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

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I am a zider drinker
I drinks it all of the day
I am a zider drinker
It soothes all me troubles away
Ooh aargh ooh argh aay
Ooh aargh ooh argh aay
(With apologies to DF & WB)

The area north of London’s Famous Non-Wobbly Millenium Bridge is a bit of a gastro-desert. Apart from the execrable Conran joint Paternoster there isn’t really anywhere to eat beyond the places that fuel the guys and gals of the City. So I was interested to read about a new place just under the aforementioned bridge on the north bank of the Thames called er..Northbank.

The site was once the home of an unloved and by all accounts duff restaurant that helped promote the view that food in Britain in general and London in particular was swill. (Actually, a lot of foreigners still believe that. Discuss). For some weird reason I had feared the worse but I needn’t have worried this place has got a lot going for it. Not least there was a very grown-up feel to the restaurant: low-level lighting (more on that later), a well stocked bar, banquettes, the view, the quiet buzz of the punters.

I was a bit early so I propped up the bar for a Dry Martini. It was well made – very cold and suitably dry - but lacked that visceral punch that you would get from the best. The pork scratchings were excellent though.

The ALC had a definite West Country feel to it which was confirmed by the owner who also hails from those parts. For some odd reason the idea of a menu based around the food products of the West tickled me somewhat, although it may had been the fact I’d just seen an advert for some Cornish comedian called Jethro and then starting musing about Pasties and Padstow.

Strange thoughts of Bodmin aside I decided to embrace the theme and started with half a dozen of the Duchy of Cornwall Oysters which were creamy and briny – these are very good things.

Hogs Pudding is a sort of WC haggis/white pudding/boudin made with pork, oatmeal and offal. Made to the owner’s Mum’s recipe it was light and tasty although I have to say, Mrs B, that I could have done with a bit more offal in the mix. The pud came with chunks of glazed apple and a little honey dressing that worked well in combination and showed a bit of nous in the kitchen.

Similarly, with a big old hunk GOS Pork Belly which had been lightly spiced with aniseed and cooked until tender c/w beautifully smoky sausage, some sweet sweet clams and more of that great crackling. It actually didn’t need the mash or the rather prosaic sauce (those apples from the first course would have been a better option) or the rather wet and cold kale I got as a side dish (that’ll learn me to eat veg).

A Treacle Tart ticked all the right boxes: warm, right texture, not too sweet. The only problem being it needed good clotted cream instead of the rather hard ice cream version that came instead.

So lots of “Tick VGs” for the food which tasted great and the service which was smart and on the money but a big “1/10 See Me” for the lighting which was pitched at NYC levels – great if you’re on a date not so good if you want to see what you’re eating which is, after all, a pretty large part of enjoying food.

To be fair the owner did bring more candles unbidden, but they didn’t really help with the ambient brightness. The upside: the extra candles did turn my table into a nice little shrine – to all the porky treats, I like to think…

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So, I am, those of you who read both blogs will be glad to know, finally catching up with my journey over on EAT MY GLOBE.

But, I still thought it would be interesting for some of you to see what I have been up to here in Mexico.

It is my first visit to this extraordinary country and, with the help of my friends, Cristina and Judy, I have been exploring a lot of the local markets and food stands.

Particular favourites have been my morning excursions for Tacos De Tripa which are as the name suggests, tacos with tripe. The tripe is deep fried and served on fresh small, double layered tortilla which you then top with onions, coriander leaf and fresh salsa before squeezing lime juice all over them. Incredibly addictive and I have eaten about ten in two days (which cost about £2 in total)

Equally good were the fish and shrimp tacos I tried for lunch on Monday on to which I poured rather too much japaleno relish and am still being reminded of the fact by my disappointed stomach. It was worth every arse blistering second for the taste, however as the soft tortilla gives way to the crunch of the battered fish and the fresh fire of the salsa.

Oh, and there are large plates of chicherones everywhere. That is seldom a bad thing.

Best meal of the trip so far was lunch yesterday at El Chololo. Around for nearly eighty five years, it is known for serving the best Birria in the state of Jalisco. At weekends, the lines of cars head miles down the street which is quite something considering they can sit a thousand people at any one time. The place is filled with mariachi bands serenading locals with songs that inevitably involve “Mi Corazon”

Birria involves goat (lots of them in this case as they get through seven hundred a week) which is braised in a broth with chilli, lime and some other spices. It is then pulled apart and glazed with a reduced version of the broth before being shoved under a grill to get crispy on top.

