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

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


About three years ago a new branch of Malmaison opened in Clerkenwell.

I rather liked it. The bar was good, the staff were friendly and the restaurant served simple, well prepared if slightly over priced food. Dos Hermanos, as is our want, went there a lot in a very short period.

Then we stopped going. I have no idea why. We do that a lot. I guess it is like going out with someone. At the beginning, you are besotted, then fatigue sets in and you start noticing other more intriguing options, then you just don’t bother anymore.

We have passed by a number of times and pondered on the menu, but still not bothered to give it another try. That is, until last night when HP fancied a DH supper and I was willing to tag along and, rifling through my little black book decided to give an old acquaintance another try.

Again, much like bumping into an old flame, Malmaison was looking rather good. Much better than remembered. Isn’t that always the way? The lobby has a smart little champagne bar. The lighting in the lower bar is more favourable to an, er, older crowd and there are lots of little nooks and crannies to hide in.

The restaurant itself has changed little apart from seeming to be slightly less well lit. The menu, though, does seem to have had a bit of an overhaul and there were lots of things on there to entice.

Initially, the service seemed a bit on the formal side for a brasserie and the presence of a sommelier with a big leather book seemed a little out of place but, our waiter was charm itself and reeled off a list of decent sounding specials.

First up, while we drank an insipid and over priced glass of Albarino (£6.75 – I think ) HP ordered a Chicken Liver & Foie Terrine which had gone long on chicken and short on Foie lacking richness. Accompanied by some passable brioche, it was perfectly OK but we have both tried much better terrines recently.

Better was my “classic” shrimp cocktail although I was slightly alarmed to find that the sizable shrimp were warm. Still, the marie rose sauce was exemplary and I wiped the bowl clean with my fingers, it was that good.

For main courses, we both plumped for the special of a 450gm Cote de Boeuf. Well of course we did and a very good choice it was too. Perfectly cooked rare and with a good char, HP ranked it at number three in his London Steak list behind Anchor & Hope and Hawksmoor. It did not have the depth of flavour that recent steaks at Hawksmoor have provided, but then I suspect, their supplier is not The Ginger Pig. Still it was a good stab and provided me with another first, a mustard trolley offering a selection of condiments including a range of Dijon mixed with fennel or Champagne or any number of things. All they need now is a mustard sommelier.

The real sommerlier seemed a little bit miffed that we chose our own wine, A L’etranger Cab Sav from the Barossa Valley that stood up to the steak but clobbered us over the head with a huge 14.5% bite in the way that Australian wines tend too. He kept asking us if we were “ happy” with our choice right until the point he opened it. All a bit odd. I think he may find himself underused in these surroundings.

Desserts were a bit crappy and overpriced at £6. Scoops of three “homemade” ice creams all tasted the same and a chocolate cheesecake was too dense and fridge fresh. Not worth the effort and they did not make us want to try the petits which were on offer for £10 for two people. Bloody hell. I didn’t want to buy the place I just wanted some choccy with my tea.

So we forwent tea and coffee, got the bill and headed off home. A not insignificant £142 for two inc service which was definitely deserved.

So, that was it. It really was like having dinner with an old flame. It looked good, better than I remember and there were plenty of things that made me remember why I was fond of it in the first place. At the same time there were enough faults to make me realize why I am not so involved anymore.

Emotionally exhausting this restaurant game, no?

Labels: , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Ever had one of those days where you would rather be a cart pusher in the middle ages hauling bubonic cadavers from plague ridden houses rather than have your own life? Welcome to my world.

After a noxious day at work, a truly horrible day at work, I needed a drink. Damn, I needed a drink. So, after dumping my baggage off at home, I rushed out to SOSHO

In the heady euphoria surrounding my discovery of Hawksmoor, I had forgotten about SOSHO, perhaps the most enjoyable bar in the Match Bar Group. Silly really as they have the most consistent mixing in London balanced by prices that start at a mere £6.50 for a perfectly made Martini.

It was practically empty when I walked in apart from one couple undressing each other in a discreet corner ( I wonder if they will name their first born SOSHO in honour of where it was conceived? ) and I had the full attention of the painfully young but very talented Fraser who proceeded to mix three exemplary cocktails.

A very decent martini could have benefited from only a slick more lemon oil on top of the gin. A Sazerac was beautifully balanced and best of all, his own creation and entry into the “ World’s Best Bartender” competition, A Bloomsbury Fix. Using Tanqueray 10, Pineapple ( the family crest of the T’s ) Grapefruit to reflect the botanicals in T10 and a little lemon juice and sugar syrup. A very well made drink indeed.

After three drinks, I needed to soak it all up and, given my mileage at the moment ( another 13 miler this morning) was able to indulge in some carbs.

Alexander’s Fish Bar sits on the corner of Christopher St near Finsbury Sq. Best know for their pasties, there are never less than 10 limo drivers parked outside and the owner is unendingly chirpy.

