REVIEW: Cielo Blanco – a long way from Wahaca

This review originally appeared on the Culture Vulture website.

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Where's the guac?

Where’s the guac?

Just weeks before learning of the existence of Cielo Blanco, I had quite literally begged Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca to move further north than Stratford.

“PLEASE,” I bleated via the medium of tweet, “Leeds needs you.”

Unsurprisingly, my pleas were politely swept under the virtual rug and it seemed my obsession with Oaxacan street food would have to continue dictating my social commitments during trips to London.

But it was with the opening of the new Trinity shopping centre that I heard an eatery boasting a similar menu to that of my southern fave was opening its doors.

I. COULDN’T. WAIT. So down I went with my pal a week last Thursday, salivating at the thought of all the guacamole I could now consume not 200 miles away, but on my own doorstep.

On arrival, it was evident the restaurant was popular, but being a party of only two I immediately spotted a table that could happily have accommodated us, albeit in the breeze of the front door. “Table for two?” I asked the host chirpily.

“It’s going to be about 15 minutes,” he said, consulting what appeared to be a reservations list on an iPad. “Can I have your name?”

“Oh we’ll just hang about here and wait,” I replied breezily.

“Well that’s fine, but I still need your name,” he snapped.

Sufficiently scolded, we were asked to sit at the bar, where we waited. And waited. And waited a bit more, until I asked, with a touch of impatience, if we had, perhaps, been forgotten about?

Out came the iPad: “Good job you mentioned it, your name hasn’t saved in the reservations list.”

Oh, the perils of technology.

We were asked to wait another five minutes when I pointed out the still empty table by the door, which by this point had been vacant for half an hour.

“Oh,” our host laughed, “I could have sat you there 30 minutes ago.”

Hi-larious!

Our waitress quickly came to take our order – a delectable sounding spread of steak tostada, pulled pork tacos, chicken quesadilla, achiote ribs, turtle bean tostadas and a squash salad.

While we waited for our food, we nibbled on some crisp, homemade tortilla chips served with three thimbles containing salsa and an unidentified green liquid. Our extra guacamole arrived a few minutes later in the world’s smallest ramekin and our mental scorecards flashed: Wahaca 1, Cielo Blanco -100.

Around 25 minutes later, our mains began to arrive and we delved in, eager to judge the Mexican fare by our high Wahacan standards.

But no sooner had I ravenously pounced on the steak tostada, it was whisked away by the host who declared that they “had caught at the edges”.

With my stomach practically eating itself by this point, I settled for picking at the turtle bean tostadas – where I could find no evidence of beans – and the pork tacos with pineapple salsa – where I could find no fruit.

Minor foodie gripes aside however, this is a restaurant which undoubtedly knows its way around a pig. The aforementioned tacos provided satisfying bite-size portions of juicy shredded pork and the meat on the achiote ribs slipped off the bone and into the accompanying pot of sweet and spicy barbecue sauce like they couldn’t wait to get it on.

The mix of flavours and textures in the squash salad was a refreshing break from the cheesy onslaught of the chicken quesadilla, with the beetroot and pumpkin seeds adding an earthiness to the dish.

Standout item however (when it returned ten minutes later) was the steak tostada. Chunks of North Yorkshire rump cooked medium rare and slathered in a jalapeno ketchup: a blissful morsel if ever I ate one.

Despite the unnecessary addition of grated carrot on every dish and the appearance on my plate of a very black hair which could not have come from my own bleached blonde head, the food was of good quality and could easily compete with, ahem, other successful Mexican restaurants. It was also good value for money, at just £10.95 a head.

But on the whole, the experience was let down by the hit-and-miss service. Perhaps the early teething problems will become a thing of the past when the staff and restaurant are more established. For my money however, a quicker turnaround in the kitchen and a lot less carrot would go a long way to improving Cielo Blanco.

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Final round-up: Leeds International Film Festival

Finisterrae

A SECOND week of films from the vast selection at Leeds International Film Festival threw up some oddball additions, not least of all Open Wings competitor, Finisterrae.

In what is undoubtedly one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen, two ghosts who have tired of their other-worldly existence go on the road to Finisterre to seek advice on returning to the human world.

