Thursday, November 29, 2018


I’m living in Chelsea, round the corner from a Waitrose supermarket.  The food and drink they sell are perfectly decent but they publish a free tabloid titled “Weekend” which makes me want to kill.

The current issue has Elton John on the front, and inside there’s an advertorial from Sipsmith for “Hot Gin.”  Hot water seems to be the main ingredient.  I mean, really?

Elsewhere in the paper there’s a Heston Blumenthal-inspired recipe for a gimlet but this ain't no ordinary gimlet.  It's one of these, the one on the far right I imagine:

And this is how you'd make it if you were of unsound mind:

Of course this isn't really a gimlet, and I balked at the nonsense about butter and cider, but I can think of one gimlet-fetishist who’d have reached for his roscoe at the very idea.  I mean Raymond Chandler of course.

And it so happens that Chandler lived, briefly, in Chelsea in 1958, not half a mile away from where I am, in Swan Walk.  Hold that thought.

         The best thing about my local branch of Waitrose is that they sell oysters – 79 pence each, which isn’t bad, but if you get there at the end of the day and there are just a few left, fewer than 6 I assume, then they knock down the price.  Last night I got three at 32 pence each.  They looked like this:

         Oysters appear here and there in Chandler, usually as similes or occasionally as an adjective – somebody wears an oyster-white raincoat, someone has oyster-white luggage.
I do like this from “Red Wind” which is about the implement rather than the bivalve - “She jumped as if she had been stuck with an oyster fork. Then she tried to smile. It wasn't very successful.”
       And there’s this from “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot,” Chandler’s first published detective story (1933):
“Mardonne came out from behind the desk. He moved jerkily, like a marionette. His eyes were as dead as stale oysters. Saliva drooled down his chin.”
Almost enough to put you off your oysters, but somehow not quite.

Friday, November 23, 2018


I think it was Anthony Bourdain who said you can tell a lot about an eaterie by looking at its toilets, and I’m sure he wasn’t the only one.

It so happened last week that I had lunch at the Chelsea Arts Club, and I ate an acceptable salt beef sandwich (a bit light on the salt beef), which looked like this:

And afterwards I went to the loo, and there in the gents, blow me down, was a nude photograph of one of my former editors, Rowan Pelling, who I knew back in her Erotic Review days. It/she looked like this:

Yes I’m sure you can tell a lot about an eaterie by looking at its toilets – but in this case I’m not sure what.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


Once again I’ve been thinking about food photography, which also of course includes drink.  It seems, in many ways, that it could be a very difficult and frustrating profession, but the only food photographer I know, of any sort, Anne Fishbein who and as far as I can tell is a perfectly happy woman, and takes photographs like this, which are great:

As discussed passim on this blog, most photographers of any sort, have at one time or another taken photographs of food and drink, not least William Eggleston, although his photographs always seem to be about something other than food and drink, which is obviously a very good thing.

And I was indulging my Eggleston obsession the other day and came across an article and interview in Vanity Fair by John Heilpern from November 2015, titled “Does William Eggleston Love Women? You’re Damn Right!”  I really don’t know how many ironies there are in that headline. Anyway, at the end of the interview Heilpern asks if he can take a picture of Eggleston on his cellphone.The article runs:     

“‘Go ahead,’ he obliged. I took three of him. Then he sportingly offered to take a cellphone shot of me, although he confessed he didn’t know how. After a little explanation, he figured out my cellphone’s push button and took one picture, scarcely glancing through the lens.   
“The difference was laughable. Mine were just the usual snapshots, while his was a single, masterly composition of someone seated amid the day-for-night kitsch of El Quijote. He’s a magic man, that’s for sure.”
Well yes, Eggleston is a magic man, but I still don’t quite know why so many of his interviews seem to involve El Quijote – a slightly grim Spanish restaurant next to the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan.

Hold these thoughts. Last Friday I went out with Jason Oddy, a man who seems as far from being a food photographer as is possible.  But he told me that Eggleston was one of his great heroes, and it was seeing photographs by Eggleston, more than any others, that made him want to take photographs. Oddy generally takes photographs like this:

We were having an art and food night. We started out at Mosaic House in Earls Court at an exhibition by the Persian artist Behjat Sadr (1924-2007), titled Dusted Waters.  There was a DJ set by her grandson.  Her work looks like this:

There was wine to be had at the Mosaic Rooms, and afterwards we rolled out into the night and thought it would be only appropriate to go to a Persian restaurant and we ended up in Apadana, in Kensington High Street, which has been there since pre-revolutionay days. It was founded in 1967.  So obviously there was wine there too.

