Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Announcing the Girls' Steak Club

There is a very strange thing in Anglo-Saxon culture that would be worthy of in depth anthropological study and that is the gender assignation given to food. If you are not sure what I mean then look at the number of food reviews describing food as macho, separating men from boys, butch, etc etc. Almost everyone writing in English is at it.
Personally I blame Anthony Bourdain and the like. At some point chefs decided they were pirates and that cutting meat was akin to hoisting petards. Well I’m sorry boys you don’t swash buckles, you chop onions and last time I looked it wasn’t the same thing.
The losers in this, as always, are the women, as anything a man decided he liked became macho. So it is with steak
We – me and a few n’er do wells on twitter- have decided it was time that this imbalance in our culture was redressed and that a new phenomenon of women meeting for steak and martini, as opposed to afternoon tea and cakes, needs to be created.
The inauguration of the London Chapter of the Girls' Steak Club will take place on Tuesday 2nd Feb Hawksmoor Steakhouse 157 Commercial Street E1
The meat Hawksmoor serves is the reason men made steak macho.
The menu is below and is £40 per head with a sitting at 7pm and another one at 7.30pm
Apart from an initial martini, drinks are separate leaving you free to have your choice of cocktail, wine or anything else.



Tamworth Belly Ribs
Chargrilled squid with capers, shallots and watercress

Rib-eye (400g)
Bone-in Sirloin

Selection of sides

Please e-mail info@hawksmoor to book mentioning you are booking for The Girls' Steak Club.
If you are a disgruntled envious man reading this you are catered for in style the night before at a Boys Eat Beef organised by Simon Majumdar of Dos Hermanos. Please contact him for details via his website

The Girls' Steak Club. All the meat you can eat.

Update: Some not very frequently asked questions

I've been asked some questions on twitter and in person regarding the girls steak club so here are some of the questions and answers:
Why are there two sittings?
It's steak not stew so the restaurant can only do a certain number at a time. If there are too many of us for one sitting we will get served better in two. In reality some of you will arrive early, some late so we'll see what happens. All of you will get martini.
Is this an exclusive event?
If you are in posession of a XX chromosome, are over 18, and have sufficient social skills to be able to eat in a restauarant with cutlery you are welcome to come. Contact saying you would like to book for girls steak club. There isn't a particular limit on numbers, if you can book you can come. The more the merrier. The idea is to meet other women, have fun, and eat steak.
Can I come with friends?
Yes. If you would specifically like a separate table with your friends please let Hawksmoor know when you book. If you wouldn't, just e-mail them with the number of people that you are coming with.
Can I come alone?
Yes. Most of us know each other through twitter as opposed to real life (which is fast becoming an illusion for me at least). If you come by yourself there will be plenty of people able to hold a conversation with you. if you can't find any of them then come and talk to me. e-mail Hawksmoor and book a place for one at the girls steak club.
I can't come that night, when will there be another girl's steak club?
When you decide to organise one. Seriously. It's not been trademarked. Pick your restaurant, organise a menu with them and ask women to come. You can ask them on twitter, on Facebook at work or wherever. Just make sure the place you go to has good steak. You can make the numbers as inclusive or as exclusive as you like.
When will there be another one with a different cut of steak/different menu/in Manchester/ Glasgow/Bristol?
See above.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

What the Hip and Single do on a Saturday in London in the Rain

Read Blogs, twitter, read blogs, twitter.
I have been procrastinating for over 30 years and have no intention of giving up now. I'll blog the list of things I should be doing to acheive my 'life goals' another time.
Oh and eat leftover pigeon and polenta made by very kind flatmate the night before. Her parents brought her polenta from their village in Piedmonte and it was the best polenta I have ever tasted in my entire life. I had pigeon in the freezer.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Why I am not a food blogger

