Japan Calling

IMG_0390“I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m on holiday, not in Maida Vale” I said to The Brunette – my dinner companion for the evening. Contemplating the decor of our newest local restaurant  immediately imbued a sense of relaxation and calm. Dark wood, mirrored strips on walls – a nod to Japanese lacquer – minimal tables and a soupçon of light jazz to be heard in the background provided the comfort of the traditional with the frisson of the new.

A Gordon Ramsey type restaurant this isn’t.  If you’re after cooks shouting orders: ‘SERVICE! NOW!!’ you won’t find it here. Instead, sitting up at the kitchen bar – possibly the most action packed location of any restaurant – Ken and Masato Nezu noiselessly and respectfully went about their business creating exquisitely simple, wonderful to behold dishes.

fullsizeoutput_27a0Manners maketh man and most certainly add to the enjoyment of dinner out on a Wednesday night.  Politely we were asked what we’d like to drink.  We discussed the options with Toru the owner: “Try the sparkling Sake” he told us, “It’s light, not too strong, I think you’ll be okay.” He was right; gently floral, the colour of effervescent water it was to be relished for itself rather than any unwanted effects.

IMG_0377We took our food recommendations from Ken: “This is nothing special” he repeatedly told us. Yellowtailed carpaccio with truffle oil, grilled asparagus with sesame dressing defined with threads of chilli as a starter told us otherwise.

Venturing into the territory of the mains our reactions seemed to surprise him; but when sushi and sashimi plates are this good it’s hard not to express delight. The smoked eel sushi took me out of my comfort zone into a new level of enjoyment. This is not the challenging eel of cockney lore, rather a super tender smokey hot mouthful with the delicate crunch of cucumber, wrapped in rice so good the entire experience was synergy personified.

Finishing up with sesame and Yuzu fruit ice cream followed by a cup of Genami tea, Toru gave us some backstory: “Our chefs are from a sushi family, we invited them from Nobu. It is an art to create this food.  In Japan an apprentice doesn’t touch the fish for three years – they just watch. How you cut the fish alters the flavour; knives have to be sharp. How you press the rice requires just the right amount of pressure; the temperature is vital. Everything has to come together – into one. It takes time.

We left ‘Japan’ light but replete, warmed but refreshed: “How appropriate that two friends from choir should have such a harmonious evening” The Brunette remarked as the Murasaki team bade us ‘Good Night.’

Many thanks to Toru, Ken, Masato Nezu, Piyumi and Kauri for a delightful evening. Murasaki, 12 Lauderdale Road, London W9

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Kenzo Tiger

img_3979I woke surrounded by Tiger print.  Red and pink Tiger print.  Had it all been a dream? A glance at the receipt and an inspection of photos on my phone said otherwise.

A delightful invitation to a preview of Kenzo for H&M had me planning every minute of the week (not to mention a year in advance) beforehand with my plus one.  For a diehard long term committed fan of the H & M annual fashion designer collaboration, this one had special resonance: An opportunity not to get up at 5am and queue for days to be first in line, plus the fact that Kenzo, one of the 80’s designers has a special place in my heart.   Always just beyond reach of my shoulder padded purse in those heady days, would H&M work their magic on this designer brand’s less acute following in the last couple of decades and up the ante again?

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Frieze!

img_3756I tweeted H: ’Unfortunately it’s sold, so I can’t get it for you.’
‘Where is his nose?’ came the response. I ignored the question, after all a bust of this Hellenistic King from mid century BC was bound to come a cropper at some point in the last few centuries.

Frieze Masters hosted this fine piece of art along with many others of repute and fame, their makers well established in art history vernacular. From Picasso to Bonnard, Dali to Louise Bourgeois, these were all artists we can agree on as having made it. The elite hush of this particular part of Frieze held a reverence indicative of solemn recognition and certain provenance, to say nothing of sky high prices.

Across a cooling October park lay Frieze London.