It comes served with a bowl of the original cooking liquor which is spiked with lime, chilli and salt, fresh tortilla, refrioles (refried beans) and some more punchy salsa.

I have had versions of this before in London, but nothing close to this in texture or taste. It is surprisingly subtle and the combination of flavours and textures is as addictive as the tacos with the crunch of the outside of the goat giving way to the soft flesh.

We just had to have a song to see us on our way and Cristina treated me to a rendition of a song which as well as “Mi Corazon” of course, demanded that I “come back, come back, come back” I can only hope I will

It is pretty early here now, I am heading out to eat some more of those tripe tacos. I am pretty sure they will be coming back at some point too.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007


As on many occasions before, one of my most anticipated meals on a visit to NYC would be at the house of my aforementioned good chum, Cathy.

She has a beautiful house on the Upper West and a garden large enough to fit a Big Green Egg. For those not up to date with their BBQ, a BGE is a smoker and, on previous visits Cathy had cooked sizeable bits o’ pork in there with excellent results.

This time however, and in honour of EAT MY GLOBE she decided to, if you will, go the whole hog. Well, not quite, but, when I visited her at her office on the Tuesday, she proudly took me around the corner to the kitchens of The Tribeca Grill and showed me a 40lb leg of the porcine variety that she was planning to cook for my last night in the city.

While I was off being a tourist, Cathy was busy putting the whole thing together with the help of other food folk who were bringing different dishes and the butchers at The Tribeca Grill getting to work cutting Mr Pig into manageable chunks

On Sunday, twenty of us gathered to see the results and what results.

The pig had been sitting happily in the smoker for the best part of 24 hours until the smoke penetrated the flesh and the rub on the outside formed a crust that I couldn’t help but pick at as I helped Cathy carry the meat to the kitchen.

In a Primal Scream moment, I stood in the kitchen and tore at the meat until it was in shreds and ready to be served with a Carolina style vinegar based sauce and an array of sides which included collard greens and Mac & Cheese. Now, I am on record as saying that the latter dish is one that, like pizza, I just don’t get, but this was a revelation and I went back for seconds before the tray was cleaned out by the descending hordes.

The pork was moist and well, as you can see, there was plenty of it.

Desserts were another hit with my chum Sandy baking a Shaker Lemon Pie which involves leaving lemon slices in sugar overnight and then baking in pie with beaten eggs. The buttery crust was as good as I have tasted.

Plates of peanut brittle and cookies were perfect accompaniments to gelato brought along by another chum, Meredith, who makes them for Mario Batali’s joint, Otto.

I have mentioned Meredith’s gelato before I think. If I have not, shame on me. Her olive oil gelato is worth crossing the Atlantic for on its own and, I would argue, is one of the five great tastes in New York City. Tonight she brought a Guinness Stout gelato and a chocolate. Both excellent.

We started early and finished early. I did, after all, have to be up at 5am the next morning to head to Mexico. But, as I sat in the lounge at Mexico City Airport waiting for my connection, I couldn’t help but think that it has been a hell of a week in NYC and that is almost entirely down to the many people there who took time to spend with me, dine with me, cook for me or give me advice.

So long NYC, I’ll be back again soon. Very soon

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Monday, October 29, 2007


My last two restaurant meals in NYC could not have been more different, but also could not have been more representative of New York if they smelled like a Yellow cab and the meals were served by Bloomberg himself.

In the morning, a breakfast at Barney Greengrass, the self styled “Sturgeon King” I remember years ago, that Murray’s on Broadway also used to apply the same moniker to himself. He doesn’t seem to now. I am not sure if there was some war fought across the boundaries of Amsterdam and Broadway, but Murray’s no long bears the usurper’s sign and he is obviously now Barney’s bitch.

Famous for its deli selling bagels, bialys, smoked fish and any number of other things, Barney Greengrass is also a favourite haunt for Breakfast for hungry New Yorkers.

It opens and 8.30am and I was the first in the joint and settled down in the corner with a glass of orange juice and one of the free rags they dole out on the tube.

While I perused the menu and made ‘um” and “ah” noises, the place filled up with locals who obviously knew exactly what they wanted

“ I’ll have a pumpernickel bagel, no cheese, nova, capers and lemon”

“ I’ll have the eggs, whitefish and cream cheese with a bialy lightly toasted”

All a bit concerting for a person from a country where breakfast options usually stop at burnt or not quite so burnt.

