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

Friday, April 28, 2006



In January, I was suffering the post Christmas blues. I had yet another cold, work was proving sysiphean and my very dear Magda and me had decided, amicably but painfully, to go our separate ways.

When such circumstances arrive, there is only one word that can really serve to cheer me up and that word is “Spain”. So, I e-mailed Hermano Primero and said simply “serious Spain jones” That was enough for him and he mailed back “ Valencia or Seville?”

Both sounded enticing, but I had never been to Valencia and without much more ado we booked two flights on Easy Jet ( about £80 each ) and a couple of hotel rooms ( about €190 for three nights each ) and I had something to look forward to.

There is no more perfect companion for a trip to Spain than HP. He just gets it and, like me, is perfectly happy to predicate his trip on food and drink which other companions have not been so keen to do, citing things like museums and galleries as alternative forms of distraction. Don’t get me wrong, we do fit in the odd bit of sightseeing, but are in total agreement that it should never come in between us and some small deep fried baby animals. Heaven forefend.

On top of which, HP is the organiser supreme. Where as I would just arrive in a town and go and wander, HP has things planned to the Nth degree. He knows which bars are serving the best pincho, which areas of town offer the widest selection of bars and restaurants and, perhaps most importantly, which places to keep clear of if you want to avoid hordes of British stag parties ( increasingly a problem in Madrid though, thankfully much less so in Valencia )

So, on Thursday, we were up early and headed towards Gatwick for our Midday flight. Or rather, we would have been had the trains been running properly. A cancellation and a diversion saw us taking nearly 2 hours to do the thirty minute journey to Gatwick and arriving with barely enough time to enjoy the free nuts in the business lounge before having to fight our way on to the plane.

Still, Easy Jet is nowhere near as disgusting as Ryan Air and with a crappy novel in front of me and a couple of G&T’s inside me, I was in an unusually relaxed mood. A mood which was ruined as soon as we landed as I became more and more agitated waiting for my bag which, of course, came out on to the carousel last. At some point in my travelling past, I have offended the gods to such an extent that I am punished by having my bag mistreated by baggage handlers all over the world. It does not matter when I check in, what “priority” tags are placed on the luggage or where I am going. They always, but always come out last. I am convinced that someone watches until I get to the point that I am about to burst into a flaming rage and go and scream at some poor innocent at the lost luggage desk and then they send the bag out looking like they have given it a good kicking for good luck just in case there is anything fragile in there.

Anway, I digress. Once I had my bag, we were soon in a taxi and at our hotel, The Venecia right in the main square Plaza Ayuntamiento. The location was ideal in one way because it was so central to everything that we would want to see. However, the fact that it was next to the Town Hall soon came back to haunt us as the bells in thw tower rang out regular reminders of the time throughout the night. We did not know this yet and checked into our clean and functional rooms and headed straight out to hit a few bars.

SIDE NOTE: When ordering a cana in Spain, it does not matter how you pronounce it, you will be wrong and the barman will either look at you blankly or repeat back to you something entirely different while giving you exactly what you ordered. At the next bar, you try again using the pronounciation you just heard only to have the barman repeat it to you in the very first way you tried. And so it goes. Fun, but ever so slightly wearing.

We spent the afternoon and the evening wandering from the centre of town East to the Turia ( the 10kms of gardens and walkways built on the bed of the Turia river which was diverted after a massive flood in the 1950’s and from there to the beach region

During the walk we visited

BAR ASCOT – this was right next to the hotel and we stopped in there more than once for a cana or a pacheran by way of night cap

BAR MONISTROL – just a cana

BAR MICALET – on the Plaza Del Virgien. We sat and ordered some an excellent OrXarta, the creamy drink made out of crushed Tiger nuts that, I believe originated in this area.

BAR NODO – for a cana and some grim croquettes

BAR LOS AMIGOS - the best surprise of this walk. A small bar in a grim neighbourhood where we we given some breathtakingliy fresh prawns as a pincho

Valencia itself is not on the coast, but a short journey away is the beach region of Malvarossa and the area of Cabanal where most of Valencia seems to spend the weekend. It is a stunning area. Beautiful beaches that stretch for miles and narrow streets that still retain most of their original charm despite the construction that is going on around them as the area is becoming more developed for tourism.

By late afternoon, we had spend a good three or four hours wandering around and were ready for a serious evening and being in Cabanal was the perfect way to begin.

