We need to talk about hand sanitiser

Look, we’ve discussed face masks until we’re blue in the face…

(See what I did there? More often than not people are wearing those blue face masks. It is indeed a strong start.)

…the argument seems to sit pretty squarly on whether you believe:

A) They are used to prevent you firing globules of infected spittle at strangers.

B) They are part of a loony lefty conspiracy theory designed to hamper your dazzling individuality.

Whatever camp people are in on that, they have almost certainly blindly followed ‘rules’ about hand washing. If they’re not belting out ‘Happy Birthday’ and scrubbing their grubby mitts, they’re squirting hand sanitiser on and rubbing their palms together like flies coming up with a brilliant plan. Has no one stopped to question, “WHY?!” Well, I have.

During lockdown I drank alcohol, I’d have it delivered to my door (more often than not from independent retailers – it’s important to sneak this bit in as a reminder of what a saint I am). In four months I probably drank to excess once or maybe twice, I remember having one vague hangover. Since lockdown ended I’ve had at least four hangovers, three of which would have killed off lesser bloggers.

So, what changed? The excitement of being out of the house? The thrill of being back in pubs and restaurants? No, stop speculating. There is one clear difference.

HAND SANITISER

At home I wasn’t sanitising my hands when walking in and out of the garden, or after going to the toilet. Every pub I’ve been in since though, I’ve applied hand sanitiser at least a couple of times. Can you do the mathematics or do you need me to help? Let me whisper this in your ear, “alcohol.”

Most hand sanitisers have a decent whack of alcohol in them, so when using hand sanitiser in a pub you’re rubbing booze between your hands. This often sends a waft of grog up your nostrils and reminds you that you should drink more.

Is that a problem? Not necessarily. I’m just trying to make you aware.

Not convinced? Fine, it’d be a bit like going into a butchers and rubbing pig blood in between your fingers – you’d end up buying more sausages than you know what to do with wouldn’t you? It’s just a fact.

Be well.

Dishoom – Birmingham

I’m not sure if any of you have noticed but Dishoom have opened in Birmingham.

Birmingham’s top bloggers have probably already covered it, but I thought I’d take it as an opportunity to try and get some traffic to my website.

Then I thought, “hang on, Rob, you could give something back to the blogging community.” So, here’s a guide on how to write a food blog for those of you just starting out.

Ok, begin with some absolutely tedious personal information. Tell the reader that you’ve heard of Indian food before – if you’ve been to India DEFINITELY get that bit in.

Now, maybe go into some detail about the location. Waffle on about the interior for a bit. This bit is important – go to Dishoom’s website and find some information about them / their food and repeat it in your own words, this way it makes it sound like you vaguely know what you’re on about.

Next up, tell the reader that you perused the menu. You perused the absolute fuck out of that menu didn’t you? You naughty peruser.

Did you order a drink? You devil! Tell us!

Food? Say it was mouthwatering. Say something had a ‘chilli kick’.

Put a photo in, why not?

This is a picture of what I ate

Sign off, put a score if you want, say you’ll go back.

Congratulations, you’ve written a food blog and it was a complete waste of everyone’s time.

Restaurants are dead – good

That’s right, restaurants have no place in a post COVID-19 world, and frankly, it’s a good thing.

Restaurants are bad. They’re bad for all sorts of reasons which I’ll explore later in this thought piece, but fortunately a global pandemic has hopefully put an end to them. As a result of Coronavirus the eating landscape has changed and it’s insane to think we let restaurants get away with it for so long.

Here, I’ll put forward just five of the thousands of reasons why restaurants are hopefully a thing of the past.

1. Do I have to book to sit in the living room and eat a delicious home cooked meal or take away? No. Well, unless there’s a Zoom quiz happening in there.

2. Do I have to get out of my dressing gown to eat a delicious home cooked meal or take away? No. Well, unless there’s a Zoom quiz happening.

3. “Can I take your coats?” “Can I get you a drink?” “Would you like to see the wine list? “What would you like to order?” “Do you want dessert?” “Would you like a tea or coffee?” “Can you leave now please?” Imagine the person you eat dinner at home with bombarding you with this many questions, you’d be like, “NO, I AM NOT DOING YOUR ZOOM QUIZ.”

4. Prices. At home if I want to cook a carrot in beef fat it’d probably cost me like 12p or something, it’d be shit, but still 12p.

