Tag Archives: Soho

A Tale Of Two Cities

I’d wanted to go to the Experimental Cocktail Club in Soho for ages but it was one of those places I’d never got round to trying. But The Chef and I planned a long overdue “Date Night” last Friday, and I suggested we might start there.

Oh how very wrong was I. We didn’t book a table – well, we were only 2 people and meeting pretty early at 6.30pm. Again, wrong. I rocked up on a cold January day on my own, and was “welcomed” by a humourless French bouncer who looked me up and down like I was something squidgy and brown he had just stepped on. AND I WAS DRESSED UP AND EVERYTHING!!! Now in my mid 30s with a decent job, good clothes, an expensive haircut and a credit card, I can safely say I have not felt intimated or belittled by door staff for a good decade or so, but this man made me feel about an inch tall. After asking if we had booked a table (no) he then proceeded to tell me that they were so very busy that I might be allowed in, but he could not promise that my companion would also be allowed in.

OK so let me get this straight. I am dressed up, obviously not a tramp, wearing nice shoes, obviously willing to spend money on your ridiculously overpriced and undoubtedly pretentious cocktails, and you are telling me that my choices are (i) wait in the January cold on my own until my date gets here; or (ii) go alone into the cocktail bar and presume you are going to treat my companion with the same patronising disdain and shoo him away, leaving me alone for the evening.

I went with the former option and this lovely bouncer kept me outside, in the cold, on my own, for a good 10 minutes, letting others inside who came after me, which made me want the ground to swallow me up, never speaking to me nor once suggesting I go inside to warm up. I should also mention in this time he let 2 couples in who had not booked. It seems I was on his blacklist for daring to turn up solo or to question their booking policy. Finally, The Chef arrived and Monsieur Le Cockface (I believe I dropped the C-bomb on him on twitter later that night, perhaps a little uncalled for, but I was a fairly merry by that time) kept us waiting for another 10 minutes before finally telling us that they were far too busy and we would have to wait another 30 minutes but even then we could not be assured a seat.

By this time, I’m ashamed to say I was freezing, annoyed, upset, humiliated and angry, a feeling I recall from trying to get into cool Soho clubs when I was in my 20s but which I had long forgotten. Well, you know what Experimental Cocktail Club? FUCK YOU! Yeah, FUCK YOU and your stupid pretentious look-you-up-and-down patronising derogatory bullshit. You genuinely made me feel like a teenager again, standing outside Oddfellows in Edinburgh in the cold, while you let my friends in and made me wait outside all night, contemplating another lap round the block and changing jackets with my best mate in case you didn’t recognise me the second time. You made me feel that small and pathetic and uncool. And yes, I admit it, I CRIED when I left, walking up Dean Street, freezing and shivering, and away from your patronising stare. I’m ashamed to admit that I cried and I felt like crap and you almost, almost ruined my night. And I will never ever go to your crappy establishment again and I hate you and everything you stand for and the way you make people feel, and the way you think that WE, the paying public, the people who pay YOUR salary, should feel we OWE YOU anything – that WE should feel HONOURED to sit our stinky pleb bottoms on your gold-covered sofas. You got it wrong ECC, you owe US you see, and little did you know, The Chef and I like a cocktail more than most and would have shelled out a ton of cash if you’d treated us right.

Anyway as The Chef said, don’t let them get to you and I won’t. But never ever go to the ECC, unless you enjoy being treated like a dirty little cockroach.

We had booked a table that night at Quo Vadis – the re-done Soho institution on Dean Street. So we decided we might just go there early for a cocktail. And how bloody right we were.

The difference between Quo Vadis and the ECC was astounding. When we came in several staff members smiled. They took our coats, said hello, showed us to the bar. The barman smiled, gave us a menu, asked us what what we liked, explained a few things, let us try their homemade pomegranate juice. And – hello – the cocktails ranged from around £6.50 upwards. How wonderfully refreshing. And the barman was lovely and the cocktails gorgeous. My vodka martini was perfect with delicious little olives, The Chef’s whisky sour fantastic. Add to this a lovely little English fizz and some Campari cocktails and we were happy little bunnies once more. And this is the annoying thing about the ECC – people like us might not look the part to you, but we like nice things and good service and are willing to pay for it.

