Friday, 30 October 2009
Thursday, 29 October 2009
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Humming bears is a delightful image. Durrell describes this in his books with the most wonderful description of himself and a bear at Whipsnade when he worked as a keeper singing along together, Durrell providing the lyrics, the bear the background hum while sucking his paw, apparently utterly content.
Monday, 26 October 2009
Thursday, 22 October 2009
Last Sunday was one of those gorgeous crisp autumnal days where, as Bill Bryson once said, you might feel as if 'you could ping the air like a wine glass.' In honour of the last of the good weather, we went en famille on a little day trip to the Horniman Museum, which - despite living ooh 10 mins away - we've never yet managed to get to.
Well, what a find.... The gardens are stunning at this time of year, all glorious golden auburn colours and the views on a clear day show St Paul's and beyond...
This is the beautiful conservatory:
Inside the Horniman museum, it's perhaps not as beautiful, but it's utterly fascinating. As far as I understand, Horniman was a local gent fond of collecting stuffed animals. We're not talking teddies here (imagine my disappointment) but actual stuffed animals, some of which I'm fairly sure wouldn't be allowed to be stuffed today.
Anyway, his collection became too large for his house so he bequeathed it to a museum in his name and it's a slightly creepy but absolutely interest-worthy exhibit. Apes and monkeys, birds of every colour and size, dog heads (! not keen on that bit), otters, reptiles - the list goes on and on - in fact, I can't imagine there's much not stuffed apart from the larger lions, tigers and bears. Upstairs there are fossils and sea life. If you've got small children, they'd love it (or it would give them nightmares but life's hard....) and there's various exhibits on such as a tribal exhibition, robot zoo, etc.
There appears to be some campaign to be launched - please sign - i'll post it when I can find it. This doesn't just affect those who fall into Labour's supposed categoryof every horse owner as landed gentry, but those who sacrifice and scrimp and save for a much beloved family pet.
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
(A small background note: if you're not quite getting all the adulation and foodie-groupie-screaming about his 'return', know this: Tante Claire was the seminal restaurant in London until Pierre Koffman, genius 3-Michelin-starred chef closed it, turning the space over to big Sweary Gord - tant pis. He progenated the chef world with chef babies including Eric Chavot, Tom Kitchin, Bruno Loubet and Tom Aikens. He has been absent for some time; and now he has returned...). The great joke is his proteges are joining him in the kitchen - on the night we visited, we were treated to Bruno on carrot-peeling and Eric on potato-pureeing.
The entrance to the restaurant is one for the exclusivity-lovers. A dedicated -guarded - lift, a quick ascendancy into a simple white corridor. Simple but stunningly decorated with minimalist objets - the ghost-girl with her veil is gorgeous. There's a small bar area but with the American Embassy setting off fireworks just next door, they sweetly moved us to our table in front of the glass wall so we could watch with a glass of wine and the bread basket - choices included bacon & onion, tomato, brown or white.
Then we're in with an amuse bouche of two discs of boudin blanc and noir atop a tiny refreshingly crisp tangle of lightly pickled red cabbage It's a palate-teaser echoing his earthy Gascon roots and it's an indication of the meat-centric food to follow. Veggies beware - this is not for you.
The menu is adventurous for something that's only around for a matter of weeks. Starters: lobster cocktail with avocado and lemon jelly; scallops in a laguna of squid ink; a special of langoustine bisque with accompanying raviolo; snails and wild mushrooms with bone marrow; foie gras with potato galette; game pithivier with a sticky jus corsé... I had the scallops - 3 perfectly seared and cooked sweet, soft pillows of shellfish surrounded by sticky, intense squid ink. I tried some of the snails - I'm still not keen texturally but the flavour was dark, woodsy - a clever pairing of fungi and gastropod. The langoustine bisque was silky-rich but not too sweet.
But, you know, starters, schmarters.... I'm almost tempted to write about nothing other than Pierre's signature main dish of pigs trotters, stuffed with sweetbreads and creamed morels, served with a cloud of potato puree so ethereally light and buttery you could bury your face in it. It came with two translucent discs of pork crackling - a textural foil for the rich sweet creamy unctuousness of the trotter. The sauce was a concentrated but not too sticky veal stock reduction, but fluid enough to coat the potato rather than glue to it. There are other mains available.
Oh all right then... Challans duck with herbs and spices, perfectly roasted; a pave of wild sea bass with artichoke barigoule was saved from being too summery by the woodsy artichokes. I'm told the Hare Royale is autumn on a plate. Or choose from a roast veal cutlet or cod with ceps, but why would you when there's Pierre's pigs trotter...!!??
Desserts - not my favourite thing - are startlingly good. My only criticism of the pistachio souffle - that I heinously had without the accompanying ice cream because the combination does nothing for me - was that it was too big. But then I only eat half a chocolate at a time so what do I know? The Toscano chocolate mousse with muscovado ice cream was another silky confection and saved from over-bitterness and over-sweetness by the orange compote. I'm assured the Gascon apple pie is what Eve should have fallen with, being the absolute apotheosis of orchard fruit.
And there we have it. Some quite stunning petits fours, good coffee and a few bottles of wine - FYI an Italian white called Kerner that I had never heard of and a big French Segla which was a tad too cool, but hey, you can't have everything.
I wonder if a taste of being back in this kind of environment would be enough to persuare PK back behind the stove. But I suspect the fun is in the temporariness - take advantage while you can.
Thursday, 8 October 2009
Also - in a complete left swerve - never had quite grasped that the inspiration for Brett Ashley in Sun Also Rises was Duff Twysden - must find out more about her. How autobiographical that book is is quite extraordinary - it all happened just as Hem describes, with just a little name-changing and a little play about with actual happenings (!). Dear old Hem - succumbed to outrageous jealousy even in his own writings and even when it was Harold Loeb and not him being tossed around on the horns of a bull in Pamplona...
Monday, 5 October 2009
We're now both quite baffled and amused by the torturous language the dear old advert copywriters use to get their product USP across, most of which seems to be how to defy the ageing process and get back that silky smooth skin of lost youth (Did anyone really have that - didn't we all have spots and over-enthusiastic sebaceous glands and eczema and god knows what? What skin memory are we trying to recover here?). Anyway, the sheer terror of ageing and wrinkles and bags and sunspots, ad nauseam has sent the copywriters quite into overdrive and panic has caused them commit such semantically outrageous sins as to make you want to clap your hands over your ears in horror.
Consider if you will my personal favourite 're-perfect'; as in 'this serum can re-perfect your skin texture, making it as smoothly oleaginous as a baby's nappy-rash-ridden backside.' Dreadful, no?
Or how about - last night's discovery - 'reversalist'; as in 'our reversalist moisturiser can now make you look like the pre-foetus collection of cells your lack of brain resembles.'
Or 're-support'; scaffolding for those bags.
Or 're-nutrition'; I'm starting to lose the will to live.
Or 'de-wrinkle'; you sad sack-eyed chump
Or the scary 're-plump'; ew. and aaargh....
Any others, put them down. It's not language, it's a crime.
Friday, 2 October 2009
PS: Today is Graham Greene's birthday.