Friday, 31 December 2010
Tuesday, 28 December 2010
I have many regrets in my life. Most of them I have ignored and refuse to let them out of their little box. But one keeps rearing its ugly head. It is that I wished I had gone into catering when I had the chance at 16 or 17. But I was happy to waste my teenage years away smoking loads of dope and getting stoned everyday. Good times.
This for many years was locked away in a drug filled haze, and when I started travelling I never had the cash to go to decent places to eat. I was however content with truck stops and street food. Something even to this day, are the places I enjoy eating at the most.
But my short stints as a chef in two of London’s finest establishments has made me respect all chefs, that to this day when ever I walk past a kitchen I always thank the chefs, as I know how hard it is to work behind the scenes, and how no gratitude goes their way.
I think this has something to do with my dislike of waiters and waitresses getting all the tip, just because they bring you a plate form A to B, where it is the chefs who are sweating and under stress and totally knackered behind the scenes that do all the hard work to make your evening perfect.
So to be able to be able to eat Pierre Koffmann’s food for a ridiculous amount of money was a chance I was not going to miss. I mean £18 for 2 courses. (Now it is £21.50) There are only a few bargains like this in London, and should not be missed. Trinity is one, and Theo Randall is the other. All are amazing in their own way. I’m sure there are more, but I don’t know of them.
When we told people we were eating at the Berkeley Hotel, everyone was in awe of us, although half of them thought we were eating at Marcus Wearings restaurant. I wish, but as a travel agent, the pay is shit, but the perks are good. Sometimes.
Koffmann’s is as I thought it would be. Elegant, but in a very understated way. There is nothing uptight about this place at all. The service was spot on, everything was done with a smile. I can see the men from Michelin being very happy here.
I knew I was going for the set menu, but I was so tempted to go for Pierre Koffmanns’ signature dish of Braised Pigs Trotters stuffed with sweetbreads and morels. Really tempted just to have that and chill. But the lunchtime set menu was too much of a chance to pass up. This is what had dragged us in here, and until I get a pay rise we would have to stick with it.
For starters we ordered the French onion soup and the game terrine. I’m a sucker for a terrine in any shape or form and this game one was a pure delight to eat. Such a deep gamey flavour that it set my taste buds on fire. The only disappointment were the undressed salad leaves that accompanied it. Was this deliberate to serve some bitter leaves naked with no dressing, or had they been forgotten about and just placed on the plate, alone and naked. Either way it let down a great terrine.
Linas’ French onion soup was creamy, deep and wondrous. It was much creamier than those millions of litres I used to make in that faux French brassiere. The cheese was melted to the point of unxiousness. Really good.
The mains were a superb moist roasted loin of rabbit with black olives, tomato’s and garlic that sung of southern France. A very elegant dish that would see itself on any Michelin starred restaurant menu. Oh, I’m just thinking ahead here.
The other was a simple dish of fricassee chicken, mushrooms and rice. The chicken and rice was pretty simple but perfectly cooked. Lina was not impressed though, she was expecting some magical piece of chicken with some great accompaniment. She is obviously not a fan of rice with French food. I have to admit though it was the best plate of rice I’ve ever tasted. It had been cooked in chicken stock to the point of al dente. Perfect. No denying the talent that Chef Koffmann has in his kitchen. For rice it was pretty bloody good. But as a dish, a little underwhelming.
We skipped pudding, a shame as they had oeuf a la neige caramelise on the menu. I was so tempted to pay the extra but I was very content to bask in the feeling of a great meal. Next time though.
Sitting there with my coffee and nibbling on my madellines I was very happy that Mr Koffmann had decided to come back to London on a permanent basis. Just why did it take him so long?
Even though we opted for the two course menu, we still managed to spend nearly £100. I dread to think what the bill would have been if we’d gone a la carte. Hey ho. It was worth it. Bring on those Michelin stars.
Friday, 24 December 2010
Tuesday, 21 December 2010
We seem to be spending more and more time in and around Kingsland Road these days. Well cash is tight and you can eat great food around here for next to nothing. Bonus.
