Shoku, Salford

There are many great match ups in the world. Cheese and wine, Laurel and Hardy, Rhythm and Blues, to pluck three from thin air. The pairing of yours truly and Adrian Chiles may not yet have achieved that level of international renown, but it was the reason I found myself in Manchester last week to appear on Question Time Extra Time. That, and the need to annoy a very specific type of Twitter troll with my wokeness. Having arrived in a soaking wet Salford a good few hours before the show, I had plenty of time to look around for something to eat, and as I was trying to avoid Prezzo or Wagamama or anything else too generic, I stumbled upon another double act I imagine you’ve never heard of.

Shoku is a Japanese/Peruvian fusion restaurant and cocktail bar stuck next to another pub called The Botanist (god but the gin boom has much to answer for,) and as such represented the traditions of two countries I had never put together in my head, let alone my stomach. I have no problem with fusion per se. Surely all traditions have much to learn from one another, and I’m dialectical kind of a guy, but as much, if not more has been said about fusion failures as its successes. Liver in lager remains a perennial (and very good) culinary/cinematic in-joke. On honeymoon in New York in 2014, we discovered a Mexican sushi restaurant which remains the worst culinary experience I’ve had in America, and I’ve had someone try to convince me a Philly cheesesteak is a good thing. My friend Ian Moore recently posted a picture taken on a visit to the same city where he came across a place called Taco Mahal. I’m not sure I want curry in my taco, but then maybe it’s not for me. I went into Shoku to see if it might be.

It’s a classy looking joint, which is some achievement considering the walls contain evidence of the dreaded ‘local artist,’ but the space itself is well designed with clean lines, a separate bar and a semi-open kitchen. Pleasingly, when there were plenty of small, empty tables marooned in the middle of the room, where most waiters seem contractually obliged to sit you, I was given a very comfortable and spacious booth all to myself. The menu was a little more problematic as it contained the seeds of confusion that can often make mixing up traditions such a difficult experience. There was a good selection of sashimi and ceviches – as I suppose both cuisines enjoy a fair bit of raw fish with citrus – as well as mains, ramens, nibbles, snacks and small plates. I felt a bit like I was wrestling the concept to the ground, but what I cannot deny is there were definitely things on there I wanted to eat.

Edamame came warm and shelled, with a decent umami hit of kimchi ketchup, while tuna tartar tostadas came balanced on a couple of lime slices and were very serviceable, even if the taste of the fish was a little lost to the smoked egg yolk. But they were fun to eat, and I started to warm to my dinner. I have to compliment the waiter who had obviously seen this kind of confusion before, and it was he who led me to the chicken karaage, which is best described as high end KFC doing a decent impression of soft shell crab. A genuinely tasty dish livened up with ponzu mayo and a pleasingly firm and crunchy texture, a trait it shared with some marinated miso aubergine topped with a pecan crumb. Not bad at all, if a little insipid, and no one does miso aubergine like Kulu Kulu in London (one of my favourite dishes anywhere,) but the main problem I had was that I hadn’t ordered quite enough to see me through late night radio shenanigans at this point.

On first pass I had ignored the pork belly bao on the grounds I don’t generally like them much. In my experience, these Japanese buns are usually just big whorls of creamy coloured dough wrapped round a sticky bit of disappointment. I may have to rethink my prejudices though, because when this arrived, not only did it fill me up, it made me re-evaluate the whole meal. The bun itself was simply a folded circle, of a perfectly light yet chewy dough, balanced again on a couple of those lime wedges, but what was really special was the gloriously tasty, sticky, soft and crunchy pork belly within. This was served more like a miniature pancake than a bun, and was all the better for it. The menu described it as follows, (which will serve better than any florid adjectivising from me:) bbq pineapple / kimchi ketchup / pork popcorn / togorashi. It was exquisite, and really, when something not only knocks your socks off, it also makes you re-evaluate your opinion of an entire dish, you cannot help but be impressed.

At £30, dinner wasn’t cheap, but then neither was it expensive, and the service was exemplary, even if the entire waiting staff appeared to be harvested from the funky school of young male Manc students who were much cooler than I ever was at that age. Still, I had The Roses and The Mondays, and I don’t think they’ve got anything better, AND I got a grant, so we’ll call it evens, and not begrudge them a decent  (and well-deserved) tip.

I shall certainly be back. Hopefully on 5Live, but I trust it is not ungrateful of me to say that much as I am looking forward to revisiting the Chiles/Barrie double act, not to mention a Twitter bunfight with an Aston Villa fan called Leighton, I’m just as excited about the buns at Shoku. Now I’ve tried a pork belly bao, I need to go back and do a bit more exploring. After all, it seems very clear the connection between Peru and Japan runs far deeper, and makes a lot more sense, than the one between Italy and Prezzo.

