Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Burger Hub Review: Take Two

Exactly one year ago I wrote a rather long, rather thorough review of the Burger Hub in Kuwait City. In that review, I presented a point-by-point assessment of what I considered to be constructive criticism for a place that showed a tremendous amount of potential, but that I thought just missed the mark in a few key areas. Well, after hearing from several people that they had really improved, I decided to go back yesterday with some friends to try it again. And I am really glad I did.

First off, they now have outside seating which is really nice (although it's too hot to enjoy right now). It helps take care of some of the space issues (in my last review I mentioned that the bar wasted a lot of space that could otherwise be used for seating). Also, this time the bar seemed smaller than before. I'm not sure what they did differently but the interior space seemed better coordinated. Anyway, on to the important issues.

The service was a drastic improvement. The staff was friendly, efficient, and seemed to really care about the place, which is important. Our waiter was named Reagan, and if I'm not mistaken he was the same man I mentioned at the end of my review from last year who I really liked - and he was great this time too. The rest of the waiters this time were also excellent.

Another major improvement I noticed was with regard to their branding. I'm still not thrilled with their logo, but they have since changed their placemats, menus, etc. The placemats and take-out boxes are really nice. The menu still has a few type-o's and seems to have been done more haphazardly than the other printed items, but it is still a dramatic improvement from last year.* And the clipboard (to which each menu is attached) is a nice touch. The new branding materials finally standardize the colour scheme and create a single identity concept across the board. Oh, and the English text has been edited!

And the most significant improvement: the food. Our food this time was excellent. The meat was much better than it was last year, as was the bread. I can't remember the name of the burger that I ordered but it came from the "classics" section and had mushrooms in it. Overall, I would say that the burger was one of the best I've tasted in Kuwait. If you read my review from last year, you'll notice that's a major change in perspective on my part!

There were still some aspects of the interior design that I wasn't to keen on (i.e. the textured walls and the porcelain eyesore in the toilet), but now that there were so many other improvements, they were barely noticeable to me. It just goes to show that a little extra added effort here and there can create a dramatic overall effect. I loved all their different serving dishes, which I didn't mention last time. I'm not sure how many of them are new and how many were used last year as well, but when you're otherwise happy - with good service, good food, and a music volume that is satisfying to the eardrums - you become more inclined to notice the positives.

I must doff my hat to the guy(s?) who run this place. I have no idea whether or not they read my review from last year, but it seems like they really identified some of the areas that needed improvement, and worked on them. From what I hear, the place is always crowded, and I'm really happy about that. And once again, I must mention that I am really proud of the fact that this place is a homegrown private venture done by young Kuwaitis who decided to risk it all and go their own way. In a country that is so totally franchise-obsessed, I absolutely love seeing local businesses like this succeed. Now that there are quite a few small places like this opening, I think I will officially boycott anywhere that is a non-local establishment (except Johnny Rockets of course).

Kudos, Burger Hub people, whoever you are!

* Update: The menu has also changed since I wrote this post and it is yet another major improvement. It looks much better now, and goes well with the rest of the printed stuff. (Oct. 9, 2007)

Friday, August 24, 2007

My Return

“‘Kuwait, Kuwait!’ he said, pointing. ‘There, there is a land of beauty for you to see! Do you not see that that is beautiful?’ ‘What, that piece of sand?’ I asked, pretending to be unimpressed. Nejdi looked horrified, though the coastline of Arabia in the neighborhood of Ras Zor is in fact far from impressive, and none but the Kuwaiti would see much beauty in it.

‘Sand! Piece of sand!’ Nejdi almost shouted. ‘Look at it, Nazarene! Here are no rough mountains, but the soft, low land, gentle as the swelling of a virgin’s breasts … Look now at this Kuwait!’ And he looked himself, very long, and kept on looking, no longer caring whether I was impressed or not.” (Alan Villiers, Sons of Sindbad, 1940, p. 341)

Monday, August 20, 2007

My Exit

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Tony Wilson

What a sad and sudden event. Legendary Mancunian Tony Wilson, co-founder/part-owner/manager of Factory Records and The Haçienda nightclub (which I just discussed in my last post), passed away today at the tragically young age of 57 from a heart attack.

I don't really know what to say about this news. His death is a major loss and I'm really sad to hear that his life was cut so short. He was already battling kidney cancer this year and so his last few months had been difficult, but he seemed to be recovering well. His fatal heart attack, however, was not actually related to the cancer (at least not directly).

Tony Wilson was a legend, and he and the rest of the Factory Records group changed the face of music for so many of us growing up in the 80s and 90s. This is just such a sad and heartbreaking turn of events - and after just celebrating the 25th anniversary of The Haçienda, too.

