Festive Dinner At The Chelsea Physic Garden With Kim & Micky, 13 December 2017

Janie has become very fond of the Chelsea Physic Garden, following our Gresham Society visit in the spring:

I DID Want To Go To Chelsea, Gresham Society Visit To Chelsea Physic Garden, then The Other Side Of Hope, Curzon Chelsea, 30 May 2017

Janie’s subsequent joining (thanks Toni) and a couple of splendid dinners there, not least with John and Mandy for the birthdays:

Birthday Dinner With John and Mandy At Chelsea Physic Garden, 29 August 2017

So Janie was very excited when Marc tipped her off to the idea of a December festive dinner indoors.

Not quite the magical atmosphere of summer dining in the garden itself, of course, but an excellent opportunity to get together with Kim and Micky during the festive season.

It was a super meal; similar in cooking style to the summer fare but using seasonal winter ingredients.

Here’s the menu:

From coincidence corner, a fellow member of Bodyworkswest, a gentleman named Lance, was sitting at the next table to us. We all had a chat for a while.

Micky won a tiny pack of  cards in his cracker, so we played poker, black jack, beat your neighbour and snap for a while. Micky wanted to play canasta but we’d need to mug up for that game.

You get the idea – we had a very good time. Kim and Micky are really looking forward to trying the summer experience at the Chelsea Physic Garden next season…as are we.

An Amazing Week Of Grazing And Moral Mazing, 1 to 7 December 2017

It’s a cracker

It’s December, so of course the eating and drinking goes into overdrive.

Starting on the very first day of December; lunch with Michael Mainelli, Brendan May and John Lloyd at the Guildhall. Great to catch up with those guys, it brought back to my mind a quite interesting 2003 evening in a TV studio with Brendan and John – now Ogblogged – click here.

The next day, cousins Jacquie and Hilary Briegal came to Noddyland for a late lunch that morphed into early evening. Jacquie couldn’t resist bringing some of her famous chopped herring for us, although, as any fule no, chopped herring cannot take part in “herring of the year” contests, which in any case have to be held at Jacquie’s place – click here for the most recent example.

In any case, herring didn’t form part of the Noddyland meal, which comprised smoked salmon nibbles followed by Janie’s (Daisy’s) famous wasabi beef fillet dish and finally danish apple cake. We hadn’t seen Jacquie and Hils for over a year; it was great to see them again and have a chance to reciprocate Jacquie’s warm hospitality.

As usual, Daisy had massively over-catered, so I was able to lunch on some left over beef, sauce and potatoes couple of times during the week, including Thursday…

…which was probably just as well, given the tardiness of the Cafe Rogues meal in Holborn that evening, at the comedy writers Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner.

I reported last year on the ruthless efficiency with which the venue forced us to pre-order and the chaos and long waits that nevertheless ensued. Last year, it was Jonny Hurst who took the brunt of the tardiness, waiting about an hour longer than everyone else for his main course. This year, Jonny was again such a victim, but I too was one of the chosen people for this indignity. Perhaps we weren’t served a full hour later than everyone else, but surely at least half an hour later.

I suppose you can chat, drink and even be ruined while you wait for food

To add insult to indigestion, four of us were served our deserts some 30 minutes after everyone else. Jonny escaped this time, but I was caught twice – along with Jasmine, Barry and John for the lengthy dessert desert.

Still, everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Nine of us gathered this time; me, John Random, Jonny Hurst, Jasmine Birtles, Colin Stutt, Hugh Rycroft, Gerry Goddin, Mark Keagan and Barry Grossman.

Jasmine and John brought crackers. John Random’s were very special; he had doctored some real crackers, emblazoning them with a picture of Michael Buerk and describing them as Moral Maze crackers.

With Jasmine’s crackers, we played our regular Christmas game of trying to work out the feed line from the punchline of the corny cracker jokes…with limited success this year as the jokes were so corny. Examples:

A. A monkey burp.

Q. What’s silent and smells of banana?

A. Mrs Sippi

Q. Who is the most famous married woman in America?

But John had doctored his crackers with moral maze dilemmas to replace the corny jokes. Example:

Q. What do you get if you cross a sheep with a kangaroo?

A. A series of far-reaching ethical questions that go to the very heart of modern genetics.

Tut tut if you read that question and thought the answer was, “a wooly jumper”.

