UNCLE VANYA at the Almeida Theatre, London

Let’s start with a disclaimer, shall we?

I’m not a “professional” critic, nor, sad to say, even a regular theatre-goer these days.  (Further disclaimer : I live in New Delhi, and so am many, many miles from anything remotely resembling London’s amazing theatre life.)

Even so, the level of bowled-over-ness and “oh-my-God-that was-amazing”-ness that was on display after seeing “Uncle Vanya” yesterday afternoon at the gorgeous little Almeida Theatre was impressive.  And that was from my 2 London girlfriends who go to the theatre constantly, and who are both terrifyingly knowledgable about the city’s theatre scene.

I was just rendered speechless and on an emotional high after a wonderful, visually exciting, moving performance.

The Almeida Theatre is an amazingly intimate space, which the staging of the play fully exploits.  From time to time the actors hop down from the stage set and talk directly to the audience.  I was sitting in the third row, and felt as though they were chatting personally, so goodness knows how the lucky audience members in the front row felt.

It seems invidious to single out any one member of this accomplished cast.  They were all excellent.  Truly.

But Paul Rhys as John is stunning.  He seems to deteriorate before our eyes during the course of the play, not just in language and expression, but also in shape.  He looks thinner and older by the end of the show.

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But every actor is truly superb.

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The set is an ingenious slowly revolving cube that means that your literal view of the scene unfolding in front of you is constantly changing.  The tempo is slow and languid and yet each time there was a brief 10 minute interval, we couldn’t believe how quickly the time had flown by.  I loved the language of the new translation, which felt fresh and contemporary without ever sounding gimmicky. It was also very, very funny at times.

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Truly fabulous.

Recommended.

We paid for our tickets and (I fear) no one at the Almeida knows that I blog…

EP : Extended Play by Karam K. Puri at Gallery Espace, New Delhi

I always knew that my friend Karam Puri was a talented and, most importantly, a very technically gifted photographer.  That was clear from the way he kindly and patiently taught me how to take photos in Ladakh’s challenging evening light, but it was not until seeing his beautiful photographs in Gallery Espace in New Delhi, that the full force of his talent became clear.

The just opened exhibition entitled EP : Extended Play is a tender and affectionate look at the fading lifestyle of the former rulers of India’s princely states.

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In a series of evocative, superbly composed images, we get a glimpse into what was once a life of luxury and privilege, but that is now, sadly, a little frayed around the edges.  Never falling into clichés, Karam shows us the dustiness and shabbiness that now overlay the grandeur and style of the past.

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Here, listen to the artist in his own words:

“The air is thick with melancholy. These walls speak a language of loss, lost time and stillness.

The plaster peels off lime washed walls while crackling melodies play to an empty room. The needle glides gently along the surface of vinyl at the deliberate pace of 33 revolutions per minute. In this world, in these rooms that long to be filled as they once were, time is suspended, moving only in slow circles. Repetition gives the illusion of forward momentum where only stillness is left.

Tea is served the way it has been for centuries. Faces of the past adorn the walls.

These spaces, homes of the Nawabs and Rajas, now find themselves victims of their own lust for an opulence that once was. They are now time capsules, suspended in a world that changes rapidly around them.

Much like a movie set waits for actors to give life and breath to the illusion, these house’s wait, to be satisfied once again, by the stories that they long to be home to. The rooms yearn for people to come back; for the music to play; for the scandals to unfold; for courtesans to dance and for the finest wines to be uncorked again.

E.P.: Extended Play aims to capture, explore and expose the sense of lost grandeur not through the stories of the people but essentially through the stories of the rooms usually unfolding a narrative. Shot over a period of six years across the Indian subcontinent, these majestic homes of Rajas and Nawabs have lost many of their privileges and their power. They are still given the utmost respect by their subjects, but can no longer afford the lives they once did. This suite of 24 images shot both on film and digitally tell stories of a lifestyle lost to time, suspended in the belief that one day the music will once again play at 33 revolutions per minute.”

As Karam says, these rooms are indeed like a movie set, for there are no people in them.  Just objects, elegantly displayed, the way they have been for decades.

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Do visit this exhibition, which is on until 8 August.

Here is the link to the website of Gallery Espace with their address – it’s in New Friend’s Colony.EP 04

Starbucks, Connaught Place, New Delhi

It’s taken a while, but I finally visited a Starbucks in India.

