Sunday, 20 December 2009

Taste of Christmas 2009 - A Carol

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Because it's Christmas and I think I am going very slightly insane, I now proudly present to my dear readers:


At Excel's Taste of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

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Beautiful tome wonderfully illustrated by the great Dave McKean (famous for collaborating with Neil Gaiman) and well worth £30

A Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

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We got Mr Bunbury's Millionaire Flapjacks, Brownies and Tiffin Mini Bites. All deliciously home-made tasting.

Mr Bunbury's baking
And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

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Vegan caviar made from soy from Caviar 4 Everyone. A laudable venture but sadly no discernable taste.

Caviar a-faking
Mr Bunbury's baking
And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

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Roast Duke of Berkshire pork belly, sweet potato and fenugreek mash with green pepper relish from Anna Hansen at the Modern Pantry (featured in Coco). One of the best things I tasted, with proper crackling and compellingly orange mash.

Pork belly crackling
Caviar a-faking

Mr Bunbury's baking

And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy
.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

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Dolada's free range duck egg with A Romani Italian truffle. I'd imagined a lush soft-boiled egg with truffley savings, but there was no truffle or egg flavour: just diabolically rancid, lukewarm, runny mayonnaise, like the Devil's own sputum.

MANKY. TRUFFLED. EGG.
Pork belly crackling

Caviar a-faking

Mr Bunbury's baking

And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy
.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

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Pearl's Jun Tanaka doing a fun cookery demo on how to deseed a pomegranate easily - thwack it with a rolling pin

Pomegranate bashing
MANKY. TRUFFLED. EGG.

Pork belly crackling

Caviar a-faking

Mr Bunbury's baking

And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy
.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

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Gorgeous smoked garlic from the lovely folk at the Garlic Farm - I got an enormous dangling bunch and have been chucking cloves in everything

Garlic bulbs a-smoking
Pomegranate bashing

MANKY. TRUFFLED. EGG.

Pork belly crackling

Caviar a-faking

Mr Bunbury's baking

And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy
.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

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My favourite Richard Haward was there with his ever reliable Mersea native and rock oysters - slurptastic.

Oysters for a-slurping
Garlic bulbs a-smoking

Pomegranate bashing

MANKY. TRUFFLED. EGG.

Pork belly crackling

Caviar a-faking

Mr Bunbury's baking

And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy
.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

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Club Gascon scored a hit with their Foie Gras popcorn - though the baby corn added little in the way of flavour and much in the way of annoyance

Foie gras corn a-popping
Oysters for a-slurping

Garlic bulbs a-smoking

Pomegranate bashing

MANKY. TRUFFLED. EGG.

Pork belly crackling

Caviar a-faking

Mr Bunbury's baking

And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy
.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

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I absolutely adore umeshu and Choya's honey and regular versions are outstanding. Not so keen on the shiso but it's still interesting.

Umeshu for gulping
Foie gras corn a-popping

Oysters for a-slurping

Garlic bulbs a-smoking

Pomegranate bashing

MANKY. TRUFFLED. EGG.

Pork belly crackling

Caviar a-faking

Mr Bunbury's baking

And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy
.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

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Sumosan's Beef Tataki Rolls with asparagus were good, but not so good that you'd endure being abused in the manner that theporkydrunk was - they accused him of not paying when he had just done so, right in front of me.

Seared beef a-rolling
Umeshu for gulping

Foie gras corn a-popping

Oysters for a-slurping

Garlic bulbs a-smoking

Pomegranate bashing

MANKY. TRUFFLED. EGG.

Pork belly crackling

Caviar a-faking

Mr Bunbury's baking

And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy
.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

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Dolada's sugar-spun fruits looked as tantalising as a fairy's kiss, but at £1 a pop, I was feeling too stingy. That's two whole crowns you know.

Sugared fruits a-twirling
Seared beef a-rolling

Umeshu for gulping

Foie gras corn a-popping

Oysters for a-slurping

Garlic bulbs a-smoking

Pomegranate bashing

MANKY. TRUFFLED. EGG.

Pork belly crackling

Caviar a-faking

Mr Bunbury's baking

And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy
.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

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The lovely Atul Kochhar was loitering in front of his own Benares stand, and I overheard him recommending his Tandoori Lamb Chops and Feta Salad to a visitor. The chops were a bit bland and flabby, to be honest. Sigh.

Lamb chops for a-chomping
Sugared fruits a-twirling

Seared beef a-rolling

Umeshu for gulping

Foie gras corn a-popping

Oysters for a-slurping

Garlic bulbs a-smoking

Pomegranate bashing

MANKY. TRUFFLED. EGG.

