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

Monday, March 31, 2008


Where the sailor spend his hard-earned pay
Red beans and rice for a quarter

Hurrah ! Some decent Fish and Chips at last. Ok, so we had to endure the 1845 (actual arrival 1855) from Blackfriars – a station that doesn’t appear to have changed since my last visit thirty years ago – to Herne Hill, but only for ten minutes.

A quick pint of Weasel in The Florence which I liked because they were playing reggae but which HS hated and couldn’t wait to drag me out of and then on to Olley’s round the corner. They seem to be pretty keen on self-promotion including a bigger-than-necessary photo of the increasingly ubiquitous Tom “any reasonable offers considered” Parker-Bowles on the frontage but, you know, if the end product is any good, which it was, who cares.

Calamari were toothsome and encased in a light, greaseless batter. Scampi were better than is the norm. While waiting for our next course we admired the décor which looked like it belonged in an Alpine-themed restaurant rather than a Fish and Chip shop. One thing we noticed was that the menu listed various ‘experiences’ (set menus) named after various celebrities and also a couple of food critics. The odd thing was they didn’t have one named after a famous food critic who lives right on their doorstep and who actually eats there: Jay Rayner. So HS rang him to find out what the score was.

The mains when they arrived were excellent – the Haddock, nestling under a thin crispy batter had not been overcooked and, heavens be praised, was nice and firm and very fresh. Chips were ace. Mushy peas were the real deal. The only disappointments were the pickled onions – we got the small silverskin variety – and the tartare sauce tasted homemade but was a bit smooth. We like it chunky, a bit like ourselves really. It didn’t really spoil the rest of our meal, though.

As we couldn’t face pud we settled up and walked round the corner to Jay’s who had kindly invited us round for a nightcap. We promised to bring a bottle and HS bought one from the local corner store. He had asked for the best wine the shop had but it turned out even worse than the red Bapi once brought to a New Tayyab’s do. Jay seemed to like it though. Go figure. Luckily, Jay’s wife Pat brought out the Brandy and a fine selection of miniatures they’d collected at the previous evening’s Observer Food Awards so a good time was had by all.

Speaking of Jay, in case you didn’t know, he’s got a book The Man Who Ate The World coming out later this week. I’ve read a pre-publication copy (I promise I’ll buy a proper one) and it’s very enjoyable. Jay writes with an effortless prose and shows an investigative journalist’s nose for a good story.

Anyway. If you happen to be in the Herne Hill area (in reality, not something that’s likely to happen to DH again) or happen to be wandering down Railton Road one evening you could do a lot worse than give Olley’s a go. Never did find out about the lack of a “Jay Rayner Experience”, though.

Labels: , , , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, March 28, 2008


Who's not afraid to try new things
Who gets to spend her birthday in Spain

An excellent evening in the company of DH’s newest chum, Andrew Sinclair of Gonzalez Byass, who had very kindly invited us along to Café Spice Namaste where he had planned an evening of Indian food accompanied by Sherries. HS was enjoying the delights of the exotic East so I went along instead. It’s not easy being me.

I thought I had arrived too early but Charles Campion was already there (of course he was) but oddly no Jay “Slim Jim” Rayner who I expected to see engaged in a titantic struggle with Man Mountain for control of the canapé table.

After a little small talk and some snacks washed down with a few glasses of Tio Pepe Fino we sat down to the four courses devised by restaurant owner Cyrus Todiwala who had matched them with appropiate Sherries from the Gonzalez Byass range.

The starter combo worked brilliantly: a fillet of Pomfret which had been marinated in tamarind, chilli and pepper, then roasted and served with a little carrot salad. Tio Pepe Fino was served correctly chilled and in a proper sized pour* to accompany the fish. The chilled sherry counteracted the kick of the chilli and the pairing of Fino and seafood is a classic match as any visitor to Spain will know. The salad looked a bit prosaic but was in fact very sparky – I could have eaten a lot more.

I liked the pairing of Duck breast which had been smoked, imparting a subtle taste of cinnamon and cloves into the flesh, with a chilled Alfonso Oloroso although I’m not sure the accompanying cheesy toasts matched the other two components. Interesting dish, though.

The main course of Chicken curry showed that Cyrus is not afraid to give his dishes a bit of a chilli hit but the matching Vina AB, a single estate Amontillado, was served a little too chilled for my taste - things improved once it had warmed up a tad.

The last sherry we tried was the Gonzalez Byass Nectar made from PX (Pedro Ximenez) grapes. This is fantastic stuff: dark, rich and complex it actually stands alone as a pud in itself. I usually have it over good quality Vanilla ice cream. I thought it went well with the selection of Indian sweets.

