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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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- New Year's Eve
Day Before New Year's Eve
Back to London
Last Day in Dartmouth
Tuesday in Dartmouth
Boxing Day in Dartmouth
Christmas Day in Dartmouth
Friday in Dartmouth
Travelling to Dartmouth
Last Day at Work
Booking Office Bar
Red Wine Stew
Lunch in Canterbury
Pici al Pesto
Alba Truffles, Wedding Anniversary, 39 Steps
Winter Wonderland and the River Cafe
Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman
Christmas Party and Made in Italy
Whisky Society with Al
Sunday Afternoon Stroll
- New Year's Eve
- [Saturday 31st December 2011]
Spent a lot of the daytime tidying the flat, it's sort of a Japanese tradition to do this on New Year's Eve.
- Day Before New Year's Eve
- [Friday 30th December 2011]
A pretty lazy morning slobbing around the flat, after which we eventually headed out around 2ish to do some shopping. Initially Chie was thinking about buying a new pair of shoes, or maybe a bag, but the rain seemed to destroy her enthusiasm. So in the end we just bought some Quercus hand soap from Penhaligon's (I love the citrusy/woody smell of their Quercus range, and they had a few items on sale) and some Champagne from Fortnum and Mason for New Year's Eve.
After that we'd pretty much decided to just give up and go home, but we were both feeling a bit peckish (despite having had lunch at home), and I came up with the idea of going for a spot of dim sum. So we trudged through the miserable damp streets of London to Joy King Lau, our favourite place for dim sum in Chinatown, and therein indulged in an embarrassingly cheap feast of little steamed and fried delights. Following the culinarily disappointing week in Dartmouth I felt like my tastebuds had been reawoken after a long sleep - it was utterly delicious.
In the evening we met up with Gav, who was back in England for Christmas and New Year, along with Kyle and Tony. We started off with a pint in the Coach and Horses, then proceded on to old favourite Bincho on Old Compton Street for some Japanese-things-on-sticks and a glass or two of sake. Having talked about Campari during dinner Gav and I had both developed a craving for a cocktail, and so we rounded off the evening with a Negroni at a bar called Thirst, around the corner.
- Back to London
- [Thursday 29th December 2011]
Got up relatively early this morning - around 8 - to pack up our things in the house in Dartmouth, tidy up a bit, say our goodbyes, and then head off. We got away around 10 in the end.
On the way back Chie wanted to stop off to do some shopping, and Robin had suggested the Clark's Village outlet shopping centre thing in Somerset, so we headed there. We arrived around midday, and went for a bit of a wander round. It was a bit disappointing really, not bad for "homewares" as they put it (crockery, cooking utensils etc) - we bought a Le Creuset frying pan - but pretty downmarket when it came to clothes. Still, I suppose it broke the journey up a bit.
We were originally planning to go back via the quick but boring route of M5+M4, but after our diversion to Clark's Village it seemed like it would be quicker to carry on to the A303 and go back more or less the same way as we did on the way to Dartmouth. The drive still seemed long and a bit boring in places, but probably was less boring than it would have been on the M4 which is truly mind numbing.
We eventually got back to central London around 5:30, dropped off our stuff at the flat, then took the car back to the car hire place.
In the evening we watched all three episodes of Great Expectations back to back on iPlayer (I'd just watched the second while we were in Dartmouth, which Chie had missed as she was having a shower). Quite enjoyed that, although the ending was a bit of an anti-climax. You know, after how much it had been built up. There had been a lot of hype. It had built to a strong sense of anticipation. Etc.
- Last Day in Dartmouth
- [Wednesday 28th December 2011]
Today was our last full day in Dartmouth, and I was determined to tie up a loose end, and make one last attempt to get to the Tower Inn in Slapton. We'd actually driven past Slapton last night as well, and then realised it was too early in the evening - so this would be our third attempt of the week.
Third time lucky then - we parked up outside the village again and wandered in for about 1:30, perfectly in time for lunch. It's a really attractive pub inside too, everything you dream about in an ancient rustic inn, with thick stone walls, undecorated inside other than a simple whitewash, lots of irregular looking beams, low ceilings, a big fireplace and nice old furniture. The food was really good too - I had a surprisingly good mushroom tortelloni - not exactly ancient Devonshire fare but it was tasty nonetheless.
The remainder of the day was comparatively uneventful. Following a session of horse trading about what to do for dinner in the evening we eventually settled on getting fish and chips and bringing it back to the house to eat.
