Friday, 26 December 2014
Welcome once again to this most glamorous and esteemed of events. It's the definitive epilogue to a year gone by, considered by some to be greater than tofu, turkey, and tofurkey combined. It is of course The Ephemeric's famous annual tradition. It's The Debbie Awards: the year ends when we say it does.
So without further ado, let the curtain fall upon 2014 as we begin our definitive review of the past 12 months:
2014 Debbie Awards
Cinema & TV
1. The Debbie for TV Show of the Year
Runners Up: House of Cards, True Detective
One could be forgiven for being skeptical when FX announced their decision to take the classic, award-laden Coen Brothers film Fargo and turn it into a mini-series. But they proved everyone wrong. Far from a mere remake, Fargo goes in its own direction and is the better for it, while remaining as subversive and cuttingly witty as the film. The all-star cast includes Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, and Colin Hanks. Thornton in particular is a revelation, and almost certain to sweep the awards for his performance.
Runner up is the second season of House of Cards. Every bit as good as the first season, brimming with strong performances and some of the best dialogue this side of Aaron Sorkin. House of Cards continues to be the flagship of Netflix's push into original programming, and one only hopes that Kevin Spacey can be persuaded to stay on for at least a few more seasons.
Lastly we give honourable mention to another new show, True Detective. The latest in a long line of quality HBO dramas, True Detective is a slow burner for sure, but has rightly been met with critical acclaim and accolades. The duo of in-form Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson turned out to be a masterstroke in casting, and with a totally new cast and story set for season 2 it will be very interesting to see where things go from here.
2. The Debbie for New TV Show of the Year
Unsurprising that the best TV show of the year would also win best new show of the year. Fargo really is that good. Season 2 duly approaches in 2015, and you would do well to ensure it's top of your list.
3. The Debbie for Film of the Year
Runner Up: Boyhood, Theory of Everything
First a disclaimer, The Ephemeric is in the awkward position of not having seen Birdman or the Imitation Game, either or both of which seem likely to be the best film of the year. Hollywood have only themselves to blame for missing out on these end of year awards with their ridiculous release schedules.
Nevertheless for our winner we have a very worthy film. Chef is nowhere near pretentious enough to rank up there with the other Oscar favourites, and indeed this is one of its charms. Chef is the pet project of Jon Favreau, who wrote, directed, and stars in this film about, you guessed it, a chef. Chef is a wonderful movie to watch, the kind of earnest and tasteful comedy that one rarely ever sees anymore, delightfully fresh when surrounded by the mindless schlock in most of the comedy genre. Just don't watch it hungry.
The first of our runner ups, Boyhood, is the talk of the town at the moment, and likely to win big at the awards this year. The concept behind the film is hugely original, telling the story of a young boy and his family over a period of 12 years, using the same actors and filmed over a full 12 year period. For this all to have come together into a coherent film is a staggering achievement in itself from director Richard Linklater, but does it add enough to the quality of the film itself? The greater sense of reality that comes from this continuity really gives the audience a stronger attachment to the characters and the actors, but once the novelty wears off it's hard to avoid the fact that the script and story itself really does nothing new in artistic terms. A perfectly lovely film, but take away the novelty and it doesn't deserve the top spot.
The Theory of Everything rounds out our top three. This avoided our hot list at the beginning of the year only due to being expected for release in 2015, but as it turns out reaction to early test screenings were so strong that they bumped up the release in time for the awards season. Great subject matter, focusing on the life of one of the world's most interesting people. Director James Marsh, known so far only for indies and documentaries, albeit Academy Award winning ones, tells this story with the reverence of a biopic, and also the tenderness of a love story, ultimately crafting a rewarding experience. But what really stands out is the performance of Eddie Redmayne, who finds himself pretty much nailed on for an Academy Award nomination, and a real contender for the prize itself.
4. The Debbie for Hollywood Scandal of the Year
Winner: Sony Leaks
It's been all over the news in recent weeks, but the ramifications will continue into 2015. It's difficult to believe that someone could hack and steal 100TBs without anyone in charge of the Sony network noticing all that data being transferred, but that is exactly what happened.
This hack has included scripts, unreleased films, and personal information. But the real meat of the story is the leak of vast amounts of internal emails, which have shed light on the seldom seen inner-workings of Hollywood, complete with racist remarks, corruption, and most titillatingly, what Hollywood insiders really think of one another.
Bared for the entire world to see is the story of how Aaron Sorkin's Steve Jobs biopic hit production limbo, the insane overproduction of the next James Bond film, and the disdain held for certain celebrities. These incredible exchanges read exactly like a script from television series Entourage, and sheds a very revealing light on why Hollywood films often turn out terrible. The crime is a terrible invasion of privacy, but at the same time it makes you question how these people are in charge of a whole movie studio. Ironically these leaks are the most entertaining thing to come out of Sony in years.
5. The Debbie for Up-and-Coming Star of the Year
Winner: Chris Pratt
Every year has that one star, the one who all of a sudden goes from nothing to being in absolutely everything. Last year was Benedict Cumberbatch, before that Ryan Gosling. Now it's Chris Pratt's turn.
You may previously have known him as the chubby joker in Parks and Recreation, but recent years have seen a huge transformation into genuine leading man, including small roles in Moneyball, Her, and Zero Dark Thirty. In 2014 his progress really came to a head with Pratt landing starring roles in major films such as The Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie. In 2015 Pratt is set to star in one of the year's biggest blockbusters Jurassic World, it seems Pratt's unlikely reinvention is set to continue.
Music & Theatre
6. The Debbie for Best Theatrical Production of the Year
The Donmar Warehouse returns to the top of the London theatre scene with Shakespeare's brutal tragedy Coriolanus. The famously Epic play of war and politics may seem a strange choice for the Donmar's intimate setting, but it turns out to be a perfect fit for this production, which focuses intensely on the complexity of the Coriolanus character. Tom Hiddleston's portrayal straddles the line between monster and tragic hero, and proves that he is more than just a comicbook actor. Meanwhile new artistic director Josie Rourke produces one of her typically detailed productions, ultimately giving us a very fresh rendition that puts the full brutality and immediacy of the story right on the audience's lap.
7. The Debbie for Album of the Year
Winner: Strangers - RAC
Runner Up: Innerworld - Electric Youth
In a mixed year for new music, the two standout albums came from all new debut artists. RAC's long-awaited solo debut Strangers takes the top prize. The prolific remix artist-cum-rockstar producer exceeds lofty expectations with one of the more polished and impressive first efforts from a new artist that we have seen in recent years, featuring an array of talented collaborators. Strangers succeeds through simplicity of style. The songs on offer here are light, intensely danceable, and fun, but most importantly, very consistent high quality.
Elsewhere we have another debut artist Electric Youth taking the runner up prize. Many of you will know them as the band that wrote A Real Hero for the movie Drive, but as their debut album Innerworld shows they are clearly far from a one hit wonder. Innerworld is on the surface a warm and nostalgic 1980s revival, but on closer evaluation proves itself to be much more. This should be the album for your winter holidays.
8. The Debbie for Debut Album of the Year
Winner: Strangers - RAC
A double-win for RAC's debut. Strangers is a debut album that would stack up well against any other in recent years, full of effortless charm and a mature, disciplined quality of production that belies the artist's lack of solo experience.
9. The Debbie for Song of the Year
Winner: A Sky Full of Stars - Coldplay
Runners Up: 405 - RAC, You and Me - Damon Albarn
A bit of a throwback here as Coldplay grace our end of year awards for the first time in years. And it's not without good cause as Sky Full of Stars is an exceptional song, the first in a long time that the band has produced that lives up to their classics. This joyful and energetic number made for compulsive listening when first released, which turned out to be quite misleading as it differed so considerably from the rest of the album which followed. It's safe to say that if Ghost Stories as a whole had been as good as this track, it would have been up on our albums of the year list, but as it turns out Sky Full of Stars stands alone as a modern Coldplay gem.
The first runner up comes from that record which sweeped the album Debbies this year. RAC's 405, featuring collaborator YACHT, is the highlight of a very good album. Purportedly an ode to driving in Los Angeles, 405's lush and moonlit sound is the ultimate showcase for RAC's impressively versatile musical talents. Certainly one of the hits of the year.
And finally we have You and Me, the Brian Eno produced centrepiece from the debut solo album of one of the most legendary songwriters today, Damon Albarn. Ultimately it was an album that turned out to be nothing like we expected, far more intimate and introspective than any of Albarn's work with Blur or Gorillaz, but was an impressive piece of work in its own right. Still You and Me stands out as the key track on this album, a raw piece that dances between heaven and hell and pulls of something truly remarkable.
Videogames & Technology
10. The Debbie for Greatest Technological Innovation of the Year
Runner up: SolarCity
Space exploration is an area of research that is said to be largely in the doldrums of recent years. From seemingly on the precipice of Solar System dominance fifty years ago we now find ourselves once again largely confined to this rock, and indeed no human has gone beyond lower Earth orbit in years. 2014 has seen a revival in interest somewhat of the field, with space exploration movies achieving great award-winning prominence, and the private space industry finally starting to make headlines. But the key event, the one that most made people stop and stare at their livefeeds has been the ESA's hugely audacious landing of space probe Rosetta/Philae onto moving comet 67P. This is a tiny piece of rock about 300 million miles away moving at about 135,000 km/h, and we somehow managed to launch a spacecraft on a 10 year voyage and land on it Incredible in itself really, to say nothing of the scientific potential of this mission.
But this year we have a runner up. That would be SolarCity, the brainchild of one Elon Musk. Not content with revolutionizing online transactions, electric cars, and private spaceflight, Musk now wants to set his sights on our energy future. Runaway climate change is arguably the greatest threat to Humanity's continued existence on Earth, and even if it wasn't, fossil fuels are running out. Solar energy has long been seen as the answer to a great many of our problems, and SolarCity finally looks set to bring the technology into the mainstream. Doubters remain, but Musk proved them all wrong on electric cars and turned Tesla into one of the hottest companies in the world, watch him do the same with SolarCity.
11. The Debbie for Greatest Scientific Discovery of the Year
Winner: Gravitational Waves from Big Bang Detected
One of the universe's great mysteries is what happened at the beginning of it all. In March of this year the scientists working at the South Pole's BICEP2 array detected the primordial gravitational waves caused by the hitherto-now hypothetical cosmic inflation that occurred in the seconds following creation, our first definitive proof in the Big Bang model. This all sounds like techno mumbo jumbo to most people, but its significance can't be overstated; this is the first time humanity has been able to get a clear picture of the conditions of the universe shortly after creation. With further study this could be the defining step that allows us to finally start solving the mysteries behind the nature of how everything we see around us came to be. Exciting time to be alive.
12. The Debbie for Videogame of the Year
Winner: Mario Kart 8
Runner Up: Xenonauts
It has undeniably been a weak year for gaming. Many of the biggest releases disappointed, and the most promising indie releases ended up being pushed into 2015. One company who hasn't been slacking in 2014 is Nintendo. Games with big numbers at the end of them tend to be bad, and the bigger the number the worse it is. Mario Kart 8 is an example of a game that bucks this trend. It's hard to describe why this game is as good as it is, suffice it to say it's probably the best Mario Kart game ever, and certainly the best since the definitive Mario Kart 64. Nintendo have refined the gameplay to perfection, spruced it up with a gorgeous HD makeover, and created some of the best racing tracks ever seen in gaming. Even the zero-gravity feature that seemed like such a gimmick is used to good effect. Most interesting of all, however, is the addition for the first time of non-Mario Nintendo characters, starting with The Legend of Zelda's Link. Nintendo seems to be testing the waters for turning Mario Kart into a Smash Bros style all-star series, and that's pretty damn cool.
Our runner up is one of the several very impressive indie efforts of 2014. One of a number of games successfully seeking funding through Kickstarter, Xenonauts is essentially a remake of the original X-Com game. For those not in the know, X-Com is a series of strategy games that sees you in charge of a secret organisation tasked with defending the Earth from aliens. Those in the know might ask, but didn't they release an X-Com game just a few years ago? Indeed they did, but a very streamlined and commercial (albeit very good) re-imagining of the series. Xenonauts brings back the much deeper tactics and gameplay from the original series, and with it the nightmarish difficulty. It makes for a much more rewarding experience, but one that may not appeal to everybody.
13. The Debbie for Videogame Console of the Year
Winner: Nintendo Wii U
As stated elsewhere, 2014 was very much a year of success for Nintendo, and particularly the Wii U. Until now The Ephemeric has made no secret of its disdain for how Nintendo have been handling the console, and the launch will go down as one of the most botched in history. But despite the console's obvious flaws and the company's asinine strategy, 2014 reminded us that they still make games better than anyone else. Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros, and Bayonetta 2 are just three of the games that have been met with widespread critical acclaim in recent months, and with an all new Zelda coming up next year, plus the continued money making machine that is Skylanders, Disney Infinity and the new Nintendo's own Amiibo, things are starting to look a bit better for Nintendo. But is it too late to resurrect the Wii U? We shall see.
14. The Debbie for Company of the Year
Runner Up: Tesla
It's been a volatile year for many businesses, but one company that can look back on 2014 with pride is Netflix. From humble origins as a DVD rental service, nowadays Netflix is promising to do for film and television what iTunes did for music. The final touch was the company's move into original programming, which on the first time of trying has yielded critical acclaim and accolades. Certainly it's not to say that Netflix are infallible, but has fast become one of the most essential internet services and a genuine threat to the established television industry. For the time being they can do no wrong.
Tesla is a close runner up. In the past 12 months the Elon Musk-helmed company has pulled off an impossible feat, turning an electric car into the most desired vehicle in the world. Tesla has shown everyone that not only can an electric car match up to their bigger fossil-fuelled brethren in terms of performance, but do so with enviable style. Tesla is the first true electric luxury car, and from this point on it looks set to change the world.
15. The Debbie for Small Company of the Year
Runner Up: Stratasys
Sometimes all it takes is a simple idea. Airbnb is a great example of a simple idea done very well, and it has made them a household name despite their relative immaturity as a company. Simple to use, impressively wide range of service, and surprisingly good quality, Airbnb puts its faith in the wisdom of its users and manages to work a charm. A public offering surely beckons in the near future, and 2015 could turn out to be an even bigger year for the company.
A slightly more outside the box option for our runner up prize. Stratasys is a company with a hugely ambitious concept behind it. Many companies are starting to get into the 3D printing craze, but at the moment Stratasys is the obvious leader. While basic industrial 3D printing is nothing new, technology with the small size and multifunctionality to work as a consumer product is just starting to appear. Of all the budding contenders, Stratasys appears best placed to take advantage of this growing market with the acquisition of the popular Makerbot line of printers, and just recently revealed the first ever consumer-sized multi-material 3D printer. Truly one to watch in the future.
16. The Debbie for Gadget of the Year
Winner: Nest Thermostat
Runner Up: Jawbone Up 24
Plenty of contenders for gadgets in 2014, but our top prize goes to the poster child for the burgeoning Internet of Things, the Nest Thermostat. The Nest Thermostat comes equipped with wi-fi, is programmable and self-learning, so not only is it controllable from your phone or computer, but within the first week of use it will actually learn your routine and temperature preferences, and begin to automatically adjust your settings to suit your needs. The thermostat will turn down your temperature when you leave for work in the morning, and then back up to your preferred level when you return. Even more impressively, it will learn about your existing heating infrastructure and how long it takes for your home to heat up, adjusting its schedule accordingly. This is all not only hugely convenient, but will save consumers a good deal of money on bills, and make homes more environmentally friendly. This is an astoundingly smart thermostat, and as far as the Internet of Things goes, this is only the beginning.
The other major consumer gadget trend this year has been wearable devices. So far this concept has most prominently been realized in the form of various fitness trackers. Nike were first out the gates with the now simplistic Fuel Band, while Fitbit has a massive following now. But our pick of the bunch is Jawbone's Up 24. Jawbone has an impressive track record when it comes to making products that are both incredibly stylish, but still retain great utility. The Jambox is a marvel, and the Up brings the same dedication to excellent design, making it the best of show when it comes to fitness trackers, at least until next year.
17. The Debbie for Subreddit of the Year
Reddit at it's best can be a place of real insight, performing great service to the goal of free exchange of information, whilst offering the pinnacle of crowdsourced wisdom, and crucially featuring highly specified subreddits to cater to every interest or hobby. If ever there was one single website that could handle every need on the internet, it's Reddit.
This year for our all new subreddit of the year Debbie we're looking to the other side of Reddit, the users' penchant for the silly and surreal. In the past year the best of these has been /r/ExplainLikeImCalvin, a humorous take on the popular "Explain like I'm 5" sub in which users break down complex issues into simple explanations. Explain Like I'm Calvin riffs on the Calvin and Hobbes comic books by breaking down questions into the witty childlike messages that were typical of the series. Case and point.
18. The Debbie for Footballer of the Year
Winner: Luis Suarez - Barcelona
A controversial decision here that will no doubt have many readers up in arms, let's face facts. Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been excellent, but not to the imperious one-man-army level that they had shown in previous seasons. Cristiano Ronaldo was completely anonymous at this year's World Cup, and while his goalscoring record since then has been incredible, he is still just one man in a great team. It's fair to say with both Messi and Ronaldo that whereas previously they carried their teams fortunes upon their shoulders, now you could take them out and probably the team would do fine.
Luis Suarez is not a player about whom you could say that this year. Suarez has completely carried his teams Liverpool and Uruguay to an extent rarely if ever seen before in a season. His goalscoring record for both sides speaks for itself, but more telling has been the contrast in fortunes between when he is available to play and when he is not. Liverpool went in one season from midtable to title challengers thanks to him, and now back to midtable following his departure. Uruguay, equally, went from looking like genuine World Cup challengers with him in the side, to being almost completely ineffective without him. They would not have qualified from group stage without him, and most probably they would not have won any games without him.
The fact is that Luis Suarez has, this season, been the most influential player in football, a literal one-man-army that no other player can claim to have been. Luis Suarez understandably gets a bum rap for his biting and other unsporting shenanigans, but no one can deny he's one of the very best footballers out there.
19. The Debbie for Under-21 Footballer of the Year
Winner: Thibaut Courtois - Chelsea
The award for best young player this year is probably not so controversial. Very few players at the age of 20 and 21 can claim to be key players in major European sides, much less at goalkeeper, a position which ordinarily biases towards players with experience, peaking in their 30s. Fewer still can accomplish this, and boast La Liga winners and Champions League runner up medals to their name. Thibaut Courtois is one such player who can say these things from his three years on loan with Atletico Madrid.
Now 22 he has already cemented his position as number one between the sticks for parent club Chelsea, another of Europe's top sides, and has made himself key to what has arguably been Europe's form team so far this season. Very few then would deny that Courtois is the best young goalkeeper in the world, and indeed one of the top in his position at any age group. In fact few players in any position have accomplished what he has at his age, and certainly in our books that merits the 2014 Debbie for best young player award.
20. The Debbie for Football Manager of the Year
Winner: Carlo Ancelotti - Real Madrid
Carlo Ancelotti has a managerial cv that few in history can match. Hugely successful at AC Milan, he continued his success during his brief stint at Chelsea, becoming the first and only manager to win the Premier League and FA Cup in his first season in English football. A league title at PSG followed, and at Real Madrid he has etched his name into local folklore by finally bring the club la decima, that elusive tenth Champions League title. Success has followed wherever he has gone, without fail, and now he finds himself commanding arguably the best team in Europe. Really at this level only Jose Mourinho compares in terms of managerial ability, but on his record this season there can be no doubt that Carlo is the man for this award.
21. The Debbie for Politician of the Year
Winner: Cory Booker
Many politicians talk the talk, but New Jersey's esteemed junior senator Cory Booker is one of the few who can live by his actions. His tenure as mayor of Newark is filled with political success, from bolstered funding for public schools, to investment in the formerly crime-ridden downtown, but that's not why we love him. Cory Booker goes around shovelling snow out of people's driveways, Cory Booker votes to reduce his own salary. Most incredibly though, Cory Booker runs into burning buildings to save lives just because he happened to be in the neighbourhood, suffering inhalation injuries and second degree burns in the process. You can attach whatever label you want to Booker, Senator, Democrat, Liberal, but the one that fits best is that he is a good man.
22. The Debbie for Political Scandal of the Year
Winner: Chris Christie's Bridgegate
On the other end of the politician spectrum is former Presidential hopeful Chris Christie, amusingly also of New Jersey. Christie was formerly one of the more likeable politicians, but then came the Bridgegate scandal this year. It's so ridiculous that one can scarcely believe it really happened. This is the scandal where staff and political appointees of Chris Christie conspired to shut down roads and create traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey as an act of revenge against Mayor Mark Sokolich who had refused to endorse Christie's gubernatorial campaign. It seriously beggars belief that an elected official could inflict such difficulties upon his own constituents, over such petty personal matters, to say nothing of the deaths associated with the road closures. After an initial furore, these events seem strangely to have been swept under the rug, but as far as abuses of power go, this is one of the more brazen and shocking we've seen.
23. The Debbie for Cause of the Year
Winner: Net Neutrality
The Ephemeric's cause of the year, and one which finally appears to be gaining some public traction is that of Net Neutrality. The concept of net neutrality is simple, but often misunderstood. Net neutrality is what we have now, a non-discriminatory internet where all traffic is considered equal, regardless of whether you're a multinational corporation, or some tiny start up with an idea and no money. It's this equal footing that makes the internet such a revolutionary medium for unbiased information, and it's also the reason that a company like Google or Facebook can come out of nothing and change the world.
The reason this is a major issue today is that many of the less scrupulous internet providers are attempting to change this in the pursuit of more money. The envisage an internet where only certain "core" websites or services come free, and any extras require additional subscription or bolt-ons, or will be throttled to lower speeds. It doesn't take a genius to see how this would work, the wealthiest and biggest companies, or those preferred by the ISP for personal or political reasons, come free, and tiny start ups, or those which are politically inconvenient, are only accessible by a small minority of the hardcore internet users, never to be seen by the majority. In a world like this Facebook and Google would never have been able to get of the ground, basically forcing progress to come from the existing, established majors, and slowing us down by years, to say nothing of the potential threat to free speech or the high risk of propagandising. Net neutrality is vital if the internet is to realise its potential as one of mankind's most revolutionary tools for progress.
24. The Debbie for Person of the Year
Winner: Elon Musk
Humanity is driven forwards by dreamers. Those who have the vision to think big and pursue their ambitions with every resource they have, irrespective of risk or material expense. After revolutionising consumer finance with Paypal, Elon Musk could easily have passed for just another on the long list of dotcom billionaires, but this was not a man content to sit on his laurels. His endeavours since then have seen him revolutionise the automobile industry, create the next big thing in renewable energy, and finally give the private space industry the breakthrough it's been waiting for.
This year has not only seen Tesla explode into one of the hottest companies in the world, but his SpaceX has become the first private company to successfully dock a spacecraft with the International Space Station. All this is hugely impressive for any one man, and he's not done yet. SolarCity is still up and coming, Elon Musk's recently developed concept of the Hyperloop is gaining some traction, and Musk foresees his SpaceX company having no less a lofty goal than to put man on Mars within the next few decades. Elon Musk's vision is as far as any man alive, and so far he has delivered every single time.
Social & Lifestyle
25. The Debbie for Restaurant of the Year
Winner: O Ya
Runner Up: Stierereck
You just can't keep a good restaurant down. 2014 sees previous Debbie winner O Ya retake it's crown as the best restaurant in the world and rightly so. A sushi restaurant so good that you can't really call it a sushi restaurant, every dish crafted with the excellence and attention to detail to which few kitchens adhere. The very height of creative brilliance both in presentation and recipes, combining ingredients that one would never expect to go together into something somehow far greater than the sum of its parts. O Ya is the best reason we can think of to go to Boston. From the food to the setting to the service, truly world class in every department.
A newcomer this year for our runner up prize. Nestled in the middle of Vienna's Stadtpark, Stierereck is consistently ranked among the very best restaurants in the world and it's easy to see why. A dinner at Stierereck is an experience, from the serene setting to the bonus appetisers, to small things like the incredible wide range of creative breads and butters on offer. Dishes range from the inspired, like fried alpenlachs with coconut mayo, to the downright bizarre, fish cooked in molten beeswax. Then to top it off your meal ends with not just a visit from the cheese trolley, but a tea trolley, where one picks from an array of fresh tea plants, from which leaves are harvested fresh and brewed in front of you. Stierereck is an enchanting experience.
26. The Debbie for New Restaurant of the Year
Winner: Kurobata Chelsea
Runner up: The Chiltern Firehouse
Originally intended as a temporary pop-up on Kings Road supplement to their main address in Marble Arch, the Chelsea Kurobata has proven so popular that it now appears to be becoming a permanent fixture in Chelsea. Kuorbata is Japanese food like you've never seen it, with a BBQ twist. You can get your yellowtail maki here with spicy mayo if you like, but then there's the sweet potato and soba-ko fries with kim-chi mayo, the wagyu beef sliders, and most impressive of all the BBQ pork belly buns with spicy peanut soy. Add to this a trendy pop-up atmosphere and superb cocktail menu and you have yourself the finest new restaurant in London for 2014.
Close behind is The Chiltern Firehouse, the new American fusion place by celebrated michelin starred chef Nuno Mendes of Viajante fame. Chances are you will have heard of this place as it has become something of a trend hotspot in London. Rarely will you find a night without paparazzi and celeb sightings, and it has become a favourite of the Made in Chelsea crowd. The Ephemeric was fortunate enough to be seated on the opening weekend before all this craziness caught on, and can therefore say with clear head that this is indeed a restaurant that justifies the hype. The setting in a converted firehouse is fun, sure, but the food does not disappoint, from the crab doughnuts to firehouse caesar salad, maple-bourbon sweet potato and many other instant classics with an American twist. Wait until the hype dies down and then book yourself a table, because it is yummy.
27. The Debbie for Nightclub/Bar of the Year
The trendy thing of the moment seems to be these speakeasy styled bars, harkening back to the prohibition era where all alcohol had to be drunk in secret, with codewords and secret entrances and the like. While there are many such options in London these days, our special mention has to go to Barts. Hidden somewhere in Chelsea with only the vaguest of directions on the website (more detailed instructions can be found without much difficulty online however), Barts is hidden the nondescript plain black doors of an apartment building, through which one must open a thin slit to deliver the entry password. Once inside drinks are served in tea cups, with a menu hidden inside a hollowed out book. It's classic speakeasy style. The drinks themselves are great, but the pinnacle is undoubtedly the sharer cocktails, which include teacup shots, drinks served inside a gramophone, a top hat, and of course, the megalithic "teacup of champions". Guaranteed a good night out.
28. The Debbie for Mixologist of the Year
Winner: Alessandro Palazzi
Another Debbie being taken by the same party for consecutive years, but few would argue that it is deserved. The Duke's Bar owner Alessandro is famous across London for making Ian Fleming's drinks, and in particular his flair for unique martinis turn heads. Whether he's making his signature Fleming 89 or whipping up some original creation on the spot, there's no finer cocktail around. This year's special creations include the coffee flavoured Blue Mountain martini.
29. The Debbie for Destination of the Year
Winner: Vienna, Austria
This year's destination of choice is Vienna, Austria. A hugely underrated city with plenty to see. More palaces than you can count on both hands, and a whole range of historical sites to remind you that Austria was once a world superpower, but the real draw comes from the romance and culture. Beautiful architecture, cosy cafes, and wonderful food. Vienna is a top notch city to visit any time of year.