A Steak and onion pasty and a Chicken & Mushroom pasty helped to soak up the cocktails and were stuffed full of meaty goodness. Chips were pretty grim, but a few were a welcome treat for a man for who is on the treadmill for a couple of hours in the morning.

Nothing spectacular, but a good enough way to dull the misery of trudging through the day to day slough of despond.

Labels: , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Back home in La Belle Rotherham, ahem!

It was HP’s turn to cook the Sunday lunch, which is just as well as my hurtle towards the NYC marathon had meant a 17.5 miler this morning and consequently my being fit for nothing. A condition which numerous ex’s would attest to being “not a pretty sight”

It was a particularly auspicious day as it was Baba's (Bengali for Dad) 74th Birthday, so all of his favourite things had to be on show.

HP managed more than admirably. A 2.5kg rib from Northfiled Farm, exemplary roasties cooked in Goose fat, fresh hot horseradish sauce and some vegetables ( at my request ) would have been enough on their own but were topped by, arguably, the best Yorkshire puddings in the history of this small, insignificant, spinning globe of ours. Crispy on the outside but with enough doughy insides to mop up a very acceptable gravy.

Ah, the great British Sunday lunch. It’s what separates us from the beasts ( or the Americans, I am never quite sure how to distinguish the two )

Washed down with a bottle of Chorley Le Beaune and a Chianti Classico and followed with a choccy mouse and a glass or three of 10 year old Talisker, The four men of the family were more than happy to crash in front of the box and watch football with only the meanest box of chocolate gingers to keep us from starvation.

Now we have to think about Supper
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


So, after Munich, I arrived back home late last night, spent a very few hours in my own bed and then was up at the crack o dawn to head to the office before another schlep to Heathrow and to Madrid.

Ah, Madrid. MI Corazon. It is and remains the city of my dreams. Officially the best city on the face of God’s earth and a place in which I feel immediately at home the moment I plant my feet on its blessed surface.

The flight was a nightmare. Not because of the security at Heathrow this time but more because of the fact that about 50 Spanish school children were on the same plane as us returning from a school exchange and seemed intent in spending the 2 ½ hour flight in singing “ we are the champions” in broken English.

Still, by the time we arrived at Madrid they had run out of energy a bit and I was able to barge past them and race through the stunning and I mean STUNNING new Madrid airport, collect my bag and head for our entirely inoffensive hotel just off the Gran Via.

A slightly different experience from my normal visits to Madrid. Whereas normally, I am with HP who will fight me for the last scrap of fat on a plate of jamon and more than carry his weight when it comes to cana and copa and Gran Duque, this time my companion was a person who barely drinks, does not eat red meat and likes an early night.

Despite that, I have to say we made quite a good showing.

First of all, shame on me, a beer at an entirely horrid bar at Plaza Mejor. I know, I know. It is a tourist trap and EU18 for a couple of drinks and some olives and almonds was iniquitous, but, the Sun was out and it was not unpleasant, so, who cares? A first and a last.

Then, back on to much more familiar territory as we headed up Calle Baja the home of some of my favourite bars in Madrid. It was still early and many of the bars were closed. On top of which many of the restaurants were also shut for their annual holiday. However, we did find the latest branch of Toma Jamon open and ready to serve a large plate of Iberico along with some Pan Y Tomate and a decent cana served from a pump shaped like a ham leg ( can ANYONE think of a better thing in the whole world that beer served through a ham leg? – answers on a postcard ) I, of course had to eat all of the Iberico, poor, poor me.

Then to Casa Luca the home of the Nuevo tapa. Usually, Me and HP just sit at the bar and drink and nibble. This time my me and my companion decided to sit and try a few larger courses. Some croquettes were suitably creamy and, being stuffed with more Iberico, I had to eat them all again. We split a perfunctory salad before two other slightly ordinary courses of ink pasta stuffed with mariscos and a chicken dish which totally escapes me. I suspect it escapes me because I washed it down with the best part of a bottle of Ribera Del Duero.

I was delighted to spot that, at the top of Baja, a new Artisnal Helado store had opened called Gianrossi. It would have been a very poor showing not to give it a try, so we did with a cone of exemplary Chocolate ice cream topped with an even more splendid Dulce De Lece.

Normally, when accompanied by HP, the night would continue in a blur of cana and fried food ending with an unfeasibly large night cap. This time, as work looms large first thing in the morning, I headed back to the hotel for an early night just as the city of my soul was coming to life. I feel like a child having to watch their own birthday party through the upstairs banister while suffering from Chicken pox.

Still, not a bad evening and wheting my appetite for a proper visit later in the year.

Madrid, to quote the masterful D Fagen

It's not a game I play

It's in my DNA

It's what I do
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Now, this is why I like this business. For all the travails of the last few months, this is why I love this business.

