Ham and High Masthead
Restaurant Reviews

Joseph Connolly reviews a London restaurant every week in the Hampstead & Highgate Express (Ham & High) which is published on Thursdays.

 Reviews 1-320

320: Estancia Brasil July 16 2015

Okay – here’s news! Get ready either to weep uncontrollably, or else go nuts with happiness and celebrate beyond the bounds of reason: this is my final restaurant review for the Ham&High. So ... how are you feeling, my dear ...? Quietly sobbing – wrenching at the roots of your hair? Or maybe already planning the party of the year. Equally possibly, you couldn’t give a sod either way. Well whatever you feel, kiddies, here is the fact of the matter. You are currently reading review number 320, the culmination of more than six years toil at the gastronomic coalface. But the dear old Ham&High is not to be abandoned: I shall return to haunt you on the first Thursday of every month with a diary of sundry observations and anecdotes, local and less so, foodie and otherwise, and still popping in to restaurants around Hampstead – so if you have any tips or suggestions, do please be sure to keep them to yourself. [download PDF]


319: Tredwells July 9 2015

The St Martin’s Lane area of Covent Garden is becoming really very foodie: all the usual chains, of course, as well as the inexplicably cultish burger joint Five Guys (always a queue) – but also quite a few interesting and different places such as Bill’s, which I reviewed last week … if not the absolutely dire Scoff & Banter, whose tombstone I erected not too long ago, and across whose memory we draw not so much a veil as an iron curtain, while we mutter our final farewell. The glittering stars, of course, are J. Sheekey and the newly revamped Ivy. And now look who’s here: no less than Marcus Wareing. Well – not literally: he’s still cooking (daily, and fantastically well) at his eponymous restaurant in the Berkeley Hotel … but Tredwell’s is the second of his largely English diffusion lines, the first being the rather jolly Gilbert Scott in the St Pancras Hotel... [download PDF]


318: Bill's July 2 2015

New and stupid trends in eating continue to be unleashed upon our apprehensively blinking and frankly gastronomically sated nation… but for nation, actually, read London. If you’re opening somewhere new in a ‘cool’ and ‘edgy’ part of the capital (i.e until recently a no-go slum) you need a gimmick. Everyone long ago ran out of things that are actually new, and so hybrids, mergers and fusions are the order of the day. Cronuts – a croissant/doughnut compromise – are just SO 2014: we now have the crogel (croissant/bagel) and the duffin (doughnut crossed with muffin – desperate, isn’t it?). The latest, I hesitate to tell you, is a dowich – doughnut and sandwich, you see, and this… oh God : you know what?... [download PDF]


317: Spaghetti House June 25 2015

Are you a collector? More of a hoarder, maybe? Or do you hold both inclinations in contempt, regarding all possessions as unnecessary lumber? You might be a minimalist, possibly, to whom the glimpse of a utensil in an anaemic kitchen or a toy in the nursery would be utter anathema. Well I’ll tell you something about this week’s lunch guest, Robert Opie: he ain’t no minimalist. Collecting might be said to be in his genes, being the son of the justly revered Iona and Peter Opie, who amassed a fine collection of rare books and were the joint authors of many classics such as The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren and The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. They collected for posterity an irreplaceable trove of folklore, children’s games and sayings – the seemingly commonplace and everyday – and in a different context, that is precisely what Robert has devoted his life to. He is the founder of the Museum of Brands – a unique and magnificent collection of advertising and packaging that truly does reflect the sociological development and enthusiasms of this country better than most other museums put together... [download PDF]


316: Percy & Founders June 18 2015

Whenever I hear of a brand new restaurant in a brand new development, my heart hits the floor, this briskly followed by my soul. It’s that word ‘development’ that does it: we used to talk of buildings and streets, but now it’s all just a development. Which means lacking in all human scale or sensitivity, and obviously insultingly ugly. This one – Fitzroy Place – is on the site of the old Middlesex Hospital, and although it’s as stark and slablike as you might expect, it could have been a whole lot worse because the Candy brothers had been after the site – they of the grotesque trilogy of Knightsbridge eyesores all bought by foreign billionaires who don’t live there. And they wanted to call it NoHo Square. Oh God … can you imagine anything more self-consciously wince-making and faux-Manhattan hip than NoHo Square? Anyway, the site went elsewhere, and amid the facelessness the rather lovely hospital chapel has been retained – not, I imagine, due to the aesthetic sensibilities of the developers so much as the fact that it is Grade II* listed... [download PDF]


315: Le Pain Quotidien June 11 2015

In terms of regret, I am not as one with Edith Piaf – more of a Sinatra man: because regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention. Except for one, which I’m about to mention now: I wholeheartedly regret not having photographed every single shop front in Hampstead Village when I was but an infant, and then rephotographing each of them whenever they changed hands or had a revamp. What an archive that would be! Are you ancient enough to remember Chic in Heath Street? Next to Iberica and another little shop called Choses: a seller of attractive and largely useless objects, which these days seems to be most shops’ speciality. Boots, with its upstairs lending library. Maxwell’s, one of London’s first American hamburger joints that was in Heath Street too: the largest premises in the Village, apart from Waterstone’s, and now mysteriously empty and derelict for decades. And talking of Waterstone’s… that used to be Woolworth’s, and then a supermarket called Vinegar Joe... [download PDF]


314: The Gay Hussar June 4 2015

The novel is dead. Masculinity …? Chivalry…? Dead. Pop music? Oh, just so dead. Nonsense though really, isn’t it? Good God, some people even think that Elvis is dead! And one other very much alive and continually self-reinventing thing of whose irretrievable demise we keep on hearing … is Soho. I’ve been hearing about the death of Soho for decades, and every time I go there, dressed in suitably funereal weeds, I look about me, see and feel the vibrancy, and laugh out loud. Which, in Soho, goes completely unnoticed as the streets are filled with people doing loony things. The latest Soho obituary arose because of the demise of Madame Jo-Jo’s, a very jolly drag burlesque and watering hole on the site of the old Raymond Revuebar. Well it was a blow, no doubt – but Dean Street still has Sunset Strip, and ‘adult’ shops still abound – selling all sorts of things I couldn’t begin to understand. More concerning was the closure of The Colony Room some years ago – that bilious green upper room where lots of well known artists and writers would congregate, sometimes merrily. It was best when it was shoulder-to-shoulder packed out, because as people began to leave and the pressure eased, everyone left would tend to fall over... [download PDF]


313: Franco Manca May 28 2015

Sumer is icumen in – lhude sing cuccu …! No indeed, they don’t write songs like that any more – and I have no doubt at all that these very lyrics written in the thirteenth century by somebody or other (nobody quite knows who, nor, one suspects, cares) have been gaily tripping off your tongue of late, now that all the pretty flowers are forcing their way through the sod, and the sun doth shine upon us. And so we turn our thoughts to the great outdoors – we covet the ghastly restaurant table on a busy pavement, with passers-by knocking our plate askew and laughing at us while we struggle to cope with pasta. Men – of course, men – will rediscover the Paleo Diet, whereby you return to your caveman roots and eat accordingly – although Waitrose don’t run to dinosaur, woolly mammoth and bison, so a certain amount of compromise is called for. Also due for earnest rediscovery are foraging and, naturally, the barbecue... [download PDF]


312: La Golosa May 21 2015

My guest for a Hampstead Village lunch this week is Tony Brophy – a finance director for various housing associations, and long-time resident of Frognal. And being a resident of Frognal, his Catholic parish church is the beautiful St Mary’s, in Holly Place. I mention all this because Tony has just reminded me that when I reviewed the nearby Holly Bush pub, Monsignor Rowland, the parish priest, had been so grossly offended by my language that he was moved to write in protest to the Ham & High. As I recall, I had written the word Jesus. Or was it Christ …? Possibly both... [download PDF]


311: Orso May 14 2015

Foie gras. There – said it: got it out of the way right at the beginning so that those of you who are actively enraged and appalled by even the sight of the very words by now will have angrily binned the newspaper, while energetically planning an indignant letter to the editor about how foie gras is the most heinous practice in the world today (these people do have a tendency to overstate their case) and further, how I should be sacked as restaurant critic for ever mentioning such beastliness (in fact, why don’t you just sack him anyway? I’m just so fed up to the back teeth with that bloody Connolly, frankly)... [download PDF]


310: L'Artista May 7 2015

Have you heard George Harrison’s song Going Down to Golders Green ...? No you haven’t, because it was never released. The Beatles’ company Apple used to manage a group called Badfinger who all lived there, apparently, and this gave rise to the song – which, due to its non-release, proved to be not so much deathless as lifeless. And what of Golders Green these days? Lifeless? Well, Many moons ago Brent Cross well and truly put the boot into the high street, no question – but how is it bearing up now? It’s unfortunate really that in many people’s minds Golders Green is associated with one thing only: the Crematorium. Who hasn’t attended a service there? Many local worthies were honoured there for the last time: Freud, Pavlova, Michael Foot, Kingsley Amis and, more recently, Amy Winehouse... [download PDF]


309: Scoff & Banter April 30 2015

Disaster. Oh God yes – sometimes, despite all my careful planning and fine intentions, I am prey to a queasy feeling that I teeter upon the verge of disaster. The awful thing is, my instinct is unerringly sound ... and so, I am afraid, it was just the other day. Now look: I am lucky enough to know a good few amusing and interesting people who are eminent in their field, so I don’t just ask anyone to lunch, and book somewhere handy. I try to match suitability – and, in common with any host, I want my guests to enjoy themselves. Yes – and hence to Scoff & Banter: a delightful name, don’t you think? Could serve as my epitaph. Anyway, the highly respected theatre producer Roger Chapman – in charge of touring productions at the National Theatre – is a man who likes his scoff, and the banter between us is always lively ... so where better? [download PDF]


308: Crocker's Folly April 23 2015

Do you like a bargain? You probably do. This review is not about bargains. There exists in London a dim-witted so-called ‘elite’ who will only eat in restaurants or drink in clubs or buy in shops or fly on airlines whose unique selling point is quite deliriously stupid expense. Long ago, when I had the Flask Bookshop in Hampstead, there were very few such people in NW3, NW1 and NW8 – while now we’re knee-deep in them, of course. But one such did unwittingly stray into the shop and was extremely interested in a beautiful art book he wished to give to someone as a special present. The trouble was, though, that it simply wasn’t expensive enough. Ever helpful, I offered to instantly double the price, but it was still no go. And so here was an early forerunner of all those morons on Ibiza eager to spray jeroboams of only Crystal and Krug: they wouldn’t waste anything cheap... [download PDF]


307: Boulevard Brasserie April 16 2015

Style. Having commenced with this little word, you may well be suspicious that all I am about to do now is shamelessly plug my brand new novel of the same name … but honestly, you would be quite wrong about that. It is not even my intention to so much as mention in passing my brand new novel of the same name: the fact that I have just published a brand new novel called Style is no more than the merest coincidence. For I mean to kick off this review with a foray into style, as in clothes. Not fashion, you understand – nothing to do with glowering models who are no more than a pair of legs like tent poles surmounted by a couple of cheekbones and angry druggy eyes as they threaten you with an aggressive handbag, no no. Nothing about the front row with Anna Wintour in her comely bob and ski-goggles, amid a yawn of the usual suspects such as Naomi and Kate and Stella and Mario and bloody Harry Styles... [download PDF]


306: Spielburger April 9 2015

You have to hand it to America …! Well … you don’t, actually – but in terms of commitment to their traditions, they do leave us standing. In the States, the Stars & Stripes is everywhere. Here, the Union Flag flies atop a few parliamentary buildings and in Carnaby Street, as a decorative 1960s throwback (while the Cross of St George is confined to white vans and acting as an impromptu cloak for incoherent fans of ‘the beautiful game’). When the Pledge of Allegiance is quoted, all Americans of all ages and persuasions leap to their feet and place their hand upon their heart. On the rare occasions when the national anthem is played in Blighty, people scramble for the exit. American people glory in American cars, clothes, television, films and cowboys. Such jingoism knows no bounds: the great majority does not possess a passport, there exists no language other than what they are pleased to call English, while foreign culture is not just invisible, but a contradiction in terms. Okay – it’s extreme, but we could do with a little bit more of it... [download PDF]


305: Ivy Market Grill April 2 2015

The Ivy, of course, was the huge success story of the 1990s – for many years London’s most famous restaurant by a mile, and legendarily impossible to book unless you were a celeb, or else were willing to have lunch at 3.45 on a Monday in four months’ time. The opening of The Club at the Ivy rather clipped the restaurant’s wings, and since then there have been so many fashionable openings as to rather eclipse the Ivy’s once invincible supremacy. Which maybe explains why it is undergoing a refurbishment so radical as to appear to be almost wilfully destructive: babies and bathwater easily spring to mind. Everything we all loved and fondly remembered about the old place has just been auctioned off – the artwork, the silver … not just the starry glass-panelled door that formed the background to a million paparazzi shots, but even the doormat beyond it. I think that all we might be left with are the diamond stained glass windows... [download PDF]


304: Bellaluna March 26 2015

Should you happen to be a doctor or a lawyer, you will be most depressingly familiar with people buttonholing you and demanding free advice: precisely why doctors and lawyers of my acquaintance, when dragooned into such grisly affairs as dinner parties, will frequently lie about their livelihoods, claiming to be refuse disposal officers, or milkmen: no one has ever been known to attempt to extract advice from either. If, however, you happen to be a restaurant critic, apart from the one, eternal and exceedingly tedious, not to say moronic, enquiry (“So what’s the best restaurant in the world then, ay …?”) what you get is advice thrust upon you in the form of not just recommendations, but the urgent truth that I just have GOT to visit and review a certain restaurant because if I fail to, then what future life is left to me will be nought but a tattered and hollow thing, hardly worth the living... [download PDF]


303: The Duke of Wellington March 19 2015

“All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is the endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do. That’s what I call ‘guessing what is on the other side of the hill’”. Now although this very easily might have been said by a restaurant critic (every meal only barely informed by experience, though always bolstered by a determined optimism), these words were in fact uttered by Wellington, the Iron Duke himself. And who better to be quoting, in this bicentenary year of the Battle of Waterloo? Desperately sad, I thought, that the eighth Duke, Arthur Valerian Wellesley, died on the very last day of 2014, thus missing out on not just the 200th anniversary of his ancestor’s glorious triumph, but his own 100th birthday. Fate, you see? So often a cruel and twisted force... [download PDF]


302: The Grill at 424 March 12 2015

From the moment I first sit down in a restaurant, I am anticipating nothing but pleasure. And although such anticipation is rather too often dashed to the floor in a thousand jagged shards, still I never enter the restaurant thinking Oh my God here we go again – another bloody menu, another bloody meal. I remember the late Alan Whicker once saying to me that each and every time he walks into an airport or a railway station, he experienced the same fantastic tingle of excitement. It is the same story when I lunch with the wonderful Guardian drama critic Michael Billington: after all these decades of reviewing plays, the second the lights go down he is gripped by the thrill of expectation. So it is with me, really – it is fair to say that after a comparatively paltry six years in the job, I am still an enthusiastic eater-outer. But by the time I take my seat, all sorts of fears and observations, good and bad, will have flickered through my mind... [download PDF]


301: The Greek Larder March 5 2015

Trends, trends, trends – that’s what currently the London restaurant scene is really all about. Tipped for later this year are alcoholic milkshakes (oh yuk), gourmet fried chicken (yum yum) and poutine. Poutine is a Canadian comfort food made up of chips with a heavy overlay of gravy and cheese – this proving that Canadians really are so terminally bored that they simply can’t wait for a naturally occurring coronary, but feel they must egg it along. And if it isn’t trends, then it’s tweaks – as demonstrated in the brand new Greek Larder in brand new King’s Cross. And Lordy, if any cuisine on earth was needing all the tweaks it could get, then it’s got to be Greek. So here we have a large and airy corner glass cube more or less opposite the new Guardian building, each side lined with shelves displaying attractively packaged Greek produce: olives, olive oil, tomato paste … that’s about it. Oh and champagne-looking Greek sparkling wine, for a bottle of which they fondly imagine some passing crazy person is going to part with forty-five quid... [download PDF]


300: Pesantissimo February 26 2015

Okay, folks: contain your excitement, please – for here it is! My 300th restaurant review for the Ham & High (that adds up to more than a third of a million words … what on earth am I doing with my life …?). I offered you readers the chance to write in and become my lunch guest, and write in you did. Such varied letters, as ever: one read ‘I would like lunch. Where will we go?’ Not a winning approach, really. Another insisted that we just HAD to meet because we were bound to bond because I am an Aries, and it is written in the stars. There was the lady who was simply desperate for lunch – nothing to do with me, it was just that she hadn’t been into a restaurant in more than twenty years: sad, but hardly conducive. The triumphant letter was modest, and very pleasant – and so the unfeasibly fortunate winner is … one Adam Weitzmann! I knew that Adam grew up locally … but I was unaware of the coincidences that had unknowingly touched our lives along the way... [download PDF]


299: Hook February 19 2015

London, in terms of restaurants, is still the reigning champion of the world, and evidently keen to retain the crown forever. It’s not just the number, but the sheer diversity. London has always been good at diversity, of course – though some might argue that we have maybe rather overdone this one great melting pot idea, for at times it could seem that it is the very pot itself that might be melting – and what will we be left with then …? Everyone neck-deep in a hot and uncontrollable soup that threatens to engulf us. But let us now tone down severely such vividly purple imagery, and focus simply upon the current restaurant scene. In 2014, there were 148 new openings, while just forty-seven closed down (all this excluding pubs and coffee places) so that means that we have a hundred more than before: you wouldn’t really think there could be room, would you really?... [download PDF]


298: The Colony Grill Room at The Beaumont February 5 2015

Connolly at The Colony: a phrase best dealt with before one takes a drink. Here is not what used to be quaintly referred to as a nudist colony (and it isn’t only you and the photographer who is mighty relieved to hear it) and nor the Colony Room, of murky Soho renown. This biliously green upper floor on Dean Street closed a couple of years ago, this spawning a collective and fondly alcoholic tide of memory encompassing a million tales of lubricious behaviour, joyful profanity, high jinks, low gossip and famous artists and writers falling not just over, but also very deeply into debt... [download PDF]


297: The Pembroke Castle February 5 2015

School dinners: one of the very most lowering phrases known to man – not that that’s what they were called in the schools that I attended. Nor did we have ‘dinner ladies’: the insufferably patrician headmaster of St Anthony’s School in Fitzjohn’s Avenue, back in the days of the Industrial Revolution, casually referred to them as ‘servants’. The lunches there in my time were dire beyond imagination, though mercifully minuscule. A slice of Spam and half a boiled potato. Full stop. That was one of the better ones, in that there was nothing actually to gag on. The dreaded Friday ‘cheese pie’ literally made me retch – though the openly sadistic wife of said insufferably patrician headmaster would stand over me until I had swallowed it all, and then became promptly sick... [download PDF]


296: NW3 Bar & Kitchen January 29 2015

At every dawning of a brand new year, people’s thoughts will turn towards the shedding of festive weight, the eschewal of alcohol and the reining in of expenses – because the credit card bills now in may best be described as titanic. Foregoing the booze in January strikes me as unnecessarily masochistic: it’s the very time of year that can stand enlivening by a stiffener or so, the occasional belter. Diet …? Well fine, if you want to … but you still have to eat … although now there is also this factor of economy to deal with. And this is why restaurateurs (and cabbies) do not enjoy January at all: a collective frugality does not pay the bills... [download PDF]


295: Scott's January 22 2015

At the wonderful exhibition of Rembrandt’s late work at the National Gallery, people were holding up their tablets in front of their faces, touching the screen and capturing a masterpiece forever, without actually glancing at the original for so much as a nanosecond. On the one hand, it is always encouraging to see these mobs of people who have paid to be there (even if the younger ones are blind to gallery etiquette and simply stand in front of you) … but they will keep taking the tablets. Just think: if such a device had existed in Rembrandt’s day, he needn’t even have bothered: hold the Apple gizmo in front of his face and bingo! One selfie-portrait in no time flat. And nor would all those lucrative commissions from stern and fur-clad bearded men have rolled in... [download PDF]


294: The Bountiful Cow January 15 2015

The Old School Tie: you still do hear so very much about it – and particularly if it happens to be the Etonian variety, because toff-bashing has become a perennially popular national sport. Sweet little furry foxes and badgers must be left alone to gambol at will, but upper class humans are fair, as it were, game – they can be hounded to death. But how strong is it, this mythical bond that supposedly links for life? Does it really translate into Masonic handshakes, nods and winks, jobs for the boys? In the case of Eton, probably … but with the rather humbler public schools such as my own, I really don’t think so. A club will forge a far stronger bond between members because by definition they will have much in common, and have actively striven to be a part of this thing. But a school … one is sent there randomly by one’s parents, that decision becoming the only common factor. Which is why, having left The Oratory in Oxfordshire sometime around the death of Queen Victoria, I never troubled to keep up with anyone there, nor to revisit the place... [download PDF]


293: Red Lion & Sun January 8 2015

We British seem to like Paris an awful lot more than French people do. They will grudgingly acknowledge its enduring beauty, while dismissing it as just a museum – not a place to seriously inhabit, but simply a chocolate box magnet for tourists. Well I’m one of those, of course – a tourist – so I just love it: the Eurostar, the restaurants, the fabulous avenues, the restaurants, the glamour, St Germain, the restaurants (and only whisper softly the truth that on the whole, London restaurants are a good deal better). I also love the fact that France in general, and Paris in particular, takes writers and writing far more seriously that does London’s so-called literary establishment. Long interviews with authors, and not just film stars. A year ago, a French TV station sent a crew to Hampstead to make a shortish film about me – and that ain’t never going to happen in Blighty, matey... [download PDF]




292: 2014 Restaurant Roundup December 18 2014

One two three. This is not a musician’s excitedly beaty count-in to the intro of a peppy song: why would I burden you with that? No: 123 is the number of times that this year I have lunched or dined in a restaurant. Crumbs. Forty-nine of these are accounted for by the weekly reviews that have appeared in this paper… but where can the remaining seventy-four have sprung from? Well – life goes like that. Or mine does, anyway. In the spring I published The A-Z of Eating Out, and that entailed a meal or two. Then there are clubs and old favourites that one must attend to … the odd surprise invitation, the occasional whim... [download PDF]


291: McDonald's December 12 2014

I’m slummin’ it. Yes indeed: this week I am hunkering down with the street folk in the Finchley Road McDonald’s, following its recent reopening after a complete refurbishment – this maybe to celebrate the company’s forty years in Britain. Back in 1974, Woolwich had the honour of becoming home to the world’s 3000th outpost of the Golden Arches, and the first over here. This Finchley Road branch can’t have been far behind: certainly I remember my daughter driving me utterly crazy with her obsession with collecting all the (often Disney) toys given away in Happy Meals in order to complete the endless sets, and then, years later, my son doing the same damn thing (often Lego)... [download pdf]


290: The Queens December 4 2014

Money …! It’s fashionable again…! Yes indeedy, after so many years of shamefacedly cowering amid the shadows, money is proud and money is back – strutting its stuff, energetically flexing plastic and scattering the bling. The catering business is always an extremely sound barometer of the economic climate: if tables are available at the very best restaurants, things are bad. If enticing deals and complimentary booze are on offer, things are very bad. But the (excellent) Hawksmoor chain reports that bankers are now ‘upgrading their steaks’ and are marrying them with £100 bottles of wine. Caviar is booming too: you can buy a kilo of the very best stuff in Harrods for not much shy of £20,000 (not a misprint) while in Devon they are farming their own at a tenth of the price (i.e still a bleeding fortune)... [download PDF]


289: The Rex Whistler Restaurant, Tate Modern November 27 2014

Art – I’m going to talk about art. I’m also going to talk about food and drink – review the restaurant, usual thing, you know how it goes ... but first I’m going to talk about art. Because we went to the Tate, you see, my wife and I – Tate Britain, the proper one. You may recall my scathing review not too long ago of Tate Modern where we ate, but not very much because it was dreadful and took a fortnight to arrive. Ah yes but the restaurant in Tate Britain is famous, you see: the Rex Whistler Restaurant, it’s called – due to that artist’s absolutely glorious and romantic full-wrap mural. So I’m going to tell you about the food there, and also their legendary wine list ... yes but first, I’m going to talk about art. And also: non-art. Late Turner is the exhibition we actually went to see: it is subtitled ‘Painting Set Free’ – whereupon my wife wanted to know when we would get our free painting set. I’ve always loved this artist, and what he had in common with his great contemporary – our local lad, John Constable – was his obsession with turbulence, weather and (crucially) light... [download PDF]


288: Lima Floral November 20 2014

The Next New Thing: that’s what the foodies are constantly in quest of, apparently - though usually this news is put out by barren PRs with hollow eyes who are paid to desperately push the Next New Thing. I myself – and I can hardly be alone – am generally content with the Last Old Thing, because look: it will never let you down. But foodies are as spoiled as modern travellers – those who are done with visiting all the beautiful places the world has to offer, and are eagerly seeking out war-torn hell-holes, crime zones and hotbeds of disease. While the foodies scour the planet for esoterica – especially restaurants serving anything but recognisably appetising food. And at the moment, they are having something of a field day: grasshoppers are, dare I say, flying off the shelves. Ants and crickets are having a moment... [download PDF]


287: The Grafton November 13 2014

Food trends. There never used to be food trends, but now there are – to keep the idiots happy. And all these trends don’t actually have to be nice, or anything – simply new. Like Seitan, for instance: wheat meat. Oh yes, I am not kidding: a lump of gluten masquerading as either beef or duck. Or how about chocolate with garlic? Yuk? I should say so. Chips with cheese curds? Vile enough? If not, try goats’ cheese crammed intoa choux pastry éclair, and glazed with balsamic vinegar: all these trends are hot right now – said eclairs being available at Harrods, should you be feeling insane... [download PDF]


286: The Bull Steak Expert November 6 2014

In the Beatles song Taxman, the late George Harrison very memorably warned us against the beastly business of dying, because the government would be sure to tax the pennies on our eyes. It being traditional, apparently, to weight the eyelids of corpses with a couple of coppers – ever see it done? No, neither have I – but then I don’t much associate with the recently deceased, it has to be admitted. But the point here is not the stiff, but the pennies. A desperate and rapacious government (and when is it not, regardless of its persuasion?) is always paying out vast amounts of taxpayers’ money to creative accountants and murky think-tanks to come with ever more lucrative devices whereby the taxpayers may be screwed for more and ever vaster amounts of money. And the latest mooted iniquity is the so-called ‘Mansion Tax’... [download PDF]


285: The Salt House October 30 2014

The Salt House is in Abbey Road, though no relation to Sergeant Pepper. There, you see: a restaurant in Abbey Road, and I get in a reference to The Beatles in the very first sentence. And talking of old music, do tell me please what all the following artistes have in common: George Gershwin, John Mayall, Culture Club, Status Quo, Cole Porter, Marty Wilde, the Manfreds, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr, the Moody Blues, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Tony Bennett, PJ Proby, the Searchers, UB40 and Neil Sedaka. Give up? Well I’ll tell you: they are all, over the coming autumn and winter, performing “live” in London. And quite a few of them are still even breathing. But back, for now, to the St John’s Wood eatery... [download PDF]


284: Luigi's October 23 2014

I've just been thrown out of NW3 restaurant. Never happened before. The whole story might be seen to be really rather amusing, in one way, though also it served as a masterclass in how not to run a restaurant, while wilfully alienating a reviewer. I am not now talking about Luigi’s, as the strapline atop this piece might have led you to believe: Luigi’s, that came later. No, I am talking about another tiny Italian restaurant further up the Finchley Road: La Voss, on the site of the old Thai Pepper and opposite the Odeon. It says on their website: ‘‘a warm welcome awaits you at the new family run restaurant in the heart of Swiss Cottage’ – which didn’t prepare my wife and myself for the unsmiling and rather imperious waitress at the door... [download PDF]


283: Bacco October 16 2014

'How to Become a Successful Writer!' That’s how the headline reads. Have you seen them, these damned condescending adverts? You must have: they’re everywhere. Here’s how the copy continues: ‘If you’ve ever fancied being a writer but don’t know where to start – here’s the answer. A home-study Creative Writing course that teaches ordinary people how to write, get published and earn extra income’. Oh God, oh God ... where does one even begin with this ...? It is all so very deeply insulting to professionals, as well as being perfectly laughable in its easy presumption. The very idea that you might just ‘fancy’ being a writer, as one might maybe fancy a bag of crisps or a flutter on the lottery. And if you ‘don’t know where to start’, then why on earth should you? Don’t start, for God’s sake, and spare us all. Can you imagine if the word ‘writer’ were to be substituted with ‘plumber’? Or neuro-surgeon? Classical pianist? Prime Minister? Do you ‘fancy’ it? And don’t know where to start?... [download PDF]


282: Frederick's October 9 2014

So what did you do this summer? Was it fun? Did you go somewhere madly exotic? Did you manage to dream up some form of ruinously expensive entertainment for every single day in order to ensure that the kiddies were bloated with amusement,not to say burgers? Or was it a staycation? In other words, doing what you always do the whole year round with added selfies, and opting to call a fortnight of it a staycation ...? Barbecues? Were you, in that case, felled by food poisoning? Because the latest government advice is to not just cook your meat in the oven in the kitchen before you recook it on the barbecue, but to repeatedly wash your hands at every stage of the process. Which everyone does, don’t they ...? Or maybe, if you’re famous enough, you have publicly undertaken this bloody ice bucket challenge. Whereby a vat of ice water is dumped upon the head of some or other gurning celeb, and all in the name of charity. Because famous people will go to any lengths at all for a good cause, so long as the gesture guarantees blanket exposure in all the dailies and the six o’clock news, while incurring no expense whatever... [download PDF]


