ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Force Feeding

Having grown up obsessed with collecting Star Wars figures, it seems strange to reflect on the fact that, until yesterday, I'd only ever seen one of the films in the cinema - Return of the Jedi, on its original release 32 and half years ago. When I was six.

And having pretty much dismissed the concept of the prequel films altogether (I'm not even sure if I ever saw them all entirely through), mostly because of George Lucas's unforgivable tinkering with the original trilogy, I wasn't sure what to expect when we went to see The Force Awakens on its day of release. (Don't worry, there's no spoilers here - unless you're really looking for them!)

Not content with bringing The Force back into my world after a lengthy absence, I also took the opportunity to check out The Lounge at the Odeon Bayswater - where a full table service provides the food and drink, while you watch the film from luxury reclining seats with footrests. A strange combination, which has apparently been around for a few years, so it must be working out for them.

A short time ago in a Cinema not that far away...  

Not the drinks you're looking for?
Sipping the themed 'Yoda', 'Skywalker' and 'Darth Vader' cocktails  in the bar area before the film is pleasant enough and the drinks (£9.50 apiece) are properly made with a decent kick, but for me this doesn't really gel with the experience of going to the cinema. You can get normal drinks too: An extremely shitty bottled beer list, the usual soft drinks (but in measures far smaller than the big tubs one expects from Odeon), even tea and coffee. And there is a rather extensive wine list, which seems even less appropriate.

Once inside the theatre, it feels pretty much like any modern cinema screen, except that the seats are far bigger and more spaced out and waiting staff are taking orders and bringing stuff to people at the touch of a button - yes, even during the film. We ordered the Lounge burger (about 15 quid, bland and overcooked, yuk) and a barbecue pulled chicken 'Cubanos' sandwich. The chips/fries were nothing to write home about either, underseasoned, too thick to be proper fries, and to thin to pass as real chips. It also comes with a tiny dish of rather good 'slaw, and a fairly standard ketchup.

More Airbus than A-Wing
Luckily the chicken sandwich - served with the same accompaniments - is a lot better. It's properly toasted until crispy, and oily with gooey cheese, crunchy pickles and just the right amount of sweetness. It does beg the question - why the chicken? Why not make an actual Cubana sandwich with roast pork and ham, which, when executed well, is an uncommon classic snack?
On the Dark side of the menu are dishes even less appropriate for intra-film eating - curry, sushi, dim sum, fish and chips. I shudder at the thought of how this  'something for everyone' menu was thrown together. I doubt whether food buffs were the target audience, despite the 'reassuringly expensive' pricing.

Where's my giant bucket of stuff?

Dessert was a Toblerone cheesecake, creamy and tasty with chunks of nougat adding texture, but not really worth a tenner. The chocolate honey snap thing on top made such a loud crunch when bitten that it really wasn't appropriate for cinematic viewing, not that this sort of thing seems to be an issue here. 

It's expensive. The tickets alone cost 19 quid - twice as much as normal cinema tickets, and four times as much if you usually get a two-for-one deal, which we usually do. The food is massively overpriced too, for what you get, and it's hard to concentrate fully on the film. In a way, it's a bit like watching a movie on a flight, while picking at mediocre aeroplane food.

Say something to do with snowtroopers
Except that there is a full-size cinema screen, and that just feels weird. I prefer my usual cinematic experience of a big Diet Coke and a bag of Revels, then going out to eat and drink and talk about the film afterwards. Better than paying £50-75 a head for an entertainment pastiche. (Not that the new Star Wars is that bad - it instantly feels like it's 'part of the set', which the prequels never did.)

So, it's the sort of thing that's worth trying once, just because it's a bit different, but overall it doesn't really work for me. Maybe people are so pressed for time these days that that need to combine the two activities? Maybe it's aimed at the 'impress your date' market? Given that the place was full, but most people were having only soft drinks, popcorn (from a bowl) and ice cream, it's possibly not ideal for those going to see an eagerly-awaited new Star Wars flick for the first time, however.

Where to find it...

The Lounge,
Odeon, Whiteleys of Bayswater,
W2 4YN (map)

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens will be showing nationwide for the next few weeks

1 comment:

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