Winner Takes It All- 4 days in Stockholm

In January I took a 4 days holiday to the beautiful city of Stockholm – my first time in Sweden and in this part of the world. It’s an absolutely stunning part of the world, the people are incredibly kind and generous, and above all they do food, drink and hospitality very well. Here’s some of the highlights:

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“113 Saint Mark’s Place”

In the hotel Bar at the Hotel Diplomat, the cocktail list is exciting, seasonal and exciting. A great range of drinks but this was my favourite: with rum, butter, and super creamy. Hotel is fantastic too, great hospitality and very personable service. Can highly recommend!

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Meatballs, lingonberries and pickled cucumber

Traditional Swedish dish of meatballs, with mashed potatoes, creamy sauce, lingonberries and cucumber. Hearty, delicious, and great comfort food, especially considering the arctic temperatures outside!

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Spiritmuseum, Stockholm

A museum located in the Djurgarden district of the city, dedicated to the relationship Swedish people have with alcohol. A really interesting way of spending an afternoon, plenty samples (not just drinks!) and lots to excite the senses too. Well worth a visit if ever in town. Spiritmuseum, Stockholm.

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Operabaren

This beautiful bar can be found in the small restaurant just off the Opera House in Stockholm. Great for a hearty, delicious and traditional lunch. Great wine list too, and a perfect place to stop by during the day.

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Fika Friday

‘Fika’ is apparently the Swedish word for ‘meeting up for coffee and cake’. It is a thing to make an effort on a Friday (or any day!) to sit down together with friends, family, colleagues, and just enjoy a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. Sounds great, no?! Swedish cinnamon buns are great to enjoy and warm you up on a cold afternoon.

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Entrecôte Beef to share

Hidden away in a very small side street in Stockholm, Restaurang AG is an absolute hidden gem. A sign outside that doesn’t do the place justice at all, you come in and go up some stairs that look like an emergency exit to access the restaurant, but once you’re there it’s totally superb. First thing you see is all their meats hanging and curing in cupboards in front of you, a busy restaurant and an open kitchen. Service is fast not but rushed, staff efficient and obviously well-trained (not to mention fluent English), and the food is some of the best I’ve had. A restaurant that obviously cares a lot about it’s product! Great to see! After dinner we went through to the bar, where service again was as great as I’ve experienced at any bar in London or anywhere. Top tip? The incredible Bacon Old-Fashioned- worth the trip alone!

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Skål!

 

First blog post of 2017- a rant, of sorts…

First blog of the new year (a belated Happy New Year to all!), and it’s now a month into 2017. Apparently according to the Bible, the number 17 is about “overcoming the enemy” and “victory” (appropriate I know given the start of the 6 Nations today). Spending pretty much all of my time both professionally and personally in restaurants or bars, I’ve realised there are some “enemies” in the restaurant world that need to be beaten, so here is my list…

 

  1. Musical Chairs: when I go to a restaurant, I trust the management and the team to place their own tables, seats, and place-settings in a way that enhances both the experience for each table and surrounding tables, and also the service. When guests decide to move things and set up their own formation like a top football manager- gets on the nerves somewhat…
  2. The Bleeding Obvious: “Oh, you want to see the dessert menus after your main course?! How novel, what an interesting idea, I must do that more often!”
  3. “We’ll share everything”: Granted, a lot of dishes and plates are designed to share, I’m talking large cuts of meat, sharing plates of meats and cheeses, all great. But tables of 3,4 or 5 all wanting to share everything? I know it’s communal and all that but I’m sorry, it’s not for me.
  4. “Do you have..?” Is it on the menu online when you booked? Is it on the menu outside the restaurant that you read when you came in? Is it on the menu in your hands right now? No? But you’re going to ask for it anyway? Menus are designed by the Chef and the restaurant to reflect his/her personality and style of food, probably seasonal, local and fresh, and an authentic reflection of the restaurant. There’s thousands of restaurants in London and the UK, with literally everything covered, but if you choose to go to a particular restaurant then I think one should respect the chef and the style of the restaurant.
  5. Clean Eating: does anybody actually know what this is? There is officially no food or foods that are completely healthy for you without drawbacks, and yet there seems to be a fad that if you eat XYZ then you will be free of cancer, depression, broken limbs etc. Eating and drinking should be about enjoyment, not worrying. One particular “super food” is worthy of a point alone…(6)
  6. Avocados: everywhere. WHY?

