Friday 9 March 2018

A drunken promise in Warsaw, Poland

You do some stupid things, when you’re drunk; none more so than making a promise. And, in my case, that promise was to write a ‘review’ of a stag do. A review, which this can’t be; a review, which this won’t be; a review, which I can (probably) never publish. Seriously, a review? How could I? For one thing, I can’t remember half of what happened. For another, I couldn’t possibly do justice to the defining night of a mate’s life. And, finally, it was just too brilliant a weekend to put into words.

At least, from what I remember it was.

Drunken or not, the promise was made. A Lannister always pays his debts - or something like that. So, I’ll sit down, with a whisky lodged under my nose and where to begin, what to say, and where to end up will be dictated by the spirits in the glass (which is no different to normal, really).

To say the past months have been emotional, is an understatement. Yep, everyone suffers, at some point - and, many (definitely most) suffer in ways that I couldn’t begin to comprehend and wouldn’t have an ounce of strength to handle. But, the human condition is a selfish one - at least, my human condition is - and so, I can only see through the prism before my own eyes; or that whisky glass, anyway.

The stag-do was an escape. Any stag-do is (with exceptions). Literally and figuratively. A chance to do whatever, drink whatever, throw the burden of life from your shoulders for a couple of days and forget the needles that penetrate that pincushion heart.

The distraction, the friends, the noise fog the memories; while the alcohol is a very specific pistol to eradicate the pain.

At least, that’s the hope; the reality is a lie. The pistol temporarily blinds; but eventually focuses the pain, amplifies the memory, twists the needles deeper.

We’ve jumped ahead here. This is 1am, in a golden-lit bar, where whisky costs as much as London and tequila is half the same again. Back, more than 24 hours before, snow poured from the sky and commuters cleared the capital. The train - supposedly less reliable than this promise - arrived bang on time and rolled along shiny rails, towards Luton, smacking the snow aside without a care.

A stagger to the bus, a drive to the terminal, and a wait, longer than the sun, which involved the least educated conversation imaginable and a ban on booze. Look Luton, you served us the beer, red wine, and tequila. And as for your grandmother, she shouldn't have mouthed off like that.

Eventually, we were there. The sun shining, window open, freezing cold air pinching our fingers as we lifted the ring from a can of Tyskie; the memories of that hellish plane ride and the stunted, Transatlantic-like sleep that had each of us on a different time-zone, slowly washed away. Bliss followed, adding to the early hedonism. The place, the time, the journey, all forgotten and replaced with an overwhelming sense of forever. This was the specific pistol, tearing away what needed to be removed.

It’s a strong platform for fun. Fun, on fun, on fun. I remember, once, sitting in a tent in Munich. It was 10am, our first beer was in hand and a friend said “What do we do now?” What? We wait. That’s what. We wait and let time takes it course. The drip, drip, drip of those favoured molecules, setting into motion the chaos, mania, and ecstasy that we thrive on for the next few hours.

Someone trips on a towbar, someone pulls a pint into their lap, someone sits in the corner and discusses the underrepresentation of black and Asian soldiers in British war movies, to anyone who’ll listen; ah, who am I kidding, that someone was just one person. All of a sudden the mundane becomes fun. Becomes fun, on fun, on fun, on fun.

Before you know, it’s 2am in a smoke filled, techno club that’s walked straight out of a 90s movie set (I’m thinking Blade here), beer costs so little that air seems expensive. Who knows what happened in there. Honestly, they covered my phone camera with stickers, what’s a child of technology to do?

Who found this place? I don’t know. Where was this place? I don’t know. Was it even real? I’d say not, but I do have the stickers on my phone to prove it.

Minutes later, outside with a kebab in a pot, a stumble home, six new friends on the way, and Christ knows how (literally, only he does - God’s gone to bed by this point), you’re up the stairs, sliding along the walls to a bed you remember leaving, but can’t quite place.

That specific pistol has done its job, for now. The memories leaked back in to a mind so fuddled, it thought up was the same as down and tried to sleep on its shoes. The next morning, the sickness and pain, so real, that the pincushion was relegated, the pain threshold reset to an immediate, apparent stinging reality where the idea of an emotion causing pain was almost laughable.

A handful of hours, down. A handful of hours, lost. A handful of hours that would never move fast enough, but I prayed, prayed so much that they would. Trains, planes, and automobiles; each one, stomach-churningly slow and vomit-inducingly bumpy. Each one, never quite the last one I thought it would be.