Quo Vadis has been taken over by Head Chef Jeremy Lee, a charismatic Scotsman who welcomed us to our table and chatted amongst the guests all night. He was formerly head chef at the Blueprint Café which I also loved – a little jewel on the Thames which seemed overlooked, much to my surprise, as the food and service were amazing and the views incredible. As a Scot I just loved the Scottish touches – a weather forecast on the menu: “bonny”, heather on the tables, haggis.

The service was genuinely perfect – Michelin standard. Waiting staff were friendly and knowledgeable and totally unintrusive. Wines were ace. Starters of salsify, mallard and eel sandwich were just delicious. The Chef by now was going off into his trance-like misty-eyed silent mode, eyes rolling back into his head, which meant he loved the food (and didn’t care for conversation) – last time I saw a similar reaction was at the Ledbury, and Leong’s Legends.

And onwards. The Chef had mutton chops which were incredible, a real depth of taste, you could actually picture a wise old sheep gambling up the hillside. I had a delicious hake with parsley mash which reminded me of San Sebastian. This is The Chef’s type of food – simple, rich, and all about the ingredients. Pudding was an amazing almond tart, and cheese, with a glass of Sauternes.

I cannot rave enough about the new Quo Vadis – lovely, friendly service that makes you feel a million dollars (SO important to me, still fuming ECC!), delicious fairly-priced food (starters from around £6, small bites around £3.50, mains around £8 – £15) so for me Quo Vadis has to be the pick of restaurants in Soho.

The cost? Well it was £100 a head, but once we sat down and started smiling because they got it JUST right, we knew we were going to blow the doors off. For £100 each we got: 3 cocktails each before dinner (norty), a £48 bottle of lovely wine (after ECC I suggested we splash out), 3 starters to share between 2, 1 main course each, pudding and dessert wine. It was so worth it, we went home with a smile on our face and a skip in our step. Highly recommended (and did I say already, avoid the ECC).

UPDATE 8 FEBRUARY 2012: After I wrote this blog post, I was inundated with tweets and emails and comments from others saying they had had the exact same experience so it seems it was not just me. However, on the evening I wrote the post, I got the following email from Xavier Padovani, one of the owners of the ECC:

Good Evening,
Firstly I would like to introduce myself, I am one of the owner of the ECC Chinatown.
I have just read your blog and I am horrified, I can not find the word to express how sorry I am, how sorry I am to discover the way you have been treated, this is not how we are or how we want to be, in a few words I am speechless!!
Firstly I would like to sincerely apologise for the way you were treated  at the door, I am sorry, and I understand if you want to tell me to “bugger off” or even so if you wish yo use other words to express your feeling, I totally get it, this is unacceptable!
Again I would like to apologise.
I am tonight on my way to the bar and I can only promise you that I am going to firstly investigate exactly what happened at he door Friday night and once I understand exactly what happened, I will act in consequence.
Yet clearly you must hate us and be upset with us, so the only thing I can do at that stage is to assure you that this is not who we are and who we want to be but rather the opposite, this is not an acceptable attitude for our people to take at the door.
So firstly I wanted to apologise and secondly, and only if this is ok by you, and after investigating on my side what happened, I would like to get back in touch with you to be clear on what exactly what happened and learning from our mistake share with you what we are going to change to make sure this never happen again at he bar!
I can only promise you that we will learn from that horrible experience and I will do what I have to in order to make sure this never happens again!
I will get back to you after speaking to the management and the team.
Best wishes

After investigating, he sent the following email:

