Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Giles Coren Responds to Recent Criticism

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Who's REALLY Paying for your Review?

I've got a date to impress next week and he likes steak. I don't know a lot about steak, not being much of a steak-eater. So instead of just asking my friends, who also don't know much about steak, being waist line watching girls who peck at salads, or Twitter (which would rumble my surprise to my date), I decided to turn to the press. Because that's what you do right? You consult the help of people who know about such things. 

Now, who would know about London restaurants? I know, The Evening Standard. Because they're a well-renowned newspaper, right?, They've been going for years, their reviewers are trustworthy. They're not like chancer bloggers, because they've already got loads of influence, and they've probably got a budget to comp their journalists for meals eaten out, right? 

So I went on @ESgoingout's Twitter feed to see if they had any articles on steak. Imagine my surprise when I saw that they had tweeted Goodman, the steak restaurant, this:

Erm, what? Are my eyes deceiving me? The Standard have just publicly announced on Twitter that they want to 'arrange a review' (ie. they don't want to pay for an expensive steak). I don't know what shocked me more: That they'd be so stupid as to be blatant that they would actually ask for a freebie, or they would basically admit to the world, that their so-called 'top ten best' lists are nothing more than a list of the places with which most ease they manage to get a free meal based on their press credential? Call me a little innocent bunny, wet behind the ears and blinking my dopey eyes in the headlamps of the London PR machine about to flatten me, but surely these lists are supposed to be…unbiased? When I read these lists, I assume that the journalists have gone out incognito and eaten at all of these places. I mean, it's important, right? Shouldn't there be a disclaimer at the bottom saying 'I blagged this meal.'? That's what food bloggers have to do. Should a paper not be transparent?

As it stands, now I am fully aware that the Evening Standard try and get freebies as much as the now notorious @londonlarder tweet gate back in May:

(LondonLarder sent this tweet to a large number of London restaurants. Some of them actually allowed them to review for free and LondonLarder's tepid reviews were laughed out of the Food Twitterati as a result, including this brilliant, shaming tweet from @TheThatched:)

The ES clearly didn't take this as a lesson.

A friend at a restaurant (who wishes to remain anonymous) also sent me this, an email from a well known food blog and magazine London Larder (I've blurred the sender because frankly I don't need the death threats).

I am also now aware of all the back-scratching, back-slapping and arse-kissing that goes on in such publications. Ever wondered why the same people are always in these lists? Well, now you know why. Because they help each other out, these chummy restaurants and papers. Not that I'm saying all, of course. But this tweet is objective evidence that it does happen in some Proper Newspapers. The lists are PR-, matey- and How many do it? What's the point of these lists? They're obviously not objective. If it's unbiased, why not go in unannounced and make your mind up by yourself instead of seeing who'll give you the biggest bar tab to drink craft beer whilst you shovel down £50 worth of steak?

It's completely corrupt. One person provides a free meal, the other person gives them publicity, all under the guise of an unbiased independent review, or guide. It's like the classic movie Serpico, about corrupt police, where no criminals are imprisoned because they pay off the policemen with favours and money. With all the newspaper-restaurant schmoozing, who can be sure who's doing who a favour? 

I think it also depends on the person as well. Not everyone can give an objective review if they haven't paid for it. It's a lot more difficult to be truthful and say something was bad when you know that they've provided you with an entire meal. These 'top 10' lists are full of fawning praise and, conveniently, in a Top 10 list, you don't have to include any negatives.

We need more of this

But come on. Don't they have a budget for this kind of thing? Is it ok to use their connections like that? Are they just trying their luck, or was this just a misguided intern left to his or her own devices?

We'll never know, because despite CCing them into my tweet shameing them for being such blaggers, shortly after I posted, it was deleted. And they didn't reply to me. I've always found it weird when businesses try to brush mistakes under the carpet, because it's quite clearly happened, but then, what is their defence? I can't think of a single possible answer they could come up with to justify it.

