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Peter Green

London Calling

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I'll be finding myself in London again. A handful (which is three, I have small hands) of nights next week, and a slightly longer debauch in November as I take care of some business.

I'll be down around Trafalgar Square and the Strand, so what would be nice places for lunch, or further afield for dinner? I'll make reservations to get back to St. John for a meal, but beyond that I have little plans or biases.

Advice, please?

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I'll be finding myself in London again.  A handful (which is three, I have small hands) of nights next week, and a slightly longer debauch in November as I take care of some business.

I'll be down around Trafalgar Square and the Strand, so what would be nice places for lunch, or further afield for dinner?  I'll make reservations to get back to St. John for a meal, but beyond that I have little plans or biases.

Advice, please?

Anchor & Hope if you dare cross the river and don't mind hanging around in a decent boozer, otherwise Great Queen Street for similar food but bookable.

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Going past The Strand almost down to the Tower of London, great lunches to be had at Grazing, 19-21 Great Tower St. Eat in or takeaway to sit by the river or tower, rotisseried meats a speciality, all sandwiches made to order with or without your choice of (fantastically popular) crackling, stuffing, roast potatoes and veg or piled into a Yorkshire Pud. See Time Out for pix and fuller review or go to www.grazingfood.com.

And enjoy your visit.

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An excellent start, what with a decent boozer and the prospect of sandwiches with crackling!

:biggrin:

Aside from St. John, who else is doing good things with offal?

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St. John is OK but hardly revelatory in its offal cooking. Indeed a slight bugbear is that they charge £18 or so for £2 worth of ingredients cooked well enough but not better than a good home cook would do on a hurried weekday evening. I wouldn't make a special journey but I do like it, and the puddings are really good.

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In line with Muichoi comments above, it appears St John has raised prices and dropped standards since reopening after summer refurbishments.

Check the recent Dos Hermanos review:

http://www.doshermanos.co.uk/2008/09/st-jo...her-of-man.html

Alternatives, together with Great Queen St and Anchor & Hope, include Hereford Road.


Food Snob

foodsnob@hotmail.co.uk

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Darn.

It has been, I must admit, some three years or more since I was there.

Everything is transitory, I suppose.

But let's see what else there is!

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Just an update....

The first trip, a couple of weeks ago, was marginal. but much of that was my fault. I gave in to the sin of trying to accommodate the people who were with me.

There were a couple of decent meals, on in Reading and the other at the New Mill. Those I need to write and put up the posts.

But, now, I'm back, and I should make the time to try and write this up.

Gary Rhodes W1 brasserie tonight. I was on the way back home, and they could fit me in. A very good meal, and they allowed me to order some dishes from the "fine dining" side, so I'll have some good things to say.

I have reservations for Arbutus on Friday for lunch (I have some people from up-country coming down to meet me, so I figured I should feed them well), but otherwise I'm at loose ends thinking of my remaining meals.

I'll be based around Tottenham Ct tube station. What do you recommend for lunch and dinners?

And I promise to write properly.....soon.....

Peter

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Dear Peter,

Previously, you asked where one could enjoy some decent offal. I suggested a few names, one of which, since your last post, I have been able to try - Hereford Road.

Here is the link to the write-up:

My lunch at Hereford Road

That day, they had calves' brain, duck liver, sweetbreads, tongues...plenty of tasty bits and bobs. The menu changes twice a day.

What other sorts of restaurants are you interested in?


Food Snob

foodsnob@hotmail.co.uk

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Dear Peter,

Previously, you asked where one could enjoy some decent offal. I suggested a few names, one of which, since your last post, I have been able to try - Hereford Road.

Here is the link to the write-up:

My lunch at Hereford Road

That day, they had calves' brain, duck liver, sweetbreads, tongues...plenty of tasty bits and bobs. The menu changes twice a day.

What other sorts of restaurants are you interested in?

Great Queen's is on the list for this run, and, having read about what Pemberton's doing at Hereford,....well...you had me at "brains".

But, do I need to buy a trenchcoat to go there?

:)

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There, I'm done.

Not writing, of course. That's ahead of me now.

I've completed both the planned trips, and I look forward to a 5:00 a.m. drive to LHR tomorrow morning.

Of the two trips, the first did a good job of teaching me lessons for the second (not that I can learn).

I'll be on another continent tomorrow, at which point I'll get down to the task of reviewing these last meals. Somewhat like a druid scrying the entrails.

At least Vancouver will give me some time to rest.

Cheers, and thanks everyone, for your recommendations.

Peter

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a bit late, but next time you're in the tottenham court area, there is a new, small place which is apparently very good - la gioconda dining room. recently closed as the chef broke his arm, it is now reopen for lulnch until the end of the year, and then lunch and dinner as of january.

-che

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I was going to say Giaconda too, I haven't been but it seems to be the place to investigate. If you want some cakes and tea, though, Maison Bertaux in Greek Street, in Soho, about a 5 minute walk from Tottenham Crt Rd has amazing pastries; the Foyles bookshop cafe (just behind Tottenham Crt Rd) has a nice relaxed atmosphere and good coffee, though the cakes are a bit wrong; and the Konditor & Cook cafe in the Soho Curzon cinema are all good bets. Oh, and Flat White in Berwick Street has great coffee too! And of course Fernandez & Wells in Beak Street.

For food, some places that I always find reliable and pretty delicious are Chinese Experience (great dim sum) on Shaftesbury Avenue; and Barrafina in Frith Street. There is also Abeno for okonomiyaki in Museum Street, just near the British Museum. One of the most curious places you can go to is Gay Hussar in Greek Street, for Hungarian food.

