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Tim Hayward

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  1. I've been every day since it reopened - but then I work here. :-) Fitzbillies went bankrupt earlier this year after a long decline so my wife and I moved here from London, renovated and reopened in August. In spite of the usual ill-informed tosh on Tripadviser, the classic Chelsea Bun, for which the cakeshop is famous, remains exactly as it was - we rehired several of the old staff including the Head Baker, Gill, who's been here for 40 yrs. Most people remember the old place as dark, grubby and with unpleasantly rude staff so we've brightened things up, increased the size of the dining area and hired a lot of bright young things FOH. Now things are settling in, I'm pretty pleased with service levels. We are still a cakeshop, baking 50 lines of traditional British cakes, daily, from base ingredients and therefore the dining room is massively busy, particularly on weekend afternoons, serving tea and cakes - a meal we Brits have always consumed with a healthy side-portion of whinge :-) We've also culled out some space for a really good 'one big table' coffee shop. This entirely baffles some of the more traditional tea-botherers but given that the average student here probably drank their last flattie in Shoreditch, Sydney or Berkeley, we thought they deserved better coffee too. We've also introduced proper food at lunch (I'll try to attach yesterday's menu). We've hired Rosie Sykes as chef (Trained with Joyce Molyneux then Alistair Little, Shaun Hill and latterly at the Rochelle Canteen) along with Jack van Praag (Rose Bakery, Chez Panisse). The menu changes daily and all ingredients are from local farms and suppliers. We're also doing all our own preserves, terrines and charcuterie on site At the moment we're still settling in to balancing superb food with a tea & cake arrangement but we're getting there. The best news is that we should have our license within days and then we'll be serving dinner on Thurs, Fri and Sat evenings. That will be a chance to let the food and service shine - which we're all looking forward to. There's a website under construction at www.fitzbillies.com, though we're still awaiting bank clearance to get the online shopping part running As soon as we have working dates or early versions of evening menus I'll try to post them. I believe there's going to be a big feature on us in Observer Food Monthly the weekend after next and it should be online on the Friday. That will supply better pictures than I could - plus the story of the renovation project. (Hopefully)... below is yesterday's menu. I'm off to the kitchen now to work on our smoked salmon and the local duck ham. Thanks for your interest. I'm in here pretty much everyday so if you come, do, please, say hi. I'll probably drag you out to the kitchen and proudly show you the size of my lovely buns.
  2. I think you're right to be dubious, Paul. Researching the Guardian piece it became evident fairly early on that a) there was no real 'Ur-haggis' to refer to and b) all manner of utter bollocks is talked by those in the meat production chain when asked about anything they don't immediately have in stock. Haggis style preparation of the offal - and by that I mean chopping the bits up, shoving them into any conveniently bag shaped bit and boiling - may even predate pottery cooking vessels. It seems one of the most logical preparations at the location of the kill requiring only fire, knife and water. Though I haven't been able to trace a decent source, I know I've seen references to American cowboys cooking a haggis style dish with freshly killed buffalo and there are also references in the Iliad to cooking guts in the stomach. Depending on what was available, haggises could be made in bladders, stomachs, cleaned oesophagus, standard casings, colon, rectum, caul or, as you point out, a cloth bag. As with many foods so entirely ancient and largely supranational, authenticity is largely down to the semantics of definition. You can define haggis by the the contents, the container or the cooking method - there's even an argument that the only true definition is the nationality of the cook :-) We have no problem obtaining lungs here, though the windpipe is irritatingly and apparently quite arbitrarily removed. This is traditionally hung over the edge of the pot to drain mucus. I bought my lights from a West Country butcher where a set of lungs with heart and liver is called 'a hinge'. Butchers can easily sell the liver and kidneys separately so the definition is more a commercial consideration than anything else. I imagine a shepherd or farmer with a freshly slaughtered lamb, would regard any innard as a potential ingredient. There was no melt in my set but it would make a great addition - not sure it would replace the lung material. Rosemary is not what you'd imagine to be an 'authentic' Scottish ingredient but it seemed fun to add at the time. There was a lot of preliminary discussion of the project with Scottish foodies on various board. It's controversial but most agreed that the codification of haggis lore only really began with the invention of Burns Night. Up until that point it was an interesting rustic foodway with little consistency and, like many others worldwide, became a potent national, cultural and political symbol. Rosemary is native in the UK and I figured that the boar's head was bedeck'd with bay and rosemary long before the Chieftain o'the puddin' race was ever hymned. Good luck in your search for authenticity. However far you get, I hope you find, as I did, that the experiments are delicious. ETA: I was down in Italy last month working on a video of a rural pig-killing and sausage making. Take a look at the 'fegato' sausage being made by this family. Lung, tripe, liver, heart, melt herbs, chili and orange peel all shoved into a sausage skin. 'Haggis'? Almost certainly not. Delicious? Absolutely :-)
  3. Thanks all. It will be available on subscription internationally. At the moment, the engine we're using only enables us to price in UK£ but we're working on it. Postage to the US is, sadly, rather expensive. And yes please. The more submissions the better.