I’m one of the fortunate people on the planet who lives to eat. I visit friends I have not seen in 18 months and am immediately presented with a list of meals that they wish me to make for them, my reciprocal requests having already been relayed by telephone some weeks previously. My travels, trips and holidays generally revolve around eating and my answer to many a stunned questioner about whether I think about anything that isn’t food is invariably, “Well there is wine.”
However in the past few weeks I have been asked another food-related question by some Londoners. “Why don’t you become a food blogger?” There are a plethora of food bloggers in this city all reviewing restaurants and various food products taking photos, uploading them reviewing places and products, so why not become another one?
These blogs range from the virtually unreadable to Proustain prose. Actually far more entertaining than Proust (has anyone ever managed to read Proust’s entire oevre AND have a full time job?); many give more reliable views on food than the national newspapers while also covering a larger geographical range than Mr Gill’s West London.
The best of them all is the above linked Dos Hermanos and one look at that will also make clear my lack of desire to take food blogging on. To be good at it you need to as they say ‘Go everywhere and eat everything’. To be a good London food blogger you have to go be able to go to lots of restaurants regularly and have your finger on the pulse on what celeb chefs, non celeb chefs and the restaurant world of London is doing. This requires a sizeable disposable income, far larger than the one as I posses, as well as a near heroic level of stoicism. While constantly eating in new restaurants might sound like great fun and would be in Madrid, Barcelona, or Luxembourg; in London this can be fraught with difficulties. There is way too much fame chasing for most restaurants in this city to actually be up to much food wise, at least within my budget. They have PRs, gimics, fusions, themes and concepts. I just want some good fresh food properly made with some care and attention. That does not seem to be a particularly popular concept at the moment.
The places that are good are often heavily oversubscribed as well as over-hyped. You don’t need my opinion on it around 3 to 6 months after everyone else. And sometimes I don’t want to ruin my evening out by making notes on sub-standard food.
About a week ago I went out with a couple of friends to that frightening popular combination of pub with a Thai restaurant at the back. I was there principally to catch up with them after a few months and they suggested the place. The combination itself sounded pretty awful and I set my expectations suitably low so I wasn’t too disappointed. Despite my vegetables being undercooked, my duck slices drier than an Arabs sandal and the sauce just thrown in at the end, my food was edible (well I hadn’t had any lunch) and I had a pleasant evening chatting with my friends. I did not want to focus on the food. I know, how can you not focus on the food when you are in a restaurant? Answer; practice and a lot of it.
I learned after far too many meals alone on business trips that a mediocre meal with company can be a better experience than a good meal on your own. At the very least you can share the mediocrity while with the good food unless you take loads of photos for twitter, you are on your own. So if I am in company and the food is rubbish I don’t want to ruin everyone elses night and my own by drawing attention to it unless it is completely inedible.
Also if I am choosing the place I want to go somewhere where I can rely on the food. Until my disposable income increases I won’t be going anywhere that hasn’t been tried and tested by bloggers I trust or previously by me. Either I can review the same places on a regular basis or not bother at all. I choose the later.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

