Chez Antoinette – Chic French Bistro Victoria, London

Chez Antoinette – Chic French Bistro Victoria, London

Charlotte and I enjoyed a magical trip to London just after the Bank Holiday weekend to celebrate Easter. Easter is the most important time in the Church’s calendar. Christians across the world celebrate the reality of Christ’s resurrection and by extension His defeat of death for everyone who believes in Him. The Catholic faith is often seen as a repressive doctrinal and dogmatic belief system. The truth is that living a life in Christ allows us to go to Heaven and be at peace in perfect joy for eternity. This is the opposite of repressive, it is the most freeing belief there is. Knowing that when our earthly life comes to an end, joy awaits, frees me from the fear of death which, frankly, underpins some of humanity’s worst behaviours. But enough of my miniature sermon – let’s talk about French food. Charlotte picked the restaurants on this trip and completely outdid herself.

We checked out of our hotel and visited the Victoria and Albert Museum where we were awed by some magnificent pieces of religious art, and astonishing paintings. After this, we attended Mass at Westminster Cathedral, always deeply moving. As our final stop before returning to Birmingham, Charlotte took me to Chez Antoinette. This is a French bistro with two branches in London. The second we saw the previous day while wandering around Covent Garden Market, this one in Victoria is the first which opened, and is very close to the Cathedral.

Originally from France’s gastro-capital Lyon, designer Aurelia Noel-Delclos had a dream that she wanted to open a restaurant in conjunction with her hotelier husband Jean-Baptiste, a place that not only honoured her grandmother Antoinette’s cooking but also channelled the chic Parisian cafés and Lyon’s famous guinguettes bars that she loved. So that’s what she did, opening the original Covent Garden Chez Antoinette in 2014, with a mission to reinterpret ‘classic dishes from tarts to tartines’ but with ‘a modern sensibility’. London Unattached 

We opted for two courses, mains and desserts. Charlotte went for the beef bavette a l’echalotte, and I opted for the “Hambourge” French burger – with cured ham, comté, and bordelaise sauce. Charlotte asked for a rare steak which came well done, but no matter it was delicious nonetheless. The red wine shallot confit was particularly lovely.

My hambourge matched exactly what I expected it to be. It will not surprise you that living in France for 9 years, I consumed a number of “burgs” as one of Charlotte’s old colleagues at The Café Express in Harborne once put it. This was excellent, the patty itself was well done, almost crumbly (as it is served ‘over there’), the compté cheese was nutty and dry in flavour but delightfully oozy. The cured ham sat very nicely atop the patty. The sauce, which means ‘from Bordeaux’, is made with dry red wine, bone marrow, butter, shallots and sauce demi-glacé, tasted exceedingly French.

For dessert, Charlotte had a mille feuille with vanilla and raspberry. This is a sort of crispy thin layered pastry with vanilla custard in between the layers. It was crunchy, fresh and deliciously smooth on the inside. The waiter informed us that both our desserts were freshly made just an hour before we received them.

I opted for the tarte au citron meringue. Charlotte once made this for my uncle who is famous for his high standards when it comes to cooking. He had three helpings of Charlotte’s lemon meringue tart! This one was different (and of course less good than my wife’s). The meringue was soft, and a torch was used on the top. The lemon curd was fresh and zesty but not as piercing as the curd I enjoy. I like my lemon curd to really make me wince. The pastry was very thin and crunchy so that the dessert did not make me feel overly full.

Overall this was a delightful restaurant. The photographs do not do it justice. I urge you, if in London, to visit this little gem of a place.


Rest on the Flight into Egypt – Caravaggio

Rest on the Flight into Egypt – Caravaggio

Charlotte and I saw a trio of beautiful Caravaggio paintings while visiting the Doria Pamphili Gallery in Rome in September last year. The gallery has hundreds of paintings and many masterpieces. I may do a piece on the gallery as a whole and then on some of its pieces. The one we will focus on today is Caravaggio’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt. This was painted in 1597 and I think it is exquisite. The painting is taken from a passage in the Gospel of Matthew:

The Escape to Egypt

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

The Massacre of the Infants

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Return from Egypt

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Below are some details about the room where this masterwork is housed in the gallery.

