"It's not much but it's ours"

Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Every man needs a best friend. Preferably not one that comes with a puncture repair kit or, indeed an hourly charge. A real friend, the sort they can rely on in times of need to tell them that they are a " pathetic little bastard" and "in need of a dozen pints, a good slap or both"

I am very lucky to have such a person in my life and his name is Paul. We met 12 years ago at Penguin Books where our common northern heritage and desire to view life through the bottom of a pint pot set us apart from many of our colleagues who considered us rough vulgarians. The fact that ten years has proved them to be utterly correct has not diminished the friendship between me and this small ,rotund little man who, strangely, gets miffed when I refer to him as "Paul, thrice Lord Mayor of Hobbiton"

A few years ago ( well eight, in fact ) this Velasquezean character left London stinking of regret and moved to Cheshire dragging with him a poor unfortunate who he had persuaded to marry him. Even more bizzarely, this grotesque has managed to sire a gorgeous child too. Life is, it is quite plain, not fair. Not fair at all.

However, throughout the trials and tribulations of the past years, there has been but one constant and that has been Paul. The one person to tell me exactly what he thinks good or bad, to offer unequivical support however big of an asshole I have been and the one person to whom I would turn in times of crisis. I wish all people could be so lucky.

As ever, when Quasimodo, I mean Paul, is in town, he calls upon me to me to provide a free roof over his head. About ten years ago when down on his uppers, he stayed with me for 10 loooooong weeks. It took me everything short of an exorcism to get the place back to normal and I suspect that the poor folks who bought my place are still finding inexplicable little short and curlies in the most unusual of places. Thank God, when he said he was coming to town this time, it was just one night.

In return for not forcing him to spend a night in the penny hanger where he belongs, he always foots the bill for our traditional nights out. To quote " a couple of cheeky beers and a ruby"

I have never, in all the time I have known him, had him explain how a beer can be cheeky or otherwise. But, as a combination, it works very well indeed.

A "ruby" as everybody knows, is a " Ruby Murray" which = a curry. What is harder to explain is that a ruby curry has about as much to do with Indian food as I do with the Mah Jong Society of Upper Norwood. I.E Bugger all. It is about as Indian as Peter Sellers in " The Party" Created and maintained primarily by Bangladeshi immigrants, it is food that is unrecognisable to most Indians, though beloved of most brits. Particularly, after a number of the aforementions beers of the cheeky variety. That is not to say that it cannot be fun or indeed the perfect end to a beer session. But, Indian food, it most certainly is not. But, it was certainly what we wanted.

Arriving home from a hard day's grind, I barely had time to settle down before the buzzer rang and I opened the door to Paul, looking more than ever like Rick Moranis inflated with a bicycle pump. He had been down for a day's hard media P.R work ( yes, I found it hard to stifle a giggle too ) and was ready just to drop off his gear and head out to the nearest bar.

So followed a few beers ( yep, all very "cheeky" ) in The Princess ( very passable Tim Taylor's Landlord ) and The Slaughtered Lamb ( equally agreeable Bombadier, served even more agreeable in Jugs. The first time I had had that in nearly 10 years ) before we headed to The Gulshan in Exmouth Market.

As Paul quite rightly said, it was an entirely Ronseal experience. Exactly what it says on the tin, It did everything that was required of it. Papdums with dayglo pickles, Prawn Puri, Cricket Ball Onion Bhaji, Suitably coconutty Korma, Dahl of indescernible lentil provenance, unfeasibly large bottles of Cobra. Waitstaff shifting nervously from foot to foot while dressed in ill fitting clothing and even the pre requisite After eight mints with the bill. There is no need to describe the food. That would entirely miss the point of going there. Suffice to say, we wandered out of there an hour or so later about £40 lighter ( or Paul did ) and perfectly sated and having tapped into a part of the UK culture that you either get or you don't get. It is the same as when a friend of mine bought me a Hot dog at a ball game in the US. It was beyond vile. I said " you know this is made almost entirely of hooves and lips don't you?" to which he replied " yeah, fantastic isn't it?" It is all about culture and context.

Hardly a night that will go down in the annals of culinary history, but a night that was spent doing what northern boys do with my best friend and, what can possibly be more enjoyable that that?
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Sunday, February 26, 2006


Last night, my chum Scott and I were talking about the joys of short order cooking. Both of us agreed that it is one of America's great contributions to the world of cookery and one that is under appreciated both in the US and elsewhere.