CASA MONTANA -Situated in the centre of the district, this bar and restaurant has a vast wine list and some of the best tapas I have ever tried. We had a number of their wines by the glass including some from the Valencia region and nibbled contentedly on some croquetta da bacalau, sardines a la plancha, Luganzio ( sausage) a montadito of morcilla de Burgos and, of course, some Jamon Iberico. A very very good start to the evening.

By this time, the meatiness of it all was getting good to us, so we decided to see if we could do a walk in at one of Valencia’s many asadors. Hermano Primero had, naturally, drawn up a list of the top tem meat places in Valencia and, slightly more alarmingly, marked their positions on a map of the city with the word “meat” written next to them. Top of the list was Asador Aurora. We headed there by cab and were taken straight to a table. It was still only 10pm, so the place was almost empty although it filled up nicely as we ate and, before we left at Midnight, it was just about full with tough men in suits ordering serious bottles of wine.

Asadors mean one thing to us. Lechal Lamb. So, that’s what we ordered. Proceeded by a couple of beers, some more Iberico and morcilla. What came was served was a perfect example of the art. A quarto of young lamb, roasted with nothing but a sprinkling of water and salt until the skin is crispy and the flesh falls of the bone. That’s it. No side dishes, no vegetables nothing. But, who needs that stuff when you have lamb this good? With it a bottle of Chivite 2003 Reserva from Navarre for €24.

To follow, some of those entirely pointless desserts that the Spanish specialise in and two large glugs of Orujo, something much more worthwhile they specialise in. With a tea and a café solo, the bill came, as it always seems to in Spain, to around €100. Very very good value indeed.

By Midnight, I was the shape of a pumpkin if not turning into one and was more than ready for bed. So, a short cab journey back to the hotel saw me retire happy and with my Spain jones sated and with the thought that there were three days still to go.

It’s good to be me
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Wednesday, April 26, 2006


There is a pub on The City Road called The Eagle. I have not been in it ever that I can recall. It looks like it has been refurbished, but it used to be such a rough pub that you were not allowed in if you had your own teeth. It is a famous pub for one reason only. It is mentioned in the second verse of the popular nursery rhyme "Pop Goes The Weasel" which has its origins in the hat making industry of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Weasel apparently, was a hat blocking tool and "pop" referred to the pawnbroker where the tool was hocked for drinking money. Hence the second verse

Up and down The City Road
In and out The Eagle
That's the way the money goes
Pop goes the Weasel

I mention this because next to it is The Shepherdess Cafe a prime example of a disappearing breed, the London "caff" . Both utilitarian and egalitarian the "caff" served to provide cheap filling food to a wide spectrum of the population from early in the morning to early afternoon when they closed.

I have been unable to train for a couple of days because of a cold. But, being a brave little trooper, I have still been awake at the crack of dawn and up and about. So, this morning, I decided to forgo my usual breakfast of porridge and prunes ( regular as clock work, thanks for asking ) and have a fry up at The Shepherdess. This is considered one of the better greasy spoons in London and the pictures on the walls show the owner gurning next to a wide variety of celebs both major ( Tom Jones ) and minor ( innumerable members of the cast of The Bill ) There are also far too many pictures of that buffoon, Jamie Oliver whose Fifteen restaurant is about 50 yards away. Enough to put any decent human being off their black pudding.

When I arrived, the cafe was filling up nicely with a wide variety of british working men ( all men, not a woman in the place bar the waitress and so it remained for my whole time there ) from the besuited city businessman to the steel top capped boot wearing construction worker. I was disappointed to see that the Ketchup and Brown sauces were not in plastic tomato shaped containers (never quite understood that. Tomato sauce in a large plastic tomato shapped dispenser, fine. Brown sauce in a large brown plastic tomato, just weird ) but was very pleased to see a sign saying "Polite Notice: Please do not put shoes on seats" a sign of a classy joint.

Like all good cafes, it offers a wide range of breakfast combo's featuring the usual suspects of fried eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding, bubble, sausages, chips, baked beans etc etc. I asked the chef to prepare a tasting fmenu for me. Nah, just joking. I ordered Egg, beans, sausage and bacon and a mug of tea. The waitress piped up ' you get chips with that" I responded " I don't want chips, or toast" which drew a a raised eyebrow from her and a sharpe intake of breath from most of the other customers. I stuck to my guns though and sat reading my morning freesheet while sipping on the unfeasibly large mug of tea that was also included in the price.