- Tuesday in Dartmouth
- [Tuesday 27th December 2011]
Having stayed in and around Dartmouth the past couple of days we decided to be a bit more ambitious today, and venture a bit further afield.
We started by heading to Salcombe, which is a bit like another Darmouth in a way, being on one side of a river estuary, and having a largely yachty sort of population. It was a flying visit as we only paid for 30 minutes parking, but we managed to fit in a whizz around the shops and an espresso at the Salcombe Coffee Company, which was surprisingly not bad.
From there we headed to Hope Cove, where we had a stroll along the cliffs, and had our interest piqued by Burgh Island off in the distance. We had lunch at the Hope & Anchor, which wasn't bad I suppose. The pub felt a bit modern really. Still, it was a pleasant enough spot.
The next stop on our tour of the coast was Bantham, where family legend has it that Vera once got drenched in a sudden downpour on the beach and had to take refuge in the Sloop Inn. Alas by the time we arrived the Sloop was just closing for the afternoon, but we did have a bracing stroll along the beach with more intriguing views over to Burgh Island, which was still inaccessible as the Bantham side of the beach is across the river from the bit of the beach that connects Burgh Island to the mainland.
By this point I had become determined to get to Burgh Island, so we headed inland once more to where the nearest road bridge was over the river, then back out to the coast along an existing "tidal road" to Bigbury-on-Sea, from where it is short walk across the beach (it being still low tide) to Burgh Island. The closer I got the more I developed the distinct feeling that I'd been before - I think as part of a summer holiday with Dad - although I might be confusing it with St. Michael's Mount.
Our short time in the Pilchard Inn on Burgh Island was one of the highlights of the week for me. It apparently dates back to the 14th Century, and the interior was very atmospheric, split up into lots of little nooks and crannies. There are actually two separate bar rooms, and it was only afterwards that I realised whilst one of them is for the general public, the other is reserved for hotel guests and "local regulars". Maybe because it was out of season, or perhaps because we just looked the right sort, we were invited by the barman through to the nicer of the two. There's something really quite special about the Pilchard Inn, and it made for an excellent spot to sit out and admire the view as we approached dusk. We were treated to a flock of birds racing back and forth across the sand while we were there - and watched as the colour of the flock appeared to change when they changed direction. I wish I'd been able to get a picture - it was really very special.
I'd actually looked at staying in the hotel on Burgh Island a while back, and Chie had talked me out of it as it is really expensive (the cheapest rooms are about £400 a night). I have to admit despite the slightly faded appearance of the hotel now I was only more keen to come and stay here, but Chie spent our walk back to the car listing reasons why it wouldn't be worth the money. Ever the pragmatist - bless her.
Back in Dartmouth in the evening we fended for ourselves for dinner. I made a porcini risotto for me and Chie which I rather enjoyed. After dinner the two of us decided to go out for the evening to Kingswear for a couple of drinks, which was particularly fun as we went there and back on the lower ferry. It's a wonderfully simple affair - a raft tied to a tugboat, and both ways we had it to ourselves. In Kingswear we visited two of the three pubs - the Steam Packet Inn, and the Ship Inn. The latter definitely being the nicer of the two in my opinion, but in the Steam Packet's favour they have a pool table upstairs, which was quite fun.
- Boxing Day in Dartmouth
- [Monday 26th December 2011]
Another fairly nondescript day really. I made soup again today, a slightly less successful broccoli soup (as we had a lot of broccoli to use up) with optional Stilton.
In the afternoon Chie and I headed into the centre of Dartmouth to take a look at the boxing day sales, but not much was open and anyway the shops there, a bit like the restaurants, are pandering to a somewhat different demographic.
In the evening we had the traditional boxing day meal of leftovers, augmented with some salad and other bits and pieces on the side.
- Christmas Day in Dartmouth
- [Sunday 25th December 2011]
We awoke quite late this morning, and gradually meandered downstairs for a lazy and drawn out breakfast - I decided to fry some halloumi as a sort of vegetarian answer to bacon.
Opening of presents commenced after breakfast, which was quite fun, accompanied with a very civilised glass of madeira and slice of Fortnum and Mason Christmas cake.
After that we all headed out for a Christmas day stroll along to Dartmouth castle, which was a fairly short walk as our house was already towards that end of town. On returning Chie and I then ventured out again, in the direction of Slapton, thinking we might on the off chance be able to have a Christmas drink at the Tower Inn, the pub we'd wanted to go to on a previous visit to Dartmouth, but hadn't quite managed. Slapton has some very narrow streets, the little lane leading to the pub in particular is incredibly narrow and last time round we hadn't wanted to risk taking the car down there so had abandoned the idea. This time we instead parked outside the village and walked in, but alas by the time we got there the pub had already closed for the day - it just opened between 11 and 1 on Christmas day. Ho, hum.