A few years ago, my colleague, Zaro and I were meeting with another collegue at Chicago airport. Arriving after a brutally early morning start and grim flight from NYC, we were desperate for breakfast. The only place close was one of the airport hotels. We trudged over there dragging our heavy bags and found ourselves in a workaday restaurant of a Hilton or Renaissance or one of the other non descript hotels that litter the surrounds of a major airport. The breakfast on offer was a standard buffet, but alongside the tired looking fruit, pastries ( all reeking of cinamon which is, I think, the pervading smell of america for me ) and cereal was one man surrounded by six or so burners whizzing up scrambled eggs and omlettes to order. This guy was amazing. He had six or more orders on the go at any one time, all the while taking the next round of orders and all the time making sure that everything came out exactly as requested. He was playing those frying pans like Patrick Moore playing the Xylophone. When I expressed my admiration for his skills, he replied nonchalantly. "Man, you just gotta be smarter than the skillet" Such a perfect description of short order cooking and a suitable preamble to our lunch today.

Hermano Primero had a day of dining yesterday ( Anthony's in Leeds and then Bentleys in London ) and so was steaming when he got back last night. I am still recovering from my cold. So, neither of us wanted too much for lunch nor did we have the energy to prepare anything ourselves. After our morning's perambulations around Spitalfield, we found ourselves in DINER, a new-ish place on Curtain Rd just of the achingly trendy Hoxton Sq.

I am often a bit wary of these erzatz diners in London. They never quite get it right. But, DINER has been getting some decent crit, so we thought it was worth a punt.

The restaurant itself is nicely done and pretty echt and the menu is short enough that you know the cooking is done to order. Prices are reasonable ( by London's standards ) and the service was very efficient and friendly.

We both ordered burgers, HP a "Double Decker" for £7.50 and me a Bacon & Cheeseburger for £6.50. With it we ordered some sides which were a bit of a mixed bag. The onion rings were very good indeed. Freshly battered and crispy. Coleslaw was too sloppy with mayo and had no crunch. We also ordered some chilli fries. The fries were pretty grim but the chilli on top was excellent and probably worth trying a bowl of it on its own. To drink we had a ginger beer and a cranberry juice. I also ordered a lemonade, anticipating a properly made sharp cordial. What I got wasa glass of R Whites. Oh Well.

The burgers were really rather good. Decent beef and cooked medium. Having a hamburger also allows the two of us the chance to indulge in an endlessly fun exchange

ME - ( while eating hamburger ) "Nice Buns"

HP - "Thank you for noticing"

Well it gets us through the day.

We saw a number of other plates under pass and they all looked worth trying, particularly the "Mexican Breakfast" of fried chorizo, fried eggs, black beans and hot sauce

Thirty minutes later, we paid the bill £30 for two inc service and pottered out.

I would say DINER is as close to a US diner as you are likely to find in London. A bit hit and miss as indeed, are most of the diners I go to when traveling in the States, but definitely somewhere I can see myself popping into for a beer and burger on those days when nothing else will do.

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I LOVE this business!!

It is that time of year again, the week before London Book Fair when the city is filled with extraordinary people from all over the globe who come in early to do the business that the 1/2 hour slots at the fair do not allow.

Last night, despite a shocking cold that had laid me up in bed all day, I managed to get up, shower and shave and head off to meet three such people at LOUNGE LOVER.

Lars is one of the most respected publishers in Norway, that most literate of countries. Scott, a Chicagoan transplanted to Norway is a bigwig at the IACP and the author of a Gourmand award winning book on Grilling. I have known them for a number of years and seeing them is never less than the greatest of pleasures, but I am sure they wont mind me saying that I was even more thrilled to meet their guest, Ingrid Espelid Hovig. To put it simply, Ingrid is known the Julia Childs and Delia Smith of Norway rolled into one. She had been invited by the Norwegian Embassy to come to London to address Den Norsk Club and Lars and Scott came as her "bodyguards" A fascinating lady and I found it hard to believe, when Scott told me, that this sprightly soul was 81! I guess that's a testament to the benefit of herring.

I was a little concerned about the suitablility of my venues for the evening, but Ingrid seemed not only comfortable but in her element.

I had reserved a table at LOUNGE LOVER, the louche bar associated with TROIS GARCON ( which I really did not like on my one visit ) primarily as it was 30 seconds from GREEN & RED which I had booked for supper. I arrived at 7pm just as they were opening. The service is very charming and all of the staff look like they were on a secondment from the Elite Modelling agency. Mind you, so did all the other guests. I am usually the ugliest one in the room, but the gap between me and the next person hit with the ugly stick is never usually this vast. Ho hum.

My chums arrived shortly afterwards and we settled down to a couple of rounds of cocktails. Truth be told, they were really not that well made. My first martini was far too wet and served sans twist. I would have complained, but our waitress was so pretty, I actually lost the power of speech for a moment. The second round was better but still not worth the £11 a pop. LL is a place that is perfect to take a date or a person who likes all that frou frou stuff. I would not suggest it to anyone who wants a properly made cocktail. That seems to be a long way down the list of their offerings which are mainly cheery, eye candy staff, extraordinary surroundings and the chance to spot minor celebs.

