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10 posts from January 2007

31 January 2007

Feed me Bubbe

If you have heard of the mythical Jewish grandma but don't get what all the hype is about, watch Feed me Bubbe and all will be clear.

I am not sure whether this is some sort of viral campaign or not (no idea what for) but it is very funny.

The question yet to be answered is who is the star of the show?  Bubbe or her schmendrick grandson who introduces each video.

Hat-tip: Haverchuk

Things are going to change around here

When I was growing up, one of my mother's stock phrases was "Things are going to change around here." It was usually said/shouted at about the time my brother and I were beating the crap out of each other, but nothing ever changed.

Before you get the wrong impression, our mother rarely shouted at us despite our provocations. Unfortunately she no longer gets to use the phrase because my brother and I no longer smack each other around. This may be a result of maturity, unlikely, or, because I am now much taller and fatter than he is and I could sit on him without much difficulty. It may also be because last time we had a "fun" fight he ended up with a bloody nose thanks to a low flying deodorant bottle.

I have chosen to resurrect my mother's phrase because things are going to change around here - unlike Mum's empty threat. They will be largely cosmetic but you should notice some differences. I thought I should warn you.

Where is the originality?

Frank Bruni, the New York Times restaurant critic has given Gordon Ramsay at The London two-stars.  In NY Times review lingo, that equates to Very Good.  When you read the review, it is clear that very good is not that good.  The meal was well cooked, with good ingredients but was uninspiring, the room was too clinical and there were some serious duff points in the meal.

However, what really interested me was Bruni's take on the homogeneity of restaurants across the globe:

...while looking forward to the seemingly inevitable day when your top-tier restaurant choices in a major destination on one continent are much the same as those in a major destination on another.

Ramsay? Ducasse? Vongerichten? Perhaps you just go with the restaurant of your countryman, supporting the home team. That’s the route suggested by the makeup of the dining room at the new Ramsay, where British visitors were abundant. It’s comforting to know that Americans aren’t the only tourists who travel far from home and then stay and sup in reminders of it.

The world's best chefs are keen to spread their brand as far as possible.  Alain Ducasse is a fine example.  He is a fantastic chef, but where is he chef of?  He has two restaurants that in theory he cooks in, Plaza Athénée in Paris and Louis XV in Monaco.  However, in his group there are a further twenty restaurants crisscrossing the globe: Tokyo, Las Vegas, the Basque region and various places in between.

Despite spreading himself so thin, he has not come in for any criticism.  True, no-one suggests he cooks at any of these places other than Plaza Athénée and Louis XV, but he is developing a global footprint.

There is a strange disconnect with this trend and the growing popularity of eating locally sourced and inspired food.  This tends to be a home cooking phenomenon, but there are a lot of chefs who have taken the concept to heart and make a virtue about the local nature of their restaurant.  The flip side, and rarely voiced side of fine-dining, is that most restaurant's could not survive without having large quantities of their food flown in from around the globe.  In complete contrast to the local evangelists, restaurants like Kuruma Zushi make a virtue that some of their fish is flown in from Japan on a daily basis.

So while at home we want to eat food grown within sight of our front door, when we eat out we seem to be pursuing an internationalists dream.  When Joël Robuchon opened his Atelier in London there was a lot of excitement, as there has been around Ducasse coming to The Dorchester.  Which is odd because in this age of cheap travel, lots of people have access to their cooking in Paris or New York, or even Tokyo.  And given the dining habits of most Londoners, they are as likely to hop on easyJet to Paris, as they are to pop into The Dorchester for a morsel of Ducasse.

So why do we care so much and see it so positively that these new restaurants will be on our doorstep?  I can only conclude it comes down to us buying into the chefs brand.  I do not mean to denigrate the quality of food or service at these restaurants, but the brand is all important.  Which means it is a very commercial enterprise.  Again, no problem with that, chefs have to make a living.  Nonetheless I feel a certain unease, expressed by Bruni above, that there is a growing homogeneity of fine-dining restaurants.  Is there any difference knowing I can get the same fantastic mashed potatoes at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in London and Paris, as knowing I can get the same McDonald's chips in both those location?  Aren't they just as regimented as each other?

Maybe this is the future of fine-dining restaurants, if it is I find it a bit depressing.  I like the idea that when I go overseas I am going to have new experiences not the same mash/chips I can have at home.

26 January 2007

Foodie Fridays on The Daily Ablution

I do my best to keep my writing focused on food.  I do not always succeed, but I do try.

