Saturday, December 29, 2007

Not bad for starters...

Nationwide has two alltime favourite restaurants, a different category from flavour of the month you understand. The Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow and the Union Square Cafe in New York. Which is a bit awkward really when you lives in London. Like wot I do.

We certainly do have choice in London, but it's thrown up what exactly? The Ivy is brilliant but of course you can never, ever get in even though it's now past it's sleb prime and you're more likely to be sat next to a party of Essex or Japanese tourists rather than Stephen Spielberg. The Wolseley is fab too - never book, just walk in - and I've never eaten anything bad there at all. The Americans love it.
Scotts and St Aubin are beyond my reach sadly and there's, um, well, there's er......well there's about 2000 out there, all listed in Harden's and Time Out and all serving varying degrees of scoff dished up to your table by the population of Poland. Top places, bottom feeders, middle of the road Italian tratts. The only really bad meal I've had recently was in the Bush Bar and Grill in Shepherd's Bush but that was Sunday lunch with 50 brats at the next table all wolfing pizza and chocolate cake. By "bad" I mean so-bad-it-has-to-be-sent-back-bad, not just ordinary, which is what a lot of places get away with in London.

But we're talking favourite here. Outstandingly brilliant. And guess what? There's a new one - a fave - right here in London town. The guy that used to run Kensington Place, Rowley Leigh has opened up in Whiteley's shopping centre, in what used to be McDonalds. Behold, Le Cafe Anglais, my third favourite place in the world. Not including Japan, obv.

It's a large, light airy room, with a quiet buzz (good), big high windows (v good) and lovely staff (vv good) some of whom are probably Polish. It's also got very good food. (star plus good) and doesn't cost an arm and a leg (done deal!).

It opened a few weeks back and our first dinner there for ten cost peanuts because they had that 50% off thing in the opening week. So I greedily tucked into foie gras and pheasant, both of which were fab, and about a fiver each or something. The rest of the table ordered just about the entire menu and devoured the lot and were so enamoured with the fare that there was very little of the plate passing going on that my own family used to indulge in, with my mother refusing to order anything that anyone else had ordered so that we could all taste something different.

They have proper aperitifs, not just that have-a-drink-at-the-bar scam to part you from your money (hello Soho Hotel, are you listening?? I will never fall for that "glass of champagne sir?" thing again - three of us at the bar before dinner in fuel or refuel or fool or whatever it's called
100 quid before we sat down!), no they have things like gin fizz and white ladies and, er, champagne. And you get fab little hors-d'oeuvre too - rabbit rillets, salsify fritters and a mussel thing which at lunch with a journalist we sent back. Not because there was anything wrong with it - quite the contrary it tasted perfecto - but it was a freezing cold day and it was cold. So we decided we wanted it warm. So they did. And it was delicious warm too.

The big dinner was virtually alcohol free but the lunch with the journo wasn't and we spent some money there but even so the bill with everything - the champagne, full four courses, coffee and wine - was still only £70 a head. I say "only" because we were there all day, drinking and stuffing our greedy faces and that's the kind of boozy lunch where the bill can go through the roof. But it didn't (more plus points again)

Rowley came round and said hi, pretending he knew who we were. Honestly, the sea of faces that must have passed before that man at Kensington Place, pleading for a table - and invariably getting it - determines that he either has a photographic memory for twenty thousand people or, like the rest of us, he's just charming and gracious and wants people to like his place. The consortium that backs him all have history, from the Groucho Club to the wine business to the aforementioned Bush Bar and Grill, by an unfortunate coincidence.

And I find myself going back. With chums. With family. With work people and each time it just gets better and better, more and more comfortable, and the prices still aren't going up to any great degree that I've noticed. I may live vaguely near, but Whiteleys has never really been much of a draw before.

Last week the special, venison, was "off" but that was because it was bought properly, cooked properly and - just before serving - was discovered to be not quite right in the sense that after resting it was discovered to be slightly overdone. Rather than risk a complaint or two, it was dumped. Having now worked my way through the menu, and never had anything bad yet, I wonder if I would have complained about slightly overdone venison. Possibly not.

And as if by magic, my newspaper diet was swelled today while waiting for someone fighting their way through the Holiday tourist hordes of Portobello Road street market and I read not one but TWO connected articles. The first, a column (weekly) by the chef himself in the FT explaining the value of black truffles at this time of year which seemed to make perfect sense. And then secondly a very kind review in the Times by Giles Coren, who I regard to be the doyen of food writers right now, who liked the place for all the reasons outlined above, but written in a more elegant manner, as you would expect from a food critic rather than a blogger oik.

