September 2008

Monthly Archive

No, not there

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 28 Sep 2008 | Tagged as: Internet

A while ago, I blogged about the (then new) “My Location” feature in Google Maps. In summary, it didn’t work for my PDA (constantly reporting that my location was unavailable) and it seemed like there was a newer version out, but not available for my OS (Windows Mobile 5, I was asking for trouble to be fair).

I looked for a newer available version yesterday and happily downloaded it hoping it may solve the problem. Indeed, I had a brief moment of joy when a blue dot appeared on the map with the footnote “your location with 3000 metres accuracy”. And then I noticed the map around the blue dot. This is where it was:

No. No I’m not in Taiwan, I’m in London. That’s off by a tiny bit more that 3000 metres.

Remaining seriously unimpressed (albeit slightly amused).

Barrafina @ Soho

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 20 Sep 2008 | Tagged as: Restaurants

Once again on Friday night we ended up at Barrafina. This is a Spanish tapas bar, and it’s literally that: there is an L-shaped bar that sits around 24 people on bar stools and that’s all the seating in the place. Given the small size of it, it’s remarkable they can prepare food and seat that many people anyway. There is also a counter with just enough room running along the side of the bar for the queue of people waiting as much as 40 minutes to be seated to be able to order drinks and a couple of tapas to appease their hunger.

And the long wait is perfectly justified. Barrafina specialises at preparing simple tapas very very well. There are a lot of things grilled or cooked with olive oil, garlic and lemon, thus bringing out all the flavour of the fresh ingredients without any extra fanfare and pretence.

Food is prepared in front of the customers, just behind the bar. You can observe the cooks grilling fish, shellfish or meat, slicing Iberian ham off the huge leg resting just behind the counter, frying croquettes and tortillas and the simple recipe is quite obvious: cook, season simply (salt, pepper, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, lemon - two or three of these), serve. There is also always a large selection of specials, most of which are fish and shellfish resting on ice at arms length and grilled on the spot (someone’s lobster was killed right in front of us).

On yesterday’s visit we enjoyed patatas bravas, pimientos de padron (green grilled peppers), bread spread with garlic and tomato and grilled lamb chops, which are amongst our regular choices and excellent as usual. We opted for a ham and spinach tortilla omelette which was perfectly cooked, some (fairly rare) grilled octopus seasoned with paprika and very tasty, and finished with a grilled piece of rib-eye topped with red peppers and melted cheese, which was amazing. There was just enough room to share a (thankfully) light crema catalana at the end. Oh, and the cava never misses.

Apart from the amazing food, it’s the experience that makes the place very worthwhile. Observing the food being prepared and ordering whatever looks good, a couple of dishes at a time, having the seafood in front of you to choose from, and the friendly and informal service, combine to give an authentic and pleasurable atmosphere.

Be warned, the place doesn’t take bookings, so expect a big queue (unless you go very early or very late). Also they do not accept groups of more than 4, as the place is so tiny, and even that would be a stretch as you’d be sitting side by side. It’s rather an ideal place for two looking for a fun and informal dinner out.

All in all, this is by far my favourite Spanish restaurant in London and as authentic as it could possibly be (as much as that’s worth coming from a non-Spaniard). As long as you’re prepared for the queue and the slightly cramped conditions of eating at the bar, you’re guaranteed to have a great time.

Do you want it all-in-one?

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 11 Sep 2008 | Tagged as: Technology

I read Robbie’s post about convergence of devices (one device to rule them all) and got thinking about the behavioural aspect of it. Robbie argues that although it’s handy to have one device that’s your phone, internet access, GPS, camera - pretty much everything really - it makes for expensive upgrades as you stop using your bespoke devices and you get in trouble as you have to change when one feature breaks.

I would go one step further than that. I think that all-in-one is convenient only for the things you don’t care about much. For example, it might be just me, but I don’t find it convenient to use my phone as my main camera - my (cheap and insignificant) digital camera is much better equipped for that - better resolution, bigger screen, more features. Yes, I don’t always have it with me, but I can live with that. Then again I look at the photography enthusiasts (Dr. Pepper and psd for example)  who have massive SLR cameras with huge lenses and I can’t imagine they care much about taking photos on their phone. It seems to me that taking a random photo of something funny you see on the street is all the camera on your phone is good for. I think this goes for the other features as well. Listening to music on your all-in-one device will probably only be good enough if you don’t listen to that much music, and you don’t bother about noise-cancelling headphones etc.

You can easily disagree with my view on the above examples, but my point is that I see a behavioural trend towards specialised devices. People care about a really good camera, really good music experience etc. And it’s hard to build one device that’s really good a lot of things, it’s actually hard enough to build a device that’s good at one thing. An all-in-one device will inevitably be a compromise and will only be good enough for the things you don’t care that much about. On top of that, once you get used to a particular device for one feature, it would be annoying to have to change because another feature broke.

Or maybe I’m just a bit old and used to having different devices for different things. Maybe growing up in a world full of all-in-one devices means that you accept how good they are at each particular feature and can’t imagine having loads of different devices.

We’ll see which type prevails! 

Launceston Place @ Kensington

Posted by Yannis Lionis on 05 Sep 2008 | Tagged as: Restaurants

The Launceston Place is a newly refurbished British restaurant with very good reviews, so we decided to pay them a visit. We weren’t disappointed.The food was well cooked and immaculately presented. The foie gras starter with elderflower milk soup had delicately balanced flavours, while the very fresh scallops came served in actual sea shells. The main of lamb with smoked aubergine was tasty and accentuated the taste of the meat and the duck was excellent. A desert of strawberries with clotted cream and champagne was a good finish to the meal, while the brown bread parfait with spiced Mayan chocolate was original but a bit confusing. Espresso was spot on. There was also an amuse-bouche and a pre-desert (which was served inside eggshells) that added to the experience.The restaurant is cosy and has a discreet kind of elegance, while the small touches (like the flambe starter prepared in the middle of the dining room) help to form a pleasant experience and atmosphere. The service is unobtrusively friendly and particularly efficient - even for a restaurant of this stature (and price tag).Overall, this is a posh restaurant that’s worth it. Best suited for a quiet but special evening out, it definitely deserves a visit.