281: Compagnie Des Vins Surnaturels October 2 2014

Neal's Yard in Covent Garden is terribly famous, largely for its splendid cheese shop. It is also in the Borough of Camden: not a lot of people know that. The street sign is rather beautiful – far more so, certainly, than any you will see in Hampstead. The Yard itself is just that: a lovely little enclave of old warehouses, now transformed with colour and grooviness, quite as it might have been done in the 1960s – except that now it is viewed as being prime real estate, and worth trillions. There are bamboos planted into brightly painted oil drums, and a plaque commemorating the fact that it was here that the crew of Monty Python gathered weekly in order to become very silly indeed. One little shop is called Walk-In Back Rub, a sign in the window making everything clearer: “You can literally walk in and we will rub your back. You don’t have to take your clothes off.” It would never take off in Soho... [download PDF]


280: L'escargot September 25 2014

Should I ever come to write a memoir (can you wait?) there would have to be a chapter entitled The Soho Years – these to roughly span the decade 1993 – 2003. Not that Soho was unknown to me before – and certainly I’ve been acquainted with it since – but during this period I was, it is fair to say, an habitué ... though not, I hope, a ‘character’. There is never a shortage of people in this miraculous little enclave (mostly men, though not exclusively) anxious to be seen as a ‘Soho character’. Bacon was one. The ghastly Jeffrey Bernard another. Dan Farson. Ian Board. I could go on – but the common denominator was ‘drunk’. And loud. And abusive. Soho, fortunately, is a hugely forgiving place: come the dawn, all is expunged by the growing sun, rinsed away by the dew, and annihilated by the hangover. No one bears a grudge, no one points the accusing finger ... this very largely due to the fact that no one remembers a single bloody thing about it... [download PDF]


279: Odette's September 18 2014

Here is my declension for the verb ‘‘to welsh’’: I would never, You might well, He probably welshes all of the time, and She … well, she’s Shirley Bassey. They hate it, you know, the Welsh, the fact that ‘‘welsh’’ means to renege upon an agreement. I believe that as a nation, they once campaigned to have the word expunged from the dictionary – and, as usual when the Welsh ever voice an opinion, their clamour was completely ignored. I rather love the accent, I have to admit, but I have found that as a race, they are best avoided when they’ve had a few drinks: not because they become pugilistic, no no no – but just as every Irishman sincerely believes himself to be a humourist and a poet... so the Welsh, in party mode, become quite utterly convinced that they are in fact Katherine Jenkins, or Charlotte Church, or even Tom Jones … [download PDF]


278: Ottolenghi September 11 2014

I cannot recall when last I enjoyed myself quite so much at lunchtime, having actually endured a perfectly useless lunch. The pleasure was wholly down to the wit and sparkle of my guest, the legendary foreign reporter and journalist extraordinaire, Dame Ann Leslie … while the useless lunch was down to Ottolenghi. I know. The patron saint of North West London foodies – and this is the original Upper Street restaurant, which as early as 12.20 was packed with eager and pink-faced Islingtonian gentrifiers. Most of them queuing: for here is the beginning of the rub – because this restaurant (more of a café, really) is one of the few still remaining that seemingly delights in telling its customers precisely what they cannot do. Politely, it must be said, but with unswerving authority. And the first thing you can’t do is book a bloody table at lunchtime. Why…? “It is our policy.” So I rolled up at 12.20, to be sure of bagging a table in readiness for my guest. But no: you can’t do that... [download PDF]


277: Ostuni September 4 2014

There once was a time when an exploding cigar was thought to be a fun and rather frolicsome thing. These were actually manufactured, alongside quite a few other little pocket money japes which today might easily raise an eyebrow or so. Itching powder. Sneezing powder. Sugar that would make you froth at the mouth. Black face soap. Stink bombs. Some old favourites do still exist: a cunning simulacrum of a mouse (not the sort you click) that will leap out of a tin of peanuts, and into your face. A buzzer that guarantees the person with whom you shake hands will receive a mild electric shock. A Wrigley's chewing gum packet that is a miniature mousetrap. Not to say the hallowed tradition of the whoopee cushion, which always will appeal to the British, as Freud very probably patiently explained to us. But back to that exploding cigar: the other week some unfortunate bloke was killed as a result of his e-cigarette blowing up in his face. Many other malfunctions of these very weird devices have resulted in nasty burns - and although manufacturers claim that the worst of nicotine and tar is no longer sucked down into you, there have been no exhaustive tests as to the harmfulness of the vapour that is... [download PDF]


276: Smithy's August 28 2014

We are constantly hearing about how this great capital city of ours is “vibrant”, “dynamic” and “a melting pot”. The first two are true – vibrancy and dynamism are never far away – and the third is truer still: most basic traces of authentic Englishness have long ago been dumped into the melting pot, and now are quite indistinguishable amid the swelter and bubble of a dubious soup, best left unfathomed. What is most exciting, however, is the seemingly endless appetite for rediscovery and restoration of so many neglected treasures. Not long ago, beautiful but shabby buildings and entire terraces were routinely destroyed to make way for some fresh hell or other: nowadays, the best is lovingly and expensively preserved … though still remains diminished in every sense by the looming, vast and intrusive horror of endless misshapen, vulgar and insulting glass monoliths inflicted upon London by blind and amenable planners and megalomaniacal architects. Nowhere is this more true than within the Square Mile. I was fortunate enough the other week to have been invited to see over all the secret parts of the Old Bailey, Mansion House (this to include an audience with our charming Lord Mayor, Fiona Woolf – only the second woman to hold the office since the twelfth century), the Royal Exchange and Tower Bridge. Each is wonderful in its way – especially the absolute miracle that is Tower Bridge – but every single view is blighted by the huge, brutal and stupid glass invaders: and literally hundreds more are to come... [download PDF]


275: Tate Modern Restaurant August 21 2014

You know how some days just go so very beautifully, so seamlessly, so absolutely perfectly right from the word go? Almost as if everything has been divinely preordained, and destined for utter bliss …? Yeah well: this wasn’t one of them, matey. My wife and I were off to see the Matisse cut-outs at Tate Modern, see – and although the tower of this converted power station had been visible for ages, still our Addison Lee driver managed to drop us off in seemingly a dead end: somewhere round the back where precious deliveries were accepted and rubbish removed (and at Tate Modern, the distinction can be a close run thing). We had timed entry tickets and were horribly late, so we scooted around a maze of alleys and eventually found the rump end of the ludicrous and stupid “wobbly bridge” (which doesn’t wobble any more, but it’s still bloody stupid) and thence the entrance to the gallery. “Matisse Cut-Outs Downstairs”, it said. And the bloke down there said it was upstairs, but of course. Just got in by a whisker before the next timed mob was due to be funnelled in... [download PDF]


274: Q Grill August 14 2014

Filth. It’s all the rage. Simply anyone who is even remotely aware of the zeitgeist just has to be very heavily into filth. I am talking gastronomy, of course. It was not enough that your martini become simply dirty (by means of the addition of olive oil) and nor your burger, rotisserie chicken or pulled pork. These days, dirty is the new clean: filthy, now, is the only way to go. We are not referring to an unhygienic kitchen, rich in salmonella and eager to infect you with dysentery. We do not even mean the decidedly iffy kebab from a battered van, should you, very late one night, happen to be insane. No, what we are talking about here is meat (it’s nearly always meat) with the merciless additions of lardo, lardons, cheese, bacon, chilli and deep fried everything, all in American quantities. And when you talk of such hunker-down grub as being filthy, you mean it in a good way, of course: filthy is wicked. And the coolest restaurants even have a "secret" filthy menu: the most extreme examples (deep fried cronut, say - a combination of croissant and doughnut - with streaky bacon) will have to be requested by those in the know. Actually, even McDonald's has a secret menu - had you any idea? Why not try asking them for a McGangbang. I dare you... [download PDF]


273: Otto's August 7 2014

Fat is back! Fat is good! Fat is the new fat-free: fat, quite frankly, is now the way forward. Not actually to be a fat person, of course (that is still uncool) but simply shovelling the stuff down you – because after decades of vilification, fatty foods and full-fat milk have become the grub of choice. It doesn't clog up the arteries, is what we're now being told - and nor does it pile on the pounds like absolute arch-villain, sugar. Well who knew? But this is not the reason you should be up to your nose in fatty gourmet delectables, however - you should be eating it because you like to eat it. It's the only way. Anything you consume because it's "good for you" will not only disappoint, but - as with any duty - you will come to resent it, and it will soon anyway be declared in fact to be bad for you. Similarly, it is pointless to avoid the things you love because within them you have been told there lurks a terrible danger... because after not really very long at all they will be joyously proclaimed to be a wonder-food. In many new restaurants in London, they are literally serving fat, in the form of lardo: cured, and sometimes whipped, pig fat, spread on toast, crostini and even pizzas. The good stuff is worth it … the bad version, simply disgusting... [download PDF]


272: The Driver July 31 2014

I am perfectly accustomed to being out of kilter with most of my fellow Britons, whenever it comes to taste and predilections. I hate football. And tennis. Also cats, beer and tea. I have never owned a pair of trainers or a tracksuit – I have never even worn a T-shirt, never mind one with a slogan on it. Don’t own a duvet. Never ridden a bicycle – and nor do I drive, or take the Tube. I have never wished to visit India, let alone Thailand. I did not vote for Tony Blair. I have never bought a Lottery ticket, nor bet on a horse. I find Jane Austen a complete and utter bore. Likewise Tolkien. I have never read a Harry Potter – I have never watched an episode of EastEnders. I do not think that Muhammad Ali is a god (he hit people in the face and now he’s lost his mind – how great is that?). I don’t own a Kindle. I write with a pen. I don’t get Audrey Hepburn. I dislike Heinz Baked Beans. I actually have never ever drunk from a mug. I do not tweet, or even text. I have never heard One Direction (but then I’ve never heard Take That) – and not for one moment did I ever wish to meet Nelson Mandela. Or the Dalai Lama. But one thing I do share with the huge majority of this country’s population is a love of roast chicken... [download PDF]


271: Maxwell's July 24 2014

Dirt in food is fashionable. In the form of a dirty burger. But you would think, would you not, that if you were aiming to design a trendy new and enticing variant upon an ancient standard, “dirty” might not be the most alluring of come-ons … but then it is “the young” we are talking about here, you see: “the young” who eons ago decreed that wicked meant great, this new use of “dirty” being merely a logical progression (though both logic and progress have nothing to do with it). It’s happened with drinks too: the Dirty Martini. Heard of it? If you are a member of “the young”, you surely will have. It is basically a standard dry martini (gin, whisper of white vermouth) with the addition of olive juice, in order to render it perfectly foul-looking. There is actually a bar in Covent Garden called Dirty Martini, which claims to offer “spirited sophistication”. Well... [download PDF]


270: Holborn Dining Room July 17 2014

Luxury. It is a word which these days is bandied very lightly indeed. On a barrow in a market, I recently spotted a pack of seven ‘‘luxury dusters’’. That they can refer to a lavatory roll as being ‘‘luxury’’ is almost as horrible as the fact that they insist upon calling it ‘‘toilet paper’’. Someone has just told me that he bought from a pet shop a ‘‘de luxe flea collar’’. But real, true, deep and decadent luxury – by God, you know it when you see, feel and inhale it … and it is simply all over the Rosewood Hotel, a spectacular Edwardian stone chateau that used to be the head office of the Pearl Assurance Company, peacefully hidden away in a courtyard, the arched and gated entrance fronting the din and grottiness of High Holborn. This hotel has taken opulence to a whole new level – truly stunning, and rendering the Dorchester akin to a Holiday Inn. It is the latest in a worldwide chain, heavy on the Far and Middle East – and if I tell you that two of its star outposts are the Carlyle in New York and the Crillon in Paris, you will understand the measure of the place... [download PDF]


269: Le Caprice July 10 2014

Jesus. What a lunch. I mean this in a good way, it must be understood – and a great deal of it was down to exemplary service, and in particular, the attentions of… Jesus. Because Jesus, in terms of Le Caprice, is God, if you take my meaning. Mr Adorno has been the suave, elegantly suited and supremely capable front of house at this legendary restaurant seemingly since time began (actually since it opened in 1981) and seems to be in possession of the elixir of youth. Maybe he has tapped into Mayfair and St James’s always tiny and ever diminishing stock of virgins, whose blood he quaffs at full moon from a Baccarat goblet. Maybe not, of course. Did you read lately that British women are the fattest in Europe…? Yes well: not the ones who come to Le Caprice, baby – they are pencil slim, and groomed to perfection. For surely here is the original destination for the ‘‘ladies who lunch’’ (Le Capricious by nature) – a cool and discreet sanctuary following the onslaught on Old Bond Street designer boutiques, tucked away so peacefully just down the road from the Ritz and the Wolseley. And contrary to expectations, these ladies do actually take food with their meals, though it tends to be of the Dover sole or lobster salad variety: nothing which ever could be construed as anything approaching the vulgarity of a slap-up feed. What do you take them for? Men?... [download PDF]


268: Peter's July 3 2014

The End of Food…! Yes indeed: here is the future, according to a 25-year-old software engineer (American, naturally) by the name of Rob Rhinehart. He has raised a couple of million dollars in Silicon Valley (never to be confused with the Vale of Health) in order to market boring old food’s replacement: a gloopy drink called Soylent. This comes in the form of powder and oil (already your mouth is watering) which, when blended with water, produces an apparently doughy tasting skinny gruel which packs in your daily 2,000 calories. And you may care to know that essential lipids derive from canola oil, carbs from the food additive maltodextrin and protein from rice – while vitamins and minerals are also chucked into this enticing mix. “Traditional food,” declares Rhinehart, “is the fossil fuel of human energy: inefcient and unsustainable.” So I thought that while it’s still around, I might quickly slope off to a restaurant to get some down me... [download PDF]


267: Fischer's June 26 2014

How many restaurants are there in London? God alone knows – but if God alone ever took it into His head to tot them all up, by the time He had arrived at a number, it would surely have shifted. Places go under every week, of course – but get this: between now and the end of 2014 there will be about 260 new openings in the capital. And the rst half of this year hasn’t been too shabby – I’ve been to loads of new places, and still there are more on the list. Today’s restaurant is one of the most keenly anticipated, because the two men behind it – Jeremy King and Chris Corbin – not only have form, they practically invented form. They long ago rescued The Ivy and J. Sheekey from the unimaginable doldrums into which they both had tumbled, eventually selling them and going on to create The Wolseley, that most enduringly fashionable and wonderful place... [download PDF]


266: The Place To Eat June 19 2014

Time to go to church. Well – to the cathedral, really: because in common with all other law-abiding and fully paid-up members of the British middle class, my wife and I are periodically gripped by the compulsion to genuflect before the altar of our one true patron and mentor, the Blessed St John of Lewis. Because unless you all live in a yellow submarine, you can hardly have failed to notice the proliferation of mumsily period advertisements in celebration of the partnership’s 150th birthday. Did you bake a cake? It would have to be Never Knowingly Undercandled. And do you find it surprising that John Lewis opened 30 years before Harrods was built? Forty-five years before Selfridges? [download PDF]


265: Rotunda June 12 2014

In the days when Fleet Street was still in Fleet Street, the newspaper buildings were very grand indeed – none more gorgeous or impressive than the glittering art deco foyer of the Daily Express (the exterior in dark reective glass, and nicknamed the Black Lubyanka) and now home to some or other undeserving money institution. The Daily Telegraph clock was a vast and notable landmark in the street – and in the rat-runs behind could be seen the at-bed trucks daily delivering the massive rolls of paper, so that the hot metal presses could be eternally fed. Punch (remember Punch?) was in Bouverie Street just around the corner and El Vino’s was the watering hole of choice – still there, but the bibulous hacks have now been replaced by equally bibulous lawyers. El Vino’s would not allow women at the bar – and nor even through the door, if they were wearing trousers: so either the good old days, or else the dark ages, according to taste. These days, Fleet Street is just everywhere. After nearly 25 years, The Times is soon to move from Wapping to the South Bank, the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard are in Kensington, The Daily Telegraph in Victoria, and The Guardian and The Observer in newly groovy King’s Cross. And it was in that very building that I found myself the other week: I am not a Guardianista, though – I was there for lunch, what else? [download PDF]


264: The Truscott Arms June 5 2014

Restaurants, in common with any other discipline involving a lot of money, are constantly prey to the shifting of fashion. And at the moment, I detect a pulling in two very different directions: the return to traditional English … together with the lure of the weird, not to say actively disgusting. By which I mean bugs. Insects. The things you are used to spraying and swatting and calling the council about are soon to be served on a plate near you. Now while it is true that up to two billion people eat insects as a matter of course (the entrée, probably) this is because in their part of the world there is very little alternative. In the West, however, we are up to our snouts in wonderful food … so why? Well fashion, you see. There is a restaurant in Nice which is miffed to have recently lost its Michelin star due to having served “crickets in a whisky bubble with French toast and pears”. Noma – the hugely lauded Copenhagen restaurant famous for foraging from the countryside the sort of mulchy debris we are more accustomed to scraping off the soles of our wellingtons – serves butter enhanced by squashed wood ants. Well yum... [download PDF]


263: 34 May 29 2014

Beef. Now there’s a word. What does it conjure up for you, I wonder? Well, if you’re a veggie, nothing short of repulsion, I suppose. Or does it remind you of the Sunday roasts of yore? Or possibly the word simply signies a good and proper meal – in which case, you are probably a man. Women do enjoy beef, of course they do, but it is men who can become really quite passionate about it – and, consequently, there are beef bores. Just like football fanatics, oenophiles and petrolheads – because when blokes get their head around a thing, they just won’t let it lie. In France, a new top-shelf magazine has just been launched – aimed unashamedly and exclusively at men, it is called Beef!, its credo being that cooking is a virile activity that only men can accomplish. The editor goes further: ‘‘women bring nothing to the kitchen but clutter – a real man is needed to produce a decent meal’’. Crumbs. I wonder what Angela Hartnett and Helene Darrozes have to say about that... [download PDF]


262: The Lockhart May 22 2014

So what new food fad, diet or edict handed down by a committee of po-faced and alarmist idiots are you currently adhering to? Still starving yourself for a couple of days a week? Getting up quite ridiculously early so that the day will be long enough for you to cram in those 10 great portions of fruit and veg before keeling over from excess greens and acidity? Or maybe the caveman diet – do you know that one? The idea is, you only eat what a caveman could have eaten – so no risotto, ice cream or Haribo Mix, but simply the odd loin of dinosaur or wing of pterodactyl. And in order to cater for the diet’s whims, I expect any day now a new chain of restaurants going under the name of Bear Grills, in partial honour of the survivalist, penknife pusher and all-round megalomaniac of nearly the same name. The whole idea is appealing in one way, though I’m not really convinced that living in a cave would altogether suit me: draughty, you know. On the plus side, wearing leopard skin is ne, and I would get to clobber attractive women around the head with a club – but then there is the very laborious business of dragging them by the hair back to said draughty cave … but maybe there are people who would do this for one... [download PDF]


261: Bradleys May 15 2014

Why should it be that we in NW3 are repeatedly forced to campaign (almost always unsuccessfully) for the retention of essential amenities – libraries, post ofces, re and police stations – while with the other hand attempting to stave off the slavering rapacity of developers? And now, once more, once again, another bloody time, the borough is compelled to mount a concerted battle against the ends: the speculators, the architects and the (don’t laugh) “planners”. This time it is the turn of Swiss Cottage, where the current modestly sized if undistinguished ofce block 100 Avenue Road, home to the Ham&High, is under threat of demolition, the idea being to replace it with something obviously nastier, this to incorporate a 24-storey tower. So exactly what sort of game is being played here? Only the usual: outrageous applications are summarily led, the developers being wholly aware of the outcry they will provoke. A tower on that scale will, of course, ruin views from just about everywhere, but will not blight Swiss Cottage itself, because that poor, innocent and now practically obliterated area has been serially blighted practically unto death throughout the passing decades... [download PDF]


260: Hawksmoor Seven Dials May 8 2014

Do you like eating chocolate, cream, butter, meat, cheese, biscuits, cakes and sausages (not necessarily in that order, nor even at the same sitting)? Well if so, the good news as I write is that none of them is bad for you! Yay! Mind you, by the time you get to actually reading this, they all could be demonised again – but earlier this month, leading heart scientist Dr James DiNicolantonio said that all these foodstuffs will help people live longer (you have to live a fair while just to nish pronouncing his name). He further said that research into saturated fats has been awed since the 1950s, but that the new villains are carbs and sugar. My oh my, sugar is having a terrible press, just lately. Should you be inclined towards a mug of builder’s with three sugars and then possibly a mid-morning Mars bar, you may well not make it into the afternoon. Well look: how many conicting foodie scares and warnings have you lived through? If you followed every one of them, either your dietary intake will have oscillated so wildly from day to day that you will by now have lost your mind, and are currently languishing in an asylum, strumming your lips – or else you might have decided against the risk of eating altogether, and so now are dead of starvation... [download PDF]


259: Chiltern Firehouse May 1 2014

Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone is the hottest and coolest place in town – only open a couple of months, and yet already all over the gossip pages and colonised by people such as Rio Ferdinand and David Walliams. Well, naturally, all of this has put me off hugely, but still I thought I ought to trot along. The evening before I was there, Rita Ora and Harry Styles were in: unlucky for them – if only they had delayed their meal until Saturday brunch, they might have met me. The building is very beautiful, as old re stations often are (including the recently deceased gem in Belsize) and a confection of red brick and stone, not unlike Harrow School. The huge doorways through which the red engines once thundered are now glazed over, and the space affords a splendidly furnished terrace which is destined to be THE place to sit, eat, drink and smoke throughout the summer. This whole building is soon to be a hotel, but when I was there was open only for dinner and weekend brunch – though by the time you read this, they should be open for weekday lunch as well... [download PDF]


258: Hazara April 24 2014

Too MUCH …! You have to be pretty old, actually, to remember the time when this little phrase did not denote vulgar excess but was a synonym for absolutely fabulousness. For yes, we are talking about the decade that swung, the sixties, when else? Way OUT …! That was another. This did not mean outré or off the wall (and obviously not exit) but pretty much the same as Too MUCH: simply the epitome of trendy desirability. The only epithet of this sort that lingers on is COOL …! Which is even more ubiquitous now than in the days when love was not only free, but all you needed, baby. But I found myself muttering “too much …” just the other evening in Belsize Park … and all I meant was: bloody expensive. I was having a drink in The George with Max, my globetrotting chum who nominally lives in Canada, but never seems actually to be there because he is constantly trotting the globe. Just back from North Korea, of all places, where he managed not to be put to death by the Dear Leader... [download PDF]


257: J. Sheekey April 17 2014

Cast your mind back, if you will ... to a time that was actually more or lessa couple of minutes ago: February, to be precise – when this newspaper announced a competition. There were three simple questions (opinions, rather than facts) and the glittering prize that was dangled before the hungering masses was not just a free lunch, nor even a free lunch at J. Sheekey, one of London’s very best restaurants – but a free lunch at J. Sheekey, one of London’s very best restaurants ... with me...! Largesse indeed, I’m sure you’ll agree. There was a fair pile of entries, which I found to be variously diverting, absorbing, flattering, rude, weird and mind- numbingly dull. One of the questions was to name a favourite restaurant, and nearly all of themc ame up local: Singapore Gardens, La Provence, The Chicken Shop, Bistro Aix (twice) and quite a few others, all of which I have previously reviewed... [download PDF]


256: Fish Café April 10 2014

The old cliché, intended to comfort wounded and sensitive journalists (go ahead – laugh if you must) was that today’s misquotations, erroneous news or atrociously subbed feature was tomorrow’s sh-and-chip wrapping – so no hack really should get over het up about it. Except that a new and stupid edict has just been enacted – probably by Brussels, where they wouldn’t know a decent sh and chips if it battered them in the face – whereby a chippie can no longer recycle old newsprint, but must now be doling out plates and cutlery. Not that such a ruling will bother the new Fish Café, slap bang at the centre of Hampstead Village – because here is a rather more upmarket affair. But – crucially – not too much so: here is no mini-version of Scott’s. This very easy-going and comforting place is true to the roots of honest and sturdy English peasant fare, while making a rather cool and civilised st of it... [download PDF]


255: Belgo Noord April 3 2014

OK – I’m going to have lunch in Belgium in a minute, but rst I just have to express my utter spit and loathing for “customer service” centres. You know the bastards I mean: those paid-for telephone numbers into whose reverberating void you vividly express your near demented dissatisfaction, only to be met by the blankness of absolutely nothing at all. In the old days, manufacturers went into hiding: no phone numbers, no addresses – it was simply a case of caveat emptor. Now they smugly employ a raft of morons who are masters of the monotone and are painstakingly trained in the art of persistent stonewalling. Case in point: in my study, where I churn the words, I have a heater. And during one of those colder days lately it ceased to heat, but started to smoke (far too young – it’s only two years old). So I phoned the manufacturer, whom I shall not name except to say that it is bloody Dimplex... [download PDF]


254: Durrants Hotel March 27 2014

A rather grisly piece of Muswell Historyto kick us off with, I’m afraid – but I promise not to dwell. I don’t want to put you off your lunch – and, more particularly, I don’t want to put me off my lunch, should such a thing be possible. Currently for sale is 23d Cranley Gardens, where Dennis Nilsen murdered and dismembered three men, having previously meted out similar treatment to a dozen more, each of whom he had met upon the day of their deaths. In this attic conversion, he did unspeakable things – the at having been recently advertised as “a charming property that is centrally located and within walking distance of Muswell Hill Broadway and its bars and cafés”. Estate-agent-speak par excellence, don’t you think? Anyway, it was sold for £250,000, and is now back on the market for a hundred grand more. It says a good deal about the age we live in that while for decades this horric history has been carefully hidden, the current estate agent, Barnard Marcus, says that “internal inspection is highly recommended”, and further says that it sees the at’s past as something of a selling point: clearly, somebody is out to make a killing... [download PDF]


253: Hix at Selfridges March 20 2014

Have you been watching Mr Selfridge on the telly...? One of the better soaps, to my mind - largely because it is so very lovely to look at. The clothes, of course – but the recreation of the ground floor of the store is really very beautifully done, and the exterior shots too I think are mighty convincing. Of course, due to the restraints of the small screen, we only ever tend to see Accessories and Fashion, but the glamour of the store is very well evoked – and it occurred to me the other week, when I was standing in the midst of the real big deal in Oxford Street, that old Harry Selfridge would be very pleased by the way the store has evolved. He is portrayed as a very dapper, affable and generous gentleman (extremely English, for an American) who constantly is consulting the fob watch in his waistcoat pocket. One or two of Selfridges’ incarnations along the way, however, would hardly have delighted him. I can just about remember when the glorious bronze lift doors were still in place at the main entrance, these manned (womanned?) by ladies dressed as Buttons. These doors are now in the V&A, though one wonders why they aren’t still in Selfridges... [download PDF]


252: Melange March 13 2014

So what's the deal with Crouch End and Charlie Chaplin, then? Last time I lunched in this pleasant county town was at Spiazzo with the editor of this paper – and on the large flat screen was The Kid on a loop. Now in Melange – a mere panini’s throw away – I am confronted with an eternal showing of The Gold Rush. Weird. On this occasion, my guest was Max Arthur, renowned and garlanded military historian, who has been a chum of mine for ... ooh – could be 20 years now, you know: time, it just will keep on flying. We were members of the Scribblers Club, a gang of fellows who earned a crust in the inky trade (there were newspaper editors and publishers as well as hacks) and we would gather every month or so in the Chelsea Arts Club to break bread, drink wine and occasionally fall over. Max has lived in Crouch End for the past 12 years, having spent the previous 17 in Keats Grove, Hampstead – although he is a Sussex lad by birth, and frequently visits Brighton, because he misses the sea. Which is roughly all I can tell you about the boy, for he is ferociously secretive about any details of his personal life. He was born, I would hazard, some time during the 20th century ... and I do know a bit more, but if told you, I would have to kill you, and then bang goes my readership... [download PDF]


251: Fora March 6 2014

Comfort food – this early in the year, that’s what I thought my wife and I could well be in need of. Well let’s face it – in the cold and raw of winter, comfort in any shape you can get it is exactly what’s required, and not so very easy to come by. Comfort food – it used to mean the stuff you make at home, often basic and traditional dishes remembered from childhood, or else something that simply never fails: pasta. But despite – or because of – the burgeoning glut of cookbooks and greedy TV programmes, no one seems to cook anything at home any more: everything is bought and ready from a supermarket now – including boiled eggs and cut-up vegetables. So it is hardly surprising to read in a recent report on a foodie website that one in 10 adults have tried but failed to rustle up some beans on toast... [download PDF]


