Archive for June, 2016

Review #59 Byron, New Change

June 30, 2016

To Byron for a post-parents’ evening debrief en famille. To those who are unfamiliar with its concept Byron is to the gourmet burger boom of the noughties what Pizza Express is to its market – food, décor and service of sufficient quality to feel like you’ve been out for a meal without being too expensive to dissuade the average muncher from using it as a regular standby.

Like PExpress their restaurants (in London at least) are often to be found in either regenerative developments or landmark buildings. The one at St. Paul’s is in New Change, Jean Nouvel’s crouching beige behemoth that just about manages to unobtrude in a historically sensitive location.

We were lucky to secure the last booth for four and snaffled some olives while waiting for the main event. The menu (of course) is mostly burgers but they have a good variety and a pretty regular turnover of specials in case you’ve been through the card. I took a B-Rex which delivered a juicy  burger, melting cheese and properly hot jalapeños. We shared good crunchy fries and fried zucchini while the skin on chips were a bit floury for my liking.

Beer, let’s think about beer. For a can of Byron lager I could get six Zywieces in the Turkish Food Centre. Obviously the TFC has slightly lower overheads than a restaurant in the heart of the City but still, £5.95 for a can of beer is Courchevel prices.

The service was super-friendly and the food excellent so we left happy. Happier than if we’d gone to GBK but not quite as happy as if we’d Honest Burgered (assuming they’ve fixed the bogs by now – Byron’s are world class btw). But that’ll have to wait till next year.

8/10

To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here

Review #58 King Baba, Leamington Spa

June 29, 2016

Between the sublime of Italy’s disposal of Spain and the ridiculous of England’s football disgrace we dined at the court of King Baba. Baba’s digs are by no means palatial, in fact his monarchical style tends to the stripped back Scandinavian vibe with an Indian twist rather than plush oriental splendour. But that suited us as we had only a one hour window in which to lay in some ballast before the mayhem began.

The room was deserted, the residents of Lem already for the most part luxuriating in sporting lagerland. This disgruntled our waiter whose idleness prompted bouts of conversation in between bringing us Cobra (the only beer on draught), poppadoms (disappointing chutneys) and dishes of onion bhaji (v good) and various curry (my Rezalla needed more heat).

He opened by apologising for the emptiness of the room, bemoaning the fact that the Euros had destroyed the post-work trade, then went on to do some entertaining trash talking of the curry house across the road (‘Millennium Balti, out of date now innit? They’re cheaper but they’re crap, don’t go there’). As he came to clear away the starters he started a new jeremiad about the Italians beating the Spanish, in whom he’d invested heavily at Ladbroke’s. My advice that you should never bet against the Italians when they’re unfancied for a tournament was met with incredulity – ‘They’ve won nothing for years mate, Spain should have had them!’

He retreated as we munched through the mains, another brace of Cobras going down easily, especially with some very high quality naan to soak up the juices. Bowing to our inevitable departure to catch the Iceland game he didn’t try to persuade us to dessert but did give us some parting gambling advice, ‘Get on England to win in extra time, I’ve doubled up.’

Baba may be King but he presides over an impoverished realm.

7/10

Review #57 HIX Mayfair, er Mayfair

June 23, 2016

To HIX  Mayfair on Albemarle Street with a friend who was looking for a suitable venue for a major birthday party. We’d been lured by the improbably cheap set lunch menu of 32 nicker for three courses and an introductory cocktail.

HIX Mayfair is less flamboyant than the other branches I’ve visited in Shoreditch and Soho, being located behind the discreet façade of Brown’s Hotel whose history I once knew but to my shame have now forgotten. The room is wood-pannelled and spacious with a smattering of contemporary art round about the walls (one of Emin’s neon banalities being the most apparent) and exudes the kind of calm opulence that is characteristic of the area. You have a choice of four cocktails – my Britz was prosecco with elderflower and stuff and very refreshing on a warm pre-Brexit day.

