Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
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- Recent Entries:
- Hyde Park
Work and Ciao Bella
Bored of Beer
Putney and Wandsworth
Breakfast at the Regency
Grayson Perry Afternoon Tea
Cocktails at Home
Pies, Battenburg, Kimchi, Tofu, Almodovar and Snow
Lamb and Flag, and the end of Deep Fried Pizzas in London...?
- Hyde Park
- [Sunday 19th February 2012]
We'd originally considered getting out of London today, and we briefly entertained the notion of going to Rochester to see the castle and the cathedral. As is often the case though we ended up feeling like we couldn't really be bothered to go all that way, and decided to just do something in London instead.
We decided to go to Hyde Park, and catch the last day of the Lygia Pape exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery. I rather liked the centrepiece of the exhibition - Book of Time. It's a set of geometric shapes in mostly primary colours, all of them cut out of the same sized squares, and one for each day of the year. It reminded me a bit of favicons.
After this we continued on through Hyde Park to High Street Kensington, had the now usual tostada for lunch, and did a bit of shopping. From there we walked to Gloucester Road, did some more shopping in the Waitrose there, and go the tube back home.
- Work and Ciao Bella
- [Saturday 18th February 2012]
I went into the office in the daytime to catch up on some work, I'd worked pretty full days Monday to Friday but still felt I didn't really get enough done. It was rather nice being in the office when it was quiet and there was no-one else around.
Chie came to meet me at the office a little after 5, and we decided to go out somewhere for dinner. I felt in need of some comfort food, and so we decided to go back to Ciao Bella on Lamb's Conduit Street. As before it was packed, the tables were ridiculously cramped, and we only had our table for an hour and a half. We started with the tomatoey garlic bread again (the size of a pizza, and a mere £3.50), then followed with a mushroom pizza and penne alla siciliana, which we shared. The pasta wasn't quite as good as the spaghetti all putanesca I'd had last time, but still the whole thing was hearty and comforting and there's something I just really like about this place. James Sherwood likes it too, apparently.
After dinner we considered going for a drink at the Lamb next door, but it was quite busy and after waiting a while at the bar and not getting served I grew impatient and decided to give up. Instead we randomly went into the bar of one of the hotels around Russell Square, which was a bit dead, but had an interesting late Victorian interior. Although, if I'm honest, I'm a bit bored of late Victorian interiors now.
- [Friday 17th February 2012]
Had a rather difficult conversation with a colleague as I was leaving the office today, which was somewhat upsetting, and overshadowed the whole weekend. I've always liked to think I'm reasonably well liked by the people I work with - or at least they don't have strong feelings either way - but apparently that isn't universally the case. Maybe this is just an unavoidable side effect of being ambitious and, I like to think, hardworking - and expecting those characteristics to at least some extent from the people I work with.
Fortunately, to help take my mind off this somewhat traumatic run-in, I had a fun evening out with Chie, Kyle, Hannah, Al and Charlotte. Kyle and Hannah had been to see the Picasso exhibition at the Tate Britain - I didn't really fancy it, but they'd suggested meeting up for dinner afterwards. We ended up deciding to go to Shepherd's - the old school Westminster restaurant popular with political types. We had a big round table in a sort of booth, and everyone was in high spirits. With the possible exception of me, but I was more than happy to pretend otherwise.
- [Thursday 16th February 2012]
Left work "early" (i.e. around 6) and hurried hom by way of Sainsbury's to embark on an ambitious plan of Indian cooking. I made tikka paneer, sag aloo, and dal. Plus some basmati rice to go with it. The dal was easily the most successful of the three dishes, it's amazing how much depth of flavour can be found in the humble lentil, when coaxed out with a few spices and a lot of cooking. The sag aloo was ok, but the tikka paneer was a bit disappointing - I essentially just dusted the paneer with some tikka curry powder I had bought in Sainsbury's, and then baked it in the oven a bit. It wasn't really anything like the tikka paneer you get in restaurants - I suspect there's something missing in my recipe which was pretty much complete guesswork.
