Jump to content


participating member
  • Posts

  • Joined

  • Last visited

Everything posted by naebody

  1. Perhaps this is all an elaborate practical joke. Venison in brown sauce? Halibut Nicoise? Steak with Jenga-stacked chips and Iceberg garnish? The chef has to be aware that such dishes are already available in this country via our extensive network of Brewers Fares and Travel Taverns. I can only assume he's making fun of Britain's lack of culinary distinction. "Regardez les rosbifs," Ducasse is chortling. "Paiement par le nez pour un menu cela embarrasserait un 1960s Little Chef." Perhaps in a week or two, once the joke palls, he'll open the real restaurant. Hopefully.
  2. This could be seen as a way to maintain a sense of exclusivity. Want to create a destination restaurant? Then make sure your visitors have to treat your restaurant as a destination. Lots of good restaurants make capital of their inaccessability -- from El Bulli to The Three Chimneys. If Ramsay were to open on the Champs-Elysées, he'd be squaring off against every other kitchen in Paris. No matter how good, the level of local competition would mean that the place risked being anonymous. But by opening in the sticks, he's creating a venue for American and British tourists who want the safety of brand recognition, and are prepared to invest time and money that will guarantee them a "dining experience". (My book, Ramsay and the Art of Chest-Hair Maintenence, is due in 2008.)
  3. In a sense. Think of it more as an exercise in making GRH big enough to catch Ramsay when he falls. He will become the company figurehead, heading up a unit that sells lobster ravioli to holidaymakers while the £5 oxtail soup concept is rolled out nationwide. Nothing can make you invulnerable to tabloid sludge and public weariness. But, once there is an aggregation of power, the financial damage will rarely be fatal. This is a well-trodden path for dealing with charismatic leaders. For example, the EasyJet moneymen did much the same with Stelios, a man whose ego easily equals our Glaswegian friend. Another item for the prosecution: there's no single brand for the gastropubs. Someone's chosen to sacrifice the priceless recognition value you'd get from rolling out a chain of Little Swearys. Not to ride on the Ramsay hype seems counter-intuitive. But I guess that this way, investors (of which he is the largest) may still have a viable business once Rambo meets his destiny.
  4. Official opening last night (Giorgio L., Tom A. and Marcus W. in attendance, according to a diary item in the Evening S. My invite must've been lost in the post.) The race starts now for the first punter review.
  5. www.lecafeanglais.co.uk. Anyone been yet? Passed by on Sunday (they were closed). Very big place, tricked out like a Paris cafe that's been stuck incongruously in the corner of a food court at the top of Whitleys shopping centre, Bayswater Road. Quite a long, bistro menu, priced ambitiously for the location (mains averaging around £22). They were in soft opening and offering 50% off food, although I don't know how long that will last.
  6. Am I talking to myself here? It's transparently obvious what the plan is. Everything GRH does at the moment is being done because it will look good on a Powerpoint presentation. Within the next year or so, you're going to get the chance to buy shares in the group. They're preparing to convince you (or, more likely, your pension fund) that it's a good deal. Why open gastropubs? Because they're a means of expanding the business without diluting Brand Ramsay. Why is it being done by buying struggling businesses rather than with newbuilds? Because everyone knows that the gastropub market is already saturated. This way, investors can be told: "under its old ownership, this pub made £1,000 a week. Three months after we took it over, it was making £10,000." They're not creating new businesses, they're applying efficient management and economies of scale to old ones. Why the odd locations? Because there's only one Mayfair, but there are a thousand Maida Vales. There's no reason why a formula that works in the affluent suburbs of London cannot work in the affluent suburbs of anywhere. Therefore: limitless expansion potential. Why the lack of publicity? Because if every new opening came with the usual Ramsay circus, there would be a law of diminishing returns. The hype attached to The Narrow established in most people's minds that Walnuts was moving into gastropubs. Now the trick is to keep the buzz local. Most of the folk of Chiswick will be aware that one has opened on their doorstep, but I doubt many other Londoners would have noticed. So, when one opens on their doorstep, it'll be a more exciting prospect than a Carluccio's or a branch of Chicken Cottage. What happens to the destination restaurants? I'd guess this part of the business will become more like a talent agency. It'll "nurture" Angela, Sarge, Mark, Bjorn et al, who will ride in the slipstream of Ramsay's Don King-style hype as he opens in Nobu-ish locations (I'm thinking LA, Miami, Paris, Qatar, Dubai, Shanghai). This is going to be a separate division from the gastropub business, and may well be a different company entirely. What happens to Ramsay himself? He will move from being rich to being un-be-lievably rich. (Anyone doubting this motive need only watch his adverts for BT, Gordon's Gin, Threshers, etc. etc. etc.)