For snacks, go upstairs to the Brazilian cafe on Oxford Street just next to TCR tube station, the one called Brasil by Kilo that is above a phone shop (yes really, don't be scared) and buy some hot pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese rolls) and a can of guarana. Also, cream puffs from Beard Papa on the corner of Wardour Street and Oxford Street are a guilty pleasure. You can also always do way worse than get some very decent and cheap falafel at Maoz in Old Compton Street. Piada in Frith Street is also really lovely, it serves piadine (sandwiches made with Italian flatbread), which are all delicious and full of top quality ingredients, the hot chocolate is great, and the guy who works there is so nice - he'll always bring over a plate of brownies or macaroni or another treat for you for free. It's surprisingly inexpensive too. You can sit there for ages and read or talk and no one bothers you.

Ok, I'll stop now :)

OH!! And, with my excellent comprehension skills, I just realised you'd already been!! Well, next time :)


Edited by gingerbeer (log)

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Thanks, Che and Ginger,

I must have just wandered by oblivious yesterday past the pastry shop in Soho. Oh, well.

I did go to the Gay Hussar, but it was back around 1999. I remember ordering the meat platter for two for myself. That and a bottle of Tokay.

I think I've finished digesting that now.

I've come to rest in Vancouver now, so hopefully I'll have time to write.

I just need to get back again.....soon.

Cheers,

Peter

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Oct 22, 2008

The first setting

As I’d mentioned earlier, I had a couple of trips to London that needed doing. This first one took me overnight, and dumped me at Heathrow, sleepless and ruffled.

That’s the bad part. I really am growing to detest the air-travel experience. As Martin Amis described aircraft in Money, they’ve transformed themselves into tubes of the sky……and his character was traveling Concorde…..I suppose, in relation to that, I’m aboard a Tata bus. What ever became of that bright future in which we’d take champagne on the observation deck, resplendent in our bow ties and evening gowns?...

Sorry, I was rereading Gibson’s The Gernsback Continuum again.

But, enough of such whinging. There is a good part.

The good part was my friend, back home from his work in the Horn of Africa, had come to pick me up. This was a much more personable way to begin the day. It forces sociability upon me, and engages my sense of humour.

We drove to his home out past Ascot, and settled into a pleasant glass of morning champagne, while I admired the house and the riot of Autumn colour that stretched out below us in the valley. Overcast, and a bit wet, it was still a beautiful sight after time in the Middle East. I’ll take orange and crimson over brown and beige most any day.

The two of us go back a few years, and he and his wife had both come out to one of the World Gourmet Fests in Bangkok with me, so I had full confidence in their tastes and decisions. Well, more so hers, perhaps. They were taking care of things which suits a wastrel like me quite well. But Monday thwarted our plans. A day of rest, most of the places they’d been trying to book were closed.

But one came up, “in Reading, of all places”, that they’d heard good things about. And I’ve never been to Reading.

I’m a big city lad, I must admit, and as such, it’s almost impossible for me to escape the clutches of places like London or Bangkok. Once I’m there, I just sort of want to nestle in and not leave. The opportunity to be outside of London is something I should take advantage of.

Admittedly, this is all part of the London megalopolis (also pretty much known as the South of England nowadays, but there’s still enough crown land stretching about, faux Greek colunnades and all, that there’s the appearance of countryside.

And appearance is everything.

The drive settled me down a bit, as I’d found out I’d forgotten the camera and had been rather agitated. I had the cradle and charger, I was just missing that odd little part with the lens thingy and buttons. I blame my airline, as the limo they sent out for me had arrived some three hours early, which left me in rather panicked state of packing.

There, I’ve made excuses. I feel better about myself now. You might not, but I do.

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Forbury’s is located by the courts, and thrives, I suspect, on the trade with the law offices that are all about. We saw one huge platter of French looking things skirl out of the doorway and into the offices nearby. A string of deliveries continued through the meal.

An English name, but a French feel. Champagne was one of the design elements, with bottles everywhere. There was also a fair bit of whicker basketry to induce a feeling of the autumn (if you hadn’t twigged to the foliage outside).

My friends had brought their camera, so, for this first meal, at least there’s some colour to help liven this up.

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I had the crispy ox tongue, with sauce gribiche to start, fluffed up on the side by a mounded salad of some rocket and other greens. The tongue came resting upon some beetroot support, and things became nicely crimson in short order. The tongue was crispy, but some of the texture of it seemed to have suffered on the inside. Still, it wasn’t something I’d tried before, and I’m always open.

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My friend had the Gruyere gougere, with wild mushroom fricassee, and a poached duck egg. This was fine, really a cheese sandwich of sorts, until the mushrooms, at which point there was definitely some grit. Still, it was just a couple of mushrooms, and not the whole dish.

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The young lady in our midst (alright, my friend’s wife), had the “mosaic” of duck, chicken, and sweetbreads, with poilane bread as her starter. The terrine was well put together, with the full fat of the foie gras going against the chunkier bits in there.

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For a main, I went for the slow cooked pigs trotters, with sage, apple, and truffle potato puree. These came with their jus, nicely reduced, and a sprinkling of beans and mushrooms. I didn’t have any issues with this in terms of grit, so I was content enough. The potatoes carred the truffle smell well, and the trotters were good, in a slightly sweet, slightly crystalline way.