- Bored of Beer
- [Wednesday 15th February 2012]
Went to the pub after work with a few people from the office, and somehow just failed to really enjoy it. It wasn't a particularly interesting pub (it's nigh on impossible to ever persuade anyone from the office to stray further than the closest handful of pubs to the office) and I have been starting to think of late I'm actually quite bored of drinking beer.
- [Tuesday 14th February 2012]
Neither Chie nor I had any particular enthusiasm to yield to the commercial pressure that is always thrust upon the general population around this date, and we'd had a very nice evening out the previous evening, so we decided to just have a quiet night in. I made a Quorn lasagne for dinner, although rather shockingly discovered part way through cooking we didn't have any tinned tomatoes. So instead I improvised with a jar of Loyd Grossman's pasta sauce, which made me feel a bit like I was cheating somehow, and yet it meant no less cooking effort than the tin of tomatoes would have been. The end result was actually rather tasty - I guess there's a lot of oil in a jar of pasta sauce which helped to stop the whole thing drying out as it can do a bit sometimes. Probably even more unhealthy than usual though.
- Hay Fever
- [Monday 13th February 2012]
I'm very much into Noel Coward at the moment, and in addition to reading the first instalment of his autobiography (which I actually find a bit depressing as it reminds me how unglamorous my life is by comparison - he seemed to forever be at somebody or other's party, and gadding about all over the place), I've also been avidly on the look out for any of his plays being performed in London. So I was rather pleased to hear Hay Fever was going to be on, and at the Noel Coward Theatre of all places. Apparently this is the first time a Noel Coward play has actually been performed there, since it was renamed shortly after he died in the 1970s.
I'd decided to make a bit of a night of it, and met up with Chie beforehand for a pre-theatre dinner at J. Sheekey's Oyster Bar, which is also very conveniently located next door to the Noel Coward Theatre. Moreover I'd read that Savile Row aficionado James Sherwood was there recrently, which gave me the impression it would probably be quite a glamorous sort of a place, and I donned my suit accordingly. I did rather like the atmosphere there, and several of the other diners were rather well-to-do and well spoken, but obviously the vegetarian options in a place famous for seafood were never going to be that inspiring.
As for the actual play, well, I enjoyed it, but probably not as much as the last two Noel Coward plays we'd seen (A Design for Living and Private Lives). Perhaps this was because it was fairly early on in the run - it was only their third night I think - and they hadn't quite got into their stride yet.... but it didn't seem as slick as the previous two places had been, and I think the delivery of what should have been many of the funniest lines was a bit off.
It was interesting though that just a couple of days later I got to the bit in Noel Coward's autobiography where he described the house and family he'd spent time with in New York which had inspired the play. Albeit that in the play the family had been relocated to Cookham, in Berkshire.
Still, a fun night overall - we should do this sort of thing more often.
- Korean Breakfast
- [Sunday 12th February 2012]
Fairly quiet day. Started it off with a "Korean" breakfast - a twist on the usual Japanese breakfast of rice and miso soup, with the addition of kim chi and Korean seaweed.
Only ventured out of the flat in the afternoon, to buy supplies from Sainsbury's. Other than that not much to report.
- Putney and Wandsworth
- [Saturday 11th February 2012]
I hadn't seen my friend Andy for a while, so we both thought we were overdue to meet up for a drink or two, which turned into another one of our rambling pub expeditions. We'd originally considered going somewhere a little further afield like Oxford, but the threat of snow and the fact that it was actually quite a trek made us end up being somewhat less ambitious. So we just headed for somewhere roughly in the middle of where we both lived, which translated to Putney and Wandsworth.
We started off at the Bricklayer's Arms in Putney, where rather disconcertingly beer was being served in plastic glasses - apparently there was a Fulham game on, and they'd been advised to do so by the police. Not wanting to be swamped by football crowds we decided to curtail the original planned agenda in Putney somewhat, and head sooner rather than later to the relative safety of Wandsworth.
