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

Friday, March 31, 2006


I eat meat. An awful lot of meat. If it plopped out of a womb, I want it grilled, fried, boiled or stuffed. In fact, I'll have the womb too while you are at it.

Every now and again, however, I do feel the need to indulge in the fruits of the sea and eat something with scales and fins. It's good for the digestion, don't you know?

I am, as I may have mentioned a few thousand times, very fortunate to work and live within striking distance of the best fishmonger in London, Steve Hatt. Today, as I wandered past this breathtaking shop, my eye was caught by two things, some stunning looking tuna and some live scallops in the shell. Hard to resist, so I didn't and £15 later I strolled out the proud owner of two thick steaks and four of the scallops.

I often despair when I see recipes using beautiful fresh fish which people then smother in extraordinary combinations of marinades. It seems to completely miss the point of buying good quality ingredients. So, I prefer to leave the main element of the meal in as close to virgin condition and adding the complimentary flavourings in the side dishes.

So it was tonight.

The tuna steaks were rubbed in a little oil and then grilled on my cast iron pan. The scallops, after I had taken them out of the shells in a slightly less efficient manner than the guys in the shop had showed me, were just tossed on the pan after the tuna was cooked to grill in the residual heat for about 30 secs aside.

The side dishes were some green beans in a dressing of wasabi, mirin and tamari and a salad of tomatoes, mint, ruby grapefruit, chilli and pickled ginger.

The tuna was, even though I say so myself, stunning. Rare and meaty. It might as well have been steak. The scallops, so fresh, you could have eaten them raw.

Just what I needed. Mr Hatt, I thank you from the bottom of my colon
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, March 30, 2006



About 10 years ago, almost exactly dated to the opening of MOMO just off Regent St, Morrocan food threatened to become fashionable. Unfeasibly dark restaurants populated by staff wearing Fez's sprang up all over London all offering Pastilla of this and Tagine of that.

Fortunately London came to its senses and this enjoyable North African food soon found itself back in its natural place in the hierachy of offerings in the world's capital.

Before all of this Kerfuffle, there was a place called Tagines on Dorset St in Marylebone. It was not hip. It never was. It did not have £1million spent on its decor, no noxious door policy and I am pretty certain that Madonna would not know where to find it let alone have her birthday party there.

Now Marylebone has become achingly fashionable itself. This is the very definition of twee middle class. It makes Borough Market look like Electric Avenue. It was always expensive, now it is expensive and annoying too

Q: What is the Marylebone version of playing chicken?

A: You stand on the pavement and shout "sophie" and try not to get run over by the yummy mummies pushing baby strollers.

With the opening of branches of The Ginger Pig, Fromagerie and its very own Farmer's Market, Marylebone has become a little foodie enclave and rapidly has its head disappearing up its own mews. Although, like Borough Market, you can make use of it, but need to get out of there as quickly as you damn well can. Thank God that they still have room for Daunt Books. Officially the best bookstore in London bar none. One of the great treasures of the capital.

But, as I said, before all of that was Tagines on Dorset st. Now called The Original Tagines because, I guess it has a sibling branch, I know not where.

Way back when, Hermano Primero and I would meet at The Rising Sun pub on the high st ( now turned into an entirely nasty bar called Dusk ) and sink a couple before heading around the corner to Tagine for a cheap meal. Tonight, meeting my dearest chum Jo who works at Auntie Beeb, I thought this may be a good opportunity to see if my fond recollections of it were justified or tinted with the rose effect of beer goggles. In truth, a bit of both.

My first mistake was to think that I could get from Islington to Marylebone by public transport without feeling like Charlton Heston in The Omega Man. I, of course, could not and, after twenty minutes of sitting sweating and fearful on what I believe is called a "bendy bus" I had to get off at Great Portland St and finish the rest of the journey on foot.

I arrived about 30 minutes early, so plonked myself at the bar of The Barley Mow pub next door to the restaurant and downed a couple of pints of London Pride. Nice beer. Shockingly lary crowd. Mind you, ten years ago, that would have been me.

When 7.30pm arrived, I popped next door and settled myself just as Jo arrived.

She was on soft drinks. Part because she is running the London Marathon soon and mainly because she had been at a conference the night before where senior people from the beeb had discussed matters of broadcasting import and not, I repeat not pissed large amounts of our licence money up the wall. So I stuck to that entirely horrid Effes beer while she drank Diet Coke.

We shared a few unappetisers! In fact, they were fine. Hummous, Aubergine and a broad bean salad. I am still here to tell the tale.

As the name of the place suggests they, shock horror, specialise in Tagine. I had a chicken with preserved lemon, Jo a lamb with prunes and almond. They seemed a lot smaller that I recall. Perhaps that too is a memory trick. Still, what there was I found to be very nice if a little crude looking. The preserved lemon and ginger with the chicken particularly worked well. The little I tasted of the lamb was good too. Served with cracked wheat and harrisa, there was just about enough to keep us going.

