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Everything posted by naebody

  1. I think Rowley left more than a year ago, so the problem is probably deeper rooted than that. As I remember it, owner Chris Bodker lost all his money on West, the place next to The Ivy that's now McRobuchon. The bank forced him to sell KP, along with Launceston Place and The Avenue, to D&D London (the rebranded Conran Restaurants). I mention this only because it will go some way to explain your experience. Sadly, the old Place is now little more than Mezzo recreated in W11. In short: KP's nuts. ETA: The Times did a backgrounder on the sale back in June.
  2. naebody

    Dining Alone

    As it happens, I was on my own in Las Vegas last month, and was editing a novel during the daylight hours. I received none of the "extra service" you refer to, but someone did steal sixty pages of corrected manuscript from my jacket pocket while I was in the can.
  3. Contrary to popular opinion, there is such as thing as bad publicity. No good can surely come from advertising the fact that you're selling unappetising food at ludicrous prices specifically for consumption by idiots. As I say: six months. Precisely. It's lobster stuffed with tacos.
  4. Because London is closer to Europe than France? Hm. Judging by the Evening Standard's current rate card, the going rate for a one-page colour display advert in the news section is £9,600. In that context, perhaps Vivat thingmy considered it good value to have spent £600ish wholesale on feeding a malleable hack and his missus. They're wrong. Even the City vulgarati know the difference between fiscal exclusiveness and contrived expensiveness. I give the place six months.
  5. naebody

    Dining Alone

    What kind of reporter uses Moleskine? It'd be more convincing if she scribbled random words on the reverse of taxi reciepts with one of those half-size pencils you get in bookies. As a socially awkward type, I'm unnerved by the prospect of sitting alone anywhere more formal than Starbucks. My concerns are as follows: 1- the waiters will hate you for leaving one chair of a two-top fallow, and for not feeling any kind of companionly pressure to avoid the cheapskate options. Couple tables must be a goldmine for restaurants, as they lend themselves to pressure sales of champagne, "two spoon" deserts and licentious forrages into the wine list. But you, with your Guardian crossword and your dog-eared copy of Julian Barnes, must be depriving the poor waiter the back end of a tenner. I honestly could not blame him for sneezing into your soup. 2- everyone else will assume you're either a social leper, or you've been stood up. And, having experienced both sensations involuntarily on regular occasions, I've no desire to invite them when it's optional. Oh, and I can't quite deal with bar-side eating either. The person next to you always seems to think you're there for a conversation and won't be deterred from small talk, no matter how often you stab him with your fork.
  6. You all obviously went to better schools than me*. Here's why we'd never have been allowed to make vegetable soup: 1- It requires sharp knives, allowing pupils to hurt themselves or each other. 2- It requires boiling liquid, allowing pupils to hurt themselves or each other. 3- Even when you get it right, it still looks hilariously like sick. Tim has the right idea with pizza - it's quite soft when thrown, and the application of heat is done in a sealed area (preferrably when they're back in their own homes). Otherwise, I'd perhaps teach them how to peel an orange, or how to do a jacket potato in the microwave. Think I'm exaggerating? My sister is a science teacher in a no-worse-than-average estate school up north. She has taken to teaching them raw vegetable recognition ("What's this thing, miss?" "It's a carrot." Seriously), along with a few points of basic hygene and some cooking methods using the bunsen burners. Safety goggles are necessary throughout. I'm not saying that it's already a lost cause, but anything from on high that says: "children shall be taught to cook Spanish omlette with rocket salad and pesto" is unlikely to match everyone's requirements. Better, I'd say, to employ the right people and allow them to judge what's required. (But then, the right people would cost more money than a Whitehall press release.) * We did have compulsory Home Economics lessons at my school. We learned to combine pre-cooked mince and Smash to make a cold shepherd's pie. The ones who could manage that were fast-tracked into making evil cakes involving tinned pineapple, while the rest of us sewed huge hamburgers out of felt using very dull needles. Oh, and we all laughed like open drains when Mrs Arandale investigated the insides a gas oven with a match and blew her eyebrows off.
