Posts from 17th August 2004

17
Aug 04

Finally, we got to visit what had come to be something of a holy grail for us in culinary terms…….

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Finally, we got to visit what had come to be something of a holy grail for us in culinary terms…….

Vicky’s birthday seemed the ideal time to visit …..St John, Fergus Henderson’s house of great repute. There’s nothing flashy about this place really, a whitewashed former warehouse, a bar and tables onthe ground floor and a restaurant on a kind of mezzanine. There’s not a lot to talk about here, so, on with the food (but in the mean time, props to the nice fuzzy haired barman who let me sniff various bottles and told us funny stories) anyway, starters.

Vicky went for the signature dish, roast marrow bone and parsley salad; four chunks of veal shin bone roasted at very high heat served with a salad of parsley, capers and onion with two big slices of posh toast and a pile of grey sea salt – this was just gorgeous, hot, deeply savoury and just gooey enough to mnash onto the bread. I had the only duff note of the meal unfortunately in the deep fried pig skins with dandelion, it’s not as if these fancy scratchings weren’t tasty, quite the opposite, I just fear they hadn’t been cooked long enough as the top was the right amount of crispy, but the lower areas? More like a pork wine gum, in fact it took more than a few minutes to pry it away from my teeth, still tasty mind and I only left one little piece uneaten. On the side of this, we spied the razor clams, and couldn’t resist a couple, and weren’t disappointed, two huge molluscs, swimming in very good oil with a touch of garlic and parsley – fresh and rich at the same time. This was all accompanied by a half bottle of Musacdet sur lie which was tasty, good and fresh, kind of crisp, you know the kind…

Onto the main courses, for which we had a bottle of Irouleguy which made me believe those awful wine critics who describe wines as flinty, I always thought they were talking bollocks, not now, I understod exactly what they meant (we had had a pint each and a gin and tonic each before the restaurant, you can see where this is going can’t you?)

My main was possibly the tenderest flesh it’s ever been my pleasure to eat – three lamb’s tongues, poached and sliced in half, on a bed of salad greens, french beans and a dressing that was full of, but not too full of anchovy, this set off the sweet, melting soft tongue to perfection. really, words can’t fully do justice to how tasty it was. Vicky’s was just as good – sweetbreads – crisp on the outside, almost liquid on the inside, kind of like a savoury truffle, accompanied by shallots and chunks of proper bacon, the sort that’s never been injected with water, hasn’t seen vacuum packs and definitely tasted like it was from ecstatic pigs. Along withthis were some simple chunks of potato, boiled simply so they had a fudgy texture, the perfect accompaniment. We had veggies too, a bowl of potatoes (they looked like anya’s) were plainly presented but cooked well and tatsed almost nutty, and a bowl of runner beans, something which I hated as a kid but here were so tasty you had to keep going back for more.

By this point we were rather full as you ccan imagine, but not too full for pudding of course, so on we went….. We shared two and they were vastly different; an eccles cake that was packed full of rich, black currants was served with a good slice of proper lancashire crumbly cheese (probably Mrs Kirkham’s) and the two scoops of honeycomb ice cream were rich, sweet and full of that deep sweet flavour that only good honey could give.

Only drinks could be fitted in after this and so we retired to the bar, where I bought possibly my most expensive two drink round ever – a glass of Armagnac and a glass of Glenkinchie came to fifteen quid (with a cigar) and it just about finished us off, we wearily staggered back to the hotel deeply satisfied and over full, possibly thinking we may have had a little too much to drink. Me not remembering getting back to the hotel and Vicky sleeping in her contact lenses may corroborate this.

UNREST “Isabel”

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UNREST
“Isabel”

aka our belov’d site editor’s least favorite Isabel song ever, I seem to recall, and he has reason to take the matter with due seriousness. But for some reason I had only known the version that ended up rerecorded on 4AD — I remember a bit of hype and attention way back when Imperial ffrr came out but I only actually finally got that album used fairly recently, finally more or less completing my collection of that group’s work, at least in terms of albums. So I was surprised when instead of a full band arrangement I heard only acoustic guitar and Mark Robinson singing the plaintive melody. And quite lovely it was — in retrospect now, Robinson’s particular rushed-indie-pop Factory/Postcard/etc. fetish has moved from tribute to being equally mistily dated somewhere in a not-grunge past. Tom still won’t think anything of it, though.

The Brick Lane gauntlet

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The Brick Lane gauntlet — I really didn’t know about it at all, maybe a mention or two here and there, before my last visit to London. But then friend Vinita talked excitedly about Brick Lane and the restaurants that were there in plenty, and that immediately perked up my interest. As anyone who knows me knows, food is dear to my squelching (and possibly increasingly coronary-prone, but anyway) heart, so to hear of some place where Indian restaurants were literally everywhere sounded potentially like heaven to me. And since I was going with someone who knew of one or two key places to try, I was all for that.

