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

Monday, November 30, 2009


A few weeks ago, I awoke to find many of the people I follow on Twitter mourning the demise of Gourmet Magazine. To read some of the posts you would believe that this rearranging of the deckchairs on The Titanic by a major publishing conglomerate was the end of the food writing world as we know it.

I am unsure how many of the people wailing pitiful laments had actually read a copy recently. If they had, they would have noticed a marked change from its former glories. I have to admit to not having bought a copy for a few years. But, glancing at the latest edition in a US airport bookshop earlier in the year I found it was no longer the witty, informative and inspiring magazine I would have forked out hard cash for and had become a glossy and dispiriting way to pass a few moments before boarding the cattle truck to Los Angeles. Perhaps I am being unfair, but the fact it is being put out of its misery by its parent speaks to the fact that I am not alone in my views on the magazine itself and perhaps to the fact that this delivery system for food information no longer carries any value.

There are now so many sources of information that it is possible to argue that the era of the magazine is truly over. Online is, of course, the biggest challenge and the storm troops of the Internet are the blogs. When we began Dos Hermanos nearly four years ago there were, I think, less than half a dozen UK food bloggers, now we could fill the Centre Court at Wimbledon and all are throwing information out into the world at a rate that could never have been imagined when Gourmet first hit the presses.

Are they any good? Well, some are of course. Some are filled with great writing, wonderful family recipes and witty descriptions of eating experiences. Others are little more that aggregators of releases from the burgeoning army of food P.R’s desperate for column inches however worthless those inches may be. I will leave you to decide where Dos Hermanos fits in. Believe me HP and I receive enough mails and comments of both opinions to make us regularly question whether we want to carry on.

Despite this recent technology inspired onslaught, there is, I am certain still space in our lives for serious food writing of the sort that made us want to start blogs in the first place and time in our lives to carve a few minutes for the indulgence of reading something which does not threaten to fill your screens with pop-ups.

Which is why I am pleased to be able to give a plug for my chum, Tim Hayward and his excellent new food quarterly, FIRE & KNIVES. As the name suggests, every three months, Tim will gather together articles both new and old, which show the very best of what the food writing world has to offer, using a model which has been used for so long by The Paris Review.

This makes Tim, if you will allow me, the George Plimpton of food writing and if his pieces in The Guardian are anything to go by, the articles in FIRE & KNIVES promises to be witty, challenging, infuriating and hugely enjoyable by equal measure.

The first issue is available now from, as they say, all good stores. However,a year’s subscription costs a measly £20 and strikes me as something, which would make a rather good Christmas present.

Well that’s HP’s gift sorted then.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009


Listen, there’s no secret to a good Pizza: decent dough, not too much topping and an oven set to 11. Even cack-handed me has managed it at least once in my sorry-assed life. But you’d think making one was akin to squaring the circle the way some folk go on about it. Show me a Pizza bore and I’ll show you somebody who needs a decent hunk of protein in their life.

So then, Hermano, how come you ended up in Pizza East ? Huh ? Huh ? Simple, mi amigo, it was a dark and stormy, er, Saturday lunchtime and it was the nearest restaurant to Casa DH that we hadn’t already written about.

I’d only once been in the space that Pizza East now occupies when it was the completely forgettable T Bar. PE is a little more interesting. It’s all butch Manhattan loft style with exposed pillars and industrial-strength fittings but somehow still manages to be warm. I like very much. Something I didn’t like very much were the hoards of Happy Nappy Valley Families.

Fresh from terrorising innocent French tourists in Borough Market with their McLaren strollers (weren’t these supposed to be returned) they had now moved en masse to Pizza East and unleashed their little Jeroboams and Canastas on an unsuspecting pie-eating restaurant-goer, viz me.

Now I have no problem with kids in restaurants. My own nephew and niece have been eating with their parents since they were babies and their behaviour at table is impeccable. Here, however, it was as if the parents had deemed the restaurant a suitable venue for their spawn to express themselves and awaken their creatively which took the form of running around and screaming like banshees. It was like something out Cyra McFadden’s very funny book The Serial. Except I wasn’t laughing.