So instead we went for a bit of a stroll along the beach at Slapton Ley, which was rather nice.
We got back to the house by about 3:30, where we remained for the rest of the day. Robin and Robert were in charge of the Christmas meal, which had been scheduled for a somewhat vague "teatime", and ended up being 7ish. So we just sort of lolled about in the house for the remainder of the afternoon, not doing anything in particular.
Chie suggested that we dress for dinner - I had bought my suit with me, as Robin et al had been keen to see it, and it occurred to me I probably wouldn't have another chance to wear it. So I was ridiculously over dressed for dinner. Still, Vera and Robin seemed suitably impressed (if you'll pardon the pun) whilst Robert withheld comment.
- Christmas Eve
- [Saturday 24th December 2011]
Quite a full day today. The main plan was to head to Ashburton to do some antiques shopping, for last minute Christmas presents. So Chie and I headed out early, deciding to have breakfast out, as I was craving something grasy spoon esque. We found this at the Venus Cafe in the Cider Press Centre in Dartington (they have a Crank's vegetarian cafe there too, but it doesn't really do breakfasts). It was a bit pricey for what it was, but they had a vegetarian breakfast, featuring some decent vegetarian sausages and some satisfactory hash browns, so overall my craving was sated and I was quite pleased.
We spent the remainder of the morning and a bit of lunchtime in Ashburton, where we also met up with Vera, Robin and Robert. We were surprisingly successful in our antiques shopping - we found something for Robin and Robert, both of which seemed to go down rather well. Having got used to prices in antiques shops in London everything seemed very reasonably priced here, and pretty much every shop we went in was sort of an Aladdin's cave, many of them spread across several rooms on more than one floor.
We had a cup of tea in the place where Vera, Robin and Robert had lunch, but decided we'd eat later, and left them to it, heading off in the direction of Dartmoor.
We were up on the moor before 2, and eventually found a nice spot near Bel Tor to park up and it for a bit, in a wonderfully middle aged way. It was raining at first but eventually it brightened and we were treated to some very nice views of the moor.
From there we headed more into the centre of the moor, aiming for Two Bridges, and stopped off en route at Pixieland - the shop with all the garden gnomes out front. I'd been past there many times before but had never actually been inside before. We didn't actually buy a gnome - as we don't have a garden to put it in - but we did buy some chutney and the obligatory flagon of cider.
Next stop was the Two Bridges Hotel for a cream tea - which seemed appropriate as we'd had a late breakfast but skipped lunch. We had quite a long wait for it but it was very nice when it finally arrived - complete with a terrifyingly large bowl of clotted cream. It was rather nice to revisit the Two Bridges Hotel as we'd stayed here during our summer holiday last year.
We headed back to Dartmouth by way of Newton Abbot, where I was keen to stop off and try Ye Olde Cider bar, and I was not disappointed. There was of course a spectacular selection of ciders behind the bar, and the girl behind the bar had an impressively scientific way of helping me choose, with a series of questions about what kind of styles I liked. There was a great atmosphere in here, very lively, and with aromas that were full of nostalgia of pubs from my childhood.
We had dinner at the house back in Dartmouth, and a quiet evening in.
- Friday in Dartmouth
- [Friday 23rd December 2011]
The day before Christmas Eve, a bit of a non-descript sort of day, which we mostly spent pottering about in Dartmouth.
I made some potato and leek soup for lunch, which seemed to go down rather well, and was impressed that our holiday let had a blender, which we took advantage of. I usually tend to make chunky hearty sorts of soups, but Vera prefers it to be blended. I guess at 92 that's not unreasonable.
Went for a stroll into town with Vera in the afternoon, but other than that the daytime was pretty uneventful really.
In the evening Robin and Robert had booked for us to go to a brasserie, which we'd been to on a previous visit to Dartmouth, and I'd not really liked the first time either. Anything that alludes to French cuisine is likely to be a disappointing experience for me - they are of course as a nation stalwartly opposed to vegetarianism, and therefore as far as I'm concerned are effectively incapable of cooking. This set an unfortunate precedent of food related difficulties that hung over the whole week. Dartmouth seems to be filled with restaurants which offer a vision of what eating out in Britain was like in the 1980s, in the period of history when regrettably we were looking to France for culinary inspiration, before we discovered pretty much everywhere else in the world had much better cuisines, and that we actually had some pretty good food of our own. I never have to resort to dining in a "brasserie" or "bistro" in London, probably such places exist, but I'm barely aware of them. Sadly though Dartmouth, probably because of its largely upper middle class and upper middle aged demographic, seems to have clung on to these tired culinary relics.
