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

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


It is a pretty sad thing when any restaurant closes.

Even when it is a bad one, it still means people have lost their jobs and someone’s hopes and dreams are laying in tatters.

It is even worse when the restaurant is “ your” restaurant.

The Angel Mangal is closed and I am beside myself with woe. It truly was Dos Hermanos’ restaurant. The place that we would go when we were fed up of eating at crappy new places that were all style over substance and the place we knew we could get fantastic food at a reasonable price with out any muss or fuss.

Other people thought of it as our restaurant too. On the various food boards, we eulogized about it to such an extent that people asked us to organize events there ( which we did any number of times ) People from out of town begged us to take them there when we visited and, even portly restaurant critics insisted on being part of the Dos Hermanos Mangal experience.,11913,958178,00.html

We had not been as many times as usual last year, what with trying lots of new places for the blog. Heaven forfend, we also tried another Okabasi place for which I think, we were never quite forgiven.

But, last time we paid Mustapha a visit, all seemed right with the world. The food was great, as always, the wine suitably rough and Mustapha suitably taciturn. Our father, for whom it was the first visit, loved every moment.

After Christmas, I saw it was shuttered an feared the worst. I tried to persuade myself that perhaps Mustapha was on holiday. But, the longer it remained closed the less hopeful it became.

Recently, I saw the sign in the picture. “DIPS & SKEWERS” By all that is holy somebody stop them.

I don’t want your fricking dips and skewers. I want a proper mixed grill with the obligatory side order of sweet breads. I don’t want your namby pamby Islington interpretation on a Turkish theme, I want a bottle of Buzbag that will send me reeling into the night. I don’t want tiny portions and a fancy menu. I want Mustapha to grin ever so slightly when we mention his beloved Besiktas and to bring us extra large dishes of garlic sauce.

I want my Mangal back. Bugger.
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Tuesday, February 27, 2007


You have to love my friend Nick.

I can’t think of a single person I know, other than him, who would walk into one of the most echt Japanese restaurants in London and hand the waitress a bag containing his take away from Itsu with the request that they shove it in the fridge while we had our meal. Top man. It’s like walking into see Picasso and asking him to do a quick sketch copy of that picture you just got in Athena of a woman in a tennis dress scratching her arse. I think they call it hutzpah.

For all that, the waitress never batted an eyelid and was sweetness itself not just then, but throughout what turned out to be one of the best Japanese meals I have had for a long time.

Edokko sits on Red Lion St, that little road that runs between Holborn and Theobald’s Rd. It is one of those old school Japanese places that often intimidate the Sushi novice. No dayglo frontage here. Instead, austere wooden siding. A small menu with little in English could put off the less adventurous and the offer of “sunken tables” in the upper dining area, while a relative novelty in London, could throw many. Particularly those like me who keep Odour Eaters in business.

However, Edokko is certainly worth the effort. We had not booked, so had to sit at the small bar. Which gave us the opportunity to see meals being prepared for what was almost entirely an ex pat crowd.

We did not stray too far from my favourites and Nick was happy to tag along as I ordered some a few dishes to begin

Excellent tempura with the shrimp being a big hit and better than I have had in a long while . Some deep fried tofu had the requisite crunch on the outside and a pleasing silkiness inside . While, a couple of bowls of Miso padded out with strips of tofu were a suitable restorative after our walk over in the drizzle and cold from Holborn.

Nick particularly liked the chaiwan mushi, that slightly odd savoury custard with bits in it. I thought it the weakest I have tried and certainly not a patch on that at Sake or Matsuri. However, this was the only weak spot in what was otherwise a meal of a very high standard.

Equally impressive was a small selection of sashimi which includes, sweet shrimp, octopus, mackerel and sea bass.

Unusually, however, it was not the sashimi that really took my fancy as we also ordered a selection of nigiri which included fatty tuna, sea bream, salmon roe and, best of the lot, my favourite uni (sea urchin) The only one that did not pass muster with Nick was the maki roll of Natto. Let’s see if he finds anything better in his take away bag.

