Friday, September 13, 2019


Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about food expectations. Now, in one sense low expectations are always going to work in your (and a restaurant’s) favour, because if you go into a place and you think it’s going to be terrible but it turns out to me more or less OK, then you tend to think you’ve come out ahead; although this obviously doesn’t seem to be a reasonable way to go through the world.

I was once taken, by my ex father in law, to the Ritz (with others), and many things were wonderful – the room, the view, the service, the plates and cutlery – but the food was ordinary.  Was I disappointed? Yes.  Had I expected too much?  Possibly.

But last weekend I was in Bristol, not on a foodie jaunt and I wasn’t expecting anything at all, and so on Friday night we ended up in a quasi-railway-themed pub called The Sidings, down by the station.  This is from the website, the gal on the left actually served me!

We were hungry and weary, we couldn’t be arsed to go roaming the streets looking for food, and so we ordered the Heidi Pizza from the bar – tomato, olives, pesto, goat cheese and it was really quite good, by which I suppose I mean surprisingly  good.  It exceeded expectations. Had it been served to me at the Ritz I might I have been disappointed; but it wasn’t, so I wasn’t.  It looked like this:

And then on Saturday afternoon, while out on a psychogeographical drift, we ended up in a pub called the Lodekka – which is the name of a kind of a kind of Bristol bus, apparently.  The pub was part of the Hungry Horse chain, owned by Greene King, but horse was not on the menu.  I mean it would have been amazing if it had been, but I hadn’t expected it so I wasn’t disappointed.

The place was full of children in the throes of sugar-rushes, and also rugby fans watching the game on a big screen. We ordered the miscellaneous fried fish platter, and it took a while to arrive, but when it came it wasn’t bad at all and way better than expected.  It  looked like this:

There’s all kinds of stuff in there; fish and chips, a fishcake, battered sausages, and even battered pickles, thus:

And then back in London on Sunday night, and eating in central London on a Sunday night can be a real disappointment, so we ended up in Dirty Dicks (no apostrophe) in Bishopsgate  – a decent enough historic pub.

We weren’t even expecting to eat there, but we looked at the menu and it didn’t seem bad so we ordered one of the sharing boards’, Sussex Charmer Cheese, Suffolk chorizo, pork pie, sliced sausage roll with all the trimmings; pickled onions, chutney etc.  It was really good.  But - and here’s the thing - it wasn’t just better than expected – it was better than it needed to be.

This may not be the absolute benchmark of a decent restaurant, but it’s a damn good start. 

Monday, September 2, 2019


Our family ate a lot of processed meat when I was growing up – roast pork, boiled ham, even tongue sometimes, and once in a great while, haslet.

I didn’t know what haslet was at the time, and didn’t think about it much, but now I know it’s a kind of meatloaf made from left over pork bits mixed with bread crumbs. 

I gather it’s a Lincolnshire speciality.  We lived in Sheffield, not a million miles away from Lincolnshire, and ours came from the local butcher.  It sounds like peasant food through and through, although I used to have a rather posh father-in-law from Hampshire who was a big fan of haslet, so obviously it has some social mobility.

Discovering that my local Co-op was selling sliced, packaged haslet, made (or at least packaged) byThe Taste of Suffolk, in Bury St Edmonds, I bought some and made a sandwich and it wasn’t bad, but it was awfully dull-tasting. Fortunately some pickled onions were at hand, and were much needed.

Of course I read the list of ingredients in the haslet:uncured pork trim, cured pork trim and cooked pork rind among them.  Also something they call ‘haslet seasoning,’ salt and sage being among them, but also kibbled onions.  I had never heard of kibbled onions.  I’d heard of Kibble and Bits, as in the pet food, but I didn’t know what they were in that context either.  Best as I can find, kibble is just ‘ground meal shaped into pellets’ but in the case of kibbled onions it means coarsely chopped, which looks like this apparently:

Yep, there’s no end to the excitement with haslet.

Monday, August 26, 2019


Once upon a time, we know, an English batsman would have eaten a partridge and drunk a bottle of claret before going out to face the Old Enemy in a vital Test Match.

We also know that times have changed and that every serious cricket team now  has a nutritionist and more.  So it came as a bit of a surprise to learn that Ben Stokes - our new cricketing god - ate, according to his own account, 'a knock-off Nando’s and a couple of Yorkie bars' the night before he continued the best innings of his, and pretty much anybody else’s, life (unless possibly you happen to be Brian Lara).

         Well, it worked, obviously.  

         But are there any words in the British culinary lexicon more depressing than ‘knock-off Nando’s’?  Possibly but they’ll do for now.

Thursday, August 22, 2019


I’ve only ever had one therapist, and he seemed a decent fellow, though I couldn’t imagine wanting to drink with him. How different from the therapist of Dennis Flange in Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Low-Lands,’ a short story which I just reread.

The therapist, actually analyst, is a crazy man named Geronimo Diaz. ‘For fifty minutes every week Fangle would be screamed at over martinis about his mom.’ Flange doesn’t like or trust Diaz but he concludes that at least the martinis are free – that’s assuming there’s any such thing as a free martini.

This of course reminded me of what I think is my favorite martini cartoon: there are a lot to choose from, mostly published in the New Yorker.  This one:

But then I poked around and found this one which is pretty good too

I particular like the old fashioned martini shaker in that cartoon, with the little nozzle in the cap, and so I was moved to use my own, similarly styled, shaker.  