January 2020

Servinis, Cardiff

On Friday lunchtime, I found myself in the midst of an existential crisis in Cardiff City Centre. That this great nation, home of Dylan Thomas and Nye Bevan, with its proud socialist traditions, should have thrown its lot in with the right-wing project that is Brexit is bad enough. That the city has changed so vastly since I first played The Glee Club on its opening weekend fifteen years ago is not in itself a tragedy. Unfortunately, having sold its soul so completely to the corporate cock that the centre itself is now a vast, shiny, temple of Mammon called the St Davids Centre, containing all the usual suspects, probably is. Visiting one of them – The Apple Store – to be told the new computer I have spent nearly a thousand pounds on will not run the software my old one did for unspecified reasons, nearly led to my own personal Welsh Falling Down moment.

In need of a reviving lunch, I suddenly realised that simply everywhere I looked was yet another chain restaurant. I wheeled about like a drunk as interchangeable eateries whirled around me – Zizzi, Ed’s, Ask, Frankie & Benny’s, TGI Fridays, Yo Sushi, Cafe Rouge, Carluccio’s, Bar Burrito, Prezzo and on and on and on. I numbly began queueing at Shake Shack with the vague notion I fancied a burger, before making a break for Nando’s in a misguided bid for a healthier option. Once there I found an even longer line of identikit diners, so I headed outside for a little air to be confronted by Wagamama, Bill’s and Gourmet Burger Kitchen.

Some of these places are very good – I love a Nando’s, I keep everything crossed for the survival of Pizza Express. Some – Wahaca – are truly excellent, and I almost succumbed before I had an epiphany of sorts and determined to find somewhere independent, cooking their own food, and do my tiny bit to support them in their losing battle against moneyed homogeneity. I even took to Twitter for help – comics are great to ask for foodie recommendations as we spend so much time wandering around strange cities at lunchtime. The brilliant (and vegan) Carl Donnelly suggested the plant-based cuisine of Migli’s, while old friend Glenn Wool helpfully mentioned a pasta place he couldn’t remember the name of, in an arcade, near the castle, ‘opposite a book store.’ 

Cardiff’s numerous arcades remain one of its great joys. They criss-cross the main streets of the city centre like little veins to the main arteries, and still manage to support a large number of independent businesses, as well as a growing number that are less so. Having bought a couple of paintings from a small gallery down one of these a few years ago, I set off for another look and found myself in Wyndham Arcade. Here I came across Servinis, a tidy looking little cafe that had just the right mix of bustle, comfort and genuine warmth that I had so conspicuously been unable to find elsewhere. I was sat on a table for four by the window with a tiny little individual sign on it saying ‘You are a cutie pie’ which would normally have me stampeding for the exit, but here somehow managed to appear both charming and idiosyncratic. There was an open kitchen and a fairly simple menu consisting of all sort of breakfasts, hashes, sandwiches, a soup and a few main courses and salads. They offer a few cocktails too, but not so many you started to doubt they knew what they were doing.

In keeping with my general mood and distrust of the modern world, I opted for faggots with gravy, chips and peas and a side salad (off menu, but not a problem.) You can’t get more honest, down to earth and relentlessly unponcey than faggots, and they were delivered to my table shortly after I had polished off an absolutely impeccable cappuccino, accompanied by a nicely bitey local ginger beer. It was a bit early for cocktails.

My faggots were great. The chips were actually the best thing on the plate, but that’s hardly a criticism – perfect crunch on the outside, fluffy spud within. If I’m 100% honest, the faggots might have done with just a touch more offal for my taste, but they were tasty, satisfying and absolutely hit the mark. Were they the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten? No, they were faggots, but if you want dizzying flavour profiles, go and find Marcus Wareing. This was a lovely plate of proper ingredients, served with utter charm in a welcoming room by a busy kitchen who clearly cared about what they were doing. It may not have bothered the Michelin inspectors, but it absolutely warmed my heart. All told, the bill came in under twenty quid, although a richly deserved tip took it just north of that, and I was able to walk out on to the streets of Cardiff, if not a changed man, then one in a much better mood than I had been an hour before.

On Saturday I found myself in a similar situation, although a little later having gone back to bed after an early start to watch England’s thrilling dismantling of the All-Blacks. I decided to hunt down Carl’s vegan option. I found it, closed. Permanently. So then I went looking for Glenn’s pasta joint. Opposite a bookshop in the Castle arcade, I found an empty unit, tables and chairs stacked around disconsolately like a weary metaphor. Luckily I managed to find a very serviceable carbonara at the nearby Santa Maria. A proper sauce and a familiar accent indicated some genuine Italian involvement, even if I’m always a little suspicious of a restaurant with garden furniture and no garden. While I was there, I googled my favourite gallery, to find it had shut down too.

