Film review – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Film review – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell

Mildred Hayes, like Fargo’s Marge Gunderson, is a role many actresses would give their eye teeth for. And when Frances McDormand picks up an Oscar or BAFTA (or both) for the role, it will hopefully attract a new wave of interest in one of the best films of the past 12 months.

Mildred has suffered an unimaginable personal loss, and when she arrives at the eponymous billboards in the opening minutes, she hatches an idea that sets in motion events which drag the residents of Ebbing into a maelstrom of revenge and repercussions.

Key to the developments are Sheriff Bill Willoughby (a terrific Woody Harrelson) and officer Jason Dixon (a powerhouse Sam Rockwell).

As with Fargo there are assorted peripheral characters who add light and shade to the proceedings. Peter Dinklage gives a typically wonderful turn as Mildred’s suitor, while there is solid support from John Hawes, Abbie Cornish, Kerry Condon and Clarke Peters.

Writer/director Martin McDonagh, who memorably gave us the wonderful In Bruges, has created such an immersive drama, bursting with juicy dialogue and outstanding scenes, that it almost begs for another movie examining the lives of different characters in Ebbing.

And as with Fargo, Carter Burwell’s score is a treat.

Kudos to Film4 for providing some of the $12m budget. This is one of their best co-productions in some time, and when they take home Oscar gold this spring, let’s hope it will pave the way for more films this good.



Film review  Jumanji – Welcome to the Jungle

Film review

Jumanji – Welcome to the Jungle

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black

Certificate 12A

I can’t say I was desperate to see a sequel to Jumanji, the 1990s Robin Williams blockbuster in which kids get trapped inside a board game and play to get back to the real world.

And the concept of Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black as two of the four protagonists fighting for their life also left me cold.

Don’t get me wrong. I like them both, but I’ve never rushed out to see the new Dwayne or Jack movie. They’re just not magnetic enough for me.

However, Karen Gillan has that winning mix of sex appeal and quirkiness to win me over, so on a bleak January morning I settle in.

I’m not expecting much, so as the movie opens with references to the original, and so much product placement I feel queasy, I fear the worst.

On the surface this may be a Jumanji reboot, but once I get past the feeling I’m watching a mash-up of It and Stranger Things (thanks to a creepy house, yellow rain coat and lovably nerdy students), I realise the heart of the piece is The Breakfast Club transplanted to the jungle. (The nerdy guy, the jock, the princess and the geek girl reflecting on their shortcomings).

And I’m happy to say it’s one of the most enjoyable family adventures I’ve seen in years.

The plot: while four fellow students are given detention and have to de-staple a bunch of magazines for recycling, they happen across a 1990s video game.

And wouldn’t you know it? They are soon transplanted to the jungle. The twist being the geek is now the muscle-bound charismatic hero. The athletic jock is now the diminutive, weapons-carrying sidekick. The selfie-obsessed narcissist prom queen is a chubby middle aged man, and the shy geek is a Lara Croft-style kick-ass heroine.

After landing in their new home (those Hawaii backdrops are glorious on the big screen), our fish-out-of-water heroes are soon introduced to Rhys Darby’s avatar character, a genial sort who fills in their back story and mission before leaving them to it.

Cue rocket-launching bikers, killer hippos and no end of human and geographical hurdles to overcome.

As our heroes overcome their personal differences and adjust to their own new special abilities, what unfolds is often a joy.

The highlight is Black teaching Gillan how to flirt as she attempts to sidetrack intentionally generic bad guy avatars.

Director Jake Kasdan does a great job of juggling the epic set pieces, while the cast interact so well, I’m not surprised it’s become one of the biggest blockbusters of the past 12 months.

If you get the chance, see it on the biggest screen possible and enjoy as Johnson, Gillan, Hart and Black take you on a magical adventure which is even quite touching in places.

Those glorious vistas will lose a lot on the small screen, as I’ll find out when I watch it again, and again in a few months’ time. And no, not just because (a recognisable) Karen Gillan has finally landed the blockbuster she deserves.

Given the huge box office returns, a sequel is only a matter of years rather than decades.