I was amazed to discover there isn't actually a proper Italian restaurant in Dartmouth, there were one or two places which had a couple of "Italian inspired dishes" on the menu, but that was it. Where was the Spanish food? The Lebanese (Phoenician sailors were believed to have traded with the Cornish)...? Perhaps Korean or Japanese were a little too much to ask for in a town this size, but I didn't even find somewhere serving Devon classics like Homity pie. Everywhere I looked it was bloody brasseries and bistros.
Anyway, to make up for my frustration at Darmouth's culinary backwardness after dinner I ventured to the Cherub Inn, very much the town's saving grace. Therein I had a pint of Cherub Bitter, specially brewed for them by Otter, which is very pleasant indeed.
- Travelling to Dartmouth
- [Thursday 22nd December 2011]
Up early (for us) today to pack up our things for our week's stay on Darmouth. We headed out about 9 to pick up our hire car, then drove it back to the flat to load up all our stuff, and from there drove out of London in a South Westerly direction. I decided to avoid the fearful tedium of the M4 and go by the A303, thinking it to be both a bit more scenic and also more conducive to finding a nice little pub somewhere for lunch.
I decided on the Malet Arms in Newton Tony for lunch, where we arrived just after midday. Chie had a burger which was apparently quite good, I had something akin to a goat's cheese salad which was less exciting, but still the pub had a very nice interior and as a lunchtime stop-off it was significantly more interesting than a motorway service station.
We continued our journey South West from there, being treated to a nice view of Stone Henge shortly after leaving the Malet Arms, which seemed rather fitting as today was in fact the winter solstice. We just had one brief stop off after that somewhere around Ilminster as Chie was starting to get a bit sleepy and wanted a coffee. This was quite close to Ilchester, which pleasingly reminded me of Monty Python's cheese shop sketch.
I decided for a change that we should go down to Kingswear and get the ferry across to Darmouth, rather than the slightly longer road only route via Totnes. There's something about arriving somewhere on a boat that makes it that bit more special. It was still just about light as we crossed the Dart and the short ferry crossing was rather fun.
As it turned out we arrived at the house at exactly the same time as Vera, Robin and Robert. They've been to Dartmouth countless times, and stayed in lots of different places, but it was the first time in this house. It was all very modern inside, all of the rooms en suite, and a very well equipped kitchen.
In the evening we had a simple supper of some pies Robin et al had picked up in Dartington on the way down, and I knocked up some colcannon to go with them. After dinner Chie, Robin and I made a foray out to the wonderful Cherub Inn, always a highlight for me of any trip to Darmouth. It was a surprisingly mild evening and the stroll there and back was very pleasant too.
- Last Day at Work
- [Wednesday 21st December 2011]
Last working day of 2011 for me, but actually my cold had become pretty snotty/sneezey so I decided to work from home.
Jacket potatoes for dinner in the evening. Should probably have made a start on packing for our upcoming week away in Dartmouth, but as usual we couldn't be bothered, and put it off until tomorrow morning.
- Flying Visit
- [Tuesday 20th December 2011]
Just went into the office in the morning, and for lunch went with a couple of people from work to Fortnum and Mason for a sort of brainstorming session about a new idea we'd had, over tea. That was a bit odd.
Took the remainder of the afternoon off so I could pop up to the East Midlands to visit Mum and Keith, and drop off some Christmas presents.
- [Monday 19th December 2011]
Today ended up being my last full day in the office of the year. Nothing much to report other than that.
- [Sunday 18th December 2011]
Went down to Guildford for the afternoon to visit Adrian, Liz and the kids, and drop off presents. Ended up staying for dinner too. The kids seemed were even more fun than usual today - all full of beans and very talkative.
- [Saturday 17th December 2011]
Still had quite a lot of Christmas presents left to buy, but I didn't feel like just going into the centre of London again today. So as a combination of remembering Greenwich had a shop selling board games, and also the fact that Mum had asked about the location of a pub she'd heard mentioned on the telly (which turned out to be fictitious, but was loosely based on the Cutty Sark), we decided to go to Greenwich.
