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

Friday, June 30, 2006


It had to happen. After weeks of travel and eating out, I needed to find out where my kitchen was again.

Nothing much to report. Some fabulous Monkfish tails from (of course ) Steve Hatt, filleted and wrapped in fatty pancetta with a stuffing of sage, lemon thyme and a little garlic.

Wrapped in clingfilm for an hour to help it stay together and then roasted in the oven until crispy. Once I had removed them, I threw in a few tomatoes with a couple more crushed cloves of garlic.

Finally, after decanting the tomatoes and the juice, I threw in a few more sage leaves to crisp up in the pancetta fat.

Served with a Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Village 2004 which I chilled for 30 mins, it proved to be a very agreeable Summer supper. No more, no less.
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, June 29, 2006


There is a lovely little poem by The Restoration
dramatist, William Congreve



I have always thought of this as the perfect description of the amicable ending of a failing relationship.

About this time last year, I was fortunate enough to meet an amazing person and had one of the happier
summers of my forty two years.

Inevitably, by winter time our amour closed in like the darkening evenings and we agreed to go our separate ways just before Christmas. Nothing news worthy there. Just one of the millions of relationships in this vast city that flare up, shine brightly and fizzle out all the time.

Fortunately, although the end, when it came was painful, there were no bad feelings and I came away with a delightful person remaining in my life and a legacy of some blissful moments.

Rather more bizarrely,, I also came away with a knowledge of the eating options on The Holloway Rd where she lived.

There was Bu San, a Korean restaurant which is now closed. Tiblisi, a Georgian restaurant that I never felt the need to set foot in and numerous others.

Best of all however was The Red Pepper, a small Caribbean restaurant I had noticed opposite Mann & Overton (purveyors of Black Taxi’s to people from Essex with oh so interesting ideas on immigration) It was fun, cheap and cheerful and the service was suitably chaotic and affable and, most important, the food was delicious.

Given that it was almost the anniversary of meeting my ex, I thought this might be a perfect spot for a drop in supper tonight. After the horrors of last night’s meal, I am very glad I did.

An early supper, so I arrived straight from work and was the only one in the place which allowed me to sit at a large table and read my paper while the lilting sounds of Lover’s rock filled the air.

It has, for a neighbourhood restaurant, an extensive menu with 15 choices for starters and main courses. There are another ten or so dishes on the specials blackboard too. Not bad for a kitchen that seemed to have only one person doing all the cooking.

The drinks list is slightly bizarre with wines ranging from £11 a bottle to Dom Perignon at £130 a bottle! They also have the obligatory Guinness Punch although I gave all of this a miss and stuck to mineral water given the hammering my liver had taken in the last couple of days.

Unlike The Peasant, everything here sounds so damn good. Lamb broth with dumplings, yams and green banana, saltfish and sweet pepper salad, Fish tea. But, in the end, as a starter I plumped for

Mikey’s Mussels and Prawns in a Rum and Honey Liquor. Plump is exactly what they were. Four meaty mussels and four beautifully fresh prawns ( from Ridley Rd market I was told ) served in a sauce so good I came close to picking up the plate and licking it clean. I mean it. Fiery with chili and thick and sweet with the honey and rum this is the sort of dish I could set up in an apartment and visit at weekends.

Main courses were equally attractive and I was hard pressed to choose between Curried Goat with Rice & Peas, Roasted Butter Fish in an Okra gravy and Jerk Chicken with Plantains.

I went for the chicken. Another fine choice. The best part of a whole bird in a seriously tasty sauce served with a creamy crunchy coleslaw, a huge bowl of Rice & Peas and slices of plantain fried in butter. A mountain of food that tested even my appetite.

I was a good boy though and cleaned my plate. But, there was no chance I could face a slab of Jamaican Ginger Cake with rum custard. Next time, perhaps.

Including service and a litre bottle of water, the bill was a mere £21. Exactly half what I paid at The Peasant

Is it haute cuisine? Of course not. What it is, is a great neighbourhood place that knows exactly what its clientele wants and provides it at a price which offers quality and fabulous value for money.

He knew a thing or two that Congreve fellow. Finding a little treasure like The Red Pepper certainly means I am grateful for the past.

Now all I need to do is to con some poor unfortunate into sharing the present with me

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, June 28, 2006



Or in this case a rather good Mint Julep at new Spitalfields joint Hawksmoor.

In most areas of life Dos Hermanos are pretty quick off the mark: quick to lose our temper; quick to pass judgement ; quick to attack a pile of tandooried chops at New Tayyabs and of course the legendary DH ‘quickie’ boudoir technique (form an orderly queue ladies). So it had to happen that I ended up going to a new Bar & Grill last night that was so new that it hadn’t got its Grill going so was just Bar (but not blah).