Neither of us felt we could order pudding as we swapped shamelessly inflated running war stories ( "and then I did 20 miles while running backwards, barefoot and blindfolded " etc etc,) so we settled for a shared pot of fresh mint tea before splitting a bill of £45 for two including tip.

The service was, as so much of it is in London now, all Eastern European and efficient if slightly churlish. We left about an hour and 45 mins after I arrived and Jo was kind enough to give me a lift back home.

Lovely to catch up with Jo, but I can't think of many reasons to go back to The Orginal Tagines it wasn't what it once was or what I remember it to be. Mind you, neither am I. In fact, I can't think of many reasons to go back to Marylebone at all. It just isn't my kind of place.

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, March 29, 2006



Opened around six months ago after the redevelopment of Spitalfield's market, Canteen has been getting plaudits out the wazoo to use a technical term. The critics have been almost universally lauditory and the place is always packed whenever I wander by it on a Sunday morning.

My plans for this evening were changed and I was left to ponder on another solo supper. I had a reservation for two but cancelled that one at 7.30pm and headed down there directly from as hard a day's work as is possible to do in publishing and did a walk in a little after 6.15pm.

Canteen sits between Giraffe, a family friendly organic cafe serving innocuous food which fills a gap and Scarlet Spice Bar, which is slowly recreating exactly The Marie Celeste. There was one person in there tonight. The only person I have ever seen in there.

When I arrived at Canteen, it was practically empty, but a number of parties were turned away as I ate as they were fully booked. By the time I left, they were close to capacity.

A blowsy Scot friend of mine described it as being like "Wagamama's with pork scratchings" She was, as usual, bang on. It is, as its name suggests, canteen seating. Those hateful, hateful benches that are supposed to bring back the age of communal dining rooms but in reality stink of planners trying to cram in as many covers as possible while making sure you don't get comfortable enough to linger.

However,you know the state of play before you get there and I was fortunate in that I was shown to a side booth. Admittedly one of those reserved for two people who have been married for forty years and who don't want to sit opposite each other but would rather sit side by side and not acknowledge each other during the meal. But, still, anything is better than those bleeding benches.

Service was immediate and extremely affable and I was left to have a look at the menu printed on the place mat.

To begin, I was about to order the Eggs Benedict which is on the all day breakfast menu. The hostess/server asked what I was going to have to follow and, when I told her, she said "that's going to be a bit much. Why don't you let me do you a kiddie portion of the Eggs to begin with?"

Now the last time I had a "Kiddie portion" of a meal was when I had behaved particularly well on a shopping trip to Sheffield with my mother and was taken to The Golden Egg for a Pirate's platter which came with a free hat and some crayons.A bit embarrassing really as I was 27 at the time.

No crayons here, but what did arrive was an excellent half portion of what is becoming their signature breakfast dish. A beautifully poached egg with a glistening runny yolk on top of a muffin and covered with a fabulous, thick, creamy, hollandaise sauce. I could have easily eaten twice as much. Damn me for listening. And no free hat to boot. I sucked on a very passable, if overpriced glass of Rueda (£5.75) which suited well with the acidity cutting through the creaminess of the hollandaise.

To follow, the dish that had caused such consternation. They have a wide selection of main courses including a daily pie. There are few words in the English language that are better than "pie" and when added to the words "beef & stout" one could almost have to disappear for a private moment. I substituted the offered mash for some mushy peas ( you can take the boy out of the north but you can't take the north out of the boy) and accepted the wilted greens that came with it as a colon cleanser.

Unfortunately, the dish was not a success. The pie had gone long on pastry, short on filling. What filling there was lacked seasoning and the pastry was very tough. The mushy peas were suitably dense but had no discernable taste and the greens were, well, greens. Ho hum. I ordered an equally overpriced but woefully non descript glass of Burgundy to have with this. They suited each other by both being entirely forgettable.

The bill for the two courses of food was £12.50 ( £3.50 for the Eggs ) and for the wine, a stonking £11.50. With a 12.5% service charge, a whopping £27. About the same as three courses and a coulple of glasses at The Fox.

I am sure there are better meals to be had at Canteen and I am sure I shall have them there. But, at that price, it has got to be pretty good for a drop in. As Hermano Primero put it "how good can a pie be to be worth £9?" Well, a sight better than this.

Labels: , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


I was out of sorts all day on Monday. I suspect it was the best part of three pounds of meat digesting away in my system from the weekend's tandoor fest that did it.

Whenever the ill humours hit me, there is nothing in the world, and I mean nothing, that I would prefer to eat than a bowl of typical Bengali dahl.

Made with red lentils and a very few spices, it is the equivalent of chicken noodle soup. Immensely restorative.