We had the usual lazy weekend morning in first, including an odd sort of a brunch of Japanese/American style pancakes with some ful medames. I wonder if anyone has put these things together before - I guess pancakes are not a million miles away from the sort of flat bread you'd normally serve medames with - in shape if nothing else. We then headed out around 2ish.
We got the tube to Canary Wharf, then the DLR from there. As always we vied for one of the seats at the end of the train - this time we sat at the back. Somehow looking along the track gives a completely different perspective to looking out the side of a train, and both of us being closet train geeks we rather enjoyed it. When I asked Chie at the end of the day which part she had enjoyed most, the DLR was what she identified as the highlight
On arrival in Greenwich we headed to the market square, and in a pleasingly Cheese shop sketch fashion the board games shop turned out to be out of stock of Battleships. So we had a wander round the market, and did manage to pick up a couple of presents, and also had some Ethiopian food for a sort of late lunch from one of the stalls - a selection of vegetable curries served with rice. It seemed almost indistinguishable from Indian food to me, but I didn't mind either way as it was quite pleasant.
From there we headed up through the park to the observatory, complete with all the mandatory larking about on the meridian line. I was a little disappointed I couldn't seem to get the GPS on my phone to go from negative to positive by stepping back and forth over the line. I guess it's just not that accurate.
As it was starting to get dark we wandered back down the hill, treated to some nice views of Greenwich and Canary Wharf, and headed in the direction of the Cutty Sark pub. I was quite pleased with this find, and wondered why I haven't explored Greenwich bit more for pubs before. There's a nice staircase leading to the upper floor, from which we had a very nice (albeit slightly drafty) table in the bay window. There was something quite pleasing about looking out over the Thames at the lights on the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf from and 18th Century pub.
We headed back into London by way of the shopping centre in Canary Wharf, which was very reminiscent of underground shopping centres in Japan, as indeed Canary Wharf as a whole feels more like Tokyo than London. Rather confusingly they have a Waitrose "Food & Home" shop, which seems to a supermarket with a department store attached. Not unlike the Food Hall in the basement of the Oxford Street John Lewis makes it a department store with a supermarket attached. I like to imagine there's some kind of turf war going on amongst the partners in the corridors of power at John Lewis HQ.
Once back in the centre we finished off our immediate requirements for Christmas shopping in Hamley's, and then headed to Chinatown for dinner at Mr. Kong. I rather liked the fact we'd had American/Lebanese food for breakfast, Ethiopian for lunch, and Chinese for dinner. Obviously that brings the famous Dr Johnson quote to mind, especially when it comes to eating.
- Christmas Shopping
- [Friday 16th December 2011]
I took the day off work today to try and get some Christmas shopping done when it would be a bit less crowded. I didn't actually get a massive amount of shopping done in the end, but did have quite a pleasant day out.
I started off by going for a somewhat overdue hair cut. I've tired of the usual generic style and thought I'd try something different, as well as a different barber. Having talked to one of the staff from Murdock at the Tweed Run I thought they were a suitably chappish company and decided to give them a go. They have quite a nice little setup in the basement of Liberty. I went in my suit, following the perhaps-slightly-eccentric logic that I was looking for a hair style that would go with it. Having identified I was also a bit of a foodie, the barber seemed to then spend more time talking about cooking than actually doing any cutting, but still somehow or other I ended up with something akin to a side parting, and although I suspect it will take a bit of getting used to I am actually quite pleased with the end result.
From there, I wandered down along Savile Row and through the Burlington Arcade, taking in a bit of Bond Street as well, to Fortnum and Mason. I'd arranged to meet Kyle there for lunch, and also did a bit of shopping beforehand. I don't feel like it's Christmas until I've been to F&M.
We had a very civilised and leisurely lunch in the wine bar (everywhere else was full), and then Kyle headed back to the office. Chie had requested a picture of my new haircut which accounts for the slightly odd self portrait in the mirror of the gents at F&M. It's actually quite hard to take a picture of your own hair, it turns out.
After leaving F&M I took a stroll over to Carey Street, as I wanted to go to the Silver Mousetrap, it's a jeweller's dating back to the 17th Century, which only opens Monday to Friday. Whilst in that neck of the woods it seemed as though it would be rude to not pop into the Seven Stars for a quick festive pint. After that I then indulged myself with a second visit to the fantastic John Soane museum. It was a bit quieter than it had been on my first visit, and the fact that the light was starting to fade just added to the atmosphere - they seem to avoid using electric lighting as much as possible. I spent most of my time in the picture room enjoying the Canalettos and Hogarths, and was particularly delighted to get a second chance to see A Rake's Progress. Quite blissful.