Managed by legendary Nick Strangeway (ex of just about every cocktail place you’ve ever heard of) this is another lovechild of the duo who have given us Green & Red, Redchurch and the Marquess Tavern. Their aim to provide a US Steakhouse experience (think big steaks and good cocktails) without the heavy theming. It’s early days but they seem to be heading in the right direction.

Over the course of the evening I had several well-made cocktails including the aforementioned julep (something the Peabody in Memphis failed to come up with because they’d run out of mint) which along with their sours will be part of the house specialities, a few glasses of a fetching Sauvignon Blanc and a rather fine Van Winkle’s 15 Reserve Bourbon which was most acceptable. Bar snacks were on offer so I snarfed down some pretty good ribs and excellent chips (triple cooked HB ones, apparently) during the evening.

The friendly staff proved excellent company and we all enjoyed seeing the French wipe the smile off Aragones face courtesy of some T.Henry payback. Not funny. Not funny at all.

But back to the Grill part. Once they get their extraction system working, we are promised the likes of huge porterhouse steaks, veal chops and various joints porcine. Sourced from Ginger Pig, Northfield Farm and Sillifield Farm it’s all sounding pretty damn good. All they need to do now is deliver. Expect some more news in a couple of weeks time when Dos Hemanos will be reduxing. It’s not easy being us.

Note to HS. Please could you put some snaps against this post - my camera wasn’t charged up (yeah, yeah, I know, Amateur Night In Poughkeepsie, but you’re the lensman…)

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar


A few weeks ago, I read a story in one of the Sunday papers about one of the world’s great private art collectors giving his cleaning lady a Renoir ( I think ) because it had “ gone into the wall”

I really didn’t understand what that meant until Hermano Primero suggested we have supper at The Peasant tonight. The Peasant was one of the second wave of gastro pubs following on from the opening of The Eagle and it must have been open over ten years by now.

But, I never really notice it even though I walk passed it every week on my saunters into town. It had, as the art collector might say “gone into the wall”

So when HP made the suggestion, I thought “why not?” it is a lovely evening, The Peasant has a lovely small terrace and my last meal there ( some five years ago ) had not been at all bad. How awful could it be? Well…………………..

Actually, not as awful as some, but pretty bad. Not Gilgamesh bad, not The Ambassador bad, not Vinum bad, but bad enough to make you despair of mid level dining in London and certainly too bad to warrant the £91 bill for two ( not including pudding)
The chef is Giancarlo Vatteroni who previously cooked at Moro and Providores and his background in the “hey lemon grass is on special at Borough Market” club shines through in the menu which veers from culinary Esparanto to total gibberish.

We arrived a little early, took a seat on the terrace and had a pre supper beer and had a look at the menu. I have never had to ask what so many ingredients were ( Fijoa salad, anyone?) and I felt sorry for the waiter who had only been there a week and had been sent out, like a WWI fighter pilot without adequate preparation. I am not surprised he was floundering. In fact flounder was probably the only ingredient in Christendom not on the menu in which each dish had at least six ingredients

After a dizzying and slightly worrying few minutes, we ordered three starters

Poached Monkfish cheek with Salted Cod Brandade, Caramelized Red Pepper and Avruga – Not a success. The fish was slightly mushy although the brandade was excellent. A plate of that on its own would have been just the job

Tea Smoked Quail on a Coconut Curry Sauce, Kumera, Fijoa Salad ( apparently like a guava ) and a tomatillo salsa – tasted more burned that smoked and that left a nasty residue in the sauce which smothered any flavour in the quail.

Pork Head and Corriander Terrine with Pickled Daikon, edible flowers and a wasabi salad – a very poor terrine that had not been packed densely enough so had no real bite, texture or indeed flavour. For all his use of ingredients, Giancarlo seems petrified to season his food.

Main courses, unfortunately, were little better and in the case of HP’s a great deal worse.

Roast Lamb Chump on a Quinoa, artichoke and broad been salad with onion rings and new season garlic foam – asked for rare. Arrived grey. Sent back and arrived again rare but burned on the outside. The meat had little flavour and did not indicate that it had come from a woolgiver of any provenance. The salad was actively foul.

Tagliata of Argentinia Beef striploin with wild mushrooms, radiccio and shaved parmesan – at its best, this is a beautifully simple dish. This was not at its best. I had not specified how I liked my beef so cannot complain that it was overcooked. I can complain that the dish was tasteless and that there was ( again!) a lack of seasoning. I asked for some lemon to squeeze over the pan in an attempt to give it some zing, but it didn’t work.