It was a decent enough place - we had the hot mezza sampler, spicy Koobideh, and seabass.

And I’m no fool, I don’t brandish my camera when “real” photographers are around, but I asked Jason to take some photographs, and he did, and everything looked great – better than I’d have taken (obviously) and better than it actually appeared in “reality.” There was also this fellow in the restaurant:

The next day I looked up another article about Eggleston, this one by Augusten Burroughs, from The New York Times Style Magazine, dated October, 2016. The title of the article was “William Eggleston, the Pioneer of Color Photography” – I can imagine more banal titles, but not easily.

And the end of the article runs, “We leave the offices of the Eggleston Trust and go to his apartment. The first thing one sees upon entering is a bright red plastic sign with a yellow border, printed with capitalized white sans-serif text. It warns, “THE OCCUPANT OF THIS APARTMENT WAS RECENTLY HOSPITALIZED FOR COMPLICATIONS DUE TO ALCOHOL. HE IS ON A MEDICALLY PRESCRIBED DAILY PORTION OF ALCOHOL. IF YOU BRING ADDITIONAL ALCOHOL INTO THIS APARTMENT YOU ARE PLACING HIM IN MORTAL DANGER. YOUR ENTRY AND EXIT INTO THIS APARTMENT IS BEING RECORDED. WE WILL PROSECUTE SHOULD THIS NOTICE BE IGNORED. THE EGGLESTON FAMILY.”

Both Augusten Burroughs and I find ourselves wondering where exactly you find a doctor who prescribes a “daily portion of alcohol,” and what exactly is the dosage.  It wouldn’t happen in Tehran, I’m sure.

Friday, November 16, 2018


I used to be pathologically indecisive when it came to picking a restaurant, especially if I was in a place I didn’t know well, or at all.  I’d walk the streets, annoying my companions, saying, Oh this one’s too full, this one’s too empty, this one’s two bright, the menu at this one is way too long to be any good, and so on. 

I have got better, and it’s in part because of reading Jonathan Gold’s food writings.  If ever there was a man prepared to venture into an unpromising mini-mall to eat in an unpromising hole-in-the-wall restaurant it was Jonathan.  The economist called him "poet of the strip mall eatery" which somehow doesn't quite get it, though I'm sure they meant well.

I’m sure Jonathan sometimes ate some less than stellar food, but he was a man who always knew that another meal was just around the corner.  And when an unpromising restaurant turned out to be really pretty good you experience a satisfaction that doesn’t come from a restaurant for which you had justifiably high expectations.

 And so a couple of nights ago, for perfectly good if slightly complicated reasons, my companion and I were walking down Green Lanes, in Stoke Newington looking for somewhere to eat, increasingly prepared to settle prepared for anywhere that was open, wasn’t lit by bare fluorescent tubes, and had at least two customers.

We ended up in Mediterranean Breeze – a Turkish fish restaurant, which looked OK from the outside, was decently lit, and had just one occupied table, a party of three women.  It was in fact way too big to be considered a hole-in-the wall.

We sat down, and the three women immediately left, but we were already in so we stayed.  For the rest of the time we were there it was just us, a waitress (who I think went home after a while), presumably a chef though I never saw him, and Tony the wonderfully welcoming maitre d’.

The food was good, but on the night it seemed absolutely wonderful – the bream was fresh, the fried potatoes were perfect, the wine was cold and decent and cheap, Tony was a gem; and it seemed like we’d made the restaurant discovery of a lifetime.

And you know, it really didn’t look like the kind of place that would give you an amuse bouche, and they probably wouldn’t have called it that, but before the main courses we were presented with two gorgeous, plump, rich, briny oysters. 

For a while, admittedly quite a short while, it felt like I was sitting in the best restaurant on earth.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


You know, a part of me will be really glad when this whole ”gin craze” is over and gin is once again left to the hardened professionals, like me.

I like gin a lot and obviously I prefer a good gin to a bad gin but I really don’t need it to be artisanal and hand-crafted. I certainly don’t need it to be made with “shoreline botanicals including ground ivy, bladderwrack and scurvygrass." Yep, that’s a real thing –  those things are apparently in Edinburgh Seaside Gin:

I first witnessed the effects of gin, when I was a kid at my cousin Margaret’s wedding – she's the bride seen below.  

