Archive for the ‘reviews & recommendations’ Category

Waterblogue

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Waterlogue app

I’m totally obsessed with a new iPhone app and it’s not even Flappy Bird. For a few weeks I’ve seen people tweeting about an app called Waterlogue, which turns your phone photos into watercolour masterpieces. I thought “hmm, ok, that probably looks terrible” and scrolled on. Yet I kept seeing people with really good taste going on about it, so last night I caved in and downloaded it. Joke’s on me, because it’s incredibly well done. They’ve done a much better job of imitating watercolour than any filter Photoshop has managed, which is hugely impressive for a phone app. It’s super simple to use, you just choose the image from your camera roll and a filter from a small selection. There’s a nice transition while the watercolour is being made, it shows the colour being applied in layers (in fact, it would be cool to be able to stop during the creation process, because some images  work quite nicely with limited colour). It’s weirdly addictive seeing the “painting” happen though, you’ll definitely want to try it with lots of your photos. I find that it works best with well exposed landscapes, while results are mixed with human faces (they have a legit explanation for this on their site) so put those selfies away for a minute. Don’t worry, cats work just fine though!

Anyway, here are some that I made earlier.  What do you think?

Waterlogue is available in the ios app store and costs $2.99 / £1.99.  Sorry Android users (and um, Windows phone users, I’m really sorry you’re using a Windows phone in general) it’s only ios devices right now.

Waterlogue app

Waterlogue app

Waterlogue app

Waterlogue app

Waterlogue app

Waterlogue app

Waterlogue app

Waterlogue app

Round Mari Vanna’s yard

Monday, October 29th, 2012

As you might know (because I’m going on about it constantly), I’m originally Russian. We moved to London when I was a kid, but I’m still Russian enough to dig the food and always quite interested when a new Russian restaurant pops up. Mari Vanna has been open for a few months in London, so my parents, Andrew and I gave it a go at the weekend.

tl:dr review: expensive but authentically delightful Russian food in a jolly setting, totally let down by shitty service.

First of all, the place looks amazing (hence the picture post). It’s kind of worth it just for that. Housed in a big residential-ish building in (but, of course) Knightsbridge, there’s even a load of doorbells outside the entrance as if you’re popping round to eat at the fictional Maria Ivanovna’s flat. The whole place it decked out in Russian knicknaks, doodads and what-nots on every surface. The napkins come rolled in the bottom half of a Russian doll and the bill arrives in a leather purse, it’s all very very cute. The bathrooms are especially increds, with Russian audiobooks playing, beautiful clashing tiles and wallpaper and lots of little gold mirrors.

The food is legit, too. My mum and I both gave it the thumbs up (my mum, being Russian, fussy and vegan is a tough customer) and the Brits were also happy. There’s a good balance between the Very Russian stuff (anything jellied, salo, all the salads) and the Not Too Scary for newcomers stuff (beef stroganoff, fish), lots of veggie options and some excellent drinks. The food is properly Russian though, not westernised fusion or any of that nonsense (at least half the clientele were eastern european btw, though this is Knightsbridge and half of Zuma is Russian as well…) The only thing we found they were missing was solyanka and cherry Вареники for dessert. Mari Vanna, if you’re reading, I can put you in touch with my grandma for the best recipe.

(Sex on the birch, I see what you did there.)

We didn’t have alcohol, but a jug of (totally disgusting imo, but my mum’s choice) Kvas and a round of delicious raspberry and cranberry Mors drinks which came in lovely mismatched crystal jugs. Some of the cocktails look great and I’m sure add to the occasion (though at about £15-20 each, also the bill!).

(The Napoleon cake, a Russian version of a mille-feuille, was about about 3 times the size such a rich dessert should be, but that’s not something to complain about. Have it with black tea.)

Other than the massive dessert, the portions were rather small though. I read in some early reviews that the portions were enormous, but I think they must have adjusted them following feedback. I was dithering between a few of the mains and could have easily eaten two, without side dishes.

On the downside, the service was abysmal. The wait time between getting the menus and anyone bothering to take our order was about 30 minutes and that was only after several attempts to grab the staff’s attention. Once the food started to arrive, it came in weird fits and starts that were surely too random to be intentional. There’s the home-style, bring everything as it’s ready approach (which I love) and then there’s bringing two people’s main courses > then half the starters > then one more main course > then rest of the starters > then the last main course over the space of an hour. If you’re splitting the menu into starters and mains, surely they should come out of the kitchen in vaguely that order, or why bother? Even the cakes we had for dessert came about 15 minutes before the tea that was supposed to accompany them. It’s a pot of TEA for crying out loud, why does that take 15 minutes?! They also forgot part of my order completely, but still tried to charge for it.

The restaurant is quite small and there was a lot of staff around, so we couldn’t work out what was going on with the service. Management issues maybe? Trying to get the bill and then pay it was another debacle which took f o r e v e r. We saw the table next to us having a similarly frustrating time, so it wasn’t just us!