I have a feeling Mr Williams would have been proud.


Restaurant review The Cockpit Cafe, Beverley

Restaurant review

The Cockpit Cafe, Beverley

In a world where generic chains offer overpriced coffee and food, I’ll always gravitate to a themed cafe if done well. The food doesn’t just have to be great, but the place also has to have the courage of its own convictions.

Thankfully The Cockpit Cafe in Beverley has a great USP – a glorious splash of fun on a winter’s day. It indulges my passion for vintage aviation, and then some.

I’ve been looking forward to this visit since it opened in early December 2017. Now, in one of the most depressing weeks of the year, it’s just the helping of escapism my partner and I need.

Thankfully the drive from Howden to Beverley is a joy on a freezing Saturday morning; parking a few minutes’ walk from the venue is easy and relatively cheap, and the place itself is easy to find.

I love the exterior with its gorgeous graphics and welcoming facade. The interior is equally terrific with vintage suitcases for tables and elegant booths at the rear of the cafe.

It’s a pleasure to meet former air hostess-turned entrepreneur Lucie Mountain. The brains behind the operation, she drew inspiration from the 1950s, and with a passion for travel, that winning mix of great food, drink and ambience has customers packing out the venue for our 90-minute stay.

Serving food and drink from all over the world, it’s a treat to see a simple but effective menu which offers some of my favourite dishes and drinks.

And with waitresses naturally in airline attire, it’s that essential touch which helps keep the aeronautical fantasy aloft.

The day is so icy when we arrive, it demands something to warm the cockles. I go for hot Kentish Pip Firespice Ginger Cider, while Rachel has a Bailey’s Hot Chocolate.

As it always reminds me of honeymoon in New England, I opt for the seafood chowder with garlic toast. At £7.50, you certainly get your money’s worth. I’m used to some chowders being a starter, but this is very much a main, filled with delicious fresh ingredients. The toast is deliciously crisp and the flavour avoids being overpowering.

Rachel chooses Baked Frittata (£5.50) – spiced sweet potato, caramelised onion frittata, with yoghurt, honey and poppyseed dressing.

“The flavours are nice and it’s cooked to perfection, but the portion of dressing is too generous,” she remarks. “In that case less would have been definitely more.”

We split a delicious Chocolate Terrine, and I savour a cappuccino, complete with plane (rather than plain) biscuit, which goes down a treat.

I was sold on The Cockpit Cafe from the minute I walked in, probably because it’s just the sort of place Beverley needs. A break from the norm and a reminder of that golden era of world travel.

“I wanted to create something completely unique to other food and drink venues in Yorkshire,” remarks Lucie.

She’s certainly done that, though I’m itching to see a huge 1950s propeller revolving fan-like from the ceiling. I’d also love to see a merch stand with the beautiful coffee cups (I’d have bought one on the day). And the delicious Chocolate Terrine is begging to be renamed “Chocs Away”. But that’s just me. Some touches are perhaps too obvious.

Yorkshire needs more entrepreneurs like Lucie, who’s done a wonderful job of taking a great idea and making it fly.

I can’t wait to return and sample more of the menu, perhaps on an evening when there’s live music.

Well worth a look, and best of all, you won’t need your passport.

Restaurant review – Oxo’s on the Mount, The Mount Royale Hotel & Spa, York

Restaurant review – Oxo’s on the Mount, The Mount Royale Hotel & Spa, York

By Roger Crow

Joanne Froggatt towers over The Mount Royale Hotel & Spa, like another remake of Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. Sadly one of the best actresses of her generation has not been filming a York-based version of the classic B-movie (and its comedic remake), as much as I’d love to see it. Thanks to Photoshopping, she’s one of the key focuses of a glossy magazine review which makes her look gigantic.

Joanne is one of many celebs who have visited over the years, and given the fact it’s a short walk into the heart of town, I’m not surprised it’s a haven for the stars (of all sizes).

Everywhere I look, the reviews for said hotel and restaurant are great. Impressive write-ups win me over so much, I’m considering checking in for the night.

