I'm suppose to look puzzled, not angry!

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I have a book to publish. Editors love it, marketing departments say 'up the media profile'. So here I am 'upping it' and writing about the book, food, and life in general.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Goodbye Lifebites. Hello gillwatson.co.uk

It's time to move over to http://www.gillwatson.co.uk/blog/ .  Please be very lovely and add your e mail address to follow me because I'm not allowed to transfer you over myself.

Before I go I thought I should mention that Prue Leith said my book, EATING MY WORDS sounds brilliant and she has agreed to take a look at it.  Hopefully she will feel compelled to give it an endorsement.

One reason I am so keen on Prue is that she heads all sorts of charities and committees to encourage better school meals for kids.  As you all know I've been working with Grassroots to try to somehow get food into schools to supplement packed lunches.  There are too many kids arriving at school with nothing more than a slice of bread or a couple of biscuits to eat.

What we really need is a campaign for FREE SCHOOL MEALS FOR ALL CHILDREN.

I have a dream of Prue heading my campaign.  She could call on TV bosses to ban all food programmes on television until governement policy is changed to give all our children  free school lunches.

Before I go, I'll leave you with the photos I took in Burnley Tesco's the other night.  This is just part of the food in the bakery section that's dumped every night.  Bread, pastries, cakes.  They can't even use it for animal feed anymore just in case a horse throws up and Tesco are sued.

I think it's time for a change here.  All this could have been put in the school freezer for the starving school kids.



Saturday, 20 October 2012

Time to be nice . . .


Cleaning products in the loos

Clean carpets
Cute handwipes
So, after the troubles with La Laconda (please read the comments from the chef and the happy customer) it's time to give my new review of Shanghai.  It closed for nearly two weeks for re-painting and carpet cleaning after my 'Clean it up!' Tripadvisor review.  It's now spotless and the carpets no longer look like animals had been bedding down on them for the winter (as one Tripadvisor reviewer commented).  We visited for Joe's 7th birthday and took the Be-Ro milk chocoate cake which Joe had made with big sister Zoe.  I had tried to convince him that a character cake from Tesco was a good idea but he was having none of it.  The Be-Ro cake is the only one he will eat.  I will post the recipe at a later date.

As usual we were running late which meant that the cake was still slightly warm when I sandwiched it together with whipped cream.  All was well until we arrived at the restaurant and suddenly the cream turned to milk, poured out of the cake and threatened to ruin  the newly cleaned carpets.  There were international screams of distress and much running for wet cloths. A tray was found and the carpets and day were saved.


Not so happy cake

The usual



S&S pork

Paper beef, fried noodles with beansprouts





















We ate all the usual suspects - spring rolls, prawn toast, satay chicken, honey ribs, seaweed, wontons, chicken lettuce wrap, crispy duck.  Then paper beef, sweet and sour pork, noodles with beansprouts and lots of Neil Joubert chenin blanc.  Everything was great.

But then, on my way to pay the bill, I found the staff eating lobster, baked white fish (looked like a big bream) steamed dim sum and my favourite Chinese spinach.  "I want lobster!  I want spinach!"  I cried.

"Come, take chopsticks, eat with us" said the lovely lady.  I didn't.  I was as good as gold and left those chopsticks where they lay.  But once upon a time (about 4 years ago) there was an a la carte menu at Shanghai offered in addition to the £12.50 order-all-you-like menu.  This menu featured such delights as the lobster with ginger and garlic.  We even spent Christmas day there once dining on the eleven course banquet until Grandpa Louis fell asleep at the table and we had to take him home.

"Come. Take chopsticks.  Eat with us."

My favourite Chinese spinach with chilli and garlic

Lobster left-overs

So, a great night BUT we were the only people there.   PLEASE all you Brierfield locals, give Shanghai another chance.  It's clean, it's friendly, the food is great and the wine crisp and cold.  What more could you want?

We left a bit of a mess by the way . . .
PS  There may be another long break from blogging as I try to set up my new website.  At the moment I'm having a bit of trouble downloading pictures but when it's sorted we will be moving across to www.gillwatson.co.uk.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Murder, gay telly and spitting. How do such searchwords lead to my blog?

Murder?  Gay telly?  Spitting?

It's all very odd.  The last search of note which directed someone through Google to my blog was 'Gay arab searches sex on Edgware Road'.  That lead some poor sod to my post, Edgware Rd edibles and the time we mistook someone's garden for a restaurant.


This week we have the above selection.  Who has Johnnie Mountain supposedly murdered?  And why would anyone think my friend Fernando (of The Ivy and the Hotel Inspector) was gay?

But most random of all is 'spitting'.  No matter how I try I cannot fathom how someone would be directed to my blog after putting 'spitting' into a search engine.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Never mind the bollocks . . .

Maurizio, the chef and owner of La Locanda called me this morning to say how very offensive he had found my blog review of his restaurant.  "You say my food is like eating dog bollocks!  This is offensive!"  I had to agree; it was definitely not a compliment.  What I didn't realise was that he had already left a comment on my blog.

