Film review: Mega Time Squad

Film review 
Mega Time Squad
Stars Anton Tennet, Hetty Gaskell Hahn, Jonathan Brugh
Director Tim van Dammen
Certificate 18

’Thames, New Zealand. Population: 7,518 – and falling. Unless you’re Johnny, the new member of a local gang led by Shelton. He’s multiplying’.
That’s the attractive pitch for this microbudget comedy. 
Johnny is foiled in an attempt to double-cross Shelton at his own game of masterminding the sleepy town’s criminal underbelly. 
Our hero accidentally pinches an ancient bracelet with which he can turn back time – and creates multiple clones of himself. Johnny forms his own gang against Shelton’s and what unfolds is sporadically funny. 

Put another way, if Taika Waititi and Edgar Wright ever joined forces to make a movie for a few thousand dollars, the result might look like Mega Time Squad. 
It starts off wanting to be as cool and eccentric as Waititi’s Eagle vs Shark, or Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and eventually finds its feet. 
The cast are likeable, especially the hero and heroine, Anton Tennet and Hetty Gaskell Hahn, and the time travel element helps enormously. 
It’s a slacker comedy that could have done with more energy at times. And while the subtext abut a bullying gangster is so-so, it has a charm that grows on you. Seen after a few pints down the pub, I can see this developing a cult following. 
Writer/director Tim Van Dammen makes the best of a modest budget, and I imagine in a few years when he’s making studio pictures, this will be re-screened as one of those ’Look where he started out,’ films. 

The blu-ray is pretty crisp, and the director’s commentary should inspire anyone who wants to get a bunch of mates together and make a fun comedy. Cast and crew obviously had more fun making the movie than I did watching it, but that’s not a criticism. As a lover of New Zealand movies, this is an intriguing chapter in their booming film industry and I’ll be intrigued to see what van Dammen and his cast do next. 


Restaurant review: Moondance restaurant, Bonus Arena, Hull

Restaurant review 

Moondance restaurant, Bonus Arena, Hull
Roger Crow/@RogerCrow
“Well, it’s a marvellous night for a moondance…”.
For some that will be inextricably linked with Van Morrison, the first act at Hull’s Bonus Arena in the summer of 2018. For me it’s synonymous with one of my favourite films, An American Werewolf in London. But after one of those days where there’s barely five minutes for a break at work, and it seems to have been raining for 48 hours straight, I’m more than ready to try out the menu at their recently opened Moondance restaurant. 
We’re first to arrive at 6.30, and after being shown to said eatery, I’m impressed by the cool lighting, framed photos of recent acts (complete with tickets), and that opening sentence adorning one wall. It’s simple, elegant and very inviting. 
The fact the table numbers are displayed at the centre of vinyl singles is a great idea, and perfect for selfies, especially for those of us who are happy to hide behind such props. 
But what of the food? Well, as it’s one of those wet, bleak nights, steak and ale pie is a perfect choice on the set menu. Comfort food, with mash and vegetables. Simple and heartwarming. The shortcrust pastry is delicious, there’s no gristle in the chunks of steak and the gravy is excellent. No problems with the mash either. Creamy and moreish, while a superb counterpoint are the al dente carrots and broccoli. Gary, the head chef, really knows his stuff, and it’s not long before I’ve cleared my plate. Don’t get me wrong. I love a fancy dish with all the trimmings that pushes the culinary envelope. But sometimes you just want the old classics, and this ticks the boxes admirably. 
My partner Rachel’s vegetarian dish is a little more controversial, for her at least. 
When I cook I like to try different flavours, juxtaposing one with another to hopefully come up with something different. So she’s used to occasionally unusual dishes. 
I like her portobello mushrooms served with linguine and avocado pesto. It’s an interesting mix of flavours, and though pickled walnuts are a bold move which I like, Rachel’s not 100 per cent. It needs a little seasoning. Then again no two palates are the same, as the Marmite effect has proved. She admits she has meal envy, and I’m guessing if there was a veggie version of the pie, she’d have wolfed it. Personally I’d have been happy with hers, even though my dish was to die for. 
Dessert is homemade brownie and vanilla ice cream, and as someone who takes their chocolate-based puddings pretty seriously, I’m happy to say that’s a triumph also. Judging by Rachel’s empty plate, she agrees. The dessert is perfectly balanced with the brownie having just the right consistency, and the ice cream a great palate-cleanser in between mouthfuls. 
With a much needed cuppa, for me it’s the perfect meal. Portion control is spot on, the ambience is excellent, and the waitresses do a terrific job. 
As we head downstairs for our gig, I have that warm and fuzzy feeling which should pre-empt any show rather than the post-stress of queuing and security checks. If you like to make a night of it at any venue, then a meal beforehand on site is a great touch, and Moondance is a terrific place to experience. The fact we’d quite happily come back before the next gig speaks volumes. 
Obviously the menu varies throughout the week, and if you are vegetarian like Rachel, then the dishes need to be pre-ordered in advance, like the tables themselves. 
It’s one of the most engaging dining experiences of the year, and all the more welcome after days of rain. 
The legend on the wall was right. Regardless of the weather, it was a marvellous night for a Moondance. 