250: Zoilo February 27 2014

The Prologue: here commenceth my 250th restaurant review for the Ham&High – and I do so hope you are coming to an event I am doing at Hampstead Waterstones next Tuesday at 7pm. It’s a sort of a Q&A thing, built around my new book, The A-Z of Eating Out. OK: there endeth the plug – and now for the review:Television. It used to be the grey, ickering screen in a big veneered box that dominated the living room, and famously killed the art of conversation. Though I don’t believe that before that time the nation was spectacularly eloquent, nor bursting with anecdote: people simply listened to the wireless instead. And now…? Well now, although screens of one sort or another are just everywhere, and constantly about our person, traditional prime-time terrestrial TV still does pack a mighty punch: the horrible game and talent shows become daily headline news – and who would ever have imagined that a show so very trite and derivative and agrantly soapy as Downton Abbey could have conquered the world? The days are long gone when such as The Morecambe & Wise Show would be viewed by literally three-quarters of the adult population, but still a programme is said to be a massive hit if eight or nine million people tune in (conveniently forgetting the more than 50 million who don’t). On the production side of things, the maw of television is insatiable: God knows how many channels, all of which have to be pumping out something or other, virtually round the clock... [download PDF]


249: Ballaro February 20 2014

A new and proper eating place in NW3 is always a good (and very rare) thing – and although Ballaro, a Sicilian restaurant, has been open but a couple of months, maybe three, already the buzz has been positive: so off I go, of course. Ballaro – named after the famous food market in Palermo – is on the site of the old Haverstock Arms in between Belsize and England’s Lane – and a very sticky and tedious pub that was, whose very Irish landlord would yammer on for hours about how chummy he was with Chris Evans, while surrounded by deeply bored men absorbing alcohol in serious quantity. The only lovely thing about it was the glorious mural on the anking exterior wall – a colourful rustic scene depicting a horse and cart, and further enlivened by the real-life red telephone box before it. Not only has this been expunged, but yellow London stock brickwork has been reinstated and made dignied by very smart dummy blind window cases. The phone box is now rather sadly pretty much obliterated by a rather plasticky side extension with clear acrylic walls – probably there for the smokers, but anyone actually dining there I think might rather feel themselves to be not just on show, but on sale... [download PDF]



248: Brasserie Blanc February 13 2014

You may have spotted elsewhere in this newspaper that I've just this week published a little squib called The A-Z of Eating Out – which might very well have been subtitled “My Life on a Plate”, as that is precisely all my existence seems to have become: eat, write and occasionally sleep – and yes, as life sentences go, it is a comparatively mild one. So I thought I would invite to lunch the director of publicity at Thames & Hudson, Rosalie Macfarlane, who is charged with the task of arranging events to promote the book: there’s one coming up at Waterstones in Hampstead, actually, on March 4: cancel everything, including trivia such as weddings and funerals, so that you may be sure to be there. Brasserie Blanc was the venue – I had heard enticing things about the outside terrace with its wondrous views … so was unsurprised when the day rolled around to nd that of course it was one of relentless downpour, this rendering any glimpse at all through misty glass rather grey and disconsolate. But the site of this restaurant is undeniably spectacular, occupying as it does the entire width of the upper oor of the rear of Covent Garden market. You overlook the cobbled square, the ank of the Royal Opera House, the edge of the Transport Museum, and the estimable brasserie Balthazar, where I have enjoyed many jolly lunches and evenings... [download PDF]


247: Great Queen Street February 6 2014

The diverting curtain-raiser to my lunch with Michael Billington, the doyen of theatre critics, was not being able to find the bleeding restaurant. Be- cause it’s one of those places with a maddening name – not a number, like 34 or 82, where you have to try to remember what street it is in, but the name of the street itself: Great Queen Street, actually, in Covent Garden ... but of course I had made no note of the number. Anyway, I stumbled across it in the end – tiny sign and very dark grey exterior – but inside, oh good Lord – far, far darker than that. That old phrase ‘Stygian gloom’ loomed large in my mind, as I was groping my way to a table. I didn’t think they did all that any more in bistros – make it so black that people are holding the menu up close to their nose: one or two were using the glow of their Smartphones to make any sense of it. And suddenly, Michael was sitting opposite me, eager for sustenance (pretty sure it was him, anyway – rather hard to tell amid the enveloping peasouper). And so first: the Prologue: Michael’s lifelong love of theatre started at Oxford, where he was a member of the Dramatic Society. He quickly decided he wanted to be a critic: “I saw that film All About Eve, where George Sanders is this very well dressed and suave theatre critic who knows absolutely everyone and is forever being cruelly witty and sipping champagne with his assistant, who is Marilyn Monroe. I thought ... yes: that will do me”. He started off at the Liverpool Post in the early 1960s when everyone told him he just had to get down to the Cavern at lunchtimes to see The Beatles (“I didn’t go: you had to queue”). He worked on several papers after that, includ- ing The Times, before settling at The Guardian, where he has been reviewing plays for 42 years – this making him our longest-standing critic by a comfortable way... [download PDF]


246: The Brew House at Kenwood House January 30 2014

The late and magnicent Auberon Waugh once gave me the following heartfelt advice: “If ever you meet an architect, you should hit him”. This made me laugh – and it should have made you laugh too, because we know exactly what he meant. How is it that architects continue to be not just permitted but encouraged to throw up these vulgar and deantly asymmetrical atrocities all over this beautiful city of ours? Oh yes, there will always be people who protest the loveliness of such as the Shard, the Gherkin, the Cheese-Grater or the Walkie-bloody-Talkie (and maybe soon the Switchblade, the Pimento, the Cornetto, the Tampon) but such people tend to be obsessed with all this so-called vibrant and thrusting 21st century multiculturalism, or else are maybe sociopathic twerkers who very possibly are also certiably blind. Everyone else loathes all modern architecture while it is under construction, despises it once it is built and dreads the thought of either working or living in it. The same is true in a street near you on a more domestic scale: let’s make the roof a bit deranged at some point, bung a window in here, and another one … let me see, where now …? Oh here – here will do; a few planks, a bit of tiling and steel, that should do it. And last week I went to Kenwood House, and practically fainted with pleasure... [download PDF]


245: Rotisserie January 23 2014

Occasionally I get to thinking that eating in St John’s Wood can’t solely be about Oslo Court, but it truly does seem so. Extraordinary how few and lacklustre the restaurants are in NW8 … but I keep on trying – and this time it was the turn of Rotisserie, just off the High Street. The exterior is grey – well of course it is grey: did you not know that a law was recently passed in this country whereby all aspirant restaurants simply must be painted grey? Yes OK – but you don’t expect grey glass as well: the place looked not just doomy, but decidedly shut. Is it shut…? Is it…? Better nd out, shall I…? And at that point, a little homily from Hercule Poirot occurred to me: “It is the brain, the little grey cells, on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within – not without.” Wise, or what? So I stopped just standing on the pavement and pushed the door … and lo! It swung open! Now I was no longer to be without – for I had found the truth within!... [download PDF]


244: Rules January 16 2014

We are held in the grip of a chill and raw January… so let’s go somewhere that counters the winter with warmth and a sort of eternal festive wonder, yes? Now I sometimes am invited to the openings of various new restaurants, but confess to having missed whatever bash they might have thrown in order to celebrate the very rst night of Rules in Covent Garden, largely because it happened, you see, some time in 1798, and that predates even me. For this venerable establishment carries the distinction of being London’s oldest restaurant (as distinct from coffee house or gin joint) – and, very remarkably, during the intervening 215 years, Rules has been in the hands of just three families, and it remains independently owned. On the eve of the First World War, Charles Rule – a direct descendent, and proof if you need it that the restaurant’s name should rightfully bear an apostrophe, but doesn’t – did a rather curious thing. Having visited Paris and taken a shine to the restaurant Alhambra, he discovered that it was owned by a fellow Englishman called Tom Bell, who in turn was a great admirer of Rules. So they swapped. Just – as Tommy Cooper, had he been around, might so very easily have said – like that. And so things stood until 1984, when Bell’s daughter sold Rules to a chap called John Mayhew, who, 30 years on, still is the guv’nor. The restaurant caters to just 90 covers, so it is rather impressive to learn that they employ an identical number of staff. Which is reected in the prices, of course … but before we become rather boring and accountanty about all that side of things, let us just marvel at its timeless beauty... [download PDF]




243: Spiazzo January 9 2014

Sup, blud …? No, not a misprint, but merely a heartfelt greeting and enquiry, from me to you, in the new Multicultural London English that apparently is sweeping the capital, having taken over from Jamafrican and common or garden cockney. Here is the translation: What is happening, friend …? And you might well ask. What is most certainly happening on the restaurant front is that more and more of them are trying to cash in on the Multicultural London fetish for street food: food to go, call it what you will. Food these days – for the young, anyway – is not to be sat in front of and savoured, no no no: it is to be grabbed. As in a bite. On the hoof. We have come – depending upon your age and attitude – a long way, or else nowhere at all, with actual regression an increasingly strong possibility.In the old days, for the kids, it was just about going to McDonald’s. And talking of McDonald’s – now that the Hampstead Village branch has closed after 20 years – maybe a word about the so-called collective “hysteria” that reputedly met its inception way back in 1993. The chief, if not sole, objection to McDonald’s was that they were after what is now Waterstones: i.e, the largest and most central premises in the Village. And that would have been bad. But the inoffensive little shop they eventually acquired has been no bother at all – and its fascia (another bone of contention) was actually one of the more pleasing in the High Street. Anyway: gone now – and in its place, another baker (bakers fast becoming as numerous as phone shops)... [download PDF]


242: 2013 Restaurant Roundup December 19 2013

And so – in the immortal, if platitudinous, words of the blessed St John of Lennon– this is Christmas … and what have you done? With another year over. Well I can tell you what I’ve done, matey: eat. And write. And eat. And write. And eat even more. Even the odd drink. Is it any way for a grown man to be spending every waking moment? Well – better than some, I suppose. And so come this oh-so-special time of year (and here is no Clever Dick tongue-in-cheek and cynical throwaway: I actually really do love Christmas, always have) all of our minds inevitably turn to yet more eating still … not to mention the booze. But have you now got everything else safely and neatly out of the way? Sent the charity cards in order to bestow upon you an inner glow? Trebled the expenditure by means of afxing stamps? Or have you sent a round robin email, extolling your triumphs and keeping very quiet about all that secret horror? Maybe tacking on that this year instead of lining the pockets of greedy retailers you have decided to make a donation to a charity of your choice... [download PDF]

241: Zest at JW3 December 12 2013

You know what …? North London Jewish people, they just seem to love this rhetorical question. I rst heard it on things that usually were starring Jennifer Anniston, but it seems to have become a feature over here now – and never so frequently have I heard it as in JW3, the new and groovy Jewish community centre in Finchley Road. I have already in print taken a swipe at the hideousness of its exterior, but mindful of how these days many self-deluded architects will talk of their offensive creations as having “grown organically” (i.e, they are much nicer once you get inside) I thought I’d take a closer look. But then I do nothing if there is not the promise of food and drink built in to the whole business, so how delighted was I to discover that there is a fully-edged restaurant within: Zest, it’s called – and already it is creating quite a buzz. You know what …? I thought I’d give it a go. Now then, who shall I invite …? Oh yes: how about Lord Finkelstein of North Pinner? You know what …? He’d be perfect... [download PDF]


240: Christopher's December 5 2013

Some London streets are decidedly meatier than others – and Wellington Street in Covent Garden would appear to be one of the meatiest of all. There are quite a few burger places (including the estimable Byron) and most of the restaurants seem actively to specialise in the more overtly carnally delightful aspects of dining – Sophie’s Steakhouse for one, which is pretty much opposite the grill I was going to for lunch: Christopher’s – one of the original American pioneers which brought to London authentic US beef cooked as it should be, back in the days (1991) when London truly did need all the enlightenment it could get. And just next to Christopher’s is an attractive shop which notionally deals in wine and cheese, though the real draw is the genuine foie gras, which they actually have the courage to advertise in the window: amazing really that the glass is not daily a scattering of crystal shards – because people do get awfully exercised about foie gras, as well we know. So all in all, Wellington Street, rather aptly, might be said to be where the veggie meets his Waterloo. Yes and so who was I taking to lunch at the grill …? Why, none other than this country’s foremost philosopher, Professor AC Grayling … who is, famously, a vegetarian. I sometimes really do wonder if actually I ought to be in this job… [download PDF]


239: The Golden Hind November 28 2013

‘Frying Tonight!” Or, sometimes, “Frying Tonite!” Either way, it was always somehow rather ridiculously exciting, seeing those words chalked up in the window of a corner chippie, the glass quite thoroughly obscured by steam, as if to assert the validity of the sign’s proclamation. The fact that it was a sh and chip shop, and therefore there would be frying going on there every bloody night, in no way seemed to temper the allure of the announcement.There are sh restaurants – which have always been rather smart and rather pricey, as exemplied by the late and lamented Wheeler’s and, these days, Scott’s and J Sheekey – and then there are the many more chippies: about 11,000 in Britain, they reckon (which is impressive, though there were more than three times as many before the war). The sh and chip shop is newly fashionable, because it chimes in well with being authentic, déclassé and British good value … and people do very much like to eat the product. So much so that there are acionados who travel the length of the country in quest of the perfect sh supper. The current supreme winner of the National Fish & Chip Awards (because, yes, there are awards now for absolutely everything) is someone called Calum Richardson in Aberdeen, who reports that he regularly sees people from London who have made the journey specially... [download PDF]


238: The Flask November 21 2013

As the Hampstead poet John Keats so very nearly wrote, here now upon us is the season of mists and mellow lunchfulness. And also here, to tell you all about it, is me: your close-bosom friend. So – how better to celebrate than with a bracing amble across the russety Heath to Highgate, marvelling yet once more how desperately fortunate we all are to have this capital tract of moorland plum upon our doorstep. Of course you don’t actually have to surround yourself with countryside to know that autumn now is come: simply glance into the windows of the more upmarket women’s clothes shops, which generally will be sporting a casual drift of orange and tawny leaves, swept up maybe by that witch’s besom angled so jauntily in the corner. For here also is the season when our peerlessly talented young designers and couturiers quite unfailingly invent Harris Tweed and tartan … again. While happy for you to buy a “statement coat” in one or both of these fabrics, they would far prefer you went for an “investment piece” … which translates as just another bloody coat, though one that will cost you the equivalent of a garden maisonette... [download PDF]


237: Caldo November 14 2013

We are now of the season when the bestseller charts are thoroughly dominated by non-writers who didn’t write the books that generally will sell in bales to non-readers who will not read the books – though still are eager to queue for hours to acquire the signature of whatever chef, model, actor or comedian purportedly created the thing. Or footballer. Because recently The Times serialised David Beckham’s “latest book” which is, we are told, “in his own words”. Crumbs, I thought – that could easily go well into double gures, then – and his wife might even chip in with half a dozen of her own. One of the extracts was headed “How I found Redemption” – whom I assume to be one of his children, who momentarily strayed: easy to check, because if so it will be inked upon his body, somewhere about. Probably more words on his skin than there are in the book.Some real writers – who put their heart, soul, sweat and blood into the thing – really do resent these celebs being fawned over by publishers, and wooed with huge advances. Others, though (the older, the wiser) are altogether more sanguine – and one of those, Andrew Lycett, a biographer of note, was my guest for lunch at Caldo, a new place in Queen’s Park. I say a new place, but what it is in fact is a revamp of an old place called Penk’s, which I’ve reviewed before. Now usually when a restaurant remains in the same ownership and relaunches, we are presented with little more than a spring clean, a tweaked menu and the upping of prices... [download PDF]


236: Salt Yard November 7 2013

I bet you didn't even sleep the night before the new Michelin awards were unleashed upon an agog and slavering public...! Well you did, actually - because you were happily unaware of their imminence. As is everyone in the world who is unconnected with the biz – but oh my God, if you’re actually one of the restaurants involved in this annual bunfight, it’s just like Oscars night, and then some. The big news – if you think it’s news at all – was that Heston’s really excellent and truly expensive Knightsbridge restaurant Dinner gained a second star. This will have occasioned ecstasy in the kitchen, and glee among the accountants: it was already very hard to acquire a table, and now it will be harder (as well as, in all likelihood, even more truly expensive). Equally earth- shattering – should your personal earth be prone to such sudden implosion – was the news that Joel Robuchon’s Atelier was – oh God! – relegated to one-star status, from two. Heaven only knows what that might have occasioned in their kitchen: anything from a rueful shaking of the toque to full-blown hara-kiri, I should have said. Because to us, it's only plate of food... but to them, it's life itself... [download PDF]


235: The Alice House October 31 2013

"Delia’s back!" That was the shock announcement which accompanied a large and airbrushed picture of the grande dame of culinary simplicity on the cover of a recent issue of Waitrose Weekend, that rather pleasant little comic that they dole out buckshee. And I was really concerned, I can tell you: oh my God, I thought: Delia’s back! Whatever can be wrong with it? Because at her age, you know, the lower lumbar region in particular can be all too prone to any manner of lurking malaise, while the putative slipping of discs hardly bears thinking about. But it turns out that it’s all OK: Delia is still t and spry (judicious diet, I can only suppose) and merely has returned to the bosom of Waitrose. Because we all of us, don’t we, rather take succour from Waitrose’s motherly bosom, not to say their rather pleasant little comic. And on the front of an even more recent issue they had this: “The Foodie Bucket List: 50 things to do before you die.” Because they always do that, don’t they? With all these endless lists: movies you must see, books you have to read, places you just gotta visit … and all, apparently, before you die. Well… duh! You ain’t going to be doing too much of anything after you’re dead, matey, so I think that really we can take that bit as read... [download PDF]


234: Tommi's Burger Joint October 24 2013

Have you noticed how terribly often lately the humble hamburger has been making the news? Or simply “burger”, I should say – because the “ham” bit is generally dropped, these days (not that it ever did have anything to do with actual ham: the derivation is from Hamburg, you see, and … oh, I can’t really be bothered to go into it, and you probably don’t want to hear it anyway). But there is, of course, a class structure attached to the burger: well of course there is – this is Britain, so everything comes bolted to a sturdy class structure, whether you like it or not. At the bottom, the very pleb end, are the vast and frozen sacks of “patties” made of Christ knows what, but nominally beef, that are bought up wholesale from iffy supermarkets by the whey-faced legions of “harassed working mums”. Then there is McDonald’s – and recently (get this) the co-author of Freakonomics pronounced the McDouble (a double cheeseburger) to be “the cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history”. Crumbs. But you sort of see the point: apparently the only things that would deliver an equivalent quantity of calories and protein for less outlay are servings of red lentils and organic brown rice. And face it: they’re not going to be ying out of a takeaway any time soon... [download PDF]


233: Capoeira October 17 2013

And so, as the watery sun still is struggling to glimmer from the pallor of a milky sky, just prior to lowering its eyelids and giving way to a sparkling dazzle of drizzle, let me take you by the hand and walk you down to the water’s edge … which in this case happens to be an almighty lthy puddle by the edge of the kerb in downtown Finchley Road: the glamorous end, you know it – where four lanes of trafc are constantly revving at the lights before thundering away and rounding the raised up camber that forms the grey and dismal mosaic wall which forever condemns innocent little shops to an eternal day of darkness, but yet allows Iceland to rise up high in all its orange vileness. Though on this showery day, the destination of my wife and myself was not in fact Iceland, but Brazil.A brand-new restaurant in Finchley Road is always something of an event, because constantly one wonders whether this time nally amid this very barren drag something worthwhile might actually have landed. This is the site almost opposite John Barnes at the foot of Trinity Walk that for many decades was an indifferent spag bol Italian, before becoming a ceaseless succession of things which began to make the indifferent spag bol Italian seem as Locanda Locatelli. I can’t remember them all: there was an Indian or two, a café … most recently a sushi joint … and now it is Brazilian, and called Capoeira... [download PDF]


232: The George October 10 2013

Bleeding screaming sirens…! Aren’t you just sick to death of the bleeding screaming sirens that have become the constant and heart-stopping background to living in Hampstead? Working in the garden on the last decent day of summer, I counted 26 between 7.45am until six in the evening, when I simply couldn’t be bothered totting them up any more (and still they continued to sound). A taxi driver once told me that every time a police car activates its siren, it has to be logged, with an explanation as to why. Do you believe that …? No – I don’t either. It’s just some Jack the Lad copper who last night was gorging on box sets of Kojak and The Sweeney, and he’s having a good old laugh. Anyway: I was walking to Belsize Park, and I’m telling you, matey – it was very nearly curtains for your restaurant reviewer as the wail of a police van’s siren initially inicted upon me a paroxysm of stasis, this followed by the van itself (empty of anyone save the driver) careering within a whisker of me at unspeakable speed. Are there really so many emergencies in Hampstead …? It’s like downtown Los Angeles. Or Peckham... [download PDF]


231: British Pullman 'The Dinner' October 3 2013

Glamour … do you remember it at all…? Because it’s something that tends now to be associated with the past, which is a fairly sad and depressing state of affairs, I think. The thirties: Fred Astaire in black-and-white, amid satiny bedrooms the size of a ballroom, and ballrooms with the acreage of a continent. Or maybe the golden age of jet travel in the fties, when at Heathrow the likes of Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor would look just so stupendously glamorous as to knock your bleeding eye out (and now it is left solely to the great Joan Collins to proudly continue the tradition). But these days, well… anything that smacks of ‘‘show’’ or ‘‘formality’’ or even (let’s face it) any sort of effort at all can be greeted with suspicion, derision, or else just a great big fat yawn. But in Britain today there is a rearguard action that is alive and well – better than well, actually: positively blooming (and booming). Because canny operators such as Cunard and the famous vestar hotels have long ago twigged that there is an ever-growing and highly lucrative market for doing things the old way, the glamorous way … and at the forefront of this revival of elegance has always been the Orient-Express. And mention of this legendary train will instantly bring to mind … well, what? The road to Mandalay? Rafes and Singapore? Maybe: but mainly it’s the train that is notorious for getting murdered on, so that an irksome little Belgian can nd out how it all came to pass... [download PDF]


230: Chimichanga September 26 2013

And so to Belsize Park: because it occurred to me, I haven’t eaten here for quite a while. I rather like the wide-openness of the area – those unusually broad pavements that are such a godsend to the considerable number of eating places around here, and particularly during a summer such as we have just enjoyed: the outside tables are generally jammed. But the life of a restaurant critic is decidedly odd … well, the life of any writer is pretty odd, actually, because when you are at home you are working, and when you’re out, you’re not. Except if you are a restaurant critic, of course, because then you go out in order to work, if you see what I mean. But I actually meant odd in that if you hit upon a place you really like, unlike a sane human being you are rarely afforded the pleasure of returning, because what with all of your absolutely favourite places and the endless necessity to keep on venturing into the new and untried, there just aren’t the eating hours in the day. And I thought I’d done everywhere in Belsize Park: Chez Bob, a better-than-average allrounder … Chez Nous, an all-day so-so set-up, but extraordinary value. Then there is the Gourmet Burger, which is great, should you nd yourself in a burger frame of mind. Weng Wah, a quality Chinese … and then there is Thyme, merely the latest incarnation of the accursed space at the foot of the Premier Inn – that aggressively unpicturesque hotel atop a petrol station... [download PDF]


229: Natural Kitchen September 19 2013

And so during this rather glorious summer of 2013 that just kept on giving, my wife and son went to the rapturously reviewed productuon of The Sound of Music at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. They were blessed by yet another warm and balmy mellow evening, and enjoyed the thing immensely. Along the way, they were stunned as well by the profusion of flowerbeds – steeply banked clusters of various pinks and burgundies, dramatically offset by jet black leaves and the rather startling spatter of blood red busy lizzies. Well I just had to see all of that for myself, so the following week (another, yet one more, hot and sunny day) my wife thought she’d give me a guided tour. It’s such a fabulous park, I think, because it’s timeless: hasn’t changed since I remember it in the 1960s. The boats on the meandering lake, the heartbreaking beauty of the weeping willows, dipping into the water, the elegant filigree of the bandstand ... together with, these days, the gabble all around you of every language save our own. Ah well... [download PDF]


228: The Wells September 12 2013

Howard Jacobson and I have been threatening to have lunch together for, oh - so damned long; we tend quite often to collide at some of our jointly favourite restaurants (Wolseley, Dean Street Townhouse, Delaunay – although he also greatly favours Scott’s, while I rather prefer J Sheekey) as well as at the occasional bookish thrash. So really it was something of a consummation when finally he made the trek up north from his very groovy penthouse in Soho to The Wells in old Hampstead Village on a blissfully warm and sunny day, when all was leafy and perfectly serene. He had arrived early, and I met him in Christchurch Hill, having a wander. “I love Hampstead,” he said. “When I first came to London from Manchester, I visited someone very close to here, and I thought Ah ...! Heaven! I am in the country! This is where I want to live.”... [download PDF]


227: Quest September 5 2013

The other day I was telling a bunch of Frenchmen about the excellence of the London restaurant scene – always, rather gratifyingly, a thing they rather hate. Whenever the supremacy of Paris is challenged, the look upon their faces is truly a sight to behold: the fractured expression is somewhere between the sort of reaction you might expect had you quite out of the blue slapped them about both cheeks in the manner of a would-be duellist with a bone to pick – the shock of this, blended with a sort of wideeyed wonder at the gullibility and simple-mindedness of the Englishman who could ever believe such a thing … and even this is tempered by pity, for every Frenchman knows that no one English is even in possession of a palate. How can we be, existing solely as we do on le fry-up and le binge-drinking? We were in England’s Lane – which is not at all coincidentally the title of my latest novel, for here was a five-man film crew doing a thing about me for French TV. We talked in the rain, I walked up the Lane, down the Lane, we retook the whole thing, did the long shots, the close-ups, then retreated to the Washington for a further meaty session. The pub had actually closed for all of this palaver – and you should have seen the irate faces through the windows: tapping impatiently, and patently in urgent need of sustaining ale... [download PDF]


226: Grain Store August 29 2013

Well that was an extremely pleasant surprise…!” I craned my neck around, trying to see who just had said that … and realised with something of a shock that it had been me. Because I simply can’t remember the last time I thought that about a restaurant: I generally know, you see, as soon as I walk into a place (sometimes even as I am booking it) whether or not this is going to be my sort of thing, and whether or not I feel I am going to eat well here. And Grain Store, well … it just didn’t do it for me – I think very largely for the reason that I’ve visited so very many crudely converted warehouses and lofts just lately, all of which have got the rough old brickwork arches, the open plan steel kitchen, the furniture from a salvage sale, or else knocked up from old palettes and driftwood … the ceiling a silver maze of ducting and plumbing, looking for all the world like the secret underground plutonium installation that it is 007’s destiny to destroy by means of a glorious fireball in the penultimate scene of the film, just before he gets to canoodle with the girl... [download PDF]


225: rossopomodoro August 22 2013

In the street, fat people walk into you. Emaciated people will do this as well, of course – but not with such potentially bonecrushing determination as fat people do. I was reminded of this rather horrible truth in Camden High Street, which one rather recent hot afternoon my wife and I had been pounding up and down in search of a restaurant that was on my list. I had no idea which end of the street it was, but I did have the number. Round about Parkway, there was some phone shop numbered 165 so we wandered past that until the next number came up (not many shops bother with it) and that was 191 so clearly we were going in the wrong direction because the place I was after was thirty-something and so we traipsed past the blessed phone shop again and crossed the road and there was number 220, so it was all most confusing, not to say bleeding annoying. Turned around again – and oh look! There’s the sodding phone shop again … yes and it was around this point that I observed the phenomenon one more time: fat people, they walk right into you – as a galleon unto a little boat. And I have given considerable thought as to why this should be so (it’s a weighty matter): it might be because their bulk allows them little manoeuvrability, or it could be because their eyes are rendered hardly more than slits, due to the insistence of face all around them … but I came to the conclusion that it was neither of these factors: fat people walk into you because they are eating – there is always something being held in front of their faces, so they can’t see where they are going, and nor do they care... [download PDF]


224: La Provence August 15 2013

I bought a cushion. It’s got NW3 written all over it. Literally. A printed montage made up of photographs of all the variants from old black-and-white street signs: a lovely thing which I had espied last month for sale in Burgh House, after I had done an evening talk there – but Lordy, it really was one hell of a price. Then just last week I decided on a Hampstead Village day (this to take in lunch – well of course it was to take in lunch) and popped into Burgh House again, actually to catch up with a small exhibition of pictures curated in tandem with the estimable Heath & Hampstead Society, and covering all the local watering holes – something of a sad reminder of the many famous pubs that now are lost to us: the Yorkshire Grey, Horse & Groom, Bird In Hand, Cruel Sea, Coach & Horses, King of Bohemia … a sobering thought. And Jack Straw’s Castle, which now, just a tad ironically, is a health club (whatever more than grisly thing a health club might be) but mercifully we still have the Wells Tavern, Flask, Holly Bush and Duke of Hamilton. Anyway – I’d completely forgotten about the cushion, see – but there it still was. And, Lordy, still at really one hell of a price – and I said as much... [download PDF]