A decent bottle of rose, well priced at £19 kept us on the right side of unpleasant. But, the arrival of our bill did not. My beloved mother would have said £91 was “ just plain wicked” and she would have been right.

It may be that my tastes are getting more simple as I get older but menus like this fill me with horror. Chefs who hurl as many ingredients as they can find into a pan in lieu of any culinary personality. These dishes, apart from lacking freshness and taste lacked maturity and any discernable level of skill.

We did not want to face pudding here for fear of what it may contain so popped down the road to St John for some lovely Burnt Ice Cream and some chocolate cake. A slightly “Groundhog Day” feeling for me as I had done exactly the same the night before after imbibing too many cocktails and eating too much sushi with my new best chum. Petra “Chocstar” Barran. ( remember for all your mobile chocolate needs )

So, not an unpleasant way to finish an evening but, as far as I am concerned, The Peasant can go back into the wall.

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, June 25, 2006



I’ll grant you, it is an unlikely scenario for two men who get called “Miles” or “ Niles” by our friends depending on whether they are fans of Frasier or Sideways to be seen boarding a “ Disneyland Special” at Waterloo at 8.30am on a Friday morning.

But, every year the whole family goes away for a long weekend and this year Hermano Primero thought that this may just be a good idea. I had my doubts, but was persuaded by the fact that the our sister’s kids have been counting the days since we made the reservation and I was assured that we would be doing the whole thing “club” class which gave us the promise of a decent hotel, access to some adequate meals and super fast VIP passes to the main attractions. Unfortunately, my added request for a moment or two alone with Snow White was met with short shrift. Ho Hum, I had my chat up line all ready, “ I may be grumpy, but I am no dwarf!”

The Eurostar terminal at Waterloo was mobbed with families and their little cherubs but thankfully few of them were to be seen once were settled in the club carriages and the three hour journey was perfectly pleasant ( especially when I secured a few free bottles of white from the train manager ) and we arrived bang on time.

We had booked into The Disneyland Hotel, the main hotel for the site and with rooms overlooking the park itself. Surprisingly, the way to the hotel was incredibly badly signposted and we spent a good twenty minutes walking around looking for the entrance and shouting “hello Cleveland” before we saw a small revolving door which led to the main lobby.

First scary encounter of the trip. A large man in Lederhosen wearing a badge which identified him as “ Sven” and a permagrin that frightened the kids. He grabbed our bags and whisked us to the lift to the Castle Club floor where an agreeably gruff Parisian host ‘tsk’d” at the kids and checked us in while we had a cup of tea.

So, four hours after leaving London, we were in the park, dragged by a nephew in one hand and a niece in the other and having to answer questions such as “ do they really shrink you in Honey I Shrunk The Audience?”

I guess Disneyland is an easy target. Even at a relatively early hour, the whole place was so rammed to the rafters that walking ten feet took nearly half an hour. There is barely any signposting and even fewer staff. Those you do encounter seem more like the camp guards at a gulag than the cheery smiling faces that would have made uncle Walt so proud. The queues for the major rides had notices that read “ two days waiting from this point” all this for a thirty second ride. If I want to wait that long for thirty seconds of pleasure, I will get married again.

Worse of all, the music. Piped, loud, marching music played at an ear deafening level in order to keep the crowds moving and enabling them to allow even more people into the place.

But, I don’t care. The kids adored every last waking minute of it and, in this instance, that is all that mattered. Once we had figured out that our VIP Fast Pass allowed us to walk on to any ride at any time, we were dragged from “ Buzz Lightyear” to “Pirates of The Caribbean” to “ The Mad Hatters Tea Cups” all at a rapid pace that had us all flagging by four in the afternoon. It was, we were warned by the six year old in our group, not an option that we were going to be allowed to miss the daily parade. So, we stood in the thirty degree heat while the poor sods in their heavy costumes came past to more of that damn piped music.

Part of our package at the hotel allowed us access to a concierge lounge which, apart from serving soft drinks all day also served afternoon tea. Very nice too. A vast selection of pastries and sandwiches served overlooking the park.

We had been told that the food at Disneyland was truly grim. Our hotel houses the only ‘fine” dining option called “ The California Grill” and themed on some restaurant or other in the Napa. We had booked an early table at 6.30pm so we could have supper with the two children and arrived just as they were opening.