My breakfast arrived a few moments later with two small chips artfully placed atop a slice of bacon as if the cook was saying. "It says he gets chips with it, so he gets bleedin' chips if he wants them or not". There is a very good reason why most of these caf's are disappearing though. Bottom line, the food is actually not very good. An ocean of sludgy beans, tough watery bacon, sausages that seem more the product of the petroleum industry than farming and an egg tougher to crack than The Da Vinci Code. This is where the brit caf' falls short of the US diner. Decent short order cooking.

The fact that it is cheap ( and this was cheap, about £4.50 the lot - including the chips and toast I didn't want ) does not make up for that fact that it is lousy. I have been as guilty of bemoaning the decline of this age old institution and viewing them through the grease tinted glasses of nostalgia. But, the truth is,if this is the best they can come up with, roll on the demise of the caf''
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Monday, April 24, 2006


Peter Ackroyd has a theory about London. He argues that no matter how new designers build, London in its original form will always prevail. When Hitler bombed London and it was rebuilt, those buildings were, by some force, designed along the lines of the original roads of Londinium and, he posits that these indelible lines will always form the core of London’s pattern.

I have a similar theory about friendships. There are certain connections one makes in life that last and while others come and go, those that matter will find a way to pop out to the surface and reassert themselves when you most need them no matter how long a gap is left between meetings.

Tonight was proof of this, if it were needed.

When I was 12, I went to a northern comprehensive school. It was one of the better schools in the area, but my time there was coloured by the fact that I was, er coloured. In fact, with the exception of other members of my family, I was probably the only “darkie” to use the vernacular of the time, in the school.

By necessity, this made me a bit of an outsider. I came from too wealthy a family to allow me to be part of the rough,cool kids group, yet was not Anglo Saxon enough to be part of the rich kids group. I ended up keeping company with others who, for a lot of different reasons were not accepted by their peers.

One of these was John. I never figured out why he was not accepted except that he just didn’t give a damn and did not want to be.

Whatever the reasons that drove us together, we became very good friends so much so that we spent nearly all of our time together and most of that going to see gigs in the nearby city of Sheffield. We saw everybody and anybody. The soon to be famous and the soon to be forgotten. The young folk in the office look at me with new respect when I tell them that we saw bands such as The Clash, Joy Division and The B 52’s when they were only gleams in the milkman’s eye. They look at me with slightly less respect when I mention The Distractions, The Fabulous Poodles and Destroy All Monsters.

However, as is the nature of such things, life took us in different directions and John and I lost touch apart from the occasional meeting in London where we both live. In the last twenty years, I would guess we have seen each other no more than half a dozen times.

Last week as I pottered from Islington to Holborn in search of Korean food, I saw someone I though I knew. Without even articulating it, I thought “ that looks like John only older” I guess he thought the same because we both stopped and stared until we did realise that it was who we thought it was. We exchanged those slightly strained pleasantries that only middle aged men can when embarrassed, swapped details and arranged to meet for a drink tonight.

How fitting then that we met at The Charles Lamb on Elia St just South of The Angel. Until recently, this was a grim neighbourhood pub. So rough in fact that they used to employ bouncers to throw people in.

Recently, as if to prove Ackroyd’s theory, it has been sold and refurbished and returned to its original name of The Charles Lamb. A name from the pub's distant past . Apposite, of course, because this contemporary of Shelley used the nom de plume of Elia before he went to write his “Tales from Shakespeare” with his sister, Mary.

The pub is now a delight. Unrecognisable from the flophouse it was before where you had to wipe your feet on the way out, it is now a comfortable, airy neighbourhood pub with a wide range of beers ( Tim Taylor’s Landlord, St Peter’s Organic Ale, Sierra Navada Ale etc ) decent wines, a short menu of food and it even offers a Breton cidre.

In recent years, John has become a highly successful sports and music journalist and, as we nursed a couple of pints as we caught up with the last eight years which have seen bereavements, upheavals and highs and lows for both of us. There is no better environment for such a cathartic exercise as a pub and I have been in few better recently than The Charles Lamb

We headed off a few hours later promising ourselves that we would not leave it eight more years before we next see each other. Even if we do. I am certain that next time I need to see him, I will bump into John in the one in ten million chance that this astonishing city has to offer.
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Sunday, April 23, 2006


After the debacle of last night, Dos Hermanos were in no mood to fool around. So, after my 12 miler this morning, we set out to head down Argentina way via Broadway Market in Hackney.

