31 August 2009

Catching Up...

I won't say "eek" - I've been hauled up by the Majumdars on that one - but I need some expression of surprise. After a month of pretty good, regular blogging even while travelling, August should have been a steady month of catching up on foodie things, even more regular posts and trying to secure more income. And it's been a bit of a fail on all fronts. The month has whizzed by, every possible commissioning editor appears to have gone on holiday and, while the eating opps have been pretty good, I've been a very bad blogger.

So, over the next few days - or possibly weeks, if September flies by like August - I'm going to play catch-up and rattle through them in no particular date order. Starting with the most recent, another little jaunt to Scotland.

Following a very pleasant surprise call from the chaps at Square Mile, I found myself stepping into the breach on a couple of things. First of all, the chance to speak to a very interesting chap called Stephen Bolger who's heading up the European operation of Crushpad, a Californian company that gives anyone (with a reasonable disposable income) the chance to live the winemaking dream. Well, for 300 bottles at least.

In a true coals to Newcastle move, Bolger's set up the Bordeaux operation and Square Mile will be making their own wine in the coming months. I'm hoping to blag my way onto one of their visits - if you're reading this chaps, I'm happy to carry the bags - but I'll try and put links to their reports as they happen.

It wasn't much of a chore, but the next bit of deputising was even less stressful. Would I mind flying to Aberdeen, staying at the Macallan Estate, drink interesting whiskies, eat some lovely food and, er, drive some rather shiny Bentleys around Speyside?

It was every bit as enjoyable as it sounds. A fine bunch of people, and a marriage of lifestyles and passion - single malt and engineering - that complimented each other perfectly.

Food included an excellent meal to mark the "Six Pillars" of Macallan's production, with each course matched by a different single malt, lunch at the newly Michelin-starred Boath House, and a Top Three of All Time roast beef experience at Innes House.

Here's a few pics of those. Pay particular attention to the olive choux buns at Boath House. Wibble.

All utterly delicious and I'll be writing more about Boath House asap. However, the stand out bit of eating? A completely unexpected homemade cakey elevenses up The Cairngorms.

The big driving day saw us whizzing through some beautiful countryside in a GT, a GTC and a Flying Spur. We all took it in turns to do 20 miles or so in each car. Could I justify spending the money - a chunky six figures - on a car like that? Probably not, although I'd like to wealthy enough to at least be able to consider it one day. Mind you, if I was Bill Gates wealthy I'd have taken the GT home. On a very quiet straight road, James Barclay talked me through how to drop the car into sports mode and put my foot down from a standing start. It hit 60 in the blink of an eye, then apparently skipped straight to 80 in around four seconds, I'd estimate. Unbelievable.

What made the speed more noticeable was the stomach full of lovely cakes. There's a little restaurant at the top of the Cairngorms and they'd put on a bit of a spread.

I say "a bit of a spread" but hell, my grandmother would have been proud of serving that little lot. Scones, cheese scones, tiffin, millionaire's shortbread, sticky toffee cakes... Even the Scottish Victoria sponges - one layer of sponge, then loads of buttercream to appease the Scottish sweettooth - were pretty good and I'm a Victoria Sponge snob.

21 August 2009

Daily Xpress

The word that sprang to mind was "yowsa". Not a particularly good word - it's certainly no "serendipity" for example - but I'm going with gut instinct. Besides, "yowsa" covers me in terms of value and cumulative spiciness.

The dish that inspired the involuntary "yowsa"? A lunchtime thali special from Meera's Xpress in Finchley. I'd often stopped in there for excellent and excellent value Indian snackage - I'm a bhel puri addict, me - and, indeed, have been discussing a nibbling meander through the menu with Celia and the knife-sharpening Will for a while. However, I wasn't aware until the rain forced me in today that they did the lunchtime thali thing.

It was a dangerous discovery. The thali includes a dumpling and some little paratha-style breads

a vegetarian curry, a generous spoonful of aloo, a scoop of rice

and a fine, if slightly runny, daal. It was, in a word, delicious. Or, in several words, utterly delicious, properly spicy and very satisfying. And I can't think of a word that suitably describes the value other than "yowsa": the whole thing set me back a princely £2.99.

Yeah. I know. I questioned it too. After a very average quick supper at Imli last night - did I get them on a bad night or are standards slipping? - which came in around £15 a head, the Meera's lunch was always going to look great value at one tenth of the cost. However, I wasn't expecting it to taste around ten times as good.

Basically there's only one downside here. I work from home and probably can't do a domestic lunch for much less than they're charging for the thali. I'm going to be on first name terms with them by the end of next week...

6 August 2009

Simon Says... Brunch.

If there was a single eating experience that summed up Vegas, it had to be brunch at Simon.

Every Sunday, Kerry Simon's eponymous restaurant at the Palms becomes the venue for a fun, frivolous, camp and witty party. There's no other word. It's brunch with an ironic wink, where the healthy rubs shoulders with the excessive and the celebs rub shoulders with the normal folk and it's all done in the best possible taste. In pyjamas. Customers are encouraged to wear whatever they sleep in (provided it's decent, one assumes), and staff do the same. Well, with the exception of the ladies running the Bloody Mary station who are dressed as nurses. Hey, it's Vegas, they do that sort of thing...

Best of all though, it's not just the novelty of the apparel that would keep you coming back to Simon. The food's damn good and, at $38 for all-you-can-eat, plus ten bucks apiece for unlimited Bellinis or Bloody Marys, it's excellent value.

The choice is breathtaking, from the various stations - fruit, baked goods, paninis, (excellent) sushi, cereals - to the hot menu which includes sections like White Trash (fried chicken and waffles, pigs in blankets, ribs, etc). When the French Toast turns out to be made with brioche and covered in Frosties, you know you're in the hands of a crowd-pleasing master. By the time you spot the Dessert section of the menu - puddings! for brunch! - the rock 'n' rolling Mr Simon can do little wrong. His thinking was to make the restaurant look and feel like a 1950s home, hence nostaligia-ridden desserts that include coconut snowballs, toffee popcorn candy floss and marshmallow-and-cereal cake combos. As a sucker for classic Americana and straightforward food, I was giggling and stuffing my face virtually simultaneously. And, as a result, occasionally apologising to the people sitting opposite.

If you've only got one day in Vegas, make it a Sunday and go to Simon. If you've got longer, make sure you stay over a Sunday and go to Simon. It's a waistline threatening no-brainer. I think the below tells the story better...