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Jon Tseng

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  1. Taking a slightly contrarian stance, I wonder if the eG Ethics code is a category error. What I mean is this: A restaurant review (certainly in the North American style) sets itself up as an objective assessment (multiple visits, clear description, quantitative score). A weblog on the other hand sets out the blogger's point of view/experience. There is no explicit obligation to be correct and accountable in every detail (I guess this is analogous to the distinction between and infotainment ). I would go further in fact; in some respects that fact one has received a comp is part of the blogger's experience. If someone offers you a free wine tasting and fifteen course foie gras degustation, you can't argue that doesn't makes you happy (unless, perhaps, you're a member of PETA ). And the fact you are happy very much informs what you write on your weblog. In this context I wonder if the problem is not that the blogger isn't disclosing correctly, or isn't signing up to some arbitrary ethics code. It's that the reader is confusing a blog with a restaurant review, hence what I mean by "category error" (perhaps this is simply an elegant restatement of "caveat emptor"). -------------------- On the other hand some blogs themselves have moved more to providing reviews or being seen as definitive authorities in their local area (often unintentionally), so in practice the distinction between the categories is more fluid that I outline above. Or to turn it around, having blogs sign up to an ethics code, pushes them more to becoming part of the category of restaurant reviews. Or to restate it another way, the current ethics code could be published as the eGullet Restaurant Reviewers Code with minimal changes. (i.e. the logical implication is Ethics Code = Restaurant Code -> Food Blog = Restaurant Review). The problem is if you follow this logic to its ultimate conclusion then you lose the personal perspective (with all its biases - qv foie gras example above) which are part of making a blog what it is. If I am correct then I think the answer is not to have an ethics code, rather to have more education on what a blog is (and what it is not). J
  2. The bringing together of food websites was a founding concept of eGullet. ← Oh yes, you're right. I'd completely forgotten that! http://web.archive.org/web/20010806023705/...ww.egullet.com/ I suppose at the time all the individual affiliate sites were like analogous to individual blogs. I guess the analogy is that over time eGullet consolidated many of the old affiliate websites (e.g. Andy Lynes old site or fat-guy.com). I think it would be harder to achieve that now - the whole point of blogs and the blogosphere is that its led to fragmentation of internet food discussion. It has achieved this by structurally lowering the barriers to entry for setting up a website. I think ultimately blogs mean that megaforums get a smaller slice of the pie, although of course the pie itself may be larger. J
  3. Evening all. Just been ruminating recently on how the rise of food blogs has impacted food forums such as eGullet et al. There has undoubtedly been an impact but I'm unclear what it has been. Some observations (in no apparent order). Apologies if there is already a thread on this and I've missed it. If there is pls merge. ** Food blogs mean less content for food forums. This is the simple observation that in the days before food blogs were mainstream, I assume most of the user generated content on them would have had to have been posted onto a food forum like eG if the authors wanted to present it to the wider world. ** Food blogs have grown the market for internet food writing. Food forums tend to be more niche / specialist / geeky (call it what you will). Food blogs (or blogs in general) are a more mainstream form of media. ** Food blog authors can (sometimes) provide welcome new blood to food forums. There is a symbiotic relationship here - often food bloggers post content (or partial content) on food forums in order to promote and drive traffic to their blogs. However while some don't add more beyond this (a practice I disapprove of), others also contribute to the forums they post on. Many of the enthusiastic new board members I have observed on eG and other boards have come from the food blogger community. ** Food blogs are not food forums. Just to make that point before someone else does. Yes they are different things - obviously food forums more interactive. But there are overlaps in form and function. ** Food blogs mean the online food community is more fragmented. I think this is the biggest negative impact - previously internet food content was driven and centralised on the big food forum sites because there as no other outlet. Now food blogs and linking to other blogs etc provide alternative venues for that content. I think this diminishes the centrality of the food forum in the ecosystem, although as I noted the ecosystem itself has been grown by the explosion in blogs and blog readership. ** People are more likely to be passive participants in food blogs. i.e. just readers. This is sort of a truism given what I noted earlier that food forums are more interactive. And the counter argument to this would be that are also innumerable lurkers on food forums too... Any thoughts welcome. J