I’m not here to preach the horrors of late-stage capitalism, or rail against the corporate world and its faceless dismantling of the fabric of our town and cities. I just want some lunch. But my two afternoons pootling around Cardiff were a sobering experience. This was probably not a bad thing after that early start for the rugby, but we would all do well to be wary of what is happening beneath our noses. Next time you’re out on a busy shopping trip, take a moment before you dive into the convenience of your nearest Zizzi’s or Café Rouge. Try and hunt down somewhere independent to support a little diversity in our lives. Ed’s Diner will get on fine without you. Somehow, Frankie & Benny’s will survive. Independent cafes, bookstores, galleries and specialist places won’t, and we shall all be poorer for that. And if you’re in Cardiff, hunt down Servinis and a plate of those faggots. They’re like the big hug we all need in the midst of our collective consumerist crisis.

October 2019

Navona, Thessaloniki

There is something about the atmosphere of simmering hostility one encounters upon boarding a RyanAir flight – a sort of assumed impending argument between passenger and airline – that truly is one of the great consumer experiences of the modern age. I pondered this as I boarded my flight home from Athens after a highly enjoyable and successful mini tour of Greece with my good friend Giorgos Xatzipavlou, during which the generosity and friendliness of my hosts was once again self-evident, in stark contrast to RyanAir’s legendary customer service.

I think it’s safe to say we didn’t eat as well as we have done on past visits – a tight schedule of four shows in four cities on four nights meant we never really stopped in one place long enough to truly stretch our culinary legs, but this was Greece so even a chicken burger in Heraklion at 1am was a very tasty affair.

In Thessaloniki, we stopped at The Makedonia Hotel for lunch – a relatively upmarket place I have stayed at before, but which this year’s tour budget would not stretch to. This was not a problem at all, as I rather enjoyed going on holiday to the 1970s. Nothing makes you feel younger than staying in a room with a radio that doesn’t work carved into the bedside table. The Makedonia on the other hand, is a rather more swish affair, having recently been bought and refurbished by a Russian of the suspiciously capacious pockets we have come to know and love from the post-communism honesty boom.

The hotel itself is on a lovely spot overlooking the bay and the Navona Restaurant occupies a prime spot adjacent to the wide boulevard that is the pride of Thessaloniki’s seafront. It is the perfect place to watch the beautiful (and some somewhat less beautiful) people walk by. It is mostly the beautiful people who walk into Navona, if they are able to secure a table from the immaculately dressed and smiling guardian stationed by the reservation book at the entrance, who despite her impeccable manners somehow still manages to radiate a little of that oligarch menace. Groups of deeply tanned mothers shepherd glossy children to their goblets of Aperol Spritz and men with expensive watches accessorised with bangles and beads a decade or three too young for them sit with girlfriends of a similar vintage. This might sound relatively awful, but the atmosphere was pleasant, the service faultless, and we were sat in the sunshine in excellent company to enjoy food I wasn’t paying for, so it would be churlish to complain. 

And so to the food. Was it as good as Russian money could buy? Well, yes and no. My starter of tuna tartare looked absolutely stunning – a beautiful oblong of fish, tiny bell peppers, caper berries and  the world’s tiniest onions, garnished with vanishingly thin slices of radish. I dived in expectantly, but unfortunately a dressing of mustard and dill oil came with such a drastic slap of citrus, it was more of a belly flop. It was not actively unpleasant, but when I order tuna, I want to taste the fish and not what it is swimming in. 

This was especially strange as my companions, Giorgos and his friend Tellis shared a superb Panzanela salad which was not only one of the boldest Greek salads I’ve ever eaten, it was truly brought alive by dint of a stunning red-wine vinegar dressing. I wish the kitchen had used (a bit of) it on my tuna.

As Navono claims to be ‘a taste of Italy’ I thought I’d try on their pizza for main course. Perhaps it was a reflection of the sad news that not only is my country attempting to leave the EU, it can also no longer support Pizza Express, while Pizza Hut baffling continues to trade, but I thought the chances of a decent version should be pretty good when I could actually see the Mediterranean as I ate it. I was mostly right – apart from the fact I was sitting next to The Aegean – delicious, slightly burnt edges with just the right chewiness and a generous topping of pancetta and artichoke. The middle was a little soggy, but it all ends up in the same place and sprinkled with black pepper and a little chilli oil, I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Tellis and Giorgos opted for slightly more grown up dishes and here was further proof that the kitchen knows what it’s doing a lot of the time. A chicken supreme with chanterelles, parsnips and ‘authentic’ gravy left the chef nowhere to hide, which was not a problem as he or she executed it perfectly. Mind you, I would be interested to know what ‘inauthentic’ gravy involved. Or perhaps I wouldn’t. 