NB  If you are one of my subscribers who receives my posts by e-mail PLEASE have a look at my blog site and read Maurizio's comment, you won't regret it.

I was interested to know how Maurizio had come across my blog.  He said he had looked me up after reading the evaluation sheet we had been handed with the bill. "So you did read the evaluation then?" I asked. We dined on the 7th September and I didn't publish the blog post until the 21st.  Why had he taken so long to contact me?  "I've been very busy" was Maurizio's reply.

Personally, I think that if you have the time to take a customer's money and hand them a piece of paper asking for their comments then you should find the time to reply to their grievances.  Just as I am now replying to his.

I pointed out to Maurizio that I had kindly not reviewed his restaurant on Tripadvisor just in case it had been the regular chef's night off.   It was bad enough when I thought I'd closed down Shanghai after writing a Tripadvisor review (and I had said only good things about their food).  Maurizio said he had been the chef on the night and anyway he didn't care about Tripadvisor and never read it.  It's very nice that Maurizio thinks my blog has more influence than Tripadvisor but I really do think he should take a look at the reviews on there.  He'll find I'm not the only one who has had a bad experience.

About the bollocks.  I tried explaining that we English use the term 'It was the dog's bollocks' to describe something which is superlative.  And that it was a play on words when I said that dogs bollocks would probably have tasted better than his pork.  And that no, I had never eaten dog's bollocks although I had eaten stuffed bull's testicles once in an Argentinian restaurant in Tel Aviv.

Another thing.  Maurizio said he thought the pork was not that bad and so I asked if he had tasted it when our plates came back to the kitchen.  He said he didn't see the plates come back so was unaware that we had barely touched our food.  He agreed that his staff should tell him if customers leave most of their meals. And then I remembered that he would not have seen the plates coming back to the kitchen because the waitress tripped and dropped the whole lot.  The funny thing was that Sarah (the lovely step-daughter) had asked if she could take the left-over soggy chips home for her boyfriend (who on earth eats cold chips?) and they actually made some more for her.  I could have died.

Maurizio said that if we were to come back he would welcome us and was sure we would have no complaints.  I told him that I would rather not visit just yet but would listen out for other customer comments and reviews and maybe give La Locanda a second chance in a year or so.  Can't say fairer than that can I?

By the way, have I mentioned that my fiendish friend Johnnie Mountain published his pork cookery book, PIG last week?  Oh the tearful disappointment when I realised we could not be there to celebrate with him especially as there were to be nibbly bits of his piggy dishes on offer.  But I was otherwise engaged hocking my own nibbly bits (canapes, that is) at the very glamorous opening of ARTisan fashion house.  I will leave you with a picture of Johnnie's slow-cooked shoulder ('no arms', as Maurizio would say) which comes out perfect every time - even for a chef like me who has always had a bit of a pork problem.
Johnnie's succulent shoulder
Bargain lamb shoulder

Fennel, chilli, cumin, salt

Plum smother

After 5 hours

Melt-in-the-mouth spicy lamb

And while I'm about it, here's last night's lamb shoulder (£11 for a WHOLE SHOULDER at Morrison's) which I  rubbed with fennel, chilli and cumin seeds before slow roasting for 4 hours. I then smothered it with cooked, liquidised plums before roasting for the final hour at 220C.  The best ever lamb, I promise.

Friday, 21 September 2012

La Locanda and its misplaced pride

Grumpy in Gisburn
It was my birthday last week.  I chose La Locanda in Gisburn as I'd heard so much about it and thought my birthday justified the splurge.  If only the food had justified the splurge.



Pig cheek carbonara





















The specials board had my heart a soaring, 'yolk egg - pecorino-pig cheekes (sic)' sang the description of the carbonara.  I had chosen La Locanda over Nino's Fighting Cocks (a newly openend Italian nearby) for good reason.  The Fighting Cocks had lost the battle because I heard they put cream in the carbonara instead of egg yolk.  That said it all for me - I wasn't going anywhere that bastardised a classic Italian dish.  I didn't order the carbonara at La Locanda because I can make it myself in a jiffy anyday of the week but knowing they knew how to do a proper carbonara meant I could order the crab ravioli followed by lamb cooked three ways and feel confident that I would be getting something special.  I didn't.

Crab ravioli with tomato skins
Soggy chips with black spots


















       

The pasta of the ravioli was hard, the sauce thin in both texture and flavour and why they chose to lay boiled tomato skins on top I do  not know.  Ged had been so overexcited by the menu that he ordered fritto misto as well as the ravioli.  Lucky he did as the fritto was okay.  Joe also had the fritto with a portion of foul chips.  Anyone with any knowledge of a good chip can see from the photograph that the chips were soggy and lifeless and sporting black spots.  My lovely step-daughter tasted them and said, 'Great chips'.  I swear to God we nearly came to blows over this.  I have to blame her lack of taste in the chip line on being brought up without ever tasting a decent chip.  She must have nothing of quality to compare it to.  I was furious. Mainly at Ged because he was the one who brought her up; he taught me how to eat and cook so he had no excuse.  I may have had  PMT but it really did upset me greatly.

