Sunday, August 12, 2007

Oh dear

We just went to the Waggon and Horses for the first time in about a year, only to discover that it's under new management. What used to be one of the best pub menus in the South of England has been replaced with a bland, identikit "pub grub" menu. Not only that, but it's tasteless, overpriced, reheated frozen food, and very, very disappointing.

The new owners have also got rid of the art gallery, the classical concerts, the jazz nights, the play area, and the animals, and with it, they've shipped out all the character that made the W&H such a great place. Francisco spent ages trying to find a buyer who would continue what he had built up; I think he'd be mortified to see what's happened.

Anyone know of any pubs in Somerset where they serve game?

Monday, July 30, 2007

My favourite places to eat

Well, I'm sitting in a hotel room in Beverly Hills, just having eaten one of the best steaks I have ever had, and casting my mind back to when I made the bookings for this trip. I told the agent to save me money on the hotels, so I'd have more to spend on restaurants. I'm glad I did. One of the best things about travelling the world is getting to sample the food wherever you go. So I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the hotel they'd booked me into was right over the road from one of my very favourite eateries, Factor's.

So anyway, I'm going to kick off this blog with a list of my very favourite places in the entire world to eat, in no particular order. They're all first-class, and I thoroughly recommend any and all of them.

L'Auberge Provencal (Cannes, France)
Rustic French-style cooking. It's off the sea front, so it's largely undiscovered. (Why am I telling you about it? I don't want it to be popular, I want it to be my little secret.) The wild boar stew is without a doubt one of the richest, most sumptuous main dishes you will ever find. Go for a really ballsy French wine with it, and you've got all you need for an evening of decadent eating.

Le Mesclun (Cannes, France)
This place is just up the hill about 20 paces from L'Auberge Provencal. In fact, there's an entire street full of amazing restaurants. Really. Every shop in the street is a restaurant, they're all tiny, and they are all superb. This is the only even vaguely posh place on my list. And even then, it's not actually posh, just a bit smart, and amazingly not at all pricey. In fact, it's probably one of the cheapest places on the entire list. A fine meal there will cost you about the same as a good pub meal in the UK. Everything there is good. I know. I've tried it all (except the seafood). What's really nice is that they keep bringing you little tasters in between courses, even if you didn't order them. Stuff like truffle soup, or Roquefort with figs, and so on. If you like French food, this is the place. Oh, and drink the cheap wines. They're nicer than the expensive ones, and go better with the food.

The Waggon and Horses (Doulting Beacon, UK)
This is a tiny little pub a few miles from my house. They specialise in game, most of which is shot locally, so it's not so good out of season. They have an amazing selection of Somerset cider brandy, which rivals Calvados any day for my money. I've learnt that rather than choosing from the menu, ask them what's good, as it entirely depends on what the different meats are like that week. Don't bother with the wine list - drink beer. See what local brews they have, and sample them.

Factor's Famous Deli (Beverly Hills, USA)
Breakfast at Factor's is the most wonderful way to start the day. Unfortunately, the effects are noticeable. After three breakfasts in a row, you won't fit into your trousers. I'm speaking from experience here. It's happened to me a few times, and I keep coming back for more. It does Jewish American cooking, set in a 1950s style diner. Portions are huge. No, they're bigger than huge. They're enormous. But it's so good, you just can't help eating it all. This trip I had dinner in Factor's for the first time, and the dinners are even better than the breakfasts. And the puddings - well, let me recommend the banana caramel cheesecake zango, which is basically banana cheesecake inside a fried flaky tortilla with caramel sauce and cream and fruit. One of the most luscious puddings I have ever eaten.

Spark Woodfire Grill (Beverly Hills, USA)
Practically over the road from Factor's, this steakhouse delivered one of the best meals I've ever had in the US. Nothing fancy, just very, very well done. The only other time I've had steak that good was in the Buenos Aires Grill in Seattle. The chocolate mousse was exquisite (and less damaging to the waistline than Factor's chocolate mousse). If, like me, you can't decide which wine to have, go for one of their tasters, where they bring you a tiny glass of three different wines, and give them all a go.

The Thai Kitchen (London, UK)
These guys were in business long before Thai food became popular. Don't go in there expecting to order a Tom Ka or a Pud Thai or a Green Chicken Curry. It's more like a Dim Sum restaurant. Order a load of tiny dishes, and spend the entire evening nibbling. When the bowls get low, order more food. Repeat until closing time. Better still, let the chef choose what to send out, and unexpectedly delicious things will just keep arriving at your table. That's a wonderful dining experience.

Pipasha (Cambridge, UK)
This does Indian food as good as any I ever had in India. In fact, better than most Indian restaurants in India. Of all the eateries on the list, this is the only one where I have ever had a disappointing meal. But then, I've eaten there more than I've eaten at any of the others, so I can forgive them one lapse out of maybe forty or fifty meals. And even then, it wasn't a bad meal, merely a good one. The Shabji Jalfrezi is one of the best veggie dishes I've ever had, and the Shakuti chicken, a fiery Goan dish is magnificent.

Javier's (Laguna Beach, USA)
I love Mexican food, and several people told me that Javier's was the best in California. They weren't wrong. It's not the typical TexMex food you find all over the place, and there's so much more than just burritos and tacos. I told them I was from England, I liked Mexifood, and I'd heard they were the best, so they brought me a platter with some of everything to try. The mole is gorgeously rich, and the carnitas are really succulent. The only thing they didn't have that I would have liked was a puerco pibil. (Which is probably a good thing, or I'd have had to whack the chef.)

My house (Somerset, UK)
No, seriously. Restaurants are all very fine, but I really like eating in my own house. We cook all sorts of food - I enjoy cooking North African, Turkish, Indian, and Mexican as well as traditional English game and other local dishes. And Ali is the Queen of puddings, does a fine roast, and knows how to cook just the right comfort food when it's needed. Borris's house is a pretty damn fine place to eat as well, easily as good as any restaurant on the list, and Phil does a mean pibil. Sometimes, you just can't beat home cooking.