Thursday, July 30, 2015


And here’s another thing about London, literature, eating and walking.  It comes from V.S. Naipaul’s novel Half A Life, published in 2001, but set in London in the 1950s: 
      "(Willie Somerset Chandran) went very late that evening to Piccadilly Circus.  He walked around the streets, hardly daring to look at the aggressive, dangerous-looking streetwalkers.  He walked until he was tired.  At about midnight he went into a bright café.  It was full of prostitutes, hard, foolish-looking, not attractive, most of them drinking tea and smoking, some of them eating soft white cheese rolls.”

I’m not sure what Naipaul is objecting to most here.  Is it the mere presence of prostitutes? Or is it the fact that the prostitutes were aggressive, dangerous-looking, hard, foolish-looking, and not attractive?  If they were benign, safe-looking, soft, wise and attractive would that be OK then?  Or is it – and I expect it actually is – the fact that they’re eating soft white cheese rolls? 
         And if we’re really going to get pedantic about it – and obviously I am – was it the roll that was soft and white, or the cheese that was soft and white?  Or both?

  Anyway, above is a picture of Naipaul and his wife Pat having a picnic by the pool at the Ashoka hotel, New Delhi, in 1962.  Not a soft white cheese roll in sight.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


There’s a very nice piece about Michael Moorcock on the New Statesman website, by Andrew Harrison who went to Paris to interview Moorcock and writes,Before travelling to Paris, I’d asked if there was anything that Moorcock misses from home that I could smuggle in for him. It transpires that the French capital is well stocked with tea bags and Branston pickle. You have not lived until you have presented one of your literary heroes with the contraband he truly desires: four luxury pork pies.

I can well believe that’s true.  And frankly (and I mean this as no criticism) Mr. Moorcock doesn’t look like a man who’s denied himself many pork pies.

I’ve meet Moorcock a couple of times though I’m absolutely certain he wouldn’t know who I am.  The first time was in the early 1980s when I was working at the Words & Music bookshop in the Charing Cross Road in London, and he came for a signing.  Apparently it had been a long time since he’d last done a signing and the fans were out in numbers, many of them carrying bags and holdalls and even suitcases full of Moorcock books. 

In order to make the task go more smoothly the bookshop had supplied him with two bottles of  red wine.  As I recall they were litre bottles, but I may be misremembering that.  In any case he sat at a table for several hours and signed everything put in front of him.  Between each signature he took a sip of wine, small enough in itself, but nevertheless by the end of the session he’d polished off both bottles, and was showing no signs of being even slightly tiddly.

The picture above is from 1970, which I found on the website  And no, I have no idea who the other people around that table are.  Still, there’s only one bottle of wine, nobody has a glass, and it really doesn’t look as though Mr. Moorcock’s in the mood for sharing.

The New Statesman piece is here:

Saturday, July 25, 2015


And speaking of fried cheese (as I was, in the previous post about the sandwich at Cassell’s Hamburgers (that’s a close up of it above - the cheese is the flappy, wing-like things sticking out at the sides) – the other night I went to Loteria, a superior and not entirely inauthentic, Mexican restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard, with top English photographer Jason Oddy, who’s in town for one thing and another.

I always think the best thing about Loteria is the chicharron de queso, “griddle toasted Oaxaca and Jack Cheese with with corn tortillas, guacamole and salsa verde cruda” though I must say I always refer to it as the “cheese hat.” Young Oddy seemed puzzled by it at first:

But soon saw the appealing side:

You could perhaps think this was a move from anticipation to acclamation, as in Fry’s Five Boys chocolate, but without the desperation and pacification, and certainly without the realization that it’s Fry’s:

I know I ate a fair amount of Five Boys chocolate as a kid, though I’m pretty sure I ever went through the five stages.   I also think the chocolate was pretty ordinary but the packaging and the form was unbeatable.

And I started wondering whether there was any connection between Five Boys chocolate and Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stage model of grief and bereavement.  It seems a little unlikely.  Five Boys was launched in 1902, and manufacturing ened in 1975. Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying wasn’t published till 1969. I haven’t the slightest evidence that Kübler-Ross ever ate or even knew about Fry’s Five Boys, and of course she was Swiss, so I imagine she wasn't a fan of English chocolate.