My friend and his wife took the confit duck leg with boudin noir and endive salad; and the marsh fed Welsh lamb, cooked two ways, with carrot puree and sage gnocchi. They were both satisfied with the main body of these, but again the gritty mushrooms troubled him. I tried one from his plate, and they were gritty. It must just have been a batch not quite fully washed.

The wine was a pleasant thing; a 2006 Tigress from Tasmania, Bay of Fires, not an area I’ve tried before. It was a very smooth pinot noir, and went well with the lamb, although a little beaten up by the pigs trotters.

We passed on dessert. One of the items that had drawn our attention here was foie gras ice cream in their web posting. But it wasn’t available today.

We did go for a cheese plate to help us wrap up the wine on my part, and my friend took an Australian sticky to finish upon.

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The cheese was good, but the order was slightly botched, and the young waiter couldn’t tell us which was which. Of course, I couldn’t either.

Once it was sorted out, we had Black and Blue (a stilton), then an Irish Gubeem, a soft Loire, and an epoisse. My favourite, of course, was the epoisse, with a pleasant, truly disgusting, rotting smell. That’s what I look for in a good cheese. The Irish was very surprising, too, with a beautiful buttery, nutty taste to it.

It was unfortunate about the mushrooms, I must say. The cheese plate was an honest mix-up, but grit in mushrooms is like grit in a clam, it sort of shuts things down upon you.

Still, my friend didn’t make a fuss, just let them know quietly as we were leaving. It’s probably just a one off thing.

A nice room, interesting items on the menu, and pleasant staff who work hard to please. I snagged some of their Christmas menus on the way out, and these did look very good, with a healthy amount of foie gras, truffles, and game in play.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The train took me into London proper from their place, and I made my way to my hotel, the Trafalgar. I was rather surprised by it. It’s a Hilton, and I always associate the Hilton brand as rather one that aspired to be considered stodgy. But this place was very slick, very modern, with all the associated tricks of lighting, wood floors, and other odd bits (such as no check in desk) that you would instead associate with a boutique hotel. If it reminded me of anything, it reminded me of Jia in Hong Kong.

Things were looking up on the home front.

I met the other members of my team in a nearby bar. They were staying at the Waldorf, which better suited my opinion of a Hilton. They’d managed to find a place called the Porterhouse off of Maiden Lane, but had given me directions on how to get there from the Strand.

These directions involved me getting through two security gates, and then entering by the latchless back door through the kitchens.

I was feeling like DeNiro at the start of Ronin.

I wonder about my team at times.

The bar was alright, a huge thing, with about three levels and lots of chrome and polish. I tried their Porterhouse Red, but it didn’t do much for me. While clean and roomy, it was just, well, so slick that I couldn’t really get comfortable. And the beer selection was limited.

So, after a pint there, we went around the corner to the more traditional Wellington, part of Nicholsons’ empire of pubs. This worked out well, as the ale was good. I had a Hobgoblin in memory of the Japan trip, and the guest ale I went onto was Falling Leaves, an Autumn Ale by Bateman.

That, of course, just primed me for one of the worst jokes of the year.

“I’d like to try a Fuller’s London Pride, please”, one of the fellows said when I announced it my shout (yes, that does happen from time to time).

“Oh. You can’t have one.”

“Waddaya mean I can’t have one? It’s right there on tap?”

“Can’t have it. It’s not on.”

“How can that be?”

“Well, it’s Autumn, you see.”

“So?”

“Well, Pride goeth before the Fall.”

It’s amazing I’ve lived this long.

The pleasant part of falling into the uber-touristy Wellington was that it put us on the Ale Trail. This is a promotion to get folks working through the older pubs of London, and to further promote real ales (something I firmly approve of).

Plus, if you drink enough, they’ll give you a shirt.

Here's the link.

It’s amazing how a thing like that can give you a purpose in life, haunting pubs in the quest for a free t-shirt.

It’s good to have a purpose.

We ended up eating in the bar, which wasn’t the wisest of choices. And then we ordered the fish and chips, which again wasn’t the wisest of choices. Cheese wedges to go with everything, which end up as a congealed mass in relatively short order.

But at least the beer was good.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The next day it was a matter of work, and we called in sandwiches as we took care of what needed taking care of. Fair enough fare, but nothing to write home about (which is why I won’t).

After that we repaired to the Coal Hole, another venue of character, taking a Black Sheep Bitter and a Sussex Best Bitter before finally deciding that we’d better eat something. Once I’d decided that, I had a Doom Bar for good measure before heading out with the group.

The next mistake was mine. We went to Rules. When you enjoyed something when you were young and foolish, it’s never a good idea to revisit it when you’re old and addled.

Rules is a lot older than I’ll ever be (dating back to 1798), and still packs out most evenings, so I won’t fault them too much. The formula works for them. I’ve long held them as the archetype for the modern American family restaurant that makes a point of leaving no square inch (or centimeter) of wall space free of stuff. Mind you, at Rules there actually is some history behind their collection, so they can get away with it.

They’ve recently redone the bar upstairs, and I had a very nice artisan cask Glenmorangie I hadn’t seen before. This was nowhere as aggressive as I’d found the other GlenM’s in the recent tasting in Bangkok.

I started with the potted Wiltshire Rabbit, with spiced apple toast and chutney. Shreddy, with flaky meat, the only real distraction to this being the odd bit of small bones that meant you had to eat with some trepidation

Next was a game soup, a particularly thick bisque which did carry a nice waterfowl scent to it, being based on a stock of partridge and duck. It was a bit too gooey, perhaps, and the croutons rather congealed the whole affair, but I still enjoyed it.