223: Plum + Spilt Milk August 8 2013

Quite daring, really – to call a restaurant Plum + Spilt Milk. Because to me that spells just a mess all over the table, oh yuck – and who do you think is going to clean up that little lot then, matey? And did you get the “+”? Not “and”, nor even “&” – but “+”. So is it actually called Plum Plus Spilled Milk, then? Dunno. The name – because we are in railway land here – actually derives from the colours of the livery of LNWR carriages of old: cherry and cream, to a sane person – which does, you have to admit, sound a whole lot more appetising than their slightly weirdo version. Anyhoo … here is yet more evidence of a King’s Cross that is progressing in leaps and fantastically expensive bounds: the scale and speed of building and expansion around these parts truly is prodigious. The restaurant is within the newly reopened Great Northern Hotel, slotted in neatly between King’s Cross and St Pancras stations, and a rather cool yellow brick counterbalance to the rusty crenellations and gothick excesses of the St Pancras Grand... [download PDF]


222: Richoux August 1 2013

I hope you will have observed from the strapline above that this is not a review of Oslo Court - that unique and extraordinary restaurant nestling discreetly at the foot of a self-effacing block of flats in a leafy St John’s Wood side street. Oslo Court, should you not know it, is a comfortingly old-fashioned restaurant which I have reviewed before with a large and well-priced menu full of all the things that sensible people actually want to eat: you won’t find any concepts or Heston-style trickery here – this kitchen would as soon prepare something sous- vide as eat it. But there is every sort of meat and fish, treated traditionally. Generous portions are served at well-dressed tables by a professionally drilled battery of waiters. And just the other week during the second Ashes Test at Lord’s, I had the great pleasure of being invited to lunch there again. It has become almost mandatory to be rather sniffy about Oslo Court – because it’s pink and flouncy,because they often turn out the lights so that everyone immediately thinks they have been instantly struck blind (but only in order to wheel in a birthday cake, glimmering with candles ... and an hour later, probably do it again for another table). It’s not fashionable, you see – not a cool and cutting- edge London happening hot and on- trend place with a vibe you could cut yourself on – and so let us all thank Christ for that... [download PDF]


221: The Fish & Chip Shop July 25 2013

I don’t get to Islington really very much, though whenever I do go I am reminded yet one more time as to just what a hell of a way it is from Hampstead. I always for some reason imagine that it’s sort of just beyond Highgate, but when you are actually making the trek it seems rather closer to Brighton. Now I have observed here before that streets such as Parkway in Camden Town and Marylebone Lane are unusually well bestowed with eating places, but all of that is as nothing when set against Upper Street. Upper Street simply defies all belief: while there are a few trendy and prettily decked- out shopettes scattered hither and yon, all selling gorgeous and thoroughly inconsequential fripperies, the street is essentially one long restaurant: during the course of a reasonably short amble, I gave up counting when the tally reached sixty. And presumably there are sufficient cool and hungry Islingtonians who have made over their own kitchens at home into media IT centres, or possibly meditation rooms, to keep all of them in foodie business... [download PDF]


220: Bistro Laz July 18 2013

Bistro Laz is a very jolly-looking and inviting little restaurant just at the edge of Swain's Lane - that very pleasing crescent which has apparently been 'saved' from redevelopment. It has a wonderfully villagey feel, and is packed with useful shops such as a proper butcher, newsagent, florist, wine merchant ... so naturally there arose the situation where it had to be ‘saved’: if ever something is much-loved and long established, it of course must be at risk, obliging locals to ‘go into battle’ – because they well understand that (a) once it is gone, they will never again see its like, and (b) whatever replaces it will be intrusive, useless and ugly. So anyway ... Bistro Laz: large orange awnings and a charming frontage made up of planters packed with bamboo and evergreens spanning its considerable breadth – this to take in Al Parco, the affiliated bar and pizzeria... [download PDF]


219: 28-50 July 11 2013

The current perception in West End theatreland is that these days the only safe bankers are musicals. Not new musicals, of course - no one is crazy enough to touch one of those – but revivals of all the legendary hits of the past. Or stage versions of much-loved classic films such as Top Hat and Singin’ in the Rain. Otherwise juke box musicals: Mamma Mia! was the mamma of the genre, and those devoted to Queen and the Four Seasons continue to pack them in. Let It Be was panned, though (because you can’t and shouldn’t tamper with the Fab Four, and particularly not if you’re trying to fob us off with a right-handed McCartney) while the Spice Girls’ Viva Forever! turned out not to be forever, having closed last month. One fine musical that always seems ripe for revival is Me and My Girl, written by Noel Gay and first performed in 1937; quite a few memorable and deathless ditties in that, including Lambeth Walk ("Hoy...!") and The Sun Has Got His Hat On ("Hip hip hip hip hooray!"). Noel Gay was actually a pseudonym for Reginald Armitage who wrote many songs for the likes of George Formby, Gracie Fields and Flanagan and Allen and was – according to the late theatre critic Sheridan Morley – the nearest this country got to Irving Berlin. He then founded the famous Noel Gay agency to handle actors, musicians and all sorts of other talent ... which still is going strong and still a family concern, currently headed by the grandson, Alex. With whom last week I had the pleasure of lunching... [download PDF]


218: Lemonia July 4 2013

It seems that there are many things I can say to people that are more or less guaranteed to provoke a perfectly stupefied reaction: "I have not been on the tube since 1976" is one... "I loathe and detest Downton Abbey” – that’s another. As is the follow-up: “I am, however, an enormous fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” And here’s one more: “I have never been to Lemonia.” Oh yes – whenever I say that, you can hear the smack and echo of the jaws of locals hitting the northwest London pavements. I don’t know why I never have – it’s been on that corner of Regent’s Park Road for about 35 years and has become a byword for a good and extremely popular Greek restaurant ... but there it is: never been. Admittedly, Greek is very far from being my favourite cuisine (it can’t actually be anyone’s favourite cuisine, can it...? Apart from Greeks, I suppose) but it is nothing to do with that. Lemonia was simply a restaurant I knew was there, and one day would get around to. And that day has finally come: here I am - watch me! I am walking through the door! I am greeted very pleasantly! I am being shown to a rather rotten little table two inches away from another rather rotten little table very close to the bar! I am smilingly requesting a much larger one in the far brighter atrium towards the rear! And now I am sitting there happily, gazing about me... [download PDF]


217: Tari Tari June 27 2013

Are you old enough to remember when the Swiss Cottage Odeon only ever showed one film, for the simple reason that there was only one screen? One main feature, I mean – though there was plenty else, including a Look At Life: a jolly five-minute romp through some or other English fixation or eccentricity. Trailers showing all the best bits and blowing the plot of next week’s attraction – and then all the terribly glamorous advertisements for things like Rothmans King Size and the Ford Cortina. There would be an ‘intermission’ when it was announced that “salesgirls will visit all parts of the theatre” – which meant a gaggle of cuties selling Fruties from a tray slung around their necks, this made twinkly by a little Kia-Ora light (and not just Fruties but choc ices and fruit parfaits as well). Then there were shorter, more basic adverts for local businesses “just two minutes from this cinema”: a hairdresser with the name of Hebe, I recall, and some sort of coffee bar hellhole called El Sombrero. Always featured was the Cosmo restaurant further down Finchley Road, a sanctuary for Mittel Europeans who pretended to eat the food while concentrating darkly on strong black coffee and cigarettes... [download PDF]


216: Getti June 20 2013

My childhood was not of the bookish variety, which is maybe why I took to television with a considerable passion (whereas now I don't watch it at all, really – just record old films). I loved the American cowboy programmes, and God there were so many of them: Wagon Train, Bonanza, Rawhide, Cheyenne, Hawkeye, Bronco, Wyatt Earp, Maverick – on and on. What with all these and cartoons such as Popeye and Yogi Bear, it’s amazing I ever got my prep done. But my special affection was reserved for the English comedy programmes – Hancock’s Half Hour in particular, but also The Army Game, Arthur Haynes and Steptoe & Son. There were no repeats in those days, and obviously no way of recording them – and yet I seemed to absorb the scripts as if by some form of osmosis, and my mother would go crazy when I endlessly repeated the odd amusing little nugget, striving to do all the different voices: it was the accents that got to her, because it seemed to be a given that nobody in comedy would actually speak English proper like what you’s meant to... [download PDF]


215: L'Antica June 13 2013

Do you like Italian food? Of course you do - everybody likes Italian food. Italian food is yummy and made with not just pasta but big mother love and a warming burst of sunshine. It’s true that in this country we don’t know much about its variety and intricacy, most Italian restaurants apart from the very finest (Locanda Locatelli, say – or Murano, where the sublime Angela Hartnett is cooking) tending to confine their menus to the tried and tested: sure-fire hits to which our palates have become accustomed. And most notable and much-loved among these is what is rather horribly referred to as ‘spag bol’ – a mean and nauseating reduction suggestive of hardly more than Heinz Spaghetti or else a very basic and cheaply produced bowlful of industrial pasta topped with frankly heaven knows what. A true spaghetti (or, even better, tagliatelle) Bolognese is, of course, a lovesome thing, and there are many places in London where very decent examples may be enjoyed in exchange for not much money at all: Giovanni Rana, for instance - a great place near Regent's Park which I reviewed last year - and even Strada and the few remaining Spaghetti Houses. The original of these in Goodge Street is quite unchanged (gingham cloths, chianti bottles, fairly obscene pepper mills) and the basic dishes are better than you might expect... [download PDF]


214: Reform Social & Grill June 6 2013

Gentlemen's clubs are sometimes much parodied and jeered, most often by people who either have never so much as entered so august an establishment, or else are simply aching to be a member of one. Although the detail of old established clubs varies infinitely, the bedrock of the notion remains the same: an agreeable place to meet and eat with persons who are by no means clones, but do share a broadly similar outlook on life and leisure. Ages of members vary, though by definition election to one of the more prestigious will generally be accorded to a person who has attained a degree of eminence. But we have all seen so many (often American) films that depict a lounge the size of a ballroom, the deep buttoned leather armchairs filled with perfectly ancient men, some of whom may well have passed away unnoticed – and should anyone so much as rustle a newspaper, he is treated to mutely furious glares of censure. And then there is the abiding controversy over the few remaining clubs that still are “gentlemen only”. The wiser woman will not care a jot about this, because she has better things to think about and many other places to be – but to a hard core of vituperative types, this continues to rankle. It is not that they particularly want to be members – they simply cannot tolerate the fact that they are disallowed (while always extremely welcome as guests)... [download PDF]


213: Bistro Aix May 30 2013

You have heard the term "squeezed middle"...? London restaurants know all about it: when people who were used to eating out quite regularly at their favourite local bistros and trattoria suddenly now are feeling the pinch ... then the favourite local, I’m afraid, tends to be largely forsaken in favour of home cooking, takeaways or the eternal supermarket “dine-in” deals. The top restaurants remain fully booked, fast food continues to fill the hungry hordes (they’re lovin’ it!) ... but many middling restaurants have been forced to call it a day and shut up shop. This then results in much wailing and rending of garments among the very locals who ultimately – though through no fault of their own – failed to support them. But many more restaurants are proving to be rather more tenacious, and are coming up with ideas in order to lure the punters back. While some have decided to dispense with loss-making lunchtime opening altogether, others think that ever longer hours are the answer. And just last week, I ventured to one of these ... oh yes indeed: upon your behalf, I travelled – if not quite to the ends of time, then certainly to the End of Crouch... [download PDF]


212: Le Garrick May 23 2013

And so to the gallery, there to see the exhibition devoted to Federico Barocci - a wonderful artist, though I must admit I'd never heard of him before all the reviews began to appear. He lived from 1535 to 1612, though much of his output does seem strikingly modern: not so much the very grand altarpieces as the enchanting pastel and chiaroscuro preparatory sketches: you could swear they were 19th century (and I suppose I’m thinking Pre-Raphaelite, which makes a sort of sense). The highlight of the show came when an elderly lady, peering at a very muscular Nativity scene, whispered to another elderly lady, “yes, but they don’t look very Jewish, do they...?”. So anyway, a jolly good time was had there by my wife, son and self – despite the exhibition being in the Sainsbury Wing, which is vast, unenchanting and rather resembles a Stalinist railway station within, and an uncompromising pre-apocalyptic bunker without (despite the grudging inclusion on the façade of the occasional fractured Corinthian capital). A restaurant nearby was therefore needed – for there is nothing like a dose of art for waking up the appetite. Somewhere in the middle of the final room, I tend to find myself sneaking a peek at my watch: ah ... 12.45 – perfect: soon I shall be feeding again... [download PDF]


211: Reubens May 16 2013

Can it really be a year since the last Gefiltefest...? Yes indeed - how time does fly when all you ever do with your life is lunch and loaf: some of you, I realise, may well do more than this, achieve great things, but not me matey, oh no. Though what, you might ask, is a Gefiltefest when it’s at home in Golders Green? Well it is a rather jolly annual festival of Jewish food, to be held this Sunday, May 19, at Ivy House, home to the London Jewish Cultural Centre. The programme fairly bursts with all sorts of rather amusing events such as the Ashkenazi v Sephardi Cook-Off (“which cuisine will reign supreme?”) and six or seven activities being held simultaneously throughout the day with hourly demonstrations involving such things as chocolate, challah baking, knife sharpening ... and krauting. I’m telling you – if over the years your once dazzling krauting skills have grown a little rusty, this is the place to be. The garden will be filled with stalls selling things such as falafels and kosher candy (and how they resisted calling it Kosher Kandy I shall never know) while as we speak there is frenzied voting going on to discover where to find the very best challah, bagels, falafels, schwarma, cheesecake and strudel... [download PDF]


210: Aubaine May 9 2013

There are these people - outsiders, civilians - to whom 'Hampstead' is little more than a malicious rumour, satirical adjective or else (most offensive of all) a contemptuous synonym for The Bishops bloody Avenue. And such folk will often ask me why oh why is there nowhere really decent to eat up there? And all I can say to them is this: Listen, matey – you should have tried it a decade ago, in the days when we were really in trouble. It is true though that there has never truly been a destination restaurant in Hampstead (Keats? Not really) – which, given the comparative unpoverty of the area and general enthusiasm for all things culinary, was and remains a mystery. People will make a special trip to see the Village, and certainly for the Heath ... but when it comes to eating, there is nowhere absolutely obvious to go. I always thought that the Freemasons in Downshire Hill or Jack Straw’s Castle at the highest point in London would have provided rather wonderful sites: large, handsome buildings - and somewhere to dump the car. But the first of these remains a disappointing pub serving fill-you-up grub and with a lovely garden chock-full of kiddies and smokers (and it does occur to me that since the smoking ban, when children and addicts were forced to congregate in the same small outside space, the little mites’ passive lungs must be infinitely more polluted than before) while Jack Straw’s is ... well I’m not sure what it is: luxury dwellings for luxury people, I suppose... [download PDF]


209: The Parcel Yard May 2 2013

King's Cross... is slowly but surely coming together. As eyesore after eyesore is either renovated or removed altogether, the good bits are visibly beginning to join, in the satisfying manner of a jigsaw – and this before even all the new stuff has been built on the site of the famous gasometers (which, obviously and inevitably, will be glaringly inferior to the old stuff). One can clearly see now though that all the talk about regeneration, the rescuing of the area from virtual death, was not just hot air. It’s actually becoming ... nice. And the best thing that has happened lately is the removal (nearly complete) of the sprawling wood and glass slum that was thrown up in the 1960s as a seemingly calculated insult to the noble façade of Lewis Cubitt’s station. The yellow London stock brickwork now has been cleaned, and one actually can see the thing again - those two great swooping arches, startlingly modern for 1851: it could almost be art deco. Cubitt - not be be confused with the rather more famous brother Thomas, who constructed much of Belgravia and many Camden and Holborn squares – was also responsible for the massive old granary behind the station which now is home to St Martin’s School of Art and the Granary restaurant, reviewed here a while ago. And as conservation is now very much the name of the game, it was pleasing to discover a new restaurant and pub actually within the station and on the upper floor above the main concourse. This is called The Parcel Yard because it used to be ... guess what? Yes indeed: that very thing... [download PDF]


208: Byron April 25 2013

My My, the burger has come such a very long way since, first in the 1950s, schoolchildren everywhere were simply thrilled to be taken to a Wimpy Bar, there to joyously squirt ketchup out of the big red plastic tomato on to their one-and-sixpenny hamburger: a thin and grey thing, to be sure – but similar enough in appearance to those seen and marvelled at in American films as to make everybody feel suitably hip, and even rather excited (a simple time, you see – and that’s no bad thing). The Wimpy Bar was a brightly lit red and yellow sort of a place with shiny plastic tables and a stand- up menu with a little red roof on the top of it: all a satisfying mile away from the lacy little teashops and department store plaice-and-chips restaurants of the parents' generation. The fact that the actual Wimpy hamburger was a beastly mean little thing meant nothing at all; and anyway - how did we know it was mean and beastly? We had nothing to compare it with (except a Birds Eye frozen beefburger, which was also mean and even beastlier)... [download PDF]


207: Bob Bob Ricard April 18 2013

Just back from Paris, where I was rather busy plugging the French edition of my latest novel, England's Lane, and - in between times - scoffing French food. Then I did the same in Brussels – and in a splendid traditional Flemish restaurant seemingly untouched since before the First World War ... there I saw it, on the menu: horse steak, at 30 euros. Well what an opportunity, I thought – I’m never going to see this on offer in England, am I? Not knowingly, anyway. And I’ve never eaten horse, have I? So I simply have to do it...! It’s an absolute must, yes? And then ... I chickened out of it and went for – not actually chicken, but cow. Which was excellent, but a bit pathetic of me – and still I do feel that I’ve rather let the side down. Never mind: I might take a short trip to Bruges, maybe, and on that occasion I vow to have stallion and chips. It was a pretty intense trip: they’re always very good to you, foreign publishers – top-rate hotels, travel and so on – but by God, once they’ve got you there, they very much want their money’s worth. So back-to-back interviews and increasingly daft photo shoots all day long, prior to grateful collapse before the dinner table... [download PDF]


206: The Stag April 11 2013

Desperate. That's what Dan was, according to the Dandy, that late and much lamented comic. It expired at the end of last year on its seventy-fifth birthday, its circulation reduced from a 1950s heyday high of more than two million to just 8000. Comics were just about all I read when I was a stripling, the Beano being my absolute favourite: Dennis the Menace, Roger the Dodger, Minnie the Minx, Lord Snooty, Little Plum – and, best of all, The Bash Street Kids. The rivals boasted but one or two such stand-out characters – The Topper had Beryl the Peril, and The Dandy, of course, had Dan. Who never did appear to be even vaguely desperate, actually – Chambers defining this word as the state of being in the depths of despair. On the contrary – Dan seemed to be endlessly inventive and optimistic, seemingly careless of his superhuman strength and the damage that could be wrought even from his barbed wire stubble. I fondly remember his fashioning a pipe out of a dustbin and a drainpipe, then filling it with 20lb of best shag before puffing on it contentedly. But most laudable and memorable of all was his gargantuan appetite: every evening, his Aunt Aggie would prepare for him his favourite meal – the incomparable Cow Pie... [download PDF]


205: Lord Palmerston April 4 2013

So where is Lord Palmerston, when most you need him ...? For he is just exactly what this country is aching for – a proper, grown-up prime minister who tackles the hugely important issues of the day, leaving all fiddling while Rome is burning to the shilly-shallyers and lunatics. He was actually PM twice, having held all the other major offices, and was in government virtually constantly for 60 years. Apart from famously being instrumental in the abolition of slavery in a nameless place so very much less enlightened than ourselves (America) he also banned child labour and introduced vaccination to ensure the health of the little mites, now that they no longer had to climb up the inside of chimneys. Penal reform, smoke abatement and little local difficulties such as the Crimean War – all were grist to Palmerston’s very considerable mill. He started out as a Tory and became a Liberal – though nowadays, of course, no such choice is necessary because ... we have a coalition!... [download PDF]


204: Café Also March 28 2013

Temple Fortune... it's not the sort of place you'd really think of going to, is it? No, not really - unless you actually lived there, of course. And one does receive the impression, from having mooched about it a bit, that if you did live there, you would be generally disinclined to go anywhere else. For here we have what is called a tight-knit community, with a feeling of safety in numbers, self- sufficiency and maybe just a tad of complacence. There used to be a school outfitter hereabouts, which happily relieved an unceasing succession of fraught, strapped and captive parents of perfectly extraordinary sums of money in exchange for nasty little blazers that crackled with static. A lot of the architecture is famously Arts & Crafts, and even more of it isn’t. There is a parade of generally useful shops – and among them, that increasingly rare bird: the independent bookshop. Joseph’s Bookstore, it’s called – and of course I was hurtled back in time to those long distant days when I ran The Flask Bookshop in Hampstead. I could have called it Joseph’s Bookstore, I suppose – except for the fact that I am a shy and blushing wallflower, and also because ‘bookstore’ is decidedly American... [download PDF]


203: The Lansdowne March 21 2013

I have nothing but admiration for cartoonists. Each of those I have ever met has been... well... singular, shall we say - which is why their individual work is always identifiable. They tend to see things sideways – though never from the same side as another of their profession. Caricature is maybe even more worthy of praise – because while no actual joke is required, the pay-off can be even more considerable, provided that the artist knows what he’s about. Unlike a mere portrait painter or photographer, it is the task of a caricaturist to not just present an exaggerated semblance of the subject (either affectionate, ribald or – in the case of such as Rowson or Scarfe – terrifyingly damning and grotesque) but to somehow delve deeper, and beyond. We must be given an inkling into character, inclination, vice or even aroma. The most successful seem to be achieved in remarkably few lines – this maybe exemplified by Gary (who represents his subjects’ eyes as dashes, dots, squiggles or crosses, and yet always they are the eyes exactly) and our own Ken Pyne of this parish, whose little vignettes of the famous which feature regularly in Private Eye are always bang on the money... [download PDF]


202: Greenberry Café March 14 2013

Primrose Hill is an area I am enjoying to stroll around more and more every single time I come to visit. The Hill itself is a good deal to do with it, but the atmosphere in Regent’s Park Road is always rather energising – I think because it’s a real and cherished local street with real and cherishable local people who all seem to know one another. The shops are rather more chi-chi, of course, than your average run-of- the-mill parade – excellent kitchen equipment from Richard Dare, an entire block of cafés quite literally cheek by jowl, an independent bookshop (long may it live), a Nicolas wine emporium, a pet shop and a couple of much-loved restaurants: Odette’s and Lemonia. It’s also very well endowed with original telephone boxes. A pair of the very earliest type stands proud just outside the Queen’s, and there is a further rather later example further down the road. In the 1950s, these bright red beauties were always, but always, occupied – and usually outside there was a queue of people (simmering or soaked) the first in line tending to rap impatiently upon the glass with one of the four large pennies that were necessary to make a phone call (Button A and Button B forming part of the national psyche). Then in the 1960s they were generally empty because they had all been vandalised... [download PDF]


201: Balthazar March 7 2013

What does the word Balthazar conjure up for you? Possibly the name of one the gold, frankincense and myrrh-bearing magi...? Or, conceivably, the second volume of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet...? If you are a restaurant- going foodie, however, the word will resonate with Kevin McNally’s hugely famous and popular New York brasserie – opened 15 years ago, and still one of Manhattan’s very hottest tickets. And now there is one in London – superbly positioned on the site of the old Theatre Museum bang on the Covent Garden Piazza, and opposite the flank of the Opera House. It has been opened under the umbrella of Richard Caring’s harem of terrific restaurants – Caprice, J Sheekey, the Ivy, the Dean Street Townhouse, the Côte chain and, oh ... lots of others ... and guess who was there a couple of weeks ago on opening night...? You’re right: moi. Moi and the missus, actually. We had just come from a reception at the House of Lords in aid of a cause very close to home: the Royal Free Charity, of which – somewhat bewilderingly – I have the honour to be a patron... [download PDF]


200: 1 Blenheim Terrace February 28 2013


I just know that most of you will not have been able to sleep for excitement – can have been thinking of little else in the whole wide world - but now and at last, here it is, folks! My 200th restaurant review in the Ham&High: O frabjous day! And my little way of involving a reader in this extraordinarily significant event was to invite you all to write to me, if you fancied a spot of lunch. And write you did – though all those who failed to, I should like to report to my study at the conclusion of this piece in order to present to me a plausible reason. The responses (and heartfelt thanks to all) were in the ratio of one male to every nine females: what can this mean? That ladies like to lunch, I can only assume. And the unfeasibly fortunate winner (do your own drum roll) ... is Lesley Malnick, an avid reader of the Ham&High (“I always turn to your page first” – bless you dear, even if you’re lying) who has lived in Highgate for the last nine years. “Before that,” she says, “I was in Essex. Which was disgusting.” Oh yes – she speaks as she finds, does Mrs Malnick... [download PDF]


199: Sherlock's Bar & Grill February 21 2013

For people of a certain age and persuasion, Baker Street will forever be associated with the Great Detective - for here, at 221b, he famously plied his brilliant trade with the essential support of the frankly saintly Mrs Hudson, and that fine old stalwart, Dr Watson. The Abbey National building is said to occupy the site – and although that was not long ago demolished, miraculously they somehow managed to retain the legendary stone arch at its summit. And still they receive letters from all over the world addressed to Mr Sherlock Holmes, beseeching his assistance in matters of great importance. Are they mad, these people, do you think? Or simply deluded and desperate? They maybe also write letters to Lapland, assuring Santa of how good they’ve been, and listing their desirabilia... [download PDF]


198: The Foundry February 14 2013

So I’d read Clare Tomalin’s recent biography of Dickens, and I’d been dipping into the Collected Letters and only just come to the end of Judith Flanders’s Victorian City – all about London in the time of Dickens. Consequently, was I ready to visit the newly refurbished Dickens Museum in Doughty Street, Holborn? Why of course I was. This is one of many of the great man’s addresses in the capital, though most of them are now long vanished. More than £3million has been spent to restore the place to how it might have appeared when it was actually his home – where he wrote Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and a goodly chunk of Nicholas Nickleby... [download PDF]


197: Jamon Jamon February 7 2013

Possibly because I so frequently encounter professionally cooked food, I have turned against all the ninety-seven thousand television programmes devoted to the subject. I say all, but there is just the one and glittering exception, and she is called Nigella. I love her genuine enthusiasm – not to say her rather miraculous face – and also the fact that she speaks in intelligible English. Jamie Oliver just simple drives me crazy, and a little of the bucolic and mimsy double act that is the Hairy Bikers goes a very long way indeed (and anyway, as everyone, knows, you can’t possibly trust any man with a beard). Nigel Slater is good for reading, but not for looking at. I used to love Delia, of course, because it is both rude and unpatriotic not to: it would be like turning on your own mother. But what I absolutely can’t stomach any more is any variation of MasterChef... [download PDF]


196: Michael Nadra January 31 2013

I think I may safely be said to be a Times man, having taken the paper every single day since a boarding school lad, aged but fifteen short summers. Which was years ago. The Times in those days was truly a thing to behold – The Thunderer! The newspaper of record! Magisterial in appearance ... and only 6d. They had some deal going on with schools (do you think they still do?) whereby the full price was initially paid by all the long- suffering parents – along with such essential extras as tickets to the Oxford Playhouse to see Antigone in the original Greek, cricket pads, sandwiches for nature trails and coach trips to London during which one might, with deftness, skive off the tour of the British Museum and pretend to enjoy vile Pale Ale in a nearby sticky pub. Then, during the hols, parents were reimbursed with half the cost of the papers – the idea being, I suppose, to catch ‘em young: and in my case, seducible oaf that I am, clearly it has worked. I still am shocked by its present tabloid format (or ‘compact’ as they will insist) ... but I do feel very much wedded to the thing – and the crossword (the nearest I get to a morning workout) is still the best of all... [download PDF]


195: Penks January 24 2013

I was born in Hampstead, and apart from a few years’ exile in a boarding school in the middle of a field, have lived here ever since – and yet I know pitifully little about the wider environs of this massive and wonderful city. There are vast tracts of it – some newly trendy, many best avoided – that not only have I never visited, but I wouldn’t know even vaguely in which direction they may lie. Because that old line about London being a series of villages is, of course, perfectly true, and fairly early on one learns one’s beats, and tends to stick to them. So Hampstead I know backwards, quite naturally, and I’m pretty good on Soho, the West End, St James’s, Covent Garden, Chelsea ... oh God, I’m running out now. Other parts I’m on nodding acquaintance with: south of the river (but only the bits with good restaurants), Clerkenwell (but only the bits with good restaurants) and – closer to home – Camden and Kentish Towns. But Kilburn I haven’t been to for, well ... decades. Because why would you?... [download PDF]


194: Café Rouge January 17 2013

It was time for somewhere ordinary. Sometimes you want that, don’t you? Not awful – not cheap and nasty, but just somewhere comfortingly ordinary. So where more ordinary than Café Rouge ...? I have, en passant, often dismissed this hapless chain without ever actually reviewing it – and this is because occasionally in the past I have been foolish enough to have visited several branches, while always afterwards wondering why. I once had an omelette in the Cambridge outpost ... well – I say I had an omelette, but I couldn’t actually eat it, or anything. Then there was the steak in that one just behind Harrods: ho ho, very amusing. Desperate Dan might, I suppose, have managed to chomp his way through, but it was way beyond me. The thing is, Café Rouge always looks so very seductive: this wonderful red and gold and twinkly pastiche of the Parisian brasserie that only ever really existed as the backdrop to a Gene Kelly musical, but continues to excite the British with its spurious evocations of choucroute and escargots and grenouilles and bavettes and calvados and absinthe and all sorts of other things that they never actually eat or drink... [download PDF]