The Rooms on the Corso

The sixteenth-century smaller rooms overlooking the Via del Corso at the end of the Hall of Mirrors were renovated by the architect Gabriele Valvassori in 1731. The pavilion vaults were decorated with fanciful architecture by the Bolognese artist and scene painter Pompeo Aldobrandini. The rooms show a collection of landscape paintings from the various Doria Pamphilj villas and the ‘still lifes’ painted in oil on copper by Jan van Kessel the Elder with an almost miniature technique, which provide an example of the preciousness and refined skill of the Flemish artist.

In the Second Room you can admire, side by side, the two marvellous canvases with the ‘Penitent Magdalene’ and the ‘Rest during the Flight into Egypt’ by the young Caravaggio, as well as his St. John the Baptist. Doria Pamphili

The detail is just astonishing. Mary is nursing Jesus very tenderly on the right. I bought this as a bookmark from the gift shop, by the way. On the left, St Joseph is holding up a piece of sheet music for an angel who is playing music for him on a viol. The sheet music is from a motet by Flemish composer Noel Bauldeweyn with a text from the Song of Songs dedicated to the Madonna, called Quam pulchra es (How beautiful you are). I have embedded a beautiful recording of it below. The donkey behind Joseph is trying to see what is happening and is very sweet. There is a wine container at Joseph’s left which is perhaps a prefigurement of the Last Supper. The scenery behind the figures in the painting is also beautifully rendered. The angel in the middle of the painting is serene, perhaps happy that the Holy Family are going away from danger.


This painting is an extraordinary work. Charlotte and I were captivated by it and spent a long time in the room seated admiring it. We will certainly go again when we are next in Rome.


Saint Michael The Archangel Defeats Satan – Guido Reni

Saint Michael The Archangel Defeats Satan – Guido Reni

I did two posts on Guido Reni a while ago, one on St Joseph with the Infant Jesus, and another of the Portrait of Cardinal Bernardino Spada, which I think I saw in Rome. One (former) Cardinal I saw with Charlotte, for sure, was the Velasquez painting of the Portrait of Pope Innocent X Pamphilj, which I will do a post on separately. This painting is located in Santa Maria della Concezione de Cappuccini, Rome, Italy.

And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

It is said that St Michael’s origins are from Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic religion of ancient Persia which believed a starkly dualist faith in which gods of light waged eternal war on gods of darkness. But this is probably not true. Saint Michael was an angel mentioned in the Old Testament several times. He is the guardian prince of Israel and is responsible for the care of Israel in the Old Testament, the chief of the archangels, and is mentioned in the New Testament in the Book of Revelations, as above.

This painting of Saint Michael defeating Satan is quite evocative. The colours are astonishing. It is done in the baroque style. St Michael is shown triumphing over a disconcerting looking devil. He is wearing brightly coloured armour and has raised a sword over the defeated devil. The contrast in the bat wings of the devil and the full clean wings of St Michael are striking. Similarly, St Michael’s soft clean floating hair and serene demeanour as contrasted with Satan’s receding hairline and scrunched up pained face are quite marked. This is a glorious depiction of good triumphing over evil. Charlotte and I will mark this one on our list next time we visit Rome.

Guido Reni’s resplendently theatrical depiction of St Michael, part Roman soldier, part ballet dancer, was painted in 1635 and can be seen in the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione in Rome. The picture is a beautiful example of Reni’s late style, which was repeatedly admired by his contemporaries for what they called “grazia” – a critical term much used by writers in the Baroque period, and one with dual implications. The serene figure of St Michael, effortlessly victorious over a grotesquely grimacing Satan, embodies aesthetic grace while also evoking the religious… Andrew Graham Dixon 

Locura – Virus – AOTM February 2023

Locura – Virus – AOTM February 2023

Hello from your absentee blog host. I am sorry, to the few souls who will see this post, for my absence of late. I will heal the keenly felt rift in content with my favourite album of late, Virus, by Locura. This is the fifth studio album from the Argentine New Wave band Virus. It was released on St Crispin’s Day in 1985. There are several other albums of note from this band, including Vivo and En Vivo II, as well as 30 Años De Locura (En Vivo), but we shall leave these for another time. Locura means insanity in Spanish, also referred to as ataques de locura (meaning “madness attacks”).

