Shooting Ben – Vida July

I do not shoot for Vida too often, however on this occasion our regular photographer could not make it so I filled in for him.

On our way to the luxury apartment we were going to shoot the photos at, the owner gave us a call to tell us that one of the drains had burst and the place was flooded. He needed to get workmen in immediately so he had to cancel on us.

In a panic we re-convened in the complex’s car park and I offered my home, even though it is currently being re-decorated. The stylist and I had decided to go for a minimalistic look, loosely inspired by Hurts’ “Wonderful Life” video and since my place was being done up we had quite a few bare walls to use.
Thankfully I have a lot of natural light, and only had to fill in with flash in one of the shots. In the rest I shot using my 85mm f 1.8 with the camera mounted on a tripod.


Sailing trip results

The market at SiracusaNothing like a couple of days on a sailing boat to really set your mind thinking. Thanks to a very kind boss and by putting in a lot of extra hours in advance, I managed to take a day off work (in a very busy period) and spent four days on the family sailing boat (by combining the day off with a weekend and a public holiday).

In addition to visiting a city I considered to be a second home for most of my childhood (we had a sailing boat and used to spend most Summer weekends there), I also had a lot of time to sit and think – a luxury I do not really afford in day-to-day life.

The result should translate into a flurry of blog posts (I’ve neglected my blog for months) and a couple of long term projects to work on. The major challenge will now be to find the time to work on the long-term challenges. I can’t really make them public, however it should suffice to say that they could be life changing.

One (or a series of) the blog posts will be about the trip itself. Syracuse (in Sicily, not the US) is a city which oozes character and depicts life in Sicily wonderfully. I carried my camera constantly and the resulting photos seem promising.

Now I just need to keep the commitment to writing out the blog posts I have so well laid out in my mind – so I had better get cracking before I settle back into the daily routine which leaves little room for anything else.

Boardwalk Empire’s debut

Just managed to watch the first episode from HBO’s new series – Boardwalk Empire. The first episode, at a full one hour and twenty minutes, could have been a brilliant standalone movie, so only God knows how good the rest will be. This is in no small part thanks to the fact that was directed by none other than Martin Scorcese – who backed the project and might even direct more episodes in the future. The great news is that, following the success of the premiere, the second season has already been approved.

In a nutshell, the series will follow the lives of people who benefited most from The Prohibition in the USA in the 20s. By outlawing alcohol, the Government increased its value greatly without reducing demand in any way. The result should have appeared to be pretty obvious from the beginning – people kept on drinking but crime lords could make giant profits off a new substance.

The major characters seem to have been introduced in this episode, and even though there is quite a vast cross section of social strata represented, it seems to be closer to The Sopranos than The Wire in terms of breadth. It concentrates on one character – Nucky Thomson who was a politician and crime lord in Atlantic City, played by Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Sopranos, Reservoir Dogs). The first episode drops us on the first day of prohibition and Nucky (who really existed) is already looking to make the best of the new situation.

My favourite character from The Wire (Michael K. Williams AKA Omar Little) is back with a role in this series, even though his part was very minor in the first episode. I hope it grows in importance as the show progresses.

I also think Boardwalk Empire is an exciting prospect for another reason – it promises to offer a very good depiction of what life was like at the time. No expenses were spared when preparing the set and the research that went into it left no stone unturned. Whereas a movie must get straight into the story, a series can afford to give more than just a glimpse of what life is like in a particular situation which is why so much more work must go into finding out as much as possible about the everyday lives of the people involved.

Finally, just like some of TV’s favourite characters of late, Nucky is not a straightforward person to understand. In a somewhat similar way to Tony Soprano he can love and hate with equal measure and even though everything seems to be a business decision to him, he does display a softer side which I suspect might eventually lead to his downfall. These are highlighted in the first episode when he helps out a pregnant woman who is the victim of domestic abuse, when he stops to stare at a baby in an incubator (which was publicly displayed!) and finally when he cuts one of his underlings some extra slack (even though that can be seen as a wise business decision more than anything else).

It is interesting to see yet another TV crime boss who is very charismatic. Ironically one of the most evil criminals on TV in recent years (to my knowledge) was Vic Mackie in The Shield, and even he had his soft side. It would be interesting to learn whether real crime bosses have the softer side to them or whether it is just a romanticised perception which softens what is essentially such a tough pill to swallow.

Badass Burgers?

After all the hype that’s been going on about this relatively new restaurant in St Julian’s (Spinola Bay actually), we finally made it to dinner there last Saturday. Before tackling the issue of Badass Burgers directly there is some background information I need to divulge:

a) I am a gourmet burger fan – I think that the burger is oft-overlooked as a decent meal simply because it has been rendered so common by its popularity. In reality, even though hard to find, a very good burger can be one of the best meals around.

b) I make my own gourmet burgers – Since it is rather hard to find a decent burger on this island I have resorted to researching the subject in depth and have started making my own burgers recently. That way I get to choose my own meat (my preferred choice is rib-eye), bun, cheese, sauces, condiment and most importantly cooking method and time. One day I’ll go into more detail about all of these, but that is a whole thesis in itself.

c) I was influenced before going there – I had spoken to the reviewer from Ed Eats (he writes on Vida and The Times) and he was not exactly screaming praise for the place (to be fair he tends to prefer fancier dining experiences), my sister – who had a terrible experience because her order was forgotten and her food took over an hour to get to the table – and a friend who had been there a few times and had nothing but positive comments about the restaurant.

With the background information over we can move on to the experience itself.

Logistics (3/5)

Getting there was a bit of a nightmare since it is in St Julians. I was famished by the time I had arrived since, much to my chagrin, the two female members of our party took the best part of two hours to get themselves tarted up for the event (this had no bearing on my rating). Parking in the area is an absolute nightmare. Thankfully the restaurant has a small car park right next door – a true luxury. Sadly it was full by the time we got there so we had to compete for parking with every Maltese person looking for a drink on a Saturday night.

Design, Decor & Atmosphere (1/5)

There are few places I have visited in Malta that have ever been such a disappointment. From the outside it looks lovely – it is situated in what is essentially still a very pretty part of St Julian’s and the building itself is quaint. Once inside, however, all the positive aura is lost. The walk up to the “beer garden” takes you too close for comfort to the kitchen, up a bland staircase and finally over a little bridge and up another narrow flight of steps. There were bits and pieces of restaurant paraphernalia strewn along the way and the walls were in an average state of repair (a few posters along the way would do a world of good).

This would have been nearly fine if what we found up there was worth the adventure, however, sadly it was not. The tables and chairs are decent, as was the cutlery, however when paying a premium price for food I expect to find nothing but the very best. I don’t expect to see clutter on one end of the restaurant. I might sound harsh, however the pricing really raises expectations. The menus were another nightmare – if offering a premium product I would expect menus which whet my appetite – not a drab affair which was a freebie from your wine supplier. To be fair the board advertising the Badass Burger range outside the restaurant is brilliantly designed – as is the concept’s facebook fan page. The Facebook page also states a new full-colour menu is on the way.

And then there was the music. What were they thinking? The mixtape seemed to have been prepared by a schizophrenic donkey – rock leading into Manu Chao leading into chillout and then back to pop. Restaurant owners, please take note, music is a big part of a location’s appeal and is worth investing in as much as plates, tablecloths and chairs. If you can’t be bothered, at the very least put the radio on (and believe me, I would rather hear nails scratched across a blackboard most of the time). Leaving someone’s ipod on shuffle is definitely not an option. Take the time, ask a friend, make a playlist and you will notice the difference. Choose a style and stick to it, it will become part of the location’s identity.

Food (4/5)

Ahhh – after all the complaining you shall be reading some smile-worthy news here. The burgers are worth all the suffering you have to endure. I went for The Daddy which offered everything a man could want (except this), stuffed into a burger. I would have liked more jalapenos, however the complaint is a very mild one. The burger patty was cooked to perfection – all the ingredients went well together and for the ten minutes it took me to devour the burger I was in paradise.

All the party was quietly nodding in appreciation at the food on the table – even the anaemic one who went for the veggie burger. The only problem with the food was that the fries, albeit being tasty, were cold and mushy. If going through all the fuss of making proper fries (from real potatoes :) ) then at make sure you serve them fresh and crispy. Having said that, not a single one was left on our plates by the time the waiter took them away.

Value (3/5)

This is another point this restaurant suffers from – probably the major point. I know I started off this piece by saying that the humble burger deserves a better place in the echelons of tasty food but at the end of the day you are paying the price of a decent steak for a (very special) burger in what is essentially a place which looks like the Kazin down the road.

Overall (3/5)

I am faced with a big dilemma when speaking about this restaurant – I loved the food and will definitely recommend it to friends who go out in search for a very good burger. I will also surely return to try out more of their delicious burgers, however I will not take the risk of recommending it to an acquaintance without mentioning all the caveats and won’t take anyone out for dinner there.