On Stereotypes and Wine

There is a certain comfort in people acting to national stereotypes. It helps to ingrain prejudice, confirm deeply held beliefs and engenders self-congratulatory feelings of wisdom and intelligence.
I attended a wine show called, imaginatively enough, The Wine Show a wee while ago and it was one such occasion.
As this is London, conforming to stereotype one, everyone is here and everything happens here, one of the extras available at this show was billed as an hour with Oz Clarke. This was not a chance for Oz to expand a la A.L. Kennedy into the world of the stand up comic, but an opportunity for the great unwashed, including yours truly, to sit through a tasting of 6 Sainsbury’s wines guided by Mr Clarke.
Everyone knows that the UK is controlled by supermarkets and independent shops don’t get a look in, and that you can only get the great British public to pay extra for someone if they have seen them on the tele. So the big event is a supermarket sponsored wine tasting of their ‘Extra Special’ range of wines available only in their shop by a well known TV face. That’s about three stereotypes ticked before you have walked through the door.
Despite being struck down with swine-esque flu Oz pulled out all the stops. Steadied by a chair he put on a most admirable show explaining why Chilean merlot is so good – it isn’t pure merlot but also carmenere, the climate of the New Zealand the winds that come from Antarctica and why they can produce such good white wines; how far north Chablis is in Burgundy and why it’s the furthest place north for decent non sparkling wine.
He also knew his audience. He made a brilliant case for screw tops rather than corks with a few points regarding the untruths being told about the decline of the cork industry in Portugal and how certain types of wine are actually better off sealed with metal rather than cork. The clincher however, and one that his audience nearly stamping their feet in agreement, was the fact that screw tops are much quicker to open leading, over course of a decade, to a significant increase in drinking time. Indeed sitting at the back of the room, many people had availed themselves of the opportunity to gulp down all the wine placed on front of them to taste and then drink all the other glasses that were around them at empty places. The British do not disappoint when faced with available alcohol at no extra charge.
The actual show was no less rewarding. The British scurried round drinking as much as possible of their chosen colour of wine disregarding almost all available advice on grape type, soil, geographical description. The only food available that wasn’t the God awful design centre cafes was a badly attended stall with cheese and ham.
The section on Wines of Spain had no actual Spaniards at it – it being the weekend and the Spanish being. . . themselves. The English people in attendance had some really good wines though among them Raimat’s first albarinyo and Scala Dei from Priorat. They explained well, were professional and willing to come out to work on the weekend.
The wines from Portugal section showed that the Portuguese, as usual about 20 years behind the Spanish, have woken up to the fact that they have good quality wine that people will buy if you give them the chance. They even managed to get some real live Portuguese people to turn up, which shows just how serious they must be. They were polite, quiet and assumed, quite rightly in my case, that the public knew nothing about Portugal or its wines outside of the Douro.
Then there was the French.
It is a universally accepted fact that with two French people in a room at any given in time the % of gripes, moans and grumpiness in a conversation will quadruple. With individuals this can be kept under control – most people have a French person they like (hello Clarisse if you are reading) but more than two of them and the grumpiness becomes a geometric addition to the power of 10. After trying some very pleasant wine from Corsica that I had to persuade two young French gentlemen let me try and then even make an even bigger effort to get them to sell me, they proceeded to shrug their shoulders griping about how hard it was to place Corsican wines and create a demand for them and that they were very difficult to sell. I have no idea where to get Corsican wine as they wouldn’t tell me where I could get any, so I won’t be drinking anymore in the near future.
In fairness they were better than another pair of Gallic servers who were so busy muttering to each other about how long they’d been there that at least three people gave up waiting to taste their wine. They moved along to try and to buy from English people who owned vineyards in France and who were generous, polite and informative.
Lastly, and most entertainingly, I was faced with a fake Armani t-shirt, gold bracelet and hand gestures promising me the best price before I had even seen what was available, by a Sardinian. His female companions, who only communicated in glarespeak, wore leather jackets and make up 80s style without looking in anyway retro. All that were missing were some sheep, a baritone choir and a Milanese industrialist tied to chair awaiting the receipt of the ransom money. I bought two bottles at the non-negotiated best price, just to be safe.

Friday, 20 February 2009

That Friday Feeling

It’s a Friday afternoon. It’s just after 2pm my lunch time is over and I have 4 hours before I can go home. Someone in our office is leaving today and in his leaving speech helpfully pointed out that he believes that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be and that the merger a year ago really changed things and that the good old days are over. Well so does everyone else but as he must have found about the only job going in the city good luck to him and commiserations to us.
I wonder if Friday afternoon for every office worker in the world is full of that utter inertia when your mind is already having the weekend but you body is still stuck to your PC and your fingers still look like they have to be tapping.
I have listened in my lunch hour to Andy Hamilton’s comedy on radio 4 Old Harry’s Game which is always entertaining although I am not too happy about the demise of Gary the Demon or that God has got bored of creation and turned it over to some newly promoted Project Managers. I liked Gary he was a very kind well-spoken demon – even if he was somewhat dim, and God’s voice, with the secret name of Nigel, was only rivalled by Joss Akland’s God in Piccolo Mundo.
I am even checking my Yahoo SPAM mailbox religiously and have just discovered how to get a bigger penis, a fake university degree and government funding although I have missed the e-mails offering me the chance to make lots of money even if I am really dumb. They seemed to have stopped since the bank crisis – if something looks too good to be true. . .
I have the eternal optimism, that only the truly deluded can have, that I am one yahoo e-mail away from an afternoon of entertainment or one work e-mail away from having something to do.
I fear this is also the problem with being in my mid-thirties and being childless. I am sure if I had children the utter boredom and drudgery that comprises the daily lot of motherhood (and before all you Mothers get antsy – I know this is true my Mother told me this and she really loves me and would never lie) would make any kind of outing with adults, even if it is to work, seem stimulating by comparison. For the childless work becomes the drudgery you do to be able to get out and do things that stimulate and excite you, for Mothers of young children work is the excitement that keeps you sane.
So, my solution to my Friday inertia? Find a random sperm donor, have a child and this will seem exciting – hmmm. But ohh look, its now 2.30 and I just got a work e-mail! If I’m slow it’ll keep me going until 6!