This increasingly gentrified street has become a little foodie enclave in recent years with The Dove pub, Armadillo and Little Georgia all being well reviewed. Although Little Georgia has now transformed to a French restaurant called La Vie En Rose.

A short stroll first via Brick Lane of course, to have some of the superlative chocolate from the ever lovely Petra at Choc Star who is, I am thrilled to see, getting lots of plaudits for her nascent business.

Then up to Hackney via Columbia Rd Flower Market which was absolutely rammed, arriving at Santa Maria Del Buen Ayre bang on time for our lunchtime reservation at 12.30pm.

This was my third visit and I will be quite up front about it, this is one of my favourite restaurants in town. It just gets it right. The food is superb, the service charming and efficient and the value for money is spot on.

For the majority of our time there we were the only people in there and so got plenty of time to chat to the charming staff as we sipped on an opening glass of Quilmes beer.

To begin, a combo of chicken and beef empanada. These were so good I could have eaten plates and plates of them. The frying was greasless, the filling fresh and spicy. With a good slug of fiery chimichurri you could imagine having this as a meal in itself.

But no! That was not the point of us being here. The starters were just to distract our bellies until the griller man got into gear and prepared the Paradilla Deluxe for two (£19 a head ). A grill plate of dead cow featuring two types of steak ( sirloin and beef de chorizo ) two thick sausages, some dense intensely flavoured morcilla, a slab of slowly melting provolone and ( at an extra cost ) some beautifully offally sweetbreads. If there is better steak in London, I want it and want it now. This is perfect. Flown in on the carcass from Argentina it is, we were told, butchered on site ( with the staff taking offcuts home to make Supper. In the case of the Brazilian server, Fejoiada. ) The cooking is, as the picture shows immaculate. In our case we wanted the steak rare and that's exactly how it came. The meat deserves and requires chewing to give up its flavour. None of that nonsense we hear so much that the "meat was so tender the knife went through it like butter" When was beef ever supposed to be that soft?

The sausages were thick and meaty and the provolone cheese offered a welcome amount of stodge.

unlike last night, the side orders were also worth having particularly the chips with garlic and parsley. Crisp, and cruncy without a sign of excess grease.

With this we ordered a Cab Sav from Mendoza. It is what I would call a context wine. It worked with this meal and in this place. If I had it on another occasion, I can't imagine enjoying quite so much. But, at £15, hey.

We polished this off to the last gnaw of fat ( which they kindly crisped up on the grill for us ) and then shared a Tarte De Santiago with some ice cream for pudding before rounding off with tea and coffee and a couple of shots of Pacharan and Legui ( a sugar cane spirit that tasted of nothing more than a melted version of Spangles )

Bill for all of the above with a hugely deserved tip came to a £110. That is a lot but reflects more our ability to over order and indulge both pre and post the main event. I would imagine that a normal meal could come out c£80 for two.

However, even at nearly £30 more than that foul meal last night at The Ambassador, this represents good value for money.

A lovely meal in a lovely place served by lovely people who give a damn. Not that hard is it?
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Saturday, April 22, 2006


Dos Hermanos like shopping malls. Let me rephrase that. We love, worship and adore shopping malls. Many of our US road trips have been punctuated with stops at sublime examples of these temples of consumerism. In fact, one or two trips have actually been predicated on visits to them.

Our favourites to date are the one you hit just as you enter Nevada which has an enormous casino by way of giving the finger to California and the one that surrounds the new Opryland in Nashville where we saw a shop called The Apple Shoppe which sold apple related goods ( the fruit not the computer ). In fact, it sold everythng but apples. I really, truly love America and Americans. They have no clue how lovingly insane they are.

So, when HP suggested that we do a little trip this morning to Bluewater, I did not need much persuading. A slightly more tortuous journey than I anticipated .Train/bus/bus/train/tube but well worth it to wander around this bright spacious mall with its 365 stores ( one for every day of the year you know )

We returned a few hours (much of which time had been spent noses pressed against the window of the Krispy Kreme store as we watched them making batches of glazed donuts) with our purchases. For HP a rather splendid DAB radio and, for me, the brand spanking new Apple laptop upon which I type this very homily.

A few hours later, we were rested from our travels and ready to head out for supper to The Ambassador, a new place on Exmouth market located in what I always consider a jinxed site. I have not changed my mind, but more of that later.

