Film review: Await Further Instructions

Await Further Instructions

Starring Grant Masters, Sam Gittins, Neerja Naik

Directed by Johnny Kevorkian

One Christmas in the early 1980s, my dad took the plug off the TV so my brother and I wouldn’t spend the morning glued to it. Seemed harsh at the time, but I can see his point. It’s a time for family and not worshipping the one-eyed god in the corner of the room.

Funny how I’m reminded of that moment while watching one of the most unnerving films of the year.

But first a little context.

In 2015 I spent a few hours on the set of Await Further Instructions, a horror fantasy filmed in Bubwith with a largely unknown cast.

Though I missed Game of Thrones’ David Bradley, I did have a good chat with Grant Masters, Holly Weston and Abigail Cruttenden. The latter rather aptly pops up in Lee Mack’s sitcom Not Going Out, the unofficial alternate title for writer Gavin Williams’ movie.

During a return visit we chatted about the dark effects-driven climax and I was like a kid on Christmas morning in video village watching the magic being constructed next door. Rather aptly my second visit was on Hallowe’en 2015.

I was desperate to see how the movie turned out, and hoped by 2016 we’d see the result.

It took longer than expected, but finally I get the chance – and it’s a mesmerising piece of work.

The plot is simple: a young white Brit and his Asian girlfriend head to his folks for Christmas. She has a bit of a cold. He has a racist granddad, an uptight father and a pregnant sister who’s home with her boyfriend. Together with their mum, they hope for the usual family festivities, but things turn sour and the visitors decide to head off early next morning.

However, a mysterious black substance has surrounded the house and the TV warns them to ’Stay Indoors and Await Further Instructions’.

Bearing in mind I’d wandered around the brilliantly crafted set, I find it hard to believe I wasn’t in a real house.

When I was lucky enough to leave through the front door (not a luxury for the characters), it was a surreal experience being back in the film studio outside that domestic setting.

And seeing how smoothly it cuts with the exterior shots is a tribute to the filmmakers. Yes, it’s obvious movie magic, but beautifully done.

So, what unfolds in the next 75 minutes or so when the premise is set up makes for extraordinary viewing. Dark, scary, weird, surreal and utterly compelling.

Memories of Videodrome, The Thing, the Tetuso movies, Demon Seed and the Hellraiser saga merge with Alan Ayckbourn’s Seasons Greetings. A great mix for any Brit horror.

Full marks to all the cast, especially Grant Masters, Sam Gittins and Neerja Naik for lending a necessary degree of gravitas. And kudos to the effects crew for that finale.

Await Further Instructions is as special and weird as I’d hoped.

With great cinematography by Annika Summerson, a glorious score by Richard Wells, and excellent direction by Johnny Kevorkian, this is proof that a limited set, a great cast and a terrific script is worth more than a multi-million dollar budget, a dozen helicopters and hundreds of extras.

And thanks heavens, or hell, for that.

Unlike my dad and our TV on that memorable Christmas morning, I’m more than happy to give it a plug.

9/10

Advertisements

Film review- Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Starring Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Certificate 12A

The previous Mission: Impossible movie, Rogue Nation, is one of my favourite films of the past decade, a brilliant mix of comedy, action, thrills and internecine shenanigans.

Okay, it didn’t help that bad guy Sean Harris looked just like Sean Lock, but that aside, writer/director Christopher McQuarrie did a terrific job of juggling the assorted set pieces and penning some priceless dialogue.

Little wonder producers Cruise and JJ Abrams rehired him for part six, a gloriously OTT blockbuster best seen on the big screen.

This time Ethan Hunt and the usual suspects are mixed up in a plot involving arch villain Solomon Lane (Harris) and newcomer the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby).

The first half is bursting with more twists than a fusilli factory, and though it gets bogged down a little with viewers wondering who’s the good guy/girl, things settle down by half way.

As ever Cruise turns things up to 11 on the DIY stunt scale. Throwing himself off buildings and motorbikes; hanging around on top of Tate Modern; performing a HALO jump, and flying a helicopter. I can only imagine the nightmare the insurers had signing off on this film.

