A combination of iPhone v. washing machine (washing machine won in a clear knockout), trips to Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin and a sprinkle of apathy have seen me being a little slack on the blogging front of late. Rest assured I will be putting this right over the next week or so with a few entries that are bubbling away at the moment. So coming up will be:

Herr Spargal’s Berlin punk karaoke

Farewell to Meister (he’s departed for sunnier climes not the afterlife!)

Dancing monkeys and cocktail clowns in Paris

East London’s finest

The Sam Smith’s Crawl (or more accurately Stagger)

And more…

Oh… Meister does this count as a post?


Supper Club: Harwood Arms

As an aged Sloan Ranger and her daughter loudly berate a Polish tradesman, for the crime of asking them to move down the tube carriage,  I raise my eyebrows at Cockles. I sense we are both hoping that the schlep to Fulham is worth it. We are en route to meet Captain English and Meister for what could be the final Supper Club: A loose fixture in our diaries where we invariably end the night with tight waistbands and light wallets. Meister is heading back to Oz and is working through pubs and restaurants at a commendable rate. Our venue, the Harwood Arms, has a task ahead of it in the gastronomic stakes but as London’s first Michelin starred pub the night is full of promise.

Set on a residential street the unsuspecting could wander in thinking it was your bog standard Gastro Pub, though here you will not find the standard fare. We find English and Meister at the bar and take it in turns to ponder the menu. Much scratching of heads and stroking of imaginery beards ensues.  We are still deciding well after being seated.

Wine selection is Meister and Cockles area of expertise. With a considered debate and lots of questions of the staff we start with the Chateau Petit Val Grand Cru, St Emilion, Bordeaux, 2005. I will
confess that my question was less about the attributes of this particular choice but more a question of how much it would cost my pocket. They both have form for choosing wine by quality and not price which I am slowly coming to terms with. Straight faced Meister tells me it’s £45. My eyebrows raise and I bite back my Northern urge to protest. Well in truth there may have been a little protest but then  curiosity gets the better of me and we go with it. Now Oz Clarke has nothing on this Aussie in terms of the theatrics of wine tasting. First comes the long smell with nose fully in the glass, which I’m told should tell you most of what you need to know. Second the swirl, followed by the taste, with or without a slight slurp and then final consideration. A slight pause for dramatic effect. And the verdict. In this case it’s the thumbs up. Some would view this spectacle as pretension but I see it more as Meister quality control.  I’m not disappointed with the choice and have to admit its good though I feel I need some further education to fully appreciate it. A trip to a few wineries perhaps.

Grilled salted ox tongue with cauliflower cheese croquette, bread and butter pickles is first off. I can’t say I’ve had Tongue in the last 20 years (snigger) but this was an excellent reintroducton. What I expected could be chewy was delicate and light. A great start which set me up for the main course. Shoulder of Roe deer follows, served with sauerkraut, mash and greens. For two on a wooden platter, my eyes widen as it is placed between English and myself. The bone slips away effortless as we dish up generous hunks and even more generous dollops of mash and sauerkraut. It’s a bold, hearty dish which is what Supper Club is all about. It is faultless. I am at risk of drowning my keyboard as my mouth waters just thinking about this! Rounding off the meal I am torn between the English cheeses with toasted Bara Brith or the baked custard with Grasmere gingerbread. I’m told the Bara Brith and gingerbread are both made on the premises and on the basis that no one makes Bara Brith like Nan did I go for the custard. The top cracks satisfyingly but I could have probably done without the accompanying sorbet. The gingerbread is good but lacks the dustiness and snap I was expecting. That said it’s a good end to a great meal. Where the country comes to town is the phrase that came to mind when I was trying to sum up the Harwood Arms and it’s menu. They beat me to it I see as it’s emblazoned on their website. Just when you thought you’d had an original thought!

Supper Club: Harwood Arms

The Warwick (The Gastro Half Marathon)

The Warwick in Pimlico was the venue for a Sunday lunch which will not soon be forgotten for food and service which were poles apart.

As Lou and I arrived at 1pm to meet O and Meister there were only a handful of tables occupied. Designed from the gastro pub by numbers manual it’s a mix of mismatched tables and chairs, benches on stripped floors. Asking for a pint of Royal London, one of only three Ales (Green King IPA and Abbot Ale being the others) the barman seemed confused by my choice. Repeating my choice again I pointed at the pump. This first sign of the trend for the afternoon barely registered.
As the bar filled over the next 2 hours a definte division formed with a Nappy Valley developing in the lowered area. Getting from the table to the toilet became a mission, weaving round strollers, toddlers and their parents all blocking the passageway to the toilets.

The pace of the 3 staff increased with every new table, dashing from one side of the bar to another, in and out of the kitchen, nerves fraying, a scene of inefficient fire fighting. Plates were stacked at either end of the bar, constantly fed by annoyed diners clearing their own tables. The pile closest to Nappy Valley looking as if there could be a cascade of knives, forks and gravy at any second. Although this should have been our cue to leave the food looked and smelt great and watching what would unfold next was like strange voyeuristic theatre.
The danger to Nappy Valley is cleared by one of the kitchen staff, or perhaps even the chef, which could go some way to explain the near 60 minute wait for food. There are no thoughts of the chaos around us as we ravenously attack the Soft Shell Crab, Pan Fried Scallop and Seared Foie Gras. If the kitchen is at boiling point at this point it doesn’t show as each dish cannot fail to impress, from good produce to presentation. The scallop and foie gras dishes while pan fried or seared are crisp from the pan but not overcooked, as is often be the case when diverting from normal pub menus. The accompanying carrot puree with the latter dish adds a subtle sweet edge to the richness of the main element. Its safe to say that appetites are sated and we are ready for the main courses.

We prise another bottle of Malbec (Mendoza 2007) from the bar after pointing it out on a stained and sodden wine list, an early casualty of the plate mountain. This sustains us for the 35 minute wait for three mains, the fourth coming 15 minutes afterward having been left off the order. All I can do is drool at the plates as the other three tuck in. The roasted cod looks good, though there seems to be a shortage of puy lentils. My roast pork belly arrives without any word of apology. Its at this point that my nerves start to fray slightly and I ask if they expect me to pay. The manager waves his hands around and mutters for me not to worry. He’s probably contemplating that there are many hours of this left; with a group of weary London Marathon runners limping in medals round their necks. I’m thinking we deserve one at this point for the Nappy Valley Slalom and the Freestyle Drink Pointing. Despite all the grief it’s certainly worth the wait. It has a thin scored crackling which delivers the required sweet fatty hit without picking it from the molars for the next week. The pork is moist, the accompanying veg, apple sauce and Yorkshire Pudding are all to a good standard.
Our own half gastro Marathon complete consensus at the table is that dessert may be a dish too far. Meister and myself leave quickly for a pint at Cask while the ladies settle the bill. We are seated and served when we receive a call to say that we need to guess the bill. They sound please with themselves. We have a little time to think before they arrive. Knowing that it should be in the region of £150 we are dumbfounded with the final bill after an expert complaint. £55. Was it the right bill that they discounted? How did they reach that amount? I’ll probably never know if this was an isolated incident for The Warwick, as despite the fact it was hugely discounted and the food was superb there are plenty of places that can get both right. So, Gold medal for Lou and O for world class complaining, Silver to myself for the Slalom, Bronze to Meister for his choice and a wooden spoon to The Warwick.

The Warwick (The Gastro Half Marathon)