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

Thursday, April 30, 2009


It might not have been the best time to try Sedap, a relatively new addition to Old Street’s dining offerings, but after a long journey back from Wiltshire we were both hungry enough to have almost digested our lovely meal at The Red Lion and definitely in need of something to soak up the two bottles of wine, two pints of beer and little digestifs.

HP suggested we stop off on route to casa DH and give Sedap a try and, at about 7.30pm on a Saturday evening, lots of other people seemed to have had the same thought as it was packed, primarily it seemed with students from the nearby private halls of residence.

We were squeezed into a tiny little table in the back room and handed the menu. It looked familiar, not just because I have eaten quite a few Malaysian meals in the last year, but also because, as HP pointed out, it was run by the same people who once owned Nyonya in Notting Hill and offered a similar range of Chinese Malaysian dishes.

HP left the ordering to me and we began with some archard, pickled vegetables, which had the required crunch, but perhaps lacked sharpness. A roti prata was better, with the flaky disc of dough being used to mop up a lamb curry and reminding me of the roti and dahl I had for breakfast every day during my all too short time in Kuala Lumpur.

Three main courses followed, all looking the part and all hitting the alcohol sopping upping spot. The weakest was perhaps the beef rendang which paled behind the one I made recently at home using a recipe provided by my friend and excellent food writer, William Leigh. It lacked the depth of flavour of long, slow cooking and the powerful end note of heat that I enjoyed in William’s version.

Penang Char Kway Teow was better, with the noodles cooked so they still retained a bite and the seafood contents still crisp from stir-frying. It lacked the chunks of pork that I have enjoyed in the best versions and was cooked in oil rather than lard. This was something I also encountered in KL and was told was not only a nod towards health but also made the dish more approachable to Malaysia’s large Muslim population.

I have never quite got my head around Hainenese Chicken Rice, a dish of poached chicken with white rice, which I know Singaporeans particularly claim as their national dish and is beloved in Malaysia too. It just strikes me as bland and, if that is the desired effect, then Sedap’s version is bang on the mark.

That little lot of booze blotting paper, brought the bill to a reasonable £40 including service, which was harried but very friendly.

Sedap is hardly going to set the world on fire, but as a new little local joint, particularly one that does take away, it is going to be a welcome addition to an otherwise barren neighbourhood.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009


The first picture is a quote from Winston Churchill. With admirable self-confidence the people of Cromer, Norfolk, have embedded the great leader’s wise words in stone on the strip overlooking the seafront as if to say that they really didn’t give a toss what he thought.

And, why should they? Cromer is a rather smart town with friendly inhabitants and a handful of decent pubs. As I sat in front of a large plate of fish & chips, a mug of tea and a couple of slices of brown bread, I was actually looking forward to my ridiculously early start the next morning when I was due to join John Davies and his crew of fishermen as they headed out to sea to empty their pots of the famous Cromer Crab.

I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the town and then retired to my B&B for an early night in preparation for what John suggested might be a relatively smooth outing. However, by the time I left the B&B some eight hours later, the gods were angry my friend and even a few hundred yards from the front, where I had been staying, the sea spray was whipping around my face. I began to pray to myself that it would prove too rough even for these experienced fishermen to consider pointing their ship seawards.

No such luck, by 5am, the slipway where the boats were harboured was already busy with the various crabbing boats and John and his two crew, Steve and Charlie were donned up to the elbows in bright yellow waders looking at me as if I was the most lubbing of landlubbers in Lubdom. They were not wrong, a woolly hat, walking boots and a thin jacket from The Gap were hardly likely to be any protection against the sea and as soon as John shook his head and said “’ave you ever actually been on a boat before?” I began to realise that this may not be the pleasure cruise I have been anticipating.

Within two minutes we were being pushed out to sea by a powerful tractor and, once we had cleared the largest waves, John booted up the engine and headed away from the coast. It was rough alright, but at first, my stomach held firm and, oh how I laughed as John told me how chef, Brian Turner, who once came fishing with them, had spent his entire time being seasick. What a sap, what a sucker, what a ne’er do well. I was fine, so far and dosed up to the eyeballs on motion sickness medication. The sea may be a harsh mistress, but she was not going to get me.

