Friday, 30 January 2009

Calypso Cafe

We’ve seen the bright blue and yellow building on Taranaki Street as we drive home – in fact it’s quite hard to miss it – and I’ve often thought I would like to try it out. It’s called Calypso and is purportedly Wellington’s only Caribbean restaurant.

Last night I had an hour between work and rehearsal, and Him Outdoors was working late, so we met there for dinner. The colours, reminiscent of golden sands and seductive oceans, lured us into a sense of calm despite the busy location next to the main road. It’s bright, cheerful and spacious, with décor almost like a fast food place and the food is reasonably priced, but very different.

The dishes display the fresh ingredients and tropical produce of the island region. Apparently the local cuisine is a fusion of Native American, African, European and Asian flavours, adapted to the produce of the tropics. Him Outdoors was expecting something like goat curry, but there are plenty of curry places already, so they (and we) tried out something new.

The service was friendly and attentive without being pushy. Our waitress was keen to point out what ingredients they use and how they cook them. A basket contained breadfruit and plantain, or Caribbean banana, so we could see what they looked like in the raw. Plantains are firmer and lower in sugar than dessert bananas and are treated in a similar way to potatoes in tropical regions.

I had a seafood gumbo which was rich and hearty with plenty of seafood and vegetables, including okra – one of my favourites. Him Outdoors had a beef and corn stew with chunks of meat and baby sweet corn and breadfruit in coconut milk on the side which he also declared to be delicious. Our meals came in clay pots with pyramids of yellow rice and peas, and a hot dipping sauce. The portions were certainly substantial.

There was no need for desserts, although the puddings listed on the blackboard all looked enticing (and coconut-laden) but I’m pretty sure I’ll go back and try them again. Next time I’m also going to have one of their cocktails ($10 and rum features heavily). Last night they had a special concoction called ‘Obama-rama’ but sadly, being as we both had to concentrate for the next couple of hours, we had to give this a miss.

For some reason, I've had Blue Bayou in my head ever since - beautiful song, The Roy Orbison version - not the Linda Ronstadt one, which is way more screechy and less powerful to me.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Betrayal - Harold Pinter

Last night I went with Him Outdoors and my parents to Circa Theatre to see Betrayal. It was fabulous – all four of us thought so, which is a pretty good strike rate from a fairly diverse audience. My parents first saw this play about 30 years ago and were keen to see it again. Him Outdoors has never seen a play by Pinter and wondered what I meant when I said a play was ‘Pinteresque’. I think he has a pretty good idea now.

Betrayal is the story of an affair between Emma (Danielle Mason) and Jerry (Toby Leach). Emma is married to Robert (Jason Whyte), and Robert and Jerry are best friends. Yes, it’s an old story and the love triangle has been played out on stage in so many ways, but this feels fresh and memorable. The split level divided set works well and the sound and lighting add to the ambience without intruding, allowing the audience to concentrate purely on the three people in the ring.

It is a play about power and the distortion of assumptions, which is told in reverse. The effect is like finishing a book and going back immediately to re-read it to wonder, ‘would I have seen that coming?’ Founded on dramatic irony, there are times when we know that she knows that he knows, but he doesn’t know. If this sounds like it’s confusing, it could be. It pays to pay attention; to keep the upper hand.

Toby Leach is on crutches due to a pre-play incident which must have altered the staging of some scenes. It is tricky to indicate power when you are sitting on a sofa with your leg in plaster, but the play is one of verbal sparring rather than anything physical and many of the scenes are critical in their repressed motion – an arm flung across a sofa; a tightly belted coat; a briskly-snapped-shut book all speak volumes.

The revealing moments thick and fast, and the sympathy switches from wronged husband to aggrieved couple to man/woman desperately trapped in a loveless marriage and back again. This play was written in 1978, and there is a tendency of critics to ask, ‘Is Pinter still relevant?’ Hell, yes. Love; jealousy; repression; competition; excitement; self-affirmation; and, indeed, betrayal – aren’t these universal themes? Or are we all perfect now?

Jason Whyte is excellent as Robert; his fast-paced delivery with crystal clear enunciation is the perfect counterpoint to Leach’s more languorous posturing. Whyte plays his part with controlled menace and a smile that could give you nightmares. Danielle Mason could concentrate less on the accent and more on the assent. Her Emma is beautiful in a willowy way, but she radiates more constipated sterility than consummate sensuality.

