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

Thursday, September 28, 2006


If I am ever asked which is the most beautiful room in London restaurant land, the answer “ The Wolesely” scampers past my lips without a nanosecond’s hesitation. It is glorious and perfect for the clientele it attracts

It is, of course, harder to gain entry to than a nun in a chastity belt, but well worth the effort when you can get a table. The food is really rather good. Classic dishes prepared well. The service, being filched from The Ivy, is exemplary and it really is not that pricey.

This was my fourth visit and my first for a simple business breakfast.

I arrived a little early and asked for a table of two. The host was charm itself and asked if I would mind waiting in the bar for five minutes and supping on a juice as the place was chocker. As soon as I said my first name he realised my friend was already there and at a lovely table so I did not have to wait.

The breakfast menu is pretty comprehensive ranging from the most fantastic looking pastries to a full English along side a wide range of teas and juices all at very reasonable pricing.

I, coming fresh from a 15 mile run, went straight for some protein in the form of some exceptionally well made scrambled eggs with perfect smoked salmon. My friend just had a small portion of Eggs Benedict. I tasted a bit and could easily have finished hers and mine. Simple breakfast dishes prepared to perfection. What else could you want?

Well, I actually had some zingy carrot and ginger juice too and a slug of my friend’s Earl Grey.

I was being treated so have no idea what the bill came too. I am certain however, that I will be back soon on my own nickel.

Gots to get me some of those pastries
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I realised today that, although I have mentioned Steve Hatt more time than a Yorkshireman uses a teabag, I had never shown any pictures.

So, here is the man himself ( Stev Hatt Jr, that is The orginal Mr Hatt having died a few years back) standing by what is, without questions, the finest selection of fresh fish on offer in London.

Today, I wandered in at lunchtime to buy a few bits and bobs to be greeted by the pleasing waft of smoke as they prepared their kippers. The smell has attached itself to me like the most gorgeous cologne ( form an orderly queue ladies ) and I suspect I shall smell of smoke for days. Which is, I guess, better than my usual reek of gin & regret.

With fish this good it is a crime to do too much to it, so I layered a baking parchment with some strips of wild salmon tail, strips of halibut, lemon slices and dill along with two thick and meaty scallops and sealed in a parcel. Cooking for twenty minutes resulted in beautiful medium cooked flesh with the most fabulous juices.

Little to add, but I thank the lord every day that I work within 5 minutes of The Essex Rd and one of London's greatest culinary treasures.
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, September 24, 2006


There is not a huge amount to report about my last meal on this trip to New York.

As has become our tradition, my chum Cathy, joined me for a pleasing, leisurely and, let’s not deny it, boozy Saturday lunch. A “ thank you” for the meal she had slaved over the weekend before.

On the last few visits we have tried Bouley, Luger’s and Otto none of which provide any culinary fireworks but all of which made a great location for good conversation and a relaxed bite to eat before I head to the airport and back to civilisation.

This time, we finally decided upon Union Square Café. I had not been in about three years. Cathy in about the same time. But, it gave us a chance to walk around the Farmer’s Market and look at bags of apples before heading for our noon reservation.

The Maitre ‘D at Union Square is a really rather splendid chap called Christopher. Possibly one of the best in the city. Watching him work the room and make everyone feel at home is like watching a craftsman. It is not a task to which I would be suited but he seems to have the patience of any number of saints.

He told us that, for the first time in a while, he felt that everything in the restaurant was “on song” from the front of house to the kitchen and it would certainly need to be as it was, as ever, packed to the rafters.

The food at Union Square is what I would dub “Danny Meyer solid” there is nothing there that is going to change the face of cooking. Nothing there to make one raise an eyebrow or “ooh” and “ahh” Instead it focuses on a few classics and does them as well as any place I have tried. It also does pretty good Martini’s most notable for the fact that they are a size equivalent to an Olympic swimming pool.

A salad of tomatoes from the market showed them to their best effect with only a dressing of a fruity olive oil to compliment. The calamari ( another dish that I seem to order all the time in NYC as it is so much better than anything I can get in London ) was crunchy and crisp with meltingly sweet squidy flesh.

Similarly, main courses showed a steady hand. Like a Martini, Burgers are one of those things one would imagine is a simple thing to cook but, are equally easy to screw up. The wrong grind, poor quality meat, over cooking, bad accompaniments etc etc. Hell, we seem to get it so horribly wrong in London. Here, there was none of that. A great chunk of beautifully charred beef served with some excellent bacon and very acceptable chips.

