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.
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.
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”.
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:
I scored an impressive but ultimately inadequate 55…I coulda been a contender but all I got was a one-way ticket to Palooka-ville;
Jonny Hurst stormed through to take the trophy with a breathtaking 58.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
…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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.
on Tuesday 8th August, about half way through the evening, I went from ‘absolutely fine’ to ‘really not fine at all’ and I had to go to bed with no story. And today I’m properly better after the nastiest bout of ‘flu I’ve had in many a long year. This was proper delirious flu – unable to even think of getting out of bed… So there were many reasons why 8th August was not the right night for us to meet!
Having been brought up to think of others before myself in times of crisis, I responded with all the altruistic empathy my soul could muster:
OMG I might have caught the lurgy from you and then where would I have been?…I mean, poor old you, that must have been awful for you, my first and only thought is for your welfare.
Simon enjoyed the hand cured smoked salmon starter, while I tried the crispy squid. Simon went for the Bavette steak while I went for the Cod with fregula…
…what do you mean, you don’t know what fregula is? Surely everyone knows what fregula is!
For desert, we were persuaded to try the signature peanut butter, chocolate and pretzel tart, which we cut in half to share, along with a plate of presumably also-signature bitter chocolate and manuka honey truffles. While these desserts sound especially yummy by description, they were, in fact, incredibly yummy.