Restaurant review: Bill’s, 12 Coney Street, York

Restaurant review
Bill’s, 12 Coney Street, York. 
Roger Crow/@RogerCrow
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve passed Bill’s in York and said to my wife: “We must try that place some day.”
So when offered the chance to try out the place, I didn’t need to think twice. 
Located next to HMV on Coney Street, Bill’s boasts a terrific interior, all tasteful decor and stressed wood, but thankfully not stressed staff. 
We take a seat by the window and after ordering drinks (Raspberry and Rosehip Collins at £7.25, and a great low alcohol Brewdog Nanny State hoppy ale at £3.95), we’re ready for a good Sunday dinner… at teatime. 
It’s part of Bill’s Dinner Set Menu, which runs Sunday to Thursday from 5pm ’til close, and features a selection of tempting dishes at a decent price: two courses for £16.50 or three for £19.50. Just the ticket for those who like to celebrate special occasions or just take old friends somewhere posh but not super expensive; this is the affordable mid-ground. 
A bowl of Gordal olives is a perfect pre-starter, and when they come the dishes do not disappoint. 
My six crispy chicken dumplings with spicy Bill’s chutney (like a hot hoi sin sauce) are excellent. You certainly get a lot for your money. 
My sea bass main, with avocado, baby tomatoes and rosti is a delight. Beautifully crispy, bone-free fish and perfectly prepared. The ingredients complement one another nicely. 
However, I am jealous of Rachel’s vegetarian option. Many restaurants are pretty unimaginative when it comes to providing veggie food. Usually a default risotto, so this is one of the best choices she’s been offered, and as a lapsed vegetarian, I’d have had no problem choosing it myself. 
She starts with Crispy Fried Cauliflower, which is “a little bland and could have done with more sauce; the texture is lovely and the batter is really nice.” 
The mouthful I sample is great. In retrospect you don’t want a band’s support act stealing the show, so having something of a neutral dish for starters is a smart move. 
Bill’s Wellington is a tasty mix of carrots, cashew nuts and mushrooms in a delicious pastry, with butter bean mash, long stem broccoli and vegetable gravy. It’s one of the best vegetarian choices I’ve tasted. A real show-stealer. 
I save enough room for dessert, and though there’s plenty of tempting goodies on the Dinner Set Menu, we try something from the main menu. 
I opt for Hot Pecan Pie (£6.50), which is a perfect end to a fabulous meal. A sugar rush of vanilla ice cream, cinnamon cream, and hazelnut crumb, but not so sickly sweet that it’s overpowering. 
Given her love for a certain pudding, I’m not too shocked when Rachel goes for Apple and Salted Caramel Crumble with vanilla ice cream and custard (£5.95). 
With an excellent cappuccino (£2.75), I’m a very happy diner, while Rachel opts for something that leaves me amazed by its audacity: a Beetroot and Coconut Latte. 
At this point I turn into Peter Kay’s dad when expressing an opinion on garlic bread. “Beetroot? In coffee? In cake, maybe, but coffee?”
However, it’s not the jaw-dropping experience I’d imagined; more like hot coconut milk with a hint of beetroot, which is fine by me, and at £3.25 is one of those pleasant gambles that pays off. 
The waiting staff, Adam and Dan, so a great job, and the atmosphere is wonderfully relaxed and welcoming. It’s one of the most engaging dining experiences I’ve had all year. 
As I’ve repeated in many a review over the years, the acid test for any restaurant is would I return as a paying customer? 
Knowing the fact that Bill’s bill won’t break the bank, and it’s got such great food, drinks and ambience, without a doubt. 

Film review- Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame
Certificate 12A
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo
Starring Robert Downey Jnr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth
Roger Crow/@RogerCrow
If 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War was a joke, in the best sense of the word, then Endgame is the punchline. Or rather many punchlines. 
Following the events of that epic smack down, in which the eponymous superheroes clashed with mad Titan Thanos, half of all life in the galaxy was wiped out, and those left behind attempted to pick up the pieces. 
Endgame is the culmination of many movies, and it’s a tribute to the filmmakers that they managed to keep so many plates spinning at one time. Clocking in at a mammoth three hours, what’s all the more amazing is how fun this all is. There’s gags galore, and cameos by folks from assorted films and TV shows; the score by Alan Silvestri is majestic and soaring in all the right places, while that bickering family of heroes and villains manage to put aside their differences and do what they can to defeat Thanos. Again. 
For the most part this is all familiar stuff, as the likes of Captain America, Iron Man and others revisit past events, in often hilarious ways. Yes, there are flashes of Back to the Future II here and there, and a touch of Star Trek’s The Voyage Home, but this is a blockbuster on an unprecedented scale as events take unpredictable turns. I can only imagine the size of the whiteboard at Marvel HQ used to keep all of the characters on track, and ensure they stay true to form. 
There are laughs, tears and plenty of sucker punch moments, while the likes of Robert Downey Jnr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo and Chris Hemsworth play it all with just the right amount of seriousness and levity when demanded. For fans like me who have watched their journey every step of the way, this is the payoff we’ve been waiting for. And when that all important third act comes, it does not disappoint. 
Even characters and scenes that I thought would be forgotten forever are neatly tied up, including a moment I’ve wanted to see since 2011. 
So there you have it. A review that tells you almost nothing, because I’d hate to be that person who gives away an iota of plot. 
See it on a big screen with decent stereo rather than your phone or tablet. This is what cinema was invented for. And two hours after seeing my first screening, I’m going back for a second. It’s that good. 