Eventually and inevitably there were tears and so all the nuclear units had to sod off and were replaced by a smattering of much quieter couples and groups who had wisely decided that de-cluttering could wait until another day. Then, and only then could I sit back and glug a glass of draught Prosecco with some fat green olives with a smattering of Almonds.

Speaking of which, this thing with the tumblers is getting out of hand. I want to drink my wine out of a proper glass not some thick glass mug. I saw proper flutes being used at another table so presumably they are available if you ask. I think this is some sort of cost saving measure which made sense when my food came.

It’s been a while since I last had a pizza in a restaurant but when did they get so expensive ? Save for two of the simplest varieties, all PE’s examples all came in at, or over the ten pound mark which for a few pence of dough and a quids worth of topping is a pretty blatant way of funding ones overheads.

The pizza itself, the Duck Sausage, was ok. The dough whilst it had charred and bubbled in an authentic manner was oddly tasteless. The clumps of minced meat didn’t taste particularly ducky and as the pizza was cooling the cheese coalesced unattractively. But it tasted, well, like pizza.

Starters were poor. Fried Calamari hadn’t been given a protective cover and ended up greasy – and not in a good way. It was also pretty chewy too. The accompanying aioli was more like a timid tartar sauce.

They’d tried to ape the St John dish with my other starter but the three thin halves of Bone Marrow (why not four ?) yielded very little marrow and the parsley salad was a sad joke. The bread was just wrong. Avoid.

Three big scoops of Gelato for dessert had a nice texture and tasted of the advertised ingredients but in a slightly odd way as if the they hadn’t been properly incorporated. So Mint and Chocolate Chip tasted as if you were eating raw leaves of Spearmint with shards of cooking chocolate and the Crème Fraiche one as if you were gulping spoonfuls of the stuff from a carton. Not especially nasty, just a bit odd. Pistachio was a lot better.

Objectively, the food is pretty mediocre at Pizza East but I ended up rather enjoying myself. The service was very friendly and accommodating, I liked the space and a combination of carbs and alcohol always seems to put people in a better mood than a salad. I rolled out of there quite happy.

Try and think of it then, as a place for people who believe they’ve outgrown Pizza Express and need to go to somewhere more gourmet. They probably don’t of course but then where’s the harm in catering to those people ?

For myself, well, after many years of denial I’m gradually coming round to HS’s view that it’s all just a load of snot on toast.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009


I have a real soft spot for food brands which are often neglected because they have become too familiar. Ask me for my favourite sherry and it will usually be a glass of Tio Pepe Fino, the original and in my opinion, still the best. Ask me which gin I drink and it will be Beefeater, made in London since the 1850’s but now often overlooked in favour of boutique distilleries who infuse the spirit with everything from the tears of a fallen angel to black pudding (actually that could be a good idea)

There is a reason why these brands have been around for ever and it is because they are usually bloody brilliant at what they do, refusing to kowtow to trends and sticking to what they have always done, crafting a great product in a time honoured fashion.

Which brings me, in case you were wondering what the point was to all of this, to today’s competition. Allen’s of Mayfair is one of London’s oldest butchers and the oldest in the country still residing on the same site. In 2006 the shop almost folded when the holding company went into administration. It was saved by the intervention of two former butchers and the owners of Rare, Justin Preston and David House who have spent the last three years returning it to its former glories.

For those of you who have not been there, Allen's is a butcher's shop as you remember they used to be and definitely worth a visit. As well as supplying superb meat to the restaurant trade and the public, Allen’s now also run very enjoyable butchery classes. They are not cheap affairs, costing £100 a pop, but are fun and very hands on. Now, they have been kind enough to offer the meat obsessed readers of Dos Hermanos, the opportunity to join one of their classes in February and to get down and dirty with something which once bleated, mooed or oinked.

We have two tickets to give away and to win all you have to do is answer the following question.


The closing date for the competition is 15th DECEMBER 2009. Please submit all entries via the Dos Hermanos contact details with ALLEN’S OF MAYFAIR COMPETITION as the subject heading.

One entry per person, please. I cannot enter into correspondence but will confirm the winners, selected at random from the correct entries, soon after closing date.

Good luck.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009


A week ago or so somebody on Twitter (cheek - I’m not that bloody old) mentioned that they’d had a little preview of the interior of the Galvin brothers gastrodome which hosts fine-dining restaurant La Chapelle and the casual Café de Luxe. They raved about how fantastic it all looked. I joked that I hoped there was some money left over for the food.

Well, they were right about the interior: the main room of the 19th Century Grade II St Botolph’s Hall with its vaulted ceiling, arched windows and huge columns is stunning and I found it hard to stop myself rubber-necking, open-jawed, like some hick tourist. Lower on the horizon there were banquets and acres of napery.

In the café there is a voluptuously curved zinc bar snapped up after the closure of Aurora in the Great Eastern Hotel when it was taken over by Hyatt. A wine cupboard contains enough vintages of Hermitage La Chapelle in various sizes to last one several lifetimes. All very Conranesque. Though not so surprising as one of the brothers, Chris, spent many years working for Sir Tel.

As a rule I’m pretty down on lush interiors. The money for them has to come from somewhere and as other costs - lease, salaries - are more or less fixed that usually means some sort of compromise. And that’s how much of the food tasted and came across as – compromised.

A Lasagne of Devon Crab. Oh dear. A cylinder, the texture of sponge and which tasted of the same. The Crab component ? Undetectable. Chanterelles which although having quite a delicate and subtle taste didn’t shine through at all and were a bit slithy to be honest.

It’s pretty dispiriting when you realise that all isn’t well with the cooking and you’ve still got (at least) another three courses to go. You start looking for exit strategies: feign illness and pay up ? Get completely pissed to anaesthetise oneself against the horrors ? Or do as I did and smile politely and hope for the best. It was like being stranded in a tropical island paradise and discovering the only other woman was a randy Barbara Cartland.

A salad of Partridge and Pomegranate was a good idea, the tartness of the fruit working with the slight gaminess of the bird. But the idea of drowning the whole thing in a thick, sweet, maple-based sauce wasn’t. It killed the taste of everything on the plate especially the little salad garnish. There was a little roasted leg that was good and meaty and crunchy but the dish as a whole was a big misfire.

I had high hopes for my fish course. Grilled Red Mullet with Herb fritters and a bouillabaisse vinaigrette sounded like it could be a classic. Unsurprisingly given the arc of my meal thus far it wasn’t. The two fillets were some of most tired pieces of fish I’ve had recently. Showing few signs of having been grilled, they were soft and smelled fishy. Not good. The herb fritters tasted of fritter and little else. Barbara had now tracked me down and was making come-hither gestures at me.

It might have been a coincidence but after Chris Galvin had gone back into the open kitchen, post the meet-and-greet thing, my next dish was much better. Tagine of Squab Pigeon was a sort of deconstructed version served in a, er, Tagine. The Pigeon itself was moist and cooked a perfect shade of pink. It sat atop excellent couscous, the grains of pasta all light and separate. There was a blob of spiced puree (Chickpea ?) that was a little over-processed but tasted great. A cylindrical brik of, I guess the leg meat, was a bit oily but not disastrously so. The Quail egg was perfectly cooked but superfluous. The accompanying small pot of harissa was terrific.

The Pigeon had restored my confidence in the kitchen enough for me to order a pudding. Prune and Armagnac Parfait did what it said on the tin although in truth it’s never the most interesting of desserts, more of a default choice. Still, it left me chipper enough to roll out the old chestnut about my parfait being “parfait”. Very funny sir, I haven’t heard that one, oh, since I served the last person who ordered it.

I’d like to think the Pigeon Tagine was more representative of the kitchen’s abilities but the flaws in the other dishes were so manifest as to make me wonder whether another visit would yield better.

The transformation of La Chapelle has obviously been a labour of love given the meticulous attention to detail and the Brothers Galvin seem like nice enough people as do the staff who were models of friendliness and efficiency on only their second service. Like any restaurant venture it’s a high risk strategy to put so much into one place but if a recent visit to a packed River Café is anything to go by if you provide people with a decent product they will come. Let’s hope they do.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009


The woman at the table of four next to ours lifted her pre-dinner glass of champagne and made a toast.

“Here’s to surprises” she said as her companions looked each other in the eye and clinked glasses.

I glanced down at my menu and thought to myself “wait until you see the bloody prices, love. You’ll get all the surprises you can handle”

The pricing at The Kitchin is not for those faint of heart or wallet. Starters come in at around the £17 mark, main courses nudge and often whiz past £30 as if it was a wheezy fat boy on a cross country run, the puddings are a flicker less than a tenner and the tasting menu is about the same price as a recent model Ford Focus from a reputable dealer.

“It had better be good” I added out loud as Sybil drew in a large intake of breath and did a silent conversion of worthless Sterling to Yankee dollars.

First impressions were less than positive. Bread was cold and workaday, butter hard if not quite fridge fresh. I was beginning to regret having listened to my juniors and betters who had told me that The Kitchin was a must not miss for the Edinburgh portion of our round Britain tour.

Then things got better, much better. Amuse seldom do, but a mini bowl of game consommé was, quite frankly astonishing. Flecked with teeny-weeny diced vegetables and slivers of bone marrow, the crystal clear broth was seasoned generously and layered with flavour. I began to realise why people whose opinions I respect had raved about The Kitchin.

The regular menu is supplemented by a list of autumn specials, but I began with one of the signature dishes in the form of Pig’s Head and Langoustine. This dish has Kitchin’s style all over it, robust flavours complimented by elegance and technique. The head meat had been boned, rolled and laced with cumin, fennel seed and garam masala. In the hands of someone less deft, it could have been too much. Instead the flavours contrasted perfectly with the sweet meat of a small langoustine tail and the creamy base of a sauce gribiche.

Sybil’s razor clams may have carried their Scottish name “spoots” on the menu, but the approach to cooking them was Iberian in nature with chorizo and diced vegetables adding taste to a mollusc that is primarily all about texture. She preferred her dish, I preferred mine. Everyone was a winner.

Our wait for the main course was interrupted by the arrival of a complimentary dish from the kitchen. It’s churlish to be mean about any free food and fortunately, I don’t have to be about the dish which appeared courtesy of this Kitchin. This was the best course of food I have eaten all year, anywhere. A long beef bone had been roasted and split in two, half on each plate. On top had been layered a generous portion of meaty snails, equally robust chanterelle mushrooms and strips of crisp Jamon Iberico. Some sharp parsley added crunch and finally it was topped with a small, perfectly cooked quails egg whose yolk broke to add a glistening coating to the other ingredients. Even Sybil, who is ambivalent to matters cow related when it comes to eating, wiped her plate clean, scooping the last of the hot, blubbery marrow from the bone with a small spoon.

I am a great fan of food being prepared at the table. We don’t see nearly enough of it any more. What ever happened to the likely lads of flambéed steak and the Crepe Suzette? It is time to bring a bit of tableside theatre back to dining. So, we both jumped at the chance of sharing a main course of whole roasted John Dory carved in front of us by our charming Gallic server. Dinner theatre does not come cheap, however, and our fish would need to do some pretty fancy acting to justify the £64 price tag. Fortunately, it was as good a piece of St Peter’s Fish as I can recall being served. The fish flaked perfectly and worked well with some braised seasonal vegetables and a terrific beurre blanc. Only two cloves of garlic let the side down, having been under cooked delivering a harsh raw taste rather than the complimentary sweetness I expect was their purpose.

I was confused by the absence of a pre-dessert. Not that I craved any more free dishes, but what had gone before had been so rich and so densely flavoured, that a mouth cleansing something would have been useful as we waited for dessert to arrive. When they did, my mouth was still filled with the taste of consommé, pig’s head, bone marrow and beurre blanc, which left a competent if uninspiring tarte tatin flailing in the face of such strong opponents. Sybil’s chocolate soufflé was an excellent version, but almost too rich to finish and she needed the help of her future life partner to polish it off. Hey, that’s what I am there for.

