Thursday 31 July 2008


I have often pondered on the Michelin rating system. Wondered if it is possible for the same dish to be discernibly different from a 1 star place to a 2, and so on.

Part of my cynicism is that having been to one 2 star, and a couple of 3 star restaurants and I have left these places wondering if I missed something. I think fellow foodie's refer to it as the emperor's clothes effect. All hype no substance.
However, I have come up with my own barometer to try and make sense of the guide from across the water, and this is how I think it goes. (*indicates 1 star already)

One star to me would be
La Trompette*
Michael Caines at Abode
Hotel Du Vin
No 1 at Balmoral*

And controversially, Alkimia* (which has one star), would not even make my list, purely for that fact I did not like the meal as a whole and have not desire to return, whilst in no way doubting the technical skill and imagination that was shown in the execution of said meal.

Glenapp sits somewhere between these two.

Two stars to me would include
Martin Wishart*
The Square* both of which currently have one but aiming for two.

The exception here is Andrew Fairlie** at Gleneagles which actually has two stars. We went last year and I left feeling that the Chef was not in the kitchen, if you know what I mean.

So then what would be my 3 stars?

Those that actually have 3 star ala Michelin include RHR***, Per Se***, Le Bernardin*** and Can Fabes***

At all but Le Bernardin we have had the tasting menu, and at all but Le Bernardin I have left a little underwhelmed. Yes even Per Se. Is Le Bernardin then my 3 star benchmark? I dunno, but no where else at that price has made me want to go back. No where else can make me drool at the thought of a starter like the Le Bernardin Kanpachi Tartare Topped with Wasabi Tobiko; Ginger-Coriander Emulsion..Yum Yum

The food is exquisite at Le Bernardin, and for an entirely fish orientated meal still remains one of my favourites in New York. So much so, that it is the only place that has made the list three years in a row, and this year a fourth. But it is also maybe due to fact we sit at the bar, despite having a table, and have struck up a relationship with the friendly barman who makes great cocktails. Some people criticise it for being seafood orientated, other people have criticise it for being staid, maybe they too should sit at the bar. Maybe it means even more, that, without all the pomp and circumstance, without the fleet of waitstaff, the food stands out to me on it's own merits.

So, thus far no 3 star has seemed worth it, bar Le Bernardin, but would it if we did the tasting menu? I am unlikely to find out as what we do there, already hits the spot. Maybe it is that I am just a 2 star kind girl or maybe it is that food can only be so good and that what you pay for in a 3 star is the service, the location and the hype. Maybe it is that food, the eating of it and pleasure experienced is a very subjective one, and that guides such as the Michelin are not for everyone and maybe not for me.

Blogger shame..

I think I have it.

Why? because my photos are so crap. Well, they are in comparison to the food porn available on Rasamalaysia and Chubby Hubby to mention a few. Part of my excuse is that I have been using my old broken Sony cybershot that won't let me zoom with giving up the ghost. I have rectified the situation, however, by visiting my trusted friend Amazon, and purchasing an altogether more sexy cybershot with 13.6 megapixels!

Now the only excuse I will have if my photos are crap, will be me..


or phonetically ashay. The meaning of which is, apparently, from the French to chop.

Phew, now that's over I can tell you about the food.

I had been sent on an errand by HI who had elected to stay in Glasgow while I gallivanted around London. My destination that morning was a small place called Village Games, one of the few purveyors of Japanese puzzle boxes or Karakuri. I had an amusing conversation with the lady, whom I assumes owns and runs the place, which basically consisted of her be-moaning the fact that 98% of people into puzzles are fat over-weight white middle aged men. Fortunately HI is in one of the other two percent.

Once in possession of my prizes, I stopped into Mega City comics to purchase some lunchtime reading and to make my lone diner status a little less uncomfortable to me, as I have only ever had one other solo dining experience to date. It is something that initially filled me with trepidation but is something I think I could get used to. No-one to argue with, no need to compromise, the only down fall being that you look like a greedy bum as the food is for one, not two.