Sorry to rant, but there we go. Here’s to a 2017 with behaving guests, who sit the way the tables is laid, who order individual dishes off the menu, eating on the basis of what looks tasty and interesting, and not what some arty-farty Instagrammer has announced is going to cure you of all diseases. And please, no more avocados.

And to finish, here is one of my favourite TV moments, from the king of Customer Service, Basil Fawlty, dealing with a typically odd but unfortunately common request. Enjoy.

Celebrity Dinner Party- Merry Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve, and the party season is in full flow in restaurant and in people’s homes. It has therefore got me thinking- which celebrities, alive or dead, would I want to invite to my ‘Dream Dinner Party’! I am conscious of a quote I recently read from the chef Ken Hom’s autobiography-

“Never invite two stars in the same night”

However, politely ignoring this advice, here is the list…

  1. Stevie Wonder- first name on the list- what a legend! Would be a fascinating addition to any room, and of course I’d make sure there was a piano in the room.. (Stevie- What Christmas Means To Me)
  2. Jools Holland– the second name on the list- just imagine when after dinner is finished, him and Stevie sit down together and jam..! He’d make a half decent host too (Jools Holland- Silent Night)
  3. Sean Connery- a legend of the screen, and how cool would it be to have James Bond at your dinner party?! Obviously he’d be on cocktail duty too- martinis, shaken not stirred… “Sheason’s Greetingsh”!
  4. John Cleese- would be my host- because I can’t think of anybody funnier to do it! His character Basil Fawlty is for me the best character in British comedy and his completely inappropriate approach to hospitality is superb. (Fawlty Towers- Gourmet Night)
  5. Frank Sinatra– the great!! He can sign, entertain, regale, and from the quote below clearly doesn’t mind a drink either. And who wouldn’t want that voice around the table at Christmastime, we know he’d do it his way… (Frank Sinatra- White Christmas).

“I feel sorry for people that don’t drink, because when they wake  up in the morning, that is the best they are going to feel all day”

What a night this would be! Who would you invite to yours?

Of course the real perfect Christmas dinner would be at home, with family, friends, great food and great wine.

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Merry Christmas folks! Eat, drink well and be merry!

Hall-owen

Halloween, usually an excuse for outrageous outfits and equally outrageous behaviour, but for me and excuse to mess about and get a bit creative in the kitchen. I’ve always done something for October 31st, especially during half-term holidays from school. Various successes of course, and as great as my ghost shaped pizza was, the cold, blue spaghetti designed to look like intestines that I came up with one year, was an unmitigated disaster- a true horror story!

This year, after carving the usual face out of the pumpkin, I decided to make a pumpkin risotto with what was left, and here’s how:

  1. Scoop out all the insides from the pumpkin, separating the flesh and the seeds. Take whatever flesh you can from the pumpkin, being careful not to take too much from the structure.
  2. With the seeds, spread them out onto an oven tray. Drizzle with olive oil and a generous dash of salt. Cook in the oven at 180c for about 10 minutes, until they start to crisp up a bit. Leave on the side to cool.
  3. Dice the pumpkin flesh into big chunks. Using the same tray, put the diced pumpkin flesh on, and roast, again for about 10-15 minutes until they start to soften and cook through.
  4. In the meantime start the Risotto rice. Finely chop an onion and sweat down in some oil in a pan. When soft, add the rice, allowing about 75-100g per person, depending on how hungry you are! Gradually add chicken stock, adding a little at a time so it just covers the rice. When it is absorbed, keep adding, and repeat the process until the rice is almost cooked through.
  5. Usually risottos can have white wine added to them for extra flavour. This time however, and keeping with the Halloween ‘spirit’ (pardon the pun), I finished with Hobgoblin ruby ale, from the Whychwood brewery in Oxfordshire. It adds a lovely colour and depth of flavour to the dish. Again, use just enough to cover the rice, and once this is absorbed the rice should be ready. Warm the diced pumpkin through in the oven.
  6. Put half the diced pumpkin in and stir through. Serve the risotto in bowls, garnish with the rest of the diced pumpkin and scatter the toasted seeds on top.
  7. Turn your lights off, put the candle in your pumpkin, and enjoy.