193: 2012 Restaurant Roundup January 10 2013

Come and have lunch with me! Come on, don't be shy. It's a new year, and you're not so foolish (you can't be) as to be on a January detox and diet. No, of course not, so look, come and have lunch with me. All expenses paid, and the review of this never-to-be- forgotten occasion printed on this page, with a picture of the two of us: truly one for the album. I’ve made this offer before in previous years, but this time it’s special. On the last day of February, I’ll be publishing my 200th restaurant review in the Ham&High, and I want one fortunate reader to be a big part of it – such a celebration as will render last year’s Jubilee and Olympics as no more than shabby and slight. So, email me via my website (details below) and tell me why you’d like to join me. We might even go somewhere terrific – though do feel free to make suggestions (as I haven’t reviewed the place before). If you could manage it within the next fortnight, it would aid me greatly... [download PDF]


192: Le Gavroche and Colbert December 20 2012

And so this is Christmas. Do your home and family now look just like the welter of recent advertisements? A golden wreath on your red front door? Your beautiful children wearing plum coloured velvet? Your equally beautiful and silky partners near obliterated by must-have bags and sleekly bejewelled ‘timepieces’? No ...? Well at least you don’t have to stand the articles any more: Books of the Year (‘Christmas that is bound to please!), stocking fillers (‘Christmas all wrapped up!) and of course the acres of screed on the ‘perfect turkey’ (‘Christmas on a plate with all the trimmings!’)... [download PDF]


191: Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack December 13 2012

Fitzrovia is a catch-all soubriquet that is so much beloved of estate agents, tying together as it does a straggling ragbag of streets that don’t quite belong anywhere else, while bestowing upon the whole an aura of sort-of glamour, and a vague exclusivity. The name derives not so much from the very gorgeous Fitzroy Square as the rather less splendid Fitzroy Tavern, on the corner of Charlotte Street and in the shadow of the Post Office Tower. It is one of London’s legendary boozers – the French House in Soho is another – and still there are the professional bar-room bores who will tell you that in one or both of these establishments they often enjoyed a long and bibulous lunchtime or evening session with Augustus John, Brendan Behan ... and Dylan Thomas, but of course. It is hard to encounter one of these ruddy old fellows who hasn’t at some time got drunk with the Bard Of Wales, or so they have thoroughly convinced themselves, over the haziness of the intervening years. The Fitzroy is but a shadow of its rambunctious self during the glory days, currently being a favourite of students from UCL (it is pretty cheap) while – and be warned of this – on the first Thursday of every month the place is overrun by hardcore fans of Doctor Who, and nobody quite knows why... [download PDF]


190: Caravan December 6 2012

Art. How tiny and plain a word it is, for something so utterly limitless and chock-full of mystery and light. A bit like sex, in that sense (and others too, I suppose). Art, though – this word these days is not just tiny and plain, but dirty too. Art has got itself a pretty bad rep, just lately. The Turner Prize adds greatly to the jollity of the nation, of course – this annual beanfeast which allows everyone to have a damned good laugh at all these serious and ugly men and women who will, in pursuit of their passion, pile up dung, release the butterflies, unload the maggots, confront us with rude bits, or else just invite us to contemplate nothingness. Though, are these po-faced people not really laughing up their sleeves (and down to the bank) even louder than we are uproariously jeering their tedious offerings? It is moot... [download PDF]


189: Hardy's November 29 2012

As I awaited my guest in a quiet little side street just behind Marylebone High Street, I felt rather as if I might have been a character in a play, such was the vaguely stage-like setting – though a character in search of not so much an author, as a lunch. From the outside, Hardy’s is handsome – bottle green and glossy with highlights of gold, a full scale Union Jack proudly flying from a jutting pole: it looks like the theatrical recreation of a tasteful English restaurant as envisioned by an optimistic expatriate in Hollywood. Inside it is a study in calculated casualness: the furniture is artfully mismatched, though totally toning: claret buttoned banquettes, captains’ chairs, half lace curtains. A marble-topped bar brings in a slice of Austrian café, the pastiche canvases hauling us back to Blighty: Beardsley black-and-white approximations of his more risqué illustrations for the Yellow Book, but with each wicked lady here clutching a brimming glass of red wine. The room was spattered with well-dressed couples and clusters, all from central casting … and then there is the proprietor: oh my. Very tall, and with the sort of short back and sides that was de rigueur for a squaddie during the Crimean War – in that there was no back, no sides, merely a thicket, a tuft on top... [download PDF Part 1 & Part 2]


188: Pane Vino November 22 2012

The recession seems to be exacting its toll upon London’s middle range restaurants. McDonald’s profits are up, Le Gavroche is permanently booked… but the friendly little place around the corner is decidedly feeling the pinch – and none more, seemingly, than the Italian trattoria. This might be partly due to the chains – Jamie’s, most intrusively, but also Spaghetti House, Café Pasta, Strada and Giovanni Rana (not yet part of a chain, but this excellent and low-priced restaurant near Regent’s Park – reviewed here some months ago – I am sure soon will be). Nor do supermarkets help the cause of the mama and papa-run local Italian. Waitrose very recently upped the game with a range of ready meals devised by Heston – I have sampled the lasagne, and have to say that it is excellent (as is, on quite another tack, his shepherd’s pie). In the lasagne we have – among many other ingredients and seasoning – egg pasta, beef, pork, onion, tomato, white wine, parmesan, double cream, extra virgin olive oil, celery, sherry vinegar, umami paste, beef stock, garlic, star anise … dear me: and all for under £4: how can the trattoria compete? [download PDF Part 1 & Part 2]


187: Briciole November 15 2012

A dandy. Do I consider myself to be a dandy? What do you think about it? Would you say I’m a dandy? I only ask because over the past few weeks, by way of publicising my new novel (entitled England’s Lane, since you press me) I have done quite a few interviews for various papers and magazines, and this singular word has arisen more than once. Maybe I am a dandy – who’s to say? I certainly must seem so when compared with how the majority of younger men choose to disport themselves. While women increasingly are making the effort, the chaps seem to me to have been tricked out for decades in the same closely mown and chopped-up hair, T-shirts bearing witless slogans and jarring iconography, ill-fitting trousers and unspeakable shoes. Even within an older age bracket, the only men who wear suits and ties are obliged to (estate agents, accountants, Kray-type hitmen) and because they resent this obligation, the suits and ties are very largely horrible for the reason that they would far prefer to be in polo shirts, V-necks and button- downs (all with silly logos), chinos, loafers and carrying, God help us, ‘man-bags’ – along with anything else that will transform them into one great fluffy happy weekend down-time and blandly vanilla bundle of smartly casual mess... [download PDF - Part 1 & Part 2]


186: Dach & Sons November 8 2012

Hard to imagine it these days, but Heath Street used to be the coolest and most fashionable part of Hampstead. While the High Street still had plenty of independent shops, they tended to the functional (as shops in a high street ought to, of course). So there was Gaze the haberdashery, Fowler the ironmonger, Finlay’s the tobacconist (I know! A proper dark panelled and wonderfully aromatic joy, devoted wholly to smoking: large Delft tobacco jars, racks of pipes and a gas jet that you leaned towards to light your cigar). Foster was our local mini Fortnum & Mason, Stamp the chemist, King the stationer, Sam Cook the greengrocer and Knowles-Brown the jeweller … not to mention Woolworth’s and the shoe shop Freeman, Hardy & Willis. In contrast, Heath Street boasted Chic, a very upmarket purveyor of classic designer clothes and shoes for women. There was another for men called Goulding House – and there was also a boutique (we rather thrilled to the word “boutique”) called Choses … which sold, well … things. There too was Drazin, which had flashy televisions the size of a wardrobe. The open air annual art exhibition, Maxwell’s – London’s first true American diner – and lots of historic and unbuggered up English pubs... [download PDF - Part 1 & Part 2]


185: Simply Fish November 1 2012

The taxi driver who took me down to Camden Town was one of the few remaining wheezy old geezers who in the old days always would have had a damp and skinny stump of a roll-up wetly wagging up and down between his always whining lips, and clamped in place by one of his two good remaining fangs. “See that roadworks? See it? Weren’t there this morning. On my life. I come down here early this morning, right? First job. Weren’t there. None of it. Straight up. God’s honest truth. Jubilee-vit? Always changing – that’s the trouble. Everything, these days – it always bleeding changing. ”Yeah – but not Camden Town. Never bleeding changes, Camden Town. Always a bit edgy, a bit dirty, a bit trendy, a bit tatty, a bit cool, a bit foodie, a bit criminal ... and always seemingly a million miles from Hampstead. The air: it’s just not the same. Down here it is laden with the whiff of sweet chocolate muffins, joss sticks and Underground breath – badly tanned catskin, old ale and Moroccan pot. The stalls in the Inverness Street market are choked with not just knock-off logos but the naff embodiment of Old English tradition: obsolete LPs, Mecca Bingo, Amy Winehouse and the Union Jack... [download PDF - Part 1 & Part 2]


184: Shrimpy's October 25 2012

Here comes a further chapter in my intrepid exploration of the farther reaches of the newly trendy building site that they call King’s Cross. Although it is but a few months old, you will probably have heard of Shrimpy’s – not just because it is an amusing and memorable name, but because here we have the trendiest of them all: it achieved instant fame, cool and street cred on the day it opened, I know not why. It’s like that sometimes with restaurants – usually because they come labelled as ‘pop-ups’. Covent Garden and Soho are littered with pop-ups, and such as Selfridges is not averse either to accommodating the hotter ones. The appeal seems to lie in the fact that they tend to be small, the resident talent has provenance and form, and the implication is that they won’t be around for too long. So if you are not going to be one of London’s most pathetic losers – social debris – you must just rush to get there, before it is gone... [download PDF]


183: Proud Cabaret October 18 2012

Marilyn Monroe. There’s a name you just don’t hear any more – a starlet of yesteryear who briefly shimmered, and now has fallen into the abyss of oblivion. A forgotten name that resonates with no one today. I cannot recall the last time I saw anything about her in print, and it’s even difficult to track down a picture of her these days. Yes, I must be the last person standing to remember and adore dear and fabulous Marilyn. So imagine my excitement when, logging on to the Proud Cabaret website, I saw images of a convincing lookalike, miming to Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend. Right, I thought, that alone will be worth the price of admission. So I phoned the number, and was passed from one polite woman to a second, and then a third. My booking was taken, with a £20 deposit, not unreasonable, for in Proud Cabaret we have that wonderfully old-fashioned (and very welcome) notion of dinner in a red and softly lit place, with a floorshow to skewer your interest – so the management doesn’t want no-shows... [download PDF]


182: Chicken Shop October 11 2012

The food scene in London is becoming not just more egalitarian, but also very much more specific in its intention. Street food vendors in places like Korea and Singapore (or Camden Lock) have always specialised: each of the stalls will serve you the one thing only, very often superb. American towns and cities still are littered with hot dog stands that sell just hot dogs: the only choice is whether or not you want them loaded with the yellow or the red (and why would you not?) For many decades, all you could buy in a fish and chip shop was fish and chips – with a gallon of Sarson’s, guaranteed to turn the paper pungently soggy. Ice cream vans held to their brief, as did your local pizzeria and hamburger joint – though then came an expansion of all their menus, such diversification being generally dismal. They should have stuck to their lasts: as Clint Eastwood said so memorably (while squinting enigmatically into the sun): “A man’s got to know his limitations.”... [download PDF]


181: The Old Bull And Bush October 4 2012

Florrie Forde is not too much of a pin-up these days, and nor, I suspect, was she even in her heyday, in that she did look like a rather ample bloke sporting a shingle. But she wowed them in the music hall, oh by George she did. She’d garner huge applause simply by stepping on to the stage, and then she’d say: “A chord in D please, Mr Conductor” and Mr Conductor would say: “Right-o, Flo”, and she’d be off into her best loved hit, Down At The Old Bull And Bush. A terrible song, to be sure – but the English love nothing more than joining in the choruses of truly terrible songs: it’s what got us through the war and made us what we are. The refrain of this little ditty was particularly popular because it goes: “ Da da da da da...!”, so there wasn’t a lot to remember. She’d go: “There’s a little nook down near old Hampstead town” – and then she’d go: “Come, come, come and make eyes at me down at the old Bull and Bush,” and that’s the moment when all the dewy-eyed and half-cut fans in the stalls and dress circle could collectively let rip with their “Da da da da da...!”, amid much stomping and roaring... [download PDF]


180: Six CLerks September 27 2012

Bedford Row is a very beautiful early Georgian terrace in Holborn, and in terms of quality and preservation, right up there with nearby Doughty Street and Hampstead’s own Church Row. Long ago, there used to be there an ancient firm of solicitors called Peake & Co (now subsumed into the mighty and prestigious Charles Russell). This firm was, I suppose, our family solicitor, though I can’t recall that they ever did us much good. In a basement office deliberately and very self-consciously crammed with rolled up old briefs, writs and documents, thick with ribbons and dust, our man presided in his leather chair, a twobar electric fire to his copious rear, winter and summer... [download PDF]


179: Spaniards Inn September 20 2012

I’ve just got a brand new SmartPhone. My last one was mentally defective. I’ve had others that were merely societally erratic,though there’s one I still recoil from which was diagnosed as clinically insane. But this new SmartPhone … oh my God, ‘smart’, it’s just too small a word for it. Here is the equivalent of Bertrand Russell, plus a QWERTY keyboard: it renders Einstein no more than a superficial dilettante. So when, on an impulse, I decided upon a solitary march across Hampstead Heath, I remembered with a rush that on this spanking new device I could in an instant whistle up a weather report so that I’d know just what I should be wearing. Yes well … the trouble with a SmartPhone is that so often it is compelled to sighingly deal with a perfectly moronic operator, who can but approach it with the nervousness of a girl. I Googled, I giggled … I giggled and I Googled, and still all I could come up with was warning of an imminent tornado over the Indian Ocean. I finally did track down the forecast for North West London, though. Chilly, it said: fair risk of rain, heavy at times... [download PDF]


178: The Engineer September 13 2012

Primrose Hill Road is a fine and bustling avenue – cool and trendy, to be sure, but still with an authentic and villagey feel to it, the adjacent proximity of the Hill itself verily a wonder to behold. But when you venture further, something rather eerie is going on. Maybe one or two kiddy-widdies will be playing in the garden of Chalcot Square … but any childish chortling is the final sound of humanity you are destined to hear. Beyond this point, all is deathly silence. You could walk down the middle of the road – there is no car to trouble you. The pavements are yours, and yours alone. Whenever I am around this part of the borough, I always feel that the residents must have received urgent notification during the night of a lethal contamination borne upon the air, and they have all of them fled of an instant, taking only what they could carry... [download PDF]


177: Karpo September 6 2012

The King’s Cross Regeneration: while incidentally sounding like a novel by Robert Ludlum, the phrase for many years has been little more than a standing joke. To the sceptics, it were as if what was under discussion here was maybe the feasibility of the regeneration of Dante’s Inferno, Grimpen Mire, the Gobi Desert, downtown Kabul or even conceivably Neasden. Just as certain parts of Hampstead Heath are regrettably forever associated with the offduty nocturnal recreations of such as George Michael, so King’s Cross was burned into the collective consciousness as a ratty station with nowhere to sit, druggies, pushers, fleabag boarding houses and – most notably – greasy side streets filled with either barely pubescent or else nearly ancient and raddled prostitutes who were variously unable to speak English, unable to speak, and largely infectious... [download PDF]


176: The Washington August 30 2012

This piece is going to be really very tremendously subtle, you know – because although I am about to write a review of a local hostelry, quite as you have come to expect, what we also have here, if you read rather carefully between the lines, is a plug for my brand new novel. This, however, will be so very lightly woven into the texture of the prose that you will hardly be able to detect it. A practically subliminal sleight of hand, the skill of which, I fancy, will be skirting extraordinarily close to the uncanny. And how’s this for openers? The place I am reviewing today is The Washington, a famous pub on the corner of England’s Lane. And guess what my new novel is called. Go on: guess. No idea? No? Give up? Really? Well I’ll tell you, then: it’s called England’s Lane…! You have to admit, it’s a damned cunning ruse: give me credit where it’s due... [download PDF]


Doodle by Ken Pyne 2012

175: Il Baretto August 23 2012

I can’t get no. No, no, no. It’s just been that sort of a bloody week, quite frankly. Everything I attempted just came to dust. Modern life – I don’t know. Took my son to the Royal Free for a booked-in procedure, except that it wasn’t booked in at all, you see – no record of it whatsoever. They said it was strange. I used another word. Got a letter from the bank inviting me in to review my accounts (because I am “one of their most valued customers”, ho ho bloody ho). So I went at 11am on the day, and at 11.15 I said to the teller that if I didn’t see this woman just immediately, he could close the accounts right now. She turned up then – said she’d been on the phone, you see, and she couldn’t hang up because it would have been rude…! And then she asked me for my name. And did I have any ID? And why was I here, actually?... [download PDF]


174: The Garden Café August 16 2012

Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park formed a rather large part of my dreamy and sunlit childhood summers – largely because they were free. In those days, famously, we made our own entertainment – no real choice in the matter. It does make me guffaw with scorn when I see the papers choked with supplements devoted to ‘What to do with the kids this summer’ – most of the entertainments suggested involving a second mortgage, I should have said. Parents never used to ‘do’ anything with the kids (and nor, mercifully, did they call us kids). We had toys, we had the odd ice cream, courtesy of Mr Whippy, we had each other… and we had Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park. The Hill was chiefly for rolling down, which seemed to me then just about the only sensible thing one could do with a hill... [download PDF]


173: The New Inn August 9 2012

No one in St John’s Wood owns a mobile phone: and I know this for an absolute fact. Because just before lunch there the other day I realised that my pay-as-you-go, like me, was in dire need of sustenance … and while it takes no fewer than seven phone shops to cope with the demands of the populace of Hampstead Village, St John’s Wood High Street boasts but the one, Carphone Warehouse – and it was empty. Devoid of a single customer. Spooky, no? All Iwanted was a 20 quid top-up and I was fallen upon as if I were someone really quite fabulously important like the Queen, say, or Fearne Cotton or someone. Anyway, after those bored assistants had jointly attended to my needs – and it was all I could do to deter them from brewing up a nice cup of tea, giving my shoes a quick buff-up, getting out the photo album and inviting me round to meet their mothers – my inner man was calling... [download PDF]


172: Villandry August 2 2012

I always think that it’s a terribly good thing that you don’t actually have to remember to breathe, nor to remind your blood to keep on pumping about, because I feel sure that I’d be bound to forget – and then just look at what a mess you’re in. But the heart, well – in common with Ol’ Man River, it just goes rolling along. Thumpety-thump, ba-boom, ba-boom, day and night, on and on … until, of course, it doesn’t. And if any of you ever suffer problems in that area – though before your bucket is kicked, prior to your cashing in your chips at the great casino in the sky – you would be fortunate indeed to consult my chum and guest for lunch (whom, I might add, I know but socially). Jullien Gaer is an extremely eminent cardiologist … but more than that: at the famous Harefield Hospital, he has conducted transplants. I was suitably agog, and asked how many. “Oh, a few,” he said, in his usual modest manner. Turns out it could be hundreds... [download PDF]


171: Tip Top Thai July 26 2012

During the run-up to publication of one of my novels, an oriental publicist was assigned to me. Sweet girl, could be sour at times. We’d been in the publisher’s office, and suddenly she looked at me and asked quite accusingly: “You like tie?” At which point, as English chaps will, I fingered the knot of mine rather gingerly, assuming that here was the thing being alluded to. “Well … yes.” I stuttered, reasonably uncertainly. “Quite fond, you know.” As indeed I was, a Hilditch & Key thick silk woven job, it was. “And me,” she then went on to say. “Not too spicy?” “No no,” I rapidly assured her. “Not too spicy at all. Just right. Like you exactly the way you are.” She looked at me fearfully, and then as you would a pitiable imbecile (a look I have encountered both before and since), before we sloped off for a spot of lunch. And only as we walked into the restaurant did I tumble: “You like Thai?” – that’s what she had said to me. Lord, I did feel such a fool... [download PDF]


170: Brasserie Zédel July 19 2012

Those few of you who ritually moan when (very occasionally) I review a restaurant that is away from our cosy little NW patch had better start sharpening a pair of quills: one to dip into the pot of bile that is always about your person, so that a diatribe to the editor may be spittingly scrawled … the other with which to impale me, should we both be so mutually fortunate as ever to encounter. But Brasserie Zédel has relevance – not just because here is the latest offshoot of the ever-burgeoning empire that is Jeremy King’s and Chris Corbin’s (they of The Wolseley and The Delaunay) but also because for the first time in simply ever there has been born a really good and yet quite inexpensive restaurant near the hellhole that still is Leicester Square … and it is perfectly beautiful, to boot... [download PDF]


169: The Waterway July 12 2012

A funny thing happened to me on my way to The Waterway: I ran slap bang into the owner, Mitch Tillman. Not too surprising really – he has a couple of restaurants quite nearby – but what I wanted to know was this: had he hailed me in the street because he knew I was on my way to lunching in one of them? Because although I never warn a place I’m coming, I tend to book in my own name ... so just maybe, two and two had been deftly put together. As it turned out, not. In fact, he said to me this: “Are you free at the moment? It’s such a lovely day, maybe you’d like to have lunch with me at The Waterway?” I hedged. I politely declined. He pressed his case. I hummed, and then I went in for a fair bit of hawing. Eventually I told him that this was exactly where I was currently headed ... and he was genuinely amazed: and you can tell it, genuine amazement, when you see it. So I left him there – covered in genuine amazement – having made him promise not to now phone the restaurant and tip them off... [download PDF]


168: Giovanni Rana July 5 2012

There isn’t a huge point in my droning on about Taste of London in Regent’s Park because it’s finished. Over and done with. On the other hand, it’s an annual fixture, so I’ll maybe totter through just the merest drizzled soupcon of it, and that may inspire or repel you for next year. It takes up a fair chunk of park, quite close to Queen Mary’s Rose Garden, and many of London’s top gaffs are represented – some with simply stalls and griddles, others with pop-up restaurants. You buy tokens – here called ‘‘crowns’’ – and these you exchange for goodies. So for a quid you get two crowns, though the average dish seemed to cost ten of the blighters, so bring a bit of dosh... [download PDF]


167: Villa Bianca June 28 2012

As any fudie fule kno, there is more to a restaurant than merely the menu. I know of quite a few inveterate diners who are constantly amazed at themselves for habitually returning to their ‘favourite’ restaurant, despite the fact that they really don’t very much care for the food. The draw is, they will explain, that it’s walkable. They know us there. We always get a good welcome. They give us the table we like. It’s very good value. You don’t have to dress up (a bit of a laugh, this one, though. Dress up? When did you last see anyone dressed up in a restaurant? Or at the opera, even? Hell, I went to a funeral not that long ago and most of the mourners looked like they had spent the morning lagging the loft and were now intending an energetic afternoon devoted to ridding the scullery of cockroaches). But you see what I mean: the food, it doesn’t get a mention. The Holy Grail, of course, is if you can combine all the comfort and familiarity of a well-liked restaurant with food and service that are superlative. It’s rare, of course – and once you’ve tasted it, it’s hard to walk away... [download PDF]


166: La Gaffe June 21 2012

La Gaffe and me: we got history. Way, way back, amid the shifting mists of time not yet quite forgotten, my wife and I lived at 1 The Mount Square – a rather grand Hampstead Village address for what was a modest skinny corner terrace house that made up for its total lack of outdoor space with a charming and cosy interior. So our kitchen window, you see, backed directly on to the rear of La Gaffe – this prompting everyone to sympathise deeply. Oh God how ghastly ...! Poor you! Behind a restaurant! The whirring fans! The smells! The... bins! Yes, well ... we never had any trouble at all. La Gaffe was owned and run in those days by Bernardo Stella – quite the Hampstead character – and it was a happy ship. The only thing Bernardo would have loved more than having La Gaffe was the winning of the Nobel Prize for Literature – which in the end, I think, eluded him... [download PDF]


165: Royal China June 14 2012

Chinese restaurants, eh? We all have a picture of them – and I doubt the picture can ever vary very much: thick and dowdy carpeting, paper lanterns, paper napkins, a pair of lurking dragons, unsmiling (and very possibly inscrutable) waiters, waitresses who seem incapable of not smiling, and a pair of bloody chopsticks. Some are cheap, some far from it, but the initial impression is generally the same. Which is maybe what coaxes us to order what we always order: the usual westernised crispy this, sweet and sour that, rich in pork and noodle and moreishly seductive in all its monosodium glutamate gloopiness. So when I decided to give Royal China a go (this is the less expensive of the two in Baker Street, the other being Royal China Club) I hit upon a really rather radical wheeze: bring along a Chinaman! Where could be the harm? Could prove to be highly instructive and even life-altering (within the limited context of a restaurant menu)... [download PDF]


164: Cotidie June 7 2012

Less is more. That would appear to be the attitude of most of the new restaurants that are continuing to spring up, and particularly those in Soho and Covent Garden. You might think that this always buzzy little mantra is in tune with the austerity of the age, but I hardly think it’s that. If we’re all in such very dire straits, how can anyone even dream of opening a new restaurant? Apart from, quite obviously, the golden duo Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, who have three more coming soon, having only very recently scored a giant hit with The Delaunay. And, if the hungry punters are really that strapped for cash, how come they’re going out to restaurants at all? No – here is nothing to do with actual economy so much as the pooled pretence of so convenient an illusion... [download PDF]


163: Wagamama May 31 2012

So there I was in the Upper Mound Stand at Lord’s for the second day of the First Test against the Windies … although I was thinking not of cricket, but of food. This happens to me quite often. I can be doing just about anything at all, really … and frequently my thoughts will amble in the direction of the gobbly theme of grub. And whom should I then run into but Giles Coren, restaurant critic for The Times. We have been known to lunch together, and I can tell you that he thinks about food even more than I do (in fact he publishes a book this week called How to Eat Out) – so guess what we were talking about? He told me that the piece he had written for the following day’s paper was to be a fairly comprehensive trashing of Oslo Court: not a review as such – more of an overall critique based upon multifarious youthful experiences and a further lifetime of collected legend, all this prompted by the revelation in the press that a couple of days earlier our Prime Minister and his wife had sloped off there for dinner... [download PDF]


162: Mia May 24 2012

My. Oh my. That’s what Mia means in Italian, but this isn’t an Italian restaurant, it is Middle Eastern, so the Lord only knows what they’re striving to convey here. The décor is what some might refer to as ‘exotic’, in that it is big, weird and alternately dull and shiny. Copper would appear to be the theme: on the façade of this great slab of a site in Swiss Cottage, right next to the Ham&High – and formerly the home of the thoroughly unlamented and utterly ridiculous Benihana – there are great sheets of copper with the word Mia scrawled across them. More such panels in the impeccable and very beautiful loo (easily the most attractive part of the place: you must promise me to go, even if you don’t need to). Above the token vestibule there is suspended a cluster of maybe nine Tom Dixon copper globe pendants – five more of them line the bar – and this bar, it’s a large and moody thing, walls and massive pillars the colours of gooey tobacco dottle and abandoned blood clot... [download PDF]


161: Weng Wah House May 17 2012

Weng Wah House – or the Weng Wah, as it tends to be called – has been a fixture on Haverstock Hill for a very long time indeed, sweetly nestled as it is next to a KFC and now opposite Thyme, which is, by my official decree, Hampstead’s worst restaurant. The fascia is bold and unmissable with huge red and chrome lettering standing proud from a Chinese yellow ground. It always used to be my takeaway of choice – but in those days they didn’t deliver, which was always a pain (they do now) and then the prices began to get a little bit cheeky, so I transferred my custom to Welcome in Belsize Village, but I can’t have been that welcome because it soon closed down (push off!) and then it reopened (welcome!) and then it closed down again (What’s wrong with you? Didn’t you hear us? Push off!) and so I abandoned that while still there were rumours of its reopening yet again (unfounded, as it turned out: push off forever). Then at some other point, Weng Wah was gutted by fire. More rumours suggested that this might have had something to do with the Tongs, but I very much doubted that on the grounds that sugar is so very rarely served with China tea, and anyway nobody actually uses those fiddly little things any more... [download PDF]


160:The Oxford May 10 2012

Did you vote for Boris? I did. No contest, in my mind. The overwhelming thing about Boris is that he’s honest. Any promises he didn’t fulfil during his initial term as mayor I am convinced that he simply did not have the time to get around to ... or else came to the conclusion that they were, after all, impractical or too damned expensive. Does this make me naïve? Conceivably so. I haven’t always been a fan of Boris the mayor, but I have long been an admirer of Boris the man. On one occasion I was lucky enough to be sitting next to him at one of his fabled Spectator lunches, when still he was editor of that organ. There were all sorts of distinguished people around the table ... and me... [download PDF]


159: FishWorks May 3 2012

The publisher of my forthcoming novel (September – can you wait?) is the oh-so-cool and meltingly trendy Quercus, a proper independent literary house which has made millions from Stieg Larsson’s books called things like The Girl With The Stick-On Tattoo – and out of this largesse they are punctilious in siphoning off for me the very occasional ten shilling postal order. Anyway, I only mention this because they are based in a very spiffy building in Baker Street that is so vast and marble-clad and fronted by beautiful women in black clothes and red lipstick that you quite expect to run into Dr No or somebody, but so far it’s only been my editor. And when our minds turn – as mine habitually will – to thoughts of luncheon, I frequently I find myself returning to Le Relais de Venise in Marylebone Lane, which I reviewed very favourably a year or so ago... [download PDF]