We didn’t head out far, Cromer crabs, unlike those caught in the other areas of the UK are caught in shallow waters, in some cases as little as five metres deep. For the next five hours, we would be hugging the coast as John and his crew emptied, baited and replaced nearly two hundred and fifty pots before returning to land by 10.30am.

Then, to use the technical term, it all went pear shaped. First a little lurch of the tum. Nothing too bad, but I could see from John’s face that this was a sign he had seen before. Then a bigger lurch followed by a run to the side of the boat and a huge heave depositing of all the fish & chips from the day before, a pint of beer and the three shortbread biscuits I had wolfed down at the B&B in lieu of brekkie.

And, that was about it folks. I wish I could tell you about how hard John, Steve and Charlie worked to collect the crabs, size them and return the runts to the water, but for the next few hours I really wanted to throw myself overboard after them. At one point, actually after only about twenty minute, I asked John how much his catch would be worth and offered to write him a cheque for exactly that if he took me back right away. He just laughed, a deep, evil laugh of someone who has seen this sort of thing so many times before.

Dosed up as I was, I managed to fall asleep for an all to brief minute of blessed release only to wake up to see John’s face leaning over me smiling and saying “it’s not a nightmare boy, you’re still out here”

By the time the five long hours, which seemed like fifty, had passed I had spent most of my time onboard with my head stuck in a large yellow bucket as I wretched my guts up to the point of dehydration and, as I was helped unsteadily from the boat when we finally beached back on land, I had to be held upright as I shook uncontrollably from the cold, lack of fluids and constant lurching at sea.

John and his friends were just fine however and they gave me a cheery wave from their pick up truck as they went to take the crabs to the shop to be boiled and dressed. I stumbled to the nearest café and ordered a large hot chocolate and a slice of cake to replace the sugar in my system, but was shaking so much I could barely move cup to lips for thirty minutes. After I finally managed to complete my breakfast, I shambled along to John’s shop to collect two of our morning’s catch. John had long been and gone, but the crabs had been prepared and I took them back to my car for the journey home.

That night, I shared one with HP who showed precious little sympathy for what I had gone through to harvest his supper from the sea. But, as I ate the small crab in front of me wiping the brown meat from the shell clean with my fingers, I was certain I would never take such treasures for granted again. I was also certain I would never, ever set foot on a boat again.

Perhaps that is why Churchill didn’t have a good time in Cromer. Perhaps he went crabbing.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009


Quite often people ask DH how we find out about new restaurants. It’s not easy, well actually for me, it is very easy, but for HP it involves plentiful research and much time in front of a shimmering computer screen staring at his "soon openeing" spreadsheets when most sane people would be indulging in a quick one off the wrist to some good old fashioned porn.

It is nearly always HP who sends the mail with links to a soon to open place, of which I have never heard, with the words “booked for X date” so on the occasion of one of our all too rare joint trips out of town, I was feeling pretty smug to have come up with a promising place that had apparently slipped under HP’s radar.

To be fair, it had slipped under mine too and the only reason we were heading for lunch at The Red Lion in East Chisenbury was because of a friendly tip off from everyone’s favourite TV burly food personality, Jay Rayner. I wont give the game away about Jay’s review, but let’s just say that his word was good enough for us to endure a seven hour round trip to deepest, darkest Wiltshire in search of a decent lunch.

I can imagine that soon, quite a few people will have heard of The Red Lion. In part because of the provenance of its husband & wife team of Guy and Brittany Manning who have both worked at numerous high end restaurants including Per Se, Chez Bruce and Martin Berasategui, but mainly, I hope, because the food served at The Red Lion is bloody good, served in lovely surroundings at very reasonable prices, which is just as well because it is also a bloody long way from anywhere else.

After an hour’s train journey our cab pulled up outside what is basically just a neighbourhood pub, inside there is a fire, some blackboards with specials and a couple of well kept real ales. Judging by the manners of some of the other people at the bar, it needs a bit of a clientele transplant, but Brittany deftly moved us and our beer well away from the elderly tweed hordes and gave us time to look at the menu.

It’s pleasingly short and, as is ever our want and because we had four hours plus to kill before our return train, we decided to finesse our meal with an additional course between starters and main attractions.

