Resto 66 Tasting Sicily – Enzo’s Kitchen, Piccadilly

November 19, 2017

The TV looks small from here but wait till you’re eyeball to eyeball with it.

We’d been to the excellent little free exhibition on Axeli Gallen-Kallela at the National (as well as the also excellent Monochrome in the Sainsbury Wing). Wishing to avoid the crowds, and not finding the new incarnation of the NG’s café-restaurant on the Charing Cross side to my liking, we headed back to Panton Street to give Enzo’s a go. We got the last table for two.

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Gallen-Kallela at the NG, celebrating Finland’s 100th year of independence. Not to be taken for granted in these times.

My wife was fortunate in having her back to the giant screen at the end of the room, whereas I was forced to be mesmerised by this monster throughout the evening. Interspersed with mile high technicolour shots of the Sicilian landscape and yummy looking ingredients were slightly disconcerting screenshots from The Godfather, that charming tale of murderous drug dealers. I was hoping that they’d mitigate these with some Montalbano but the management don’t seem to have caught up with his show. At least, in the week of his death, they hadn’t gone the whole hog and included Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina among their rogues gallery.

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Toto Riina. Not as charming as his photograph would have you believe.

Anyway, that was the downside. If we’d booked I’m sure I could have got a seat where I wasn’t blasted with cliché the whole evening and I would have been perfectly happy as the food and wine was very good. The room itself is bright, with cheerful paintings dotted around the walls that would provide more than enough visual splendour without any electronic input. I liked the table too – plenty of room with a pleasant pattern on the tiled surface. Just the thing to make you feel warm on a grey November evening.

I believe this restaurant is part of a group specialising in products from Sicily and so the mixed antipasto seemed a good way to start. At £9 a head this was a generous size (especially compared to Dalla Terra) and really was a meal in itself. There was a good variety of meat, cheese and veg – with the veg being the star. Juicy olives and smoky aubergines went alongside a sweet pickled pumpkin that was something I’d not had before and would definitely get on board with again. And slithery mushrooms were also something I wanted more of.

For main a handmade pasta with pig’s cheek was too salty for my liking, but it was a hearty portion of food and I was to play football the following day so I stuffed it down. The wine list highlights Sicilian products and we went for a mid-range number made from Carricante grapes which went down a treat. The service was excellent and at around forty quid a head, inclusive of a more expensive bottle than usual this is a good option in this area if you want something more interesting and authentic than Bella Italia or similar. If it wasn’t for the tv this would have been an 8.

7/10

#food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 65 Yori, Piccadilly

November 17, 2017

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Panton Street is the go-to place (see Kanada-Ya) for a quick, cheap lunch in this part of town and with winter in my bones I felt like something warming. Korean food usually does the job and at Yori they had a tempting offer of £7.99 for a set lunch.

You can choose from any number of grills, pots and stirs so I went for a pork bibimbap, hoping for a bit of heat. I got it – succulently fatty chunks of park in a pleasingly spicy broth and plenty of veg hit the spot. Once I’d sticked the lumps I chucked in the rice and finished the whole thing, broth and all, tempted finally to stick my face in it and lick the bowl clean. They throw in a few pickles as part of the package so that was my five a day taken care of. If you’ve a big appetite it might be a bit of a small portion but it was enough food to keep me going till dinner time.

Service was swift and friendly. A plus is that the tables are a good size (not always the case when you’re going to a budget place) so that you don’t feel cheek to jowl with your neighbours. For about 12 quid for food and beer Yori offers good value if you don’t want to spend too much but feel like going somewhere superior to a chain place for lunch.

8/10

#food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 64 Orsini, Brompton Road

November 13, 2017

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Coming out of the V&A on a Saturday, having seen the excellent exhibition on opera we were not keen to get into the bunfight of trying to find a quiet table in South Ken. So we started to wander towards Knightsbridge. Since the demise of Racine (much missed) I haven’t been back to eat in this area of London, partly because it’s too close to the horror that is Knightsbridge.

We drifted past Orsini at first but were then bounced back westwards by the sight of hordes of Vernasty-wearers sucking down gelato outside a gaudy bit of cafftattery. Such things could only get worse the closer we got to Harrods so we turned back to see if we could get a table in more civilised climes.

We were lucky. We’d secured the last table as there were two large parties imminently arriving. Orsini’s room is simply decorated (a rarity in these parts) but that shouldn’t lead one to think that the food is any less well-crafted than at more opulent places around about.