And so she and I and another friend of hers went out one night after celebrating another friend’s birthday to get us some food. I can’t remember where we ended up — the primary choice looked good but was in fact heavily packed and the wait would have been a while, and our hunger overcame the idea of waiting a touch. But the spot we did end up at had tasty enough food and I was more than content munching away on the goodies provided.

Then again, there WAS the gauntlet. And I was not annoyed or anything, but I was astonished. I’m sure there are plenty of places and situations like this in America that I just haven’t seen around — this is part of the deal when one grows up in relaxed suburbia rather than the direct hustle-and-bustle, I figure — but to see people outside of every restaurant along the four or five-block stretch we assayed that evening urging, begging and demanding us to try their particular place was something that did catch me bemusedly off guard for a bit.

I guess I’m so used to the idea that one just walks along a stretch of places where food might be found and checks out the menus and prices that to have the personal touch, if you will, was disconcerting and more than a little chaotic. Since I was in good hands thanks to Vinita, I didn’t have to worry about making any decisions this time around, but had I been on my own I might have beaten a hasty retreat if only to mentally regroup. Says more about me than the city or this section of same, I’m sure.

A LONDON SONGBOOK

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COIL – “Lost Rivers Of London”: sheer coincidence that this track should turn up just after Pete’s post. The ‘lost rivers’, like the lost tube stations, are a terribly romantic concept – though perhaps an over-explored one. Coil’s track captures the mildly corny mystery well: a stately, resonant near-instrumental full of creaks and foggy drones. That sense of an ancient, secret, second London to be glimpsed through the shabbier gaps in our new one.

The rationalist in me would like to scoff at the idea, call it a cliche – and it does seem more and more familiar (witness how the word ‘psychogeography’ has become so relatively well-known!). I don’t want to have to oppose a London of bright streets and a London of arcane nooks. But you can let the idea of a lost London seduce you without committing to it entirely, and tracks like this one show you how.

Olympic Avoidance Log: Opening Ceremony / L.B. Volleyball / 3D Eventing

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Olympic Avoidance Log

I hate the Olympics, and much like the Soviet Bloc in 1984 am boycotting them. However this boycott is jolly hard to effect; it is difficult with the mass media coverage. So I shall blog here when I actually accidentally catch the wretched thing. Here is the horror so far:

Opening ceremony: because that’s just about flag waving, camcorders and inflatables which tell stories of the battles of the Greek Gods (ie not sport). A brief moment of interest in the order of the teams (Greek Alphabet) put off considerably by the appalling outfits of the Germans. Ten minutes.

Ladies Beach Volleyball:
Brazil vs Norway. Not a complete turn-off this, if only for the question of where Norway train. Frankly the perma-tans on both sides were such that without the skimpy sportswear one would be none the wiser. Surprisingly empty stadium considering that sportswise this is supposedly the equivalent of Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova playing doubles against themselves. Brazil won, and I assume toddled off to get the sand out of their pants. Six minutes.

Three Day Eventing: I must admit it was initially unclear exactly what the woman with the cravat was banging on about when I switched on BBC Breakfast this morning. Idiot Pete. She had a riding helmet on. I got instantly confused when she said the course was easier then badminton, which shows exactly how addled my brain was, but when they showed her horse jumping over some fishing boats I was initially impressed until my Olympic fear kicked in. Three minutes.

TOTAL SO FAR: NINETEEN OLYMPIAN MINUTES.
TARGET: UNDER AN HOUR.

I missed the Great British Beer Festival this year

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I missed the Great British Beer Festival this year. I was not the only one. During my stay in Dumfries and Galloway we stumbled across the Sulwath Brewery in Castle Douglas. They had not been invited. Obviously Olympia is limited in space, nevertheless it seems a touch remarkable that they can judge the Champion Beer Of Britain, without having tasted all of the beers.

We did the tour of course, you have to if you stumble across a small brewery. Brewery tours in the UK, if they are small, are generally thinly veiled assaults on the brewing industry as a whole, the small boys pointing out that they do not use preservatives, inject carbon dioxide etc. Except these guys do. The beers purity is not in doubt until you get to the finings stage, when the fish bladder is pumped in, and the colour goes out. After having half a glass of their Criffel straight from the vat before the finings have been put in, I can tell you there is a massive difference. Damn the introduction of glass.

To the beer though and it was really rather good. They do a lager, Galloway Gold, which is much more of a summer ale, and in sloshes down a treat. The Criffel is a lot more complex. The brew-chap said it was their most popular ale, but it seemed a mite on the too much fanny dangle front for my liking. There were far too many hops for a consistent flavour. There were a few others plus the stuff they bottle for the local lord (still feudal round here you know). However the best by far was the porter, Galloway Black. Light, zingy molasses, a touch of chocolate and the ideal thing to drink with a slice of Dundee cake after it has rained on you, constantly, for the last five days. Apparently the key to the beers flavour is in the water in the area is remarkably pure too. Should hope so, they have plenty of it.

