Monthly Archives: April 2013

Sometimes you need to get lost to find yourself…in Italy

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Some of you may know and some of you may not… I have embarked upon an Italian adventure.  After spending eight months in London, in the heart of my family, it was time to spread my wings again and do the thing I was always too scared to do.  Travel.  Alone.  I think, like most people, I am capable of more than I realise.  Virtually all of us have a strength inside us which we rarely test, it lies there waiting for the day it is called upon.  And yesterday I knocked at the door of my strength and asked if I could come inside.  This may be verging on cloyingly sentimental and philosophical but if I am going to share this journey with you all, I should start with absolute honesty.

Yesterday was my first proper day in Monforte D’Alba.  It was a beautiful day, I had the pleasure of experiencing Italian hospitality firsthand, this hospitality basically means that you cannot enter someone’s house without being offered a plethora of food and drink and you are certainly not allowed to leave until you have consumed large quantities of said food and drink.  My friends who I am staying with not only were generous enough to introduce me to all their friends but also took me to a fantastic restaurant in Verduno.

Trattoria dai Bercau offers a 9 course degustation menu and that is all.  You do not go there for a quick feed, you go to be with family and friends and enjoy the bounty of the region.  We arrived at 12:30 and left at 17:00.  Now, this is not the kind of degustation that might spring to mind, there is no fancy pants fine dining malarkey, it is good, honest country food and lots of it.  They bring plates of food to the table and serve you as much or as little as you like.  After four different generous antipasti, all brought out one course at a time (you need to pace yourself), we then moved onto primo, the first course, of which there are two, obviously!  So, I opted out of the ravioli course but relished the tender rice of the saffron and asparagus risotto.  Thankfully, the food started taking its time to appear at the table.  After a brief respite, the meat courses were being introduced, secondo.  They come to the table with sliced meat and you say how many pieces you would like and you get a little of the cooking juices poured over the top and that is it, no vegetable sides, just meat.  I rather enjoyed this concept, as you get to truly appreciate each ingredient.  We had two meat courses, one of milk fed spring lamb ribs, which were delicious but more bone than meat and one of turkey.  Turkey is far from a favourite of mine, it usually brings forth memories of dry, overcooked breast meat but this ‘tacchino’ was rich, moist and full of flavour, the best turkey I have ever eaten.  All of these delights were finished off with a light, fluffy goats milk panna cotta and a delicious cup of coffee.

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After what was a spectacular day, I looked out over the stunning mountains, with the small Italian towns nestled in the foreground as the sun set behind the church and; I had a wobble.  Ridiculous I know, but something about staring out at the vastness of it all, seemed to compound every fear I have ever had about this trip and more besides.  What if I don’t like it?  What if I break my leg and there’s no-one to pick me up?  What if I can’t find work?  What if I freak out and want to go home?  Home being the ultimate ambiguous concept, I currently have no home so where does that leave me?  Some time later, when I had run every negative question possible through my brain, things became a little clearer, things became a little less terrifying and it dawned on me… I have nothing to risk and everything to gain.  When you are building a life or at least an adventure from the ground up, anything is possible and I am absolutely in charge of this adventure.  I think we are all prone to a wobble every now and then, but the important thing is to pick yourself up, put two feet firmly on the ground and know that the road WILL rise up to meet you.

Once the fear started to melt away, I remembered that I am blessed to be in this position, I am blessed to have freedom and I am blessed to have family and friends whom I love very much.  I might not have the security of a home but am safe in the knowledge that no matter how far I travel, I carry the people I love in my heart.

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Rosita and the sherry bar – Reviewed

Hospitality – The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers.  The Oxford English dictionary eloquently describes the definition of hospitality.  Unfortunately the staff at Rosita and the sherry bar clearly didn’t get the memo.  I usually try to avoid tearing a restaurant to shreds when I review them but in this case, I am going to make an exception.  Rosita and the sherry bar on Northcote road in London, did everything they could possibly do to ensure that they were about as inhospitable as it is humanly possible to be.  If you thought that the Antarctic was one of the most inhospitable places on earth, then you clearly haven’t been to Rosita and the sherry bar.  I’m pretty sure that the reception in Antarctica would be less frosty.

Harsh?  Maybe.  True?  Definitely.  Now, yesterday was a special occasion, it was my birthday dinner and I was heading out with twenty of my closest family and friends.  Twenty people dining, generates a pretty hefty wad of cash for a restaurant and boy was it money down the drain in this case.  Luckily, I was blessed to be dining with amazing people and this went some way towards distracting me from the mediocre food and the surly manner of the staff.  When we arrived, there was no warm welcome, there was no-one to liaise with me about numbers of guests, dietary requirements etc.  I turned to one of my guests at some point during the evening and asked if they too felt like they were making a guest appearance in an episode of Fawlty Towers.

I will briefly touch on the low points of the evening, as I don’t want to waste my time writing lengthy descriptions of the varying degrees of average that Rosita and the sherry bar exhibited.  The food was plonked on the table with no announcement of what the dishes were, the food was about as unexciting as staring at a plain white wall, condiments would arrive ten minutes after the food it was supposed to accompany, I was not able to eat a lot of the food as it was not gluten free and was provided with very little in the way of supplements, I had to repeatedly ask the staff to clear the already overcrowded table, whilst paying the bill, we were repeatedly given filthy looks from the staff as they wanted the table back, they dropped cutlery down my guests back and didn’t apologise.  To top it all off, I awoke today to discover that some of my guests have experienced upset stomachs.  I will desist at this point.  I think you get the picture.

To sum up, I will leave you with an overview of the very restrained conversation I had with the manager at the end, restrained on my part anyway.  I told them that I  had a very unsatisfactory experience and asked them what they thought.  To which, they responded, “You are not happy, we are not happy, we have people waiting for that table.”  At this point, I pointed out that if the food has been brought out faster, we would have vacated the table sooner.  When I continued to complain, one of the managers said “this is why we didn’t want to take such a large booking on a Saturday”.  Again, I suggested that this was not my problem, nor my fault and that hopefully they would learn from the experience.  At no point was there any trace of an apology, they showed no sign of remorse and they demonstrated such a startling ineptitude for running a restaurant that I am amazed they are even in business.  Obviously, this is only my opinion and the opinion of the majority of my party of twenty.  Rosita and the sherry bar provided one of the worst dining experiences I have ever had the misfortune of partaking in and it happened on my birthday.  Good job Rosita and the sherry bar.

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The Clove Club – Reviewed

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There’s nothing like a new opening to get me hot under the collar and boy was I excited about the prospect of a new restaurant from the same stables as ‘Upstairs at the ten bells.’  Running hideously late, as usual, I stumbled into Shoreditch town hall which was all at once, austere, majestic and welcoming.  Quite a feat.  We had booked a table in the bar which turned out to be a ‘table’ as opposed to a seat at the bar; which my weary limbs were rather grateful for, I’m not sure I would have managed to stay upright for the duration of the evening.

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I was enthused to see that the bar menu was pretty lengthy.  They were offering so much more than just bar snacks.  This was a proper menu and by some delightful coincidence, was also mostly gluten free.  So, we began to order and then we couldn’t stop.  I think in life there are two kinds of menu’s, there are menu’s which are so uninspiring that you take ages to decide and then have to toss up between the two options which you’re marginally interested in and then there are menu’s which are so inviting that you spend ages deciding and then simply order everything on the menu.  We didn’t go quite that far but it sure was tempting.

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Our superbly knowledgeable and enthusiastic waiter was very well informed and when we asked him to recommend a wine, he didn’t miss a beat and reeled off a glut of information.  However… and this will be the only ‘however’ to feature in this piece, our drinks took an inordinate amount of time to appear and in the end, we had to ask after their whereabouts.  We were concerned for their welfare.  It’s not fun when you get your food before your wine.  But what was to follow, more than made up for the faux pas.

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We ordered Salumi to chew on whilst we waited for the more substantial offerings to turn up.  Fennel with oak smoked cod’s roe was the star of the show, it came with rye crackers which I sidestepped but I did not miss them.  Crunchy, fresh fennel smothered in the silken, smoky roe was simple but oh so effective.  You could leave me in a dark room with a crate of fennel and a vat of that roe, come back for me in a month and I would be in a very happy place; a fat place but a happy place.  The raw bream with turnip was fine but it was a mistake to eat it after the smoked roe, it was hard to appreciate subtle flavours after the  gutsy roe.

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Then my old favourite made an appearance at the table, Buttermilk fried chicken and pine.  My dining partner was suitably wowed by what I had promised would be a pretty memorable chicken experience.  I’ve told you about these nuggets of joy before.  Moist yet crunchy, they alone make a visit to Clove Club worthwhile.  Then, it was onto the now famous wood pigeon sausages, they were punchy, flavourful, fatty and expertly seasoned.  However… oops, I promised there would be only one however in this article.  I have to temporarily renege on that promise.  The wood pigeon sausages were accompanied by Ten Bells ketchup, which is delicious but an incongruous match.  A ketchup which featured heavy Asian flavours, stood out like a sore thumb next to the overtly British feeling sausages.  Delicious separately, but together, it was clunky.  So, I took to simply chowing down on the sausages minus their accompaniment. We rounded out the meal with pork cheek and hasselback potatoes, not exactly rebellious but really bloody tasty.

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I went into the Clove Club with relatively high hopes, after having eaten some fantastic food at the Ten Bells and some mediocre food there, it could have gone either way.  Lucky for me, and the rest of London, the Clove Club really delivers.  This is so much more than bar food.  I think next time, I’ll take a step up and opt for the set menu in the dining room.  If smoked roe can get me that excited, I’m a little nervous as to what stratospheric heights they could take my tastebuds to when I visit the dining room.

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