Saturday, December 29, 2007

Not bad for starters...

Nationwide has two alltime favourite restaurants, a different category from flavour of the month you understand. The Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow and the Union Square Cafe in New York. Which is a bit awkward really when you lives in London. Like wot I do.

We certainly do have choice in London, but it's thrown up what exactly? The Ivy is brilliant but of course you can never, ever get in even though it's now past it's sleb prime and you're more likely to be sat next to a party of Essex or Japanese tourists rather than Stephen Spielberg. The Wolseley is fab too - never book, just walk in - and I've never eaten anything bad there at all. The Americans love it.
Scotts and St Aubin are beyond my reach sadly and there's, um, well, there's er......well there's about 2000 out there, all listed in Harden's and Time Out and all serving varying degrees of scoff dished up to your table by the population of Poland. Top places, bottom feeders, middle of the road Italian tratts. The only really bad meal I've had recently was in the Bush Bar and Grill in Shepherd's Bush but that was Sunday lunch with 50 brats at the next table all wolfing pizza and chocolate cake. By "bad" I mean so-bad-it-has-to-be-sent-back-bad, not just ordinary, which is what a lot of places get away with in London.

But we're talking favourite here. Outstandingly brilliant. And guess what? There's a new one - a fave - right here in London town. The guy that used to run Kensington Place, Rowley Leigh has opened up in Whiteley's shopping centre, in what used to be McDonalds. Behold, Le Cafe Anglais, my third favourite place in the world. Not including Japan, obv.

It's a large, light airy room, with a quiet buzz (good), big high windows (v good) and lovely staff (vv good) some of whom are probably Polish. It's also got very good food. (star plus good) and doesn't cost an arm and a leg (done deal!).

It opened a few weeks back and our first dinner there for ten cost peanuts because they had that 50% off thing in the opening week. So I greedily tucked into foie gras and pheasant, both of which were fab, and about a fiver each or something. The rest of the table ordered just about the entire menu and devoured the lot and were so enamoured with the fare that there was very little of the plate passing going on that my own family used to indulge in, with my mother refusing to order anything that anyone else had ordered so that we could all taste something different.

They have proper aperitifs, not just that have-a-drink-at-the-bar scam to part you from your money (hello Soho Hotel, are you listening?? I will never fall for that "glass of champagne sir?" thing again - three of us at the bar before dinner in fuel or refuel or fool or whatever it's called
100 quid before we sat down!), no they have things like gin fizz and white ladies and, er, champagne. And you get fab little hors-d'oeuvre too - rabbit rillets, salsify fritters and a mussel thing which at lunch with a journalist we sent back. Not because there was anything wrong with it - quite the contrary it tasted perfecto - but it was a freezing cold day and it was cold. So we decided we wanted it warm. So they did. And it was delicious warm too.

The big dinner was virtually alcohol free but the lunch with the journo wasn't and we spent some money there but even so the bill with everything - the champagne, full four courses, coffee and wine - was still only £70 a head. I say "only" because we were there all day, drinking and stuffing our greedy faces and that's the kind of boozy lunch where the bill can go through the roof. But it didn't (more plus points again)

Rowley came round and said hi, pretending he knew who we were. Honestly, the sea of faces that must have passed before that man at Kensington Place, pleading for a table - and invariably getting it - determines that he either has a photographic memory for twenty thousand people or, like the rest of us, he's just charming and gracious and wants people to like his place. The consortium that backs him all have history, from the Groucho Club to the wine business to the aforementioned Bush Bar and Grill, by an unfortunate coincidence.

And I find myself going back. With chums. With family. With work people and each time it just gets better and better, more and more comfortable, and the prices still aren't going up to any great degree that I've noticed. I may live vaguely near, but Whiteleys has never really been much of a draw before.

Last week the special, venison, was "off" but that was because it was bought properly, cooked properly and - just before serving - was discovered to be not quite right in the sense that after resting it was discovered to be slightly overdone. Rather than risk a complaint or two, it was dumped. Having now worked my way through the menu, and never had anything bad yet, I wonder if I would have complained about slightly overdone venison. Possibly not.

And as if by magic, my newspaper diet was swelled today while waiting for someone fighting their way through the Holiday tourist hordes of Portobello Road street market and I read not one but TWO connected articles. The first, a column (weekly) by the chef himself in the FT explaining the value of black truffles at this time of year which seemed to make perfect sense. And then secondly a very kind review in the Times by Giles Coren, who I regard to be the doyen of food writers right now, who liked the place for all the reasons outlined above, but written in a more elegant manner, as you would expect from a food critic rather than a blogger oik.

So there we have it. The new Nationwide fave restaurant. If you see me there, wave and I'll buy you a drink.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Breaking Shore News

Where were you when President Kennedy died?
When Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the moon?
When your mother, or father, passed away?
I'll tell you where I was when I heard the news tonight. I was in The Shore Bar.
There are only a few great bars in the world. Here is the Top Ten.
(1) The French, Dean St, Soho, London.
Best bar in Central London. Magnif.
(2) The Hand in Hand, Brighton (Kemptown), England.
Bev, God rest your soul, you created a brilliant pub (and brewery)
(3) Puffin, Tribeca, New York City
Stuff all the rest, Puffin is the boots.
(4) That little bar in Montparnasse, Paris.
No sorry, ALL little bars in Montparnasse, Paris.
(5) Every bar underneath Osaka's main railway station.
And Shijunku, Tokyo.
(6) Tennents Bar, Glasgow.
No, The Halt Bar, Glasgow. No. The Rogano. Glasgow. No...
(7) The Crillon, Central Cannes, France.
No relation. It's beside the station. Rose, steak frites, cafe. Perfect.
(8) Urbani, Turin, Italy.
Probably the bar/restaurant in Italy, especially when Juventus are playing...
(9) The Temple Bar , Lafayette and Spring, Noho, NYC
The best martinis in the world. Seriously. None better.
(10) The Shore Bar, The Shore, Leith, Edinburgh.

There is one almighty bar in Edinburgh which everyone the (rugby) world over loves - the Cafe Royal - but down in Leith lurks just about the world's best traditional bar and restaurant.
Fantastic Scottish food and drink, excellent music most every night (from trad jazz to Highland to, well, piano, flute and drum: brilliant) Fish soup to die for, been there for years, whisky, open til 1am. Dark wood, awkward space, typical bar. EVERYONE goes there.
The Shore has been sold. OMG.
The people next door run Fishers. They've apparently bought it. So that's OK then. No-one has to worry.

At all.




Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Easy Bermuda Triangle

It was my fault.
Stupid. Stupid. STUPID!!

I've been happily shooting up and down the East Coast by train between London and Edinburgh with ease, comfort, food and general well being. No probs no worries.
The east Coast mainline is in rude health after GNER have run it for several years. Who knows what may happen under National Express - the signs aren't good. (don't worry, we'll get to something other than trainspotting in a mo)

So for reasons too stupid and boring to explain I'm at Luton Airport. Waiting on an Easyjet flight. Where I've been sat for several hours. It was supposed to be quicker. It was supposed to be cheaper. It was supposed to be, oh, better.

It's not.

There's nothing wrong with no or low frills airlines really. I've flown on dozens of them. It's just that Easyjet (and Ryanair) have managed to throw the baby out with the bathwater and remove any semblance of enjoyment, or even a sense of efficiency.

OK, so I'm stuck. I'm delayed, but at other airports when you get delayed there can sometimes be, how can I put this, a sense of sympathy, possibly even a degree of help. Not at "London" Luton Airport there isn't (one day I'll get them prosecuted over that name under trades descriptions - it's nowhere NEAR London. It's barely near Luton)

Now Luton's got some nice new shops. And a new caff. And a new long walk - a very long walk - to the gates which is what you get when you install new shops and caffs.

I'm on a flight that is so delayed the earlier one has left after the later one was supposed to so I stupidly thought there might be a chance of getting on said earlier one as I'm travelling alone.
As I watched them give short shrift to a heavily pregnant woman - they even asked her if she had passed the test to allow her to fly - and send her packing back down to the shopping mall they then turned on the two clearly confused Chinese people who didn't understand why they couldn't get on the flight that was leaving at the time they were supposed to leave.

You've seen "Airline" haven't you? You know the show where the Easyjet's wearied staff try to help thick ignorant passengers who don't know their arse from their elbow, who just REFUSE to be helped their such great unwashed scum.

The helpful lady told the Chinese couple IN A VERY LOUD VOICE that the pilot had already personally loaded all his fuel onto the plane and he COULDN'T POSSIBLY let them on - the implication being that they'd run out of fuel somewhere over Carlisle and the Chinese Couple would then be responsible for many, many deaths. The Chinese Couple were even more confused and showed their Boarding cards again and were told IN AN EVEN LOUDER VOICE that the pilot etc etc. They backed off, wondering what they had actually done to get the hair dryer treament from a total stranger.

Then it was my turn. I'm not pregnant. I'm not Chinese. I'm a traveller. I've travelled so much my carbon footprint is the size of Yorkshire and I've spent so much time and money on easyjet and ryanair that I swore never to fly with them again.

Until today.

In the same VERY LOUD voice it was explained to me that it was IMPOSSIBLE to let me on as there was no-one that could POSSIBLY authorise it, no-one AT ALL and that if I ever wanted to try to do this again I should go to the ticket desk on the way in.