I headed back to F&M after that to pick up my hamper which they'd packed for me. I originally thought I'd soldier on and try to do some more shopping, but the hamper was fairly heavy, and as I stood dithering outside the shop the doorman asked me if I was waiting for a cab - and one promptly arrived. You don't get that at John Lewis. So I headed back home.
Chie was out for the evening at her company's Christmas party, I originally thought of trying to do something in the evening, but in the end decided to just stay in and slob about the flat.
- [Thursday 15th December 2011]
Writing this two weeks hence, and really can't remember. Latitude History tells me I went to Sainsbury's on the way home.
- Christmas Party
- [Wednesday 14th December 2011]
Had my company's main Christmas party this evening. I originally wasn't planning on going, and so hadn't registered for a ticket, but at the last minute my old friend Simon (from Softel days), who rather pleasingly has recently joined my company, asked if I was going, and for old time's sake I thought it would be good to go along for a bit. The Softel Christmas parties were always really good, and although I knew my current employer's attempts tended to pale by comparison, it seemed like it would somehow be breaking a tradition to not go along with Simon when the chance arose. So somehow I managed to get a spare ticket, and after meeting up with Chie for a quick dinner, I headed over to Embankment, where the party was being held in a dingy nightclub in the railway arches.
It was, of course, crap - as they always are. The music was far too loud, it was overcrowded, there were long queues for the bar, and after our first three drink tokens ran out, cheap awful mass produced cans of beer were charged at £4.90 each (I therefore only bought one).
- Booking Office Bar
- [Tuesday 13th December 2011]
Went for festive drinks with the chaps from work this evening to the Booking Office Bar, which opened earlier this year in, as the name suggests, the old booking office of St. Pancras. Unfortunately Al, who had originally proposed the venue, was ill and couldn't come along with us, so we ended up as four - me, Andrew, Kyle and Iain.
I'm already a big fan of St. Pancras and this place more than any of the other eating and drinking venues in the station really seems to capture the appropriate air of grandness. Although the bar itself is quite modern, the walls have wisely been left more or less untouched, allowing you to enjoy the splendid red brick Gothic arches, and the overall effect works really well. The drinks weren't bad either - I had a very competent Negroni to start with, although the martini was perhaps a bit of a disappointment, being oddly served in a sort of wine glass rather than the correct Martini glass. Still, that minor niggle aside we had a fun evening.
- Red Wine Stew
- [Monday 12th December 2011]
Made a red wine stew, motivated in part by wanting to have something that would go with the bread we bought in St. Pancras yesterday evening.
- Lunch in Canterbury
- [Sunday 11th December 2011]
Today we got on the high speed train down to Canterbury to meet up with Leon and Yukari.
We arrived at Canterbury West a little before midday, which gave us some time to have a wander round the farmers market part of the Goods Shed, the place next to the station where Leon and Yukari had their wedding reception. We had a coffee and I bought some Cavolo Nero, which seemed to be very much flavour of the month, as it also featured heavily on the menu. I also bought a couple of cheeses - some Ashmore Farmhouse and Winterdale Shaw.
Leon, Yukari and little Aiko arrived just after midday and we proceeded to have a leisurely lunch and a good long natter about life and all that. The vegetarian option was a bit odd - a "platter" with a sort of goat's cheese and pumpkin tart, an omelette, some leeks and cheese on toast, and a bean salad. Still, the quality of the produce was really high, presumably much of it bought from the suppliers in the market that shared the building, and I think I probably enjoyed the side dish of vegetables more than the actual main dish.
After lunch we went to see Leon and Yukari's new house, which, albeit in need of a lot of work, is rather large and sprawling and, given how much cheaper property is there than in London prompted the inevitable "Why don't we move to Canterbury?" conversation. I think I realised though that after so many years of living in fairly small apartments, I actually don't want a big house with lots of unnecessary rooms, it can very easily end up feeling a bit whatever-the-opposite-of-the-word-cosy-is.
We headed back to London around 5ish, stopping off at St. Pancras briefly to do a bit of food shopping - mainly some bread and chutney to go with the cheeses we'd bought earlier.
- [Saturday 10th December]
- Pici al Pesto
- [Friday 9th December 2011]
I made pesto this evening, in a pestle and mortar - a bit of salt, a clove of garlic, some pine kernels, a vegetarian version of Parmesan, chopped basil, and some rather special olive oil. Lorenzo's Mum had given us some of the last batch of olive oil made on her parents estate out in the Tuscan hills, which they're sadly now in the process of selling. It's obviously far too precious to use for cooking, so I've been saving it for recipes like this when we can enjoy it raw.
