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.