And finally, home.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

FreakScene - Farringdon, London

The world of food annoys me, which is why I've never really tried to elevate this blog above what it is: a place for occasional ramblings about something I ate.

In a way, I'm happy in my annoyance. The food world can do it's own thing, somewhere over there, and I'll do own thing over here.

From time-to-time, it encroaches on me, though. Uninvited.

Generally, it's a classic foodie post that will flash up on Instagram - it's picture perfect angle, lighting, shade, and texture not giving any indication as to the quality or taste of the dish; the text below, some meaningless platitude or name-drop of a chef, including the word 'that' - with strong emphasis.

But, on rare occasions, it'll be someone who works in the industry that catches me, in the real world, pinning me down (not literally) and boring me to death about some trend, food, detail, or knife sharpener.

This time it was a budding young-(ish) chef telling me about a burger.

I don't want to do him down. I don't want to stifle his career (ha ha - as if I have the power). But, if there was one thing I could have been bothered to say to him (albeit from a position of admitted ignorance) it's that you should really listen to your customers.

Burgers are done mate. Snore off. Which, as a potential customer, is the basic gist of my argument.

Yeah, his burger will be the best cut of meat from the happiest cow that ever skipped through a meadow, the best bread a baker can knead, the best cheese from the best milk a different cow shot from its udder, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Well, two things spring to mind. One, if you do that, you're an idiot. Surely, it'll be the most expensive burger that no one can afford, even if they wanted to buy it. So, you're cooked as a business. Two, if you manage to use the best ingredients money can buy and - miraculously - keep the price reasonable, then kudos to you. Still, it's been done. The ‘best’ burger is out there somewhere and people aren’t really that bothered about it. After all, it's a burger. How much better can it really be?

Ah. What am I saying. I shouldn’t do down someone’s dream. We all have them, no? Even if it’s only to run out on the field during a baseball game.

So, good luck to him. God loves a trier and all that. And, who knows, maybe the burger is due another shot in the arm, to boost it to levels I can't begin to imagine, while keeping it cheap enough to suit people's pockets.

Watch this space, I guess. Although, I'm really not sure I'll be visiting, regardless of how great *that* burger is said to be on Instagram.

Anyway, I know all three of you are asking yourselves, how did we even get here? Wasn't this meant to be a review of Farringdon’s latest food pop-up, FreakScene?

Yeah. Sorry. I tend to do that. Surely the three of you know that by now?

I'm sure I can join my rant and this review together, though. So, here goes.

What that chef should have done, is ignore his blinkered obsession with his greatest burger of all time and get his arse over to FreakScene, to see what people really want to eat.

Done! Boom!

FreakScene is how you do a restaurant (although, granted, perhaps not how you do a restaurant name). It's warm, welcoming, has friendly staff, and a menu that you want to order in its entirety (and, if you did, it only costs about £90). Basically, it ticks every box.

They describe the food as pan Asian, which it is. Lots of chilli, lots of pork, lots of rice, you know, Asian food. And, if you know me at all, you'll know I'm not going to run through each dish; more just pick out the highlights, before I get too too bored of my own voice - which’ll happen very very quickly (don't worry).

I can’t go any further without mentioning the beef fillet Takait with onion ponzu. I have no idea what at least two of the words in that description mean, but whatever they mean translates into f-ing deliciousness in your mouth. Seriously, this is one of the best dishes I’ve eaten - not this month, not this year, not this decade; just ever. The beef, so tender, so succulent, so warm but so rare. Whatever sat alongside it was the perfect balance of sweet, spice, and salt. Just all-in-all mouth dribblingly insanely tasty.

Frankly, I don’t know what you’re doing still reading this. Get to Farringdon, get to FreakScene and order three of these - now.

Mild beef induced ecstasy over, let’s move on to the chicken. Vastly inferior to the beef, yet still a 9/10. That’s no slight on the chicken; the beef is just *that* amazingly good. Stick it on your Instagram and smoke it!

Oh yeah, the chicken, fried in chicken (work that out) and served with a peanut soy / satay style sauce, so thick it was like tar, so sweet it was like a pudding, so perfect I started licking it up with my finger (that might be a lie, but you get the point). The chicken itself, so tender you could strip it from the bone with a single stare. God, it was good. Although, the beef was better - get a pen and write that down, so you remember.

Every other dish, great. Marvellous. We finished every one we ordered. I’m not going into detail, though; 1) I can’t remember the detail, 2) you can read the menu above, and 3) I’m now bored of my own voice.