I served it with "pici" pasta - a kind of thick hand rolled spaghetti, which we'd picked up a bag of in Italy. Although I say so myself it was really rather good.
- Alba Truffles, Wedding Anniversary, 39 Steps
- [Thursday 8th December 2011]
A couple of the chaps at work proposed going for lunch at Oliveto today, and of course I was more than happy to go along with that. I assumed I'd be having pizza as usual, but when the manager came and told us about the specials I couldn't resist the tagliarini with white Alba truffles - hoping it might go some way to make up for the slightly disappointing experience the previous evening. It was more successful somehow - I'm not sure if it was down to the quality of the truffles, or perhaps the fact that two of the chaps also ordered the same thing, so the table was three quarters full of truffles dishes, which really helped ensure that all important fragrance didn't get lost in the noise.
Today was our wedding anniversary - five years today! We'd had the meal with the usual Champagne etc last night, partly because I'd booked for us to go the the theatre tonight to see the 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre. It also made sense not to have a big meal tonight as Chie had her Christmas lunch do at work, wherein they didn't actually finish eating until 5.
I really enjoyed the 39 Steps, it was rather silly and farcical but they made really good use of props and all the character/costume changes added to the humour of it all. I also really liked the main character's rather fetching tweed suit.
- Winter Wonderland and the River Cafe
- [Wednesday 7th December 2011]
My team went for a lunchtime outing today to the "Winter Wonderland" in Hyde Park. It was partly a German style Christmas market, and partly an English style fun fair. It was pleasingly nostalgic to have some kartoffelpuffer, which reminded me of a trip to Cologne a few years back, but other than that it was all a bit tacky, as you might expect. We did have a go on the dodgems, and feeling frugal (as the company was paying) I went in the passenger seat, which it turns out means you feel all the knocks a lot more, as you have nothing to hold onto really.
I've been wanting to go to the River Cafe for some time now, and had been waiting for when white truffles were back on the menu. Knowing the season was around November/December I'd been checking the menu on their website every few days, and today finally spotted those all important fungi. So I almost immediately called them and to my delight they were able to squeeze us in this evening - so this was to be our wedding anniversary dinner, a day early.
The place has a great atmosphere, the staff were fantastic (very upbeat and knowledgeable) - the starters and even the bread and olive oil were all delicious. I think we were both slightly underwhelmed by our main courses though. Chie had some sort of odd Italian festive meat thing which I think she found a bit too rich. As for mine, I just couldn't detect much fragrance from the white truffles, served on top of an appropriately delicately flavoured ravioli. Possibly down to the amount (I'd ordered 5g but it didn't look like very much and according to the bill it seemed to be 2g) and the fact that there were too many other strong aromas around me. Still that aside it was overall a great evening.
- Ful Medames
- [Tuesday 6th December 2011]
I had a spark of inspriation for lunch today, and went to Cairogate, the little shop in Pimlico selling Middle Eastern food, to buy a tin of ful medames (Lebanese style this time) and some khobez bread. I took this back to the office, heated he medames up in the microwave, and had along with the bread and some salad from the cafe. This made for a really delicious lunch, and at a cost of just £1.58.
- [Monday 5th December]
- Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman
- [Sunday 4th December 2011]
We booked this morning - at 10:40 - to go and see Grayson's Perry's exhibition at the British Museum - the Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman. It was actually pretty much my first time to see any of Perry's work in real life (with the possible exception of his take on a mappa mundi which featured in last year's exhibition of maps at the British Library), and to date I'd been consigned to just pictures (including the book I bought a while back) and on the telly.
So it was rather exciting to actually get up close to the real thing, in particular to be able to see his pots from all angles. I particularly liked the first item you see on arrival - a pot he titled "You are Here" which appears to poke fun at all the insincere reasons he imagined people would have for coming to his exhibition.
After that we felt like going for a coffee so we could chat about the exhibition, and ended up wandering to Soho and going to Milk Bar, one of the many Australian run coffee shops that seem to be all the rage in London at the moment. It wasn't bad I suppose.
I then popped into Gerry's on Old Compton Street to pick up a couple more cocktail ingredients - this time Aperol and Angostura Orange Bitters. From there we headed to Tibits for lunch. I headed home after that and left Chie to do a bit more shopping.
- [Saturday 3rd December 2011]
My enthusiasm for cooking last night continued into the weekend. I got up this morning with a sudden urge to bake some bread, and decided to use some of the leftover olives and capers from last night's pasta sauce to make it a bit more interesting.