I particularly enjoyed our visit to The Cat's Back, which is rather unpromisingly located on the edge of an industrial estate near Wandsworth, but surprisingly had a strong community pub feel, and therein Andy constructed a rather impressive "Dominohenge" (see the pictures) to the slight bemusement of the landlady.
Another highlight, more in terms of the interior, was the Spread Eagle in Wandsworth. Having been reading a book on London pub interiors recently it turns out that very few, if any, original pre-Victorian interiors survive, so this sort of grand partitioned etched glass gin palace style as about as good as it gets. Even though, somewhat disappointingly they also had the wrong sort of screens - i.e. ones showing sports.
We eventually decided we'd done enough in Wandsworth, and as it was now after 4 and we hadn't successfully had lunch yet, we headed into the centre instead. En route at Millbank we saw a scene from the new Bond movie being filmed, and caught a brief glimpse of Judie Dench in a car.
Somehow or other we ended up Embankment, and I suggested we go to a Mexican place called Lupita. To my surprise Andy said he'd never really had Mexican food before, and apparently quite liked it.
We rounded off the day with yet another late Victorian pub interior - the Salisbury - a central London pub I've had on my list of recommendations on Google Places for some time (what a fine product that is, by the way) but had never got around to going to.
- [Friday 10th February 2012]
A light dusting of snow had fallen overnight. Other than that, not really much to report.
- Breakfast at the Regency
- [Thursday 9th February 2012]
It turned into a bit of a late night last night, so in order to help get the day started I took the unusual step of going for a midweek breakfast at the Regency Cafe. Had the usual, it was great as always.
Not really much else to report - just a quiet night in.
- Grayson Perry Afternoon Tea
- [Wednesday 8th February 2012]
As a treat for a couple of visitors to the office from the US this week, we took them out for afternoon tea at the British Museum. I was rather pleased to find I was still in time to enjoy the Grayson Perry afternoon tea, which was quite fun.
In the evening a colleague persuaded me to go all the way to Islington to try the cocktails at a bar near where he lives, which he particularly likes. The bartender here was very eager to please, but following the previous evening's cocktail making at home I was reminded again that I prefer the way I make all my favourite drinks.
- Cocktails at Home
- [Tuesday 7th February 2012]
Made a few cocktails at home this evening, and decided in order to help enjoy them a bit more I'd put on my suit. Cocktails always taste better in a suit.
I made each of my current three favourites - a Negroni, an Aviation and a Pink Gin. With the possible exception of the Pink Gin (they did a particularly good version at the Savoy) I think I prefer the way I make each of these to any versions I've had in a bar. No bars ever seem to have creme de violette, so they can never do an Aviation properly. For the Negroni, I've realised I actually prefer it made with Aperol rather than Campari - again an ingredient you don't so often find in bars.
- Vegetarian Intestines
- [Monday 6th February 2012]
On Saturday I was feeling adventurous when we visited Chinatown, and I'd picked up some frozen "vegetarian intestine". It's really not the sort of thing you can imagine former meat-eaters craving, but I thought I'd try them at least partly because the idea was rather off putting.
Tonight we decided to try and make something with them, and if I'm honest the end result wasn't very successful. Partly this was down to the sauce - that black bean sauce I'd bought a while back which is still a bit overpowering. Also the texture of the "intestines" themselves was just not very nice - sort of rubbery. I don't think I'll be buying them again.
- [Sunday 5th February 2012]
Decided to mostly hide indoors today on account of the cold and the now. Just ventured out around three to go to the supermarket, and on the way back went by way of the gardens to look at the snowmen.
- Pies, Battenburg, Kimchi, Tofu, Almodovar and Snow
- [Saturday 4th February 2012]
Headed out for lunch at M. Manze's Noted Eel and Pie House, wherein we both had the veggie pie, and I thoroughly enjoyed it as usual, although Chie, despite having proposed going here today in the first place, seemed a bit less sure as she often does. We did at least both agree that the mash was particularly good today. We noticed a sign on the door on the way out about the rise in eel prices owing to the decline in eel stocks, and a warning that eel stocks may soon disappear altogether. I resisted the temptation to suggest just not eating them any more.