Thursday, 19 February 2009


Slam among other things can be South London and Maudsley NHS trust, an organisation which hosts massive techno club nights around Europe, half a basketball technique or a book slam. The last one is a monthly London event in a club just near the top end of Portobello road, beside a busy flyover and near an equally busy mosque. It was set up by writer Patrick Neate and the guy from Everything But The Girl who has now left it all to Patrick, as an alternative to readings in libraries and bookshops.
The venue is certainly different from a Waterstones or an independent bookshop. It suffers a bit from a lack of vodka or ecstasy googles as it is a night club open very early with not very loud music and not a lot of drunks. Everything was painted black some time ago so it is mostly scrapped, the toilets are, quite frankly, scary and everyone is sober enough to notice. But it does remove reading out loud from the gentility of the bookshop, it does give it more of an edge and does give a literate high brow audience a chance to be gritty and urban without actually getting gravel on their shoes.
The audience seemed to consist of types who work in publishing, types who wished they worked in publishing and types who were looking to be published. I was quite disappointed by the lack of white men with dreadlocks. The best that could be had was Jamie Bing, the head of Canongate Press’ slightly long hair pushed behind his ear.
Maybe white ‘dreads’ like gravel.
On the night I attended there were four young men listed all to stand up and read from their new novels, two of them having just published their first. Patrick was the compere playing it with that self-deprecation and apologetic air so beloved of posh Englishmen. Think Boris on old episodes of Have I Got New for You with less stammering and wearing a hooded top.
The compere repeatedly informed us that the ‘gimic’ of the evening was how the four writers Ross Raisin, Chris Kullen, Joe Dunthorne and Richard Milward had been selected to read because they all were all exceptionally good looking. Personally I thought that they were all chosen because they were exceptionally thin. Apart from the married Ross Raisin they all looked as if you could fold them up concertina like and put them inside a small suitcase as if they were pieces of cardboard.
The now fashionable 80s drainpipe jeans with trainers does nothing for an exceptionally skinny man except make him look like an actual drain pipe or a cardboard cut out of himself. An awkward young writer nervous about reading to an audience of over 300 people ends up looking like a cardboard drainpipe in a Lowry painting. The actual readings were entertaining if somewhat predicable (awkward young men, unfathomable women, self-hatred and doom) and I am sure that all of their books are worth a read. And if enough people buy their books they all will be able to eat some decent food.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Nae Mair Arran Jumpers