I couldn't swear that the resulting martini was therapeutic per se, but it wasn’t half bad.

Monday, August 19, 2019


I wasn’t sure I was going to write about this but hell, I’m a writer, it’s what I do, and in any case things happen …

My good friend Hugh Paton died earlier this month.  His funeral was last Friday, a dignified affair (even though, or perhaps especially because, they played ‘Gimme Shelter’ as part of the ceremony).  And the wake was held in Sevendoorg Castle in Shooter’s Hilll.

Life being as it is, this was also the place that went I to with Hugh and his dog Fergus towards the end of last year, when Hugh seemed to be in pretty good health as far as I could see, though it wasn’t a gourmet outing.  If I remember correctly we just had a cup of tea.

Then not so long ago Hugh was diagnosed with cancer and there was an increasingly pessimistic prognosis.  Hugh was a smart man and a realist, and decided he’d like to enjoy himself while he could.  He decided to some eating in good restaurants.  We had a plan to go to St John but Hugh ran out of time.

And - nothing to do with me – Hugh contacted Jay Rayner, explained his position, and asked what restaurants he should go to before he died.  Rayner was very forthcoming and helpful, provided a list, and some of the restaurants gave Hugh freebies, which was all very generous and moving.

And then Hugh died and Rayner wrote a piece in the Guardian, which in parts ran like this, ‘I had recently lost one of my closest friends to a similar cancer and knew full well that while you hope for time, it’s not a commodity you can bank on. “Carpe diem and all that,” I said.
‘He took my advice. “OK,” he wrote back, “carpe diem it is.”’ That sounds completely and utterly like Hugh.

And I do have one small, trivial memory of trying to feed Hugh many years ago in my horrible flat in Shepherds’s Bush.  After he arrived he said there were only two things he didn’t eat; mushrooms and nuts. Since both of these were involved in what I was making it it resulted in a rather unsuccessful culinary evening. Later Hugh said he’d softened a bit on these matters and I, of course, have learned when cooking for people to ask people in advance if there’s anything they don’t eat.

Anway, I still wasn’t sure I was going to write about this, but then on Sunday I went to The Mistley Thorn, in Mistley, former home of Matthew Hopkins the (unofficial) Witchfinder General.

We had some decent fish and chips,

And when the bill came they there was one of those little folding cards for comments and suggestions, and there on the front was a quotation from – you guessed it - Jay Rayner.  

It read ‘the Mistley Thorn is too damn likeable.’ A little research reveals that this was from a review published in 2011, but hey, we’re all being generous today.

And here is the publicity shot for the show ‘My Last Supper with Jay Rayner’ 

Sunday, August 18, 2019


There used to be a guy who ran a blog in LA, named Noah Galuten (which looks like an anagram,  and indeed isan anagram of ‘Aah no gluten’). The blog was called Man Bites World and the idea was to eat in a different restaurant evefry day, each from a different ethnic group.  He made it to 102 days. He’s now a chef, I gather, and I can no longer find the blog, so I can’t tell you whether or not he ever ate in a Uyghur restaurant, but I did just last week, Etles at 235 Hoe Street, Walthamstow.  It has a very fine tapestry on the wall.

The Uyghurs, as many know, are a much maligned and repressed ethnic group in China, Sunni Moslems mostly, and there’s talk of a million of them being incarcerated in ‘re-education camps’ in China.  No wonder Walthamstow looks good to them. 

The menu looks like this. 

It’s halal of course and they don’t serve alcohol but they’re happy for you to bring your own.  Everybody wins.

At first I thought they could benefit from a little advice on how to word their menu to appeal to an English clientele,  ‘cow stoumch’ (sic) and ‘noodles with calf’ lose something in the translation, though they seemed to be doing plenty of business without any help from me.

We ordered one ‘safe’ dish - Liangban Miurou – spicy beef with a vinegary sauce,  which looked like this:             

And one ‘unusual’ dish - Hula Yangti ‘lamb hoof marinated in fresh herbs and stirred with spices and bell pepper’ which looked like this:

The food was pretty good, and I loved the plates, and the place had a good vibe, and I’m glad I had the lamb’s hoof, but (and I suppose I knew this anyway) there really isn’t much meat on a lamb’s hoof, though there is, lord know, a lot of skin.  I wish was left sort of wishing I’d ordered the lamb kidney kebab.  Next time.

Sunday, August 11, 2019


Funny things, names.  I mean if I’m in London and in need of a beer and I see a Nicholson’s pub I somehow feel drawn to it, despite having no connection whatsoever with the eponymous William Nicholson, who opened his first pub in 1873.

And at my local farmer’s market on Saturday I saw they were selling small cans of olives stuffed with anchovy paste.  

They were only a quid for 3 so I’d probably have bought them anyway, but then I saw the brand was Thurstons.  I thought of Thurston Moore, top guitar abuser.  How could I resist?

I don’t know that I’d want an olive stuffed with anchovy paste in my martini but on their own they taste pretty good.  Also the contents of the can don’t look much like the image on the outside, in fact they look better.

I have no idea what Thurston Moore’s preferences are in olives, or martinis, but I imagine he might like them dirty.