Posts Tagged 'food britannia'

Food Britannia: Off cuts and left overs

My tome, over a year in the making, is nearly finished, you can pre-order a copy here (out Spring 2011)

Anyway, like self build furniture there’s always bits and bobs left over when writing a book. So some of them I’ve scrapped together here for your hopeful enjoyment.

When things go wrong

I’ve had to send things back, a very well done steak when I asked for it rare, a fondant potato that was rock solid in the centre, cold soup, funny tasting wine. I once found a small piece of cling film in a Eccles cake at a well respected London eatery, and in another pub restaurant run by a friend of a friend I broke a home-made biscuit from the cheese board in two to find a hair sticking out. A straight hair thankfully, if one can be thankful for finding a hair at all in ones food.
This happened again in a pizza restaurant in Islington, only this time I found out too late. I can’t tell you how gag inducing a pizza crust with a long hair in it is when wrapped around your back teeth like a dental floss.
In all these cases my default position is that kitchens and restaurants are staffed by human beings, and we all make mistakes. I find assuming a neutral matter-of-fact position rather than either a meek excuse me, or a booming Michael Winner style allows space for the staff to correct the error. Hectoring staff into a corner does no one any favours. However if you’ve given them ample chance to correct matters and you’re still not happy, vent your spleen before taking your stomach and wallet elsewhere. You should pay for what you’ve eaten and drunk up to that point however, excluding the offending article, but most resaturant managers at this point probably just want you out.
You should feed back to staff however. Diners do themselves and the venue a disservice by not voicing complaints, comments and observations at the time, only to screech invective into the internet when they get home , “We sat there for an hour” comments help no one, you’re not strapped into the chair. Someone once told me that Michael Winner takes his napkin in his hand (he only eats in the sort of places that have large cloth ones), raises his arm and twirls it around his head. You’d be amazed how quickly waiters come rushing.
Of course different rules apply when eating at friends or acquaintances homes. I’ve been to lunches that didn’t start till 5 pm due to ban planning, by which time everyone’s starving or drunk or both. Other times the food laid on has been ‘near’, as my mother-in-law would say, meaning a stop of at the chip shop on the way home. Maybe I’m just a glutton, but when you invite people over and they bring a bottle, at least send them home full.
I’ve not got a 100% record in the kitchen either mind. I’ve had chicken thighs not cook properly – a swift apology and back in the oven with them is the best response. And I once spent an age making falafels from scratch only for them to hit the hot oil and disintegrate leaving me with a chickpea silt at the bottom of the pan. When things like this happen, send out more bread. Good bread and butter is your dinner party safety net.
But without doubt the worse meal I ever had was years ago in Budapest.  The guidebook said something along the lines of ’see Budapest before it becomes just another capital city of a western European social democracy’. My advice would be give it a few more years… and go in the spring. I thought I’d be safe in a Belgian place, how wrong I was. Hungary being a landlocked country the mussels were always going to be a risk. Small, over cooked and nothing like the plump almost milky ones I’ve experienced in Brussels. But worse was the snail starter. Now I love snails, they’re great with loads of garlic butter, perhaps it’s a Walloon tradition, but snails don’t work so well in a mushroom sauce. Why? Well they’re both grey and a bit slimy, and the later ends up making the former taste tough by virtue of association. Worse was the hideous presentation though, carved nipples of raw carrot and strips of red onion forming some sort of semicolon on the plate, alternate lemon and red pepper slices held firm by some cold mashed swede, and the dusting of dry week-old parsley. I paid up, slithered out and didn’t leave a tip.

Food Britannia off cuts: The first food blogger

Note: The follow is probably going to be cut from my forthcoming book – Food Britannia – for space and style reasons. However, rather than have it lie on the printing room floor as it were, I thought I’d post it here.  I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on it

The First Food Blogger.