A soup to start was a good idea as it was a pretty chilly evening. Hearty vegetable soup with a nice chunk of toasted bread alongside was just the job. I followed that with a squid ink tagliolini alla vongolè – plenty of clams and the most perfect home-made pasta swimming in a richly flavoured sauce. It was at this point that I considered going through the whole card to see what the chef could do with meat and fish but having not run a marathon that day i thought it might be a bit self-indulgent. So we had some ice cream to share (pistachio and hazelnut, both good) and an espresso to round things off. The wine, a Fiano from Puglia, was excellent and decent enough value at around 25 quid.

The service was excellent; when the groups arrived I’d feared that our less significant orders might be lost in the melée but not a bit of it. Orsini’s food is not complicated but it is executed with elegance using delicious ingredients. Next time I’ll book and make a full evening of it.

9/10

#food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 63 Shah Tandoori, Euston

November 12, 2017

To the Shah Tandoori for an end of season cricket dinner. Drummond Street is the go to place for me for curries so I’m surprised that i haven’t mentioned Shah before – especially as we came here last year! It could be that in the excitement of lager-fuelled cricket bants the memory of the occasion slipped my mind.

This year’s do wasn’t as bacchanalian, which meant that I could appreciate the food more. In this veggie-dominated strip it turns out that Shah is much superior on the food front to its meaty rival across the road, Taste of India.

You can take Kingfisher or Cobra on the beer front. Our order of five poppadoms was generously doubled by the management, which was handy as I was starving. I went off my usual order with a Sheek Kebab up front, followed by a king prawn rezella. The Kebab was excellent, spicy and juicy, while the rezella gave me the heat that I needed and a good helping of prawns. A perfectly prepped chapati was on hand to soak up the juice and everything v good in the stomach department. I’ll be back next year, hopefully after contributing more than this year’s couple of dozen runs with the bat.

8/10

#food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 62 La Terrasse des Archives, Paris

November 8, 2017

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The final meal of a quick short stay in Paris is usually a relaxed lunch before getting the train. This wasn’t exactly what we got in La Terrasse des Archives. It sits beside a Nairn noticed fountain in a prime location in the Marais and so looked exactly what we were looking for. We squeezed into a corner table as the lunchtime crowd of loafers and locals started to swell.

The menu, not too long, is standard bistrot food with a few specials marked up on the board. My starter of pea gazpacho (I was still slightly stodged out from Strada) was refreshing and hit the spot. We splashed out on a Chablis, which was kept nicely chilled in an ice bucket.

Then the Labrador arrived. Not sure if he belonged to the restaurant but he certainly acted like he owned it. He was active yet not intrusive, occasionally popping out to the terrasse to see what was going on out there and other times just roaming around in an amiably woofish way.

My main of seared tuna confirmed that I was on a supermodel lunch as it arrived with a lot of courgettes but no spuds. So I nicked some of James’s (very good) chips, of which he had plenty. The chablis was slipping down pretty well but the waiter seemed to be in a hurry for us to get on with things. My plate was whipped away before James had finished his main and we were pressed for a decision on coffee or dessert.

Our attention was distracted by the appearance of a large ginger cat beside our table who stared enigmatically through the door. It seemed that La Terrasse had a fairly well-established menagerie. All power to their elbow I say but I reckon this would disturb some people.

Two coffees arrived in an instant and our wine was removed before we could protest that there was at least a glass left in the bottle. In a less benevolent mood I would have kicked up a stink but as it was I laid the money on the table and we left. The coffee was good, as was the food and the beasts, but I wouldn’t go back.

5/10

#food #Paris

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 61 Strada Café, Paris

November 8, 2017

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Waiting for the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature to open I needed coffee and I knew where to get it. Strada Café is an old friend but I’ve never dined there. Not having eaten anything since the Phil Collins Anguish I was quite peckish.

I asked for toast, jam and a noisette and was informed that I should get the set breakfast for €10.50. Quite pricy you might say but this is the hipstier end of the Marais and that’s the way things roll around here. The portion was generous – 4 slices of excellent grilled bread with some figgy jam and a stodge bonus of a dinky croissant. The juice was freshly squeezed and a powerful hangover suppressant. The coffee, as always here, was as good as it gets.

The room is pleasant and the clientèle upscale locals and well-heeled visitors. I felt a lot better when I came out than I did when I went in, and that’s worth a few euros premium on the average Parisian caff. I can’t remember the music so it obviously wasn’t too traumatic or loud.

Oh, and the Sophie Calle exhibition at the MdlCeN is a must-see if you’re in Paris. Witty, sometimes profound and occasionally creepy. Just like the museum itself.