At 8pm, we shambled ( being two drinks to the good ) the half a block along the Bethnal Green Rd to GREEN & RED.

This place has been getting excellent reveiws for its food and drinks and it was packed by the time we arrived and were shown to a table near the door. Like LL, the servers here were pretty high up the "easy on the eye" candle and very on the ball. We began with some margaritta's which were excellent. The serve them on the rocks. Although, I could not see the point of giving them a salt rim and then giving you a straw which I discarded.

The food here is, we were told, all from one area of Mexico. From Jalisco, the home of Tequila. And we began with a wide range of their starters to share.

FRIJOLES ( refried beans )- were very good indeed. I wish we had ordered some more.
CAMERONES ( shrimp ) which could have done with some more heat, although that may have been my cold kicking in.
CHILLI RELLENOS ( Stuffed Chillis) - blackened and stuffed with cheese. I could have just kept ordering these.
ENSALADA CHAYOTA ( a salad made from a mexican squash )- fresh and clean taste with a little back heat from the added chilli.
CEVICHE - Not up to the standards of that I had recently at Centrico in NYC, but again that may have been my cold not allowing me to get all the taste.
With some nacho and guacamole, the first part of the meal all went rather well. So far, so good

We were flagging a bit by then, so moved on to share just two main courses.

CARNITAS - not what I thought it was supposed to be. What arrived was a very very tasty slab of slow braised belly pork with a big slab of crackling. As I mentioned the other day, I know very little about Mexican food, but I do think that Carnitas is braised pork that is pulled apart and then roasted until crispy. Perhaps someone can enlighten me?

BIRRA - braised lamb shank. I was really fading by then, so only tasted a little. It was fine and it was polished off with some ease by the rest of the gang. I was not taken with the small tortilla that came with both courses. I found them too tough and and they were cold.

We did not bother with desserts as we were all beat. So, after supper, I walked them down Brick Lane with a stop off at The Brick Lane Beigel Bakery to buy "a half dozen plain" for a massive 90p, and poured them into a cab at Liverpool St.

I can't see myself rushing back to LL but I will certainly be darkening the doors of GREEN & RED again. Particularly if they have an ugly night and I feel more at home.
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Thursday, February 23, 2006



So, tonight I was invited to join my dear chum and esteemed wine writer, Maggie Rosen for supper.

She suggested we meet at The Scotch Whisky Society's Member's Bar above the Bleeding Heart Tavern close to Farringdon Station.

I had no idea this place existed. It specialises in buyng casks from mothballed distilleries ( I think ) and selling them by the expensive bottle ( in the brochure, about £50+ a bottle ) they also have a bar area both here and in their Edinburgh branch and I found myself sipping happily on the "malt of the month" while I waited for Maggie who arrived a few moments after I did. A very welcome oasis.

Bleeding Heart yard is one of those places in London whose name conjours up incredible history. In the 1700's, Elizabeth ( I think ) Hatton a well known society, er bike, was murdered there by a secret lover. She was found with blood still pumping from her chest in what is now the yard.

In some ways the tradition is being kept up well. For, if a crime was committed all those years ago, it certainly was tonight as I came away from supper feeling well and truly mugged.

Maggie had made a reservation at The Bleeding Heart Bistro for 7.30pm and we shambled across there on time after downing our scotch. The room is very nice in a classical "Robin's Nest" kind of way. A nice fire etc etc. The service is comedically French and airily haughty which is fine, or would be if the food was any good. It is not.

After persuading the incredibly snooty hostess that we did not want to be shoehorned into a table that was in the smallest space in Christendom, we finally had chance to look at the menu. Lots of things on there looked quite good to be honest and, if the cooking had been up to snuff, a decent meal could have been had.

To begin, Maggie chose a confit duck terrine. I did not try it, so cannot comment. I had calamari in a polenta crust. It came with a very good anchovy sauce and the squid itself was not bad at all, but the portion was so lilliputian as to be parsimonious.

We both ordered the cassoulet to follow. Again, when made well, one of the great bistro dishes. This was not made well. The cold spots in the dish laid testament to the ping of the microwave and the sausages had the texture of reformed meat. As for the beans, let's just say there are another 56 varieties. The only part of the dish that showed any skill in cooking was a crispy duck confit.

We did not have pudding, but I had a mint tea and Maggie nibbled on some biccies they brought with it.

With some sparkling water and a bottle of perfectly acceptable Beringer Zin, the bill was a substantial £72 inc tip. Hardly a steal ( well perhaps for the owners of the restaurant )

The place was packed which shows that London probably gets what it deserves.

