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Archive for October 2010

The Olde China Hand

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Alas, no tapas this weekend either. The yearning was engendered by popping into Salt Yard for a glass of sherry prior to going round the corner for dinner at Pied à Terre. That turned out to be the best meal I’ve eaten; the two opening courses – tuna carpaccio with avocado puree and tomato ketchup and marinated scallop with cauliflower and wasabi – were particularly stunning. After the tenth and final course you could have happily lead me to the euthanasia booth.

That aperitif reminded me of Salt Yard’s signature dish – courgette flowers stuffed with goats’ cheese and drizzled with honey – and my urgent need to get reaquainted. They’ve also got an especially good looking selection of fish and seafood dishes at the moment. Unfortunately, we got distracted by playing with our new hoover – rock and roll – which meant by the time we sauntered in the bar was jammed and there was no room at the inn. Luckily we had a back up plan.

The Olde China Hand is a pub on that no man’s stretch of Rosebery Avenue between Exmouth Market and Sadler’s Well. I was going passed it on the bus the other day when I did a double take at the sign out the front: “Dim Sum and Real Ale”. That’s not something you see every day and is a possibility too good to pass up. As we approached I started to have second thoughts though. This was a pretty empty, slightly drab, out of the way pub – did I really want to eat their dim sum? After all, sticking a Thai kitchen in a pub sounds like a stroke of genius but how often does that turn out well? Stepping in there was also that pub/restaurant schism awkward – do we seat ourselves? should we order drinks at the bar? – but once that was navigated my worries disappeared.

The fact it has Erdinger and Sierra Nevada on tap justifies a visit in their own right. They also had Moretti and Flensburger, a couple of interesting guest bitters which I didn’t try and a vast selection of bottled beer. Heaven. Bizarrely they didn’t have a drinks menu though, so once ushered to our table we had to squint at the bar and gesture vaguelly along the lines of “oh, what about that one next then?”

The dim sum was even better. First of all, they come in fours rather than threes which is brilliant. Secondly, their design was far more imaginative and their execution far more skillful than I could have imagined. We ordered four fours plus a side pad thai from the sundries section at the bottom of the menu in case we needed a bit of bulk. Steamed mushroom dim sum that had then been fried and wasabi prawn were the two stars but scallop and pea and that old favourite prawn won ton were not far behind. All the prawn dishes were whole prawns, lovingly cocooned, rather than the blitzed paste you often get and the delicacy and balance of the parcels was wonderful.

Tapas was forgotten. We were very, very happy. We got greedy. Round two brought the only duff dish of the night: curried asparagus dim sum where any trace of the vegetable had been obliterated by the process of currying it. This is probably karma for ordering it out of season and helping destroy Peru. Much more successful was a dish I’ve completely forgotten the name of which was sort of like a char sui bun but the char sui had been replace by a mixture of pork, chicken and shrimp and the bun had been replaced with sticky rice. The presence of meat meant I had to eat both of them. Shame. Finally, we had an unneccessary but quickly devoured round of custard tarts. Thank God the bus stop was just outside.

Now the bad news. The dim sum is so good that the chef has been poached to Hakkasan. Great for him, less good for The Olde China Hand. A flyer on our table entitled The Demise Of Dim Sum made it clear that it would be impossible for them to find another dim sum chef of his quality so, whilst the kitchen will continue, it will be serving an entirely different type of cuisine (I believe it was previously Mexican).

£30 a head for stuffing our faces and drinking everything go. Get down there before it is too late.

Written by Martin

25 October 2010 at 10:05

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The Anchor & Hope

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On Sunday I was overcome by a powerful need for tapas. Unfortunately I had forgotten that London doesn’t do tapas of a Sunday. Moro is shut, Salt Yard is shut, even my local places knock off after lunch. Barrafina is open but who wants to schlep into Soho on a Sunday night? Instead we ending up going to a local bistro, The Fox Reformed. I had heard that it was worth attending for the wine, the venue and the food in that order and so it proved. Nice glass of Shiraz, cosy table, decent but deeply unremarkable French grub (the highlight of which were actually the lovely bread rolls so that tells you something).

So yesterday I found myself in Waterloo with my tapas itch unscratched. I picked the missus up from work with the intention of popping down The Cut to Meson Don Felipe. As you will probably have gathered from the title of this blog post, we didn’t make it. N pulled me up short at the Anchor & Hope. I have been meaning to go to the Anchor & Hope for pretty much the whole of the last decade but I’d already discounted since it doesn’t take bookings and it is always rammed. I looked sceptically through the window into the heaving pub. N is much more of the nothing ventured, nothing gained school of thought and amazingly we were instantly shown to a table. Or at least the corner of one, they make the most of their space by seating multiple people at the same table.

The Anchor & Hope is the sister pub to 32 Great Queen Street and has the same focus on British seasonal food. Fearing the pressures of time we moved straight to mains meaning I had to forego an alluring salad of snails and bacon. N went straight for seabass, a great wodge on the bone rather than the usual fillet. This was offset with a dollop of tapanade, a dollop of creme fraiche and some wonderfully smokey greens of mysterious provenace. I hovered. I quite fancied the duck but duck with lentils and aioli? The combination seemed a bit off. I fancied veal milanese even more but it came with anchovy dressing and the herring debacle was still fresh in my mind. It is a dish I last had fifteen years ago when my gran cooked it for me and I’ve often thought about it since but you don’t see it very often. I couldn’t really pass up the opportunity and, after a quick, reassuring chat with the waiter, I took the plunge. Along came two lovely escalopes, safely quarantined from a huge pile of green beans, dressed in that dangerous dressing. I needn’t have worried as the use of anchovies turned out to be light, subtle and delightful.

I said we skipped starters but I lied. We couldn’t help overselves and ordered salt cod brandade to go with our mains. It worked really well with both the dishes but wasn’t really needed given the quantities of our mains. It was also rather over-complicated. You’ve got the brandade on a bit of toast. Great. Sharp little cherry tomatoes? Yeah, that goes nicely. Half a soft boiled egg? Erm, that’s a bit superfluous. Massively salty olives to go with your salty fish? No, thanks. So I did get my tapas in the end but I didn’t really want it all on one plate.

Heartiness is part of the ethos of the Anchor & Hope. So is meatiness. They do massive cuts of meat to share which is slightly vexing for me because for all N’s inumerable charms, wolfing down flesh is not one of them. As we were leaving the table next to us received lamb for four, accompanied by a vast tray of gratin. It looked amazing and worked out at £12 per person which must be considered a bargain. One day…

For us it was £33 pound a head, including service, a chocolate pot and drinks, which were the only duff part of the meal. Obviously I started with fizz but the pear and prosecco leaned to heavily to the prosecco. N had been the week for lunch and said it was a much superior mix then. I then followed this with a surprisingly muddy pint of Kirin. To my wife’s disgust I then bypassed the single malts to order a Jameson’s. Look, sometimes I just prefer a blended with food, okay?

Written by Martin

13 October 2010 at 11:04

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Women And British Science Fiction Redux

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This is an attempt by me to concisely set out the thoughts I have articulated in this long thread about the lack of women in British SF:

  • I read science fiction, I write about science fiction, I take a strong interest in it as a form of literature. I therefore take a particular interest in wider issues – such as sexism – when they relate directly to the genre.
  • It is a fact that there are very few women currently publishing science fiction in the UK. It also seems clear that the number of women publishing SF is decreasing.
  • The fact that this gender disparity exists in SF does not mean it doesn’t also exist in other spheres. Equally, its existence in other spheres doesn’t mean that I can’t focus my attention on its existence in science fiction.
  • Gender inequality in SF matters to me because of justice. I don’t want to support institutionally sexist organisations and structures.
  • Gender inequality in SF matters to me because of art. I don’t want to read the same type of book by the same type of person.
  • Diversity is always inherently a good thing.
  • I am not in favour of quotas. I am in favour of seeking to increase participation from under-represented groups. (When people raise the issue of quotas, they are almost always raising a strawman and trying to disrupt the conversation.)
  • The issues underlying the gender disparity in British SF are likely to be systemic and outside of the immediate control of individuals. But as individuals we can all make sure we are aware of the issues and assert pressure where possible.

This conversation will continue at Torque Control.

Written by Martin

12 October 2010 at 12:11

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