This debut work from Spain’s Sergio Caballero – co-director of the famous Sonar music festival – features snippets of an eclectic soundtrack, though its brilliance does not distract nearly enough from the heavy-handed manner in which the film desperately tries to push existential boundaries.

There are moments of humour to break up the obtrusive weirdness – the deadpan narrative between the ghosts’ dialogue does tickle on occasion, particularly when it transpires one of the two is depressed and there’s debate over the usefulness of keeping an appointment with a psychiatrist.

But rather than laughing at the film’s content I was rather more amused by the thought of its production, with camera crews sneaking out on night time jaunts to industrial estates to film two men covered in bed sheets standing in a ring of fire.

I also couldn’t help but wonder if animals – like children – are subject to the same rules and regulations of shorter working hours, and was the third main role of the steed in fact a job share with a second horse?

Having said that there was an erroneous scene where a fake horse with a rotating head replaced the real deal, for reasons largely unknown…

Together

Lukas Moodysson’s Together was a largely more comical affair than I anticipated as it followed the lives of those living in a hippy commune forced to make room for a housewife and a pair of precocious brats.

It’s the adults who live in this supposedly harmonious home who are exposed for their hypocrisies – flouting social norms for no real reason other than it was radical to do so – and the children who remark on their stupidity.

Marxists, nudists and vegans all get in a look-in as their 70s pad implodes with the frankly mundane: unrequited love, divorce, family spats, etc, but the film does strike a nice balance between funny and touching.

Shut Up Little Man

Music documentary Shut Up Little Man introduces us to an audio phenomenon that captured an underground music movement way before the internet reared its head.

Mid-west punks Eddie and Mitch have noisy neighbours and paper-thin walls to thank for their creativity as they set about recording.

Going viral before it was cool to do so, the pair recorded snippets of rows and recorded them to mix-tapes for friends,  which in turn sparked the interest of movie producers.


Sure, the dream was shortlived, but director Matthew Bates’ interviews with the protagonists provides a bittersweet ode to one of the earliest musical subcultures.

Preview: Leeds International Film Festival

Carey Mulligan in Shame

FILM: a breathtaking exercise in bringing the fantastic to life, a notion so wonderful it has captured the minds of film-makers for more than a century. For Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF), this year marks the city’s 25th celebration of the cinematic world.

The three-week event – which runs from November 3-20 – boasts a sparkling schedule of screenings, split over six categories bulging with new discoveries, exclusive previews and cherry-picked selections.

At the heart of the festival is its Official Selection category, showcasing emerging directors, fresh talent and classics from the archives.

The cream of the cinematic crop bookends LIFF’s special events with Oscar-winning director Andrea Arnold kicking off the opening gala with her bold adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights on November 3.

Closing the gala on November 18 will be Steve McQueen’s critically acclaimed Shame starring Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender in what preview reviews promise is his finest performance to date.

Sandwiched inbetween on November 9 is an exclusive presentation of Silent Clowns – a homage to some of the finest pre-talkie actors in film history – hosted by one of Britain’s best-loved comedians, Paul Merton.

Irish murder tale, The Other Side of Sleep

Across the calendar, potential screen stealers include psychological drama Take Shelter which has Hollywood disaster-movie appeal, and Irish murder story, The Other Side of Sleep, which battles alongside 11 other UK premieres in the Golden Owl Competition.

Quirky selection entries include oddball fantasy, Finisterrae, hippy comedy, Together, and Romanian new-wave gem, Best Intentions.

Those who love their cinema served with a side of gore will rejoice that the much-loved Fano

Brit-pop beats: Pulp is the law

menon duo of events, Night and Day of the Dead, return to satiate the appetite for aliens (November 5 and 12 respectively).

For fans who love music and film in equal measure, this year’s home to documentary comes under Cinema Versa: a series of special events based on the festival aesthetic.

Tipped for success is The Beat is the Law – Fanfare for the Common People, which traces Sheffield’s musical history, with a large chunk dedicated to Brit-poppers, Pulp.

On an underground note, Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure tells the tale of a viral phenomenan borne of paper thin walls and noisy neighbours.

Finally, and further proof audiences will be spoiled for choice this year, LIFF also boasts the world’s largest comic celebration, Thought Bubble, a selection of world animation and short film, and experiemntal showcase, Cherry Kino.