My choice for lunch was Hache which conveniently located on the same street as the comic shop. I had high hopes as it had been rated by two reliable sources..

They are onto a winning formula, the interior has a female touch with habitat garland light abounding and gothic-luxe chandeliers counterpoised by big meaty burgers.

Something for the girls, something for the boys.

As I was the first person in, the service was appropriately attentive. I ordered the Hache Catalan burger with chorizo, chili and tomato jam. This was washed down by diet coke and accompanied by some very good fries. I asked for my burger medium rare and so it came.

My only disappointment was that someone had been way too heavy handed with the tomato jam, thus drowning the taste of the burger which was tasty indeed. They had also put mayo on the bun which I had not asked for. I ended up leaving the bun, salad and chorizo due to their being coated in un-asked for substances.

Would I go back? Yes I would, but I would be a lot more prescriptive about how I want my burger to come for no-one sauces my bun but me.

Tuesday 29 July 2008

I love..

Google Maps!!

It would seem I have been living in the 19th century or else HI was having a private chuckle to himself. One of my holiday rituals where New York is concerned, is to print out a map of Manhattan of a high enough resolution that I can see the street names. This usually amounts to six sheets of paper that I ingeniously have to stick together with sellotape and fold, origami style. Onto this DIY map I mark our hotel and the restaurants and bars that have made it onto my list that year.
It can be pretty time consuming I tell you.
So, imagine my delight, then chagrin when I discovered on one of my regular reads, Dos Hermanos, that Google maps can do the exact same for you in about a third of the time.
What a tube.
It's not that I am a Luddite. I have used Google maps for directions and even looked at my house on Google Earth. Finally, it would seem the penny has dropped. When I casually mentioned this discovery to HI , he said of course, I thought you knew that but just preferred to spend hours with the scissors and sellotape. Bah!

The old

The new

Saturday 5 July 2008

Barca. Barking mad.

Sorry it had to be said.

Please don't ever go here. I am, of course, referring to the place masquerading as a tapas joint on the top floor of Princes Square, not the beloved capital of Catalunya. I don't think I have ever slammed a place as much as I am about to this one. Maybe it's the large quantities of alcohol (two 1919 and lime) that I had to imbibe to numb the pain, or maybe I am still a little pissed off for having the piss taken. What's more annoying is that I didn't have my camera with me to prove how bad it was (it was at home charging).

HI and I were in town, a place bereft of decent places to eat. We were on route to one of the few reliable places for lunch, the Italian caffe, when HI queried whether there was anything else en route? I knew that Barca had Pimentos de Padron on it's menu, and fresh back from Barcelona, hankered for some. Up we went, I should have known it was going to be bad as the place was full of Saturday shoppers. Undeterred we ordered from a menu that was spookily like the one from Italian Caffe only pretending to be Spanish in origin.

Optimistically we ordered pan amb tomate, aceitunas, padron and a plate of meat. As soon as the olives arrived I knew we had made a mistake. I had forgotten we were not in Barcelona, or even the Italian Caffe for that matter. For £2.50 a measley little bowl of dried up olives, that probably had been tipped out of some jar and never even rinsed of their brine, let alone seen a marinade was put in front of us. I ate one and left the rest in disgust. I turned to HI half jokingly, half worriedly and said I bet the pan amb tomate comes with tomato juice from a tin or a tube. It was worse, bits of bread piled high with chopped tomato whose only saving grace was that they had put some garlic in it and seasoned it, more bruschetta than pam anb tomate. The meat platter too, was measely, £11.95 for 3 slices each of chorizo, salami, lomo and parma ham all of which were cut too thick. Compare this to the very generous plate served at IC which we often can't finish and which is of far superior quality. The only thing that didn't disappoint were the Padron. However, I have realised I can buy them online negating the need for me to have crap meal like this one is the vain hope of re-creating the experience one gets in the true Barca.
For this and two glasses of wine it came to £36 quid and they add on service charge without asking you, so just to re-iterate.
Please don't go here and waste your money.

Stravaigin and the Big slope

It was the evening of Will's final farewell (!) and HI and I, had gone to Stravaigin for a bite to eat before meeting the others at the Big Slope.

