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

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


The Whisky Show 2009

As those who read the blog will know, I was recently lucky enough to visit the distillery at Glenfiddich for the launch of their astonishing 50 year old single malt (yours for a mere £10,000 a bottle) It would be a lie if I told you it did not change the way I thought about one of my favourite drinks.

Well, now other lovers of fine and rare whisky will have the chance to taste some fantastic examples at The Whisky Show which will take place at The Guildhall in London on the 6-7th November.

The show focuses on the premium expressions of some of the finest whiskies from Scotland, Japan and Ireland amongst others and exhibitors include Highland Park, Glenlivet, Laphroaig, Cooley and even the award winning whisky from Suntory of Japan.

Tickets prices are not for the fainthearted, at £100 a person or £150 for two days, but include all samplings and food while in the event, so represent excellent value for the opportunity to experience whiskies at their finest all under one roof.

The organisers have offered Dos Hermanos the incredibly generous prize of two tickets for the Friday PM session on 6th November. All you have to do is answer the following question.

"Who are the authors of The Whisky Kitchen?"

All answers to be sent to the following e-mail please and NOT to Dos Hermanos. Quote "DOS HERMANOS WHISKY SHOW COMPETITION" in the subject heading

The organisers will be in touch with the winners directly and the last date for entries is the 16th October 2009.

Good luck and see you there

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Thursday, September 24, 2009


In Spain and indeed in many Mediterranean countries, it's noticeable that whenever there's a drink on the bar there's always a little nibble of some description to go with it. In Britain we don't really like to sully our drink with food. Not until we're actually sitting down for meal that is. Even then you suspect it's just a ruse to drink more booze. I can say this now, as with age has come moderation (except when I’m out with my dining chums Sam and Scott or Gary when I suspect it’s their bad influence that makes me neck fine wines with alacrity).

Encouraging people to eat a little something with their booze is definitely a Good Thing although the number of places offering this facility are thin on the ground – basically it’s only tapas bars. It's nice then to see the opening of Polpo which styles itself as Venetian bacaro whose aim is to be place for drinking and having small bites in a casual environment. Having visited on opening night to sus it out I would say it pretty much succeeds in this aim.

Polpo is a cosy, but bustling little place in Soho which reminded me of similar gaffs in Greenwich Village - all bare light bulbs, candlelight on tables and exposed brick work. The only problem is that the lighting level is so low you can't really see your food - a particular bugbear of mine. But maybe that's just missing the point. To be fair I was offered a place at the (brighter) bar but my decrepit back meant the banquette was a more attractive proposition.

Although there’s a chef who has worked there we’re not talking anything as ambitious foodwise as Bocca di Luppo. Not yet anyway And with any luck there won’t be the same hysterical reaction as there was to BdL precipitated by some good reviews (Dos Hermanos included) which meant they were swamped with numbers they (perhaps) couldn’t cope with. But then this is hardly surprising in London.

If you were in Spain, this is the sort of food, in media ración portions, you would get while propping up a tapas bar. Simple ingredients of decent quality are cooked properly and you're not left with a nasty taste in the mouth. There weren’t any real wow moments but then I don't think there's supposed to be.

Pizzetta Biancha had a light crisp base of good dough topped with a mess of sweet onions and cheese. Spratti in saor was a kind of fishy agrodolce served on toasted bread. Polpette were some sort of über-meatball which came in a rich tomato sauce. These behemoths were nice and meaty although they needed an extra little something (lemon zest, chilli?) to add another flavour dimension (as Gazza Rhodes might say).

The frying is notably good here, both Arancini and Potato and Parmesan Croquette, although not being the most exciting things in World cooking to throw into a deep fat fryer, were crisp and greaseless. Even better was a plate of Fritti Misti which comprised non-chewy Squid Rings, some Prawns and a Sprat.

Not everything worked so well. Calf's Liver was overcooked, a little chewy and, maybe there was a bit of synesthesia at work here, but it all tasted as dark and muddled as the photo I took. Flank Steak with Mushrooms was ok but unremarkable. I don’t know whether it was the dim lighting or that they they didn’t really work as small plates but these dishes seemed out of step compared with the other stuff. Early days though.