After quite a few visits to Mangal 1 and realising that maybe we don’t really need to try any more Turkish restaurants as none of the ones we’ve tried seem to match up to the dizzy heights that the original Mangal have reached.
I am tempted to try number 2, but it just looks a tad posher without the vibe of the original. So maybe not.
I’d seen and wandered past Shanghai on many an occasion, mainly after coming from somewhere else for lunch or dinner. It always seemed to be on the wrong side of a dinner date.
When I hear one person bleating on about a restaurant I kinda take it with a pinch of salt, but when I hear half a dozen or more folks from different groups telling me how great a place is, I pay a little bit more attention. For some reason within the last two weeks I have been told about the virtues of Shanghai from 5 different people. Maybe I should hold off and eat there.
A recent trip to a small Brasilian shop on Kingsland Road to buy some Guascas for a Xmas Eve Ajiaco (more on that at a later date) brought Shanghai to the front.
We had three or four choices for dinner. 1. Shanghai. 2. Puji Puji, a small Malaysian place that we tried and failed to eat at a week or so ago. 3. Thai Corner Café, where we endured a new mother breast-feeding her baby whilst we were eating. Or 4. The Snooty Fox, which was gonna be their speciality of Chicken and Chips. Yum yum.
As we were so close to Shanghai, and the snow just starting to come down. We headed to this Chinese restaurant. Well it was so close.
It’s kinda trippy when you enter. It immediately reminded me of an old Pie n Mash shop, which I later found out was exactly what it used to be, but it kinda fits as a Chinese restaurant now. Those wooden benches were meant to be sat at whilst eating good Chinese nosh.
We weren’t actually that hungry, but needed something warm and comforting. As it was after dark on a cold Monday night. Their Dim Sum was out the window. I’ve not tried too much dim sum in my life but eating it at night just doesn’t feel right.
So after looking through the menu we ordered just two dishes; Shanghai Beef and Double Cooked Pork Belly. Neither were amazing, but both were cooked well. The pork belly was soft and the fat melted in my mouth. So good.
The beef was nice and juicy and the sauce had a slight piquancy to it. Pretty nice. The only downside really on the food was the quantity of large diced onions in both dishes. Way too many. Thankfully they were cooked and had just a slight bite to them, not like other places I’ve eaten at where they are raw and have been mixed in at the last minute. Yuck.
Too be honest the food did not go below my expectations. For where it is, and for the price I’d say this place is a bit of a star. It’s not gonna win any prizes of culinary highs, but well worth eating at if you are in the area and haven’t eaten at Mangals yet.
Monday, 20 December 2010
We’ve realised after long last that we are pretty crap at organising anything. It took us about three weeks to hook up with Lina’s cousin before he returned to Colombia for the Christmas holidays. Not good.
We are getting really bad at this these days. Maybe this is what happens when you advance in years. God bring back my 20’s. Maybe I was the same but just never cared. Anyhows we finally managed to arrange something the day before he left. Talk about leaving it to the last minute.
We’d originally planned to meet up at Puji Puji on Balls Pond Road, but alas it wasn’t open. It’s only open by special request of parties of 8 or more on Sundays. Damn it. So as Esteban lives more or less in front of the Duke of Wellington we opted to pop in for a drink, some warmth as the minus figures outside were getting to me, and a ponder on where we could go for some food.
It was good to catch up with him, as we hadn’t seen much of him since the birth of his daughter. Or maybe we had been subconsciously avoiding them just to get out of babysitting duties. Not intentional you see. Just the way it is.
It’s a nice pub, lots of space to sit and chat and relax. So after a couple of pints of conversation and really enjoying the vibe of the place, my stomach was a rumbling. We decided just to stay put. It was easier, and as Estebas lives above the sous chef of the pub and can vouch for the food. We ordered. Being Sunday, it had to be the roast. Thankfully we ordered in time, as they were just about to close the kitchen, and even more thankfully they still had some food left. Well it was after 8pm. But as we had an inside contact, we managed to grab two beef and one lamb. Phew.