I headed to the bathrooms, noting that Julie Verhoeven was performing a piece of her art there entitled ‘The Toilet Attendant … Now Wash Your Hands’. One of many works this year with a message cloaked in humour.

A blue strip of carpet led to the ladies, a pink to the mens. Once that initial confusion was dealt with I entered to the usual set up save a few trolleys dotted about laden with the tools of a loo attendant’s trade.  I spied the artist suitably dressed in the latter’s regalia.

‘I just want you to know, I’ve washed my hands’ I said.
‘But did you put the loo seat down?’ she asked, ‘It’s amazing how many people don’t.’ ‘Well, that could be because they’ve become confused by the blue and pink carpet. Perhaps you would find that if you went into the mens all the loo seats would be resting in situ between visits.’
‘Ha!’ she replied. ‘Maybe.’

Through the fair I wandered, stopping in my tracks for some pieces, marvelling at them, rendered mute by others such were the thoughts and feelings provoked.

I heard my name being called:  An old acquaintance from the 90’s, and art collector. I told him about Julie’s work.  ‘Did she ask you for a pound? Is that how artists are making money these days?!’ he laughed.

The question’s answer is potentially the same as it was in mid century BC as it may be in 50 years; a benefactor, menial work or connections – the way the pendulum swings dependent on our appetite for and willingness to appreciate another narrative to our daily lives.

Frieze Art Fair until 9th October, Regent’s Park, London.

Village of Beauty

img_8950“It’s gives you a break, that’s the most important thing” Kamila told me as she explained the Jean d’Estrées Vitamin C Facial.  “And, that’s what we’re about too, we like people to come here – men, women, couples, groups of friends, basically everyone can be together and get everything done.  We’re like a one stop shop for relaxation through treatments.”

I can testify that to be the truth, as I have now had various beauty treatments at this local emporium – one more delicious than the next – from mani/pedis to a massage to various other more intimate ones.  However, this, the facial, was what I really longed for.  Anything, but anything that can give me a break from daily hecticness more than floats my boat. Plus, if it’s good enough for A-Listers such as Luke Evans, then it’s good enough for me.

The familiar strains of Stevie could be heard as we discussed the options: ‘’till you come back to me, that’s where I wanna be’.

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All Creatures Great and Small

P1080105It’s not what you might expect, but, as soon as I walked the dusty sunny path to Hampton Court Palace Flower Show from the station, entered the grounds and perused the catalogue, I knew what I wanted to see.

The show gardens are of course predominantly what it’s all about with prizes awarded to the most outstanding.  Then there’s the rose marquee, various celebrity talks, plants to be purchased and delectable food and drink to taste. However, this year the flower show encompassed so much more – from cooking to dogs and butterflies.  Yes, you heard me right.

‘If you head to the ‘DogsTrust: A Dog’s Life’ garden you should be able to see it complete with a few of its namesakes’ the press office told me.

I couldn’t get there fast enough.  Past people carrying trundling boxes full of garden delights I did my best to make haste.  But, the mood was relaxed, and I found myself slowing down: A couple stood looking over a show garden: ‘I think if we did something like that water feature dear – it could work – it’s just a small dribble’ one said.
‘We could give it a try love’ came the mellow response, made so by the warmth of sun shining and a precious day away from the norm.

Up ahead I spied a rectangular shallow pool overhung with various delicate plants and some sculptures of – were they dogs – wading through it? I had reached my destination and was soon chatting to Emily from DogsTrust.  ‘We just won Gold last night’ she told me excitedly proceeding to fill me in on the whys and wherefores of this sensitively planned garden.

‘It represents the journey of every DogsTrust dog – making sure they’re as happy as can be. It’s got herbaceous borders, sniffer tracks, a pavilion for shade, tubes for them to run through, water and places to dig. But, it’s also about people being able to enjoy their garden with their dog – showing that it’s possible to make it work for both.’