For a main I had the English Grey Leg Partridge, with chestnut and apricot stuffing. It read well on the menu, and made me feel a little better about the lack of pheasant, which is what I’d been looking forward to. But when the bird came out, it was on the dry side.

Pity.

Nearby a champagne bucket was spilled, making one of the customers rather irate.

Another waiter dropped a glass.

I shouldn’t sound too negative, as the food was still passable, but the trouble here was with the junior waitstaff. They were just….well….junior. And with limited English, they could only do so much with handling the tables’ requests.

Slow on orders, we spent more time in Rules than I’d planned.

It’s not so much that it was a bad meal. It wasn’t. But the service wasn’t in line with the history and tradition of the place, nor with the prices.

We left the restaurant, and split up for the evening. I stopped in at the Ship and Shovel, a pub I’d heard of before. It’s down under the tunnel by Charing Cross, and the pub sits on either side of the lane, with a shared basement. I had a Fursty Ferret, a pleasing thing, with no hard bits to it, and contemplated the light rain that was falling between the pubs.

The next evening I again fell prey to the evils of group dynamics.

I should just learn to say no.

We went to the Buddha Bar.

Over the top décor, with an extremely large statue of the Buddha being used both as décor and as a shield for the washrooms located behind.

Something wasn’t right about this.

The food itself wasn’t too far off. Dumbed down Thai dishes, and some Chinese stuff as well. The deep fried frog legs were really quite good, with a bit of bite to them. What really set my teeth (and wallet) on edge, however, were the prices. They were charging on the order of eight sterling for a plate of fried rice. Ten pounds for siumai. And sixty-nine pounds for a wagyu steak.

I hate to think about what I paid for a short bottle of namezake. For what they charged, I’d thought a 750 was forthcoming.

I mean, I was on expenses, but this seemed a little abusive, even for me.

Yes, the music is good. Yes, as the others had put the booking under my name I was made to feel like quite the visiting potentate. Yes, everybody about you is absolutely fabulous, and, yes, it didn’t actually taste bad, but taste is something not limited to the mouth.

I think I’ll just stick to buying the CDs.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The last day, and I was back out to the country to see my friends again. We both had flights to catch from Heathrow at about the same time, so it just made sense for us to do lunch.

Lunch was one of their favourites, the New Mill.

This is located off of the A327, an old mill (“new”?) built on a small stream which goes by the name of the River Blackwater (“You call that a river?”); the water wheel and the mill workings still in working trim.

It’s one of those idyllic country retreats that makes it’s money on weddings and the neighborhood trade.

The Mill changed hands a couple of years ago, in 2006, and the new owners brought Steven Saunders on board to supervise the menus, working with the head chef – Colin Robson-Wright. As you’d expect with Saunders, the focus is on organically grown, and on local availability.

We’d missed him by just a night, but that’s the problem with working for a living. The New Mill runs events on a regular basis, bringing the celebrities out of the City. That galled me, slightly. When I’d been out at the Budha Bar the night before, I could’ve been here, having an excellent bit of British cuisine (and probably for less money).

As you’d expect, the parking lot we pulled into was the sort of open space in the British country where a couple of Jaguars, a Merc, and a Porsche just seem appropriate.

Inside the structure, it’s one of those nice old English buildings that cheerfully reminds you of an earlier age by staving your skull in with a low hung beam. I managed to get through to the bar without too much collateral damage to my frontal lobes, and we looked at menus while enjoying a wee drink.

We’d hoped to snag a Margaux from their bin ends, but they were out. Instead we went for a Pommard 1er Cru “Les Rugiens” Domaine Des Obiers, 1997 that looked promising.

We moved from the claustrophobia of the bar area (which does have great character, it’s just that not a one of us three is going to get an extra’s role as a munchkin in any remake of the Wizard of Oz). The dining room is back out past the millwheel proper, and in a large room looking out on the river. Big windows, reasonable ceiling, and no crowding of tables.

For starters we had asparagus with hot cured salmon. A tortellini with lobster and crayfish. And a terrine of pork belly, with some chutney to wake it up. Of these, the tortellini really stood out, with a rich bisque resplendent of crustacean. My pork belly was likewise pleasant, the meat pulling away in shreds. And the salmon was also acceptable, but I am a snob on such things, and look to BC salmon first. Still, the hot cook is a nice alternative to gravlox, giving a much different texture.

Outside, a brightly coloured kingfisher whipped along the water, and in the background a swan was coming up to take a look at the lunch crowd (of which it was pretty much just us).

If I had one thing to lament, it was that the Pommard was taking a long time to open up. But that’s hardly the restaurant’s fault. My friend admitted that a better plan for them in the past, when he had been in the UK and came here more regularly, was to choose the wine ahead by phone, and have them open it at a certain hour before they arrived.

Next were our mains. It was venison for myself. Two tenderloin cuts just on the red side, with a nice jus to set them off. Lamb for my friend, which was beautifully brought up with enough rosemary that you could just taste it. And, it pains me to admit, but I can’t recall what the lady had. This is part of why I always miss my camera at meals, as it helps me to remember what I’d forgotten to list in my notes.

The wine finally opened up, with dark cherries and chocolate. With the venison in particular I thought it was a good match, bringing out the light game in the meat (I’m used to wild caught venison – okay, I could just say “shot” - from Canada, and the meat here doesn’t suffer from being too strong).