They were pretty good, the beef was really nice and rare. The shredded lamb had some nice flavour. But why is it a lot of pubs are shredding their lamb these days. No idea.
The sides were nice and yummy. Good tattles, not crispy but nicely cooked, the veg consisted of carrots and some shredded caverlo nero. Perfectly cooked and well seasoned. Good amount of gravy, which lasted all the way to the end of the meal. A rare thing these days.
But sometimes it’s not about the food. The occasion, the company, the vibe of a place can transform a dull meal into a memorable one. This was one of those nights. But not to say the food wasn’t good. It was. It just wasn’t amazing. But who cares when you are enjoying yourself so much.
The Duke of Wellington has a varied menu, but it has a great atmosphere and a nice selection of beers and wines. We will be returning.
Friday, 17 December 2010
Thursday, 16 December 2010
During early November there is a monsters ball of an event called WTM, or the World Travelers Market. It’s a really dull affair, but it does give you a chance to meet your suppliers from different corners of the world. It’s networking heaven.
Sadly most of my suppliers I wanted to chat with never came. So I just wandered around for a while chatting to a few people I knew and meeting some new folks that I may or may not be able to buy from in the future. But contacts are contacts.
At this time of year there are always parties. But as I work for a hierarchal company where the higher caste people get the good shit, like tickets to watch Arsenal play in the Champions League that they never used but wouldn’t give them up. Grrrrrr.
I was invited to a few but declined most of them as they were from the smaller suppliers and would be really dull and awkward. But I jumped at the chance to goto the Nepalese Embassy, even though I had heard the evenings were cringingly embarrassing.
It was an odd affair, a colleague and me were the only travel agents there. Everyone else was either operators from Nepal, local Nepalese ex-pats or just friends of the Ambassador.
The speeches were pretty damn odd as well. The Ambassador was speaking through a mic for 10 minutes before someone told him to put it down as no one could hear a word he was saying. But the funniest was from the Tourism Minister who wins the prize as “The Most Boring Speech Giver of the Year”. It was really bad, he just read bullet points off a laptop. So bad. Laughable even.
But the oddest thing happened after the speeches had finished, and the prizes had been given out. Two Nepalese Tour Operators won a free tour of Nepal, more than likely handled by their own companies. Comical.
We were promised a special guest and a special guest we got. I was expecting some Nepalese actor or singer, but alas no. What we got blew my socks off.
From a side door a man came out carrying another human being. Not just any person, but the World’s Smallest Man.
Khagendra Thapa Magar from Pokhara, who had to wait till his 18th Birthday to be recognized as the smallest man on the planet. He stands a mighty 67.08cm’s or 2 foot 2.41 inches.
They sat him on a high stool so we could all see. Some people ran to the front of the room to get a good photo. I was still stunned to move, and embarrassed to take a close up photo. As you can see from my dodgy snaps. It was very surreal.
After this stunning surprise we were delighted to know that we were going to be fed as well. As we had polished the beer and wine off, I needed something to soak it up.
I was told the food came from a well known Nepalese Restaurant on Acton High Street, and from the taste of the food and by the way it screamed through my body the following morning I won’t be venturing to Acton to sample their a la carte menu anytime soon.
I left there still spinning from the biggest surprise of my life, to go to a pub nearby with some other freeloaders. I.e. travel journalist who have the best gig on the planet. Now that is something I want to get into.
Wednesday, 15 December 2010
This Christmas Season is taking its toll on me. Two major daylong hangovers in three days is showing my age, and with a few more to come. How am I gonna survive.
Years ago hangovers were a weekly occurrence, nowadays they are becoming less and less frequent. Although, all my recent ones have involved copious amounts of strong Belgium beer, consumed on empty stomachs. Schoolboy errors.
Choosing the right venue for a Christmas works do, requires some delicate choosing, as you have to make sure everyone is happy. But since I work with quite a few Indian men whose idea of a good night out is, well basically is to get pissed. Easy choosing.
