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:
Wednesday, 1 October 2014
Developed by Bungie
Published by Activision
Genre MMOFPS (massively multiplayer online first person shooter)
Platform Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3
Let's get straight to it. Unless you have been living under a rock you will probably have at least heard of Destiny. This is the newest game from developer Bungie, best known for the all-conquering Halo series, which they created and curated up until Halo 4.
Destiny is the developer's first new project since quitting Halo, so naturally this one has garnered a lot of attention from those wondering if Bungie have got another runaway hit on their hands. This also marks the start of a new collaborative relationship between Bungie and publisher Activision, who, to put it mildly, are not the most popular company with fans. A publisher with a reputation of short-changing consumers at the expense of the quality of their games may not seem like the ideal bedfellow, but they have the money, and to realize their vision for Destiny Bungie are going to need a lot of it.
Destiny is being billed as one of the biggest launches of all time, with funding to the tune of $500 million, an unprecedentedly large advertising campaign for a completely new IP, and bells-and-whistles that include a score and theme song written by Sir Paul McCartney, a separate iPhone companion app, and the vocal talents of Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage. It is bizarre then, considering the vast resources that have gone into this game, that almost no one seems to have had any idea what the game actually was before it came out. This has not been helped by Bungie imposing a review blackout on all media until after launch day (an act that should always set off alarm bells - they want people to buy the game without knowing if it's any good?).
So what is Destiny? Well much has been made of how the game mixes a variety of different genres, or doesn't fit into any particular genre, or creates a whole new genre, but that's all nonsense. Destiny is an MMOFPS (gesundheit, massively multiplayer online first person shooter). It looks and plays like a first person shooter, it's set in an always online multiplayer environment that requires an internet connection, and the story and mission structure is almost identical to that of any other MMO.
It's true that much of the focus is on solo play through the main story content, with multiplayer aspects coming in elsewhere (non-story missions and hub worlds are shared between players, and there is dedicated pvp content), but this is also true of a lot of MMOs. The reason for all this genre muddling talk is that Bungie have understandably tried to play down the game's MMO qualities, a genre largely associated with World of Warcraft and similar titles, that carries a lot of stigma and puts off a lot of players. It's a marketing move and nothing more, just be clear on what you're getting into before you buy.
The pre-release buzz talked about epic sci-fi story and character driven content along the lines of Star Wars or Mass Effect. This has manifested in the game's tagline "Become Legend", the focus being very much on allowing the player to create their own unique character to take on this adventure (and subsequent games, utilizing a Mass Effect style of save progression), while there was much talk about the effort being put into creating a rich and heavily detailed world full of the mythology and the internal logic that holds together the very franchises from which Destiny takes inspiration.
At the same time Bungie has been keen to hype up it's social and online features while steering clear of calling the game an MMO (see above), while a great deal of emphasis in the game has also been placed on "loot" acquisition in the style of a Borderlands or Diablo type game.
Destiny is trying to paint itself as all things to all people, and the lack of any clear description of how these disparate parts fit together should have been the second alarm bell.
Gameplay and Presentation
So first the good. The shooting mechanics are excellent. Smooth, satisfying shooter gameplay that takes many of the elements that Bungie helped invent with the Halo series that has now become standard in the genre, and refines it to near perfection. Shooting someone has never been so much fun.
All that Activision money has been put to good use in polishing the game's presentation. The game looks absolutely gorgeous on the new-gen consoles, full of vivid, imaginative settings and beautiful effects. It sounds a treat too with McCartney's wonderful score and dynamic music.
Then there's the loot system, which is both rewarding and addictive, giving players motivation to go back through old levels in order to develop and upgrade their gear and weapons. The ultimate focus of Destiny is very much on taking your unique character and creating your own story, and to this end the loot and gear system allows for a very satisfying level of customization, both with appearance and also function.
The problem with Destiny is that the player is rarely given any explanation or motivation as to why or what they should do beyond this constant search for shinier toys.
The mission objectives are almost completely arbitrary: looking for person A? Well then we need to go to location B and find item C. Why? No idea, none of it really fits together or follows any logic, it's just something to keep you busy. In much the same spirit the missions almost all play the same: go to the next room, face a series of waves of bad guys you have to kill before you can continue, go to the next room and repeat.