30. The Debbie for Wine of the Year
Winner: Cerviolo 2001
With stocks now officially dwindling down to zero for one of their finest vintages, we bestow for the second year running the best wine Debbie to the little-known vineyard of San Fabiano Calcinaia. This year's number 1 bottle is increasingly hard to come by, the 2001 Cerviolo. 2001 is known as one of the better years for wine in the region. A delicious, fruity red, deeply warming.
31. The Debbie for Champagne of the Year
Winner: Billecart-Salmon Sous Bois
Of course Billecart-Salmon is one of the most celebrated champagne houses. Their basic brut and rosé should form a backbone in anyone's supply, while the vintage blanc de blancs and Elizabeth cuvée still standout for those truly special occasions. This year however we find ourselves particularly taken with one of their newer and less commonly seen bruts, the Sous Bois. This literally means "under the oak", the wine is entirely vinified in oak barrels as was traditionally done, but is nowadays quite unusual. This gives the wine a nutty taste with an almost brioche overtone. Best served extremely chilled and in generous quantity.
Well there you have it, another great year, and here's to the next one being even better!
Thursday, 4 December 2014
Label Secretly Canadian
Producers Electric Youth
You may not know the name Electric Youth, but chances are you've heard the Canadian duo's music by now. Their contribution to the soundtrack for the movie Drive, A Real Hero, earned the group some serious radio-time while their debut single Innocence brought further plaudits and saw them placed on many pundits' lists of the hottest musical acts to follow in 2014, including that of The Ephemeric.
The highly anticipated debut album Innerworld arrives just in time for winter, a season that turns out to be quite fitting. Electric Youth's glowing, delicate music seems almost to drift through the air, over snowy mountains and glaciers, through the trees and right into your cosy living room as you warm yourself in front of a crackling fire. Band members Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin have been a couple since the 8th grade and that's exactly what they want their music to sound like; nostalgic, comforting, warm, and full of childlike soul.
For anyone familiar with their first two songs, the rest of the album won't contain many surprises; lush, 1980s-tinged soundscapes with soothing arpeggio bass lines and ethereal vocals, Electric Youth have picked a sound and stick to it completely. That's no bad thing when it works as well as it does here, and despite the glut of 1980s-styled bands in recent years, Electric Youth's upbeat melodies and optimistic lyrics manage to distinguish themselves from the rest.
The first thing you notice is the quality of production; rich and confident, and it rarely gets a note wrong. It's unusual to see a new artist get it so right on the first attempt, but Electric Youth have done just that. Relaxed and tastefully sparse, and swells into action when needed. The apparent simplicity of the tracks belies their complex composition, which becomes more clear on repeated listens. There is something intangibly beautiful about what they have created here that would compare favourably to even some of the best in the genre. Innerworld contains the surreal dreaminess of M83, the sparkle of Empire of the Sun, and a compelling "otherworldliness" that is uniquely their own.
Innerworld is undoubtedly an album that works best as a whole, one of those wistful albums where you just tune out and forget about all your cares in the world. Clearly the known singles A Real Hero and Innocence are gorgeous. The more driven Runaway is classic, radio friendly dream-pop, while the blissful optimism of Tomorrow is absolutely irresistible. The waltzing Another Story makes for another highlight.
At this point The Ephemeric is aware that we are simply listing all of the tracks in order. The sublime flow and consistent high quality of the album makes it difficult to pick out individual tracks. In many ways it's an album that feels more like a film soundtrack than a collection of songs, and depending on your outlook you might consider that either a good thing or a bad thing. From our perspective it's hard to fault when each song is so excellent.
Ultimately Innerworld has exceeded our expectations. Electric Youth have proven themselves more than simply another 1980s dream-pop band and produced a debut album of the highest quality. Innerworld certainly ranks as one of the better albums of the year and firmly establishes Electric Youth on our music radar. This might just be the best album you haven't heard this year, and deserves to be your winter soundtrack. Go buy it.
Must Listen :
The Best Thing
Thursday, 27 November 2014
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Produced by Emma Thomas, Lynda Obst, Christopher Nolan
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine
Studio Legendary Pictures
Running time 169 minutes
The genre of science fiction comes with a great deal of stigma these days. For most people that term conjures thoughts of camp, frothy diversions like Star Wars, or easy gratuitous action like Transformers. All lasers, pointy ears, and cheesy dialogue. This is not always the case.
In many ways the science fiction commonly seen these days more closely resembles what one would describe as the "fantasy" genre, something more akin to Lord of the Rings than grounded in the real world. But in its purest form, with far greater emphasis on the "science" part, it is a genre that is capable of genuine artistic and human substance.
Stanley Kubrick's classic 2001: A Space Odyssey is generally held to be the standard bearer of such intellectual science fiction. Ordinarily we hate to review a film by drawing comparison with another, but in the case of Christopher Nolan's new film Interstellar it feels entirely appropriate. After all, Nolan is by his own admission a big fan of, and has taken huge influence from Kubrick's film.
2001 was a reflection of its time, buoyed by the Moon landing and boundlessly optimistic about the potential of human technological achievement at the dawn of the space age. Man had walked on the Moon and it was genuinely expected that Mars and the rest of the Solar System would soon follow.
Conversely Interstellar is a reflection of our time; grounded firmly in the dirt of Earth, made pessimistic by years of stagnation, a general mindset that space exploration is a waste of money with the problems we have here on Earth. This is the generational hangover from the age of the Moon landing that has forgotten and long since stopped caring about the drive of human achievement. This is the world depicted in Interstellar.
Without wanting to give too much away, Interstellar is set on a dying Earth, where man has become so preoccupied with just trying to survive that they have long since stopped dreaming of what lies beyond our planet, and don't even teach children about the exploits of the 20th Century. The parallels with our present situation are obvious. The core conceit of Interstellar is that this mindset is wrong, that even more so during the darkest times we need to keep pushing the frontier forwards, and that rather than a waste of scarce resources, moving beyond our world might even be our salvation.
Interstellar therefore can be seen as a rallying cry to return to the pioneering spirit that characterized the era in which 2001 was made. But the influence of Kubrick's film goes far beyond mere thematic overlap. Nolan lays on the homage thick, almost to a fault. The retro aesthetic visuals are a clear throwback to the mid 20th Century Apollo era of exploration, while many of the same musical cues from 2001 are replicated here without much subtlety. 2001 used music to depict space as having an awe-inspiring, almost religious sense of majesty; blaring church organs, sweeping symphonies contrasted with the dead silence of space. The sound design in Interstellar borrows heavily from this, with similar motifs, and sure enough barely gets 30 seconds into the film before blasting you with an intimidating church organ.
But aside from the obvious visual and aural tributes, what Interstellar takes most from its predecessor is the strict commitment to scientific accuracy and focus on narrative over the broader action sci-fi tropes you see in most films. Nolan made the wise decision to bring renowned theoretical physicist Kip Thorne on board as an advisor and executive producer, and it shows. This is a film that features special relativity, multidimensional mechanics, and a depiction of the still highly theoretical worm holes and black holes so groundbreaking that the work done on this film has spawned two scientific papers for peer review. For sure there are some scientific inaccuracies and loopholes, the likes of which we won't bore you with here, but the attention to detail is nevertheless impressive.