To begin, a couple of excellent pints of London Pride in The Artillery Arms while we watched the resident Arsenal fans enjoying Chelsea getting thrown out of the cup.

Then to the bar at Moro for 1/2 a bottle of La Goya Manzanilla, a plate of Iberico and some olives. The sherry was fantastic. I have not seen this maker before, but it had the slight saltiness that is the common trait of manzanilla and it was served at the perfect temperature. The portion of Iberico seemed to be smaller than I recall although that may just be memory. About 50gs for £12. Steep, but there is no other ham to compare. Olives were pretty good too. So so far, so good as we headed across the road to The Ambassador.

This new restaurant has been getting excellent reviews. How? I can only assume that we went when it was a very bad night. I cannot imagine any reason to go there again.

The decor could not be more different from when it was the Exmouth Grill. Where they had booths here there are simple green formica topped tables and a stunningly horrible grey linoleum floor. The seats were uncomfortable and the whole look just seemed terribly misjudged. None of that, of course, would matter a bean, if the food was good. The much missed Sutton Arms was hugely uncomfortable, but you soon forgot that as you were enveloped in the splendour of Rosie Sykes' cooking. Here there is no such luck

The service was very friendly and we were shown to a table for four at the window. At 8pm, the place was not that full and, although a few more tables were seated while we were there, not many. That does not augur well.

While we ordered the server brought some bread which HP liked. I did not. It had no taste and compared to that we had just tried at Moro, no comparison.

To begin, HP had a rabbit and foie terrine while I had bean, pork cheek and squid casserole. I said when I posted about Sam's that a terrine is a very good way of testing the intentions of a kitchen, particularly as they seem to be on every single menu at the moment. This was not a good example. Where the terrine at Sam's was dense and had different textures this was all one note. Too smooth and undistinguished. The foie had a good taste, but the rabbit had none. My starter was a little better. The squid was a mite tough, but the flavour of the dish was fine. But, what a tiny portion. For £6.50! I felt ripped off.

The main courses sounded very good. For HP a slow braised pork belly with pumpkin and sweetbreads. For me, onglet with swiss chard and a bone marrow gremolata. Unfortunately, neither was a success. The pork had not one trace of flavour and made us question the provenance particularly when compared to the similar dish at The Trading House nearby which is the current benchmark for this sort of cooking for me at the moment. We had forgotten what came with it and while we, of course recognised the two small blobs of sweetbread, we entirely forgot the pumpkin and played some embarassing game of "it's turnip, no it's polenta" before we remembered. Still, it is a testament to the cooking that whatever it was, it was entirely mushed enough to disguise its origin.

My first bite of the steak made me think it was off. HP declared it "actively rank" I did not think it was that bad, but there was an oddness about the combination of the lemon zest of the gremolata and the bone marrow and the meat which came rare as ordered. I am at the point in my marathon training where I am consuming vast amounts just to keep my calorific intake up, and I ate a lot of this, but it is one of the dishes I have had this year that should come with a hazzard triangle and flashing warning lights.

For a mere £3.50 we added some purple sprouting brocoli which was also mushy and wilted beyond any bite. Why bother?

With this we drank a bottle of Bierzo @ £23. Not badly priced and it had that initial nose which HP described as "essence of the farmyard" but I, rather too loudly announced "it smells like dung" It is much better than that suggests.

We could not face their attempts at pudding so just got the bill, a not inconsequential £77 including service. A lot to pay for what is, in effect, the sort of food you would expect in the worst sort of gastropub. I am all for having a limited menu if the preparation is exact. I am not so keen on having a limited chef.

So, we trudged the short walk down St John St to, er, St John and sat at the bar while HP had some rum & raisin Ice cream and a vielle prune, while I had a very thick lemon posset and a poire william. All of which was able to restore our mood a tad.

Someone once said that I prefer the bad places more than I do the good places and, while it certainly gives you more to write about, there is no way I want to spend the best part of £40 on a crappy meal just to post it on a blog.

Make no mistake, The meal at The Ambassador was a crappy meal. As HP came back from pointing Percy at the porcelain, he wandered past the bar with its artfully arranged but dispiritingly small array of bottles and said " I give it a month" I would not go that far, but I certainly can't see it breaking the curse that is on that stretch of Exmouth Market
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Friday, April 21, 2006


Supper tonight courtesy of HP. Beforehand, we split a pork pie and a mutton pie from Sillfield Farm. Quite nice if not up to those we buy from Mrs Kings or The Real Meat Company.