I have to say, I have had meals that cost a lot more and were a lot worse. Most agreeably, they were very well set up for kids not just because they gave them some games and crayons but because they did not assume that just because they were four and six that they would be happy to eat crap. So, instead of chicken nuggets, they got a well made salad of fresh leaves with goat’s cheese and poached fish with butter sauce and creamy mashed potatoes. A particular favourite was the dessert, a white chocolate jigsaw puzzle of Mickey which came with three paint brushes and a variety of “paints” made from coulis to colour in our mouse friend. Try finding that at a restaurant in London.

For the adults, much better food than any of us anticipated. Grilled whole lobster, decent foie terrine, a cracking cote de boeuf and excellent lamb shank. Service was excellent with the children being treated as human beings rather than nuisances and they had a very very good wine list from which we chose a Volnay and a Chablis.

This was a meal that would have been more than acceptable back home and was all the more welcome given the horrific things we had been told about eating in Disneyland.

Followed by a large nightcap and a short walk, we all headed off to bed where, I understand the kids allowed their parents all of thirty seconds sleep all night. About the length of the ride on “Pirates of the Caribbean” Apt really.


It’s my fault, OK? My fault. No one else’s.

I made the choice. I made the reservation and I am to blame.

When we were sitting at breakfast ( visited by some of the Disney characters much to the terror of the smaller children ) in the lounge at 8.30am, we were, as is our want, pondering on what to have for lunch and supper.

Lunch was pretty easy. They had a very decent looking buffet at the hotel that looked like it could more than fill a hole. Supper was more difficult. We did not want anything high end and we wanted to eat early again and with the children. I am not sure what made me say it but the words “ Planet Hollywood” came out of my mouth. I may as well have said “ let’s rip up lots of money and then drink lots and lots of salt water until we vomit” the end result would have been the same and we would not have had to walk half way across the park.

But more of this horror later.

First, another morning being dragged around the park where I sat on the “Dumbo” ride with my four year old niece who kindly pointed out that the ears of the little elephant and my own were alarmingly similar. Also, “Space Tours” where the kids had a ball and all the adults found that they had become reacquainted with their morning croissant.

By lunchtime, we were starving again and headed back to the “Inventions” restaurant at the hotel which offered a buffet service. I usually steer clear of these not being particularly fond of food that has been kept tepid over water while people sneeze over it. That being said, this was as good an example of the type as you could hope to find. A huge array of fresh salads, seafood, meats and desserts. Dos Hermanos made so many return visits that the authorities sent in the Park’s secret police, otherwise known as Chip N’ Dale to warn us off. Just what we needed to set us up for a visit to The Walt Disney Studio’s much quieter and altogether more manageable.

OK, so let’s get back to the horror and let me restate. It was entirely my fault.

The last time I entered a Planet Hollywood was with a young cousin and her friend over from Houston back in 1997. Their choice and they enjoyed it. I did not and was incredibly grumpy particularly to the young waitress who hunkered down at our table and stage whispered “ so who is Mr Grumpy then? To which I replied, slightly more loudly “ he is the one who is paying the bill so piss off” But, I did not die and they loved the burgers so it served a purpose.

I had thought that a place that offered pizza, burgers and steaks might suit the kids for a more simple meal. I had assumed that, being a chain, it would at least offer some level of quality control and, while not haute, would fill a gap. How wrong can you get?

Well, What we did get was a truly inedible meal ( a large portion of which we refused to pay for) served in a room that was so grubby and tired that most of the items on display came from films that were made some fifteen years before the kids were born. A model of a nude Sly Stallone ( welcome to my nightmares little one) in “ The Demolition Man” anyone? Now there’s one for the kids.

Like Disneyland, Planet Hollywood is an easy target. But, if I had had a decent burger and a nice cold one I could easily of answered any criticism by saying “ it is what it is and the kids liked it” Well, they didn’t like it. The little one just made vomitty faces and the older one declared the food “ absolute rubbish”

Starters of wings, dips and garlic bread were about edible. Main courses remained largely untouched primarily down to the amount of salt added. Disgusting.

A chunk was knocked off our bill when we complained and we slunk out of there with everyone, including the children glowering at me as if I had been found doing something filthy to Cinderella. I deserved it all.

It took a go on “Thunder Mountain” and a train ride for the kids and a number of nightcaps for the adults to erase the memory.

I am really very sorry.

Still, it failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the kids for long although the rain which poured down on Sunday morning certainly did and it also put paid to any attempts to spend a last hour in the park. So, we fought our way through the crowds who had decided to brave the downpour, purchase a bizzarely yellow Disney raincoat and headed to the station.