That will wait for another time, because on this winter Sunday, my partner and I are here for lunch.

Getting here by car is relatively easy, and in a city with some car parks charging a fortune, it’s a bonus that there’s on-site parking.

However, as the sat nav takes us round the houses, I have to execute a couple of 90-degree Tron-style turns in quick succession.

It’s quiet when we rock up at 1pm, which seems odd for a Sunday, but we’re clearly early.

Julian, the master of ceremonies, gives us a warm welcome and shows us to our table.

He’s a terrific host who soon puts us at our ease and ensures every element of our two-hour stay is catered for.

Imagine if Alan Titchmarsh had added waiter and Maitre’D to his ever expanding list of skills, and you get the idea.

(I don’t compare many to the mighty Titchmarsh, but Julian has that same mix of charm, warmth and wit which is hugely appealing).

The menu is full of traditional fayre, as you’d expect for an eatery in the heart of York.

We begin with the excellent home-baked bread with artisan butters.

With two courses at £19.95 or three at £23.95, you certainly get a lot for your money, as I discover when my crayfish cocktail arrives.

It’s a tasty alternative to the beloved prawn cocktail. Delicious chunks of fish in Marie Rose sauce with more excellent bread. As I’ve not had breakfast, I enjoy every mouthful.

Rachel wisely opts for Yorkshire Blue Cheese and Poached Pear Salad, with beetroot, candied walnuts and port reduction. I’m impressed, especially as pear with anything for a starter is my idea of a nightmare. The flavours complement one another beautifully.

We’re off to a good start.

While waiting for our main, the restaurant begins to fill up, and I take in the surroundings. It’s an eclectic mix of eighties neon and tiki bar raffia in places. At one point I feel like Sonny Crockett dining in a Hawaii-themed Miami restaurant. And as someone who loves something out of the ordinary, that’s right up my street.

There’s an eclectic mix of styles that prove engaging. In one section a video screen of a roaring fire, and in the next we get the real thing, which makes me wonder if it’s footage of the neighbouring snug’s fireplace.

The spacious grounds look terrific for weddings and the like. A shame the day is 50 shades of grey, but it’s a good excuse to pop back in the summer.

(The fact it’s just down the road from the new Everyman cinema means that’s a real possibility).

My main is a feast of roast rump of British beef, Yorkshire pudding and seasonal veg with red wine jus. The staple for many great Sunday lunches, though as I usually opt for a small portion, there’s far too much for me. The meat is a little rare for my palate, but I’ll opt for a medium version next time.

With one figurative eye on my waistline and the other on the dessert menu, I admit defeat early, though the huge Yorkie pudding and fine gravy is nicely prepared.

Rachel’s Garlic Roast Tomato Risotto with mozzarella and truffle also gets the thumbs up. It tastes as good as it looks.

Dessert is a triumph, though again very generous portions mean we’re struggling to finish.

The Lemon Posset is a great palate cleanser, with pistachio nut granola, charred oranges and honey ice cream a treat for the tastebuds. (I’d recommend sharing one).

The Dark Chocolate Tart ticks every box on my list of fave dessert items, from the obvious element, to the roasted peanut ice cream and salted caramel.

Over cappuccinos we reflect on a great meal in fascinating surroundings with fine company.

In a perfect world I’d happily spend the rest of the afternoon, sat by the roaring fire chatting to our host about life and food, but that can wait for another day.

A wise man once wrote: ’The tradition of the Sunday feast accomplishes more than just feeding us. It nurtures us’.

Which is partly true. Add some great company to the equation; staff who make you hungry for a return visit, and that’s a truly great Sunday feast.

Highly recommended.

Restaurant review – The Ivy, York

Restaurant review – The Ivy, York

Whenever I’m passing The Ivy in London, I get a photo outside to remind me of my first visit back in the day.

Not because of the food, but because of the brand. It’s become synonymous with showbusiness, power lunches and networking.

So when offered the chance to sample the new York branch (lower case n), I think for a nanosecond before saying yes.

If only all gut feelings were so accurate, because General Manager Jon Pinner has done a terrific job of taking that well known brand and turning it into THE place to eat in York.