The main event, Wild beef burgers with wild beef, from, er Wild Beef in Borough Market. Perfectly prepared with a char on the outside and medium in the middle. Staggeringly good beef

Served with two types of watercress from Booths in BM and the other, John hurd's organic from Waitrose ( the first watercress to ever gain organic status in 1994 ) lovely and peppery.

A tomato, basil and mozarella salad.

Fresh, fiery horseradish sauce

All washed down with the remains of yesterday's Chinon and a bottle of Touraine.

Simple, but delicious

There may or may not have been an inordinately large glass of Spanish Brandy to follow. I can't quite recall
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Thursday, April 20, 2006


Not much to say really.

After a tortuous day at work, all that would get me back down to some semblance of normalcy was to stand in the kitchen, sip on a glass of wine and spend a few hours cooking food from the sub continent.

Tonight, two very simple but entirely delicious ( if I do say so myself ) dishes

SAAK BRINJAL ( aubergine and spinach)

1 Large aubergine ( eggplant ) cubed.
1 large bag of baby spinach
1 small onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 fresh red chilli chopped
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp salt.

heat a little oil in a pan and add the onion, garlic and chilli and cook until soft and browned.

Add the dry spices and 2 tblsp of water and cook for two minutes.

Add the aubergine and stir well into the spices.

Cover and cook for twenty minutes stirring every few minutes until almost mushy

Add the spinach and allow to wilt into the mixture.

Cook for a further five minutes and take off the heat.

like many Bengali dishes, this is best eaten closer to room temp than piping hot.

ROGAN JOSH ( a classic Lamb dish - Recipe taken from Camelia Panjabi's book)

I was very lucky today as my butcher had the most sensational new season lamb. I used neck fillets and chump chops, but any decent lamb will do

2 lbs of cubed lamb
1 onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic chopped

2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp paprika
( alternatively use kasmiri chilli powder if you can get it to get the bright red colour )
Mix the above with a little water into a paste

1 tsp corriander powder
1 tsp ginger powder
1 tsp fennel powder
4 cloves
2 bayleaves
1 cinnamon stick

1 cup whole milk yoghurt

1 1/2 pint of water

Heat the oil in the pan and sweat the onions and garlic until brown.

Add the cloves, bayleaves and cinnamon stick and cook for one minute

Add the dry spices, the chilli paste and two tblsp of water and cook for two minutes.

Add the cubed meat and stir into the spices and cook for five minutes.

take off the heat and add the yoghurt. Stir well and return to the heat and cook for five minutes

Add the water and then bring to the boil

Simmer until the meat is tender and the sauce is reduced to a thick gravy.

Serve with Chapati.

Give them a try and I hope you enjoy. I certainly did
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Wednesday, April 19, 2006


A working lunch with my chum, Alan, head of the group who handles all of our sales. I am sure he is busier that I am so I was, er, happy to schlep across town to Chiswick ( I understand that this is still considered London although it seems an awfully long way) where his offices are situated close to Barley Mow Passage and Sam's Brasserie.

This relatively new restaurant is, I believe, co funded by Rick Stein and the eponymous chef, Sam used to cook at The Seafood Restaurant. It has had excellent reviews recently from Giles Coren ( never mind, I was still willing to give it a try ) and The Evening Standard and Sam is still very much in full effect at the front of house which is good to see.

My first impression when we walked into the very welcoming space is that it reminded me of The Rivington Grill in my own neighbourhood. An impression that was reinforced when I saw that the menus were printed on the place mats and even the design of them ( wines listed down each side with the food listed in the middle.) was similar

The recognition factor continues when you start to read the menu with dishes like "Roasted Wood Blewits" and "Battered Pollack" on the menu which have a similar feel to that on the menu created by Mark Hix. To be fair, there are also a lot of dishes that would never appear at The Rivington and plenty to choose from on the Lunch menu.

The service was efficient but ever so slightly officious and not hugely knowledgable ( when I asked what exactly was on the "Spanish Charcuterie Plate" I was told it was "spanish cold meats. Probably, ham and Salami" why thank you!)

To begin with, I ordered a "Sam's Terrine with onion marmalade" I think terrines are often a good test of a chef's intentions and this certainly passed muster. Dense and chunky with slabs of liver and a lovely bacon surround. It worked well with the caramelized onions.

Alan tried "Beetroot soup with Creme Fraiche and Chives" which he seemed to enjoy.

While we ate these, were were offered some rather non descript bread. Did nothing for me at all.

For the main course, I ordered a " Bavette Steak with Mustard and Parsley" This is where I get slightly cross with servers in restaurants. I wanted some Dijon mustard with my steak. I know it comes with some mustard on it, but I wanted more. I like mustard. So I don't want my server to start making lifestyle choices for me and denying my mustard privileges. I AM FORTY TWO YEARS OLD. GIVE ME MY DAMN MUSTARD. Anyway, he did, reluctantly and I rather enjoyed my dish, extra mustard and all. The meat was rare as promised and had a great taste.

Alan, went with " Sauteed Black Leg Chicken with Morels and Cream" It all looked rather rich for a lunchtime dish, but he cleared his plate.

It being Spring and all and with the Sun beginning to work its way through the clouds outside, I went for the first of what I hope will be many glasses of Rose this year and we both ordered a glass Chateau de Sours. Harmless enough which is, I guess, the way of the rose.

The bill including tip came to £61 which is about fair for two courses, two glasses of wine and two teas. They did, by the way, ace the mint tea test.

A lot of thought has gone into the lunchtime menu and I think most people would be hard pressed not to find something interesting to try. I am not sure that I would choose to traipse across town just to go there, but, if I lived in this neighbourhood ( never in a million billion years ) or was out here for another meeting with Alan, I would definitely not have to be dragged kicking and screaming.
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Tuesday, April 18, 2006


For some socio-geographic reason that I know not, the New Malden area of Surrey has one of the largest ex pat communities of Koreans in Europe. Consequently, it also has a high density of Korean restaurants.

Recently, Asadal, one of the best known in the area, opened a sibling branch in central London on the corner of High Holborn and The Kingsway.

Though far from an expert on the food, I have enjoyed every Korean meal I have tried, so HP's suggestion that I try here tonight for a quick solo supper was not an unwelcome one.

As with Japanese food, a great deal is made of the necessary etiquette of eating Korean food ( usually, it has to be added, by non Koreans who probably see knowing the ins and outs of what to do with a Bibimbap as some badge of honour ) and it is easy to worry ones way through a meal fearing that every wave of the chopsticks is the same as telling the owner that you would like to pleasure his dead grandmother with some Dakion. Usually, however, the other people in the restaurant are too busy enjoying their own food to care what you are doing and, in the case of Asadal, if I was committing one huge faux pas after another, the staff were too charming to comment.

The restaurant is in a beautifully decorated basement with a low level of lighting, a welcome oasis of calm away from the traffic to Holborn tube. The service is very very friendly and efficient and I was shown to a table towards the rear of the restaurant and handed the extensive menu. I ordered a Korean beer. As gassy and vile as so many of the beers I have tried from there have been. It was called Hite. Just one letter out from the correct spelling then? I moved on to Green Tea which was full of Antioxidanty goodness

Being on my own, I could not explore the menu as I would have liked, so I stuck with some of the more recognisable dishes which is,I guess, the best way to judge any new place.

I heard a story once ( probably apochryphal ) that, after the Korean war, the US soldiers were asked to remove as many of the mines laid by the North Koreans as possible. However, they found that one in four of the metal objects was, in fact, a jar of Kimchi buried to ferment. Probably just as lethal though. I am not sure what I ordered had been buried anywhere but it was a very good example. Crunchy and fiery.

With it, I ordered a plate of Kim. Wafer thin strips of fried seaweed. I can easily see myself developing quite a taste for this. Fishy and salty with a nice snap.

Then to a Korean standard, Bul Go Gi, strips of topside beef, marinated in soy and grilled at the table. It was served with fish sauce to dip the meat in, lettuce leaves and a bean paste to spread on the lettuce before wrapping it around the meat. The first time I had this a number of years ago, I found it a bit odd with the sweet, sour, salty crunch. Now, it is one of my favourite dishes. This was very well done indeed and, while simple, it is a hard thing to get just right so the beef is tender and compliments the crunch of the lettuce.

Alongside this, I had a serious noodle urge so went for Bokum Udon, a selection of very fresh seafood tossed with Udon noodles. Simple and beautifully prepared. Again, hit the spot.

The bill, including a deserved 10% service charge was £28. Perfectly acceptable for what I think, is a very welcome addition to the West End and a very good representative of a country whose food I am beginning to appreciate more and more.
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Sunday, April 16, 2006


Dos Hermanos lead a pretty busy life. We have little time to just kick back and relax. So, when we do find ourselves back in Rotherham, it is a real blessing to be able to just chill as the young folks might say

Not quite so chilled this morning as, now a number of people have pledged their cold hard cash towards my charity raising efforts for the NYC marathon, I feel more than obliged to train properly. Today, I was up and out of the door at 7am and ran, rather lumpenly, it has to be admitted, around the outskirts of the town for about 2.5 hrs arriving home just in time to have a shower before our sister arrived en famille.

Once they had headed off for their own Easter celebrations, it was time for our own lunch. This time it was HP’s turn to cook and he had ordered a whole leg of new season lamb from The Real Meat Company in Sheffield.

While we waited for lunch, we chomped on some extra hot chevda from Taj stores in Brick Lane and drank some of Waitrose Fino.

Cooked slightly longer than usual to allow for our father’s tastes, this was one of the lovliest, best flavoured legs of lamb I can recall eating. Juicy and moist with a decent amount of crispy skin.

To accompany it HP roasted some garlic and also prepared some haricot beans, purple sprouting broccoli,baby fennel,green beans and sweet potato mash. Best of all, however ( and this is from a man who believed that CARBS = DEATH ) were a bunch of King Edward’s roasted in plentiful amounts of goose fat. I tried a couple. Crunchy on the outside and melting in the middle. Fabulous

A bottle of Chorley Les Beaunes with the meal and a number of post prandials of Van Winkle Bourbon, this was as close to my idea of the perfect meal as you can get without the words "Winona" and "mud wrestling" being inolved.
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Friday, April 14, 2006


It’s Easter and, as is our tradition, Dos Hermanos headed up North to visit family. As I put in my post on our previous visit, that involves unfeasibly large amounts of food and the inevitable visit to a local chippie near our home in Rotherham.

But first, a little about this much maligned town. It is, actually, a very old town and is mentioned in the Norman conquest version of The Rough Guide to Britain, The Doomsday Book where it says, I am pretty certain “grimey, lousy football team, great pies”

Running through the town is the River Don. It is, I believe, officially a dead river after suffering years of pollution from the steel and mining industries that were once the source of its prosperity and, the loss of which drove the town into terminal decline.

However, someone must have thought it was a possible source of attraction as, just by the train station we saw a sign offering pleasure cruises along the Don! The other picture of The Don in its full majesty shows you why, I think this company is no longer in business. If it is, anyone fancy an outing?

Rotherham also has, as I mentioned, a failing football team. Rotherham United “The Mighty Millers”. I have followed this team for years. I have seen them through thin and thinner times. At one point (OLD JOKE ALERT) they were going to change their name to Rotherham Nil to save time.

I recall seeing a pennant in the Club Shop, some time in the 70’s long before they had their brief moment of glory under local legend Ronnie Moore, that listed all the club’s greatest achievements to date. Whereas your Arsenals and Manchester Utd’s crammed in countless trophies and championships, Rotherham’s, if I recall correctly, had but three entries.


And, even more forlornly at the very top.


Sad, no? But, they are my club and I love them and the fact that they have recently dragged themselves away from the edge of extinction fills me with much happiness.

But, back to those pies. Rotherham is the spiritual home to Pukka Pies (although, I believe they are now made in Leicester – boo! ) these are the Rolls Royce of pre made pies. They are the pie de choix of every footie fan in the UK and an obligatory item on the menu of every chip shop in town. “if it ain’t Pukka, it ain’t Pukka” as a fat tongued uber geek of a chef might opine.

Tonight, we tried a new place, Davians. In a poorer part of town ( a relative term as none of it is quite Mayfair ) you know it is going to be good because people up North with limited funds will not waste a brass farthing on a bad pint or bad Fish & Chips. It was good. The required huge portion of haddock, enough chips in two portions to feed eight people, bright green peas and, those pies. This time, we went off piste and ordered a chicken & mushroom pie. Fabulous. Flaky pastry and filled with a nice chunky, creamy filling. Everything an overgrown boy could possibly want.

With our usual glass or two of champagne the four men of the family were very happy indeed and looked forward to the exchange of a ritual Saturday joke.

Me: I see Rotherham have lost then

Them: How do you know?

Me: Well, it’s 5 o’ clock isn’t it?

And how we’ll all laugh.
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