Saturday, May 26, 2007

'er outdoors

Our neighbour hates us. Not in a non-talking, tepid, couldn't care less, un-neighbourly way. She actually hates us. Or to be more specific, she hates my partner , the SO (Significant Other).

I can't remember the reason why but hey!, what's a little fire and smoke between friends? (have you never put a whole, oiled fish on a barbecue?) What's wrong with James Brown and Funky People - Lyn Collins, Fred Wesley and the JBs, Maceo and the Macks - gently filling the atmosphere between our two houses at a very reasonable decibel? Not 12, nor 11, but 9 and a half on the ampy dial.

But ha ha ha all joking aside, this is serious neighbours-from-hell stuff. Down the doctor's, where the SO went for some ladyproblem advice, the doc says - sotto voce - you're a bit of a hell raiser, no? The SO, quiet as a church mousetype person (and that's really true) says "what?" in that "WHAT?" kind of way but a little quieter in case the gossipy receptionist got to hear and spreads it all over the shop.
"Your neighbour was in for some (insert ladyproblem here) and I asks her what she's stressed out about and among a lot of worky things and so on she says "that bitch next door"". At which point the SO - particularly in relating the story to me later over dinner, having already told me over the phone, goes that puce colour that you either get from ladyproblems or apparently from badneighbourangst.

So I try to remember what it's all about and I can't. And the SO can't be bothered, even though she's only half puce now. Lilac, actually.
Now the neighbour's son is a really nice guy, very cool, always smiles, says good morning and one night, when totally lathered, actually mumbles "sorry" as he tries to get in his front door. Either because he's pissed or because of his un-neighbourly mum. I like to think the latter because he's nice and human.
SHE is even nice to me sometimes, but mainly because she forgets who I am and after smiling in that blonde seductive ladyway, scowls because an inner voice has just told her that I'm that bloke who lives with the BITCH NEXT DOOR!

So I says to the SO, in an attempt to pour oil on etc, that she's not that bad. Particularly in the summer. "Woddumean?" says the SO pretending that she's attending to some kitchen or cat thing.

"Well she gets her kit off"
"what?" she says, ever so quietly.
"She gets her kit off"

At which point there's a small discussion during which I helpfully explain that no, I am not a peeping tom, nor am I a pervert, nor am I spying on our unfriendly neighbour. It's just that from the bathroom window, where one has to stand to do bathroom things, one is overlooking the private garden of the neighbour and one cannot help oneself occasionally but look down, and there, with all her ladybits, of which there are many resplendently on show, is the neighbour reading a book. In the sunshine. On her back. etc etc.
Lilac momentarily changes back to puce until the SO realises that you can't actually help but look into the garden (and see, well, everything, so to speak). This is not a comfortable conversation because I try not to display any sneaking admiration at all for the neighbour from hell, and must especially erase any thought from my mind that is likely to induce a flicker of a smile for the wrong reason. I know when my face is being scrutinised. I know when my voice tone is being measured. One doesn't need polygraphs in a relationship.

And then the Fedex man, whom we like as much as the UPS man and the postlady, enters the fray and asks the other day after the third attempt at delivering a box who the 'scowly tart' next door is and after I tell him that she's the neighbour (not really very helpful, I agree, he could have worked that out himself I guess, what with him working for Fedex) says that she refuses to take our parcels in on the basis that, and I quote exactly here. "I don't talk to them. Can't stand them" as if this was of any interest to the Fedex man at all.

It was then I remembered that she feeds the pigeons, which I hate, has a big nasty cat which hates our small lovely cat, drives an ugly-as-sin car and wears clothes totally unappealing to man or woman or even beast.

So, solidarity being the order of the day, I decide to hate her back.
And even though she's started showing off her bits on the roof terrace now - I blame global warming for this - I will continue to hate her until she apologises, her cat dies, or she sells that car. Or possibly just takes in a parcel or two.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Japan has no good restaurants. Official.