It was just a relatively quick supper and, after we finished with some green tea, we asked for the bill. I do not know how much it costs. I suspect, with a beer and a small jug of warm sake, about £100 for two included service.

Not cheap, but well worth a visit. You can always go to Itsu afterwards if you are still hungry.
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Sunday, February 25, 2007


I had booked Rules for Sunday lunch in the middle of last week. Yesterday, when I first heard the news about Tony Finch and was laid low with a flu bug, I scarcely felt like eating at all, let alone at one of the great institutions of London.

But, this morning, I awoke feeling much improved and thinking to myself that the one thing Tony would never deny anyone was a damn good meal and a good bottle of wine. So, off we went

It’s easy to dismiss Rules as a tourist trap. Certainly it depends on a lot of visitors for its custom, but it also attracts a lot of locals for special occasions and a great many regular customers. The clientele should not detract from the fact that Rules does a great number of things very well and that any restaurant that has access to the game and ingredients they have, is always worth considering. Every city has a restaurant like this. In Madrid, it is Botin. In NYC, it is Pete Luger’s. Dismiss them if you will but there is a reason why they have been there so long. Usually because they specialise in one or two things and have been doing them well for, well ever.

We had not been for a couple of years and it is safe to assume that little has changed in that time. In fact not much has changed in the twenty years since I first visited nor indeed, I imagine, in the 200 years it has been open.

Specialising in game, Rules has access to immaculate ingredients which it does precious little to. There is nothing wrong with that and, if you don’t try to go too far off piste, it provides a haven of civility from the increasingly desperate world outside.

Of course, at this time of year, there is no game, but the menu still has much to offer and, after the obligatory pint of beer in a silver tankard, HP started with a large salad of Cornish crab while I had a slice of a potted shrimp terrine. Both simple and excellent. The crab in particular was a winner and came with some pre buttered soda bread which HP used to wipe out the shell.

They offer a wide range of wines by the 50cl jug and we chose a decent chardonnay which worked well with both starters.

Given the no game scenario, both of our attention was drawn to the offer of a “hand raised Beef & ale pie” on the short list of specials. Very good it was too. Fabulous cold water pastry stuffed with large chunks of meat in a very rich gravy. With some crunchy chips, hot horseradish and buttered cabbage it proved to be a perfect Sunday afternoon lunchtime dish.

The only downside was a parsimonious portion of purple sprouting broccoli where two small stems for £3.75 gave ammunition to those who might consider this a rip off to ensnare visitors.

If there is one reason to visit Rules, however, it is for the desserts. Their sticky toffee pudding is the ne plus ultra of great British afters and the promise of it even managed to persuade HP to veer from his normal path of ice cream. It was good, especially when doused with a lovely creamy custard. Better still was my own Golden syrup sponge which got an equal soaking.

The bill without coffee came to £150 including service and a very decent bottle of Gigondas.

So, is Rules a tourist trap? Lots of tourists there, certainly along side the locals and regulars. Trap? I don’t think so, it's certainly not cheap but, prices are about standard for this level and location in London and the food, while simple smacks of a place that does not try to move to far from its realm of expertise.

Everyone there seemed to be having a damn good time. The roast belted Galloway beef for two with humongous Yorkshire puddings we saw at a neighbouring table almost made us think about trying that instead of pudding and the service was efficient without being overly formal.

Like The India Club a short distance up the road, Rules just is. It remains unapologetically stuck in its ways and, on this visit, it has precious little to apologise for.

I think Tony would have approved
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For 90% of the people who read this board, this name will mean nothing. But, for those who love life and food, there are few better examples of a life well lived.

I first met Tony Finch about 7 years ago when we both spent far too much time posting on a food website called Chowhound.

Inevitably, we decided that it would be good to organise a meal for the UK crowd at St John. I had no idea what he may look like. But, the moment, I walked into the restaurant bar to see a large ruddy faced man drinking a glass of wine, I knew that was Tony and I knew, instinctively, that he was going to be my friend. This is a man who drew good humour to him like a magnet and I immediately loved him. Everybody who met him did.