These problems are exacerbated by how short the story content is in the game. To beat the later story missions you need to be at a high level, but there simply aren't that many story missions. Instead the only way to progress is to grind the same missions over and over again to level up. Then when the story missions are done, the game literally becomes entirely about grinding the same levels repeatedly in order to get better guns, better armor. That might be motivation for some, but for The Ephemeric it seems shallow and disappointingly repetitive. It's a lot of fun to begin with, but gets old really quickly.
Fortunately the multiplayer keeps things fresh, but ultimately the only way the game is ever going to motivate us to keep playing is if they add on more new content. And while we're on the subject of content...
Story and Characters
The much talked about story and character is non-existent. There are maybe one or two characters in the game aside from the one you create and none of them show any form of development. The only meaningful relationship in the entire game is the one between Peter Dinklage's robot character "Ghost" (henceforth referred to as "Dinklebot") and the player.
There are very few cutscenes in the entire game with which to drive the story along, basically the only context or background you are given for a particular mission comes in the form of a (generally badly written) three second speech from Dinklebot read out over the loading screen as you begin the mission. Even these fleeting moments of exposition seem to be truncated, bringing in concepts and plot points from out of nowhere, almost as if there's a scene missing somewhere.
What few cutscenes there are appear to come out of nowhere in a completely disjointed fashion. You finish one of the early missions in Old Russia and then as if by magic you've entered a big hall you've never seen before and started talking to someone called "The Speaker", a character you've never even heard about before this point, as if it was completely normal. You will find yourself experiencing a lot of these "was there a scene missing or something?" moments. It's just a very basic lack of narrative flow or cinematic polish, which is hard to explain considering the great amount of polish elsewhere. It's honestly like someone took an axe to a completed game and chopped half of it out before launch.
Destiny was supposed to be deep and immersive, but as much as we wanted to it's just impossible to really get into this world. Outside of the missions there is one hub area, but it's completely devoid of life. There are a variety of NPC (non-player characters) standing around, but you can't talk to them, you can't find out any information about who they are or develop any rapport. There is literally no dialogue with these characters, they serve only as a fancy menu interface through which to buy items. Again, it's just a very basic failure of world-building. There's also all these factions and groups around the world of which you can become members and buy stuff from, but there's no info about who these people are or why you would want to join them. Heck you'd never even know they existed unless you wandered aimlessly around the hub area and stumbled upon them by accident.
It doesn't help that the in-game story and dialogue is generally badly written, Mass Effect this ain't. Bungie parted company with their head writer about halfway through the game's development and it really shows. Halo was hardly Shakespeare, but it's a masterpiece of writing compared to Destiny.
The truly strange thing is that all these characters and factions and locations have background story, you can read all about it in the iPhone companion app in the form of "grimoire" cards, and it's detailed and often interesting, so why is absolutely none of it presented in the game?
It's also worth pointing out that the plot is extremely incomplete. A few different plot threads are started, few get a chance to go anywhere significant before the game's content runs out. Bungie says that the plan is to keep updating the game with further story content after release, but it's as yet unclear whether this is going to be frequent, or whether it will be free or paid. We can imagine a lot of people will be pissed if they buy a largely incomplete game, and are then expected to pay extra to buy the bulk of the core content later on.
What's really hard to understand is how different the end product we see is to what was shown off even a year ago in previews. Whole features and locations that were mentioned appear to have been removed. Practically none of the story that has been created for this game has actually been implemented.
It's clear that at some point during development the scope and ambition of this game drastically changed. Destiny changed from a spectacularly ambitious Mass Effect-esque story-based game into a repetitive Diablo-esque loot-farming dungeon crawler. Is this perhaps the influence of the publisher, taking the game in a less artistic direction to make something aimed more at the app-gaming crowd? Recent word from insiders suggests this to be the reason the lead writer quit, it has also been rumored that the aforementioned "grimoire" story cards were written all in the last few months after it became apparent that none of the background was going to be in game. Whatever the true story, whatever the reasons, the end result is the same.
Destiny is a fun shooter at its core, with well honed mechanics, but builds absolutely nothing on those foundations. The much hyped immersive world is a bizarrely incomplete shell of it's potential. It feels like a very early beta version of a game, with far too much of its content missing. Something has clearly gone wrong behind the scenes during development, and now Bungie have a lot of work on their hands if they are to turn it around.