  4. Hullo Bella. Yes, normalyl amazon just gives you access to front, back and a randon excerpt. However note that the "Search Inside The Book" allows you to search for a particular text string. The search result then gives you access to that page and a couple before and after it. If you know you're looking for, say, "Black Cod" in the nobu cookbook that makes it pretty easy to track down a particular recipe as they are rarely more than a page or two. I'm not sure what the copyright complexities are around this (maybe saving the pages amazon brings up is not permitted?), but I've used this quite successfully when I've been round my mums house and been trying to track down a recipe I know I have in one of my books at home. Regards J
  5. Thuries Magazine (http://www.thuriesmagazine.fr/) is excellent for very high end stuff. I used to have a subscription delivered from France UK, so I assume they do mail out internationally. Regards Jonathan
  6. Bear in mind if you know what recipe you are looking for, the Amazon Search Inside the Book features is ridiculously useful for pulling out particular recipes. Regards J
  7. Three observations: 1) The alc is already shorter than it used to be. There used to be five-ish courses on each course. 2) NB if you order alc you still generally (or at least you used to) get various starters pre starters and in between bits. So to be honest you're not massively missing out versus degustation. 3) Although bear in mind you could still pretty much order two full alcs per head and come out with the same bill as degustation at a French three star (I figure the going rate is now 220 Euros or 220 quid including service, versus 196 quid for two alcs at Fat Duck?). With regard to Robyns reservations about going degustation, I would tend to agree, but point out there are broadly two species of dg in posh restaurants. a) The "theme park" dg which is pretty inflexible and is generally priced at a EUR30 premium to the alc. Very much cashing in due to a) lower wastage and b) the fact you don't generally get more food than the alc (in fact often you get less), you just get slightly more choice (invariable a foie gras starter, a shellfish starter, a turbot based main and a beef/lamb/venison main). Fat Duck, Gordon Ramsay and Le Manoir are good exemplars of this. b) The "alc en demi" dg where you basically take the alc but split the starter and main en demi so you get four courses not two. This is generally better value, less "theme park" style and more original/varied. This is more common in French kitchens (where I think there is generally a higher skill level and more ability to be flexible like this). Not usual in UK. I would not go for a), but b) is normally a decent bet. J
  8. I understand the macarons that Laduree sell in Harrods and Picadilly are made offsite in a kitchen on an industrial estate in Ealing. How is this any different? J
  9. No no, there is no textural problem for a whole leg or even a part. There is no problem with texture and the duck certainly does not end up stringy! Remember virtually any description of confit you will have ever read in the printed media would have been prepared under the traditional method i.e. 2-3 hours in the fat. Now in theory the shrinkage in the meat would be more than under sous vide, but it really doesn't make that much difference. There is also probably lower margin for error in overcooking, particularly on the stove top (I prefer to use a low oven rather than a stove top nowadays). Personally I worry that slow cooking for a very long time would lose flavour from the meat to the fat (remember fat is a very good carrier of flavour molecules), although adding aromatics to the fat or using sous vide to reduce the amount of fat would ameliorate the situation. Remember sous vide / low temp is one method but it is not the answer to everything. I've had more than enough pappy flavourless 56c beef to teach me that! To be honest badly done or stringy duck confit is generally the fault of the chef rather than the method. Tough or dry confit is generally either due to way too aggressive cooking temperatures, or leaving it too long in the frying pan when you reheat. J
  10. Not convinced confit duck takes that long. Quick round-up from my bookshelf: Larousse (Goose): 2 hours. James Peterson: 2-3 hours. Michel Roux Jr: 2 hours or until tender. Harold McGee: Several hours. Robuchon: 1hr 40 for duck, 2 1/2 hr for goose. Marco Pierre White: 1 1/4 hours. Nico Ladenis: 1-3 hours. Gordon Ramsay: 1 1/2 -2 hours. The Roux Brothers: 1 hr 20 mins. Alice Waters: 1 1/2 hours. Jeremiah Tower: 1 1/2 hours. Now that is not to say sous vide-ing for half a day isn't a superior or more consistent method of preparing goose-fat-poached-duck-leg-sous-vide. But that's not confit in the garbure-on-the-side-with-pomme-sarlardaise-to-go sense. Generally a traditional confit is prepared in a much briefer time, and over a higher temperature (either just bubbling fat on the stovetop of a oven in the 120-150c range). Or to put it another way the traditional method has worked perfectly well for hundreds of years. It fits easily into your time budget. Why not try it? J PS If you do feel like being non-traditional I've found that brining is a useful alternative to salting. Adding aromatics to the brine gives for scope for them to flavour the meat (and of course if you are cooking for a shorter period of time it will mean, conversely, any aromatics you add to the fat will have less time to flavour the meat. I quite like the brine recipe from Heston Blumenthals duck jambonettes, which used to be on the fat duck cheapo lunch set many many years ago: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/200...ddrink.shopping
  11. but duck confit cooks normally in two or three hours. its the salting/brining that takes forever - hard to accelerate that no?