The dialogue is almost frustratingly natural, giving the play its moments of humour. The circuitous communication conceived here gave birth to the conversations beloved of modern comedy (think Teachers; Green Wing; The Office; Alan Partridge). Apparently Harold Pinter hated actors (or other directors) messing with his script. Why would you when one of the definitive playwrights of modern theatre has laid it all out for you?

Unless they have been seduced by American popular psychology talk shows, real people don’t analyse their feelings in excruciating detail. You have to surmise what they mean from what they say and how they act, and that is exactly what we are given in Betrayal.

Is there an underlying current? Under close questioning from Emma, Jerry barks back, ‘I said exactly what I meant’. There is a lot of movement beneath these still waters, and, as a popular contemporary advert would have it, ‘If you’ve never learned to swim, you’re like a baby in the water.’ Will these characters drown or stay afloat? It all depends how well they have learned to negotiate the hidden rapids.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Blackhurst Beer Festival (continued)

Continuing on with the Blackhurst Beer Festival. The conversation and the beer was flowing by the time we got to,

Beer Number Six - Green Man Dark Mild, 3.5%, New Zealand

Green by name; um, black by nature. Brewed in Dunedin at the Green Man Brewery to strictly organic standards (with no additives, sugar or isinglass – a fish product often used to clear beer), the Dark Mild is even suitable for vegans! Mellow, rich and sweet with an underlying bitterness, this style of beer was very popular in the North and the Midlands of England in the early-mid 20th century as the ‘beer of choice’ for manual workers looking to quench their thirst after a hard day’s work down t’pit or at t’mill, and is undergoing a revival among real ale producers in the UK.

It is named after the Green Man, oddly enough, an old folk-fertility symbol, said to represent the essence of nature itself. Hedonistic and ritualistic, the pagan figure dies each year in November and is reborn on 1st May.

The brewery website claims, ‘He is found in the spirit of the trees, and his presence can be felt around you, in the bush… He is in orgies on the hillside, riots in the street, the celebrations of plenty, and the privations of crop failure. He is in inebriation, orgasm, trance and possession. His eyes typically do not focus, and his image is part comforting and part worrying, like the force he represents.’ Sounds like a drunken old hippy to me – hurrah!

Smooth silky little number
Dark and sexy – like an Asian prostitute
Rich, full of potential but overall a letdown – just like Man City
Hints of charred oak – or how I imagine it tastes
A Shakespeare beer – full of great content, but not everyone will appreciate it
Insipid and dark – the Keanu Reeves of ale
Chocolatey burnt taste – very nice; put me down for a case
Sticky but not that strong – I likeeee likeeee
A seductive, languid liquid – bloody good. Well done to whoever made this

Green Man Dark Mild came in at 6th place.

Beer Number Seven - Köstritzer Schwarzbier, 4.8%, Germany

The brewery that produces this fine drop was founded in 1543 and is one of the oldest producers of black beer (schwarzbier) in Germany. It was a favourite of Goethe who sustained himself on its health-giving properties when he was too ill to eat. Perhaps if we all fortified ourselves thus we too could write literary masterpieces with the impact of Faust. Here’s to trying…

Typical words used to describe this beer include chocolate, coffee, creamy, malty, roasted cereal, and (strangely considering all that) bitter. The amusingly translated German website states, ‘Brewed according to the German Purity Law of 1516, the original is convincing by its light and sparkling character; it really is a great enjoyment. The production of Köstritzer Schwarzbier is based on the Pilsner style. Its strength is comparable with light beers. It has been and will remain the nation-wide market leader.’ And who are we to argue with the Germans…?

Revolting fizzy black stuff
I would rather eat glass than drink this
Marvin Gaye of ales – smooth, smooth and darkly dreamy
Hints of liquorice
Yuk, bitter and twisted – the Joan Collins of beers
Aroma of treacle and roasted nuts – perfect accompaniment to a Sunday afternoon
A big black lovely hole – dark, dreamy heaven
Another tasty beer, defo on the road to somewhere
Malty molasses on a wintry evening to warm the cockles of one’s soul – except it is summer

Quite a range of comments for this - some people like black beer and others simply don't. It came 8th overall.

Beer Number Eight - Jenning's Sneck Lifter, 5.1%, England

Another offering from the Lake District (Cockermouth to be precise), this winter warmer is a completely different ale. It is strong and dark with a reddish tinge derived from the use of coloured malts, described as ‘like diving through a bubble bath of hops’ – now there’s an image... Bitter and smoky; rich and chocolately; nutty and almost ashy, it is one for a night in front of the fire.

