Stuart Reviews Restaurants: Al-Basha Mediterranean Restaurant & Shisha Bar (Dalgleish Rd, Dundee)

December 24, 2016

Every year on December 23rd, I go out for a big Christmas meal with my friends.

And while the company is always good, the food usually isn’t.

Trying to find somewhere to suit a large group that includes vegetarians, fussy eaters, a guy who “winna eat anything frae the grund”  (to non Dundonians, that means he doesn’t like vegetables) and a large number of people who’ll be drinking and therefore don’t want to take a taxi too far from the city centre can be difficult and it’s meant that in the past after all the exciting suggestions have been shot down, we’ve gone to dreary Italian restaurants like Don Michele or bang average ‘Jack of All Trades’ eateries like Papa Joes.

But this year, much to my amazement, there was a consensus to try somewhere a bit different.

We went to my personal favourite Friday night takeaway spot – but a venue I’ve never sat in to eat at – Al-Basha Mediterranean Restaurant & Shisha Bar on Dalgleish Road.

So how did we get on?

The Venue

Al-Basha is a spacious, well-lit restaurant that is part of Dundee’s Carlton Hotel. I can’t say the venue blew me away as being particularly amazing, but at the same time it was nice enough.  The staff were friendly and attentive, which makes such a difference.

The only thing I would mark it down for was that there was a toilet brush in the men’s lavatory which put me off using it.

Unlike The Bach, it also has easy disabled access.

The Food

You get a choice of a regular menu (which is what we order from when getting our takeaway), but we went for the Tapas menu where they just bring more and more food out.

Just a sample of what we were given.

Just a sample of what we were given.

And boy, did they ever.

It came in the following order.

Round 1: Fruity and Spices Breads with oil, dips and cold cured meats.

Round 2: Flatbreads with a variety of dips including hummus, baba ganoush, artichoke, some kind of coleslaw, a dip with capers and sweet potatoes, and red pepper.

Round 3: Items like garlic mushrooms, fried halloumi, lamb samosas, meatballs in tomato sauce, cauliflower pakoras, chicken rice, spiced potatoes, stewed okra and lamb rice.

Round 4: The vegetarians were give their own massive plates of veggie food that included stuffed vine leaves and peppers, among other things, while the carnivores were given a large amount of meat (kebabs, lamb chops, chicken etc) to wolf down.

Round 5: Dessert in form of grapes, dates, Turkish Delight and some joyous baklava.

Round 6: Quality Street.

Now I suspected we’d be given a lot of food, so I tried to pace myself, but I was stuffed by Round 3; we all were. To get that fourth round was almost a bridge too far, but we soldiered on.

And let me say now, the food here was superb. Everything was well cooked, full of flavour and added to the experience, and as one of our group said “There hasn’t been a single thing here I haven’t loved”. The lamb rice especially is something you have to try.

Honestly, this place is amazing, and it’s also very nice to be exposed to trying new foods and flavours.

But you do have to pace yourself or you’ll end up like Mr Creosote.

The Drink

For me it’s always a lemonade, and I had no complaints on that score. Most of the group consumed copious amounts of wine that seemed to go down well, and to top off the night they tried some sort of exotic shot that smelled like it would strip paint. But they liked it so who am I to judge.

The Vegetarian’s Viewpoint

As you can tell, there was plenty for vegetarians to get their laughing gear around. No complaints at all on that score from them.

The Price

Here’s the best part; for all that food it was £20 per head. Absolutely sensational. That doesn’t include the drinks of course, and while I can’t attest for the value of the alcohol, I’m happy to report that from my perspective it was tremendous value for money.

Final Thoughts

When I’ve mentioned Al-Basha to people over the last few months, the most common response is “Oh, where’s that?” because it’s slightly out-of-the-way and not somewhere that will likely get much foot traffic. But more people need to know about it and understand just how good it is.

I loved the meal last night, and I think everyone else did too (though the guy who doesn’t like vegetables wasn’t there and I think it might have been a little too different for his tastes).

Great value, so much food and nice staff means this is a place you have to try.

But just remember to pace yourselves.


