express lady is on the verge of tears and is all “what have they done to my beautiful restaurant!?!”. Sarah glares at George Best and says he has to sort this shit out right now. He gives a cringeworthy speech about how they are trying hard but he is just a humble flower seller from London Tahn, or something. The drunken starving customers applaud him, as opposed to pelting him with overcooked doughballs, which is what I would have done. Sarah asks Mrs IKEA how it went and she says it seemed fine and no one complained to her. Well they wouldn’t – they all complained to your husband who apparently spends his whole life trying to bolster your self-esteem. Sarah nods back with a hilarious “Alrighty then, you delusionoid” type expression.

After the restaurants have closed and everyone has stopped shaking, they are taken to a sinister barge to learn their fate. Raymond does his closing speech, saying that some couples coped well (cut to the NotGays) and some couples struggled (cut to everyone else). One couple will NOT get to open their Restaurant and that couple is… Team IKEA - surprise surprise - they really should have gone after the packet salmon debacle last week. George Best says their dream is over. “One of our dreams,” Mrs IKEA says darkly. Back to flower selling for you two, then.

Next week: the couples see their premises for the first time, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. They have to give away free snacks in the street (with Badger dressing up as an actual badger to do so), and one couple of annoying blond blokes WILL be closing their restaurant.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Eet's baack! Raymond and his sniffy cohorts 'ave anuzzair bunch of 'ow you say...numpties with ambitions to open their own eatery. This week we get to meet the contestants and they get to cook for Raymond and his fearsome assistants. First, they take to the streets of Bristol.

Now, I'm sure that Bristol has a wide range of high end and speciality food shops, but for some reason our contestants are in Morrisons. Or is it Asda? I wouldn't know: I shop at Ocado, darling.

Ho we go, in the live as-it-happens blog, straight from our lovely new laptop...

Team Nigeria
A midwife and a lady who does the announcements on the Piccadilly line. They want to put Nigerian food on the culinary map because nobody eats Nigerian food (apart from Nigerians and a few Scots mechanics and nurses nostalgic for their VSO days when they drank Gulder beer under the desert sky.). They (or the producers) don't seem to realise that Bristol, being one of the main centres of slavery in the 17th century and all, also has a large African Caribbean community, and thus fail to find a butcher selling goat. They have to make do with mutton for a mutton stew and rice and it looks totally tasty. Raymond and co do much chewing and accuse the girls of "murdairing the lamb". They also don't think it looks very nice. I disagree.

I haven't got a name for Mother & Son team yet. She's a food stylist: he wears pratty glasses and prattles on about wanting to cook the produce from his allotment. Having been shot down in flames by Raymond and his lieutenants, he retires, tongue-tied.

Team Essex
He's a hospital chef: she's an estate agent with a lovely whiney estate agent voice and they overcook a chocolate pudding. I remember the hospital food my late grandmother got served...

...want to open a multicultural restaurant that definitely isn't a curry house. The trouble is, they don't actually know how to cook. Raymond has to intervene when they try to open a tin of condensed milk with a very very big knife, and show them how to use a can-opener.

I wanted to keep them in simply for the comedy value. Spoilsport Raymond asks for them to leave immediately.

Team NotGay
The traditional "best friends" Nathan and Chris want to bring high-end food to the mid-priced market. Chris works for a diet boot camp in Wales, and wants to stop cooking beans and mushrooms. His pork Wellington goes completely wrong, and he's reduced to cooking a fillet while Nathan flaps about. It's actually quite nice.

Team Blonde
First seen devising their vision of locally sourced, seasonal food in the corridor, then in the next scene cooking up some frozen peas. Well, that's a good start. Scallops with pea and mint puree isn't the most original of dishes, and Raymond points out they cooked their peas for 25 minutes.

Team Winker
A couple of 80s haircuts called JJ and James. JJ makes cocktails and James runs the bar that JJ works in. Their idea is picnic food in a restaurant setting. Well that was the one that didn't go away when they sobered up. Raymond is perturbed by JJ's habit of winking at him. James looks a bit perturbed at the idea of actually doing anything that doesn't involve sitting at a bar with a glass in his hand. The pear and strawberry crumble is more like a sugary dough with a few bits of fruit underneath. Raymond: pas heureux.

Team Miliband
Barney is an army chef and Badger is ex-logistics. Barney looks a bit like David Miliband. Badger barks orders, and Barney looks harried. He has to consult Raymond about his over-salted stock.

Apparently Mrs IKEA is married to George Best, and lived in Sweden for a bit in the 80s, so she's going to make gravadlax and beetroot salad. Raymond and co note that all she has done is open some packets of Asda smoked salmon and mix some veg with sour cream.

It turns out that I didn't need a team name for Mother&Son because Raymond decides that for zem, the journey is over.

Next week, they're let loose on an unsuspecting public. Team Winker runs out of scotch eggs or something. George Best says he can't cope, and Team Nigeria is seen offering free drinks to waiting customers.

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