  7. Yup - don't disagree with any of that (and said similar things myself in this very thread). I wouldn't be expecting a flotation inside 12 months, and it may take as long as two years. You can't really draw parallels with Gaucho or Pizza Express, as GRH would be a multi-line business more similar in scale to something like The Restaurant Group (the £300m-valued owner of Garfunkels, Frankie & Benny's, Chiquitos and other places rarely mentioned on eGullet), but with the growth and average per-head spend of something like Carluccio's. The Restaurant Group is currently valued at about 11 times historic earnings even after a veiled profit warning, while Carluccio's trades at over 13 times earnings. The private equity boys would never pay that kind of valuation unless they see a clear opportunity to cut costs, break up the business or flog off the property, which is why I expect Ramsay to prefer a partial flotation to a major VC stake. And, assuming the D and E businesses bed down over the next 12 months and then start expanding at say a pace of two or three a month, I'd guess he could be generating EBITDA of between £15m and £30m PA, suggesting a business worth up to £400m even in this tough market. Apologies if this is all too fiscally noodly for a food forum. There's only so much you can say about white bean mush. (Edited to correct the EBITDA number, which was a bit too ambitious previously.)
  8. You're working on the assumption that he wrote his book. The "flaky income streams" you mentioned are the reason why the Rastropubs and Foxtros are being nurtured. The A to E structure is a pyramid, where the steady income from the Ds and Es will smooth out any bumps in the As and Bs. I'd be surprised if any new opening didn't look scaleable from now on (all eyes on you Hartnett; the pyramid could use a B-grade Italian franchise). And I'd be surprised if his sentimentality was strong enough to persist with any individual place that was underperforming (watch your back, Noisette). Completely off topic, it my imagination or do Ramsay's female chefs all look very similar? The one now at RHR, the Foxtrot Oscar lady, the one he nicked from the Kitchen Nightmares veggie place in France who ended up working at Boxwood ... All mid-20s, dark hair and wan skin, slightly startled-rabbit look. Not suggesting anything here. Just saying.
  9. That's the spin, certainly. But doesn't it all look a little too PR-caressed for an elephantine corporate beast like GRH? It's instructive to take a quick look at what's in the Ramsay portfolio at the moment: 1- The "Ramsay At" brand (Ramsay at Claridges, at the London, at the Bastille, at Wynn Las Vegas before long I'd imagine). This is the A-grade international brand for holidaymakers and locals needing a special occasion. A cross between Nobu and Hard Rock Cafe. 2- Maze. The B-grade brand, with a slight edginess rather than a slight luxury. This does exactly the same job as as "Ramsay At" but for an audience that's 10 years younger. If Ramsay were Starwood Hotels, this'd be the W chain. 3- Boxwood. The C-grade brand for business lunches, dinners with parents, dates with people you don't fancy, etc. This is the one that's being rolled out under various names to airports and mid-ranking hotels in C-grade places like Prague. The pitch is: "it's not the best thing in the world, but it's the best thing you'll get here". 4- The gastropubs. This is the E-grade brand for Saturday lunch and evenings when suburbanites who can't be bothered cooking or travelling very far. Appearing in a local boozer near you soon. It doesn't take a genius to work out that the group lacks a D-grade brand - a place on the high street to soak up after-work birthdays, weekday lunches with the man from head office, etc. Foxtrot Oscar looks to be his first stab towards the market currently ruled over by Carluccios, Balans etc. (Of course, by the time the brand reaches Slough High Street, it's unlikely that the chef making your Ceasar salad will have done two years at Guy Savoy.) By the way, I think I was wrong further up the thread. I'd now guess that the business will be floated in its an entirity - posh restaurants as well as pleb ones. Foxtrot, assuming it works, is there to complete the Powerpoint slide titled "Group brands - A to E". "Sentimental value"? You're kidding, right?
  10. To misquote Somerset Maugham, the only way to eat well in England is to skip brunch three times a day. We can sort-of cobble something together by pretending to be American (Christopher's) or by pretending to be a private club (Electric Brasserie). Or, better still, by pretending to be a staff canteen (Joe Allen). Oddly, it seems to improve matters if you bowl from the pavillion end (Balans), or if you're able to tolerate the braying company of a hundred 20-something City tosspots in the same blue shirt (Smiths of Smithfield). Then there's the so-expensive-it's-ironic approach to the question (Automat). Alternatively, you may find the ghost of a brunchable Ranger haunt inside SW3 (too late, alas, for Foxtrot Oscar). So to conclude on the brunch theme: no. We can't. Try to stay in bed until the sun's over the yardarm.
  11. A new "Rising star" status for Aikens rescues the list from complete absurdity*. That'll certainly encourage the promising newcomer to raise his game this year. ( ) Excellent to see Galvin and Great Queen Street get bib gourmands. Not sure what Benja (haphazard Thai in Soho) and Trenta (unremarkable trat Italian in Marble Arch) did to merit bibs, however. * That is of course from an insular, blinkered, central London perspective. Congratulations and commiserations where appropriate to everyone in the provinces.
  12. Quilon? That's leftfield. I'd give an opinion on whether a star is merited if I'd ever eaten there, or knew anyone who'd eaten there, or had even heard of it.