A sneck is a door latch in Northern-speak and a sneck-lifter was a man’s last sixpence with which he lifted the latch and entered the pub. Jenning’s are committed to beer drinking in the fells and sponsor ‘Geo-trails’ a GPS service that allows fell-walkers to know how far away they are from the nearest pub. This sounds like the sort of thing every household should have.

I couldn’t drink a lot of this, but I expect it’s expensive and gets you drunk quickly
Black and fizzy – like coke but not

Not my favourite – burnt taste, burnt after-taste and a burpy after-hue I want a grappa with this one – magic stuff
Very tasty beer
Chocolatey in a beer-like way

Really rather nice
Sweet and yummy
Many a good night forgotten on this one
Chocolatey goodness
Like velvet on the back of the throat
Chocolate and coffee – mochabeero

Ladies and gentlemen - we have a winner. Jenning's Sneck Lifter is our Champion Ale of the night.

Beer Number Nine - Petrus Dubbel Bruin, 6.5%, Belgium

A Belgian offering ‘brewed with pure spring water and carefully selected hops and malts’ – so they didn’t just bung them all in then? I particularly like the jolly monk on the label waving a tulip glass of beer and a large ‘key to heaven’ – that is not a euphemism for anything nasty.

The beer is made at the Bavik Brewery in Bavikhove, West Flanders; a town with an admirable history. Records from the end of the seventeenth century show that the population was about 800 people and the village had six pubs – a document signed by the mayor and the aldermen, and addressed to the higher authorities, states that all these pubs ‘are a necessity and useful’. Quite so.

The Bavik Brewery was ‘confiscated’ by the German army during WWI, but they were persuaded to keep it open while the town and several nearby cities, such as Ypres, were destroyed. After the war, the brewery owner married a brickie’s daughter and he sent barrels of his beer on the cart with the bricks from the brickyard to the building front – bricks and beer; the foundation of any good city.

Now the largest international criterion for professional cyclists takes place in Bavikhove annually. It is accepted and expected that spectators take their glass of beer out onto the streets to watch the race. As the Bavik Brewery writes, ‘We don’t want anyone to be thirsty or having a dry mouth while shouting and encouraging the racers.’


Creamy, good body
Very sweet and syrupy – a bit sickly really

Definitely a friend of Dorothy’s – far too fruity for friendship
Belgian beer, much liked by the group – suitable for cold dark evenings by the fire
Sweet finish yet malty – strong in alcohol like a Belgian beer
Couldn’t drink a lot, but a little is lovely
Like a cream pudding – you want a small slice but couldn’t eat the whole pie
Strong and sweet like alcoholic treacle
Fruity aroma initially – very fruity and a little jammy
Ginger, yeast, lovely magic beer

Malty, citrusy and gingery

Coming in at second overall, this proved quite a popular choice, 'much liked by the group' indeed!

Beer Number Ten - Urbock, 7%, Namibia

This is a traditional German-style bock, proof of Namibia’s past history as a German colony. Bocks are made with all malt and are strong, malty, medium to full-bodied beers with moderate hop bitterness. It is brewed in Swakopmund which is also interestingly enough the birthplace of the world’s most unfortunately-named human spoonerism; Shiloh-Pitt (think about it).

Namibia Breweries Ltd make this beer once a year so it is only available in May of each year in limited quality. It adheres to the German Purity Law and samples are regularly sent to a leading German brewing institute in Munich where the product is evaluated against quality standards prevailing in Europe.

Huge squabbles have developed between NBL and the giant South Africa Breweries and things seem to be getting nastily political, with the Advertising Standards Authority and the Namibian Government becoming involved. It’s serious stuff, is beer.

A brooding beer
Packs a punch but a bit crazy – like Frank Bruno
Not bad at all for something I would never order in the pub

Taste of seasons greetings – Chateau Neuf de Christmas
No idea what this is, but I’d have it again once I found out what it was Undertones of honey – I like it
Looks fruity, smells strong – sticky
A small taste explosion occurs in the mouth – malty, yeasty, hoppy and quite yummy
Very strong with BIG flavour – too much

Liquorice, aniseed and black treacle

And this tasty little number merited a 4th place overall.

So, there we have it - the Annual Blackhurst Beer Festival is drunk and dusted for another year. Thanks to everyone for caming and sharing yur thoughtsand comments with the group. We may see you again next time. Meawhile, here is a reminder of the ladder of success.