To begin, HP ordered what was arguably the star dish of the day, a warm crab & tomato tart with a fennel salad. The tart was as good as I have tried in as long as I can remember. Crisp, short pastry with a soft yielding filling that was suitably accompanied by the sharpness of the dressing on the crisp fennel.

My own starter was unlikely to compete, but did its best. A porkie take on the traditional veal tonnato, which came with an ample portion of good dead pig but only made me look at HP’s dish more lovingly than was proper.

The little addition, the intercourse, if you will, was a well-executed carnaroli rice risotto of wild garlic and snails with the perfect chalky crunch only slightly spoiled by a lack of seasoning on the snails reducing them to blobs of hot texture.

If we had been playing menu Top Trumps, HP would again have come out as champeen. My special of monkfish scampi was a tad parsimonious for £14 even though, despite my loathing of fat chips, I polished off all of the excellent triple cooked variety that came with the fish, which had been coated in panko but lacked the necessary crunch.

Mealwhile, HP was cooing dreamily over as perfect a plate of Spring goodness as you are likely to see, a lightly steamed delicate piece of sea bream with both razor and surf clams in a gentle beurre blanc. The fish may have been as HP put it “30 seconds past its peak” but this is the sort of dish that makes you want to throw other fish dishes back into the water and what little HP deigned to share again made me wish our choices had been reversed.

Brittany’s training as a pastry chef showed in the offering of a “Cocoa Pound cake with confit fennel” and my own fluffy banana sponge with marinated pineapple, which came with candied macadamia nuts so moreish that we demanded and received another bowl of them to finish off our meal with the fresh mint tea, coffee and digestives we sipped in the attractive garden while we waited for our cab.

Given our enthusiastic ordering policy and the time we had to kill, we wracked up an impressive bill of £120, which added to our train fairs and cab, brings it to about £80 a head. But, as we sat in the garden enjoying the last drops of our snifters, we did not regret a penny, nor indeed for once, having a friend called Jay Rayner whose advice was bang on the money.

Cheers, mate

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Friday, April 24, 2009


There are few things in life more civilised than afternoon tea and there are few more civilised places to take it than Brown’s Hotel in London.

Over three years ago, one of the very first posts on Dos Hermanos was a report on an afternoon spent with an ex-girlfriend indulging in tray after tray of cakes, sandwiches and scones with pots of freshly prepared tea at Brown’s Hotel. It was as good a way as any to put a full stop to that relationship and the perfect way to kick off the blog.

When it came to tick the “Afternoon Tea” box for EATING FOR BRITAIN, I turned again to Brown’s, not just because I have fond memories of my visits there, but also because it had just received the accolade of being voted “Top London Afternoon Tea 2009” , some feat given not only the challenges from other hotels like The Ritz and Claridges, but also because of the very strict set of rules used by The Tea Guild to make their decision.

Although Afternoon Tea has its spiritual home in London’s grand hotels, its origins can actually be traced back to Belvoir Castle near Melton Mowbray, where one day in 1840 The Duchess of Bedford found herself suffering what she described as “a sinking feeling” and requested that some tea, cakes, bread and butter be sent to her room to keep the poor love going until the main meal of the day later that evening. It soon became a regular habit and she began to invite friends to join her for her afternoon snack and they in turn began to throw their own little soirees taking their lead from the Duchess and hosting their tea parties at 4pm.

Of such small beginnings are traditions born and now, Afternoon Tea seems is one of the “must do” items for every visitor to London. Not just visitors however, as it seems that the chance to visit one of London’s hotels for a slightly decadent afternoon of sipping tea from fine china and eating dainty sandwiches and warm scones is something that more and more locals turn to when they want a bit of escapist fun.

Certainly that seemed to be the case as I walked into the smart tearoom of Brown’s, London’s oldest hotel, to meet my guide for the day, Irene Gorman, the head of The Tea Guild. The room was packed already and the air was filled with the tinckling of cups and the rustle as trays were placed before a welcoming audience. In one corner, a smartly dressed lady with, I assume, her young granddaughter, also dressed up to the nines and loving every moment of it. In another corner, a young teenaged couple looking slightly awkward but being cosseted by the attentive staff and, near the piano, me, staring down a plate of sandwiches and trying not to cover my companion in spittles of egg and cress.

