Ewan Munro

Dec 17

TFTACOXS – December 13: Leon Vegan Christmas Wrap

WOBS SANGER ADVENT CALENDAR1 comment • 720 views

Leon Christmas Wrap At some point when you’re opening the doors of this particular FT advent calendar, you inevitably have to ask, “is that really a sandwich”? Well, pending the intrusion of Wobs Dob Dee into this discussion, I’m not convinced this does count. Not because a wrap isn’t a sandwich (it is), but more because if you can’t pick it up from a refrigerated unit and have a glance through the plastic window into the dark heart of cranberry within, then it doesn’t really feel like a proper high street sanger. Still, I’m going to blog this one anyway.

Leon doesn’t have any food in chillers at all. It has a menu, in front of which you um and ah, but not too long because (aside from the “pigs in a blanket muffin”) there are two Christmas choices: one of them is vegan and one isn’t. And for that privilege, you do end up paying a little bit more.

However, the content isn’t necessarily greater for that money: the Leon wrap is if anything somewhat thin and lightly padded. However, it feels virtuous (sort of the selling point for the company), and more enticingly, there’s definite flavour there. The menu talks up its sweet potato falafel and toasted pine nuts (expect a bunch of them down the bottom of the wrapper), but the good work is done by the sage and onion mayo in this concoction (sure, there’s cranberry, but it feels a little less heavy-handed than with some other Xmas veggie options).

If you’re feeling flush, it could be worth the effort.

Dec 17


FT + WOBS SANGER ADVENT CALENDARPost a comment • 373 views

Tesco Bubble and Squeak It’s now that I find myself guiding FT towards the little-charted territory of the Wobs sanger vegetarian option, traditionally an unloved corner of the refrigerated unit filled with miserable cranberry and brie combinations (of which I suspect we’ll be seeing more in future weeks). It’s usually been even bleaker for the vegans, who might count themselves lucky with some dry falafel wrap, but this year have literally more than one option, thanks to many of the chains redoubling their efforts to capture this small but vocal market.

It’s in this context that we once again find ourselves surprised to be standing in a Tesco Express, confronted by this particular excessively-boxed nonsense. Open it up and out falls an extra (and very determinedly sealed, requiring some use of teeth in my case) sachet of paprika-spiced coconut flakes (“bacon-flavoured” the box says, but w/ev). Overall it breaks a number of the traditional wobs sanger rules. For a start, it takes the non-standard roll form, though more interestingly for the vegans it uses potato instead of falafel for a change. It should by rights be dry and stale-tasting, but it turns out it’s very tasty, with a soft bun (almost brioche-like in consistency) and spiced red cabbage for some texture and moisture.

Kerry has also tried it: “This was surprisingly compelling even for a not-usually-vegan. ‘That looks like a BANGER of a sandwich,’ one office mate marvelled, with particular admiration given to the amount of red on the nutrition boxes. The bread was also pleasingly fluffy and resilient, holding up well under the demands of the vegan mayo.”

Moreover, a certain trumpet/drum-playing correspondent of FT’s acquaintance has reported this as being the best vegan one in general circulation. I feel like I’ve tried pretty much all of them, and she’s not far wrong, though I’m still holding out for one made with cranberry sauce and Tofurky.

Dec 09

The FT Top 25 Pubs of the 00s No 13: Cask

FT + Pumpkin Publog4 comments • 1,221 views

Most of the pubs on this top 25 list have offered years’ worth of fond memories, but even so there’s always the chance for new discoveries. You have to sneak them in though sometimes, when your contingent of drinkers has visited the Doric just once too often in recent weeks and the area in question isn’t too difficult to escape from if necessary. Mentioning that you’ve just read about the place on a beer geek’s blog is probably not going to be much help in the matter. And quite apart from straying outside the comfort and convenience of London’s West End, you’re not usually going to be able to entice people to visit an estate pub.

Estate pubs, of course, occupy a special place in pub fandom. Being integrated into the fabric of a residential (often Council-built) estate makes them peculiarly close to the lives of the residents, and often makes for a more cosy and welcoming environment, if always with the danger of a hostile reception for outsiders. You never can quite be sure.


Nov 09

The Perils of Eating Vegetarian: “Fish” and Chips

Pumpkin Publog9 comments • 5,188 views

Pubs can offer many excellent things, as are being amply revealed in our Pubs of the 00s series. However, culinary invention is rarely one of them. Even self-proclaimed gastropubs rarely get further than putting ‘twists’ on the standard pub options — sausages, pies, burgers, sandwiches, fish & chips. Some of them just chuck the word ‘posh’ on the front of each and have done with it. This is because pubs should offer comfort and stability, and that’s what people want from them.

The Spirit Group (the managed arm of Punch Taverns) have, however, waded into the murky territory of food science, which they should really have left to the experts.


Aug 09

Ben Crouch’s Tavern

FT + Pumpkin Publog7 comments • 4,230 views

The world of pubs, as we know and have heard, grows ever more homogeneous over the years, as the big chains move in, so surely it’s hardly the time to be mourning the passing of one of them. Farewell then to Ben Crouch’s Tavern, just off Oxford Street, a stalwart of the Eerie Pubs stable.*

It was for the most part a horrible place, filled with ersatz gothick decoration (think thick cobwebs, chains, rusty steel cages, big fake spiders, book cases, and lab testing equipment), a meagre range of drinks and truly awful music played far too loudly which didn’t even conform to the rest of the pub’s decor theme (generally, it was bad AOR rock music).

And yet, and yet, a bit of nostalgia creeps in for the old place.