A limited choice of dishes as part of the set menu wasn’t a problem as they all looked delicious. A cold asparagus soup was a perfect summer dish and then hake with a herb crust and sorrel for main was cooked to perfection. Good bread on the side and a bottle of Portuguese white lasted through to a blue cheese dessert. The wine sent the bill slightly north but who could quibble with 45 quid or so a head for such outstanding food, ambience and service.

8/10

Review #56 Le Florentin, Aubagne

June 22, 2016

In town to see the Foreign Legion (more of which anon) we had an hour to kill in Aubagne on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. We strolled around the main square – the temptation to shop in the market and picnic by the river was strong – and chose Le Florentin on the strength of its wood-fired oven.

With squalls threatening the terrace wasn’t entirely open to the air but our table gave a view of Sunday strollers and local urchins buggering about in the place. We supped a beer while we perused the menu which features pizza but also has a good selection of grilled stuff and salads.

I went for a goat’s cheese and ham pizza. The pizza was just about me-sized although the final slice was a bit of a struggle. The cheese was yum, thick slices of round goaty goodness  contrasting well with the smoky ham. The slather of chilli oil gave a decent burst of heat without blowing the doors off. Greg complained that his ham and mushroom had too much cheese!!! The heathen. They made us a green salad to order on the side and with a couple more beers the whole thing came to less than €40 – a bargain.

With friendly service Le F was a very pleasant place to spend an hour away from the Marseille madness of boozed up football fans and tired of that locals.

8/10

Review #55 Le Pointu, Marseille

June 22, 2016

The morning after Iceland v Hungary and the square out the back of the hotel was being vigorously de-Magyared by the Marseille street cleaners. I had a wander round looking for a place for breakfast but decided that sometimes it’s good just to do the obvious and plonked myself outside Le Pointu among my fellow tourists. A good choice.

As in O’Monaco I went for the formule of juice, croissant and coffee. For a euro more I got a much better croissant (significantly butterier) and freshly squeezed juice, as well as a good coffee and service with a smile. The square’s a pretty good place to hang out and read the paper for half an hour. With the sun out and the sound of seagulls in the air it felt almost as good as being on Sarfend seafront in the summer.

8/10

Review #54 La Table à Deniz, Marseille

June 20, 2016

Restaurants, like horses, should really not be chosen on the basis of their name (especially if that name is J***e O****r) but given that this one was across from our hotel in a quiet street in Marseille how could I resist La Table à Deniz?

The room is compact and homely. Deniz herself is running the show front of house (with charm and a relatively firm grasp of the English language, though she was also happy to speak French) and someone of talent is pumping out the goods from a kitchen at the back. The menu is chock full of French standards with added specials of fresh fish. The lunchtime menu offered mains at €10-15 with a €4 surcharge for a dessert and coffee.

The fish was tempting but I can never resist rabbit and got a ballotined rodent with a generous helping of spuds/veg and a very good sauce. Magret de canard – juicy and pink – was despatched without mercy across the table, as was a cold Heineken (for the boy) and a spicy lash of local red (for me). I hankered for dessert but he needed a siesta and we called it a day.

It may be an unprepossessing building from the exterior but don’t let this put you off –  this lunch was a calm high spot of an otherwise noisy day of football. You should always back Deniz.

8/10

Review #53 O’Monaco, Marseille

June 20, 2016

Thanks to sleazyjet dumping us four hours late in a virtually shut Marseille-Provence airport I wasn’t in the sunniest mood after four hours sleep the following morning. Wading through the detritus of Magyar mayhem I was in search of a restorative coffee’n’croissant. O’Monaco did the job adequately.

A formule of €4,60 (actually over €5 if you’re sitting on the terrasse) gets you juice, coffee and pastry with a view of Marseille waste management (much changed since the days of Marcel Pagnol) and the staff of Monoprix girding their loins for a day of fending off football fans trying to buy strong alcohol.

The coffee was good, the croissant adequate, the juice out of a bottle. Service mostly interested in pleasing the locals.