What I would like to see is this:

All newspapers critics and bloggers should publish the exact circumstances of their review, as some honest ones do. Because without it, all 'reviews', not just Evening Standard ones, are a sham.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Chicken Town

Well, I'm going to bore the pants off you again with another junk food scribbling. I can't help it, just this week, both critics in London's leading free newspapers have filled their columns with burgers, there's a new posh chicken shop opening in North London somewhere and hot dogs are popping up all over the place.

I could just about put up with Burgers, being somewhat of an icon now for so long, it's almost a given they will feature on most pub menus, and the gourmet version having its own restaurant was only a matter of time. I still feel they're all 'shooting at the same rabbit' essentially, and unless they are doing them really well, as a few truly are, they will probably fade or if they're lucky, end up as a chain rolled out across the provinces to feed the less trend fickle, unfashionable small-town peasants in Ugg boots for years to come.

So no. I won't bore you with burgers. This one's about chicken.

It was an old friend of mine moving to Peckham in around 2001 that once remarked to me, 'what is it about the locals round here and fried chicken?'. He was of course rather diplomatically referring to the working class, local people, of various ethnic backgrounds, who gathered in 'chicken shops' and enjoyed this fast food above all else. If we weren't so middle-class and polite ourselves we would have called them 'the poor' basically. Which is what they were.

"What shall it be tonight?" my friend would mockingly mutter to me at work about which of two rival businesses he should visit. "Chicken World, or World of Chicken?". The choice was indeed endless. KFC was the obvious king. But imitations were in abundance. There was little to differentiate between them. Designwise they all shared the same traits. A red white and blue colour scheme, presumably to evoke some kind of link to America is paramount, as is lightbox menus, and cheap over-branding on everything.

Feel free to make a cup of tea while I bore you with a little history. Fried chicken has of course for many years been the food of the poor, a quick visit to Wikipedia well tell you that. The idea of 'spicy' coatings of course originating from remembered West African recipes imitated by Slaves of southern USA using local spices, and the chicken being the single abundant meat a plantation worker could afford, being allowed to keep them on their own plots.

So it is of little surprise we find our poorer boroughs saturated with an enthusiasm for fried chicken today. Kebabs and curry - too spicy, Fish & chips, too old fashioned, Pizza - too expensive, McDonalds - for kids. Chicken is tasty, clean, has a healthy image (white meat is not fattening right?) and above all it's cheap. Very cheap. At less that £5 for a meal, almost anyone can afford to eat out. And now of course, the more affluent 'commoners' have an upgrade, being Nando's, that temple of chavvy vulgarity that no foodie would ever admit to visiting. Footballers, reality celebs and pop stars love it though. Am I sensing a trend? 

So chicken is for chavs. Dammit. It's actually quite tasty. How can we eat it too without dying of embarrassment or mixing with the prolies?

The answer of course, is to posh it up. Enter the gourmet chicken shop. At least four or five have been announced, to fit in with the whole 'fine diner' junk food revival trend. But these are not a natural progression. You won't see the local kids dreaming of eating inside one of these joints. In fact you probably won't see any local 'commoner' inside, because at twice the price of the regular counterpart, they won't see further than their wallet.

"Suit yourself, if they want to eat shit let them" is the obvious retort. And fair enough. Because this new breed of outlet boasts 'guilt free eating', with free range meat, ethical this and local that. Clever. None of this appeals to the 'commoner'. They won't buy into it.

In fact price is a good filter. When you pay a premium for gourmet junk food, you're not just buying quality (which, to be fair it undoubtedly is) you are buying exclusivity. You are paying your membership into a club, free from riff raff, just like any other private members club. You get inside and it's a little enclave of knowing winks, we know what it's about, we get it. We don't like to say but they just wouldn't understand.

And that's what's really important here, the snobbery.

I think it is this cocky self-righteous middleclassness of it all that gets my goat, that brazen sneering from the gilt edged balcony, laughing about the chronic stupidity of the working class and their dopey adoration for basic food stuffs and simple flavour hits.

By 'ironically' decorating these restaurants in piss-take fast food style interiors, we act the same as a public school 'chav ball' where privileged toffs dress up as commoners, or like a 1920s fancy dress party where people went as slaves. 