So there we have it. The new Nationwide fave restaurant. If you see me there, wave and I'll buy you a drink.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Breaking Shore News

Where were you when President Kennedy died?
When Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the moon?
When your mother, or father, passed away?
I'll tell you where I was when I heard the news tonight. I was in The Shore Bar.
There are only a few great bars in the world. Here is the Top Ten.
(1) The French, Dean St, Soho, London.
Best bar in Central London. Magnif.
(2) The Hand in Hand, Brighton (Kemptown), England.
Bev, God rest your soul, you created a brilliant pub (and brewery)
(3) Puffin, Tribeca, New York City
Stuff all the rest, Puffin is the boots.
(4) That little bar in Montparnasse, Paris.
No sorry, ALL little bars in Montparnasse, Paris.
(5) Every bar underneath Osaka's main railway station.
And Shijunku, Tokyo.
(6) Tennents Bar, Glasgow.
No, The Halt Bar, Glasgow. No. The Rogano. Glasgow. No...
(7) The Crillon, Central Cannes, France.
No relation. It's beside the station. Rose, steak frites, cafe. Perfect.
(8) Urbani, Turin, Italy.
Probably the bar/restaurant in Italy, especially when Juventus are playing...
(9) The Temple Bar , Lafayette and Spring, Noho, NYC
The best martinis in the world. Seriously. None better.
(10) The Shore Bar, The Shore, Leith, Edinburgh.

There is one almighty bar in Edinburgh which everyone the (rugby) world over loves - the Cafe Royal - but down in Leith lurks just about the world's best traditional bar and restaurant.
Fantastic Scottish food and drink, excellent music most every night (from trad jazz to Highland to, well, piano, flute and drum: brilliant) Fish soup to die for, been there for years, whisky, open til 1am. Dark wood, awkward space, typical bar. EVERYONE goes there.
The Shore has been sold. OMG.
The people next door run Fishers. They've apparently bought it. So that's OK then. No-one has to worry.

At all.




Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Easy Bermuda Triangle

It was my fault.
Stupid. Stupid. STUPID!!

I've been happily shooting up and down the East Coast by train between London and Edinburgh with ease, comfort, food and general well being. No probs no worries.
The east Coast mainline is in rude health after GNER have run it for several years. Who knows what may happen under National Express - the signs aren't good. (don't worry, we'll get to something other than trainspotting in a mo)

So for reasons too stupid and boring to explain I'm at Luton Airport. Waiting on an Easyjet flight. Where I've been sat for several hours. It was supposed to be quicker. It was supposed to be cheaper. It was supposed to be, oh, better.

It's not.

There's nothing wrong with no or low frills airlines really. I've flown on dozens of them. It's just that Easyjet (and Ryanair) have managed to throw the baby out with the bathwater and remove any semblance of enjoyment, or even a sense of efficiency.

OK, so I'm stuck. I'm delayed, but at other airports when you get delayed there can sometimes be, how can I put this, a sense of sympathy, possibly even a degree of help. Not at "London" Luton Airport there isn't (one day I'll get them prosecuted over that name under trades descriptions - it's nowhere NEAR London. It's barely near Luton)

Now Luton's got some nice new shops. And a new caff. And a new long walk - a very long walk - to the gates which is what you get when you install new shops and caffs.

I'm on a flight that is so delayed the earlier one has left after the later one was supposed to so I stupidly thought there might be a chance of getting on said earlier one as I'm travelling alone.
As I watched them give short shrift to a heavily pregnant woman - they even asked her if she had passed the test to allow her to fly - and send her packing back down to the shopping mall they then turned on the two clearly confused Chinese people who didn't understand why they couldn't get on the flight that was leaving at the time they were supposed to leave.

You've seen "Airline" haven't you? You know the show where the Easyjet's wearied staff try to help thick ignorant passengers who don't know their arse from their elbow, who just REFUSE to be helped their such great unwashed scum.

The helpful lady told the Chinese couple IN A VERY LOUD VOICE that the pilot had already personally loaded all his fuel onto the plane and he COULDN'T POSSIBLY let them on - the implication being that they'd run out of fuel somewhere over Carlisle and the Chinese Couple would then be responsible for many, many deaths. The Chinese Couple were even more confused and showed their Boarding cards again and were told IN AN EVEN LOUDER VOICE that the pilot etc etc. They backed off, wondering what they had actually done to get the hair dryer treament from a total stranger.

Then it was my turn. I'm not pregnant. I'm not Chinese. I'm a traveller. I've travelled so much my carbon footprint is the size of Yorkshire and I've spent so much time and money on easyjet and ryanair that I swore never to fly with them again.

Until today.