Pork belly crackling

Caviar a-faking

Mr Bunbury's baking

And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy
.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

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I spotted Marianne Lumb, runner-up in MasterChef the Professionals 2009. I contemplated talking to her but then thought better of it, as I'd been a bit rude about her. Also, her Kitchen Knife Skills looked a bit sub-Dorling Kindersley. There I go again.

Masterchefs a-signing
Lamb chops for a-chomping

Sugared fruits a-twirling

Seared beef a-rolling

Umeshu for gulping

Foie gras corn a-popping

Oysters for a-slurping

Garlic bulbs a-smoking

Pomegranate bashing

MANKY. TRUFFLED. EGG.

Pork belly crackling

Caviar a-faking

Mr Bunbury's baking

And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy
.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas my true love gave to me:

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Rhubarb and custard and cola cube vodka from Flavaz and toffee vodka from Toffoc for the win!

Wacky booze for tippling
Masterchefs a-signing

Lamb chops for a-chomping

Sugared fruits a-twirling

Seared beef a-rolling

Umeshu for gulping

Foie gras corn a-popping

Oysters for a-slurping

Garlic bulbs a-smoking

Pomegranate bashing

MANKY. TRUFFLED. EGG.

Pork belly crackling

Caviar a-faking

Mr Bunbury's baking

And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy
.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas my true love gave to me:

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Club Gascon scored again with their boozey armagnac and prune version of Eton Mess - and one portion was enormous and completely stuffed hubby and me

Gascon Mess for gorging
Wacky booze for tippling

Masterchefs a-signing

Lamb chops for a-chomping

Sugared fruits a-twirling

Seared beef a-rolling

Umeshu for gulping

Foie gras corn a-popping

Oysters for a-slurping

Garlic bulbs a-smoking

Pomegranate bashing

MANKY. TRUFFLED. EGG.

Pork belly crackling

Caviar a-faking

Mr Bunbury's baking

And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy
.

At Excel's Taste of Christmas my true love gave to me:

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Waitrose was the main sponsor of the event and had their own stand which dished up Venison Mince Pie - allegedly based on a traditional ye olde recipe. The meat was good and rich but too fruity and the chocolate shavings were a step too far.

Mince pie reinventing
Gascon Mess for gorging

Wacky booze for tippling

Masterchefs a-signing

Lamb chops for a-chomping

Sugared fruits a-twirling

Seared beef a-rolling

Umeshu for gulping

Foie gras corn a-popping

Oysters for a-slurping

Garlic bulbs a-smoking

Pomegranate bashing

MANKY. TRUFFLED. EGG.

Pork belly crackling

Caviar a-faking

Mr Bunbury's baking


And a Fat Duck cookbook in a bag-gy!


heston_and_me edit
Heston and me

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Taste of Christmas was held at the Excel Centre on 4-6 December 2009

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Ten Years of ATP - The Best of All Tomorrow's Parties

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So last weekend I went to Butlins for "Ten Years of ATP", the tenth birthday party of the All Tomorrow's Parties music festival aka ATP.

I'm going to steal from Wikipedia to explain what ATP is all about.

Named after the song "All Tomorrow's Parties" by The Velvet Underground, it was founded by Barry Hogan in 1999 as an alternative to larger, more corporate festivals like Reading or Glastonbury, with a tendency towards post-rock, avant-garde, and underground hip hop, along with more traditional rock fare, but presented in an environment more intimate than a giant stadium or huge country field. ATP is a sponsorship-free festival where the organisers and artists stay in the same accommodation as the fans.

Ten Years Of ATP 2009


... Artists, usually musicians (but sometimes visual artists like Matt Groening or Jake and Dinos Chapman) are asked to curate the festival by inviting their favourite performers to play. The idea is that it is akin to dipping into the curator's record collection, or as Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth described it, "It's the ultimate mix tape". Steve Albini, a curator in 2002, has been quoted as stating that "There are three things in the world that I endorse: Abbey Road ... Nutter Butter Sandwich Cookies; and All Tomorrow's Parties," while Mike Patton stated it was his favourite gig of all time."


ATP DVD Cover
That's me next to Iggy Pop

I've been to four ATPs so far; I would have been to more, but I only discovered its existence a couple of years ago - it's pretty underground. However, I'm proud to say that I'm one of All Tomorrow's People; you might recall me mentioning a film to which I contributed, also called "All Tomorrow's Parties" - well, that film is all about this festival.

If you've never been to an ATP before, I can't over-emphasise how good a fest it is.