Cathy’s Tuna version was served suitably rare too. She declared it “flavourful” and became slightly aggrieved at my suggestion that there is no such word and it is in fact, like the word “ deliciousness” the creation of users of internet food boards with poor vocabularies and too much time on their hands.

A well priced bottle of Abiouness Sangiovese from the Napa helped to take us from the buzz of the Martini’s to the point where I almost accosted a stranger and told him “ basically, I am not a happy man” Fortunately a slightly stodgy peach tart helped soak some of it up and bring me back from the brink.

So that was it. A thoroughly enjoyable two and a half hours where neither the food nor the restaurant were the stars but served competently to provide a welcome backdrop to an amiable meal with a good friend.

The perfect way to top of a good week in a very fine city.
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, September 23, 2006

When I first started coming to New York regularly, I remember a tangible sense of excitement about going to a quintessential Manhattan restaurant. They were so different from what was on offer in London and places like The Gotham Bar & Grill and The Gramercy Tavern buzzed and sparkled like fireworks on a grey day with a level of service we rarely experienced in London and ingredients that we never saw.

I can still recall my first taste of soft shell crab in a dish at The Gotham and being offered a huge plate of canapés by our server at The Gramercy because she overheard me tell my guest how starving I was. Those were things I had never experienced in my meals back home.

That sense of excitement has long since passed. It may be, that after dozens of visits and many nights eating out, my palate is jaded. But, I suspect, it is more down to the increased homogeneity of international restaurants. Gordon Ramsay is opening in NYC to much pomp, Jean George is overseeing the restaurant at Fifty in London ( I think ) and Robuchon seems to be opening a place more regularly than Starbucks.

It is an increasingly wearying scene.

However, there are some bright spots and some places that remind you of why you were excited in the first place and Hearth is the perfect example.

My first visit there was about two and a half years ago with a large group of friends. Between us, we tasted most of the menu and there was scarcely a duff dish. Wines were superb and the service superlative. I got a real buzz out of it.

These things are never quite so good in the revisiting and a second visit with HP last November proved to be a bit of a damp squib.

Still, I was up for a rubber match and chose it as the location for a treat for some special people.

First though, I needed a drink. After all, I have only had one Martini on this trip and had no booze had passed my lips since lunchtime. So, I did a gentle stroll from my hotel in the 30’s across to 1st and all the way down to DBA, one of the more agreeable bars in New York. They have an excellent selection of beers ( unfortunately most kept under gas so they are too cold and carbonated, but hey ) and a nice thick pint of stout proved a nice start to the evening.

I had forgotten however, just how lousy the service is there and how long it takes to get served. I feared waiting to prise another pint out of them may cause me to miss my supper which was, after all, only an hour away. So, I decided to head up to Counter further north on 1st.

An organic bar and restaurant, Counter had a blackboard outside which promulgated the view that it offered one of the better Martini’s in the city. Well. I have to say it really does. An excellent one in fact. Made by a young man called Joe McCanta ( just in case you fancy popping in there for one ) with Junipero gin. Sufficiently dry and cold and with an excellent slick of oil. Well done.

Perfect in fact to set me up for supper at Hearth a few short blocks away. My guests were already there when I arrived and we were shown to a nice little table at the back of the main room.

A little amuse of a yellow pepper soup was brought out and was, quite frankly, not very good. The bitterness of raw peppers schreeched through like fingers on a blackboard. I began to have bad thoughts.

I was wrong. The rest of the meal went from good to excellent. My beet salad starter was as good as something that simple should be. A Peekytoe crab salad was, from the small mouthful I tried, fresh, clean tasting and worth the price tag ( $15 ) Best of all, however, was a Vitello Tonnato which was a new one on me not being so up on my Milanese cuisine. A pounded piece of veal dressed in a sauce of pureed tuna, capers and anchovies. Quite lovely.

Then a complimentary course of day boat scallops which was bang on the mark. Meaty and perfectly cooked. Enjoyed by all of us.

Main courses were, with one exception, a little more standard. Some Colorado lamb surprised me by tasting of lamb and by being cooked suitably pink. No comparison in taste to welsh lamb or indeed to the lamb I tried last week at Cathy’s but a fair attempt. My guinea hen wrapped in pancetta was the weakest dish. The poultry was off the bone, rolled and wrapped in the pancetta. A little mushy to be honest and the sauce of corn and jus added little. The fish dish was the best. A big meaty chunk of sea bass, cooked just to point and served with faro and calamari. A stellar dish.

Puddings were better than most too. A plum crisp had to be ordered 30 mins in advance. It was amiable enough but not worth that wait and again, not a patch on the one Cathy made last week. My olive oil cake was much better managing to be light and rich in the same bite. A cheesecake was, well a cheesecake.