For lunch I made a lentil and tomato soup to go with the bread, and for a change I pureed it to see what it would be like. I think it's probably better left chunky, but it was an interesting experiment nonetheless.
In the evening I made bruschetta using my bread as a starter for dinner - I pan fried the bread with a little olive oil and garlic, and topped it with just tomatoes, sea salt and pepper. For the main course I made a red wine and porcini risotto, using some dried porcini I'd bought in Italy, and finished off with a drizzle of truffle oil. Although I say so myself, it was all very good!
Didn't actually leave the flat all day!
- [Friday 2nd December 2011]
At lunchtime I found myself really craving a nice simple bowl of pasta, and ended up walking half way down King's Road in search of a restaurant that turned out to be even further than I imagined. I eventually gave up at Waitrose, and bought some madeleines (and some floss picks - exciting I know) and then trudged back.
In the evening Chie went to her Hiroshimakenjinkai's bonenkai - the "forgetting the year" party. So I was left to my own devices. Still craving an excellent bowl of pasta it seemed clear the best plan was to make one myself. So I popped into Sainsbury's on the way back, and picked up various things for making something like the vegetarian version of the putanesca sauce I'd had a Ciao Bella recently. It ended up being red onion, lots of garlic, polpa fine tomatoes, green and black olives and capers, plus the usual George's marvellous medicine addition of various condiments from the cupboard (Henderson's relish, Angostura bitters, tabasco, etc). Oh and lots of olive oil - that seems to be the main differentiator between the kind of rich pasta sauces you get in restaurants and the rather bland versions people typically make at home. I was rather pleased with the end result, served with a glass of red wine, and a mozzarrella and tomato salad to start.
- Christmas Party and Made in Italy
- [Thursday 1st December 2011]
This evening was the Christmas party for the engineers at my office, at the Cadogan Arms on King's Road. I went along for a short while but it was a bit loud and somehow there seemed to be lots of people there I didn't know (who'd have thought I'd been there nearly five years?) so I decided to duck out and have dinner with Chie instead.
I decided we should try Made in Italy, which was conveniently very nearby the party. I had the pizza ortolana. Whilst the topping wasn't that exciting (possibly because it was a sort of pizza bianco) I thought the base was of a really good quality, and I'd be happy to go back.
After dinner I went back to the party for a bit, by which time it had quietened down a bit and there seemed to be a lot more people I knew. It still wasn't wildly fun, it was in a pretty bland and generic pub and office parties are, after all, office parties.
- Whisky Society with Al
- [Wednesday 30th November 2011]
Al proposed going to the Whisky Society this evening, and we were joined by a friend of his - Christina - who is interested in applying for a job at my company. I was rather impressed to hear she had managed to fit a chapter on Indiana Jones into her PhD thesis, and we also spent some of the evening chatting about pirates versus ninjas. I think she'd be a good fit at my place.
Unfortunately we ended up eating there, and yet again the vegetarian option was really very bad - an almost burnt wild mushroom tart.... but t compensate there were of course good whiskies to be had, and this time I stuck pretty rigidly to Islay.
We rounded off the evening with a final pint in Ye Old Mitre.
- [Tuesday 29th November 2011]
Latitude history tells me I went for a burrito for lunch. Not much else to report really.
- New Office
- [Monday 28th November 2011]
...well, a newly refurbished fourth floor of the office. Today we finally moved back up the the fourth floor, having been camped out on the third for the last few months whilst the fourth underwent a substantial refit. As you can see from the pictures the theme is futuristic, perhaps a hint of Star Trek about it. I'm not sure it's exactly what I would have chosen, but I suppose it does at least now set itself apart from ordinary run-of-the-mill offices.
Perhaps the most popular addition is the coffee lab - there are two new espresso machines and four types of beans to choose from.
- Sunday Afternoon Stroll
- [Sunday 27th November 2011]
Chie went to see a friend this afternoon, leaving me to my own devices. I decided I felt like a stroll along the river, and got as far as Blackfriars. It was quite a pleasant sunny day for the time of year, so I sat outside the Black Friar - which looked rather glorious in the Autumn sunshine - and had a quick pint.
Meanderred back by way of Fleet Street, the Strand, and eventually Soho, where I went to Gerry's on Old Compton Street and bought a bottle of Sacred Gin. Apparently it is brewed at a Microdistillery in Highgate, in North London - effectively a shed in someone's back garden. It isn't really available outside of London, but has already become quite popular with some high profile bars here.