As usual when we go to Manze's, we arrived on the C10 bus, but afterwards set out on foot in the direction of Tower Bridge. Whilst we'd normally cross it and then wonder what to do on the other side, today instead we decided to get on the RV1 which went to Covent Garden, although we ended up having to walk to London Bridge to catch it.
Once in Covent Garden Chie thought about doing some clothes shopping, but eventually decided it was just too cold, so instead we just headed over to Chinatown, bought some tofu in See Woo, and then got the 24 bus bound for home. Passing Trafalgar Square en route we noticed the fountain had partly frozen. It was pretty cold.
Back at the flat we had a warming cup of tea and a slice or two of Battenburg cake. I always liked this as a kid, and despite it being mass produced and probably full of chemicals it's one of those things I don't seem to have grown out of as I probably should. I then spent the remainder of the afternoon and some of the early evening engaged in various cooking tasks - marinating the tofu for tonight's dinner, and making a start on another batch of kimchi.
I made something akin to a teriyaki sauce to go with the tofu, with the fresh green peppercorns we bought in New Malden last weekend. I let the tofu marinade in it for a bit, then fried it with a bit of cornflour, and finally poured the sauce on top. It was pretty tasty.
In the evening it started snowing, and we sat inside huddled up against the radiator (our flat is usually almost always very warm, but somehow it felt a tad chilly today) watching the latest DVD Chie had received from Love Film: Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In. It was a little, err, unsettling in places but if nothing else it was certainly original.
- [Friday 3rd February 2012]
The cold weather we'd been experiencing this week had made me think of fondue yesterday, and obviously that notion had lingered in my thought processes as today I decided we should have that for dinner. It's only the second or third time I've ever attempted to make fondue at home, so I actually consulted a recipe, and even went as far as to weigh and measure ingredients (as I don't yet have an instinctive feel for what the right ratio of wine to cheese should be). Of course though there was still room for creativity with the selection of cheeses, and the selection of things to dip into it. I used mainly cheddar - a vintage Westcountry farmhouse, a bit of leftover emmental we had hanging around, and one more cheese we'd bought in Paxton and Whitfield whose name escapes me. The classic recipe of course calls for gruyere, but I've still never seen one made with vegetarian rennet in a shop (see here). Last time I made fondue though I'd been inspired by a recipe I found somewhere for "English fondue" which used cheddar and cider, and it occurred to me then that good old cheddar actually works pretty well.
Again this evening it turned out pleasingly well, although I think we could do with some kind of hotplate to keep it warm while we're eating it (it starts to go a bit lumpy otherwise) and I think I overcooked the vegetables somewhat. Oh, and I really wanted some twee Swiss music to have playing in the background while we were eating, but couldn't find any suitable Internet radio station. Still, those minor disappointments aside it made for a fun dinner.
- Zetter Townhouse
- [Thursday 2nd February 2012]
Went to the dentist and got my hair cut today, and felt very virtuous about ticking these two things off my TO DO list. I decided to return to my usual barbers after a brief dalliance with the rather more upmarket place I'd been to just before Christmas. I think I rather like the fact that the Polish lady who cuts my hair doesn't try and make inane conversation, and just gets on with the task at hand instead.
In the evening a colleague had suggested going to a place in Clerkenwell he liked for cocktails - the Zetter Townhouse. He'd actually gone so far as to book a table (which ended up being more of a sofa and a couple of stools) for our group from the office, and I'm glad he did as the place was full from the moment we arrived. We were also joined a little later on by Al which was rather nice. I had ummed and arred a little on whether or not to wear my suit, but eventually decided I would, even though I knew the rest of the group would be pretty casually dressed. Cocktails just taste better in a suit. I was rather pleased by the reaction from my colleagues - even our host for the evening, famously the most cynical and anti-establishment individual of the group, seemed to like it.