Movies: Rogue One Review (or ‘A Proper Prequel To A New Hope’)

December 16, 2016

From the off I feel I should warn you; this Rogue One review contains spoilers. It has to. So if you haven’t seen it yet, close down this page and come back again when you have.

Ok?

Has everyone who needs to go gone?

Good, I’ll begin.

I knew very little of Rogue One going into it. While I knew it was about members of the Rebel Alliance stealing the plans for the Death Star, for some reason I had it in my head that it would take place a few years star-wars-rogue-one-posterbefore the events of A New Hope.

But I was wrong.

And that’s the masterstroke of Rogue One.

It takes place right before it, finally culminating in a scene that actually leads in to the opening scene of the first Star Wars movie.

And in doing so, it has repercussions.

The first is that every heroic character created for this movie dies. They had to, otherwise you could ask why they weren’t in any of the original movies, and I thought it made for a refreshing change to what we’ve come to expect from Hollywood.

We now live in a world where the sequel is king. Nothing of any real consequences happens to the heroes in movies now because they are obviously being protected for a raft of inevitable follow-ups. But here, every character was expendable. They were one-and-done creations that had no use beyond this movie.

So they are all killed off and as a result, Rogue One became more believable and dramatic.

I should point out as well that I was pretty saddened by that despite loving that they ended up dead, because there were some great characters in there, from the Sheldon Cooper-esque K-2SO droid to the fantastic Oriental double act. These were some of the best and most well-rounded characters we’ve seen in the Star Wars universe, but like I say, they had to die.

Anyway, the other main repercussion that stemmed from setting Rogue One right before A New Hope is that certain characters needed to be a part of it.

Obviously Darth Vader was easy enough to bring back, even though he sounded very old thanks to James Earl Jones’s declining voice, but you’d assume that Grand Moff Tarkin might be a little tougher to replace seeing as Peter Cushing is long since dead.

And yet you’d be wrong. I was genuinely shocked to see that for all intents and purposes, Peter Cushing is in this movie. Technical wizardry – a use of CGI that is actually head turning in these days of over-reliance on computer imagery – means that they were able to have another actor play the part and then super-impose Cushing’s head onto him.

It was a bit freaky, but it added so much authenticity to the movie.

You can keep your constant ‘New York gets destroyed’ use of CGI, Hollywood, this is the proper way to use it!

Speaking of CGI, while I’m sure that it was employed all the way through Rogue One, what I liked about this movie was that it seemed like it didn’t rely too heavily on it. Maybe I’m wrong, but a lot of the sets, scenery and worlds it visited looked like they were brought to life with old-fashioned costume and set design. To me that makes a difference; it makes the Star Wars universe seem more complete than the cold and clinical CGI wankfests you see in the likes of Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them and the Marvel movies.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Rogue One had an interesting and engrossing plot and a sharp and at times funny script. That’s the most important thing isn’t it?

Even though it lasts for 2hrs14m, it didn’t feel like it dragged at any point.

If I had any complaint, it would be that the inevitable battle scene towards the end went on for a bit, but as I say above, the fact that it had repercussions softened that blow a little bit for me.

So, to sum up, maybe I’m biased because I love Star Wars, and maybe it’s that I’m still on an initial high from seeing it at the cinema, but for me, Rogue One is the best movie of the year.

I won’t bother saying that you should see it, because if you’ve read this far then you must have already.

So do you agree or have I been too generous?


Movies: Allied Review

December 16, 2016

For some reason, Allied hasn’t done well with reviewers.

It’s been described as ‘plodding’ and ‘passionless’ by some and generally gets below average scores.alliedposter

That surprises me, because I thought it was great.

Reminiscent of the sort of a Hitchcock directed James Stewart movie, I found it to be dramatic, engrossing and pretty straight forward.

Maybe that’s the problem some have with it? Maybe it’s that it’s a return to a simpler form of storytelling that doesn’t jump around in a non-linear fashion with flashbacks and flashforwards galore?

Or maybe it’s the acting? I can’t say that Brad Pitt or Marion Cotillard blew me away with their performances, but I certainly didn’t think they were worth being negative about.

All I know is that as a story, this was one of the best movies I’ve seen all year and I’d recommend it highly.