#food #Paris

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 60 Sans Souci, Paris

November 7, 2017


Pre-gig I was a hungry chap having marched to MOMA@FLV and back. Pigalle is a new area of Paris to me so we chose a place at random.

Could we eat? Yes, but the guy said we’d have to wait till the chef arrived at 19h so we supped a beer while waiting. Good beer and not too pricy. The room was filling up and the atmosphere was perfect save for one detail.

They were playing the very dregs of phil Collins on the jukebox. Yes, they started with Another day in Paradise and followed that with yet more turgid crap, including the crime against humanity that is Phil’s take on the Motown classic You Can’t Hurry Love. Fortunately, by the time our food had arrived the tunes had skipped on to the Bee Gees. Never had I thought that I would use the phrase Thank God they’ve put the Bee Gees on. Marginal gain. Nausea mitigated.

I had a cheeseburger. It was excellent, reminding me of how a MacDo should taste when you’ve played 2 hours of football, been out all night and just want filthy food for lunch. Superb chips (ok, frites) with that and a charming feller serving us with a whole Californian surfer look going on. 

You have to do some Voltaire-ish (oh, Voltaire, will you reopen?!) shenanigans to get in and out of the table but that’s more of a pleasure than a chore when you’re on holiday.

If it wasn’t for Phil this would have been an 8.

7/10

#food #paris

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Publication: Cricket in the West Indies

October 31, 2017

Thanks to those generous folks at Taylor and Francis the first 50 people to access my latest article, The ‘White Man’s Game’? West Indian Cricket Tours of the 1900s can access the article for free at the link below …

http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/pFQ2VR6CR42ynrWFdWVC/full

It’s not just for academic specialists, I think the general reader who is interested in the history of cricket, the Caribbean or the British Empire would find it worth a look. I would write a summary here but it’s easier to reprint the abstract …

The 1900s saw two tours of the United Kingdom (UK) by a mixed race cricket team representing the West Indies. This paper argues that the tours were part of a concerted cultural campaign largely organized by the West India Committee to raise the profile of the British West Indian colonies in the Mother Country in the light of competition for favour among the settler colonies. It analyzes the selection of the team and its reception in the UK to argue that the existing literature has been mistaken in portraying the team to have been subject to consistent hostility due to the inclusion of black players in the touring party. Rather it is argued that the team of 1900 was largely welcomed as a truly representative West Indian team but that by 1906 a tightening of the definition of who could represent the empire on the sports field, influenced by the settlement of the South Africa War, meant that mixed race cricket would be rejected and the West Indians unjustly excluded from the Imperial Cricket Conference, which became an all whites club.

I should also warn that it discusses a distasteful, racist cartoon from the Edwardian period whose significance in the coverage of the tour I question. And I balance that illustration with some more positive coverage of the first West Indian teams to tour the UK in the 1900s.

YouthWI

‘Youthful cricketers’

#cricket #westindies

Resto 59 Boon Noon, Harringay

October 31, 2017

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Boon Noon’s been at the end of my road for a while so I was glad to finally pay a visit with my Mum after a tough day’s scouting a walk. It was 6 pm on a Monday so I wasn’t surprised that we were the only patrons, although they seemed to be doing a decent trade on the takeaway side of things. So the room felt a bit sparse, decorated in vaguely Thai style (I haven’t been) and a plethora of feel-good slogans that reminded me of Lester Nygaard’s home in Fargo.

The menu is a straightforward Thai offering at a reasonable price (c. £5 starters to share, c. £8/9 mains). We shared tempura veg and prawn crackers. The tempura was good – crunchy veg inside a light batter. Crackers were, well, crackers. My Green Curry was excellent, a proper amount of heat that was just the job for a wintry day, with generous amounts of chicken and veg and a dome of rice that filled me up for the rest of the evening.

Singhas at £3.50 washed it down and we were served by a cheery young feller. Several restaurants have bitten the dust in this location since I first moved to the area twenty odd years ago but I hope this one survives. It’s good to have a bit of variety on Green Lanes.

8/10

#Food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

A short guide to the London Library

October 21, 2017

Given that numbers of membership is falling I offer this post in the spirit of my (surprisingly!) popular Short guide to Southwark jury service to encourage people of letters to join the London Library. Such august institutions (the Library dates back to 1840 and counts a Who’s Who of literary genius among its past and present members) can seem rather intimidating to the outsider and my aim is to acknowledge that the Library definitely has higher expectations of its members’ behaviour than most contemporary libraries (yeah, I’m talking about you, the BL) but also offers delights not to be found anywhere else.