5/10

A short guide to Southwark jury service

June 16, 2016

My munching time has been severely curtailed of late due to a six week stint as a jury member at Southwark Crown Court. But fear not, the reviews shall return with fearsome frequency now that I’m at liberty and the holiday season has begun.

In the meantime I thought a little taste of what it is to be a juror might be of use to those who haven’t yet been called to do their citizenly duty. Obviously I’ll not go into the details of what I was involved in there – that would be against the law. But I will say that being a juror is a uniquely rewarding experience in that it is one of the few times in your life where you’ll be asked to think and debate for altruistic purposes and with the certain knowledge that what you say will be listened to seriously and have an actual real-life outcome. Don’t avoid it, do it.

Message over, on with the faff.

HMS Belfast

What the hell (you may be asking yourself) is HMS Belfast doing as the header image for jury service. Well, you may have seen the Royal Navy’s finest on your way over London Bridge from time to time and thought, ‘Oh, I really must go and see that outpost of the Imperial War Museum that once fired the opening round of the pre-D-Day landings barrage.’ Or you may be thinking, ‘Wow that’s a bloody great warship in the Thames, what the shit’s that doing there?’

It’s guarding Southwark Crown Court.

That’s right, Her Maj takes justice seriously and just to show how seriously she takes it she’s parked twelve 6″ guns in four triple turrets outside SCC to discourage miscreants and show villains that she means business.

Day One

Day one of jury service is like the first day of school. Everyone seems to know what they’re doing except for you. Those who’ve been doing service for a week or more will flick elastic bands at you or flush your head down the toilet (if they can get it to work, just think of the horrific consequences should you have the misfortune to be in the 50% of cubicles whose flush does not work). Security guards will tut as you set off the scanner once again with an inappropriately secreted personal item. Don’t worry, by day three you’ll know the rules and be able to reel off the security code for the door without even looking at a series of numbers ballpointed on the palm of your hand. But how do you achieve this level of wisdom before you turn up?

Prepare for a queue

Monday queues are the worst as the fresh intake of jurors has yet to be separated into sheep (switched on, publicly-minded servants of their fellow citizens) and goats (the workshy, the I’m too important to take two weeks away and the genuinely unable to do JS). So be prepared for a queue out the door and the possibility of it raining while you’re waiting.

Bring a book

If you’ve got this far I’m assuming you can read so yes, bring a book. You may have to wait all day to be called. And then get sent home without being called. Take a good book of your choice. They have books in SCC but you don’t want to read them. You want to read yours. Ah, you’re thinking, but I can read a book (or similar) on my phone/pad/laptop. You can but a book won’t let you down. SCC is set up for technology from the 1980s. So bring a book. Or a ZX81. Also, having your own book will make you look clever and impress your potential fellow jurors.*

Forms

You will already have filled in several forms before arriving at court. Be prepared for more if you care about claiming expenses. Do not talk about this process, your fellow jurors will already be bored by it themselves.

Instructions

Instructions will be delivered via a prehistoric DVD attached to a telly stuck on the ceiling or over a tannoy. Or not at all. It’s your job to guess which ones are important to you without revealing any uncertainty. Uncertain jurors, like lame zebra, are the first to be predated upon by the strong.

Humour

All court employees are professional comedians. Remember, they’ve been doing this act for years and they know it’s funny. So make sure you laugh at the appropriate moments.

Food

Or ‘food’. It may be a chore to go outside but it is definitely worth your while.

Coffee

See Food. With bells on.

The Southwark Crown Court Experience

So let’s assume you’ve been picked and you’re now a pro-juror, what tips do I have?

The jury

You and your fellow eleven citizens will spend a lot of time in one another’s company. More than you will have spent with anyone except your wife, your kids, your ailingest relative or even many of your work colleagues. And certainly more than you’ve spent with someone you actually wanted to spend time with. Often in a tiny room. These people won’t be your friends but they will be your team so do the nice with them even if they really get on your tits. It might turn out that they’re as worth knowing as you are, and even genuinely good people.

Lunch

DO NOT, unless you really have the most severe hangover/cold/agoraphobia going, lunch in SCC. Go somewhere better instead.