As a big fan of the franchise, it’s great to see threads from previous movies tied up, and witness the return of Michelle Monaghan as Hunt’s wife from MI3.

As usual, Ving Rhames doesn’t have much to do, but he brings a sensitivity to the movie, and while I’d like to have seen Jeremy Renner back on board, there’s clearly just enough characters to make the story work.

The addition of Henry Cavill as shady agent August Walker adds a heft to the production. He also provides a dry humour and a manic intensity that helps lift the movie.

Vanessa Kirby is a terrific femme fatale, while my obsession with Rebecca Ferguson shows little sign of abating. Her athletic assassin Ilsa Faust is worthy of a spin-off movie.

And, as ever, Simon Pegg proves to be the saga’s other MVP. His Benji adds a perfect mix of comic relief and gravitas. As for Angela Bassett, she never gives a bad turn, though it feels like she’s wandered in from the set of those awful Gerard Butler ’Olympus/London Has Fallen’ movies as the government suit.

Fans of Ronin will be reminded of Robert De Niro’s thriller, merely because of the best Parisian car chase staged since that 1990s offering, while art house movie fans will recall Alan Resnais’ 1961 offering Last Year at Marienbad during one scene.

There’s also echoes of Stallone’s popcorn classic Cliffhanger, but deja vu aside, safe to say Fallout is very much its own film. Pushing Cruise and the filmmakers to their limits, it might take a couple more watches before I can compare it to the sublime Rogue Nation (the screening I saw was a little grainy, so it may look better on HD TV), but those vistas in the third act certainly made it worth the price of admission.

With a pulse-pounding Lorne Balfe score and snappy editing (the end of the Parisian bike stunt deserves a round of applause), this is superb entertainment which even manages to squeeze ‘MI6’ into the script, as I hoped it would years ago.

A nice meta touch as the franchise’s acronyms finally caught up with the real world’s UK intelligence branches.

Who knows whether Cruise will decide to call it a day, or press on with a seventh movie? But if he does, safe to say at least one punter will be happy to hand over their cash for MI7 on day one.

8/10

On the Set of Await Further Instructions

Christmas. What could be more enjoyable than getting the family together, having dinner, then crashing out in front of the TV?

However, for those featured in new movie Await Further Instructions, this will turn into a festive season none will forget… if any live to see the new year.

I’m on the East Yorkshire set, and the concept art, story, and the fact it features David Bradley (Harry Potter, The Strain, Game of Thrones) has me intrigued. The rest of the cast are also on good form; there are some stars in the making here.

No spoilers, but if you’re a fan of 1980s sci-fi thrillers from David Cronenberg and John Carpenter, you may be hooked.

The mocked up home is so effective it’s easy to forget i’m not in a real house. The living room, kitchen and upstairs areas are beautifully created. If it weren’t for the tech crew, the illusion would be complete.

So, what’s it about?

“Await Further Instructions is the story of a young man called Nick who is convinced by his girlfriend (Annji) that she needs to meet his family,” explains producer Jack Tarling, one of the makers of critically acclaimed drama God’s Own Country.

“He’s been absent from the family for some time, but she says, ‘Look, we’re getting serious, they can’t be that bad.'”

They arrive on Christmas Eve to meet the family, and are greeted by the highly strung mother Beth, and cold, overbearing father, Tony.

Other guests are Nick’s unpleasant grandfather (David Bradley), Nick’s sister and her fiance.

“As Nick has predicted, the first evening descends into these terrible arguments. Annji, his girlfriend, is British Asian, and there are undertones of xenophobia from his family.”

The couple decide to sneak out next morning, but things don’t quite go to plan.

They discover the doors and windows of the property have been sealed by a mysterious black substance.

“When the rest of the family awake, they turn on the TV and find a single line of text which says ‘Stay indoors and await further instructions.'”

During a break from filming, I chat to Abigail Cruttenden (Not Going Out), aka Beth.