I guess it’s just a matter of which critic you listen to?


Movies: Sully Review

December 12, 2016

In 2016, the notion of going to see a film because of the actor or actress starring in it seems like a thing of the past. I don’t know if that’s down to the lead actors now being less important in the overall scheme of things or whether they are simply less talented than the stars of Hollywood’s past, but that’s how I see it.

The sole exception to that for me is Tom Hanks.sully

With very few exceptions, movies starring Tom Hanks tend to be good, and they are always well acted.

So when I saw a poster for his newest movie – Sully – about the pilot who landed a passenger jet on the Hudson River, I knew it would be worth seeing.

And it was.

Sully is an engrossing retelling of the events of January 15th 2009 and does a good job both of detailing the actual events of the splash landing and the aftermath and enquiries into it. The latter point is important because in itself, the story of how the plane came to land on the Hudson isn’t worthy of a movie. It’s worthy of being revisited as a visual spectacle, but not of being a movie in its own right.

The main draw here is the character of Chelsea “Sully” Sullenburger and how he dealt with the situation and its aftermath.

And to come full circle, what makes that main draw work is that Tom Hanks is – as usual – excellent.

This is a movie you should definitely seek out.


TV – Pretty Little Liars Review

November 28, 2016

Today’s the day I finally get my life back.

Why? Because since September 9th, I’ve been on an epic viewing marathon of Pretty Little Liars on Netflix and I’ve finally finished it.pll-poster

That’s 150 episodes in under 12 weeks, and in that time almost every other TV show I watch has had to take a back seat.

Of course, that I’ve watched this show has raised a few eyebrows from friends, including comments like “Is there some kind of sexual reason for this?” and “I didn’t know you were a teenage girl”, but I’ve always enjoyed the sort of over-the-top teen dramas like The OC, One Tree Hill and Revenge and I thought this would be no different.

So now that I’m finished – or I should say up to date with the series as there are still ten final episodes left to air in the spring of 2017 – was it worth watching?

I’d say yes.

Pretty Little Liars – a teen mystery show about cyber-bullying – is often frustrating and usually ludicrous but it is enjoyable. The characters are typically over the top, they make incredibly daft decisions – basically we could have saved ourselves 150 episodes if they just went to the police or confided in their parents – and they are almost all played by actors much older than the age they are supposed to be. Oh, and they are of course hugely talented whilst at school and amazingly successful after it, but that’s par for the course in shows like these.

As for the story? It’s six and a half seasons of bait and switch over who the mysterious ‘A’ is. You’d have thought that it should have been revealed sooner, but I guess if a show is successful then they have to keep the mystery going. That meant that almost the entire show takes place over the course of a few months in the girls’ final year of high school, and led to a situation where one fellow pupil looked like he was played by a forty year old man by season six.

Once the identity of ‘A’ was finally revealed – and inevitably disappointed me because it made no sense – I think it ran out of steam completely. The subsequent twenty episodes set in the future with a new enemy for the girls to face were just a slog to get through. Up until that point though, I was hooked. That’s from binge watching though; had I been a viewer week by week and five years in was no closer to finding out who ‘A’ was, I’d probably have stopped watching.

Should you watch it? Well if you enjoy mystery shows or the likes of One Tree Hill, then you’ll enjoy this too.

Just prepare for your very existence to be questioned for doing so.


Movies: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review (or ‘Oh, I Can’t Be Bothered…’)

November 28, 2016

Part of me can’t be bothered writing a review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

It’s not that it’s a bad film – bad films are easy to write about – it’s just that it’s yet another movie from the cookie cutter mould of modern Hollywood blockbusters.fantastic-beasts-sequel-03aug16

With a by-the-numbers plot, an over-abundance of CGI in lieu of good direction and cinematic flair, New York city getting destroyed again and acting that is simply ok (or in the case of Eddie Redmayne, copied directly from Matt Smith’s interpretation of The Doctor), I just found it utterly unremarkable.

The only unique selling point is that it’s set in 1920s New York rather than modern day.

People will love it – I know someone who’s going for the second time to see it today – but I just found it as bland as bland can be, and therefore I can’t muster up anything worthwhile to say about it.