This would assume I knew in advance of any delay, something you cannot possibly know as I pointed out that Easyjet refuse to tell people about delays, even when they've been happening all day (like today) because of early morning fog. You see, then I might have known several things, one of which would have been not to come to London Luton Airport as it takes nearly two hours to actually get here from my bit of (Central) London.

She shooed me off to the "Special Assistance" desk which was not manned. I couldn't leave the airport. I was handed an orange phone.

"Who's that?"
"Is this Easyjet?"
I explain what's what and I'm given a lecture, very similar in tone to the one I've just had. Being a passenger, I'm automatically regarded as stupid by Easyjet staff.

I asked what time the delayed late plane might depart, did anyone actually know? - and was told quite simply a pack of lies. It wasn't worth listening to. Utter bollocks. The kind of speech which sounds as if something is being said when nothing is being said at all. Noise.

The kind of stuff that turns normal people into frothing-at-the-mouth passengers who make good telly for "Airline".

Which is where I came in. But unfortunately not out. I'm in the no-frills bermuda Triangle and I may be here for some considerable time. Oh, and London Luton's shops and caff are now shut.

Never again.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Showing Now...

Tonight we were in movie mode as there's been a lot of travelling recently and we wanted, um, a movie. We've an arthouse and a multiplex within spitting distance and we'd seen the lot. Well, not the lot, but the ones we wanted to see, so I realised it was time for the Nationwide Movie Guide again. The one where you get to find out the truth.

Right, first off we haven't seen "The Golden Compass" because I don't like Nicole Kidman at all and I like Daniel Craig too much in his new role as Bond to be put off by this tosh so... End of. Second, "Elizabeth the Golden Age" has been seen by everyone I know and they all said basically the same thing - endless court scenes and then some CGI ships. Sorry, have I spoiled it for you? Won't happen again. Promise.

Now, "Into The Wild" is where a best friend who knows a thing or two walked out after 20 minutes and said it was bollocks. It's not, but you have to stick with it. Trust me. It's worth it.
Sean Penn, a bit of a hero in the acting department, directs the story of a guy who frankly is not very nice (that's why people walk out) but it is possible to make a very good movie about someone who's not very nice. Honest.

"American Gangster". Well, it's got Denzel Washington in it and have you ever seen him do anything bad? Like, ever? He plays a storm here, totally dominates the screen and I'd go see this movie just for him because he's utterly brilliant. Which is just as well because Russell Crowe mumbles his way through in a half New York half New Zealand accent and Ridley Scott is a fine director of great importance whose work we all love (including Blackhawk Down, btw, a great movie) but he ain't Martin Scorsese, is he? No soul you see.

"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" is a very long title but nowhere near as long as the movie. Two and three quarter hours last time I looked. Brad Pitt, one of the finest actors of his generation. He's in it. He's also a producer (grew up in Missouri, get's to play Missouri's most famous son, JJ). And the producers are Hollywood A-List. Ridley Scott, Brad Grey, etc. Casey Affleck, who I ain't seen before, is stunningly good looking, thanks to some brilliant cinematography by Roger Deakins and the music's good too. By Nick Cave, who even puts in a small performance. Looks good, sounds good, Brad Pitt. What could go wrong?
Well you could hand the whole thing over to a writer/director who is so obsessed with the mythology of westerns that he imagines the rest of the world will share his dream of cowboy movies being played out as Greek tragedy.

"Lions for Lambs". This is nowhere near as bad as they say. It's directed by Robert Redford, who is also in it and - shock horror - Tom Cruise is blindingly good and - shock horror - Meryl Streep isn't. It's three separate stories which meld into one and is basically a liberal critique of the war on terror. Like Michael Moore, if he wasn't already there you'd have to invent him.
Except it shouldn't be called Lions for Lambs. It should be called Lions for Donkeys. D'oh!

"Ratatouille" isn't just for kids, because it's got really really great animation. But it should be.

And then there is "The Darjeeling Ltd" an absolute joy. On a grey, wet winter's day there can be no better film, a technicolour confection that is light, airy, warm and breezy, beautifully acted and directed, and you don't even need to know what it's about. If you do, towards the end, there's a little scene, less than a minute with no words, just music, that tells you everything you need to know. About the film. And life. I officially love Wes Anderson.

Top NW tip for later, based on PR puffery, hype, a hunch, and the Coen Brothers' track record. "No Country For Old Men". Looks good.


Friday, November 30, 2007

Scamsters (3)

Now here's a funny thing.

Regular readers of this witty and verbose column will know that I like nothing better than laughing at the ways and means of online scamsters (look here), mainly bogus fraudsters from Nigeria, who try to part an individual from his or her money in quite the most obscure, and frankly obtuse manner.

Except I'm not really laughing.

All blogs and internet sites have the capacity to vaguely trace you. Every time you or I look at a site some detail, the country, date, time, etc, is recorded so that site owners like me can see who is visiting. The global traffic for the Nationwide Blog you're reading peaks and troughs, which is quite normal, unless I mention SEX or PARIS HILTON in which case the figures take off like a frikking rocket. I have absolutely no idea who any of you are, just that you may reside in the Western - or Eastern - Hemisphere. Possibly.

However the long and detailed (and frankly tedious, for those not interested) description of my most recent Nigerian scamster has proved peculiar. For a start the traffic is phenomenal, quite breathtaking in fact. Really HUGE numbers of people have been clicking on to read this thread. I never knew there were quite so many people interested in the minutae of Nigerian online fraudsters. But there are. Serious numbers.

But here's the thing.

99% of all traffic through the Nationwide site states where the inquiry is from - vague geography, "England", "America", that kind of thing - but the traffic reading my Nigerian fraudster escapade is all anonymous. All of it. Page after page after page of visitors all reading the story at length.

Most people here are like you, a few minutes ( 2? 5?) reading a page then offski. But not the Nigerian scamster page. HUGE numbers of anonymous people reading for 20 minutes, an hour, 2 hours, quite extraordinary lengths of time. Way beyond any natural duration for websites and blogs.

Why? And who? Casual visitors who're flicking and surfing for a few seconds here, a few seconds there, and suddenly BANG! they're so smitten by my marvellous writing that they decide to read my masterpiece in the English language of Nigerian scamsters?

Mmmmm. I suspect not.

Don't tell me, no, nay! Surely the scamsters themselves in Nigeria are not giving an online masterclass in how NOT to make an absolute wazz of yourself. How not to reveal the fact that you are a stupid, ignorant, amateur fraudster. How not to let your victim know your true identity. Don't tell me they're using MY thread educationally, to explain that if you come across as a total dork, and idiot, who has no real idea what they're doing, you'll be failing in your mission.

Heaven forbid. Surely not.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Byres Road, Dubrovnik

Even in the pouring rain, Byres Road in Glasgow is not an unpleasant place to be, residing at the leafier end of things, patiently awaiting neighbours like Partick to become gentrified with their own coffee baristas and organic foodstops.

But controversy rages right now at the top end of the boulevard. Protestors are loudly clamouring to "Save the Botanics" from a rapacious developer. The world famous Botanic Gardens, home to giant greenhouse the Kibble Palace and generations of summer sun-seeking Glaswegians, is under threat, as one of the city's most successful nightclub entrepreneurs proposes a new fleshpot. He wants to rejuvenate a destroyed building at the edge of the Gardens, mostly underground, in premises facing a hotel, a pub (formerly a church), and a sausage roll van. The area's residents - lawyers, media mavens and estate agents - are up in arms, fired by crostini and Barbera d'asti, fresh tapas and crisp, clean Tempranillo, the revolution has started. Expect the flaming buses and barricades of Derry to arrive across Great Western Road any day now. Who said nimby?

So we flee to Tennents Bar, niftily bypassing the world's best restaurant , the Ubiquitous Chip, which eschews chips for gourmet delights and bacchinalian bonhomie aplenty, to watch the England Croatia game. The place is unusually crowded, although not compared to last week's Scotland Italy game where a queue of 40 people snaked around the building, waiting in vain for a spot to watch the game with several hundred other sardines. Made London Tube rush hour seem thin.
So why the crowd tonight? With Scotland out, maybe the groundswell of support has switched to our English neighbours?
Croatia score. The crowd goes wild, laughing and backslapping and cheering on Scotia's new found friends who're going to tank the English (which they do, consequently relieving the manager of his job some hours later) so we move on to less volatile pastures, the Aragon, whose more subdued clientele are observing with diffidence the duffing of the English.

And then the doors swing open and in walk "the team", a once famous Glasgow phenomenon of tribal turf wars and razor slashings. But these 25 young blades are dressed for golf, in Palm Springs. Plus fours, pringle knits, flat caps and calf leather gloves which would look slightly out of place anywhere, never mind a Glasgow pub. And of course they are students, playing "pub golf" which involves sinking 18 different drinks in 18 different pubs, keeping scores, working out complex holes in one, and generally making drunken asses of themselves (after drink number 10, we'll guess).
I ask why they didn't just stay in one place and drink 18 pints of lager, which is what most of the city's thirsty males would do on a cold, wet, football themed night. They think this is a good idea and will probably try that tomorrow.

