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

Thursday, March 29, 2007


I am told that, I was unkind about my annoying Aussie friend, Chelsea last time I posted about her. So, I will resist my first urge to refer today, to her as “approaching thirty” and concentrate on the fact that she donated to the “Simon goes freelance fund” and bought me dinner last night.

Of course, I organised it, such things being beyond a person who has the attention span of a gadfly and, as is my want picked somewhere a little out of the way and a little out of the ordinary. Chelsea is the one person I know who is, in that regard, fearless and will go anywhere when there is good food on offer.

So tonight? Well, we were not quite sure. I had the address. In fact it is the name of the restaurant, 805 Old Kent Road. But, I had no clue which end of that slightly dubious street it was. Not indeed did the cab driver and there followed a long drive that took us from in front of Liverpool St station to the edges of New Cross where I only normally go to visit my hubcaps.

Still, we arrived safe and sound and found the restaurant without any trouble. 805 was, according to most descriptions I found during a little bit of research, the best Nigerian restaurant in London. The Old Kent Rd is, for some reason, littered with them. I have no idea why, but 805 is the one everyone said to head for.

Eating out as often as I do, I am usually pretty good with menus. Here? Not clue number one. I can’t recall a time when I have had to ask so many questions of a server as I did here. Fortunately, the waitress was patience itself and delighted to help guide us through what was otherwise daunting task.

To begin, I was disappointed to find out that they were out of Santana. Apparently a dish made of fried gizzards. So, instead, we chose to share medium size plates of Beer mate and Goat Pepper soup.

In as many years as I have been eating out, I cannot recall a dish as hot as the beer mate. Imagine eating the hottest chilli you can find, in Hades on a 100o day in July. Well, it was hotter than that. Chelsea mailed me this morning that she felt like someone was rubbing chilli into her buttocks. While that thought made me slightly queasy, she is correct. The aftermath was inevitable and I have not cried so much since I last watched Brief Encounter. I quite liked it.

The Goat pepper soup was a lot more benign with a sauce with the depth of long cooking and big chunks of chewy goat with a slab of tripe to add texture.

We had barely begun to get to grips with these two dishes, washed down with some local beers, before the main courses arrived. Dainty, they weren’t. This is not food for the squeamish or the fussy. This is full on food for people who need refuelling after a hard days work.

Jollof rice was not that much fun. The rice cooked with tomatoes and spices and topped with dodo (a fried plantain) would have served four people but it was so dry and unappealing that I could only take a few mouthfuls. It came with a bowl of “assorted meats” which contained more tripe and tough chunks of beef and goat.

Much better was a dish of tilapia topped with a layer of steamed ewedu (like a slightly slippery spinach) in a spicy but not overpowering sauce. It came with a dish of gari, which is made from ground cassava. The texture reminded me of wet polenta and it serves the same purpose to mop up juices. As required, we downed cutlery and used our hands to good effect and, although we made a valiant effort, we barely made a dent in our plates much to the concern of our waitress who kindly doggie bagged the remains for Chelsea.

We shared something cold made with coconut for pudding to douse some of the flames and asked for the bill which was about £60 including service and the drinks.

Amusing though it would have been to leave Chelsea to find her own way back from New Cross in the middle of the night, I thought better of it and we got a cab back to home turf by which time she was looking a little tired and emotional as the picture shows. That may have had something to do with the Guinness night cap she insisted I buy her before we parted. I guess it is the least she deserves for putting up with all the grief I give her.

Next time I am trying to think of something even further away both in terms of travel in London and in the world. Anyone know a good Peruvian in Purley?

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

And Father and Brother Makes Four


I bought a Kebab machine for my Father and youngest Brother last Christmas. I’m not quite sure why. I assumed, I suppose, that I was going to use it on one of my visits up North. However, today DH received these pictures from Father and Brother or as they shall now be known Padre y Hermano Tercero.

Welcome to our World.


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The Narrow


You’ve got to hate Gordon Ramsay. Pug faced, foul mouthed, vilified in that most demanding of restaurant towns, NYC and apart from frying something occasionly on TV when was the last time he actually cooked ? Even on a visit several years ago to RHR although the flunkies swore he was in the kitchen you just knew he wasn’t, not least because we saw him and his little chum Marcus ringside at a Ricky Hatton Fight not that many hours later. And yet he’s building one of the biggest high-end restaurant empires going and seems to attract success and money with every passing day. Unfortunately much as I wanted to hate his foray into the pub business (although the PR mentions GR Holdings and not the man himself) it was, annoyingly rather good.

The Narrow is a pub overlooking the Thames at Limehouse in the East End. At the moment it still has that overwhelming whiff off of the new but will bed in nicely and once the summer comes will be a very pleasant place to eat. It’s still a great place to eat at the moment and I would suggest a visit ASAP while John Collin and Mark Sargeant are looking after the kitchen. This is as good a pub meal, or rather a meal in a pub as you are going to get.

A starter of devilled lamb kidneys brought several fine specimens cooked pink with an aroma that was just the right side of the farmyard. Some more sauce to soften the toasted bread would have been the only improvement. A salad of leaves, radish and beetroot needed a bit more seasoning but was otherwise ok. Things were kicked up many notches by a dish of Faggot made from Veal and its offal, served with marrowfat peas. Expertly made with a fine flavour that was more reminiscent of a fine dining resto than a pub. This was also evident in the well cooked marrowfat peas and the beautifully judged gravy. A tremendous dish. In the interest of research I also ordered some chips which didn’t disappoint. Gentle reader I scoffed the lot.

The friendly and efficient staff gave me a little breathing space before I ended the meal with some satisfying Rhubarb Crumble, served a la mode. A special word also for the Drury Lane Coffee which was da bomb (sorry, but it was fantastic).

So another DH “go there now” recommendation. Like I said you’ve gots to hate him.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007


What a waste.

Not of a lunchtime which was spent in the hugely agreeable company of my new chum, Sarah, but of decent ingredients which were lumped together with such over enthusiasm that single flavours overpowered whole dishes or subtle flavours were lost in a swirl of “hey lemon grass is on special” zeal.

I had not been to Fulham in God knows how long. Never really felt any great need to. But, when I arranged to have lunch with Sarah I thought it only fair to go to her part of the world and suggested The Farm. My how Fulham Broadway has changed. A fancy schmancy new tube station that wouldn’t need me even if I did want a Druryesque job opportunity.

The dining room of The Farm is light and airy and it made a lovely space to ponder over the set lunch menu which comes in at about £25 for three courses. I didn’t see an option just to have two courses so perhaps the good people of Fulham have plenty of time on their hands. I certainly do these days, so was happy to indulge both them and me.

To begin, Sarah went for a salad of orange cured salmon with a variety of beets. I got no flavour from the salmon I tasted but plenty from an overpowering dressing. It looked pretty enough though as did my own choice of torteloni of crabmeat in a lobster and lemongrass sauce. However, the lemongrass was the first and only hit from the dish and the rest then just became texture.

Main courses too, showed a tendency towards the over use of ingredients. A dish of lemon sole on spiced cauliflower was liberally doused with pea shoots and dill as indeed was my leek risotto. Neither were awful, although the fish was over cooked. The risotto was prepared correctly and creamy but again just became texture as the dill swamped everything else on the plate.

Puddings were the ever present “selection of British cheeses” which its hard to get too wrong although it did include a strongly flavoured smoked cheddar which, yep you’ve guessed it, smothered everything else. A crème brulee was harmless enough but benefited little from a pouring of watery apple juice/sauce over it.

Sarah picked up the tab which was lovely and entirely unexpected, so I can only guess what it came to. I would hazard, with a couple of glasses of a worthwhile NZ Riesling, tea and a charge for efficient service, about £80.

Perhaps it is just a lunch thing where the main chef is not in the kitchen, as I suspect was the case here but, I can’t imagine crossing town just to go to The Farm again and I made Sarah promise that when it is my turn to pick up the tab, she can drag herself over to East London.

I see a steak at Hawksmoor in her near future.
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The Sportsman


I love cities in general and London, my home for the last thirty years or so, in particular. True, the public transport system is unreliable and always seems on the point of complete breakdown, but the excitement, the history, the sense of the possible (not forgetting the jellied eels) more than compensate and make it one of the greatest places on Earth.