Still, I can’t help thinking there’s some curious convergence at work here.   And I’m pretty sure I’d buy a chocolate bar with five faces moulded into it labeled Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.  Sounds like a project for Bompas and Parr.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


As you perhaps know, I run two separate blogs, one about walking, one about food, and inevitably there some convergences from time to time, posts that could fit into either or both places.  This is one of those.

A couple of days ago I had lunch in LA’s Koreatown with my fellow traveler, writer and urban explorer Colin Marshall, who lives in the area.  I combined the lunch with a walk, though I walked by myself since Colin’s a committed cyclist, which I am not, and also because he had to go off and get a haircut.

Will it surprise you that Koreatown is undergoing some serious gentrification? And of course a change in the food culture is always a major indication of that process.  

We happened to go past the Line Hotel (that's it above, and further above)which had become a bit of sixties slum by all accounts, but now it’s a hot and happening “design-forward” destination, containing two (yep count ‘em) restaurants from Roy Choi, the LA wonderboy.  The menu in Choi’s restaurant Pot offers the “Beast Mode Seafood Plateau” - oysters, shrimp, assorted crab, hamachi, uni & scallops for $96 (and yes, there’s probably a second marijuana reference in there), and yes, I understand that Choi gets a certain amount of flak from old school traditionalist Korean eaters.

But we weren’t headed there – we were going to Cassell’s Hamburgers, now inside the restored and refurbished Normandie Hotel.  And in fact some purists are vaguely disturbed that Cassell’s was there at all.  It was established in 1948 a little ways away, and had a see-sawing reputation over the years.  The owner Al Cassell worked there until he was well into his 80s.  

Now it’s under new ownership and has become a kind of minimalist hipster diner, with a studiedly simple menu and a range of craft beers. 

Colin had the Cobb Salad (it's not as small as it looks below - that's a trick of the wide angle perspective) and I had the Grilled Ham and Cheese sandwich with tomato jam, though afterwards I wished I’d had a burger.  The best thing about the sandwich – some of the cheese is deliberately left sticking out of the sandwich so it gets fried gets fried as the sandwich is cooked.  It’s hard not to love fried cheese.

As tends to happen when a couple of writers-slash-urbanists get together we talked of many things, and I certainly told the old story of how, when I first moved to LA, I really wanted to see the Felix the Cat sign on the Chevy dealership down by USC, and how it was ten years before I actually get there. 

But I didn’t mention, and in fact had pretty much forgotten, that I’d had a similar urge to see (I’m not sure what you’d call it exactly) the ghost or the specter or the simulacrum of the old Brown Derby restaurant.  The original was built in 1926 on Wilshire Boulevard, a “programmatic” building in the shape of a Derby, not that anybody (me included) has a very clear of what a Derby hat looks like anymore.  It was there that Bob Cobb invented the Cobb salad (did I mention something about convergence?)

The building was demolished in 1980 and I knew there’d been some half-hearted attempt to create a Derby-like or maybe Derby-lite element to the mini-mall that replaced.  Yes, I knew all this but I wasn’t thinking about it at all as I walked along Wilshire Boulevard after lunch, and suddenly there it was.

Frankly, it’s more of a dome than a hat: there’s no brim.  It looks pretty odd from ground level and doesn’t look much less odd when you’re standing beside it.  I gather it’s been a bar and a music venue, but it seems to sit empty most of the time, which is surely a shame.  Maybe nobody wants to eat in a building that doesn’t like much like a hat.

In fact as I walked along Wilshire Boulevard there now seemed to be all manner of intriguing restaurants, the HMS Bounty, which is evidently a place to consume food and grog.

OK, its become HMS Bo in this incarnation.

And here was this vastly intriguing sign, advertising some kind of sandwich joint: who wouldn’t be attracted to a hip Benjamin Franklin with a bit of Korean script behind him? Though actually I think he looks quite a bit like Larry David.

It makes you want to have another lunch and go for anther walk.  I almost certainly will.