Jul 09

Second Time as Farce

Pumpkin Publog1 comment • 228 views

Those who have paid passing attention to the news over the last year may be familiar with the Global Economic Collapse™, Economic Downturn™, the Credit Crunch™ and all its associated lunch/brunch/munch tie-in offers. After all, there’s very little that can’t be turned to some profit, so you’d think that the liquor on-trade would cash in on this topical obsession with all things parsimonious.

Where is the bar boldly stepping into the breach which advertises itself to the passing crowds using huge photos of Bernie Madoff, Alistair Darling, Sir Fred Goodwin and other bêtes noires of the global financial meltdown? Surely we can order at a bar made out of cassette tapes, bottles of beer stacked haphazardly behind it in their bulk-purchase packaging? The walls, where they are left clear of teetering towers of alcoholic detritus, might feature a series of paintings of a smug Gordon Brown? There might even be an Ikea-bought wendy-house seating area upstairs complete with bean bags? And it will need a manifesto taped to the door.

Well, now, thanks to Vince Power, we get the bar we all deserve. Should we choose, that is, to venture into the anti-capitalist enclave of Notting Hill.

Local real estate agents’ posters at Ladbroke Grove tube station, nestled like the bar under the vastness of the Westway, tell us that “Yes! You can afford to live here!” There might as well be a poster saying we can afford to drink here, too, since prices for all drinks are set at £2.50. The place is hardly packed, but it’s a Tuesday evening and the volume of the music means everyone who is there is drinking outdoors. But we’re being made “aware of the political and economic situation of the day”; you can’t put a price on that. Though it was probably a fair amount. Bean bags are quite expensive, if you’ve ever thought they might make cheaper seating options.

It may lack irony in its striving after Dalston cool, but in its way it comes across as much a temporary art installation as the bar on the roof of a car-park in Peckham. No surprise, then, that students from the University of the Arts had some involvement. It’s called LiquidNation, but lose a single camel-case letter and you might get a sense where the future of the recession-themed drinking den lies.

Jul 09

In the Chips

Pumpkin Publog4 comments • 183 views

Posh chips from the Sloaney Pony

The battle over the future of pubs is being fought, as we’re constantly reminded in the media. You can judge the healthiness of a pub in many ways, but one surely has to be its range of potato products.

Packets of crisps are getting ever more rarefied, as Walkers are forced out from some higher end establishments by competition from Salty Dog, Tyrrell’s and some brand that only sells their stuff in little cardboard boxes as I spotted in an East Dulwich pub the other week. You can pay over £1 for some of these brands.

There’s also the bowl of chips, which just could be the new battleground in the fight between community boozer and gastropub. One might berate £3 or £3.50 as being simply too much, except that given the escalating price of a pint in many such places, this is generally less than a beer costs. Plus, you can still justifiably consider yourself short-changed if you get scarcely more than a handful.

And now, from a recent visit to the reliably posh White Horse in Parsons Green, the bar has been raised yet again. No triple-fried hand-cut muck for these people. Only the finest “crispy new potatoes” served intermingled with capers and olives.

Though would it be heresy to suggest I liked them? Under £3 and more character than some of the pub’s habitués.

Feb 09

Budvar… Grey?

FT + Pumpkin Publog5 comments • 468 views

Late last week, as the servers holding this very site bowed under the sheer volume of user interest, a hardy band of correspondents ventured forth to a pub for some drinks, not an unusual occurrence of a Friday evening it must be said, but perhaps better needed on this occasion.

The venue for those drinks, the Lord John Russell, is always a dependable place. It’s popular, certainly, though not usually completely rammed. It has friendly staff. It has a great selection of well-kept ales — so many, in fact, that the pump handles form a formidable physical barrier across the bar. Plus, it has pies and crisps and pork scratchings and Smith’s Bacon Fries: everything you need to enjoy your pint with, in short.

More intriguingly, it now turns out to be at the cutting edge of beer innovation, for, courtesy of Budvar, it has a third mixer tap for its Budvar Original and Budvar Dark beers, entitled the “Half and Half”.


Feb 09

Do Us a Flavour 2 & 3: Chilli & Chocolate and Fish & Chips

FT5 comments • 680 views

This is where I compare and contrast, because next out of the packet are two flavours which sit in natural opposition, occupying different ends of the taste spectrum. Does either of them succeed, then?

To some observers, Chilli & Chocolate was the most interesting flavour idea of the original six — one of the few that hadn’t been done before in some guise. Of course, the reason for that should surely be obvious: crisps are an inherently salty food, and chocolate isn’t. So how this might work out is the issue under consideration. As the blurb on the back says, it “sounds crazy, but is so TASTY! And as Catherine [‘from High Wycombe’, the ‘creator’ of this flavour] rightly points out, what more do you want from a bag of our crisps?!” If it provided what is modestly promised, then that question might remain unanswered. But it doesn’t, and it won’t. I would like some more flavour, please.


Feb 09

Do Us a Flavour 1: Builder’s Breakfast

FT8 comments • 1,013 views

As keen devotees of ephemeral pop cultural trends, you will undoubtedly be aware of Walkers’ new series of flavour combinations, being marketed as “Do Us a Flavour”. The concept being that the flavour suggestions of six ordinary Britons have (out of over a million entries, apparently) been accepted by a judging panel which included celebrity molecular gastronomist Heston Blumenthal. And “only one can stay and become the next great Walkers flavour!” That’s another paradigm you’ll be familiar with. Reality TV meet reality manufacturing.

In the interests, then, of food science, it falls to Freaky Trigger to ask the question: when next we go down to the pub, will ANY of these flavours pass that ultimate test and be selected ahead of ready salted, salt & vinegar or Cheese Moments? I do so love Cheese Moments.