From time to time though it does all become a bit much and I need to wind down and get out of the City, if only for a few hours. As someone who hardly ventures out of areas of London without an E in the postcode this would be difficult for me but friends whose opinions I trust told me that Whitstable would be the perfect place for a day trip and that at The Sportsman I would have a nice lunch. And so it proved.

After a swift and surprisingly painless train ride I arrived at a very windy Whitstable station. A brisk walk brought me to the bustling high street where I seemed to have gone through that time portal again (see my visit to Norfolk). Tea Shoppes a plenty, no Starbucks and nice Mr Ahmed still running Light of The Raj Tandoori and a Farmers Market where people were actually buying stuff. Gasp.

It was heady stuff so I ducked into the nearest shop which happened to be a place called Wheeler’s. They had a fine selection of smoked seafood and a lovely looking bowl of jellied eels but I showed some restraint and went for a couple of Whitstable Native oysters. These were up there with the best oysters I have ever had with a clean, fresh, slightly briny aftertaste that goes on and on and on like the finest wine.

I was warned by several locals not to attempt to walk to the Sportsman (“it’s at least three miles”) . I walked anyway but it’s the boredom of going past so many prefabs, bungalows and caravan parks that gets to you rather than the distance. The last half a mile though, along the sea wall, presents a very pleasant vista and if the wind is blowing anything like it did will clear away those big city cobwebs very effectively.

The Sportsman is at the end of a seawall and I was very happy to plonk myself down at the bar with a pint of Shepherd Neame’s Porter feeling all windswept and interesting. I discussed the menu with genial host Philip Harris and sat down while brother Stephen did the business in the kitchen. .

The excellent homemade foccacia and sourdough bread served with briny Lucque olives was more than the afterthought it is in some restaurants. More of those briny sweet native oysters, which went very well with a ½ bottle of Pol Roger, was a very good start to the meal proper.

Great ingredients, cooked simply is a bit of a cliché but still holds true. This was evident my next two courses of a dense, chunky Pork Terrine served with a little quail’s egg and the Thornback Ray served with cockles and moistened by brown butter and aged sherry vinegar. There was even room for a little light-heartedness with a signature dish of rhubarb sorbet with space dust served with a demitasse of burnt cream.

After some decent coffee and brownies I was in the mood for a little ‘something’ extra and not just because I’d had so many oysters. Luckily they didn’t specialise in any clear, wine industry by-products so I settled for a taxi to whisk me back to the station (the thought of the wind and those caravans was too much).

Back in the Megalopolis again I went into a pub and watched a dire England performance. As I walked back home I slipped in some one’s puke. Whitstable seemed a long time ago.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Let’s get this out of the way. This is my first attempt at posting a video to the blog. Fellini it aint, but give me a break. OK?

My girlfriend has relatives who own a chippy and yours does not. Nah, Nah, Nah Nah and, indeed, Nah.

The fact they also own a small chain of Kebab shops is an added, unexpected but altogether welcome bonus.

After a bit of a lay in on Saturday morning we pottered the short walk from our vile hotel to the rightfully famous Bury Market. Officially the best market in the UK plentiful signage was keen to point out. In truth, it is just a lot of stalls selling tat. However, amongst the bric a brac are some real gems selling local food.

The Eccles Cake is, thanks to Fergus Henderson, well known in that there London. But, not so, the Chorley cake. Well, Thanks to Harry Muffin, purveyor of fine sweet comestibles to northern folk, I can now announce to the world that they are a lot better than Eccles cakes. So there.

After a bit of nibblage on those, we stopped for a bacon and sausage muffin (in Bury, apparently, a bread roll is a muffin. Go figure) which seemed to be the lightest option on offer at a market café where most people seemed to be tucking into full English fry up’s on plates the size of steering wheels.

All this and passing by once more by the stall of the good people of The Bury Black Pudding Company made us a bit peckish so we wandered the mile or so to The Walmersley Chippy, the latest cog in the growing empire of Dawn’s relatives Mehrdad and Denise. Open a mere six weeks and already experiencing a very steady stream of business, The Chippy is one of those places that makes you despair of ever getting good Fish & Chips in London or at least anything that comes within a north country mile of what we had here.