Of the other plates, Grilled Zucchini looked a bit of a mess, lacked zing and for a few strips was overpriced even with the discount and although it was a fun touch to serve my Semifreddo in a cone I'm not sure it was an improvement over a bowl of the stuff – all I could really taste was the chocolate cone. I really would have liked a bowl of Ice Cream. But then I always do.

Italian wines are served in tumblers which is in keeping with the surroundings, atmosphere and the more modest wines, although if I was ordering better wines I might want a better wine glass. NB Tumblers don’t work for sparklers either.

As with all ‘small plate’ operations the bill can mount up with a frightening rapidity and although I did order with the enthusiasm of an Hermano my bill without the opening week preview would have been around the £50 mark. I can see a lot of people doing double-takes when they get the bill. Maybe this is where the low-level lighting comes in.

Despite a few misgivings I enjoyed myself at Polpo. Considering it was opening night the service was pretty on the ball and I got everything I'd ordered (it doesn’t always happen). The idea of sitting down at a table to eat small plates always strikes me as a little strange and ideally I’d just like to pop in have a glass or two of wine and one of those Pizzetta. I’m not sure the licencing jobsworths will allow this (oh how London’s restaurateurs must love their local councils). But if they can keep the casual feel to the place it'll be yet another addition to Central London’s steadily increasing roster of decent places to eat.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009


One of the last times I visited St John Bread & Wine I had a bowl of Quail Heads. That's not a typo. They weren't Quails or Quail Eggs or even Quail Legs, they were the heads of little Quails. There'd obviously been a little wager in the kitchen to see who would be dumb enough to pay for bin fodder. Hermano, take one step forward.

What were they like ? Well, apart from the off-putting rictus grin of their little heads, they'd been roasted so that they had a satisfying crunch. My Vegetarian dining companion couldn’t bear to watch.

StJB&W was a couple of minutes from where I worked so became a de facto canteen for me. When I changed jobs I couldn't visit for lunch and the evening crowds mitigated against a walk-in which is how I used the place. Even so I still used to pop in from time to time for their great Ice Cream or an Espresso and Vieille Prune.

My original intention had been to try upstairs at John Torode's new place The Luxe which HS blogged about recently. The upstairs restaurant still wasn't open and downstairs had appeared to have morphed into a rather grim looking bar. Which is where StJB&W came to my rescue. It was fully booked for the evening - as I suspect it usually is - but I must have been wearing my pathetic face as the very kind FOH took pity on me and found me a table.

The St John style of food hasn't changed much, even going way back to a DH visit to Fergus Henderson's first gaff above the French House in Soho. One or two decent ingredients cooked simply and served sans any significant garnish is the MO and given the restaurants popularity there really isn’t any reason to change things.

A meal always starts with a big pile of their great bread and before I realised it I’d scarfed down two pieces. The other two proved useful in mopping up the juices of my starter, a Blood Cake, which was an unctuous slab of Black Pudding. It was slathered with a bacon-studded compote of prunes.

Unfortunately, the Grouse I had my eye on for my main course wasn’t ready but I enjoyed a whole Plaice. For me, the pleasure in eating all of a fish lie not so much in the flesh but in winkling out all the tasty gelatinous nuggets in the head in a similar way that demolishing a Chicken carcass is more satisfying than eating slices of breast.

For me, puddings have always been the highlight of a StJ meal. My Honey Roasted Figs, Spiced Ice Cream and Shortbread had echoes of a recent dessert at Seven Park Place. Not as refined maybe but just as enjoyable.

Tiredness precluded launching into the digestif list but I scored a dozen Madeleines to take away and very nice they were too with a cup of tea.

I shall still pay The Luxe a visit when they finally open their restaurant but they’re going to have to be pretty good to compete with StJB&W. My guess is that they may well be relegated to the role of Plan B for people who can’t get in the place over the road. Let’s hope they’re not too disappointed.