Jasmine and John pulled…
…which left Jasmine grappling with a tricky moral dilemma.

Traditional quizzing after dessert…or in the case of the four of us sorely neglected souls…during the dessert.

Colin Stutt again did a warm up game, taking the best jokes from the fringe for the last few years and seeing if we could remember the punchlines or construct good/better punchlines ourselves. I reckon I did a reasonable job on 10-12 out of 30 of them, actually knowing the answer to only a couple.

Mark, the holder of the Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Trophy, naturally led the main event quiz. I’m usually in with a chance when Mark writes the quiz but so are one or two other people. In a close run contest this year:

Mark had bubble-wrapped the trophy for safe-keeping…
…let’s hope that Jonny also treats the magnificent artefact with the respect it deserves.

Yes, the place was ridiculously noisy. Yes, the service was poor, except when it was terrible. But at Christmastime, almost everywhere is thus. These Ivan Shakespeare gatherings of good old friends are always lively, witty evenings that make me happy; that is the bit that really matters.

Dinner At Oklava With The Friends And Friends Of The Friends, 21 November 2017

Tom Friend arranged a surprise birthday dinner at Oklava for his mum, Toni.

Janie and I had eaten at Oklava in July, with Toni and Lisa, at the latter’s well-chosen behest, click here. We hadn’t realised that Toni and then Tom in turn had taken a shine to the place and eaten there more than once since.

How Tom kept the event secret goodness only knows, but Toni was genuinely surprised to see us sitting there in the restaurant waiting for them when she and Tom arrived; she genuinely thought she was going out for an evening just with Tom.

Unexpectedly, a cast of thousands…well, eight actually. From left to right behind me and Janie: Lisa, Toni, Sophie, Claire, Mike and Tom

On our previous visit we’d enjoyed some sort of special set meal based on some award-winning dishes. On this occasion we tried a more regular style of Oklava set menu (if you can describe any of this food as regular):

A couple of unusual looking wines caught my eye; so unusual that the waitress suggested that I taste them before choosing them. The white was a dry muscat; perhaps she thought I was expecting something sweeter but it was in fact more or less what I expected and a very interesting wine.

The waitress warned me that the red, a blend of noble grapes, was quite a lot sweeter than one might expect. On that description, I anticipated the taste of communion/kiddish wine – heaven forbid – but of course it was a very interesting blend, a little sweeter (perhaps through the riper Turkish growing conditions) but well-suited to the Turkish style food.

The food was excellent again at Oklava. The chilli roast cauliflower was a highlight for me (Janie didn’t like that one much), but the pomegranate glazed lamb breast and yoghurt was a hit for both of us.

Boys talk? Claire can hardly contain her excitement while Mike and I hold forth, hence the half-closed eyes
Girls talk? Actually I think this was Toni’s “happy birthday to you” moment
Thanks to Janie for the pictures…apart from the top, waiter-assisted one, with all of us.

It was a superbly convivial evening. Lisa, Janie and I hadn’t met Mike, Claire or Sophie before, yet it felt like a gathering of eight long-standing friends from the word go.

Well done and thanks, Tom, for gathering all of us together; it was a very enjoyable evening.

Dinner With John White At Galvin La Chapelle, 15 November 2017

This time it was my turn to chose the venue. I did a bit of research and decided that Galvin La Chapelle was conveniently located for John to get home to Saffron Walden and for me to get home after an afternoon in the City.

I’m normally a bit disappointed when choosing City places – usually high prices and not special food – but this turned out to be a very pleasant exception – an extremely good meal. Not cheap, but good value for the quality of food,

My turn to chose the venue meant it was John’s turn to pick up the tab. Many thanks John.

John came round to see 41 Lothbury on the way – he’d not been to our new (not so new any more) offices yet.

Then we wandered in the direction of La Chapelle. I thought we might go to Balls Brothers on Bishopsgate, not knowing that it is now a building site.

So we had a quick drink in the ever-reliable George Pub, on the junction of Liverpool Street.

It was there I told him about Janie’s new hobby, pole dancing. I also showed him the photo Janie had sent me on the Monday.

Daisy Up A Pole

The above news and views seemed to lighten John’s mood considerably.

We then had a lengthy debate about whether we were less than five minutes from La Chapelle (as John thought) or more than that (as I thought). Mr Googlemap said six minutes but John decided that means less than five at our walking pace.