The journey home was uneventful and I am now sitting back in London, a bottle of Duchy Original ale and a scotch egg in front of me and it all seems like a slightly surreal dream or, in the case of the food at Planet Hollywood, a nightmare.

Let's end with a joke

Q: "Did Cinderella ever sleep with Prince Charming?"
A: "Only in Disneyland Paris"
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, June 18, 2006



Well not quite. More a schlep along the grotty Westbound Circle Line to Baker Street. Our mission: to erase the memory of our extremely nasty meal at Leon the previous evening and renew our search for decent Fish and Chips in London. So we made our way down Marylebone Lane coughing and spluttering (he had a bad chest, I had hayfever).

Marylebone Lane is an interesting street of the sort you will find all over London but which is easily missed by the casual visitor. It runs from Oxford Street to Marylebone High Street and is home to two pubs, a club (The Sohisticats), the Button Queen (for all your button needs), hairdressers, delis, greasy spoons, restaurants from all over the globe and our destination The Golden Hind.

But first we had to drink beer. The pubs on the high street are very missable especially on a Saturday evening so we essayed a pint in the Golden Eagle. A very local local – shame that my pint of Pride and HS’s pint of St. Austell's Tribute didn’t really come up to snuff. Our second choice of The Pontefract Castle was a lot worse – all loud PA, LCD screens and indifferent beer. So we quickly made our way to the restaurant. While HS secured a table I popped round to the local offy, Nicholas (this is Marylebone) to get the wine we had selected earlier.

The Golden Hind has been here since 1914 and the current occupiers are only the fifth family owners in those hundred years. They’re doing the place proud. As soon as we’d unwrapped the wine the owner had dispatched one of the waiters to open our wine and pour it. The menu is short so we quickly ordered and sat back and admired the art deco Bakelite fish fryer from F Ford of Halifax (sadly, non-functioning) while sipping a chilled Sancerre Rose.

First up was a selection of breaded, deep-fried starters: scampi tails, tender calamari strips and substantial cod fishcakes. All were superior to the chippy norm – the calamari were especially un-rubbery – and all the better for being fresh from the frier.

Whilst waiting for our next course we did a quick scan of the other patrons who were mostly locals although there was a visit by a gaggle of American tourists who had made reservations but left quickly as most of the party had an allergy to fish (handy tip for the unwary: it's a Fish and Chip shop).

Next up were the main events. Haddock fillet and chips for me, Plaice and chips for HS. The batter on my haddock was crisp and greaseless and had in the correct manner encased the fillet allowing it to steam, leaving firm chunks of fish. Excellent. Judging by favourable sounds from across the table the Plaice passed muster as well. The chips, too, were nicely cooked - slightly browned as oppose to the more common flabby white variety. Even the mushy peas were not a bad try for a southern F&C outfit. Accompaniments were some unnecessary but really rather good pickled Greek vegetables and some tartare sauce which seemed to be made from mayonnaise with some chopped up capers and pickled cucumbers (which is exactly what tartare sauce is).

Given the non-greasy nature of the food we managed to scoff a couple of bowls of pretty good ice cream for pud. And we were done.

This is exactly what good fish and chips should be but rarely is: a casual meal, cooked properly with good ingredients and reasonably priced. The BYO policy makes it even more attractive. We shall be returning.

Postscript. I had assumed that The Sophiticats was a club from the swinging 60’s where you would find the likes of Pete and Britt and Tel and Jean hanging out, but a quick google turned up the following:

“Sophisticats is an adult venue that hosts nude cabaret shows as well as cat girl table top dancing, live shows, drinks and a host of entertainment all in one venue. There are feline waitresses who serve cat snacks and drinks until 3am. On Saturday nights, men table dance for women.”

Who knew the good burghers of Marylebone were cat lovers ?

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, June 16, 2006


I really don’t you know? Whatever people think, I really don’t head out every night to eat crappy food and over pay for it. I really truly don’t. It just happens.

One of my chums, a food reviewer for someone famous, warned me that once I started trying to do reviews in any proper fashion, I would end up eating more crappy meals than good. How right they were.

The first time Hermano Primero and I ate at Leon it was the first branch in Carnaby St which had received reviews so bizarrely favourable that I suspected that the owner had Polaroids of the nationals reviewers pleasuring each other at one of their “secret” dinners with a wide variety of root vegetables.

Was it any good? Not really. I really didn’t get it then and have felt no need to return ever since.

However, in the interest of finding somewhere new to try, I pondered upon the new ( third, I think ) branch of Leon in Spitalfield and HP offered to tag along in support.

It sits alongside Giraffe and Canteen and, when we arrived, they had only been open little over 24 hours. That’s no excuse though and so, they must perish in the first burst of fire.