On the various food boards we populated over the next few years, he had one persona. Ornery, argumentative and challenging. Off the boards he was entirely different, genuine, passionate and the single most honest person I can ever recall meeting. We spent many, many evenings together.

My favourite thought of Tony is from a food board Christmas meal at The Sutton Arms. I was sitting next to him as I always chose to do, for there was no better company. The main course was belly pork. His portion arrived and he smiled at how sizeable it was. Then, mine arrived. A slab the size of Wales with a slice of crackling the size of a football pitch. Much, much bigger than his. His face fell like a child who came down on Christmas morning to find that, instead of the Chopper bike he had wriiten to Santa for, he got a single Satsuma.

Sensing his pain,I hacked a bit off my portion and put it on his plate. His smile reappeared and he put his arm around me and said in his overly exaggerated East London Jewish accent “ you’re like a bruvver to me” I have seldom felt more honoured.

A year or so later, I fell out with him for reasons far too stupid to mention here and I stopped seeing him. He extended an olive branch to me a couple of times but I petulantly brushed them aside more through embarrassment than anger.

I regret it now, which is easy with hindsight, but I am comforted by the thought that, if I had ever got over my own stupidity and contacted him, he would have assumed that same East End Jewish accent and said “ no bovver, let’s go and have dinner” and that would have been it. That’s the kind of man he was. Although, I did not always think he was my friend, I am pretty sure he always thought I was his.

It will always be to my shame that I did not take more opportunity to sit across the dinner table from this remarkable person. But, I am grateful that I, at least, had chance to spend the time I did with man who truly knew how to live life to its most full.

My thoughts now go out to his family and his wife, Fahro

If any of us reading this enjoy life 1/10th the amount Tony Finch did. We will do well.

God rest, Tony my “bruvver”
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Thursday, February 22, 2007


I always thought of water as a refreshing but pretty tasteless liquid. The odd bit of chalkiness perhaps, but not much else.

Strange then that a simple bottle of Badoit managed to leave a sour taste in both our mouths last night and, at the same time, managed to spoil what had otherwise been a perfectly decent if flawed meal.

More of this later.

It was HP’s birthday on Monday and, as is our tradition, it was my pleasure to treat him to a bit of a blow out. High end restaurant dining in London is leaving us ice cold at the moment and with a few exceptions ( Theo Randall, Galvin @ The Windows ) all our recent experiences have been definingly blah.

HP however, recalled a very enjoyable meal at Morgan M last Summer and requested that as his birthday treat. Fine by me. I had never been there, but my one recollection of MM’s food at The Admiralty had been of very able cooking shining through in a truly horrible setting.

After a couple of pints at the rather nice Duchess of Kent, we waddled the short walk down the Liverpool Rd to the small dining room of Morgan M and were shown to a pleasant enough table at the rear of the room. It had been refurbished since HP’s last visit and while the room itself was agreeable enough, they had, HP noticed, crammed in a few more tables which had a definite impact on the service.

More of this later, too.

They offer a three course carte for £34, but we plumped for the tasting menu at £43 which is pretty good value considering that quite a few extras are thrown in.

The first of which was a velvety smooth pumpkin veloute which was sparked up with a blob of pesto and strips of confit lemon zest. I wiped the bowl clean with some excellent sourdough.

HP’s next course, a punchy foie terrine was one of the better examples although the sauternes jelly with it was cloying and too sweet. My starter, a cannelloni of lobster, was a qualified success. The pasta was light and silky, the seafood, fresh and clean. The whole, however, was brought down by the unwelcome presence of undercooked red and yellow peppers in the sauce and a heavy hand with tarragon. Both flavours that are capable of over powering which they certainly did here.

Next up, probably the best course of the evening. A perfectly cooked chunk of turbot with a little farci of crabmeat, some young spinach and a ginger and carrot risotto. As good a dish as I have tried in quite some time. Perfect balance with the ginger adding a little heat but not dominating, the fish having flavour and the rice retaining some bite. Excellent.