I suddenly realised half way through a day of meetings with intelligent, charming and hospitable publishers that life on the road is what I do best. Think of me as Willy Loman with well defined abs and a bald head.

Our first meeting was not until later in the morning which allowed us time for a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and the chance to wander around Munich and check out a few book stores.

Bookshops in any country tell you a huge amount about the people and what they consider important. The Germans take books very seriously indeed. Munich is the home to more publishing houses than NYC or London and their main bookstore chain, Huggendubel offers up a depth of stock that would put most Waterstones to shame. Still, Dan Brown seems to be in full effect here as everywhere so it would seem you can fool all the people all the time.

Four meetings later saw us being taken off to dinner at Hippocampus, a publishing hangout in the Bogenhausen district of the city. It is considered one of the best Italian restaurants in Munich and has an impressive wine list.

Enjoyable rather than mind blowing. Competent rather than stunning, the food was all it needed to be to compliment a convivial evening spent with two of the honchos from Graefe & Unser, Germany’s leading cookery book publisher.

A cep risotto was creamy but retained a suitable bite, veal was slightly non descript. The star, however, was the wine. A Lowengang Chardonnay from the Sud tiroller, the part of Italy just to the South of Austria. Creamy and oaky it was unlike anything I had tried before and made even me stop talking while I tried it. A definite must buy when I am back home.

It was followed by a dark grappa which provided a suitable full stop to the evening.

So, nothing world shattering, but a pleasant evening with decent food and an excellent wine served to cap off a day which began, in part, to restore my love for what I do.

What did Willy say?

“After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.”

Not quite yet, Willy. Soon, but not quite yet.
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Why do people drive in Britain nowadays ? Is your trip really necessary ? I only ask as I have spent a quarter of the last 24 hours stuck in traffic jams, crawling between bizarrely spaced, badly phased traffic lights, intimidated by signs telling what to do and what not to do, endangered by other road users going either dangerously fast or deathly slow. And don’t get me started on caravans. Even when I wasn’t driving my perambulations were threatened by behemoths from London (aka Chelsea Tractors). Sheesh. Happily the other three quarters of that 24 were much more enjoyable.

I had been invited for the weekend to a cottage in Blakeney in North Norfolk cottage. Unbelievably, I'd never been to Norfolk before, indeed most of the East coast of the UK below Hornsea was all a bit of a mystery to me. As I passed into Norfolk I seemed to go through a ‘Life on Mars’ type time warp. This is a world bereft of chain coffee stores, where the word Fayre is used with nary a hint of irony and people of colour don't exist (except for that nice Mr Ahmed who runs Light of the Raj on the High Street). Weird.

When I eventually got to my destination the Sun came out and I was treated to some sandwiches made with extremely fresh Crab, crayfish tails and yet more Crab (Crab is big around these parts), all washed down with lashings of the local cider. Then a quick tour of the area.

I have to say I really took to the area apart from those 4x4s and the numerous hoorays that walk around as if they own the place (thankfully, it's not become Rock yet). Blakeney is a small village with an incredibly unspoiled and attractive harbour. The village dates back to Domesday and was once an important port and fishing centre. Now it relies on the tourist trade who come to see the large variety of birds and the grey seals and collect samphire. After a bracing walk along Blakeney Point we headed to Brancaster Beach. A beautiful expanse of clean sand littered with the shells of razor clams and mussels (Mr Stein must have been in town).

Nearby is Cley, a tiny village but home to Cley Smokehouse where we scored Buckling (Hot smoked herring sans head and guts), a brace of kippers, some sirloin and the ever essential pork scratchings.
From Picnic Fayre (sic) some local cheese, bread and some very sweet Norfolk blueberries.

All this fresh air made us very tired so returned to the cottage for a little rest before cracking open the Nyetimber Champagne for an apero. We had our tea at the nearby White Horse pub. The starters were the stars - a pile of tiny fried whitebait and a beautiful mackerel pate on samphire. For our mains we had Crab cocktail and a well cooked hunk of haddock on a buttery mash. I wimped out a bit on dessert by going for the fruit option although this was local strawberries and raspberries so I didn’t do too bad.

For breakfast the following morning I had one of the kippers grilled with brown bread and butter and some coffee although a strong cup of tea would be the traditional accompaniment. Suitably refreshed I set out for home. Unfortunately, I tried to finesse the journey by taking a different route. Of course it misfired big time and my return journey was longer and more tedious than the outward one.

As I took the Suffolk route home I quite missed the little Norfolk villages with their fayres and fetes and markets that make Brick Lane look like the Grand Bazaar. Mmm I thought, maybe that would be a good place to retire. I must be getting old.....
Stumble Upon Toolbar


And so it begins.

The next few months will see me leave behind the relative tranquillity of the Summer and fall headlong into the maelstrom of travel that is my usual Autumn/Winter schedule.