I was far too deep in my wallowing to take pictures of it. So, after eating, I donned my pill box hat, threw myself in Wildean fashion on to a chaise longue ( actually it is quite small, so does that make it a chaise short?) and read Donne poetry while peering aggrieved at the world from over the top of my rimless pince nez ( or I watched the football in my boxer shorts while having a good old scratch whichever you think more plausible )

So, instead, here is the current recipe ( it does change from time to time as the whim takes me and normally, in a Brahmin household, onions and garlic would not be used - so sue me )

MUSHU DAHL ( Bengali dahl with lemons )

1 cup of red lentils
1 unwaxed lemon chopped in quarters
1 chopped onion
1 chopped fresh green chilli
1 cardamom pod
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 chopped clove garlic
1 tsp each of ground turmeric/ginger/salt
1 Bag of spinach ( washed )


put 2 tblspoons of oil into a hot pan and add the cardamom and cloves and cinnamon stick. Cook for 1 minute on a low heat until the release their flavour.

Add the onion and garlic and cook until it begins to soften.

Add the ground spices and chilli mix well with the onions and cook out for 2 mins until the spices lose their rawness. If the mixture begins to stick add a little water.

Add the lentils and mix well so all the pulses are covered with the mixture

Add 1 pint of water and the lemons and simmer for 25 mins until the lentils are soft. Add the spinach and allow to wilt

The end result is quite a watery dahl which is great with fish or vegetable curries
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Dos Hermanos have rituals. Someone once said that we have so many of them that we could apply for job share position as The Holy Father.

I am not quite sure that is fair, but we certainly do have a great many of them

Right at the top of the list is a Sunday morning perambulation around Spitalfield and Brick Lane a short hop from our humble dwelling.

When one of us is away, as Hermano Primero is today enjoying the sunshine of Andalucia, the other will carry on regardless and still take the same walk, at the same time ending up back at home a little after midday in time for the pre requisite pre lunch Manzanilla.

So, although I was toute seule today, the perigrination was never in doubt.

Brick Lane and Spitalfield ( named after the fact that it was the grounds of a Roman hospital - Hospital Fields - geddit?) are certainly on the tourist trail now, judging by the number of backpack wearers and lost souls twisting their A-Z's around to figure out which way they are going. However, it still has retained much of it's slightly grimy local charm and still offers a "must not miss" experience

Brick Lane market is a favourite of mine. Not because of what is on offer (which is nearly all crap unless you are desparately looking for a single left shoe or a multi pack of no brand shaving cream ) but just because all human life is there. From the guys selling counterfit porno DVD's which has to be the lowest part of the Porno chain, to the Eastern Europeans offering cheap tobacco on behalf of their invisible gang leaders, there is a chance to see London's underbelly in full effect.

What does surprise many is that there is also the opportunity to find very decent food. As you walk into the market you find a huge stall selling a vast array of fruits and vegetables at a "pannabal" It has taken me nearly six years of walking through here to figure that this means " a pound a bowl" . Every now and again, it is just the place to pick up unfeasibly large quantities of something or other as I did today with some tomatoes for my huevos rancheros.

In the same part of the market is Freddie's Fish Stall. A great little stand selling, cockles, welks, prawns by the pint and, best of all, Jellied eels ( eels cooked in water with parsley and then allowed to set in the jelly produced). A staple of the East end in days gone past, this is a dying art. I am sure some people will cry " good riddance" but they have probably never tried them. With a dash of vinegar, they can be rally rather nice. Not to be faced on a day when you have a hangover. That way lies madness and a certain amount of projectile vomiting.

On Brick Lane itself you have the Brick Lane Beigel bakery ( note spelling ) which IS the perfect place for a hangover cure. A salt beef with a good spread of English mustard is a great little heart starter the morning after the night before.

As you walk down Brick Lane, the atmosphere changes from the slightly seedy "tat" market to the more affluent stalls that have spread out in the wider diapsora of Spitalfield market itself. Again, some great places to pick up a snack or to do some shopping for lunch.

I mentioned Choc Star last week. Today, I found the lovely Petra spray painting a sign in front of her converted ice cream van as she tried to catch up after forgetting to move her clock forward. It would seem that many people had done the same as, even at my normal hour, there were many people scurrying around trying to get ready for the day's crowd. I promised Petra I would come back for the shot of Venezuelan Hot Chocolate to which I am rapidly becoming addicted and headed further down Brick Lane past the plethora of restaurants that form the heart of Banglatown and Taj Stores the place on Brick lane to get spices to Fournier st.

Fournier St is, to my mind, quite the lovliest street in the whole of London. A row of restored houses ( Georgian I think ) with shuttered windows which connects Brick Lane and Spitalfield market. Famously, a haunt of artists, Tracy Emin and Gilbert & George live there. The latter have no kitchen in their house and used to eat every mean at the Spitalfield Cafe until the owners retired. I wonder where they eat now and if they finish each others meals as they do each other's sentences?

