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.

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…

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!

Taste of London

Last week in Regents Park took place the annual Taste of London Restaurant Festival. Despite the typical English “summer” weather (the venue reminded me somewhat of a ‘Glastonbury for Foodies’), I popped along on Saturday morning to see what it had to offer. And the answer is this: some of London’s best restaurants, chefs, dishes and suppliers, all in one place, with an abundance of choices of things to eat and drink. With only a couple of hours to spend there I had to choose carefully- so, what did I go for?:

• Smoked Bacon and Egg from Roux at Parliament Square

• Currywurst from the German Gymnasium

• Lamb Shoulder and aubergine from Pied à Terre

• Lamb Fettuccine and Truffle; Cod with Liquorice; Amalfi Lemon Cream, from Sartoria

• Keralan Chicken from Trishna

All washed down with a pint of Doom Bar amber ale and couple of Menabrea, an Italian blonde beer.

Not a bad selection there! Looking forward to next year already.

Should we Stay or Should we Go?

Not really one to openly discuss politics (mainly because, and happy to admit this, that I don’t understand most of it!), however the upcoming EU referendum is bound to have an effect on the Hospitality industry so I’ve had a look at some of the main issues.

Jobs

Anyone who works in or visits restaurants and hotels in the UK, can testify for the diverse workforce from across Europe and the world. This would not cause dramatic repercussions as such for businesses but some changes to contracts and HR procedures might be considered to adapt to new or tweaked laws. However were UK to leave the EU, they could still work with EU employment law, as the Swiss do. A Brexit would have more of an impact on individuals from overseas working in the hospitality industry; mainly, that obtaining work permits from skilled workers in the EU would be considerably more complex, hence discouraging people to come over. One argument in the Brexit camp is the old adage of “more jobs for British people”, but considering the situation we are already in with significant skill shortages in kitchens, housekeeping and restaurants, this argument does not stand too strong. One would however hope that the lure of London and other major cities will continue to bring people in to the UK.

Suppliers

Contracts with suppliers may need reviewing in the case of Brexit. One of the benefits we have in the EU is restriction-free trade with suppliers, allowing us to bring in olives from Greece, croissants from France, Proscuitto from Italy (etc etc), allowing UK hospitality businesses to provide authentic experiences to guests. Losing this may mean renegotiating all these contracts, which being out of the EU might prove difficult. Likewise vice-versa, for us to export our products overseas would mean new and different agreements. 12% of hospitality professionals surveyed stated that rising food costs was their biggest fear about a possible Brexit.

Tourism

One sector that would undoubedtly benefit from a Brexit is the smaller, regional hotels and B&Bs. A Brexit is expected to see a 20% drop in the value of the pound, and so for those who often opt for low-cost holidays to Europe might lean towards a staycation instead, hence keeping their money within the UK economy, which can only be a good thing. Tourism into the UK could be affected, as restrictions on VISAs and travel make free-flowing of tourists more difficult. In fact a Caterer survey found that for 21% of people in hospitality, the main concern is a fall in visitor numbers. One number quoted is that 1/3 of potential tourists from Spain, Italy and Germany, and 1/4 from France, would be less likely to visit the UK if we Brexit, amid fears that quite simply a holiday in the UK would become more expensive and less value for money.

Overall– a vote to Remain means that hospitality businesses would save money and time by not needing to change contracts and procedures, and would continue to benefit from skilled people from overseas coming into our restaurants and hotels to plug skill gaps. A vote to Leave means a rise in domestic tourism and arguably more opportunities for British staff, although whether that actually fills the skill shortage is a different question.

A survey conducted in May by the IoH suggested that most Hospitality managers are voting to remain (52.4%) , with 36.3% voting leave, and 11.3% as yet undecided. Come June 23rd, it will be interesting to see what way the country goes, and what effects this has on our industry.

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Credit to RetailWeek.com for the photo

24 Restaurants of the last year

Turning 24 tomorrow, and looking back on some amazing restaurants and foodie experiences over the last year. By somewhat of a coincidence, I’ve been to 24 (1 every fortnight, I know that sounds like a lot), so here they are…

Best in Show 

The Manor and Paradise Garage – outstanding, modern British and innovative food and drinks. The finds of the year for sure.

The Michelin Stars

Launceston Place– because who doesn’t like a 7-course Tasting Menu…

Angler– fine-dining fish and seafood in the heart of the City of London

Murano– innovative, clever and refined Italian dining from Angela Hartnett

City Social– modern, stylish, and possibly the best restaurant view in London. Beautiful restaurant from Jason Atherton

Highly Recommended

Curry Leaf Cafe– authentic Indian cuisine down on the South Coast

Polpo– Venetian-style restaurants and bars throughout London. Great relaxed atmosphere and food

Best of London

The Shed– part of the Gladwin Brothers’ group, a superb British restaurant in Notting Hill. Great spot for brunch

House of Ho– delicious Vietnamese and Asian food, in Central London

Almeida– modern British restaurant in Islington, very clever and interesting dishes

Quaglino’s– had both dinner and afternoon tea here, in this most iconic and glamorous of Mayfair restaurants.

Paternoster Chop House– bar food, great steaks, huge selection of meat, all in surroundings of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Skylon– stylish restaurant on the Southbank, which great views over the Thames

German Gymnasium– German and European food in a beautiful space near King’s Cross

Avenue– American-themed restaurant in St James. ‘Triple Pig Burger’ an absolute winner.

Sartoria– slightly biased, but well worth a visit for Francesco Mazzei’s authentic Italian cuisine

Blueprint Cafe– modern European food on the Wharf next to the Thames. Another good spot for dinner with a view

The Diner/Joe’s Southern Kitchen– a new departure for me, but really got into casual-style US diners this year. Both these two well worth a visit.

Best of The Rest

The Red House, Newbury– lovely country pub in Newbury, Berkshire. Great wine list and delicious Sunday roasts. An absolute must if in the area.

Old Parsonage Hotel, Oxford– part of the Mogford group in Oxford, the restaurant at The Old Parsonage Hotel is now probably the best in the collection for dining. A very Oxford-y type of restaurant, but delicious.

Valencia– yes granted not a particular restaurant as such, but I had 24 hours here in October, and the Spanish/Valenciennes have a fantastic eating and drinking culture.

Persian Food– again not a particular restaurant (although Little Persia in Shepherd’s Bush is great), Iranian and Persian cuisine is a new discovery for me this year. Very vegetable and herb-based, I look forward to trying more of this delicious food.

Looking forward to seeing what my 24th year will hold in the wonderful world of restaurants, food and drink!

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