158: The Magdala April 26 2012

A pub in Britain can be famous for very many things – if only, say, the pulchritude of its barmaids, the legendary lock-ins organised after hours by the (usually Irish) landlord, or simply the quality and value of its ale. The French House in Soho used to be famous for selling beer only in half pint glasses – while down the road The Coach & Horses was renowned for Norman Balon, “the rudest landlord in London”. I once stayed in an oak-beamed and cutely mullioned coaching inn in Marlow which reputedly was famous for its ghosts. They lurked, the proprietor assured me, simply all over the place. I’m not sure, frankly, whether I actually saw any or not: the lounge and breakfast room were admittedly strewn with ancient and luminously translucent perfectly motionless figures of indeterminate gender, possibly effigies, any one of whom might very easily recently have shuffled off the mortal coil, hard to tell... [download PDF]


157: One08 April 19 2012

Useless information: some eskimos use refrigerators to keep their food from freezing. Grapes explode if you put them in the microwave. The world’s largest KFC is in Beijing. In the last 24 years, at least 37 people have died as a result of shaking a vending machine. I could go on. You probably hope I shan’t, so I shan’t. I only mention it at all because last week my guest for lunch was Noel Botham, who is known for very many things, though one of the more notable was around 12 years ago when he and the late great Keith Waterhouse formed The Useless Information Society. I – alongside such as newspapermen Richard Littlejohn, Mike Molloy and Bill Hagerty, the actor Ken Stott, the chef Richard Corrigan and Suggs from Madness – had the signal honour of being one of the 20 founder members. Oh what happy days! We would congregate for dinner in Soho every couple of months, and at Armagnac time we would stand in turn and deliver a piece of useless information. Each of which had to be unknown, pithy, amusing and completely and utterly useless. Our Beadle – the musician and arranger Kenny Clayton, in tricorn hat – would strike the floor with his mace at the first intimation of tedium or usefulness... [download PDF]


156: Mill Lane Bistro April 12 2012

Aaaah … Bisto! A perfectly wonderful advertising campaign, that was – those two ragged-trousered urchins, noses upturned, eyes lost to a near-erotic rapture at the wafts of aroma emanating from a gorgeously roasted joint. And we all knew that what was being sold here was not the meat nor even its juices, but simply a thickening agent made up largely of flour, salt and colouring … and yet still the abiding connotation was that Bisto equalled beyond temptingly delicious. I loved those tins and posters when I still was little more than a ragged-trousered urchin myself – just the sight of them made me hungry... [download PDF]


155: The Hill April 5 2012

The Load Of Hay – a large and famous pub on the lower slopes of Haverstock Hill for as long as anyone can remember (1863, actually – remember it?). But if, as the owner, it is your avowed intention to switch the concentration from old blokes with hats and mufflers and pipes and a half of bitter that can be teased out for hours if a decent seat by the fire has been bagged ... if the new message is that here nowisnolongerapubbuta brasserie with tremendous accent on the quality of the food ... then I can see, yes, that the name The Load Of Hay is maybe not quite the feel you are striving for. So, since its makeover less than a year ago, it is now called The Hill. Which is a fine enough name, except that it puts me in mind of the 1960s Sean Connery film of the same title, which was all to do with pain and punishment – the eponymous Hill being man-made and steep, the idea being that soldiers in full kit tramp up and down it in the desert heat until they drop. Well The Hill in Hampstead is not like that at all, which has to be good news all round... [download PDF]


154: Qui March 29 2012

Some people are of the opinion that winning something such as an Oscar, the Man Booker Prize or an El Gordo sweepstake could in some way be faintly desirable. But true connoisseurs will know that the only thing in the world truly worth winning is the annual competition to have lunch with me: What a prince of a prize, I’m telling you! And the unfeasibly fortunate winner is … Lucy Scott-Moncrieff: Hampstead resident these past 15 years and a human rights solicitor who this summer is due to ascend to the giddy height of being president of the Law Society. You see, only the very best people apply to have lunch with me... [download PDF]


153: Goldfish March 22 2012

As it was Leap Year Day, I was forced to make a headlong dash into the restaurant, a mac slung over me in a perfectly pathetic attempt to deflect the worst excesses of the hordes of marauding women desperate to propose to me. The ploy was only partly successful: my raiment was rent, tussocks of hair were lost to eager, scrabbling fingers, and several of the ladies passed out on the pavement: fortunately St John’s Ambulance was at hand. So you can see that entering Goldfish in the High Street was as entering a mellow and welcome haven of serenity, after the hurly burly’s done... [download PDF]


152: Brasserie Meribel March 15 2012

Are you scared of food? Is the enjoyment you derive from eating eternally at odds with the fear that what you are putting into your mouth is in some way ‘bad for you’? Well stop it at once. There’s no mileage in it. And the ‘scientists’ and ‘dieticians’ whose job it is to keep coming up with fresh and ever more ludicrous ‘evidence’ to worry us witless are anyway constantly at loggerheads with one another. At the moment, milk and eggs are considered to be a good thing, though we all remember when the reverse was true – and it wasn’t long ago. The University of California (where else?) has recently announced that sugar is a ‘lethal toxin’: Something to mull over as you stir that cube of Tate & Lyle into your morning PG Tips. Red wine is good (in moderation!) and chocolate is good (in moderation!). Which wholly misses the point. People who like these things are not, as a rule, awfully good at moderation... [download PDF]


151: Thyme March 8 2012

Are you one of those readers who like nothing better than getting stuck into the nitty gritty of a really bad review…? All the write-offs? The slatings? If so – hoo boy, are you in for a field day, matey …! The quest for lunch had begun quite innocently enough, with my wife and myself strolling around Hampstead Village with no plan at all, idly looking for somewhere new. And on a sunny Tuesday, I was surprised by the number of places that were closed: the choice seemed to come down to vegetarian Indian (oh please!) or Café Rouge (oh pleeeeease …!). We wandered down to South End Green, and here was a similar story. So we wheeled on up past the Royal Free Hospital – stunned, as ever, by its picture-perfect chocolate box prettiness – and into Belsize Park... [download PDF]


150: St Pancras Grand March 1 2012

My guest for today, Jonathan Acton Davis, lives in Covent Garden, works in Gray’s Inn … and here we are, lunching in King’s Cross. What, pray, do these three areas have in common, do you suppose? Answer: they are each of them situate in the Borough of Camden. Do you find that surprising? I found that surprising. Do you not find that surprising? Well I did: I was surprised, I can tell you. And the reason that my chum Jonathan works in Gray’s Inn is that he is a barrister – a very distinguished QC, as a matter of fact, not to say deputy High Court judge – and so lunching out (as opposed to dining) is something of a rarity for him. Consequently, he was just as pleased as I to be settled in to the St Pancras Grand, within the recently and fabulously restored old station: a well-earned rest from the Bar. And talking of which... [download PDF]


149: Ye Olde Swiss Cottage February 23 2012

Swiss Cottage. So terribly familiar a phrase – but don’t you think it perfectly extraordinary that this should be the very famous name for an urban area? I mean, can you imagine another part of London called, I don’t know … Italian Villa? Or German Castle? Weird, isn’t it really? And Ye Olde Swiss Cottage does not glory in this monicker because that’s where it happens to be situated, no no. The district became known as Swiss Cottage after the original Swiss Tavern that was built on this site in 1804 – then they changed it to Cottage, and the newly developed area that grew up around it adopted the name. When I was a schoolboy living very nearby I called it Twits Cottage, which for a very long time I truly did believe to be just about the funniest thing ever. And the inn wasn’t owned by Swiss people, by the way, as is sometimes assumed: it’s just that the chalet style of architecture was briefly fashionable at the time, and hence the nickname... [download PDF]


148: Harry Morgan February 16 2012

Isn’t it always just the way of it? You wait ages for an assistant editor and chief leader writer on a national daily newspaper to show his face, and then two of them come along at once. Last week in a restaurant I bumped into Daniel Finkelstein, the Times man, who happened to be lunching with Lord Heseltine. And the following day, who should I find myself with but his opposite number on the Daily Telegraph, Philip Johnston … although he had pulled the short straw, as he was lunching with me. And it occurred to me, once we were settled into Harry Morgan in St John’s Wood – the ‘Jewish New York-style deli’, as they call it – that a Finkelstein might have been rather more kosher than a Johnston… but actually I had deliberately not invited one of my Jewish chums, you see, because they all know far too much about it, and nothing is ever as good as their grandmothers used to make – especially the chicken soup: Jewish penicillin, the cure for all that ails you... [download PDF]


147: The Bull February 9 2012

Here's a wheeze: how would you like to slash to ribbons the costs of eating out? Hew them right down to size? It’s all so very simple: all you have to do is get elected as an MP, or else become ennobled. To be the former, of course, must count as one of the most miserable jobs on earth – pursued only by those who dementedly crave publicity of any hue whatever, or else truly are sufficiently deluded as to imagine that they will ever make the slightest bit of difference to anything at all. To become a peer ... well that could cost you, of course: you might have to bestow a very fair whack of moolah in all the right directions. On the plus side – and here is the point – if you were to attain such status, then you could dine practically buckshee: for every £10 worth of grub and booze consumed, the MP or peer will pay just £2.40 ... the balance being very magnanimously made up by you! Yes – the punch-drunk taxpayer! The only saving grace is that the food within both the Commons and Lords is perfectly dire: it is as if there is a plague on both their Houses... [download PDF]


146: Hâché February 2 2012

As I was rather early for my lunch in Inverness Street, I thought I’d wander through the psychedelic souk that long ago used to be plain old Camden Town. I can well understand how all these little shoplets must gladden the eye, if not nostril, of the flocks of largely prepubescent tourists who still and daily swarm there in order to marvel. Apart from “food to go” – the successive conflicting wafts of which rendered me queasy, then practically insensible – the main stuff on sale is clothing: the ubiquitous T- shirt with blurred motif and witless caption, very long and skinny stiff black leather coats (to transform the wearer into a vampire, or else the tube of licorice you used to suck on with a sherbet dip) and a quite extraordinary array of hats. Thousands of them – everything from a Biggles flying helmet to a fuchsia pink topper by way of tartan trilbys, berets, beanies and a very depressing mountain of baseball caps with exaggeratedly curved peaks... [download PDF]


145: The Delaunay January 26 2012

I should love to tell you that it’s both brave and cavalier, the way in which London’s restaurant trade appears to be laughing in the face of the ‘economic climate’ by opening a rash of huge and high-end places simply all over the place ... but of course it’s all just an accident, really – no more than a cruel trick of timing which could very easily backfire. Because all of these glamorous and pricey new restaurants will have been joyously conceived way back in the good old rosy days, when it wasn’t just the fat cats who could only grow fatter. But the division now between those who regularly eat out and those who simply cannot has rarely been wider... [download PDF]


144: Vinoteca January 19 2012

Vinoteca has been repeatedly recommended to me: an honest and casual eatery in Marylebone where the freshly prepared daily menu is true to its ingredients, and – as the name suggests – wine is a major player. Trouble is – it’s not in Marylebone at all. Seymour Place is a turning off Marylebone Road, and that’s where I got out of the taxi: one or two restuarants about, but not Vinoteca. Turns out that it’s right down the other end. Further turns out that Seymour Place is the length of the bloody M1: nearly as far as Marble Arch, this place was – took me ages to get there, and it was drizzling – so don’t you start up with me about this not being a local restaurant, because it was damn well meant to be, and I’m in no mood. Okay?... [download PDF]


143: The Vine January 12 2012

Gluttony. That’s what it said, in brightly coloured overlapping lettering, right the way across the front of the Michael Craig-Martin designed Christmas card I received from the Groucho Club. Ho ho, I thought – how very merrily amusing. And then I got to thinking ... maybe they had cards printed up with each of the Seven Deadly Sins, who knows, and mine just happened to be Gluttony. And then I got to thinking further: what if they did indeed have all seven sins laid out before them, and then they selected with care exactly whom to send what ...? And if so, is that truly my image then, within the nucleus of the places I choose to swill and sluice? Conceivably. Oh well: there are worse sins. Aren’t there? Well actually, at this raw time of year, you could rather wonder. How many times lately have you heard the dread words ‘diet’ and ‘abstinence’ recklessly bandied? It’s a curiously British thing, this: it’s not to do with slimming and sobriety, but everything to do with chastisement... [download PDF]


142: 2011 Restaurant Roundup December 22 2011

As by now you might quite easily have noticed … it’s that time of year again. MasterChef: The Professionals is over and done with, and therefore no longer do we have to suffer hearing the contestants telling us that cooking is their passion, and that they are in it to win, upping their game, giving it 110 per cent, stepping up to the plate (and out of their comfort zone), cooking their hearts out, living the dream … and, eventually, over the moon, or else just gutted. ‘Tis also the time of year when if you see in the papers just one more time a feature bearing the strapline ‘We Have Christmas All Wrapped Up’ (crammed with desirabilia that has been given gratis to the style journalists, and which you can’t afford), you will put into the oven not the goose or turkey, but simply your head... [download PDF]

141: Piccola December 15 2011

Few would argue that two of Hampstead Village's greatest and most enduring institutions are Villa Bianca in Perrin’s Lane, and the mighty Coffee Cup just around the corner in the High Street. They both have been a vibrant and vital part of the Village scene for just about ever: the Coffee Cup has the romance, Villa Bianca the glamour. Wear a duffel coat and desert boots in the Coffee Cup, bring an old Penguin paperback, drone on about Dave Brubeck and Jack Kerouac ... well it could be the 1950s, couldn’t it? Lay out much more dosh at the VB, this time don an open neck white linen shirt and glinting medallion with navy suit ... and if you squint a bit, you might be in Portofino. Well now there’s a new kid on the block which rather cleverly splits the difference between the two: Piccola in Heath Street, on the site of the old Frascati... [download PDF]


140: Phoenix Palace December 8 2011

The phoenix, as well you know, is a mythical bird with a long and lustrous tail of scarlet, gold and purple - and when it is poised upon the cusp of shuffling off its mortal coil (after a thousand years, give or take) it builds itself a nest of twigs and then, rather as you might expect, self-combusts: rather in the manner of the ghastly Krook, in Bleak House. And there rises from the ashes a brand new phoenix, and off we go again: as a party trick, I think you’ll agree, it takes some beating. Though I’m not quite sure why this very fabulous restaurant just off Marylebone Road should ally itself with the phoenix, unless for the suggestion that it’s going to be around forever. Maybe it’s just that very fabulousness and colour that are being referred to here – because certainly the interior lives up to the ‘palace’ part of the restaurant’s name: my Lord, this is indeed a Chinese emperor’s palace, and then some!... [download PDF]


139: Retsina December 1 2011

Greece is the word: it’s got groove, it’s got meaning. Though quite what might be its groove these days, let alone its meaning, is anyone’s guess, quite frankly. Ancient Greece is one thing: the cradle of civilisation. Modern Greece is quite another: famous only as bestower to the world of Demis Roussos, Kojak, Melina Mercouri losing her marbles … help, I’m running out … and oh yes, Zorba, with that maddening bloody tune, and even more maddening bum-wiggling little dance. Not to mention bankruptcy and impending exclusion from the eurozone: for a while there, the country did seem poised upon making a drachma out of a crisis... [download PDF]


138: twotwentytwo November 24 2011

The Landmark Hotel is a vast Victorian pile opposite Marylebone Station – though let’s face it: it’s not, in truth, very much of a landmark at all, because few really know where it is, what it’s called or even what it looks like. Here is one of London’s 5-star hotels – but I’m telling you, matey: you’ve never been in a 5-star hotel that’s remotely like this one. For starters, the main entrance appears to be the side one: no foyer to speak of, but a long marble corridor leading to a loftily grand though still very dim, heavy and intimidatingly lowering seating area, hard by the reception desk. Which, at 8.15 on a weekday evening, was completely unmanned. Maybe because the whole of the space was devoid of all humanity, and they didn’t want to squander personnel... [download PDF]


137: Tandis November 17 2011

On Bonfire Night, I tottered down Haverstock Hill... in the drizzle. The quest was not for Guy Fawkes, but – as usual – simply grub. Though in Hampstead at this time of year, it’s impossible to avoid all the rockets and whizzbangs: in my street, they tend to kick off long before Hallowe’en and peter out with reluctance some time during the second week of January. So there was plenty of fizzing and popping in the night sky on my way down to Tandis – a warm and welcoming looking place at that nebulous point in NW3 that is neither Belsize nor Chalk Farm, this making it some- thing of a deliberate destination rather than an impulse restaurant. Because it is in a kind of a cul-de-sac raised up from the pavement, there is an ample outside space – covered by an awning with tables and chairs, though no sign of any heaters: and therefore, on a November Saturday evening, rather sadly deserted... [download PDF]


Doodle by Ken Pyne 2011

136: Belsize Kitchen November 10 2011

I have always assumed that patronage on my part could extend no further than the realm of restaurants: heaven knows I have been patronising restaurants for as long as I can remember. But now, wholly to my bewilderment, I find that I am in addition a patron of the Royal Free Charity. Perfectly extraordinary – how on earth could that have come about? And what, while we’re at it, is the Royal Free Charity? And why should they require a generally indolent scribbler and restaurant critic when they’ve already got proper patrons, such as Esther Rantzen? I’m sure you share my need to know – and because I haven’t a clue about any of this, I thought I’d ask the CEO of the Charity to lunch, so that he could explain to me face to face how an apparently level-headed and highly capable man such as himself could be guilty of so wild and preposterous an aberration... [download PDF]


135: Manna November 3 2011

Vega is the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, twice as large as the Sun, twenty-five light years from Earth – and I had always assumed that this is where vegans come from. But it turns out that I was quite wrong about that: in fact they are actually human beings from this very planet, except that they have decided to eschew (as opposed merely to chew) all manner of meat, poultry and fish, along with every derivative such as fat, milk, cheese, butter, eggs, chocolate … or as cooks and gourmets choose to refer to them: ingredients. And one of the most popular and enduring places in London where they elect to reject the very finest foods the world has to offer and chow down on whatever might remain, is Manna in Primrose Hill... [download PDF]


134: Feng Shang Princess October 27 2011

About a decade ago, Feng Shui had its moment in the West: an inevitable and laughable dilution of an ancient Chinese philosophy was cannily reheated for the benefit of the usual self-obsessed gluten and wheat intolerant Yoga-practising New Age vegans who would not dare to so much as brush their teeth unless the stars were in alignment with Jupiter and Mars, and only then if their expensive medium adjudged it wise. Now they were paying other clever people to ensure that their prospective house – or even sofa – was not facing the wrong way, for otherwise life would forever be blighted, and from within a miasmic cloud of much bad juju, a plague of boils would surely descend... [download PDF]


133: Sofra October 20 2011

Someone said to me the other day “Do you like turkey?” – and I was very pleased that they did, because I have long believed it to be a much maligned and cruelly underrated bird. People are forever maundering on about how very dry it is, rather than acknowledge that simply they have cooked it badly; leftovers too can be wonderful, if you know what you’re doing. So I said all this, and the person just stared at me glazedly – for it turns out, you see, that he didn’t say “Do you like turkey?” – no no: what he had said was “Do you like Turkey?” – and this question, alas, I was at a loss to answer. Because I’ve never been. Despite the fact that for many years I have dabbled as a peripatetic travel writer, it still remains true that generally speaking – you name it, I haven’t been there. I am the least-travelled travel writer on the planet... [download PDF]


132: Princess Of Wales October 13 2011

Although she is almost entirely forgotten now, the Princess of Wales used once to be a fairly well known figure. She was married to Prince Charles, and therefore destined to become Queen; this was not to be, however, because she died very tragically in a car crash in Paris. Do you vaguely remember who I mean, now? Ring any bells? Blonde, name of Diana: self-confessedly thick, hated quite a lot of things: rural pursuits, reading books, classical music, obscurity, Prince Charles... while loving very much clothes, limelight, pop concerts, he-men and other sorts of men too, such as Elton John and Gianni Versace. Some considered her to be Princess Of Our Hearts and close to sainthood, while others were of the opinion that she was a vain, empty-headed and self-serving lunatic... [download PDF]


131: Union Café October 6 2011

I have reviewed restaurants whose names begin with every single letter of the alphabet... bar one. I have actually reviewed twenty that begin with S: that’s the record. But until this day, I had never done a U. The other tricky ones – V, X, Y and Z were taken care of by Verru, X.O, York & Albany and Zeen... but hitherto a U has eluded me. But now we are replete: I’ve got my A-Z. And yes you well might say I ought to get out more... but as you know, I actually get out quite a bit. Union Café is yet another restaurant set into that gem of a little road, Marylebone Lane, which is just jammed with them. And at the risk of appearing to be a list-obsessive, I might say that I’ve reviewed the lot, bar two – an Indian I don’t much like the look of, and the classic 1930s Golden Hind, which I’m saving up for when I just must simply have, and right at this minute, one of the best fish and chips in London (for such is its reputation)... [download PDF]


130: Kentish Canteen September 29 2011

I was clocked. And although you might find this surprising, it doesn’t actually happen often – but as soon as I entered Kentish Canteen, I just felt it to be true: a palpable frisson when I gave my name to the very charming lady and she repeated it with such orotund emphasis and precision. Then she gave the nod to her manager who, quite startled, quickly walked into a table. And so I was rather eager to discover whether the progress of lunch would be any different to usual. It’s a very pleasant space, Kentish Canteen: only one year old, and a credit to the area in its spanking apple green livery – hoi polloi on the pavement kept decently at bay by a thicket of privet hedging, the fascia ringed by a ribbon of little light bulbs as last seen fringing a Hollywood starlet’s dressing table mirror... [download PDF]


129: El Parador September 22 2011

Luncheon. Not a word you really hear bandied about any more. Lunch has become the universal term for this supreme institution – many, perhaps, being unaware that this word is even an abbreviation at all. I do very much like the word lunch – it savours of munch while smacking of crunch – though still its ubiquity is rather peculiar: I mean – no one talks of din, do they? Well I do actually, but then I’m very odd. These days, though, it is hard to say ‘luncheon’ without coming across as Lady Bracknell, or else maybe recalling the glory days of Luncheon Vouchers (not to say ‘pork luncheon meat’) – and when you talk of ‘luncheon for one’, a picture is conjured of a solitary rep in a Terence Rattigan boarding house at his usual corner square table, its cloth laid in diamond fashion, where the cruets and sauce bottles stand sentry eternally... [download PDF]


128: La Collina September 15 2011

Tis the season when I am asked continually if I know of any decent local restaurants with a pretty little garden to the side: the dream is of long and leisurely booze-soaked lunches, the sunshine through branches of willow and vine gently dappling a virgin tablecloth and turning the wine into liquid rubies, this preferably with a view to rival that of Capri or Portofino. In London though it is much more likely to be a couple of tiny tables rammed on to the pavement, the paper cloth coated in grime from the ceaseless traffic and a series of oafs bustling past you and roaring into their mobiles, the outsized It-bags of the women constantly knocking askew your grisini. For smokers, of course, the quest for an outside space is not exclusive to summer, and many places have grown wise to the demand – most good hotels now actively catering to the alfresco diner and smoker alike. I have never puffed cigarettes, but I do enjoy an occasional Havana – and the other week I attended a wonderful ‘cigar garden party’ at The Langham in Portland Place... [download PDF]




127: Cote Brasserie September 8 2011

Just three months ago I reviewed here a rather silly restaurant in Hampstead High Street called Ping Pong (dumplings that bloat you, bum-numbing stools) and now, from the same impressive corner and lightfilled site there arises like an extremely hip and laid back Phoenix a very welcome and overdue outpost of Richard Caring’s Cote empire. Because Côte is a useful concept – classy brasseries that will work for a dinner date, but still you can pop in to for a solitary brunch or else an extensive Sunday lunch with all the family, including pernickety Gran and the bloody noisy kids. Caring, of course, is the owner of such milestone London restaurants as The Ivy, J. Sheekey, Daphne’s, Le Caprice … oh, everything really – and in Côte we have echoes of the trademark décor along with food to rival most of them, with the bonus of a rather less damaging bill... [download PDF]


126: St James September 1 2011

During the course of a recent review, I referred to a pair of female waitresses as being both blonde and beautiful. You will not however have read this, because the features editor snipped out the adjectives on the grounds that their retention might make me sound a bit of a pervert. A logic I hardly understand. Had I made constant and lascivious reference to the sexual allure of a slumbering mongrel, then conceivably the features editor might well have had a point. I do not consider, however, the observation of blondeness and beauty to be in itself so very terribly perverted – and nor do I believe that said two waitresses would have rushed to sue me. I say all this in order to explain why I am not now going to describe the waitress in St James at Crouch End as bright-eyed and attractive because if I do, you see ... well then this entire opening paragraph will be snipped by the features editor, and then you won’t be able to read it... [download PDF]


125: Court Restaurant at The British Museum August 25 2011

Ah yes! Makes you proud to be British ...! I think that the reason the BM strikes us as London’s most imposing museum is in large part down to the expansive generosity of the forecourt. All the other museums and galleries are slap bang on the pavement – and so if you step back the necessary good long way in order to fully absorb and appreciate all of their architectural grandeur, you tend to get hit by a bus. Here, though, the monumental façade shimmers in the distance like the mirage to end them all. To foreign visitors, loafing on the forecourt seems to be something of a tradition: you buy an unspeakable sausage in horrid clothy bread from a van on the kerb, and then take a million pictures of the British Museum...[download PDF]


124: Made In Camden August 18 2011

Ron Arad is a Chalk Farm based and much respected designer – the creator of quite a few classics. You know the Bookworm? Of course you do – that lushly curvaceous strip of bendy metal that you attach to your wall in any manner of sinuous variation, any one of which should pretty much guarantee that your collection of books will warp, be annoyingly inaccessible, or else fall off. And the Rover chair – I really like that one. This is an early and iconic piece – the leather seats from an old Rover car bolted on to arches of scaffolding pole to form both arms and legs: if you haven’t seen it, it’s a lot better than it sounds. I remember when I had a bookshop in Flask Walk, and Linda Bennett had just opened her very first L.K.Bennett shop in Hampstead High Street... [download PDF]


123: Formosa Dining Room August 11 2011

The whole point of meeting the novelist Mavis Cheek in a restaurant in Maida Vale was that it’s two minutes from Paddington, see – and it was at Paddington Station that she was due to arrive at 12.50pm from Hungerford. She used to be a Chiswick girl, Mavis, but decamped to Wiltshire quite a few years ago, where she lives in blissful and bucolic isolation, while being regularly feted as a local celebrity. “Last week I judged the dog show,” she told me. “I hate dogs. Don’t know a damn thing about them – but all I had to do was award prizes to the waggiest tail, the perkiest ears – oh, and the best hat. This was won jointly by two little pups called Eugenie and Beatrice. I am looking forward to next year’s event when they promise I can judge the best bitch.”... [download PDF]


122: Number One and The Kitchin August 4 2011

Enjoy …! It seems mandatory these days for all waiting staff to command you to do this thing. It’s the new ‘have a nice day’, and was particularly in evidence last week in Edinburgh, where I’ve been going up to the Festival for many years – the spirit is infectious and the city, of course, quite wonderful. Locals really do relish playing host to the world’s biggest and best arts festival, and for three weeks every summer the city throbs and swings, day and night. And while I have never been short of food (as if) still I have always been thwarted in my attempts to secure a table at one of the city’s five Michelin starred restaurants – and so this year I went up just a week before, in order to make sure of two of them... [download PDF]


121: Zeen July 28 2011

North London’s closest approach to downtown Delhi has to be Drummond Street, just off the Hampstead Road. I only ever knew it in the past from Lawrence Corner, that dank and cavernous army surplus store of legend that now is a very ugly, bright green and weird-looking pharmacy. I had gone to Lawrence Corner in the late 1960s expecting to be transformed into Sergeant Pepper in exchange for eighteen shillings and ninepence – all the money I had on earth. It turned out that all this would run to was a wormy mosquito net and a battered olivecoloured tin that once had contained anti-malarial tablets. Glamour – then as ever – cost money. So I decided instead to settle for growing a moustache closely modelled upon that sported at the time by Paul McCartney, but after months of strain and willing it to be, my upper lip was stubbornly holding out at just seven hairs on the one side, and only four on the bloody other. It’s filled out since... [download PDF]


120: Lord's Tavern & Oslo Court July 21 2011

At last, I’m going to see India. I am. After so many years of waiting, this abiding ambition is finally realised. Even as you read these words, I will actually already be there …! At Lord’s, I mean – for the first and second days of the Test Match. Well what did you think? That I was going abroad? No no – there are loads of restaurants at home I haven’t eaten in yet, so why go abroad? All you get abroad is overcharged and dysentery – much better to stick with what you know. And in anticipation of this week’s England v India Test Match, I thought I’d investigate a couple of favourite eating places in the area: Lord’s Tavern – so very famous, and I’d never been there, while Oslo Court is a good old friend. I reviewed it here a couple of years ago and have been naggingly conscious ever since that I didn’t do it true justice... [download PDF]


