Thursday, 31 May 2012

Why do Girls Love Gin so Much (and why does everyone need to know)?

I saw a blog recently about stuff girls like and I got to think specifically about food and drink that girls just love making their own. Like gin, for example. Why the hell is it now such a complete ladies' thing? How is it cool, or original, or funny, to put 'I <3 gin' in your Twitter bio? Or even more 'random', just put 'gin'. Even better, instagram a picture of your gin and tonic and with the caption #ginoclock. Because you're such a known booze-guzzler, it doesn't even need an explanation. It almost seems like a badge of honour to highlight how much you drink.

Why gin, though? Because it's very English, nostalgic, old fashioned and it fits in perfectly with that vintage 'look' that so many women love. Particularly mothers, I notice. They've got it so hard so they remind the world that they NEED a drink. I am so hard done by so I MUST have a gin & tonic. It's almost replaced the Mother's Little Helper from the Rolling Stones generation.

How have women just claimed ownership of this drink? It is seen as a fairly effeminate thing. Is that all they drink? But it is difficult: If you are a woman and you put say, whiskey on your profile, you might be seen as a bit manly, same goes for beer. If you put vodka, you risk seeming a bit Essex-y, same with rum. If you put tequila, you're seen as a bit too hardcore, perhaps. Champagne, you're seen as a Kensington blonde or someone who hangs around launch parties. If you drink cocktails constantly, someone who is a little frivolous. So one thing that we've determined is that it's socially acceptable to drink gin, you will not seem trashy or like an alcoholic because you can drink it in the afternoon, over a slice of cake (something ELSE which girls seem to have exclusive enjoying rights over!).

Perhaps it is because sweeter things are associated with women: gin smells nice and fragrant and is made with juniper berries, so it is in that respect, similar to the 'alcopops' that are so closely associated with girls. Not like whiskey, which smells like... burnt wood.Which in itself, is even more totally baffling. How has society worked out that  girls' tastebuds are any different to men's, and how has it conditioned it so? A lot of women DO like sweet things, but then so do a lot of men. Have they been socially conditioned into liking sweet things more than savoury? 'Shit, I've got really bad period pains, I read in a magazine it's good for that.' Before they know it, they're on a 20-a-day habit (Cadbury Fingers, that is). So they are more drawn to cocktails and wine as opposed to beer, and so in public, men are ridiculed by their friends for drinking a cosmopolitan or even a WKD. I'm not even going to go into the ridiculousness of being 'manly' and liking football, pork scratchings and ale.

Personally, I would always choose savoury over sweet every time and it's obviously a massive generalisation, but my point is that we don't have to prove we're girls by professing our adoration for gin and brownies and men don't need to prove they're men by ordering steak and drinking pints.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Top 5 Romantic Restaurants for First Dates

First dates are a nightmare (obviously I go on LOADS) and you need to have a repertoire of reliable, consistent places where nothing will go wrong (the food, at least - your date still may be a complete weirdo!).

It's a delightful Bloomsbury Italian kitch-fest. If your date is down-to-earth, fun, loves nostalgia and cheap, tasty food, this is the place. I wrote about it in-depth here.

Andrew Edmunds
This cosy little faux-french place has been here for years. My older friends talk fondly of it being a media gathering place back in the 80s. I've been a few times, each time late at night after a few too many drinks on a date and food is suggested. Staff are always lovely, managing to fit you in somehow. There's a great atmosphere with couples and foursomes chatting eagerly about what I romantically imagine would be their latest piece or screenplay. It's sophisticated enough to be grand but rustic enough to not seem ostentatious, with candles in wine bottles, and they were doing hand written photocopied menus when Duck soup was a mere twinkle in an old Drake's eye. The food is delicious and the wine is cheap.

If you need a bit of distraction, and you don't want to risk any awkward silences,  go to Mele e Pere. It's noisy, busy and the food is great. It's a fairly new opening so if you want to impress with somewhere cool, take your date here.