“She is very much old-fashioned and looks after her husband and children; very home centric really. She sort of finds a voice in the end,” laughs Abigail.

What attracted her to the part?

“There aren’t very meaty roles for women my age, and the women are written really well. She’s a proper, complicated, interesting character, and there aren’t many of those around.

“You read a lot of scripts being an actor and this is one of those ones where you read it and think ‘Oh this is really interesting’.”

“With the script you’ve got to keep it earthed, because we know we’re going into the realms of sci-fi,” explains Grant Masters, aka Tony. (He had to race back from a family holiday in Greece to make the movie).

Actress Holly Weston (who featured in rather good train-centred chiller Howl) was equally bowled over by the concept.

“As soon as I read the script I thought I really want to do this,” she explains. The script really just sucked me in.”

I watch a few minutes in the editing suite. The DP’s work looks terrific, while David Bradley’s performance helps give a dinner table scene a sense of familiarity.

I also see a more eye-watering scene which underlines the darker elements.

“We are just at the end of week three, and it’s very intense. Intense in a good way,” explains director Johnny Kevorkian after wrapping for the day.

Johnny’s previous movie, acclaimed thriller The Disappeared, attracted positive word of mouth.

Though he has clearly found his own cinematic voice, like any film maker or fan, it’s hard not to ‘quote’ from some of the masters.

“I love Hitchcock. I reference The Birds in this a lot,” he explains. “It’s the domestic becoming the unreal. Not supernatural like this, but it’s more about how you can take a family which is dysfunctional and then put them into this scenario and see how they deal with it.

“Obviously Alien was another one that I love for this as well, and The Thing.”

I’ve been tired of CG magic for some time now, so I am glad Await Further Instructions features mostly practical effects.

“We will have CG, but it’s more enhancements,” explains Johnny. “Everything effects-wise is going to be physical, so it’s going to be there on the day.”

As a good soundtrack plays an integral part in most great movies, I’m thrilled Johnny wants an orchestral score. That, of course, will have to wait until the film is all but finished. Just one more element of a diminishing ‘to do’ list for the AFI team.

A week later, rather aptly on Hallowe’en, I’m back in AFI’s video village. Stunning, nightmarish effects are being created on the main set a few feet away.

Thankfully it’s as gloriously surreal and twisted as I’d hoped. I high five writer Gavin Williams and marvel at Grant Masters’ extra mile performance. His turn alone should help make AFI a film you may never forget, no matter how hard you try.

Grant, Johnny, Jack and backers Red Rock Entertainment, Premiere Pictures and Goldfinch Entertainment are cooking up something pretty special in Yorkshire.

I can’t wait to see the finished result.

:: Thanks to the cast and crew of Await Further Instructions for the photos and help with this blog post.

Film review-Terminal

Film review

Terminal

Certificate 15

Starring Margot Robbie, Simon Pegg, Mike Myers

Directed by Vaughn Stein

A few years before making some hit and miss superhero films, director Zack Snyder made Sucker Punch, a visually stunning fantasy adventure. It looked phenomenal, the production design was excellent, and the cast was great, but it fell wide of the mark due to a lacklustre script.

Of course that didn’t stop him going on to make Man of Steel, (the woeful) Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice, and a good chunk of the so-so Justice League. Some films, like Sucker Punch, are essentially show reels for good directors who just want to get their work out there, but are obviously hampered by middling dialogue.

Terminal, starring Margot Robbie and Simon Pegg, is also a visually ravishing spectacle that grabs you from the opening frames and doesn’t let go until the end. Alas, while Robbie and Pegg are excellent as always, we also have to put up with Dexter Fletcher dropping F bombs every 30 seconds as one of the most annoying hitmen ever committed to celluloid.

Robbie plays a coffee shop waitress at an all night café. Pegg is the chain-smoking teacher she crosses paths with.

Intercut with their scenes of philosophy and thoughts on life and suicide are tiresome moments with Fletcher and hunky fellow hitman Max Irons.