A few years ago some bright sparks thought up a jolly wheeze, a new glossy magazine for the catering trade and the eating public, "Restaurant" it's called, and it does OK, publicising new restaurants, reviewing and interviewing Gordon Ramsay.
Their best PR stunt to date has been the naming of the "world's top restaurant", last year the Fat Duck this year El Bulli, both laboratories of molecular gastronomy and both bloody fantastic. It appears to be a judicious award, but frankly it's a lorryload of hokum. No offence to the 100 restaurants concerned, they're good, but as any fule kno the best meal in the best restaurant can vary dramatically from fish and chips to spare ribs. Haute Cuisine has its place, and European cooking too, but London-centric tastes hardly dominate the world. But since this is a list designed to create controversy, details like what "world's best" actually means is neither here nor there. Who cares?

Well here's the beef. Last year they changed the voting, their "Academy" now divides the world into 22 regions to make it "truly global". The Japanese/Korean jury (and there's something you don't see very often) is chaired by Yumiko Inukai, a prolific writer of note in Japan. Hooray! At last a little western recognition for a collection of regional cuisines, or even just something national, that offers what we'll modestly call here "just about the best eating anywhere in the world".
So where do Tokyo's best, the delights of Kyoto, or even Osaka's offerings lie? Top ten? Twenty? Er......well nowhere actually. Not a one in the prestigious Top 50. And in 51 to 100? Guess what? Not a mention.

What this list says is that in the world's top 100 restaurants there isn't one in Japan. And that is frankly preposterous, no matter where your taste buds lie, and whether or not you've noticed the growing number of Japanese restaurants around London and Europe. Japanese restaurants only make it into the list if they're in foreign countries, like Tetsuya's in Australia or Nobu. Phooey!

Japanese cuisines - leaving aside the cheap and cheerful noodle houses, (although why should I?) - can offer a never ending range of seasonal, fresh produce that almost defies comprehension, never mind cataloguing. I can't list them here because there are too many websites and guides to Japanese cuisine already on the web which fully describe what you get. In Britian, we observe four seasons, in Japan, they have hundreds. All over Kyoto, for example, are little restaurants, some with as few as six tables, run by invariably one person, who take seasonal specialisation to incredible lengths, bamboo seven ways, one fish six ways, and the never ending search for the best dashi. This is where you get to explore Umami, a taste the world craves but didn't even know existed until the Japanese told us.(It's what makes Parmesan cheese so yummy)

There are lots of things to eat in Japan that we might run a mile from (they're mostly moving) but to suggest that there are no world class restaurants is just plain silly.
After the jump, I've detailed what you might get next month in Kyoto, at one of the country's two best Ryokans, Hiiragiya and Tawaraya, whose Kaiseki menus change weekly according to what's in season.No pictures, I'm afraid, which is a pity since presentation is just as important as taste. It's in English, for the sake of comprehension, and also because I can't speak a word of Japanese.

After an Aperitif (Shokuzen-Shu) of Daiginjyo "Momo no sizuku", the meal starts....
First Appetiser (Sakizuke): Taro stalk, Octupus, shrimp, okra and Radish in vinegar
Second appetiser (Hassun): Simmered Jerry with Sea Bream and Sea Bream eggs, Bayberry in wine, squid with salt cured Skipjack, Baked fish with miso, Broad beans, taro, baked sea urchin, Rolled wax Gourd with prawns.
Sashimi (Mukouzuke) Sea Bream, Tuna Toro, Japanese Pen Shell, Perilla leaf, Laver, carrot, perilla, and sliced white radish.
Sushi (Oshinogi) : Cardinal Sea Bream, White Kelp, Ginger, Oak leaf
Simmered (Nimono-Wan): Soy milk skin with Tofu, baked Japanese Branquillo, salt pickled Japanese apricot, Kuzu starch sheets, Japanese citron.
Grilled Fish (Yaki-Zakana) Sea Bass,bamboo shoot,Sansho leaves, Japanese pepper and vinegar.
Simmered (Takiawase) Deep fried Kamo eggplant with minced chicken, peas, welsh onions and dashi soup.
Steamed (Mushi-mono) Steamed tofu with brown cream in a crabshell, sauce of Katakuriko, Shark's fin and ginger.
Deep fried (Ago-mono) Flounder with nori, potato and lemon.
Vinegared (Su-No-Mono) Salad of cooked abalone, wakame, yam, sword bean, cucumber and vinegar.
Soup (Tome-Wan) Miso, soy milk skin, winter mushroom, trefoil and myoga.
Rice (Gohan) with short neck clams, welsh onions, ginger.
Pickles (Kou-No-Mono) Egg plant, white gourd, cucumber.
Dessert (Mizu-Mono) Melon, Loquat simmered in honey, cherry, mint.