A Chat with Stargazing Live’s Mark Thompson

A Chat with Stargazing Live’s Mark Thompson

By Roger Crow/@RogerCrow

I love the BBC’s Stargazing Live, and it’s coming back soon isn’t it?

Yes, they’re doing a ‘one night only’ for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landings.

What can we see in the night skies in April and May?

So, the moon will still be visible; obviously everyone can see the moon; everyone knows what it is. Over the next few weeks you can see the Lyrid meteor shower. So every year around this time of year, you get to see pieces of rock and dust which are falling in through the atmosphere, and as they do that they give off this wonderful characteristic glow, which we recognise as shooting stars, but they’re actually chunks of rock. And the great thing about it is you need no equipment. You can just go outside, look up at the sky, assuming it’s dark and clear; get on a sun lounger; make yourself comfortable, wrap up nice and warm, and you get to see shooting stars.

What was it that got you into astronomy?

I was about 10 and my dad took me along to my local astronomy society, and I saw Saturn through a telescope. For him that was enough really; he saw that and he didn’t really want to do any more. And for me that totally hooked me. I can still remember that first image I saw of Saturn. Which by today’s standards, the stuff you see from Voyager and the Hubble telescope is nothing in comparison to them, but the fact I saw it for myself was just incredible, and that’s totally what got me hooked on it. 

The recent black hole news was amazing wasn’t it?

Yeah, it’s something we’ve theorised for a lot of years that they exist, but we’ve not had any direct evidence of them. I guess we’ve had inferred evidence because of the way they interact with surrounding parts of space, but to see a black hole for real… that black disc is the region called the event horizon, and if anything falls in there, you’re never going to see it again, and you’ll never see any information coming from it. The fact that it’s 55 million light years away… you’re seeing it as it was 55 million years ago. What really plays with your mind; if you’re an astronomer sat on a planet near that black hole looking back at Earth, if you looked at it today, you would see the Earth as it was 55 million years ago, which is just incredible. You’d have seen dinosaurs on the earth.

For me it’s Orion’s belt, but when star-gazing is there a point of reference you always look for?

Once you’ve done it for a lot of years, you kind of know your way around without using points of reference, but there are constellations like Orion and its belt; the Plough, which is always there, whichever time of year you look. Cassopeia, all the big, bright constellations. If you can find those, then you can find anything else. You can use them as guides around the night sky to find other stuff.

Theatre review – Annie, Hull New Theatre

Hull New Theatre
I’ve never been desperate to see the musical about a flame-haired orphan whose rags-to-riches story has captivated audiences for decades. 
The most I’ve ever managed to sit through was a documentary about the making of the (first) film in 1982. And even the pull of Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks hasn’t been enough to make me watch since. 
There was nothing about that story that pulled me in, but I’d had such a good time in December watching Anita Dobson at the same venue in Cinderella, that I signed up for this show months ago. 
I’m glad I did, because Annie is one of those feelgood triumphs that deserves a look as it plays Hull New Theatre. 
Chances are you already know the story: the eponymous orphan escapes the clutches of drunken, selfish Miss Hannigan (a scenery chewing, hilarious Ms Dobson) and goes to stay with self centred billionaire Warbucks (Alex Bourne on top form). Imagine the US President, only with enough sense not to ask a kid whether she believes in Father Christmas. (Santa’s real kids, I checked). 
Anyway, after two weeks in Annie’s presence, Warbucks bonds with her so much he wants to adopt the kid. She’s naturally desperate to find her parents, so he sends out experts and offers a reward to make her dream come true. 
However, Miss Hannigan’s grasping brother Rooster (Richard Meek) and his partner Lily (Jenny Gayner) have hatched a plot to claim the kid for their own so they can pocket the reward. 
What unfolds is far from revelatory, but it’s remarkable how much this all-American fairy tale with gags about Babe Ruth, Eliot Ness and Al Capone (which sailed over the audience’s heads) mostly works in Hull. 
That well-worn song The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow may be one of theatre’s most belted out tracks, but in context, when sung in front of President Roosevelt, it’s surprisingly moving. 
I can’t say the other songs, aside from the equally wonderful It’s a Hard Knock Life, left much of a mark on my memory banks, but there’s enough good stuff here to gloss over that. 
Taziva-Faye Katsande is outstanding in the title role, generating giggles and tugging at heart strings in all the right places. 
The rest of the kids, Orlagh McDonagh, Kacey Agwuegbo, Siena Austen, Drew Phoebe Hilton, Lyla Toplass and Fifi Bloomsbury-Khier, all do a terrific job with the numbers and choreography, while Amber the labradoodle steals every scene she’s in as Sandy. 
Director Nikolai Foster ensures there’s rarely a dull minute, and the set and costumes by Colin Richmond are excellent. Okay, Warbucks’ wobbly Art Deco doorway could have done with more stability, but that’s the problem with top heavy props that need to be light enough to drop from the rafters during scene changes. It’s a necessary compromise, but still looks fabulous. 
The original Broadway production opened in 1977, though it feels like the show has been around a lot longer, probably because of the period setting and those songs which have been dropped into adverts and morphed into more radical interpretations (the less said about Jay-Z’s version of Hard Knock Life the better). 
Contrary to what the other key song promised me, the sun didn’t come out ’tomorrow’. It’s chucking it down today, but Annie is a real day of sunshine to eclipse those April showers, and as engaging as any West End performance. 
If you’re a newcomer to the show and Hull New Theatre, to paraphrase one of the best tunes, I think you’re going to like it there. 

Film review- Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn 
Certificate 12A

Decades ago, the sight of Ms Marvel on comic book stands was as common as Hulk, Captain America and Spider-Man. But at the time the thought of making a movie based on such a fringe character was inconceivable. 
A shame, because in the 1970s, an era of big hair and (positively) blooming feminism, it would have been an ideal antidote to all the macho posturing of what few superhero movies there were. 

As someone who’s been a Marvel fan since the seventies when I would crave any comic or related TV show I could find, the past few years have been a joy. And seeing Captain Marvel finally make it to the big screen in a delight, especially after the humdrum Black Panther from last spring. As acclaimed as that was, I was non-plussed, but the latest offering in the MCU puts the fun back into the ever expanding universe. 
It helps that the filmmakers don’t give the audience an opening crawl to fill in all the blanks and set up the premise. 

It’s just a case of dropping them on an alien planet and telling them to keep up. 
Brie Larson is perfectly cast as the eponymous heroine; ’Vers’ and Carol Danvers, bringing the right amount of sex appeal, heroism and reducing the need for extraneous dialogue with an arched eyebrow or a wry smile. 

For a chunk of the movie it’s a double act with Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury. The fact this takes place in 1994, and features a perfectly pre-aged SLJ to slot in with the Pulp Fiction era is a sight to behold. Admittedly Clark Gregg’s pre-aged Agent Coulson is a little off-putting, but he doesn’t have as much screen time so it matters less. 

The plot involves Vers (Larson), an alien warrior fighting in the Skrull-Kree wars, a conflict that’s long been part of Marvel history, and has been touched upon for the past few years in films such as Guardians of the Galaxy. And it’s that film this movie most resembles, especially as Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser pops up with another character from James Gunn’s sumblime blockbuster. 

What’s glorious about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is how well all the threads from other movies tie together. I can only imagine the whiteboard at Marvel HQ that has the vast array of heroes and villains, and how they overlap and tie together. 
Thrown into the mix here is Annette Bening as a military type; Jude Law as Vers’ colleague; Lashana Lynch as Danvers’ fellow pilot; Ben Mendelsohn as an apparent alien bad guy, and a cat called Goose, who all but steals the movie. 

It’s fast, funny, touching and while it’s obviously the first major Marvel tentpole movie to feature a female lead (the less said about minor Marvel flop Elektra the better), it’s also one of their best offerings in years. 
It also boasts one of the best soundtracks of 2019, with a string of nostalgic cracking tunes by the likes of Garbage, Elastica and Hole. 

With a billion dollars at the box office, a sequel is only a matter of time, though we only have to wait a matter of weeks to see Carol Danvers again in Avengers: Endgame, a three-hour blockbuster which should be the biggest hit of the year. 
The acid test for any good movie: would I sit through Captain Marvel again within a day of watching?