Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Nationwide Interweb Party!

OK, let's have a party.

THIS is just fantastic. And so is this!

And just in case you forgot how good the original was...this!

OK, now for something completely different

Yes? No? Well it doesn't get much better than this
or possibly this or finally, um ...this

But couldn't leave without this!



Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Go Sushi!

We have died and we have gone to sushi heaven. We are afloat in unpasteurised sake and vinegared rice. We have ginger. We have Asahi beer. We are slipping the most fresh, most delectable, morsels into our mouths decorated with salmon roe, mmm; with wasabi, nnnrgh; gold leaf, mm..and corn flakes. ...


This is the Sushi of the Year Award, aka the Seven Sushi Samurai with chefs from Japan, the UK, USA and Russia competing for a large glass trophy, some kudos, some Kikkoman Soy Sauce, and a plane ticket to somewhere exotic. And we are judging this beautiful stuff, we are voting for our favourite. But we are not in Tokyo, or even anywhere in Japan. We are in downtown London.

Japanese restaurants are established in the UK now, plus a growing number of supermarkets serving sashimi fresh fish, grade “A” Japanese Rice and all manner of tofu and vegetables, which suits people like me who love the stuff. But there isn’t a conveyor belt in the land offering anything like this.

We have, in no particular order….
“Whole Salmon” – roe, flesh, head and cartilage in sweet passion fruit juice and a mustard/coffee sauce knocked up by Jeff Ramsay of the Mandarin Hotel, Tokyo.
“Taco Sushi” – octopus, jalapeno, salmon, red and black flying fish roe from the chilli-soaked brain of Mexican chef Jose Calderon, theTako Grill, Maryland.
“Golden Shooting Star” – seaweed (representing sharks fin) daikon, gold leaf and cornflakes from Masashi Ogata, all the way from Asahizushi, Migaya, Japan, a prefecture I understand to be the home of sushi and sashimi.
“Fruits de la Mer Mille Feuille” – tuna, salmon, crab, scallops, paprika and perilla from Noriyoshi Watanabe of the Tsukiji Tamazushi, Tokyo.
“Red Square” – red tuna, beetroot, philly cream cheese, beetroot, sweet and sour jelly from Andrei Sim of the Planeta Sushi, Moscow.
“Miso Beef Sushi” – Scottish Beef Fillet, grapes, miso and sour cream from Tasuhiro Minano, here in Nobu, London.
“Seared Seabass Sushi” – seabass, daikon, chilli, white soy sauce from Masaki Anayama, of Matsuri, also in London.

Now, Yo! Sushi’s conveyer belt is OK, but I’ve been eating in two London restaurants for years. The Ryo (cheap diner open late night) in Brewer St, Soho, serves up great steaming bowls of ramen noodle till 1am, and Asuka in Baker Street where civilized Japanese salarymen mark their whiskey bottles before staggering out into the night from basement private rooms after their fill of sashimi, tempura, grilled fish, rice, pickles and soup. (The best ones are out of town now, Sushi Say in Willesden and Japan CafĂ© in Golder’s Green)

But nothing compares to what these guys are doing. There’s all the pomp and ceremony of a competition, and someone has to win – in this case it’s Masashi Ogata which pleases the traditionalists (like me) even though I’m not Japanese. I’m Scottish and lucky to have been to Japan often enough to eat things that would have made my granny’s hair stand on end. I’ve already written about Kaiseki , which I consider to be the greatest cuisine in the world, but that’s a no brainer.

Sushi, I’m told, is getting boring. Well it wasn’t tonight. Or possibly the endless supply of high quality sake was helping. A lot.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Princess Diana

This is weird, but since the late Princess Diana is back in the news again having her death investigated I couldn't help but remember this incident which is of a Diana nature.

Opposite the northern end of Kensington Park Gardens, where Diana lived, there's a caff called "Cafe Diana" which is a kind of shrine to her, being named after her and lined with photographs more or less floor to ceiling, wall to wall. If you had an allergy to Princess Diana this is not the place to go for a cup of tea. You'd be sick within a few seconds I'd guess, depending on how strong the allergy is, obv.
Anyway, it's also opposite the Polish or Slovenian Embassy where a mate had to go for some reason so I took him there and went for a cup of tea in the Cafe Diana . I don't have anti-Diana allergy but I still felt slightly odd sitting there, at the window looking for him, being stared at by all and sundry like some tourist who's wandered in thinking that some local cockney geezers will be in there having a cup of Rosy Lee which they can tell their friends back home about.