So all we needed was a large lively venue, a bit of food and lots of free booze. I think it took us about 30 minutes to choose our venue, and with a week to spare we were impressed anything was available.
I’m not sure who actually picked Guanabara as our venue, but it turned out to be an ok choice. Well it had all the ingredients for a Christmas party.
Large spacious venue, lively music with a good crowd of party folks, and the most important thing, the boss’s credit card behind the bar.
I started the evening off in Lowlander, having a couple of beers before waiting for everyone else to turn up. It was a big error, as nearly everyone else went straight in to the place, as they were getting free booze. Why pay for something when someone else is paying. Doh !!!
As soon as I entered I found out it was 2-4-1 on cocktails. A couple of mojitios came my way pretty quick. Then another two, and maybe two more. This all before we had sat down to eat. It was going to be a real messy night.
The normal menu at Guanabara does have some classic Brasilian items on it, like Feijoida. That wonderful black bean and pork stew. However the Christmas menu was about as Brasilian as the weather outside. I’m not even gonna try and beef up the food. It was pretty bad. It was real boil-in-the-bag-brought-in-and-heated-up-type-food. The crab chowder was bright red and pretty tasteless. My boil in the bag lamb shank was pretty tasteless, but the mint sauce had some kind of minty flavour. The pudding, which was some kind of passion fruit mousse, was pretty thick. I think I had one spoonful and that was about it. Couldn’t do no more.
I was here to get drunk, and drunk I did. After dinner everything got a bit fuzzy. I think it may have been the cachaças I was consuming through dinner. Thank the lord I never had any caipirinha, as the sugar would have blown me away. Something about sugar and alcohol my body cannot take.
I don’t actually remember leaving or getting home. But thankfully I woke up on the bus two stops form my house. Phew.
Guanabara is what it is really. This is a party venue and it does it very well. The food is pretty pants, but I didn’t expect anything else. The vibe is excellent, and my fuzzy memory has nothing but happy thoughts.
Waking up the next morning was a bit of a mare, but somehow I managed to struggle out of bed and make it to the Hawksmoor on Commercial Street for some well needed brekkie. Although it was nearing noon, so we could of have their famed roast, but as we had it at the Seven Dials branch a while back. So we opted for the breakfast to kill all other breakfast. The Hawksmoor Breakfast for 2 to share and costing £30, was the same price as two roasts.
Someone made a comment a while ago that this branch is more set up like a club than a place to have a roast. I can see the point. Very elegant and cool, much more designed for big steak eating than hungover Sunday brunch eating. But I like it here more than the Seven Dials restaurant. More cozy here. Plus it was quieter which was good for my head.
The waitress took pity on me and was filling up my glass of water every few minutes, I was expecting her to offer me an anadin.
I ordered a London Pride Pale Ale, which was supposed to level out my blood-alcohol level. It worked but it took me forever to finish that glass.
The breakfast was a sight for sore eyes. In no order of excellence were a Smoked Bacon Chop, Sausages, Bubble and Squeak, Trotter Baked Beans, Fried Eggs, Bury Black Pudding, Bone Marrow Trotter, Grilled Mushrooms, Roast Tomatoes, Good Toast and Gravy. I think that was all we had. Damn my memory is still there.
The waitress suggested to us to have the black pudding with a dab of English mustard and some malt vinegar. It kicked arse. Never thought of using malt vinegar on anything but chips. What a philistine I am.
I have to say that was one hell of a brekkie. Maybe the best I have ever had. But to cut through the hangover I had it needed more grease. But if I had wanted that I would have gone to the café near to my house, which looks like a good café. One day soon.
Hawksmoor seem to be hitting all the right buttons with me at the moment. The only thing I haven’t eaten there is what they are famous for and that is their steaks. Next visit.
Saturday, 11 December 2010
Fish and Chips were a Friday regular in my household as a child, until my dad decided that the other British staple of spaghetti bolognese was to be the choice for our Friday night dinner.