We tried a number of different cocktails during the course of the evening. Perhaps my favourite was the nettle gimlet, maybe just because of how surprisingly pleasant it was. We tried their version of my two favourites - the Aviation and the Negroni - but for the Aviation they didn't have creme de violette, and in my opinion they used to much lemon juice. The Negroni fared better.
It was a fun evening, and I was particularly pleased with my restraint when my colleagues got in a taxi ja little after 10:30 to head onto another cocktail bar - I politely declined - particularly with it being a school night and everything.
- [Wednesday 1st February 2012]
I'd picked up a pack of samphire in Waitrose last week and thought we'd better use it up tonight as otherwise it would probably end up going out of date. For a started I made some bruschetta with the last of the Marmonde tomatoes which had been rather good - and this was possibly the most successful part of the meal. The main course was a tad disappointing - first of all we used some unusual multi-coloured spaghetti we'd been given, that had the very ambitious cooking time of just 7 minutes on the packet. Now I'm all for al dente, but this was half raw. Should really have tested it and not just had blind faith on the packet timing. The samphire too was also a tad on the woody side, and arguably doesn't go as well with spaghetti as it does with some kind of filled pasta like ravioli. Oh well, you can't get it right every time.
- Lamb and Flag, and the end of Deep Fried Pizzas in London...?
- [Tuesday 31st January 2012]
A chap at the office had his British citizenship ceremony today, and to mark the event asked me to suggest a typically British pub somewhere in the centre. So I proposed the Lamb and Flag, where there's an upstairs bit with an area you can book, and it seemed to work out quite well.
After that I was hungry, and dragged a few of the attendees to Rossopomodoro on the promise of a calzone fritti, only to be shocked and dismayed on arrival that they'd removed what I considered to be their signature dish from the menu. After some negotiation with the staff I managed to persaude them to do it anyway, but unfortunately rather than ordering the classic "veracella" (the margherita of deep fried calzones) they were ill advisedly tempted into ordering a version with ricotta and ham, which turned out to be very salty. My veracella was sublime as always, but I'm not sure the rest of them really enjoyed theirs that much, and given how much I'd hyped the whole thing up that was a bit of a disappointing end to the evening. Ho, hum.
I have emailed Rossopomodoro to ask them why they'd make such a baffling change to their menu, but to date haven't had a response yet.
- Kimchi Nabe
- [Monday 30th January 2012]
The kimchi I'd started making on Saturday night had been fermenting for two days by this evening, so I was determined that we should build dinner around that, and the obvious choice was of course one of our favourites - kimchi nabe.
I think the final verdict on my kimchi was that I didn't use enough salt in the initial part of the process where you soak it in salty water (which I've alternatively heard you should just cover the leaves in salt without water), and actually I could have been braver with the chilli and gotten away with it. Still, the texture was definitely there, which I was rather impressed by - having tasted it periodically throughout that two day period it was kind of fascinating (to me at least) to see the change.
- [Sunday 29th January 2012]
The picture there isn't relevant to the title - it just happens to be the only picture I took today, of some "kankoku nori" - Korean seasoned laver, which we'd bought in New Malden yesterday.
We didn't actually leave the flat at all in the daytime, and spent most of the day wiling away the time on the Internet.
Dad returned from Guildford early evening, and he'd be staying with us in London one more night before heading back up to North Wales the next day.
We went out for dinner to Woodlands, the South Indian vegetarian restaurant near Haymarket, which to my surprise we realised we hadn't taken Dad to before. Surprising because when trying to figure out where to take Dad on this trip it occurred to me we'd already taken him to just about all of our favourite places to eat in London, but for some reason Woodlands, probably my favourite Indian restaurant in London, was the one place we hadn't been with him - and Dad loves Indian food more than anything else. They're pretty consistent here too, so I knew it was going to be well received.
Dad didn't want to stay out too late, so we just headed home after that.