Food, like football, fashion and philately, has enthusiasts; people who are interested in eating for eating’s sake rather than as a means to end. You’re probably one yourself, that’s why you’re reading this book. In the past to express a joy of eating earned the label of gourmand, and had vague associations with gluttony, pleasure in food was a sin. Few foodies these days would describe themselves as a gourmand, and those that do need a reality check. No, like many other hobbies the internet has allowed amateurs – in the original sense of the word, amour – to devote considerable time, effort and disposable income to exploring the world of food and telling us the results.  An awareness of food bloggers is now part of any eatery’s online strategy. Technology has allowed comments, photos, and opinions on what’s in their mouth to be broadcast before they’ve even finished chewing. Restaurants may fear this, but all that’s happening is a faster version of what people have always done, telling people about a good or a bad meal or cooking experience.

Back in 1995, we didn’t have mobile phones, let alone access to the internet, and multi-media meant typing a letter while listening to CD at the same time. What online activity there was was mainly confined to a few academic institutions and telephony companies. But the blokes (and it mainly was blokes back then) who used those early connections started asking and telling other each other where to get a good bite to eat. For younger readers and the less tech savvy, these conversation postings were all conducted on something call Usenet, which allowed like-minded folk gathered around a particular subject, think of them as proto-Facebook groups.

One of the earliest was on which Tim Duncan posted news of Daruma-Ya, a new Japanese restaurant opening in 1995. And where did this iconoclastic digitally-heralded opening take place? Not the Soho media land but on the docks of Leith, Edinburgh. Sadly Daruma-Ya didn’t survive, maybe Edinburgh wasn’t ready for the small clean refinement of Japanese cooking in 1995.

Another pioneer was Graham Trigg, who in 1994 inspired by the late Richard Binns’ French Travel books, put up a website.  “I started writing notes as dining out was expensive and as time passes all that’s left is a hazy memory and a receipt” says Graham. Graham’s background was in IT, and he was using a system called CIX, or Collaborative Information Exchange even before Usenet.  A project for the airline industry meant Graham had to understand web technology and how to build these new things called websites. Research, work and a personal interest came together. “My first Web site was built in early 1996 and reviewed 17 London restaurants” says Graham.

He also explored a few places outside the capital, for example eating both lunch and dinner at Gidleigh Park in Devon cooked by a 27 year old Michael Caines. The hotel was established by Paul Henderson and was one of the first to have a decent website, not doubt due to Paul coming from San Francisco to set up the place in 1977.

There’s some lovely reviews from the early days of ‘Cool Britannia’ British restaurateuring on Graham’s site. Think back to the mid 90s when the River Café seemed fresh, edgy and modern – Italian without the gingham tablecloths and canon-sized pepper mills. Graham has a 1996 review of lunch at La Tante Claire, then ran by Pierre Koffman, under whom Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and Marcus Wareing all work at various points. It’s now the site of Gordon Ramsay Hospital Road. He also has notes on Pied a Terre,  another early adopter with a website in the late 1990s. And to those that think fine dining is expensive, Peid a terre’s degastion menu in 2001 was £65 for eight courses, and in 2009 it’s £85 for 10. Not bad. Finally there’s a lovely review of the Walnut Tree in Wales.

All this is remarkable because all this wasn’t that long ago, and though a lot of the venues Graham visited have gone – Coast, Bank etc – many are still there. Now nearly every restaurant has a website, if only with a phone number on it. I asked Graham how restaurant’s website have changed over the years he’s been viewing them.  “In the early days there was too much style over substance and no consideration for the connection speed of the customers i.e. dial-up. The big problem [is] content not being kept up to date, but to be fair this was, and still is, a global web disease.”

Food Britannia – nearly finished

I’m three quarters of the way through possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life… writing my book.

It’s the reason why there’s been no update on here since November. However, today was the cover shoot, which was nice, and it’s also available for pre-order on Amazon.

Here’s a snap of one potential set up…

Food Britannia Cover Shoot

Now back to work, only another three weeks to go.

This blog is no longer being updated

I've left it here for historical purposes. Please visit my new blog at


These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
August 2020