The wine list is, to be honest, a bit silly and filled with frivolous and unnecessary descriptions like “ wines from the cellar of a distinguished gentleman” oh dear me. That being said, once you negotiate your self around this silliness it is a very good and well priced list indeed and our $50 Cahor served the meal well.

Service was, as it always has been, efficient, friendly and charming.

With tip and taxes etc the bill was an acceptable $250 which is about fair.

It may take a lot to excite me these days when it comes to restaurants but there are still places that I would want to come back to on a regular basis in New York city and Hearth is rapidly strengthening its position right up there at the top of the tree.
Stumble Upon Toolbar

An odd thing is happening.

I am beginning to talk in Yiddish.

I work both in the UK and US with a lot of Jewish people who litter their speech with words from this most expressive of languages

I think this became apparent the other day when I announced to a gathering of publishing colleagues that a suggestion for a new book was “Mishigas” Oh dear.

I mention this today as, at Midday, NYC became significantly more empty as many people left for Rosh Hashana and our office closed leaving me at a loose end for a solo lunch. There seem to be a great many Jewish holidays and I am not entirely convinced that my colleagues do not make some of them up to get extra days off work. For example, as far as I can tell, there is NO holiday to celebrate God’s appearance to Ezekiel as a golden knish whatever the guys in the office claim.

Anyway, on my jack jones, I had a few options but was in the mood for croquettes and headed towards Bocqueria, a new place on 19th St. It looked promising enough until I sat down and the waitress announced that they only did salads and sandwiches at lunchtime. Ah, just like a real Spanish tapas bar then? Er………

So, I made my excuses and decided to wander over to 10th and Tia Pol. Still about as far from a proper Spanish bar as it is possible to get but with, at least decent food and a great wine list.

However, as I strolled across to 10th, I came across Cookshop which a friend had suggested earlier in the week and which was run by the people at Five Points.

It turned out to be one of those lunch type places that NYC does better than anywhere. Nothing special, but steady, solid and competent.

A pre lunch drink of Manzanilla was not chilled sufficiently, but still good to have it on the menu.

A starter of Treviso salad was Caesar by any other name but none the worse for that.

A main course burger , though, was exemplary. I am not close to being an expert on the beef burger, but this was certainly better than anything I have had in the UK and as good as anything I have tried in the US. Good flavour to the beef ( cooked rare as ordered ) excellent bacon, cheese which was no worse than any other cheese you get in America and delicious fries although with enough salt to induce my first heart palpitation since I saw Natalie Portman pole dancing in Closer.

With a glass of Rioja ( as ever horribly mispronounced ) the bill was a not insubstantial $50 which reflects the ordering of booze more than the cost of the meal.

A nice way to spend a lunchtime.
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, September 22, 2006


With my travel schedule being what it is, one of the things I most crave when in full “ Willy Loman” mood is a great home cooked meal. I have been doubly blessed this week as I had a superb meal at my dear friend, Cathy’s last Sunday and last night, a superlative Bengali meal at my relatives place on the Upper West.

A lot of bollocks is talked about ethnic food. People argue that only people from that ethnic group can tell you if it is any good or not and that only people from that ethnic group can actually cook it. Errant nonsense and a nonsense into which I bought until a few years ago. What they need is a good teacher.

Trust me, I have been served food claiming to be “Indian” by people from the sub continent that should be served with a knife, fork and stomach pump to save time. The sort of slop that would give even a dustbin ulcers.

By the same token, the two greatest cooks of Bengali food I have ever encountered have been my mother from Wales and my Aunt, Evelyn from the Philippines. Both had excellent “gurus” when it came to learning their craft. Their mother in laws. Evelyn’s apprenticeship has been a long suffering one, though as she is married to my Uncle Sanjoy, a typical Bengali male who believes that the world revolves around him and that the rest of the population was placed there to do his bidding. I, of course, fell very far from that tree. Ahem.

There is of course, no such thing as “ Indian” food. It is like saying “European” food. India offers a bewildering variety of styles and Bengali is, perhaps its most unusual and challenging. Arguably the best vegetarian food in India, it is known ( and disliked by some ) for its simplicity and the limited use of spices and its love of mustard and turmeric. It does not appeal to everyone, but I love it

Last night’s meal was the perfect example. Four or so simple dishes all served at close to room temperature as is the Bengali way.

First a simple chicken “curry” served with rice.