What sets Interstellar apart from your average science fiction film is that it doesn't depict anything, no matter how wondrous or unbelievable, that can't be reasonably explained by real science. The aim of a film like Interstellar is to engage the viewer intellectually, to be more thought provoking than purely viscerally exciting. But that's not to say that it is always cold and technical, there is a very prominent human element to this film, particularly with regard to familial bonds. This is very much an emotionally engaging film as well, to the point where it can sometimes be too sentimental (more on that later), but when it works it makes for some beautiful moments.
To be absolutely clear, this is a hugely ambitious work that holds itself to the highest of standards. A film so epic in scope and technical complexity that there are few examples in cinema history to which it can be genuinely compared. And yet, it tragically manages to fall short of the "masterpiece" status to which it so clearly aspires.
Cast & Production:
First the obvious: from a production standpoint Interstellar is, like every Chris Nolan film, a masterclass. Nolan is a director of the very highest calibre. There are scenes in this film that will take your breath away with their kineticism and emotional charge, scenes that will make you want to weep and laugh, scenes that will frighten you and fill you with existential horror. Nolan is passionate about his vision here, and it's impossible to watch Interstellar without feeling a longing for those pioneering days of old, or those yet to come.
Interstellar is also visually stunning, of course, and beautiful to listen to. Hans Zimmer's score is dead certain to win an Oscar nomination next February.
The ensemble cast is very impressive on paper. Matthew McConaughey is one of the hottest stars in Hollywood right now, and sure enough he does a fine, if unadventurous job in the lead. His is the relatable human element without which a film so technical could not survive.
He is joined by big names and Oscar favourites such as Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Ellen Burstyn, and the always excellent John Lithgow. Bill Irwin is particularly excellent as robot TARS, easily the best written character in the film. Then on the other hand there is the disappointing Oscar winner Anne Hathaway, a talented enough actress who nevertheless seems out of her depth here, far too frail and mentally vulnerable to be believable in this role. Meanwhile the Matt Damon cameo in a small role just seems out of place for having such a big star randomly pop up late into the film.
Writing & Dialogue:
Ultimately what lets the film down the most is the uneven script by the director's brother Jonathan Nolan. The dialogue is often too cheesy, and pacing problems recur frequently. Then things really start to get grim when the script starts forcing in some pseudoscience hooey about "love" and how it's a transdimensional force or something. Such unscientific nonsense in a film that otherwise adheres so strictly to real science is just jarring, a bit of a game-breaker. But that's not even the script's worst sin.
The worst part is the exposition. It turns out there is a reason why so few people try to make films about complex astrophysics and cosmology, namely that it is very difficult to explain to your average cinema-goer in a way that doesn't break immersion or sound really awkward. One of Kubrick's masterstrokes in 2001 was that he was smart enough to not even try. The studio wanted him to include a narration over the climactic scene explaining what was happening, but Kubrick rightly insisted on leaving it ambiguous and open to interpretation. Ultimately what Kubrick realised is that a little bit of mystery, and the audience's imagination, was always going to make for far more compelling viewing than some forced narration from the screenwriter, especially when the material is as inaccessible as this complex science.
Chris Nolan used this to good effect himself in Memento and Inception. It is mind-boggling then that he gets it so wrong in Interstellar. The climactic scene here, where McConaughey finally realises what's happening, is often cringeworthy. After 3 hours of appropriately natural and sparse dialogue McConaughey starts narrating every thought that comes into his head in real time, and then bizarrely breaks it down into child-like little analogies for the audience to understand. At one point McConaughey is literally screaming the answer to the films mysteries at the audience. It's painful to watch, Lord knows what they were thinking when they wrote this.
Ultimately it's just one scene in a long movie, but it makes a big difference. It breaks the number 1 cardinal rule of storytelling: show don't tell. It smacks of pandering and cheapens the film's artistic integrity. It's dialogue that screams to the audience "we think you're dumb, so we're going to spoon-feed you an interpretation so simple a monkey could get it". It's either a lack of faith in the audience or in the quality of the film making, but either way it is a sour note for the film to end on, and it does make a big chunk of the difference between whether this film goes down as a classic or largely forgettable.
So ultimately after expecting great things, it's hard not to be disappointed.
From an intellectual standpoint, Interstellar works so hard on being this generation's 2001, aspiring to be a truly seminal piece of intellectual science fiction to rank alongside the greats. But either through a lack of confidence in his own film making, or trust in his audience, Nolan's storytelling falls short at a very basic level.
Still, it is undeniably compelling filmmaking. The unique blend of intimate and infinite hits powerfully, while Nolan's technical excellence behind a camera makes for some utterly enthralling moments of cinema.
Whatever the case, we will say this: after seeing Interstellar we couldn't stop thinking and talking about it all week, so it must have done something right.
Friday, 31 October 2014
Good evening one and all, and welcome to Hallow's eve, the greatest of all religious holidays (if you're Wiccan, Satanist, or follow the holy wolfman). Even though the Ephemeric is not here to celebrate, we are with you in spirit.
So to get you all into the mood, and because Halloween is a time to get down and boogie as much as terrify, we have out of the kindness of our hearts prepared this playlist of frighteningly awesome Halloween music. Now this is for serious halloweeners only, if you aren't currently wearing fangs, batwings, or a Princess Elsa tiara, turn away now. For the rest of you, consider this the soundtrack to all your season's hauntings.
- This is Halloween - Nightmare Before Christmas Soundtrack
- Spiderwebs - No Doubt
- Season of the Witch - Donovan
- Evil Has Never - Union of Knives
- Ghost Town - The Specials
- Monster - The Automatic
- Ashes to Ashes - David Bowi
- Crazy - Gnarls Barkley
- Somebody's Watching Me - Rockwell
- Brain Damage - Pink Floyd
- Sally's Song - Fiona Apple
- Psycho Killer - Talking Heads
- Evil Eye - Ash
- Death - White Lies
- Mad World - Gary Jules
- Werewolves of London - Warren Zevon
- Thriller - Michael Jackson
- Graveyard Girl - M83
- I died so I could haunt you - Stars
- The Monster Mash - Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt Kickers
Monday, 27 October 2014
The afternoon tea is one of Britain's great traditions; an indulgence of quintessentially English sensibility, a celebration of the culture that fueled an Empire and thrice beat the Germans. The Ephemeric is often asked where one might find the best afternoon tea, and today we are proud to announce the Insider's Guide to afternoon tea in London.
Originating among the English elite in the mid 19th Century, London is naturally home to some of the finest purveyors of afternoon tea in the world. The higher class hotels celebrate the pastime's opulent roots in lavish settings, but increasing popularity on the high street means it is no longer restricted to such exclusive demographics. Today we will explore a variety of afternoon tea styles catering to a wide range of the populace.