Not so, the main courses. Not bad, just blah. I am afraid that nearly all my experiences of meat courses at the higher end tend to disappoint. These two certainly did. For HP, some young pyrranean lamb served a number of interesting but tasteless ways with only a confit shoulder and a little skewer of fatty bits to cause a raised eyebrow. Likewise with my dish of venison, there was little to excite. Competent cooking certainly, but small discs of decent meat were swamped by a slightly fierce sauce a pointless bit of apple, some chestnuts and a chestnut puree. The only “ooh aah” moment provided by a small pasta parcel of offally goodness.

A cleanser of rice pudding in a small brandy snap was pretty enough but pointless in the couli sort of way that high end places think they have to be but really should know better.

Similarly, the dessert. For HP a chocolate thing which he ate without any comment good or bad. For me, a soufflé which was fine, no more. I still recall eating a soufflé one of my first high end meals. It was Interlude De Chavot on Charlotte St. That soufflé was light but rich and staggered me. This, while reasonably prepared, barely registered on me.

Their wine list is priced on the high side and, unsurprisingly, predominantly French. We chose at the lower end, a Corbierres (£34) and a white burgundy (£24) both were enjoyable and worked well with their respective courses.

To the bill was added a 12.5% for service that while efficient enough struggled to cope while the small kitchen and extra tables combined to create uncomfortable gaps between courses.

I expected the bill to be around £150+ so was surprised to see it come in at £190. Mind you we did have tea and coffee and a Poire William each so these things add up.

What did not add up was £5.50 for a bottle of Badoit. Now I know this is the ne plus ultra of waters, but that’s £5.50 for a 75cl bottle of water. At least have the decency to wear a mask and carry a bag marked “SWAG” if you are going to rob me blind.

HP, in full Quixotic mode, went into battle and gave them hell. “well sir, it is in a glass bottle” on of the managers hee haw’d. Not good enough for HP who told them how shameful it was in no uncertain terms. One of the younger waiters was so scared of him he ran away with HP calling after him “don’t walk off while I tell you what a rip off this is”

All good fun, but putting a dampener on the evening.

That little stinger in the tail and the way they dealt with it means I wont be rushing back which I well might have done given that there were enough decent moments in the meal to warrant a revisit.

Not now though. Yep, they scored £5.50 off us. Well done them. They ain’t getting another £190 out of us though, so who loses in the end?
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Wednesday, February 21, 2007


That area around London Bridge is rapidly becoming a little foodie enclave, isn't it?

There's The Garrison ( which, on one experience, I found actively grim ) The Bermondsey Kitchen and the newly opened Magdalen to name but a few.

Alongside these British offerings is Champor Champor. I had never been but, whenever I see requests on food boards for places to eat in this area, this small Malaysian restaurant always seems to come highly recommended.

So, when I was pondering on somewhere to have supper with my dear chum, Monina last night, it seemed like a decent choice.

It's a tiny room and, as you walk in from the joys of Weston St, you are hit by a fug of incense that could bring a rampaging elephant to his knees.

Still, by the time we were shown to a perfectly pleasant table for two, I had become accustomed to the acrid smell and was able to concentrate on the small, unusual but interesting menu while eating some crispy tofu skin.

They offer two courses for £23.50 and three for £27.90 on top of which they add a whopping 15% service charge.

While predominately Malay in nature the menu is influenced by all areas of Asia. This kind of culinary Esparanto normally brings me out in hives, but here, the food was, on the whole pretty well done and, from my limited knowledge, echt.

Monina began with a Javanese Oxtail soup which she said reminded her of the soups she used to have as a child in the Philippines apart from the fact that this had no bones in it which she thought was shameful as she wanted to suck out the marrow. My kinda girl, Monina and this was my kind of soup. Slow cooked chunks of oxtail in a fresh, clean broth infused with herbs. The dish was spiced up by a side of fiery sambal kichap which on its own took the roof off your mouth but imbued each spoonful of the soup with a pleasing backnote.