We finished with cheese, again forsaking the sweets. The plate was Barkham Blue, from just up the road; a Ton Brulee – fresh ewe’s milk which was then set on fire for an ash coating; and a Liveroc from Normandy; and another epoisse, bringing us back full circle to our meal in Reading.

My last bit of food culture in England was also, perhaps, my happiest (although I did like the New Mill quite a lot). We went to Saynesbury’s.

First, out front, they had the same seeing-eye dog statue that was made famous in Son of Rambow (a very good film, I do recommend it).

Second, British produce, which I have admired much longer than British cuisine, really is very good. The meats, the new packaging for the plentiful selection of game, and all the pates, cheeses, and fresh mushrooms left me salivating.

An important rule when shopping for souvenirs. Don’t use a trolley. If you limit yourself to what you can physically carry, you won’t have to worry about paying excess luggage.

I stocked up on duck breast and venison, and on fresh pates and sausage. There were some beautiful chanterels I couldn’t leave alone, and purple blooming broccoli (or something along that name) that I carted out, along with some parchment paper (it had become hard to find) and a black truffle or two.

Back at the house, the two of us set about seeing if we could force our suitcases closed. This isn’t really as big an issue as you’d expect, as I have plenty of practice with my clothes.

Then it was a farewell to the missus, and a taxi out to Heathrow.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

So, some good points for food, but a shocking lack of real exercise for the expense account. I did feel bad about that.

I’d have to see what could be accomplished in November.

Next: The Second Setting

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Tempus Fugitives

I’ve been remiss.

But there were things that needed to be done.

So, let’s clean up old business.

I owe you some photos of the Old Mill. These I lifted off of my friends’ camera, which explains why they look good.

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This was the front part of the dining room. We’d be sitting out in the open area with the view of the river.

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This was the terrine of pork belly. Yeah, wrap pork in bacon, that’s the way to do it.

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HeHere’s the tortellini we admired so much. The sauce, with that rich bisque just cried as we ate it.

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And this was the hot cured salmon. Good, but not in the same league as the other two starters.

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This is what I’d forgotten when I wrote of the meal. She’d had the tenderloin with foie gras. I’m getting old if such things are slipping my mind.

gallery_22892_6330_14235.jpgMy friend’s lamb.

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And my venison

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And here’s our cheese plate.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As mentioned above, too, I did do some shopping at the local market.

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As expected, there was the usual panic getting this moved through the kitchen before anything went off.

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I was extremely impressed to find buckshot pellets in my wild rabbit.

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The duck went with blueberries after I’d smoked it for a bit.

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And I used the blackberries to sauce the venison after a pan roast.

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Cool.

Given that, I was really tempted to poach it, but while Yoonhi humours my cooking, she won’t let me cook to my humour.

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It made a good pie.

There, that really does tie up the first sitting.

Now, let me get my head around the second part from late November.

It was better.

And colder.

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That little hiatus - now finished - fed back directly into family life back home. Birthdays, dinners, socials with my friends. The stuff of the 1950s. Put an apron on me and a fork in my hand.

To put this next trip in context, I was faced with a long period of solitude, should I so choose.

After the painful bonhommie of the last trip, I felt more reclusive, more diffident.

I so chose.

Let's change the beat.

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The Second Setting – Part 1

I love this job.

It was around 7 a.m. when we landed at Heathrow. My luggage, my hardware, and myself all did our best to approximate a weary traveler, and stumbled off the plane and through the halls of LHR.

The chill bit as we came out through the jetway.

And it was dark.

I shouldn’t come North in the winter. The birds are smarter than I.

At least I was dressed. Bundled in greys and blacks I fit in with the desparately cold Nigerians that had just disembarked off the neighboring aircraft. Most of them were prepare with their heavy black wool coats.

Immigration never seems to care about me. It’s a cursory “how long are you here for, Sir?” a query as to purpose (as if I have one) and the quick chop in the passport.

There’s another page gone.

I messed about with trains for a bit, getting the right one to get me to Paddington, and from there, through the general scrum, I fought my way onto a taxi for Edgeware and my hotel.

At least in the cab I could sleep for a bit.

I hate flying.

At the hotel I dropped my bags, plugged in the things that needed plugging, showered, dressed, and went to work.

That was the rest of the day.

Grim.

This set the tone for the rest of the week. Wake, wash, work, and then, when the sun was long gone, go out into the night to feed.

Maybe I should get canine implants?

I won’t go into details of the business, but I didn’t get out much. People were brought to me, I’d talk to them, and they’d leave.

I’d stay.

When that first day was over, I made a terrible mistake.

I catered to the needs of others, putting theirs ahead of my own.

I hadn’t learned. This had been the downfall of my last trip.

I’d had good intentions. When the team returned to the hotel at the end of the night, dropped off by our minders, I’d tried to work with the concierge on where to dine.

Locanda Locatelli was booked up, at least if I wanted to fit in 6. Likewise, we weren’t going to get into Gary Rhode’s place. The group didn’t feel like Indian. And nobody wanted Lebanese.

The concierge suggested BIagi.

The gnocchi were good, but overall things just weren’t….well….quite there. The snails I started with were tough, and, for an Italian place, there wasn’t enough garlic.

Nothing wrong, really, but nothing altogether…right.

Why do I do these things to myself?

It was my own fault. I’d tried to cater to everyone else’s needs.

That wouldn’t happen again.

Something inside me hardened.

The temperature dropped again.

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The Second Sitting – Part One and a wee bit

I’ve spent time on Edgware in the past, and I have my places.