Friday, May 11, 2007


You may not have noticed, but Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is going to resign on June 27 after more than 10 years in the job and after a Labour Party election the chances are that Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, is going to take over as party leader, and therefore become Prime Minister, and sometime thereafter there will be a general election and we all get to decide who does what. Tony Blair will be going to see the Queen on June 27 to tender his resignation.

The reason you might have missed this news is that before Tony Blair made any announcement at all, and this is ignoring the last two years of mounting speculation, the entire British media was choc full of every single thing he was going to do. The BBC Radio 4 programme, "Today", dedicated what appeared to be the entire show to what was going to happen. Before it happened. While they were at it, they predicted what was going to happen after what was about to happen actually happened. This was good news, because sometime later, the TV news bulletins speculated wildly about what was going to happen AFTER what happened had happened.

Then, luckily, something actually happened. Tony Blair made a speech. We knew that because he was tracked by helicopter all the way from London to Sedgefield, (Hi BBC, what's your carbon footprint for that shot?), his own constituency where he made the speech we had all predicted earlier and dissected, (the helicopter even took shots above the plane he was travelling in - this is a new shot, to the uninitiated, above the plane above the ground before anything has happened kind of shot) which signalled a veritable flood of what HAD happened over the past ten years in a series of montages that had clearly been lying in wait.
For something to happen.
Which isn't bad.

Then, after pausing for breath and allowing the what had happened packages to run their course, we kicked off again with what was about to happen. How much money will Tony make? Will Gordon succeed? Will the country accept a dour Scot?

I must have missed the memo. I thought news told you what HAD happened. Not what was about to happen. (sigh)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

proper soho celebrities

Right, you may know Paris Hilton and China White but I don't. I know real people and real places where you don't have to buy Cristal Champagne at £1500 a pop and apart from anything else the slebs who come my way tend not to recognise me again (despite the third eye) and so I go through life like most people, remembering slebs who don't remember me. However Mark and June remember me and Mark and June are seen more around Soho than Paris or China, if you see what I mean.

Mark is a bit of a likely lad who never taps you for a quid. It's always £4.65 or £11.82 in order to get a travelcard, buy fags, or pay his gas bill. He's clean, doesn't appear to do drugs, and is always laughing and gobbing about Dean Street, Old Compton Street and the intertwining paths of Soho. He likes a laugh and is too bright, way too bright to be on the street. Where he's been for 8 years.
There used to be another guy, Derek, who's apparently in jail now for doing a guy in while high on some cocktail of drugs and drink. He was bright too, came from Sussex and by all accounts a good family. I used to talk to him like he was my brother and then bang, he just disappeared and went straight to jail, didn't pass go, and didn't come back.
Anyway, Mark's got a job now. Kitchen Porter in a smart Soho Club and the last thing I said to him, apart from "Sorry, I've only got £3.27, I'll owe you the rest" was "don't fuck it up, I can't afford to be your client anymore"

And then there's June, who's looking a bit clean these days too, despite the missing teeth and sleeping bag around her shoulders. She knows me so well she comes up and kisses me on the cheek now, before getting the required quid, staring at it forlornly, then asking me how I am which is code for "is that it? Are you havin a laugh?" June and I go way back and Iwonder what June did before she started wandering Soho. She's Scottish, from Motherwell I think, but gets so out of it sometimes that you can't believe a word she says. Told me she had cancer once, was about to die, and could I therefore give her two quid. She'd be shit at the Big Issue.