The fact that I ended up in the wrong Starbucks for my first-time meeting with a well-known author is not especially relevant to this review, other than the fact that sitting alone (in the wrong place, you remember) gave me time to observe my surroundings.

And jolly impressive they were, too.  Now please don’t take this wrongly, all ye diehard “Mera Bharaat Mahaan” people, but sitting in Starbucks in Connaught Place, you could have been anywhere in the world.  Which is what you sort of expect in a Starbucks, right?

I knew I was in India, because of the very polite service and the “Ma’am” added to every sentence, but in case of doubt, here you go:

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But what was totally un-Indian (and y’all know I love India.  Live here, remember) is the feeling of space.  It’s lovely and restful, when you find it.  And it was quiet and the cappuccino was excellent.

So all round great experience.

Too bad I was in the wrong Starbucks for my meeting.

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Price.

Rs 147 for a very generously sized cappuccino.  Not bad at all.

Where to eat in Delhi’s Shahpurjat? Les Parisiennes, perhaps?

Nearly every time I go to Shahpurjat, which is usually to see my friend the designer Sonam Dubal, we end up at the charming cafe-boutique “Les Parisiennes”.

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A delightful space, elegantly and quirkily furnished, selling a mix of vintage and retro must-haves (think dresses, jewellery, accessories), and serving typical light French bistro style fare (think quiche, salad, gateaux – that kind of fare).

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I ask you what’s not to love?

I have been there with friends who went in for just for lunch and came out with a butter dish. Or stopped by for an afternoon cool drink and emerged with a glass cake stand they never knew they absolutely had to have.

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There is always retro style music playing, all vaguely Edith Piaf-y. The bathrooms are delightfully spotless.  The menu is written, bistro-style, on a blackboard.

I repeat, what’s not to love.

On a recent visit 2 days ago, on a broilingly hot Delhi summer afternoon, it was blissfully cool inside, and as I say every time I go there, “I could live here in Les Parisiennes”  – for it is a village house that had been beautifully transformed, but still feels like a welcoming home.

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I was very politely asked not to take photos on my last visit, so I didn’t, but on former visits I wasn’t stopped, so here is a quick look at a charming place that should be on everyone’s Shahpurjat To Do List.

 

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5-B, Dada Jungi House,

Shahpur Jat,

Delhi 110049

+91 88 26 51 89 43

+91 11 26 49 67 54

 

??? Personally recommended

I rate Les Parisiennes 10/10 for atmosphere.  8/10 for quality/portions/affordability of their food.  Have never shopped there, but friends have and love their crockery and glasses especially.

Open daily 10am-7pm

Sanskar Studio, in Delhi’s Shahpurjat

For the many loyal devotees and fans of Sonam Dubal’s couture, there is brilliant news afoot.

Sonam has recently opened Sanskar Studio in Shahpurjat, a cosy welcoming space where you can view his designs, as well as shop for clothing and accessories from a Calcutta based NGO, “Sasha”, an organisation very dear to Sonam’s heart.

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Up a tiny staircase, onto a little veranda, through the iconic red door, and you have arrived.

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The studio has only just opened, and so by the time you visit (and visit you should, you must) Sanskar Studio may well have evolved a little more, since it is being created slowly and lovingly, with new designs and products being added all the time.

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(Oh, by the way, this outfit, above, has my name on it.  Be warned…seriously, isn’t it gorgeous?)

Sanskar Studio is elegant, airy, welcoming and showcases the best of Sonam Dubal’s designs.

What’s not to love?

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Coded Elegance by Pablo Bartholomew

A self-confessed lover of India’s remote and tribal north-east, the exhibition of Pablo Batholomew’s photos called “Coded Elegance” was not to be missed.

I went to the low-key, un-VIP-ey first night at the IIC, and what a visual treat.

There are amazing images of the daily lives of many of the tribes, as well as gorgeous images from festivals and ceremonies that a casual visitor to the north east might well never get to witness.

Some of the images, especially those shot in an almost formal portrait style, take on a grandeur that stops you in your tracks.

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Serene faces stare at you, and once your excited eyes have taken in the amazing head-dresses and the fabulous beads (oh, those beads…sumptuous quantities of gorgeous beads), you return to the faces and eyes that gaze unwaveringly back at you.

 

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Anyone who loves the north-east as I do should make a beeline for this exhibition, and anyone who has never been to the north east should also make exactly the same beeline, as these images might well just be the catalyst for new journeys and discoveries.