Less that a quarter of a mile away, Comptoir Gascon is cooking the same sort of dishes up a storm. Their confit is a thing of beauty not a tin of Heinz. I know where I shall be going next time I fancy the bistro schtick


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Wednesday, February 22, 2006


For some reason I cannot fathom, I have had things Mexican on my mind.

I am as far from an expert on Mexican food as it is possible to be without going all the way around and meeting it on the other side. But, when I have had the real stuff, I have always found it very exciting.

It has been impossible to find decent Mxican food in London in recent years ( although there are now one or two more echt places such as Meztizo and Green & Red which are changing things ) and even harder to find proper ingredients as opposed to that muck that comes in the yellow boxes. However, with the advent of people like Seasoned Pioneers and The Cool Chile company, things are changing.

A trip to the market and to James Elliot, Master Butcher for some excellent Rump Steak, saw me with all the necessaries for tonight's supper including some ground passilla and De Arbo chili.

So tonight was

Rump steak Fajita
Chicken in a mole sauce. To be honest, an approximation of a mole as I did not have neither the time nor the ingredients to do the term justice. Let's just, between us, call if a "Fauxle" - still it was damn tasty.
Soured cream with spring onions
A salsa of tomato, spring onions, lime zest and lime juice with some garlic and ginger.

The chicken was good. I was pleased with the depth of flavour I could get in a very short cooking time ( in time, in fact to see Chelsea getting screwed over by the ref Vs Barca ) but the steak was the star. Marinaded in cumin, paprika, hot chilli powder and some of the dried chillis mentioned above, I griddled it until rare but charred. Perfect.

So, probably not something they would recognise down Mexico way. But, for a novice .....
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Tuesday, February 21, 2006


A couple of years ago the dining out world of Dos Hermanos imploded. The chef of the Sutton arms, the incomparable Rosie Sykes, left due to musical differences ( well you get the idea.) Small potatoes, I will grant in comparison to some other items in the news at that time, but as we had between us, been there over 100 times in the two years she cooked there, you can put it into context. Hell, when she left, she even presented us with the small dish she always kept to bring the mustard she knew we would always ask for. Ah, memories.

Since then, we have searched high and low ( within the limitations of my fear of going south of the river ) for a place with the same spirit.

Closest so far has been The Fox on Tabernacle st. It scores major points for being within walking distance from the flat and, while the service may not be at quite the same level, the cooking is right up there. It predicates itself on the use of seasonal ingredients and the cooking is always bang on point. The chef, Tricia, cooked at The Eagle, the first of the gastropubs and the owners used to run The French House in Soho

What's more, in value for money terms, it is hard to beat. Two courses for £15. Three for £19.50. The wine list is a weakness, however.

Tonight, we decided to have an early supper before the big match ( The Gunners Vs Real Madrid ) and headed down there for 6.30pm. The room is ever so slightly louche and dark, until they, prompted by our arrival, lit about a million candles. Welcome, but it did make it look like a video for a meatloaf track.

Lots of good choices on the menu. HP chose Razor clams which were meaty and served in a profoundly garlicky juice which he mopped up with more than ample amounts of bread. For me, cauliflower soup. I rarely order soup as it is rarely substantial enough. This, however, was a large earthenware dish of a velvety soup with a smooth texture and a depth of flavour that comes from a decent stock. Very good indeed.

Unsurprisingly, we both went for the Gloucester Old Spot with Greens. What came was a large chunk of slow braised pork shoulder with a good slab of crackling. Very Very enjoyable. The pork was just toothsome enough to take some effort but not dry or tough. The greens, crisp and crunchy.

I could not face pudding, but HP chose the blood orange cake with rhubarb. I had a tiny taste and the orange was certainly in full effect.

With a Coffee for HP and a disappointing bottle of De Loache 2004 Sonoma Pinot ( I think they should add the word "disappointing" by law to all US Pinot's south of Oregon, but hey ho. I search in vain. ) the bill came to a pretty good value £30 per head inc tip which was deserved.

I always tend to eat here when it is early and consequently quite empty. I am told it does fill up from time to time. I hope so, it deserves to.
I am never quite sure why I don't go here more often. I certainly should
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Monday, February 20, 2006


What was it Cecil Rhodes told an assembled throng of young British schoolboys?
Something about having been born British and consequently having won first prize in the lottery of life.

I have to say, the same thought runs through my head when I think of the fact that I come from Bengali stock. Our family originates in Calcutta, the home of Rabindranath Tagore and the city of which the saying was coined, "what Calcutta thinks today, India will think tomorrow" But, most of all, it is because of the food. To those who think they know Indian food, Calcuttan food is a bit of a shock. Whilst known for their spectacular desserts all over India, the rest of Calcuttan food is often considered bland, eschewing as it does, in a Brahmin household such as my fathers, onions and garlic and depending on few spices ( particularly turmeric and mustard ) For me however, it is the taste of purity and clean flavours

My mother, may God continue to bless her, was from Wales but,by some fabulous fortune found, during her stays in Calcutta, she had a knack of cooking Bengali food of the very highest order. My favourite memories of her include her Mascher Jhol ( fish curry ) and Yoghurt Chicken. I can taste them now and can hear her voice as she explained how long to cook the spices and when to add the other ingredients.