Her mother, my auntie Daisy, was in floods of tears at the reception, and I already knew that people do get emotional at weddings, but Daisy was utterly inconsolable because she hadn’t been introduced to some relative of the groom, and she took this as the worst possible, infinitely wounding, insult.  Even though I was just a kid, this struck me as out of proportion, but my dad explained to me that Daisy had been DRINKING GIN!  This, he said, was what happened to people when they drank gin – they ended up swept away by floods of uncontrollable emotion. My dad didn’t like that sort of thing one bit.

Recently I encountered (I mean obviously I didn’t drink it) this stuff: Pinkster – “premium gin made with real raspberries.”

Now look, if by some bizarre chance, I wanted strawberries in my gin, I’m quite capable of putting them there myself. I don’t need some ginmeister, or former accountant, to do the job for me, OK?

And then last week in an otherwise very sensible restaurant named Pulpo they were offering a special cocktail, the Reverse Martini.  

 I asked the waitress for details. She said, “You know how a martini is lots of gin with a tiny splash of vermouth, well this is the reverse, a lot of vermouth with a tiny splash of gin.” I turned it down obviously and I’d like to believe that nobody ordered it, but I expect somebody did.

And just when you think it can’t get any worse, this stuff hits the news: Morus LXIV.  We’re told it’s distilled from the leaves of a single “ancient” Mulberry tree.  We’re also told that with each leaf is “hand-harvested” and “individually dried.”  Do the leaves know they’re been hand-harvested? Do they care?

Harvey Nicks in London is selling this stuff in a “set” – a 70cl jar and a 3cl one – yeah, yeah, it comes in jars, and the set costs £4,000. That's not a typo.  There are only 25 large bottles available.  I do hope that’ll be enough.  If the good folk who make the stuff would like to invite me to a tasting, I'd definitely be there.

And speaking of typos:


Yes, it must be hard to think up an appropriate name for your fish and kebab shop, but this does make you wonder what other options were on the list:

Walthamstow - photo by Luna Woodyear-Smith.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018


I bought a new oyster knife.

Seems to work pretty well, though I think a bit more testing will be required.

Monday, November 5, 2018


Look, I don’t want to go all Proust and Plato on you but I’ve been eating a lot of fish and chips lately and I’ve been having notions that are both Proustian and Platonic. And what I’ve been thinking is that every time you eat fish and chips it sends you searching back through the lost time, and you think about all the other fish and chips you’ve eaten in your life.  These were in Walton on the Naze a year or two back:

And when you’re with other people you find yourself in conversations about the best and worst, the most surprising fish and chips you ever ate.  You talk about the ones you had when you were a kid in Blackpool, or somebody says his uncle used to run a fish and chip shop, and so on

I always think about the time my mum sent me to the local fish and chip shop to buy “two fish and chips,” and I had to wait a long time in the queue and I noticed that everybody else was ordering “fish and chips twice” so when my turn came, that’s what I asked for.  I wanted to fit in.  But when it came time to pay, my mum hadn’t given me enough money. The bloke behind the counter was surprisingly sympathetic and let me have the order “cut price” as it were.  
But when I got home I was in terrible, terrible trouble from my mum.  She’d wanted two fish and one chips, not two fish and two lots of chips, and clearly I was and a wastrel and a bad son.  My mother wasn’t always blessed with a good sense proportion.

This isn't the actual fish and chip shop, but this is from Sheffield at about that time.

Anyway, here are some other fish and chips I have known in recent times. These were from the Pikey on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

These at H. Salt, on Hollywood Boulevard:

These are from Riverside Fish and Chips in Manningtree, eaten outdoors by the estuary:.

And these I had at the weekend in a rather fancy pub/restaurant off the Kings Road called the Coopers Arms.  

They looked pretty appetizing and the girl behind the bar who served them said, “Is there anything else I can get you?”  And I said, “Yes please, some vinegar.” She disappeared for a couple of minutes and came back and said they didn’t have any vinegar.  Really?  I mean really.  How is that even possible?   She gave me a couple of extra slices of lemon but it wasn’t the same.

And naturally all this got me thinking about Platonic ideals.  Is there a perfect form of fish and chips?  I think there is.  I think we all carry with us an ideal noition of fish and chips that allows us to seethe imperfect examples of fish and chips that we are confronted with in the real world.  Vinegar is definitely part of the ideal.   

Frankly, I suspect Proust wasn't a great lover of fish and chips.