The Mason’s Arms, on Berkely Street, is just around the corner from the shishas and fez of Edgware. I’ve liked the quiet atmosphere, and its still much the same.

This was executioner’s row, in ages gone by, and the prisoners were held in the little cubby holes down below before being take to the Tyburn tree at the south end of Edgware Road.

“One for the road”, indeed.

Perhaps that’s why I like it here. The history of blood, death and pain that make up the underbelly of our fine tradtions?

I took a Badger from Dorset and unwound by the fire. The scarf came off my neck, I unbuttoned the great coat, and slowly stretched out by the fire.

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Things would have to change. Perhaps not this Badger, which was a beautiful beer. Fresh, they’d just opened the cask, the last one having failed upon us at the bar.

Tomorrow was another day. Another 10 hours hidden away doing things. But the evening would be another matter.

I had a mission.

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Nov 26 – Cemeteries of London

I had hopes once. Dreams. Aspirations. Hope…..

Amongst those, the greatest thing that a young man like I could hope for was….

Free beer.

I’m a simple man.

In conjunction with the event I was attending, they’d organized a number of pubs to be open to folk of our persuasion. This seemed like the sort of thing that would do my soul well, a social event to pull me out of my ursine solitude.

It was a mistake.

It seems I was leaving a swath of mistakes, spilled like bodies, in my wake.

The pubs, themselves, were fine. Middle-aged, if not old…the stuff of Chelsea. Trite menus posing as the Far East while swaddled in the furs of the North. Not that I mind such pretensions. This is London, after all.

But they were far too crowded. I’m not adverse to a crowd (always an admirer of Poe) but when it means that I’ve a wait of more than ten minutes to take a pint, I take umbrage (if not turn bitter).

My umbrage spilled over into bad temper as I considered the slimy sandwiches and cold, greased sausage rolls that had been put out for us. Bits of old cheese that had breathed its last, and cold fried things that claimed a descendancy from Siam.

I questioned my purpose here.

I watched as an extremely hairy fist, one that would dwarf my own, descended upon the cheese bits, to scoop them up amongst fingers more like sausages than the sausages themselves circumscribed upon the table.

I left.

Into the cold and rain.

I tried a second pub en route. I wanted to believe in the dreams of my youth, in those lofty aspirations of drinking freely from the bitter teet of British ale.

Again, a wait far longer than I needed for a pint of Hemlock Bitter. Fool that I am, I waited for a Burton’s Bitter, received it a half hour later, and then questioned my existence.

About me the youth of my industry (aggressively male, hearty chaps that set my teeth on edge), except for a middle aged cluster of DEC VAX geeks, who looked suspiciously upon me.

I left my bitter upon the ledge on the street, and backed out.

The next pub I tried…..They proudly advertised a beer on the chalkboard…The World’s Biggest Lie……

They didn’t have it.

They lied.

I did smile at that.

But then, the “food” arrived.

Domino’s pizza.

I’d had enough.

I can afford to pay for good food and ale. I realized, in a cold flash of reality, why there was no one here that I recognized.

I’ve changed over the years. Where once I was cheap all the time, now I have no issues with paying for value.

But I’m still cheap.

I could have taken a cab from Hammersmith back to the Arch, but I chose a bus. I like the feel of a bus’ cold windows against my face, and the chill egalitarianism of common suffering.

But there’s a part of me that also revels in this. To rest my face against the window, and watch the world pass by. To slowly roll down Knightsbridge, past the Christmas fairy lights display of Harrod’s (is it still Egyptian owned?), to see the ice skating , Albert Hall, and the subdued splendour of the Palace.

I’d mentioned before, in our last post, “our fine traditions”. I am, I admit unashamedly a scion of our imperial traditions. I can sympathize with the Huguenauts, with the Highlanders, and the Irish. Perhaps I have little in common with the Normans, but I don’t bear a grudge. (I’ll just do their knees)

I like London. As with Bangkok it calls to a part of me that’s far darker than the Canadian side. A more literate, cold blooded side.

Staring out the window, I slipped into a fugue state, and just smiled.

And the darkness lifted.

I alit at the lower corner of Hyde Park, the bright chill of the evening dimpling my cheeks.

There was a hunger upon me.

I stopped at the Met, but Nobu was booked out.

I tried the Dorchester, but The Grill was booked out.

Finally, having worked my way up Park Lane in a state of evil glee, I fell upon the Cumberland.

I walked into the lobby, the light and glass and art, cricked my neck back, and unbuttoned my greatcoat.

I unfurled.

A mere question , and I was welcomed and escorted down amidst the glass panels of the entryway.

It’s a hard room, cavernous, with the hard sounds from sharp corners. The walls were a dark red – as a friend once described that colour, the deep red of a whore’s purse – and th reverberation of the techno beat that pulsed through the place.

I was placed to the side and above, somewhat of a stray, off from the boister and clamour of the hall.

And it was a boister and clamour. In this time of financial distress, the Brasserie was packed, and there were no tears shed that I saw.

But I didn’t mind being on the side. I never mind being the mongrel.

The atmosphere of the place crept into my bones, and pushed aside the malaise that I’d been enjoying, lingering over. But this was better.

With a grin, I ordered the confit duck and the foie gras terrine. I wasn’t of a mind for anything fancy this evening. This came wrapped in parma ham with a French bean salad.

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The pate came a jaunty tricoleur, a river of pink through the middle, the parma girding the whole like the moat of midaevil illustrations.