There is only one quibble.

Well, 2 actually.

The photos have no captions, not even a date, which means that in the absence of a catalogue/info sheet, you do miss some of the background information. And dates are always interesting, to put things in perspective,

On the opening night, the information sheets quickly ran out, so I did one round of the exhibition just looking, then a second round asking people who had a sheet to explain things. Then, to the credit of the IIC staff, a new batch of sheets appeared, so the third round was a fully informed one.  It didn’t change the beauty of the images, of course, but it was interesting to learn the names and places and occasions.  But still no dates.

The exhibition runs until 9 October, entry is free, and you really really should go.

Highly recommended.

The Potbelly restaurant in Delhi’s Shahpurjat village

If you haven’t already been to Shahpurjat, one of Delhi’s many urban villages, you need to do so pretty pronto, for this is a village that is changing rapidly, before one’s very eyes.

From being pretty unknown and off the beaten track just a few years ago, it is now buzzing with activity and (rather sadly) demolition crews, eagerly ripping down quaint old structures to squeeze in yet another boutique.

There is a perfect way of seeing this village, by taking a guided tour – check out my review of one such walking tour in this blog.

There are shops, boutiques and eateries galore in Shahpurjat, but by far the best food I have had so far in the village was on a recent trip to the cutely named “The Potbelly” with my friend Sonam Dubal.

You need to ask directions the first time you go, for The Potbelly is squeezed into a narrow building and up many flights of stairs, but when you get there –  what a treat.

A lovely treetop perspective of the village:

 

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It is a pretty, light, airy little eatery with almost a beach-y feel to it (if that makes any sense in Delhi):

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Now for the main event, the food.

Whilst we chose our lunch, we demolished the attractively presented pakora basket:

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It’s always fun discovering dishes you don’t know, and this Bihari-based menu had plenty of those.

Sonam had the chicken stew which he pronounced delicious :

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I had the Ranchi ka pulao (I’m veg) and it was great.  A completely different taste to a “normal” pulao and I loved the presentation:

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Totally unpretentious with sweet staff.

Charming.

We paid our own bill and I did not tell the staff that I write reviews.

Recommended.

 

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Quick update on Back to Fitness physiotherapists, New Delhi, India

I had reviewed this efficient New Delhi physio practice back in 2011, and have told many people about them.

After helping me get over some of the pain in my ageing knees back in 2011, I promptly stopped doing my exercises (please tell me I am not alone in this).  Fast forward some 18 months and I start pre-trek panicking.  Having committed to a high altitude trek in Ladakh later this month, I went back to Back to Fitness, crying for help to get super fit in a matter of weeks.

I was received with much kindness, and a certain degree of resigned irony, as I fessed up to not having exercised, not having trained, not having followed all their good advice.  And yes, I was still wearing the same beaten up trainers from before (I tell you, these guys don’t miss a trick).

Then we got down to business.

My physio, the ever cheerful, tennis mad Vish, puts me through my paces 3 times a week, and follows up regularly to check on possible aches and pains after our sessions.  He emails me exercises, encourages me, and also checks on how much I am walking, whether I am wearing my ankle weights to train –  basically, keeping an eye on me even when our sessions are over.

Very professional. And also very encouraging.

All the comments from my earlier review stand.

Just the prices have increased a little.

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Wholeheartedly & personally recommended.

 

Thirty-Nine, Hauz Khas Village

On the recommendation of our children who both work in Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village – known as HKV to the cognoscenti –  I went to the cryptically named Thirty-Nine for lunch recently with my friend Asha Framji.

We were the only 2 people eating there, one hot summer lunchtime, though I am told it is packed in the evenings. I can well believe it, since it is a great location, beautifully designed and done up, and with sweet service.  Our waiter was a tad vague, but I suspect he was shiny new on the job, but he couldn’t have been sweeter.

The restaurant is roomy, and is spread over 2 floors, and has the feel of an Olde Worlde English club.  And it works in a cute way.

Comfortable leather settees, with a suitably distressed appearance.

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Rugs, throw, fake fireplace and lots of olde worlde looking artefacts, but it all manages not to look kitschy:

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And now for the main event, the food.

Salsa dip to start while we decided what to order:

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Asha had mulligatawny soup, which she pronounced very good

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and a grilled cheese and tomato stack which she was less impressed by.  Said it was all a bit bland and ordinary, but we did demolish the French fries between us :

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My sun dried tomato and artichoke salad was excellent and the asparagus were cooked perfectly.  Al dente, and so crisp and delicious :

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So far all good.