A1 Pronta entrega 4:36

A2 Tomo lo que encuentro 4:19

A3 Pecados para dos 4:00

A4 Destino circular 3:46

B1 Una luna de miel en la mano 5:20

B2 Dicha feliz 3:36

B3 Sin disfraz 5:32

B4 Lugares comunes 3:13
There are only 8 tracks in this album, but each are unique, potent and full of wonderful inventive synth. Pronta Entrega for example starts with nice vocals from Federico José Moura (who sadly dies three years after the album’s release) followed by some sublime synth and guitar which form the base of the song going forward.

My other highlight from the album is Sin Disfraz. The title means without a disguise. The song is ostensibly about the narrator worrying about whether he appears to others like a liar and a nudist (!). But the music is superb. The insistent and hammering synth followed by the drumming and hypnotic, though silly in substance, vocals come together to make a cracking tune.


I’ll keep it short as this is my first post in a while, but suffice it to say this is a very special album. It falls squarely into my musical comfort zone. I am addicted to 80s synth pop and have made a playlist of my favourite tunes in this genre. Virus’ studio and live tracks feature heavily, as you can imagine. Get stuck in!


Christ in the House of His Parents – Sir John Everett Millais

Christ in the House of His Parents – Sir John Everett Millais

Amazingly, this painting is Millais’ first important religious subject. It shows the boyhood of Christ, of which not much is known. The gospels of St Luke and St Matthew speak on Christ’s childhood years. Christ’s dedication is at Luke 2:21-40 and His visit to the temple when He was 12 years old is found at Luke 2:41-52. The Gospel of Matthew includes a visit from some wise men. These stories precede Christ’s ministry. Nothing is known of what occurred between His dedication at the temple at eight days old, and His visit to Jerusalem when He was 12. Then nothing is known after this point until the beginning of Christ’s ministry. The painting depicts an imagined scene in the family’s workshop. Christ’s earthly father, Joseph, was a carpenter by trade. He is the patron saint of workers. The painting was exhibited in 1850 at first, with no caption save the below:

And one shall say unto him, What are those wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. (Zech. 13:6)

Christ in the House of His Parents (‘The Carpenter’s Shop’) 1849-50 Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896

There are a number of astonishing details in this scene which are worth discussing. It prefigures the crucifixion. We can see that Christ has hurt His hand on a loose nail, His mother is comforting Him. There is a drop of blood on His hand which has dripped onto His foot. St Joseph is inspecting Christ’s hand lovingly. John the Baptist is bringing Christ some water to bathe His wound. All eyes are fixed on Jesus, including that of a flock of sheep which have come up to see what is happening.

Following the Pre-Raphaelite credo of truth to nature, Millais painted the scene in meticulous detail and based the setting on a real carpenter’s shop in Oxford Street. The sheep in the background, intended to represent the Christian flock, were drawn from two sheep’s heads obtained from a local butcher. He avoided using professional models, and relied instead on friends and family. Joseph’s head was a portrait of Millais’s own father, but the body was based on a real carpenter, with his rough hands, sinewy arms and prominent veins. The Virgin Mary was his sister-in-law Mary Hodgkinson, who also appears in Millais’s Isabella (1848-9, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool); John the Baptist was posed by a young adopted cousin, Edwin Everett; and Nöel Humphreys, the son of an artist friend, sat for the young Christ. Tate

The atmosphere of this painting is really striking. There is a real sense of time stopping, a moment of extreme importance which is recognised by everyone in the room. Christ is the son of God, his injury might not be significant but it would have been vital that it was seen to immediately. Mary knew what she was taking on when she said yes to God at Luke 1:38:

38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Mary and Joseph are aware of the importance of their son, but they also love him as parents love their children. His injury prompts a loving response of care and empathy. It also seems to prompt some fear from his friend and cousin John the Baptist. The reaction of the animals is curious also. Many paintings depicting the birth of Christ show animals flocking around Him. There are no mention of animals in the Gospels during the birth, but there are a number of mentions of animals throughout the Bible, notably perhaps in Mark’s Gospel: “13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.”. Though I suppose the sheep in this instance are closer related to Christ being the lamb of God, sacrificed for the salvation of mankind.