I am therefore delighted to be able to post about food whilst bringing to your attention one of the best non-food blogs around.  The Daily Ablution is Scott Burgess' very sensible take on the world.  I have found that pretty much whatever he writes is fascinating and insightful.  He has now introduced Foodie Fridays.  His first post today is about shopping at Borough, prior to cooking gumbo for dinner tonight.

I strongly recommend The Daily Ablution becomes one of your daily reads.


Serious Eats has an interesting piece about izakaya.  From what I have read - and never having eaten at one - I think izakaya can best be described as a Japanese version of the tapas bar.

According to this month's Tatler (not available online) Alan Yau of Yauatcha and Hakkasan fame, is set to open an izakaya in London soon.  It is unclear whether his place will be closer to Hakkasan's fine-dining, or Wagamama's good value.

24 January 2007

Michelin 2007

The UK & Ireland Michelin Guide 2007 is now out and you can read the press release in full here.

My predictions were mixed.  Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road did not lose a star.  Arbutus got one though, as did L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.  Bizarrely, Galvin at Windows only got an espoir (one to watch for next year).  Pétrus got bumped up to two, which is well deserved, as did The Vineyard at Stockcross.  Interestingly, Foliage at the Mandarin Oriental got a two-star espoir, in other words, it might well get bumped up to two next year.  La Noisette in Chelsea got its first star, I haven't been but have heard positive things.  If my maths are correct, the boosts for La Noisette and  Pétrus mean that the Ramsay empire now has ten Michelin stars.

I imagine there might be a perception that Anthony's has lost out again - clearly they are unloved by the inspectors and Le Champignon Sauvage did not gain its third.  Another loser, which I find very odd, is Galvin Bistro Deluxe, it lost its bib gourmand.  For some reason the inspectors no longer feel it serves good food at reasonable prices.

A quick note for those of you planning on buying this years guide: for the first time Michelin have published a separate London guide, in addition to the full UK and Ireland guide.  The London guide has more detailed listings, with photos for the starred establishments.

22 January 2007

Michelin 2007 rumours


The 2007 Michelin UK restaurant rankings are due out this week. They will be announced on Wednesday and the books will be in the shops on Friday. When it comes to rankings for European restaurants, Michelin remains the most influential. It is the guide that chefs most frequently admit they grudgingly admire and aspire to.

Second guessing the Michelin man is akin to Kremlinology. Anyone with half an ounce of knowledge will pontificate about the intricacies of the awards and how they are doled out. Rumours doing the rounds this year include the possibility that Gordon Ramsay's flagship Royal Hospital Road might lose its third star, and that David Everitt-Matthias chef-patron of Le Champignon Sauvage will get promoted from two to three. This is not like the Premiership or the FTSE. If one drops out the top flight, there is no certainty another will replace it. If the rumours are true and Ramsay does slip down it will be massive news. RHR is London's only 3-star restaurant and one of only three in the UK (The Waterside Inn and The Fat Duck are the other two) and Ramsay is the celebrity chef who we either love or loathe. This will be bad news compounding bad news for Ramsay, following the poor reviews of his latest venture The London in New York. There is also some debate about whether Anthony's in Leeds will receive its first star.

There is a widely held belief among Michelin-watchers that the Michelin judges fundamentally like giving stars to chefs, rather than restaurants. So if a chef leaves a restaurant, the restaurant will lose a star and his new establishment will gain one. This rule is being invoked by those arguing that Arbutus will get its first star this week because Anthony Demetre, Arbutus' chef-patron had a star at the now defunct Putney Bridge. However, others are arguing there are several exceptions to this rule and that Arbutus is too much like a bistro to ever garner a star from the protector of haute-cuisine, the Michelin inspector.

If other rumours are true, there might be some succour for Ramsay: Pétrus is tipped to be awarded an additional star, making it a two star, and further recognition for Marcus Wareing. Equally, Tom Aikens might scrabble his way up to two. Galvin at Windows, Chris Galvin's new venture at the top of the Hilton in London, might get its first star.

It will be an interesting one to watch. Also worth keeping an eye out for are the bib-gourmands and the espoir. The bib-gourmands are what Michelin gives for "good food at reasonable prices." In other words, not fine dining, but great food and good value. An espoir is given to restaurants that will likely get either their first star or an additional star next year. These are the restaurants to watch in 2007.

In this age of blogs, food forums, newspapers etc etc, Michelin has clearly reduced in importance. There is no longer such a requirement for a single authoritative guide of where to eat when you and the family are motoring. However, the guides still sell well, the decisions of the inspectors receive significant column inches (and pixels) and chefs still care deeply about their stars. The fat man rules.