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

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Kurtz & Lang

On the street he spied my face I heard him hail
In our plot of frozen space he told his tale

There is a phenomenon known as the “Restsina Paradox”. You may have heard of it. It’s where you enjoy something whilst on holiday, so much so that you want to enjoy it all over again in Blighty (in my case the rough spirit and cheap local vino collapso which I am very fond of). Unfortunately, the context in which you enjoyed it for the first time is different when you’re in Romford, Rhyl or Rotherham.

My thoughts on this were prompted after a visit to Berlin earlier in the year where DH indulged in the Currywurst. This is a dish of no refinement or nutritional value but one which is the nuts when consumed at an Imbiss with a cold beer standing under the U-Bahn in East Berlin. Context is all here (or is that hier ?).

An odd little hole in the wall joint called Kurtz & Lang has been occupying a corner location in London’s trendy Clerkenwell for several months. It does a wide range of Wurst (but no option to get them Mit/Ohne Darm) and accompaniments. You can also get a beer. So what’s not to like ? Well the prices for a start. When I told my Berliner colleague how much I’d spent on a simple Currywurst there was much swearing in German. The only word I made out was “Scheissendreck” which I don’t think is good. The other problem was that it wasn’t a Currywurst as I knew and loved it in Berlin. The wurst may have been perfectly good but the sauce was too gloopy. I passed on the tired looking sautéed potatoes for some sauerkraut which was ok. Pommes Frites would have been an improvement. Context or just dreck ? You decide.

With only one other customer present there was a nice feeling of desolation and quiet desperation about the place which was probably authentically East German. I gave a little shiver, scanned the surroundings for any loitering Stasi and nipped round the corner to Vinoteca.

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Friday, July 27, 2007



I remember the thirty-five sweet goodbyes
When you put me on the Wolverine

Mexican restaurants used to be pretty thin on the ground in London but now there’s a veritable slew of them, no doubt down to the avalability of ingredients like the many varieties of chilli peppers that we couldn’t get over here before. The latest is called Wahaca and occupies an unloved spot in Covent Garden that hosted Bad Bob’s (I think) and latterly The Springbok.

It’s a bit of a strange space, is Wahaca, not packed with tables and was there really supposed to be no ceiling or maybe I’m just to old to appreciate cutting edge restaurant design. A few days into the opening though and everyone’s on best behaviour – I was greeted and shown to a table straight away and had the menu concept explained. I think it was AA Gill who didn’t want to know about any concept in a restaurant that wasn’t “I order, you bring, I eat, you clear away”. Still, it’s nice to have a bit of enthusiasm even if being asked if everything was ok after each mouthful began to pall after the 20th time. Ex-Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers was working her cotton socks off in the kitchen which is a good sign and the place was, if not quite jumping (like a Mexican bean) was pretty busy with 20-somethings, mostly women, enjoying themselves. As did I.

A little cocktail action to start, a Margarita, was nice and limey, the chiccarones I had with them were a bit on the lightweight side. The Guacamole exhibited the main problem with the food – it really needed a bit of pepping up. A little bit of salt, some of the beautifully smoky habanero hot sauce (which despite being told all the time how hot it was, wasn’t) and a bit of lime cheered it up no end.

Most of the dishes benefited from the same treatment. I was told by the co-owner that they didn’t want to spice things up too much and preferred to leave it to customers' individual preference. Fair enough I suppose but a bit at odds with the aim of authentic Mexican market cuisine.

I stuck to the Street Food section of the menu and liked the Black Bean Tostadas and the Pork Pibil Taco although the corn tortillas were a bit heavy. There was also a rather toothsome piquant pickle that went with a couple of dishes. The chorizo in the Quesadilla was nice and smoky but the oil had seeped out making the tortilla a bit greasy. This would be a distinct advantage though if you’d had one Modelo Negra too many. A big bowl of chocolate ice cream was very good and had a surprising chilli finish. They aced the mint tea test.

I wasn’t completely convinced by the food but it’s fresh, inexpensive and doesn’t leave a nasty taste in the mouth. A sort of Latin version of Leon. If they could inject a bit more oomph or soul into the food it would be so much better. Holy Frijoles !

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Thursday, July 26, 2007



More from Japan on EAT MY GLOBE in due course, but I thought people may be interested in a visit yesterday to The Gyoza Centre in Gora (near the vacation resort of Hakone) which produces, by all accounts, the finest examples of these little dumplings of meaty goodness in all Japan.

After a morning of cable car rides and visits to sulphurous volcanic pools to eat black eggs, my travelling companions and I were just about ready for some dumpling action and bundled into the restaurant a few moments after they opened.

Already, it was packed to the rafters and it looked like we may have to wait at least fifteen minutes to get a table

Fortunately, one group of tourist were put off by the menu and cleared a table for six and we were able to sit down straight away.