My partner Rachel and I arrive early because I don’t want to miss a minute of this fine dining experience.

We’re shown to our table from the booking entrance that connects St Helen’s Square to the restaurant itself.

The furnishings and seating do not disappoint. I’m soon languishing on the opulent, comfortable seats; dazzled by the beautifully designed menu and feeling like a lottery winner.

The decor is stylish, fresh, modern and engaging. I’m also in love with the menu, which boasts a beautifully designed cover.

For me it’s a dining experience years in the making since a Press launch gave me a taste of Ivy excellence in the 1990s. It doesn’t hurt that Ryan, our waiter, has the charm of namesake actor Gosling with the Geordie patter of Ant and Dec.

Like all great restaurants, engaging banter is the key to a fine stay, and we’re instantly at our ease while tucking into delicious starters.

My oak smoked salmon with crab, dill cream, rye soda bread and a squirt of lemon is melt-in-the-mouth marvellous at £11.50.

There’s no shortage of tempting dishes for the main, and the good thing is the price isn’t so outrageous that you need a second mortgage.

I opt for The Ivy chargrilled hamburger (£14.25), which arrives with a potato bun, and a collection of the usual accoutrements: red onion, dill pickle, lettuce and tomato, so I can take my pick instead of deconstructing the burger.

Talking of which, the meat is beautifully cooked, and the thick cut fries are outstanding, especially with Bloody Mary tomato sauce.

To quote Sam Jackson in Pulp Fiction, “Mmm, that is a tasty burger.”

Like his screen partner, mine is also vegetarian (well, pescatarian), but she has no shortage of equally tasty options to choose from. Wild mushrooms on toasted brioche with grated truffle and Gran Moravia (£7.95) for starter, and for main, an HLT – grilled halloumi, black olive, avocado, baby gem lettuce and tomato with herb mayonnaise (£9.75), all of which is terrific.

After the restaurant’s own Champagne (which makes a change from the ubiquitous calorie-busting Prosecco, though they obviously have that too), we have a couple of Cosmopolitans; Rachel’s with alcohol, mine without.

I’d thought the reception area was over staffed with three folks ready to take coats and the like, but given the fact the place is soon heaving, it eventually becomes apparent how popular the place is. Ladies who lunch; tourists and locals are soon tucking into mouthwatering food in the beautifully decorated restaurant. The atmosphere is terrific, not least because, unlike one chain, there’s no screaming feral kids or Cliff’s version of “Congratulations” interrupting the mood at top volume.

This is the place to bring friends and relatives if they’re in town for a few days and you want to ensure they have a memorable dining experience.

And like all good eateries, the best is saved for last.

Due to tactical portion control (I leave half my burger bun), I ensure I have room for dessert.

The Chocolate Bombe (£8.50) is a glorious mix of theatre as the delicious dark choc sphere at the heart of a large black plate disintegrates on contact with salted caramel sauce, revealing a lake of honeycomb and ice cream.

Rachel opts for apple tart fine (£7.95), drizzled in Calvados, which is expertly ignited by Ryan.

Again, the table theatrics are key to a memorable meal, and the fact it tastes divine is the icing on the cake. (Or rather the hot fruit sauce on the tart).

We round things off with cappuccinos, which could be a generic epilogue to a terrific culinary story, but even they are exceptional.

It’s rare to find a restaurant that ticks so many boxes, but The Ivy is my new favourite York eatery, and that’s saying something in St Helen’s Square, a region which is bursting with them.

“It wasn’t just about the food, which I loved, it was the atmosphere,” enthuses my fellow gastronaut as we emerge back into the reality of a crisp winter’s day. It’s now Rachel’s favourite dining experience after 12 months of exploring some of the best restaurants the UK has to offer. It’s easily in my top three.

“There is a difference between dining and eating,” remarked 18th-century poet and gastronome Yuan Mei. “Dining is an art. When you eat to get most out of your meal, to please the palate, just as well as to satiate the appetite, that, my friend, is dining.”

That, my friend, is The Ivy, York.