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August; the Gourmet Month

It’s been a while since my last post, but things have been busy and lots of exciting and interesting things going on! Although I’ve been back at work a month now since my holiday, the last 6 weeks have been foodie, winey, and very much enjoyable.

At the end of July, I went back to Paradise Garage in Bethnal Green, last visited in March of this year. Just like it’s sister restaurants The Manor and The Dairy in Clapham, this restaurant continues to impress with its combinations of simple seasonal ingredients with traditional techniques and modern presentation. Outstanding dishes as always, the highlight this time round being the ‘Norfolk Quail with borlotti beans, apricots and almonds

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Quail, Borlotti, Apricots, Almonds at Paradise Garage, Bethnal Green

The first of August was a visit to The Orrery in Marylebone, one restaurant that was earmarked on my ‘must-visit’ list of 2016. And it was outstanding. An aperitif on arrival was a brilliant take on a Negroni but with whisky, possibly the best cocktail I’ve had this year, and very apt considering my imminent flight to Scotland the next morning. The food was also some of the best I’ve had in London, with the main course of Cod Fillet with Pork Belly, totally memorable.

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Cod with Pork Belly at The Orrery, Maryleborne

By lunchtime the next day, I was in my favourite city in the UK, Edinburgh. As is customary, lunch was Haggis, Neeps and Tatties, in a small pub on Grassmarket. It wasn’t going to win any Michelin stars but my god it went down well. I love eating authentic food in a traditional environment, and it doesn’t get much better than eating Haggis just below the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Another notable place in Edinburgh worth mentioning, is BrewLab Coffee, a speciality coffee bar. Over several visits, I have began to adopt here as my regular and for what it does, is outstanding.

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Haggis, Neeps and Tatties in Edinburgh

The next few days in Scotland were spent further North, in the Speyside area, home of course to many a distillery, and of many a family holiday. Sometimes the best food/dining experiences are the more surreal, and a dinner of Fish and Chips from the local chippie, washed down with a bottle of Pol Roger Champagne, with my parents and girlfriend, was the perfect meal for that moment, and I would go back to that like a shot.

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Fish and Chips from Portknockie Fish and Chip Shop, accompanied by Pol Roger Champagne

Within 5 days of arriving in Scotland I was on the move again, with 4 days down in Nice in South of France in the calendar. Being on the French Riviera, it was inevitable that a week of gluttony was on the cards. The first morning was a classic continental breakfast of pastries, coffee and fresh orange juice, and lunch on the beach was a simple but classic Steak Tartare with “Frites”- great, and very classic. In the evenings I rediscovered my appreciation of Provencal Rose (definitely one of the greatest drinks ever invented), and a day in the luxury of Cannes, surrounded by million-pound yachts, and equally worthy people, saw lunch of Provencal Prawns with rice and sea herbs, and a classic Crepes with Grand Marnier to round off the indulgence.

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Prawns with Sea Vegetables, Cannes

Inevitably of course I had to come back home, back to London and get back to work. Since then dining opportunities have been minimal, but a couple do stand out. The Rabbit in Chelsea, part of the Gladwin Brothers group, demonstrated clever uses of seasonal ingredients with very stylish presentation; the Chorizo, Kale and Labneh dish is simply brilliant. Last weekend I was down in Bristol visiting The Ox, Clifton – part of an incredible group that owns one other restaurant and two bars in Bristol; here I experienced the best Sunday Roast Beef I’ve had in a restaurant, and matched with impeccable service too. Well worth a visit.