The place, just like my opinion, seems to be caught up in a split personality syndrome and basically just needs to fix one of two things – either fix the presentation or else lower the prices (and therefore expectations) significantly. The usual Maltese recipe is to spend 6 months coming up with a fancy menu and a lovely place, then letting it all down with mediocre food. Badass burgers has done the opposite, which is just as evil in my eyes. If I’m asked to pay a premium price for my food I will gladly do it, but then please bless me with a premium atmosphere. I want the waiters to spoil me and I want to feel as if I could live at the table for the rest of my life. The place must look lovely and the music should be good and well thought out. Am I asking for too much? Maybe I am, but I think I have every right to once I’m paying good money.

Mr or Ms Badass Burgers, if you read this review please do not take it harshly – I mean well and hope you can see it. I appreciate that the challenge you have taken is not an easy one, however please keep in mind that a restaurant is far more than a good (excellent) meal.

On cars and their drivers (Part 1)

While trying to decide what a new driver we know should be driving, a conversation with my brothers quickly degenerated into the usual argument we always seem to gravitate to: image. No matter why you choose the car you drive on a daily basis it will reflect a lot on you – far too much for my liking in fact. Even choosing a car which is a non-statement is actually a statement in itself. If I offend anyone just keep in mind that this is completely subjective, and I will attempt to justify my thought-process every time. This has always been an issue – in the middle ages you’d show off your class by having a horse-drawn carriage, however there was always some rich bugger who had two more horses than you had.

There are some caveats you should look out for – circumstance is a big one for example. When I drove a Land Rover on a daily basis it would have been impossible to judge me since it spent more time at the mechanic’s than ferrying me around the island. During these two years I could be spotted driving anything from a small roadster to a boring hatch back or a big Japanese SUV. Judge that.

It would be impossible to write all the potential vehicle types (and models) in one sitting, so here I shall just introduce the concept and come up with a few examples as teasers – more should be forthcoming in the future. You can tell something about a car’s owner through its colour, the kind of vehicle it is, the make, model and much more. In some cases a vehicle can even change its owner – moulding them into submission.

The Hairdressers’ Car

This is probably the easiest category to write about (and to diss). When someone buys a car which is severely underpowered but looks “impressive” to the untrained eye you can tell quite a bit about them.

Hairdressers’ cars are bought with one purpose in mind – to be seen in them. When someone owns one there is a much higher probability of them parking in awkward positions in very busy roads, especially ones with high pedestrian traffic. If you live in Malta, just go to the Sliema seafront on a sunny Saturday morning and you’ll see more of them than you can find snails after the first rain in September.

Another telltale you can spot a mile away is when you’re meeting one – they’ll have to find a way to include the fact in the conversation somehow: “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll spot me – I’m in the Yellow Cabriolet”. It is a ten-year-old rag-top Punto. It will stop next time it rains. A truck is faster up a hill. Get a life.

BUT – the funniest (or saddest) thing here is that some people are still impressed by these tactics – I remember an ancient relative of mine, may God bless her soul, stating that a friend of ours had bought a “sports car”. She had bought a convertible Nissan Micra. With all due respect, my dad’s tractor is far sportier.

Sure, some might argue that they love the feeling of wind in their hair – and that I’m just jealous because I have no hair to be ruffled. Others could say that I’m dull and boring for not loving the freedom and options a convertible gives you. I just choose not to like a car which shows off for the sake of it. If I were to ever own a showy car I would make sure it has the performance to match.

Finally you have to be careful before judging – not all hairdressers’ cars are convertibles (though most of them are) and more importantly not all convertible cars are hairdessers’ cars. Some make a concerted effort to offer a positive driving experience all round, which somehow compensates for the showiness. That is when a potential hairdressers’ car becomes a cult vehicle, mistaken for a hairdressers’ car only by amateur car psychologists.

Rightly So!

Welcome to this blog – I have no particular theme in mind for it, so for the time being I shall be writing about anything that catches my fancy. I’m a person of many interests – from photography to music, TV series to movies, books to magazines, cars, boats, pretty women and travel. Insert a healthy dose of fashion of sorts, football (soccer), dining out and financial news and you can already see that this blog will be all over the place.

Somewhere in between I might also be posting updates from my life at work, which includes photography, writing and meeting some very interesting people.

I shall not take any commitments with regards to frequency, so if anyone is actually reading this, please do not really worry when I go for months without writing a thing.