A number of stalls, mainly the clothing stalls, moved from the main market during its redevelopment across the road to what has now become known as "The Upmarket" Although, unless you really do want a skinny T-shirt with the words "Funk My Buns" on it in day glo pink, there is skant reason to go there, they do have a number of food stalls including a stall specialising in Galician empenada and a sushi stall.

Back in the main market, Bubba was getting ready for the day's business. Bubba's Arkansas Cafe has been going for years since Bubba moved from the US to East London. Arguably the best BBQ in London, he has built up a very regular clientele including the US embassy who have him cater their 4th July Cookout.

Also doing brisk business in the market was The Square Pie Company, an Australian chain selling a range of meat pies. Inexplicably, it is always packed even though the pies are actively grim. Tourists, eh?

The redevelopment of the Old Market came in for a lot of criticism. Unduly, I think as it was done with a surprising amount of sensitivity and has created a very lovely and welcoming public space which is also filled with eating options. Giraffe caters primarily to families with its organic offerings of burgers etc, Patisserie Valerie is, despite its chain proveneance, worth stopping into if only for the gelato and, Canteen offering very robust food in communal bench seating style. The "new" part of the market has already become well established and was, by the time I got there, packed to the gunwhales with shoppers.

Directly across from the new market is my favourite shop of all. Housed in a former French Millener's, A Gold is a goldmine. It sells "traditiona British food" and stocks everything from Gloucester Old Spot pork Pies to Gobstoppers, Mint Humbugs to bottles of Fentiman's Ginger ale ( upon which I am sipping as I type this ) a real treasure trove of good eating and another "must not miss" stop on the tour.

I would normally head back home from here via the crowded forecourt of Liverpool St Station. However, I could not leave without my hot chocolate, so headed back to Brick Lane via Commercial St past the St John Bread & Wine ( the sibling branch to the legendary Clerkenwell restaurant ) and The Ten Bells ( the notorious pub where the victims of for certain and Jack The Ripper himself , it is claimed, drank themselves into a gin induced stupor ) Just as Petra had the good stuff coming to its peak. £1.60's worth of chocolate with chilli and spices later, I sauntered home to that Manzanilla and an early lunch.

It was pretty well documented on the food boards when I posted on them more regulary, that I love London, Every last bit of it. Hell, even South of the River in The Swamps. But, this part of town has, since I moved here six years ago, become my true passion. As I said, all human life is here from richest ( the average cost of a one bedroom flat is about £200,000, I think ) to the poorest ( Tower Hamlets is one of the poorest areas in Europe ) and all parts in between. However, whatever your budget, you can find things to do, see and, most importantly for me, eat. I have just touched on the surface here and have probably left out as many places as I have mentioned. So, if you are a Londoner and have not been here, you don't know what you are missing. If you are planning to visit London and have not factored in a Sunday in Spitalfield and Brick Lane, you need to think again or you cannot truly say you have been to London
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, March 25, 2006



Ah, how many bloggers do you know who would reference an obscure Pet Shop Boy's track for the heading of their daily, er, entry?

After the normal training at 6.30am/chores/shopping/shaving bonce routine that is the norm for my free Saturdays, I decided that I deserved some lunch and a nice glass of wine.

Beguiled, as I had been by Vinoteca on my brief visit pre the disappointing meal at St John, I decided that it might just fit the bill. So, Boxing News in hand, I sauntered in there a little before 1pm.

The place was entirely empty and, I suspect, stays that way until later in the evening. All the better for me. I was able to spend a very happy 45 mins sitting with a glass of Rueda in front of me while munching on a plate of cold meats and cheeses with oatcakes, olives, almonds and chutney.

Vinoteca has been open for a few months. The three owners, Brett, Helena and Charlie are all incredibly amiable and welcoming and really know their stuff. The wine list is serious, extensive, well priced and accessible ( my wine cost a mere £3.85 which is practically giving it away for a wine like that ) the food I saw being prepared the other night looked suitably rustic and hearty. During the daytime at weekends the food options are limited to cold cuts. That was fine by me and I chose a small plate of mixed meat and cheese for £6.00.

Eschewing the normal suppliers of Spanish meats in London, Brindisa etc, Vinoteca imports all of its cuts direct from Huelva via a link that is Helena's friend's boyfriend's father's butcher's supplier ( I kid you not ) but however "six degrees of Spanish Bacon" it may be, it is well worth the effort. The chorizo, lomo and salsichon was all splendid absolutely top quality. They are also, they told me, one of the few to offer Jabugo in the UK.

With the cold cuts some british cheeses ( Monty's and some others, I did not recognise ) good bread ( from St J, I suspect ) served with a suitably lawny olive oil, pickles and biscuits. For £10 including the glass of wine, a very reasonable price for a simple lunch.