And the duck, that noble bird, found itself ensconced beneath a French woman’s armpit of herbs and micro greens.

The contrast of the shreds of duck, pulled away from the bone, contrast well with the heady richness of the pate. It’s a solid combination, not fancy. If somebody mentioned “ethereal” I was in the mood to put the boots to him. This wasn’t ethereal. It was the parts of dead animals, well cooked to the point that all the inherent goodness in the flesh was there to be taken.

I finished the plate, and considered my next.

As a second course, I was torn. Cornish mussels marinier or pork ossobucco? I smiled over this.

I’d been drinking some white thing from France that I really can’t place at this time. It was wet. I wasn’t (a nice change). But the wine wasn’t as “cutting” as I might have asked for. Still, it was well fruited to bring up the pate, so I shouldn’t complain.

Solomonic, I asked if they could do small plates. Unfortunately…no.

I took the mussels.

I could put up a decent photo of this, but it would be from a different meal. Let me make do with describing them.

The muscles were pink, like salmon flesh. Pleasing would be the word I’m looking for.

Think back. Think of those days as a clean limbed youth when you ran the beach and collected up the fruit of the sea, and then threw your shellfish down around the flames to wait for the caves of Alladin to open for you.

Yeah, I don’t know where this stuff comes from, either.

I like mussels. Part are the remembrances of my youth (see above). Another part is that, like a smoke, mussels give me time to plan my next stage.

It takes a lot of planning to be spontaneous.

As they weren’t doing small plates, they suggested the menu from the fine dining side. Who am I to say “non”?

I settle on an interesting dish of confit snails and truffles.

And then I asked for a wine that would match.

I love to mix things up.

They bring out the sommelier from the fine dining side, and, as business is now dying off, we have a great time talking of wines and flavours.

Like a snake’s skin, the roughness of my spirit is shedding.

The wine he brings is quite intriguing (but. remember, I know nothing of wine). It’s very forward, but with a pull back that is a joy. That feel of the flavour reaching to the front of the palate, and then retreating. A tease of a wine, but with the promise of violence back there.

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It turns out to be a pinot noir, a Burgundy. A Mereu (? My notes may fault me) 1er cru of Limoges (?). This works with the plumpness of the snails, and leaves me feeling….relaxed.

I’ve now had a good meal in London. It’s been far too long. It’s not a fancy]/i] meal, by any means, but a very satisfying one.

Sated, I pass on cheese and dessert. This is enough.

Smiles, I thank the staff of the now nearly empty Brasserie, and pass into the cold of the night.

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November 27 - AKA Sean

I woke up again the next day, and did what I needed to do.

My “team” was wondering about dinner.

They wanted to bond.

“What are you going to eat tonight?”

“Brains.”

I can end a conversation when I need to.

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The Second Sitting – Part 3

I owe thanks to Food Snob for pointing me in the right direction.

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This works on a number of levels. First he’d directed me here, to Hereford Road. I’d come out this evening, traeling farther West than is my wont in the freezing rain, not only to partake in the nasty bits that so well fit my mood right now, but also to trace the diaspora of St. John, the legacy of Fergus Henderson that is now cooking about town.

I’d been disappointed in what I’d read of St. John recently, and, given the efforts I went through to get there last time, had decided to invest what little time I had in some of the offshoots, hoping for the same happiness I’d had at Smithfield’s Market those years gone by.

First, I needed to find it. I’d walked to the Edgware Station, past the shisha muggery, and stared down the roughness of that hole in the ground – home of bombings and Clive Barker stories – and fumbled in my pocket for the mass of change I’d need to get close to Hereford Road.

As I scrabbled amongst the clutter of my coat pocket, the weight of realization came down upon me. I was about to spend the better part of the evening walking to and from tube stations, the old (very old) up and down, and spending close to the fare of a taxi to not even reach my destination.

Years back, I was slightly taken aback that my Omani friend looked at us in shock when we said we were taking the tube.

"I've never taken the tube. Why would you do such a thing?"

Her words ringing (stridently, she's that way) in my ears, I walked back into the rain and hailed a cab, running on Harrow to Bishop’s Bridge, and then down Westbourne Grove. Westbourne was one of those streets that reminds me that people do live in London. Restaurants, small grocers, more restaurants, pubs, and yet more restaurants.

Food Snob, in his coverage, had brought up an interesting point of Tom Pemberton’s (the chef). And I’ll quote the quote here:

”It seems to me the area lacks a strong neighbourhood restaurant. Our main priority is to provide genuinely high quality, interesting and affordable British food in a relaxed environment.”

Generally, when people start spouting mission statements, I ball my fists and look to cause some pain. But these words are seeping up, like ghosts from the floorboards. Celina Tio wants a restaurant that will serve find food, but without the fine food pretensions (and costs). Vancouver, as I’d noted in the December trip, was very much of this philosophy; that it’s good to be a destination, but you really want to be a good, honest eatery for your neighborhood.

And even my favourite, the Four Seasons Bangkok, concentrates on keeping the local crowd happy (an attitude that is helping to carry them through these lean times in the Land of Smiles).

But I ramble. I’m old. We came here to eat.

After an Abbot and Costello routine of “Where to, gov?” “Hereford Rd” “Okay, gov. Where on Hereford Road?” “The restaurant, Hereford Road.” “There’s a lot of restaurants now on Hereford Road, gov.” “No the name of the restaurant is Herefeord Road.” “What street is it on, then?”

You can see how this went.

But, we did arrive, and it wasn’t that hard to find.