All in all a pretty successful evening which shows that Sherry is a lot more versatile than people give it credit for – even I learned something.

All too soon it was time to toddle off but I thought it might be nice to have a nightcap in the newly opened East Room (fortuitously about a minute from Casa DH). We ended up staying far too late and drinking Armagnac from each of our birth dates in the engaging company of the manager Andrew Coles. A very good way to end a very good evening.

* So many places wrongly treat Fino as a spirit and sell it in miniscule servings at alarming high mark-ups

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar


A few weeks ago, when I first arrived in India, I made the suggestion that the Ashoka Chakra on the Indian flag be replaced with a single buttock to show just how half assed everything is in that country.

I was being unfair. It seems that our own country is making a good stab at claiming the Buttock D’Or, the award for miserably inept concepts, service levels and general mediocrity.

First up, of course, we have the chaotic opening of Heathrow’s Terminal 5, rapidly descending into a combination of Lord of The Flies and a Whitehall Farce.

Next, on a personal level, our intermittent Internet connection provided by the bearded wonder boy, Sir Richard. So lousy a service that I am longing for the dial up internet cafes I used in Goa

Finally, as if to confirm that every thing we touch in the UK turns to crap, a visit last night to The Gourmet Hot Dog Company on Berwick St.

The concept is a good one. So good in fact that, when I got back from the Chicago leg of the EAT MY GLOBE trip and was recalling the wonders of The Weiner’s Circle and Hot Doug’s, I even pondered speaking to some potential investors about the idea of opening something similar in London. Fortunately, I came to my senses and left the idea of restaurants to those with more money and less sense than me.

Well, the Gourmet Hot Dog Company obviously had the same idea. Unfortunately, blighted by levels of mediocrity that are endemic to the London restaurant scene. It has been created with franchise roll out in mind and set up so that it can be staffed by Eastern Europeans on low wages and with minimal training. Good economically, but leading to a grim, but mercifully short, eating experience.

The Hot Dogs too are lowest common denominator. They trumpet the good ingredients used, but the tastes of the two dogs we tried were of cardboard and plastic not of prime pork or beef. They were also cold despite the server prodding one of the grey looking specimens, on the display of encased meat spinning disconsolately on rollers, to see if they were cooked.

The choice of options is not well thought out either. The “Chicago” dog would be thrown down in disgust by anyone from The Windy City consisting, as it did of a grey sausage topped with slop of no discernable provenance and bacon bits heated in the microwave.

There is no licence, which is fair enough but a beer to wash the taste away would have been welcome. There are also no fries on the menu, the concept of a Hot Dog and chips being served together having obviously escaped the owner’s roll out vision.

We entered, ordered, ate and left within ten minutes and I begrudge every last second of it, as, indeed, I do the £9 it cost for the two offending items.

A good idea, appallingly executed. Being London, I am sure it will be a great success.

Labels: , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar



Holding hands with the man from Rio
Would you care to explain

A little follow-up to my post a couple of weeks ago on Steak. I had received a mail from HS requesting Ale, Red Wine and a Steak (in that order) when he returned from the exotic East. I wanted to try a different cut of beef so I wandered down to Jack O’Shea’s in Knightsbridge to see what he had on offer. The Onglet caught my eye. This cut, also know has hanger, is becoming a more common sight on restaurant menus, indeed I had some the other day at El Gato Negro.

If you buy the whole steak as I did you get two thick strips of beef that have a slight offally but not unpleasant whiff. As with my last steak, I salted the meat a few hours beforehand, and got my extra-large grill pan as hot as possible. I gave the steaks about a minute and a half on each side and then put them on a hot plate in a low oven for about five or six minutes.

I was so excited by the successful cooking I forgot to take pictures but the result was a dark crusted exterior, a beautiful ruby red interior - it looked as good as any resto version. After resting there were loads of meaty juices which made an impromptu gravy. The taste of the meat was excellent: clean tasting and deeply beefy. There isn’t a lot of fat in this cut of meat but this had the advantage that you could eat more of it (hurrah) as it wasn’t too rich or fatty. A Watercress Salad and a big Gigondas were the only accompaniments but in the future I could see some frites and béarnaise being involved.

I now understand why Onglet is also known as the Butcher’s Cut (they want to keep it for themselves) and I can wholeheartedly recommend it if you’re looking for something a bit different. It’s much cheaper than the other prime cuts too. Oh, and there were some marrow bones in the mix as well...

Welcome home Hermano.