The Tea Guild’s job is not only to promote the glories and benefits of Britain’s favourite drink but also to raise and maintain the standards of those offering afternoon tea throughout the country. As we ate, Irene took me through the exhaustive list of criteria she and her inspectors use to judge the best in the country. It’s not just about the tea, although to gain Irene’s approval, that needs to be top notch with a wide selection, clearly explained, prepared and served in the correct manner. It is also about the whole experience, from the welcoming greeting of the staff to the final farewell at the end of your experience.

And, of course it is about the food. As we chatted, the charming staff at Brown’s returned time and again to replace trays of sandwiches, deliver plates of warm scones and hot cross buns wrapped in linen napkins and explain what each of the cakes on a small platter contained. The tea was served by two specially trained tea sommeliers and although I am a bit of a sucker for Brown’s Afternoon Blend, I was persuaded to try an excellent first flush Darjeeling, brewed for four minutes and then served through a strainer before I added just a spot of milk.

After I had finished my tea with Irene, I headed down to the kitchen to meet the head pastry chef of Brown’s, Fabien Ecuvillon to have a quick lesson in making the buttery and light little scones I had just sampled. Although, as his names suggests, Fabien hails from France, he is a convert to the pleasures of Afternoon Tea and showed me the small area where he and his team prepare the cakes and pastries for the hotel before whipping me up a batch to take away with me.

At £35 a person, tea at Brown’s Hotel is far from cheap, but remains excellent value for an experience that leaves you so full you are tempted to pay a porter to wheel you out of there on a trolley and for an experience that remains one of the most pleasant ways to spend an afternoon in London.

Well worth trying for those of you in London or you can check out The Tea Guild’s website for your nearest approved member

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We don't normally do this kind of thing on Dos Hermanos, but Action Against Hunger is a truly worthwhile cause and, given how much we eat, it is right to acknowledge that there are others in this world less fortunate than ourselves.

So, I am delighted to offer a link to two events that will be supporting AAH in the near future.

The first, is a charity auction involving many of the restaurants featured in The S Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants 2009 where you can bid on e-bay for the chance to dine at those listed including Nobu and St John. The auction has just begun and goes on until the 3rd of May. So check out their e-bay link.

The second is a stunning event at Hawksmoor, where for £150 a head (every last penny of which goes to AAH) you will be treated to a butchery demonstration by the staff of The Ginger Pig, canapes and champagne, a three course meal featuring lots of different cuts and breeds of beef and some fantastic wines and digestives. You will even get to head home with a Ginger Pig steak and a specially produced Hawksmoor guide on how to cook the perfect slab of beef.

The event will take place on the 18th May and begin at 6.30pm

Both events well worth supporting, er so do


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Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I've never been very Rock and Roll, more of a quiet rebel, fighting n
man from a box bedroom which I shared with HS whilst inflicting upon him the likes of PFM and Gentle Giant. It made him the man he is today (thanks, don’t mention it).

These days things haven’t changed much although the prog has now been replaced by gentle electronica played at a reasonable volume and a steaming cup of cocoa.

When I heard then that Mark Fuller (Sugar Reef, Embassy, Geales) had opened the first Hotel for Rock Stars in London’s fashionable Soho I just had to go along. I would (I imagined) be hobnobbing with Mick and Keef while knocking back bottles of Champagne, ingesting copious amounts of drugs and most importantly of all, having amps that went up to eleven.

Of course, good sense prevailed and realising I had to be home at an early hour so I could go to work in the morning, I settled for a table in the Hotel’s restaurant, No 20.

When I tried to confirm my table I rang the restaurant several times but got no answer. When I turned up I saw why. There was nobody around . No one to meet and greet, no front of house, nada. Maybe they were all cavorting with Iggy in the Jacuzzi.

Eventually someone turned up and showed me to a big banquet for four. I sat there in an empty room with some noodly music playing quietly in the background. All it needed was a ticking Grandfather Clock and it would have been The Athenaeum.

I ordered a Dry Martini to get myself in the mood a bit. Maybe I could party with myself (again). The order seemed to cause a bit of a stir at the bar and when it eventually turned up it wasn’t cold enough and not very dry. Obviously Krug should have been the order of the day.