Most bizarrely of all is Mike Myers as a comedic night porter, looking like he wandered onto the set from a funnier film and was too polite to ask for directions back to his own movie.

Writer/director Vaughn Stein clearly has a great team behind him. It’s one of the best looking films you’ll see all year, and every time she’s on screen, producer/star Robbie steals the show.

There are times when it feels her Harley Quinn character from Suicide Squad has rocked up in her own spin-off movie, but despite her stunning looks and manic quirks, narratively the film is a mess until the finale when all becomes clear with some wince-inducing moments also reminiscent of Sucker Punch.

This is a half hour film padded to an excruciating 95 minutes, and a word of warning. One glimpse at the cast credits on IMDb or Wikipedia will give away a couple of major plot spoilers, so probably best avoid.

I’ve no doubt Margot and Vaughan could make an incredible film together. A shame this isn’t it.

5/10

Film review – Incredibles 2

Film review

Incredibles 2

Directed by Brad Bird

Starring (the voices of) Craig T Nelson, Holly Hunter, Catherine Keener

Certificate PG

I waited 14 years for a sequel to The Incredibles, one of my favourite films of the noughties. I even asked John Ratzenberger, aka the Underminer, when we could see Incredibles 2 happen, like an over excited kid waiting for a present lost in transit. And that was about 10 years ago.

Writer/director Brad Bird did such a good job with the 2004 original, it was a shame to see his Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was just okay, while Tomorrowland was a slick misfire.

Thankfully he’s back on form here, unveiling another breathtaking array of action set pieces, domestic drama and gloriously dark moments.

It looks fabulous, with the period aesthetics once more giving it a fifties/sixties vibe. It’s both timeless and futuristic, and yet again Michael Giacchino’s score is a brilliant homage to classic John Barry/007 scores.

The twist involving creepy villain Screen Slaver is guessed pretty early, though kids will probably be kept in the dark until the reveal.

Like before, the Parr family and their assorted problems are at the heart of the piece. This time, Bob (Mr Incredible) is the stay-at-home dad while wife Helen (Elastigirl) is the revitalised heroine, thanks to help from Winston Deavor, a superhero fan and the owner of telecoms corporation DevTech. His sister Evelyn, the genius inventor behind DevTech technology, also plays a key part in proceedings, and as things play out, I soak up the action and visuals like blotting paper on cinematic ink.

It’s a little too long, with too many sub-plots, but there’s so much to unpack here, repeat viewings are in order.

Was it worth the wait? Absolutely, though I’d like to have seen Bird and his army of creatives push things a little, maybe using a time warp into a different decade to shake off that feeling of inevitable deja vu.

I can only imagine the amount of work that went into crafting such an animated behemoth, but for those in search of a couple of hours of top notch escapism, this fits the bill admirably.

8/10

Film review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Starring Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Lily James

Certificate PG

A decade after the runaway success of musical conversion Mamma Mia!, the movie backers strayed into Grease 2 territory with a sequel.

A bold move, but the good news is Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a better film than its predecessor, and one of the reasons is Richard Curtis. The ace screenwriter and partner/script editor Emma Freud, together with Ol Parker, have done a terrific job of taking elements from the first movie, weaving in flashbacks and obviously segueing into those classic ABBA tracks.

And as before, it’s the music that really shines. Though the Waterloo scene is especially contrived, it’s still a fun few minutes, as is When I Kissed the Teacher.

I’d liked to have seen a version of Eagle, but that’s just because of fond memories of sitting through ABBA: The Movie twice, back to back in my local fleapit in 1977.

Though the sequel is bursting with stars from the first film, and a wealth of series newcomers, including Lily James (as a young Meryl Streep), Andy Garcia and Cher, the standout is Amanda Seyfried. Obviously older, wiser but no less stunning. Every time she’s on screen the movie lifts, and when it comes to tugging the heartstrings, she and one of her co-stars do a magnificent job.

Yes, I’m being deliberately vague, because there’s a major spoiler which holds the movie together.