We shared the lovely beef carpaccio we had the last time, followed by some chips.

There was something different about the chips, something I hope is not going to happen again. They had the skin on they were like wedges. Now I have nothing against wedges but one of the many things that Stravaigin does well are it's chips. Crunchy on the outside gooey on the inside. Not so today. We still ate them though.

These were followed by our mains. HI ordered the chicken special which he declared better be blinking special at £14 for some chicken breast with aubergine. Turned out it was. The chicken had been marinated in orange and cinnamon then poached and finished under the grill, served with aubergine and a pomegranate yoghurt sauce.

It was lovely.

I, still wary of the burger, ordered a the rolled lamb shoulder with feta and pine nuts with olive tapenade.

Again this was very good but just pipped at the post by the chicken.

Our stomachs suitably lined, we joined the others at the big slope. Will tried out the burger and in the interest of research I had a bite.

It was alright. Probably bottom of the list. Damian succumbed to the lure of carbs, and after a beer or two ordered the red onion and sausage pizza.

Encouragingly it came with what looked liked blobs of fresh mozzarella but on sampling said pizza, I am not so sure. Bah. Don't think I would order either of these again.

Finger licking good

As you will have gathered by now Will is off to the big smoke, Londinium. To mark this occasion we had some folk over for dinner. On the menu to start were some pretty good pork ribs, courtesy of our friend Nigel Slater. The recipe is simplicity itself an found in the Kitchen Diaries, one of my favourite cookbooks if not only for its beautiful binding but for the charming prose found within.

Essentially, you buy a bunch of ribs, get a big bowl into which you put the following things
6 tbsp thickish honey
3 heaped tbsp oyster sauce
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
4 whole star anise
¼ tsp salt flakes
¼ tsp black peppercorns
mix it all up, add the ribs and leave to marinate. This can be for a couple for hours or overnight if you are organised. You then pop them in the oven and slow cook for and hour and a half. Out they come and they are gooey and the meat falls of the bone. Tasty.

We followed this by a lamb shank dish from Nigella, which I have to admit needed some tinkering with, to satisfy our taste buds. As it comes we felt the sauce a little one dimensional, when what we wanted was a sauce that you wanted to mop up with bread. To resolve this issue I added some sun-dried tomato puree. This contained some chili,salt and some herbs too and had the desired effect of making the gravy more robust and moreish.

This was served with couscous with pomegranates, pine nuts, chives and spring onions which was light counterpoint to the heaviness of the shanks.

To top this all off, Rachel produced this beautiful creation.

We all love meringue, especially with cream and berries ala Eton Mess. Rachel took this one step further by phoning her mum who is a dab hand at making Pavlova to learn how to whip this up, quite literally. If I learned one thing about meringue it is to eschew modern whisking equipment, and do it by hand. The other is that corn flour and vinegar are the secret to gooey meringue.

Tuesday 1 July 2008

Mother India Cafe

It was Will's (second) leaving meal so we met at Firebird for a pre-prandial drink before heading to MIC. I was quite excited as I hadn't been in a while (months) and felt that I deserved it (running).

Things didn't run as smoothly as usual, resulting in us sitting for about ten minutes before we got the menus but we were happily munching our way through some poppadums at that point so we hadn't really noticed. It was only when our waitress, who was new, said that she didn't know what was in the dishes that I started to get concerned. Of course everyone blamed my ordering 'sliced raw red onion with green chili, salt and lemon juice' off menu as what threw her but I demur.

As there were six of us we ended up ordering a fair amount of the menu. Of course there was the so very tasty but so very bad for you, Butter chicken.

The sauce is especially good when mopped up with a piece of Peshwari Naan.

The equally yummy lamb mince with peas

From the left a special of lamb chops with kerala, lamb saag and a chicken karahi

Garlic chili chicken

It wasn't a complete disaster, there were just a couple of duplicate dishes, and some that were omitted.
Fortunately, as usual, the food was pretty spot on and everyone rolled out with satisfied tummies.