There’s only one thing left to do - plug the heck out of FreakScene and tell you (for the last time) to get there before it closes it doors for good. When you do, order *that* beef (just in case I didn’t say, it's great!).

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Quality Chop House - Farringdon

I have to be a little careful here. Our trip to Quality Chop House was a birthday meal, from me to my girlfriend. Any criticism I deliver, then, surely waters down the present and probably means I owe her something else to make up the difference.

But, I’m nothing if not a hero - and here, I’m going to take a bullet, water down the present slightly, so my audience (hey Mum) doesn’t make the same mistake we did.

Quality Chop House is the sort of small, Dickensian styled restaurant that American tourists fantasise about. It’s all tweed, booths, creaking chairs, dust, and old (empty) bottles of wine. A film set straight out of Dickens’s best work, The Muppet Christmas Carol.

We squeezed in, on a hot evening, next to a really quiet couple who looked seriously, seriously displeased to hear me. Dust blew in the light wind that breezed through the open door, the sounds of traffic and the mating call of drunks carried in from the street, while a clock ticked quietly in the corner.

And God, how it ticked. And ticked. And ticked some more. Counting down the minutes (all ten of them) between us sitting down and ordering a drink - and the further ten between ordering that drink and having it on the table.

Champagne, that was all. The order wasn’t complicated. The order wasn’t unusual (surely). Yet, the waiter told us twice that it was ‘on it’s way’ - Christ only knows how deep their cellars are.

The champagne (it might have been a sparkling wine, actually) was an accident, it said on the menu - discovered when the producer tried to create a different drink. It tasted like one too.

Another accident was the word ‘Chop’ above the restaurant door.

Maybe I have this all wrong, but in my view, a chop house has to major on meat. I mean seriously major on meat.

Mondale to Hart - where’s the beef?

Seriously, where was the beef? Everyone around us seemed to be chomping through some massive t-bone action; the sort of steak that toppled cars 10,000 years ago. It was absent from the menu, though. Not a cut of cow in sight.

We asked and, apparently, QCH has a limited supply - they only order as much as they think they’ll need for the weekend.

This was Friday. At 8pm. At a chop house. How many vegans had they booked in for the weekend? How many people were going to come in and order leek soup? Come on! People want meat! People expect meat, at a chop house. And you’ve run out, at 8pm on a Friday, in central London, a ten minute walk from Smithfield Market - Smithfield, ‘the largest wholesale meat market in the UK’ (thanks Wikipedia).

Not only that, but clearly the chefs are strong with their meat game. The asparagus I had to start was tough, saltless, and boring.

Anyway, with no beef, we went for lamb. Solid, dependable lamb, cooked three ways, served on a big sharing plate, with a couple of sides - and an extra order of potatoes, which they also stored in that deep, dark, cavernous cellar. We tried our best. We chewed slowly. We took deep breathes, big pauses, and talked about the weather. We eked out the meal for as long as we physically could; but, those potatoes had to be eaten, unaccompanied, in place of a dessert.

There’s a few lessons for the restaurant industry here. First, sort your s**t out. It’s Friday night, it’s a popular time for people to eat and spend money, you’re going to busy - bring your A-game; don’t be dithering around, neglecting to take orders, and keeping your champagne and half your menu in the next postcode.

Secondly, get people a drink. Straight away. Demand they have one. Offer them something good from the list. We’re a couple, we’re ever so slightly dressed up and looking a bit tipsy - tip the wine list down our throats; chances are we’ll pay for half of it.

Finally, if you’re a chop house, your menu should rival Noah’s Ark. There should be meat-stacked-upon-meat-stacked-upon-meat - and if you’re buying, cutting, preparing, or whatever on a Friday for the weekend, do double. Last time I checked, meat keeps and sells for more when it does.

Anyway, if you’re in the area, don’t just take my word for it - give Quality Chop House a try; or, walk around the corner to Exmouth Market and the many, many decent restaurants on that street.

Saturday 8 April 2017

Social Eating House - Soho, London

This really isn’t a blog, is it? To qualify as a blog, I think you need some degree of regularity in your posts and what are mine? Months apart?

Yeah, the last one was in February, so I’m on for sixth in a month. That’s a pace so far removed from blogging, it’s glacial.

You also need some knowledge on the subject, don’t you? Or - at the very least - a passion for it.

I love food, because it keeps me full (for a short while). I love food, because it’s tasty. And, I love restaurants, because they provide the food. I’m not particularly passionate about them, as an industry. New openings in far-flung East London archways and the latest fad cuisine of an Inuit take on Peruvian street food, I really don’t care for.

