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well dressed plates – a review

As general rules go I don’t do restaurant reviews, I don’t take photographs of my meals and I don’t take selfies.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to break one of those rules.  I could’ve broken two – hell, I could’ve gone to town and broken all bloody three of them but … baby steps, right?

I was lured in via a tweet from BDGTtT favourite Tony Rodd.  Yes, lovely Tony.  East end Greek boy Tony with the sharp outfits and the twirly tash.  “Looking to speak to London food bloggers who might be interested in a meal in Shoreditch next month.”  Sign up me!  Okay, I’m probably not the food blogger you are looking for but I blog.  About food.  Food that appears on my telly.  Will that do?   Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

adventures in eating pt. 245

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A brief off-telly aside.

A couple of days ago I went to Wahaca on the South Bank in London to try their ‘chapulines fundido’, after reading about it in the Guardian via a piece entitled ‘Should We Learn To Love Eating Insects?‘.  There seems to be a minor media wave about insects-as-food, tonight on BBC4 there is a programme about that very subject – although this particular subject does pop up pretty frequently.

The £3.95 Wahaca dish is billed as a grand ‘experiment’ (rather than a huge publicity stunt). This is what they say about it:

From Monday 11th March, we’re launching a new experimental dish at our South Bank restaurant. Chapulines fundido is made with one of Mexico’s most sustainably farmed, yet unusual ingredients, grasshoppers.

We take fried chapulines and cook them with softened shallots, garlic and smoky chipotle chillies to create a delicious salsa, which is served with queso fundido, a mixture of gratinated mozzarella and cheddar cheese, perfect for scooping up with corn tortillas.  Chapulines are considered a much sought after delicacy in Mexico… but as well as being a very tasty source of protein, from an environmental point of view, entomophagy (insect eating) is seen by many leading experts as the only logical answer to the critical pressure our growing population is putting on food supplies…. As grasshoppers aren’t currently farmed in the UK, for our first month long trial the only practical way to put them on the menu was to buy them from an accredited cooperative of farmers in Oaxaca, but our hope is that in the future if the dish proves popular we’ll be able to work to set up a supplier closer to home, making them even more sustainable.

We order it, and it comes. Unfortunately the cheese on top is too deep, thick and glutinous, and really overwhelms the grasshopper puree underneath – a disappointingly thin layer. It’s a shame because it’s great: earthy, rich, umami-y. The little fried ones on the top are nutty and savoury and more-ish. I could have eaten way more than five of them. But way too much cheese. WAAYY too much. It’s like some kind of fear absorber to soak up the scary new thing. But I, for one, welcome the new insect dawn. As long as they are all as delicious as this.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY {slight return}

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The rather over-named and definitely over-shirted Paul Winch-Furness has done a piece for the BBC website on photographing your food. You can view all five half minute episodes here. Unfortunately, it’s an exercise in dumbed down that makes you want to shout “like, durrrr!” at quite a few sentences. (I don’t blame him, I blame a hand-holding poor-things meedja culture that is terrified of actual expertise. There seems to be a received wisdom that knowing a great deal about a subject and displaying that knowledge turns people off rather than drawing them in. Not here.)  So we get a useful tip about tapping an iPhone to get it to take a light reading mixed in with ‘ambience is important’. He recommends using your phone rather than a chunky great DSLR – presuming, of course, that you have a smartphone with a decent camera. Thanks, shirty!

I wrote a piece about taking photos in restaurants last year. A large problem seems to be the tricky point of etiquette about the correct behaviour. It’s apparently acceptable in your souped-up gourmet junk food joint (which the Guardian gave a long-overdue kicking recently) to Facebook your brioche bun with kimchi topping, but in anything with Michelin aspirations and up, there seems to be more of a backlash developing. As three-star Moe Issa explains in the New York Times:

“It’s a disaster in terms of momentum, settling into the meal, the great conversation that develops,” he said. “It’s hard to build a memorable evening when flashes are flying every six minutes.” Mr Issa is happy to supply diners with professional photos the next day, though Mr. Hall said “people want to e-mail their photos to their friends right then and there; instant gratification.”

You got it, Moe – unfortunately, an awful lot of ‘foodie culture’, as developed in the decadent West over the past few years is about showing off. The combination of disposable income, digital photography, and internet everywhere has resulted in a perfect storm of gluttonous public narcissism. “Look at me, fuckos, I’m at Dabbous!” Although Ollie Dabbous, when asked by Square Meal, seemed to have a balanced view:

To be honest I read the reviews in the press but I don’t have time to read bloggers’ stuff. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and as long as they’re happy I don’t mind. A lot goes into food photography so it does the dishes a slight disservice when bloggers take photos in the restaurant – the lighting is never right. But if you have paid for the meal you can do what you want as far as I’m concerned. You can let it go cold, you can go for a cigarette – and you can take photos of it.

About twelve years ago, I was in a slightly-upmarket Chinese restaurant near Highbury Corner in London. We gradually realised that Gilbert & George were sitting nearby, at the most prominent table in the joint, along with another arty-looking man. We also gradually realised that they seemed to be ordering food; when it would arrive at the table, they would photograph it, and then it would be sent back. They weren’t eating anything. Just photographing it. Was this distracting? Yes. Was everyone in the restaurant eventually watching this performance rather than enjoying their own food? Of course they were. I’m not actually a huge fan of G&G’s work, but was I glad to have been there? Of course I was.