Then a ‘ Chapor Ghonto” a vegetable dish made with a crumbled lentil pancake. Perhaps, my all time favourite dish

A Baigan Paneer ( Aubergine with curd cheese )

And finally, a new dish to me “ Chingri Posto Diyea” a shrimp dish made with a sauce of turmeric and ground poppy seeds and dressed with mustard oil.

You could not find two more generous people than Sanjoy & Evelyn so, as ever the small kitchen was packed with visitors. With a surfeit of food and great company and conversation it is just one of the many memorable nights I have spent with them in this city

All I can say is Dhannyabad
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

As I may have mentioned. DH like BBQ. In fact, that is a bit of an understatement like saying Herod was not good with Kids. DH love BBQ with all of our fatty hearts.

So much so that we have predicated entire holidays to Texas on following the BBQ trail and found our spiritual home in Lockhart TX which houses about five BBQ joints in a town the size of a small cupboard.

One of the great disappointments of our lives is that it is so impossible to get good BBQ outside of the Midwest and the Southern States of the US. London made a stab at it with Bodean’s which flickered brightly for a while but now officially sucks as the concept is trundled out across town with increasingly diminishing returns.

Even here in NYC there is a paucity of choice and what there is ranges from disappointing to absolutely rank. Blue Smoke, what a Joke. R.U.B. I would rather rub acid in my eyes than go there again. I have not tried Dinosaur but have heard enough mixed reports from people I trust for me to dismiss it out of hand as AN Other ersatz joint.

Maggie, a New Yorker who now sensibly lives in London was here to see her family and suggested we meet up and, knowing my love of all things Q, suggested a new place.

Always a delight to see her but……………..

First, we agreed to meet at Rain on Columbus for drinks. The most inappropriate name for a bar anywhere. You would have more chance getting liquid refreshment in the Sahara. Thirty minutes after fighting my way to the bar and ordering, we were still waiting for the bar staff to make the drinks. So, we bade them a cheery goodbye and headed up to the Upper, Upper West Side to Rack & Soul which is a very new BBQ joint on 109th. By the way. I took a bus. But, let us not speak of that again.

Rack & Soul looks like it has been put together by someone who has never set foot in a proper BBQ place and that feeling was heightened by the waiter who announced when I asked where the pitmaster ( who is listed on the menu ) was from. “No idea” he said “ he just gave us the recipes and we get on with it” Ah, more like an absentee pitmaster then?

Still, they had Abita on the menu and a couple of those took the edge off and made me think that it may be OK.

It really wasn’t. My combination of pulled pork with chicken was, well quite frankly, a bit yuk. The pulled pork was very dry and had to be liberally doused in BBQ sauce. The fried chicken was too “bready” and the coating was soft.

Other’s fared a little better. Catfish looked fine, The beef ribs were enjoyed hugely by Maggie’s partner but it all looked a bit grim to me and some of the portions were parsimonious to say the least. Maggie ordered something called "Mac & Cheese". The sooner we get her back to civilisation the better.

Not cheap, either. $30 a head. Which is a great deal for what was as far from real BBQ as you can get without coming around the other side and meeting up with it again.

Just like Tapas bars, it is impossible to transfer the real spirit and quality of a true BBQ joint out of its natural environs. People have made valiant stabs. This was not one of them. It was a stab to the heart of someone looking for good Q.

I would travel thousands of miles to sample fabulous BBQ and, when I die, I want to be cremated in the pit at Smitty’s. There is not, however, enough money on Earth to get me to go all the way up to 109th again by bus, no less, to eat junk like this again

Shame on them
Stumble Upon Toolbar

I was planning to drag some chums to Landmarc last night but one of them, a native NY’er of some standing decreed that, as it was such a nice night, we had to sit by the water and have our supper. I was a little concerned as New York is relatively slow in developing its waterfront by comparison to London and I had visions of sitting by a Sanitation Dept truck park while eating a burger.

However, my friend assured me that he knew just the place, so, Gigino’s it was. I had never heard of it but my chum Michael and his wife had been regulars at the owner’s original restaurant ( called Positano’s I think ) and remain fond of this place in the Summer and its sibling on the corner of Duane & Reade throughout the year.

By the way, it has taken me the best part of 20 years ( if that is how long they have been going ) to figure out why Duane Reade carrys that name. Doh!

Gigino’s was right by Pier A. A striking building at the bottom of Battery Park City which had really caught my eye when I had run down there on Sunday. Another friend tells me that it used to be the offices for the Docks Division. It is now, shamefully in dreadful disrepair.

Given that the UN is session and half the roads are closed, it almost took as long to get down there by cab as it did to run down there. All that inconvinience just for that tosser. Ho hum.

