Saturday, February 21, 2009

Harvey Nicks - too good for chimps

The past few days I've been my normal pretty depressed self. People used to ask me what my politics were and I used to say 'Champagne anarcho-socialist'. These days it's just prosecco. It's not a happy time for most. I've even managed to feel sorry for the poor blighters at the Sun, hearing that News International are laying off 60 journalists. In fact, I almost bought the paper, after picking it up whilst I was having my obligatory city-centre-shopping-tea-break at Pret. I came across this article. Some woman kept a chimp as a pet which then bit her friend's eyes out. She loved the chimp. It was quite a tragic story. But the quote kept me laughing for hours. "Until you’ve eaten with a chimp and bathed with a chimp, you don’t know a chimp.” The Sun and its journalists are obviously trying to cheer everyone up with their stories. This time it worked. Or is it the blitz spirit? Under normal circumstances I would hate News International and their journalists, but hearing that they're all going on the dole brings out a sympathy laugh for their 'human' (or in this case chimp) interest stories that our journalist 'professors' used to harp on about.

Whilst I was pondering capitalism's imminent demise I decided to give what will probably be the last bastions of this economic creed a run for their money. A soup-run for *my* money in fact. Yes, I went to Harvey Nick's for my lunch. There's something so unsettling about carrying massive bags with a tray around Pret, nice as the tea and wonderful salad is. You feel like the underclass. Shuffling along, banging into people, wondering if you've just poked someone's eye out with your latest Poundland bargain. The seats are just too close together and you need ten arms. There's no excuse NOT to go to proper lunch in Leeds on a Saturday. So I left the Sun behind, after the using the (frankly rather pathetic) facilities at Pret. Don't get me wrong. I love Pret. It's the only chain I do love. But, it's only two minutes from a Leeds icon.

I toddled off to Harvey Nicks. I paid the huge £7.26 for my lunch at Harvey Nicks (including service). But what do you get for your money? Well, for the extra £2 than you would probably pay at a similar cafe, you get a long list of extras. *Proper* pepper in a mill. Salt in a mill. Single expresso - which comes with an optional glass of tap water. You get what used to be called 'silver service'. With my roast tomoato soup with croutons and creme fraiche I was given a choice of three breads. The manager is a very friendly and knowledgeable man, dressed immaculately in a pin-stripe suit with this incredible posture that makes me think he does yoga. And this is the crucial difference. Not only are there no chimps, nor even newspapers hanging around with stories of chimps. There is impeccable, personal and personnable service. They glide over to you, and glide you to your seat. Every wish is their command. The staff are attentive, experienced, knowledgeable and the service is seamless. And then there's the views. You might think, what's the centre of Leeds to look at? Well, the Harvey Nick's cafe is in the Victoria quarter where all the very expensive shops were done up recently. So the architecture is very smart if you like that sort of thing. What I love are the coloured glass windows on the roof. All different colours in modern designs, just beautiful for non-economic, peaceful and optimistic contemplation. And so, I leave my lunchtime date with myself, not only feeling sated, but not feeling too impoverished or ripped off. Comrades, when we do take over the world can we keep quality food establishments like Harvey Nichols?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mum's Gammon

1) Buy a Gammon cut of pork
2) Soak overnight if poss, if not for a good few hours
2.5) Roast potatoes in goose fat
3) Boil Gammon for 45 mins
4) Drain and then get a knife, score the fat and insert cloves and rub in brown sugar
5) Roast at Gas Mark 7
6) put the parsnips in after 20 minutes
7) Serve with warmed up pineapple

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hi-fi Club, Leeds Monday February 16th - Five Star Review

I'll cut to the chase. This review is totally biassed. My brother is Joe Tatton, someone whose modesty precludes him from blowing his own trumpet (he used to play the cornet in Hollinsclough Siliver Band). Needless to say I think he's one of the most talented musicians I will ever meet. I've known him since he was born and for purely unselfish reasons would sorely like to see his music career take off, big time. He does just about manage to make a living from being a full-time musician, but I have got nice images of relaxation in an in-door pool somewhere in Scarborough paid for from the proceeds of some Number One or whatever you call commercially successful music these days. It is frustrating when you see people who are less talented, less experienced and not as nice rake in the cash. Anyway, Joe's latest jaunt is off with his girlfriend into popular soul paradise. They've got a new album and a new band Rodina so-named after the Russian word for mother-land, already with their eye on the Eastern market. They are doing very well indeed in Turkey. They are doing pretty well here.

Firstly the band. I love Aoife, almost as much as Joe. Twenty-something mega-babe fronting the band, singing in a sweet, hypnotic and entrancing style that celebrates her celtic roots. Jonny is on rthym guitar and he plays in an acoustic styly and Danny on a beat-box. Joe the bro is on keyboard and sorts out the bass with some magnificent piano solos. Aoife does her own styling and I think she's a trendsetter for us cutesey individualists. Colourful, playful and mesmerising.

What I really like is that the foursome stand in a row on stage, all equal, all enjoying themselves. Seasoned performers, musicians and artists of the highest calibre. There is a jovial camaraderie amongst the band, everyone self-deprecating and joking around and I think this relaxed openmindedness stands out amongst other bands. It's uplifting to experience.

Rodina opened the night at about 8.30, first act on, which they were pleased with because everyone goes home later on. At one point I was in charge of the CDs and gave one to someone who said he was manager of Nightmares on Wax. He was a nice guy. I was also in charge of the flyers and started handing them out. What I found was most effective was getting into a dialogue with people about the band. I would say 'They're a mixture of Jools Holland, Corrine Bailey Rae and the Buena Vista Social Club'. People would get curious and start reading the flyer.

Finally Rodina's music. They always start with 'Always had a Dream'. With an extremely catchy line 'You don't believe, you don't believe'. Singing it all day after the gig. My favourite is 'You Cry I Cry'. It's perhaps one of the their darkest songs. I love the change of tempo. Brilliant all round.

The second band I didn't like I'm afraid. It can only be described as 'posh folk'. That's the music and the people attending. They were called 'Feldspar' and me and Dave the Rave had a little competition just before they came on about what sort of genre they were. He said Pink Floyd. I based my guess on the clothes they were wearing (beige slacks, v neck jumpers and ironed cotton shirts). I was right. Posh Folk. They had their mothers with them, which I don't object to under normal circumstances. But whilst MY family were playing these posh folk were making an absolute racket 'Oh darrrling..' as they all turned up, throwing their arms round each other, right in front of the stage. And yet when they started they told the crowd to Shush. Just not the done thing sweeties.

Now the third band I adored. Sal Paradise. These guys are going places. They haven't given me any money, I'm not at all related to them and I don't know their first names, but by God I think they're good. I had a good feeling about them because they were tapping their feet to Rodina , so I knew they had taste. I would have preferred it if one of them was a girl, but you can't have everything in one band. These guys were like the grandsons of Men at Work, UB40 and the Beach Boys, and the sons of Supergrass. It was reggae-rock. They were a tight outfit, but I don't know whether this was because I had my eye on the drummer all the time. I must admit you get to a certain age and suddenly drummers seem young, muscular and attractive. Is too much oestrogen a good thing I was wondering as I was watching the young women huddling round at the front trying to get a glimpse of more muscle and leg. But the eye candy didn't put me off too much and I thought their songs were great, tuneful, powerful numbers, perfect for the summer.

The fourth band- Meryl Jane. Well by this point husband had arrived. He liked them. He likes Razorlight. I just didn't find the tunes that catchy.

And the fifth band - The tales, the tales. I didn't give this lot justice and plan to return to their April gig. What was quite funny was that at the start of the night I said to one of them when giving them a Rodina flyer 'What sort of music are you?' And he said 'Amazing'. Having listened to them on myspace for awhile I think they need to concentrate on playing at the same speed.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Our ten day holiday started with brother-in-law's B day. I spent a lot of the time at the restaurant trying to convert his mate into more of a lefty. We went to Belgo's in Covent Garden. Pretty poor service. OK food.
They loved their Christmas/B day presents. We had a good laugh.

My MA is chugging along. I might have decided it is too difficult. There is no agreement anywhere on anything. Least of all me with anyone else.

Then of course we went to Rome! A holiday I've been looking forward to for a long time - one of my favourite cities as for someone with a historical bent there is *so* much to see and do. It was a surprise for mum-in-law. We met up with cousin-in-law at the airport which was fun.
We got a lift with a maniac Italian taxi driver. After my hit and run experience I was terrified . I left my black gloves behind.

Arrived and C span hubbie round, it was lovely. That was the last surprise.

There were ten of us altogether - C and T (2 sisters) and their children and wives/husbands. Pizza place for the bday night itself. marvellous, incredible ravioli for me. The following night P & C (brother and sister in law) had discovered Rome's only vegetarian-ish restaurant - half the party were veggies. Amazing food again. Wonderful pasta - home baked by Nonna in the background who kept on waving at us. Tiramisu - had to have it daily of course. Artichoke ravioli followed by Sea bass. Immaculately cooked so delicate, simple and subtle. Yet so tasty. Don't know how they do it. And we kept on saying this about every cup of coffee too. So much so that for hubbie's valentine this year he got an Italian on-stove coffee maker. We had a cheaper one in London for a few years but it broke a couple of years ago!

On Day two we went to the Collosseum. I lobbied for a human guide and got it. I like the human guides as you can ask them questions. It's called a didactic tour in Italy. I asked 2 questions - was the excavation of it related to the rise in nationalism (at the start of the c19)?. She said no, it was the rise of neoclassicalism. The rise of nationalism came quite a lot later. My 2nd question was about tickets. She had proudly told us that they sold tickets with numbers on them correspondending to seats. I said what were the tickets made of? They didn't know. Sources don't say. Bone, animal skin, bark? Our party started discussing my second question.

My 3rd question - I didn't ask because husband was taking the pizza - was why the financial crisis of the Western front of the Roman empire happen? Fresh in my mind because Gordon Brown has been saying there's no lessons from history on the latest financial crisis.

Everywhere you look in Rome there is some historic building or other, and some story behind it. The building they call the typewriter or wedding cake, built by King Victor at the height of nationalism a couple of years before the first world war. We went in it to see the Picasso exhibition. It appeared to be quite a cheerful time for Picasso - 1917-37. He got a bit grumpy when the Spanish Civil War started. Anyway a lovely exhibition and really inspirational to see his works of true genius. We also went to La Chappella Sistina and the Vatican. *Amazing*. The room of maps was just breathtaking. Every last little detail you wanted to soak up. You could easily spend a couple of centuries in there. And Santa Maria Maggoria. The Church of Mary Major. 5th Century. One of the best conserved churches in the world. The gold leaf, altar and mosaic frescoes just took your breath away.

Roma was perfecta. A brilliant little break. We went back to Shropshire and had more fun, running, great food and arrived back to the economic and literal fog. Happy in the gloom.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


So much to report, so many stories to tell and so little time. I'm about to be given another beautiful soup and salad lunch. Anyway the stories that you must remind me to tell you later: Cook-la and the naming of names. Failing to prosecute John Humphries for inciting racial hatred. Risk averse risk management. Snow. Car breakdown. The trip to Rome. The two questions I asked and the one question I didn't. Food reviews. Trying to contact a couple of Lords. For different reasons. Financial meltdown. The answer to humanity's problems - free energy to all. Curry, lasagne, ravioli, pizza and sea bass. Trawler men. Agatha Christie. What books I'm going to get with my twenty five quid book token. More running. And tonight's dessert menu. White chocolat and pistacio parfait with passion fruit and lycee jelly.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

AA Gill's review is Bravo Sierra

Today we went to Foxtrot Oscar. It's Gordon Ramsay's new restaurant. It was absolutely marvellous. It cost £112.48 including all wine and service. Very reasonable for high quality London food. And it's in the heart of Chelsea. We had a bit of a to-do about it as well.

To cut a long story short I had a traumatic time last Thursday. I was in a taxi which did a hit and run on a pedestrian and sped off at eighty miles an hour. Fortunately he let me out after a few minutes and I whimpered to the police station. The hit and runner was on a mobile phone. Anyway the medium and long term effects of this have made me: 1) slightly more cautious yet also more confident in my driving (I have never held a telephone conversation whilst driving) 2) carry on living exactly and precisely as I was before as there is jack diddly squat that I could have done to create a different outcome. As part of 2) I have carried on my (possibly) too high expectations in terms of restaurant food.

Basically husband wanted to go to Foxtrot Oscar. When I read Mr Gill's review I wanted to go to the Square. The only Ramsay establishment husband has eaten at is The Sandgate in Folkestone where we went for our honeymoon. We loved it. Perfect for a trip to France as it is pretty reasonable yet v close to coast. I had eaten at the Narrow and it was a bit rubbish. So I had surreptitiously booked the Square. When husband got out of shower I saw the look on his face. He started talking about money and I quietly unbooked the square.

Firstly the service. Impeccable, friendly, informal and funny. They never wrote anything down, not a word. Yet nothing was forgotten. We thought we might have the restaurant to ourselves having got in at 6.30 to an empty place. Indeed the host made us feel like the only people in the world. We had his undivided attention.

The bread was amazing. sourdough in little triangle shapes. We also knew from Ramsay's cookery books that his sea food is possibly his greatest strength. He saves money on expensive ingredients from hours of back breaking, yet highly trained labour - we love his fish stock and fish sauce.

Yes, my prawn cocktail was inexplicably in a bowl but husband had a terrine with prune chutney which was v nice. And the mains were also great. Pub prices, fine dining quality. Wine was good value and gorgoeous. We had Pinot Noir - complex, tasty and light. And for dessert I had bread and butter pudding - the lightest and best I have ever tasted.
Wonderful muscat to finish and the husband had some good cheese.

What I love most about my most expensive hobby (eating out) is the stories you always get from the best places. It turned out that we were joined in the restaurant by the man who played William Dorrit from the Dickens TV serial with his mother/ wife/daughter/two female friends. We very much enjoyed the eavesdropping about how this actor learnt to play the ukelele on the Royle Family. Then the owner told us that his brother had sacked AA Gill's wife's brother. He said Ramsay had also chucked out Gill and Joan Collins from Royal hospital road. So the bad review from AA Gill was predictable.

But the thing about Ramsay is he seems to listen to his critics. Gill's criticisms - meat pie and french onion soup - had been taken off the menu. The food was so tasty and well executed - living up to Ramsay's dedication to simplicities.

AA Gill needs to return to foxtrot oscar.