I must add that the owner, who is lovely, and so Italiano that it's difficult to tell what she's saying, came over to ask if we had enjoyed our starters.  "They were fine" said I.  Which is what I say if things are just okay.  No point making a fuss over a bit of hard pasta with tomato skins.  Then she asked, "But what was the best?"   'Don't push it lady' I thought.  How could she be so misguidedly over-confident about what her chef was sending out?  Either there is usually another chef in the kitchen who cooks everyting we had to perfection (and tonight was his night off) or she is aware of the standard of the food and thinks it's acceptable.

Now take a look at Ged's main course of slow roast pork with truffle mash.  Doesn't that look the dog's bollocks?  Well, dogs bollocks would probably have tasted better.
Delicious looking inedible pork
The fat was divine.  The meat inedible, truly cannot-chew-it-need-to-spit-it-in-my-napkin inedible. Even Ged refused to eat it and he grills pork chops to within an inch of their lives.  I tasted the 'mash' which was very truffly but was gritty and slimy at the same time.  It felt more like badly cooked polenta than potato.

Lacklustre lamb
My lamb 3 ways was a fatty over-cooked chop, a less fatty over-cooked chop and a lovely little pot filled with lifeless tomato sauce with a few cubes of stewed lamb.  And it had not been cooked in that little pot either.  I wanted sticky, thick and glossy meat in there.  Potatoes could have done with more salt and a half hour longer in the oven too.  Zoe had lasagne which was okay.  Sarah had the crab ravioli.

We were given a hefty bill and an evaluation sheet.  I gave them an edited version of this review and hoped for a call saying it had been the regular chef's night off and all would be well if we returned.

I'm still waiting, La Locanda.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Seoul Bakery, St Giles High St. Small, strange but scrumptious.



Hairdreser's with cafe (not a bakery)

Waiting and wasting away at the top o' the stairs









We tried getting in to Seoul Bakery      when we were in London in April but it was jammed.  Not difficult when there are only twelve seats in the whole restaurant.  We went next door to the place which used to be First Out Cafe Bar - back then a vegetarian spot for gay types (as I used to be).  Their 'Girl Friday' nights were one of the few places a girl could go on her own, drink a beer and not feel like a leper.  It's now Po Cha, Korean and very good but not as mad looking as Seoul Bakery next door.  Although we did overhear a man at the next table telling his guests, "In our country, when we eat this dish the fish is still alive."  Ooh-eeeh.  Which reminds me; my friend MJ showed us a film on his 'phone of a Fugu (blow fish) feast he had recently eaten in Tokyo.  It showed the flesh of the fish chopped into big chunks and STILL PULSING!!!!!


Back to Seoul Bakery.  I was with the kids and their friend Hanke.  They didn't really want to go there, mainly because we had been to Wagamama the night before and they were feeling a bit over Orientaled.  But I had to give it a go even if it meant taking the kids for a burger afterwards.


The first thing you notice about Seoul bakery is that it's not a bakery, it's a hairdresser's.  That's right, a hairdresser's.  You enter the hairdresser's door and take a seat at the top of the stairs which lead down to the salon and the loos. Then, when one of the twelve seats becomes free in the adjacent room, a lovely friendly Korean boy sits you down and gives you a menu.  The place seems to be a store room and is stacked with packs of loo rolls etc.  I felt we had discovered something underground and illicit and I fought back the temptation to ask what their food hygiene rating was.  Actually it never crossed my mind.

We ordered too much food because I was pretty sure that the children would hate most of it.  Here's what we had;
Korean dumplings, like a pot-sticker, veggie & yum


Seafood pancake.  Top marks from me and Hanke.


Chicken BiBimBap - a salad thing with fried egg

Spicy beef and another beef with rice and beansprouts

Little bit too spicy for Zoe

Crazy post-it wall
I thought everything was delicious although I did get a bit confused with 'BiBimBap' which I read as BarBeCue.  Bit of a shock when I got a salad on rice with cold chicken and a fried egg.  The seafood pancake was crisp and full of tiny bits of purple octopus; this was my favourite dish.  All in all, another good choice by me.

Candy Floss! Every home should have one of these.

Pink and lovely

Zoe, also lovely

We found this little beauty at Todmorden boot sale on Sunday and snapped it up for £4 (retail price for the Hinari £34.99).  A cup of caster sugar stirred with half a teaspoon of red food colouring and we were off.  Oh the joy!  Oh the fun!  Oh the mess when I put too much sugar in and it flew around the kitchen.

Sunday also saw the last day of the summer so I dragged everyone outside to eat a lunch of griddled turkey steaks, cous cous and chickpea salad with sundried tomatoes, red onions and thyme.


Last summer lunch in the garden
I love the chickpea salad.  My friend Zalia made it for me last week in London and I can't stop making it.  I like to use these freaky little dark brown chick peas and this time I mixed them with chopped red onion, fresh thyme leaves and a good dollop of this sundried tomato bruschetta paste I found in Morrisons.  Zalia makes it with rosemary instead of thyme - equally as good.

chick peas, sundried tomato paste, red onion and thyme

I was the only one who ate this, by the way.