Saturday, October 3, 2015


Is there nothing that a potato and wheat based stackable snack chip can’t do?  Apparently not.

 Image by Patrick Sisson.

Above are some artfully (all right, not all THAT artfully) arranged Pringles displayed by the Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto to show to show how he gets inspired.  They were on show at the Chicago Architecture Biennial, titled “Architecture is Everywhere”.    

Imagine what he could do with some genuine potato crisps/chips.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


The London Mob is a scary thing, for its sympathizers as much as its opponents.  And last week there was an “anti-gentrification demonstration” in Shoreditch protesting about the increasing hipsterism and expense of the neighborhood.  Pigs’ heads and flaming torches were carried, apparently. 

A great deal of publicity has come the way of one of the targets, an establishment called the Cereal Killer Café, where hipsters (or idiots), can pay a few quid for a bowl of cereal served up by a couple of annoying blokes with beards.

Painted was thrown at the shop and the word “Scum” was written, backwards it appears, on the window.  In the history of rioting this is rather tame stuff, but no less stupid and misdirected for that.  These Cereal Killer boys should be mocked certainly, they should be treated with pity and contempt, but I’m not sure they really count as scum or as a meaningful target for class warfare.

Say what you like about scum of the Bellingdon Club, they don’t go down the East End and wreck eel and pie shops.  Hold on to that thought.

Now, every week I go into my local supermarket and look at the fancy beers.  There seem to be ever more of them, a sign of burgeoning hipsterism for sure. And of course the fanciness is often largely in the label, like this one:

As a man who loves a good labyrinth, I’m obviously tempted to buy a bottle or two, but then I look at the price, which is currently about $14, and think better of it..  When a bottle of beer costs more than an acceptable bottle of wine then something is a bit Koyannisqatis (“life out of balance”), as the Hopi would say.  So I settled for this, bottle of Payback Porter.

It was, as we say, “affordable” and to be honest I actually misread the name.  I thought it said Playback, and was therefore a reference to the Raymond Chandler novel of that title.  The beer of course is “noir” and many a noir book jacket would make a perfectly good beer label, if you ask me.

And then a few days later I went to the rather fancy Ray’s and Stark Bar, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and ordered a bottle of Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (that’s “Russian” as in brewed in Oregon) – again extremely noir, though in a different way.

The Old Rasputin cost $8 which I suppose is what you’d expect to pay in a fancy bar, and they did deliver some free potato chips (that's crisps for my English readers) which were pretty good.

And there on the counter of Ray’s and Stark Bar was the notorious 45 page “water menu” – it's the blue thing on the right of the picture above, a text for our times to be sure, like a wine list but for water – giving details of origins, mineral contents and what not – and also of course the prices. Let me quote, not quite at random, “Berg Water is a glacial water from western Greenland. As massive icebergs break off 15,000 year old glaciers, they are harvested and melted under strict purity guidelines to preserve the water’s natural qualities. The result is a water virtually untouched by man and with little to no trace of minerals.” 

I’m not sure about the environmental correctness of “harvesting” glaciers, but it’s not a moral dilemma that’s likely to affect me, since a three quarters of a liter bottle of Berg costs $20. If you accept my premise that a bottle of beer shouldn’t cost more than a bottle of wine, how you gonna feel when a bottle of water costs more than a bottle of vodka?
         This water menu has been much mocked, and rightly so, and is of course madly annoying as is its begetter, “water sommelier” Martin Riese. 

And I admit that a part of me did feel like rioting about it, and maybe daubing the word “Scum” somewhere about the premises, but I didn’t, I am a civilized man.  I also think the LACMA has some very serious and enthusiastic security men who’d just love to step in and beat up somebody like me.  They probably think I’m hipster scum.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


I know some people have adopted the slogan “eat don’t tweet” and I think they have a point, so I’ve been trying to think of a similar slogan for booze –“imbibe, don’t inscribe” – not nearly as good, I know.  In any case I’m not sure my heart is really in this slogan, and I’m not sure it has to be either/or.

The fact is I really enjoy seeing pictures of what other people are drinking, especially if it’s in some fancy watering hole. My pal Steve from Sheffield, for instance, has just returned from Lake Como, where he drank in the Grand Hotel Cadenabbia, and he had the James Bond Martini.  It’s the one in front below:

He tells me it contains gin, vodka and Lillet, so it’s actually a version of the Vesper from “Casino Royale,” although that one contained a slice of lemon rather than olives, and lemon is a non-starter in a martini if you ask me.  He tells me it was clean and cold – which is always necessary, if not always sufficient.  (Martini-bore, moi?)
    The drink in the rear belongs to Steve’s wife Julia, and is a White Lady, though without the egg white of legend.