  4. After several years of whinging drunkenly about it we've finally got round to launching a food magazine. Fire & Knives will be a quarterly, subscription only, print mag that features full-length essays and photo stories. We're aiming to fill what we feel is a need amongst food lovers for more in-depth material that is perhaps covered in the mainstream food press. We want to run stories from established writers that might not get an airing elsewhere, to introduce new food writers and to publish stuff on food subjects from experts in other fields. We're not designed to make a profit... all the proceeds from subscriptions go to production, printing and distribution... but though we'll stay broke, we're not restricted by pressures of advertising or the audiences they want to reach. You can find more details about the magazine, including how to subscribe or submit material here. We'll also be posting regularly on the process of building and creating it on Twitter, Facebook, our own website and here. We're all insanely excited about the project and can't wait to get the inky little buggers in our sweaty hands but that's still a couple of months off. For now though, we'd really love to know what you think about the idea, the site, the cover designs, the kind of articles you'd like to see... in fact, any feedback at all...
  5. You're being ironic, right? ← Of course not. Restaurant PR's are vital. How would we know where to go, and what to eat without them? How would I know which were the new openings worth visiting? How would all these bloggers be able to sample lots of restaurants without the largesse of the PR's? Actually the last point does have a serious undertone. Lots of great bloggers retain an independent spirit and write about their personal food journey. But have the PR people now hooked into the blog world? Maybe I didn't notice it before but it is becoming increasingly prevelant. Two examples: I used to enjoy "World Foodie Guide", or "Gourmet Chick", quite fun, low key blogs written by passionate people finding their way around the food of London. But recently there are increasing numbers of posts about blogger gatherings arranged by restaurants, or books sent out for review. They strive to remain independent, but the sense of reality has been lost. I understand readers will vote with their mice. For me the attraction of the blog world is that it was independent. The influx of PR's will change this. Hopefully, there is enough quality out there for discriminating readers to still find independent thought. ← What Gordo's new flack has done is classic damage limitation PR. It works best when the client is already desperate. First read him the riot act until he gets some kind of perspective. Next offer an exclusive interview to a major paper in which your principal 'spills his guts'. A single outlet guarantees maximum control, ideally the revelations should be just painful enough to register as honesty. Meanwhile, out the back, dig an enormous hole and start burying stuff. Think how many politicians you've seen pull the same 'public apology' trick. Sure, there's a possibility this is honest and that no PR is involved. I'm prepared to believe that Gordon's entirely changed character and wants to reinvent himself as an honest craftsman driven by a love of cooking. I also believe in unicorns.
  6. I really hope this isn't going to shake the foundation of your belief system, Hearno but some papers have been known to make stuff up for a better story.
  7. While it shouldn't have any bearing, I still think that it probably will. So much of this list is about buzz. What makes the list somewhat plausible is that many, maybe even most of the restaurants that make it are deserving and arguably belong on the list. What makes the list something of a travesty is the poor execution when it comes to rating restaurants in Asia and japan. C'mon, Bukhara in Delhi is probably not even the best restaurant in Delhi let alone Asia. Granted it fell out of the top 50 last year. I suspect that you are right about the Scandinavians. I think that you will see some shuffling in the US with Alinea rising and Charlie Trotter falling. It will be interesting to see if any of the bistronomic restaurants will make the list. Momfuku Ssam Bar probably stands the greatest chance because of all the hype it has received. I wouldn't be surprised to see Bras and Gordon Ramsey fall as well. Bras because of many reports of slippage and GR because he seems to have taken a massive pr beating over the past year. We'll see. ← Smart call on Ramsay. I've just got back from the presentation and it was definitely a topic of conversation amongst journos. Supposedly the UK's top chef and he can't even get a sniff in the top 50. Even if it isn't a calculated snub it certainly compounds his recent woes.
  8. I think that's the nut of the problem right there. I've got a great local, with a chef I love, turning out great food. I go all the time and support what he's doing because it's good for him and good for me. By the sound of your comments, you're choosing a Ramsay gastropub because you believe that Ramsay should be out the back there, injecting a bit of his individuality. But the economics make that impossible. If you want a personal injection from Big Gordo, you've got to stump up for RHR. If you want a touch of Scrotum Chops' magic at diffusion prices you go to the gastropubs where the chefs will never be let off the lead because the customers demand Gordon's personal menu. You could easily say that, if he's not bashing pots himself he shouldn't have his name over the door - an argument I have a lot of sympathy with - but then you would have no point of differentiation from a thousand other competent gastropubs all over London. Gordon's trying to have his cake and eat it... but then so is anyone who's sucker enough to go to his gastropubs thinking they'll be any different.