Anyway, so there I am slumming it at French's with the American producer who's decided that Soho House and the Groucho are so last year and I'm telling him all about Gaston and the York Minster and the Coach and Horses round the corner with Norman Balon blah blah blah and first of all Mark comes up, bouncing around, greets me by name and starts the five star routine, which gets about three quid from me right away (this is stage one) and a further two from the yank - whose fatal mistake is to reveal that he's got more money and isn't quite sure what it's all worth.
Then June comes up (kiss kiss), she greets me by name too, and gets a further quid (each) then Mark comes back and explains that he's missed his lift home and needs a further two quid for the bus, plus three for fags if that's OK, and the yank relents. Then the all day drinkers start to get chucked out of French's, the pensioners who knew Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud who've just discovered that they've spent all their money on small glasses of Cote du Rhone, so they start tapping the pavement clientele for money, well dressed that they are, (although mostly so drunk they can hardly speak. What an example to give the young generation of media types around Soho) at which point Mark comes back and says that he's been thinking, that his gas is about to be cut off and if he doesn't get another £18.73p now he'll freeze to death when he gets home.
At which point the yank looks at me and asks if I know anyone who's in work, and can we please go to Soho House. I agree but tell him there won't be any real slebs there.

And then, some considerable time later Paul - who has not been mentioned thus far but is also prone to hanging about outside the Groucho and so on - gets famous because Alan Davies is pissed out his head one night after verity lambert's funeral and nearly bited his frikkin ear off.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mine's a double

I shop. I know what's important. Organic blah blah and locally sourced blah blah and ten minutes studying wine labels. But eggs is eggs. A vague look at the boxes with pretty farmstead pictures, and the price. Bang. In the basket. I generally find out what size they are when I get home.

But the Sig Oth buys from the market stall, large or even duck or, wait for it, gull eggs. (how eggsiting is this going to get?).
Last week she came in bearing a box marked "two yolks" which she laid on the table with the triumphant flourish of a mother hen. I tried not to stare, but felt slightly queasy.
Eggs with two yolks sound like a breakfast gag (literally) from The Simpsons, but I put prejudice aside, all thought of scientifically cloned chicks, nuclear power plants and plain old genetic maladjustment and cooked one. Boiled, sliced it open and looked inside.
Two yolks. Staring at me. Two little yellow yolks which might have been ickle twin chickies. (Oh come on, you eat raw steak, what the hell are you on about?)

Folklore says they're either unlucky - you can expect a death in your family if you get one, (terrible speech to make at a funeral. "Sorry Aunt Jemima, we knew where we wuz with salmonella, but two yolks....") - or lucky, you get an extra baby at Christmas or something. Googling just makes matters worse; descriptions of "unsynchronised production cycles" and "occasional abnormalities" are not really conducive to the (until now) excitement of scrambling and poaching and coddling.

If they're simply oddballs (long and thin) how do you know they're not just big eggs? Are they X-rayed in the coop? (No. Apparently they're candled, which involved holding a candle behind em and looking really really hard to count the yolks. And you can have more than two. The record is nine. Yeuch).

And so this morning, while waiting on the man fixing the car, I got an old fashioned greasy spoon all day breakfast in the caff next door, heart attack on a plate, with tea, bread, sausage, bacon, beans and an egg. Safe. Well guess what, plate central - two yolks staring up at me. Not two eggs, I recognised the damn thing right away and gently picked at it, trying not to look like some nonce in the midst of the overall clad horde wolfing down double EBBSC buried beneath slatherings of brown sauce. It didn't seem the time nor the place to call garcon! and complain that my egg had an extra yolk. So I played around with it for a while, chopped it, then felt I'd had enough. And left the egg.

I'm beginning to suspect there is a God after all and he likes teasing lifelong non-believers after he comes back from the pub. Woddever, the yolks on me*

* a pun too far.