Meanwhile my pal Lynell George posts this cocktail served at Elysian, a fancy place down by the Los Angeles River. 

It is, she tells me, a “Lychee-Gee”:  vodka with lychee and an edible hibiscus.  Gosh.  However confident you are in your masculinity, I can’t help thinking most men consider this a “lady’s drink” – which is of course fine, if you’re a lady, as Lynell is.

Meanwhile, again, my pal Anne Billson (yes, I have at least 3 pals) who’s based in Belgium, and photographs and writes about many things, not least movies and Belgian life, is conducting some extensive beer research, and the results appear on her Facebook page as well as on the website
Of course it’s no surprise that the Belgians know all about beer, but even so, her photograph of Satan Gold left me prostrate with envy.  Online research says it’s “not available in my area.”

Still, I’ve been doing my best to fly the flag here in East Hollywood.  I was in my local BevMo, a name that makes it sound like it ought to be super-cheap and cheerful and vaguely disreputable, but is in fact a rather sophisticated place, and I swooped on a bottle of Trooper.

This is a beer brewed by Robinson’s, and inspired or possible even “curated” by Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, and named after the Iron Maiden Song “Trooper,” about the Charge of the Light Brigade.  I went to the same school in Sheffield as Bruce Dicksinson, though not at quite the same time.

My pal Steve tells me there are 280 different beers on sale in Sheffield.  And I’m sure he’s right.  When I was in Sheffield this summer I went to the market, where there’s a place called Beer Central, and I bought a bottle of Yorkshire Square Ale.   I did like that black square on the label:

But now I’m thinking I should have bought the Green Devil. 

 They don't go much for ladies' drinks in Sheffield.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


I was on the road, and had stopped in Baker, in the Mojave desert, to eat at the Mad Greek, a very decent diner (way better than any diner in Baker needs to be), good food served in a setting of over-the-top Hellenic decoration.  I had the lamb gyro.

A few tables away sat a family consisting of a very loud child, a mother, and two grandparents.  The grandfather, something of a patriarch by his looks and behavior, and also (I think) Greek, was not having a good time.  He said, more than once, loudly, in what I took to be a Greek accent, “This is very low class food.” 

Well of course I don’t know what he was having – maybe he’d got a bad kebab – but, as I say, in general the food is way better than you have any right to expect in a nothing little town in the desert.  And it did occur to me that there may have been things other than the food spoiling his meal, the pressures of being a Greek patriarch perhaps, but he was taking it out on the food, and eventually he stormed outside for a good smoke.

I thought he was an annoying dolt, but he did set me thinking about the different ways people react to bad food.  Anger is the obvious way – as the reviews on Yelp so clearly demonstrate - and yes, anger gives you a certain release and power in an unpleasant situation, and I’m not pretending that I’m immune to that.  But sometimes anger just doesn’t feel like the appropriate response.

On this same road trip, I ate at a Chinese restaurant in Delta, Utah called Top’s City Café.  That had obviously been the name of a previous incarnation, but the new owners hadn’t changed it, for whatever reason.  The interior still looked like  a very cool, classic diner, though as you can see business wasn’t especially brisk.

I ordered the Cashew Chicken which turned out to be strips of dry, flavorless chicken, overwhelmed by veggies in a bland, glutinous sauce.   It actually looks much better than it tasted, which is a problem we bloggers sometimes have:

It was pretty bad but it didn’t make me angry.  It made me very sad, because obviously the people running the place were good people – the Chinese waitress was cheerful and attentive, and the cook, an older Chinese man, appeared from the kitchen from time to time and looked around the restaurant in a concerned way.  Clearly they were not indifferent, clearly they were trying hard, but they were failing. 
        And we come to that old thing – not the Kitchen Nightmare thing – that if only some Gordon Ramsey type could breeze in and do a bit of swearing, then everything would be all right.  No, rather that maybe it would be better for all concerned if the chef found something else to do, something he was good at. Meanwhile they could get a good new chef for the kitchen. I had a distinct feeling this was not going to happen at Top’s City Cafe, and that was saddest of all.

But not everything in Delta was sad.  Up at the other end of town there was a place called Mi Rancherito, proclaiming itself to be a Mexican restaurant, although there was a huge Salvadorian flag displayed inside: maybe it was fusion.  The carne asade was wonderful: much better than it looks in this pic (see above).

But here’s the thing: were the people working in Mi Rancherito and less attentive or caring than the people in Top’s City Café?  Were the Mi Rancherito crowd trying harder: no, both lots were trying just as hard.  But the cook, was just very, very much better at what he or she did.  And this is the real thing, which may seem obvious, but doesn’t get said nearly as often as I think it should: being good at things really gives you an unfair advantage over people who are less good.