So, what you’re only ever reading on this website is an uninformed ramble, by an ill-educated (when it comes to food), passion-less, permanently hungry keyboard jockey, who wouldn’t last five minutes serving tables, frying steaks, cutting up vegetables, or washing up.

Actually, that’s not true. I once washed dishes for 8 months. It felt like prison.

As ever, this is a long winded way of getting to the point - which is this: if you’re a chef, foodie, or a random passerby, someone I know or someone I don’t, please don’t be offended by anything you read here, as what I say carries very little meaning and even less weight.

Anyway, on to Social Eating House.

I have to be a bit careful here. I was taken here for my birthday, didn’t pay a penny towards the meal, and already had a few cocktails before we arrived; so, I’d better be careful what I say.

Hands up if you’ve ever eaten at a chef’s table? Some of you? Yes? Good.

Well, for those who haven’t, it’s simple - you sit in the kitchen, quite near the pass (the bit where the head chef checks the food before it goes out), close enough to see the meat sizzle, feel a little of the stove’s heat, and hear the c-bomb whenever it’s dropped.

And, boy, was it dropped!

Well, twice; but right after I complained (quite loudly) that the chef hadn’t used the c-word yet.

Talk about service!

Social Eating House is one of Jason Atherton’s restaurants. That means it could be excellent, as it was at Pollen Street Social (aside from that awful excuse for a pudding) - or, it could be fairly ‘meh’, at it was at Sosharu; so, I drew a line down the middle and expected it to be good.

And good, it turned out to be. Very good, in fact. Not excellent (that’s a rare score for this skinny Michelin Man wannabe to give); but, a ‘very good’ from me is that kind of score the chef should print out and stick to the fridge with a magnet.

Honestly, he should!

Starting with mackerel and finishing with milk tart, we took in a series of ‘modern European’ dishes of rabbit, sea bass, foie gras, and the like. You know, that sort of English meets French food, all done posh, and served in very small pieces - except for that foie gras.

Man, was that a lot of liver. Too much for me. I find foie gras sickly at the best of times and I was far happier with the root vegetable broth it was floating on. Mmmm...broth. I really am a peasant at heart.

The rabbit, I found disappointing - quite bland in the main, but with the odd burst of a slightly unpleasant flavour I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

The sea bass, on the other hand, was fantastic. If I remember rightly, it sat on mash. Rich, creamy, butter stuffed mash. I really really am a peasant.

To wash this all down was wine - lots of wine and some French pear cider, which seemed to arrive just at my glass was empty. Perfect timing.

And, in a way, that’s the real point of the chef’s table experience. It’s less about the food (although, obviously, that’s still massively important) and more about being treated better than the other customers. You’re not just any old schmuck, but minor royalty for a couple of hours, sitting behind a curtain that says ‘No Entry’ and given a private performance by the entire kitchen staff.

Sure, the rabbit was odd. Okay, the foie gras wasn’t for me. Put all that aside, though, as for two hours this peasant felt way more important than usual - and, better yet, he wasn’t paying a penny.

Thursday 16 February 2017

Sushi Tetsu - Clerkenwell

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? A while since I’ve trotted out a restaurant review, that I’m not sure many people will take the time to read.

Why it’s been so long, I don’t quite know. Possibly, because I’ve been eating out a lot less lately, possibly because every time I’ve put ‘pen to paper’ I’ve bored myself within the first five lines - and, that’s never a good sign.

Writer’s block, they call it.

Either that or I’m just not cut-out up for this food writing lark.

Regardless, I decided to struggle through for Sushi Tetsu and - at least - try and write something that didn’t send me to sleep. Let me know if it works for you too.

I’ll confess, right now, I’ve never heard of Sushi Tetsu (but, as we know, I’ve never been a well-informed food writer; if I can even be called that at all).

It seems everyone else has, though. And, everyone else also knew the price.

What a price! A £65 minimum spend.

A massive thanks has to go out here to Steph who picked up a fair bit of the tab. I’ll buy the next one, I promise.

The question a price like that raises, in this instance anyway, is how good can sushi really be? Can something that you can now pick up at almost every sandwich shop, for about £6 really be worth 10x that price?

God, if I was any good at this, I would make a case for, a case against, and draw a line somewhere down the middle.

How good can sushi be? Very. Can it ever be worth that much? I guess so, because enough people are prepared to pay for it.