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, March 27, 2008


I can't deny that coming back to the UK after two and a bit months spent tramping around the developing world on my latest leg of the trip has been hard and a tad depressing

Things seem just that little bit unreal, the conspicuous consumerism, just getting a stranglehold in SE Asia and India, seems inappropriate and, quite frankly, everything seems a bit dull and grey.

A natural level of displacement, I suppose, given that I have spent a few sparse weeks in the country in the last twelve months. But, I am already itching to get back out on the road a feeling, I suspect, that will now never leave me. I don’t think my relationship with London and the UK will ever be quite the same again.

Despite the feeling of disassociation with the place and the people, there are some things that I have been looking forward to on my return.

I have been craving a decent glass of wine, hard to get at any price on my recent travels. That was soon sorted out when HP plopped the cork of a splendid bottle of Gigondas the moment he heard my key in the door.

I have been craving a Pork Pie and plan to go down to Borough Market on Friday and give Ian from Mrs King’s a hug he may consider altogether inappropriate.

I have been craving a pint of beer that consists of more than cold bubbles and sorted that out with a pint of London Pride and a bag of scratchings last night on the way to supper.

Ah supper. Most of all, I have been craving large chunks of protein, in short supply (The Philippines excepted) in most of South East Asia and India where carbs rule and expensive dead animals are padded out with clever cooking, spices and, damn them, vegetables.

On my return, HP presented a large Onglet from new favourite butcher Jack O Shea. It more than did the job, but I was still craving huge chunks of flesh yesterday evening. HP, offered up the suggestion that we should continue our search to find a replacement for the much missed Angel Mangal, our favourite Turkish Okabasi.

So despite last night’s grim weather, we found ourselves traipsing up The Kingsland Road to Dalston and beyond, past the myriad Turkish and Kurdish restaurants until we came to Testi on the borders Stoke Newington. It had been recommended to us primarily because it specialises in offal, not least testicles, which are on prominent display in an impressive meat cabinet.

It certainly looked the part and we fell right back into our old ordering habits as if we were sitting in The Angel Mangal and Mustapha was still complaining about the latest performance of Beshiktas, hi beloved hometown team. “Mixed grill for two, a side order of quail and some bollocks too, if you please”

Starters were better than we have tried for a while with Ispanak spiked with plenty of fiery garlic and Patlika Soslu giving up sufficient oil to be mopped up with mounds of warm Turkish bread. But, as ever, they are just distractions while the main event is being prepared on the grill.

The grill looked the part too. Grey coals offering up sufficient heat to sear your eyebrows if you get too close, meat being rubbed with butter and spices before placing them over the heat and breads being used to soak up excess oils.

Before long, we were presented with a huge platter of meat, rarely a bad thing. HP insisted I take a picture with his hand to show scale. It was certainly impressive to look at and not bad to eat. Certainly the best since The Angel Mangal closed. But, it wasn’t quite up to those heady, fondly remembered and seemingly never to be found again standards.

The key to The Angel Mangal was the lack of fear of salt and fat. They kept the meat moist and made the flavours sparkle fresh from the grill. Here, although some elements shone like the liver, kidneys and testicles, there was an element of dryness that meant we had to use a large plate of lemons to wake the tastes up.

Chunks of chicken were well spiced but overcooked, lamb chops had good flavour but had been shorn of fat, a cardinal sin. The quail, however, was spot on and we were able to chomp two plump specimens down to the sawdust of much chewed bones.

The portions are Brobdingnagian and we were able to pack enough away for lunch today alongside excellent salads of grilled onions in pomegranate, shredded onions in zatak and tomatoes.

With a bottle of Yakut which was Proustian rather than pleasant and some coffee and tea, the bill came to £59 ex tip which is not bad considering our ordering capacity and the fact that it will also provide another meal to be accompanied by some of the splendid baklava we purchased on our necessary walk home.

So, while I suspect the time I call London home may well becoming to its natural conclusion, there is still plenty about the city to bring me back to the things I miss the most.

Beer and meat, mainly.

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


For those of you who have been following along, the next and final leg of the EAT MY GLOBE journey is hurtling rapidly into view.

After returning from an extraordinary, fun and challenging journey around South East Asia and India last night, I am now setting my sights on Africa.

As with the other stages of the journey, I am putting my faith in the hands of others who have made suggestions and offered up contacts, places to stay and invitations to meals.

In the next few months, I shall be heading to

South Africa (Capetown, Stellenbosch and Jo’burg)
Italy (Sicily & Rome)

Highlights include staying with a family in Dakar, visits to one of the major wine estates of Stellenbosch and a trip to the Sherry Fair in Jerez.

That will be the end of the journey and I will spend the next couple of months finishing the book off in the tranquil environs of Southern Spain.