A lot of the local fish and chip shops in Basingstoke became Chinese takeaways, instead of banishing this traditional food and replacing it with their own culinary treats, they actually improved the quality of the fish n chips. They also provided us with that so needed added extra, Curry Sauce. I recently had some chips with curry sauce in a pub, and it rolled back the years. It’s crap we know that, but it’s also pretty addictive. One of the good things to come out of the 80’s.
Islington has its fair share of fish n chip shops. Some ok and some not ok. I think I’ve tried most of them now to be able to say that. That would explain my ever increasing waistline then.
The newly opened Beach Hut on the site of a one time closed fish n chip shop has brought life back into an odd stretch of road. There is a quality butchers, a good Italian deli and a fantastic cheese shop (even if the staff are rubbish), and some not so good cheap take away joints. Somehow they shouldn’t mix, but they do and it works. Kind of.
I think I’ve sampled the fish n chips enough times at the Beach Hut to know they are the bees knees. Unlike the fried fish of my childhood where the fish was cooked hours ahead of service and left in those traditional warm counters to sit and sit and sit until wanted. These little beauties are dipped in batter when you order them and they are fried before your very eyes. It makes all the difference.
The fish comes out lovely and crispy, the soft flesh is perfectly cooked and is a delight to eat. You can actually taste the quality of the fish. A rare thing these days.
We’ve eaten in and had take-away a few times. The décor is truly like being at the seaside, lot’s of pastel colors, wooden tables and chairs. The menu is displayed on a chalkboard behind the counter.
The portions are truly on the large side. We made the mistake of ordering a large portion each first time round, well I was seriously hungry. One would have been enough for us both. They are that big.
The chips are good and comforting. Nice and floury on the inside, although not being as crispy as I like on the outside, but still very good.
They have a good selection of sides, the mushy peas are particularly good and go well with the mains.
For some reason I prefer having a take away rather than eating in. The only downside to this is the fish and the chips are a little bit too greasy and being in the bag for the short trip home sweats them a tad, but a quick blast in a hot oven dries them out enough.
I’ve found out something in life the other week. Martini’s and fish n chips do not go together. A night of too many cocktails at 25 Canonbury Lane, a great cocktail bar just near Union Chapel told me this.
There is something about de-stressing out over a few perfectly made and alcohol laden cocktails that puts you in a good mood for the night ahead.
Things have a changed there a bit, it used to be more cocktails than beer, but on recent visits it’s more beer than cocktails. Seems the locals now, scoff at the idea of a well made mojito or martini. Actually on our last drunken visit, only women were drinking cocktails, and me. But it’s still a good place to chill and drink. Good mix of well heeled and not so well heeled people.
But after a night of strong vodka martinis, hunger always creeps in and as the Beach Hut is on our way home, we stopped in for some grub to quench our hunger. Martini’s good. Fish n chips good. Together. It just didn’t work. But I’m sure if we hadn’t been so drunk we would have realized that beforehand.
Thankfully the Beach Hut is doing good business, so it won’t be joining the vast majority of restaurants that close within their first year. Hoorah.
Friday, 10 December 2010
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Trying to find a good dentist in this city can be a bit of a problem. I used to have a good one in Earl’s Court, right above Addi’s, but he did a runner and no one knew where he disappeared. His replacement just never did anything right. Poor girl.
Thankfully with my family connections in South America I now have a very good dentist. Only problem he is over 5000 miles away. Not good. Although with what I am paying for this treatment I could have flown over there and had it done for the same price.
I was recommended a dentist in the leafy northern suburb of Crouch End. Oh that lovely village beyond Finsbury Park, which seems a world away from most of London, and the inhabitants, know it as well. Sometimes their smugness drives me insane. But then again I’d probably be the same as well if I lived there or somewhere similar.
After spending an hour mid afternoon getting my teeth prodded and tinkered with they were feeling a little sore. Plus I was advised to eat soft foods for a day or two. Damn, no chicken wings for me for a while then.