Myself, having been eager to lose the ramoras of my “team”, had shown up far too early. It was dead. But dead is fine when you’re looking for brains.

The restaurant is much as Snob described it. Attractive, relaxed, much like the love of your life after one (but not more) good cocktails, and things are just….comfortable. Reds and honey coloured woods. If I lived near hear

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As Snob has said, the bread is a fine thing. Soft, pliable. I wish I had a wife like this (with the fat on the side, you see – I’ll pay for that later, I know). ‘

I fell upon the bread in a ravenous fashion, not having fed at all during the day. I’m irregular in my dining when left to my own devices, and I had to pull myself back from the bread and butter, ‘lest I dampen myself for what was to come.

Living where I do, I miss good baking. When I was home in Vancouver, and here in London, it’s a joy. Like rice, there’s a smell that just reaches into a homely corner of us, and caresses us ‘till we purr like a cat.

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The appetizer is what I’d come for . George A . Romero at the deep fryer, these came very lightly breaded, a dusting really, and still retained that soft, full cholesterol flavour. The aioli – with it’s off-yellow appearance -was a nice idea, the garlic and mayo putting the right bumpers on what was already a delicious treat of soft organs.

The room makes good use of mirrors to give the impression of greater width, but this has the unfortunate side-effect of allowing me to see myself (yes, I do cast a reflection). While I am a big fan of The Beat, watching myself while I am eating is not an appetizing sight.

Especially with a meal as fine as this.

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As a second piece, I had the duck livers and hearts, with green beans and tarragon (dragon’s-wort). There’s a much different, more ferric taste to normal duck liver (as opposed to foie gras) that I find appealing.

The heart gave off a bit of satisfying red, and had that chew that I love in fowl organs. There was a wheezing finish as my last bit of Valentine’s was rendered forth.

I’ve been drinking a rioja with this, the robust flavour of the wine working well first with the brains, and then standing firmly forward with the duck bits.

Obviously, with the three of us at the table (me, myself, and I) there were some lapses in the conversaion. I covered these by reviewing the menu to our mutual benefit.

I did notice that the venison here was 13 STG, as opposed to the rather unilateral 22 STG throughout the tourist digs. They were quite correct when they said they were looking to be affordable, they knew what they were looking to do.

I overhear from the next table that they have devilled lamb’s kidneys on toast. I never heard of that! I’m outraged.

But then I turn back to the feeding frenzy of hearts and livers, and I settle down.

And the potted crab sounds good, too.

But the better part of the menu is on the appetizers. The mains disappoint, at least in the reading. Venison , rabbit, duck ish.

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I opt for the loin of Middlewhite Pork. This comes extremely moist. The light glistens off the natural goodness of fat that swathes fine pork. The crackling sit proudly atop, while the flesh nestles up against the greens, looking for comfort.

I’m of mixed emotions on the service. I do feel a bit neglected, with crumbs left on the table and wine not poured. But I can always pour my own. Still, compare with the nightmare of British service in the 90’s, this is more than a head above (but it’s still hard to reconcile service in the UK with what we get in North America, Australia, and Asia).

Looking in greater depth at the menu (my irises open up with time in the dark) I see mackerel, sole, and hanger steak on the menu.

I’ve now finished approximately three loaves of bread, two riojas, brains, hearts, kidneys, and a massive feast of pork. I ruminate on the subject of dessert, as the sound of honeycomb ice cream is quite tempting, but it’s 8 p.m., and I’m grinding to a halt, like a gargoyle in the morning light.

I disappoint my waitress, telling her that I would go home for sleep, instead.

“Sleep, not sheep.” I have to specify.

And my last note of Hereford Road is the happy sound of a champagne cork.

Again, I would like to thank Food Snob for directing me here. As he said, this is not “fine dining” per se, but rather an expression of what dining should be (more often than not). This is a restaurant I would go out of my way to return to. It’s almost enough of a reason for me to search out a flat near here for a vacation. Like the restaurants in Vancouver, it’s a place that can work itself into the fabric of everyday life.

You probably get the idea thatI liked ths, neh?

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The Second Sitting – Part 3 – afters

I came back, slowly, through through the streets. I watched, forlorn, through the window, as people went about their holiday shopping.

When the taxi hit Edgware, I asked the driver to let me down. It was still early.

I felt like a phantom on the streets, which is when I’m most comfortable. I meandered up the West side of the road, taking in the Mediterranean grocers, and travel agents offering packages to Lebanon and Cairo.

The shisha market is an interesting thing. The British ban on smoking in restaurants sent the great masses out, unsheltered, onto the streets of London, where they feed, despondently, upon their nicotine sticks.

You would have thought, in these instances, that the shsha (“hubbly bubbly” to some of us) market would have fallen upon foul times. But it seems to be quite the opposite. They’ve been thriving since the ban, with clientele looking to smoke, and finding a well serviced venue available for their water-filtered needs.

It’s a curious walk, and one I enjoy. The cafes are full of Japanese and Brits and Koreans, all pulling on their hookahs. It takes me back to pleasant times in Cairo, a few decades back, when you never knew what was going in that pipe

And then I made a hard right turn.

Connaught Street. How could I not wander down a street named for my own elementary school?

They were shutting down, but I fell upon the stray elements of a street market, all nettle wines and fine floral assortments. The police were cheerily waving vehicles away with their beacons, whilst sipping on Starbucks outside of their cars.

People were selling interesting produce, and various jams and canned assortments….along with jerked beef and chutney.

The rain was turning to snow.

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