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2 posts from June 2012

08 June 2012

My Dining Hell: Twenty Ways to Have a Lousy Night Out

It may be the height of vanity, but I have always wanted to appear in a book. It was a simple wish I thought would never be fulfilled.  I never really gave much consideration to whether it would be fiction or not, I'd be the hero or villian.  

It never dawned on me I might be named in a compilation of a restaurant reviewer's worst meals.  That wouldn't be great. And yet my dream has come true in My Dining Hell: Twenty Ways To Have a Lousy Night Out, Jay Rayner's latest offering.

I think it must have been vanity that drove me to such inky dreams because even with this ignomy heaped upon me, I am still thrilled to be there.  It was with a tingling sense of doom that I came to the Blooms review.  I had been guffawing at the awfulness of his meals at some terribly misconceived restaurants, and then it dawned on me that I had been with him on that fateful night in Golders Green.

In the introduction to the book Jay notes the perverse delight of bad reviews.  He is right, they make for good reading.  Perhaps that is because we're not the ones doing the eating, or the paying, we can vicariously enjoy someone else's disaster.

So much comedy is reliant on cruelty, but for it to be funny rather than gratuitous takes careful scripting and delivery.  A bit like a review.  In this little compilation of his Observer reviews, Rayner delivers.

No doubt, if you're a restaurant on the receiving end, you're unlikely to get the humour and will forever be haunted by this appalling critique of your love and joy.  Although that assumes the owners of the disasters care. 

Every one of the twenty reviews has a common feature, bad food.  Service, decor, location all vary in quality and Jay's appetite for them, but if you serve him bad food, prepare to be ripped apart.  And so it should be.  It takes a very particular masochist to willingly hand over money for an awful meal.

A word on the format.  I think that some will complain about only being able to buy this as an ebook.  Others will wryly note that they can get all Jay's reviews for free from the Observer, so why fork over £1.99.  To address the former, no doubt it is because you can get them for free that they are chosing to limit the cost of publishing this compendium.  And to the latter misers, I'd point out that journalism costs and this is Jay's career so fair enough he should be paid for it.  I assume that the Guardian Media Group get some sort of cut as they must own the copyright to the reviews, but I also assume that the sums of money involved are not huge.  A feature of journalism today.

So don't moan.  Download the book and enjoy the fact that you didn't have to eat those meals, but someone with a decent way with words did.  If you are a restaurant owner then read and learn the simple lesson that if you serve your customers good food, you will avoid being mentioned in volume two.

07 June 2012

Not just a chicken bagel recipe

I was asked to write a piece for The Forward's Jew & The Carrot blog on my favourite Shabbat meal.  As I say in my piece, they tend to be fairly uninventive.  I wanted to write about chopped liver, but turns out they already had that covered.  So instead, I turned to an old standby that is a pre-dinner snack, rather than dinner itself, heaven forfend.  Perhaps it is somewhat denigrating to refer to it as a snack.  


This was originally posted on The Jew & The Carrot.

Being from solid Ashkenazi stock, Friday night dinners invariably meant several ways with chicken: chopped, boiled and roasted. Although it was the least glamorous — the boiled chicken — that most excited me.

Chicken soup is a much loved dish and I’m always partial to a bowl or two, especially with my mother’s kneidlach. But it was the by-product that got my taste buds going.

I shouldn’t call it the by-product because the chicken is the main event, everyone just forgets about it and goes straight to the diluted version — what is soup if not a watery take on a solid? Chicken soup is genius in so many ways, but particularly because you can remove the primary ingredient and the soup is in no way diminished and the chicken tastes delicious.

I realized this curious fact early on in life and it led to a pleasurable pre-Shabbat ritual. Returning home from school I would sneak into the kitchen and sidle over to the large glass rectangular dish that contained the chicken. It would sit there looking somewhat wan. The skin had probably fallen off in the pot and other than boiling water and some aromatics, there was nothing to give it a hint of color. But I could readily overlook the aesthetic shortcomings. I was focused on a sandwich and no good sandwich will ever get mistaken for an oil painting.

Ideally the chicken would be warm but not hot and sitting in some broth that is mostly liquid, but at points is quivering into jelly. I would take aim at the breast, barely having to exert any pressure as the meat gladly parted company with the carcass.

Once enough chicken had been liberated I’d root around the bread bin to find a fresh sesame-seed bagel. Still with the merest hint of warmth from the bakers oven, they were nutty from the sesame, had a hint of sweet and salt and the all important features of a bagel, a chewy crust, but a forgiving center.

Split in two I would now be at a crossroads. The only one in this process. Either I would go down the purist route or I’d pimp my sandwich a bit. The purist route would be to pile the chicken onto the bagel, add a little squeeze of ketchup and generous dousing of chicken soup to ensure continued moistness, taking full advantage of a bagel’s rigidity.

The more outre version was to add half of a thinly sliced avocado, a dab of mayo and a couple of spritzes of Tabasco to the purist.

I like to think of this wonder as the kosher lobster roll. (I say that never having eaten a lobster roll.)

At this stage I was ready to retire to a quiet corner of the kitchen to contemplate the Shabbat meal that was just around the corner and ponder a question that had been vexing me for years: why was I never as hungry as everyone else when the chicken soup, chopped liver, roast chicken, roast potatoes and crumble made their post-Kiddush procession onto the table? I’m still wondering.

Makes 1 sandwich

  • 1 breast chicken, taken from a bird recently used to make chicken soup
  • 1 sesame bagel
  • Tomato ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon of broth from the chicken soup

If you’re going for the pimped version

  • Half an avocado sliced
  • Tabasco to taste
  • Mayonnaise

Take a fresh bagel slice it. Ideally it is still a bit warm from the baker. If you don’t have anything that fresh, then put it in the oven to warm it. Don’t toast it. This is not a sandwich that requires crunch or crumbs.

Peel the breast away from the carcass. You can use knife and fork if you insist, but I prefer pulling it away with my fingers as it comes away in nice clumps. Remove any skin that is lingering on he chicken.

Take one bagel half and compose as you see fit. I tend to put ketchup first, then chicken, then avocado, mayo and Tabasco.

Pour the broth over the other half of the bagel so that the bread soaks up the liquid and close the sandwich.

Eat in quiet contemplation awaiting the arrival of Shabbat and your dinner.