The deal is that all the dumplings are made with a basic filling of Chinese white cabbage, a chive like vegetable and minced pork, to which other items are added and then wrapped in a light dough of flour, salt, distilled water with a lining of shisho.

Between our group, we just about ordered the menu with “stamina” dumplings heavy with garlic being a favourite and crabmeat dumplings disappearing fast enough to need re-orders. My own standout was a “chicken gyoza” where the outer wrapping of dough was replaced by a boned chicken wing into which the basic stuffing had been added before the whole was fried.

Unlike versions of gyoza I have tried in the west, these were light and soft on one side and crispy without being greasy on the other. You could easily down twenty or so of the things before calling it quits. Another difference is the creation of what the Japanese call “haneh” which comes from adding water to the pan as the dumplings cook which helps form a small crispy pancake at the bottom of the dumplings to give an extra texture

I asked to have a look around the small kitchen and watched one of the staff make dumplings at an alarming rate. Mind you, he had been doing it for twenty years.

Dumplings may never seem the same again
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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Crescent House

And every time I go to make my play
She rolls mighty boulders in my way

What if they built a restaurant and nobody came ? I’ve eaten in empty places before but this felt different. I was in Crescent House, a pub/restaurant which had opened only a few days before on the site of some crappy bar called Babushka.

The start of any new venture must be an exciting and frightening time (in equal measure) for the owners and staff. In theory although there may be hiccups everyone involved should be at the top of their game, high on adrenaline. Not at Crescent House where the owners have managed to create a restaurant which has undergone a radical characterectomy. Honestly, it made the Marie-Celeste look like an 18-30 booze cruise.

The restaurant is putting itself forward as a fine-dining joint but I’m afraid despite the avowed intentions the kitchen just isn’t up to it. The meal wasn’t particularly bad, it wasn’t particularly good. It was just boring. There seemed to be a complete lack of enthusiasm in any of the cooking and as a result I felt pretty bored by the whole experience.

First, a little rant. Not having any bread because the suppliers forgot to deliver and you can’t make it in the kitchen are pretty crappy excuses. What was the chef doing all day ? Dealing with the lunchtime rush ? Look, if Carol Craddock can make bread in a kitchen the size of a telephone box I’m sure anyone can. Rant over.

In lieu of the bread I had some anchovy sticks (with a nice little tarama dip) which could have been improved if they had been made freshly and served straight from the oven. In the event instead of being warm and flaky they were chewy.

My GOS belly pork was cooked well and had a nice lacquer-like crackling but the all-purpose jus was boring. It really needed some tartness to provide a contrast. The flesh tended to stringiness because the knife wasn’t right for the job. There was the merest smear of a cauliflower puree and some girolles but these proved merely decorative.

A good judge of any kitchen is how they handle fish dishes. Unfortunately, the baked turbot had a tough unyielding crust on it and was overcooked beneath. Deeply unimpressive. What tasted like the same jus appeared again and there were summer truffles which had been sliced so thickly they had the texture of cardboard. The dice of vegetables added nothing. I had a pudding because sometimes a meal can be rescued right at the end but even the Moose looked bored at my pannacotta.

As I left, an hour later, I noticed the foursome who had been the only customers in the bar when I arrived had gone. There was a woman behind the bar absent-mindedly polishing some glasses. Somewhere a bell tolled and tumbleweed rolled across the road. What if they built a restaurant and nobody came ? I guess they’d call it The Crescent.

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Monday, July 23, 2007


As H1 says, I am in Japan ( I have just left Tokyo and am in Nikko. Report soon to follow on EAT MY GLOBE )

However, since he is talking about Yakitori, I thought I would give you a glimpse of what I have been up to.

Small pubs litter Tokyo, particularly in areas near train stations where they are set up to serve the salarymen with beer and snacks before they head home. Usually pissed as newts and just before a much needed vomit at the JR station.

Primarily they serve Yakitori which strictly means chicken on skewers, but in practice turns out to be a range of meat and vegetables on skewers served either sprinkled with salt or dipped in a sauce before being plonked in front of you with a cold beer or a glass of soschu(sp?)

Here are some images of places I tried and some of the skewers. In the Ueno area (where I was staying) at a counter where the tables were beer crates as were most of the seats, I had skewers of chicken skin, livers and hearts. In the notorious “Piss Alley” of Shin Juku, I had skewers of roast garlic as well as “ the base of the beef tongue” and “chicken diaphragm” I also had roasted sweet peppers and beef tendon. And, in a slightly more upmarket version, I had chicken cartilage.

It is not cheap, mainly because of the cost of the booze (which comes in at about £2.50 for a draft beer and more for the unfeasibly large bottles of Sapporo or Kirin) and I usually found myself about Yen1500-2000 (£7.50-10) poorer after four or five skewers.

The costs in London look comparable and, by comparison, the quality of what HP had looks good too. The difference being that there are hundreds of these places to choose from here and I cant think of an equivalent back home. Also,I would imagine, they have a much wider selection of bits to choose from.