Tonight Hermano Primero ( or Dada as an older brother is called in Bengali ) decided to cook up a couple of dishes. So, I was able to sit down to a perfectly made red lentil dhal with a tarka of ginger, chilli and cinnamon and a mutton curry.

Both were spot on. In fact, I would go as far as to say that they were the finest Big Bruv has ever cooked. The dahl was just the right Bengali thickness ( slightly more runny than in many regions ) and the mutton curry had extraordinary depth of flavour and a backnote of heat just short of burning. #

With a Raita ( please my American chums NOT pronounced Ray-ee-ta, but as in paperback writer ) it was an ideal meal for a winter's night.

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Friday, February 17, 2006


There is indeed, no place like home.

Home for Dos Hermanos used to be the grey, gloomy and depressed town of Rotherham. A sprawling mass of Poundshops, Charity shops and the remnants of a once thriving steel and mining industry, it is a shadow of the prosperous blue collar town of my youth. What's more, our minnow football team is about to go bankrupt. Ho Hum.

For all that, it retains a great deal of charm. People who, while redefining dour on a daily basis, are prone to call you "luv" whether you are or not, great pubs serving beer in extra large glasses to allow provision for that creamy head on the ale that I miss so much down South and, most of all, FISH & CHIPS.

Rotherham probably has more "chippies" per capita than any other town in the UK. There are hundreds of them and all seem to have a queue.

Whenever Hermano Primero and me head north, this time on the pleasing new rolling stock of Midland Mainline ( First Class Apex a mere £28) we always make sure to have a vast plate of F&C. Thank God we both spend the other half of our lives at the gym.

Our Chippie de Choix for the last few years has been The Listerdale Fish Bar. It is everything a chipshop should be, with signs offering "extra curry sauce for 30p" and "battered Kebab rings for £1" it is a place of mysterious wonderment. What is "non brewed condiment" What can you do with a "rissole" that wont get you arrested or at least cautioned? What are scraps?

On this visit, I joined HP and my younger brother ( celebrating his birthday ) and headed off on our mission. There is more planning in this that in both of the Gulf Wars put together. When to order the food? When to arrive? Too early and we have to wait, too late and the chips can be past their peak. But, younger brother has it down to a fine art and we were soon in the car park of the little strip mall where the shop resides.

Inside, straight to the front of the queue (for "we have ordered" we offer arrogantly to anyone who questions ) in out, bish, bash bosh and back to the car before you can say "nah then, hah's thi doin?"

Once back at the car, the fun begins. Think of a medical courier delivering a still twitching heart for a life saving transplant and you will have the basic idea. HP taking corners on two wheels, the screeching of tyres and constant radio ( er, mobile ) contact with HQ ( er, home )to warn them of our impending arrival so the door can be open and trays ( for F&C must be eaten of your laps in front of the TV ) laid. That way, the fish batter remains crisp, the chips hot and the mushy peas, well mushy. It is an art and one in that HP excels.

Once home, the carefully wrapped package is ripped open and the spoils divvied up. For me in my carbophobic state, "just a few chips, please " a huge piece of haddock which must by local bye-law, be big enough to hang over the side of the plate, a carton of flourescent mushy peas, a wide variety of pickles, sauces and the vinegar from the pickled onions. It is, as HP has been know to say, what separates us from the mere beasts.

Another family tradition is to have our F&C with a bottle of champagne. Hardly the usual accompaniment, but it works perfectly.

After last night's over indulgence at The Goring, I stuck to water but, for all that, a splendid meal.

There are some very decent chippies in London, but none that come within a country mile of The Listerdale Fish Bar.

I wonder if they do mail order?

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Thursday, February 16, 2006



So, Hermano Primero was celebrating his "herhumpherhumph" birthday and, as is our tradition, it was my turn to take him out for supper.

In the past few years, we have tried such places as The Square, Roussillon, Rules, Foliage and The Capital. Tonight, we decided to go "old school" and try The Goring in Victoria.

I must be on some kind of roll. Usually, for every five places I have visited, one of them would be so bad, I would rather put my balls in a bath of acid than go there again. However, the last few places have all been, well, rather good.

I arranged to meet big bruv in Balls Bros on Buckingham Palace Rd. When I arrived, it was packed to the gunwhales with people who live in Clapham, so I scurried quickly on to The Goring and found a seat in the splendid bar.