You can read more about Tony Wilson at the link above and in this article in the Guardian written today after his death.

And I'll leave you with a Happy Mondays song: "24 Hour Party People" (listen / download).

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Fac51: Sold Out

The new "Fac51-Y3: The Haçienda" shoe arrived in the Y-3 store in Selfridges this morning. I have been waiting for nearly two months for this shoe to be released, and nobody knew for sure beforehand whether or not they would make them in women’s sizes. I was utterly disappointed to find out last night that they only come in men’s sizes, but I still wanted to see them in real life. So we went to Selfridges this morning after breakfast to check them out, but sadly by the time we got there at noon they were already sold out!

Before getting into the shoe and the packaging, let me give you a bit of history on what this is all about. Fac51 Haçienda (a.k.a. The Haçienda) was a legendary nightclub in Manchester during the eighties and early nineties, mainly financed by the record label Factory Records and the band New Order. Factory Records was the label of such groundbreaking bands as Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and the album covers of most of their records primarily featured the art of one of my favourite graphic designers of all time, Peter Saville (resident Factory designer). The club itself was designed by Ben Kelly, upon recommendation by Saville, and opened in 1982. You can read more detailed information about The Haçienda and Factory Records at the links above, since now I want to get more into the shoe, and why I love this so much.

The Factory Records scene, and all it encompasses, is one of my favourite art and music movements of all time. I grew up on the music of the Manchester club scene, despite the fact that I was listening to it all the way in the corners of my bedroom in Kuwait. It was one of those places and moments that I so wish I could have experienced myself first-hand, but, alas, my age and geography prevented me from doing so. But even though I never stepped foot in the Haçienda myself, my appreciation for the work of Factory Records, both musical and artistic, has always been very real and very strong.

So when I found out a couple of months ago that the Factory Records crew had teamed up with Y-3, the brand created by adidas and famous Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto, to create this limited edition trainer to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Haçienda, well I just flipped. The shoe was designed as a collaboration between Peter Saville, Ben Kelly, and Joy Division/New Order bass player, Peter Hook. Only 250 pairs are being sold (at £345 a pair), and are available exclusively at the Y-3 store in Manchester, the Y-3 SIS in Selfridges in London, the flagship store in Tokyo, and a few selected retailers worldwide. The shoe was released a couple of weeks ago in Manchester, and arrived in London this morning.

I had read all about the packaging at Creative Review, and it sounded like a dream come true:

The trainers come in a custom six-sided, maple-bottomed box (the same shape as the Haçienda’s dancefloor) and will be wrapped in four sheets of tissue paper – two will feature Kevin Cummins’ photography of the club in its late 80s heyday, one will be adorned with Ben Kelly’s original design sketches for the Haçienda’s interior, while a fourth will reflect how the space looks today. A DVD documenting a discussion between Kelly, Saville and Hook sharing anecdotes about the club, Factory Records and how they feel about that time in their lives 25 years on will also be included in the package.

I was dying to see the shoes and packaging in real life, which is why we went to see them today. But when we got to the Y-3 store and asked about them, the guy told us that they’d sold out within 20 minutes. He said that people had been queueing from 9pm last night, and only 25 pairs were sold at Selfridges! Apparently, out of the 250 pairs made, 50 went to people who had been directly associated with the Haçienda (DJ’s, etc), about 30 went to the Manchester store, 25 to the SIS in Selfridges, and the rest to the flagship Y-3 store in Tokyo and to retailers in the United States (this is all according to the guy at the Selfridges store).

I am absolutely gutted that these didn’t come in women’s sizes. Their smallest size is a men’s (UK) 7, and I am a women’s 5 (which is like a men’s 3 or 4). I was actually willing to pay a hefty £345 for these, which shows how much I love the whole history, concept, design, and final product. But even if they’d come in women’s sizes, I doubt I would have queued overnight to buy them. I’m just not a very spend-the-night-on-a-sidewalk kinda girl. Also, I never thought that only 25 would make it to the Selfridges store, so I probably wouldn’t have even thought to queue overnight! What a shame that we didn’t get a chance to see them in real life.

Oh well…

Perhaps to compensate for the fact that I wasn't going to own a pair of Fac51-Y3's (or perhaps, more realistically, because I fell in love with them on the spot), I bought a wicked new pair of Converse yesterday:
The tongue looks like a man's tie. Check out close-ups here. I promised myself that these will be the last pair of shoes I buy from London before I move back to Kuwait* - although I have my eye on a sexy pair of Doc Marten's in the new Covent Garden store (and since I won't be here in the winter to buy my annual signature pair, maybe I should just get them now)...

* For those of you who don't know, I have a funky shoe fetish. No heels: strictly flats, trainers, and boots - mainly Docs.