Sunday, 27 November 2011

Ida, Queen's Park

One of my dear late father's favourite aphorisms - which I always thought of, fondly, as his statements of the bleeding obvious - was to say to anyone who complained that they couldn't find something, "You always find it in the last place you look!" It never occurred to him that this was the case because having found something you cease to look for it, but I loved him too much to point this out.

Now, as my brace of regular readers will know, my pal Michael Ford and I have had a few hits and misses in our search for a restaurant that caters just as well to his vegetarian lacto-free diet as to my 'if it baas, moos or oinks, kill it, heat it, sauce it and serve it' approach to eating. But would you believe it, my dear old dad was right after all because it looks like we've found it in the last place we looked - right on newly-moved-to-London Michael's doorstep.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Banana Tree, Soho

I had to admire the chutzpah of the marketing guy who sent me, unsolicited, a pretty-generous gift voucher to spend at the newly-opened Soho branch of growing Indochine canteen chain Banana Tree. "We would like to invite you personally to come and try out our new restaurant in Soho!" went the accompanying email; "If you like us, blog it! - if you hate us - let us know, as we are all about improvement and value all opinions, especially yours."

Flattery will get you everywhere with me, and where it doesn't get you bribery usually will, so an offer comprising both was always going to be pretty compelling. If I felt the slightest hint of righteous indignation at so flagrant an attempt to curry my favour, it was swiftly dispelled by the mischievous knowledge that even if I did love the place I didn't have to write about it, and if I hated the place, I didn't have to not write about it - the very opposite of their desired outcomes and 
more fool them for sending out money willy-nilly. Talk about sticking it to the (marketing) man.

But such an expensive and potentially risky marketing strategy must have been backed up by as much confidence in the product as money in the budget and sure enough, Banana Tree was, well, pretty top banana. Conscious that readers might not take me at my word knowing that my presence there had essentially been bought, I took along my pal Nicola who, as a director of  a high-end hotel and restaurant group knows her stuff and would, I knew, not hold back with her opinions good or bad. Guess what? She loved the place too.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Manson, Fulham

The late comedy genius Bob Monkhouse used to do a wonderful line about people's insistence on asking him to tell them a joke just because he was a comedian. "I don't really mind," Bob would say, "but they wouldn't do it to any other profession. I mean, If I said I was a gynaecologist, would they ask me to have a look at the wife?"

I feel for Bob. As a restaurant blogger - some would even say 'food writer' - I'm frequently asked "What's your favourite restaurant?" or increasingly, "Who's your favourite chef?" with the expectation that I'll have an immediate and definitive answer. Which I don't.

The first one isn't too tricky; I have several favourite restaurants depending on my mood so I'll just pick whichever one I'm feeling most favourably disposed towards at the time. But the second one always stumps me, because I'm not really into chefs. I'm aware of them, sure, and could name a few (and a few I fancy - I'm looking lustily at you, Tom Oldroyd), but I don't really have favourites. I'm much more interested in restaurateurs, the characters behind the places I love to eat in - the Richard Carings, Henry Dimblebys and Russell Normans of the world - than in the men and women putting the food on my plate.

That could all change however on the strength of the absolutely flawless game feast I recently enjoyed at Manson on Fulham Road, prepared by their newly-arrived head chef Alan Stewart. Those of you who care about such things will no doubt be impressed to know that Alan's CV includes stints at Chez Bruce - consistently voted one of London's favourite restaurants in every poll that allows Joe Public a say, and very near the top of my 'must-go' list - and the swishy Launceston Place. All I care about is the fact that he's responsible for one of the best and most memorable meals I've had in many years.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Cicheti - Telegraph Online

I've recently started contributing to the London pages of Telegraph Online, and following a few words in a piece on London's most stylish bars and joint top-billing with another writer in a 'debate' on whether we'd pay £250 for a meal at The French Laundry at Harrods (I wouldn't, since you're wondering), my first solo outing appeared last month. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the arduous research that went into it...

Cecconi's first introduced cicheti to London
While some mass-market fashion brands tread a very thin line between ‘referencing’ big-name designers and flagrantly copying them, it’s an accepted principle that trends eventually filter down from haute couture to the high street.
But when the huge Italian restaurant chain Zizzi announced recently that it was introducing a cicheti menu, it was the first time, to my knowledge, that the equivalent had happened in food: a trend transitioning from the capital’s chicest tables to some of its cheapest.
Although any dish smaller than a traditional starter is nowadays erroneously and annoyingly described as ‘tapas’, cicheti actually are Italy’s, or more specifically Venice’s, answer to Iberia’s beloved bar snacks. Served in backstreet bàcari for around €1 apiece, cicheti are small savoury mouthfuls intended to be ordered one-by-one, either by pointing at the desired item in a glass cabinet on the bar or by helping oneself from a tray passed around by the owner.
Cicheti were introduced to London by Cecconi’s, the venerable and perennially fashionable Italian restaurant in Mayfair, and for many years this was the only place they could be enjoyed in the capital. Here, still the most elegant location in which to sample cicheti, a traditional selection - chicken liver crostini, meatballs in tomato sauce - is served in grand surroundings at far-from-traditional prices ranging from £3-£8 per portion.
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