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Moving to a new town can be a strange and challenging experience as I am already discovering. I may not have moved to Los Angeles yet, but spending an extended period here as I help Sybil with the planning for the wedding suffices to remind me that it is different in so many ways.

Thankfully, I am being eased through the transition by the kind guidance of Sybil’s many friends and a handful of my own who combined, will ensure that my welcome in California will be a very warm one indeed. Even if I have resigned myself to smuggling in decent teabags and getting up at 7am every Saturday morning to watch proper football on ESPN.

Right at the top of the list are my dear friends, John & Liz Haskell, who since my first visit to Los Angeles nearly a year ago, have taken us both under their wing and treated us to some extraordinary meals. Often these take place at their home and involve days of preparation on Liz’s part as she produces meals recreating her innumerable dining experiences at the world’s Michelin starred restaurants. She catalogues these meals on her terrific website, REFINED PALATE. Well worth checking out

This time, however, they wanted to introduce us to brunch at one of their newest haunts, The Bazaar by Jose Andres at the new and incredibly swanky Stark designed SBE hotel in Beverly Hills. TV Star and Spanish dining guru, Andres also runs a number of hugely successful restaurants in Washington D.C. He brings together traditional Spanish cooking with a more avant-garde approach which will be familiar to anyone who has eaten at any of Spain’s modern Michelin recognised restaurants. Such approaches can and have left me stone cold, with innovation taking the place of technique. It can be like listening to someone attempt smooth jazz stylings before they have ever learned to play the piano. If done well, as they were here, and based in a root of classical training, they can be genuinely exciting.

If we were dining out rather than dining in, one thing did remain constant, the sight of John arriving with a wine carrier filled with an assortment of astonishing wines from his sizable collection. As we took a prime spot in the dining room, he handed over a bottle of ’85 Krug to be chilled, a sign of what was to come. As normal, however, I began my meal with a very dry martini. The mixing was good and it was suitably cold, but the thick sliver of pith remaining on the pre-made twist made the end result slightly bitter.

Liz and John had already eaten at Bazaar a handful of times and were familiar enough with the menu for me to leave the ordering in their hands and, as we drank the first of the Krug, we worked our way through a bowl of sweet potato chips which we dipped into a yoghurt, tamarind dip with a spike of star anise.

Initial small bites came in the form of white asparagus topped with Greek yoghurt and black olive powder. It was served in a tin, a nod to Spain’s long and illustrious tradition of preserving prime ingredients in cans. This was followed by “Bagel & Lox”, which came served in a cone made from Tunisian Brik and contained crème fraiche and topped with salmon eggs and dill.

Possibly my favourite dish of the entire meal followed in the form of “ Huevos a la Cubana , Andy Garcia” a simply stunning effort comprising twelve quail eggs served on a bed of crispy fried rice and topped with crunchy slivers of jamon Serrano. A glorious composition that I have been thinking about ever since the meal finished. Talking of finishing and jamon, we had now drained the last drops from the Krug as John made sure, in his normally generous fashion, that both our server and the chef received a glass. Next he moved us on to an entirely new wine to me, a Ribolla from Croatia whose acidity served as a perfect compliment to a plate of Jamon Iberico De Bellota.

My experiences of eating Spanish ham in the USA have often been pretty shameful. The turnover is usually so low that the hams are left to dry out. I was concerned when I noticed that the jamon at Bazaar was machine sliced, but reassured when they told us that the machine was hand cranked which avoided any friction damage to the fat. This was easily the best Jamon I have tried in the USA. The meat was the recognisable gorgeous ruby red colour and the fat had already begun to melt at room temperature. It tells you all you need to know that I suspect a plate of this quality would pass muster in Madrid, as indeed would the accompanying plate of Pan con tomate.

I would have been perfectly happy if the meal had ended at that high note, but the Haskell’s don’t roll that way, oh Lordie no. No sooner were our plates cleared than the next dish arrived in the form of “Tortilla de Patatas, New Way” a warm potato foam served with caramelized onions, a slow cooked egg and topped with chives along with crispy small dice of croutons and white truffles. All to be mixed up so the foam and the egg blend to a creamy sauce.

When I had wiped the small bowl containing the Tortilla clean with my finger, it was whipped away and replaced by what I was convinced was dessert, a “Torrijas” Spanish Toast served with vanilla ice cream. It was not dessert, merely a sugary interlude between savoury dishes and while well made, I am still to be convinced by the American love of French toast, which this was to all intents and purposes. Likewise, I was unconvinced by "Eggs Benedict New Way" whose cooking resulted in a gloopy and rather unpleasant raw egg white which spoiled an otherwise passable dish

Almost as inevitable as the appearance of these two dishes at an American Brunch is the appearance of a trolley with foaming liquid nitrogen at a meal claiming any relationship with Molecular Gastronomy. It does not do a lot for me and while the palate cleanser of blood orange and vodka frozen at the table was a welcome respite, a well-made sorbet would have achieved as much. I guess this schtick still plays as new in Los Angeles.

If the sweet interlude had been a little underwhelming, the meal reached new heights with the next four courses. Those who have read DH’s posts with care will know that we judge the quality of Spanish restaurants by the quality of their croquettes. The ones at Bazaar are some of the finest I have ever sampled, anywhere. Crunchy, freshly fried coating giving way to a creamy béchamel sauce studded with strings of rich pulled chicken, so good that, if I had not been developing food sweats, I would have asked for another order.

I am very, very glad I didn’t because as our excellent server, Ryan plopped the cork from a bottle of John’s fine Burgundy, plates of mini hamburger sliders were placed in front of us. These were no ordinary sliders, however, they were foie gras sliders topped with Membrillo and served on soft brioche buns. Delicious single bites of force-fed ducky goodness.

Liz Haskell’s capacity to eat is legendary, but even she was beginning to fade, so she just decided to order two more dishes. The first was a molecular take on the heart attack in sandwich form that is the Philly Cheese steak. In this case, crisp shells of pastry filled with whipped Cheddar cheese and topped with slices of rare beef. The second, a plate of Catalan sausage served with white beans. Both were excellent, but given the amount of food that had passed before us to that point, they were a challenge as much as a pleasure. Next time, I would like to start with these to do them justice.

The two more dishes Liz ordered, obviously did not count as dessert, which took the form of two more plates. Desserts rarely excite me or offend me. These were no different and both a Flan Catalan and a whole heap of chocolate passed me by with no more than a cursory mouthful. What did not was John’s final wine offering of 1er Cru Sauternes.

By the time I forced down a large cup of fresh mint tea and nibbled on some chocolate covered raspberries and chocolate covered Space Dust, I was wobbling from so much food, woozy from so much wine and blown away by so much generosity. The Haskell’s know their restaurants and Bazaar did not let them down. It is definitely a place Sybil and I shall be revisiting again both for brunch and for supper when I am told the place is jumping. We shall, I hope, also be spending a great deal more time in the company of John & Liz Haskell, two of the dear friends whose generosity will make my transition to the United States easier and all the more pleasurable.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009


I don’t really get on with most high-end, fahn-dining in this city. The faux reverence, the funereal atmosphere, the prices, the snooty service. I sometimes wonder if it's all just a ploy for rich people to try and distance themselves from the riff-raff.

All this would be fine and dandy if the food were any good but usually it's so overwrought and overworked that the taste of it is as far removed from the raw materials as I am from having a life. It was with not a little foreboding then that I went for a meal at Seven Park Place.

Set in the swanky environs of the St James Club in er, St James, it's now the home of William Drabble previously head chef at Aubergine, a joint famous for its connection with El Gordo (Google it).

Located in the same space that was the short-lived Andaman - a place I never visited and never wanted to visit - I thought I'd been seated in restaurant Siberia when I was shown to my table. There's only twenty-six covers here so the room is small. Really small. It was like a bar where you might wait before going through to the real dining room. It was decorated in a style that HS describes as “the best taste that money can buy” i.e. pretty hideous. Then they bought the bread.