These final dishes when added to a bottle of sparkling mineral water for me, a glass of wine for Sybil and a well deserved tip brought the bill to £150 for two, a whacking great amount for anyone. However, although I am still reeling from the cost, for one of those all too rare occasions I don’t feel like I have been bent over when fine dining in the UK.

Although, I may not have suffered the anticipated rectal pain and although the meal at The Kitchin may not have been without its flaws, it still knocked just about every other meal of its type this year into a cocked hat. And, in that plate of roasted marrow bone, quail egg, jamon iberico, chanterelle and snails, it produced a dish I shall be day dreaming about for a long time to come.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009


On Monday, the evening of the latest DINE WITH DOS HERMANOS, someone asked me why we organise these increasingly popular suppers.

I had to think for a moment, but in the end suggested that, in these days when every new restaurant has to come with a concept (think pop-up, think underground, think nuevo tapas) that it comes as a blessed relief just to sit down for a great meal with lots of interesting people with no other agenda than to have a bloody good time.

Judging by the e-mails, Facebook messages and Twitter DM's I received from the more well mannered of our guests after Monday's event, I think it is fair to say that everybody who attended the latest DINE WITH DOS HERMANOS had a very good time indeed. This is primarily thanks to the good folks of Bentley's, Richard Corrigan's excellent seafood restaurant on Swallow Street.

Head chef, Brendan Fyles, had taken the opportunity to go well above and beyond the call of duty and far exceeded my expectations for the £40 a head budget I set him, providing a meal which showed just how good a restaurant Bentley's is.

The meal began, as people arrived, with freshly shucked oysters served with Porterhouse Oyster Stout. These were accompanied by two superb canapes of Foie Gras with Apple Chutney and Deep Fried Chilli Shrimp. By the time we actually went to table, people were already nodding approvingly and continued their happy murmurs as the first course arrived.

HP and I like to make DWDH an famly style affair. It is easier on the kitchens and it promotes interaction, so important when we make sure that there are always a large number of new people at each event. So, when huge plates were placed on the table each carrying Sally Barnes smoked salmon,smoked tuna, smoked eel, smoked mackerel, soda bread, blinis and potted shrimp, the sight of everybody tucking in with gusto and passing the plates around was particularly pleasing.

Even more pleasing was yet another act of generosity on the apart of Head Chef, Brendan when he sent out plates of smoked herring roe on toast, coated with a silky bernaise sauce. Stunning.

A similar "wow" factor was gained by the arrival the two main courses. The first, a fish pie showed just how wonderful such a classic British dish can be when made well. Plumped out with haddock, scallops, salmon and prawns, it was layered with a bechamel sauce flavoured with the skins of smoked haddock and topped with a thick, buttery mashed potato. Just as delicious were large bowls of beef cheeks cooked down in more of the oyster stout. Astonishingly tender, they were probably my dish of the night.

It was a close call, however as no sooner had our main course plates been cleared than dessert arrived in the form of trays of rich sticky toffee pudding, served with jars of Roddas Clotted Cream and a thick toffee sauce.

I was having a dry night as I had to drive to the airport. Everyone else was very appreciative of the wines supplied by Nepenthe and Wines Unearthed, which were explained to everyone by the splendid Robert Macintosh.

At the end of the evening, Mr Corrigan made an appearance, to everybody's delight. But, more importantly so did Brendan to receive the round of applause his skills and generosity so richly deserved. An added round of applause went to events manager, Jane Sturgess, restaurant manager, King and his whole serving team who were faultless.

As people left, they stopped to collect the now legendary DWDH goody bags and a huge vote of thanks has to go out to Mathilde Delville who sourced the amazing contents of this event's offering. If you are wondering why the photographs on this post are a notch above our usual blurry DH snaps, they too are the result of her efforts

Each time we hold an event people tell me that it has been even better than the last. I don't know about that, they have all been fun for me. I am merely appreciative that so many wonderful chefs and restaurant staff have been so generous in supporting the single Dos Hermanos aim of helping Britain learn how to feast again. Long may it continue.

Dos Hermanos would like to thank the following without whom this event would not have been possible























Dont forget, if you would like the chance to attend a future DINE WITH DOS HERMANOS event, please check out our Facebook group

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