It’ll be nice to walk through the set when it inevitably comes to Universal Studios though…


Doctor Who – The Power of the Daleks Animation Review

November 10, 2016

It was over five years ago that I sat down to review The Power of the Daleks.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but a lot of water has passed under the bridge in that time, with thirteen missing episodes finding their way back to the BBC and the never-ending saga of the Omnirumour rumbling on.

Now, in 2016, Patrick Troughton’s first story has made its way back to our screens in animated form.

You’d think this would be universally hailed as good news throughout the world of Doctor Who fandom, but then you’d be surprised.

I’ve read people say that they are ‘too old for cartoons’, others declare that ‘Doctor Who should never be animated because it was never intended to be’ and that they’d rather watch the telesnaps and most deluded

Though the BBC Store App wouldn't allow me to take the exact screen shot I wanted, this shows how animation can improve upon the limitations of the original

Though the BBC Store App wouldn’t allow me to take the exact screen shot I wanted, this shows how animation can improve upon the limitations of the original

of all, some suggest that they’d ‘rather wait for the episodes to be found’.

Jesus Christ…

I guess positivity – rather than the blind optimism/delusion shown by those who believe that the BBC would spend money on animating Power when they know or suspect that the original episodes are sitting somewhere ready to be discovered any day now – is a state of mind that some people refuse to embrace.

Animation is the best way to bring these episodes back to life. If they are rediscovered then great, but at this stage, the sensible planner will operate on the assumption that they are lost forever. I can’t get my head around people who would rather watch grainy telesnaps with the audio from the episode over animation that turns it into a proper viewing experience. Sure, people are entitled to their own opinions, but not watching them because you’ve decided you’re too old for a cartoon is just nuts. It’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.

And telesnap reconstructions are simply not commercially viable. Animations on the other hand have legs and with any luck, Power of the Daleks will sell well enough to justify more.

But does the quality of the animation justify the purchase from the BBC Store?

For me, it’s a yes.

While it’s not exactly a perfect recreation of the story – the animation of human movement isn’t the easiest thing to get right when you don’t have a Pixar-esque budget – it’s most certainly good enough to lose yourself in.

And though certain characters don’t look great – Ben doesn’t look much like Michael Craze here – others like Bragan, Hensell and of course the Doctor are pretty much bang on.

Meanwhile, in spite of the limitations, the animators do manage to achieve expressiveness in the faces of the characters, which helps the tone of the scenes.

As you would expect, the animation of the Daleks is the strongest part of it, as they glide effortlessly around the screen. The animators even manage to work in the issues with the real life props,

The Daleks are definitely the strongest part of the animation process

The Daleks are definitely the strongest part of the animation process

which I think is a very nice touch. For example, when the Daleks come out of the capsule, they thump up onto the ramp and then roll down it with all the control you’d expect from a prop on wheels. That wouldn’t happen in a story made today, and you might think that the animators would look to hide that limitation in this presentation, but they don’t. Good for them.

There’s no doubt that the animation will fail to capture little gestures and directorial set pieces that were in the original – lest we forget how the rediscovery of Enemy of the World brought back to life that wonderful forgotten moment where Salamander is smoking a cigar like a boss – but then it also improves on the limits of the era in which it was made. In particular, the scenes in the Dalek production line won’t have looked anywhere near as good on TV in 1966 as they did here, while one of the very few scenes that does exist – the cliffhanger to Episode Five – doesn’t have to have a fake backdrop with photos of Daleks on them.

So I would say it’s worth buying for the quality of animation, but the main thing – and what should be the foremost consideration for anyone thinking of buying this – is that Power of the Daleks is a really good story; in fact I rated it as 22nd best Doctor Who story of all time in Stuart Reviews Doctor Who: Book Two.

If you haven’t seen it then you need to.

And until such times as it might be returned – and like I say, we have to assume that it won’t be – then this is the only way to go.

So get buying, then maybe this time next year we’ll have an animated Dalek’s Master Plan to go with it.

You can read my original review of Power of the Daleks – part of my Doctor Who review project spanning every story ever broadcast – here.