There are a few scenes in the third act when it feels like turning into the Cher show, but thankfully not so much that it ruins things. And while Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard are as wonderful here as in film one (Pierce’s singing has improved thankfully), Christine Baranski and the scene-stealing Julie Walters are as priceless as before. The latter had me in hysterics as usual, while Alexa Davies, from sublime sitcom Made in Wolves, does a fine job as the younger version.

So, not a Grease 2 then, thankfully. Under the direction of Ol Parker (writer of the Marigold Hotel movies), this is a feelgood blubfest that is far better than many fans could have wished for. Great choreography, some terrific dad dancing, and spot-on casting ensure this is going to be on hard rotation in many households (once it hits DVD/Blu-ray shelves) until a third movie is released. Hopefully the same team will be reunited and we won’t have to wait a decade for the privilege.

My my! An absolute winner.

8/10

Restaurant review Wellbourne Brasserie, White City, London

Restaurant review

Wellbourne Brasserie, White City, London

They don’t serve memories in restaurants. At least not instantly. That comes from being in a location as treasured as your own home, which is rarer than common sense at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue these days.

Given the location of Wellbourne Brasserie, an elegant eatery in London’s White City, my partner and I can enjoy a huge helping of nostalgia before dinner; Rachel because of her work experience at Crimewatch 15 years ago, and me because I spent a chunk of my life soaking up those iconic scenes from BBC TV centre. I can almost hear the tap dancing Roy Castle and an entourage of dancers hoofing around the BBC fountain from 40-plus years ago on Record Breakers, or those countless lobby shots of stars arriving for one show or another.

But enough TV memories for now.

We have a lunchtime appointment, and arrive early to explore the neighbourhood. The enormous Westfield Shopping Centre is so big it’s a wonder we don’t change time zones half way.

Before dinner we soak up a few rays in the communal deck chairs as busy media types discuss work.

The local atmosphere is fun, exciting and creative. When we rock up at Wellbourne Brasserie, many diners are sat outside enjoying the sunshine.

The place is described as a ’Relaxed, all-day brasserie with unfussy modern British dishes and south-facing al fresco terrace.’

Does it live up to the publicity blurb?

Absolutely.

Inside we meet General Manager Becky, who instantly puts us at our ease, and proves to be an outstanding host.

I have a mental cool wall of excellent staff, and Becky is in the liquid nitrogen realm: hard working, well informed and hugely engaging.

’But what of the decor?’ you may wonder. Well, the colour scheme is simple yet elegant. The gorgeous wood tables and stylish banquettes complement one another beautifully. It’s a touch of class, but without feeling so informal you can’t relax.

There’s a cool jazz soundtrack, and though I’m sat with my back to the open kitchen, Rachel is fascinated by the attention to detail of culinary wizards Ross Gibbens and Michael Kennedy, who do a terrific job of making our dinner.

We enjoy a slate of six vol au vents, which are a delicious starter. Three cost £6, and are worth every penny.

I devour the English pea, ewe’s cheese and mint; salt cod brandade, and pulled lamb’s shoulder with violet mustard. All of them are delicious.

My main is Iberico Presa at £15. For those scratching their heads, it’s pork shoulder; beautifully tender and has just the right level of smokiness. It’s a little too tender for me, but I still devour the bulk of it. The side of new potatoes (£4) and spinach (£4.50) are expertly cooked and enhance the dish brilliantly.

After a glass of fizz, I enjoy a Rioja reserva (the wine du jour) and click into smug mode when I guess the percentage (13.5). However, Rachel’s Pinot Noir, which seems to have less volume, is a percentage higher. (Just as well I got that wrong as I’d have been unbearable).

The place seats 120, so no shortage of room if you’re turning up with a few friends for an impromptu party. And the prices are very affordable. The plat du jour is £12, while a burger with chips will also set you back £12.

We leave just enough room for dessert (both at £4). Rachel has millionaire’s shortbread with gold leaf, while I go for chocolate brownie ice cream and sorbet.