Fresh fish, cooked to order, was thick with bubbly crunchy batter while the haddock (always haddock up North, of course ) was protected inside to steam gently to a gorgeous flake. Chips were proper chip shop chips and only benefited from a liberal dousing with vinegar. As good as it gets.

Well that is of course, unless you get to go backstage and see it all being done, which I did. As I mentioned, I have a GF who put me on the guest list for the VIP room or at least the room where they cut the chips.

Pretty full up by now obviously, but not too full to pop next door but one and try a few slices of a fresh kebab crisped up on the grill topped with their homemade chilli sauce. It’s a good life.

A long walk home failed to burn off all the grub we had ingested and we made the mistake of going to use the Hotel gym which resulted in us both turning a most unusual shade of green and having to lie down for a while.

But, man it was worth it for those Fish & Chips.

Did I say Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah? If not, just take it as a given. OK?


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I love to mooch. In fact, I don’t think there is anyone who mooches better than I do. I am The Mooch Meister, The Moochatollah. The, if you will, Uber Moochen Fuhrer.

So, on Friday, when I had finished the EAT MY GLOBE part of the trip to Bury to see the people of the mighty Bury Black Pudding Company, Dawn wanted to head off to see her Dad who lived close by, I was more than happy to occupy myself for a few hours, use the health club and then head into Manchester.

On the tram, no less and while reading a copy of The Manchester Evening News I found on the seat next to me. By the time I arrived, I was practically a character in Coronation St. Er, happen.

Bar a brief visit to see Ricky Hatton hit someone a few times, I have not set foot in Manchester for twenty years and it has, as is much documented, changed out of all recognition (pause while the entire population whines in a nasal way “we’ve got a Selfridges”) and I spent an entirely agreeable few hours pottering around Chinatown, The Gay Village, The Printworks etc only disconcerted by the fact that the female population seems to be entirely orange. Not a healthy tan orange, but full on Tango man orange. Like they have eaten sweets they shouldn’t have at Willy Wonka’s factory and are about to be dragged off by the Oompah Loompah’s ( and, if you have ever been dragged off by the……… well, you can finish that one yourself)

After about four hours, I needed an drink so headed to the Arora Hotel in Chinatown and their pleasing basement bar, Obsidian. Apparently, it has the biggest back bar in the UK outside our fair capital and it was well worth a visit for a number of exemplary cocktails made by a well trained staff.

By this time Dawn had joined me and, a few drinks to the good, we headed off to supper at Mr Thomas’s Chop House on Cross St. A friend had texted me “ignore the theme park silliness and order the corned beef hash” He is a man of good taste, so I did.

In truth, I didn’t find the room too theme park. I rather liked it. But, the menu does have lots of silliness with references to “food like your mum used to make” and “ perfect for rainy days” They even describe HP sauce as “legendary” which is one step from “our world famous sauce” after which, it would not just be Ricky Hatton getting violent.

Still, service was charm itself and our starters were not bad at all. Fish cakes were plump and filled with decent ingredients and, even better, the corned beef hash came as a small, perfectly fried cake with smooth mash and house made corned beef that is as good a mouthful as I have had so far this year. The little comma of “legendary” HP sauce was a welcome addition.

Unfortunately, from here, the meal went downhill alarmingly. Dawn’s steak was cooked to order but came with an announced, but unnecessary topping of cheese which smothered any flavour. My dish was apparently “ back by popular demand” which makes me think Manchester still has a way to go. A honey coated belly pork should have been everything I adore but instead was stringy. It was topped with a few slivers of crackling, so hard they could live in Moss Side. The five spice lentils had been over cooked to the point of mushiness. A big fat flop of a dish.

Talking of big and fat. The chips were of that annoying variety and not great either. A bit flacid and floury and we left most of them as we did an overdressed salad that had transgressed another of my rules and was harbouring some raw peppers.

A pudding of crumble took things down an extra notch with the dish being long on stewed fruit and short on crumble with a blob of non descript ice cream on top. We left most of it.

The wine list is short, but well formed and a bottle of something from Navarre was well priced at £17.50. Service could not have been more charming if it had been to finishing school and it deserved the 12.5% which helped make up the £71 final tally.

Unusually, my friend was wrong. I didn't mind the theme park silliness, I should have just ingnored the food.
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