Good Evening/Morning,
I have now personally investigated the matter further as I told you I would since it is what we do when we get a complain.
I understand you came to the bar and you were told that you could come in but when you mentioned someone was going to join you later the door staff told you that they could not guaranty entrance for your guest.
This is because by the time your guest would have arrived we may have reached the authorised legal capacity number.
I understand that you decided to wait. By the time your guest arrived, the bar had reached capacity as a result you two could not enter the bar.
After reading your blog comments it sounds like the staff did not communicate properly with you and may have had quite an attitude while dealing with the issue ; believe it or not I am genuinely embarrassed if that is the way they made you feel and tonight I have had a word with the staff.
Again I can only appologize if you feel the door staff did not act properly.
Clearly you did not appreciate the experience so there is nothing we can do to change that. I can only assure you that we have read your words and this will help us improve in the future.
This is a genuine “I am sorry email and we have taken note”. I am genuinely sad this has happened, I really hope you understand that blog or no blog I am totally sincere.
We will continue to get bad reviews and good reviews since everyone can write whatever they want on the net, this is the beauty of it and this is the game we all play.
However I am completely honest and truly thought what happened was a shame, voila, hope you understand.

To this I wrote the following response:

Hi Xavier and thank you for your response.
For the sake of fairness and with your permission, I will publish this on the blog – let me know if you object.
What I may say is that I have genuinely not been treated so badly by door staff for over a decade in London, and from the twitter responses to my blog post, a huge number of people in London have been treated the same by your door staff and will not go back.
If you geuinely don’t want your establishment to be seen as somewhere you have to put up with abusive door staff then I suggest you entirely re-train them, or get new people who are able to be friendly!
In any event, I am grateful for the time and effort you have taken in responding and for the concern you have shown.
All the best

Since then, I am still hearing stories on twitter about poor treatment at the ECC, including tweets from last night by @bittenwritten saying they had the following exchange with the doorman: ECC – “Can we come in?” Answer: “No.” Why? “Maybe wait 45 mins.” Us: Go fuck yourselves.

They are making a mistake here – I’ve heard from people including previous Masterchef winners and influential food bloggers that they have been turned away in similarly rude style. Who passes through the door of doom then? Only those who have booked, or those who look a certain way? Is this Parisian service for you? And why didn’t Xavier offer us to come back and try it if he was so sorry? I suspect we just wouldn’t get in.

Quo Vadis on Urbanspoon

Some nice places I’ve eaten at lately – The Albion, The Gay Hussar and Hereford Road

1. The Albion, 10 Thornhill Road, Islington, N1 1HW

All you need to know about The Albion is that it has a really really lovely big garden that would be perfect for leisurely weekends drinking Pimms in the sun, and does a great Sunday roast. Inside, its all wooden floors and tables and great sharing plates of beef rib, so it makes a great wintery Sunday lunch place too. Last time I was there (with Juicy Jigsaw and Helga), we ate THE most incredible sticky toffee pudding I think I’ve ever had, a ton of white wine and some lovely fishcakes, and it came to £40 each which was very reasonable considering the amount of vino we managed to consume. I’m definitely putting this in the “best Sunday lunch” / “best beer garden” lists.

The Albion on Urbanspoon

2. The Gay Hussar, 2 Greek Street, Soho, W1D 4NB 

A blue-blood London institution this and not normally one I would have chosen for a girls’ night oot in Soho, but thanks to a deal from Keynoir (3 courses for £16), Giovanna, Tallulah and I went merrily along for dinner a couple of Saturdays ago. Its a Hungarian restaurant famed for its patronage by politicians and the atmosphere can be a little old and stuffy – the clientelle was an odd mix of gentlemen dining with their mothers, couples, and groups like us all wet behind the ears and clutching our vouchers. It hasn’t had great reviews lately which would be the reason for the deal, but we had lovely service, really delicious Hungarian wine and I thought the food was great – my mackerel starter and sea bass main were delicious and my friends loved the venison goulash and choucroute-type thing. We were the last to leave at around 11pm though (I was tempted for a shot of Unicum to remind me of my trip to Budapest but sadly denied), so it’s not the best place to take a group of friends, but is still definitely worth trying for its amazing character and history (I loved the bookcases full of political biographies) and delicious Central European food. I’m putting this in the “best place to take your elderly Conservative great Aunt / Hungarian colleague / local MP” list.

Gay Hussar on Urbanspoon

3. Hereford Road, Notting Hill, W2 4AB

Hereford Road was featured in Time Out’s best 50 restaurants in London, is near where friend Amaia now works, and it comes highly recommended from friends, so I went along for dinner last week. Try to get the booths at the bottom rather than the smaller tables at the top, but its a very cute restaurant inside. It features British cooking with a chef formerly of St John, so I’d go for red meat and sharing plates – the skate was beautifully cooked (above) but so delicate and tiny that we were starving afterwards and had to go for the chocolate cake to make up for it. The chocolate cake was INCREDIBLE but I was jealous at the beautifully smelling meat wafting around us from the open kitchen. Main, a carafe of wine and sharing a pud came to £30 each which wasn’t bad. I’m marking this as “best for date night” and am hoping to go back soon *HINT*.

Hereford Road on Urbanspoon

Spuntino, 61 Rupert Street, Soho, W1D 7PW

The Chef and I are decided – lunch is the best meal of the day. Even better is an impromptu lunch. Better than that a boozy long impromptu lunch. And the best of the best is a boozy long impromptu lunch where you don’t have to go to work afterwards and can do a pub crawl round Soho for the rest of the afternoon.

Well, we managed most of the above yesterday anyway. Spuntino is the new New-York-speakeasy influenced baby from the people that brought us Polpo and Polpetto and its really a delight that they are cornerning the market in Soho with cool, friendly, great value restaurants. Spuntino says it has no telephone number, no reservations, and The Chef and I thought there is no WAY we’d be able to walk in on Friday lunchtime and get a table easily. But we did – easy peasy – 5 minute wait, and the short wait continued for the rest of lunchtime, so don’t be put off by no reservations.

Spuntino looks fab – having just been to Wilton’s Music Hall the night before to see Iolanthe, I’m a big fan of shabby chic and Spuntino has been pared back to its original features and looks great for it – beautiful tiles like it was formerly a Roman spa or a swimming pool, lovely lights. Although you all sit round a bar, you get enough privacy and its sexy enough to be a fantastic first date place and there’s a great mix of friends, couples and solo eaters. We also noted that all these places seem to have the same type of staff – trendy without being pretentious, cool and friendly and enthusiastic and laid back. It makes for a great atmosphere. Thanks to the lovely Nigel for our lunch and for the pepper and thyme popcorn that make us cough.

Anyway the food was brilliant:

 Lardo crostini and thingy-berries, delicious

Amazing truffle egg on toast – delicious strong cheese (almost Swiss, raclettey), gooey egg and truffle – you have to taste it, is amaaaazing

I think this was a bone marrow “slider” – ridiculously deep taste almost like an Italian ragu or spag bol, really lovely. Want to go back and try the other sliders

Mac and cheese – only disappointment. A little underseasoned and the cheese could have been stronger – I prefer the Villandry Kitchen version

Peanut butter and jam sandwich – this was also amazing and still makes my mouth water thinking about it. Peanut ice cream with rich berries and crumbled peanuts, absolutely delicious and so CLEVER

Spuntino made us both smile loads – we had an incredible lunch and all this food, plus an old fashioned cocktail (guess who’s been watching too much Mad Men), 250cl white wine and kwoffees (served Americano filter style) came to only £30 each which was fantastic. It was a treat and a pleasure and the setting for our plotting the aforementioned Soho lunch and pub crawl. In fact the whole thing was incredibly Mad Men cool now I come to think about it. I will definitely be back – to try the other sliders and the soft shell crab and the stringy curly fries. You can so easily pay £30 for an average meal in Soho so I’m so happy these guys are revolutionising the place – they can really do no wrong right now!

Spuntino on Urbanspoon

My search for the best burger in London #5 – Byron burger

Byron was my holy grail. Every time I mentioned that I was looking for the best burger in London, friends mentioned Byron; facebook and blog and twitter comments mentioned Byron; and I talked about how I was long overdue a visit.

So The Chef and I (yup he’s new, keep up – I shall say no more for now) headed to Soho on Tuesday night for burgers, wine and comedy – or my perfect-sounding evening. We went to the Byron on Wardour Street, and I loved it inside. Relaxed, converted-warehouse-stainless-steel style, table service and booze, which reminded me of posh pizza at Pizza East. The Byron burger sounded awesome (comes with bacon and special relishy sauce) but sadly my criteria says I need to order the plain cheeseburger. I had it with fries and my favourite coleslaw and obligatory courgette fries, which everyone also bangs on about.

And it was lovely. Tasty soft bun, nice pinky burger. Hmmm. So what’s the problem? Well, I think I’d over-hyped it up. I was imagining the perfect drool-fest burger and I just don’t think its the PERFECT burger. For gluttony reasons, I’d want more cheese, stronger cheese, lots and lots of cheese. And although the burger was lovely, I’d have liked it meatier, bigger basically. And more taste of meat and charcoal.  And the bun maybe toasted ever so slightly. And tons more relish and sauce, preferably dripping down my chin. I loved the coleslaw and fries, and the courgette fries were OK but not needed with my burger, sorry. Am I being devil’s advocate against the tide of glowing reviews? Maybe. On reflection, I read a children’s book years ago about a burger joint in the US finding the perfect burger sauce and I am still hunting for that perfect one. Byron was awesome but not quite there yet.

But I think I went in like Ellie Goulding (starry eyed) and need to go back – again and again and again really – to appreciate it fully without all the hype. No matter what, I think its a lovely little venue and cheap (a burger each, sharing chips and courgette fries and coleslaw and a bottle of wine was £20 each). Next up is posh burgers – I’ve been invited to try the burger at Davy’s in Regents Place (grass fed beef matured for 21 days, the perks of blogging) and I want to try Hawksmoor, Goodman and the American Bar at the Stafford Hotel. And also some pub burgers, including the Prince of Wales in Putney. But I’m on a post-Argetina DIET, so first – SALAD.

UPDATE: I was getting annoyed at my spanking new camera as the focus was out and I was contemplating actually reading the guide. However I discovered at lunchtime that I had mistakenly switched the focus to manual, hence the wonky blurriness. Have rectified error and photos should get better from now on. Doh.

Byron on Urbanspoon

Rosa’s, 48 Dean Street, W1D 5BF

I’ve been to Rosa’s in Spitalfields before and loved it, and the newer one in Soho is also great. Its slightly more expensive than “cheap and cheerful” (you’re talking £30 each rather than £15 each) but the food, although not mind-blowing, is a cut above many Thai places like Thai Metro or Siam Central (which I also like); and the venue is lovely – with cute little wooden boots and red lanterns.

We started with an ice cold Singha beer (sooo good, made me want to be back in Koh Chang on the beach, sigh…) with prawn crackers, and then ordered the fresh vegetable rolls which were really tasty, with a delicious peanut sauce, and the deep fried crispy squid which were salty, succulent and more-ish. 

We then had the char-grilled jumbo prawns served with spicy fresh chilli sauce and cooled steamed vegetables – these were a bit special with giant juicy prawns – nom nom nom (see photo below).  And the marinated pork served with spicy dry chilli sauce and cooled steamed vegetables which was tasty but a little dry. All washed down with an unoaked chardy – perfect.

Total cost for 2 courses and 1/2 bottle of wine (plus sneeky Singha) was £65 or £32.50 each – very friendly staff and  a lovely night out too. I’m filing it under date night, cheap dinner and after-work dinner places…

PS Sorry this review is a little lacklustre – I’m a bit distracted watching my new guilty pleasure in the background (Cougar Town, ahem).

Rosa's on Urbanspoon

Randall & Aubin, 16 Brewer Street, W1F 0SQ

Urbanspoon has opened my eyes to the wonderful world of London food blogging, and puts together a helpful list of restaurants that everyone’s talking about.   I was hoping to try the great-sounding Polpo with my law school friends on Wednesday night, but decided against it because I was worried that, being so popular, we’d be rushed to eat and leave, and I’d read a couple of disparaging reviews.  Also, trendy places in London worry me – getting a table is often too hard and there’s a tendency for style over substance.  So, Polpo can wait for next time.