Not quite so pleasing was my starter which comprised five deep fried frog legs with a shitake mushroom and truffle oil sauce. The little bits of something that once hopped were harmless enough and offered a nice crunch as I chomped through the bone, but the tiny portion meant I was finished before Monina had even imagined considering to dip the first spoon.

Before the main course, one of the charming waiters came and offered us intercourse. I was disappointed, being vain enough to thing that even guys dig me the most too, to find out that this was a little, er inter-course, of Granita for a supplement of £2.80. We passed.

A bit of role reversal for main courses. I forwent my usual search for meaty goodness and chose a south Indian thali which was a huge disappointment. Some thin dahl, a tired looking pineapple and cucumber achar, a dry coconut sambar and a non descript mooli yellow curry. I chose badly.

Monina did not. She chose well. Very well. A veal chop crusted with crushed corriander seeds and served with a peanut sauce and taro crisps. Excellent soft veal with lots of added flavours and sauce so good I cleaned the bowl with my fingers.

Desserts? Well desserts were horrible. A dry as a bone chocolate cake and a parfait that wasn't.

I was being treated to supper ( did I mention that Monina was my kinda girl?) so I have no idea what the bill came too. I am guessing, with the bottle of wine she chose because it had a "pretty" name (ahem) around the £100 which is about average for London these days.

An agreeable if flawed supper and definitely worth another visit
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Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Well, it finally had to happen.

After twenty years of doing the book publishing thing, I finally decided there had to be more to life.

So, I am off to see the world. I am off to "go everywhere and eat everything" or at least do that until my meagre savings run out and I end up on a street corner somewhere in rags strumming a guitar with one string and singing a plaintive but discordant version of "Bambalayo"

The trip is coming together nicely and is predicated on following up any and every invitation I get from anywhere in the world.

Even at this early stage, I have huge number of offers which, in the UK alone, include making Black pudding in Bury, Mackerel fishing off the coast of Cornwall, making whisky in The Highlands and cooking at The Blacksmiths Arms.

I am also planning trips to Japan, Russia, China, Mongolia, The US, Argentina, Mexico and Cuba before Christmas. Mind you, in 2008, that's when it really gets serious.

Given my love of all things Spanish, I want to finish my trip by walking the Camino Francaise to Santiago

Dos Hermanos will keep going as HP will no doubt keep his end up and I shall post about meals from around the globe, but I will be writing longer pieces about my trip on a dedicated website ( see the link below ) I shall be out on the road from April but doing a few things in March just to get it started.

So, if you have any great ideas, please do get in touch or simply read along. It could be fun.

I look forward to hearing from you
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Sunday, February 18, 2007


It would be easy to be a complete arse and judge a provincial restaurant as being good “considering it’s not in London” or dismissing it as fine for the yokels but not one that would ever pass muster down in the fiercely competitive world of the nation’s capital.

Nonna’s in Sheffield, however, would be a gem of a restaurant wherever it was situated and, if it were within easy access of London’s uber fashionable SOSHO, I could imagine it being hard to get me to leave.

My baby bruv was turning forty yesterday. God, that makes me feel old. It seems like only yesterday that HP declared that in the hierarchy of life, he was the dog, my elder sister the cat, me the mouse and the youngest, the cheese. Consequently, he was the only one I was able to beat up on. Now of course, if I tried that, he would take me to the f**king cleaners.

Anyway, he chose Nonna’s not least because it is incredibly child friendly and they welcomed my nephew and niece as eagerly as they would any adult.

The food? Well the food is simple but well prepared and shows attention not only to cooking but also to sourcing. Starters, which followed some excellent plump olives and soft bread to mop up a lovely lawny olive oil, included a dense meaty terrine, well made crostini and one of the best plates of pasta I have tried in a long time. Long sheets of papardelle came with a coating of creamy sauce and flakes of locally smoked haddock. As good a beginning as you could hope to get.

