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5 posts from February 2007

23 February 2007


I remembered yesterday that I had to write-up my recent meal at Blooms.  It is one of the oldest kosher restaurants in London and is in the deli, salt-beef and tongue style of Ashkenazi tradition. The type of food that kept Polish peasants warm - and therefore alive - whilst plowing potatoes.  Such concerns are not so relevant to the inhabitants of Hampstead Garden Suburb, the 21st century Pale.

The meal I had was ok, the salt beef was a bit drier than it should have been.  But, it did have a good flavour, thanks to the ring of fat attached to it.  For all you quivering weight-watchers, you don't eat the fat, you just want it to impart flavour to the meat it is snuggling next to.  The chips, disappointingly were frozen, rather than the hand-cut version I remember they used to serve.  More positively, the sweet-sour pickles packed a punch and the coleslaw was peppery and thankfully was not abominated by onion.  Despite this somewhat mixed meal, I really enjoyed myself.  I had not been to Blooms in years and I loved the atmosphere, the familiarity of the decor and the waiters, and the food itself was pleasingly comfortable but far from stellar.

I was therefore horrified to discover last night that they are currently closed for a re-furb.  Usually, re-furb means we're shutting down.  But given the licence application plastered to the front window, the massive notice in the window and on their website, I am confident this does not herald the end of an institution.

I am intrigued to see what they are doing to the place.  The infamous mural of street life left a lot to be desired (above), but was an essential element, as was the enormous mirror running down the right hand wall.  I'm particularly interested to know if they are planning on tinkering with the menu.  The majority of kosher restaurants in London, and the few near Blooms in Golders Green, are Middle Eastern: lots of grilled meats, hoummus, tahina, that sort of thing.  Dizengoff is the best, with the friendliest service and the best grilled meat, Solly's is a distant second.

However, the stodgy mittel-European food served up at Blooms appears to be going out of fashion.  Or is it?  Afterall, there are few restaurants in London that win plaudits as much as The Wolseley which is famed for its chopped liver (which I haven't tried) and its cucumber salad (which I have).

I hope the team behind Blooms stick to their guns and don't veer too far from the original.  I also hope they get rid of those sodding frozen chips and replace them with the real version.  I'll report back soon after they have reopened on 11 March.

Chodorow kicks out Ducasse

Alain Ducasse's restaurant Spoon+ is closing at The Sanderson Hotel in London.  This is big news on several fronts.  First, Ducasse restaurants rarely close (Essex House in New York is one such rarity) and second it is being replaced by a restaurant fronted by Jeffrey Chodorow.  He's relatively unheard of in the UK despite being the man behind Asia de Cuba and, er, Spoon+.  Ducasse's name is on the door, but Chodorow is the Svengali behind the operations.  Although he has a couple of places in London, he is largely unheard of over here whereas he is big news in the States.

He came to national prominence thanks to the car-crash TV programme: The Restaurant.  Chodorow and chef Rocco di Spirito were opening a restaurant and thought it would be great to do a reality TV show about it.  Unfortunately, it all fell apart, with the enmity growing between the two partners as the cameras rolled.  It was compulsive viewing that resulted in high ratings, the restaurant shutting and Rocco shuffling off into some obscurity.  Chodorow emerged seemingly unscathed.

Chodorow clearly loves a bit of controversy because he is now at the centre of another storm.  One I'm guessing his UK PR team are less than delighted about, because they are hawking him around British food writers, ahead of the new opening at The Sanderson.  This latest bust up is with New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni.

The Times is widely revered and the incumbent restaurant critic holds significant sway.  Before his current hallowed position, Bruni was the paper's Rome correspondent, so like many critics, he doesn't have a professional background in food.  He gave Chodorow's newest opening, Kobe Club an awful review a couple of weeks ago, with zero stars.  In what has been dubbed The Chodorow Smackdown, the restaurateur has taken his revenge with a full page ad in this week's New York Times Food & Dining section, criticising Bruni.  In an open letter to the section's editor, Chodorow takes Bruni to task for his personal attacks and points out, not unreasonably

...how does a review in which the main player, Kobe beef, is acknowledged by Mr. Bruni to be perfectly prepared, warrant zero stars?

I'm not saying that Chodorow is entirely in the right.  It would be reasonable to argue that this letter was written lubricated by a healthy dose of sour grapes.  I also question just what he expects of a reviewer, especially when he argues

...you should have critics on your staff that celebrate and support the efforts of people who work in New York

Hold on a moment, a reviewer is there to review, not to heap unquestioning fawning praise.

So, do the UK reviewers have a lot to fear?  Possibly.  I have read a description of Chodorow's restaurants as like TGI Friday's for rich people.  Clearly not meant as a compliment, it seems very possible that if he opens such an establishment at The Sanderson, Marina, Fay, Jay and the rest of them will not be too positive in their reviews.  It will be interesting to see whether we'll have a Chodorow Smackdown UK Edition.

22 February 2007

Kill It, Cook It, Eat It

David Aaronovitch has written an interesting post about his experiences of Kill It, Cook It, Eat It, a new TV programme on BBC Three.

The premise of the show is that we are too disconnected from the food we eat and that needs to be rectified.  Those taking part, David is one of them, watch animals being slaughtered, discuss it, let the chefs work their magic and then eat the food.  From David's post, the programme does not slip into a facile, reality-TV trap and is instead rather thoughtful.

I haven't seen the programme yet myself and am intrigued to do so - this clip is not too illuminating.  However, I was both amused and disheartened to see that Richard Johnson is the presenter.  He was presenter on BBC2's TV food show, Full on Food where he was a study in disingenuity and a lack of interest in food.  He is also the face of Bird's Eye - a company that is the last word in processed food.  I wonder how that tallies with what he's doing on Kill It, Cook It, Eat It.

Johnson shouldn't be enough to put you off, watching what sounds like a decent show.  It begins on March 5 on BBC Three at 10.30pm.

08 February 2007

Norm on chicken soup

Norm is a learned man, but when it comes to chicken soup he should be careful what he posts.

Garlic, is a must.  Dill, I can't say I have tried.  A stock cube is apostasy, not celery.  Vegetarian chicken soup?  Where's the wall and rifle?

Time and love are the most important ingredients.

01 February 2007

New month, new design

The steely eyed amongst you will realise the forewarned changes have now been made.  For some time, I have wanted to change the look of the site and with the help of a friend (ta, Dan), I was put in touch with Julian Knight, a fantastic photographer and designer who came up with the banner above.  A quick nod of appreciation as well to Matt of Abstract Gourmet who provided some invaluable assistance on how to make the new design work.

Apart from altering the look of the site, I have kept things much as they were, but tidied up a bit.  I have reduced my blogroll on the left significantly.  I realised that over the years, there are lots of blogs I felt I had to link to, which I did, but I simply never bothered to read what was written.  So I have now changed that.  The blogs listed are the blogs I find enjoyable and informative and I am keen to promote.

I have tweaked some of the navigation on the right, especially under the new heading Stay in Touch.  You can email me, Skype me, subscribe to my RSS feed and listen to my podcasts all from that one little area.

For those of you who read SoF in a RSS reader, my apologies if you have been deluged with all my posts.  Unfortunately, the redesign required me to rebuild the site, which meant republishing everything I have written.  Hopefully it won't happen again but bear with me if it does.

I would be really keen to hear all your feedback on the new layout, colour scheme and navigation.  I would also be happy to hear any suggestions for how I can improve things further.