Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Breakfast at The Arts Club, London

December 16, 2011 Leave a comment

The Arts Club 40 Dover Street London W1S 4NP

Pretty as a picture

I am not an artist, never been one, although the lifestyle certainly appeals; the birds, the booze, the brawls, the South Bank shows and the lovely cottage in the Dordogne, what’s not to like? And if I was an artist I could then become a member of the Arts Club in Mayfair and enjoy a breakfast like this every day.

Founded in 1863 by, amongst others Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope, the Georgian townhouse is unremarkable from the outside, as is right and proper. In fact all you really see is your reflection in the gloss black of the door. Inside is a subtle reception, stylish people man (men?) the desk and the latest iMac, surely not actually needed not just for reception, has its imperious designer back to you. It looks good of course, this is not a place to have a Dell on display after all. What artist ever used a PC? Read more…

Burn baby burn.Hot Headz chilli sauces on test

December 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Ow, that stings!

‘Bloody hell!’, ‘Jesus Christ!; ‘Aaagh!’ are about the only printable comments we can make after trying the hot sauces we were sent by Hot-Headz the chili specialists.

The ladydeez sensibly wanted nothing to do with our taste test and retreated instead to a safe distance while we chaps bragged about our capacity to withstand any amount of scoville scorching and made vulgar jokes about lavatory paper. This was going to be a pushover.

We didn’t have any food to add to the sauces, and anyway it would have taken away from the pure scientific nature of the product, so instead we laid on some slices of cheap white bread (starch can be an antidote to chili, while water just makes it worse) and decided to dip cocktail sticks in the bottles to ensure minimum on the tongue, after all we had five to choose from.

Scoville (SHA) units are of course the scientific measure of a chili’s heat or capsaicin content, although it is measured by humans not by electronics. What a job that must be eh? The scale runs from 0 to over 200,000 units and presumably above that the tester is either carried out dead or insensible so no reading is ever noted. Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

The Passion of Plaimont. Wonderful wines in South West France

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

A barrel of laughs

The bids are coming in thick and fast and the French auctioneer is sweeping his fringe out of his eyes with one hand and waving his gavel about with the other as he struggles to keep up. A thousand euros bid soon becomes two thousand and then ‘best of order’ has to be asked for as it hits €3000 and the crowd gasps Gallicly in astonishment.

At €3200 the hammer finally comes down and Didier Vinazza, a man who rather resembles Father Dougal in a Gascon beret is surrounded by congratulations. He’s just sold a quarter barrel of his best Pacherenc for the equivalent of over €50 a bottle. More in fact, when you consider the American buyer now has to pay the commission, the bottling, labelling and the shipping costs on top. An expensive sixty bottles of wine but definitely worth it for such nectar and the money that’s been raised will be going to good works around the area. ‘I took a risk harvesting in late November but I knew my pebbly clay terroir would be good for the Petit Manseng grapes and they were exceptional,’ he says above the din.

50cl of sex in a bottle

The Pacherenc auction at the Château de Crouseilles is one of the high points of the year for the Plaimont wine growers co-operative in Gers, France. Each previous year around 30 winemakers set aside small parcels of their vineyards to raise a special grape crop and about 16 of them have been judged to have produced an individual expression of Pacherenc good enough to be included in the 2011auction. Since daybreak prospective buyers, have slurped and spat, met each winemaker and then had a welcome break eating the local Black Pig cured ham and drinking Jeroboams of Plaimont Madiron red. And it’s not even 11 am yet. Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Lunch at Roux at the Langham

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

A bit posh

Lunch in London is how knowledgeable foodies get their fix of the best around. A meal that might cost upwards of £70 a head in the evening can be less than even half that if you cannily go for the set lunch option.

And it’s not a question of having to compromise either. The good chefs put a lot of thought into lunch ‘prix fixe because it’s  seen as a chance to break away and to make best use of what’s available in the markets on the day.

Head chef at Roux at the Landau at the Langham Hotel is Chris King, an impossibly boyish looking chap whose appearance belies his experience.  He worked at Le Gavroche over the past five years, has cooked at Per Se in New York, and was Sous Chef at Roux Parliament Square. Clearly the Roux Bros think highly of him and he joined me for a chat after a Landau lunch that was a perfect mix of French style, mixed  with a touch of the exotic and a seasonal selection of market must-haves.

The Landau set lunch is three courses for £37.50, or £47.50 with a half bottle of wine from a short but punchy list.  To eat at this level, in that room and for those prices is good value, and the number of people I could see in the room taking advantage rather proved it. Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Great British Breakfasts?

Some say the full English breakfast is this country’s main, possibly only, culinary gift to the world. Where else can you start the day with a meal so stuffed with carbs it will keep you going well past lunch and, if taken everyday, all the way to A & E? Makes you proud it does.

From the highest to the lowest in the land, the full English is a great leveller. So as a part of an occasional series, occasional because I don’t like getting out of bed too early, we present a breakfast review for the dawn risers and tourists out there. I try different places to see what’s available and what works best. This list is added to regularly.

Spice Market

The great thing about hotel breakfasts, at least in large international hotels, is the multi-cultural choice. From sashimi to sausages, from mixed fruit to a mutton curry.

Spice Market is a standalone restaurant but it’s also where guests at the newly-opened W hotel in Leicester Square get to have their morning food. A ‘creation of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’, himself a bit of a mouthful, Spice Market breakfast has all the usual dishes in a spot ideal for business meetings, that is if you don’t mind sitting with your knees under your chin groping for your Blackberry. The seating is very ‘oriental’, which means low. Read more…

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Eating and cooking in Abruzzo

A cookery course and foodie safari, all run from a restored palazzo high on a hill in Abruzzo, Italy? Nick Harman takes a three day sampler to see what this almost unknown region of Italy can bring to the table

They say owners get to look like their pets, maybe that’s true of artisan food producers too. Luciano Caracciolo looks like he’s been assembled out of various component sizes of the salumis he produces high up in the mountain top town of Carunchio in Abruzzo, Italy.

He’s a jolly man, as well he might be. Creating salumis, including Ventricina, an Abruzzo speciality where a pig’s stomach is stuffed with finely ground meat and fat must be a relaxing job. It’s one that takes time, the mix of meat and spices must mature slowly in his climate controlled rooms where they hang like so many items in a Debenham’s clothes rack. Read more…

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Pest control

The bastards!

An allotment is a warzone. So much conspires to rob you of the just rewards for all the hard work you’ve put in.

The weather can be friend or foe; too sunny and you can’t get enough water into the ground. An hour with a hose every evening barely begins to make up for lack of rain. The ground shrinks and cracks, compressing the plants’ roots and they are stunted forever as a result. Water loving plants like lettuces are limp and small. A drought really does no good in the garden.

And that’s what we had in spring. Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized