In my travels I eat in many strange, routine, delicious, filthy, crowded, empty, colourful, bland places. I’m going to begin listing the good, the bad, the sickening and the moorish, together with the rude, the sensual, the exotic and the Formica. I rank service and atmosphere as important as food.
Following the identification of the world’s worst lasagne (in Monreale, Sicily), I declare that the finest liver and bacon and champagne to be found this century is in the 15th Century King’s Head at the top of the market square in Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK. For just £12, the dish is elegantly presented, generously portioned and arrayed with nutritious and colourful vegetables. It is served piping hot with minimum of fuss against the warmth of a roaring log stove. The pub is old and beamed, but the ceilings high and space airey. In my brief time there, it was full-ish but not crowded and the noise levels good and among them was ayoung lady with the highest white high heels I have ever seen. The staff were fast, efficient and remembered orders. The best liver and bacon I had previously was some 15 years ago at the wonderful Foreign Correspondents Club in Ice House Street in Hong Kong. In fact, after such disappointing culinary experiences in Italy and Belgium recently, I wonder if it’s possible to get a decent meal between the white cliffs of Dover and the Chain Bridge of Budapest. If so where?
Given the status quo of crises in economy, food security, the Korean peninsular, and others, I revive an oddball restaurant review because after many years I have had the privilege of ordering the worst Lasagne in the world. An earlier one came to light in Alliance, Nebraska in 2007 when making a film on the American Dream with the magnificent Ian Cartright. This was ketchup laced with beef sauce spread like Marmite on slabs of corn pasta. Another cropped up last September in a typically ‘family-run’ Tuscan restaurant in Brussels. I suspect now this was a synthetic horsemeat paste. Finally, this week, in the shadow of Monreale Cathedral in Sicily came a microwaved stew of stale pasta and God knows what. Luckily, that gave more time for the cathedral itself — an unbelievable blend of Islamic, Byzantine and Norman architecture with direct links to Canterbury and Ely cathedrals in Britain. Any advocate of multi-culturalism should pay a visit — but bring your own food.
Kotido dining, January 8th 2011
The terrace of La Maison Hotel in Kotido, in north-east Uganda, is the finest dining place for miles around. You will be looked after by Esher who serves a choice of beef or chicken, which can be stewed or fried, and served with rice and potatoes. Drinks include a choice of partially chilled Nile or Tusker beer. It might be wise to provide your own supplements such as fruit, instant cup noodles or something like Lancashire Hot Pot in a ‘Meal Ready-to-Eat.’ The atmosphere is relaxed and secure — La Maison is in its own compound with an armed guard. The television runs Premier League or BBC Knowledge, while outside dogs bark and cockerels crow regardless of the time of day. This venue is thoroughly recommended for anyone passing by Kotido.
Widow Soup and Fried Rabbit – April 14th 2010
In Malta, on the corner of Gort Street and Paceville Avenue, just within earshot of the thumping bars of St Julien lies the small family resturant of Kandles, run (I think) by two sisters and the walls adorned with momentoes and local artifacts. Both the Fenek Moqli (Fried Rabbit) and Laham Fuq il-Fwar (steamed beef) was light and tender and washed down with a Maltese version of Sauvignon Blanc with a total bill of less than 40 Euros.
Kandles, 20 Paceville Avenue, Paceville, Malta Tel:- 21353640 No website
La Maltija — Malta April 12th 2010
Slightly off the beaten track heading down towards the water in Paceville, near Valletta is La Maltija and old-style Maltese sea-food restaurant where we found the chef outside the door arranging fresh fish on the ice. Inside we ordered a grilled seafood platter of calamari, bream and sea bass for 25 euros a head and a local chardonnay for 14 euros. It was all quite excellent.
La Maltija has no web site. Its phone number is 21359602 and the address is 1 Church St, Paceville, Malta.
Ognisko Polish Club, London March 23rd 2010
Before heading to New York, we dined at the Ognisko Polish Club at 55 Exhibition Road, London. I had never been before — although the club itself is a product of our Second World War alliance with Poland and stood as something of a b astion of Polish freedom during the Cold War. Its elegant high-ceilinged surrounds reflect that history. Punctuated by vodka shots we shared dishes between nine among which were Blinis with Smoked Salmon, Sevruga Caviar and Cream; Griddled Scallops and Lambs; Knuckle of Pork Bavarian Style (totally delicious and too much for one); Grilled Venison Loin with Red Currant and Juniper Berry Sauce; and for our vegetarian guest Penne Pasta with Aubergine, Feta and Pine Nuts.
Fine Dining in Glasgow — My first visit. It was like a blend between Almaty and Pyongyang.
Two superb, but totally different restaurants in Glasgow. The first I stmubled upon because the Blythswood Square Hotel room was not ready when I arrived.
So lunch at Two Fat Ladies at 118A Blythswood Street, swift, efficient service, the tables slightly too small for my liking, and an introduction into Cullen Skink – a delicious mix between a fish soup and stew, created apparently int he town of Cullen.
And dinner, hosted by the urbane and witty Andrew Kelly of the Aye Write book festival, at the boisterously elegant Osterio Piero at 111 West Regent Street. The Anti-Pasta was light, imaginative and plentiful and the imaginatively light and my steak was the one of the finest I can remember on this side of the Atlantic. I am not sure what wine Andrew ordered, but a good time was had by many for many hours and no headache in the morning — except for one couple who had to slip off early.
The Number One Cafe Restaurant
Unusual for London, an elegant and spacious BYO restaurant with superb Thai and Malaysian food that does not charge corkage. It’s only just opened and deserves bug support. A multi-dish dinner for two, squid, chicken, tofu, beef — all freshly cooked — costs less than £30 and would be double that if you had to pay for drinks. They helpfully direct guests to a small wine shop around the corner from where I chose a £9.99 bottle of New Zealand Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc.
It’s called The Number One Cafe Restuarant, 1 Dalgarno Gardens, London, W10 5LL 44 (0) 20 898 0558.
Ust Kamenogorsk dining December 3rd 2009
Two recommendations from this beautiful once-closed Soviet city nuclear city in eastern Kazakhstan.
At Baiterek we dined, sitting on soft benches adorned with cushions in a room decked out in traditional Kazakh style, with carpets, saddles, long flowingand deep coloured robes. We began with Muhit and Egypitsky salads, vegetables and squid (ask them to leave off the mayonnaise); followed by a thin broth soup; then beshparmark, a succulent beef and vegetable stew; helped along with Irbis beer and Adil vodka — both inidginous to Kazakhstan — and served by Zaida and Saida. Out in the hall, a young man sang Karouake love songs to himself. Bookings are on 7232 24 98 49
For lunch we took the buffet at the palatial, shiny red-ceilinged Kopona, with its embroidered red-upholstered chairs, linen table cloths and ball room decor. Good place for big parties bookable on 7 232 26 34 03.
In both we were the only people there.
Tiny Provesende village with its opulent, but compact church and ancient stake for burning people to death lies in mountains high above the Douro River and boasts Papas Zaida family restaurant where we lunched on pork, clams and salad. Our amusing and knowledgeable hosts were Paul Symington, whose family vineyards bring us Graham’s, Dow and Warre’s port; Miles Edlmann his viticulturist and Antonio Silvana, the caseiro or farm manager. We shared a bottle of highly-acclaimed Chryseia 2003 from the Douro — which incidentally is the oldest demarcated wine growing region in the world — 1756.
STRAIGHT-FRIENDLY CAFE, OPORTO
On an Oporto sloping cobbled street in northern Portugal, opposite the Boys Or Us gay bar lies the deliciously laid-back Atelier cafe, with its minimilist decor, saxophone beer pumps and bottles of Moet and Dom lying chilled on ice on the bar. The urbanely droll owner Miguel Rodrigues-Pereira assures me it is ‘straight-friendly’ a place where people of all ages and sexual persuasion can go to relax, kiss and cuddle and show affections that are usually kept out of sight in this conservative, Catholic society. For lunch, I had fiejoada a transmontana — a stew with beans, pork, sausage, bacon and cabbage washed down with fine coffee. Totally excellent
November 9th 2009
In a sleek and cavernous basement in the heart of Chelsea, lies a fun Japanese restaurant, where the chefs cook steaks, fish and vegetable in front of you while juggling spatulas and pepper pots, and occassionally dropping them to keep things interesting. The Asahi is chilled and expensive. The food excellent, fresh and inexpensive. Surf, turf, sushi and the rest for only £22 a head and youy can get in and out easily within an hour — or stay for three if its suits.
Benihana, 77 King’s Road, London, SW3 4NX www.benihana.co.uk
February 26th 2009
Hidden in the small market town of Saxmundham in Suffolk on England’s east coast is one of the finest Asian fusion resturants I have found anywhere. It is on the left if you are driving east, opposite the HSBC and inside a pub called the Queen’s Head. Once through the pub, the welcoming staff show you into a large dining room, the tables covered in freshly laundered pink linen table cloths. I have been going there for some years and the food and service are constantly superb — which is not always the case among the dour and reticent folk of the Suffolk coast. This time round we dined on squid, bean curd, beef, chicken fried rice and Singapore fried noodles, washed down with Tsing Tao beer.
January 25th 2009
Finally, I have found a superb Sichaun restaurant in London. The unassuming Fortune Restaurant in the semi-fashionable West Kensington, right on the arterial Cromwell Road, tastefully decorated with red lanterns, large tables, bouncing, enthusiastic staff, and French Sauvignon Blanc at £13 a bottle. Our party had Red Braised Porks Knuckle, Thinly Sliced Pig’s Ear in Chilli Oil, Stir Fried Shu Shan Hot Pot Mountain Crab, fiery Tofu in black bean sauce, and much, much more because we stayed for about four hours. Why, why why had I not found it before.
FORTUNE RESTAURANT, 142-148 West Cromwell Road, West Kensington W14 9AE — 44 (0) 20 7610 4333.
10 23rd, 2008
Malabar Junction, London
My search for the finest Indian restaurant in London has ended. It is without a shadow of doubt the subtly spiced and magnificent Malabar Junction in Great Russell Street. The setting is a high-ceilinged conservatory; the tables are well-spaced apart; the service is prompt with excellent £10 (US$20) bottles of house wine sold in the name of General Bilimoria, whose enobled son, Karan, runs Cobra Beer; and the food leaves you smoothly satisfied, as only well-prepared South Indian food can. It re-energises you without leaving the slightest trace of being too full.
The Breeze, Bangkok.
Probably the most exotic setting of any restaurant anywhere. High-rise rooftop bar, jazz band, panoramic views, room to wander, casual, expensive, atmosphere and service beats food. http://www.thedomebkk.com/web/corp_about.html
The Inn at Tough City
Totally, without doubt, the most incredible Japanese meal…and where is it, in Tofino, British Columbia, about the most remote place you’d expect a fully-aproned and bandanned Sushi artist behind the counter in a log cabin with views over an inlet that runs into the Pacific Ocean. They even serve Asahi extra dry. http://www.toughcity.com/
Indian — Bombay, Nottingham Vs Quilon, Buckingham Gate
By chance, I was able to compare the Bombay Indian Brassiere in Plains Rd, Nottingham to Quilon’s in Buckingham Gate, London. Bombay is wedged between Chinese takeaways and shopfronts to let, but inside the atmosphere is discreetly upmarket. With the staff decked out in flowing Mughal gowns, you could suddenly be walking into the Imperial Hotel in Delhi. Quilon’s is the south Indian cuisine of choice for ministers and royalty. But which is the better restaurant – a tough one. I’d pick neither for a special date. When it comes to good food for honest travellers, I’d opt for the Bombay because it serves real Popadoms. Quilon cuts them up fancy-like the size of crisps. Bombay, probably catering to more northern England tastes, uses creamier yoghurts that take longer to settle. The best Indian food used to be served by my very excellent and ebullient friend once Deputy High Commissioner to Britain. Alas, he was posted elsewhere — and the Star of Bengal in Leiston, Suffolk, is now closed down. God knows why, it was delicious.
09 13th, 2009
In my search for the best Indian restaurant in London, a visit to the Bombay Bicycle Club www.V8gourmet.com at 128 Holland Park Avenue. The great test as to whether it is better than Malabar Junction www.malabarjunction.com in Great Russel Street. The Bicycle Club is light and busy, the service on the cusp of haphazard. The food was good, but not excellent. The Murgh Masala too sweet and barely a spice to heat the roof of the mouth despite it being marked with two chilis. The Saag Gosht (lamb with spinach) was tender and superbly cooked. The pilau rice a touch too greasy. The vegetables, though, did rise above with very special Bhindi Sabzi (Okra) and the best dish by far was the Aloo Palak (baby spinach and potato), perfectly cooked with the potatoes slightly fried but not too heavy. Hirani beer — which I have not yet tried — was on the menu but not there. So we had to settle for the trustworthy Cobra. The Bicycle Club is workmanlike quality, probably the best I’ve tried west of Hyde Park Corner, but for service, value, food and a culinary wow factor, it does not match Malabar Junction.