In the same VERY LOUD voice it was explained to me that it was IMPOSSIBLE to let me on as there was no-one that could POSSIBLY authorise it, no-one AT ALL and that if I ever wanted to try to do this again I should go to the ticket desk on the way in.

This would assume I knew in advance of any delay, something you cannot possibly know as I pointed out that Easyjet refuse to tell people about delays, even when they've been happening all day (like today) because of early morning fog. You see, then I might have known several things, one of which would have been not to come to London Luton Airport as it takes nearly two hours to actually get here from my bit of (Central) London.

She shooed me off to the "Special Assistance" desk which was not manned. I couldn't leave the airport. I was handed an orange phone.

"Who's that?"
"Is this Easyjet?"
I explain what's what and I'm given a lecture, very similar in tone to the one I've just had. Being a passenger, I'm automatically regarded as stupid by Easyjet staff.

I asked what time the delayed late plane might depart, did anyone actually know? - and was told quite simply a pack of lies. It wasn't worth listening to. Utter bollocks. The kind of speech which sounds as if something is being said when nothing is being said at all. Noise.

The kind of stuff that turns normal people into frothing-at-the-mouth passengers who make good telly for "Airline".

Which is where I came in. But unfortunately not out. I'm in the no-frills bermuda Triangle and I may be here for some considerable time. Oh, and London Luton's shops and caff are now shut.

Never again.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Showing Now...

Tonight we were in movie mode as there's been a lot of travelling recently and we wanted, um, a movie. We've an arthouse and a multiplex within spitting distance and we'd seen the lot. Well, not the lot, but the ones we wanted to see, so I realised it was time for the Nationwide Movie Guide again. The one where you get to find out the truth.

Right, first off we haven't seen "The Golden Compass" because I don't like Nicole Kidman at all and I like Daniel Craig too much in his new role as Bond to be put off by this tosh so... End of. Second, "Elizabeth the Golden Age" has been seen by everyone I know and they all said basically the same thing - endless court scenes and then some CGI ships. Sorry, have I spoiled it for you? Won't happen again. Promise.

Now, "Into The Wild" is where a best friend who knows a thing or two walked out after 20 minutes and said it was bollocks. It's not, but you have to stick with it. Trust me. It's worth it.
Sean Penn, a bit of a hero in the acting department, directs the story of a guy who frankly is not very nice (that's why people walk out) but it is possible to make a very good movie about someone who's not very nice. Honest.

"American Gangster". Well, it's got Denzel Washington in it and have you ever seen him do anything bad? Like, ever? He plays a storm here, totally dominates the screen and I'd go see this movie just for him because he's utterly brilliant. Which is just as well because Russell Crowe mumbles his way through in a half New York half New Zealand accent and Ridley Scott is a fine director of great importance whose work we all love (including Blackhawk Down, btw, a great movie) but he ain't Martin Scorsese, is he? No soul you see.

"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is a very long title but nowhere near as long as the movie. Two and three quarter hours last time I looked. Brad Pitt, one of the finest actors of his generation. He's in it. He's also a producer (grew up in Missouri, get's to play Missouri's most famous son, JJ). And the producers are Hollywood A-List. Ridley Scott, Brad Grey, etc. Casey Affleck, who I ain't seen before, is stunningly good looking, thanks to some brilliant cinematography by Roger Deakins and the music's good too. By Nick Cave, who even puts in a small performance. Looks good, sounds good, Brad Pitt. What could go wrong?
Well you could hand the whole thing over to a writer/director who is so obsessed with the mythology of westerns that he imagines the rest of the world will share his dream of cowboy movies being played out as Greek tragedy.

"Lions for Lambs". This is nowhere near as bad as they say. It's directed by Robert Redford, who is also in it and - shock horror - Tom Cruise is blindingly good and - shock horror - Meryl Streep isn't. It's three separate stories which meld into one and is basically a liberal critique of the war on terror. Like Michael Moore, if he wasn't already there you'd have to invent him.
Except it shouldn't be called Lions for Lambs. It should be called Lions for Donkeys. D'oh!

"Ratatouille" isn't just for kids, because it's got really really great animation. But it should be.

And then there is "The Darjeeling Ltd" an absolute joy. On a grey, wet winter's day there can be no better film, a technicolour confection that is light, airy, warm and breezy, beautifully acted and directed, and you don't even need to know what it's about. If you do, towards the end, there's a little scene, less than a minute with no words, just music, that tells you everything you need to know. About the film. And life. I officially love Wes Anderson.

Top NW tip for later, based on PR puffery, hype, a hunch, and the Coen Brothers' track record. "No Country For Old Men". Looks good.