It goes without saying that the music is fantastic, but this bit: "ATP is a sponsorship-free festival where the organisers and artists stay in the same accommodation as the fans" makes it a whole other world from, say, Glastonbury or Latitude.

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Kim Deal of Pixies and The Breeders

There's no branding, no hard sell, no-one shoving leaflets in your face. There's no inaccessible VIP area, we're all staying together, and there's nothing more bizarrely wonderful than being in Butlins and seeing Four Tet buying loo roll, or having a grinning Mike Patton push in front of you in a queue, or watching Wu Tang Clan playing slot machines (these are real examples).

Anyway, for these 10th anniversary celebrations, past curators had been invited back as well as some of the most popular acts.

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Tortoise

We managed to cram in shows by The Breeders, The Mars Volta, Shellac, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Battles, Dirty Three, Sunn 0))), Deerhoof, Tortoise, Mudhoney, Explosions in the Sky, Crispin Glover, The Magic Band (minus Captain Beefheart), múm, F*ck Buttons, Stephen Malkmus (from Pavement), Polvo, Afrirampo and Lightning Bolt.

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Battles

Worst show was Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs - after coming on more than half an hour late (this is not the done thing at ATP, as the schedules are so tightly packed), her performance was comically bad, like a poor Nutbush City Limits-era Tina Turner.


Best music show was Tortoise - despite starting at 2 am, they energised the crowd with their glorious and beautiful set.

Deerhoof with their synchronised dancing, Battles with their exuberance and Explosions with their soaring guitars were a tied third.


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Deerhoof

Best non-music show was Crispin Glover's Big Slide Show. Better known as George McFly from Back to the Future, his performance consisted of the maddest, funniest narration laid over slides from various eccentric tomes he has penned.

Glover also screened "What Is It?", a self-funded experimental film of his, and the first in a trilogy, and which frankly disturbed the bejeesus out of me.

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Warren Ellis of Dirty Three, Grinderman and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Most frenetic show was Lightning Bolt guest-starring Afrirampo - I'm so glad I stood right at the back for this as much drumming, crowd-surfing, screaming, and stripping occurred.

Best music discovery was múm - I'd never heard of this Icelandic ensemble, but I don't think I've ever seen such a captivating and joyful performance.

Best non-music discovery was Wizard People, Dear Reader - ATP has its own TV channel which it pipes into the chalets and one of the things they screened was this hilarious version of the first Harry Potter film with a spoof soundtrack.



Most fun experience was The Breeders' happy, singalong set followed by the birthday cake that they wheeled out and the subsequent mini-party for festival organisers Barry Hogan, Deborah Kee Higgins and Shaun Kendrick.

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The Breeders ATP Birthday Cake

Coolest moment was when someone referred to me as the girl from the poster - ie the posters which were plastered around the festival to advertise the film.

Karen O even wrote on my face:

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And last but not least, the most surreal experience by far was having Kelly Deal from The Breeders give me fertility advice, whilst we all knitted together in the bar.

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Me and my friend knitting with Kelley Deal


All Tomorrow's Parties, the best weekend bar none. Thanks ATP!

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More photos here
More videos here


Celebrity stalking par excellence


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Me and Warren Ellis and Jim White from Dirty Three


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Me and Kim Deal from Pixies and The Breeders


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Me and the hubby with Crispin Hellion Glover


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Kelley has her copies of Pure Evil II and All Of Its Ways - do you?


And if you're missing ATP TV, maybe this will help with the withdrawal symptoms:


Thursday, 10 December 2009

A Pie and a Pint at The Warrington

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Q: When is a pie not a pie?
A: When it's a stew with a pastry hat on.


Like Murray, the inimitable manager of Flight of the Conchords, I like pie. So when I was invited for a pie and a pint at the relaunch of The Warrington in Maida Vale (part of Gordon Ramsay's empire), I was hardly going to say no.

But my standards are high and a bad pie won't fly *cough*, and I was a tad dubious thanks to previous intel that Gordo's gastropubs cooked their meals off-site for reheating just before serving (in fact Marina O'Loughlin mentioned this the very next morning).


EssexEating - The Warrington 2
photo copyright EssexEating

However, it's all change at The Warrington - with a new head chef, sous-chefs and general manager, they're determined to start with a clean slate.

Apparently there's been a refurb - not that I'd know, as I'd never been before - but what I saw, I liked. With beautiful original features such as stained glass windows, marble pillars and wood carvings, it felt quite Dickensian, but in a good way, like the end of A Christmas Carol or the knees-up in Oliver! and is basically a proper boozer (they even have a quiz), where I'd be happy to sit all night, nursing a drink, with or without company.


