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london--a theatre & restaurant special

by Monty and Sara Preiser

While flying Julia Roberts to the opera in Pretty Woman, Richard Gere tells her that when she first hears the melodies they will envelop her, or they may not – if not, she might later learn to appreciate opera but it will never be part of her soul. If yes, the positive experience will be like no other. Well, we are like that with musical theatre. It has been part of both of our souls since we were kids, and between us there is little we have not seen (and sometimes reviewed) in the past 45 years.

For those of you who read this column for our opinions on wine, we “warn you” right up front that there will only be a little of that below. For those of you who are not interested in theatre, we “warn” you folks as well, since this column will have lots of that. And for those of you who care about some places to dine in London, we will touch on some interesting establishments.

Bottom line: Herein we are going to write as food and theatre reviewers who recently spent eight work-free-fun-filled days in London. So now is the time to find your Wine Spectator or favorite blog if you are looking for wine information. We won’t be insulted one bit. But if you have a love of Broadway/West End theatre, and some interest about where to eat in London, you might trudge on.

Love Never Dies: As most people know, this is the follow up to the wildly successful Phantom of the Opera. Sequel or not, however, Love” is, to put it simply, what theatre is all about. A magnificently conceived production steeped in figurative and literal illusion, there is something about the show that lures you in, grabs you during the Phantom’s first ballad, and mesmerizes you by the time the Phantom and Christine complete their first of more than one beautiful duet. These numbers exhibit some of the most passionate sexuality we have seen on the stage, and they stay with you for days thereafter.
We grant you that the book is not the strongest part of the show, but the performances (especially the deservedly star-making turns of the unforgettable Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom [Mr. Y], Sierra Boggess as Christine, and Summer Strallen as Meg) match any we have seen on stage. We hear they will all come to the States. But mostly Love Never Dies will leave as its legacies a magnificent score by Lloyd Weber, a technical production second to none, and another iconic musical.
[You can be sure this will be in NY within the year].

War Horse: Did you ever consider the number of horses that were part of World War I? From Great Britain alone about 1,000,000 horses were conscripted from their owners and sent to the battlefields. Only 62,000 returned. Their stories are brilliantly covered on stage as we follow one horse name “Joey” as he is taken from his young English owner and sent to France, where he participates in battles, hauls weapons, and helps medical units. The historical and emotional value of the staged evening is in and of itself worthy of commentary.
Yet it is the unique and groundbreaking presentation of the horses than make this an event one should not miss. They are life size puppets, but you need to throw away any concept of puppetry you have. In this case you will soon into the evening forget the creatures on stage are anything but animals. They are ridden into battle, suffer, work, eat, survive, and die. And the audience feels every one of these emotions as it marvels at the wizardry that has drawn them in to where they suspend their beliefs for just a little while and easily accepts what they see on stage as real. And what is that called? Superior theatre.
[This is scheduled to preview in NY on March 17, 2011]

39 Steps: For an evening of pure laughter and fun, this send-off of the Hitchcock film is the perfect vehicle. Four talented actors bask in the delight of playing the roles of over 50 characters from every scene of the movie, and they accomplish this thorough highly imaginative uses of costuming and scenery.
[This was already in NY, went on hiatus, and is now back for an open ended run]

Dirty Dancing: This has been playing for almost four years in London and there is a reason, we think, why it has not been produced in New York. It is dreadful. Not so much the cast (well, maybe some of them), but the direction. Poor integration by the director, lack of understanding as to how to involve his audience, and a questionable use of the actors’ talents, all serve to doom this endeavor to less than mediocrity. Even the final scene, which is, just as in the film, the best part of the evening, missed its obvious opportunity to involve the audience.
[The claim is that the show is “in the works” for NY. It needs a lot of it]

Dreamboats and Petticoats: A split among the dreamboat and the petticoat writing this review. The former thought it fun and a good rendition of how British youth in 1961 idolized American rock and roll (the Beatles had not yet broken out), while the latter thought it merely a silly vehicle to introduce various songs (actually, this is close to true as the CD bore the show). We both did agree, however, that the music was well chosen and well presented. And when you are listening to the sounds of Roy Orbison, Paul Anka, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Dion and the Bellmonts, Neil Sadaka, Bryan Highland, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, etc., you have to have a good time. Not a bad way to spend a 4:00 matinee.
[To NY? Doubtful]


Le Gavroche: The uninitiated might still make light of British cuisine, but those who know will argue that London may now house the finest dining in the world – besting New York in the last few years. In the forefront of fine dining in London is Le Gavroche, the 1967 creation of Albert Roux and his son Michel, the latter having taken over the kitchen in 1990. The restaurant features both modern and classical French dishes – each having that certain “special something” that seems to define the truly great chefs and restaurants. Service is impeccable and the ambiance is classic English brightened by colors and flowers. You might be steered to one or two other places as the best in London, but we have tried those too. La Gavroche, with two Michelin stars and located in the heart of Mayfair, is the place to go.

Wild Honey: This is not for “trendies,” as it is more conventional. That does not mean it is not excellent, however, and for us it was a perfect combination of comfortable surroundings, professional-personal service, and superb cooking. The menu features the freshest food of the season prepared with classically French nuances amidst the more English flare for simplicity. Wild Honey offers almost all its wines in a 1/3 bottle carafe serving, which adds greatly to the dining experience, enabling customers to experiment and pair wines to a variety of dishes. The best deal here is for lunch, but dinner is not bank breaking. Michelin awards Wild Honey a star.

Chutney Mary: First established in 1990 as an example of modern Indian cooking, the brilliance of the management here is that it transforms the restaurant periodically to keep up with the times in terms of both setting and cuisine. Style is style, and Chutney Mary has it. A romantic interior with dramatic lighting sets the stage for an award winning wine list and attentive service. Available dishes might include a heart-warming soup, delicately spiced seafood, or robust kebabs for starters, as well as seafood and game for main courses. The recipes are classic and reflect the trends in culturally emerging India, itself. For our money, this is some of the best Indian dining in the world, much in the style of our American favorite, Neela’s of Napa.

Yauatcha: Located in a basement in Soho, this glamorous teahouse/dim sum room is amazingly crowded, yet offers some of the best prices in London for such a recognized dining establishment. How about juicy venison puffs, jasmine pork ribs, Wagyu beef, or spicy lobster? Accompany the small plates with sake, beer, or unusual cocktails. The only problem is some slow service, but the sexy atmosphere and libations should make you forget about that in no time.

While we obviously recommend the above, London is replete with wonderful fish and chips joints, Mediterranean step-ins, and the ever-in-sight local pub. Now that smoking is banned in the pubs, they are once again fit for you to order half a pint and some classic English pub fare. Nothing is more British.

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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