Vinoteca does not take reservations in the evening which normally brings me out in hives. However, with friendly people like this and food/wine of this quality, I can see myself happily propping up the bar area waiting for a table.

Well worth a visit

Afterwards, as I pottered home, I realised that Liverpool Vs Everton was on the box. So, a quick pint in The Artillery Arms kept me company while I watched the boys in red beat the boys in blue not really caring either way really.

Labels: , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, March 24, 2006


In preparation for a new chum coming over for supper on Saturday night with strict instructions from her to make tandoori style type stuff and kebabs, I thought I would try out my Seekh Kebab making skills.

Very, very easy and a decent end result. Although, I am afraid you will just have to believe me as I devoured them before realising that the only shot I took was as blurry as my memory of New Year's Eve 1984. The one where college chums who, like me, had stayed in town to study for our finals, found me naked at the bottom of the stairs to our student flat with the obligatory traffic cone. Ah, happy days.


I got my butcher to grind up a pound of lamb shoulder ( a better cut for this as it has more fat )

I then made a paste of green chilli, oniion, garlic, ginger, corriander stalks and lemon zest.

I mixed this in with the meat and added the spices. Garam Masala, cumin, corriander, cinnamon and hot chilli powder, a little salt and white pepper.

I then mixed in one whole egg.

I formed the mixture into long sausage shapes around metal skewers and then wrapped the cylinders in cling film ( plastic wrap ) which allows one to work the meat along the skewer without it falling off.

I then left to set in the fridge for an hour or so. Better even to pop it in the freezer for an hour.

Simply grilled until charred on each side they are best served with a salad of red onion ( softened in water acidulated with lemon juice ) and tomato along with a raita of yoghurt and cucumber.

I may well add these to the menu for tomorrow
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, March 23, 2006



OK, let's get this out of the way. Jay Rayner just won Critic of the Year at the British Press Awards 2006.

Much as it pains me to say it. It is very well deserved. Despite the recent growth on the back of his head ( all together - DON'T BREAK MY HEART etc etc ) Jay remains one of the best writers in the UK and reading both his novels and criticism make me consider giving up my own pathetic attempts at writing as he does it so well. Bastard!

I wonder if he will insist we call him "Critic of the year, Jay Rayner" in the way the, in no way barking doollaly, Ben Kingsley allegedly insists that every one calls him "Sir Ben"

I digress. I mention Jay because the first time I went to Comptoir Gascon was about six months ago as the guest of the afore mentioned "Critic of the Year",1587,1646476,00.html

I had not been since before Christmas and I am kicking myself that I left so many days between meals there. On that first visit, as COTY Jay recounts, I had one bite of my main course cassoulet and immediately summoned the waiter and made a reservation the next week. It really was that good.

Today, after an early evening appointment, I found myself in Smithfield and decided to have a solo supper at Comptoir. James, the senior waiter, remembered me from my four previous visits and gave me a seat at the bar.

After the horrors of the Bloody Horrible ( I mean the Bleeding Heart ) this was better, so much better.

I chose my starter from the specials, two slabs of foie gascon for £10.50. A lot to pay? Perhaps, but not for foie of this quality. It almost had a barbecued quality to it and was rich beyond measure. Lovely and suitably served by the glass of Muscat I had with it.

Inbetween courses, I could hardly stop myself from eating the bread that was popped in front of me. I had to ask them to take it away. I did, however, eat most of the large pat of eschire butter that came with it. Offically the best butter in the world.

In honour of my first visit, I went for the Cassoulet again. This is by far the best I have tried in London. No heinz beans here. Soft, slow cooked beans with meaty thick sausages, melting duck confit with crispy, crispy skin and topped with a slice of crunchy bacon and a slice of fried pork fat. This is proper cooking and whoever phlegmed up that noxious monstrosity at Bleeding Heart should be dragged here and made to watch them cook this. I had a glass of the house Montravel with this and it was suitably big ( Mostly Merlot, I would guess)

The bill including service was £39. Not cheap for a solo supper but I did not begrudge a groat.

I was about to head around the corner to Vinoteca where I had promised the chef a book. But, James persuaded me to a comped ( large ) brandy. I have no morals. No one gives a damn if I take a freebie. Least of all me. A nice way to round off the evening.

As I left James said " Abientot" I think, remembering my schoolboy French, that means "see you soon" or "see you again."

Damn right you will, James, Damn right

Labels: , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


I can't remember the last time I paid my own cash money for a cookery book and I very very rarely use recipes for cooking Indian food.