I stroked Evie’s head – a quiet and restrained greyhound visiting from their West London centre for the day.  ‘She’s been with us two weeks – often dogs come here when there’s a change in the family circumstances.  She used to race.’ In the cool and gently scented garden a photo session followed.

Time was flying by and there was yet a final highlight to attend: In the Butterfly Dome, I couldn’t stop myself smiling – thrilled by hundreds of these most colourful creatures flitting about my head, landing on plants and occasionally my bare arm.

Without a doubt it had been a day to delight not just one, but all of the senses.P1080159

Very many thanks to RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

Ms Georgia O’Keeffe

P1080066The last time I got tearful at an exhibition was The V&A’s Alexander McQueen show.  Today at the new Tate Modern’s sensitively and sublimely curated exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work, it happened all over again.  And then some.

Rounding the corner of one of the first rooms I came face to face with ‘Music – Pink and Blue No. 1’.  This was the catalogue cover of my first, and until this day, only viewing of Ms O’Keeffe’s art in the flesh as it were.  That was in 1987, just a year after she died.

A flood of memories surfaced; living in New York and then Washington D.C. where the show had taken place at the National Gallery of Art. Tears pricked my eyes.  Her powerful and confident strokes of both paint and charcoal reveal a determined character:  Determined and dedicated to being true to herself.

In her own words, quoted on the introduction to each room in this exhibition she comes across as a woman of single mind and focus.  I could say ‘person’ here, and many of the often cited quotes on her work refer to her as a great ‘woman’ painter which she famously railed against, saying ‘The men liked to put me down as the best woman painter. I think I’m one of the best painters’. However, only a female artist could say: ’Of course I was told it was an impossible idea – even the men hadn’t done that well with it’ on painting the New York landscape.

She knew she was up against it to be taken seriously as a woman who made art, and nothing less than 100% of herself would do.

Through showing such an extraordinary variety of her work in this exhibition, the Tate seeks primarily to champion O’Keeffe’s own insistence that her work was not overtly sexualised, that every flower and landscape she painted had little to do with sexuality and in particular the female body.

It’s largely succeeded in this mission, but there’s no getting away from the fact that there is an inherent sensuality and almost erotic like quality imbued within her paintings in particular – whether they be of New York skyscrapers or clouds floating beneath blue skies.  Nature was such a source of inspiration to her, and that in its most basic form is reproduction – in all that is created.

The final rooms hosting her paintings from New Mexico stirred up emotion again. The ruthless and unrelenting desire to demonstrate clarity and one’s own truth is particularly piercing in the Pelvis series and the paintings of her Abiquiú house. The sense imparted is of an infinite search for oneself, to strip back all that doesn’t matter and reach the core:  ‘I feel there is something unexplored about woman that only woman can explore’ she once said.

Her love of nature and the nature of love, in particular for oneself, is imbued in all Georgia O’Keeffe’s work. She just couldn’t help herself. P1070963
‘My Last Door’ Georgia O’Keeffe.  Portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz.

Georgia O’Keeffe at Tate Modern 6 July – 30 October 2016.

The Image of Beauty

IMG_1686The first pedicure of the season is always a reason to be cheerful.  And, cheerful is the order of the day at Village of Beauty.

I walked in to sunshine streaming onto the plumply cushioned window seats.  Instantly at home I felt the need to lie down on one, like a kitten about to be pampered to within an inch of its life.

“Oh, our clients often want to do this” Kamila told me, “In fact one of them did, she fell asleep right there.”

I could just imagine. What’s not to love about a comfy sofa-like seat, sunshine on your face and the gentle hum around you of ‘me’ time being relished.

Downstairs I lay back on the therapist’s bed and thought of beaches and waves, sea salt and sangria that a treatment of this nature usually precludes. Kamila’s voice softly spoke to me, and any pain was minimised.

I noticed a photograph of Marilyn on the wall and asked where it came from.  “I’ve never seen that picture of her in my life before” I said, astonished.
“Ah, I pick it up at a car boot sale – it was just £1, somewhere in Wimbledon I think.”

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