And so we continue, down past the University Cafe, the cheapest and cheeriest tea and snack and ice cream purveyor, to the The Three Judges, where the telly is temporarily broke due to a frozen Sky signal - it is raining remember, and Sky doesn't like bad weather - and a small crowd who are temporarily crazy with curiosity because the picture has frozen at 2-2 and if it is to be a draw England will sneak through. There's intense speculation via mobile phone that in another game Russia might increase/dash England's hopes...... but in the end England do it themselves by getting beat, thus twinning the cities of Dubrovnik and Glasgow in effervescent ecstasy.

And so, to a branch of what can now be described as a chain of new wee curry shops just yards from where I am standing. In fact, they are called "The Wee Curry Shop", which is rather apt as they're wee. And they sell curry.

But no ordinary curry. This is the offspring of Mother India, the world's best Indian restaurant, and there are now three "Wee Curry Shops" in Glasgow which makes me very happy indeed. (at least when I'm in Glasgow).

We have brilliant food, starting with Chicken Tikka and Potato pakora which is served with a fresh spicy mango dipping sauce and what appears to be beetroot coleslaw - delicious, not a spot left - and then a king prawn and spinach something which was nectar from curry heaven. They forget a paratha so we get free drink instead and we are very very happy people who head off back into the rain, and the dark, and the cold wind, to further celebrate the birth of a new baby (I forgot that bit earlier) with champagne, tea, and a biscuit.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

'oos that then?

So there's Monty and me trotting through the Park as usual when 'oo drops in but Prince Charles. I ain't seen a 'elicopter land in 'yde Park before, it dunalf make a racket early in the morning but presumeably the residents (are owners of them 'ouses worth £50 million still called residents? or do they have a superlative grouping title like, Presidents or sumfink, which is why I'm going all cockney sparrah like cos I knows me place) don't mind because they've all got 'elicopters themselves. Anyway. I'm assuming it was HRH because according to the rules of flying choppers in London you're not allowed to drop off anyone you feel like anywhere unless (a) they're on a stretcher or (b) they're Royalty, or obviously (c) both.
If it was 'im, HRH, then how does that square with the environmental stuff, you know the Duchy biscuits and old architecture and green welly conservation of hunting and the environment? Huh?

Y'see old and trad is in as I discovered last night (and again today) at London's newest flashest eaterie, 'sept it ain't flash, noooooo, anything but. Austere and black and spare, no pictures on the walls, with a menu that's got on it Irish Stew, goose, braised lamb, roast chicken, mash potato, puddings and so on. Used to be the Maccyd's in Whiteley's Shopping Centre in Bayswater, the hangout HQ of West London's disaffected Asian and Middle eastern yoof, all bling and innit and don you look/talk/stare/shout at me you gobba you, but without any actual violence going on, what with the security guards looming large.
Well the pigeon chests have been replaced by pigeon breasts with roasted beets, swede and onion and very nice it is too, particularly since the opening involves a massive 50% discount (in case they make any mistakes) which allowed the Nationwide posse of ten to scoff as much food as they could and still get a bill that was less than for two at Gordon Ramsay.

And earlier we'd been in Borough Market where the Porter pub sells excellent beer and I heard the best Jewish joke ever, borderline tasteless but told to me by a Jewish friend who claims he heard it at a Jewish funeral in New York. That's three times I've used the J word so you'd better not be easily offended.

An elderly Jewish American couple are doing Europe, trip of a lifetime etc, and they're in Germany, setting off on a pilgrimage to Auschwitz. The train is deeply uncomfortable and the husband makes a tastless remark that it's "like a cattle truck" and his wife is offended. What with the heating being up high and all they have words, which leads to a row, a full blown argument and by the time they reach Auschwitz they're not talking.
They go round the place in silence and travel back on the train to their hotel in silence too. In the hotel, he decides to give in and apologise. "Please accept my apology. It was my fault. I wasn't feeling well"
She refuses and continues to stare at the wall.
"Aw come on darling, look this is the trip of our lives. We'll be kicking ourselves back home if we ruin it with an argument. I'm really, really sorry. Please?"
She hesitates, then stares at him balefully.
"OK," she says, "But I just want you to know one thing"
"You totally ruined Auschwitz for me"


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Nationwide Interweb Party!

OK, let's have a party.

THIS is just fantastic. And so is this!

And just in case you forgot how good the original was...this!

OK, now for something completely different

Yes? No? Well it doesn't get much better than this
or possibly this or finally, um ...this

But couldn't leave without this!



Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Go Sushi!

We have died and we have gone to sushi heaven. We are afloat in unpasteurised sake and vinegared rice. We have ginger. We have Asahi beer. We are slipping the most fresh, most delectable, morsels into our mouths decorated with salmon roe, mmm; with wasabi, nnnrgh; gold leaf, mm..and corn flakes. ...


This is the Sushi of the Year Award, aka the Seven Sushi Samurai with chefs from Japan, the UK, USA and Russia competing for a large glass trophy, some kudos, some Kikkoman Soy Sauce, and a plane ticket to somewhere exotic. And we are judging this beautiful stuff, we are voting for our favourite. But we are not in Tokyo, or even anywhere in Japan. We are in downtown London.

Japanese restaurants are established in the UK now, plus a growing number of supermarkets serving sashimi fresh fish, grade “A” Japanese Rice and all manner of tofu and vegetables, which suits people like me who love the stuff. But there isn’t a conveyor belt in the land offering anything like this.

We have, in no particular order….
“Whole Salmon” – roe, flesh, head and cartilage in sweet passion fruit juice and a mustard/coffee sauce knocked up by Jeff Ramsay of the Mandarin Hotel, Tokyo.
“Taco Sushi” – octopus, jalapeno, salmon, red and black flying fish roe from the chilli-soaked brain of Mexican chef Jose Calderon, theTako Grill, Maryland.
“Golden Shooting Star” – seaweed (representing sharks fin) daikon, gold leaf and cornflakes from Masashi Ogata, all the way from Asahizushi, Migaya, Japan, a prefecture I understand to be the home of sushi and sashimi.
“Fruits de la Mer Mille Feuille” – tuna, salmon, crab, scallops, paprika and perilla from Noriyoshi Watanabe of the Tsukiji Tamazushi, Tokyo.
“Red Square” – red tuna, beetroot, philly cream cheese, beetroot, sweet and sour jelly from Andrei Sim of the Planeta Sushi, Moscow.
“Miso Beef Sushi” – Scottish Beef Fillet, grapes, miso and sour cream from Tasuhiro Minano, here in Nobu, London.
“Seared Seabass Sushi” – seabass, daikon, chilli, white soy sauce from Masaki Anayama, of Matsuri, also in London.

Now, Yo! Sushi’s conveyer belt is OK, but I’ve been eating in two London restaurants for years. The Ryo (cheap diner open late night) in Brewer St, Soho, serves up great steaming bowls of ramen noodle till 1am, and Asuka in Baker Street where civilized Japanese salarymen mark their whiskey bottles before staggering out into the night from basement private rooms after their fill of sashimi, tempura, grilled fish, rice, pickles and soup. (The best ones are out of town now, Sushi Say in Willesden and Japan CafĂ© in Golder’s Green)

But nothing compares to what these guys are doing. There’s all the pomp and ceremony of a competition, and someone has to win – in this case it’s Masashi Ogata which pleases the traditionalists (like me) even though I’m not Japanese. I’m Scottish and lucky to have been to Japan often enough to eat things that would have made my granny’s hair stand on end. I’ve already written about Kaiseki , which I consider to be the greatest cuisine in the world, but that’s a no brainer.

Sushi, I’m told, is getting boring. Well it wasn’t tonight. Or possibly the endless supply of high quality sake was helping. A lot.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Princess Diana

This is weird, but since the late Princess Diana is back in the news again having her death investigated I couldn't help but remember this incident which is of a Diana nature.

Opposite the northern end of Kensington Park Gardens, where Diana lived, there's a caff called "Cafe Diana" which is a kind of shrine to her, being named after her and lined with photographs more or less floor to ceiling, wall to wall. If you had an allergy to Princess Diana this is not the place to go for a cup of tea. You'd be sick within a few seconds I'd guess, depending on how strong the allergy is, obv.
Anyway, it's also opposite the Polish or Slovenian Embassy where a mate had to go for some reason so I took him there and went for a cup of tea in the Cafe Diana . I don't have anti-Diana allergy but I still felt slightly odd sitting there, at the window looking for him, being stared at by all and sundry like some tourist who's wandered in thinking that some local cockney geezers will be in there having a cup of Rosy Lee which they can tell their friends back home about.

But who do you think walks passed? (No, not Diana, she's brown bread). But only Paul Burrell, Diana's former manservant who disgraced himself in the eyes of the Royal Family for selling a few secrets in his books after that stupid court case.
But the bizarre thing is I KNOW Paul Burrell (a little) because he was introduced to me by his agent, a very nice man indeed called Dave. I went all the way to Cheshire, where he lived, and we had a lovely lunch. We were talking about a TV show (this was before he did all the sleb shows around the world) and it would have gone ahead but for one small thing. He changed agents, and in fact he changed agents THAT DAY, I think the new agent was even in the room while we talked , so it was all a bit awkward and nothing happened. Didn't see him again.

Until the moment I was sitting in the window of the Diana cafe having a cup of tea and looking like a tourist. He just stared at me with a look that said "WTF are YOU doing in THERE?"
but he strode on, purposefully, not feeling the need to come in and join me. In the Cafe Diana.