The BBC-related poignancy is hammered home with our cappuccinos at the end of the meal. Wogan Coffee, set up by Terry’s brother Brian, is a company that sources and imports artisan and speciality coffees from sustainable and ethical farms worldwide. It’s also one way of ensuring we get to raise a cuppa to the Beeb’s greatest, much-missed broadcaster.

As we head off for our hotel, it’s good to look back at this glorious creative hub, with its cool atmosphere and great eatery.

The four ’legs’ that hold up any great culinary table are fine food, terrific service, wonderful atmosphere and a fair price.

Wellbourne Brasserie has all that and more. It’s so good it makes me want to tap dance around the old BBC fountain. And there’s no higher praise than that.

An interview with Guy Henry

An interview with Guy Henry

By Roger Crow

Actor Guy Henry has featured in some of the most popular films and TV shows of the past 25 years, including the Harry Potter saga and Holby City. Roger Crow talks to him about his work on new movie The Krays: Dead Man Walking, stepping into Peter Cushing’s boots for Rogue One, and playing the BBC’s 1990s horror movie guru Dr Terror.

How did you land the part of Conservative politician Lord Boothby in The Krays: Dead Man Walking?

“They (the film makers) said ’Would I pop along and do it for a day?’ I said ’Absolutely’, and there I was. I don’t think I read the whole script.

“It was partly through the wonderful Adam Stephen Kelly, who’d done (the short film) Done In.”

How difficult or easy was it playing a real person?

“The first thing that happened was I walked out on set not really knowing that I didn’t look anything like Lord Boothby. And (former The Bill star) Chris Ellison said: ’Well you’re mis-cast’. So I thought, ’Oh, thank you very much’. That’s encouraging isn’t it?

“I just tried to be as fruity as I could be, and I hope it came off. It was great fun. Quite a nice character role.”

There seems to be more mileage in this version of the Krays saga. Would you be keen to return to the role?

“I would indeed. I loved doing it.”

I’ve started watching Holby City again thanks to your medical alter ego.

“He is a wonderful character old Mr Hanssen. He’s a real eccentric and great to play.”

What can fans look forward to in upcoming episodes?

“All sorts of dreadful things befall him to do with an old friend, played by my old friend from drama school days, Paul McGann. It was lovely. We were at RADA together between 1979 to 1981. We’ve been in touch over the years, but it’s really great to play some wonderful stuff with him.

“He’s something of a baddie in the show, and poor Mr Hanssen doesn’t realise he is until the end and it’s very sad.

“I’ve recently been screaming across a lake in Hertfordshire; we’ve been on location. Really, really exciting stuff.”

Holby City turns 20 next year. Why do you think it’s still going strong?

“It’s an extraordinary achievement to do it 52 weeks a year. Even Casualty has a break of a few months, but we don’t. If you think about it, 52 hours’ worth of drama. That’s 26 feature films back to back, week by week, on and on. It’s amazing. And only (using) three hospital sets and a car park. So often people say this about the shows they’re on, but they really are the finest people in the business. I’m very fortunate indeed.”

As a Star Wars fan, I love Rogue One. How was it stepping into Peter Cushing’s boots as Tarkin?

“I was very frightened by that one. I love Peter Cushing; he was always one of my favourite actors, and a wonderful gentleman by all accounts. Some of the crew on Holby, the lighting crew, they worked with him on Hammer horror in the old days, at Pinewood, or wherever it was made, and they speak of him with great affection.

“I was obviously nervous about letting down all the Hollywoody types; Lucasfilm/Disney-type people. And it was Peter Cushing I didn’t want to let down. I’m not an impressionist; I can do quite a good Peter O’Toole impression, but not a Peter Cushing.”

I thought you nailed the interpretation.

“I don’t think the voice is particularly accurate. It’s the flavour of him rather than an accurate impersonation I think, but I’m glad that many people went along with it happily. I know there are some dissenters, which is quite understandable. It was a very exciting thing to do.”

And there is room for another movie with Tarkin, so would you like to make a return to the role?

“You never know. I did go up for a part as myself, or my agent and the casting woman anyway thought it might be nice to have me in the film as me. But I put myself on tape and I haven’t heard a word.”