"Let's all dress up like the natives" they shriek, as they install the tongue-in-cheek saturated colour food images in light boxes and 70s Cooper Bold fonts on the menus (American typewriter is a bit 2011 now, didn't you know).

Let's draw attention to the fact that a huge section of the public actually aspire to this, and take the royal piss out of it. We'll be eating their food, in their environment, but ours will be far superior.

And as we all scoff our fancy buttermilk fried chicken, with its packaging just so, and wash it down with the jokey 'bottomless Coke' (ooh daring, quite the 80s rebel) we can all believe in some weird way we are actually in one of these places, for real. Like those reggae clubs where all the crowd is white, or rich kids into gangsta rap, it's a way we can get into something, without getting our hands dirty (metaphorically). Because of course we love our food to be dirty.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Pho, Wardour Street

Pho's a Vietnamese cafe which has 6 branches in London and one in Brighton. Its first restaurant was opened 7 years ago after a husband and wife team went backpacking and fell in love with the food and culture in South East Asia. They quit their marketing jobs when they got back to the UK, hired some Vietnamese chefs and now they have 7 restaurants.

Pho, the eponymous dish, is a clear broth containing rice noodles and beef or chicken, usually with herbs, beansprouts and chilli on the side that the eater can add themselves.

I have eaten at Pho a couple of times before, but usually only for a really quick diner, so when I was invited by the PR, I had an opportunity to try the whole experience. Ok, it was the free food that got me.

I had the prawn summer rolls to begin with and my dining companion had the chicken summer rolls. The prawn rolls were good, if a bit slimy and drippy. Maybe that's what they're supposed to taste like, but it was a weird change from other summer rolls I have had. I made liberal use of the sweet chilli dipping sauce. It was a perfectly edible starter. Not mega exciting, but pleasant. 

Then, onto mains. There's a large list of all the various types of pho you could have, a large portion being all the combinations of cow products you could have, which for some reason always amuses me greatly (I can imagine the conversation that prompted this: 'For fuck's sake, I didn't want the brisket and meatballs, I wanted the STEAK and meatballs!')

I had the super-duper combination of ALL THE COW, with brisket, steak and meatballs. My friend had the chicken pho. I was too much of a wuss to put the accompanying chilli in because last time I went, I chucked it all in and had to sit very quietly for ten minutes until my head stopped exploding. The pho was lovely. It didn't skimp on either noodles or meat, it had plenty of flavour. The only thing I did find was that the soup got really salty towards the end. My friend had the chicken pho, and all I could get out of her was that it was 'very nice'. Illuminating. According to an article I read in The Guardian, in Vietnam, they have pho for breakfast, which I still can't get my head around. You're also supposed to eat it quickly, which I can't do, so the sheer volume means that it will inevitably go cold and the noodles will become 'water-logged', apparently, but as a slow eater, I'm used to that.

For dessert, banana fritters with honey and ginger ice cream. Fried banana could never be a bad thing and they fried it well, and the ice cream was delicious - I've had some of their other ice cream before and they're all delicious and interesting enough for me to not get bored of by the second scoop. With them, we had some rice wine, which on first sip, well, they were quite a lot stronger than we were expecting, but as we got used to it, they were good to have with dessert, and as the ice melted, they mellowed. The plum in particular was a welcome change to uber-sweet dessert wine.

To summarise: Pho is somewhere casual that you can turn up at in Soho that doesn't have massive queues for a nice dinner (there might be a bit of a wait sometimes though). It's good, simple food and it's no-fuss. It's somewhere to take your mates, or even a date, but there's not a lot of space in there - I mean, they pack the tables quite tight, in true Soho style. But if you don't mind that, it's fine.

Though they may have been trying extra hard to please me, it wasn't a big departure from normal because service is always quick and friendly. So I will continue to go back there as it's consistent, delicious and despite being somewhat crammed into their Soho branch, it's a relaxing place.


I was invited to eat at Pho.

I nicked photos of the food off their website because mine would have been shit.

Pho on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Friday, 17 August 2012

What I want from a restaurant website

It consistently baffles me as to why restaurants just don't help themselves. Why do people go onto restaurant websites? To get an idea of what a place is like? To garner important information?