I didn’t have any problems getting a table (in fact, I only booked the day before, but it was for a weird time between lunch and dinner. Dinner reservations are trickier.) but on arrival/departure/toilet trips, you could hear a constant stream of people in the hallway or on the phone that had issues with their reservation or with tables being given away.

For nearly £200 for 4 people without alcohol, I’d expect WAY better service. It is a bloody shame though, because it ruined an otherwise excellent restaurant. Hopefully they’ll get it sorted because the food is REALLY good.

One of each of the pirogi, with Beef & Pork, Cabbage with egg and Sea Bass fillings.

Salad Vinegret, some of the assortment of pickles and buckwheat.

love the tea glasses in their ornate holders, reminds me of getting the overnight train between Moscow and St Petersburg.

my beef and pork pelmeni with sour cream on the side (this is a £13 main and they forgot my £6 fried potato side order, to put the prices/portion size in perspective). I also wanted to try the Golubtzi (stuffed vine leaves) and Вареники (savoury dumplings), which I bet would be good. Basically anything that’s a small pastry or a dumpling is my favourite, which is why I also fucking love dim sum.

The herby garlicy butter that came with the bread was amazing, I was piling it on like it was cream cheese.

This and the two below are the bathroom, isn’t it the coolest?

In case you were wondering how the decor stacks up against a real Russian or Ukrainian grandma, below is what my babushka’s house looks like. They definitely know what they’re doing.

I’d love to hear any Russian (or Eastern European, I’m not fussy) restaurant suggestions for London. I’ve been to Baltic for drinks (highly recommended!) and hoping to make it there for food soon. My Russian pal has recommended Nikita’s in South Ken. Anywhere else?

Further afield, I’ve been to the quite famous Russian Tea Rooms in NYC (pretty good) and my parents raved about Pasternak in Berlin on their trip a few months ago.

If nothing else, this inspired my mum to visit a Russian supermarket and she’s promising us a proper home cooked russian evening when we’re next round. She sent me this picture this morning ^__________^ GET IN MY MOUTH Зефир!

Thoughts on Instacanv.as

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Instacanv.as: the concept is basically in the name – make canvas prints from your own Instagram photos or set up a gallery to sell them to the public. Without getting into the very dull debate about whether Instagram is ruining “real” photography  (give me a break), is there enough of a demand for this kind of service? I don’t know, but I’ve had a few people request prints and I’m too much of a control freak to ever sell anything without knowing what the quality is like irl, so I ordered one to check it out.

I was most sceptical about the quality of a print they could get out of an instagram-sized (612×612) image. On their site they say they’ve “developed proprietary image resizing technology” but it looks like a pretty basic upsize with a bit of noise reduction on it to me. The effect is not at all unpleasant, for something you’re putting on the wall it looks pretty great up close. The photo I got was from from an iphone 4s, I guess the quality might depend on the original photo. Maybe they should just let users upload their full-res images though?

It took a couple of weeks to get here (from the US to UK) and I didn’t have to pay any import duties/taxes. When I ordered back in June the European shipping was $14, but is now a bargain $5. The 12″x12″ canvas cost $39.95, which compares to £29.99 for the cheapest Photobox canvas of the same size and I think the quality is much nicer. The canvas is thick and the whole thing feels really sturdy and solid. I wish there was an option to continue the image all the way to the edges, but that’s maybe my own personal crazy.

Regarding the artist selling aspect, I’m pretty doubtful that it would make any money for anyone other than Instacanv.as (or unless you’re an Instagram superstar maybe). Photographers make 20% per canvas, which is ok-ish considering they’re doing all the work for you. However, you have to make over $100 before they actually pay out which seems nonsensical (it’s paypal, can’t they automate it?) and shady as hell. If the photographer makes $7.99 on a $39.95 print (using the smallest canvas as an example), they have to sell 13 before payment is made. This means that if you only sell 12 ever, Instacanv.as have made $479.40 without having to pay ~The Artist~ anything. I’m calling shenanigans. (Instacanv.as have pointed out that they will also pay out quarterly even if you don’t get to $100, see comments for details)
I also think they should offer dramatically reduced prices on a sample canvas for photographers to check out the quality for themselves before offering them to others. It’s only fair.

On a side note, their entire Artist interface is like crazy town early days pre-alpha, I’m kind of amazed that they’ve been around for a few months without even launching basic statistics.

On the whole, nice canvases, not sure about the rest quite yet. I’m not particularly attached to my Instagram photos, so I can overlook the lack of control in a way that I never would with my “proper” prints (which is why I don’t use things like society6) so I thought I’d give it a go, but I’m not holding my breath to see any commission from it. My gallery is here, let’s see what happens?

Cat included for size comparison.