I have lots more images, but the horribly slow computer in my hotel precludes for now.

Off to eat some more. Carry on.
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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bincho Yakitori

I start in smiling
and I just can't stop
You on the bottom
Me on top

Many years ago, you could walk along the South Bank from Waterloo to London Bridge and not see a soul. Well, you might have seen me and my colleagues staggering out of the Founders Arms of a lunchtime having had one too many pints, but that was about it. Now it is two long queues – one going downriver, the other up. Truly l'enfer, c'est les autres (sorry JP). Pleasingly though, everybody keeps to the left as they should. A small shimmy to the right (going downstream) however and you’re far from the madding crowd, in the OXO Tower. So called, because this is where Oxo (or bouillon) cubes were first made.

The last time DH were in here was about five years ago when I treated my younger siblings to a meal at Richard Neat’s eponymous gaff. It was nose-bleedingly expensive, not great and didn’t last very long. The restaurant, that is.

I’ve no idea what was here before but it’s now Bincho Yakitori a er…Yakitori joint. Actually, it also does Kushiyaki as well which apparently is any other skewered pieces of flesh. And very dainty little tidbits they are too. Although they all come in at between one and two quid you need to have quite a few to make a meal so the total price mounts up steeper than the slopes of Mount Fuji. It was all pleasant enough but totally unmemorable and ever so slightly reminiscent of an upmarket Wagamama.

Standouts were the Koushi no leba which were melting cubes of calves liver with chunks of grilled spring onions, the Shimeji (mushrooms) and the Shishito (peppers) which were similar to Pimientos de Padron (hey, there’s that Japan/Spain connection again). Although £1.50 for four little peppers is pushing it a bit even if they have been cooked on special Bincho charcoal.

The chicken gizzards were quite interesting (the menu states that other chicken parts are available which doesn’t leave too many) and the Unagi (Eel) wasn’t bad. There was a tendency to drown everything in soy which as far as I know may be an authentic way of upping the beer consumption. Best of all was the Hira suzuki (Stone Bass) an accurately grilled piece of fish with a little blob of bean paste on the side.

To drink there were the usual Japanese beers the best of which was the Sapporo Black stout. I also had an interesting sparkling sake Hou Hou Shu which although not a great match for the food – beer’s best here – was quite pleasant and refreshing on what was probably one of the more pleasant days of the English Summer.

The staff were all sweetness and light although I detected a slight sense of frustration after repeatedly turning down their suggestions to try the rice and soup dishes and also one of the more bizarre recs that if I wanted breakfast I could try the Tomatobacon skewer.

I passed on pud, paid up and wandered back down to join the throng on the Southbank. A group of noisy Italian students with identikit rucksacks were blocking the path, a man lazily chucked a can into the Thames. The thought of a few jars of Ram and Special suddenly seemed very appealing…

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007



It takes a lot for me to get excited about a sandwich, ergo, it takes even more for me to get excited about a sandwich shop.

So, when my greying but well dressed friend, Neil began to extol the virtues of Fernandez & Wells on Lexington St, it was hard not to have to stifle a yawn.

But, damn him, he was right. In fact, he was right with very polished knobs on. Fernandez & Wells is not just a sandwich shop, it is what Bill Bailey might call the whitewashed sandwich shop of dreams.

The deli has been open since January, I think and one of the owners used to work for The Monmouth Coffee Co. Because of that and its obvious links with Neal’s Yard Dairy, there are a lot of things that are immediately familiar from the slightly Spartan décor of the deli ( and its sister coffee shop around the corner on Beak St which opened in March) the unaffected amiability of the staff and, most of all, the quality of the produce on offer.

The deli does sell a huge range of sandwiches which you are welcome to take around the corner and eat in the coffee shop as they have no space for you to eat in. On top of which, it also sells a wide range of of other foods including a Paella based on the MORO recipe, Chunky soups ( perfect for the chills of the current Summer ) and, bet of all, hand cut hams ranging from hand sliced Iberico Bellota to a Pyrenean ham one of the owners discovered when he was on holiday.

For once, however, I was not seduced by slices of Jamon. I wanted a sandwich and decided upon a hefty item made with Greek Peppers and Asturian Chorizo. I could just have easily gone for one of about twenty other offerings, including another nod towards Neal’s Yard, Bill Oglethorpe’s grilled Monty’s Cheddar on Poilane bread, but in the end, the thought of oily, spicy pork on a bun won out.

Jolly fine it was too. With that and a bottle of Fentiman’s Ginger Beer, I toddled around to the Coffee shop and sat happily munching as the busy and important people of SOHO passed by.

It’s not cheap. £6 for a sarni and a bottle of pop. But, for the best Chorizo sandwich I can recall, it is worth the effort.

Definitely worth a try.

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