I had been trying and hoping to view the ‘Man and Beast’ exhibition by Francis Bacon for some time which was being held at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly. One thing or another had acted as an obstruction and so with just 10 days left before its closure, I booked it for an early Sunday afternoon. I don’t venture much into London anymore. I was born and brought up there, spent many years between my 20s and 30s hustling in the metropolis and have seen it slowly morph meretriciously into a nothing more than a monstrous shopping mall with streets simply lined with gaudy corporate logos. But the one attraction it still has to offer is art with its huge galleries decorated with paintings by the masters.
I have to be honest, I went without any real prior knowledge of Francis Bacon, and it also doesn’t help that he shares his moniker with a philosopher born 400 hundred years earlier. I had seen work of his before, a triptych here and a painting there, but I was quite excited to see a whole exposition of his distorted animalistic disturbing work.
The RA itself is a like a work of art, a grand piece of architecture slightly hidden from the cacophony and commotion of Piccadilly. As you pass through the gates into the stone courtyard the edifice of the building surrounds you and depending on what is exhibiting, a large banner hangs across the face of the RA advertising the artist and their work. It all feels very welcoming, there is a serenity in the air, particularly after ploughing through the pandemonium of Piccadilly.
The first thing that hit me about the exhibition was the lighting. It was very dark and macabre, but that’s probably related to the nature of Bacon’s oeuvre. If you go to the Tate Britain to view Rothko’s Seagram paintings the lighting is very similar, but for a completely different purpose. But back to Bacon, each painting is considerably quite dark, twisted, violent and literally screaming from the canvas. There is a definite visceral aspect to his work as he transmogrifies his subjects, which range from close friends to the pope, the latter being a distorted version of Velazquez’s papal portrait.
In the paintings I could see hints of Picasso, who played a huge influence on his work, and no doubt pretty much every other artist that followed him. It was in the turn of the brush, the circular movements, the round and spherical lines on the canvas that I felt echoed Picasso particularly in the ‘Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne’ and most notably the paintings of the bull fights. The indelible strokes brought to mind ‘Nude Woman in a Red Armchair’ and ‘The Dream’ by Pablo.
Animals played a huge influence in Bacon’s paintings as noted by his childhood in Ireland where he devoured books of big game animals, the deaths of the wild beasts. This was followed by trips to South Africa which he would see through the eyes of sex and death. He’s known to have said he wanted his paintings to have the same immediate effect of an animal after the kill.
The paintings line many rooms in the RA and so my muse and I slowly paced, stopping, and reflecting on each individual piece of Bacon’s personal horror show, his interpretation of humanity. If you get a chance to see the exhibition it’s definitely worth an hour of your time.
There is actually something else the Great Wen has to offer, and that is food. Living by the coast with the space and the ability to walk a couple of miles without seeing anyone is a perk of country life but if you are someone who enjoys the comestibles of fine dining, as opposed to grub in a gastro pub it’s easy work your way through the local eateries and find yourself in a culinary Groundhog Day situation.
After a brief search online, I found a plant-based restaurant called Mildreds, a small restaurant in Covent Garden with other Mildreds in Camden, Dalston and King’s Cross.
The photos of the food looked appetizing and delectable, which many food joints get so wrong. We turned up, were quickly seated downstairs, and furnished with menus. The outlay of Covent Garden’s Mildreds is simple, comfortable, with interesting paintings on the walls, one oddly like Bacon’s. There is definitely a personal touch still here to be found, which was nice to experience, and one I could imagine to be lost when a restaurant becomes successful and grows. A trip to Nandos while illustrate this only too well.
And clearly Mildred was doing well. The restaurant was heaving, but this didn’t hinder the service as we were immediately waited on by a friendly garcon. The menu is perfectly balanced with just enough variety so as not to be too overwhelming. We could have ordered everything but chose instead to ask for recommendations.
We started with a bowl of Nachos ‘Chipotle cheez nachos, black bean mol, pico de gallo, sour cream’ (as their menu describes it) to share which was presented differently to anywhere I had ordered the Tex-Mex food before. The nachos surrounded a smaller bowl in the centre with a dip for the beautifully decorated chips to dip into. It was a very simple dish, but this was its selling point and much to their advantage. It was as though every part of the dish had been accounted for, each ingredient perfectly placed with their individual colours to create not only something that was tasty, but also incredibly appetizing to look at.
This was followed by our next two recommendations ‘kiri hodi, kadhai masala sweet potato, green beans, spinach, pea basmati, lemon amchar, cashew coconut’ and ‘mercimek kofte, pea & pomegranate freekeh, dill tahini’ again as the menu described the dishes. These were brought to us incredibly quickly, which was highly impressive given that every seat in Mildreds was filled with a happy clientele. Clearly the food was having an effect. And as with the Nachos both of the next two recommendations were delectable, detailed, thoroughly flavoured and delicious. My head wanted more, but my stomach and waistline won the debate after I had given the dessert menu an intense detailed analysis. At £51 for two, I will be most definitely returning and making sure I don’t eat before I dine, so this time my stomach and waistline can win the next debate and I can engorge on their superlative puddings.
You can visit Mildreds website here https://www.mildreds.co.uk/