Archive for September, 2008

Art of Siam, Reading

Long have been the years that I have walked past Art of Siam in Kings Walk, heading straight for the delights of neighbouring Dolce Vita, but tonight I finally discovered what I was missing.

Not that I’m knocking Dolce Vita, which, in my humble opinion, is one of Reading’s better eating establishments (along side London Street Brasserie, Kyrenia and, if I’m feeling dirty, Nando’s), but I am really glad that on this occasion we decided to finally walk beyond the enticing wooden shutters and in to a delicious land of carved wood, padded wall hangings and hand-painted crockery.  I like Thai food, yum, yum, but it’s not always great.  The one in Henley-on-Thames (it’s too late to start researching names) was pretty average and not that cheap, and Suwanna in Caversham isn’t really much better, but Art of Siam combines tasty food, good prices and lovely, lovely service with a perfect warming dining atmosphere. Coupled with Monsoon Thai Shiraz (they had a recommendation from Hugh Johnson, so who was I to shun it?) and a smattering (!) of good company, this made for a most enjoyable evening.  Much fun was had by all and I will most certainly return.


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White lies

***Caution: a controversial political and moral rant ensues***

If people ever ask me why I don’t take drugs – namely cocaine – they usually expect to hear that it’s because of numerous physical/psychological factors; fear of addiction, fear of side effects (both physical and emotional) or perhaps even cost, but they usually think I’m a bit odd when I tell them that, although these are obviously all factors, my real reason is moral.  I’ve tried to explain to countless posers in bars, friends at parties and even non-drug takers that I simply don’t agree with being involved in an industry that is ruining lives and killing-off unique habitats, traditions and species simply to feel great about myself for an hour or so.  I usually get one of two reactions.  There’s the ‘Oh my God, that’s, like, totally cool man, I’d never thought about that’ (precisely, people don’t tend to think beyond their own gains), or there’s the ‘yeah, whatever, you moral hippy – I bet you shop in Primark though, don’t you?’. Yes, I do shop in Primark, but there is simply no room to make excuses in life.  I am fully aware that it is nigh-on impossible to be virtuous, to live a life without any detriment to the environment or society, but it’s not an excuse to just sit back and bask in apathy – the ‘one person won’t make a difference’ attitude didn’t help shape the world.

Anyway, I do have a point…  

Tonight I was watching Amazon, with the lovely Bruce Parry, and he made the moral argument against cocaine more precisely than ever.  You have to watch the episode – I can’t possibly describe it to you in all its impact – but it really brought home what a disgusting, damaging industry it is.  Farmers have little choice, they have to farm coca plants.  It makes sense, it can be harvested up to four times a year and there is a constant, no, a growing demand for it.  In fact, growing and drying the leaves is legal.  However, the man Bruce stayed with will make a paltry $100 from an entire crop – which has to last him to feed, educate and care for his entire l until the next harvest.  Then are the guys who begin the illegal process of turning it into a drug.  They work for four solid days and risk years in South American prisons just to get $80 – this is (apparently) less than a gram of cocaine sells for in London, which really drums home who is benefiting from this – the drugs barons who are forcing native people out of their homes and burning down entire areas of forest, killing endangered species and ruining centuries of tradition.  And if that doesn’t put you off, then you should see the stuff they use to process the leaves; kerosene, shed-loads of chlorine and various other chemicals are mulched up, poured over and strained through the leaves, before the substance is sent off to labs for more tinkering.  But not before all these poisons are thrown into channels in the earth, which filter in to the ground and the rivers, killing yet more fauna and flora and damaging entire eco-systems.

I know that there will be plenty of people out there who will read this and scoff.  That’s fine, as with all things, I think everyone has a right to decide what they want to do and this is no exception.  Taking cocaine doesn’t affect my life, it may damage the user in many ways, which is also a personal choice, but I just don’t think people stop to think about anything beyond that.  If people realise the damage they are causing on such a grand scale, simply by taking a ‘harmless’ drug, and still decide to do it? Well, at least they have made an informed decision.

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Mean streets of Reading: part 1

To tie in with my new Reading lifestyle (westside), I have just returned from my first kickboxing lesson at the suitably dingy boxing club on Chatham Street where my sister and I, along with two others, skipped, kicked and lunged our way through an hour and a half of self defence routines.  It’s actually quite nice inside but this is not immediately obvious from its surroundings; sandwiched between a suspect looking mini cab firm and the Irish club.  None of this poncy David Lloyd crap, this is authentic mean-street action.

At one point Leroy (our gold-toothed instructor) told us we’d do a few more moves, then he’d get the knives out – this was obviously a joke so I guffawed heartily, until I saw a flash of silver glinting inside his kit-bag.  Low and behold, he brought out a butter knife.  Despite a foolish sense of disappointment, I gamely took it in hand and simulated slashing attacks on my fellow students, allowing myself to be repeatedly thrown to the floor and have my arm ‘broken’ several times.  

We shall see how this plays out – I did try kickboxing once before, many moons ago, and liked it so much that I enthusiastically bought my own gloves, but then something happened (who knows – a boy, college, legal drinking…) and I ended up slowly chucking it in.  However, I will not allow this to deter me, I will remain hardcore to the bitter end – I am part of the Reading massive now, after all.

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The Vineyard at Stockcross

Well, well, I hoped that working in the wine industry would be fun, but I certainly didn’t expect to be taken out to a Michelin starred restaurant before my first week was through.  However, this is precisely what happened.  No, correction, I was taken to a restaurant with two Michelin stars.  Brilliant.

OK, so I guess this place doesn’t really need people to write rave blog reviews about it, but it was really, really good.  It is the kind of place where the waiters explain all the dishes to you before you begin – the kind of place where the poached pollock comes with ‘smoked e’spuma’ (foam, basically).  It is the kind of place where the Internet Marketing Manager stands next to Andrew Lloyd Webber at the urinal (but not before I had spoken ill of this bizarre man.  This was a coincidence – I obviously didn’t think he’d be sat in the blinkin’ restaurant).

Anyway, it’s probably not somewhere you’d go for a hearty Sunday lunch, the portions aren’t massive, but if you’re craving elegant course after elegant course, home made chocolates, delicate jellies with exquisite cheeses, fresh mint teas and impeccable service, then this is the place for you.  I’m sure it’s not cheap but I hear the wine list is exceptional (we brought our own wines along, darling), so if you feel like splashing out then I reckon this place is a sure-fire hit.  Unless you’re afraid of a bit of posh, then just stick to Pizza Hut, I hear the all-you-can-eat buffet is something to behold.


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