But who do you think walks passed? (No, not Diana, she's brown bread). But only Paul Burrell, Diana's former manservant who disgraced himself in the eyes of the Royal Family for selling a few secrets in his books after that stupid court case.
But the bizarre thing is I KNOW Paul Burrell (a little) because he was introduced to me by his agent, a very nice man indeed called Dave. I went all the way to Cheshire, where he lived, and we had a lovely lunch. We were talking about a TV show (this was before he did all the sleb shows around the world) and it would have gone ahead but for one small thing. He changed agents, and in fact he changed agents THAT DAY, I think the new agent was even in the room while we talked , so it was all a bit awkward and nothing happened. Didn't see him again.

Until the moment I was sitting in the window of the Diana cafe having a cup of tea and looking like a tourist. He just stared at me with a look that said "WTF are YOU doing in THERE?"
but he strode on, purposefully, not feeling the need to come in and join me. In the Cafe Diana.

Now that would have been something to tell the folks back home.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Perfect Day

Perfect days aren't planned. They just happen.
Monty woke me with a nuzzle and despite the time of year (October) we went for a walk in the park in shirtsleeves. It looked like a perfect day

I got back to find an email confirming one of those deals that you work on for weeks and you begin to wonder exactly what you're doing. It was a simple two liner. It's on. GR8. Then a telephone call to discuss another project that's on too. This is getting better.

Lunch - outside in the London sunshine - was only marred by the Polish waitress who literally, really, really really, couldn't speak a word of English but since I wasn't paying, the sun was shining and we were in a good mood, our good deed for the day was to teach her some basic menu rudimentaries. Food was great. The sun shone.

It's 'Art Week' in London and overhead Larry Gagosian's helicopter has been trailing a banner declaring that he is Pop Art. People are trying to make an event out of this. Strolling through the park in the warm afternoon sun towards a party I decide to call the Mobile Phone Company's call centre.

I won't bore you with the details but basically this is always a trial, an endurance test to see how long I can stand listening to somebody witter away at the other end, who's supposed to be trying to sell me something (a new contract) after screwing me around all year. An incentive. Something. Anything. Even a modicum of interest would suffice.

I try a different tack and speak first to Customer Services where a bright young man tells me I need to speak to "Loyalty" and before I have a chance to ask what that is I'm speaking to another bright young man in "Loyalty" who listens to me moan on and on. I've got at the back of my head that they should be offering me, oh, £50 off my current bill, when he interrupts me and says. "How does three hundred quid sound?"

"Music", I reply. In two minutes I'm off the phone, £300 richer with a new contract. Done deal.

I go to the party and meet one of the world's greatest architects, Richard Meier, whom I've met before. The show's about his architecture work and also his art, which is beautiful. He's charming and fascinating. Princess Michael of Kent is introduced to me and there's a momentary silence. She has no idea who I am or why she should be speaking to me. We exchange a tiny bit of small talk before she escapes.

All evening gorgeous waitresses keep approaching us to ask if we'd like more free champagne. It's like a dream. Matthew Collings is there, architects, journalists, faces, it's a fab party in a great space and we all go for what turns out to be a fantastic dinner.

I get home late and discover that ITV4 is showing two episodes of Larry Sanders, the world's greatest television show ever in the history of television. So I watch and laugh my socks off at a show that just refuses to show its age.

In the great scheme of things possibly there are more perfect days than this - world peace is declared or the problems of global poverty and hunger resolved - but if every day turned out to be as good as this I'd be pretty darn happy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Best Pub In The World

It's The French House. In Dean Street, Soho, London.*

Now, I know it doesn't actually sell pints, just halves, spirits and wine since it's holding onto a tradition started years ago, so you might well ask why taking pride of place among the many photographs lining the walls of such luminaries and regulars as Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud etc there's one of Suggs - formerly the lead singer of North London pop combo "Madness" and now general TV star and bonviveur around town - sipping from a full pint of Guinness? Well, I've no idea, I just drink there.

Ages ago, when The French House was just known as French's it confused people because the actual name above the door was The York Minster. I've been drinking there since I was 16 but the patron, Gaston, didn't like me (possibly because he knew I was 16 but being tall, looked 21). I discovered recently that it was his parents who founded the place, having converted it from a German butcher shop, and he is generally regarded as a living legend by all who drink there. Except me, obv.

It's tiny. But when I first started drinking there, the southern end of the bar was out of bounds to the likes of me, it being the high altar of intellectual debate, where matters of great import were discussed and Art Appreciated. Imagine the thrill then, one evening, to be in conversation there with, of all people (sound of very large name being dropped) Robbie Coltrane, the verrry famous Actor, whose party piece at that time was doing several Orson Welles voices, all the way from Citizen Kane through to the Sherry Adverts. Brilliant impressionist he was. Anyway, Gaston was never very happy with me drinking down that end - he would have preferred it if I'd moved the three feet back to the middle zone in front of the bar hatch - but he didn't have no choice. And even though that end has been officially democratised by newbies and incomers, it's still a bit of a thrill to be standing there with one of the luminaries. Even though they're generally drunk as skunks.

