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

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Since returning to London from up North, DH have been out and about trying a few places that have been on the radar for a while but have not yet come high enough in the reckoning to pay a visit.

On Thursday, towards the tail end of a pub crawl, which involved pints at The Dolphin, The Ship Inn and The Mitre, we found ourselves stepping into the recently refurbished Fox & Anchor in Smithfield.

Now owned by the people of Mal Maison, it has been given the full treatment and certainly looks the part on the inside, but there’s the rub. It is, as my blessed mum would have said, “all fur coat and no knickers” with all the thought going on the décor and none going on the food or the drink, well certainly not on the quality, at least.

I guess it is no longer fair to call it a pub anymore. It has been designed to give visiting tourists from the hotel nearby, or those who have paid £165 to stay in one of their own rooms, the feeling they are in a “real” pub with out actually having the possibility of coming in contact with dangerous locals.

So, beer is poured in “ye olde London Towne” glass bottom metal tankards and they offer bowls of pork scratchings and cockles whch sat on an otherwise dpepressing looking oyster bar.

But, the beer is wretchedly kept, we left most of our pints, and served by staff, who may be friendly enough but don’t have a clue about what they are serving. The pork scratchings, £1.50 for a tiny bowl, were nothing of the sort being blobs of chewy cold pork.

I don’t dislike the Malmaison group and, when they have the common sense to have a steak option in the hotel restaurant, they usually make a decent stab at it. So, it may well be that the food coming out of the full kitchen I saw downstairs will be reasonable, particularly at breakfast.

But, on this showing, I think it is strictly one for the tourists.

Yesterday saw more disappointments. First up a trip to see I AM LEGEND, one of the lousiest pieces of cinema junk I have seen in a long time. So bad, it would smell on ice. You know a film is bad when the lead is out acted by a dog.

Still, the idea of a person being all on his own apart from a bunch of savages seems appropriate as supper was going to be in West London (we go there so you don’t have to)

It really is a different country. They do things differently there.

A couple of bad pints in non-descript pubs saw us pitch up at the bottom of Tavistock Rd and a relatively new Tapas bar, La Plaza which opened, I think, in Summer.

Unlike OOPS, this had a lot going for it. Run by a Galician couple, it looked the part of a typical Spanish bar with a functional comida section and a bar stocked with odd looking bottles of mysterious liquor.

The menu too looks the part with Galician specialities like pulpo and chiperones to make you think that they know what they are doing.

It is a shame then that the food turned out to be so average. Not actively horrible, but bar a couple of dishes, no better than chain places than La Tasca and certainly a notch below the bar raised by El Faro etc.

We gave it a good go and ordered 80% of the tapas menu which all came out in rather too rapid a succession.

The Pulpo was probably the highlight, creamy and served, as it should be on a wooden board with potatoes and sprinkled with paprika. But the croquettas, a sure sign of a Spanish bars intentions, were lumpy and unpleasant.

Chorizo cooked in wine was not unpleasant and Zorza, pork with paprika had the right punchiness. The Gulas were described as baby eels on the menu which, of course, they were not, or the dish would have been ten times the price. These are the reconstituted seafood shreds you can buy in any supermarket in Spain. The equivalent, if you will of crabsticks.
The Alitas were luke warm and tasted actively strange. The pimientos de padron were served suitably blackened and salty, but in a parsimonious portion that would make even The Hart Brothers blush in shame

In Spain, the notion of moving from bar to bar means that you can select the best from each place before moving on. Here, In London, we don't have that option so tapas means experiencing the good, the bad and the indifferent in one place. Unfortuinately, La Plaza offered more of the last two options than the first.

A bottle of Martin Codax, well priced at under £20, brought the bill up to £70 to which we added £10 for service which was suitably Spanish. A large amount but, again reflecting our desire to try as many things on the menu as possible. A normal meal for two with wine and coffee would come in about £60.

La Plaza is certainly may not be worth crossing town for but I guess that is better than The Fox & Anchor, which is not worth crossing The Goswell Road for.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

H2's TASTES OF 2007

it’s that time of year again when lazy writers everywhere fill column inches by compiling lists of the events of the year before and what to look forward to in the year to come.

Who am I to buck such an ancient tradition?

So, here is a list of my favourite tastes of 2007, from the UK, the US and the rest of the EAT MY GLOBE trip so far.

Of course, if you were to ask me for this list tomorrow, it would be almost entirely different.

The order, such as it is, is vaguely chronological rather than superiority.