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Chorizo, Kale and Labneh at The Rabbit, Chelsea

The next few months promise to be busy with work, but I have a few plans and ideas in the works. Sunday I am visiting one of the classic, old-school London restaurants which I am very much looking forward to, and then the week after I am heading to Switzerland for a couple of days. I have also booked an exciting restaurant for November, of which I’ve heard some great reviews, and I’m hugely looking forward to a treat then.

Reviews to follow…

Carlo Ancelotti- Quiet Leadership

I have recently finished reading the new book from legendary Italian football manager Carlo Ancelotti. Less of a straight autobiography, and more a guide to leadership, this is probably one of the best and most succint management books I have read.

When I was younger, I always enjoyed reading sporting autobiographies, firstly of cricketers and rugby players, and latterly footballers, cyclists and other athletes. As I’ve got older, I soon realised there’s many parallels between professional sportsmen/women and business. The mind of a Test Cricket Captain works in very similar ways to industry leaders, in terms of strategic thinking and vision, whilst the grit and determination of an elite rugby or football player, aligns with a business person whose skills and passion can elevate him to a position of leadership. Football Managers are in a position where much of their daily work is in fact not just the coaching and recruitment of players, but actually managing a business.

Of other management in football books, I have also read ‘Leading’ by Sir Alex Ferguson, and ‘The Manager’ by Mike Carson: both of which I can equally recommend as they offer different case studies of management and leadership in football, but which principles apply to all sports and business in general. The main reason for me that Ancelotti’s book stands out, is as well as being incredibly well written yet easy to understand, is that his “leadership style”, as the book title indicates, is Quiet. Or calm, measured. Every leader and manager has their own personalities/methods of course but my personal one I would say is closely aligned to this, so it resonates strongly.

The book’s chapters are” principles” of leadership, and are presented with Ancelotti’s thoughts and reasonings behind each of them; the chapter is then followed by the words of somebody else (an ex-player, fellow manager, former boss); and then concluded with summary points- my favourites are here:

Experience: 

  • Everything has a cycle
  • Respect is everything
  • Demonstrate trust through your talent

Culture:

  • Learn the language and local culture
  • Trust in order to delegate
  • Loyalty is to people, not organisations

Hierarchy:

  • Never be afraid to delegate
  • Don’t have favourites

Talent:

  • Speak to your talent (workers, staff, colleagues) as people most importantly
  • Recruit to your values and cultural fit
  • Your job is to not demotivate the talent

The Workplace:

  • Encourage staff to take ownership for the workplace environment
  • Encourage energisers and remove the energy sappers

Responsibility:

  • Soft power is the most effective. Dictatorships don’t last
  • Try not to get angry very often- only when culture or work ethic is violated

The Product:

  • Know your business
  • Don’t ignore the “foot soldiers”

Data:

  • Your most important analytical tools are your eyes and your brain
  • Clear communication is vital, especially to explain tough decisions

Growing:

  • Remember if somebody has given you the job (of leader) then they believe in you
  • In general people love the job they’re in- don’t kill that
  • You don’t have to be miserable to be serious

Values:

  • Switching off is important- find your sanctuary
  • “To thine own self be true”

It is with these simple sounding ideas that the “Quiet Leadership” style will be effective. So whether these are applied in a football stadium to 11 men in front of 80,000 people, or to a team of 20 in a busy restaurant or other organisation, the ideas stand true, and I will be taking these forward. And from meeting Mr Ancelotti very briefly when buying this book, I can see how this has been so successful in his career.

The Books

The Manager, Mike Carson

Leading, Sir Alex Ferguson

Quiet Leadership, Carlo Ancelotti

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Holiday!

Officially on my summer holiday now, two weeks away. Of course I still have to give myself plenty to do so I’ve stocked up on some holiday reading- something foody, something businessy and something a bit lighter:

The Ten Food Commandments, Jay Rayner

Black Box Thinking, Matthew Syed

Merde in Europe, Stephen Clarke

Plus I have with me the very early stages of my hopeful business plan- going to be a productive couple of weeks!