UPDATE  – February 14th:

I am grateful to commenter Simon Legend for pointing out a piece on the Quietus website by Pavel Godfrey exploring these issues further:

“If it were just about the caché of a certain space, though, we would be seeing more pictures of exteriors, signs, kitchens, awkwardly smiling waitstaff. Instead, we see the food itself, a celebration not just of where one is eating but what one is eating, and of the act of ingestion itself. Just as the food becomes incorporated into a living body, its image is assimilated into that body’s digital shade. It’s akin to leaving food for a household god, but in this case the god demanding nourishment is the self, projected into the internet as a carefully engineered complex of images and “likes.” The amateur food-photographer has a fetishistic relationship not just to the chosen dining spot, or food, but to their self-representation. It means nothing to them – indeed, it appears right and proper – to disrupt their own meal for the sake of feeding their externalized, reified persona.”

You can read the full article here. For a slightly less serious take, go here.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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An article in which someone makes a startlingly uneducated case for Italians being startlingly uneducated about what food does or doesn’t contain piggies

The local diet is about as Mediterranean as chicken tikka masala. There is mortadella, a sausage known elsewhere as Bologna, the forefather of American baloney.

Then there is Bologna’s world famous ragu, the pasta sauce known in the UK as bolognese. This is a city where meat rules supreme.

Surely this is a pure distillation of trolling? From the idea that Mediterranean food is all olives and feta (or whatever it is they think) to the concept that somehow the original Italian sausage that led to the US perversion is somehow non-Italian, to the so-baffling-as-to-be-actually-surreal attempt to portray ‘ragu’ as somehow more British than Italian.

Weird. Weird and troubling. But wait, some analysis of farming!

There is cotechino – a huge sausage they boil and serve with lentils on New Year’s Eve. Then there is zampone – similar but stuffed into a pig’s trotter.

It is a speciality of Castelnuovo Rangone – a little town near Modena which once had more pigs than people.

Yes, that is how farms work. If you have more people than pigs then your farming has gone wrong.

I have no issue with her not eating meat but being totally wrong about everything is another thing entirely.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Aside

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Saturday Cookbook is just fucking weird. ITV’s stab at getting the early doors Saturday Kitchen ‘market’, it’s on at the frankly unpleasant time of 8.25am, with Nadia Sawalha and Mark Sargeant, a Michelin chef but with the demeanour of… well, a Saturday morning TV host, really. He’s arrived.

From the opening, stagey, yes-we’re-really-here-drinking-tea-right-now onward, it’s an awkward television exercise. The format is a straight rip of of SK, with really basic GSCE Home Economics recipes, but the producer has decided to distinguish it from the BBC rival with seasick handheld camerawork (WHY?), constantly cutting to close-ups of faces (WHY?), crap sound, shitty graphics and deciding to ignore blatant innuendos rather than celebrating them – Harry Hill would tear this to shreds. The special guest is ‘chef’ Aaron Craze, proper-tat-geezer who occasionally interjects with “Gotta say you’re lookin’ fresh!” and the like. Nadia Sawalha looks happily confused as the lay sleb, breezily dropping in what she reckons at every opportunity.

There’s a clunky ‘what’s in your shopping trolley’ bit (with a real trolley), as guest Fay Ripley tries to squeeze her cheery, healthy schtick past Sawalha’s Partridgisms, then some more just-splodge-it-around cooking before Aaron Craze turns out an everyman mixed herb and nut pesto which is actually pretty interesting.

The whole thing appears to be put together with the cheapskate, oh-fuck-it-they’re-idiots grace characteristic of off-peak ITV these days. I know it’s not aimed at me, and not every food show requires Pierre Koffman cranking up the sous vide to get me going, but the game has changed, sorry. Must try harder.

EARLY

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Run, Pig, Run

Keeping with Fanny’s rock theme, I decided that as I have at least ten other things I ought to be doing, it was time to urgently seek out the episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservation where he makes pulled pork with Josh Homme, queen of the desert.

Groans all round of course; Josh Homme is, for the disinterested, the man responsible for such audio greatness as Kyuss, Queens Of The Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal and more generally the Desert Sessions, living as he does on a ranch of grown children in the middle of the Californian desert. Anthony Bourdain writes, travels, eats and smashes guitars. An ideal combination that (I thought) set Twitter alight last year when rock met pork in an instructional video.

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Posted by on April 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Gluttony in the sidecar

Cooking for one, as the last few years have taught me, is not a great deal of fun. For starters it’s nearly impossible to cook the right portion if you require, say, ‘some aubergine’ and some things, like roasted butternut squash or any large cuts of meat, aren’t really scaleable. Of course it’s perfectly possible to eat a lovely, nutritious and varied diet for one and there are some advantages (never having to hold back on the chilli, being able to eat burger sauce on toast for tea if you really want) but when I was cooking for just myself, an indulgence felt more like a guilty binge than a luscious meal.

Cookery shows have clocked this- the presence of either a pseudo (or literal) restuarant setup on chef shows or the implication that there’s a family or friends ready to drop by and eat everything on cook shows, coupled with semi- magazine programs like Saturday Kitchen and the inevitable interaction between chef and audience (Nigella is cooking for you) gives a sense of performance to the creation that mitigates the gluttonous aspect.

But what if, like me, you seek the gluttonous aspect? I don’t watch cookery shows as a technical manual or as a form of self-flagellation that my dresses are not nearly so swishy and my hair not nearly so neat as yr latest ladycook magazine special, I watch them because I want to see some pleasant things to put in my mouth. I’m an average-to-decent cook and not all that bothered about being let in on the fannydangly secrets of Jamie Oliver’s fish pie but (especially as my partner isn’t all that interested in food) I am certainly looking for other openly drooling chums. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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