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2 posts from October 2009

21 October 2009

Books (and a newspaper) to put a smile on your face

I can't get enough of having a good time at the moment.  That could be because things are a bit crappy and I'm built to have a good time, so like some crazed compass needle, I'm seeking my due north.

It could also be simply that having fun is so much more enjoyable than being a miserable sod.

I never cease to be amazed at how many people who 'enjoy their food' are thoroughly miserable when it comes to food.  They treat food as a mountain they must conquer.  Their faces are stern, their chins set.  They tend towards argument and introspection.  Not enjoying a damn good meal.

The untimely death of Keith Floyd has resulted in the loss of a man with an obvious love of what he did.  Simon Hopkinson is clearly cut from similar cloth.  It was therefore a delight that in this rather rubbish week Simon's new book The Vegetarian Option and a re-print of Floyd's Food should land on my mat courtesy of their respective publishers.

Reading their books in bed the other night I was reminded that I love food because I love it, by that I mean I get great enjoyment from cooking it, eating it, shopping for it, talking about it, even washing it up.  It's fun.

Sometimes it's not though.  As someone who keeps kosher I'm all too often relegated to the vegetarian section of the menu - and it is a relegation - it's a place you really don't want to explore.  Hopkinson makes me hopeful that others will get as excited by veggies as he clearly is. 

I challenge you not to swoon at Boiled onions with poached egg & Lancashire cheese.  If for a moment you dare think it sounds anything less than sublime, go to your local bookshop and take a look at the photo on page 73.  It's only a matter of days until I'll be feeding the family Cheese-crusted fried parsnip strips with romesco sauce and if this chilly weather is here to last the only pumpkin carving I'll be doing is to make Pumpkin soup 'Paul Bocuse'.  I might not have been tempted by Gratin of chicory with mustard sauce had it not been for Simon's closing words on the recipe "Rich, I believe, might be the word, here."

Don't be fooled that this is just a book about what to do with the bits of the veg box you get flummoxed by - try the Riverford book for that - it is a book that will make you cook better and in many ways is very classic.  His analysis of how to use agar-agar is one example of that, as his reminder of what a real Caesar salad is.

Cookbooks don't get much more classic than Floyd's Food.  Yes Absolute did do a quick print job following his death, but let's not be cynical.  It's a very good book.  It may lack the slick production and photos of The Vegetarian Option but it is the antithesis of the big cookbook.

Floyd like Hopkinson is not one to mince his words.  His instructions for Salade Nicoise are limited to "Whack the lot into a salad bowl and eat it."  His helpful tips for chip making include "You can do this hours before you intend to use them, that way avoiding the panic while you are making the bearnaise and everybody is getting sozzled in the garden."  I was rather surprised to see one ingredient in Watercress Express is instant potato mix, but because it's Floyd and was first printed in 1981, I'll let him off.  (Yes you're right, I will never forgive Delia for similar shortcuts, but this is my blog and I'll be as hypocritical as I like.)

Despite this aberration, I can't recommend either book highly enough.  They're great reminders about the sheer pleasure of food.  They may not be the best if you like to follow recipes like a religion.  If you're happy with the ebb and flow of the kitchen then purchase them in the knowledge you'll be in for a good time.

Speaking of good times, I had an all too brief drink last night at Mark's Bar for the launch of Galley Slave.  It's a freesheet edited by Joe Warwick, formerly of Restaurant magazine and briefly The Napkin Sniffer

It's very much focused at the London restaurant scene and is intended for those in the business.  But with a tag line of "Putting the wind up the London restaurant scene" and columns entitled  'Blog Standards' and 'Galley Chumps' a restaurant critic version of Top Trumps - genius - it is likely to become required reading for us obsessives as well.

12 October 2009

Pierre Koffmann at Selfridges

I've thought long and hard about whether or not to write up tonight's dinner because frankly the place was overun by some very good bloggers and a very good reviewer and I'm not sure what more I can add to what they will inevitably write. UPDATE: See the comment below, turns out Jay was there for fun as well.

However, I've decided to because I want to make a point that I assume, although can't be certain, the others will make.  The food was excellent, but most importantly the evening was great fun. 

Maybe it was because I was taking my Mum out for dinner, perhaps it was the venue, a pimped-up marquee on a balcony at Selfridges.  Maybe it was constant shuddering of the floor - not sure if it was the wind, or the aircon - that made us question the safety of the venture.  Maybe it was the service that didn't quite live up to the food.  Or maybe it was the sheer delight of those eating there to be tucking in to Koffmann's scoff once again.  Whatever it was, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

After having a chat with Pierre's lovely partner Claire, I figured out it was the best part of 15 years ago that I ate at Tante Claire.  I don't remember anything about the meal other than the wedgwood blue walls - a feature that has been replicated at Selfridges - not that Claire had noticed until I pointed it out.

She said that one of her favourite things was to stand in the bar and listen to the hum of the restaurant.  She was enjoying herself.  If the deft touches on the plate were anything to go by, so was the kitchen.  My starter of leek terrine was summer on a plate - sweet, light and carefree.  My cod was good but not exceptional.  My pistachio souffle and ice-cream was outstanding.  Shame about the false alarm of a hair lurking - turned out it was a bit of a pastry brush. I'd have thought modern technology could overcome such issues.

Sometimes we forget the dining is about pleasure and therefore fun.  Koffmann's got it right at Selfridges.  There's little doubt he's looking to return to a full time kitchen after the hiccups at Brasserie St Jacques and guest spots elsewhere.  If he can bottle the pleasure factor and food of this quality, he's on to a winner. 

It reminds me that that was what Ramsay's shtick was in the early days: serve great food and keep the punters happy.  It's not a quadratic equation, but a sum that is nonetheless easy to get wrong.

Google Maps

Pierre Koffmann at Selfridges, 400  Oxford Street, London, W1A 1AB UK
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7
318 7778