But across all genre there are certain key criteria that define an afternoon tea. After careful consideration and a great deal of research in the field, The Ephemeric has these down to just five pivotal metrics upon which any real contender will rise and fall:
- The Ambience
- The Tea
- The Scones
- Miscellaneous food and drink
10. The Ritz
Where: 150 Piccadilly, London W1J 9BR
Price: £47 per person for the traditional tea, £59 for the champagne tea.
The world famous Ritz hotel is of course the pinnacle of glamour and opulence. Hues of gold and expensive upholstery would give the palm court a palatial ambiance were it not for the relentless tourism that so dominates the location.
The sandwiches are unadventurous but perfectly yummy, a traditional 6-set of ham, cheddar, chicken, cucumber, salmon and egg with one for each guest. The all important scones are light and buttery, while the strawberry jam provided was flavourful and smooth. In particular the cakes were very tasty, albeit with a limited variety. Champagne varies, but they have a good selection.
But these occasions live and die by the quality of their tea, and the Ritz has, as one would expect, a selection of very high quality, but again, with only limited selection. At the time of attendance the tea selection contained only 12 or so options, some of which had run out, and only 5 black teas from which to choose.
Considering this is one of the more expensive teas available, though one can't find fault with the quality, we can't help but be somewhat underwhelmed with the limited variety on offer. At the same time, one feels almost a little uncomfortable at the general stuffiness of the surroundings, for example the insistence that all male guests wear a smart jacket in the palm court.
The Ritz is a bastion of classical English tradition, and they make sure you know it throughout the tea, but it occasionally comes off as almost a Disneyland version of an afternoon tea. There's no doubting that the Ritz offers a fine tea, but there are better times and teas to be had elsewhere.
Rating on Tea-O-Meter:
Where: 9 Conduit St, London W1S 2XG
Price: £39 per person for the traditional tea, £51 for the champagne tea
As a two michelin star restaurant, and a uniquely complex venue featuring a variety of bars and eating areas, Sketch offers a very different experience when it comes to afternoon tea.
From the moment you enter the gallery you will be taken aback by the quirky decor and modernist design. Sketch is intended as a place of artistic expression, and there's no escaping the feeling that you've walked into some form of exhibition.
As one would expect from such a celebrated restaurant, the food is the main attraction. A selection of sandwiches covers the staples while adding a unique twist that includes the likes of mozzarella and pesto, and quail egg with caviar. The homemade treats (marshmallows are included) are tasty and well presented, but are mostly just one ingredient off-palate, with unnecessary twists of pistachio and exotic fruits tainting the various cakes. The scones however, were not good. Overcooked and overproduced, glazed with some unnecessary topping.
The tea menu is larger than the Ritz's, and essentially what one would expect from an afternoon tea, although in places it's strangely unbalanced; 7 herbal teas and only 1 white tea? Meanwhile the champagne is unfortunately the hugely mediocre and overpriced Pommery, but at £39 pounds the standard champagne-less tea offers an attractive alternative. Sketch also offers a non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice instead, which is a very nice touch.
Certainly one can't help but appreciate the creativity and uniqueness of the Sketch afternoon tea, but it scores an absolute zero in the way of tradition. Sketch is high quality, but a perfect example of a place that tries too hard to be different for the sake of it, and loses authenticity in the process. It is worth a look for sure, but if you want the real afternoon tea experience this is not the place.
Rating on Tea-O-Meter:
Where: 49 Brook St, London W1K 4HR
Price: £50 per person for the traditional tea, £61 for the champagne tea
One of London's most well known locations for afternoon tea, Claridge's is necessary research for any guide, and certainly it is worthy of it's high esteem.
The sandwiches are delicious, with homemade ingredients that include brown shrimp butter and burford brown egg mayonnaise, while the cakes are among the finest available. However the star in Claridge's lineup is the extensive tea menu which includes a good 25 varieties for your perusal.
What makes all this even more enjoyable is the extensively scripted menu which contains full information on the source of ingredients and the nature and complexity of the tea variety. The Ephemeric is getting hungry just thinking about the descriptions on that menu. The tea is pretty expensive as far as these go, but the quality of tea is as good as it comes.
Unfortunately Claridge's committed one cardinal sin: no plain scone option. The scones on offer included raisin or apple. Lesson one for an afternoon tea, always always give your guests the choice. Claridge's would be significantly higher up this list if they had thought that one through better.
Rating on Tea-O-Meter:
7. Sanctum Hotel
Where: 20 Warwick St, London W1B 5NF
Price: £50 per person
All this champagne and cake a little too girly for you? Then we have just the thing in at number 7: The Sanctum Hotel's gentlemen's afternoon tea.
You won't find meringue and watercress here, this is a tea packed full of red meat sandwiches, mini-burgers, lamb hotpots, and the like. The extensive food selection includes two platters full of such treats, and they're all really damn tasty. Your tea also comes with scotch, and after finishing tea, one is invited onto the Sanctum hotel's roof terrace for a cigar and more scotch. The tea room and roof terrace have both been redone recently and are fully optimized for comfort. The roof terrace in particular is a very comfortable space with sofas and heaters.
While this scores maximum points for "awesome", which is not a category by the way, the lack of scones is unforgivable, as is the lack of tea selection, with just one or two options available. Come to think of it, we're not really sure why this qualifies as an afternoon tea at all. That said, it is a heck of a lot of fun.
Rating on Tea-O-Meter:
6. Haymarket Hotel
Where: 1 Suffolk Pl, London SW1Y 4HX
Price: £22 per person for the traditional tea, £29.50 for the champagne tea
A high quality tea that wins extra points for being one of the most affordable options available. Considering the usual price of an afternoon tea in London seems to hover close to £50, £22 per person is an absolute bargain.
What's even more impressive is what you get for your money, very fine scones, one of the best selections of cakes enjoyed at any of these teas, and a really quite solid selection of teas.
What you don't get is the same kind of ambience of one of the other teas. For sure, the Haymarket Hotel has a certain British understatement about it, but it all has a very "high street" style about it, while the tea room itself certainly feels a bit more pret-a-manger than the Ritz. This is reflected in the level of service, which can often be quite slow during busy times. On a whole proceedings here did not have the same "special occasion" feel as a more glamorous hotel.
And while the food and tea is of a generally high quality, it is noticeably, aside from the cakes, of a lesser quality compared to other more high end teas. In particular the sandwiches often steer too far wide of the classics and add an unwelcome European twist, like liver parfait or croque monsieur.
Certainly the Haymarket Hotel tea is a worthy entry on this list, but while it is arguably the best value for money on this list, it is still clearly a step below some of the other hotels.
Rating on Tea-O-Meter:
5. Langham Hotel
Where: 1c Portland Pl, Regent street, London W1B 1JA
Price: £44 per person for the traditional tea, £56 for the champagne tea
The Langham hotel's "Wonderland" tea is one of the more unique afternoon tea experiences in London. Capturing a fairytale experience for patrons, cakes are served in all manner of unusual shapes and colours, and are as delicious as they are gorgeous to look at.