But by gosh it was worth the five-and-a-half minute walk, it really was.

Here’s the menu.

John started with the velouté, while I had a crab lasagne starter. John went on to the mushroom risotto while I went for the duck. John tried the cheeses after, while I tried the cheesecake.

Truly excellent food and (after a slightly slow start) very charming and superb service.

John was a big hit with the waitress who brought the bread, charming her with bread facts, such as:

  • in the old days the bakers’ sweat was part of the enzyme process that brought the yeast to life and thus gave the bread its texture and flavour;
  • the phrase “sent to Coventry” comes from bakers being expelled from their guild and prohibited from practicing within 100 miles of London. This second “bread fact” does not stand up to Wikipedia scrutiny, which prefers the Civil War rationale.

When the same waitress turned out to be the cheese waitress, John considered mugging up on some cheese facts as well, but I suggested that it would be a better, more self-effacing ploy to admit to knowing little about cheese. This tactic did seem to work pretty well and the waitress confessed that she too was new to the cheese duties, but then went on to explain the cheeses in great detail.

You get the picture; it was a fabulous meal and I always enjoy such evenings with John even when the food is less fabulous. So this one was well-memorable.

A Return Visit To Paradise by way of Kensal Green, 8 October 2017

No comedy moustache this time…
…nor festive cracker hats!

We returned to the scene of last year’s Christmas festivities (those December 2016 ones depicted above).

It was almost the same group of us too, except was around and Micky joined us this time.

The place is probably better suited to a regular Sunday lunch feast rather than the Christmas feast. The regular Sunday lunch is gargantuan enough, but within a tolerance that doesn’t require several days of overindulgence-recovery-time.

Good food too. Janie and I both especially enjoyed the crispy belly pork. I found the Sunday roast trimmings (not least Yorkshire pudding) went surprisingly well with it. Yummy starters too – mine was a seared tuna salad, Janie’s a crab thing.

But of course it was the company that really made the day so good. Even after Micky, Max and Kim had gone, Janie and I stuck around chewing the fat with DJ until long after dark. Winter is setting in!

Dinner At The Phantom Pig With Lisa Opie and Toni Friend, 22 September 2017

Chef Vix and his trusty sous chef Luke explain stuff with attentive care

This was Lisa Opie’s idea…and a jolly good idea it was too.

Several of her friends and clients had recommended this pop up restaurant in West Ealing, currently popping up just once a month at The Orchard Cafe, serving the sort of haute cuisine tasting menu food you’d normally expect to find in a far more sprauncy location than the regenerated former Green Man Estate.

We were up for it as, fortuitously, one of Helen Baker’s wonderful wine tastings, which had been scheduled for this night, had to be moved to a later date. Toni Friend was up for it too, so I was to be an honorary girl again for the second time in the last couple of months.

What a find this pop up restaurant is.

First up was a tipple with mystery snacks – the snacks comprising straw-smoked potatoes, a chicken parfait tart and a cauliflower soup – all good but the latter was outstanding.

The tipple, it seems, came whether you went for wine matching or not. We did opt for wine matching with the food. The tipple was a cocktail shot of flavoured liquor (brandy we think) that tasted mostly of lemongrass – probably to lull us into a false sense of healthiness – not least because it was served in a sort of test tube thing. Janie said it looked like a urine sample.

I’m not selling the whole experience very well, am I? Because actually every aspect of the meal including the way it looked and was served was very elegant and thoughtful.

Perhaps best I let pictures tell most of the story – with thanks to Janie, Lisa and Toni, all of whom provided some pictures. All three of them went a bit berserk with their smart phones once the courses and wines started to flow:

The “Beauty Of The Bulb” starter had a phallic look, apparently
Vix described the starter while sprinkling the apple jus
Attentive listeners, eh?
Janie and Lisa both got a bit snap happy across the table
“Never mind the photos…grubs up!”, I say.
Exquisite chicken, cod, ink and mushroom sauce.
The wine keeps flowing; one glass per dish
Here comes the superb duck…
…and here comes Mandy with the wine for the duck!
Mandy can also explain the meal to us.
Ged mucks in by tucking in to the duck.
Toni has a laugh with one of the charming waiting-folk…
…then listens with rapt attention to Vix’s description of the pud.
Toni asked the team kindly to sign a menu for Ogblog
Here also a list of the wine matches

The food was superb, the service delightful and the wine matches well chosen and very generously sized doses…

…perhaps a little too much so for part-timers like me. After Janie and I had been home for about five minutes, Janie rather cruelly snapped me taking a short nap on the bed before completing all of my pre-slumber procedures…

…but after a ten minute snooze I got up and sorted myself out properly. Someone else, who shall remain nameless, didn’t brush her teeth and come to bed properly until about 4:00 am…

…and still I couldn’t beat her on the tennis court the next morning.