  13. Been there too, as it happens, and thought it was pretty good rather than stunning. The quality is pretty formidably high all over Brollywood though. As for the amount of Brits chefs over there: it's probably something to do with a tendency among Canadian women to take pity on irascible, pasty, laconic men with silly accents and bad teeth. (I speak from experience)
  14. Most of what this thread says remains true (although consider any mention to Frankies a historical anomaly). To summarise, go wherever you want. But, if you're nervous, Push the definition of "central London": Cercle, the Ledbury and Rousillion are all solid one-stars inside Zone 2's westerly child plains. Go to an Italian: Locatelli, or perhaps Theo thingmybob at the Intercontinental. The River Cafe would be better, but is probably too far. Go silly: Maze, whose tricksy menu is catnip to anyone with a mental age below 10. Go to 'seen it all before' venue: The Wolseley, obviously, plus Boxwood and lots of other hotel places would be fine. As a happy middle-ground, what about Tom Aikens? If I were seven, I'd be knocked out by all the endless waves of lollies, test tubes and soda bottles. Friday may be a bit couple-ish, but you should be okay on a school night.
  15. To reprise my Sketch question above: do you mean the brasserie or the inner sanctum? While the former is undeniably a miserable experience, I always considered the latter okay by City standards. I accept, however, that the smell of roasted money and granita souls can be quite distracting in both venues. Can't see Skylon getting anything; the view can only distract you so much from the cooking. Meanwhile, would anticipate Texture (and, if there's any justice, Magdalen) getting rising star statusm but it's probably too early for more.
  16. I think we've already kicked this particular one to death, not least here. In summary: it's hard to hate someone who's so clearly well-intentioned and on the side of good. Yet somehow, he always seems to make it worth the effort. The latest medical research has actually suggested that people aren't foxes. And, while I understand your point, the "law of the jungle" card just invites people to counter with: "ever seen what a doberman does to a toddler?" etc. This is one of those arguments where, no matter who wins, everybody loses.
  17. It'd be boring to argue that you can't compare a 1-hour special and a 24-hour spacefiller. Instead, I'll just note that the public seem to have viewed the evidence and concluded: "I feel like chicken tonight". Which is not exactly what was intended.
  18. Apologies for the ninja edits I made on the quoted message, Tim. But the main point I'd argue is that, if you remove both cost and animal welfare concerns from the argument, I'm not sure there's any argument left. As for big business, of course they sell crap food that people buy. So do small ones, although they do it to fewer people. Not sure if the solution here is education or legislation though. France, for example, is generally regarded as a world leader in food knowledge and protectionist legal measures, yet it is McDonald's fastest-growing established market.
  19. Hold on, you almost had me for a moment. What's badly? By "badly", do you mean meat from badly treated animals? Or do you mean it's bad for the person doing the eating? Or are you simply saying that it's bad when the net cost to society of any foodstuff is greater than its benefit? On all points, the obvious extremes border a grey area the size of the Atlantic. Cruelty to animals is one of the more flexible areas of moral relativism. It's difficult to explain British sensitivities to a Japanese whaler, a Congolese pygmy or a Chinese market worker who makes her living skinning live cats. It takes a missionary's belief in education to assume that you can convert the savages by presenting the same evidence that has swayed you. As I've said before, this kind of thing usually ends very, very badly. The middle-class-led reforms of the past couple of centuries have all been about protecting or establishing rights for some unfairly disadvantaged group of people. I'm not sure you can equate this with establishing rights of some disadvantaged group of animals, or protecting the populace from itself. For openers, is there a tasting menu in Britain that doesn't fall down on at least two of the three criteria mentioned above? Of course people should be discouraged from eating "badly" (and kudos once more to HF-W for still hammering away at that particular nail). But the current media glut stands on the shoulders of decades of similar exposes; we can probably assume that everyone now knows that a battery farm is not Butlins for poultry. If the informed public don't like what they're buying, they won't buy it. If they don't care, they will. As I say, it's not the well-meaning campaign that's likely to be counterproductive, it's the imposition of grey-area sensitivities on others. Glib simplifications about class aside, if one group is allowed to make its own decisions about what's tolerable, it has to accept that everyone else can as well. People, after all, are completely within their rights to tell us to stick our moral compass up our arse.
  20. No, yes, yes, no. Really? You're basing that on The Lecture Room, rather than the ground-floor disco-teria, right? TLR is ridiculous and awful in many, many ways, but the food tends at least to be interesting and proficiently executed. There are plenty of other starred places I'd chop before TLR@S. As for the London-centric argument: give over. It's where most of us live, and there are more than 50 Mich stars worthy of discussion within a two-zone travelcard of our tiny, overpriced flats. Of course the argument will gravitate towards the capital. Plus, it's an unspoken truth that anyone under 65 who doesn't live in London has, in some fundamental way, failed. (runs) (Edited for tonal clarity.)
