Sunday, December 30, 2007

Hang On, Maybe This Is
The Best Restaurant In London...

This afternoon we went for our now traditional post-Christmas, pre-New Year lunch at The Wolseley. This is the fifth year in a row we've been now and, I think, this was the best one yet. When I say best one yet, it was precisely the same as all the others only more so. We even sat in the same area of the restaurant we always do, but there's something so perfect about this place that the fact you know the menu by heart, you know what the breadsticks look like and you recognise the brand of butter they use just makes it all the more enjoyable. The Wolseley is brilliantly, inspiringly reliable, you know that the service will be fantastic, you know you'll look at the tableware and linen and want to take it all home. And I couldn't give a monkey's about tableware and linen. Silvana's drinks - a glass of champagne, a glass of their own petit Chablis looked great (I stuck with fizzy mineral water). And while I grimaced slightly at paying £4.75 for a small bowl of buttered spinach, the espressos (served with a small glass of water and a dark chocolate) were great and less than two quid a pop, so it's swings and rahnd-a-bahts, innit? Scrap had - and really enjoyed - Eggs Benedict and we all shared the world's greatest, crispiest, most delicious whitebait starter. Oh, and Rhys Ifans and Sienna Miller were in there hoiking down roast beef and yorkshire puds in between nodding politely at strangers. I interviewed Rhys once, so I kept a professional distance and allowed Silvana to tell me what was going on over my shoulder. When they left he pulled on a pork pie hat and she climbed behind a huge pair of sunglasses. You see, our celebrity cousins can be reliable too. So, all good then. Perhaps it's even better than Locanda?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

1970s Christmas Clementines

When we were young, Christmas always used to include a trip to our Grandad’s restaurant La Gondola. It was very chic in its day (it’s terrible now and was on Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares not long ago) and my parents would have Campari at the bar, my brothers would ask Roy McFarland, Kevin Hector, Archie Gemmell and other Derby County footballers for their autographs and I would wait impatiently for the sweet trolley to be rolled in. I always picked rumbaba or the oranges in caramel. I’ve not had caramelised oranges since I was twelve but then Cousin Tilly served them up at the annual Fitzpatrick family party a couple of weeks ago. She followed a recipe from the lovely Silver Spoon cookery book and hers were indeed text book – sweet and golden and identical to the ones off the trolley. So I had a go at making some myself and burnt the caramel into a delicious dark syrup. Yes, loads of sugar but at least no added fat, unlike the tiramisu Mum served alongside them.

Serves 6

12 firm clementines
300g granulated sugar
glass of water
small glass of brandy

Cut the peel and pith from the clementines with a small sharp knife. Strip away the pith and shred the peel from about half of the clementines.

Place the sugar in a pan and set it over a high heat. Let it bubble and melt, it’ll quickly turn to dark caramel. Don’t stir but swirl the pan a bit until all the sugar is dark and molten. Turn off the heat and leave for a couple of minutes.

Stir in the water, brandy and shredded peel and simmer very gently for 1 hour until the peel has candied.

Poach the clementines in the pan of syrup, four at a time for a couple of minutes then transfer to a large serving bowl. Pour over the hot syrup and peel and leave to cool. Set aside for at least a couple of hours or overnight before eating. I love the bitterness combined with the orange but if you find it too much, you can stir in some more white sugar.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Seasonal Cheer

We are having tea and cake at James and Antoinette's house and trying to decide whether to go and see American Gangster or The Darjeeling Limited tonight. It's rather nice only having such simple things to think about.

We are now, officially, on our seasonal holidays and wish the whole lot of you the very best and all that.

Have a good one...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hang On, These Records Are Nice...

Amy Winehouse: Love Is A Losing Game [Moody Boyz Original Ruffian Badboy Remix] (Island, 2007)
This Moody Boyz remix is bloody grate in the sense that it is PRECISELY the sort of wibble-wibble, hoik your fragrant "doobage" in the air, single red-light hanging above your head, heart-thumping dubfest I used to spend all day listening to when I worked in a record shop. Probably because I was listening to Tony Thorpe's excellent Moody Boys(z) then too. Music, eh? A bit like it always was - and sometimes that's not a bad thing at all.

Jimmy McCracklin: You're The One (Premium, 1956)
There's something entirely Christmassy about this record without it having anything to do with Christmas whatsoever. It's in the worn-down-to-the-bone shuffle of the drums, the done-with-pleading, resigned tone of McCracklin's voice, the cigarette-scented guitar solo played by someone for whom the next drink is clearly more attractive than the another recording session. It feels gloriously weary. And I think we all know how that feels, right?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Landcroft House is poorly. As soon as the holidays approach, illness strikes. In the last fortnight we have had flu, chicken pox, a torn cruciate ligament and last night, the vomit bug arrived. Almost every party invite has been binned as we lie on the sofa, Rob with frozen peas on his knee, Scrap coated in calamine and me with a box of tissues and now a bucket. Still, at least by next week we'll be right as rain and ready for action. I hope.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mulled Wine

We went to our neighbour Noel's for mulled wine, mince pies and present sharing at the weekend. And very nice it was too. I do think on the whole, mulled wine is very hit and miss and it's more often horrid than lovely, which is a shame.

Here are my top five tips
1 Use a ratio of 1:1 wine to water. Don’t make it too strong or it will taste furry.

2 Only use whole spices not ground as they spoil the texture. Allspice berries, star anise, cinnamon are good. So are slices of root ginger. Cloves are okay but don’t use too many.

3 Make sure you balance it out with enough sugar.

4 Don’t let it boil. Keep it below a simmer – it’s better for flavour and prevents the alcohol burning off

5 Add a tot of brandy or sherry at the end for a bit of depth.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Beau Jacket Required

Honestly? I could come up with quality puns like that all day long. I could. Like, I could have called it Sleeve To The Rhythm, or Bag-ism, or Sleeve Me Alone, or Paper Bag Writer, or, well, you get the idea. It's like a gift or something, I don't know...

Anyway, this online museum of factory sleeves for 45s is a delight from beginning to end. You might like to have a look at loads of them. I did.

Art And Soul

There's a great collection of Emory Douglas' Black Panther art and design work from LA's Museum Of Contemporary Art situated over here, don't you know.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Saturday Night Feeder

We had our work's Christmas do last night. There's only three of us so we always just go for drinks and dinner somewhere new. As the years pass we've dropped the nightclub part of the evening and started to dress more for the weather than the season and last night the silver shoes and skirts were replaced by trousers and boots which considering we started with a walk over a bitterly cold bridge to my favourite London building, the Royal Festival Hall was no bad thing.
Skylon is a stunning bar and restaurant with an amazing view over a twinkling Thames. The service is good, the cocktails are fabulous (I had a Marcus Way and a NZpolitan) but something is not quite right. It's a tiny bit flat, a little bit cold maybe. Years ago we'd been before when it was The People's Palace and it wasn't quite right then either. Some places just never are.
The exact opposite can be said about Great Queen Street where we had our dinner reservation. From the moment we opened the door and stepped from the cold into the cosy hustle and bustle, the wafts of roasting meat surrounding us, there was an unmistakable feeling that you're somewhere a bit special. We take seats at the bar, study the menu and sip a glass of Prosecco as we wait for our table. We ask the barman what he recommends and as he talks about his favourite dishes, we all fall quiet. "There's something about that bar man isn't there" one of us whispers. "Mmm" we other two reply, unable to look up in case we catch his eye and fall off our stools.
Tom Norrington-Davies is the chef/owner and he's a Peckham lad. I only know him a bit, his books line up next to ours in the window of the local Review book shop and he writes often for delicious magazine of which one of us, Angela, is the food editor so she knows him well. He sends Maldon oysters to our table which is a great start. Most of the things on the menu are for sharing, rib steak, bearnaise and chips for two, a leg of lamb for four and even a 'goose feast' for eight! It's tricky for three but we share a steak pie for two (which would have served four) and a confit of belly pork followed by pear sorbet with a cheese biscuit, a yummy muscat creme caramel and St James cheese. Anyway, the food is fabulous, it's very reasonably priced and the service is excellent but there is something more than all of that here - I think it might be passion. Anyway, you should go there - it's not posh, it is very dark and rather romantic so take your loved one and share a pie.

Anyway, Saturday Night Fever was 30 years old yesterday, so we're going to have a dance to this before we set off for the Frost Fair this morning...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Icing the Cake: Part 2

Knead 1kg of ready-to-roll-icing into a ball then roll out on an icing sugared surface to make a circle large enough to cover the cake. Brush the marizpan with a little water then drape over the icing and smooth into position. Trim off the excess icing. Mix together some icing sugar and a little water to make a paste and use to stick the festive shapes you made earlier around the outside and on top of the cake. Leave to set for a few days.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Icing the Cake: Part 1

This is the weekend to ice the Christmas cake. It's best to do it in two stages, the first is to cover the cake in marzipan and make a few icing decorations.

For a 23cm cake, roll 800g - 1kg of marzipan into a circle large enough to completely cover the cake - use a bit of icing sugar when rolling to stop any sticking. Melt 3 tablespoons of apricot jam in the microwave then brush over the cake. Drape the marzipan over the cake and using your hands, gently smooth and rub it into position. I like this bit best and could spend hours caressing out all the lumps and bumps but actually they're part of what makes a home-cake so lovely so leave a few showing. Trim off the excess marzipan at the bottom and position on a board.

Next, roll out 300g of ready-to-roll icing on an icing-sugared surface and stamp out some festive shapes. I'm keeping my cake simple and traditional. Decorate with a few silver balls if you like, then leave both the cake and shapes out to dry for two days, ready for the final icing.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ok Then

I'll do it. 

I want chocolate coins, a new scooter and a dvd of every episode of Scooby Doo ever made.

Christmas Presence

Simone White: Christmas Makes Me Blue (Honest Jons, 2007)
More truly excellent Christmas music - this time from the very lovely Simone White who is a lady from America and everything. She plays guitar, she sings, she sounds a little glum, but she doesn't really mean it!

This is a sanctioned, seasonal give-away from the nice people at Honest Jon's up there in fashionable west London. Oh yes.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Eye, eye...

Whose eyes are these? He's in the pop game, but he's not a pop star...

EDIT: Well done, Ally! Clearly still holding a flame for the big guy, there...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hang On, This Record Is Good Too...

The Kingstonians: Hold Down (Trojan, 1970)
I went to interview Bristolian senior citizen and reggae vibesman DJ Derek the other night. He was a tremendous fellow. I received this CD the next day, which seemed quite appropriate bearing in mind his love for all things booming and lightly cracklesome. Fantastic record. Read a lot more about Derek in the February issue of The Word out January 8.

Mood: On The Go

Pharoah Sanders: Moniebah (Timeless, 1990)
I got into the office early and this lovely creature was sat on my desk. I had meant to play it on Friday afternoon but never got round to it. Well, Moniebah is perfect Monday morning music. But I have reserved the rest of the album - which gets a little more challenging for a time when my head will be a little more adept at dealing with it (like Thursday, perhaps)...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Best Restaurant In London: Family Edition

Heston Blumenthal had no reason to be so pleasant. I once described him as looking like a "Thunderbird puppet on the vinegar-strokes", but he didn't hold it against me. Or anything else, come to think of it. So, here it is - another Landcroft House exclusive!

Hello Heston
Tell us, where would you take your family for a lovely lunch in London?
"Um... I'd take them for dim sum at The Royal China Club on Baker St. It is a brilliant place, fantastic food and dim sum is such great fun to eat..."
Great! Thanks...
"No problem..."

So, there you go. I actually want to eat there right now...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Laura N' Order

Oh Laura: Black N' Blue (SonyBMG, 2008)
This has to stop - it's getting embarrassing now. Oh Laura are from - guess! Can you guess? That's right, bloody Sweden. Like I need some more Scandanavian pop in my life... Anyway, this is just, well, lovely. Oh Laura love Richard Hawley and Dolly Parton and it shows. The album's out here next spring.

Until then, maybe another part of the world would like to give birth to some fantastic pop groups for a bit?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

State Britain

In 1994 Mark Wallinger was showing the piece:

Mark Wallinger, 31, Hayes Court, Camberwell New Road, Camberwell, London, England, Great Britain, The World, The Solar System, The Galaxy, The Universe

at the Saatchi Gallery. It's an enormous photo showing Mark and his brother holding a giant Union Jack (he likes flags), with his name on, outside Wembley. I had just moved in to number 15 Hayes Court, Camberwell New Road, Camberwell, London, England, Great Britain, The World, The Solar System, The Galaxy, The Universe and Mark had hung the actual flag at his window at the front of our block! It was very exciting. I pointed it out to every single person who was unfortunate enough to stand at the bus stop with me.

A year later he was nominated for the Turner Prize and lost to that Damian Hirst. I've kept an eye on what he's been up to ever since and was very pleased to hear this morning that 12 years on, he's finally won the prize with State Britain. Hooray! Here he is talking about The Sleeper.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Feeling Seasonal Yet?

Maps: Stay Another Day (Unreleased, 2007)
Maps rule. If you haven't bought their top-hole LP We Can Create yet, then do, quick-sharp! In the meantime, enjoy this, their none-more-shoe-gazey version of the East 17 ker-lassic... Shall we say Christmas is now, officially, here?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Basement Crates: 27, 28 & 29

Lynn Hope: Blue Moon (Premium, 1951)
How can you not love a sax player from Alabama whose shtick involved wearing a turban? Hope was a huge RnB star of the 50s whose records were much loved and sought after - and played to death - by the Jamaican sound system DJs of the time. No one covering Blue Moon is looking to change the world, but you might find yourself feeling a little better about almost everything by just exposing yourself to this very lovely record (that I found in a bag this afternoon while tidying my basement office).

David Axelrod: The Sign (Part. 1) (Capitol, 1970)
Oh, I know, Axelrod is the record snob's crazy-man of choice and here I am posting some old nonsense from 37 years ago. But, but, this is really, really good. Jazz, soul, RnB, funk have all been stirred in while Ax smokes filterless gaspers and expects just a little bit more magic from the string section. And Earth Rot may just have been the first LP to have concerned itself with the environment. And stuff. Found this in a bag that had some old tax returns in it. Tidying up rules, innit?

The Techniques: Queen Majesty (Treasure Isle, 1967)
Great picture, eh? If you can find a better one of The Techniques then, y'know, let me know. Anyway, I found this in a huge polystyrene box marked Silvana's CDs which seemed odd as she's never shown much interest in late 60s ska to my knowledge. Having said that, it was under a load of old magazines that I might have dumped there without knowing what I was doing. You know how it is. Anyway, this is a truly wonderful record, joyful, questing and tinged with sadness. What more could any of us ask for?