Immediately, you realise that this is "through the looking glass people" cosseting, comforting, service that went out of style 30 years ago and all the better for that. As I waited, I ordered a martini not quite on point. A little too vigerously shaken and filled with ice shards, but not too unwelcome. A very large plate of snackages were placed in front of me so I had plenty to occupy me while I waited.

HP arrived soon after and, after he caught up in the martini stakes, we ordered a bottle of Ruinart to sip on while we had yet another plate of snacks. All the while, the service remained spot on and on the ball. Perfect.

For the first time in about 20 years, we took our menus in the bar and ordered while we drank. The menu was truly traditional, but you just knew it was going to be good. They offer three courses for £44 and two courses for £37. Pricey, but with a lot of choice and, rarely in London, tagged with very few supplements.

Soon, we pottered off to the dining room. Recently refurbished, it was a bit "Santa's Grotto-ish" but we were taken to a lovely table in the corner where, looking at the punters, it was clear we were the youngest diners by some 15 years.

No amuse here, Thank God. If I never see a foaming cup of funghi again as long as I live, I will be more than happy. So, straight to the starters. Big Bruv ordered a glazed Lobster Omlette which, while not up to Gary Rhodes standard., was creamy and delicious. I got the better of the deal with sublimely fried whitebait with a tartar sauce so good, I got them to bring the dish of it back and leave it at the table.

While we ate this, we polished off the Ruinart.

Then to the main courses. The special of the day was Beef Wellington. How could HP resist? He could not. Me, I went beefwards also and ordered steak. Why the heck not?

While, mine was good, very good in fact and served with crunchy, crispy chips, a boat of bernaise and a fiery horseradish sauce. The Big man's was so much better. First of all, the trolley was rolled up and the cloche opened. Then the perfectly made Wellington was sliced and served ( including the end bit which HP demanded they gave him ) It was right up there. With a perfect duxelle, it was everything a wellington should be

The sommelier suggested a laungedoc Les Caillas to go with our meal and, while I found it a bit tanic, it still served its purpose well, and for £32 from the House selection ( which included Riscal Gran Reserva @ £38 ) was a bit of a steal.

Puddings were equally antideluvian (sp?) with HP enjoying a ginger pudding with ice cream and me diving headfirst into a martini glass filled with a well made sherry trifle.

Coffee and petits later, we were presented with a bill for £212 inc service. Hardly a steal, but for food this solid and service this good, I have no problem.

A short walk and a cab ride later, we arrived at Casa Hermanos Grossos where I presented HP with his b'day gift.

Suffice to say, we both think The Larry Sanders Show is the finest piece of TV in living memory and, if we could have finished the evening with a Salty Dog,ahem, we would have both have been very happy

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Steve Hatt is without a shadow of a doubt the best fishmonger in London. The displays of fish are breathtaking and the quality of the fish, stupendous. I consider it one of the few fortunes of my life that I walk past there just about everyday.

The staff are fantastic too and always happy to offer up suggestions of what to do with the fish. I suspect they are taking the piss with me though, as I am pretty certain that anal insertion of a sea bass is frowned upon if not illegal.

Today, after the meaty fests of the last few days, I had the urge for a light supper of fish and so, at lunchtime, sneaked away from the pre-London Book Fair madness up the Essex Rd and into the piscine shangrila that is SH.

I emerged a few moments later, smelling pleasingly of the smoke they were using on their kippers and with a couple of exemplary halibut steaks. Not cheap @ £18, but worth every penny for fish of the very highest order.

My favourite way of cooking halibut, at the moment, is to poach it in olive oil which has been infused with chilli and lemon zest.

I warm the flavourings through in the oil for half an hour and then turn it down so it is barely bubbling. Then I add the fish and poach for 20 mins.

The end result is a beautiful flaky, moist fish which has not had its subtle flavour overwhelmed.

The perfect accompaniments to this are:

Cucumbers marinated in white wine vinegar, lemon zest, a little sugar and some chopped dill

A sauce made of creme fraiche, greek yoghurt, hot horseradish, dijon mustard and some more lemon zest.

Gotsta love Steve Hatt
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It is pretty well known amongst my chums that I, to quote Bernard Shaw "like a drop in" now and again and can often be found sitting at a bar in the wee small hours, in my cups and telling anyone who will listen " I am not a happy man"

As the gods have seen kind enough to bless my wallet with a little more fruit over the years, I have begun to develop a taste for what my father calls "vino collapso" and am slowly building up a collection both at home and increasingly at the office ( current tally, three cases of wine under my desk - it's good to be a publisher where this is not only tolerated but actively encouraged )

I have been known to pop into Majestic and Oddbins from time to time, but, more than ever, I am buying my wine from that hotbed of oenoculture, Padstow in Cornwall.