But, the value of food really depends on the situation. The venue, the company, the time, the place, your very own mental state. Not just a cost / taste analysis.

A McDonald’s is pretty good, when it’s cold and crappy outside, your useless football team have lost at home (again), and you’re craving an overdose of dirt cheap fat, sugar, salt, and caffeine. Meet me last Saturday and just try to tell me those things aren’t some of the best life has to offer.

Good sushi - or even great sushi - has a subtle flavour. It’s not going to bowl you over, slap you around the mouth, and announce itself like a hideous, bloated, bald racist on his first day as President.

Nope. It’s going to play gently across your mouth and, if you focus too much on anything else - lights, music, booze, the idiots at the table next to you arguing about the bill - then you’ll miss it.

The culinary equivalent of blinking at the Formula 1.

Sushi Tetsu provides exactly what you need here; the perfect scenario to appreciate the quality of each dish. A cross between a massage parlour (a genuine one, not a seedy one), an upmarket bar, and a phone box, it’s tranquil, it’s quiet, it only has seven seats; and, if one of them is occupied by a total gobsh*te, who spends the whole meal yakking away about his life, opinions, theories, and trips to Morganville, then I imagine it’s pretty damn annoying for everyone else.

Yeah, sorry about that.

So, seven seats. Yep, you heard me right. That’s all Sushi Tetsu has. It’s a phone box of a venue and, if you’re looking to book, you need a fast dialling wand, some dirt on the chef, or a slightly geeky friend who can build you a Twitter based alerting system that texts you when a table is free.

I kid you not.

This really is a thin sliver of a restaurant, where even a medium sized-man has to squeeze sideways between a pillar and a post to make it to the postage stamp of a toilet at the back. Seven seats, arranged along a bar, behind which the diligent, patient, highly professional chef works tirelessly to prepare (what looks like) the best quality fish going and serve it directly to the total opposite staring back at him.

The waiting staff, float between the diners, top up their water, answer their ignorant questions with a patience equal to the chef, and try to tempt another drink down their throats.

Why am I boring you with the layout and a description of the staff’s meticulous nature?

Well, I’m trying to portray the atmosphere, because that’s what this place is really all about. The food is great. I’m sure if you know sushi, you’ll say it’s even better. Served from a plastic tray, accompanied by a tiny folk and a small fish of soy sauce, you might not tell the difference; but, that's not the point (have I made that clear?).

Sushi Tetsu is cosy, yet relaxed. A meditation chamber (I think Steph called it) of a place, the lights, staff, sounds (lack thereof) - except for that loudmouthed idiot (sorry again) - create the perfect tranquil state; where time stops, you feel lightheaded, you’re prepared to trip right over that £65 line, go mad and order the octopus sushi.

Which, they didn’t let me have. Damn them. If I shouldn’t have the octopus, why is it on the menu?

Ah, who cares. Basically, if you don’t know your sushi, be prepared for a few mild embarrassments like that.

We tucked into three sashimi, first; oyster, tuna, and sea bass (I could be wrong), each changed on every bite by the application of more or less wasabi, freshly ground from the fat green root sat on the chef’s table.

The first plate gone in seconds - this meal felt like it would all be gone in a few seconds more (and don't worry, this review won't take much longer).

The sushi, though, is more relaxed. The chef works his way methodologically through the orders. Rolling rice, slicing fish, glazing with soy, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, and serving up each morsel with one word and a bow.

Mesmerising, his hands dancing back and forth across the counter stopped even my conversation. The occasional flame joined the dance and licked intricate patterns across delicate, succulent, seared beef-like tuna.

Finally, the sushi rolls of salmon and tuna were beautifully massaged into shape in front of us and finished as quickly as they were sliced.

And, then we were out. Through the door, complete with 20% more bowing, floating back along the dark alleyways of Clerkenwell.

It was like a massage. It felt like a therapy, with a light touch that left a heavy mark. It seemed like a dream. I wanted a whisky and I wanted to sleep (what’s new). Strangely, all that transfixed staring, that distinct lack of chewing, suddenly felt like it had been hard work, reflected in the wallet and the eyes.

Maybe it was a dream. I half expected to turn back and see the entrance replaced by a different shop, selling forbidden objects and frogurt; but, given how many people have since mentioned the place, I'll conclude that it was real. To be honest, it might as well been a dream, as I doubt I’ll be back - wiring up your mobile to a Twitter feed in the hope of a last minute cancellation just seems like far too much effort for a lazy man.