Instead, I opted for the wonderful Randall & Aubin.  El Grumpo and I walked past it on the way to Yalla Yalla and were intruiged by the disco balls, pumping house and the smiley happy people inside. 

You can’t book a table, which I thought would be a pain – but is perhaps key to its relaxed, party vibe.  The waiting staff are seriously friendly and make sure anyone waiting gets bottles of wine and champers, to the point that no-one seems to care and the crowds of relaxed, smiling people make for a great atmosphere (apparently they asked for and received special dispensation from the council to serve bottles of wine to those queueing outside).  

From start to finish they appear to be saying, “don’t rush, take your time” which carried on throughout the meal – being lawyers, you never know when everyone is going to arrive so you need a flexible table policy – one of our friends turned up about 2 hours late and they were fine with her ordering her main after we’d all finished, and no-one was asked to hurry their meals even when the outside queue grew long (unlike, say, the Buddha Bar).  Service is there when you need but leaves you alone, which, added to the emphasis on seafood,  is perhaps why it is also very romantic.   

Randall & Aubin is a party place covered in glitter balls and decorations, with an old school twist in its marble tables and chrome finishes, perhaps stemming from its birth as a butcher shop in 1911.  With all these people milling around, everyone squashed together at the marble tables, and champagne flowing like water (it is a self-proclaimed champagne and oyster bar) – it felt like we were at the best party in town.  Although slightly sad to say, with my 3 girlfriends, it felt very Sex & The City.   

I LOVED the music – described as too loud and even “inappropriate” by other reviewers – we were able to talk easily (albeit quite loudly) while a fantastic soundtrack of handbag house and 70s disco pumped out.  I fell in love again with Donna Summer’s amazing “State of Independence“.

All this taken into account, I didn’t expect the food and wine to be quite as wonderful as it was.  We drank a gorgeous bottle of Malbec (£25) and then a Viognier with the fish (£23) – both delicious.  The food was also amazingly good (which explained anew why people were so happy to queue). 

I don’t know of another mid-price seafood specialist in London, and I was excited by the reasonably-priced and extensive seafood menu – it had been ages since I’d eaten like this.  The starters of fresh Devon crab salad and calamari were simple, fresh and tasty; the crab salad especially yummy.  For mains, Nicola had the scallops and Jo the halibut, which both said were delicious.  Rach and I had the half grilled lobster with salad and chips, which was  spectacular.  At £16.50 it is pretty much the only time in London I’ve felt I could afford to eat lobster, and it was simply cooked, tasty and meaty.   Next time I’d like to try the Scottish langoustine, the whole dressed crab and the assiete de fruits de mer, with a nice bottle of vino blanco, especially in summer – mouth is watering already!  The roti chicken is recommended in other reviews. 

All in all, we paid £170 between 4 (£40 each) for 2 bottles of wine plus 2 more glasses, a main each and 2 starters to share – for great wine and incredible seafood, it’s not a normal Soho dinner but a bit of a gastronomic disco experience – highly recommended!
Randall & Aubin on Urbanspoon

Pierre Victoire, 5 Dean Street, W1D 3RQ

Ah Pierre Victoire.  Like most Edinburghers, I have very fond memories of this place.  Pierre Levicky opened his first restaurant in Edinburgh in 1988, and expanded quickly.  Soon there were two on Victoria Street, specialising in good French food on a budget.  It was very popular.  I went there at 15 to eat moules marinieres, and had my first (and last) waitressing experience there  at 18 – I wasn’t asked back after the chef passed me a boiling hot plate without warning me first and I managed to drop it in a customer’s lap, and the head waitress was infuriated at my lack of knowledge of wine (I was 18 – my experience of fine wine was Maddog 20/20 and whatever my mother served).

Pierre’s rapid expansion backfired and the chain folded in the late nineties.  So, I was surprised to find Pierre Victoire safe and well on Dean Street.  Turns out this was a franchise bought by Batuhan Isiksalan in 1998, which survived the bankrupcy of the chain, and kept Pierre’s name and traditions going strong.