Film review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Film review

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Starring Lily Collins, Zac Efron, Kayla Scodelario
Certificate 15
Director Joe Berlinger
In the late 1980s, Phil Collins starred in a biopic of ’Great Train Robber’ Buster Edwards. That ’feelgood’ bittersweet love story peppered with hit songs rightly incurred the wrath of many critics for the fact Buster sort of glossed over the devastating impact it had on the innocent folks involved. 
Now Phil’s daughter Lily Collins stars in Sky Cinema’s Ted Bundy biopic, a bittersweet love story which feels like the very poor relation to director Joe Berlinger’s amazing documentary Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. 
This is also peppered with the odd song, but while giving it a flavour of the era, it also gives the movie a sense of ’fun’. 
It’s a horribly misguided move which means whether intentional or not, you actually start rooting for the psychopath. And Bundy was definitely not some anti-hero robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. 
Obviously in a four-part doc there’s plenty of time to take a deep dive into the cesspool of Bundy’s mind, a man I knew nothing about until a few months ago when I sat through the Netflix series twice. 
With 105 minutes you can only deliver an edited ’lowlights version of Bundy’s life, and presenting it mostly from the point of view of his girlfriend Liz Kendall (Collins) was a good move. 
For the most part, Zac Efron gives a good turn as Bundy, the charming, crowd-pleasing serial killer whose crimes were so heinous and inhuman, it’s just a shame he was able to get away with anything more serious than a parking violation for so long. 
However, in an era when the US police didn’t have the benefit of the tech and resources they have now, not to mention the fact that they gave Bundy the sort of relaxed ’do what you like’ privilege while at a Colorado courthouse, Ted was allowed to continue with his pursuits. His leap from a second-storey library window and ability to vanish is shocking but true. 
And on that subject, any credibility this film might have had also goes out the window when Jim Parsons turns up as Larry Simpson, the Floridian legal eagle attempting to get the killer sent down. 
Now like many of the cast, he’s a fine actor who gives a great turn, but the baggage of playing Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory is so immense, it jeopardises what little suspension of disbelief the audience had. Unless of course they’d never seen the ubiquitous sitcom, in which case no problem. 
By the third act, John Malkovich shows up as Edward D Cowart, the judge presiding over the first televised legal trial of its type. Malkovich looks nothing like the actual judge, though he does sell the part well. 
(Actors of a certain age must love playing judges for the fact they can spend the whole shoot sat down). 
The trial turns into a media circus as Bundy plays to the cameras, and the court proceedings morph into a reality show years before the term was even coined. 
Haley Joel Osment, who wowed the world two decades ago in The Sixth Sense, also stars as Liz’s co-worker Jerry, along with Maze Runner/Pirates of the Caribbean veteran Kayla Scodelario as Bundy’s besotted lover Carol Anne Boone. 
Certain questions raised by the documentary are filled in here, such as how did Bundy and Boone manage to conceive a child while he was locked up. Maybe it did happen the way it’s depicted here, with the aid of a bribe, but that’s the thing about Bundy’s life. Regardless of his horrific crimes, and they were off the scale, so much of his deeds seem so fantastic and unbelievable that it’s hard to imagine it ever happened. 
It would be easy to call this Extremely Average, Shockingly Mediocre and Vile, but if it does nothing else but provide a gateway to the phenomenal Conversations with a Killer, then it’s not a complete waste after all. 
There is a good drama about Ted Bundy waiting to be made, but this isn’t it. 

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?

Film review- Us


Directed by Jordan Peele

Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss

A few minutes after seeing the new film from Jordan Peele, my gut reaction to Us is it’s one of the best movies of the decade.

Okay, bold words. Some films soon go off the boil a day or two after seeing them, but this has just the right mix of comedy, horror, conspiracy theory, siege mentality and more to keep genre fans rubbing their hands with glee and academics stroking their chins over the true meaning of this, that or the other.

It begins with an African American family at a fairground. Mum goes to the loo, dad is busy playing a game, so daughter slips away with a toffee apple and goes to a hall of mirrors.

There she sees something that terrifies her so much, she goes into a PTSD-like state. Whatever went on in that attraction was not good.

Fast forward to present day, and she’s an adult with a loving husband, a young son with a fondness for masks and magic tricks and a daughter obsessed with her phone.

They innocently return to the scene of the crime on holiday and meet up with some friends. They shoot the breeze, discuss trivial matters like dad’s boat, and then when the family are all settled down in their rent a cabin, strange things start happening.