  7. All the things you highlight would point towards the flotation of GRH sometime within the next 18 months. There was a rash of articles a while back that he was looking to the City for capital. The City, I'm sure, will have told him that he would need to de-Bransonise the company. Nobody wants to invest in a one-man, one ring circus, no matter how big that ring may be. But does Gordon really need the money? Well, the first thing to note is how much money it'd be. Let's say GRH hits its target of £100m turnover next year (up from c.£30m in 2004, apparently). If he's making a 10% pre-tax margin on that and the business is valued at 15 times earnings (fair for that kind of growth) you're looking at a company worth £150m. Remember that's for the GRH group alone, rather than for Ramsay the Entertainer. It would not alter his ability to make reality TV and shill for Threshers -- activities which, I'd guess, now provide 90% of his income. So, by floating the restauraunts, he'll be swapping a barely significant slice of his pay packet for a whacking great lump sum and regular dividends that'll see him through to his pension. The standard routine would be for Gordon to take a c.£50m windfall and stay on as "executive chairman" with a >30% stake. Key staff could be optioned up, while early investors (of which there must be many) would be given the chance to cash out. The company will probably raise some fresh money as well, with a lot of stuff in the prospectus about expansion and bolt-on acquisitions. The stealth openings you note would indicate that the company will be split into two divisions -- casual and posh -- in the hope that they can protect the premium brand while expansion accelerates. As for the hotel franchises, this looks like a pruning back of anything that's not under sufficient group-level control. Such contracts are okay when you're a private business, which can absorb cashflow fluctuations. But when you're publicly owned, even one slip will result in a profit warning and an often fatal loss of credibility among shareholders. As I say, the IPO willl probably happen within the next 18 months or so. The first thing to look for will be the appointment of a serious City person to GRH's board (my money would be on Stephen Gee). The second clue will be when Walnuts gives an interview that lambasts the quality of provincial gastropub food, and wishes a GRH-certified offalhouse on every town.
  8. Since this is all getting a bit heated, does anyone want to lighten the mood with a game of bullshit poker? Whoever finds the highest number of redundant phrases within one sentence wins. Published foodie works only. (No drink, as that makes the game too easy.) I'll open with this, an article on pizza, from that BP mainstay Restaurants & Institutions. "The only hard-and-fast rule for success is to provide an easy point of entry for diners, whether through the use of fresh, seasonal products or by incorporating on-trend flavor profiles as an anchor in familiar elements." Anyone want to raise?
  9. I like the way you do business. Roast. It's within walking distance of the City but isn't too City-ish, in a location that's both easy to find and atmospheric for out-of-towners. You can usually pitch up without booking, the room's rarely too empty or too full, the menu's not too pricey without being cheapo, and the food rarely goes below a B+. I guess its rocky opening knocked it off the radar of most foodies.
  10. Thought the word was a bit more specific than that. The pork chop was so rancid it felt like sherbet in my mouth. The pork chop was so rancid it had a sherbet mouthfeel. (Enjoy your dinner, folks.)
  11. Talc and sherbet have a similar texture but a very different ... er ... you know.
  12. In defence of pot roasted and pan fried: My local Tesco sells a frozen bag of something called roast potatoes. My local Wetherspoons will serve you a plate of reshaped grissle and pulp and call it a Sunday roast. These are among the biggest companies in the land, and what they do has a significant influence on public perception. You can't blame the menu writers for trying to create a distinction, even if the English language will often be caught in the crossfire. I'd be happy to order "fish" from a menu I trusted. But if I had any doubts, I wouldn't be reassured by "fried fish" -- all those connotations of unhealthiness and the industrial deep fat fryer. "Pan fried fish", however, suggests a cook at a stove. It says "your meal will be given personal attention". Similarly potatoes: "roast" could well have come from a catering pack, whereas "roasted" suggests your spud has seen the inside of an oven. Mash can come from a packet, wheras "crushed potatoes" cannot. Chips could be frozen, oven or micro, whereas "triple-cooked chips" indicates that I'll be paying the kitchen to do something I could never be bothered with at home. It's sad that the purveyors of crap have made this rearguard action necessary. Happily. But is there a synonym?