Now that would have been something to tell the folks back home.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Perfect Day

Perfect days aren't planned. They just happen.
Monty woke me with a nuzzle and despite the time of year (October) we went for a walk in the park in shirtsleeves. It looked like a perfect day

I got back to find an email confirming one of those deals that you work on for weeks and you begin to wonder exactly what you're doing. It was a simple two liner. It's on. GR8. Then a telephone call to discuss another project that's on too. This is getting better.

Lunch - outside in the London sunshine - was only marred by the Polish waitress who literally, really, really really, couldn't speak a word of English but since I wasn't paying, the sun was shining and we were in a good mood, our good deed for the day was to teach her some basic menu rudimentaries. Food was great. The sun shone.

It's 'Art Week' in London and overhead Larry Gagosian's helicopter has been trailing a banner declaring that he is Pop Art. People are trying to make an event out of this. Strolling through the park in the warm afternoon sun towards a party I decide to call the Mobile Phone Company's call centre.

I won't bore you with the details but basically this is always a trial, an endurance test to see how long I can stand listening to somebody witter away at the other end, who's supposed to be trying to sell me something (a new contract) after screwing me around all year. An incentive. Something. Anything. Even a modicum of interest would suffice.

I try a different tack and speak first to Customer Services where a bright young man tells me I need to speak to "Loyalty" and before I have a chance to ask what that is I'm speaking to another bright young man in "Loyalty" who listens to me moan on and on. I've got at the back of my head that they should be offering me, oh, £50 off my current bill, when he interrupts me and says. "How does three hundred quid sound?"

"Music", I reply. In two minutes I'm off the phone, £300 richer with a new contract. Done deal.

I go to the party and meet one of the world's greatest architects, Richard Meier, whom I've met before. The show's about his architecture work and also his art, which is beautiful. He's charming and fascinating. Princess Michael of Kent is introduced to me and there's a momentary silence. She has no idea who I am or why she should be speaking to me. We exchange a tiny bit of small talk before she escapes.

All evening gorgeous waitresses keep approaching us to ask if we'd like more free champagne. It's like a dream. Matthew Collings is there, architects, journalists, faces, it's a fab party in a great space and we all go for what turns out to be a fantastic dinner.

I get home late and discover that ITV4 is showing two episodes of Larry Sanders, the world's greatest television show ever in the history of television. So I watch and laugh my socks off at a show that just refuses to show its age.

In the great scheme of things possibly there are more perfect days than this - world peace is declared or the problems of global poverty and hunger resolved - but if every day turned out to be as good as this I'd be pretty darn happy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Best Pub In The World

It's The French House. In Dean Street, Soho, London.*

Now, I know it doesn't actually sell pints, just halves, spirits and wine since it's holding onto a tradition started years ago, so you might well ask why taking pride of place among the many photographs lining the walls of such luminaries and regulars as Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud etc there's one of Suggs - formerly the lead singer of North London pop combo "Madness" and now general TV star and bonviveur around town - sipping from a full pint of Guinness? Well, I've no idea, I just drink there.

Ages ago, when The French House was just known as French's it confused people because the actual name above the door was The York Minster. I've been drinking there since I was 16 but the patron, Gaston, didn't like me (possibly because he knew I was 16 but being tall, looked 21). I discovered recently that it was his parents who founded the place, having converted it from a German butcher shop, and he is generally regarded as a living legend by all who drink there. Except me, obv.

It's tiny. But when I first started drinking there, the southern end of the bar was out of bounds to the likes of me, it being the high altar of intellectual debate, where matters of great import were discussed and Art Appreciated. Imagine the thrill then, one evening, to be in conversation there with, of all people (sound of very large name being dropped) Robbie Coltrane, the verrry famous Actor, whose party piece at that time was doing several Orson Welles voices, all the way from Citizen Kane through to the Sherry Adverts. Brilliant impressionist he was. Anyway, Gaston was never very happy with me drinking down that end - he would have preferred it if I'd moved the three feet back to the middle zone in front of the bar hatch - but he didn't have no choice. And even though that end has been officially democratised by newbies and incomers, it's still a bit of a thrill to be standing there with one of the luminaries. Even though they're generally drunk as skunks.

Upstairs, where the Free French Resistance used to meet during the Second World War (thus creating the name French's I assume) and were once graced by the presence of de Gaulle, the restaurant plies it's trade under a variety of chefs with a quite repulsive decor which, the last time I looked consisted of a shiny red leopardskin wallpaper. And apart from getting food poisoning one time, it's a very pleasant place to while away an afternoon lunch. I've never gone there for a quick snack in my life.

The wine is occasionally undrinkable. Last night, for example, the Cote du Rhone had a mouth puckering quality that almost brought a tear to my eye, so I switched to the Merlot which frankly was even worse. We settled therefore, for a very acceptable bottle or two of Pinot Noir which went down nicely thankyou, despite the presence of the dislikeable Victor Lewis Smith, TV critic of The Evening Standard, whose venom and irrational scribblings never fail to bore me. He was only a few feet away, (as everyone is) , but the crush currently extends to outside too, due to a large wire fence protecting everyone from falling into the roadworks, thus making the pavement impassable for pedestrians foolish enough to be walking on the east side of Dean Street. Bit of a scrum, frankly, what with outsides of pubs temporarily more popular than the insides due to fugitive smokers and associated smirters.

The window sills are a bit of a joke too, as my mate found out last night at the precise moment his large glass of Pinot slid off the sloping surface straight onto his shirt, tie and jacket. It's also where I meet Mark and June (read here) but they weren't there last night. No matter, voting for Pub of the Year hadn't taken place at that point.

Not much changed after Gaston left (I didn't get an invite to his leaving do, the only person in Soho I think) but the incoming owners decided, for reasons best known to themselves, to make a friend of mine the licensee, complete with name above the door - licenced to sell wines, spirits and beers etc - and everything. I even got to the stage of the occcasional, very occasional, lock-in. But French's never really did lock-ins. I think because it's too small. Gerry's is just yards away anyway, so what's the point of staying in The French House after hours when you can walk a few feet, go downstairs and drink quite legally and happily in there? Generally with the same people - or those sober enough to make the journey.

And not much has changed since. Except the addition of bar food. It's brilliant.

So there you have it. The French House. Best Pub in the World. Da-Daaa!

The runners up in this contest were Tennents Bar in Byres Road, Glasgow, and The Hand in Hand in Kemptown, Brighton, in loving memory of the late, dearly departed landlord Bev - creator and proud owner of Britain's smallest brewery.

* The jury consisted of myself and Monty the Dog. Voting took place last night at a secret location, a park actually, while Monty was doing his business.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sloane Danger

There is little worse than the sound of squeaking from London SW3. Sloane Ranger Land where Daddy's forgotten the allowance again, or Humbert's Yellow Cords are still in the dry cleaners and we're going to Hertfordshire for the Weekend - what ARE we going to DO?? It's a pleasant enough area, if you like £3m cottages, Chelsea tractors and Hermes scarves.

The spiritual centre, if not the geographic, is Sloane Square, which has Peter Jones Department Store on one side and The Royal Court on the other. At one corner is Oriel, a kind of vaguely french looking brasserie which has been there for years but isn't frequented by Lucinda and Jeremy, more by Hansel and Gretel; it looks posh and Parisian but actually it's a cheap catering operation in a 9 bob suit. I've never really gone there out of choice because the food's always terrible, the drinks are overpriced, it's a tourist crowd and the service is always, always atrocious because the staff come and go with some frequency. However we had to meet somewhere, Sloane Square was there, we just wanted a drink, so.....what could possibly go wrong?

8.50pm Sit outside and order 2 glasses of wine. Ask several times. Waiters come, waiters go. We ask. We joke about being ignored.

9.10pm We give in and go inside to the bar, queue, and buy for cash two glasses of wine. Success. Chat. Gossip etc etc.

9.45pm. Try to order 2 glasses of wine. From waiter. Ignored. Try again and again. Ignored ignored. They're busy. With customers. Like us. No wine

10.05pm Go inside, can't attract barman's attention (he's not busy). Give in and ask manageress if we can have 2 glasses of wine (can't get any service from bar) and indicate that we've been asking waiters etc etc. She nods.

10.10pm Manageress appears outside and is clearing tables. We ask for our wine. She looks blank. Then goes inside
10.20pm waiter appears with two glasses of wine. We pay cash. Thankyou.

10.45pm Waiter is clearing and wiping our table so because he's there, we order another two. deciding just to have "one more" as you do. . He can't ignore us. We tell him what we want three times, pointing at glasses, indicating colour etc.

11.00pm Still no wine. Told by same waiter we cannot order as they are closed. Remonstrate. Ask if he remembers taking our order 15 minutes ago. He says no, he's busy. People at the next table are complaining loudly that they've been charged for drinks they didn't have. The waiter is distracted, unpleasant.

11.05pm Wine arrives. Pay cash to sullen, annoyed waiter.

11.06pm Sullen, annoyed waiter returns and presents us with £20 bill "for wine". We ask him what he's talking about. This is the man who has studiously ignored us all evening. He gets aggressive and demands money. I tell him I've already paid him. Cash. Comes back and demands £10 instead. Then demands that I "step inside". People at next table are demanding too. They want attention. Waiter studiously ignores them.