Visit http://www.leedsfilm.com/ for ticket prices, venues, and screening information.

Art on two wheels

BEING hit over the head with a great idea is about to get more literal as art-crusaders pedal down the streets of Leeds thrusting bundles of creativity into unsuspecting hands.

Volunteer Papergirl, Laura Jordon, 25, talks to Low Culture about delivering art by bike, the upcoming exhibition and why it’s as much fun as it sounds…

LC: Tell us a little about Papergirl- what it is, where it’s come from and where it’s going.

LJ: Aisha Ronniger started the Papergirl project in Berlin in 2006 in response to changing laws regarding graffiti that classed wheat-pasted artwork in public space as the same illegal penalty as spray-painting.
Many artists in Berlin faced fines if they displayed their work, so Aisha began to conjure up ideas of how to get artists’ work ‘out there’.
Inspired by the idea of American papergirls and paperboys, she began the steps to start up a new project: the result being Papergirl.

LC: What’s your role as the Leeds ambassador for Papergirl?

LJ: After taking part in Papergirl Manchester last year and cycling around giving out bundles of art, I felt inspired. As a student and visual artist myself, I felt like I related to the project and I believed in the ethics: in a way it seemed like everything just clicked into place.
I felt like I would do it justice and I wanted a platform for this city to show everyone just what it can do.

LC: Why should we care about the project?

LJ: It’s a great opportunity to get your work seen – every submission is included in the exhibition. There’s no element of choosing work and there’s no element of choosing the recipient when we hand it out.
Being on a bicycle when distributing speeds up the process and there’s little time to select a person – it’s just being in the right place, at the right time.
I think that’s what is special about Papergirl.

LC: How can people submit work for the exhibition?

LJ: It’s for anyone that wants to get involved. Submitting your work into a project or a competition is quite a scary prospect in the beginning, so Papergirl makes sure that there’s no doubt that your work will be seen.

LC: What’s your favourite part of the project?

LJ: The idea of giving the art away seems to be something that has struck many people as something wonderful. The response to Papergirl Leeds has been astonishing.
There have been so many people, artists and organisations wanting to get involved.  I like the idea of “creating a creative community” and I think that with a project like Papergirl, we can do just that.

The Papergirl exhibition runs from April 8 to 17 at TestSpace, Melbourne Street, Leeds.

For more information, visit Papergirl Leeds

Words: Lauren Potts
(Original text at Low Culture)

Northern Ballet rules with Egypt’s queen

Cleo's had her Red Bull today

WHEN I was five years old, I asked my parents whether I could take ballet lessons with my childhood best friend.
She was a tiny wisp of a thing – all colt-like and agile.  I,  on the other hand,  was not.

Since I was told I had the grace of a baby elephant,  I was discouraged from a career in dance,  so that’s the closest I’ve ever been to the ballet – that and watching Natalie Portman prance around in Black Swan.

But when I had the chance to see Northern Ballet Theatre’s adaptation of one of the most smouldering love stories ever to hit celluloid,  I decided to bury my wounded pride.

Cleopatra was one of the first ambassadors for feminism – a strong, beautiful queen who overcame exile to become one of Egypt’s most memorable rulers. 

Lest we forget that while she was busy reigning over a country she had not one,  but two,  powerful men falling at her feet.

NBT’s version retells history with a splash of artistic license. Prima ballerina, Martha Leebolt,  succeeds in portraying the Queen of the Nile as both seductive and strong-willed,  stalking across the stage en pointe to dispose of her brother-husband to become sole ruler.

This is a character with determination and there’s no shortage of passion in either act.  Her sensual unfurling from a carpet into the arms of Rome’s Julius Caeser (Javier Torres) marks the start of a brief,  intense love affair,  cut-short by his brutal gang-murder.

The fire however is between the bereaved lover and Caeser’s deputy, Mark Anthony (Tobias Batley), who passionately falls into her arms with disastrous consequences.

It’s a contemporary and accessible production with well-pitched musical direction setting each scene and colour-coded costumes providing a visual checklist of who’s who.

Expressive performances from the soloists speak louder than words and though some opening night nerves were apparent with the occasional wobble,  the chorus were delightful as silent narrators.

A powerful interpretation from artistic director David Nixon, NBT’s production gives Cleopatra a modern,  sensual twist.