  13. You know the rote about how every buyer of The Velvet Underground & Nico started a band? I'd suggest something similar happened with journalism and readers of Visions Before Midnight. His review of The Incredible Hulk alone was fundamental to my career path (I use this term in the same sense that a bluebottle has a flight path). Anyway, back to the matter in hand. Some leeway should be given for menus and recipes written by cooks, as catering colleges don't teach semantics. But those who write for a living should remember that only the best and worst of their kind will routinely coin their own phrases. Be sure to know which camp you're in before appropriating jargon from CSI Miami. </POMPOUS>
  14. Am reminded of Clive James's campaign against situations, as in "the Ugandan situation" (meaning Uganda) and "the electoral situation" (meaning the election). This dilution of the language is so commonplace we barely notice it any more, and it will happen for as long as journalists are pseudish, lazy, and paid by the word. Food writing is merely the tip of the insipid metaphor. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to lodge a few lines in defence of eaterie. I rather like the word. Its unspecificness carries an arch, condescending tone that restaurant or cafe cannot convey. In fact, the genericness of its meaning profile leads me to use it in all sorts of different discussion situations.
  15. Once in the vortex school of poaching, I switched to the radical new clingfilm method after reading this. Not only does it work perfectly, you can par-cook a whole batch in one pot then revive them when needed. This is the revolution, people. This is the future. Of eggs.
  16. I'm told* that Peter Ackroyd's new book repeats the story that crayfish were first introduced into the Thames by a careless chef working near Bray. Anyone know if there's a grain of truth to that urban myth? (* Can't vouch for this, having not read it yet.)
  17. There's not a great choice at the Gate end. I tend to favour The Mall Tavern, which usually lands somewhere between between good and acceptable. (Its only real rival, The Mitre, is dreadful.)
  18. Oscar Tschirky knew what he was doing when he switched from toast to English muffin. Why mess with the classics?
  19. So, a mere 19 months after I recommended the place as possibly London's best Greek, you made the 5-minute trip from your front door to give it a go? That spirit of adventure could explain why it was empty on a Monday night.
  20. Interesting idea. You should pitch that to Channel 5. Perhaps call it "The Clandestine Chef", or "In Search of Dissimulation". I'd be interested to see the tie-in recipe book. I think you may be confusing cooking with TV. The experiments are not really experiments. They're just handy ways to demonstrate the bits of science that underpin what's going on. Rule 1 of telly: show, don't tell. Likewise the whole "perfection" concept. It's an excuse, not some holy grail. It's just a convenient justifification for our protagonist's Heinz Wolff antics. After 12 pages of discussion, I thought that this point at least had been accepted. I'd be surprised if some BBC Tristam did not pitch exactly this idea during the brainstorm. A money-shot-reliant gameshow format would have been ideal if the only motive was to entertain the proles and mouth breathers. Yet somehow, they emerged out of the bullshit room with a format capable of informing as well as entertaining. Probably through luck rather than design, they ended up with the only cooking show in two decades where the journey is more important than the arrival.
  21. Can't agree with you there. If you put aside the Top Gear Challenge stylings of the show, there remains at its core the admirable idea that anything not proven objectively could well be wrong. This, I thought, is the conceit on which Heston has built his reputation. Many seem to agree with you that by taking things to comically complex levels, the testing becomes an end in itself. To me, this view ignores the subjectivity of taste (another key Heston conceit). From a scientific standpoint, you will never find out if some fundamental process works if your findings are being altered, informed and distorted by everything from memory to misinformation. Hence the MRI. Ok, so some of the experiments are more about theatre than science. But it's still a welcome change from every other TV chef, still searing meat "to seal in the flavour" and adding lemon "to cut through the sweetness". Until Harold McGee gets given his own major prime-time documentary series, this will have to do.
