Sunday, April 18, 2010

London Moments



Due to Volcanic Ash, London, particularly the South West, is bliss at the moment. Sunshine, brunch and dinner outdoors and best of all - silence in the skies and picturesque sunsets. If Boris's Thames Estuary airport doesn't get a few thousand extra supporters this week, from Housnlow to Twickenham, I'm a monkey's uncle.
But there are still dark corners of London where danger lurks....

After what can only be described as a very agreeable lunch in the City (High Timber since you ask, right on the river) I'm walking to Borough Market to spend a fortune on veg. Cross the Millenium Bridge without wobbling (wasn't that good a lunch) and am entering an underpass when I come across an altercation, a right royal todo straight out of a Dickens novel. We are in the shadow of the Clink after all.

A beggar (his own words I hasten to add) is berating another chap, pinned him against the wall and bawling at what should be his face. Except there ain't a face there, is there guvnor? He's one of them wotsits, that you see in Barcelona's Ramblas. They just stand there, painted in gold. But this one's got no head. He's the invisible man, see? (or rather not).
"Why don't you jaas fuck off??!!" the beggar is shouting. I should point out that this particular beggar is quite well dressed. Oxblood docs, cords and a dark sweater, all neat and tidy like. In his fifties he could have been a cabbie out for a walk.
"Just fack off you cunt!" he continues, the street performer now shaking.
"Why don't you say something, you silent bastard?" And that, I can assure you, is an EXACT quote.
"How'm I supposed to do any begging when you're here? All fucking silent. Doing nothing! I fucking live here! I'm a fucking beggar!" he spits out, pointing at a crumpled but clean sleeping bag over the other side of the underpass.
There's no doubt he would have hit him by now, if he had known where to hit, but since there was no face to punch, our friend was a little, er, confused.

At which point one of Southwark's finest comes along. Not an actual copper, one of those uniformed wannabes who cost taxpayers very little, do very little, but have a uniform.
"Move along" he says, as if he's just been watching some very old TV cop show like Dixon of Dock Green along at the BFI Archive.
I expected a 'Let's be avin you" next but that was not forthcoming.
Spying the uniform, our begging loudmouth eschews fisticuffs with the pretend rozzer and makes an exit. But not without a final act of defiance.
He stops at the end of the underpass and turns to us all.
"I live here!" he shouts.
And then, in what can only be described as a poetic climax, bawls out
"MILLWALL" and raises his fist.

Passing tourists are wholly confused. They can sense the aggression but not much else, having missed the finer points of a turf war set-to.

The street performer remains silent and slowly removes his apparatus. He's sweating, shaking, and speaks a little English.
"He was a bit upset" I offer.
"Yes. Not a nice man" He whispers back.

Our faithful servant in uniform takes a few notes and tells me that he's normally called here to quiten the noisier buskers who disturb the office workers next door.
"This was different" he tells me, furiously scribbling in his pad (see photo, above).



Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Swiss Pakora Yorkshire Horse Melt



We are back from the second gastronomic tour of Switzerland where on this occasion I ate horse. Or foal, as the SO pointed out, hiding her grimace behind the menu. And for good measure it had a lobe of foie gras on the top, just to make sure that any passing animal activists were well and truly incensed.
It was the Italian part of Switzerland and Italians, like the French, eat horse. So when in Rome, or Paris, or Lugano, etc. It came up carpaccio, which just in case you've forgotten means very very thinly sliced. And raw.
So I didn't just eat horse, I ate Raw Horse. Or rather Raw Baby Horsey. It may as well have been My Little effing Pony the way it tasted (of very little) and the way my smile of satisfaction was received (with very little accord). But now I can add 'horse' to that list. Of things never to be touched again, like andouilette and tripe.

Anyway, it was forgotten because on the train back through the Gotthard Tunnels and bridges and flyovers and whoops and spills and thrills we drank nearly a whole bottle of Swiss red merlot, a reserve no less, which three hours later had me off the horse hook as we slowly sauntered towards the departure gate at Zurich, sad to leave, especially since the sun had just broken out and the snow was long forgotten. And as the charming man at security was confiscating our very expensive bottled gifts of essences and oils we thanked the lord that we hadn't bought that foot wide Swiss Army Knife with the twenty seven blades.

No sooner back than we're off to Edinburgh where a comedy weather storm has broken out, torrential rain, freezing temperatures and thick swirling snow have replaced spring sunshine for a couple of days, starting just thirty seven seconds before we arrive and ending as we board the 16.30 to Glasgow Queen Street. To the relief of the Edinburghers the 'weather' had swept west to Glasgow, I think it might have been tied to the bumper of our train, so that we were greeted on arrival by crowds, traffic jams, and, er, weather. But not to worry.

First port of call is the Ashoka, where, I explain to the SO who has never set foot in the city before that the reason I bang on about the unavailability of pakora outside Glasgow is because it is nectar from heaven. Or the Punjab. Anyway, she watches, nibbling wee bits, as I demolish the lot, nuclear pink dipping sauce included, and then head over to Tennents Bar where she remarks that "IT'S A BIT LOUD" because the 200 men sinking pints are all TALKING AT ONCE. So we leave and have a quieter dinner a deux in the city's newest hotel and it is fine.

We leave for Bradford, curry capital of England, (as Glasgow is the curry capital of Scotland) and demolish a monster pakistani takeaway with friends. We remark that the chickpea bhaji is a hit, the pakora is not. But mostly the sound around the table appears to be nom, nom, nom.

And so back to London where we whoosh up to the top floor of the Hilton, a glamour spot if ever there was one (not!) transformed four years ago into one of the delights of London gastronomy by the Galvin Brothers. We peer over the edge of our table down into the back garden of Buck House but can see neither The Queen walking the dogs, nor Camilla popping out for a quick fag during dinner. The staff are no use at all, refusing to divulge ANY nugget of salacious information.
SO advances through the menu first, grabbing the foie gras starter, matched with a sensational Barsac, and leaves me with the scallops. Both are delish but I smugly hint at the question marks hanging over foie gras production (yes, yes, full marks for rank hypocrisy) and suggest she might like horse next.

She doesn't.