Well, it seems like a lot of restaurant websites have a very different idea of what people really want from them: Endless slideshows, clicking through pointless pages and those 'minimal' ones that just don't have anything much on them, at all.

That aside,  here is a list of exactly what I do want to see on a restaurant website. Not what they think we want, or what they want to push at us, but what we want.

1. First and foremost, contact details. A lot of people will go to the website purely for a phone number or email and they aren't interested in anything else. The phone number, email address and street address should be at the bottom of every page and on the contact page. If it's a one-pager, it should be in a prominent place. Oh, and something from Donald Edwards (commenter): a cut-and-pasteable phone number. Because everyone has a smartphone, duh.

2. The most important thing of all: Do they take reservations? If they do, do they take a small number of walk-ins? Do they have a bar that you can eat/drink in? Do you have to reserve that? All questions that you really have to search for, sometimes.

3. If you're going to a website with no prior knowledge of the restaurant, you instantly want an impression of what kind of a joint it is so you can decide if it's right for you without looking at the menu and the about page and the staff page. People make snap decisions! But an 'about' page is really important, if they want to know more about what your raison d'etre or whatever.

4. Menus (and prices). I know it takes the element of surprise away, but it plays a large part in determining whether I want to eat somewhere. And if I can afford it. There are a few restaurants which helpfully don't include prices, which is really arrogant and even more irritating. It's like saying, you can't afford us so we won't even bother to put on prices.

5. A link to a mailing list form. In an easy place. In its own tab. Some of the places that restaurants will hide the subscription form... It's almost like they don't want us to find it.

6. Social networking links. Another thing that some places seem to hide, or not include, despite on a google search, having both Facebook and Twitter. It seems to make it an option would be more savvy. After all, some places 'exist' way more to a lot of foodies because they have a very prominent Twitter presence.

7. A bit of a staff page. It's quite nice to get a bit of background, especially if you're writing about it. And to see if they have any hot wait staff, obviously.

8. If they have a dress code, it'd be really nice to know. Or anything else that's pretty important, like if you need to bring your own oxygen, that kind of thing. In a prominent place, please.

9. Some pictures of the food. Not in a fancy slideshow that goes on for ten minutes before you can get into the website, but a clearly marked gallery, with a few pictures of the food and decor. So you know what you're up against. 

10. Opening hours. 'No queues!' you think. 'Aren't we clever?' Upon trying the door, you realise why there are no queues: Because it's shut on a Monday.

11. That extra something. Function is the most important thing, but if there's extra information, or something clever, or beautiful, people will remember, share and go back to it.

Whatever you say about MEATLiquor, they've got all the information there, that you might need. No scrolling or clicking through, and it's very clear. A little too clear, some may say, but it's got all of the information there (well, except for stuff like a menu. But it's y'know, meat).

Spuntino is infuriating, because it flashes up with this information for about 3 seconds and then disappears. It has the bare bones of information, but that's the kinda vibe they're going for.

Le Gavroche used to have a tedious slideshow before you could enter the website, but obviously they've taken heed of this, because it's no longer there. It still has a hell of a lot of stuff you don't really need, though. Including videos which no-one ever watches, probably. Tom Aikens' website is classic fine dining. Simple, picture-dominated and a really straightforward menu.

Honest Burgers' website is also a great example of what a simple restaurant website should be - though it is a different kettle of fish when the menu contains less than 5 items and you're promoting the whole 'simple' thing. Looks bloody cool though.

Towards the other end of the spectrum, Arbutus and that group has all the vital information - now if they'd just get rid of that terrible auto-play video (don't even get me started on auto-play music that you can't find to turn off!) it'd be perfect.

Private dining site from Gauthier Soho. Good aesthetic as well as being well laid out and useful - all the navigation is at the top, no fuss.

And this, well, this, is just terrible. Sirena's. But an excellent restaurant, according to @HRWright.

(the word 'enter' actually flashes).