  22. It all depends on how the request is phrased, I suspect. Anyone who's vegetarian, pregnant, spice averse or nut allergic knows the boundries by which you can tailor a menu. When handled diplomatically, switching the carb element of one course should be well inside those boundries. However, If you're just trying to redesign the dishes to match your own preference, you've completely missed the point of haute cuisine and the waiter is right to steer you away from such folly. Right, I'm off to Ramsays to order swan.
  23. That's a big, complex issue. The Guardian's special feature section will go some way to answering your questions. Menus from several local authorities can be found here, along with the price list (most UK school meals are state subsidised, but not free). Regional variations tend to make a nonsense of any nationwide assumption. For what it's worth: roughly half of primary school pupils (5-12) and about a third of secondary pupils (12+) eat school lunches. While both numbers have have been in gradual decline for decades, a sharp fall coincided with the widespread introduction of healthier menus a few years ago. Anecdotal evidence has suggested that children whose desire for junk food is matched by spending power are, in the main, choosing to buy it elsewhere. There is no substantive evidence to suggest that pupils without such resources are routinely choosing to go hungry rather than eat what's offered at school. Now that the factual stuff is out of the way, please accept this insomniac rant: If a kid wants burger and chips for lunch, as many invariably do, then they're welcome to go to the van parked at the school gates. If the parents choose, they're well within their rights to put a chip sandwich in their spawn's lunchbox. But that's no justification for my taxes to be paying for a tin of cow lips and a deep fat frier. Schools, from the classroom to the kitchen, should not seek inclusiveness by pandering to the lowest common denominator. Thanks.
  24. Apologies for starting a thread on such a lowly place, but this has been nagging at me for a few days now, and I want a second opinion. Went to The Running Footman, a Mayfair pub recently gastro-refurbed by the same peopple behind The Bull in Highgate and The House in Islington. Press had been glowing ("never less than excellent" said someone who wasn't Masch in the Standard, "an inviting mix of robustness and sophistication" according to Circeplum, twice included in Time Out's top five, etc. etc). It was a Friday night, so we went to the more formal (quite expensive) first-floor dining room rather than the noisy, jam-packed ground floor. First impressions were good: the waiter knew his stuff, the bread was fresh and there was a decent wine selection. Then to the starters, and oh dear. A "risotto with fine herbs, deep fried herbs and onion rings" was either undercooked by about 10 minutes, or had been made with an ordinary bag of long-grain. Claggy, without any evidence of the fried herbs. Onion rings were of the chip shop variety, plonked on top to no particular effect. Meanwhile, a parsnip soup was so bland it would have been suitable only for an intensive care ward. To the mains: the three pre-shelled langoustine in a tagliatelle were sorry little creatures that, if they had not been frozen, had certainly grown up in a very cold loch. Meanwhile, something had gone horribly wrong with the Gloucester old-spot. There was a black layer on the base, about as thick and resistant as a shoe sole. This consistency was echoed by the crackling, while the meat in the middle had reached a sticky, glue-like texture. So if the food's inedible, why not send it back? Fear, more than anything. We arrived (at 7:30) to an empty restaurant. By 8:05, when our food started arriving, every other seat had been taken. As the kitchen seemed incapable of dealing with our orders successfully, we were not confident to test what it would manage when it had 40 to deal with. Plus, the flaws seemed so fundamental that no amount of replating and reheating in the kitchen would improve matters. We settled the bill and fled. I'm genuinely interested to find another punter with experience of this place. If this were simply a disappointing meal, I'd chalk it up to experience. But I'm baffled as to how somewhere so well received can go so spectacularly wrong. Was the kitchen just having the mother of all mares on the day I visited, or are the critics all suffering some kind of communal delusion?
  25. So we're now debating the quality of yet-to-open restaurants by their prices? I've said it before but I'll say it again: this board has gone weird. Given the details we know so far, the place looks like it will be similar to his New York branch, Alain Ducasse at Essex House (or wherever it's now moved to). Therefore: three-star in style, splendour and wallet gouging, but it'll be a faithful "interpretation" rather than a clone of the Monaco experience. (This time last year we were equally excited about Joel Robuchon's arrival. And when was the last time anyone went there?)
  • Create New...