119: Singapore Garden July 14 2011

I once had a thing about the Singapore Sling. That, of course, was back in the days when I had a thing about any sort of experimental drink. The weirder the name and ingredients, the more I was up for it: Moscow Mule – vodka, lime and ginger ale (quite as disgusting as it sounds), Horse’s Neck (bourbon, more ginger ale, equally vile) and, of course, The Earthquake. This is attributed to Toulouse-Lautrec and comprises three parts absinthe to one part cognac: it didn’t stunt his growth so much as his existence – the first hot touch on your lips of this explosive poison is equal to the kiss of death... [download PDF]


118: Le Manoir Au Quat' Saisons July 7 2011

“Fon-toss-teaker …!”is one of legendary chef Raymond Blanc’s much expressed superlatives, whenever he is moved to enthusiasm. Which is often, as anyone who has seen him on television will know. And such is his media omnipresence that if you haven’t seen him on television, I can only assume that you have died. Raymond is a bon viveur in the best sense: hugely affable, and devoted to fine living and dining – more visibly and expressively moved by food than all other TV cooks, but then of course he is, as you may have detected, French. A commitment to the finest fresh produce and unceasing industry – these, to him, are the unwavering requirements of a chef. “Ze best does nert kerm izzy,” he insists. “No good to be lezzy! You must fart, fart, fart all of ze way!” And which among us could argue with that?... [download PDF]


117: The Engineer June 30 2011

The engineer: who is the engineer? Is he Isambard Kingdom Brunel, famed creator of timeless magnificence seamlessly blending the realms of invention, expedience and eternal beauty? Or is he the pimply lout with piercings, a gelled-up Tintin haircut and a fizzing iPod who tells you that the electro-carbon doublecore one-way baffle flange on the conduit filter transformer is totally buggered, yeh, and you can’t get the part no more, son – yeh and basically, at the end of the day, the whole boiler’s well shot. Yes … a tricky word to pin down these days, engineer – but certainly it fails to trail in its wake brightly gaudy pennants and streamers screaming of jollity, imagination and artistic recklessness. Did you hear about the engineer who had a wife and a mistress, and made quite sure that both were thoroughly aware of the situation? [download PDF]


116: Gourmet Burger Kitchen June 23 2011

Wimpy and chips. For more years than is decent, this for me was the single most alluring phrase in the English language. It spoke of poetry and lust in equal measure, of greed and gratification – it conjured up visions of eternal paradise on earth (well in Golders Green, actually). Then there was the dinky little stand-up menu with a red roof on top, just like Snoopy’s kennel, and of course those bright red squeezy plastic tomatoes, brimming with the wateriest ketchup imaginable, which would seep right through the titchy paper napkins at the very first and inevitable drip. Oh yes, my very first Wimpy and chips was truly a magic moment during my formative years – this giving you fair insight into the pitiable rarity of any magic moments, while also hinting very strongly at the paucity of their nature... [download PDF]


115: The Summerhouse June 16 2011

So I was in the Gents at The Wolseley, see – and who should I run slap bang into but Harold Tillman. Harold, who has lived in Highgate for the past thirty years, is the always immaculately turned out Chairman of the Fashion Council who also owns such great British institutions as Jaeger and Aquascutum; last year he was awarded the CBE for services to the industry. A very affable and effortlessly elegant fellow, he is a fixture at London’s very best eating places as well as all the most exclusive launches and opening parties. What I didn’t know about him, however, is that he is also in partnership with his son Mitchell, who owns about ten rather good and well known restaurants in London, among them the first rate Notting Hill Brasserie, the Ebury, Harry Morgan in St John’s Wood and The Running Horse, a fabulous pub in Mayfair... [download PDF]


114: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal June 9 2011

I had lunch at Dinner. It’s a fair old wheeze from the glistening-domed, spookily-spectacled and idiotically famous culinary alchemist whom now we all just call Heston. You name a restaurant Dinner, it’s going to get bags of publicity because of all the whimsy little jokes you can make about it, and bore people into a coma: on the lines of ‘I had lunch at Dinner’, for instance. So terribly amusing, non? Mind you, Heston could have opened a restaurant called Anthrax and still it would have the punters flocking. If you phone them right this minute, you will hear a polite though faintly superior recorded voice informing you that they are fully booked until the end of July. The end of July! Two bleeding months – in a city so utterly jam-packed with good places to eat that we’re all just demented by choice... [download PDF]


113: Ping Pong June 2 2011

Fiona Bruce, she was there. In Ping Pong, when I went. You know – Fiona Bruce: BBC newsreader, Antiques Roadshow object of lust to gentlemen who can be even older than the things that are carted along for assessment. And let us not forget her erstwhile title of ‘Rear of the Year’, as bestowed last year by a committee which annually sits on their backsides about a table while rating both the pertness and pulchritude of famous women’s bottoms. Look – it’s modern life, and who will bat an eyelid? Anyway – she was there, Fiona Bruce. I only mention her, frankly, because I’m not really sure how much there is to say about this restaurant. It’s dim sum... [download PDF]


112: Verru May 26 2011

We go way back, Magsie and me. In the 1990s, Magsie Hamilton Little was my non-fiction publisher – first at Mitchell Beazley, where I did a book called Beside The Seaside (all about, as you may have divined, the British seaside, and packed with terrific photographs, both vintage and modern) and then at Cassell: another picture book entitled All Shook Up, about the 1950s. It was around this time, I recall, that Magsie became really quite fed up with working for conglomerates: she is not the first editorial director to have rebelled at all her time being taken up with meetings, budgeting and office politics, leaving none at all for the very point of creative publishing: the authors and the books. And so she decided to form her own company... [download PDF]


111: Skylon May 19 2011

I don’t know... maybe what all we Londoners need now is a fully fledged festival. It seemed to work for us exactly 60 years ago in May 1951, when there arose on the South Bank from a desolate bombsite the most joyous and colourful array of groundbreaking architecture calculated to showcase the very best of what Great Britain still could produce, while – more importantly – supplying a playground for a pretty hard-pressed nation. Here people could wander about the Dome of Discovery (at the time the largest on earth) enjoy a ride on Rowland Emett’s wonky railway and consume a great many Wall’s ice cream cones while cooling their feet in a colour-changing fountain... [download PDF]


110: Gilbert Scott May 12 2011

Last week, if an alien from outer space – simply because he happened to be passing – had maybe decided to drop into the newly refurbished St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, he might well and easily have assumed that in 1873, when first the place opened as The Midland Grand, human beings in England must all have been fifteen feet tall, minimum. How else to explain the quite staggering and (for once, it’s the right word) awesome scale of this red brick, marble and terracotta London landmark? The interior gothick arches a mile above your head, the massive and gleaming granite columns ... it all makes you gasp, and also rather thrill to the tremendous swagger and confidence of the High Victorians, never in the slightest doubt as to exactly which nation ruled not only the waves, but the world. Sir George Gilbert Scott is the man we have to thank for this exceptional edifice, while we also owe great gratitude to Sir John Betjeman who led the campaign in the 60s to rescue it from demolition... [download PDF]


109: Walnut May 5 2011

West Hampstead is cool! West Hampstead is hot! This is what people have been telling me – and particularly people who live round there. Get yourself down to West Hampstead, they cry as one, and so very evangelically: go there in the evening, Friday preferably – I’m telling you! It’s cool! It’s hot! Well I do rather go for cool, and nor am I an enemy of hot … and so just the other Friday evening, that’s where I was – meeting in a bar in West End Lane called the Alice House (which immediately made me think, oh yeah: “Drink Me”!) with my travel writer pal from the Daily telegraph, Adrian Bridge, who lives just round the corner... [download PDF]


108: The Goring Hotel April 28 2011

And so it is finally come...! The planning, the waiting, all our girlishly sleepless nights are at last at an end - for tomorrow there dawns the most frabjous day of the year. Yes, that one – the one, according to a foaming-mouthed media, you have been longing for and dreaming of, to the exclusion of all else: the nuptials of his Royal Highness Wills the Prince, to Katie-who-no-longer-has-to-waitie, the pretty young thing with the smile, the hair, the legs, and hitherto ‘A Commoner’. Which of course is all about to change: as I write, we don’t yet know what title will be conferred upon the happy couple... [download PDF]


107: Morgan M April 21 2011

'The Liquidator will soon be coming around. You won’t feel safer until you get out of town’. So growled Shirley Bassey nearly 40 years ago – this title track, delivered with lots of gutsy James Bond style, being by far the best bit of a highly forgettable film entitled, quite as you might expect, The Liquidator. Which also just happens to be the jocular nickname of my recent lunch guest, Christopher Morris. Chris, I ought to point out, is not in fact a hit-man – unlike the chap in the film who, Dame Shirley warblingly informs us, is an eraser who’ll rub you out in the night (and for a chaser, he’ll kiss your woman goodnight)... [download PDF]


106: Chateaubriand April 14 2011

About a thousand years ago, Fairfax Road was famous – for here was the place of plunder, the land of loot: the Green Shield Stamp redemption centre! Green Shield Stamps! Anyone out there old enough to remember them? They were such a big thing in the sixties. There were, of course, many big things in the sixties: I was besotted with The Beatles, though my dedication was as nothing when set aside my mother’s devotion at the altar of Green Shield Stamps... [download PDF]


105: La Cocotte April 7 2011

Have you been watching MasterChef? It’s such a laugh really, isn’t it? What with the fact that it’s all become so very formulaic and excruciatingly embarrassing in its forcedly pseudo-dramatic presentation. The sullen impudence of the grubby and drugged-looking John Torode, the cheeky chappy relish and gluttony of Greg Wallace – not just the luckiest man on television, but also in his unparalleled insights and wisdom, the East End’s answer to Buddha. and then there’s the voiceover – some spaced out woman very much on the edge, sounding like a combination of Alice in Wonderland and the Prophet of Doom... [download PDF]


104: Coast Dining March 31 2011

For the purposes of this review, my name is Keats. Next week I’ll be reverting to my real and wholly unpoetic monicker – but for now I must insist upon being the Bard of Hampstead. It is all the fault of the fellow I took to lunch the other day: his name is Dante. This coming so soon after my chat with the Savoy Grill’s maitre d’ (Byron) and the odd professional dealings with the head of Conde Nast (Nick Coleridge) together with the editor of the Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary (Sebastian Shakespeare) has proved to be all too much for me: I am left reeling, and feeling positively prosaic. So this week you must think of me as one who brings to you news of not just chicken, guinea fowl, pigeon and partridge … but also the still clear voice of the nightingale... [download PDF]


103: Trullo March 24 2011

So it's 7.30 in the evening, and I’m in a restaurant called Trullo waiting for my blind date to roll up. A trullo is a sweet little conical building largely found in Puglia, southern Italy – so what better name for a black flat fronted tiny restaurant set before metal crash barriers on a hateful stretch of a frightful road in a dismal slice of Highbury? My blind date was the winner of that little competition I invited all of you to enter, way back in January. Do you recall? Anyone was welcome to email me, suggesting why they would like to share a lunch or dinner, and where we might go. An initial rather worrying drought soon became a trickle, and then a veritable tsunami – and what a mixed bunch of letters! I thank you all... [download PDF]


102: Langan's Bistro March 17 2011

It's a rather curious thing: you never any more hear anyone talking about the small but perfectly formed Langan’s chain of restaurants, and it is very rarely you see them reviewed or featured in the press. And yet whenever I visit, at whatever time of year, they are invariably packed to bursting with happy chomping people, all of them clearly having a very merry time. It is rare for once so utterly tooth-hurtingly cool and trendy restuarants to even carry on hanging by a thread, let alone bustle... [download PDF]


101: Sardo Canale March 10 2011

I don't want to go to Sardinia, and for a grossly stupid reason: when a child, I simply loathed sardines. Cold and slimy – what was there to like? Well I’ll tell you what there was to like, actually: opening the tin with the key. I say ‘opening’, though I never actually quite got that far. My mother would say “Here – give it to me. You messed it up last time. You always mess it up”. “No no – I can do it! I’ll do it! Let me do it!”. So I slip the slot in the key over the flangey gizmo, start to twist, and all initially goes well – the horrible fishy pong telling me I have broken the back of the thing... [download PDF]


100: Galvin at Windows March 3 2011

"Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" So screams Cody Jarrett - that deranged and oedipal psychopath – as so memorably played by James Cagney at the climax of Raoul Walsh’s classic 1949 film, White Heat. To the top of the world is where his villainous Ma always said he was destined, though possibly she didn’t intend such exaltation to incur his being blown to smithereens in a billowing ball of sheer white flame at the summit of a distillery, one black night. Well do you know, just the other day – though in a thoroughly different way – I was feeling that’s just where I was too: on top of the world. And why so elated? Because today, dear reader, I have achieved my century... [download PDF]


99: The Horseshoe February 24 2011

'Very good value'. This is a phrase often and approvingly uttered by my lunch companion, the very well known and respected wine writer Malcolm Gluck. For are not both his fame and fortune firmly founded upon the winnowing out on our behalf of so many vinous gems from amid all of the vinegary dross? Scorning ridiculous mark-ups, and pinpointing the bargains? Indeed. So when he says a wine is not just very good, but very good value to boot – don’t mess about, buy the stuff by the cartload... [download PDF]


98: Café Luc February 17 2011

Jesus. Which is the name of a college at Cambridge University, as well you know. The porter there is terribly pleased now that Christmas is long behind us, because at that festive time the phone just never stops jingling. “Is that Jesus?” the caller enquires. “Yes …” sighs the porter – and then he holds the receiver well away from his ear so as not to be deafened by the joyously bawled out rejoinder: “Well Happy Birthday …!!”. I know all this because although I am not myself an alumnus of this very august and ancient college, my chum Pluto is, and recently he invited me to a top table dinner there (and that’s when I got chatting to said porter)... [download PDF]


97: Bradleys February 10 2011

Back in the days when Wyatt Earp was Marshall of Dodge City, I used to ride shotgun on a beautiful red and yellow Wells Fargo stagecoach…! Actually, that’s a lie. But certainly in my 11-year-old imaginings, that’s surely all I wanted to do. The reason was the rifle. Because it wasn’t a shotgun at all that these intrepid defenders used to wield – perilously aloft the rocking coach, huddled in close to the driver who shouted yee-hah and spat out tobacco a good deal as they hurtled joltingly through the dusty rocky deserts... [download PDF]


96: The Almeida Restaurant February 3 2011

I don't much care for online, when it comes to booking restaurants. Oh God let’s face it: I don’t much care for online when it comes to absolutely anything on the planet – but there, that’s just my inviolate techno-hopelessness, hardened by the crust of distrust. Not of the system so much as myself: I cradle a craven dread that although I feel sure I have successfully clicked here, and then a little bit there, in order to book lunch for two at one o’clock, perfectly plain and simple, somehow by way of a rogue and gammy digit or an all too regular breakdown in concentration, what I have in fact commissioned is a wedding reception, say – something quite intimate for around 20 people: champagne and photos, and then the withdrawal to a snug and civilised private room upstairs, this involving cake... [download PDF]


95: L'Absinthe January 27 2011

I really felt quite sorry for the place. I mean to say, it’s one thing to inflict upon an establishment a restaurant critic, but when I booked a table for four at L’Absinthe in Primrose Hill – billed as ‘your local French restaurant’ – I was breathlessly clutching to my bosom the fat and secret knowledge that one of my guests was to be the highly regarded cook and gastronomic writer, Frances Bissell. You all know Frances from, among many other things, the food articles she writes every month for the page opposite this one... [download PDF]


94: Savoy Grill January 20 2011

The Savoy! Oh yes, I remember it well. For was it not here that I took tea with the Queen, got wild with Marilyn, duetted with Sinatra in the American Bar, devoured Peche Melba with Escoffier, glugged down Dom Perignon with Olivier (while still he was with Vivien) and then compared Burberrys with Bogie and Bacall …? Well no, actually – but plenty of people seem to share or imagine memories just such as these, so very strong is the allure, you see – so indomitable the legends surrounding this fabulous London landmark... [download PDF]


93: 2010 Restaurant Roundup January 13 2011

Welcome back, folks! can you still remember whether or not you enjoyed your festive turkey? I did, thanks for asking. For the first time we got it from Allens of Mayfair: the best I have ever eaten – and so was their fillet of beef. Superb. But that’s all over. So – straight down to business: do you fancy a touch of lunch? No seriously – I’m asking you. Inviting you. I really am. Well look: we’re two weeks into a so-called new year, but bloody hell – it’s all so very strikingly and depressingly similar to the fag end of the last one, don’t you think? Grey. Raw. Chilly and colourless, quite frankly, and it’s getting me down. So I thought we could do with a lift – and that’s why I was wondering whether, if you’ve nothing more pressing on your hands, you felt you might care for a bite... [download PDF]


92: Oliver's December 23 2010

God rest ye, merry gentlemen! And ladies, of course. And nor am I forgetting the pinkcheeked little kiddywinks, Lord love them – for ‘tis the season to put your feet up. Not by way of slipping on black ice and coming a rather nasty cropper, no of course not – but in the sense of taking it easy, at the end of another long year. At which point in my narrative said ladies (see above) will be scoffing. Not as in mince pies, but as in buckets of scorn. They will not be going Ho Ho Ho! – it’s Ha Ha Ha! they’ll be going... [download PDF]


91: Kettner's December 16 2010

So Soho. The very rackety glamour. A spillage of jolly happy people in Romilly Street, their parboiled and giggly faces lit up by Kettner’s white and vertical neon sign – so very ridiculously overscaled. It recalls the glory days, that great sign, when Soho was posh as well as twinklingly brash, tawdry and unashamed – and the good news is that on the right night, if you’re in the right mood, this wonderful part of London still can be all of those things... [download PDF]


90: Caponata December 9 2010

Have you ever witnessed a chariot race at full and furious tilt in a genuine Roman amphitheatre on the very tip of Sicily, as the scarlet and kingfisher sunset is scented by not just flowers but the spit-roasting of boars, and the air so warm from the breath of Africa? I have. Just one of the wackily memorable experiences that befall a journo who spends his time forever scribbling ‘lifestyle’ features, as I used to for The Times. This particular no-expense-spared jolly to Sicily was in aid of the launch of a plastic watch, though what the connection with all of the Ben Hur folderol is now quite lost to me; Jesus, it was lost to me even at the time, this very largely due to gallons of the wonderful local Nero d’Avola wine... [download PDF]


89: Shaka Zulu December 2 2010

"Zulus to the South East. Thousands of them …!" So, in the 1964 film, says Lieutenant Bromhead, as enthusiastically played by a blond and youthful Michael Caine employing a highly improbable upper class accent which – unlike his guard – rather tends to slip. I thought it wise, you know, when faced with the task of reviewing a supposedly Zulu restaurant to get the inevitable references to this iconic film safely out of the way at the very beginning. Otherwise it would be looming, wouldn’t it? Forever it would be hovering at the back of your mind: half remembered flickers – black skin and red coat, not to say a drunken Jack Hawkins... [download PDF]


88: Les Deux Salons November 25 2010

When I get to describing the lush and very fabulous new Covent Garden brasserie I lunched at the other day, you might justifiably wonder why the picture accompanying this week’s offering succeeds in portraying precisely none of it. This is because the photo of The Times restaurant critic Giles Coren and myself was not taken in Les Deux Salons, because I forgot. On occasion, the Ham&High sends along a professional to take care of this rather tedious side of things, and at other times I rely upon a dinky little red camera that I habitually have about my person. Normally, I place it quite prominently upon the table expressly in order to remind me about the picture, and I didn’t. So I forgot... [download PDF]


87: Chez Nous November 18 2010

There was a time, eons ago, when the area around Belsize Park tube station was not wholly made up of places to eat and drink. There used to be things like a chemist, a travel agent and the sort of very posh chocolate shop where all the yummy violet creams and raspberry fondants were piled up artistically into pyramids on white paper doilies, these in turn gracing a series of crystal footed stands in glass-fronted cabinets. We schoolboys would stare into the window – very velvety and swagged – marvelling at the upholstered chocolate boxes with immense silk bows and taffeta roses…marvelling too at the fact that Belsize Park could support so very many millionaires who actually had the nerve to cross the threshold, and also the loot to buy this stuff... [download PDF]


86: Clos Maggiore November 11 2010

"It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him”. No less true today than when Bernard Shaw bunged it down, nearly 100 years ago. Although these days we don’t always go so far as to hate or despise – merely we will get bloody annoyed or, worse, completely fail to comprehend. Not the nuance, the subtle undercurrent or the general thrust of the thing, you understand, so much as the actual articulation. In London, the daily tsunami of alien accents and regional dialects allied to the grunts, repetitive expletives and ‘txt-speak’ of the younger crowd all combine to make it very hard indeed to decipher a sausage... [download PDF]


85: Café Med November 4 2010

Some people don’t drink wine, you know. Now if you are anything like me, you will surely find this rather hard to believe, but I have it on authority that it’s true. Somewhere, beyond my ken, tucked away into hinterlands unknown to me, there are lurking folk who will smugly prefer a nice good strong cup of tea any day of the week – or else they’re into real ale, v.large G&Ts, vodka and Red Bull, technicolour cocktails, Charlie, crack, Ecstasy or Evo-Stik. Not me, though – wine remains my drug of choice: almost always red and usually from Italy or France (largely because I’m Old School and idle)... [download PDF]


84: The Buttery Café, Burgh House October 28 2010

'Appy 'Ampstead! If you want a Beano – it’s a fair old treat! So runs the exuberant caption to one of the delightful old Underground posters currently on display in a charming upper room in Burgh house (pronounced as in ‘brrr, it’s cold’ – whatever you might have heard to the contrary). Pretty and light, the original panelling in duck egg blue, and as neat and approachable a little exhibition as ever you could wish for. The accompanying very busy cartoon on this poster depicts all sorts of revellers at the funfair – some old girls having a right good knees-up, a family being fleeced at the hoop-la stall, and a very elegantly turned out military officer tickling the nape of a lissome young lady with what would appear to be an ostrich plume: she seems to be responding well to his flirtation... [download PDF]




83: Comida October 21 2010

Have you ever talked food, with foodies? Real foodies, I mean – not people such as us, who merely welcome a damn good lunch or dinner made up with care of fresh ingredients, well and simply cooked. No no – I’m talking about people who view the business of consumption both as a competitive sport and a trial of strength. They will tell you they are committed, you see (and many of them should be). They will vie to outdo one another on an ever-escalating scale of exaggeration and unlikelihood: you will be smothered by their memories, real or imagined, of having eaten the most outlandish things in perfectly unspeakable locations... [download PDF]


82: 108 Marylebone Lane October 14 2010

Fade up. Longshot of woman passing through large glass doors of a swish and cutting-edge restaurant in fashionable Marylebone. Close-up. Uncertainty flickers. Smile. Her eyes light up in recognition. Cut to hairy old hack seated at a table at the very far end, scribbling in a notebook. Cut to woman. Camera pulls back to track her confident progress. Cut to two-shot of same very attractive woman – a ringer for Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music – while hairy old hack rises to greet her... [download PDF]


81: The Old White Bear October 7 2010

Stewed worst end of mutton, cabbage boiled to lank and reeking colourless exhaustion – and then, lying with malevolence just beneath the surface, a spirited undertone of Dettol. Though no, here is not a description of the dinner I had the other evening at the Old White Bear, but the pungent memory of an odour that assailed me on the journey down there. They say you can’t remember smells or be wafted back in time by them unless they again are storming your nostrils, but that doesn’t seem to be true for me – because as I walked past the ritzily refurbished block of luxury flats that once was the New End Hospital, I’d swear this wretched aroma was seeping through the very brickwork and snaking its way right into me... [download PDF]


80: Côte Brasserie September 30 2010

"Cot?!" I said. "Cot?! You can’t call a chain of bistros ‘Cot’. A cot is what a baby goes to sleep in. Whatever can have possessed the man?" The man, of course, would be Richard Caring (as it so often is) who not too long ago hit upon the wheeze of bringing the Ivy to the masses. Not quite maybe how he himself might have put it, but nonetheless here is the root of the concept. And it’s not a bad concept at all. Then I learned that we were in fact talking about Côte. With an ‘e’ and a circumflex. The Côte has got his hat on, hip hip hip hip hooray. Yes well – still don’t like it... [download PDF]


79: The Camden Brasserie September 23 2010

Forty years ago, Camden Town was not famous for the Roundhouse, the Lock or Stables Market, and nor for the colourful and exhaustingly energetic explosion of touristy shops leading away from the station. Here was not a young and trendy, sought-after and media-savvy area, oh my God no. Forty years ago, Camden Town was famous only for being a dump – North London’s most notorious don’t-go-unless-you-have-to area jammed full of dosshouses and drunks – and where, as a consequence, beautiful if very run-down period terrace houses could be had for the proverbial song... [download PDF]


78: Marine Ices September 16 2010

So there I was, strolling down Jermyn Street quite in the manner of Burlington Bertie, as I frequently do – though not this time salivating over Hilditch & Key’s exquisite shirts and ties, nor even Bates’ fine titfers. No, for some odd reason, this warm and sunny afternoon my mind was on ice cream. Now, apart from the warm and sunny bit why should this be? I have, it’s true, always been rather fond of the stuff since, oh – way way back, when it largely came down to a Wall’s Neapolitan Family Brick, or else a Lyons Maid choc ice in the Odeon. A whirling Mr Whippy 99 at Hampstead funfair or on Brighton beach, yes okay – but in Jermyn Street…?... [download PDF]


77: Dean Street Townhouse September 9 2010

Mine was a rather small boarding school where nearly all of the boys were far more interested in rugger and cricket than they were in anything stupid, like the arts. I, of course, was one of the weirdies – a select and motley crew (as was constantly brought home to us) who could easily be recognised by our tweaks to the uniform and a jocular disdain for the illiterate hearties. And although a scorned and endangered species, whenever the annual House Play Competition was looming, suddenly we were hotly in demand: no sudden enthusiasm for the dramatic arts, no of course not – but a silver trophy was at stake, you see, and this, I am afraid, is the only language the establishment understood... [download PDF]


76: Sir Richard Steele September 2 2010

Who'd be a restaurant critic, eh …? “I would!”, I hear you shout – and of course I do know exactly what you mean: there is a considerable upside, no denying it. But at base, you know, it’s very much all brickbats and no bouquets, believe me. If you give a glowing review, or if someone enjoys reading it, you never hear a dicky bird. But blimey, should you ever offend a reader by criticising his favourite hangout, said reader will soon let you know about it. If you dare to offend the restaurant itself, letters will be written. Ah well... [download PDF]


75: Garden Gate August 26 2010

The old British Rail red and white logo still sits proud atop a galvanised post outside the very dilapitated Hampstead Heath station. Nothing seems to change much, down this way – the Magdala Tavern still looks pubby and still is sporting its Ruth Ellis bulletholes, Rumbolds is still comfortingly on the corner, and the winos still are uproarious and ruby-coloured, upending their brown paper-wrapped two litre bottles of paint stripper and adding so very much gaiety to the council’s prettification of South End ‘Green’... [download PDF]


74: Jin Kichi August 19 2010

So very Japanese: when you telephone Jin Kichi to book a table, a recorded message produces a largely incomprehensible response which – if you ring again and listen more attentively – you can just about make out to be a seemingly expert melange of quite scrupulous politeness and the briskest of brush-offs: this is not a good time to call, don’t leave a message – but do try again between 3 and 6pm when all will be fine: thank you! so I did that, and was told that for 7.30 on a Friday evening I could either sit at the bar or have a table downstairs... [download Part 1 of PDF]  [download Part 2 of PDF]


73: The Holly Bush August 12 2010

Exactly one year ago, the Ham&High carried my review of the Holly Bush. Some of you might have noticed it: the then proprietors most certainly did – angry accusations of all sorts of distortions in letters to the paper, none of them true: I simply reported what I had found. Ken Pyne, our great cartoonist, had been the other victim of this very dispiriting evening, and he agreed with me that the meal had been dire – dreadful scalding non-pies and various other best forgotten things, compounded by unjustifiably high prices and a remarkably cavalier approach to service: i.e, they declined to provide any... [download PDF]


72: Czechoslovak Restaurant August 5 2010

The last time I was in Prague was not that long after the Czech Republic had cast off the yoke of Communist tyranny and oppression, etc etc, and still was wide-eyed at its hard-won freedom. The very air, said one old woman with tears in her eyes, suddenly was sweet again. A great deal of the greyness lingered on, however – and certainly the air was notable for a distinct lack of sweetness if you happened to be loitering anywhere within sniffing distance of the average restaurant: deep fried dumplings and potato pancakes were the order of the day, though what they were fried in, few cared to wonder... [download PDF]


71: The Providores and Tapa Room and tea at Buckingham Palace July 29 2010

How rich are you…? Sorry to be so forward, but I’m taking it for granted that you like to eat out and appreciate fine cooking and a decent drop of wine – but the candid question I have to ask you today, I’m afraid, is this: how rich are you? Because I’m about to point you in the direction of a very good restaurant indeed, whose chef, the New Zealander Peter Gordon, really does know what he is about… but dear me, for a seemingly modest little restaurant, it has to be said that you do need a fair wodge of readies to be able to appreciate it... [download PDF]

071 071a

70: Brew House Cafe - Kenwood House July 22 2010

I don't quite remember the very first time I was taken to Kenwood House as a child, but I do know that I was immediately taken with it – so much so that I wanted to live there. I asked my mother why she didn’t buy it – it was so obviously better than our house in every imaginable way, so why on earth couldn’t she just buy it? “I don’t think it’s for sale,” she told me patiently. “And even if it was, it would be very expensive.” I was struggling to understand. “What – you mean... pounds?” She nodded... [download PDF]


69: The Sea Shell July 15 2010

Alfie's Antique emporium – along with Hampstead’s own mini-version in Heath Street – is one of the great survivors. And as is the way with long-term survivors, it does by its very nature of course seem pretty old and fusty, but in a rather glorious, time-warped and almost magisterial sort of a way... [download PDF]


68: Simpson's-In-The-Strand July 8 2010

D'oh! That’s very often the first reaction you’ll receive if you ever come out with the word ‘Simpsons’ – just as if you say ‘Homer’, I don’t imagine many are thinking The Iliad. But once you have established that it is the very venerable restaurant Simpson’s you are talking about, then people are sure to say this: “Oh God yes – Simpson’s-in-the-Strand: lovely old place, marvellous, one of my favourites – haven’t been there for twenty years”. Or 30... [download PDF]


67: Benihana July 1 2010

Who on earth could ever contemplate coming here twice...? That was the question that went on battering me as my son Charles and I stumbled back out on to the Finchley Road from the lowering basement that is Benihana – an ugly corner building hard by the Ham & High’s Swiss Cottage offices, and one of London’s unlikeliest restaurants, which nonetheless has somehow survived since the 1970s... [download PDF]


66: Artigiano June 24 2010

Belsize Village holds all sorts of memories for me, and most of them sweet. While attending St Anthony’s in Fitzjohn’s Avenue as a freshfaced short-trousered innocent (a degree of imagination could well be useful here) I used every day to pass through its centre on my journey to and from the school. It was a fair distance from where we lived in Adelaide Road, and in summer the bright blue woollen blazer, knee-length itchy stockings and de rigueur cap were terribly hot and uncomfortable. In winter though, and in the rain, your two poor bare little pink and chapped knees... [download PDF]


65: Chez Bob June 17 2010

Haverstock Hill’s cup might soon runneth over. We are all well used to the ever changing cluster of eateries the length of this fine broad-pavemented boulevard reaching down from the old Town Hall (now a virtually useless white elephant, it appears to me) and on past Belsize Park tube station…and now there’s a new Chez on the block! Chez Bob has taken over the premises of Black & Blue, a steak joint which I wrote about here a little while ago. There is already Chez Nous, I have yet to visit, while the other Chez, of course, is Chez Gerard, in the base of the Premier Inn. This was the very first restaurant I reviewed for this column, and remains the very worst... [download PDF]


64: Caffe Caldesi June 10 2010

Mine was not a musical childhood. I would love to say that instead I was a bookworm – consumed by literature and burned by an unquenchable impulse to fashion deathless prose … but no. Comics and idleness were more my line: the Bash Street Kids had the drop on Shakespeare any day of the week. Look – my best subject at school was Break. But as to music, well … I dimly recall that I did enjoy bashing the Bejasus out of my Sooty xylophone – and of course I yearned for a guitar, but only to hang around my neck so that I could pout as moodily as Cliff, while dreaming of sideburns... [download PDF]


63: Ravel's Bistro June 3 2010

So Max and I were sitting in the Roebuck in Pond Street and sinking a thoughtful Rioja, prior to toddling down the road to Ravel’s Bistro, a restaurant he swears by. Max lives in Canada, he shivers to remember, but during his frequent hauntings of London, Belsize Park is his stamping ground. “Fine, imaginative food”, is what he’d told me about this Fleet Road favourite. “Bistro,” I said. “French then, is it?” His eyes were narrow as he sipped reflectively. “Not necessarily …”... [download PDF]


62: Bocca Di Lupo May 27 2010

Archer Street is very much one of Soho’s less rhapsodised thoroughfares, lacking as it does the tradition and gastronomy of either Frith or Greek, the cool and booziness of Dean, the bustle and porniness of Brewer. Not to say Old Compton’s outright and purple homosexualism. It is little more than an alleyway, really – and one feels sure that at night-time it must always be redolent of urine, and strewn with shattered glass. For decades it has been known for just this one thing: The Windmill Theatre... [download PDF]


61: The Green Cottage May 20 2010

Somebody tipped me the wink a couple of weeks ago that there was apparently an election going on. Well they kept pretty quiet about that then, didn’t they? Who’d have known? Though I thought in the light of this new information I might as well toddle on down to Finchley Road in order to exercise my democratic right as I have done God alone knows how many times in the past. And the ritual process, I always find it so very appalling and quaintly comforting in equal measure: doing things the old way in a slumped and dingy gymnasium, with no hint at all of technological interference... [download PDF]


60: Spaghetti House May 13 2010

Hampstead is justly proud of the Keats connection, and in the garden of the recently restored house in Keats Grove (so much better now the smell of yuck new paint no longer makes you sick and swoony with the vapours) it still is difficult not to go slack-jawed at the thought that in this very spot, beneath this very tree, the poet wrote Ode ToA Nightingale. But this is not the only house associated with him: in Rome, at the foot of the Spanish Steps, is the Cassina Rossa – and here it was in 1820, during the final stages of consumption and aged only 26, that John Keats came to die... [download PDF]


59: Le Relais de Venise May 6 2010

Election Day, eh? And three major parties to choose between: rather too many, don’t you think? I have come to the conclusion that extensive choice is one of the banes of modern living. During the War, housewives would endlessly queue for whatever was on offer – and although I am not suggesting that here is a Utopian state of affairs, at least such privation must have concentrated the mind. Now though, if you pop down to Waitrose with the simplest shopping list (bread, milk, coffee, biscuits) the variety and array are quite utterly stupefying... [download PDF]


58: L'Autre Pied April 29 2010

Pied à Terre is a rather famous and highly regarded restaurant in Charlotte Street, its rather famous and highly regarded chef, Shane Osborn, having garnered a couple of Michelin stars. I’ve never been there. People keep telling me to go – telling me how marvellous it is, telling me how it’s just my ‘thing’ (though how they can know that, I can only wonder). Anyway – never been. Partly because people keep telling me to do it (it’s the same with books, films and the hottest new TV series – it took me years to catch up with The Sopranos, which I agree is magnificent... [download PDF]


57: Wiltons April 22 2010

Some days I feel so very much more British than others – do you ever get that? One can go through phases of being so terribly disillusioned over all that has become of this green and pleasant land, what with every sort of decline and dilution you can bear to mention, and thinking maybe the time has come to throw in the towel and push off to somewhere balmy and a less expensive. And to sip the good but simple local wine while ambling through one’s olive groves... [download PDF]


56: Rose and Crown April 15 2010

It's extraordinary, really, that the journey from Hampstead to Highgate without a car should always be such a bloody interminable slog. Fine if you are based around Whitestone Pond – squatting in the boarded-up £20million mansion Heath House, say, or gaily cruising around what used to be Jack Straw’s Castle car park – but for those of us who live in the lower reaches of the village, there’s a decent chunk of Fitzjohn’s Avenue and then the entire length of Heath Street to be dealt with: one hell of a gradient and an absolute age before the 210 bus stop looms into sight... [download PDF]


55: Market April 8 2010

I was still at school when Hunter Davies’s seminal book was published – the first proper grown-up hardback about The Beatles, and of course I most desperately wanted it … though at thirty shillings, my mother demurred. It was either the book or the Fab Four’s latest LP: I had to choose. Well sorry, Hunt – the Lads won hands down. Some time after I picked up the paperback though, and thoroughly consumed it. Hunter has revealed in the various updates since that because this biography was authorised, a lot of fascinating detail, insights and uncomfortable truths had to be suppressed, but at the time the book was gospel, and still among the fans it is regarded as totemic... [download PDF]


54: Blitz April 1 2010

[This was run as an April Fool's Day spoof]

I have just been to a really corking new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum called The Ministry Of Food, all about the economies and ingenuity of war on the kitchen front, and highly recommended. Which makes all that follows somewhat serendipitous. During last year’s work on Hampstead Tube station, when it was endlessly obscured by hazy green netting and scaffolding, I heard a whisper that in the upper parts of that oh-so-familiar and bloodtiled building a new bar and restaurant were being created. Then, as is always the way with reasonably exciting rumours, the trail went cold and I heard no more... [download PDF]


53: Odin's March 25 2010

The Last of the Summer Wine. So very poetic and evocative a line, don’t you think? One feels it really ought to be Shakespeare. Keats, conceivably. Or maybe from Wilfred Owen or another of the War Poets: it does have that wistfulness, a touch of Flanders fields about it. But it’s not in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, and although a lot of people seem to imagine that they know its source, no-one I have met can quite put a finger on it. Possibly it is just the very familiarity of the phrase that renders it bardic... [download PDF]


52: Portrait Restaurant, National Portrait Gallery March 18 2010

Move It! That's what dear Cliff Richard used to adolescently snarl at us, and damn well too, more than 50 bleeding years ago (Lord above, can you believe it, how time does fly, etc, etc). He was moody and broody back in those days – curled lip, oily quiff and no smiling whatever: every teenage girly’s pin-up dreamboat, yet still managing somehow to look more like a grumpy though amply-nourished woman from the Punjab. Anyway – Move It!... [download PDF]




51: La Cage Imaginaire March 11 2010

Hampstead, Highgate, food, wine and books – I don’t think we talked about anything else (just blissful) and yet we were dining together for more than four-and-a-half hours. But when your guest is Ion Trewin, that has got to be expected – not just a local lad to the soles of his big and sturdy shoes, but preeminent in the literary world for, oh – any number of reasons, really. Tick them off one by one, will we? Yes – best be diligent. Well for ages he was the supremo at Weidenfeld & Nicolson... [download PDF]


50: 10 Manchester Street March 4 2010

This, gosh, is my 50th restaurant review for the Ham&High, so I’d say I deserve a cigar. The very first I ever smoked was with Roald Dahl: I was 15 years old. He was the uncle of a schoolchum of mine, and I sat there with this fine Havana (and vintage port) in his farmhouse in Great Missenden, awed to be in the presence of a writer I so hugely admired – though largely for his offbeat and sadistic adult short stories rather than any of the children’s stuff... [download PDF]




49 : Cecconi's February 25 2010

It's not every day you get to lunch with a Spaz. That’s Downing Street jargon, you may be unaware – the contracted collective term for Special Advisers to the Prime Minister: they could nearly have gone for Spam, or even Spasm, but they didn’t – they went for Spaz. This might very easily be an example of blue sky thinking on their part, or even thinking out of the box, but it needn’t be at all. Anyway, Helen Scott Lidgett has been a very dear friend of mine for … ooh, it could be as long as 25 years, you know. Is that really possible? Good God... [download PDF]


48: Trojka February 18 2010

I went to Russia the other evening. Well all right, then… more the Chalk Farm end of Regent’s Park Road. Da. Where there nestles a restaurant called Trojka, taking its name from a carriage or sleigh pulled by a trilogy of horses – all very romantic, no? Like Dr Zhivago – one of my pitifully few Russian reference points. What else can I think of? Well there’s Uncle Joe Stalin – who, like a lot of avuncular souls, turned out to be a beast, cruelly lurking behind his Iron Curtain. This was Churchill’s phrase – leading me, as a child, to wonder whether it ran to toning aluminium pelmet and maybe copper tiebacks... [download PDF]


47: Fairuz February 11 2010

The Book Bash. Everyone in the inky trade is aware that come December, one of the parties you simply must be invited to is that fabulous effort jointly thrown by the Daily Mail’s books pages and Ephraim Hardcastle’s gossip column: it is known with love as the Book Bash. Held at the summit of Northcliffe House in Kensington, home to the Mail and the Standard, way up high in a leafy, glass domed and titanic birdcage over what used to be Barker’s department store, here is a packing-in of every sort of literary luminary, gorging and sluicing on tip-top and neverending canapes and wine,... [download PDF]


46: Le Cafe Anglais February 4 2010

There are many abiding and quite baffling mysteries in the world of London restaurants, and I add to the list of them daily. A random sample: why do so many very average and overpriced gastropubs continue to prosper, while far finer places roll over and die? Why do greeters so often seem just thoroughly displeased to see you? Why are all banquettes a good two inches lower than than the chairs set opposite them? Why do we still tolerate the ‘cover charge’ when laundry is an overhead that should surely be absorbed? Why is Jamie Oliver?... [download PDF]


45: Galvin Bistrot De Luxe January 28 2010

Boris Johnson was in the back of our cab. Two Boris Johnsons. Well four, actually, if it’s accuracy we’re seeking. Not lookalikes, no, but a pair of pictures of a pair of Boris Johnsons on the underside of the flip-up seats. Here were the familiar little black pebble eyes set into the familiar expression – an expert blend of wisdom and confusion – and crowned by the Worzel Gummidge thatch that the Tory high-ups have done nothing to tame: and all this in stereo... [download PDF]


44: Black & Blue January 21 2010

Black & Blue. Amazing, really, that it should be called that. I have written before of my general bemusement over wacky and meaningless names that some or other PR set-up has foisted at colossal expense and with simulated enthusiasm on to the fearful and ultimately deluded restaurateurs as being certified humdingers guaranteed to capture the public imagination (for all the world as if they truly imagined there existed such a thing)... [download PDF]


43: Le Cellier Du Midi January 14 2010

Wouldn't it be utterly magical if one quite chill and crispy night, the benign slacklipped and livid green Auto Monster – that legendary and gigantic gobbler-up of motor cars of my fevered and recent invention – would work his wonders the length of Church Row? Pick up all the coloured shiny things that are parked nose to tail, and swallow each of them whole? Residents might well demur, I do plainly see that, but for the rest of us... [download PDF]


42: Gilgamesh January 7 2010

Just another night in Camden Town, then. Here it all is: the lit-up Lock, the tottering and glittery Stables, the lit-up louts, the tottering and glittery birds.A waft of crepes and sickly chocolate thickly overladen by the choke of wonky and handdipped candles, the rasp of joss stick, the sweetest whiff of Class B drugs. Here is the magnet for the youth of the world, summoned in their sullen droves to this Mecca of indolence and hand-me-down glamour... [download PDF]


41: Orrery December 17 2009

The Conran Shop in Marylebone High Street is a fairly dangerous place to linger, should you be headily appreciative of colour and design: just about everything in there is instantly and shamingly covetable. And this Christmas, the windows are particularly enticing and spectacular with perfectly arranged and packaged pyramids of alternately vital desirabilia, and gaudily pretty trifles... [download PDF]


40: Franco's and tea at Claridge's December 10 2009

I've always been nuts about hats. When I was growing up, of course, everyone was more or less utterly defined by the hat they wore, and I simply coveted the lot of them. The only dressing up outfits I was ever interested in – in common with the only professions that held for me the remotest intrigue – held at their pivotal centres the hat. Which is why I was never attracted to medicine, the law or clergy: no hats, you see (unless you get to be Pope, of course, in which case they can become quite nifty)... [download PDF]


39: Poem December 3 2009

Poetry is on a roll – it’s all just so-o-o very trendy again. This happens, from time to time, the last occasion being possibly when that W.H. Auden tear-jerker was read out in Four Weddings And A Funeral – and now, just recently, we have T.S. Eliot voted the nation’s favourite poet. Yes, I know: T.S.Eliot. And that’s this nation we’re talking about then, is it? Nonsense, of course... [download PDF]


38: The Square November 26 2009

As a budding boy, before I happened upon the fabulousness of Ursula Andress and Elizabeth Taylor, the pin-ups in my study at school were a motley – an overlapping and glossy selection of E-Types, Aston Martins, Colts and Purdeys. I know, I know – cars and guns: amazing I blossomed into the aesthetic and sensitive flower that I am today. It was the look of the things, really: I didn’t terribly want to drive or shoot – or not to kill, anyway... [download PDF]


37: The Wallace November 19 2009

No Love Lost. That’s the title of Damien Hirst’s predictably quite ludicrously over-publicised hanging of brand new paintings in one of London’s great treasure chests, The Wallace Collection in Marylebone. Yes yes – paintings: the media were held in a collective thrall by this perfectly wondrous revelation that our most famous living artist had himself, apparently unaided, dipped a paintbrush into paint, and then actually applied said pigment to canvases. Lordy... [download PDF]


36: The Criterion November 12 2009

When I was a short-trousered St Anthony’s schoolboy, the words ‘Piccadilly Circus’ were almost as thrilling and packed with the rush of delight as ‘Christmas Eve’. And sometimes on that very day I would be taken there, in order to fulfil the sometime ritual of ‘seeing the lights’. Pleasures were simple in those days (and preferably free) but the sight and sparkle of Regent Street, the silvery glints... [download PDF]


35: The Wells November 5 2009

Links - those things we forge as we plod ever onwards, bonding us with others, making some sort of sense of a life. And although the pearls, of course, are ever the thing, without the stringing all you are left with is a treacherous rolling of so many disparate balls, poised and lurking on the landing to tip you down those stairs with bumps and pain and bewilderment, dizzied by how it all could even have happened. Links: that mark of cohesion, the theme of continuity... [download PDF]


34: Langan's Brasserie October 29 2009

Gluttons, lushes and loafers who have been knocking around London for quite a fair while will sometimes (and usually over the course of a long and boozy lunch) bend the conversation to the bars, the clubs, the restaurants of yore – those which, due to the alchemy of media and the moment, were magically lit up and hot for either years or just a season, then just mystifyingly fading from the collective consciousness... [download PDF]


33: The Bull And Last October 22 2009

Charlie Brown, the melancholic Peanuts philosopher, when told dismissively to ‘go fly a kite’, rather soon and poignantly was to discover that he couldn’t. The malevolent Lucy, fresh from listing his inadequacies and whipping away the football (again) just as his run-up was in unstoppable flow – she could, she could fly a kite. Beethoven aficionado Shroeder – he could... [download PDF]


32: Quo Vadis October 15 2009

Quo Vadis? According to the Bible, this is the question asked of Jesus Christ by St Peter on the Appian Way: Whither goest thou? Odd name for a restaurant then, seeing as how most of them strive so hard to be the destination itself – in this case more towards the Oxford Street end of Soho’s Dean Street,... [download PDF]


31: L'Aventure October 8 2009

The Beatles, I suppose, are the closest I get to any formal religion, and so that fabulous day in 1992 when I actually stood, gasping and amazed, in Number 2 Studio in Abbey Road, where the whole of the canon was actually created...! I was at a press thrash to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their debut single Love Me Do (and in three short years, we shall be celebrating its 50th … but oh, please please me by just not going there)... [download PDF]


30: Paradiso October 1 2009

This week I am lifting a corner of the veil, affording you a very rare glimpse into this honed and well-oiled machine – the intricate planning and meticulous care that make up the militaristic existence that is, perforce, that of the professional restaurant reviewer, brooking no leeway whatever for error... [download PDF]


29: Bertorelli's September 24 2009

Maxwell's in Heath Street, Hampstead – long gone now, but one of the original decent hamburger joints – was where we always used to take the ickle kiddies for a treat. And sometimes for an extra special, joy-packed, all-action, oh-my-God-how-does-our-oh-so-wonderful-Daddy-think-of-such-things sort of a treat, we took them to Maxwell’s in Covent Garden... [download PDF]


28: Fratelli La Bufala September 17 2009

I once met a buffalo socially, whose clear intent was to kill me. St Louis, Missouri, it was, in some sort of a wildlife compound – one of a clutch of idiot diversions laid on by the sponsor Budweiser during a press trip centred around the opening game of the 1994 World Cup in Chicago. I know and care absolutely zero about football, and so the editor of The Times thought it wise for me to brave the 100 degree heat and file for the paper some or other nonsense... [download PDF]


27: Murano September 10 2009

Mayfair. My very first memory concerning this rarefied area, at around the age of 11, is of buying the whole of it for only £400, just prior to swiftly recouping fully half my outlay via the simple and inevitable expedient of passing Go... [download PDF]




26: The Pavilion Restaurant, Kew Gardens September 3 2009

Summer this year occurred on Wednesday August 19 – and due to its singularity and some very strange little quirk and warp of my fevered misunderstanding it now will be etched forever in what little memory is left to me as a brand newly-minted, groovy and gorgeous Summer of Love. So what that it lasted but a day? Never mind the width, my dears: just you feel the quality... [download PDF]


25: The Betjeman Arms August 27 2009

Not at all usual to name a pub in honour of a recent Poet laureate (Hughes’ Booze? Motion’s Potions? I hardly think so) but in The Betjeman Arms we have a noble exception. A rather surprising place, this, and not least for its location – in St Pancras Station on the upper level devoted to the comings and goings of Eurostar... [download PDF]


24: The Freemasons Arms August 20 2009

Steak House. Just been there. So very subtle, with its pastel washes, perfectly set in Old Hampstead tranquility – only the murmur of remembered poetry susurrating as a ghost amidst so pregnant a hush. Oh God no – sorry: got the letters scrambled – Keats House, that’s what I meant to write, yes yes (all this restaurant business, it addles the brain)... [download PDF]


23: Mon Plaisir August 13 2009

There used to be a shag called Parson’s Pleasure. Pipe tobacco, you know. I only mention it because I have been straining to think of any British establishment or product bold enough to directly confront head-on this whole very sticky business of ‘pleasure’, and it’s all I can come up with... [download PDF]


22: Holly Bush August 6 2009

What's his name …? It’s on the tip of my… oh God – what’s he called? You know the chap I mean – that television cook.A combination of David Niven and Prince Charles, he always strikes me. Oh yes yes yes – I’ve got it now: Jamie Oliver, that’s the man... [download PDF]

022 250Cartoon 250

Cartoon by Ken Pyne ©2009



21: Rex Whistler Restaurant, Tate Britain July 30 2009

School hols – dontcha love ‘em? You might well be contemplating giving this latest vile neologism a whirl – a ‘staycation’: i.e, the recession has left you so utterly battered and broke that any euphemism at all for being thoroughly unable to afford a holiday is, on balance, better than none. All those pullouts and supplements that have fallen from your newspapers lately – ‘Great Days Out’, ‘Fun For The Kids’– and you dropped them into the bin because the relentlessly frolicsome covers chock-a-block with buckets and spades, thatched cottages, idyllic coaching inns and smiling, for God’s sake, left you more than faintly bilious... [download PDF]


20: XO July 23 2009

Smashing Time. It’s a little-known film, now something of a cult – an enjoyable scamper through the Swinging Sixties in London, actually made towards the end of that heady decade, which gives it a life and immediacy that later evocations inevitably lack. I was once marooned in an airport lounge in Nice with Michael York,... [download PDF]


19: Goodman July 16 2009

In those grim and ribless far-off days when Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy was looming large in the doom-laden media, you might have thought twice about opening a restaurant dedicated to the glory of beef in Maddox Street. It is akin, in these Swine Flu ridden times, to setting up an all-you-can-eat hog roast on Pigsneeze Lane (a little-known thoroughfare of my recent invention)... [download PDF]


18: Eriki July 9 2009

Some like it hot – and you’re one of them. Because you do, don’t you, relish Indian food? Yes, I thought so. Most of the country seems to. Chicken tikka masala is officially the nation’s favourite dish, a truth I find impossible to contemplate. Were I given the choice of any cuisine the world has to offer, India would rank fairly low on the list... [download PDF]


17: Canteen July 2 2009

Baker Street – not really a destination, is it? More a street to idly regard from a bus or taxi, noting that the Persian rug shop is now well into its 19th year of closing down. I only ever go there now if I need to consult the Great Detective on some or other pressing concern, which if left unresolved would surely lead to the gravest consequences for the security of the nation... [download PDF]




16: The Coffee Cup June 25 2009

Close your eyes. Now form a mental picture of Hampstead High Street. All very difficult when you’re trying to read, I do realise that, but here is what I’m driving at: how many shops can you put a name to? Yes, but now try it without the chain stores: no Waterstone’s, McDonalds, Starbucks, phone shops or rag trade. Is there anything left?... [download PDF]


15: The Ivy June 18 2009

What does The Ivy – arguably still London’s best known restaurant – have in common with the English novel? The more cynical among you might suggest that they are each of them populated by characters who do not really exist, stranded forever amid a setting of pure invention... [download PDF]




14: Odette's June 11 2009

When I was a lad I lived just minutes away from Primrose Hill, and although we ran to a garden with all the things that gardens just simply had to have in those days – disintegrating greenhouse, rockery devoid of alpines, rusty and deadweight lawnmower that ensured the preservation of daisy and dandelion – still there was always something special about going to “The Hill”... [download PDF]


13: The Gallery Restaurant, Selfridges June 4 2009

One hundred years old. Yes, all right – no more tittering at the back: joke over, thank you. Not me, no (though by God it can feel like it sometimes) – but Selfridges, the venerable Oxford Street store. It is owned by a rather glamorous and incalculably rich Canadian family called the Westons (as, indeed, is the 300-year old Fortnum&Mason)... [download PDF]


12: The Naked Sausage May 28 2009

Homes. You know Homes – the glossy porn pullout in your Ham&High, where a welter of strutting and poutingly gorgeous hussies – sorry, houses – weekly make us hot with lust before we cool and sigh at the stark and crushing admission that these high maintenance babes, oh – they are just so way out of our league... [download PDF]


11: Gaucho May 21 2009

Attentive readers might recall that last week I lunched in the whitest restaurant in town – St John. Soon after I went for dinner to the Hampstead outpost of the Argentinian chain, Gaucho, whose interior is modelled upon that of a coal mine. Walls, floor and ceiling, all black – but unlike St John, they just won’t let the idea lie: there are other factors too, and these are weird ... [download PDF]


10: St John May 14 2009

St John is in his heaven – or hell, dependent upon your taste. Here we have uncompromisingly British, and stripped down to the bone – such defiant unfanciness in accordance with the unassuming Georgian terraced building just around the corner from Smithfield... [download PDF]




9: York & Albany May 7 2009

The chimps’ tea party – when, as a child, I was taken to the zoo, that for me was the main attraction. Most of the other animals I found to be either stinky and repellent, outright scary or else just plain ridiculous (in common, now I think of it, with how many people since?)... [download PDF]




8: The Foyer & Reading Room, Claridges April 30 2009

Have you checked the rating at the end of the piece yet? I expect so – human nature really, when reviews are strewn with asterisks. So, yes – rather startling, isn’t it? A clean sweep. The swagger of five unbroken stars – just like those that glinted on the bullet helmet of a cigar-chomping General Patton, while he was twirling his pearl-handled revolver... [download PDF]




7: The Flask April 23 2009

Flask Walk. Well – I’ve been here before, of course. From 1975 until 1989, to be precise – that’s how long I was the shadowy fixture hovering like doom at the rear of The Flask Bookshop. Readers of a superior vintage will remember it well – I sold modern first editions and art books along with general antiquarian and literature: rather lovely, in its heyday... [download PDF]




6: J Sheekey April 16 2009

Now this is really spooky: I was just a tad too early for lunch with a newspaper features editor in J Sheekey, so I leapt at the excuse and nipped across the road to The Garrick for a sharpener. And don’t ask me why I bounded up the back stairs to thebar instead of taking the grand and newly restored main staircase, but on my way I noticed for the very first time a rather fine portrait of Donald Wolfit... [download PDF]




5: The Bull April 9 2009

And so to Highgate. A mild and sunny day, so the idea was for my wife and myself to take the 210 bus from Jack Straw’s Castle, have a mosey around the village, plump for lunch in the most seductive place on offer and then – full of good and tasty things – wander back across the Heath. I was musing that it was a fair old while since I’d been to Highgate; the bus, I noticed, terminated in Finsbury Park,... [download PDF]




4: Oslo Court April 2 2009

God, I did feel such a fool, though – that very first time I was invited to Oslo Court (the restaurant so famous for being unknown). My host’s instructions had been as specific as they could be, but still too vague for me: “You go into Prince Albert Road, right? And to the left a bit there’s this big block of flats, see? There’s no sign proclaiming ‘Restaurant’– no menu, no doorman, nothing. Persevere... [download PDF]




3: The Wolseley March 26 2009

The “It Factor”. That indefinable thing that just a few restaurants are reputed to have – the usual suspects which litter those newspapers still clinging with fervour to the demented belief that some or other scrawny bint or bloated swaggerer eating a meal is somehow an item of news. And yes, The Wolseley in Piccadilly is one of them... [download PDF]


2: Villa Bianca March 19 2009

Italy, eh? Quite apart from what, as the Pythons had it, the Romans ever did for us, there’s Venice, Vivaldi – and, rather more to the point, vitello, vermicelli and Valpolicella: Italian cuisine, in a nutshell. Oh, also they gave us the Mafia, of course, and in one episode of The Sopranos I recall some big-quiffed slack-mouthed assassin referring to Mr Obama’s recently acquired residence as the “Villa Bianca”... [download PDF]


1: Chez Gerard March 12 2009

Dear God – I think I must have taken leave of my senses. Of all the places to eat in Hampstead and Highgate, why did I have to go to one of the very few restaurants within a hotel? Everyone knows that you never do that – unless it’s Claridge’s, say… but this, believe me, wasn’t. We are talking about the Brasserie Gerard, fronting the Premier Inn on Haverstock Hill – which is, I tremble to tell you, just one of 500 in the kingdom’s largest hotel chain and run by Whitbread, which also owns the Costa coffee chain... [download PDF]


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