This week? Munich and Madrid. Just as I get ready to spend half my life in an airport, raised security measures decide that I may as well spend the other half of my life there too.

Heathrow was as horrible as you would imagine given recent events. An hour waiting in a tent before being allowed into the terminal, another hour plus in the security line before having to almost strip bare before going through the scanner and then another search just before I got on the plane. Mmm? An Indian name with a British passport. Profiling anyone?

Still, I just about had time to pick up a copy of “Runner’s World” before dashing to the gate.

The flight itself was harmless enough and we landed at Munich airport on time and 40 minutes later I was checked in to the charming Hotel Opera just a few seconds from Maximillian Strasse.

Until my colleague arrives tomorrow, I am going to be all on my lonesome, so I had asked around and done a little bit of net research and decided on a solo supper at Spaten Haus, a famous Bavarian restaurant opposite the Opera House. Reports marked it down as a place with good, hearty food which was to quote “ popular with tourists and locals alike” So it turned out. A simple room with a wide menu offered in three languages which is often not a good sign, but the majority of the throng seemed to be locals drinking unfeasibly large beers and chugging down cigarettes almost as fast as they were downing the beer and that was just the women.

Hearty would certainly be the word, I don’t think that anyone would ever accuse Bavarian cooking of being dainty. More, it is an assault course, a veritable challenge to both mind and colon.

I began with a light dish of Matje Herring soused and served with a creamy apple salad and the inevitable boiled potatoes. The herring were thick and meaty and the sharpness of the dressing cut through the oiliness of the meat beautifully. The apple salad I could take or leave. I left the potatoes totally much to the annoyance of the waiter. “I don’t eat potatoes much” I whined apologetically. He just gave me a look of withering contempt the like of which I thought was reserved for flashers but, I’m a grown up and if I don’t want to eat potatoes, I damn well wont.

The main course was, quite frankly, ludicrous. The waiter warned me “it is quite big” But, I waved him away. I have now learned that when a Bavarian tells you it is a lot of food, you had better listen up buddy. The “Bavarian Plate” is a speciality. It is also likely to be the cause of a few premature heart attacks. It comprises, two types of wurst, braised duck, suckling pig, sauerkraut along side two softball sized dumplings one made from potatoes and the other from pork liver just in case you did not get enough meat. The couple at the table next to me just laughed when they saw the plate and asked if they could take a picture to show their family in Frankfurt.

I finished quite a bit of it, but in the end, the dumplings beat me and sat there mocking me not even a third finished which led to another stern glance from the waiter. His gander ( about the only meat not on there) was further got up by my refusal to entertain the thought of a , dumpling based dessert.

So, I got the bill and staggered out. The fresh air did me the world of good and I thought a beer at The Hofbrauhaus, the most famous of the Munich beer halls would help wash things down. Unfortunately, I could not really face any booze after the last couple of days and I was also scared away by large ruddy faced men in shorts playing Oompah music ,so fled the scene.

The area around the beer hall seems to be owned entirely by celebrity chef Herr Schubenk with a number of bars and restaurants, a cookery school, a wine bar and an ice cream shop all bearing his imprimata. I stopped off for a quick cone of choccy ice cream before staggering off back to the hotel for an early night.

So, the trip season begins in earnest. This has been a fun start, but I am certain, the wurst is yet to come. You just knew I was going to fit that in there somewhere, no?
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, August 18, 2006


Very often food, as in life, is at its best when kept simple. Not having anything particular in mind today I hopped on a tube to Borough Market to brave the Friday lunchtime hordes and find something nice for tea. First stop Northfield Farm. The pork looked particulary good so I got a thick cut chop of Gloucester Old Spot. Swerving niftily around the hundreds of baby buggies in the area I went long on pork with a selection of Polish sausage from the fantastic Topolski. After DH’s visit to Brussels I had a notion for some Cantillon so I ducked into Utobeer and scored a bottle of Catillon’s Rose de Gambrinus (the patron saint of beer). A quick double espresso at Monmouth Coffee and then back to work but not before picking up some of Flour Power’s superb cheese straws and on impulse a lovely looking and smelling fresh bread-roll.

So eventually the grind was over and I got home. The oven went on and a stiff drink prepared. I seasoned the chop and poked in some sage here and there. I stood the chop upright so there would be some cripiness in all the right places and put it in the oven for about 20 mins. Some Bramley’s went in a pan for an impromptu apple sauce.

When the chop was done I rested it then split the bread roll and rubbed the halves in the pork juices. I slathered one half in Dijon mustard and layered seasoned slices of the pork (including some of the fat) with some of the tart apple sauce. I topped the whole with some of the hot, crispy crackling. The best pork roll ever, pefectly complemented by the very tart lambic. A very good start to le weekend.
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Newer›  ‹Older