But I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘Isn’t it expensive?’. Well, it’s not cheap. At £510 per annum for old farts and £255 for the under-25s it’s not a negligible sum. However, I hope that I can persuade you, dear reader, that at less than the price of a cup of coffee a day if you’re of an intellectual inclination you get plenty of bang for your buck. I would also point out that if, like me, you’re occasionally outside the perimeter of the academic community membership at Senate House is not cheap, and is far less salubrious than the digs in St James’s Square.

Of course this guide is my own, partial, opinion. Other members will value some services (for example the postal loan system for those outside commuting distance of Central London) that I rarely use if never. So where should one start? Oh yes,

Books

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Books in the idiosyncratic London Library shelving system

Yes, they have books at the London Library. Big deal you might think, I can get books for free at my college/university/Senate House/BL. I have to say, however, that the LL’s collection is outstanding. Its strengths lie in its antiquity and its scope. While not as broad as some (and I emphasise, some) university library collections its acquisition policy is rigorously academic and keeps abreast of the latest scholarship.

As a historian though I value the way in which you can trace the genealogy (to borrow a Foucauldian term) of a subject over time. For example, over the past year I’ve been conducting two research projects. The first, on Marivaux, I’ve discussed elsewhere in these posts. The second, on the history of the West India Committee, was greatly aided by the fact that the library has holdings of first editions by the WIC’s Chairman, published in the 1900s, which I could borrow and peruse in the comfort of my own home while prepping a (failed) application for a research grant.

Having such historic books on open access means that you can serendipitously stumble upon things in the library’s collection that are relevant to your research but of which you may have been entirely ignorant given the focus of most reading lists and scholarship on the up-to-date. And old books smell great. Yes, that’s a thing. The idiosyncratic shelving system is also, once you’ve mastered it, a pleasure to use.

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Old books. You gotta love ’em.

Journals

If you’re a student or hold an academic post you can take the fact that you have on-line access to thousands of journals rather for granted. As someone who has occasionally fallen out of the legit academic community the London Library’s e-library has proved a godsend with university department sized access to essential resources (for me) like JSTOR, the DNB, and the Bibliography of British and Irish Historiography. They also have access to some resources that aren’t on offer elsewhere, such as digital access to the Guardian and Observer archives. If you take a look at what there is in their e-library you’ll probably find plenty to get stuck into that isn’t on my radar.

Magazines

The reading room is a joy for the magazine and journal browser. If you want to keep up with new scholarship there are physical copies of the latest big journals there to consult. If you’re reading for pleasure you can pick up, say, Sight & Sound, Private Eye, the LRB etc etc. Laptops are barred (at the moment) in this room so it really is a place of peace and tranquillity, in which to read or snooze if you’ve an idle hour waiting for an appointment in town.

Desks

Every library member will have a favourite spot, my own is next to Who’s Who? up top in the St. James’s building where people rarely go. Though it can be a bit galling to toil up the stairs and find the desk occupied. Traditionalists will like the old school wooden desks dotted around among the history and literature collections.

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A trad desk by a window that opens. Luxury.

Modernistas my prefer the up-to-date environment to be find in the writing room, the art room or the lightwell in the basement. The point is that you get to choose your writing environment, which will be more intimate and calming than the vast plains of Humanities 1. And the earlier you get to work the likelier you are to find your optimal spot.

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A modern roost overlooking Masons Yard

Librarians

They offer expertise and courtesy. The best of their profession.

Food & Drink

Of course you can’t eat in the stacks. And why would you? If you’re frugal you can eat a packed lunch in the Members’ Room at the top of the building. However, there are plenty of places to go in the vicinity if you want to get refreshed or fed.

Personally, I’m happy to go to Eat for food if I’m aiming to go back to work afterwards, or Waterstone’s Café if I can’t get a seat in there. If it’s booze you’re after The Chequers in Masons Yard is a peerless pub in this part of London. ‘Hearty’ pub food, cheerful barmaids and good beer at a reasonable price for the area. Or if you’re feeling more lizardy why not snaffle along to Royal Opera Arcade?

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The Chequers, perfect for al freso supping in the summer. Cosy in cooler climes.

Events

The Library hosts a full programme of literary events throughout the year. With a good tranche of the leading lights of literature and the arts (for example, incoming President Sir Tim Rice) you won’t need to go to Wye to hear talks by leading writers.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the pluses of joining but I hope that it’s piqued your interest. If you want to dip your toe in the water the Library will arrange for someone to show you around to see if it’s the place for you. I urge you to give it a go and soon, like me, you’ll be putting aside the money for membership week by week.

Go here to see their membership page for details of how to join. If you’re a member of the Library already why not add a comment on your experience of being a member.

#London #Literature

 


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