11.10pm. I go inside, slightly furious (exact words to staff - "I was irritated, now I'm angry, what is going on here?")

A second waiter grabs me by the arm and marches me to the till. Shows me other waiter's bill and says I owe him money. Original waiter is angry, failing to communicate through his frustration, and is v excitable. I explain that I don't owe anybody any money and am heartily pissed off at being ignored all night and now even more pissed off at being accused of not paying some bill I've never seen before. A third, then a fourth waiter gather round. This is actually getting quite intimidating. "Our" waiter is beginning to blow his top and I can see he's agitated about losing ten pounds even though I've no idea where he's made the mistake. The second waiter is in my face telling me that the money I owe is going to be taken out the waiter's wages. He is not a pleasant man. I hand over £10 and demand to see manager.

11.20 The manager does not arrive. I ask again. And again. The waiters are clearing up now, studiously ignoring me. I ask again and again. He eventually arrives and we complain, demanding my £10 back that I never owed. He is cool towards us and inwardly assumes he's got some closing time troublemakers (he has!) He tries to explain that it has been busy (yes it had been earlier) that someone had done a runner for £60 which apparently comes out the waiter's wages (What??) and that.... too late, my guest (visiting for the night from South Africa) tells him to shut up, that she never seen service like it, and that the whole joke about the £10 was not the slightest bit funny.

"Why aren't you apologising?" she demands, "What is this? We're customers! What kind of ludicrous place are you running here?"
The people at the next table give up and leave, loudly telling to no-one in particular that they're never coming back.

11.30pm Manager refunds £10 and apologises. Then adds, rather unhelpfully in the circumstances, that "the waiters don't take orders outside". We point out that it's a little late to tell us this. On reflection, we realise he's talking rubbish. Anyway, we leave.

As the Chelsea Fans say on the terraces of nearby Stamford Bridge:
"You're s*** and you know you are".


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

That Richard Dawkins: He's a C***

At the precise moment I was being texted the sad news of Ned Sherrin's death I was not, unfortunately, in the Groucho Club, otherwise a martini, or at least a glass of fizz, would have been raised in his honour.
Ned Sherrin, the gayest blade around town, was not only the brightest performer on Radio 4, when he popped in to the Groucho for a pre-theatre stiffener he lit up the bar with his wit, bonhomie, and general all round charm. He will be missed.
No, I was in my pub in Brighton being told by a piano-playing philosopher Simon Young that "Richard Dawkins is a c***". When I say my pub, I don't mean MY pub, but the pub I frequented when I lived in Brighton which was at its peak then and is now a bit of a hole in the wall. Me and the screenwriter were discussing our script and the philosopher was dying to join in. He showed us his book, Designer Evolution, I think it was called, which was covered in scribbles and told us what philosophers were worth reading ("Aristotle" and two others") and those who weren't. This clearly included Dawkins.

We discussed movies until it became obvious that he wasn't really up to speed, and also that he'd had one or two before talking to us. Nice young man, basically, but his view of Dawkins "fucking nihilist" was getting slightly tiresome the more he repeated it, not to say emphasised it.

Trying to bring the conversation back round to safe territory, I asked the philosopher if he'd seen The Big Lebowski as "the nihilists there were the bad guys".
"They're always the fucking bad guys" growled the young philosopher and we moved back into the danger zone once more which by then included Ken Livingstone (bastard), London (loathesome place), Brighton (full of fucking plebs) all hotels (low life), the Pitcher and Piano pub chain (arseholes) and so on. For such a pleasant looking young man, all floppy hair in a kind of Hugh Grant style, he seemed to have pretty dark opinions about all and sundry.

The screenwriter went to buy a round but came back with the bad news (I should point out that this pub is the tiniest in the world. The actual bar is only three steps from where we were sitting. Actually, make that two steps. By a small person.) The barmaid was not going to serve the philosopher.
"I've already told him he's had enough" she added helpfully.

The philosopher's demeanour changed in an instant when I suggested that possibly he had had one or two more than was necessary. How dare I, he suggested, say such a thing. I said that I'd be glad to buy him one next time he came in, having never seen him in my life before this was a neat way out, but he stated that he would never set foot in such a horrible fucking place EVER again.
We said our goodbyes which included his opinion that we were both C***s because we wouldn't even buy him a fucking drink. "You're all c***s" he offered to the assembled crowd (actually that was the barmaid and an elderly couple sitting silently in the corner).

So there we have it then. Me and Richard Dawkins. C***s.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Scamsters (2)

Scams lie in wait like little internet land mines, ready to damage anyone who passes by. The following attempt at fraud took place this week after an ad was placed in Craigslist by Dave, who was doing nothing more than looking to rent a FLAT IN LONDON. The reason it's so long is that it's all true and for the moment, unedited.

From: Gray
To: xxxxxxxx@craigslist
Sent: Fri, 21 Sep 2007 8.45pm
Subject: Flat wanted : London
I have an affordable apt for rent with cool enviroment and also me for details about the home, but am willing to let you have the apartment only if you promise me that you will keep the apartment clean always.i will let you have it for any price you can afford.just looking for some that will always keep the house clean
Looking forward to read from you

Hi Gray,
Thankyou for the reply. I live in London and have done for a long time but am looking for affordable apartment short or long term. I am housetrained!! Where is the property?You can email me here any time.cheers

From: Gray
Sent: Sun, 23 Sep 2007 1.04pm
Subject: Flat wanted
Thanks for the email, i will like you to know that am so happy with your comment, and also i will to let you have the lovely home with what ever amount you can afford, and also i will like you to know that the reason why i and my wife are giving out these apartment is because we were transfer to west Africa on a business trip, and we don't think we will be coming back, cause after we are through with our business trip, we will finally move to Spain.and aslso here are some info about the home.

Property features
Waterfront View 1520 sq. ft. Central A/C & Heat Walk-in Closet 2 Jacuzzi Tubs Flat Screen TV Living Room Stove/Oven/Microwave Stainless Steel Appliances Separate laundry room with W/D Dishwasher Hardwood Floors Large Basement Storage Tile Floors Refrigerator Granite Countertops Skylights Alarm System bathroom,with toilet

50 steps south of Canton Sq. (Supermarket, bars, restaurants, shops, salons/day spas, Blockbuster, Starbucks, etc.)
½ blocks from the Canton waterfront
7 blocks to Merritt Athletic Club
1 mile from Interstate 95
2 miles from John Hopkins Hospital and Bayview Medical Center
3 miles from UMD and Mercy Medical Centers
5 miles from Union Memorial Medical Center
Entrance Details Leather couch, exposed brick, wall- mounted flat screen plasma TV with surround sound DVD/CD player, hardwood floors, expandable dining table (seats 8)
Gourmet Kitchen
Spacious granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, dishwasher, garbage disposal
First Floor First floor bath, wireless internet, Washer/Dryer, and breakfast tableMaster
Bedroom Spacious bedroom plus 15 ft entrance way, queen bed, TV, linen closet, walk-in closet
Master Bath Dual sinks, Jacuzzi Tub/shower, storage cabinet, skylight
Bathroom 2
Jacuzzi Tub/shower, large basin sink, linen storage space, skylight

So i will like you to get back to with your with your Full home address, where i can send the key to the house and all other Document via DHL as soon as possible, and also i will like you to stick to your word that you will always make the apartment clean.
I will be looking forward to read from you

Hello Gray
Thankyou for your reply which is very detailed. The apartment sounds very attractive.
You appear to live in Baltimore, Maryland. Which the last time I looked was in the USA
I live in London, England. Which is in Europe.
What is going on here?

Sent: Sun, 23 Sep 2007 2.47pm
Subject: Flat wanted
Hello Dave
Thanks for the email, am so sorry for that, i will like you to know that i was decribing an area for a good friend of mine that happens to be in Baltimore, Maryland, he got a new job, and also he is new in Baltimore, Maryland. so i had to give him so miles aways from his work.
So sorry for that get back to me with your home address, where i can send you keys to the house and other document.
looking forward to read from you
Stay Blessed

Hi Gray
That's ok. So where is the apartment?

From: Gray
Sent: Mon, 24 Sep 2007 8:39 am
Subject: Flat wanted..ACCEPTANCE
Hello Dave,
How are you today? i hope you are ok with picture i sent to you in the previous email, and also i have discuss with my wife So as i shall be giving you our house,pls again take care of the house However,since you are ready to rent the house now,then that will not be a problem but we will advice you due to a responsible person like you, and also let me know that amount you can afford for the apartment and also we would like to send the following document to you via the DHL and the tracking number will be sent to you so that you can possible occupy our house,Pls once again,we are giving you this on trust and do not dissapoint us and i promise you that,you will love the here is the address to the house Willesden Green-NW2 4XX XXX St GXXXXX Road
So i am with the below document here with me and i will like you to get back with the
follwing details below
Receiver's Full Name
Delivery full address:
Here are the contents of the document.
1) Entrance and the rooms Keys
2)Paper/Permanent house form(Containing your reference details)
3)The house documetary file.
4)Payment Receipt.