  9. Ramsay's brand relationship with the gastropubs is fairly nuanced. There's very little Ramsay branding so it's possible to keep prices down and expectations accordingly controlled, yet they obviously never miss the opportunity to leverage the Ramsay name wherever possible. This is sharp but in no way illegal misrepresentation I would argue that anyone going into a gastropub and paying gastropub prices will get gastropub food. Anyone expecting any of the Ramsay magic under those conditions is party to a delusion. The way the brand is being run at the moment people are being drawn in by the Ramsay name but accusations like these are, understandably met with the entirely logical assertion that Gordon doesn't cook there, doesn't say he does, and has no real input other than menu consultancy - that's the same relationship Egon Ronay used to have with British Rail catering. Well it's not, is it? Pretty obviously. But then I don't remember anyone ever saying it was supposed to be. I don't think that's fair. In a single site professional kitchen, items like pies, fishcakes, individual stews etc will be batch made, once or twice per week, stored chilled and appropriately heated before serving. I've worked in restaurants so small that the chef did this; then in larger ones where the job was passed to someone further down the line and finally in some so big that a single cook would be assigned to nothing but pre-assembling a couple of dishes. If I ran three restaurants in the same town, serving the similar menus, why on earth would I not have this kind of work done in one place and transported. It makes total sense and implies precisely no compromise in quality (arguably, it makes quality control easier while keeping prices affordable). I would be really surprised if any of these dishes were microwaved. All require browning, gratineeing or some other finish which is quickly and easily achieved by a good line cook - that's if he's not stuck in the basement prepping fishcakes. I think it's fair to say I carry no torch for Big Sweary but this is just an ill-informed accusation that doesn't stand up. If anyone out there can get a photo of a Ramsoid taking delivery of premade pizza from a Brakes truck I'll bite, but what looks like a badly comped shot of a stock control tag is just evidence of, well, good stock control and the fact he's got some bloke in a van moving pre-prepped food between his kitchens is simply evidence of an efficiently run business.
  10. C'mon. Any multi-location catering operation that isn't consolidating some of its prep work across sites for economies of scale isn't thinking smart. If Ramsay's having his pies assembled by monkeys in a cheap industrial unit rather than having more expensive staff waste time doing it, he's being smart. The costly boys manning the ranges at the restaurants don't need to clock hours forming fishpatties. This is a huge non-story. What we should be asking is why a national newspaper with massive experience of bringing down celebs is bothering to cover something so unimportant so comprehensively - particularly when there are so many juicier Ramses stories buzzing around the rumoursphere My bet is that it's part of a campaign of attrition with the big endgame still to come.
  11. Up to a point Lord Copper. If this is to be believed they're going to be replacing the chef and renaming the joint within a month. How does Ramses consult on that? Unless, I suppose, it goes tits up and he gets to go back and do a Restaurant Nightmares on it.
  12. Thanks for the link Margaret. I think it's real issue and one that the online food community is ideally placed to discuss when the rest of the traditional media are not. Be glad to hear what anyone else thinks of this.
  13. The letter was written by a particularly talented creative called Oli Beale at ad agency WCRS. The company doesn't represent Virgin - their client list is a matter of public record... which pretty much stands to reason when you consider that nobody would be stupid enough to try to publicise an airline by saying that their food was rubbish. ...and no... before you say it, all publicity isn't good publicity - as any marketing pro will tell you. The agency doesn't represent any of Virgin's competitors either. What's really fascinating about this story is how fast a really funny bit of writing has created an online urban legend. The story started spreading early last week. The Telegraph picked it up long after Coldmud. Virgin PR may or may not have responded by inviting the writer to their kitchens but the Torygraph certainly reported it as fact in a follow up story. The idea of an ad agency copywriter being a suitable person to select food for Virgin customers on the basis of a well chosen phrase or two is patently absurd. Virgin know that, the Telegraph would know if they stopped to think for half a second and so should anyone reading the story. Personally I think it's one of the freshest bits of food writing I've seen come out of the UK in years. Virgin must, justifiably be seething, those of us interested in the way online amplifies consumer power should be delighted and WCRS should be thinking about how much extra they should be paying this guy to stop him leaving and taking Giles Coren's job. ...and for those of us who appreciate good writing... lets all go back and read it again.
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