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Offered a choice between minced beef with a potato topping (aka cottage pie) and traditional game pie, unsurprisingly we all plumped for the latter, though one of my colleagues at least made an attempt to act like he was in two minds about it. The charming waitress said it had "venison and various game birds" in it - good enough for me.

We sat around a little table and waited for our pies whilst sipping our billed pints of beer and cider (everyone else) and iced ginger ale (me - I don't like beer - it tastes of bitter disappointment as far as I'm concerned). After a short wait, the food arrived.


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The pies seemed on the small side - like you could polish them off in three or four bites - but I was delighted to see they came fully enrobed in crisp shortcrust pastry. No more half-baked pastry-hatted stews here.

And despite their bijou dimensions, it turned out they were densely packed with rich, delicious meat - so packed in fact that there was next to no juice, though the meat somehow remained moist. As for the pastry, it was flavoursome and perfectly short and crumbly, even when drowned in a pool of the luscious gravy which came in dinky pitchers on the side.


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Accompaniments were a mixed bag - sound, creamy, mashed potatoes, but a stingy-seeming brace of broccoli florets, rather bizarrely doused in over-sharp, claggy hollandaise sauce.

Disregarding the broccoli, it was a fine meal which I'd quite happily scoff again and ridiculously good value at £10 for a pie and a pint.

We were then asked if we'd be interested in sampling their desserts. Once again, a very slight attempt at coyness was made by the others, but I immediately said "Bring it on".


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First up was honey and Drambuie creme brulee with shortbread. I'm used to lavender honey being employed to nauseatingly floral effect, but here the honeyed touch was just right and the flavours delicately boozey.

Alas, said booze sadly mucked up the texture, which was more like a runny creme Anglaise than a set custard. The biscuits were deliciously light though, with good snap to them.


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Next was tarte Tatin, which again showed that the Warrington knows its pastry even though apparently there's no dedicated pastry chef. The crisp tart shell combined with sweet, caramelised apple and smooth vanilla ice cream was a sensation.

EssexEating - The Warrington 4
photo copyright EssexEating


Lastly were Scotch pancakes with a toffee sauce and clotted cream. I find pancakes can be hit and miss, occasionally resembling rubber insoles, but these were moist and decidedly unstodgey with Christmas spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and generous chunks of candied fruit mixed into the batter. These too were a hit.

So the pies were great and the desserts worth leaving space for, so long as they get that damned creme brulee right.


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The Christmas Menu is also rather appealing, even if it does insist on using that ghastly word "fayre".
I was especially tickled that they're serving (boned) turkey leg instead of dry and dreary breast. More to the point, it's only £22 for three courses - pretty darn cheap considering you're in a Ramsay joint.

Talking of old Frozen Face, I asked the new chef Simon (I failed to elicit his surname) "what Gordon was really like", hoping to garner some juicy insider gossip. He blushed and said he had no idea, since he hadn't actually met the big man yet. This confession left me crestfallen, as I'd rather been under the impression that Ramsay personally anointed each of his chefs in some kind of Masonic ceremony.

However, I was soon cheered up when I spotted the absolutely stunning bar snacks menu.

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I mean, just take a look:

  • Homemade vegetable crisps £1.95
  • Pickled onions £2.00
  • Mini venison pasties £3.00
  • Ham hock Scotch egg; truffle mayonnaise £2.50
  • Pickled cockles £2.75
  • Homemade pork crackling and apple sauce £3.00
  • Hand-cut chips and curry sauce £3.95
  • Welsh rarebit soldiers £3.50
  • Mug of soup, bread roll £3.75
  • Mini Cumberland sausages in Worcestershire sauce £3.95

The new chef is a friendly, keen chap and told us that he wants to cook the things that he himself likes, rather than try to tailor for a particular audience. Well, all I can say is great minds think alike, since I wanted to take that snack menu home and caress it softly.

At any rate, I fully intend to come back to The Warrington and order two of everything, and four of the Scotch egg, especially as these days almost everything is made in-house - even the cockles are pickled on-site.

Incidentally, a friend who lived in the room below me at college tended to leave his window open, and so I once left a bag of pickled cockles in his sink as a joke. Reader, he married me.

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Apparently Gordon will dance for you if you buy a jar of his sauce


The Warrington
93 Warrington Crescent
Maida Vale
London W9 1EH
020 7592 7960



Warrington on Urbanspoon

Thanks to the ladies at Sauce Communications for inviting me