So i will like you to go ahead and make the payment to Mr Kelvin Mike that happens to be my PA below is the info

Receiver's Name:Kelvin Mike
Receiver's City:Apapa
Receiver's State:Lagos
Receiver's Country:Nigeria
Text Question:What Year
Text Answer:2007
Amount Send:

So as soon as you make the payment today, i will be abele to call UPS and pick up the document, and it will be 1-2 day delivery.
I await your reply ASAP.

Hello Gray,
Thankyou for writing back. I didn't receive an email with the picture but I would appreciate i if you could send that first. By an incredible coincidence I happen to know St GXXXXXX Road very well and know people who live there. It would be a better idea if I came to the house first and met you. What time/day would suit you?

Hi Dave
I never knew the picture wasnt attached, but anyway. i have done that now. well it nice to read from you that you know people from St GXXXXX Road but is unfournate i wont be there to show you round the house, cuz am in africa on a business trip which i stated in one of my previous mail, but pics will do you can always go around and check it out on your own.and also i will send you keys to the house and other document i will also like you to get back with the amount you can afford for the apartment.
Looking forward to read from you

Hi Gray,
Sorry, still no picture attached. You're not in the house? Is it empty? I'd really have to see round it first. It's an unusual request to ask someone to take over the running of their house without actually meeting first. How would I get in?

Hi Dave
Thanks for the email, i will like you to know that the key to the house are with in West Africa, and also they only way you can view the house is by me sending the key to the house to your home address, and also i will like you to know that the house is already furnished.also you can pay for the apartment, and if you dont like it when i send you the key to the house, we will refund your money back ASAP
Looking forward to read from you

Hi Gray
Still no picture attached (!) but don't worry. Tomorrow I have to be in the area so will drive by the house. Do you know any of the neighbours? I'm not sure how long you've lived there but I'm sure you must have met one or two. If I have the chance I'll stop and ask. Once I've seen it from the outside I'll be in touch. I'll find it OK but which end of St GXXXXX Road is it on?


Hello Dave
Thanks for the email, the end of it London, Greater London, and also you can get back to me as soon as you drive pass the house.for a friend of mine, i do not associate with people.
Looking forward to read from you

Hi Gray,
Thanks for the email but sorry,maybe I'm being stupid, but I don't understand what you're saying. What's London, Greater London? What does that mean? And please accept my apologies, but I don't know what you're talking about in the last sentence. What friend?I was asking which of the neighbours you know. How long have you and your wife lived there? What is your wife's name anyway - maybe she knows the neighbours better than you. I'd certainly like to make sure that your neighbours know who I am. I don't want to worry them.cheers


Hello Dave
Thanks for the email, i will like you to know that we stay in UK just for 4 Month,and we never have time for any body nor neighbours,so i will like you to go ahead and check the home, and also i will send you picture to the apartment.

Hi Gray
That's fine, thanks, but I still don't understand what the London, Greater London reference is. What is that please?If everything is fine with the apartment I could go to a local bank. Do you know where the nearest one is to the house?And what did you say your wife's name was?


Hello Dave
Thanks for the email,my wife's name is Mary, and also forget about the London, Greater London, and also i will like you to know that i don't have an ideal of the nearest bank to the apartment is
Get Back

Hi Gray
Sorry, I didn't understand your reply about London, Greater London. I was just trying to find out where the apartment is. Is it near the shops? Have you lived there very long?

Hello Dave
Thanks for the email, i will like you to know that i only stay there for 4 Month, and also not very close to the Shop

Hello Dave
Am waiting to read from you

Sorry, who is Lee?

Hello Dave
Am still waiting to read from you

Hello again Lee. I'm sorry I have no idea who you are but you seem to be writing to me from Gray's email address. Who are you?

Hello Gray,
Somebody called Lee is sending me emails from your address. Who is that? I'm going to the flat this afternoon. I'm surprised you say it's not near the shops. I thought it was at that end of St GXXXXXX Road as the people I know stay at the other end. But I guess I'll see this afternoon. cheers

Hello Dave
How are you today? am sorry i was unable to email.that why i told Mr Lee to ask if have been able to drive pass the also let me know if you still want the apartment.
Looking forward to read from you

Hello Gray
Oh, that's why I received two emails from Mr Lee. I was wondering why someone else was using your email address.
I did go to the property yesterday but before we say anything else Gray, you did say 212, didn't you? There seems to so much confusion in these emails I just need to check that you got the number correct.


Hello Dave,
Thanks for the email yes i did say so.what happend ?.and also i will like you to get back with your home address, where i can ship the Document to via DHL today.
Looking forward to read from you

Hello Gray,
There appears to be the most terrible confusion in our emails. The people I spoke to yesterday who live in the house, and have done for many years, say they have never heard of you and have no idea who you might be. Possibly there are 2 houses with the same number? Or possibly you have squatters in your home who give the appearance of being a family?
What do you think Gray?

Hello Dave
Thanks for the email, i will like you to know that it still the same house,but a vacante apartment for you, and also i told you that i don't associate my any one,and also don't have that time to keep friends am always alone.and also am so happy that you check the apartment,and also those people you meet are old tenant, and also am not familary with them, since am a very busy man.
I will like you to get back with your Full Name, Full Home Address.and also i will like you to know that i will deliver the Keys to the House and Document to you, and also get you the Receipt to Delivery.
And also i will like you to go ahead and make the payment for first month,and get back with the Payment that i will be able to deliver the Documents to you.
I will be looking forward to read from you

Hi Gray,

Thankyou for your email Gray. The house I went to was occupied. By a family. They've never heard of you. They live there. You don't. I understand you are a very busy man. With time to write a lot of emails. I also understand that you are married to a woman called Mary. But according to your last email you are always alone.Please reply and let me know what your explanation is.


Hello Gray
I haven't heard from you for a day. I await your reply.

Gray? Hello?


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Scamsters

My bank account has been drained twice. The first time, I was trying to pay a restaurant bill and my debit card was declined, despite the fact that I knew there was money there. After several frustrating calls to my least favourite Indian callcentre we established that it had been cloned after a visit to a pub cash machine on London's South Bank a few hours earlier. The restaurant, bless 'em, allowed me to leave without paying. (I went back the following day and paid. Honest!). The thieves had cleared out all the funds in a matter of hours but I was insured and got it all back.

The other time, I got a call in a Knightsbridge restaurant from Amex, a mysterious call because they simply wanted to establish that I was me, and since we were eating in posh territory, I thought it was all going to be embarrassing ("Rip his card up") But no such thing. The sommelier didn't need to take the armagnacs back. I then went abroad for a week while a bunch of thieves spent £2,000 on my card in a mobile phone shop in NW10. My card had been cloned before I got to the restaurant and the spending spree had started, but Amex were being cautious. Their loss. I got the money back.

But that's kid's stuff, the real scamsters are out there preying in the most surprising places.

Last year my partner had a stall at a Christmas Fayre selling stuff and in the myriad of paperwork that accompanies this kind of enterprise in London (this is not village fete territory, it's serious business) there was one letter which appeared to come from the organisers which recommended renewing a free online ad. Which she did.
Except it wasn't from the organisers. And it wasn't free. It was a scam operating from a Vienna PO Box, (previously they had been in Spain and Switzerland) whereby a bunch of thieves scooped up several thousand pounds a week just by simple deception. They're well known, they form different companies and adopt a variety of nationalities. The Christmas Fayre Company know who they are, the police know who they are, Trading Standards Authorities in Europe and the USA know who they are and the Daily Mirror has even exposed them. But they just plod on, changing company names, conning small businessfolk.

The bill was three grand and they got really heavy with us, and while we would have defended ourselves in court, I suggested that they might like to take their interest elsewhere. Or myself and my friends would come and pay them a visit.

The latest one, going on right now, is the most fascinating. A friend put an ad in Craigslist seeking an apartment in London and was contacted by a variety of people offering all manner of flats and accommodations. One in particular stood out, not by its friendly manner and pigeon English, but because it appeared to be from a couple offering a virtually free apartment ("pay us what you want"). It all sounded very jolly. My friend answered and was told by "the couple" that they were leaving the country and they'd like to send the keys round by DHL and trusted my friend, an honourable person, to look after their apartment for a very long time.

"The couple" then sent apartment details of a place in Baltimore, Maryland, by mistake.
In an apologetic followup they explained that they were also letting out an apartment there to a friend and the emails had got mixed up.


The next email, slightly more urgent in tone, demanded that my friend hand over his address and banking details "so that the keys can be sent immediately with all documentation" and a banking address was attached from Lagos, Nigeria, which would accept the peppercorn rent. Once my friend had handed over his banking details too.

So, in exchange for a free house in central London, this anonymous couple who turn out to be from Nigeria and also have an apartment in Baltimore, only needed an address, a name, and some banking details.

All pigs fuelled up and ready to fly sir.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Breakfast with Eggs

OK so in the Imperial House it's breakfast time and the reason I know that is I've just spoken to someone in Washington DC who's about to go to dinner and its too late to call the UK because its midnight or something so I'll just have the eggs, peppers, prawns and dumplings. That's the 1000 year old eggs whose whites are jet black - and slightly translucent I discover forking one towards the mouth - and the yolks are dark green, and totally opaque and crumbly, with the bright pink ginger on the side. Yus. And the spicy prawns are spicy like a red not chilli-ed up curry. No bacon and eggs for me please.