  12. Oxfords not a great town for food. Too much of the trade is students to support that many decent places.
  13. You're better of with one of the trad places. Now if you're going on a straight hunt for the best cakes or nicest macarons I'd definitely recommend sketch. The patisserie is some of the best in London (tho that's not saying much) and the macs kick ladurees arse. However for afternoon tea you want the whole shebang - bone china, cucumber sandwiches, silver plated cake stands, comfy seats and maybe violins in the corner. Sketch parlour can do bits and pieces of that but it's not full English so to speak - it's not meant to be. So tea - a nice phat hotel. Cakes - Sketch. J
  14. Not quite sure what people are getting so het up about. Definite hints of tall poppy syndrome here. If it is as Jay Rayner outlined in his blog the other day, then it's basically sensible portfolio management. As the risk of the portfolio goes up (recession) you lower the risk exposure of your portfolio (transfer liabilities to your better capitalised partner). So what. That's not the same thing as closing up shop. I'm sure the same people cooking in the kitchen today are the same people cooking there last week. Sure, the business may change over time as the owners have their say, but that's hardly new. Any business will change over time as the owners have their say - it's whats called day-to-day management. What was more unusual, as Jay pointed out, was the original ownership structure, not the consultancy model its moved to. Big deal. After all Robuchon does a straight consultancy gig at Robuchon at the Mansion and Vegas and that gets, what, three michelin stars? J
  15. Nope. Never been near an accountancy exam in my life. You'll have to try harder than that. j
  16. Employee costs totalled 34% of full year revenues. It would be slightly higher as a % of total costs given you will be stripping operating profit out of the denominator. I would assume GRH would have a lower than normal contribution to costs from rent due to their special hotel deals, and high contrib from cost of sales and staff due to their high end positioning. Ta J
  17. Clearly that must mean a LOT of people on VERY low wages - but nevertheless it'd be interesting to hear just how that average was calculated (accounting for staff turnover, 'part-timers', etc). If its wages divided by full-time headcount, then actually rather more than half are going to be getting below that 'average'. ← The calc is based on group wage cost divided by average monthly employees. I does not specify full time employees so there may well be part timers in here. Clearly if you took only FTEs then average wage may be slightly higher. Then again the calc also includes the three directors who accounted for about £2m of the 14m employee costs. Strip these out and average wage per employee comes down a bit. Given the disproportionate weighting here I think it is likely your assertion than median < mean is correct. J
  18. Pulled the accounts from Companies House. Relatively straightforward and only cost a quid (I'm sure it used to be more). And surprisingly for private company accounts the AR is relatively comprehensive. As BertieWooster suggests the comments about covenant breach are in the accounting policies rubric, not the main body of the report. This suggests that the breach is more recent than the report date of August 2007. This is backed up the numbers, in that the Aug07 ratios look pretty benign. Net debt/EBITDA was 0.91x at Aug07 which is very comfortable (normally >3x is a danger sign). Interest coverage was 14.4x (<3x generally seen as a risk). I would be very surprised if the firm was in breach at Aug07. David Goodfellow's concerns about the trade payables balance are overblown, IMHO. Trade creditors were £4.724m, flat on £4.759m in 2006. Days payable (how many days on average before you pay your suppliers) was 85.5 slightly up on 84.8 the previous year. Sure its not great the suppliers have to wait three months to get their cash, but that's life. Remember £5m is a big number in absolute terms but should be put in context of a £42m revenue line. Other points of interest (though bear in mind these are all Aug07 accounts so wildly out of date): ** As has been pointed out revenues grew 9.1% Y/Y. Although bear in mind I'm sure there were new openings (paid for by capex which would not go through the P&L) so like-for-like growth would have been lower than that. ** Directors report suggests Petrus is due to reopen as a standalone restaurant in Sep09. We shall see. ** New agreement signed to continue to run the Savoy Grill when it reopens (i.e. won't be pulling out of this as they did with Connaught). ** Gross margins of 48% look nice. If you consider in a high end restaurant food costs would be a third of the bill and some staff costs would also be in there they are doing well. ** 35% P&L tax rate looks pretty clean although cash taxes paid have fallen from £594K to £101K (gold star for the tax accountant). ** Other short term debtors have jumped from £3.5m to £8.4m. This is normally a negative sign as it represents sums due to you in the near term which you have not collected in cash. Inventories are down 2% however, which is a sign of efficient working practices (i.e. sales are up 9% but they are doing that with 2% less stock on hand). ** GRH apparently has a 25% stake in Red Fort Ltd, which is listed as a furniture retailer (!). ** Loans are at 200bp over LIBOR. Given plummenting interest rates this means interest charges will be coming down significantly (good for those debt covenants). As mentioned in the press the refinancing with RBS gives the firm £10.5m of liquidity which sounds like plenty of headroom to me. Also as report, the directors have various personal guarantees out on the loan facility (£1.6m for GR himself). ** There are also £3.5m of non-cancellable leases outstanding (effective off-balance sheet debt), although most of this is due in more than five years. ** Company has a £724K loan currently outstanding to GR. Directors were paid £2.1m in total for the year. ** The business employs 801 staff (713 restaurant staff). Average wage was £15,739 (which says it all about the industry, really). Quite an interesting read. But remember the last stat. There's 801 ppl not earnings a particularly comfortable wage who's livelihoods are wrapped up in this. And for the dedicated consumers among you that includes a large part of London's fine dining scene. So its not all about Big Sweary. J