Why Cornwall? I know, I know. It is a place where it is almost compulsory to marry ones sister and to attend a black mass at least once a month. However, via various food boards I have been lucky enough to encounter a gentleman known to one and all as " Slacker" In reality a Fotherington Thomas-a-like called David who forgets more about wine in a minute than I will ever know.

He runs an exemplary wineshop and bar in Padstow and has a wine club that allows him to ship wine all over the country.

This time, he put together a case of lighter reds for me

2003 Chinon Domaine De Beausejour
2003 Cuvee Les Duex Papis Bourgogne
2003 Neudorf Pinot Noir ( South Island NZ)
2001 Raimat Abadia
2001 Vereto Salice Salentino
2003 Capitel Della Crosara Valpolicella
2003 Chateau de Pennautier ( syrah )

None of which I would be able to find at the usual suspects and all of which, on past successes will be much enjoyed.

Bizarrely, it actually works out a lot cheaper this way to buy interesting stuff. So, if you are pondering on the grape and fancy something different sold by a man thinks rowing is a sport, call and ask for David. mention my name and I am sure he will add 20% on to the price.

While we are on the subject of padstow. It is, of course, the home of innumerable outlets of Rick Stein's. However, I think there is only one place worthy of visit in that lovely little town and that is Margot's

The chef, Adrian, is a cook who values the taste of the ingredients more than the chance to show off his own talents and my one meal there, amongst a trip that included meals at two 1* places ( Ripley's and The Black Pig ) was a highlight. So, if you do go down to visit The Seafood restaurant, do make sure you go here, IF you can get a table.

It will not have been a trip to Padstow without a visit to either of these all too rare establishments
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Monday, February 13, 2006



a long while ago, way back in the midst of time, Jay Rayner, the restaurant reviewer of The Observer, talented writer, and, let's face it,the acceptable face of modern journalism, joined my big brother and me for supper at The Angel Mangal preceeded by a few at The Wenlock Arms,11913,958178,00.html

It has been a long while since then and a long time since The Mangal came into its brief moment of fame kicking and screaming and left it just as quickly.

Anyway, I had not been back for a Wenlock/Mangal combo for at least three months, so when my dear chum, Max suggested that it may be a good call, I was all too ready for a few pints and a plate of grilled flesh.

I arrived in The Wenlock about 15 mins or so before Max and was already a couple of pints to the good before he arrived. It was much quieter than on weekends and I was more than content sitting at the bar sipping a pint of mild when he arrived.

Any road up, after a couple more, we headed up to the Mangal on Upper St in Islington. As Max put it perfectly "why don't they go to Gallipoli and hand out leaflets saying don't waste your money on this crap, go to the Mangal" It is that sort of place.

The owner, Mustapha reminds me of a character in a Robert Crais novel. The closest he comes to wild hilarity is a slight twitching at the edges of the mouth. Despite that, he is exceptionally welcoming and the food is always, well, just the bollocks.

Although, I was alarmed to see that, in an attempt to attract the foodie crowd and in honour of molecular gastronomy, they were now offering a little amuse and one of the courses involved mustapha and cohort standing behind you and wafting "lamb air" under your nostrils. Only Joking!

We did the standard Majumdar Bros ordering with Max playing the role of Hermano Primero with some aplomb. Starters of Tarama and Ispanak which, while fine, serve only to distract you while you wait for the main courses. Then a Pide, Turkish Pizza, in this case with sausage. All of this followed by the main event, a mixed grill for two including quail, lamb ribs and chops, chicken wings and thighs, lamb loin and sweet breads. All served with a huge salad and garlic and chilli sauces.

I am ashamed to say that a great deal of it had to be doggy bagged, it being Monday night and all. I really am very sorry

With a mint tea and a comped post prandial, the bill was c£80 inc tip. It was not cheap, but, Max was more than kind and picked up the tab. A jolly nice but unexpected gesture.

I don't know much in life, but I do know that there are few better nights out than The Wenlock Arms and the Angel Mangal combo and long may it continue

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Sunday, February 12, 2006


Yesterday morning, before heading to meet M for tea at Browns, I sauntered down to Borough Market in search of something for Sunday lunch.

I always get down there about 9am, just before it becomes compulsory to have a baby stroller before entering the market. I am in and out in 30 mins usually with a standard bag o goodies. However, this time, no visit to Neal's Yard or Brindisa as I was in a hurry. Instead, I came home with

A Chicken from Furness
A black pudding from the same
A small pork pie from Mrs Kings - by far the best exponent of the art.
Some baby turnips from, er Turnips
Chard from the same.
A few rashers of fatty longback bacon from The Ginger Pig.

Not a bad haul but, as is standard on a shopping trip to BM, you do come home laden with food but a good deal lighter of pocket.