OVERGROUND RIVERS : 1 – The Thames

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OVERGROUND RIVERS : 1 – The Thames

There has been a resurgence of interest in the underground rivers of London of late. Great romantic tomes have been concocted about the Fleet and the Wandle, almost to the detriment of the overground rivers. I suppose the reason is the allure of the unknown, the hidden. Plus London is a city which is based on a river, and run by the Underground. You figure the reason for the interest.

But what about the rivers you can see. Okay, there is plenty written, even here, on the Thames. But what is the nature of the Thames as a city river. It is certainly not the widest. And it has a pedestrian flow, unlike the hurry-hurry or the Seine. Bridges a plenty, some lovely (Tower), some unloved (Southwark). But like the underwater rives that feed it, the most telling aspect of the Thames is its brownness.

People read this colour to stand for dirt. They would be wrong. The Thames is one of the cleanest metropolitan rivers in the world (of late, it used to be a festering cess pit of death merely thirty years ago). I am not going to bang on about the “salmon found in the Thames” stories, because these are probably shit coloured salmon and I would not eat one, but the Thames has a bad name due to this colour. But the colour of the Thames is what I think the colour of London it. It is certainly the colour of the London sky on a cloudy London night, viewed from my living room window. The dark blue of the night, mixed with the sodium orange makes a particularly murky brown. A brown that is nevertheless clean.

And Thames Water. Best tap water in the country (okay, fite, but for colour, taste and life, it beats others I’ve tried hands down). So lets hear it for the Thames. It splits London, it wends, it throws that London “Eastenders” shape and you can see it. Go look at it today. Its lovely.

WASPS WOULD BE RUBBISH ON ROBOT WARS

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WASPS WOULD BE RUBBISH ON ROBOT WARS

Not just because they are not robots, because in word, deed and attitude they are barely seperate from the Cyberman’s old pets Cybermats*. No-one like wasps after all. They look evil, sting and are always inordinately interested in whatever it us you are eating. Whatever it is. Bees people quite like. They are fuzzy, bumbly and slow. Natures underdogs who cannot fly according to science, people like bees. They understand bees, and they like honey. Wasps on the other hand have a nasty name, malevolent shape and do not seem to do anything useful**.

Which is why on my trip to the countryside, I was interested to finally see how wasps die. After all, wasps have no natural predators. Not even humans, since on the whole we run like gurls whenever one with its frankly tiny amount of venom gets near us. Ditto with all other animals large enough to have been stung. The wasps sting is a perfect piece of evolution. But evolution has not perfected every aspect of the wasps anatomy. Evolution has dropped the ball on one of the key aspects of insect life. Ijn this case mother Nature is not as good as some geeky engineering students from Lancaster University. The wasp has no self righting mechanism.

Ever wonder why you always find dead wasps on window sills? I know, I have seen this happen.
STAGE 1: Wasp annoys you when eating.
STAGE 2: Cocky wasp buggers off for a bit. Usually followed by a swift return to stage one but occasionally we end up at
STAGE 3: Wasp flies into windowpane. Dazes itself and falls on to the windowsill.
STAGE 4: Unfortunate wasp discovers that it is on its back and flaps wings desperately in an attempt to self right. Fails. Spins round like a breakdancer with a pin through its guts. After about an hour it dies.

No Srimech (as the Jonathon Pierce would call it on Robot Wars), no evolutionary advantage. The closest the Earth has evolved to the Alien in Alien is not so all powerful after all.

* Why emotionless beings needed pets was always a touch beyond me, but they did make them nasty.
** They actually eat tiny insects like aphids which are quite useful.

MORE ON THE EXPLODING SMOOTHIE MENACE

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MORE ON THE EXPLODING SMOOTHIE MENACE

Do these Pret A Manger smoothies come with warnings on?

Freakytrigger reader Stuart McSkimming sent in this example which went, like a hand-grenade, after just three hours. Goodness me, I feel a consumer campaign coming on. Question is, which Watchdog presenter do I most remind you of?

I Hate Music lyric watch: The Beatles – “Nowhere Man”

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He’s as blind as he can be
Just sees what he wants to see

Imagine giving this offer to David Blunkett. Sorry mate, your current state of not being able to see at all is going to be down graded to the worst form of blindness of all. You can only see what you want to see. Of course his vision would still be impaired in as much as he would not be able to see all the asylum seekers who are constantly overloading this country* but bar that he would have almost perfect eyesight. Actually, including that he would have perfect eyesight. (I know I Hate Music is rarely a platform for political expression but when I come across an authoritarian like Blunkett I find it a great pity that he is not using his reforming zeal on truly deserving victims like musicians, not poor people form Albania.)

Perhaps the Beatles had never met a blind person. Maybe they really did not know that being “as blind as you can be” actual involves a complete loss in sight. I am sure there are plenty of people who have been as deaf as they can be after listening to the first three Beatles Album. And more whose eyes were put out after seeing the psychedelic nonsense that was Yellow Submarine.

*Insert political joke here.