And that chinese music is really really annoying now, just switch it off, please, because I was enjoying the Stevie Wonder, Tamla Motown and Soul from the sixties medleys with Diana Ross. Because I just saw Diana Ross. She was flown to South East Asia and sang two songs, one of which was a duet with a Chinese bloke, a star apparently, and then she launched into "ain't no mountain high enough, ain't know river deep keep me from yoooooooooooooooooo" and we all swooned. She was utterly utterly fantabulous, despite some slightly shaky background vocals and questionable dancers. She wore a fantasy frock of the brightest yellow you can possibly imagine - a huge spread out affair - that most of the women seemed to think was rubbish but I didn't. Then she went off to sing at the gala dinner which was populated by knobs and knockers, investors and high rollers.

Now in the hours between my dimsum breakfast and our dimsum supper last night which was not only in the same town, the same street but the same building, (we were even at the same table) I didn't even leave the room. Because I'm in the world's biggest casino. It's huuuuuuuge.

I used system 17 in the automated roulette. This is the same as roulette operated by a croupier but has the wheel encased beneath an acrylic dome, and the numbers are on a touch sensitive screen which you touch - sensitively - to bet having inserted your money into a slot. Slightly inhuman but still capable of managing system 17. System 17 is unique and I shall describe it here. You bet on no 17. Then cover adjoining lines, the red (or black) and other areas such as "second 12" or "even" (or odd). The beauty of the system is that you lose very very slowly. Sometimes as little as 40 dollars at a time (which in Hong Kong dollars means 30p). The system is different to Sytem 16, say, which loses your money FAST. Mainly because No 17 keeps coming up (and while I'm on the subject it would be nice if said 17 occasionally appeared during the use of the eponymous System 17). And as for the other systems, say 31 or 8 - ironically the Chinese lucky number, well they're welcome to it - they just don't work at all. No sir. In order to lose your money so slowly it feels like winning sometimes it's system 17 for me. Which is scientifically worked out. As well as being my birthday.

And when you've lost, say, a thousand dollars, in America you'd go back to your room and go to sleep and then wake up and slowly remember it then try not to mention it to anyone, or specifically someone whom you know really well, so that you can go about your daily business trying not to think about what you might have done with 1000 dollars. But in China you can lose 1000 dollars (this is about 60 quid) and be so not bothered by it you can go and have some 1000 year old eggs right away! The Chinese would like the symmetry.

The dumplings arrive scalding hot and instead of the Chinese wine we had the previous night - god the wine took a long time to come, I'm sure they sent out to Oddbins for it - we're having green tea. Without mint. No idea why, as I'm sure I've never had green tea with mint before. And it's a fine breakfast. 7am and the light hasn't changed becuse like all casinos there are no windows or clocks. There are hundreds of Chinese people betting beside me, some are arguing with their wives/girlfriends and the Chinese Authorities have apparently held the adjoining border open to facilitate all night gambling on opening night. Nice.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Forcing the Issue
The resplendent if awkwardly named City of Brighton and Hove is a fine place, much improved of late with some strenuous work along the seafront, as if to compensate for the ugly reminder of what might have happened if the West Pier had ever been restored rather than left to rot and finally be torched (twice) by professional arsonists. There's a volleyball court, basketball, a new safe paddling pool (the old one is filled in) and an array of restaurants, bars, fish and chip shops and so on.

On a September evening as the sun sets over Shoreham Power Station's single chimney there's barely a finer stroll/jog/dogwalk to be had. And once you reach the border with Hove, marked by the smartly refurbished Embassy Court, you can take a gander up Western Street to Norfolk Square, as Nationwide is wont to do.

Western Street is a bit grey now, even on an autumnal evening, but the gayness of the Bedford Arms brightens it up and a few wee restaurants run by couples open and close their doors with relative frequency. At the moment, there's only The Gingerman which has not only survived but thrived in this out of the way place.

Now The Gingerman is one of the best places to eat in Brighton. It's a small, cosy restaurant just yards from the seashore and specialises in top quality modern food, well sourced and thoughtfully cooked and presented. It's got two sister premises now and manages to survive the vagaries of modern catering.

However on Tuesday night, in order to dine at The Gingerman you would have had to negotiate your way past a large picket line. 12 members of VIVA - the militant wing of vegetarianism -were protesting against the use of foie gras. They spread their large banner across the small pavement, blocking the entrance, handed out leaflets, and by megaphone informed the bemused residents of this quiet street that ducklings being caged, tortured and killed was not acceptable. Geese too. And everyone should boycott the restaurant until they took it off the menu.

Except it wasn't on the menu. Pig's head was, but foie gras wasn't. A neighbour pointed this out to them and was shouted down, the main defence being that it was on the "website" menu. Which I checked. And it isn't. But let's not get bogged down in detail. I would imagine that pate de foie gras might appear on the menu, sometime.

One of the protestors, all the way from Nottingham she told me, explained that it didn't matter how small or fragile a business was, if they were serving foie gras (which they weren't) they would be targeted.
"But what happens" I asked, "If they go out of business?"
"Good," she replied, "One down"
I explained that there were probably a thousand more targets in the Brighton and Hove area that might merit such a large protest.
"Like where?"
"Well," I suggested, "What about the biggest hotel in Brighton for example, the Grand?"
"They don't serve it".
So I got out my mobile and called the Grand, got through to the King's restaurant, and was told that they had on the menu a starter of Ballotine of Foie Gras. There was a momentary silence. "Well they said earlier they didn't have any"
"But they do. Why don't you all go round there?"
"Em....because we're here"
At which point the exasperated neighbour intervened again, flourishing a menu and explaining that the Gingerman didn't serve etc etc.......and then a wee waitress poked her head out the door and said with only the faintest hint of frustration in her voice
"We don't serve foie gras" in an attempt to shoo them off.
This was turning into a sketch from Monty Python.
"What about the supermarkets?" I asked, "They sell tons of the stuff"
"I ain't seen it" said the Nottingham woman, who then confessed that she'd never looked for it, being a vegetarian.
"Waitrose don't," the woman with the megaphone announced,
"They have a policy not to sell it"
Well they might, but there's no mention of it on their website and I'm sure I've bought at least pate de foie gras in my local branch. (I only ever buy the real stuff in France)
"Well why not go to Tesco or the new Sainsbury's then?"
They looked at each other with raised eyebrows as if I was a stupid child unable to add up my numbers.

Then the police arrived, who explained that they happened to be driving by, hadn't been called by anyone, and suggested that the small doorway shouldn't be blocked. They refused and explained it was their right. The neighbour then intervened again and said "They don't sell foie gras, we've been telling them since they turned up". The policemen looked as if he regretted stopping. It was all very Brighton and jolly.

Now, I like a mixed diet, and I've eaten foie gras on occasion, so I'm inclined towards the view that bully boy picket lines shouldn't be choosing such small targets, especially places which don't even have foie gras on the menu, but I suppose we have a right to protest, picket and create a fuss anywhere we want.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Govan to Hong Kong. The eaty way.

Friday 10am. Am woken by cat leaping off top of wardrobe and landing on chest like dropped sack of potatoes. Except with feet, and claws. And loud yelping noises. Did it at 5am too - apparently it likes me. Quickly work out that in order to kill it I have to catch it first, and while I'm still under the duvet it's already out the door, laughing.
Get up and try to remember where dry cleaners is that contains suit which got covered in red wine the other night by singularly stupid partygoer. It's in Partick, of course, so walk down to Dumbarton Road and pick up suit. Meet friend at cashpoint who's just been to doctor and given the all clear. "What for?" I ask. "Worst hangover I've ever had" comes the cheery reply, "Just going off to try and find the car now. Want a lift?"

11.30am. Get subway (single stop) to Govan Cross, walk through the quiet, sunny streets of what was once a thriving shipyard community but is now largely deserted, to pack bag and leave Glasgow, having forsaken the delights of Cannes to holiday this year in, er, Govan .

12.00 noon. Stagger down stairs with bag and walk to bus stop, avoiding eye contact with suspicious looking new Govanite who, on a hot day is wearing a jumper, two jackets and an anorak. His pasty white vacant expression, dribbling, and slight stagger suggest narcotic intake so leap onto first small cityhopper bus and join cheery pensioners who are on their way to meet chums for shopping, cups of tea and probably small cheese and onion foldover from Greggs the bakers. (60p)
12.10 Alight at Govan Cross Shopping Centre and join queue to buy Greggs 59p sausage roll for late brunch. Scoff entire thing (yum) before taking subway, this time halfway round the entire system, to Buchanan Street.

12.29 Arrive Queen Street Station in time to miss train to Edinburgh but they're every fifteen minutes. Don't care. It's packed so sit in Business Class, where I can read a free copy of the Evening Times if I pay the supp of five quid. Ticket Inspector comes round and counts number of people in Business with economy tickets. All six of us. "Doesn't matter" he says and let's us all off. Nice man. The rest of the train is sweaty standing room only so donate my copy of Evening Times through sliding door in spirit of Red Cross.

13.30 Am late for lunch so sprint up Waverly Steps to Balmoral Hotel, where I pretend I'm staying in order to leave bag, fresh from Govan, and head up to Harvey Nicks where, on the Forth Floor the agent has a table outside, and we enjoy the fresh air, sunshine and spectacular view over St Andrews Square while munching and drinking posh food and wine al fresco. The starter is some kind of tiny dried up smoked haddock pastry thing which I wouldn't have paid 29p for in Greggs, followed by "Thai" fishcakes which are as big as they are tasteless. Greggs don't serve fishcakes so no comparable data available.