1)Jamon Iberico cut by El Cortador de Jamon in Zaragoza, Spain
2)Scnitzel at Lutte & Wegner in Berlin
3) Black Pudding fresh from the boiler at The Bury Black Pudding Company
4)A freshly filled pork pie at Mrs King’s in Melton Mowbray
5)Souvlaki at Lamb on Chapel in Melbourne
6)Montgomery Cheddar Selected by Chris George, Master Cheesemonger, Neal’s Yard
7)Yakitori in Ebisu, Tokyo
8)Gyoza at The Gyoza Centre in Harkone
9)Tori Karage (fried chicken) in Takayama, Japan
10)Mack’s “chewy” Noodles, Hong Kong
11)Monk’s “Meat” meal in Chengdu
12)Beijing Duck at Li Qun, Beijing
13)Juan Bing Guez, Beijing
14)Horse Rib, Ulan Batar, Mongolia
15)Smoked Sig, Lake Baikal, Siberia
16)Lomu Salmon, Finland
17)Feast with Pertii & The Princessa, Finland
18)8am Ribs, American Royal BBQ, Kansas City
19)A “Pete Shelley” Hot Doug’s, Chicago
20)Brisket Sandwich, City Market, Lulling, Texas
21) Po’ Boy, Parkway Bakery, NOLA
22) Philly Cheesesteak, Geno’s Philadelphia, PA
23) Breaded Veal Brains, Kebab Café, Astoria, Queens
24) Clams, Arthur Avenue, The Bronx
24)40lbs Pork Butt courtesy of Cathy, Manhattan
26)Tripe Taco, Guadalajara, Mexico
27)Shrimp Cocktail, Mexican Style, Guadalajara
28)Bife de Chorizo, La Dorita, Beunos Aires, Argentina
29)Fresh Coconut Milk, Salvador, Brazil
30)25lb Turkey for Thanksgiving, Santa Cruz ( thanks Tana)
31)Fresh Crab, Berkeley, Northern California

I have to say, it was a pretty good year.

God willing, 2008 will bring even more great things to eat

Happy New Year everyone.


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Tuesday, December 18, 2007


In last year or two, there seems to have been a huge upsurge in interest in the wonders of food from that greatest of all countries, Spain.

From fine dining establishments to small bars it has become almost impossible to walk a hundred yards in London without coming across a place offering “Tapas”

Many of them are pretty dreadful serving slop which any self respecting Spaniard would only consider fit for his perro. But, there are now a number where you can get reasonably echt renditions of regional Spanish dishes even if no one has ever, or will ever, be able to recreate the context in which they are served in Madrid etc.

Places like The Salt Yard (and I suspect its soon to open sibling, Dehesa) and Brindisa offer well prepared versions of classics and, even Barrafina, though hugely over priced and a wank fest for those who think Cal-Pep is the real Spain, has served to raise the bar and people’s expectations.

Best of all is El Faro, way out East in Docklands, where a chef from Santander comes the closest of anyone to making DH feel like we are back where we belong.

So, I am always interested in hearing about new places and, despite the fact it opened in Summer when I was on the road, OOPS was a new one on me.

It has a lot of strikes against it.

Its location is on a dread street opposite Drury Lane Theatre where tourist trap Tratt’s sit next to Curry Slop shops.

It is owned by Italians. Not in itself illegal (we seem to be giving important jobs to lots of Italians these days) but enough to cause a raised eyebrow particularly when you add the fact that it is a roll out of a bar concept from Barcelona run by one of the owner’s family.

Finally, of course, there is the name. A name so wretched you just know it has and will arm a thousand snide quips from food critics everywhere.

Despite all these minuses, I am pleased to say there are many plusses, not least the fact that the food looks and tastes the part.

I was joined by my chum Andrew, marketing whiz for Gonzalez Byass who was pleased to see that they had reacted to previous comments by adding some sherry to an otherwise impressive wine list. He was also pleased to see that, unlike so many other places, the fino we were served was fresh, crisp and served at the right temperature. It worked perfectly with a bowl of spicy olives.

Tapa prices are reasonable and we worked our way though the menu

Well made croquetta with Iberico jamon were creamy with little chewy bits of ham as they should be. Morcilla came with caramelised onions which added sweetness, and the pan con tomate had the prerequisite garlic spike.

Pimientos came topped with a creamy bacalao and the boquerones were fresh and unusually meaty.

A new one on me was Jijas, a dish of fried mince pork shot through with paprika. It reminded me of Xistora, which is not a bad thing and I would definitely order it next time I am here.

There is a separate section on the menu for embutido which shows that they are being serious about the whole thing as, indeed, does the fact that the Jamon de Jabugo displayed the striations which are a sign of hand, rather than machine, carving. The jamon itself was overpriced at £16.50 and though better than most, did not deliver on the promise of its “Gran Reserva” labelling on the menu.

Andrew was not drinking bar the sherry, which was, of course, professional interest, so I drank a single glass of inky wine from Navarre which with tea and coffee brought the bill to a not insubstantial £70 including service which was on the ball, though unhampered by too many other customers. The price, again reflects my ability to over order and the location. A meal for two here, with wine should come in at about £60

OOPS, despite its name and location, is definitely worth a visit. It serves well made, attractive versions of Spanish favourites in an area where getting a meal without losing your soul or your life savings in becoming increasingly hard.

As a post-script to the meal, Andrew suddenly produced a bottle of gin and plonked it on the table. I almost hugged him.

Gonzalez Byass, it would appear, are now distributing the only gin, apart from Beefeater, actually distilled in the capital. This is a fine example of the genre with rich notes of citrus complimenting the required juniper. Also, because gardenia is used as one of the botanicals, it takes on a pleasing blue hue which makes it look pretty enough for girlies in the clear glass bottle.

I have the bottle at home now and plan to do a bit of a taste test over the weekend in the form of a decent martini (something almost impossible to find as I travel)

Well worth seeking out for that last minute Christmas gift.

Shill over.

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