But I was hungry and in need of food. Luckily on the corner by the well-ordered bus stop is Spiazzo. A self styled Italian deli cum brassiere.
Its menu is typically Italian with all the big boys in tow. I’d eaten there before so I knew what type of food I was gonna get. It’s not as if the food is bad, it’s just not that good. But for a posh café it isn’t bad.
Obeying my dentist, I ordered a cheese omelette and in true café style it came with chips.
It wasn’t the worst omelette in the world I had ever eaten. It kinda reminded me of my dad’s ones that he used to cook on a Saturday night. It even had the same cubes of slightly un-melted cheese inside as well. The chips were thin, soft and a tad greasy. Normal café fare. But somehow it hit a cord and I enjoyed it, but I was bloody hungry.
Crouch End has quite a few cafes on the Broadway, some are good and some are not so good. Spiazzo is probably one of the best of the bunch, but it does try to be something it really isn’t.
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
I feel sometimes that I am so terribly untrendy. I mean I haven’t even eaten at Goodman’s, Polpetto or Dishoon to name but a few. So uncool I hear you cry.
On the other hand I’m also not the kind of person who rushes to those newly opened restaurants, to be able to say I was the first few to have sampled the delights of a new eatery. I prefer to let places breath for a while. It gives the team involved time to iron out those creases that arise from any opening. I mean who wants to eat at a restaurant that isn’t running at full stride and hitting perfection with every dish.
So much has been made of the Hawksmoor over the years that I knew one day we would have to eat there. So oddly enough, with the opening of its newest incarnation near to Seven Dials in Covent Garden, a chance was there. So as it was Sunday, and the Observer had just named Hawksmoor the Best Sunday Roast 2010, it had to be tried to be believed.
So on a lovely Sunday afternoon, a rare thing these days. We ventured off into Central London to sample the best Sunday Roast.
The entrance is a little bizarre actually. They are very big and grand and give the impression that you are entering some Imperial brothel.
The restaurant is underground and is wood heaven. I wonder how many trees were felled to equip this place out. The only downside is that there is no natural light, which I wish we were there at night, not in the early afternoon.
We were here for one thing and one thing only. Sunday Roast. Thankfully there were some left, as our waiter rolled off a list of everything that wasn’t available.
What came was a piece of heaven. I can rightly understand why they won the best Sunday Roast award. It was something special.
The large slab of rump was served quite rare. Just how I like it. The first bite reminded me of the taste of beef that I tried to find on a recent trip to Paris but failed miserably. More on that trip in a few weeks.
The sides were just as good. Lovely blocks of carrots, parsnips, and a good hearty slice of cabbage. Nice crispy roast tatties, big Yorkshire pudding. But the trump card was a couple of banana shallots cut down the middle and roasted in their skins, plus a whole head of garlic. The sweet pulpy loveliness was pretty easy to pop out of their skins. I wish more restaurants would serve roasted garlic. It has a sweet taste to it.
Oh nearly forgot the gravy which came in a small gravy boat. It had a deep flavor to it that is what Sunday roasts are all about. I just wish there was a tad more, maybe a teaspoon more, but now I am being picky.
We were the last of the few who had the Sunday Roast, although a lot of people starting having the rump steak with the roast trimmings, much to the displeasure of the couple next to us. They just missed out on this new invention by minutes. They were not amused, and I would not have been either. They did complain and bitch to the manager and rightly so.
For pudding we opted to share the apple and quince crumble with cinnamon ice cream. It was as crumbles should be. Lots of fruit on the bottom and lot of crumble on the top. The ice cream was so cold I couldn’t actually taste the cinnamon. A shame but the ice cream went well with the crumble. Good choice.
There are a good selection of beers and wine to choose from.
All in all it was a great Sunday roast, with some good trimmings different from the rest. But the restaurant does not have a Sunday roast feel about it. It’s more of a nighttime meat fest rather than a super chill out Sunday lunchtime eatathon. I’m gonna have to try the original.