The scene was set, therefore for yet another evening of mediocrity and even as I sat there tugging on a tough baguette I was already mentally rolling up my sleeves and sharpening my quill pen (or MS Word as they call it round our way). Except things got a lot better. It wasn’t perfect and there were enough anomalies to make me screw my face up in a quizzical manner but there also enough highs (oh the highs) to make me want to return.

In common with most high-end gaffs there's a tasting menu in addition to the prix-fixe both filled with the gear that the great and the good expect at this level: foie gras, scallops, turbot, you know the drill, but the Prix Fixe looked more a bit more interesting especially as it had Grouse on it. The kitchen kindly let me have a few dishes in starter portions and the bird as a main course.

The first thing that was apparent was the quality of all the fish I tried. A fillet of Red Mullet looked beautiful, was cooked perfectly - just under so that it was firm. Sounds simple but it’s amazing how many places can’t cook a fillet of fish properly.

It was surrounded with some little squid rings and topped with light, crisp sage beignets. The only problem was the saucing which was from the school of dribbles and schmears. Once my taste buds had noted the brilliance of the fish cooking they got bored pretty quickly thereafter. I’m all for restraint and less is more in cooking but a plain piece of baked fish can easily become just so much dead protein.

A Tortellini of Lobster served the best Cauliflower I’d ever tasted (no, really). It actually made me wonder if I’d had proper Cauliflower before or just some ersatz version. There was more of the sauce this time – a rich truffled butter one. I actually held off breaking into the Tortellini (Tortellino ?) to defer my gratification. Unfortunately one I broke into it, the pasta, instead of being silky-smooth was a bit rubbery and the lobster inside a little over-cooked.

I noticed this dish going out to a number of tables with large parties so I suspect the kitchen couldn’t give them all the due care and attention they required. A bit poor, though, when you’re only dealing with a couple of dozen covers.

Still, things were back on track with a Fillet of Turbot . A beautiful hunk of the fish was cooked just so, with tasty little Girolles and (Hallelujah !) properly sauced. The Langoustine didn’t have that telltale iodine tang of the best examples but wasn’t bad and it was cooked properly too.

I’d moaned a bit about not been given any amuses before my meal and given how rich dishes sometimes are at this level they might have been right in avoiding a potential M.Creosote situation but the fact was that the cooking had such a light touch that I felt as light as a feather (no tittering at the back there)l. I was making moaning noises of a different sort after my main course.

I’ve had some very good dishes during the year but none have really stuck in my increasingly failing memory until tonight. The menu entry read tersely “Roasted grouse with blackberries and thyme”. Sometimes the best things life don’t need long descriptions (Jamón comes to mind).

The first part of the dish were the breasts of the Grouse. Cooked to an even deep pinkness, they’d also been hung long enough to give them quite a strong gaminess and thus, complexity but still allowed you to taste the meat. Pardon my French but They. Were. Fucking. Delicious.

Next, and underneath the breasts, was a big rissole. All the offal components of the game bird had been minced, but not too finely, mind, and formed into a patty which was bread crumbed and fried. Pardon my French but…well, you get the idea.

There was some finely chopped cabbage, some Blackberries to cut the richness and a Madeira sauce to bring everything together. Perfect.

I would have been happy to end the meal there on such a high note but was interested to see what a talented chef could make of pudding. Usually, they’re a sugar overload, sending you off into the night feeling just a little bit nauseous. To be honest I wasn’t expecting much here. But curses, another excellent dish with no gratuitous use of sugar. Just beautifully poached figs, a little spiced sponge thingy and some excellent cinnamon ice cream.

Good, but expensive coffee and a little Grappa had me waddling off into the night a very happy camper indeed.

If you can get your head around the fact you’ll be eating in someone’s pimped-up box room with no atmosphere and your dining neighbours are liable to be mostly dull men in suits (er, that’s me) then you’ll enjoy some of the best haute cuisine in London at the moment. Just make sure you insist on your amuse-gueules.

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