Sightseeing

Jury service is an opportunity to see things you’ve never got round to seeing. As well as the behemoth of Belfast you have the Old Operating Theatre, The London Fashion & Textile Museum, Guy’s Hospital Chapel, even Tower Bridge within walking distance. And massive amounts of good things should you be fortunate enough to get a long lunch or late start.

IMG_2328

The Old Operating Theatre lies in the former chapel on the left. Guy’s Hospital chapel is on the right of this street. The Shard is dead ahead but you don’t want to go there.

But not the Shard please. And definitely not the ‘London Bridge Experience’. Please god, those poor tourists. And failed actors.

Lawyers & judges

If you thought the court staff were funny wait till you hear the lawyers! They have better jokes because they’re paid more. And the judge has the best jokes of all because he can lock you up if you don’t chuckle. Or if you chuckle inappropriately. So play it safe when the judge cracks a joke and just smile winningly.

The defendant 

Mysteriously humourless!

 

Okay, so that’s a start but I may add more as things occur to me. Jury service is like that. One second you’re lining up to pot a tricky black to snatch the frame, the next your mind is filled with the contents of Jury Bundle 141 (which involves a particularly opaque series of financial transactions) and you’ve gone in off and the beers are on you. Yes, to paraphrase Stephen Dedelus on Bloomsday, jury service is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake.

*If you’ve forgotten your book I can recommend the excellent Riverside Bookshop in Hay’s Galleria for a last-minute purchase.

 

 

 

Review #52 Indika, Green Lanes

June 12, 2016

Indika has always been our standby for Indian takeaway so I was confident that the food would be good on our latest visit after a bout of snooker.They don’t have a licence so beverages can be purchased in the Turkish convenience store a couple of doors up. While getting our Zywiecs we were witness to a classic of gentrification in action. A gentleman of hirsute appearance and sporting a Rapha top had a bottle of Schweppe’s tonic in his hand but he clearly wasn’t happy.

Hipster to the till guy, ‘Have you got any other tonic?’

Bafflement.

‘Like, cos you know Schweppes … they like have additives and it’s just not cool.

Squint-eyed confusion.

‘You know, like you should get some Fever Tree … have you got any Fever Tree?’

‘You want tonic?’

‘Yeah, Fever Tree?’

‘No Fever Tree’

‘You know this Schweppes, it’s really not good.’

‘You want Schweppes tonic, £1.49, thank you sir.’

Capitulation on the part of the hipster who slunk out to smirks from the other customers after coughing up the cash.

Indika was a bit empty when we got there but it was quite early and started to get a few customers by the time we’d hit the mains while orders for takeaway were flying out of the door fairly consistently. A mixed starter for two got us off to a good start – lamb kebabs, onion bhaji, samosas, all the standards that you’d want cooked very well. I had a prawn chef’s special for main that was presented more elegantly than expected and tasted good. The boy took a vindaloo and it appeared to have the desired effect.

For about 15 quid a head it was spot on, if you’re a Harringay resident I’d see no reason to travel further for your curry fix although I have heard good things about a place on Turnpike Lane.

8/10

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

Review #51 Eat Tokyo, Covent Garden

June 10, 2016

Post-court strolling with a friend along the river minutes after the monsoon we bumped into two friends. Happy meeting! They invited us for cocktails and we obliged (at the Oxo Tower, looking a bit shabcious compared to younger rooftop venues) before tootling along to Eat Tokyo on the recommendation of the Japanese member of our party.

Eat Tokyo is unequivocally the best value I’ve ever had in Covent Garden. Occupying a few floors of an 18thC townhouse it offers your usual mixture of ramen, curry, sushi, bento and sides.

The menu is voluminous so we followed our leader and went for a bento each. Bento max in fact – two boxes containing mackerel, salmon, salad, fried tofu, pickles, rice etc etc. All v good for less than a tenner. We shared some good battered stuff too.

Service was tip top and the bill small – I’ll be back in Jan 2017

8/10

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


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