5. “Order us an Uber.” “I ordered the last one.” “Did you?” “Yes.” “Pretty sure it was me.” “Can we just go home now, please?” “Fine.” None of that if you just need to go upstairs / fall asleep on the sofa with your Zoom still connected so your friends can watch you sleep.

There we are. Pretty damning.

Obviously I don’t actually think this. My god I absolutely can’t wait to be sat in a restaurant with an atmosphere, eating delicious food and drinking too much wine and NOT HAVING TO DO THE FUCKING WASHING UP.

I wrote this after scrolling through my phone and seeing (amidst the constant lockdown cats photos) photos from my birthday dinner at Carter’s, a last minute booking at Harborne Kitchen, a hungover trip to Meat Shack, a weekend in London where I ate at A Wong and Bao and it made me realise how bloody lucky we are to have these places. Then I remembered that article some lunatic wrote trying to say pubs being closed is a good thing.

I really bloody hope all my (and your) favourite ones survive this.

Walkabout – Birmingham

AD / Invited / I don’t know what you’re supposed to put here.

Being an absolute expert at:

A) watching sport
+
B) drinking
+
C) eating

It was only a matter of time before the people at Walkabout invited me to visit them.

You see, there is categorically no one in the West Midlands more capable of sitting on their arse, downing pints and eating chips – it’s just a fact.

Even more reason to get me involved is my knowledge of Australia and its ‘culture’, as my ex is an Australian and I lived in Sydney

So, let’s get down (under) to it.

I drank a beer. Heineken to be exact, a golden, fizzy lager from Holland. I could taste the Dutch influence and said to the barman, “dit schreeuwt om dronken te zijn,” – it simply screamed to be drunk.

Being a boy of food, I did eat, as they invited me to eat. I chose a charcoal burger as I thought it’d potentially give me an interesting angle for this blog, I upgraded to have ‘spiral fries’ with it for an extra 50p.

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The ‘spiral’ fries also known as ‘curly’ in some circles were most pleasant. Think a normal chip, but in an unexpected shape. Golden, potatoey, crisp – what more could you want?!

charcoal burgerThat brings me on to the burger, what can I say about the burger? Nothing. Nothing nice anyway.

IMG_8531I counted no fewer than 4,000 screens in the venue, which means if, for example, you’re looking for somewhere to watch the remainder of the Six Nations where you can sit down, see a TV, drink beer and eat chips – then Walkabout has you covered.

 

Gino D’Acampo – My Restaurant – Birmingham

If you like Gino D’Acampo’s face as much as Gino D’Acampo likes his face then you’ll really like Gino D’Acampo’s restaurant. If you like Gino D’Acampo’s face and crap Italian food you’ll fucking love it.

His face is everywhere, it’ll haunt your dreams after visiting – especially bad for those of you who worry about being burgled.

My lunch began with Arancini – mushroom risotto with mozzarella in the middle. I’m a big fan of Arancini, if you’re ever in Rome – there’s nothing nicer than popping into Supplì Roma when you’re halfway through a day of drinking too much and sticking some deep-fried items in your face.

unnamed (3)Gino’s could have been OK, they were crispy and the mozzarella in the middle had melted as you’d expect – the problem was that whoever made the risotto decided not to season it at all. Mozzarella doesn’t taste of much, rice doesn’t taste of much so it didn’t taste of much. There were four on the plate and after eating one and a half I gave up.

The best bit about the starters on offer was how the calamari was served. Someone had the genius idea of putting them on a piece of paper with an Italian newspaper printed on it – Gino is Italian you see.

Cleverly, they settled on La Gazzetta from July 2017 where the lead sport story was about Ajax winger Abdelhak Nouri suffering a cardiac arrest during a game. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about a cardiac arrest that just makes me want to gorge on deep-fried food.
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Then, here it came – the fettuccine bolognese.

I was pretty certain this was going to be shit, but I was willing to be proved wrong – honest. And talking of honesty, I honestly have no idea how you can make a bolognese sauce with so little meat in it that tastes of nothing. Quite an achievement.

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Things were finished off with a tiramisu almost as good as the one from Sainsbury’s.unnamed (6)
The most enjoyable part of the meal was when I got to countdown as the TV showing Gino’s face on a loop went into sleep mode.

Eat Vietnam – Birmingham

Have I ever mentioned that I lived in Vietnam? Yeah, six months spent at the Viet Duc Industrial College in Sông Công, Thai Nguyen province back in 2004.

My time was spent teaching at the college and a bank up the road. I also spent a lot of time listening to my Irish flat mate crying. It was one of the most fantastic times of my life, there’s just something about hearing an Irishman quietly sobbing for his ‘mammy’ that really does it for me.

Other than providing high class education and drinking rice wine with the bank manager I also ate a lot of Vietnamese food.

As a result, I’m the actual number one food blogger in the midlands when it comes to quantity of fish sauce consumed – hopefully something which will finally be recognised at an award ceremony soon. I fucking love fish sauce.

With this in mind, the sign ‘fish sauce is not for everyone’ adorning the wall of Eat Vietnam in Stirchley made me feel like this was a safe space, so I immediately jumped on the table and loudly informed the staff and other diners that I had actually once lived in Vietnam, I then shouted my order towards the kitchen and sat back down.

“The seats here are slightly more comfortable than the little plastic stools you get at street side food places in Vietnam!!” I declared to my long suffering wife.

“You’re a tosser,” she replied.”

“Cút đi, woman!”

Food

Duck breast and fennel salad with plum sauce. Lovely.

Steamed scallops with ginger and black bean dressing. OK – just because I prefer them fried with a bit of colour on them.

Aubergine with honey miso glaze. Excellent.

Crispy pork belly. Delicious.

Tamarind chicken wings. Insert another word for delicious here.

So, if you’re incapable of doing the arithmetic yourself – we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Why not do what we did on this particular Friday evening? Start at Attic Brewery for a couple of beers, Eat Vietnam for your food then head to Couch and drink everything on their menu – thank me later.

Cảm ơn.

Ynyshir – Wales

1 x taxi that didn’t turn up.

1 x train that stopped after 10 minutes and chucked everyone off because of flooding.

1 x taxi that broke down on the hard shoulder.

1 x cancelled train.

1 x lovely man from Machynlleth called Huw.

That’s how we spent our first wedding anniversary getting to Wales. Well, that’s how it started anyway, you can read more about the journey at TransportyBoys.com (don’t click that link it has the potential to be muck).

In a room nursing a restorative negroni, a chef came over and provided us a bowl of duck broth. If I thought the negroni was improving my mood this made me forget trains even existed.

And so began, the best meal I’ve ever had.

Everything about our trip to Ynyshir was perfect. The venue is beautiful, our room was lovely, the wine (shout out to the delightful Rory) was fantastic and the food blew my little cock off.

Anyone who has seen my gut will know that I’ve had a few tasting menus in my time, and many of them have been really good. Normally, I find, in a 8/9 course situation you’re probably looking at a couple of dishes that you’re at best indifferent to.

This was 22 courses and I loved every single one of them.

From the Not French Onion soup to the Welsh Wagyu Fudge it just kept getting better.

The next day we were trying to decide which course was our favourite and it was actually impossible.

If I was pushed, I’d say the Chicken Katsu, chilli crab, hoisin duck, char siu pork, grouse, sticky toffee pudding and tiramisu all stood out.

Chicken Katsu

Chilli crab

Grouse with 100% chocolate

Tiramisu

All that, and I haven’t even mentioned the three Wagyu courses. Having never eaten this type of beef before I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I’m not sure I’ll bother eating it anywhere else.

Wagyu burger

A burger was first up – the level of fat in it meant it dissolved in my mouth and resulted in me making strange noises. The second one ‘raw’ was covered in caviar and made me scream with joy, then the rib made me actually ejaculate.

Wagyu rib

There’s not much else for me to say, it was a perfect meal, you finished and felt like you’d just had something really special.

The next morning, a breakfast of crumpets, salmon, bacon and eggs was made even better by having a chat with Gareth as he prepped for an event that night.

I can’t think of a more perfect way to spend our first wedding anniversary. Next time you’ve got something to celebrate – get yourself there.

I’ve used the word perfect a few times here haven’t I? Have another one:

Perfect.

Cornerstone – Hackney

“A cornerstone is literally a stone at the corner of a building. It’s an important stone, so it also means “the basic part of something,” as in, the cornerstone of the suffragette movement was getting women the right to vote.”

Not my words, the words of vocabulary.com.

The suffragette movement is an interesting angle for this blog post. I think the gist of it was women getting the vote and being able to do whatever mad things they want.

Talking of women, I have a wife. She does what she wants most the time, but one thing, call me old-fashioned, that I’m not eager on is her having relations with celebrity chefs. It’s why we can’t go to Tommy Banks’ place and why I went with a man friend to Cornerstone owned by Tom Brown.

(This isn’t true, I’m not insane, but I needed to write a few words before I got on to telling you whether dishes were ‘not very nice / quite nice / nice or very nice’).

I actually used to live in London, it’s something I don’t like to talk about often but it’s just a fact. What I’m getting at is East London is nothing new to me. (Thanks for asking, I lived in Mile End, Bethnal Green and Homerton, indeed, you’re right to be impressed.)

Finding myself with an evening free in London’s trendy London I organised dinner at Cornerstone.

What then?

Sat down, ordered a drink and looked at the menu.

“I didn’t realise it’s just fish,” my friend said.

“Do you like fish?” I replied.

“Yes.”

“That’s good then”

Honestly, we exchange quite scintillating banter.

Smoked cod’s roe and some sourdough to smear it on. Nice, 7/10. It’d be hard to give me a smoked cod roe dish that I’d give less than that, to be fair, I’d be happy to try to live off the stuff.

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It’s a ‘sharing’ style menu, so you order a load of stuff, then halve it, then wish you could have eaten it all yourself.

First up was grey mullet tartare, egg yolk seaweed and soy and it was very nice 8/10.

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Crab crumpet, rarebit and Worcestershire sauce was excellent and the easiest dish to share between two people as crumpets lend themselves delightfully to knife action 8.5/10. thumb_IMG_5968_1024

NEXT UP

Plaice, roast chicken butter sauce, wild mushrooms, sweetcorn. The chicken sauce was amazing, proper get some more bread to mop it up amazing. 8.5/10.

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My dish of the night was the hake, roscoff onion, chilli, anchovy. UMAMI, bit of spice. YES. 9/10.

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So, there you go. Feels a bit like I’ve knocked this out in record time because Tom Brown is on Saturday Kitchen and I’m thinking I can push it out to get some serious #numbers, that would be cynical and I’m ashamed of you for even suggesting it.

The Woodsman – Stratford-upon-Avon

The Woodsman – the man of wood, woody. Sometimes erections are referred to as ‘wood’ aren’t they? ‘The Erectionman’ – probably wouldn’t work as the name for a restaurant, the soft launch would be confusing and they’d never get your mum out of there.

ANYWAY, I was looking for something to do for our first wedding anniversary and had a look at tickets for the RSC and dinner at Salt.

However, the only Billy Shakespo play they had was King John. What the fuck even is that?! I ended up looking at other things to do in Stratford though and somehow came across The Woodsman restaurant. William Sitwell and Giles Coren have reviewed it, so it simply must be worth my time. A play and Salt postponed, I booked.

The Woodsman was recently listed in the Good Food Guide Awards 2020 as the ‘Best New Entry’ (maybe The Erectionman would have worked after all) and it showed, it was rammed!!!!!!! INNUENDO FUN!

Meaty affair

To start, a drinks trolley was wheeled in our general direction and a lovely Scottish woman explained what was on offer. I had a perfectly decent Negroni, as I am nothing if not horribly predictable.

We were then shown the big, sexy chunks of beef on offer. I asked to see the methane output from each of the cows the cuts came from.

“WWGD?” I shouted.

“Eh?” Replied the waitress.

“What Would Greta Do?”

“Oh, I’m not sure.”

“In that case we will share the Roe deer shoulder for two. As everyone knows deers don’t fart.”

Before the deer main, I had hare ragu, with pappardelle, parmesan and autumn truffle to start.

The pasta was perfect, the sauce was decent but a bit watery and lacking in depth, although very nice when mopped up with the remaining bit of focaccia that I haven’t bothered telling you about (7/10).

The slow cooked, glazed shoulder of roe deer was delicious. It came with sides of a charred, wedge of hispi cabbage – very nice, celeriac – very nice and dirty mash – nice (8.5/10).

I think I didn’t put ‘very’ next to nice for the mash as I’d built it up in my mind to be something earth shattering and it wasn’t. Plus, can we all stop describing food as ‘dirty’.

“Your house is dirty.”

“Oh, thank you.”

“Now let me eat your dirty house.”

Dirty isn’t a good thing. It’s Christina Aguilera’s fault I suppose for that song she wrote about the time she put some chilli con carne on a burger.

Desserts, I had a treacle tart which was good (7/10) my wife had a peach melba soufflé that if the noises she was making was anything to go by was a strong (9/10).

We also had a pretty crap bottle of Chianti Classico, I wish places would put the wine lists on their websites so I could stop making such foolish, costly errors.