  19. No, chicken breast should be moist and juicy inside but not pink. That is taking it too far. Now in Japanese food there are sometimes examples of chicken sashimi, but apart from that chicken should be cooked opaque through, certainly in western cuisine (I suspect there is also a food safety salmonella/listeria angle too). Now I think there is a strong case that pork loin should be served slightly pink (like veal), particularly as the trichosis worm is killed by freezing, but don't think same logic applies to fowl J
  20. The alc prices at le manoir are within the bounds of reason for the type. They are comparable/slightly cheaper to the Waterside, which sounds about right even their comparative stature. The degustation (116/95) is a little on the steep side and is probably a big money spinner given, in my experience, a lot of the diners go for the tasting menu. The set lunch (49) is expensive for its type. When I first went it was 28 quid and one of the finest bargains in the land. Since then the price has steepled precipitously - cf how the price for a set lunch in London has remained around the 25-35 mark. That's competition for you. But as people have pointed out it is still a snip compared to **s in France. Particularly at current exchange rates. The main criticism of le manoir is that long ago it deteriorated a sort of theme park of well-padded home counties matrons and highly paid american expats. Viz the chintzy range of xmas, new year type special weekend programs (sometimes with prices rising into four figures). The food itself I find relatively uninspiring; the combinations are relatively traditional and portions have always been pretty miserly (the prices don't make it feel any better). Someone I met in the trade once called it a "pleasure palace" which pretty much sums it up - corporate theme park rather than chef-patron owned hotel. Viz the helipad. The epitome of this was a few years back when they tried to abandon the alc and just offer the degustation menu. They dressed this up as offering the diners the chance to sample the best of RBs cuisine when it was a pretty transparent attempt to shift everyone onto a production line high-margin-low-wastage menu. Thankfully they saw sense. Note on the corporateness think there have been several changes of ownership. Think sold out to Richard Branson at one point and then he in turn sold out a while ago. RB still involved but there are other owners too. Which is not to say I hate the place. I have had some thrilling meals here in the past - I particularly remember a dish of roast suckling pig with apricots from the lunchtime set which was one of my earliest haute cuisine experiences. But now I think its a place which has rested on it laurels. It reminds me of last year when I bookended skiing with trips to Bocuse and Troisgros. Bocuse had ossified as he rested on his laurels. Pretty but corporate. Troisgros was a grand classic which had moved with the times and modernised, but still retained some soul. Le Manoir reminds me of Bocuse. J PS On a slightly unrelated note I was interested to see Raymond Blancs first wife (the one who started the Maison Blanc cake shops) was completely airbrushed out of the autobio he was flogging at xmas time. Bad show. (they again I noticed his face appeared on maison blanc branded chilled puds they are selling in waitrose, so perhaps things have thawed somewhat).
  21. Never heard anyone raving about that place before. Its one of the random Japanese places in Soho like Ikkyu which have been going for years right? Generally standard in Chinatown isn't great - its too orientated to the boozy Leicester Square crowd. If you want decent Japanese diner in the West End your best bet is hiking up to Soho Japan near Oxford Circus. J
  22. I am still struggling to see Marcus Wareing getting three stars. I know he is a fine chef and has stated publically he is shooting for the highest honours, but the his food simply is not distinctive. Eat blind at any three star and you would be able to identify the restaurant from the dishes on the plate. I simply don't see that with MW@B. J
  23. Oh that happened to us a few years ago. Had just got to the nitro lime mousse thing when the power blew. In the end we went back to Ickenham for a Chinese takeaway. They comped us the wine though. Knew we should have gone for the Petrus. J
  24. I don't think this is an Escoffier recipe. One Duke of Wellington was about a hundred years before Escoffier. Two filet de boeuf en croute is pretty hoary French classic - I would be surprised if it was a late C19 invention. Crepe is indeed the traditional "classic" recipe. More specifically a layer of duxelles is spread on the crepe and it is then wrapped around the fillet (so it goes puff pastry - crepe - duxelles - beef). I would assume more modern chefs omit it because the crepe obviously makes things a bit heavier and doesn't contribute much to the flavour. J
  25. The club gascon outlet on the second floor does a duck burger with foie gras (I think they call it duck liver or something on the menu - presumably so as not to scare the locals or PETA supporters) which sounds nice. Although by the time I got there they have closed down and were just selling sodding chips. Bring a decent pair of walking shoes. You'll need them. J
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