The food elsewhere is generally also excellent quality, with unusual sandwiches featuring ingredients like Atlantic prawn in brioche, or Foreman's smoked salmon with whipped brie, adding a little bit of sweetness and novelty to the tradition. Sometimes, however, this adventurous spirit comes back to bite the Langham in the ass, in our case with a rather nasty and bitter pumpernickel abomination. The scones are fine, with a little twist of sweet glaze on top, which you may or may not like.
Another standout element is the extensive tea menu, stretching on for several pages with a very broad and high quality assortment of options. That said, we found a number of teas that were out of stock on our visit, suggesting that while the tea selection is wide, it isn't deep, and the actual selection available may be much smaller than it appears.
But holding the Langham back is the ambiance of the room itself. While the Langham was not the only tea experienced which did not have windows, it was especially noticeable here with the room's harsh lighting and somewhat more garish and oppressive decor. The Langham offers one of the better teas overall, but these caveats do matter.
Rating on Tea-O-Meter:
4. Park Lane Hotel
Where: Park Lane Hotel, Piccadilly Mayfair, London W1J 7BX
Price: £33 per person for the traditional tea, £41 for the "Art Deco" tea with champagne
Conversely, the Palm Court at the Park Lane Hotel makes for an absolutely beautiful tea setting. There may again not be much natural light, but the exotic and stylish oriental-themed decor, mixed with gentle mood lighting and good use of space makes for a far more relaxed atmosphere. More like a quiet tea in your living room than a world famous hotel.
The Park Lane afternoon tea makes for a great all-rounder. The setting is complemented by the addition of live music and high quality service, while at £33-£41 it also makes for one of the more moderately priced teas among the major hotels.
The crucial tea selection is quite robust at a good 20 or so varieties on offer, which includes all the usual favourites as well as a few more exotic options with an East-Asian slant, as befits the decor. The champagne was a mellow Moët & Chandon, a refreshing example of good taste over the name-baiting selections of Krug and Pommery we see elsewhere.
The seasonal jam was a little too runny, but otherwise there were no complaints with the high quality scones, which generously afforded the option of plain or two kinds of fruit scone and unlimited refills of both, although let's be honest once you've had two any more and you start to feel like a fatty. Meanwhile the sandwich selection combines the familiar (egg, salmon, cucumber) with more interesting options such as crab, corn-fed chicken on ciabatta, and beef with wasabi.
The Park Lane delivers the genuine afternoon tea experience, an earns itself a high placing on this esteemed list.
Rating on Tea-O-Meter:
3. The Savoy Hotel
Where: The Savoy Hotel, Strand, London WC2R 0EU
Price: £50 per person for the traditional tea, £61.50 for the champagne tea
At this high level the differences between one establishment and another often become merely incidental, but still The Savoy manages to distinguish itself.
The setting is one of the more stunning we encountered, with it's great ornamental pagoda taking the centre of the room while sunlight cascades in through the huge glass dome in its ceiling. This gives the room an airy feel to it, while maintaining its grand impression, immediately recalling the bucolic setting of afternoon tea tradition.
Quality is the name of the game as far as the food is concerned. There's nothing revolutionary about the sandwich selection, but as The Savoy's afternoon tea reminds us the choice of specific ingredient can make a world of difference: Wiltshire ham, fleur de marquis, and of course The Savoy's signature cakes. Meanwhile the scones are about as good as scones get, and come with a selection of two different jams, plus the unusual option of lemon curd. Notably, everything here is provided in generous quantity, and with unlimited refills available.
Most pleasing is the extensive tea menu, containing a good 30 options, and unlike other hotels we visited everything on the menu appeared to be in stock.
While it ranks among the more expensive afternoon tea's sampled for this article there's no doubt that it's somewhat justified. The Savoy scores highly on every category, combining good service with a good, traditional tea.
Rating on Tea-O-Meter:
2. Lord of the Manor
Where: Bourton-on-the-Water, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL54 2JD
Price: £25 per person for the traditional tea, £35 for the champagne tea
So we're cheating a little bit here, heading just out of London to the Cotswolds for Lord of the Manor. There's a good reason for it, because this is the real deal.
Your tea here will be set in the beautifully maintained country estate, looking like something out of a Jane Austen novel. It's unglamorous, old fashioned, but absolutely authentic. A pristinely maintained lounge straight out of Britain’s golden era where you can drink tea from chinaware that leans more towards elegant classicism than the typical post-modern efficiency many city locales favour, all while out in front of you lies the glorious English countryside. It's the pinnacle of classic afternoon tea tradition.
There's nothing overly complicated or audacious about the food or scones, it's just classic, traditional fare, done very very well. The scones are served warm, the jam is fresh, the sandwiches and cream are made from local ingredients. Lord of the Manor is known for it’s award winning restaurant, and it shows with the quality of the food even in their afternoon tea.
The tea list is a little short, but we still had no difficulty finding something to our tastes, and the somewhat different location also gives license to mix up the repertoire a bit, with a lovely Cotswold blend and other more unusual variants.
Best of all, being located outside of London means that Lord of the Manor’s wonderful afternoon tea also comes with a significant discount, considerably less expensive than most similar teas enjoyed in London.
Ultimately what Lord of the Manor gives you is the perfect authentic afternoon tea, complete with the unique rural setting and competitive price makes it a very difficult tea to top, and an ideal destination for anyone who finds themselves near the area.
Rating on Tea-O-Meter:
1. Brown's Hotel
Where: 33 Albemarle St, London W1S 4BP
Price: £41.50 for the traditional tea, £51.50 for the champagne tea
But the Ephemeric’s top dog for afternoon tea, year after year, can still be found in the grand old hotels of London. Coming in at number one is the classic afternoon tea of Brown’s Hotel.
Granted it may not have the rural setting of a Lord of the Manor, but the atmosphere at Brown’s equally manages to be effortlessly laid-back. It may not have the glitz and gold of the Park Lane or Langham, or the edgy modern trendiness of Sketch, but Brown’s excels in understated British elegance. It epitomizes that very British style of celebrating tradition, without being ostentatious.
The Brown’s tearoom is instantly relaxing as you walk in off the hectic streets of London; reminiscent of an old fashioned country estate complete with live piano music, open fireplace in the winter, and friendly service.
The food can't be criticized. The sandwich selection varies periodically, but always includes a good mix of afternoon tea staples and more unique additions. The scones simply can't be improved upon, and the consistency of cream/jam is pretty much ideal. The cakes are delicious and creative, and of course everything comes with unlimited refills.
The tea selection is robust if not exhaustive at a good 20 or so, but the quality is extremely high, and plenty of unusual varieties can be found, owing to connections with some of the oldest tea producers in the world. The winning touch though? At the end of your tea all guests are given a small sachet of the particular tea you ordered, to take home with you. It's the perfect end to a sublime afternoon tea.
The fact is Brown's traditional afternoon tea is simply the ideal afternoon tea. They get everything right, and few things wrong, leaving little doubt that it is the most complete afternoon tea package one can find.
Rating on Tea-O-Meter: