Pigs’ trotters, calves’ brains and tripe – sounds offal doesn’t it?

Okay, so it’s still not going to be a long one, or indeed a fresh one. But, for those of you who haven’t read it on the Telegraph – well this is the link here.

I went to review an offal night at the Drapers Arms in Highbury and Islington for work, and though I love pâté, it turns out I’m not a fan of the rest…

 

Drapers Arms

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Flat Iron

Sense of direction has never been my forte, but getting lost, well that I can do. Put me in a car and remove the Sat Nav, I’m a gonner. Once it took me three hours to get from Hertfordshire to Highgate. What’s more, I’m not a ‘oh I’m late, it doesn’t matter’ type of gal. I’m painfully punctual. Being late stresses me out, being lost stresses me out – the combination of the two; well it’s a dire formula. On the aforementioned occasion – a friend’s parents’ Bollywood-themed 25th wedding anniversary – my fake tanned face looked like a marble cake; such were the extent of my tears.

Anyway, I digress. Back to being lost, which is precisely where I found (ironically) myself last week: lost in the Autumnal rain mid-way down Carnaby Street. I’d looked at the map before I left; I’d marked out which roads I needed to go down, but to no avail. I must be genetically predisposed to be anti-directionally brained (not anti One Direction, no, I love them) and there I was, looking left and right with absolutely no clue. If I were pre 90s, I’d have been properly stuffed. But, as it was, I (embarrassingly) resorted to whipping out my Ipad and using the Sat Nav – to walk. I mean honestly.

But it worked…I followed the dotted technological equivalent to the yellow brick road and found myself (and my dining companion (already waiting)) outside the night’s eatery: Flat Iron. Another steak joint in Soho, my sister had recommended it a while back, but things had been (and still are) so hectic (and I mean B-U-S-Y) that there had just been no time. But, sometimes the schedule needs to be cleared for a special occasion. Sometimes you need to take a couple of hours’ breather, sink a good bottle of red and relax. This was my reasoning, well that and the fact that I was being treated. Turn down a free meal on the town? Rare. Turn down a free meal with the fantastic company that is Tom? Never.

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My good friend – another Tom – was taking me out as a belated thank you for the South of France trip. He’d asked where I wanted to go and I’d given him the following options: Lima, Hawksmoor, Goodman or Flat Iron. In the mood for steak, but having frequented Hawksmoor and Goodman regularly with work, he opted for my last suggestion. And though last, it was by no means least.

And so it was that we arrived at Flat Iron last Tuesday. The restaurant was, surprise, surprise, a no-book (and small) so we had a 45-minute wait. That was on a Tuesday, I dread to think what it would be like later on in the week. But, with a bar next door, this went quickly and soon we were nestled into our seats. Well as much as one can nestle into seats at Flat Iron. They’re more seesaws than chairs. Luckily Tom is a 6ft-odd rugby player, so my side of the playground staple was up. But bear in mind, if your date is smaller than you…well it could be embarrassing. Fortunately it would take a fair few steaks to change the gravitational pull in our case, so I had no hesitation in tucking in.

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Much like Entrecôte before it, Flat Iron has few menu choices, but what it does serve, it serves well. And unlike Entrecôte (and indeed Hawksmoor and Goodman) it doesn’t burst the bank: £10 for a steak, £2.50 – £3 for sides, and £1 a pot of sauce. This wondrous news for the frugals among us, stems from the quality of meat; it’s not great. But Flat Iron masks this brilliantly through the ingenious mechanism of the pre-slice. What would be difficult to cut with knife, comes already chopped – and finely chopped meat is, well, very chewable – as in, easy to chew.

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Tom and I partnered our steaks with a selection of sides…okay all of the sides: dripping cooked chips, creamed spinach, today’s market greens, Sophie’s salad (blue cheese, candied pecans, lemon dressing), and roast aubergine with tomato, basil and Parmesan. Then, after a few token pics with the meat cleavers, we attacked.

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The dripping chips tasted uncannily like McDonald’s french fries, which though unexpected, both tasted nice and were a pleasant nostalgic reminder of the journey back to school (past the Peterborough service station). Quite the feat for a bit of cooked potato.

The aubergine mix tasted like Moussaka, the Sophie’s salad moreish, but not enough blue cheese (I’m a blue cheese fiend), the market greens were true to their name – green beans, and the creamed spinach was definitely creamed. Creamed to smitherines. Why blend spinach? It’s so delicious in its entirety. I wanted a side, not soup.

But back to the main event – the steak. As touched upon, it was not the best quality, but it was cooked very well and amply seasoned (rocks of salt…yummy). The chef/s had tenderised the flesh brilliantly (a good battering with rolling-pin perhaps?) and made a weak cut, a good eat. Hats off to them!  (Go for the béarnaise).

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Would I return? For that price – most definitely.

 

Flat Iron, 17 Beak St, London, Greater London W1F 9RW

Burger & Lobster

On February 1st 1996, an episode of Friends aired on NBC entitled The One with the Prom Video. Please find synopsis (courtesy of Wikipedia) below:

After getting his big break with Days of Our Lives, Joey pays Chandler back with $812 and an extremely tacky engraved gold bracelet. Also, an unemployed Monica is hard up for money. A home video from Monica and Rachel’s prom night reveals that Monica was previously overweight, and that Rachel had a large nose. Rachel seemed to have been stood up by her prom date, so Ross puts on his father’s tuxedo to take her to prom himself, but Rachel’s date shows up and they leave before she learns of Ross’s plans. The video then shows a speechless and devastated Ross standing at the top of the stairs. The candor of Ross’s heartbreak compels Rachel to kiss Ross.

A well-rounded overview, yes, but it fails to mention that this is also the episode in which Phoebe has some of her most famous lines. You know the ones? They’ve been quoted time and time again. No? These ones:

Phoebe: Hang in there, it’s gonna happen.
Ross: What? Okay, now how do you know that?
Phoebe: Because she’s your lobster.
Chandler: Oh, she’s goin’ somewhere.
Phoebe: Come on, you guys. It’s a known fact that lobsters fall in love and mate for life. You know what? You can actually see old lobster couples walkin’ around their tank, you know, holding claws like…

How is this relevant you ask? How is this related to a restaurant review? It’s three-fold. Firstly, like Phoebe advises, I have hung in there when it comes to dining at Burger & Lobster. Not once, not twice, but three times have I been turned away from the non-book restaurant due to over-booking on the night (ironic, I know), but I kept returning, knowing that at some point there would be a break in the crowd. This has felt like a ‘life-time’ (point two), and finally, well Phoebe is talking about Lobsters, and that – as the restaurants name suggests – is what we’d be eating. Tah da! Tenuous, I think not.

At 9.45pm on Tuesday, two companions and I voyaged from Victoria into the heart of Soho. Even at this hour we faced a 40-minute wait, but already fuelled by a bottle of Balls Brothers’s wine this passed by without complaint. Indeed, spent at the restaurant’s bar drinking a thick green Thai cocktail, and two beers for the boys, it positively flew by.

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Before I knew it, we were led around a series of bustling tables to our own. This was situated just by the serving area of the kitchen, which though was great for perving on the food, was not so great for maintaining a pleasant body temperature. At points the heat from the have-to-squint-it’s-so-bright kitchen lamp verged on uncomfortable. And there’s really only so much food perving one can do on three dishes:

1) Burger – served in a bun, add bacon and/or cheese.

2) Lobster – Half a lobster served with butter and choose either steamed or finished off on the charcoal grill.

3) Lobster Roll – Lobster meat served in a soft brioche roll with a Japanese mayonnaise.

Each are sold at £20, which though makes it easy for splitting a bill, does seem a bit skewed in terms of value. I mean we all know that Lobster is expensive; for me it was always the item on the menu that my frugal father urged me to steer clear of while growing up. The costly crustacean was to be avoided at all, well…costs. I’d never come across one of these decadent sea-dwellers for under 40 smackers, so at 20, it was an absolute steal. On the other side, in the blue corner (lobster must be red), was the burger and polar opposite; from a bargain and a steal came an extortionate meal – £20 for a burger, are you being for real?

Needless to say, none of us went for the burger. My companions tucked into the lobster, and I opted for the lobster roll. A friendly waitress speedily delivered our dishes (benefits of being so close to the kitchen – they didn’t have far to travel) and handed over three bibs. Almost always a spiller, this was decidedly useful, not to mention the perfect accessory to a series of token photos.

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As the boys battled with nut-cracker-eque devices and sturdy claws, I happily used a fork to remove chunks of lobster from inside my roll.

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Fleshy yet tender, and delightfully swaddled in a thick layer of wasabi-laced mayonnaise, I realised that it was probably a good job for my father’s bank balance that he’d banned this crustacean from my childhood. Wow it’s good. Sadly, however, its plate fellows weren’t up to scratch. The brioche was under-toasted, the chips not fried quite long enough and the salad a bit too balsamic vinegared.

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In terms of photos, atmosphere and arthropods, Burger & Lobster excelled and is worth hanging in for, but the meal of a ‘life-time?’ I think not.

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NB: In researching this piece, I sadly discovered that the concept of lobsters mating for life is a myth. According to scientist G Anderton: “Lobsters have a very tender mating ritual, in which the female is very vulnerable after shedding her exoskeleton, but after the deed is done she leaves and they never see each other again, and in fact, the male (usually being the alpha and dominant male in the area) will go on to mate with almost every other female in the area.”

The Chicken or the Egg complex

Sometimes in life we have to adjust our priorities and give up the old for the new. But sometimes it’s not quite that clear-cut: what if the new was conceived as a plan before the old, wouldn’t the new become the old? And the old the new? Something happening now, but that was planned before the previous plan? Even though the plan, planned after the plan of the new, would make it the new, because the new is happening makes it old, no?

A mind tangler, a brain boggler, a scabrous task if ever there was one – what to do? where to go? how to act? …Where does the loyalty lie…
I was in this predicament yesterday, circumstances led me to a modern-day Hamletian dilemma, ‘to blog, or not to blog,’ that was my question. Distraught at the thought of losing ‘The Audley Chronicle’; my favourite hobby, my online diary, part of my soul (oh a bit of hyperbole never hurt anyone), I sank into a melancholy state of deep thought. I knew what I had to do, but it conflicted with what I wanted to do.
I met a friend and together we roamed the streets of central London. We conversed lightly; the heat, plans, upcoming events. But ‘to blog or not to blog’, well that couldn’t be done without the ever-soothing glass(es) of wine. The dulcet tones if glorious grape being poured into a cooled drinking vessel – what sound is more mellifluous than that?
So we turned down Carnaby Street in search of an outside area to quench our thirst, and take respite from the still abrasive evening heat. Pubs bustled, jovial shouts of after work rendevous(s) wafted through the sticky air, “No, no, no; too loud, too full, look at that one it’s packed” I fussed. But then I spied it, an oasis of calm in loutish London – Kingly Court.

In we went, and as if Fate were there himself, we found ourselves (both food writers) not only at a new restaurant (just 6 days old), but at a new restaurant based entirely on the concept of chicken and eggs – which considering my dilemma on which part of my life really came first, well it couldn’t have been a more apt place to dine.
Welcome to Whyte and Brown an eggciting new eatery perfect for anyone feeling peckish, or anyone in need a place to carry out some free-range thinking…Sorry, I’m done, that’s the last gag I’ll crack…
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Though cooped upstairs (here we go again!), outside was battery packed, our area was delightfully cool; a feat which most restaurants are struggling to master this summer. A friendly, supermodel-figured, auburn-haired waitress seated us, gave our table an extra wipe down and handed us a laminated A3 menu, which we instantly started clucking over. Who knew chicken and eggs could be so versatile? Mains swayed from Light Chicken & Langoustine Pie, Hanoi Chicken Noodle Soup and Twisted Chicken Caesar Salad to Wild Mushroom Tagliatelle (fresh egg tagliatelle), Pollo-Porno Pasta, and even a Lemon Leek Risotto Scotch Egg.
Ever the eggsperimentors we felt lost…not for long though, a new plan was hatched: we’d miss the mains and order an array of starters instead – half a dozen to be precise.
We plucked these from the menu:
Polenta-Crumb Chicken Strips 5.25
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Best thigh meat in golden polenta crumb, with our mellow Garlic Mayonnaise made fresh for dipping. (F)

Half a Dozen Croquette Balls 5.45

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Shredded chicken & pancetta, speckled with chives, lemon & melty béchamel. Served with our own Smoky Tomato sauce. (F)

Bangkok-Scotch Egg on Pickled Cucumber Salad 6.25

scotch egg

Minced chicken thigh-meat mixed with lime leaf, coriander, mint, lemon grass, chilli & ginger. A wild soft-boiled centre.

Chicken Liver Paté, Grilled Sourdough & Sprightly Salad 5.75

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Big scoop of smooth paté sitting on a board with toast & salad of capers, shallots & parsley.

Pea & Ricotta Poached Egg Bruschetta (V) 5.45

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Crunchy-soft stack of smashed garden peas, ricotta, lemon zest, Parmesan shavings, mint tips & pea shoots. Egg like a sunny cloud on top.

Harissa Hot Wings 5.95

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Baked chilli chicken wings served with caramelised orange wedges, coriander & minty yoghurt dressing. (F)

Well done Whyte and Brown, well done. Everything but the bruschetta was absolutely fantastic, and that was by no means fowl, just a tad bland. The harissa wings fell off the bone with sticky delight, the scotch egg was gooey-centred bliss, and the croquette balls crunchy wonders. This restaurant pulled off the inventive; it took the simple and made the complex, and it did it well – and not too expensively either:

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So gather your brood and get down to Carnaby Street because once this restaurant gets the press it deserves people will flock in…
Kingly Court  Carnaby St, London W1B 5PW
020 3747 9820
Oh and the blog, well sometimes forces above take pity and you don’t have to peck, sorry pick, one or the other after all!
Happy Friday!

Bone Daddies

Throw me a bone fellow bloggers…don’t rant and rave in superlatives about restaurants when there is absolutely no way that they are, or ever could be, ‘the best’. Don’t allure me with edited snaps, don’t tease my palate with delectable turns of phrase, stop duping me.

These internet gobbets, these fantastical notions of culinary expertise, did just this last night; they duped me. A red herring of a bone if ever there was one, in fact, a multitude of red herrings masquerading as bones, led me, ironically, to Bone Daddies.

Leaving work at the pinnacle of rush hour – which in Victoria translates as a ferocious battle to get to the tube (we fight to clamber into sweaty carriages underground, while the sun shines above), a commuters’ mosh-pit – I shoved myself into the crowd of irritated workers, surrendered my freshly applied face of make-up to sweat and made my way north to Soho.

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Now before I take you through the swishy black drapes and into the heart of the restaurant, I should make it clear that despite my vehement annoyance at being duped into expecting Bone Daddies to be ‘the best’, this doesn’t mean that I think it is ‘the worst’.

So now that’s clarified, welcome in. Bone Daddies is a self-professed ‘Rock n Roll Ramen Bar,’ which is ‘headed up’ by ex-Zuma and ex-Nobu head chef Ross Shonhan.

If you’re wondering what Ramen is, of which I confess I wasn’t 100% sure, here is the ever trustworthy Wikipedia definition: “Ramen is a Japanese noodle dish” which “consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a meat- or (occasionally) fish-based broth, often flavoured with soy sauce.” Considering I was served this (see below), I assume it to be spot on.

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Before I was served this, however, I had to get a seat. This was pleasantly easier than anticipated; the restaurant’s (which was all the rage a couple of months ago) popularity seems to have dwindled. Good news for me, I thought. Yes, I was behind the curve, yes I wasn’t going to unveil a new restaurant, nor tell you all about one that you haven’t heard of before, but I would get a seat. I wouldn’t have to deal with a Bubbledogs incident.

Indeed, after a mere 10 minutes my companion and I were seated. Five minutes after that we’d had drinks – and two visits from a petite waitress to inquire what we’d like. I say inquiries, but they were more like clutches…she wasn’t really interested in what we wanted, but how quickly we would be wanting it. Alas, the inevitability of the non-book restaurant, another in and out job where we’re treated as cash cows rather than diners.

“Which is the most popular ramen?” I asked.

“This one,” she replied and tapped the clipboard.

“The Tonkotsu Ramen?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, I’ll go for that one then.”

She turned to my dining companion.

“I’ll have the soft-shelled crab and then a side of pulled chicken with the…”

“What wait,” I interjected. “I didn’t realise there were sides.”

The whole thing had been so rushed that I hadn’t scoured the bottom part of the menu, and I most certainly hadn’t been asked if I’d want any by this harlot.

“Oooh, I’ll have the (always a sucker for a douse of crude humour)…cock scratchings.”

She didn’t smile, or even give so much as a happy twinge of facial muscle. She wrote it down, got the remainder of my dinner date’s order and sauntered off.

She and the food returned, predictably, uber fast. The starter of soft-shelled crab accompanied the mains.

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The food wasn’t horrendous, it wasn’t bad, to call it mediocre would probably verge on harsh; it was somewhere on the scale between satisfactory and good. Indeed, bits of it were good (the soft boiled egg), and bits of it were satisfactory (cock scratchings). It is also, I found, quite difficult, nay impossible to eat ramen elegantly…bending down so low a head rush is on the cards while chop-sticking cock into your mouth, well it’s not very lady-like.

To conclude, it’s not ‘the best’, it’s not ‘the worst’; I wouldn’t go for supper, or on a date. I’d consider it for a quick lunch with the ladies…if pushed – that’s the bone I’ll throw to you.

31 Peter St  London, Greater London W1F 0AR
020 7287 8581

Bar Launch: The Toy Shop

“Putney, one of the pleasantest of the London suburbs, as well as the most accessible” wrote J. C. Geikie in his 1903 The Fascinations of London. 

If I’d have been heading to ‘the pleasantest of the London suburbs’ from my abode, I’d have walked to Waterloo and caught the train, and then its label as ‘most accessible’ would have been apt. As it was, I was coming from Sloane Square and that meant a 25-minute, eight stop sweaty tube journey to East Putney and then a 15-minute walk to 32 Putney High Street. Accessible yes, but not ‘most accessible.’

I was Putney bound thanks to a kind invitation to the launch of new bar The Toy Shop, and I was in Sloane Square before having a celebratory drink with my sister and mother – which I will fill you all in on at a later date. What I will tell you is we drank the most overly priced Bellinis I’ve come across…

Here’s a snap of my sister and me appreciating them…very slowly (and my mother taking the photo):

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Back to Putney. I met my companion as the sky progressed from spitting to drooling rain, which resulted in me looking like a drowned rat.  This was bad, but when my comrade informed me that Henry Cavill was going to be there, was suddenly very much worse.

“Superman! I can’t meet Superman looking like this!”

Luckily we had arrived early, and after being ticked off the list by two formidable looking bouncers, I walked briskly through the bar straight to the baby pink painted ladies, found the hand drier, and stuck my head under it for couple of minutes. Slightly afro, but better.

I returned upstairs and took in the surroundings properly. The bar was like being thrust into a packet of skittles; turquoise velvet sofas, yellow velvet armchairs and orange bar stools blended together in a kaleidoscopic interior. Dangling LEDs lit up individual round oak tables and waitresses glided between these wielding trays groaning with cocktails. Small ones, big ones, I’m-not-entirely-sure-what’s-in-these ones.

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To the background of chequered wall paper, mixologists bore wide smiles as they created further cocktail concotions. Prosecco on draught lubricated the crowd as they waited, and a series of canapes appeased those who’d missed supper. If these were anything to go by then the bar, which will be a bar-cum-restaurant, is going to be a foodie’s haven.

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Grilled prawns sprayed with a lemon grass based sauce, circular chicken liver pate and sweet jelly bites, balls of herb crusted goat’s cheese and deep-fried tomato and risotto balls, were readily devoured to the extent where the waitresses were stalked as soon as they left the kitchen. Free good food, I mean what more could you want?

Live music. It wasn’t until it arrived, that I realised that is what I wanted – which is always the best way around. Out came a drummer, who doubled as a saxophonist, and was truly sensational. Infectiously happy, this born entertainer wowed his audience, especially during a set where he played half of it with a drum stick behind his ear. Brilliant.

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I had forgotten about the arrival of Superman, which didn’t actually happen. Though a friend of the owner, the A-lister unfortunately had more pressing matters – the premiere of his film in Leicester Square. Boo.

More cocktails, a stint sucking at a treasure chest, a chat with a psychic (who predicted good things! yay!) and dancing ensued and before I knew it, the launch was over and the formidable bouncers extricated us from the building. Decidedly merry, after one final farewell and thank you, I left the bar, which even if it isn’t ‘most accessible’ to me, I will be accessing again. This is a Toy shop which is definitely worth playing in.

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The Toy Shop, 32 Putney High Street, London SW15 1SQ

Megan’s

Considering its length, it’s no wonder that people spend so much time talking about the King’s Road. There’s a lot to talk about.

On Wednesday night, nestled on a number 22 bus, my mother, sisters and I got to see a lot of it – for it turned out, that the restaurant we were dining at, number 571, was at the opposite end than Sloane Square tube. In fact, in terms of TFL guide lines, we probably would have been better off getting off at Fulham Broadway. Our bus voyage, however, was actually rather pleasant.

Perched on the top deck, we picked out the restaurants we wanted to dine – and had dined – at, and peered at copious window displays, which were filled with beautifully dressed skeletal plastic mannequins –  clothes which, visiting the aforementioned restaurants would mean, we’d never fit into. One pair of hot pants and strapless bikini later and we found ourselves outside number 571, Megan’s.

We were shown to our table, sadly the quaintly decorated terrace was fully booked, but our cubicle upstairs was, nonetheless, decidedly agreeable. A level up to the rest of the restaurant, it gave us a great panoramic and seated seven comfortably. Seven? Yes, in addition to the four Audley girls, there would be three Mintos – and both of these families descended from the Shores. In simplified terms, we were out to supper with our cousins. Some of you may remember my post on Made in Italy. Well after the success of our shindig at this King’s Road pizzeria, we decided that another sister/cousin, female family, extravaganza was a must. So, three months and a dozen emails later, we finally made the rendevous, and I’m happy to report that it was just as great as the first. Company was first-rate, food was – though overwhelming in portion size – very agreeable and service came with a smile – if a little slow. Here are some snaps of the evening.

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Megan's
Megan’s

IMG_2305Coarse chicken liver pâté

Fish soup (soupe de poisson)
Fish soup (soupe de poisson)
Chargrilled Salmon, chips, salad and a parsley & butter sauce
Chargrilled salmon, chips, salad and a parsley & butter sauce
Côte de boeuf, salad and béarnaise sauce
Côte de boeuf, salad and béarnaise sauce
571 King’s Rd  London SW6 2EB 020 7371 7837

Now is Good

Occasionally when perambulating through the aisles of supermarkets, I am unwittingly drawn into the DVD section. Before I know it, I’ve got a handful of exciting new films and have completely forgotten about the asparagus and courgettes on my mother’s shopping list.

Saturday was one of those days. Silver Linings Playbook, Twilight Saga 4 Part 2 were must-haves. That was enough, I thought, two DVDs isn’t too bad. But then I caught a glimpse of the angelic face of Dakota Fanning – and a film that I hadn’t heard of before called, as this title suggests, Now is Good. Having been a long-term fan of Fanning (pun intended) since her appearance on Friends, specifically in Hide and Seek (2005) with Robert de Niro, I decided to work by the premise ‘three times a charm’ and plonked the film into my trolley.

The weekend was a busy blur, and between fitness classes and dining out with the grandparents, there wasn’t even enough time to remove the DVD’s plastic case. Last night, however, back in London, accompanied by the younger sister and both too tired to stay up until 10 p.m to tune into Made in Chelsea (oh come on, it’s addictive), we decided to watch Fanning’s new film.

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Now is a good time to tell you, that then was not a good time to watch Now is Good – wow, there’s a tongue twister for you. Don’t get me wrong, Now is Good is a good film, but finding a good time to watch it…well that’s more difficult, for Now is Good doesn’t make you feel good, Now is Good makes you feel very, very sad. It makes you feel like this:

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The film follows 17-year-old Tessa (Fanning), who has terminal cancer,  in her final months as she tries to tick off her bucket list. Yes, I know, if the blurb told you that, what did you expect? I was expected to be moved, yes, but not to be distressed. Distressed, is putting it mildly – we were emotional wrecks. Wailing into sodden tissues, clinging to pillows as our rib cages ached from heaving sobs. It was as bad as Homeward Bound – you know, the ‘Peeeeteeeer, Shaaaadow’ bit. It was on a par with My Sister’s Keeper. I was so affected, that I had to go outside to gather my thoughts and get some fresh air.

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So a warning to all, if you, like me, fall victim to the endearing eyes of Dakota Fanning, which peer out beautifully from supermarket DVD aisles, BEWARE. This film is brilliant, but if you have an important meeting the next day, or indeed need to look your best, then save it for another time – it has been over 12 hours since I watched it and my eyelids are still puffy.

 

 

A Wednesday in Westminster

This time last week, I was preparing for my first trip to Parliament, well to Portcullis House. I accompanied my boss, Peter Oborne – me name dropping? never – to the Hansard Society’s 10th annual audit of political engagement within the UK; a survey funded by the House of Commons.

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I’m writing about it now, because it has taken me a while to ‘engage’ with how the evening really left me feeling, or indeed not feeling, feeling no feeling, but that’s still feeling? Anyway, back to last Wednesday.

Suited and booted, I made my way to Westminster and, typically early, found myself waiting for 45-minutes outside the newly named Thatcher room. This eager time-keeping, however, allowed me to squeeze in a quick re-read of the society’s book, which had been posted to the office earlier in the week.

Wow, this is dull,’ I thought as I turned to find yet another page of percentages, graphs, and ‘Microsoft paint’ arrows. I shut it and looked at the works of art decking the corridor, reasoning that things are always more interesting when you have an actual human being to engage with. After looking at the Thatcher portrait for the third time, I found that a queue was forming outside the namesake’s room. A queue in which 90% (there’s a percentage for you) of the members would have been privy to a discount on the bus.

At Zimmer frame speed, we entered the conference room and took to our seats. Here, I spied a handful of – what I would later learn should be referred to as – youths. The youth. Youths. Peter took up his seat on the panel next to Matt Korris (co-author Audit of Political Engagement; Senior Researcher, Hansard Society). Also on the VIP desk were the other co-author, Dr Ruth Fox, and two MPs; Natascha Engel and Chloe Smith, Labour and Conservative respectively.

After a brief introduction by Dr Fox, Korris took to his projector and proudly started his power-point presentation. At this point, I would like to state, I was open-minded. However, as this self-important, sarcastic for-want-of-a-character-trait individual, repeatedly patronised the politically uneducated, I started to feel rather unfavourably toward him, and indeed to the audit as a whole.

Infuriating man, standing there with his data, ridiculing the ‘youth’ for how little they know about Parliament and the Government – that some think they are the same thing. How “shocking” that only 47% of this generation could, if asked, name their local MP.

‘This and you, my smarmy friend, is exactly the problem’ I thought from the back row. People don’t want to be patronised about what they don’t know, they don’t want to be ridiculed for thinking that the public votes members into the House of Lords, or for not knowing that British members of the European Parliament are directly elected by British voters. Making people feel stupid does not encourage a desire to learn.

People gain knowledge when they are encouraged, and when something is made interesting to them. What have MPs done to encourage our interest in them? The occasional affair, or expenses scandal, it’s like a bad soap, our interest piques for a while – the Christmas special as it were – and then we return to not caring. But moreover, it is their lack of interest in us, which peters out our interest in them. When someone ignores you, you work harder to vie for their attention, when they continue to ignore you, (if you care) you try even harder to get their attention, and if they still ignore you,  you become despondent and just give up. If they’re not interested in you, why should you be so interested in them?

This view was reiterated when Chloe Smith took to the floor and gave one of the weakest speeches I’ve heard. “To make change we must approach the individual” “It’s the individual we need to think about” “Once we tackle the individual” “It’s the individual that matters” – the irony being that she made the individual anything but individual. She wasn’t talking about one person; she was talking about lots of ones – aka people.

Natascha Engels, with her wide-eyed, pleading demeanour, gave some personal stories – washing up, and someone saying ‘good to see an MP doing some work,’ the changes that MPs need to make to be seen in a different light. But we’ve heard it all before; saying, saying, saying – never doing. As she flicked her long blonde bob and cooled the back of her neck, my thoughts wandered to another blonde – Nadine Dorries. Now, slate her as much as you like, but this woman is a doer. And Hansard, if you took to the street and asked how many people knew who Nadine Dorries is; I think your percentages would sky-rocket.

Nadine Dorries, Observer Profile

Interested in the public, and of public interest, and with the return of her whip, an interview with Dorries is the hottest ticket in town. She didn’t sit down and rant about how little people knew her; she went out and made sure that people knew her. The press is dying, the number of people reading papers rapidly declining. As an MP you need to be where your people are – and if that means being on the reality television programme that they’re watching then so be it.

Peter? He was great. Taking questions from the floor and weaving them into beautiful, articulate responses – ‘Ukip is to the Conservative party what the Prince is to Hamlet’. He made his points with humour and eloquence, and the room ‘engaged’ with him. In fact, my overriding conclusion of the hour and a half conference was just how important journalists are to keeping the public interested in politics. God knows how many people would care about, or have the time (even if they did care) to try to work out, what the hell these survey-bearing political passionates were waffling on about – certainly not the ‘youth.’

Not having a deep and passionate interest in MPs, the running of Parliament and the Government doesn’t mean that you have the IQ of an amoeba; it means that you are a 2013 norm. So, House of Commons, instead of funding research telling you how thick your populace is, perhaps you should throw a bit of cash at researching what you can do to get people interested in you. Because at the moment, I’m afraid, Nadine Dorries is leaps and bounds ahead of you.

Nola’s Press Launch

“How did you meet Dan Aykroyd?” has been the recurring question this week. I suppose just posting a photo of myself with the A-lister, cult figure and real life Ghostbuster was a little vague…So I’ll explain.

I met him on the rainy night that t’was last Tuesday, in the depths of East London, among the uber edgy, in Shoreditch. I was invited to the press launch of new – and New Orleans-themed – bar Nola.

Power walking as fast as my ridiculously over-sized high heels would allow (not very fast), I arrived at 66-68 Rivington St with a decidedly limp set of what were perfectly crafted curls. Following the alluring sound of a saxophone,  I made my way up two flights of corrugated iron stairs and found myself outside a party in full swing.

A small room, filled with around 120 dancing press, the atmosphere was joyously infectious. However, not a dancer, and certainly not a dancer in my absurd choice of footwear, I ventured through the jostling crowd and found my companion for the evening. He’d already secured a set of cocktails and with a clink of glasses our evening began.

nola cocktailsNot punch, but punchy, these cocktails were not for the faint-hearted. Acidic bursts of citric flavours both blended and masked the cocktail’s smooth vodka base. One sip and a tangfastic facial expression later, and I was hooked. Back to the bar…

barThe mixologists were stealthy in their creations; to the extent where they had done an art attack – and pre-prepared stocks of cocktails, which were left on the bar for anyone to take. With the number of people and the capacity of the place straining, this was definitely the right move. No-one wants to run dry at a launch.

Ummmm, Dan Aykroyd? Ah yes, Dan Aykroyd. The star of The Blues Brothers had met the owners of the bar on holiday, the trio had got on famously, and Aykroyd agreed to bless the launch with his presence. The star also owns a vodka brand called Crystal Head – which was used for all the drinks. A scratch of backs scenario.

At around 10.30 pm the band started a count down – Dan Aykroyd was in the building. The crowds that jostled before, started to mosh (as in mosh pit), and the scramble to see the star began. The heels that had plagued me now became useful, and at 6ft (yes they were massive) my vantage point was superior to the majority my contemporaries. The band played louder, the climactic entry was imminent, three, two, one…and she entered. She? Yes, Aykroyd’s PR, who told the hungry crowd that actually to see their hero, they would have to purchase a bottle of Crystal Head vodka for a cool £50, and then they could get it signed and have a photo with him.

Well my friends, I’m afraid that as the ‘flounder’ of a journalist that I am, shelling out £50 for a snap with a star, was just not going to happen. But what journalists don’t have in finances, they make up for in opportunism. So when my companion returned with his signed bottle, I decided to recycle it, and went up to the bouncer controlling the door which separated the common man with the celebrity, tilted my head to one side and said in my sultriest voice:

“Hello, I’d like to have my box signed.”

And friends, in I went. Never underestimate the power of sexual suggestion, or indeed the desperation of a skint journalist trying to make their way in the industry!

 

Dan A