And the mother of all restaurant websites: The Fat Duck. Thanks to @VONMarketing for that one. It's functional (well, it's one of four three-star restaurants in the UK, I don't expect anything else). But it's also beautiful, and it's got interesting bits of information about the senses, and videos that you ACTUALLY WANT TO WATCH. It's got nearby accommodation, it's got detailed instructions of how to get there. It's what you want and more... And then what you didn't know you wanted.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Happy Hours in Soho

Work in Soho or go out in Central London regularly? Prefer to spend most of your money on food? Yeah, me too. But I still like to go out drinking. Here are my top 5 happy hours in Soho.

Bar Soho
It's not the classiest of bars, but it's in a buzzing place on Old Compton Street and it's quite good to pop in for a few after-work drinks. Which are all half-price from 5-8pm. After which it gets quite expensive so I usually scarper down the road to Greek Street (see below). Pretty much every time I've gone there I've met some men, particularly when standing on the street outside. Ok, so some of them have been a bit weird, and some of them may have been the big issue guy, but still. It's also a cheap way to soak up the Soho atmosphere without going across the road to pricey Balan's). 
What: 50% off drinks 
When: 5-8pm every day
23-25 Old Compton Street W1D 5JL

It's just got a makeover which makes it look... well, like an Apple product. But if you're a bit tipsy post-some other bar you can go there and dance. There are only certain beers/wines/cocktails that are (up to) 50% off but it's worth knowing it's there if you're in the area and want a classic like a cosmopolitan or mojito. And they play some really good nostalgia pop-in-the-90s music. There are a lot of mirrors around and it's quite funny to watch people watching themselves in the mirror. It actually happens.
What: Up to 50% off selected drinks
When: Weeknights 5-10pm, weekends 5-9pm.
18 Greek Street W1D 4DS

The Warwick
Pretty standard bar, near to Piccadilly circus, it's got a standard cocktail list. Good for a quick after-work drink. It's usually pretty busy and it's near Piccadilly Circus (and Regent Street. I've fallen into shops after some 'quick' drinks and bought some questionable items afterwards). 
What: 50% off all drinks
When: 5-8pm every day
1-3 Warwick Street W1B 5LR

It can get quite expensive otherwise with cocktails at about £8.50 but there are a lot of offers on with nearly 50% off. It's also got a dancefloor which some others don't. And they're open 'til 3am. And it's just up the road from Zebrano, which is handy.
What: Stupid hour cocktails £5-5.50, Happy Hour £6-6.50
When: Stupid Hour 12-7/7.30pm Happy hour all night on selected nights
53 Greek Street W1D 3DR

London Cocktail Club
This one is only on recommendation as I've not been yet (but I will be now), but I've heard countless people waxing lyrical about it since I started writing this. It's cool, it's got a properly extensive weird and wonderful cocktail list and it's underground. It's two-for-one on their 'classic cocktails', 4.30-7pm.
What: 2 for 1 on 'classic cocktails'
When 4.30-7pm Monday-Saturday
224 Shaftesbury Avenue WC2H 8EB

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Brasserie Zedel Review

I'd read all the reviews of Zedel, which were basically all of the same consensus: It'c cheap, and it's quite nice for what you pay for. Well, I did enjoy it. It was an enjoyable meal, overall. But I did have a few niggles. But first, things I liked:

Things I liked:

I really liked the room, it was massive. Cavernous, even. I think there's another room which I think is a bar or something, but we were in the brasserie, having made a reservation a couple of days before. It looks cool and it's French-feeling and it's good for all demographics - no-one would feel out of place there. The massive space is pretty impressive and not something that the term 'brasserie' normally conjures up. Though my dining companion, who is French, and a lot older than me, thought it looked like a French theme park.

My main course of black pudding, mashed potato and apple. It was the special and I'd only ever had minute portions of black pudding, so of course I had to try it. It was good, hearty and what you'd call a 'classic combination'. Though the sausage was a bit intimidating. In the end, there was a too-much sausage to-everything-else situation (yeah, yeah, I know).

Things I didn't like:

The two-hour window for which we had our table. I know it's common practice, but it means I constantly had the time in mind, as did the staff - consequently service felt a bit rushed. We did ask if there was any chance we could stay at the end, with half a bottle of wine left, but had to move to the bar. We were seated in a (admittedly, erm, cosy) booth, so it wasn't like we simply had to leave. But it was a disruption, nonetheless and another time, we might not be so lucky as to get a seat.

The snails. The first time, my friend had to send them back  because they were frozen in the middle. They were, of course, very apologetic, and the second batch fine, but they didn't take them off the bill. If they're frozen, for christ's sake, that's kind of the least you'd expect. 

It wasn't that cheap. We didn't over-order massively, we had 1.5 starters each and shared a couple of bottles of (house) wine. Perhaps we should have kept a closer eye on what we were ordering, but it came to £90 for both of us, including service. Which is far more than I was expecting to pay.

Thing I thought were ok:

The frog's legs. They were nice. They tasted like chicken. I'm almost embarrassed to write this cliche. But I wanted to try them, so now I can tick them off the list.

Creme brulee. It was as good as any other creme brulee, if a bit boring - I quite like having something with it, a bit of a contrast, but maybe that's just me. Plus, by that point, I was really full so I didn't eat quite a lot of it. I think the sheer surface area put me off, to be honest. But it was with one of few genuine smiles that the waiter approached our table and said, knowingly 'Have you been defeated?', to which I nodded, bashfully. Or maybe because our meal was nearly finished.

To summarise, I would probably go here again, because I did enjoy it. But I'd have to be way more careful if I wanted to get a 'cheap' meal. It's all very well to lay it all out like it's a place to go to get a cheap meal, but it's all about the things that add up very quickly, and get added on. It's probably all of the glowing reviews I've read ("They've got starters for under 3 quid! In LONDON!") that have tarred it with the 'cheap as chips' brush, but for me, this isn't it and is on a par with any of the rest of the trendy places in Central London.

Brasserie Zedel on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Monday, 13 August 2012

How to Open a Streaterie

"At British Street Food, we have a dream. A dream that one day the men with their rusty metal handcarts – and ‘sausages’ from a can – are chased from our streets forever. Leaving their overfried onions trailing along behind them." 

Hear hear. Those evil men and their ghastly rusty handcarts. No logo, no twitter account, no blue stripy apron, no mates who've jacked in their job in the City to help, blatantly peddling their nasty 'sausages' and (look away now) OVERFRIED ONIONS (God help us) to our people! It is a crime I tell you! A crime to good taste. A crime against all that is good, all that is nice. How can a person, 10 pints in, on a promise, between the pub and the nightclub, even THINK of eating such muck, when they could just as easily tell their new friend the evening's over, go home to bed, get up early, travel to a car park in South London, queue up for half an hour, get out a tenner and eat hand-reared, organic, sustainable, locally sourced KIMCHI instead?

Exactly. And I know what you're thinking, you could do this yourself! You've always wanted to have your own restaurant, but that's far too scary. And 99% of restaurants fail and close in the first week anyway right? You'd be MAD to even bother. Yeah, you're a foodie! That's all the qualification you need! You can make a version of that Mexican taco  you loved when you were on your travelling gap year! You remember, when you broke up from Jeremy when his father wouldn't wire him some more cash? Yeah, and you know how people are always saying your dinner parties are so delicious, and how every time you go to restaurants you complain that you're just paying extra for the table, the tablecloth, the service and all that? Yeah? So rise up. RISE UP I tell you, and get streating. It's fun, it's easy! You can be the latest thing, You just need to follow my guide to opening your own Streaterie. Or streateaterie. 

1. CONCEPT. Well, you don't really need a concept. All you need is to sell food on the street (it's that easy?! Apparently so). But bonus points for being ironic, retro, nostalgic. You'll need a brand. It's got to be shoving a fist up to the horrid corporate food industry, and all those stuffy 'restaurants' etc. So the rough 'done in 5 mins' look. Try to include the word 'urban' or 'street' if you can. Then strip back to the roots. You're just a kitchen, right? That's it! 'Kitchen'. 'Urban Street Kitchen' or something. Cool. First bit done. Kick back and treat yourself to a craft beer and some hand toasted Andalucian almonds.