We had a great evening and really look forward to trying The Phantom Pig again. We’d highly recommend it; the young and innovative Phantom Pig team are top notch and deserve to do really well.

Birthday Dinner With John and Mandy At Chelsea Physic Garden, 29 August 2017

There was a time when John White and I (together with Mandy and Janie) would celebrate our birthdays together quite regularly. I am was born 28 August and John was born a day later, 29 August.

This age difference (of one day) entitles me to describe John as “young John” and say things like, “when you get to my age, John…”

Anyway, this year the stars aligned well for us to celebrate the birthdays together for the first time in years.

Janie’s membership of Chelsea Physic Garden had already come in mighty handy three week’s before, 8 August 2017, when she and I went there to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our first meeting.

Actually this day, 29 August, was also the 25th anniversary; in this case of our first proper date. So it was, in a way, a triple celebration; two birthdays and an anniversary.

John and Mandy had arranged to stay with us in Noddyland after dinner, so they came to the house first.

Noddyland Garden could easily be mistaken for the Chelsea Physic Garden

The above photo, btw, was the very first picture I took with my new Snap Polaroid camera, a birthday gift from Kim.

Then off to the Chelsea Physic Garden. The tale of the evening is best told mostly in pictures.

The full deck of pictures can be found on Flickr in this album – here.

Highlight pictures tell the story below.

On arrival, we have a drink and a stroll around the garden
Janie asked us to look animated – there are several attempts at this one
Then we sat down to these starters
Three of us went for this excellent Ligurian fish stew
While Mandy went for the contrarian confit of duck
I couldn’t get the Snap to flash in fading light…
…so Janie let me use her smart phone instead!
The birthday boys…
…with illuminated death by chocolate birthday desserts

After dinner, back to Noddyland for a baritone ukulele recital and some more chat before bedtime.

We also had a rare opportunity to chat some more in the morning before John and Mandy set off on their way. It had been a really enjoyable get together – let’s hope we can do something along these lines again quite soon.

A generous gift of flowers and chocolates arrived before the end of the week.

Day/Night Test Match, England v West Indies, Edgbaston, 17 to 19 August 2017

After a super meal at Colbeh – reported here – and a good night’s sleep at the Eaton Hotel, Daisy and I would have been fit and ready to walk to Edgbaston for an 11:00 start…

…but this was a day/night test match, so instead I arranged to have a music lesson with Ian Pittaway in Stourbridge. It bucketed down with rain on the way to Stourbridge, which made me wonder whether Edgbaston would be fit for cricket by 14:00, but I needn’t have worried. Day/Night One of the match turned out to be a very sunny although slightly chilly affair.

Daisy and I walked to the ground in dry, improving weather. Security was tight but well organised this year, so we joined the others at about 13:40. The others were Charley The Gent Malloy, The Boy Malloy, Nigel “Father Barry” White and Harsha Goble.

Mrs Malloy had made a splendid picnic for us all, consisting mostly of an extremely plentiful supply of big bap sandwiches. Chas went into major-domo mode, insisting that we tuck in at regular intervals, saying:

“I cannot report back to Dot that any of these sandwiches remained uneaten.”

At the end of Day One I sent some thoughts about our day/night experience to King Cricket, who published my thoughts along with those of others –  click here.

Daisy took loads of pictures, which you can see on Flickr – click here – a sample of which are shown below.

 

A shot from the first session
Things seemed to be going England’s way
Lunch at four in the afternoon? Getaway!
Shadows lengthen on the Eric Hollies Stand opposite

After the instruction “Nessun Dorma” (reported on King Cricket), Daisy stayed awake to take the following lovely shot after sunset:

Stunning, although it looks a bit René Magritte

The weather forecast for Day Two was not so special – indeed it was obvious that the weather would close in sometime between 19:00 and 20:00 and there would then be no further play that day.