Yesterday, however, I saw a copy of Camellia Panjabi's 50 GREAT CURRIES OF INDIA in my local Waterstones. It was a new edition of the classic book published in the early 90's I think. It is a handy format, beautifully illustrated and easy to follow. Good value at £8.99 and $14.95 in the US

So, for supper tonight a Parsee Red Chicken Curry taken from this book. It could not have been easier to do

A paste is made from a variety of spices ( cumin, corriander seed, cinnamon, cloves, black peppercorns ) and ginger, garlic and onions. The heat for the dish comes from Kasmiri chilli which, while not searingly hot, give the final result its amazing red colour. I am afraid that finding Kasmir chilli on the Essex Rd was a forlorn effort, so I used fresh red chilli. It provided the right level of heat, but it does not give quote the same colour.

The paste is fried for five minutes in oil, the chicken pieces ( I like to use bone in leg and thigh meat ) added and fried for a further five minutes. Chopped tomatoes, a little salt and sugar are also added and, yep, cooked for five minutes. Finally, about a pint of coconut milk ( I used canned diluted with a little water) is added. The whole lot is simmered until the sauce thickens to a rich thick gravy and it is finished with a dash of cider vinegar and a teaspoon of garamasala.

The end result was quite lovely. Not my doing all down to a very enjoyable cookery book indeed and one I heartily recommend.

I shall certainly be cooking more from this book sooner rather than later
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, March 21, 2006



With the possible exception of The Fat Duck ( ground breaking molecular gastronomy or toy food for simpletons depending what you read. I tend towards the latter ) more words have been written about St John in Clerkenwell than any other restaurant in the UK, perhaps anywhere.

It is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the restaurants that London has that is not replicated anywhere else ( with the exception of it's own offshoot St John Bread & Wine ) and although many have tried to tap into the same schtick, you don't see the Anchor & Hope on too many "must visit" lists of visiting foodies. Mind you that may be because of their hugely dumb no reservations policy. Something I detest with a passion.

People often refer to St John as "traditional British foof" it is, of course, no such thing. I cannot think of any period in UK history where food was prepared like this. The fallacy comes, I imagine from Fergus' belief in nose to tail eating which was certainly part of the agrarian society of Britain. I think, in fact, the cooking at St John has its roots more in Fergus love of European peasant cookery. In any case, what I would argue is that Fergus is creating or, indeed, has created his own tradition and alumni of St John are now opening their own places ( Medcalf's, The afore mentioned Anchor & Hope etc etc ) and taking his passions to a wider audience.

Where St John has it over these offal-come-lately's is its setting. The whole space is unlike anything else one can see in the restaurant world and its sparce minimalism reflects the ethos of the restaurant perfectly.

I have been to St John over thirty times and it was probably my favourite restaurant in town. However, I had not been for nearly two years. My last visits had been more miss than hit ( with the exception of a couple of excellent feasts of whole suckling pig), the food had been tired and the service lacking. It had all the hallmarks of a restaurant resting on its laurels, even if those laurels were used to stuff a rolled squirrel spleen.

So, it dropped off my radar for quite some time. However, recently, there has been a swell of publicity. Fergus' brain op seems to have miraculously given him the chance to work in the kitchen again in the future and a number of friends have reported good to excellent meals there.

Tonight, I had supper there with my good friends, Anny & Gavin just out on bail after another bout of hooliganism watching Harlequins Rugby club.

Our table was for 8pm, so I arranged to meet them at Vinoteca almost directly opposite on St John St. This is an entirely agreeable place which, I think, deserves it's own post. It has a great wine list, food that looked hearty and "Modern British" cooked by a delightful chef called Carol who, she told me, used to work with Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum and cheery, efficient service. Anny & Gavin arrived soon after me and, after polishing off a bottle of Costiere de Nimes, we headed across the road.

Rather worryingly, the main dining room of St John was set up for a party of nearly 40. Fortunately, we were seated well away from them and I was delighted that one of my favourite servers was still there and looking after our table.

As their menu changes daily, St John can go from having two or three things on the menu that you would devour in a heartbeat to having nothing on the menu that jumps out and entices. The day before, they had squirrel on the menu which I had before and would not have minded trying again. Unfortunately, some vermin had eaten the rodent. Or is that the other way around? There was little on the menu that really screamed out to be ordered.

Anyway, we found things to choose. To begin, Gavin had the signature roast marrowbone. When St John first opened, I swear these were bigger. Now, four or five small bones served with parsley and toast. It is an exercise in minimalism and, no longer really repays the effort. The marrow, when you manage to scoop it out, is delicious, melting and unctuous. But, it is just the wrong side of the effort:reward ratio for me.

Anny's starter of cold middlewhite with a celeriac ( I think ) salad was better and, being a good person, she left the fat for me to try a bit of.

My own choice of rolled spleen with cornichons and red wine vinegar was interesting, but nothng more than that. Also, so rather mean in portion.