There’s somebody out there and it’s obvious they’re not stopping by to borrow a cup of sugar.

Hidden within the movie are recurring numbers and symbols which may or may not be important. You decide. There’s also rabbits. Lots of them. A throwback to Get Out’s Run Rabbit Run during the early minutes? Possibly.

The cast are mostly terrific. The initially modest premise turns out to be surprisingly more epic than many thrillers of this type, and the soundtrack is superb. Peele really knows how to get the most scares for his money, but there are also some gloriously witty throwaway lines.

There are times when it goes a bit too far, but rather a film go too far than not far enough.

Get out of the house and go and see Us. It’s an experience you may never forget.


Review: Pairings Wine Bar, York

Pairings Wine Bar

It’s a long time since I’ve reviewed any eatery in York, one of my favourite cities and pastimes. 
However, the daffs are out, spring has sprung, and when invited to Pairings wine bar for lunch one Saturday, it looks like the perfect way to break me out of that hermetically sealed weekend rut. 

Pairings, just round the corner from the Jorvik Centre, is a beautiful little eatery, bustling with life. The staff are warm and welcoming; it has that cool deli vibe you find in London and all cosmopolitan cities, and even if you just fancy a cappuccino and a slice of cake, they do that too. 

But, as the name suggests, Pairings is all about the marriage of food and wine. And in this case it helps that General Manager James knows his subject inside out. 
We’re soon seated and savouring a mystery wine. Dark, fruity, effervescent, but like a Scooby-Doo villain, isn’t unveiled until the end of that episode – after any potential wine-related prejudices are washed away. 
Smart move. How many times would we turn our noses up at something because of the baggage attached? 

The Wensleydale Brie with crackers is phenomenal, especially when paired with…’Zoiks Scoob! It was the Lambrusco di Modena, Sassomoro, NV all along’. 
A mischievous little number from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.
My palate is well and truly tickled, and as the place continues to fill up, we enjoy our second of four courses. 
Now when it comes to olives, I’m a bit of a Tasmanian Devil. You’ll usually see a bowl full; a cartoon cloud of energy and then an empty container, and me dabbing the corners of my mouth with a napkin. They are my Achilles heel, when pitted and full of flavour. 

I savour a Dos Cortados, Williams & Humbert, 20-year-Palo Cortado from Jerez, Spain. It’s a dry sherry; something I wouldn’t normally go for as I have such a sweet tooth, but paired with Gordal Olives, it’s a winning union of flavours. 
Now at this point, if I was one of those Wall Street tycoons, I would phone my broker immediately and tell them to sell pork bellies and buy Gordal Olives immediately. The taste is out of this world, and knowing my better half has an aversion to them, I’m not ashamed to say, “All the more for me”. Except having offered her half, Rachel quite happily goes back for more. They’re that good. 
(Whatever next? She starts watching Star Wars movies? I can but hope). 

The sherry she’s not so keen on, but I know my limits. One glass is enough. The Gordal, or “fat one” olives, are soon dispensed with while I savour the buttery, golden offering from one of the world’s most prestigious wine-producers. 

The penultimate choice is equally moreish. A Morning Fog Chardonnay, Wente, 2016 is an amiable Californian, crisper than the misty dawns which roll over one of my favourite American regions, San Francisco. 
(In the mid-nineties I toured the Robert Mondavi vineyard in California, trying to expand my knowledge of fine wines while on an epic US tour, but was met with contempt by the staff, probably because I was wearing a Scooby-Doo tee shirt and Hawaiian shorts. Unsurprisingly, that sort of thing does not go down well in such an ultra conservative region). 
Paired with Delice de Cremier (a triple unpasteurised cream cheese produced in the Champagne, Burgundy region of France), it’s a winning combination of flavours which complement one another beautifully. The best cheese in the world? Maybe. It’s certainly up there. 

I mention to James at the start of our culinary odyssey that I’m a fan of Argentinean Malbec, and he chooses the perfect final offering. A 2016 Malamado, Zuccardi, 2016, from the Mendoza region of Argentina goes down a treat with a triple chocolate and caramel brownie. 

The atmosphere is so pleasant, we opt for cappuccinos (outstanding, and a better price than many high profile chains) while I purchase a few quids’ worth of those amazing olives. 

There’s no second guessing about whether we’d come back one day. It’s the sort of eatery we’d take our wine-loving Floridian friends to when they come over, keen to show off the best Yorkshire has to offer. 
After the month from Hell, Pairings is a little slice of Heaven, and the highlight of the weekend. (Or indeed any weekend over the past few weeks). 
There’s just the right amount of food and wine for us to carry on pottering around York without pounding heads or feeling like we need to put another notch on our belts. 
Whether you’re a wine expert or just someone seeking a palate-tickling diversion for an hour or so, this is a real spirit-lifter. 
In a word? Outstanding.