I was pleasantly surprised with my starter of Pressed Ham Hock. The shredded meat had good texture and it came with a sprightly, acidic Piccalilli. It would have been even better if it had been allowed to come to room texture.

A quick game of hunt the Scallop was next. How and when the idea of slicing up these blameless shellfish instead of serving them whole came about I don’t know. I do know it’s not a good idea and especially stingy in a dish costing £12.50.

The Scallops were of decent quality although overcooked. The bacon was à la Gordon Ramsay i.e. pre-prepped. It was dry and tasteless. There were some peas and pea shoots and some blobs of puree dotted around but really the main ingredient let the dish down.

If there’s one dish says Rock ‘n’ Roll it’s the burger. It can be proletarian, it can be fine-dining or it can be crap like at No. 20. As soon as my Wagyu Burge arrived I could see it had been cooked by someone who’d either never cooked or eaten a proper one before. It had developed a nasty, hard skin and the meat within, although medium, was dense and tough. I sent it back.

In an empty restaurant I then got to hear the chef bitch all about how he’d cooked it properly. A manager appeared from nowhere and got involved. Maybe it was all going to kick off and Liam would belt somebody.

What with all this kerfuffle, the duff Burger and not forgetting the crap French Fries I was feeling rather tired so I walked out and went to wait in the lobby for my Limo. Hey, how fucking Rock and Roll is that ? *

I’m sure Ozzy and Co. and other trainee Princes of Darkness will really like the Sanctum and its “anything goes” attitude, it’s just a shame this extends to the restaurant. Then again, Rock Stars don’t eat – well the old school ones don’t – so the idea of the hotel spending a significant amount of money and effort on the food wouldn’t really be in keeping with its ethos.

*Not very - I paid my bill before leaving

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Saturday, April 18, 2009


A few weeks ago I was put in touch with Ben Furst of English Vine Tours by his brother in law and my good chum, Paul Smith.

After a number of years running a small, independent wine merchant in Lewes, Sussex, Ben and his wife decided to concentrate on promoting tourism in the area and particularly visits to the growing number of vineyards along the South coast.

When Ben was kind enough to invite me to join him on one of his tours I was a little dubious. The stunning Nyetimber apart, my only experiences of British wines had been, shall we say mixed, wines that, to quote Python should be best “laid down and avoided”

But, I thought it might be an interesting addition to EATING FOR BRITAIN and, at the very least a nice day out near the coast and so, early on Saturday morning, I rocked up at Lewes station after catching a murderously early train from Victoria.

Ben’s tours are very civilised and small with just eight of us on this occasion and, after a welcome breakfast at a local hotel, we climbed into Ben’s people carrier for the short trip to our first port of call, the vineyards of Carr Taylor close to Battle

Carr Taylor has been going for nearly forty years and over the years their wines have won numerous international awards, particularly for their sparkling wines. We joined a tour that was just about to get underway and although I have visited enough vineyards in the last few years, it was good fun, the process well explained and definitely worth doing. At the end, we all decamped to a small tasting room for a sample of most of the Carr Taylor wines.

Like other producers on The South Coast, the grapes Carr Taylor use are predominantly those found in German wines like Kerner, Muller Thurgau and Huxel and they are blended to make some surprisingly elegant wines like the signature Alexis and 1066. However, it is the sparkling wines that really catch the taste buds and their sparkling Brut is well worth seeking out.

After a quick and pleasant lunch, it was on to the next vineyard, across the border into Kent. Biddenden is possibly better known for its excellent cider, but now has over 22 acres of vines, again using mainly German varieties. Unlike Carr Taylor, they make single varietals rather than blends and the truth is, on the tasting we tried after Ben gave us a tour of the vineyards, the results are not that great, which shows that although English wines have come on by leaps and bounds, they still have a long way to go before they will be taken as seriously as some of them deserve.

Despite the slightly disappointing visit to the second vineyard, it was still a very enjoyable day out and well worth considering. Ben is charming, knowledgeable and very passionate about promoting English wines and it shows in his relationship with the producers we met. English Vine Tours offer quite a range of options including days where you can mix a visit to a vinyard with an afternoon of art or an afternoon at the races, a potentially lethal combination.

A good day, but then, I came away with a bottle of wine and, quite frankly, any day that ends that way is a good day

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