For the main courses, Anny chose Plaice. She declined the side dish of cucumber and dill that came with it as she hates cucumber. I only know one other person who hates cucumber. It always seems very very strange to me to dislike such a harmless thing so much. But, according to Anny, it is Crippen, Jack the Ripper and King Herod rolled into one. Strange some people, no? Whatever, the plaice was a little overcooked from what I tried and I am not sure that Anny enjoyed too much.

Gavin ordered pigeon which came with radishes. Now, I know that this should be served rare, but they should at least kill it first. This looked like it had not been cooked so much as walked by itself into a room with a 60watt lightbulb on for a few minutes. I did not mind this and polished off what Gavin left whcih was quite a lot.

My own main course was probably the most successful. Braised veal cheeks with shallots. A decent amount of veal which is not always the case with St John where the portionage can be a bit small.

We ordered an agreeable bottle of Pic St Loup from the Laungedoc @ £26 which suited perfectly.

We shared three desserts which were, in truth, the highlight of the meal ( once the techno dimwits at blogspot get their collective fingers out of their collective arses and fix it so I can post pictures without taking an hour for each one, I shall post some more images including dessert ) The eccles cake with Kirkham's Lancashire, of course. The perfect combination the discoverer of which deserves a knighthood, Rhubarb Eton Mess and Blood Orange Sorbet with a shot of vodka. We persuaded ourselves to a glass of something with this. A Marc, a Poire William and something else which I have entirely forgotten.

The bill, including tip for service which was efficient and hugely friendly, was £159 (£53 each) which is about typical for a meal at St John.

So another curate's egg of a supper at St John. A lot of money to eat, OK food ( in this instance ) in unique surroundings with charming service. I am not sure if that is enough to get £50 of my money on a regular basis.

Labels: , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar


There are not many things that make me happy in life.

One is a new pair of running shoes. The other, a good slab of pork.

Today, I used one for my run down past Canary Wharf and back and roasted the other until it had crispy crackling using the infallible Gary Rhodes' method.

Fortunately, I got them the right way round or I would have been snacking on Ascic Gel Kyanos for supper and have feet that smell like dead pig rather than dead badgers as a former girlfriend claimed.

Of all the TV chefs, GR is one of the few who does not make me want to throw the TV over the balcony and his recipes do have a habit of working which so many celeb chef offerings do not.

Roasted on halved onions as a trivet, the skin scored into thin strips and just salt and a little oil, it resulted in perfect crackling and made for a very agreeable meal while watching Man City get dumped out of the cup.
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Alongside the shallow search for the perfect Martini, I am also on the prowl for the perfect hot chocolate.

I have tried just about everywhere I come across from the grim chains ( Starbucks is, unsurprisingly the most disgusting tasting how I imagine rancid milk served with road sweepings from a leper colony might. Their new US only offering Chiantico, an attempt at thick hot chocolate should come with a hyperdermic of insulin ) to most of the small coffee bars and bakeries in a huge area of London.

So far, there is little to recommend. The chocolate at the Apostrophe chain can be pretty good, although they have stopped serving it topped with spice mix and they have whacked the price up. You also have to go through that tiresome ritual

Me - " Hot chocolate please "

Them - Are you sure you want hot chocolate? Do you know what it is?"

Me - "yes it's hot chocolate, that's why I asked for it. Otherwise, I would not have used the words hot chocolate"

Them " but this hot chocolate is very thick"

Me - "it's not the only one. Yes, I know it is thick. I like it that way."

Them - " do you want spice on it?"

Me - "yes Please"

Them - "We don't have any"

And on and on. It is no wonder that it takes over 20 minutes to get served in any one of their branches and they are to be avoided if there is more than one person to be served in front of you. Unless that is, you have all day to spare and don't mind re-enacting Monty Python's Cheese shop sketch.

If only we had places like Chocolat in Madrid. No muss, No fuss. Hot, thick, steaming chocolate served with a plate of light crisp churros. Ho hum.

Anyway, today, after my run ( 12 miles for the record ) I was doing my normal peramublation along Brick Lane and, after scoping out the hookey knock off gear at the market, sauntered down Brick Lane itself.

Just past 93 feet East on the left hand side was a small converted ice cream van with a sign reading Choc Star on it. A blackboard in front on the open window offered " Italian Hot CHocolate-£2" and even more temptingly "Venezuelan Hot Chocolate-£1.60"

A lovely woman called Petra Barran ( who, on doing some research, it appears, trained with Pierre Marcolini ) explained that the latter was like an expresso shot of pure chocolate from a farm in Venezuela mixed with chilli, spices and a little milk and sugar. It was, making no bones about it, fantastic. Certainly the best I have tried in London and just the sugar buzz I needed after my run. The short measure was just enough as anymore would push you over the edge I suspect.

Choc Star is a new venture for Petra ( going for a couple of months, I think ) and, from the look of the other things on offer, a very worthwhile one. I trust she wont mind me posting a link to her nascent website.

At last. I know where I will be going when I need my chocolate fix and I urge you to try the same.
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, March 18, 2006


After such a leisurely day last Saturday, today was quite the opposite. But, for all that, just as enjoyable.

Up at 6am for my session with my trainer, Adam who amongst other things, insisted on stretching my limbs past the limits of normal human endurance. I am ashamed to say, I may have whimpered like a small girl at some point.

Then, after a shower and a shave of the noggin, off to the dentist to have them do some scrapey, whiney, buzzy things and charging me the national debt of Brazil for the pleasure.

Then to Chinatown. All this by 10am.

The visit to the West End was to pick up some extra bits and pieces for supper tonight where my very dearest M was to be the guest. I had a hankering to make a crispy duck with pancakes and plum sauce. So, last night I prepared the duck by pouring a couple of kettles of boiling water over the skin, pricking the skin all over and then preparing a marinade of five spice, ginger, garlic, chilli paste and rice wine.

As a little appetiser, a crude but entirely tasty attempt to make some spring rolls. The filling was a mince made of shrimp, ginger, garlic, chilli and Hon-shimenji mushrooms. As I say, not something Ken Holm would have been proud to put on the table, but they tasted pretty good and M liked them which is all that matters.

The duck skin got a little burned in places, but was crispy and delicious. As accomplishments go, making a plum sauce is not up there with splitting the atom or crossing the Andes naked on one leg while whistling La Cucaracha. However, I was jolly pleased with the way it turned out. Just cooking off some diced plums in sugar syrup with some green chilli, ginger and five spice. Whizzing up with a handheld blender and then then passing through a sieve. Just enough spice to compliment the duck without being too fiery. I normally try and make my own pancakes but, quite frankly, could not be arsed. So I bought some from Chinatown. Perfectly acceptable.

Mag's brought a lovely Gewurtz from New Zealand which suited the dish down to the ground.

For pudding, something as far from the Chinesy theme of the evening so far as it is possible to get. That most British of desserts, Eton Mess. Whipped cream mixed through with broken meringue and chopped up strawberries soaked in port. Innordinately rich and a little goes a long way.

Unfortunately, I ate a lot and it is still debating with my intestinal tract which way it is heading.

We ended the evening by watching A Life Aquatic which was, appropriately enough, unfathomable. A prize for anyone who can tell me what the hell it was about.
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, March 16, 2006



Supper tonight with my ex, Magda

It's always a pleasure. Primarily, because she has the appetite of a small sparrow and consequently, I am left to finish off whatever is left. A task to which I have proved more than equal.

Tonight, after a swift Martini at Match EC1 ( both well made as ever. Mine with a twist, hers with two olives and a slick o brine ) we headed up to Leather Lane, a slightly grim St near Hatton Garden that runs between The Clerkenwell Rd and Holborn. There are a number of Japanese restaurants in this area. Primarily to serve a large ex pat community working in banks and legal firms. Matsuri is the best and best known but there are any number of others littering the side streets.

I almost never walk down Leather Lane, but did so the other night when a little early for my supper at The Trading House and came across Tajima-Tei. Peering in through the window, it was packed and so, I called in and booked a table for our supper for tonight. I am very glad we gave it a try.

When we arrived, it was, bar one table, empty. By the time we left, it was filling up, primarily with Japanese businessmen.

As mentioned before, I am no expert so forgive me if we ordered like rubes and did everything the wrong way. What the heck, people get very up themselves about the correct way to eat sushi. I love it, but in the end it is fish and rice. get over it. You can have too much of this "in Japan, they stand on one leg, grasp the nigiri between the second and third fingers of their left hand, dip it in blah blah blah"

Anyway, To begin, some hot sake and some edamame peas.

Then an assortment of Tempura. So often when I have this, the frying is greasy. Not so here. It was spot on. I could really eat plate after plate of this.

They had a number of specials and one of them sounded too good to miss. Seared bonito with shaved green onion, daikon, grated pickled garlic and fruity soy sauce. A great combination and at £8 very good value

We ordered three Nigiri, Toro, Unagi and Uni. The Uni was the weakest of the three. A far cry from the unctuousness of that at Yasuda, this was firm and slightly rubbery. The unagi though, was excellent quality.

Also, Maki of squid was very fresh if a little bland. Futomaki of Salmon and Salmon Skin was a little crude not that it stopped me polishing it all off when Magda was unable to eat any more.

With a bottle of sparkling water and a deserved service charge, the bill was £65 for two.

I would put Tajima-Tei at the level of a decent neighbourhood Sushi place in NYC. That is no bad thing as if there is one aspect of NYC that I really envy it is the ability to find sushi of good quality around every corner.

This is not quite around the corner, but, fortified by a Martini en route, I can certainly see myself going there again. Hopefully with Magda. I get to eat so much more.

Labels: , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Newer›  ‹Older