The only snafu was when Asha took the lift down, while I went to the bathrooms (nice and clean) –  the lift jammed, and there was no mobile signal in it.  Luckily since it has glass doors, someone spotted her mid-floors and helped her out.

That needs to be dealt with.

So, as I then walked down in the absence of a lift, guess what I spotted?  This sign at the bottom of the stairs, which explained everything about the décor :

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But we had already figured it all out, pretty much.

Prices were reasonable, especially for HKV.

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Cute place.

Recommended.

Where to have a round-the-world breakfast in Delhi?

In Baywatch in the WelcomHotel Sheraton, New Delhi, that’s where.

Located in Saket, right near the malls, the ground floor coffee shop of this business hotel is currently offering the world on your breakfast plate.  I was invited to experience this buffet along with a fellow blogger, traveling companion and young friend, Charis, who runs an excellent food-centric blog.

A leisurely 2 hour breakfast, much of it in the company of the charming, knowledgeable chef Neha, was a great way to ease into the weekend.

Being a complete caffeine addict I stuck –  somewhat unadventurously, I admit it – to coffee, and had a very acceptable cappuccino :

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Charis, however, got into the spirit of things and had a cup of “cutting chai”:

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Love love love the coloured glasses.  So much prettier than the usual clear (and probably smeary version) you see in the street.

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Our round the world over breakfast tour started in Japan, and we were treated to miso soup, grilled salted fish, sticky rice and a delicate Japanese omelette :

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I enjoyed this selection, though the fish was perhaps a weeny bit dry, but the miso soup was delicious.  Felt odd having soup for breakfast, but this was not meant to be a conventional breakfast, now, was it?

The next stop was Sri Lanka, with dodol and beef curry.  I skipped this, since I do not eat meat.  Correction, I skipped this, and then shamelessly shared Charis’s gravy –  the sauce of the curry was utterly, utterly divine.  Since my not eating meat is nothing to do with religion, I had no hesitation in depriving my companion of the sauce. It was too good.  Probably my favourite thing on the menu, if the truth be known :

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There was a piquancy and peppiness in the sauce that was fabulous.  On a personal level, it showed me how far I have wandered from my own cultural roots that I could find a spicy curry so delicious for breakfast.

From Sri Lanka we moved onto China, and were served delightful un-stodgy “bao” :

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I have eaten many a “bao” or steamed dumpling, over many years of traveling in China, and these were some of the nest I have ever eaten.

Firstly, they were small and bite-sized, as opposed to the usual large, difficult-to-manoeuvre ones I have eaten in the past.  Also, they were less stodgy tasting – perhaps a factor of their smaller size.  And because they were small, the filling didn’t fall inelegantly out.

Charis had pork bao and I had vegetable, and mine were delicious.  The accompanying bean sauce was seriously fab.  And, for the first time ever, I liked congee.

So all in all, an eye-opener.

The bean sauce (below):

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And the congee:

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From China, we flitted over to Spain, for a tasting of Spanish tortilla :

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These were generously filled with olives and tomatoes and peppers, and were tasty.

We stayed with the Latin tradition, and next tasted Mexican “chilaquiles” –  salsa poured over  crisp tortilla triangles, and the whole topped with cheese and a fried egg :

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An interesting mix, and the crispness of the tortillas was unexpected and nice.  I had imagined they would go soggy with the cooking and the egg, but no.

England and Lebanon were next on the menu, both offering sweets.

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I am not a sweet eater at all –  well, I used to be, hugely so, until the need to trim the flab became pressing and so for –  what? –  some 3 or 4 years now I haven’t tasted a pudding or a cake.

Not even birthday cake.

So I surprised myself by taking a bite of the Lebanese “kunafa” which tasted baclava-ish.  Nuts, honey, raisins and topped with a rather crunchy shredded wheat.  Nice, but not my cup of tea.  Ditto the carrot cake .

I had no space left to even think of seconds, but had I done so, it would have been for the Sri Lankan curry sauce.  Too good.

 

World breakfast is part of the regular breakfast buffet and is on a rotational basis, with a different country being showcased on a different day.

Timings- 6:30am- 10:30am
Price- Rs 850 plus taxes

Delicious, good food, and it makes you think beyond your usual cultural limits, which is fun.