I first became aware of your work in the early 1990s as dry-witted demon Dr Terror in the BBC’s horror movie seasons. I’d love to see him back on the box.

“Well that would be great fun. Not that wearing five-and-a-half hours’ worth of individual rubber prostheses, lovingly glued to me by Geoff Portass… not that that was exactly an easy joy.”

Do you find it easy acting through masks, whether physical or digital?

“Not really. I used to have vodka and tonics through a straw on the night shoots (for Dr Terror) because you couldn’t get the funny little rubber lips wet. We also shot some scenes at Blackpool pleasure beach, and that was a lot of fun.

“He was a great character. It would be fun to do it again actually. It’s funny that a lot of people remember him. I think if you get an interesting idea and interesting concepts and an extraordinary character, like a Tarkin or Dr Hanssen or indeed Dr Terror, then you’re onto a winner aren’t you? It’s just finding that combination of a good idea and a good character to fulfil it.”

:: The Krays: Dead Man Walking is available on DVD and digital from 10th September.

Hotel review: Eccleston Square Hotel, London

Somehow, I’m not sure how, I recently became 50 (though I prefer the age 49 and 12 months).

As it’s birthday week I want my obligatory trip to London to be something special, and staying a couple of doors down from Winston Churchill’s old house is certainly that.

My partner and I are in SW1, a 5-10 minute walk from London’s Victoria coach station, and thanks to my phone’s street maps taking me round the houses, we’ve just had a good walk around the neighbourhood.

It’s a beautiful area, and our hotel, 37 Eccleston Square, is as good as I’d hoped. Fast, efficient check-in; a compact but elegant room with a comfy bed; terrific shower and plenty of tech to keep me happy. The old school iPad is handy for checking out the local dining. We’re staying not far from the Boisdale restaurant I reviewed in 2017, and pass it while pottering round the area.

After checking in there’s just enough time to grab a shower, get changed and head off to see a business associate before a show.

By the time we return around 10.30, trying to find a pizza place on the doorstep is far from easy. However, the concierge is more than happy to order one for us. It arrives 45 minutes later; a medium cheese and mushroom costs around £13 and is terrific.

We scoff it on the handily provided bed tray. Classy I know, but some of my happiest holiday memories are crashed out in a hotel room watching a blockbuster on TV while devouring local pizza.

One of the hotel’s USPs is the 3D TV. You can order the film you want from the iPad, and it’s brought to your room with 3D glasses. Except ours doesn’t recognise my phone number for logging in, so I nip down to reception. The film I want has already been booked out for the night, so I settle for nature doc Wild Ocean, which doesn’t seem very 3D.

There’s a wealth of channels. I’ve never been in any London hotel that offered S4C, but it’s a great touch for visitors yearning for the green, green grass of home.

However, it’s late, we’re exhausted and time for bed.

The area is wonderfully quiet, and the blackout curtains mean I sleep until 8ish.

We’re lucky enough to have a balcony so we can watch life go by while having a cuppa. A posh coffee maker is provided with three pods, but you can no doubt order more. Tea you can get from elsewhere in the hotel, which is a bit of a minus as I love making a cuppa in hotels. It’s usually the first of many rituals.

We also have a free minibar, which is one of the bonuses of booking direct with the hotel. It’s not a wealth of miniatures, so no chance of having a boozy session, but a couple of beers, bottled water and chocolate is ideal to tide us over. And as it’s a fair price minibar, the prices are surprisingly affordable.

The lights and curtains are automated, so there’s plenty of fun to be had there, and the transparent shower and bathroom windows turn opaque at the touch of a button. (An added bonus is the Star Trek-style ’whoosh’ sound effect of the bathroom door when it opens. Yes, it’s the little things that add up to a really fun stay).

Breakfast in the elegant dining room is outstanding. My full English boasts delicious mushrooms, toast, elegantly sliced sausage and excellent scrambled eggs. Rachel’s veggie omelette is equally terrific. Together with a great pot of tea, we’re set up for the day.