As part of  The Happiness Project London rules, I have to try new places every time I eat out, so having researched restos in Soho (and unable to get through to Andrew Edmunds which I also want to try) I went along last night with my good friend Jo, and was very impressed with what I saw.  The relaxed, homely French restaurant I knew was still evident, with rustic wooden tables and chairs, candles in wine bottles, and a pianist in the corner.  Coupled with the hearty, tasty food and modern French menu, it reminded me of one of the better restaurants which fill the streets of Paris or Brussels.

The atmosphere is warm, relaxed and cosy –  Jo and I were seated in a table in the corner and were able to happily natter all evening.  The wine list was great and we got a nice Chilean cab sauv for around £15.  Before 7pm, they offer a 2 course set menu for £9.90 which has to be the best value in Soho, but even without the offer it was pretty reasonable.

As a nod to the past, I had moules marinieres to start and Jo ordered scallops (around £5 each) and we had honey roast duck with gratin dauphinois and pak choi, and ribeye with mash, blue cheese and peppercorn sauce, as a main.  It was all good French cooking – simple, tasty, flavoursome, although in Paris or Brussels I’m sure the meat would be a little pinker.  Service was good and friendly but we were also left alone to chat.  The total cost was £35 each which is really good for London dining.

It felt like a relaxed local resto, with a nice friendly atmosphere, and filled with a low-key crowd, not the usual Soho trendies – the kind of place we used to eat in every weekend in Brussels.  I’ll definitely be going back, and this time I’ll order my steak rare.

Pierre Victoire on Urbanspoon

Jim Goldberg’s Open See @ The Photographer’s Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, Soho

GREECE. Lavrio. 2005. Two detained Afghani refugees point to the refrigerator on which they wrote (approximate translation) “The Sea of Sadness has no shore”. (Their English translation is “in the open see (sic) dont have border”) Lavrio Detention Center.                                                  

© Jim Goldberg / Magnum Photos

I’d been meaning to go to The Photographers’ Gallery for ages.  Its right by Oxford Circus on Ramillies Street. and currently houses a downstairs exhibition by Sara Ramo (which combines photography and chaos theories), an upstairs cafe and print room, and a 2nd floor exhibition by Jim Goldberg called Open See, which is on until 17 January 2010. 

Bangladesh. Dhaka. 2007. Man at a recruitment center.© Jim Goldberg / Magnum Photos

Goldberg travelled to the Ukraine, Greece, Liberia and Senegal, India and Bangladesh, and documented asylum seekers and economic migrants who left, or planned to leave, their homes in poverty or war or just to make a better life for themselves in Europe.  As well as wonderfully scenic photos which really brought to life the characters and desolation of the people he photographed, it is a historical account of the misery suffered by those who dream of a better life in Europe as well as the reality of people trafficking and sexual exploitation.  Part of his process was to take polaroids of people and have them describe themselves and their lives, so bringing them in to their own documentary and distancing himself from the process. 

GREECE. Athens. 2003. Muzaffar “Alex” Jafari writes about his journey on foot from Afghanistan to Greece via Iran. Now Alex is in school and supports himself by working in a call center.© Jim Goldberg / Magnum Photos 

Not only was I impressed with the technical and documentary delicacy of the photographs, he had also started archiving items that the people he had met gave him – forms filled out to summarise torture for the Greek authorities, a koran bound in cotton that had been washed up by a survivor from a sunken boat from Africa to Greece.  Some of his subjects were victims of sex trafficking, many had suffered torture at the hands of rebels or the Taliban, or by their hosts in Europe. 

UKRAINE. 2006. Larysa, 39 years old. (Translation) “I was a dancer and sold to a man who was a terrorist- he held a gun to my head. Somehow I was rescued and escaped, but the fear has left scars on my heart. (and I will never be the same).”     © Jim Goldberg / Magnum Photos

As someone interested in photography, I loved his portraits and his scenery photos, such as one of a small girl standing on top of a rubbish dump, the longer shutter speed turning the wind blowing her skirt into angel’s wings, and for anyone the reality of torture, war and escape are made real.  You should definitely try to pop in if you can.

Photographs used with kind permission of The Photographers’ Gallery, London.