Still, I got my head around it enough for me to order some eggs, lox & onions with a bialy and cream cheese.

I had eaten here before and, to be honest, did not think it was that much cop. This time, however, it was better than I recalled, with nice chunks of smoked fish, decent eggs and a golden brown bialy.

For $15, not a bad way to start the day.

Mind you, given that I had a 12.45pm reservation at one of New York’s great dining landmarks, it was just as well that I decided to go for a bit of a walk first.

Catching the 1 down to 14th St and the F to Delancey, I got off the tube and began to walk the long, long walk across the Williamsburg Bridge to the site of New York’s most famous steakhouse, Peter Luger’s.

New Yorkers will tell you that there is no place quite like Peter Luger’s and no other steakhouse in New York comes close. However, recent reports had also indicated that Peter Luger’s was no longer like the Peter Luger’s anymore and I had heard some negative reports.

My own experiences told me that it could be hit and miss. This was my fifth visit. So far, I had two good experiences and two bad.

I am pleased to say that this was a good one. Joined by my chums from the UK, Anny & Gavin, we sat down to the prerequisite starters of fried bacon and tomatoes & onions, which are fine but serve only to pass the time of day before the main event arrives.

In this case, the main event was the porterhouse for three. An enormous piece of meat and, I am pleased to say much better than on the last visit by DH when it would have been tastier to eat the table.

This time, the age of the meat shone through and the char was perfection as was the medium rare cooking.

We gave the vile and over priced wine list the wide berth it deserved and I stuck to my Martini while Gavin mulled over a beer.

Fries were as lousy as I remember and I did not even bother with desserts. It is the steak you come for. Everything else just makes you want to go and slap someone. But, what a steak and, when it is on form, nigh on unbeatable even at $75 a person.

So, after the relative disappointments of Dominick’s and Patsy’s. It was good to see that NYC’s “name” restaurants could still come up trumps

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Sunday, October 28, 2007


Can you still recall
Our salad days
Between the ivy walls?

I’m just glad HS wasn’t with me tonight - he would have had apoplexy. The tube journey to Gordon Ramsay’s new gastrogaff The Devonshire in Chiswick took about an hour and a half (I’d estimated it at about thirty minutes). I won’t go into the ghastly details but I have a theory that everyone who matters gets off the tube in Zone One. Thereafter, it doesn’t matter how long the journey takes because there’s no one left that matters left on the train. Harsh maybe but, well, it’s just a theory.

The Devonshire is the second of the pub makeovers in the GR empire. I really enjoyed a meal at the first, the Narrow, earlier this year so I was interested to see whether the quality would hold up as the ‘concept’ was rolled out. In the mood I was in I wouldn’t have had too much problem finding fault and things didn’t start out well but by the end I was won over. There seems to be a commitment to quality which seems to confound your expectations of pub dining, although as I said previously about The Narrow before this is more about dining in a pub.

First the gripes. Booking T&Cs are bizarre for a meal. In a pub. Confirmation 24hrs beforehand, written confirmation of any cancellation, two hour sittings. Any infraction attracting a £60 fine. Not really the warmest of welcomes. I could have justifiably told them to stick it where the sun don’t shine but, you know, anything for the possibility of a decent meal.

The bread was pretty ordinary and sliced so thinly it was impossible to spread any of the fridge-fresh butter. Really there was no point in serving it. Although the room was full and buzzing with the animated chatter of the petit-bourgeoisie of Chiswick there was a relentless, annoying and totally unnecessary aural backdrop of musak. I did get someone to turn it down but it seemed to creep up in volume during the evening. Stop it. Just stop it.

Now for the good things. Despite the booking system the young female staff were very friendly and did their thang with the minimum of fuss. Impressive. On the food front my plat principal of Barnsley Chop was as good as they come. A big hunk of great quality flesh girdled with a thick belt of crisp, crisp fat. The halved kidney and anchovy butter crowning the chop were probably unnecessary but what the heck, I loved them too. The meat had been cooked to that even pinkness that brings out the best flavour from larry (baaaah). A little braised red cabbage rounded off the combo nicely. Chips were the correct size, shape and texture (at last). Yet again, dear reader, I scoffed the lot.

Slightly less stellar was a rather tiddly bullet of a Pork Pie. The filling had a good flavour but it could have benefited from standing a bit more at room temperature to soften the pastry . The accompanying picallili was a nice touch but was too acidic.