I mention the 3D glitch to reception and they couldn’t be more helpful, arranging demos at the other end of dining room and in our room.

The enormous ground floor hi-def 3D TV is breathtaking, while the one in our room is so immersive I’m hooked and start wondering about staying another night just to make the most of it.

Alas, our noon checkout looms and we have a full day of sightseeing ahead, though not before I order a couple of cappuccinos from room service and enjoy them while soaking up the views from that balcony.

Forty five years ago it’s the sort of place I would have stamped my feet over having to leave. I’d like to think I’ve matured a bit since then, though that reluctance to depart is still very much present.

Eccleston Square Hotel is a fabulous stay with terrific facilities and great staff.

Like the hostelry in that classic Eagles song, we can check out any time we want. Trouble is we don’t want to leave.

Restaurant review Plate Restaurant and Bar- Shoreditch, London

Restaurant review

Plate Restaurant and Bar- Shoreditch, London

The knife-shaped building is one of the most elegant I’ve seen during my latest flying visit to London. Once I know it’s there, it’s hard to ignore; the place almost begs me to take photos, like the curved apartments just around the corner which feel like futuristic structures from Thunderbirds have been built full size.

This particular sci-fi-style construction is a hotel apparently – The Montcalm, though we’re not here to check in sadly.

My partner and I are at the end of a 30-hour joint birthday trip to the capital and we’re on a tight schedule.

With 90 minutes to sample some of the best Plate has to offer, the clock is ticking. But thankfully we have back up.

We’re in Shoreditch where we’ve hotfooted it from a hipster bar 10-minutes’ walk away.

Admittedly getting to Plate takes a little navigation. We enter the lobby of said posh hotel and get directions from a security guard. A short lift ride later and we find Plate around the corner.

It’s an elegant, beautifully designed eatery which looks like it costs an arm and a leg, but is surprisingly affordable for a restaurant of this calibre.

Though we’re booked in for two, our culinary MC has no problem seating our two other party guests.

The menu is simple and attractive; the ambience is welcoming and laid back, in sharp contrast to the cacophony we’ve just endured at the other end of town. (Oh dear, I’ve reached that age).

’At Plate we believe in the importance of simply taking time to share a meal with family and friends, to break bread together and catch up.’

I can’t fault their publicity blurb, and it tastes like they’ve ’used the highest quality local and seasonal ingredients to create a menu of fresh, flavour-packed plates.’

I have a starter I’m sure Nigella would approve of – crushed avocado on sourdough toast with chilli and lime (£7 and worth every penny). It’s a delicious palate-cleanser and very moreish.

(My main is so good, my mouth is watering a dozen hours after tasting it). I’d quite happily pay £16 for the corn-fed chicken with garlic purée, chicken jus and confit carrot. It’s beautifully tender, with a side of potatoes and cabbage perfectly complimenting the meat. Every mouthful is a pleasure.

Two of my fellow diners opt for the vegetarian risotto, and the verdict is hugely positive. “A nice, simple combination of flavours,” enthuses Rachel. (An hour after we leave she’s still singing its praises).

The Atlantic cod with cauliflower purée, almond crumb and pickled grapes also gets a thumbs up from an old friend.

Due to our tight schedule we get a good taste of Plate’s calibre of dining, but I feel we’ve merely seen the tip of a terrific culinary iceberg.

I pop over to the kitchen to thank Head Chef Matt Hill. He and his team have done a wonderful job of impressing all of us, and like most great restaurants there’s a feeling of wanting to return.

Next time Rachel and I will stick around for dessert instead of racing off to Euston to catch our train home.

However, judging by the photos and verdict from my stand-in reviewers, the strawberries with elderflower sorbet and coffee brûlée with amaretto mousse, I’m guessing they were as big a hit as the mains.

London never ceases to amaze me with its glorious selection of eateries, and though on the outside Plate looks way out of my price range, the great thing is it’s very affordable for special occasions or just catching up with old friends.

We wouldn’t need to think too hard about making a return visit.