This was a very bad meal hampered by hapless if sweet service. There was nothing about it that gave evidence of good ingredients cooked properly and served efficiently. Quite the opposite.

We arrived a little after 7pm and the place was packed but, did manage to squeeze ourselves into a small table outside. We got our menus, quite charmingly hidden between the pages of Children’s annuals from the 1970’s ( in my case Asterix and in the case of HP, Dr Who – the only thing that made us smile in the whole meal ) there was lots on there that sounded quite nice and we ordered a wide selection of Mezze and a couple of dishes from the main courses.

Shamefully for them, there seemed to be more things off the menu than on. Most bizarrely, the Rose we ordered to drink. So, it’s a nice hot day in the City, they didn’t think anyone would be that keen on Rose so they only ordered enough for two services. Stupidy, stupidy, stupid. So we went for a slightly noxious Tourraine and a bottle of Cruzcampo to share.

The Mezze arrived all at once. Quite frankly, they were no better than those we have at The Angel Mangal. Decent Chorizo, Stringy meatballs, lumpen Sweet potato falafel and truly disgusting Halumi which could easily have been used for roofing purposes.

The clueless waitress had forgotten to order our main course which, given the quality of the food we had eaten should have been a blessing, but we pressed on and they finally brought it out. They really need not have bothered. The mixed grill was the poorest example of the species I have ever encountered and that includes eating at a Little Chef. Two miserable grey lamb cutlets that needed a microscope to see, a few oily bits of chicken and some gloopy rice. This was as bad a dish as I have had since I went to Gilgamesh, well three days ago. A side dish of “superfood” salad was a parsimonious mix of badly cooked greens and sprouts.

We wanted to leave and rushed to get our bill. Along it came and they asked me to join them inside because the machine was not working. The bill was a massive £58.78 for two including service and VAT. I offered up £35 in cash and asked them to put the rest on the card. Panic ensued and a five minute wait followed. When I asked what the problem was, they said they were looking for the calculator to figure out what the amount was to put on the card. Just to remind you.

Total Bill - £58.78
Cash - £35.00
Amount on Card - ££23.78

This simple equation was, it appeared quite beyond the staff at Leon. Young people, thick as a Ghurka’s foreskin or what?

When I finally managed to pay, we just wanted out and out fast.

This is the second time I have eaten at Leon. The first time I thought there was no reason to return. The second time I feel that the only way you would get me to sit in that place again was to staple my nuts to the seat.

Chalk another one down to the crappy meal column
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Let’s not try to paper over the cracks. It was a lousy performance. It was a performance that needed every man jack who took the field for England today to be tarred, feathered and dragged through the streets on a rail while the populace booed them. I cannot be the only person in town who actually got to the point of wishing that Trinidad & Tobago would score and beat the big girl's blouses who did not feel that their mere £50,000 per week gave them the responsibility of turning up.

Whoever they play in the next round, I hope they get soundly thrashed and have to limp back to Luton Airport their tails between their legs and have to walk all the way to London while people whip them with cow’s udders filled with piss and puke. That’s how badly they played. I despise them.

So, after the game, filled with merry glee, me and Hermano Primero needed to get out of the house and have some fun.

We decided on our Smithfield Market crawl and this post is dedicated to one person who improved our spirits no end. A cook who knows the value of hard work, is dedicated to what she does and eschews the glamour for the reward of knowing she does what she does exceptionally well. This post is about Carol. But, more of that later.

First stop, Compttoir Gascon. Booked out as usual, we took a seat at the bar and ordered some starters. Piggy treats were as good as always, each separate component served at the correct temperature. Then some Fromage blanc into which we dipped excellent bread. Finally, a special of sauternes soaked Foie. Exemplary. A glass of Juracon and a glass of Cahor saw us £52 less in our pockets but ready to head for the next course

Vinoteca was busting when we arrived, so we sat at the bar again. There was Carol. Let’s put this into context. If you asked either of Dos Hermanos who their favourite chef in London had been in the last few years, we would both screech “ Rosie Sykes” When she cooked at The Sutton Arms” she just hit every button we possessed. Generosity of spirit, good technique and sublime provenance of ingredients. Since she moved on, everything seems just that little bit flatter and we have searched for something and someone to fill the void.