So, this morning, after a couple of hours in the gym pumping tinfoil and a short perigrination around Spitalfield Market, the estimable Hermano Primero and me were back home, glass of something in hand ready for lunch.

To begin with, some caramelized apples with black pudding and longback bacon. The pudding was quite different from some of the other puddings I have bought from the market. It reminded me more of Spanish Morcilla than a Bury black pud. Very nice indeed although we did need to take a few moments before moving on with lunch

Then, the chicken. The Furness chicken is by far the best I have tried anywhere. The first time I tried it, they said not to even season it. The guy on the stall said just to roast it on its own. I did and it was sensational. Now, I just put half an onion and half a lemon inside and that's it. Today, as I had bought it from the market, I added some strips of the longback bacon over the breast.

Served with roasted baby turnips, steamed carrots and bread sauce ( of course ) and washed down with a bottle of Mercurey,it was hard to fault. I am pressed to think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon that does not involve thoughts of Jean Seberg and a darkened room.
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Saturday, February 11, 2006



There is no getting away from it, I am a scruffy old bugger. I cannot envisage spending more than the bare minimum on clothes though I am happy to spend a great deal more than that on a decent meal.

That being said, there are times when I like to drag my best bib and tucker kicking and screaming from the dark nether regions of the wardrobe, give my face a bit of a dry polish and leave the house not looking like a character from a Galton & Simpson sit-com.

Today was such a day.

For Christmas, amongst the presents I bought for M was an invitation for tea at Brown's hotel ( I like to think that my choice of gifts is now a little more thought filled than the choice of an antique pipe rack I once bought for a girlfriend who, strangely, suddenly realised that she was more than capable of living without me in her life. Funny creatures women)

I had not been for afternoon tea for a long while. But, it is one of those things that although the rest of the world attempts to replicate, only London really seems to do well. There are many options and choices in town. The Ritz, Claridges, The Waldorf etc etc. But, Browns was always best and, now it has resurfaced from its recent refurb, I had high hopes.

With my recent qualification as a trainer and M's acceptance as a Polish translator for Islington council, we had a double reason for celebration and decided to meet up for a pre tea drink at Claridges Bar.

Claridges' bar is the only bit of this once great hotel that I still like. The restaurant under Gordon " I played for Rangers" Ramsay is the scene of the most noxiously bad meal I have ever had in London and the hotel is getting a bit worn around the egdes. The bar, however, is still a good, if pricey, choice for excellent cocktails and the best free snackage in London hoteldom.

A perfectly made martini ( ice cold and naked ) and a glass of louis Roederer was a nose bleedingly expencive £27 inc tip, but served as a nice little heart starter for the assault course ahead.

Tea is served a Browns on Albermarle from 3p-6pm and, when we arrived bang on 3pm the place was practically empty. By the time we staggered out of there two and half hours later, it was packed to the gunwhales.

Service was prompt, amiable and efficient. It remained so throughout our stay. We were shown to an small table in the front room and offered a glass of champagne which we declined. The waiter brought the tea menu which had samples of the leaves under glass so you could make an informed choice. I couldn't, as I know bugger all about the stuff. But, we made a choice anyway. M had the specially blended Brown's Afternoon Blend. I chose Assam. Both were good. Were they superlative examples of their type? I have not got a clue. But they were hot and wet which is all I ask of tea and/or lapdancers, so I was happy.

A three tiered tray was placed in front of us. The bottom tier had dainty, crustless finger sandwiches ( egg, ham, cheese and tomato, smoked salmon and cucumber ) The second tier had pastries ( chocolate, fruit tarts etc ) the third, four mini scones alongside this, bowls of clotted cream and housemade raspberry jam were also offered.

Then the fun began.

Every time we looked like we might be emptying one of the tiers, more were offered. Every time the tea in our cups came close to being drained, more was poured. Plates were replaced regularly with clean ones and the napkin test was bitchslapped into submission with expert folding ( with one attempt that lost points for poor artistic merit ) This was seriously good service, attentive but not overly so.

As for the food itself, about as many carbs ( for remember CARBS=DEATH ) as I have ingested in the whole of the last 5 years put together, but worth every insulin producing mouthful. The sandwiches were quite lovely, the cucumber in particular. The pastries were light and the patisserie cream in the tarts was worth the admission on its own. The scones were a little dry, but, we both spooned plentiful amounts of cream and jam on them to good effect.

They would have been quite happy for us to have sat there for hours but, two hours and fifteen minutes later, we could barely move let alone eat any more. So, bill paid, we waddled out both feeling as if we were large enough to have our own climate.

Afternoon tea in London is not, I think, something that many Londoners think of doing unless they have visitors in from out of town. But, it is serious fun and, on the amount of food we put away, very good value for money.

Heart attackingly recommended.


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