Upstairs, where the Free French Resistance used to meet during the Second World War (thus creating the name French's I assume) and were once graced by the presence of de Gaulle, the restaurant plies it's trade under a variety of chefs with a quite repulsive decor which, the last time I looked consisted of a shiny red leopardskin wallpaper. And apart from getting food poisoning one time, it's a very pleasant place to while away an afternoon lunch. I've never gone there for a quick snack in my life.

The wine is occasionally undrinkable. Last night, for example, the Cote du Rhone had a mouth puckering quality that almost brought a tear to my eye, so I switched to the Merlot which frankly was even worse. We settled therefore, for a very acceptable bottle or two of Pinot Noir which went down nicely thankyou, despite the presence of the dislikeable Victor Lewis Smith, TV critic of The Evening Standard, whose venom and irrational scribblings never fail to bore me. He was only a few feet away, (as everyone is) , but the crush currently extends to outside too, due to a large wire fence protecting everyone from falling into the roadworks, thus making the pavement impassable for pedestrians foolish enough to be walking on the east side of Dean Street. Bit of a scrum, frankly, what with outsides of pubs temporarily more popular than the insides due to fugitive smokers and associated smirters.

The window sills are a bit of a joke too, as my mate found out last night at the precise moment his large glass of Pinot slid off the sloping surface straight onto his shirt, tie and jacket. It's also where I meet Mark and June (read here) but they weren't there last night. No matter, voting for Pub of the Year hadn't taken place at that point.

Not much changed after Gaston left (I didn't get an invite to his leaving do, the only person in Soho I think) but the incoming owners decided, for reasons best known to themselves, to make a friend of mine the licensee, complete with name above the door - licenced to sell wines, spirits and beers etc - and everything. I even got to the stage of the occcasional, very occasional, lock-in. But French's never really did lock-ins. I think because it's too small. Gerry's is just yards away anyway, so what's the point of staying in The French House after hours when you can walk a few feet, go downstairs and drink quite legally and happily in there? Generally with the same people - or those sober enough to make the journey.

And not much has changed since. Except the addition of bar food. It's brilliant.

So there you have it. The French House. Best Pub in the World. Da-Daaa!

The runners up in this contest were Tennents Bar in Byres Road, Glasgow, and The Hand in Hand in Kemptown, Brighton, in loving memory of the late, dearly departed landlord Bev - creator and proud owner of Britain's smallest brewery.

* The jury consisted of myself and Monty the Dog. Voting took place last night at a secret location, a park actually, while Monty was doing his business.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sloane Danger

There is little worse than the sound of squeaking from London SW3. Sloane Ranger Land where Daddy's forgotten the allowance again, or Humbert's Yellow Cords are still in the dry cleaners and we're going to Hertfordshire for the Weekend - what ARE we going to DO?? It's a pleasant enough area, if you like £3m cottages, Chelsea tractors and Hermes scarves.

The spiritual centre, if not the geographic, is Sloane Square, which has Peter Jones Department Store on one side and The Royal Court on the other. At one corner is Oriel, a kind of vaguely french looking brasserie which has been there for years but isn't frequented by Lucinda and Jeremy, more by Hansel and Gretel; it looks posh and Parisian but actually it's a cheap catering operation in a 9 bob suit. I've never really gone there out of choice because the food's always terrible, the drinks are overpriced, it's a tourist crowd and the service is always, always atrocious because the staff come and go with some frequency. However we had to meet somewhere, Sloane Square was there, we just wanted a drink, so.....what could possibly go wrong?

8.50pm Sit outside and order 2 glasses of wine. Ask several times. Waiters come, waiters go. We ask. We joke about being ignored.

9.10pm We give in and go inside to the bar, queue, and buy for cash two glasses of wine. Success. Chat. Gossip etc etc.

9.45pm. Try to order 2 glasses of wine. From waiter. Ignored. Try again and again. Ignored ignored. They're busy. With customers. Like us. No wine

10.05pm Go inside, can't attract barman's attention (he's not busy). Give in and ask manageress if we can have 2 glasses of wine (can't get any service from bar) and indicate that we've been asking waiters etc etc. She nods.

10.10pm Manageress appears outside and is clearing tables. We ask for our wine. She looks blank. Then goes inside
10.20pm waiter appears with two glasses of wine. We pay cash. Thankyou.

10.45pm Waiter is clearing and wiping our table so because he's there, we order another two. deciding just to have "one more" as you do. . He can't ignore us. We tell him what we want three times, pointing at glasses, indicating colour etc.

11.00pm Still no wine. Told by same waiter we cannot order as they are closed. Remonstrate. Ask if he remembers taking our order 15 minutes ago. He says no, he's busy. People at the next table are complaining loudly that they've been charged for drinks they didn't have. The waiter is distracted, unpleasant.

11.05pm Wine arrives. Pay cash to sullen, annoyed waiter.