Well, Carol Craddock ( no relation to the blessed Fanny, she is keen to point out ) is as close as we have found. Trained with Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum, she runs the tiny stove area at Vinoteca like Rommel marshalling his Panzer divisions. But, she is not just efficient, she can cook up a storm. Last time, Hermano Primero ordered a “ Five Bird terrine” which he mentioned in every conversation for five weeks. This time, a chicken liver parfait that was as close to godliness as a benediction from The Pope. With it we ordered a slab of belly pork with noodles. If we had one criticism, it would be that, despite the proximity of Smithfield, she should look to better sources for her piggy which was without flavour if perfectly cooked.

A small criticism. If anyone wants really honest cooking, they can do a lot worse than bundling up at the bar of Vinoteca and sitting in front of Carol Craddock. A real cook, preparing real food for real people with no frippery or pretensions. Such things are rare in London. She got us to write our blog address on her payslip. Whatever it was for, it’s nowhere near enough.

We sloped off from there after our main courses to St John and sat in the bar area for some Strawberry ripple ice cream ( superb ) and some flavourless peach jelly with a clotted cream that was as good as it gets. Washed down with some unfeasibly large post prandials, it almost made me forget just how shockingly awful the pretty boys ( Rooney excluded of course as he patently has a faced like a slapped backside ) were tonight.

In restaurants as in football, what we need is more decent, real, honest people. The world could do with a damn sight more Carol Craddocks
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


I have been feeling really lousy recently. I have been laid low with a cold that seems to have taken up permanent residence and, despite being the very definition of the brave little soldier, I need my comfort food.

So tonight,the one Indian dish that always proves a winner when prepared for friends and serves to improve my mood no end. In no small part, I don’t doubt, to the large amount of cream involved in its making

Chicken Korma has its roots in the Persian conquests of Northern India I am told. It was a royal dish served to the Moghul Emperors and made with prize ingredients like almonds and often served layered with gold leaf.

My version isn’t quite up to that, but people always make appreciative noises when eating it and even more when I give them the recipe and show them how quickly it can be made.

So here it is

Chicken Pieces – I either use chicken breasts in chunks or skinned thigh and leg portions.

2 cloves of garlic finely minced
2 green chillis finely minced

1 cup of single cream
1 cup of ground almonds
2 cups boiling water

1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Zest of half a lime
Juice of half a lime

Bunch of coriander leaves

It could not be easier.

Place the ground almonds in a bowl with the cream, the sugar, salt and turmeric and stir to form a paste. Add the boiling water and mix well. Leave to one side until the boiling water lets the oils out of the almonds. This is what will thicken the sauce.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan or wok and add the chilli and garlic. Cook for two minutes until soft and then add the chicken ( if using pieces on the bone, I par cook in the oven first ) fry until cooked and then add the sauce.

Turn down the heat to a low setting and cook gently until the sauce thickens. If it gets too thick add a little water

Place in a serving bowl and sprinkle with lime juice, zest and coriander leaves. You can if you like, also top with a few toasted flaked almonds

That’s it. A really delicious dish that is even better then next day

I didn’t bother with the coriander or the almonds. I just wanted to tuck in and finished up ladling the rich creamy sauce into my mouth straight from the bowl. I also had some closed cap mushrooms left so sliced those and added to the sauce at the last moment.

I am not sure if the Dr I am visiting tomorrow will approve of my self medication, but it certainly made me feel a damn sight better
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, June 12, 2006


Let’s make this abundantly clear. I don’t often take pictures in/of urinals. Well, leastways not since the court order. But, I did tonight because the gent’s at Gilgamesh is a truly extraordinary place in which to point Percy at the porcelain.

In fact Gilgamesh is extraordinary for so many reasons let alone it’s gold plated khazi.

It is extraordinary for being the largest restaurant in the UK with a possible 700 covers.

It is extraordinary for being the result of £12million worth of investment by three Israeli business men inspired initially by the Buddha Bar in Paris but who, after a visit to The British Museum thought that ancient Babylon would be the perfect theme for a Pan Asian restaurant.

It is extraordinary that all of this is in what used to be The Stables in Camden Town

It is extraordinary for being the place that Ian Pengelley, the Icarus of London restaurants should try and repair his wings after the hubris and the crash and burn that was his eponymous liaison with Gordon Ramsay

Most of all, however, it is a place that is extraordinary for prising such a vast amount of money from you for cooking ( if that is the term ) of such ineptitude that everyone involved should be ashamed to the very core of their Babylonian slippers.

I like Ian Pengelley. I can’t claim to know him but, he always comes over as an affable chap on TV and when I read that he was going to be in charge of the kitchen here, I thought it would be the perfect location for me and a dearest friend to have supper.

The location of the restaurant seemed truly bizarre situated right next to Camden Lock amongst all those tatty shops selling tat. But, all became clear when the host explained that one of owners owns Camden Lock. That’s just as well then. He can probably afford to lose the money when this place closes in six months.