Finding another fish lover can be a real treat, and if they are enthusiastic enough not to mind paying good money, J Sheekey must be one of the best places for a fishy date. I once sat here and witnessed a guy propose to his girlfriend, with the ring in a glass of Champagne. I haven't been for ages but hopefully this Caprice holdings place will be knocking out British fish classics for many more years. First time I ever had squid ink black rice was here, as a teenager. Also great because you can drop the great fish restaurant pun: "I only come 'ere for the 'alibut" (groan). They have a cookbook coming out for Christmas.

OK, sometimes you want to impress. BBR is the place to do it. Rhubarb gin & tonic at the bar, super Russian style, (you feel like you could be on the orient express) classic dishes, (beef holstien, pickled herring salad, steak tartare) and lemons that come wrapped in muslin. The beef onglet is fabulous. There is the most beautifully presented food I've ever had. Why this place doesn't get talked about more I don't know. Lavishly romantic, it's one of my favourite restaurants on any occasion.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Skeptical about Street Food

When I used to hear the term ‘street food’, I would have thought of eating from a tiny stall in Bangkok, or a taco from the side of the road in Mexico. What I didn’t really think of was a hot dog, or a burger. That, to me, is more fast food. “What did they used to call hot dog stands?” a friend mused. “Er, a hot dog stand?” I reasoned. Well, it’s true, they weren’t given another name because they fitted in with the literal meaning of the current trend. I was under the impression that food like hot dogs and burgers were simply called ‘fast food’ not so long ago. London at the moment seems to be obsessed with categorising the all of the food styles and restaurants into neat little boxes, and there are the little cliques: The burger bunch, the rib brigade, the kimchi kids and now the street food posse.

Street food from
One of the most popular foods in London’s latest love-affair is the ambiguously named ‘Street Food’. I mean, it could mean literally anything. As far as I can discern, people will call something street food if they've eaten it on the street these days. Not a specific style of cooking, although originally it was something of a delicacy. It still is in some places. But it seems that streetfood can merely mean ‘food that is sold on the street’. Hot dogs, tacos, burgers… it just seems a bit lazy. What is the point, really? Will food (not cooked at home) just fall into one of just two groups? – that is, Streetfood and Restaurant food?

Perhaps this latest embracing of street food is a product of our culture – England and America are really one of the few cultures where it is acceptable to eat food in the street. I was in Spain a few years ago and went to Burger King. I took it outside to eat it and looked around for somewhere to eat it but I was too ashamed to take it out of the bag… because not a single person was eating on the street… whereas in the UK and America, people will eat, well, wherever they can.

Festivals might be a contributor, too. The bigger and more elaborate they have got, the more supplying them with food has become an extremely lucrative business. A far cry from just burgers now, there are countless ‘gourmet’ and ‘artisan’ stores, including huge vats of paella and more types of chorizo than you can shake a stick at, and with the amount of people who greedily embrace this food al fresco, someone must have thought ‘hang on! I could make a living in real life out of this!’

And it's even made it to the dizzy heights of Hollyoaks! 'We'll sell pizza, er, in this courtyard, it'll be like, uh, streetfood or somefin.' I mean, come on! And then recently The Apprentice have a pop at it which makes it seem a bit… cheap and desperate. Well, the contestants definitely did, anyway. Not that it did it any favours anyway.

What's bad about Street Food 
'Street food' kiosk
But the real thing that bothers me is the mindless-ness of the whole thing. People can call everything anything. As much as I like Wahaca, can it really legitimately call itself streetfood when it is an actual restaurant which doesn't even, slightly ironically, provide a take-away service (except in one branch)? Streetfood inspired perhaps, would be a more accurate description. And now everything and everything is being called street food, it's sort of lost all of its meaning.

And on the other end of the spectrum, where can we draw the line? If you sell it on the street, is it automatically street food? You could merely say the phrase 'street food' on Twitter and immediately be the centre of attention. 'Oh my GOD, I must be first in line to eat the newest street food.' 'What is it?' 'Well, it's toasted brioche, with melted cheese and and Lea & Perrin's on it'. 'So, like cheese on toast.' 'Well, yeah, I suppose technically. But apparently you have to taste it for yourself. On the street, because they've got a cart.' 'Convenient, that…'.

What's good about Street Food 
Though what is great about street food for the vendors is that it is far lower risk than opening up a restaurant. It is therefore possible for anyone with a promising idea to start out with low overheads. If the idea tanks, it is disappointing but not potentially devastating to the individuals/business. It could even be a one-week pop-up. If it does well, and there are a decent amount of people talking about them, they could simply extend their pop-up to run for longer and if it does really well, like the Meatliquor guys did, and Pitt Cue Co. They're massively popular right now. Whilst I sometimes tire of the endless 'street food' evangelism, I certainly admire them for being so enterprising.

I think what ties them all together is that they're so anti-chain, ultra-independant... all in-this-together. But I wonder... If McDonald's opened a van in Whitecross St Market, it would probably be the most successful store. Coming up: McDonald's at Glastonbury selling artisan goat's cheese burgers...

If you'd like to know how to open up your own street food truck, click here.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Why Must we Dine in Discomfort?

Why is it so popular at the moment to make eating out such a non-occasion? When did eating out forget all ceremony? It is now seemingly desirable to get your own food, drink out of tumblers and sitting so close to your neighbour that in some countries you should marry? There is no denying that it is all well-made and delicious, but did I really just go to a restaurant and eat corned beef and pay thirty quid for the pleasure? Here are some foods that are undoubtedly better when professional chefs make them, and there is no doubting their skill, but still, in the back of your head, you can hear your mum squawking ‘I could make that at home for a pound!’

Don’t get me wrong, I do like it, they’re doing it very well (not to mention London's massive obsession with burgers), but as time goes on, I sometimes yearn for something a little more… refined.

All of the hip restaurants do not serve food that is so simple that we could do it ourselves – there is of course, a lot of skill in what they do and the devising of delicious menus, but for once I’d like to go to a restaurant that’s not ‘nostalgic’ or being cool purely because of the fact that they serve once very unfashionable and cheap cuts of meat with large markups.

The casual attitude to food, presentation and everything else is very cool at the moment, but why? So they put their menu on tracing paper and put their wine in chipped builders mugs, fair enough, but the hipsters come in their drones and enthuse about how it’s so cool and ‘making a statement’ and then about this corned beef hash that was 'AMAZING' (your mum used to make you eat it and you HATED IT and you probably wouldn’t eat it again if you hadn’t read about it in that blog).

I suppose I’m just yearning for something that’s a bit more… effort. I want it to be cool to dress up for dinner again, and to be able to read a menu that is beautifully typeset on embossed 400gm paper (not scrawled on a bit of scrap paper every day), and proper wine glasses and beautiful white crockery. The no-bookings policy is what’s made everything so casual. Show up at any time, be seated at any time - it seems to be in favour of the restaurant rather than the customer. Small plates for sharing that arrive as and when as opposed to set courses. There’s no ceremony. It's almost like people are beginning to prize being made to feel uncomfortable when dining.

It feels like there is far too much of this 'quick fix, flavour hit' culture (strong, spicy or barbeque flavours). People take pride in having some 'filthy' ribs or pulled pork. It's almost been reduced to recreate a dirty kebab experience, on a sofa in a dingy bedsit. It's like they're trying to recreate the pot noodle ad by HHCL (ad agency) which famously got banned because they touted it as 'the slag of all snacks', with the no-bookings, communal dining and even sometimes feeling like you are in a school canteen. 

Perhaps that’s why Dabbous is so popular now: The formality of booking (there’s a 3-month waiting list currently) which is something of a rarity in new restaurants opening in Central London currently, coupled with the fact that the food is beautifully presented with more than a nod to fine dining. And it’s so cheap (which is another thing about gourmet comfort food these days. It’s expensive). So restaurateurs thinking of starting up a business, the market is already saturated with comfort food. Try something a bit different, with formality and food delicately presented on a plate. I’m not talking haute cuisine, I just wish that going out to dinner affordably could be more comfortable, and that it could feel like more of an occasion. Without 4-month-long queues.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Foodies100 Index of UK Food Blogs
Morphy Richards