11.06pm Sullen, annoyed waiter returns and presents us with £20 bill "for wine". We ask him what he's talking about. This is the man who has studiously ignored us all evening. He gets aggressive and demands money. I tell him I've already paid him. Cash. Comes back and demands £10 instead. Then demands that I "step inside". People at next table are demanding too. They want attention. Waiter studiously ignores them.

11.10pm. I go inside, slightly furious (exact words to staff - "I was irritated, now I'm angry, what is going on here?")

A second waiter grabs me by the arm and marches me to the till. Shows me other waiter's bill and says I owe him money. Original waiter is angry, failing to communicate through his frustration, and is v excitable. I explain that I don't owe anybody any money and am heartily pissed off at being ignored all night and now even more pissed off at being accused of not paying some bill I've never seen before. A third, then a fourth waiter gather round. This is actually getting quite intimidating. "Our" waiter is beginning to blow his top and I can see he's agitated about losing ten pounds even though I've no idea where he's made the mistake. The second waiter is in my face telling me that the money I owe is going to be taken out the waiter's wages. He is not a pleasant man. I hand over £10 and demand to see manager.

11.20 The manager does not arrive. I ask again. And again. The waiters are clearing up now, studiously ignoring me. I ask again and again. He eventually arrives and we complain, demanding my £10 back that I never owed. He is cool towards us and inwardly assumes he's got some closing time troublemakers (he has!) He tries to explain that it has been busy (yes it had been earlier) that someone had done a runner for £60 which apparently comes out the waiter's wages (What??) and that.... too late, my guest (visiting for the night from South Africa) tells him to shut up, that she never seen service like it, and that the whole joke about the £10 was not the slightest bit funny.

"Why aren't you apologising?" she demands, "What is this? We're customers! What kind of ludicrous place are you running here?"
The people at the next table give up and leave, loudly telling to no-one in particular that they're never coming back.

11.30pm Manager refunds £10 and apologises. Then adds, rather unhelpfully in the circumstances, that "the waiters don't take orders outside". We point out that it's a little late to tell us this. On reflection, we realise he's talking rubbish. Anyway, we leave.

As the Chelsea Fans say on the terraces of nearby Stamford Bridge:
"You're s*** and you know you are".


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

That Richard Dawkins: He's a C***

At the precise moment I was being texted the sad news of Ned Sherrin's death I was not, unfortunately, in the Groucho Club, otherwise a martini, or at least a glass of fizz, would have been raised in his honour.
Ned Sherrin, the gayest blade around town, was not only the brightest performer on Radio 4, when he popped in to the Groucho for a pre-theatre stiffener he lit up the bar with his wit, bonhomie, and general all round charm. He will be missed.
No, I was in my pub in Brighton being told by a piano-playing philosopher Simon Young that "Richard Dawkins is a c***". When I say my pub, I don't mean MY pub, but the pub I frequented when I lived in Brighton which was at its peak then and is now a bit of a hole in the wall. Me and the screenwriter were discussing our script and the philosopher was dying to join in. He showed us his book, Designer Evolution, I think it was called, which was covered in scribbles and told us what philosophers were worth reading ("Aristotle" and two others") and those who weren't. This clearly included Dawkins.

We discussed movies until it became obvious that he wasn't really up to speed, and also that he'd had one or two before talking to us. Nice young man, basically, but his view of Dawkins "fucking nihilist" was getting slightly tiresome the more he repeated it, not to say emphasised it.

Trying to bring the conversation back round to safe territory, I asked the philosopher if he'd seen The Big Lebowski as "the nihilists there were the bad guys".
"They're always the fucking bad guys" growled the young philosopher and we moved back into the danger zone once more which by then included Ken Livingstone (bastard), London (loathesome place), Brighton (full of fucking plebs) all hotels (low life), the Pitcher and Piano pub chain (arseholes) and so on. For such a pleasant looking young man, all floppy hair in a kind of Hugh Grant style, he seemed to have pretty dark opinions about all and sundry.

The screenwriter went to buy a round but came back with the bad news (I should point out that this pub is the tiniest in the world. The actual bar is only three steps from where we were sitting. Actually, make that two steps. By a small person.) The barmaid was not going to serve the philosopher.
"I've already told him he's had enough" she added helpfully.

The philosopher's demeanour changed in an instant when I suggested that possibly he had had one or two more than was necessary. How dare I, he suggested, say such a thing. I said that I'd be glad to buy him one next time he came in, having never seen him in my life before this was a neat way out, but he stated that he would never set foot in such a horrible fucking place EVER again.
We said our goodbyes which included his opinion that we were both C***s because we wouldn't even buy him a fucking drink. "You're all c***s" he offered to the assembled crowd (actually that was the barmaid and an elderly couple sitting silently in the corner).

So there we have it then. Me and Richard Dawkins. C***s.