  21. No argument here, Marco. Meanwhile, the reader responses have boiled this debate down to be what it really is: class sniping by the affluent, who really seem to believe that people on lower incomes are a species worth fewer rights than chickens. I guess this blood-letting is inevitable, as Guardian readers rarely get the chance to unrestrain the hatred of the consumer underclass they so clearly loathe.
  22. Are you? I was delighted. I thought we'd finally grasped that it's futile for us, the converted, to start critiquing the sermon. However, if critique we must, then make yourself a cocoa get comfortable. This'll be a long one. First up, I have nothing but respect for the efforts of Moppsy and Fat Tongue to highlight the issue. It's certainly more important than their usual jobs of telling people that meat should be rested, and that crème fraîche can replace cream. But we have to recognise that their viewers are, by and large, quite affluent and already reasonably informed about food. This is the demographic (sorry - can't avoid the word) that will have already switched their discretionary purchases to free-range, if they're going to. So a cynic may argue that the only thing generated by the publicity drive is a feeling of righteous satisfaction when the pre-converted pay some arbitary premium in Waitrose for their "organic farm raised" chicken. What gets lost in the noise is that all food is a Machiavellian bargain. Nothing dies happily, whether it's a halal-slaughtered goat or a hand-dived scallop. We all have to decide how much tolerance we have to inflict pain and discomfort on something living, and help that shape what we're prepared to eat. Is bacon worth garotting a pig for? Is veal worth the crates? Is fresh monkey-brain tasty enough to justify the head-clamps and hacksaw? Is the life of a battery chicken a fair price for keeping a McChicken Sandwich within the fiscal reach of the average McDonald's customer? On all these questions, I'm genuinely not sure there is a definitive answer. Essentially, it's all down to degree. Because the cruelty/taste trade-off has to be a personal decision, it's not particularly helpful when one group decides to make their own opinions definitive and impose them on others. You'll often end up with rich people telling poor people that they shouldn't be able to afford food. That can't end well. Moving on. Of course the majority of restaurants don't use free range (including some of the ones that claim they do). From my experience, there's nothing like professional kitchen work to erode your benevolence toward things with a pulse. It's hard to maintain the attitude of Ghandi when your day involves boiling live lobsters or crushing live mice in glue traps. No doubt the restaurateurs who post here will counter that they only use happy poultry, just as they seem to have never bought a catering pack of chips or used a tronc to diddle the wait staff. But in the average diner, it's undeniable that if the ingredient is 1p cheaper, it's 1p better. That's endemic through the industry, so we can't expect it to change without a consumer revolution that seems extremely unlikely to happen. Oh, and to BertieW's otherwise sterling analysis above, quotas and tariffs are never the answer, for reasons best explained in tthis chapter of Tim Hartford's magnificent The Undercover Economist. It'd be wonderful if every chicken led a happy and fulfilled life, right up to the exact moment it was turned into a KFC family bucket. I'd like to think that my own efforts - such as buying expensive eggs and avoiding meat without some kind of meaningful provenance - have by some small degree reduced the net sum of suffering in the world. But I accept that changing intensive farming would require an unprecedented burden of cross-continental, cross-governmental regulation. And while I have every sympathy for the plight of chickens, perhaps such efforts could be directed first to helping out the man who sleeps in a box outside my local Sainsbury and thinks he's still on HMS Coventry. Right. Who wants to move this on to foie gras?
  23. Really? Was sure both things happened around the turn of the millennium. While I can't argue from knowledge, the New York Times seems to tally with the memory. Oh, and since we're doing press clips, it seems lan Yau has just sold out of his only two starry locations, Hakkasan and Yauatcha. Wonder if he knows something we don't? And finally: just back from an epic at Aikens. If that's not viewed as two-star quality, then there's nothing else in London deserves to be either. Surely to hell this must be his year for an upgrade?
  24. That's where you're wrong. Back to the editing issue: I'd not be particularly surprised if there were alternate reaction shots made for the slebs, as the likelihood of at least one requiring to drop out mid-series is pretty high. After all, these are the type of people for whom panto is their annual money-spinner. I doubt the practice is that common though the industry though. Recently saw an episode of some ill-conceived nonsense featuring Angela Hartnett and that odious Burton Race man where, over the end credits, they admitted on voice-over that one contestant couldn't be arsed going on to the next round and the runner-up would be featuring in future programmes. If there had been any editing slack, surely that's the kind of thing they'd be avoiding.
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