2. THE TRUCK. Find a disused van, shipping container, bus, tank etc. If it's not nailed down, you can call dibs on it, right? If you have a van, be sure to call it a 'truck' or a 'wagon'. never a van. We're trying to get away from the horrible late-night burger van idea, yeah?. This is a sure-fire way to fool your customers into thinking that they are in America, where it's really cool. This will be the premises of your streaterie.

3. LOCATION. Take a functioning street market that's been boringly selling fruit and veg or something for years and get a stall there. The riff raff locals won't come to you anyway because you'll be way too expensive and weird for them so after a while you and your gang will take over anyway. And don't worry about existing nearby restaurants and cafes that pay stuff like business rates and rent etc, they'll thank you for bringing a cool hip vibe to the area. Failing that, close your eyes and stick a pin in the A to Z. That will be your location today. Repeat every day, to keep it fresh (and so that girl on her lunchbreak who stumbled upon you yesterday can NEVER find you again. She wanted your number). It's also important to keep your fans on their toes. Also they could be literally chasing you around, which makes it really easy for newspaper subs when it comes to writing headlines about you. 

4. PACKAGING. Find various forms of disposable packaging. Brown paper (tided up with string, of course), McDonalds Happy Meal packaging from 1979 (stick it to the corporate machine, man!), Silk Cut packets. This will be what your customers will eat their food from.

5. SEATING. You don't need to provide your customers with a place to sit so don't worry about that too much (convenient, eh?). If you do, find the most uncomfortable seats possible. Around a grotty, nay distressed, picnic table.

6. CUTLERY. For cutlery, a quirky take on the chip fork: Just use twigs. For napkins, freshly foraged sycamore leaves. Or sanitary towels (they've even got their own handy packaging in a variety of pastel colours).

7. MARKETING. Be mysterious. You've already thought of a clever, pithy name. Be secretive. If you have a website it must be strictly single page, with stains, burnt edges, distressed looking background. Lettering should be suitably raw, stamped, scribbly writing or typewriter font. Hand out cryptic flyers outside hipster-frequented speakeasies. They love that shit. Oh, and get on the 'Streaters' radar as soon as possible. For the first week, just tweet STREET FOOD at all of the influential food bloggers and they'll get the message.

8. FOOD. This is the easy bit. Just look at your favourite food blogs to see what the 'next big thing' is. That is what you will sell in your streaterie. Something fast food and tasty like hot dogs. Mmmmm. You LOVE hot dogs! But these will be GOURMET ones. With fried onions! And fluorescent mustard, for a 'retro ironic' feel. No-one's done gourmet hot dogs yet. Have they? 

9. FINALLY. Remember you're a streaterie. You're cool. People will forgive you for anything. Soggy plates, greasy brown paper bags, no-where to sit, crap cutlery, long queues, shit locations, high prices, food falling apart, warm beer. 

When do we start?

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

London Restaurant Codes

After reading the list of New York restaurant codes, I decided to compile a list of my own, mostly from personal experience (no names mentioned). Here's the London version:

P.H. - Pisshead. Will never leave.

R.P.H. - Rich pisshead. Tear top half off wine list before giving him it.

S.P.H. - Scottish pisshead - handle with care

F/U - Fat or unchic, seat at rear of room.

FUBAR - Fat or unchic beyond all recognition. Refuse table.

M.L. - Mother in Law. 50+ female hell bent on complaining from the start. You can't win.

Merchant Banker - Wanker. Known complainer.

Chimney sweep - American in the room. Put on rubbish cockney accent and skip over pulling on braces for extra tip.

S.P.M. - small plate mug - customer who always over orders on the small plates. Encourage.

Pidge (pigeon) - Ordinary customer. Not big spenders. Don't make any effort, there's thousands of them.

The pigeons are shitting all over the shop - Ordinary customers taking up all the tables, not spending.

Soho duckling - customers in a queue waiting at a no res place

The ducklings are quacking! Throw 'em some bread! - a grumpy queue, give them some nibbles.

Quentins & Lucys - Well-off young people from West London, over in East London, desperate to be cool. Sting em.

Fleas on the dog - People at the table who are obviously not paying.

Bumpkin - Out of towner / someone obviously 'not from round here'.

Bumpkin Billionaire - A shabbily dressed customer, who spends a fortune.

Westfield Winos - Groups of slightly Essexy post-shopping women. Pull out that case of Lambrusco and send out the best looking waiter.

T.T. - Terry Towellings - Group of chavvy shouty blokes. Show expensive steak menu only and declare draught beer off, only exp bottled beer or wine available.

F.B. - Food bloggers. Photo taking tossers. Flirt with their partners outrageously to the point of embarrassing them. Hopefully they won't return.

S.S. - Stuffed shirt. Rich guy, trying to impress. Allow him to, by guiding him to that special bottle of Chateau d'Yquem you have 'saved' for him.

S.S. taking the bait - Rich guy, 2-3 pricey bottles down. Dust off that vintage Cognac menu, quick!

Burger Wallpaper

Burger fans! Never forget your favourite London burger brand again with my handy burger wallpaper. Put it on the background of your phone, screenprint it onto t-shirts*, print it out and stick it over your desk to let your workmates know what you're all about.

1. First, find out what burger you should be eating.
2. Click to enlarge
3. Right-click to download!
4. Display your wallpaper with pride.

*Sellers will be required to pass on 70% of net profit to me by law

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

6 Cheap Lunches in Soho

I'm often asked where my favourite places are in Soho, or where cheap places are, or where good places for lunch are, so I compiled a list of some cheap but nice places I like to lunch in.

Their tagline is 'This is not a f***ing burrito'. They do indian rotis which is kind of like a burrito, but Indian. They sell goat (in a roti). It's about a fiver for a wrap and you can eat in or take out. They even deliver, on a little bike. They also sell goat's milk, which is different. They were bought earlier this year by the guys that did Cinnamon Club and Roast so look out for other branches and menu changes.
50 Frith Street, Soho, W1D 4SQ

Hi Sushi
Ok, so from what I've drooled over read in recent reviews, it's no Sushi Tetsu, but it's not exactly Sushi Tesco either. £15.80 for (kind of) all-you-can eat sushi (some items like tuna sashimi are no-repeats), and there's some hot food too. You can only stay there for 1 and a half hours though. So it's all-you-can-eat with quite a few strings attached, but it's still way cheaper and better than another more successful chain, like Wasabi or, shock horror, Yo! Sushi.
40 Frith Street, Soho, W1
EDIT: On closer inspection, you can actually only go there for the all-you-can-eat on Saturday and Sunday day and after 5.30 weeknights but the a la carte's not bad value.

It's been there since the 60s, and it's the restaurant no-one else admits going to, serving national and pseudo-Italian dishes. It's always busy, despite nobody supposedly going there. It's nothing fancy, it's very much basic cooking and you can get a hot, filling meal for not much more than a fiver. Service is quick and no-nonsense. If ever I'm stuck, I'll stroll down Old Compton Street and go there, especially when I'm really hungry.
18 Old Compton Street, Soho, W1D 4TN

Cafe El Buen Gusto
Just off Shaftsbury Avenue on Frith Street, this is in a great location for watching people in Soho. Its staff are always friendly and they do massive doorstep sandwiches full of parma ham and sundried tomatoes, for less than most of what Pret does. Bear in mind they don't take card payments, but there's a cashpoint on Greek Street (the next one down).
39 Frith Street, Soho, W1D 5LL

Rosa's Cafe
Its Soho branch has just got a make-over so it's all shiny and nice. It does great Thai food and you can get lunch and a drink for about six quid.
48 Dean Street, Soho, W1D 5BF

Foxcroft & Ginger
They've got another premises in Shoreditch boxpark, but I prefer the Soho location. If you want somewhere which has quirky bits of furniture (and non-furniture) in with industrial lighting and exposed brickwork, this is the place. Their French toast with honey is one of their signature dishes which is pretty good.
3 Berwick Street, Soho, W1F 0DR

My lists are intended to be honest and helpful, not just some boasty account of the latest must-go places, full of back-slapping support for my cheffy mates, PR cronies or earning me free food at others. I don't get anything free at any of these places.


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