Sunday, 22 January 2012

Moules and the Gang

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy Easter! Oops, not the last one. It does seem like last Easter that I last wrote a blog entry though. Upon logging on here I noticed with some chagrin that I'd got as far as a title for my last blog, but nothing else. Which is a shame because it was a pretty good title too. Oh well.

Anyway, regular readers of my tumbleweed-strewn, self-indulgent ramblings will know that mid-January is usually the time that a few friends and I jet (well, train) off to London to watch the Masters Snooker semi-final (while Clare goes shopping before we meet back up for the evening for a posh meal). However, since the change of venue from Wembley Conference Centre to the Arena we've somewhat lost enthusiasm in the Masters. The Arena is just too big for snooker and lacks the atmosphere of the smaller Conference Centre, and most certainly of somewhere like the Crucible. Masters Weekend is now a thing of the past. Clare and I enjoy the January trip to London though so decided to look for an excuse to continue. That wasn't difficult.

Regular readers will also know that we've become big fans of musical theatre recently. So when we found out that one of our favourite performers - Ramin Karimloo - would be playing the lead role in one of our favourite shows - Les Miserables - we duly snapped up tickets for the usual January weekend. Rather than also splurging on a posh meal this time though we decided to try something a bit different for lunch.

This 'something different' took the form of a London based chain of Belgian themed restaurants called Belgo, one of which was only a couple of minutes from our hotel in Covent Garden. So, after arriving at the hotel, being annoyed at the ridiculous charge for checking in early and not having a left luggage room, and scooting round a few shops, we trotted off for our lunch.

We'd been told about Belgo's old-style lift with one of those criss-cross doors and were looking forward to seeing it, but alas it was out of order so down the stairs it was, to discover a below-ground dining area in a similar style to the nearby Hawksmoor. The restaurant was busy but there was barely a pause before we were seated and perusing the extensive food and beer menus.

With us both being fans of seafood we both went for mussels. A traditional pot of Mariniere for me, a platter of Mediterranean for Clare and a side order of rye bread. Clare chose a Floris Honey (a lovely honey flavoured lager) for her drink while I went for a pint of the restaurant's own Pils.

Both drinks and food were served very promptly, but if there had been a wait, both would have been worth it. My mussel pot was enormous and delicious. Beautifully steamed mussels in a creamy sauce with crunchy frites on the side. Clare's platter looked almost like a pizza, with the mussels served in half-shells, topped with melted cheese and tomato. Judging by the emptiness of her plate at the end, they were nice too.

A couple more shops and a fantastic cake at a local patisserie later and it was off back to the hotel to rest and freshen up before the evening. We had a few gripes about the hotel but the location was certainly not one of them. Barely a ten minute walk to the theatre and even less than that to the restaurant meant the Oyster cards stayed firmly in our pockets for the day.

Les Miserables was as excellent as the previous times we'd been, with Ramin making a fantastic Jean Valjean. I don't think I'll ever hear anyone sing Valjean as well as Alfie Boe did. Ramin was superb in his own right but vocally, Alfie just shaded it (not that there's any shame in that!) However, Ramin is certainly a more accomplished actor and his portrayal of the lead role was brilliantly emotional. Another mention must go to Hadley Fraser (again) as Valjean's nemesis Inspector Javert. Another fantastically menacing performance, which must have been tricky as the two of them are good friends off stage and even play in a band together.

Having been lucky enough to have met a few of the cast the last time we went we hotfooted it to the stage door again after the show. It was certainly worth the trip as Ramin duly appeared for a chat, photograph and signing. I cannot speak highly enough about this man. He'd been in Japan all week, only flown back to the UK on Friday night, done a matinee performance earlier in the day, sang his heart out in the evening and STILL had time to be utterly charming to all the waiting fans. He even fulfilled Clare's request of saying 'thank you ma'am' in good grace (listen to him being interviewed and you'll hear why she asked). A fantastic example of a celebrity who genuinely knows how lucky they are and truly appreciates how a small gesture from them can mean a massive amount to a fan. Clare practically floated back to the hotel.

Back to reality today. Still, I'm sure there'll be many more fun times ahead this year. Hopefully I'll motivate myself enough to blog about some of them too.

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