Looking at the whole picture, it shows a scene of the Holy Family in their workshop, in an ordinary situation where a child has injured himself. This is why the painting prompted such fury. The Holy Family were seldom if ever depicted in an ordinary scene. The Times called the painting ‘revolting’ adding that there was “no conceivable omission of misery, of dirt, of even disease, all finished with the same loathsome minuteness.” Charles Dickens was one of the most vociferous in its opposition, he described the young Christ as ‘a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-headed boy, in a bed gown’ (Household Words, 15 June 1850). I think it is a masterpiece. It is provocative, to be sure, but Millais was one of the greats in the Pre Raphaelite brotherhood and an exquisite painter in his own right. This painting is moving for its simplicity and its humble brilliance. Seeing it, I felt a surge of excitement and awe both at the subject depicted, and at the bravery of the artist painting it.

It is in the Tate Britain in London, free for any and all.

The Merry Maid Bar & Grill Birmingham – A Night to Remember

The Merry Maid Bar & Grill Birmingham – A Night to Remember

Picture the scene: Charlotte, Colin, Soyful and I are driving up to the Merry Maid, up through Five Ways, up the Belgrave Middleway, then up the back of Dunelm. We parked opposite the restaurant, which is situated between Priestley Road and Athole Street. During the short five minute journey, both Soyful and Colin are making various and escalating pre-emptive apologies about what we are about to experience. Their apologies are in the aesthetic vein. The food, we were assured, would be top quality. The locale, building, clientele, atmosphere and even the way into the restaurant proper were to be forgiven. So far so good.

We entered via the main entrance, past a gaggle of revellers, via an airless corridor with no windows, but two bathrooms. Between the two bathrooms there was a sign stating that management had the right to search anyone on the premises at random. Presumably not for stolen poppadoms. But then, at last, Xanadu. When we least expected it, we found a room filled with what sounded like about 100 people, but was perhaps about 60, all eating the most divine looking curries, naans, pakoras, grilled meat and poppadoms. The smell was admittedly beautiful. We were directed to our table at the very back of the back room. There were a number of gentlemen playing pool directly behind us with their phones perilously close to a monstrous speaker. It was only a matter of time.

We sat down, and ordered the mixed grill, chicken biryani curry, poppadoms, a chili paneer and a cheese naan. It all arrived within about ten minutes. The below photograph does not capture the full magnificence of the meal. The lighting was quite poor.

The food arrived steaming and smelling very inviting. The large grill comprised grilled chicken wings, kebab meat, drumsticks and lamb chops. Every little morsel was suffused with flavour. The curry itself was fresh, hearty and well balanced. There were large and numerous chunks of chicken, which is always welcome. The popadoms were paper thin and crunchy. They went very well with both the mint and yoghurt sauce (thought this was served in a squeeze tube, disturbingly). The paneer was also excellent, smoky, chewy and a generous portion, even though it was a starter. We feasted all the way through and barely left anything. Every tenth bite, one of the more muscled pool players directly behind us would crack the pool cue against the ball with such force that the entire ground would shake. Car alarms could be heard in the distance. This was swiftly covered up by the second more muscled pool player switching on the monstrous speaker aforementioned and releasing into the restaurant such torrents of dreadful rap music that both of my ears fully fell off.

Colin, ever the pragmatist, brought his own Tupperware and packed the rest in. We left, filled to the brim, with a renewed and more pronounced tinnitus, but ultimately very pleased. Please do go, it is worth it!