The room is vast. I am not talking big, enormous or huge. I am talking the size of a small country. My friend had arrived before me and had been plonked at a table in the middle of the room. When I turned up, she was visiting the aforementioned bathrooms. She assured me that the women’s bathrooms were pretty extraordinary too. I don’t have pictures to prove it.

So, there we were like two ink dots on a sheet of A4 paper in the middle of this Babylonian sneeze of a restaurant. By the time we left, there were perhaps another four tables occupied. I suspect that you could have another 60 tables occupied and still feel like you were dining in an empty room.

They have had a “ friends and family day’ and a “ press day” where all the nationals ( the usual suspects ) came to fill their snouts at the trough of free food. But, this was only their third full public day. They told us they had been full the previous two days. So, that is nearly 1400 people wandering around London wondering where the hell £120 went and half a dozen journo’s thanking God that they never have to put their hand in their own pocket for a meal.

The menu is limited. Limited in oh so many ways. There are some salads, some Sushi and Sashimi, some Dim Sum and some main courses. Prices are high with salads being between £10-12, Sushi between £6-11, Dim Sum around the £5 mark and the main courses over £20.

That’s about the same price as Hakkasan or Roka. Unfortunately, the cooking is more like The Jade Garden at the bottom of The Goswell Rd.

We ordered a bit from each part of the menu to try as wide a variety as possible and then sat back for a few minutes chat before thinking about eating. No such luck. Within about 2 minutes of ordering, food began to arrive and arrive and arrive until 80% of our dishes were on the table.

I asked the waitress if Ian Pengelley was actually in the kitchen or had just designed the menu. She assured me that he looked at every plate before it was sent out to the table. If that is the case then he really has lost the plot and the Gordon experience has left his abilities in the kitchen shot to hell. This was food that ranged from OK to bland to limp to soggy to nasty to “ I am going to hunt you and your family down like Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear”

They also said they had 36 chefs in the kitchen. I can only assume they were watching the World cup.

There seemed to be no particular order to when the food arrived. First up some soft and chewy prawn crackers, followed by Har Gau that was no better than you can buy in any supermarket in Chinatown. Garlic chive and mushroom dumplings actually showed some signs of a decent kitchen but the arrival of a flaccid papaya salad with a betel leaf tempura which was a tough as Sumo’s jockstrap soon dragged the level of the meal back down again.

The edamame snacks we ordered to begin with arrived after all of this and just as we got a potion of crispy squid served in a twist of a Japanese newspaper ( a schtick he first came up with at E& O, I think ) The peas were fine. Hard to ruin really. Not so the squid. Leathery enough to require conversation to stop while we chewed, this was a real travesty of what can be a truly lovely dish.

Two parsimonious slices each of yellowtail and tuna sashimi arrived atop a ludicrous bowl of dry ice which bubbles menacingly but pointlessly and a tuna roll was made with nothing more than tuna mayo sandwich filling. Really very, very nasty indeed.

The only high in a series of defining lows was a dragon roll of unagi and avocado which, while not screaming fresh did not, at least, scream “ throw me away”

A sweet salad of pork with scallops was better. The pork was crispy and sweet with honey. The scallops, a tad overcooked were fresh.

The other main course was a Nobu stylee Miso marinade Sea Bass which my friend quite liked but I thought was slimey.

So, that was it. All served lickety split. In fact we were in and out in under an hour and twenty minutes. That is Nobu speed without Nobu quality of cooking.

The bill was incorrect as they had reduced prices just before tonight’s service in reaction to comments on the previous two nights. They changed it immediately but, suffice to say, that even with the reduction it still came to a horrendous £124 for two including service which was fine but damn well should have been given that there were staff there for 700 and there were 20 people in the room. We also ordered a bottle of Picpoul at £15 not badly priced on what was a menu with nosebleed inducing mark ups and little imagination

This is amongst the worst meals I have ever eaten in London

There was Gordon Ramsay’s at Claridges, the biggest flop since Howard the Duck.

There was Restaurant Tom Aiken where happiness goes to die and where you win a prize if you can tell a starter from a main course from a dessert.

There was Chinatmani where I suggested they change one of the names of the dishes on the menu to “slop” to save time

Gilgamesh is right up there amongst them. It is by far the most stunningly misconceived restaurant I can recall in recent memory and even more remarkable as I think it marks the death knell to the major league career of a chef who could and should be offering much better

I would rather suck my brain out with a straw than ever eat here ( if that’s truly what we did) again

Labels: , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Newer›  ‹Older