Main courses were equally up to snuff with my rib eye steak, again showing excellent provenance and enough of a Northern portion that I was unable to finish it. Others fared just as well with a main course size pasta dish of penne with chicken livers being particularly good,

Nonna’s is a burgeoning enterprise and since a previous visit, they now have the “cucina” selling their pasta to cook at home, a bar and a wine store.

It is the wines, however, that really make Nonna’s stand out. One of the best and best priced list of Italian wines I can recall anywhere including London. And, boy did we take advantage of it. Some Prosecco to begin was followed swiftly by a Gavi di Gavi which had that hint of almonds I always love. Best of all, for a mere £30, Cellori, a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot which was rich, multi layered and perfect with the hearty main courses. So good that we ordered another bottle.

It was baby brother’s birthday after all, so we, of course had to order a half bottle of Recioto to accompany the thick slab of chocolate cake they served us. A real highlight. I only discovered this wine a few years ago. Now, I order a glass whenever I see it.

The mint tea test was aced and they comped us some grappa before we staggered out into the sunlight.

As good a lunch as I have had in the past year

It would have been rude not to sample the local beers given that The Abbeydale Brewery and Kelham Island Brewery are so close. So, we did and, a few pints later, we started to get the munchies and I had a serious jones for Fish & Chips
Now this is one area where the North has the South beat hands down. Yorkshire is where the real deal is and where the best Fish & Chips in the country are to be found.

I have tasted none better recently that those at Two Steps, a chip shop that has been established since 1895.

Spectacular it was too. Portions of flaky haddock which had been protected by crisp, crunchy batter, Meat pies filled with huge chunks of steak, mushy peas and even the obligatory battered sausage ( truly the greatest contribution of Great Britain to the world ) A family of five, fed for £15. Now that really is cheap good food.

Now, I am back down South, easing my bruised liver with some Milk Thistle and donning my hat of pretentious sophistication as if I had never been away.

But, damn, I love it up North
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Thursday, February 15, 2007


Despite the proliferation of “gourmet” joints all over London, the quality of the burgers in our fair capital remains appallingly low. Floppy grey discs of meat atop buns of a soggy disposition remain the norm even if you are being charged well over the odds for them.

This fact never normally bothers me given that I rarely crave a burger and, if I do, it is usually when I am in NYC where they know how to do these things properly. However this week I really did fancy one in a bad way. I think it is because Dawn mentioned that she had a decent one on a recent business trip.

A bit of research later and HP suggested Hache. Open for about two years, this has now become a bit of a stalwart of the Camden Town scene and it has won any number of awards for its burgers which are made by hand chopping (hence the name) rather than mincing.

Table service means it is more akin to BLT Burger in NYC than some of its London rivals. The range of burgers is pretty wide and the quality certainly seems a notch or two above anything else I have tried in town.

They offer a 14oz Steak Burger so there really was not much choosing to be done. We both plumped for that.

What came was probably as good a hamburger as you are going to get in London. Two meaty slabs of excellent beef toped with a sharp, proper cheddar served in on a bun that you might actually want to eat rather than use as packing material.

If you don’t specify a cooking preference they tell you that the burgers will come out medium. Minus points then for being slightly overcooked. But, not to the point that they dried out or lost any of what was a pleasingly beefy flavour.

Equally pleasing were two sides. One of onion rings with crisp, crunchy batter which shattered under the slightest tooth to free up some sweet soft onions. The other, more than acceptable French Fries.

I am, as I mentioned the other day, on the wagon for a few days. So, stuck to a well made berry smoothie. HP is very much not on the wagon so slurped down a couple of glasses Shiraz.

That lot? About £23 each inc service which is fair enough for the amount we ordered and for a burger that is the only one I have had that comes close to anything I have tried in the US.

Given that it is, by its nature, fast food, £23 does not buy you a particularly leisurely experience and we were in and out (if you will pardon the obscure – to Brits anyway- reference ) in about 45 minutes.

Early enough to contemplate a long walk home where we passed at least five “gourmet” burger joints. I am sure I will be passing them again without stopping on my way back to Hache the next time I fancy a decent Hamburger.
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