Bookending the other side of the meal a Lemon Posset was suitably rich, creamy and tangy and had some very short and very lovely shortbread with it. Of course Lemon Posset is so rich because it’s made with double cream – a little goes a long, long, way. Something I forgot once when making it for friends so we ended up eating about a half pint each. Nice at the time, not so enjoyable a few hours later. Still, that’s why I go to restaurants and don’t own one.

As I found at Hereford Road those who inhabit the Western reaches of the Metropolis seem slightly more at ease with French menus than British (“What are neeps ?”) but they’ll learn and I guarantee they’ll have a good time doing so. But please, and with apologies to that great 80s group Shannon , DON’T LET THE MUSIC PLAY.

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I like restaurants that are named after people.

It is hardly a theory on which to base ones dining life, nor is it a fully realised one, but some of the best meals on this US part of the trip have been in restaurants which bear the owner’s name. Hot Doug’s, Pat and Geno’s and here in NYC, Katz, Yasuda, Barney Greengrass, Peter Luger (more on these last two to come)

On Thursday, I visited two other places that bear the name of their original owner and which, in their different ways represent what New York dining means to so many people when they visit the city.

First of all, a trip to Arthur Avenue in The Bronx with my good friend, Sandy whose knowledge of matters New York is beyond compare.

We met in that most glorious of testaments to NYC’s past, Grand Central Terminal. Fully restored less than ten years ago, it is now, without doubt in my mind, New York’s finest building.

From there, the short train journey our to The Bronx and Arthur Avenue, home of a large Italian community and, arguably, the progenitor of the school of old style cooking we know as American Italian “red sauce”.

Now, just as with Chicken Tikka Masala in the UK and its relationship to Indian food, American Italian has little to do with anything you would find in Italy but is more a creation of the immigrant population for the local community.

Increasingly, I was interested to find out, a new wave of immigration from Albania has hit the area and many of the restaurants are, though still serving ‘Italian” food, owned by the latest influx. We did see one or two Albania restaurants, so I guess, there are now enough of them to be able to support their own restaurants.

After mooching around the stores and stopping for some delicious, meaty clams with a little hot sauce, we dipped into Dominick’s for lunch. It is an old stalwart of the neighbourhood and everything you would expect of such a place.

Hustling and bustling, the tables are communal, menus verbal and charging methods vague (I am told that the bill goes up if you have expensive shoes)

The food too is what you would expect with a pasta coming in a shrimp sauce that was heavy and, while quite tasty, hardly elegant. The same too for a slightly stewed chicken Scarlapino (sp?)

With a glass of what I call “context wine” because it may do the job at the time but, if you had it under normal circumstances, you would spit it half way across the room, the bill was about $40 for the two of us which Sandy thought was over priced.

Was it any good? Not really. I can see why places like these are popular with an older generation, but dying out as a new more discerning crowd push for better. It was, however, interesting to try and as alien to me as any of the food I tried in China or Japan.

I can’t imagine any reason to ever go back there.

That evening, I met up with a publishing chum, Beth and her husband, Peter and they decided to try and persuade me that my long held belief that pizza was “snot on toast” was off the mark by visiting one of their favourite haunts, Patsy’s in the heart (I think) of Spanish Harlem. It is particularly known for having a wood fired oven and decent ingredients

After a large and quite tasty house salad our two pizzas, about the size of a small dining table arrived, one with garlic, anchovies (on my bit anyway) and basil and the other, with ricotta and sun dried tomatoes.

I ate a couple of slices without keeling over and frothing at the mouth and I can certainly see why people love pizza and that these were decent enough examples (with the exception of the sun dried tomatoes which were sweet enough to give you diabetes) but, I am afraid it was no Damascene experience and I still think that pizza is a pretty vile concoction that is best left to Americans who, arguably have done more to promulgate its awfulness than the Italians who should take little blame.

We followed with some desserts that were heavy but not bad (well the one I tried was, the other containing coffee which really would make me fall to the floor in a frothing fit) and, in yet another display of American generosity, Beth & Peter picked up the tab and then walked me all the way across town to the Upper West Side where I was staying.

So, I tried two things that were, as the locals like to say in that annoying way “so New York”

If was fun to hang out with my chums, but I would probably be forced to say “ So What New York?” about these two food experiences, at least.

Next, Barney & Peter, but more of that later

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