Daisy, Nigel and I went over to Chas and Nick’s hotel on that Day two morning, hatching a plan that we should eat relatively light at the ground that day with a view to eating a good meal together in Colbeh to make up for the session of cricket that we looked likely to lose. If the weather by chance relented, we could always stay at the ground and eat from the selection of increasingly interesting and decent food outlets at Edgbaston these days.

Daisy captures the look of the pink ball on the big screen

Harsha had, unfortunately, needed to return to London for a funeral on the Friday, but was expecting to arrive back at Edgbaston around 19:00.

The rain arrived as expected around 19:30. We had redirected Harsha towards the “dining at Colbeh rather than watching the rain come down” plan.

Much better than sitting at Edgbaston watching the rain

Once again, Colbeh was excellent.

In truth, it was great to have the opportunity to have a meal together and “chew the fat” after the cricket – this aspect (which would normally be absent for a day/night match) is the biggest down side to such match timing…the colder evenings being less of an issue, although…

…Day Three did turn out to be a chilly day.

Daisy and I walked to the ground all three days; Day Three being the most pleasant walking conditions of the three – sunny but a tad cooler than Day One.

We saw an interesting sight on the way to the ground:

An Ethiopian Orthodox Service at St Georges Church on a Saturday
It looked half service, half church fete.
Dawid Malan fielding right in front of us…I don’t think he spotted me!
There was some freezing cold business with lads behind us clearly not dressed for the occasion and divesting themselves of what little clothing they had
Members of the Mexican community behind the Eric Hollies Stand looked more suitably dressed for a chilly day/night match…
…members of the Flintstone community behind the Eric Hollies Stand less so.

England were all over the West indies like a rash on Day Three. Here is the Cricinfo summary of the  match.

The others bailed out before the end of the match, as Chas, Nick and Harish were travelling home that night and Nigel wanted a lift back to the hotel.

We’d all had a good time – three days had just flown by.

Daisy and I stuck it out until the last ball – the first time I had ever seen a whole first class match, let alone a test:

Close to the last moments of the game

Gosh it was cold by the end; we thought about bailing out a couple of times, but then a wicket would fall. We walked back to the Eaton Hotel that night to warm ourselves up, which worked rather well.

A very one-sided match but also a very enjoyable few days.

An Evening In Birmingham With Daisy, Dinner At Colbeh, 16 August 2017

Daisy is joining the Heavy Rollers again this year, as an honoured guest for the very first day/night test match in England.

As things turned out, no-one other than me and Daisy decided to go up to Birmingham the night before the match, given the later than usual start time for the match.

Last year I reported that Nigel and I found a wonderful new Persian Restaurant, Colbeh, where Bengal Delight used to be. Daisy was suitably envious – she loves a good Persian meal – so I thought she’d be very keen to try the place.

For some reason, perhaps it was finding herself in a strange town, perhaps because she recently discovered that one of her preferred suburban Persians, Boof, has a food hygiene rating of merely 1, she went into “are you sure” mode, trying to check Birmingham hygiene ratings for herself and all sorts. She discovered that Johnny Wongs, a few doors down from Colbeh, has a hygiene rating of 0, which didn’t add to the allure of a Hagley Road eatery.

In the end, my persuasion (that Colbeh really is a top quality restaurant) and Daisy’s hunger held sway, so off we went. Daisy was not disappointed – in fact she loved the meal, as did I.

If anything, I thought the place had improved since last year. Chatting with proprietor Arsalan you could understand why; fanatical devotion to getting the right ingredients and improving the menu over the year. Daisy enjoyed looking through Arsalan’s Persian cookbooks too.

Daisy and I shared the platter of mixed grills, which were outstanding, along with some mast-o-musir and salad shirazi. A lovely Aussie shiraz wine to wash it down, coincidentally with a cricket ball as its label image – very apt.

I said in my Ogblog last year that I would add a TripAdvisor review when I got home. As it turned out, it was impossible to do so last year as the place wasn’t listed on TripAdvisor yet – I tried two or three times over the following weeks then gave up/forgot about it.

So this time I felt motivated to write my TripAdvisor review while I was still up in Brum – it got published more or less straight away – here it is.

Daisy and I wondered whether we could engineer a meal at this restaurant with the lads during the test match – a difficult bit of scheduling due to the day/night nature of this particular match.

But, as you’ll learn if you read the next episode and as evidenced below…

…Daisy pulled it off…as it were.