As a Scot in London is a Scot and in London, January is the perfect month for some self-indulgent, misty eyed nostalgia of the kind practised by those members of the Caledonian Club who dream about Scotch pies being available at Selfridges a la Stanley Baxter.
A Scot in London is not a member of the above illustrious establishment so I had the choice between a few tartan ceilidh, some extremely overpriced Burns suppers or a concert called Burns Eclectica. The latter is part of a series at the Barbican called Eclectica and seems to have the remit of ‘whatever we haven’t really thought of putting together before’ ranging from Jazz to opera singers singing blues songs.
Last week the organisers had asked Ayrshire composer James McMillan to curate an event. He invited Shetlander Chris Smout and Dundonian Catriona Mckay (although for some reason he insisted on calling her Catrona) to play on the fiddle and harp respectively and then afterwards he had Salsa Celtica.
I had seen Salsa Celtica before at the Fruitmarket in Glasgow and at the time I was stunned. The combination of pipes, banjos, timbales, fiddle playing and son left me thrilled and delighted, although I took it as a sign of my increasing age that it was the first time I had been to a concert where the only drugs anyone was on were actually prescribed by a doctor.
I have a general aversion to folk music, my first phrases in schoolgirl French were J’aime la music pop et la musique classique mais j n’aime pas la musique folklorique. I have images of bearded men in Arran jumpers singing about the massacre of Glencoe or red haired ladies with kilts down to their ankles strumming on harps in some 1970s time warp.
I was fully prepared for the above experience from Chris and Catriona as the last time I had seen Salsa Celtica I had endured their support band stoically as some boy band from Uist with a median age of 70 whistled and wailed their way through one of the longest hours in living memory. I was extremely pleasantly surprised. Catriona arrived in a short dress knee high boots and a sequin jacket – no tartan to be seen, and proceeded to get sounds out of a harp that I didn’t know were possible. It was at various times a guitar, a banjo, a drum and seemed to be on many occasion at least two instruments. Chris, dressed all in black, played the fiddle without recourse to the stereotypical droning so beloved of 70s folkies. They both looked as if they were doing their favourite thing in the whole world and that their only hope was to infect the audience with some of their genuine pleasure. From the sounds of the applause and the nodding of heads they succeeded. I now have full faith in the demise of the Arran jumper and the floor length kilt.
Salsa Celtica were as enjoyable as I expected, but I don’t think they will be saying the same about us. The venue had no bar during the show or at the interval, the floor just below the stage was covered with tables and chairs. The Venezuelan lead singer explained that they were used to no chairs and people dancing and drinking. Having an occasionally rather shell shocked audience who appeared to have been expecting Jean Redpath and My Love is like a Red Red Rose applaud very loudly and happily but not move any which way was a real disappointment to them.
The evening started with the Edinburgh conga player telling us the songs they were about to play were from Burn’s little known tour of South America (well he was planning to go and work as an overseer in Jamaica before his poetry was published). To the complete incomprehension of a large section of the audience he went on to say that it didn’t matter as we would have a good time and as Burns was mostly steaming anyway, he would have approved of the event.Salsa Celtica were playing a sold out gig at the Fruitmarket on Saturday 24th with a well stocked bar and no seats. I am sure Burns would have approved far more.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Earphones and Inaugurations

While I still officially have one of the most boring jobs in the world I have just been banned from using earphones at work. I think that three of us have been told this and it is my fault as I got caught watching the inauguration yesterday by my boss who is the type of person likely to ask ‘who’s inauguration and why is this such a big deal?’

Not allowing your staff to listen to music or the radio or have earphones during work might, at first glance, appear to be a good thing. However I, for example, am now looking very industrious typing away on a Word file which is in fact this blogpost. Had I been left alone I would be listening to a radio 4 programme on child trafficking in Liberia while searching through various Excel spreadsheets and cutting and pasting depending on the information on the various files. No headphones, no spreadsheet. I am just beginning to realise the magnitude of how much work I could get on with while distracted and how little will now get done.

Rather than actually dealing with these speadsheets I have now googled (is anyone elses life becoming so virtual that it isn’t very different from the Matrix?) How to Deal With Boredom At Work.

According to if boredom is left unattended (ie if I don’t get my earphones back) it can get so intense and last so long that it will leads to burnout which is a costly and potentially dangerous threat to my life and my career, To cut to the chase I will end up a depressed alcoholic selling the Big Issue on your street.

However professional speaker Michelle Yozzo Drake at (the time that woman must have spent thinking up her URL) on her blog tells us to face the facts that some jobs are just dead boring and we need to look on balance at the benefits and see if it is worth the boredom. For example they may offer you health insurance so that when you do become a depressed alcoholic you can go to the Priory instead of an NHS psychiatric ward. You may be the only person you know in your social circle who isn’t facing redundancy, that is a positive. On the other hand you may be bored, burnt out and facing redundancy- the good thing about that is you will be so busy saving in case you get made redundant that you won’t be able to become an alcoholic, just depressed but you can still get Prozac on the NHS.