15.30 It's Festival Time so all manner of famous faces are lingering and drinking after lunch, some of whom I can even put a name to, rather than simply "that's that bloke off Mock the Week". Tragically no deal is done so we agree to reconvene in London for more posh food and wine.

16.00 Head to office, write emails, make calls, bemoan August as a month where nobody is at their phone. Leave at 16.55.

18.00 We are esconsed in a Thai champagne bar but swap for beers in tiny wee pub in Royal Mile, which has resisted gastropubification and only serves drink to bona fide drunks. And us. Crisps if you're lucky, although to be fair it does have a small room at the back which is transformed into a theatre for the festival. Thus providing a three week income which probably outstrips the annual bar takings. The barman is an expert at lighting his fag behind the bar, taking a draw as he walks towards the door, inhaling and, as he reaches the fresh air, blowing out a lungful of smoke, thus not breaking any laws. There is also a military chap, sporting several scars and tattoos, who wants to be my friend.

20.00 Hopes of dinner in Edinburgh's poshest new Italian eaterie are dashed by throngs of tourists so a greek meze and BYOB suffice. Thresher's 3 for 2 deal means we've got two extra bottles which miraculously we do not open as we are too busy talking.

23.00 I snaffle one of the bottles, get it opened by pushing my way through a melee of drunks in the Waverly Station bar to grab the corkscrew and settle down in the overnight sleeper buffet to read and drink wine. But have mislaid reading glasses! And can't read! Bah! Do not therefore feel like sitting drinking wine. Strike up conversation with other passenger who has cancer. Very sad, very thoughtful, very brave. Terminal.
00.00 Change mind. Drink wine.

02.00 Stagger - the train is moving - to berth and try not to waken other occupant but accidentally switch light on, kick him while clambering into top bunk, switch main overhead light on, loudly apologise and then - presumeably - snore all the way to Euston.

07.00 Turfed out into cruel light of day and jump in cab. Arrive home at 8am and we go out to Patisserie Valerie for breakfast. Beautiful morning, slightly sleepy. Put other suit in other dry cleaners - one I'll remember this time.

09.00. Head for proper tube, Piccadilly line, to Heathrow. Sail through whole process (already checked in, no queues, pleasant staff give me fast track pass) and, despite efforts of British Airports Authority to prevent me finding plane by constructing large supermarket in the middle of the terminal, by 11am am sitting in airline lounge eating dimsum for second breakfast.

12.00 Board Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong and change into Shanghai Tang pyjamas. Chinese attendent surprises me with Glaswegian accent. He's from Shawlands, which is a bit like the nearby Govan except everyone has a job and a large house. Watch movies, sleep, eat, sleep, watch movies.

07.00 Arrive Hong Kong and am whisked by fast car along motorways, over bridges, through tunnels into Central for first meeting where, in the sublime surroundings of the Mandarin Oriental, we are to my disappointment eating fashionable western style breakfast (boo!) instead of dimsum which is probably what the entire population of the HK is tucking into at that moment.

11.00 Meeting over and am whisked off again to ferry for Macau where the world's biggest hotel/casino complex is about to open. The Venetian - a clone of the Las Vegas Venetian , where the Grand Canal and gondolas exist cheek by jowl with branches of Nike and Zara - just like Venice itself.
Acres of wealth, bags of opulence, 3000 duplex suites instead of rooms, plus twenty four hours a day seriously upscale fine dining establishments from Japan, Los Angeles, Paris, and New York. But alas not Govan. No 59p sausage rolls then.


Thursday, August 16, 2007


Sunshine, being a rare commodity these days, is something I am determined to manufacture. This came to me during the last Ryanair flight where I decided that no matter what they threw at me, I would beatifically smile back (driven admittedly by the small logged thought that said "You only paid £20 for this flight you cheapskate" but that's another matter) and infuse their lives with a little bright shiny happiness. It's the very least Ryanair staff deserve.

Sunshine is the order of the day. And not just in the general direction of Ryanair, or callcentre pikeys who I as a rule don't like very much at all.

No, let's start with the London to Edinburgh GNER East Coast service which is one of my favourite rail journeys, currently doubling as the comedy express to Festival City. This morning Jimmy Carr was seated only a few rows away from that West Country bloke off Mock the Week and Stephen Merchant's official lookeylikey was there too (three double takes to establish that it wasn't the man himself). This is a good service even when it's a tad overfull.

I was planning to the get 11.30 but being bored I got there early and jumped on the 11am to be told there was no chef for the dining car. Yes yes I know you didn't know they had chefs. Well the days of the curled up cheese sandwich were a long time ago in GNER. Admittedly, I recently asked to see "the children's menu" on the Scotrail Sleeper and was brought two microwaveable boxes of fish shapes and sausage shapes and gruffly asked which one I wanted. The small person just pointed in terror, fearful of being eaten by the grizzly one in uniform.

No no, GNER - who sadly are giving up the service in December due to parent company troubles and handing over to National Express (if you're liking all this train information why don't you also try is in a different league food and drinkwise and every so often the thought of a meal as we streak along the North Easteren shores of England hurtling towards Auld Reekie attracts.

However the 11am didn't have a chef, at which point I asked the man clipping my ticket if there might be a seat somewhere, anywhere on the train. He suggested that I get off at the next stop and get the 11.30 which would not only have seats but also a chef. I smiled and said that this was a good idea. It wasn't. But I smiled anyway.

Getting off at Peterborough, I was accosted by an overzealous ticket person who wanted my ticket, pronto, and didn't care if it said "Edinburgh" on it or not. I smiled provocotively. Then I asked which platform the 11.30 was coming into and was told "there is no 11.30". And after several smiley filled moments of conversation - not to say consternation - we established that sure enough, there wasn't indeed an 11.30. And never had been.

So I waited an hour and a quarter. When the 12 something or other trundled up and I got on. The dining car was in full swing with 8 empty seats. "Next sitting's at York. 2 o'clock".
I smiled. And asked if I could sit and wait.

I tried to find a seat but couldn't even make it into the next carriage there were so many people standing. Not many of whom were smiling, like me.

So I stood in the buffet where three Fringe producers had their stage drawings out for an Edinburgh show and were loudly discussing lighting which meant that the small drunk man of the buffet only really had me to speak to. And breath over. He smelt as if he'd been drinking since breakfast. I smiled in blissful ignorance since I couldn't understand a word he said.

At 2, I was allowed in and smiled at the stressed out staff. The food was great, the scenery even better, and the weather was smiling too. I finished at 4.15. The train was due in to Edinburgh at 4.30.
"I'll have to ask you to move" the stressed out non smiling lady said, "We need to clear the table". I smiled and said please go ahead. She insisted. I said there were no seats on the train and couldn't I just sit for the remaining 10 minutes of the journey?
I smiled and thanked her for, um, well I don't know really. For taking my money, serving me and then chucking me out the seat. With 10 minutes to go.

Arriving at Waverly Station, smiling through gritted teeth, I stepped into a city where ten thousands comedians are determined to make me laugh. No problemo. I'm smiling already.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Some things need to be said

A long time ago the current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was a politics lecturer. I didn't know he was going to be PM, or even Chancellor. He taught politics. He was brilliant.
He then went off and presented a TV politics programme. He was OK at that too.
Many years later he hosted a poetry night at No 11 Downing Street in honour of National Poetry Day (sigh)
There were two brilliant poets performing in front of the great and the good, one of whom was the Fire Poet, Philip Wells, who did stunning stuff, as he always does.
It would have been easy to just shake a few hands and sneak out after a few minutes. But Gordon Brown introduced the evening with Hugh McDiarmid, a poet very well known in Scotland, but not well known South of the Border. He didn't read any notes, nor did he skive off. He recited McDiarmid in full. Then he stayed - despite aides tugging his sleeve - all night.

Wow, former Chancellor. Dude.

The alleged suicide bomber at Glasgow Airport has died tonight, and by coincidence, just a few hours before, Gordon Brown met John Smeaton at No 10.
John Smeaton is the baggage handler at Glasgow Airport who - on a fag break - suddenly found himself in the midst of a conflagration with a flaming Jeep, a flaming driver (now dead) , and another "alleged" terrorist. Smeato ran to help a policeman and has become a hero (at least North of the Border - see for his efforts.
He's also written up worldwide, from the USA to India to China and oh....everywhere (this is a blog, not a newspaper!)
Smeato is a regular guy. A smart, well read, straight up and down bloke who suddenly found himself not only in the midst of a terrrorist attack, but then almost immediatley in a media cyclone. He's dealt with it.

Tonight, Gordon Brown invited him to No 10. He could have just shook his hand "Hi, I'm Gordy" But he didn't. He spent at least ten minutes in private, asking what had happened to him, how he was, what had happened to the others who took the same action. He wanted to know. Then he came out in front of the press and sang his praises. For another ten minutes.

The British Minister took time to sing the praises of a baggage handler from Glasgow airport who just took a moment out his life to do the right thing. To stop a potential mass murderer killing a lot of innocent people.

Hey British Prime Minister! Good Thing!