After that, I am going to have to figure out what the hell to do with the rest of my life. But, I am putting that off as long as I can. Any suggestions that do not involve having my own broom welcome.

Also, as ever, if anyone out there has any more suggestions for things to do on the journey, please do contact me at


Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, March 24, 2008


So, this leg of EAT MY GLOBE is at an end.

My chum, Vanessa heads to the airport this afternoon replete with new experiences and filled with memories of her first visit to this challenging, vivid, extraordinary country. Memories that will range from the delights of the food and the stunning tranquillity of the Goomtee Tea Garden to the open, festering sores that are the streets of Kolkata.

Oh, and just in case you are interested, she also saw two monkeys shagging in the street.

As for me, India has left me spinning. After nearly five weeks here, I feel more connected to my proud Indian roots than ever but entirely frustrated by much that I have seen. I feel proud to have a heritage in a country which is definitely on the move but disgusted by the way that so many people are being left behind by the rapid progress and by the way that the environment of the country is being destroyed en route to economic supremacy.

That has been true of much of my Asian adventure. Bangkok was polluted like few cities I have seen. In Hanoi and Kuala Lumpur, I experienced mounds of trash amidst the beauty and in The Philippines I saw once beautiful buildings left to crumble. But, India, the unstoppable, tops them all and the so called “City of Joy”, is the best and the worst example of what India was and is becoming.

It is little wonder that Kolkata is seldom on the map of those tourists in search of India. It is, quite frankly, a scary place. It does not have the beauty of Goa, the history of Rajasthan or the spiritual allure of Varanasi. It is an ugly city, a city filled with astonishing poverty and a city which, since the departure of the British has been watching its reputation as “The Paris of The Orient” decay with the buildings that have remained untouched since the same times.

For all that, Kolkata has real charms. The West Bengali people are genuine and friendly and can ask you disarming questions about your family, income and health which can throw you at first but are just part of an exceptionally unguarded nature.

The history, despite being slowly submerged under refuse is still impressive and, above all, of course, is the food.

Food for the Bengali, even more so than the rest of eating obsessed India, is the number one expression of love and affection. In my own family, we often joke that our way of saying “I love you” is “will you be eating that ………?”

So, what better, for Vanessa’s last couple of days in India than to get back down to basics and do what I came here to do, eat?

Even in our delightful guesthouse, The Bohdi Tree, we were treated to simple but delicious breakfasts of Channa Masala (chickpeas) with fresh, hot, puffed up Luchi (Bengali puris)

After that, some traditional Bengali food at high end restaurant, Oh! Calcutta. The name may remind the 50’s and 60’s kids amongst us of the classic nude review, but now it is the name given to a small chain of restaurants,which specialise in food from West Bengal. Amongst other dishes we tries were Murg Aam Patar Paturi, chicken, spread with a paste made from the mustard (used in so many dishes of the region) and then baked in banana leaves. Channar Moilu squares of cheese, fried (again in mustard oil) and served in a rich tomato based gravy.

Vanessa went outside the region to try an Biryani made in the Hyderabad style with goat, spices and rice being sealed in a pot to cook slowly. I kept firmly to my roots with that most Bengali of dishes, Macher Jhol, a fish stew made with the sweet, bony river fish people from Kolkata crave so much, cooked in mustard oil.

Both excellent examples of their type.

If the Bengalis crave bones and crunch in their meals, then they also crave sweet things. Few people in India have the taste for desserts you find here and the sweets made in Kolkata are generally considered the finest in the country.

KC Das has been around for ever serving everything from Sandesh and Rosagulla to Doi and Gulab Jamun to hungry crowds. Their doi comes in many flavoured variety and we were soon arguing over who would clean out the last of tubs of saffron and orange zest with the last crumbs of some warm gulab.

Better still, we spent our last full day visiting my aunts and uncles around the city where the first words out of their mouths were “have you eaten?” before sending someone out to the local sweetshop to buy more desserts.

Here, in the home, the doi is served in the classic way with no flavour other than the natural caramel of the cooking process.

I was worried, when yet another plate of sweets was placed in front of an increasingly full looking Vanessa that she would not be able to manage so said helpfully “why don’t we spilt this gulab?”

“Nope” she replied “I can manage a whole one”

Truly, a reincarnated Bengali.

So, that was it, for Kolkata, for India and for Asia.

It has been an extraordinary part of the EAT MY GLOBE journey and I will be excited to write about it when I get to that part in the book.

For now though, I shall look forward to Africa and look hungrily back at my photographs of the last couple of months as I travel onwards.

Oh, and I shall try and get the image of two monkeys shagging on the streets of Kolkata out of my head.
Stumble Upon Toolbar

Newer›  ‹Older