As the place got busier the service definitely dropped off. We sat with our finished dessert plates for about 15 minutes until we asked for the bill and for them to be taken. Also, it would have been nice if the bloke who took the bill payment had made some minor small talk as to whether we’d enjoyed the meal, or maybe said thank you after my money had been taken…

This has inspired me to write a blog about good service in restaurants. You’re all going to hate it, think I’m a twat and tell me I’m wrong. Something for us all to look forward to.

Oh, and if for some reason you’re wondering what we’re doing for our first wedding anniversary it’s Ynyshir, which I am more than a little bit bloody excited about.

Eating food in Bristol

Bristol – where you go when you leave London but you’re not edgy enough to move to Birmingham. Not my words, the words of Russell Howard*. *Russell Howard did not say this.

Recently I had a free weekend, and whereas normally I’d spend this sat on my arse, watching football and ordering at least two meals to be delivered directly to my face, I decided to leave the house. Fancy.

Where to go? What to do? I looked at various places I could get to easily from Birmingham then did some quite complicated mathematics.

Cost of train + abundance of places to eat = 

With the numbers crunched, and never having been to Bristol before, I consulted the good people of Twitter.com about where to eat. I was told my best bet would be Wilson’s. And, would you believe it, the people of Twitter.com were right for the first time ever.

I arrived in Bristol and immediately hopped on another train to Redlands. A brief walk which involved more than a couple of thoughts of ‘oooh, it’s quite nice here,’ I arrived at the door of Wilson’s where a chap in chef’s whites was chatting to some locals.

“Good day, I’ve been sent from Birmingham to try your wares.” I announced, pushing the Bristolians away. Jan the owner in the chef’s whites led me inside. 

With a negroni in hand a selection of snacks came out. Malted sourdough with a pigeon liver parfait was excellent, it turns out pigeons have livers?! Who knew.

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Snacks

My favourite snack was the buttermilk fried rabbit with tarragon emulsion. A crispy, salty, delicious nugget of rabbit. If my investors ever get back to me you can expect a KFR in every town across the UK very soon.

My favourite courses from the tasting menu were:

Mackerel, lovage, kohlrabi and oyster poached in mackerel bones.

Quail, sweet corn purée summer truffle.

Guinea fowl, girolles, guinea fowl leg with cauliflower moose and old sourdough.

The guinea fowl in particular made me feel very pleased with my decision to leave the house.

Then, dearest reader, a Gooseberry soufflé arrived. Now, I don’t normally order soufflés as once I had one in France (YEAH, FRANCE) that was so shit I vowed to never waste my dessert again.

This successfully erased that memory, my god it was amazing. Delicate, light but packed full of flavour. Turns out Jan knows Rob Weston the head chef of La Trompette the only other place I order soufflés. After wanking on to Jan about how much I wanted to sit there and eat soufflé all day, I left, full, a bit pissed and quite content.

I marched towards some massive, fuck off bridge, stared at it for a bit and then went for a pint. Then I got up and walked some more. Interesting this bit isn’t it? ‘I wonder where he walks to next?’ you’re thinking, well, hang on a minute and I’ll tell you.

Ready for another pint, I spotted a pub in the distance. There was a cat in the window which immediately aroused my suspicion. Don’t worry, ‘suspicion’ is not what I call my penis. Bag of Nails is the name of the pub, I strongly recommend reading the Google reviews as there are some crackers.

“When my friend asked for a Strongbow dark fruits she replied “well I’ll have to see your ID if your asking for a drink like that”, which was extremely patronizing and made us feel very unwelcome.”

Pints polished off and a few cats stroked (yes, I could have put some rude P based alliteration here but frankly you should all grow up) I headed off in the direction of dinner.

Paco tapas is situated by the water of the River Avon, very nice.

Highlights:

Croquettes were great. I mean croquettes are always nice, but these were really nice.

The Presa Iberica (poorly pictured in the background) was cooked to perfection over the hot coals – I think I’ll write melt in the mouth. Pathetic bit of prose but I nearly need to get off the bus.

The only thing I didn’t enjoy was a charred leek with romesco sauce, not because it didn’t taste nice, for it did taste nice, but the knife I had wasn’t sharp enough to cut through the leek, so it just ended up being a straggly mess, a bit like your mum.

I asked for a sharper knife and was told they didn’t have one, but I suspect it’s because they knew I’m from Birmingham.

Concluding notes: Bristol is nice, I would return. Many thanks.