When we finally arrived, my chums were already well into their second bottle of rose and I practically had to threaten to drag the bottle out of our host’s cold dead fingers before I was able to get a welcome drink.

The food is fairly standard New York Italian and derived from the cooking of Southern Italy. Standard and competently prepared without offering an particular culinary fireworks. Kind of like NYC on a plate really ( lights blue touch paper and retires to safe distance )

Some comped Bruschetta were actually rather simple and nice, made, as they were with some late season tomatoes.

A starter of chicken livers was passable if just the right side of mushy. Fried squid was as good as any I have had in the city but it hardly requires Thomas Keller to knock out that kind of food.

Main courses too were fine. Some pasta with seafood, a veal chop and some grilled fish. Nothing that really needs any expertise in the preparation but all of which proved agreeable enough with the bottle of Primitivo I ordered.

It was a beautiful view though and, as the Sun set, the Statue of Liberty was set off to amazing effect.

Michael generously picked up the tab. So, it seems churlish to dismiss the food out of hand. Let’s just say it filled a gap while not distracting us from either the view or very amiable conversation.

Sometimes, even for those of us obsessed with food, that’s all you need.
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, September 18, 2006


Despite my finger wagging lecture about the New Yorker’s use of hyperbole, there are truly some things about this city that I love to bits.

Running is one of them. I can think of few cities where I enjoy my run quite as much as I do when I am jogging at my own serene pace through NY. Yesterday, trying to get some miles under my belt, all the way from my hotel, down to The Hudson and then all the way down to Pier A before turning around and wearily retracing my steps all the while cursing that 5oz martini I glugged down the night before.

It took quite a bit out of me and so, after a bit of shoppage I slunk back to the hotel to have a kip. Unfortunately, the 20,000 Mexicans standing directly below my window and cheering on the Mexico Day parade felt differently and I got scant rest. I do, however, know all the words to La Cucaracha

Fortunately, my supper was in the company of some of my dearest chums who would, I know, understand if I was less than my scintillating, fabulous self.

Cathy is one of my very best chums, one of the “special ones” When my beloved mum was dying, I was stuck in Washington Airport and miles from my family. Cathy, by virtue of the internet swaddled me in, to quote, her “Jewish grandmotherly vibe” It is not overstating the fact to say she helped me make it home and I shall never forget that.

I make a point of seeing her at least once on every visit and we have had some memorable days cooking and evenings enjoying the fruits of our labours in the company of some very agreeable people.

I was doubly blessed last night as two of the most agreeable, Sandy & Alan, were also in attendance.

Last night though, Cathy was in charge and was trying to prove to me that the US can produce good lamb. It is a strange thing in such a huge country but lamb and its preparation seems to be something that is almost totally alien to our American chums and the few times I have tried it ( usually dreadful stuff from Colorado ) it has been about as tasteful as red fitted carpets.

Well, I am delighted to say that, last night, Cathy proved that you can get excellent lamb here ( from Three Corner Field Farm, I believe ) and the rolled leg she prepared in her Big Green Egg smoker thingy was worth the traipse to the Upper West Side. Perfectly prepared and pink inside it sat well alongside a worringly healthy bean salad, some microscopic roasted onions and potatoes and a staggeringly good Romesco sauce.

Before supper, we had chilled out in Cathy’s outside space and drank Cava laced with a sublime guinolet (sp?) which Sandy had made by some process that sounded tougher than making gold out of lead. Well worth all her effort though and we downed quite a lot of it too.

So, shock horror. The US can produce good lamb. Unfortunately, it still seems to be beyond the scope of 90% of the restaurants in the country and, even when it is on menus it should come with a warning that reads “ beware, may taste like crap”

If you want good lamb, I suggest you head round to Cathy’s. She must have have been British in a former life.
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, September 17, 2006


The first weekend chez DH for I don’t how long found me in serious flaneur mode.
My Saturday was occupied by several hours of purposeless strolling and a visit to the ever-wonderful Vinoteca for some terrine, a lovely military chutney (made by chef Carol Craddock) and a bottle of Txakoli followed by one too many pints of Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde Mild (2006 Champion British Mild at the GBBF) at the also-ever-wonderful Wenlock Arms.

Although HS was away, a Sunday lunch still seemed like a good idea so after a stroll through Spitalfields to clear my head I studded a leg of mutton (bought from Farmer Sharp at BM) with garlic and rosemary and popped it in the oven for a couple of hours. To go with the meat a few greens and a red wine gravy. Pretty much hit the spot.
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Newer›  ‹Older