The best think we ate was Tellis’s pork dish – beautifully cooked medallions of pork wrapped in prosciutto and served with a delightfully balanced green-apple glaze. Just as you convinced yourself you’d tasted something rather nice, a proper hit of lemon thyme turned up on the tastebuds and lifted the whole dish beyond the good to the really quite special. 

If I have not exactly raved about Navona, that feels a little unfair, as we had a really rather fabulous lunch, although that was down to the company and the surroundings as much as the cooking. You could certainly do worse than an alfresco meal overlooking the sea at one of Thessaloniki’s premier hotels, although I’m sure there are many more options to sniff out. Hopefully I will be in a position to do that the next time I manage a Greek minor tour (COME ON!) I must admit, if we come back to Navono I would love to continue avoiding to pay for it as I’m pretty sure further lining an oligarch’s pockets doesn’t come cheaply. Especially when the pound has truly crumbled and I’ve had to get a visa to work there as well as spend an extra couple of hours at the airport just because 17.4 million of my countrymen didn’t realise they’d been sold a pup. 

I suppose the one advantage might be having to fly with RyanAir slightly less often. Someone should tell Vote Leave to start campaigning with that slogan. It would be a lot more honest than almost anything else they’ve come up with.

October 2019

Perard, Le Touquet, France

After a month of over-indulging in New Zealand it was clear that what my waistline really needed was a new challenge, and where better to look than France, where it is physically impossible to go on holiday without ingesting your body weight in cheese? One can only love a country that invented a way of serving chocolate in bread just so you can have it for breakfast. 

We found ourselves spending a few days in Le Touquet, which I suppose is best described as a sort of Gallic Bournemouth, although probably only if you want to offend the French, which we are of course managing with stunning regularity these days. Very much the high-end-most-expensive-real-estate-in-the-country part of Bournemouth though, as this part of the Pas-de-Calais coast is well known as the getaway destination of choice for the moneyed Parisian classes, as is evident from the size of some of the houses. It has an air of Martha’s Vineyard about it, not to mention a little of the architectural laissez-faire of Sentosa in Singapore and has been an equally popular destination with visiting Brits. Edward VII was a regular visitor when he got tired of being manipulated into interesting positions on specially designed chairs by a certain kind of Parisian hostess, and P.G. Wodehouse lived there for many years. You could see both Berties fitting in very comfortably.

Despite being June, it was clearly still off-season, as you could tell from the way the town essentially ground to a halt from about 11am til 3:30 in a display of midday inactivity that would make a Spaniard proud. I had demanded a proper seafood binge as one of the pre-conditions of my holiday, and having located Perard on Google, was a little worried they might be following the trend of not opening for lunch despite being an actual restaurant, but I needn’t have worried. The smartly turned out dining room was quiet, but very much open, as was its adjoining fishmonger and oyster bar, and we were immediately impressed by our young waiter’s decision to seat us in our own section, presumably so that our daughter couldn’t annoy other diners by throwing prawns at them.

Perard is something of a legendary Le Touquet institution, opened in the sixties and famous as much for its celebrity clientele as its lobster bouillabaisse. This is evidenced by framed cartoons all round the walls, which manage to pull off a more elegant nod to its status than the rictus-grinned ‘film star with owner’ shots favoured by other destinations with a similar reputation. However, it is justly renowned for its food, and despite this being the town where Emmanuel Macron casts his vote, he didn’t appear to be around, which was lucky as I was far more interested in what the menu had to offer. 

There was no point in messing about. I went straight for the full Plateau Prestige Fruits de Mer at €55 Euro a head. Admittedly, this isn’t cheap, but then there is no way a full tray of prawns, shrimps, langoustines, oysters, whelks, half a lobster and half a crab would, or frankly, should be. For what arrived at the table, I actually consider this rather good value. I had a glass of Pouilly Fumé and frankly, a tear in my eye. A seafood platter like this is one of the great joys of life, and in the unlikely event I retire somewhere luxurious with abundant wealth in years to come, I can very much see myself making sure I do so somewhere that serves a good one. Le Touquet, in fact – I mean, why not? I’m only a mere best-selling series of iconic comedy novels and a Eurotunnel away. This was simply excellent, although with a couple of caveats that are really not the restaurant’s fault. 

Firstly, whelks can fuck off. I had a couple, and actually, dipped in a very good mustard mayonnaise they weren’t bad at all, but good seafood should sing of itself rather than need slathering in mayo. They are cheap, and bulk up a platter in a way that is completely understandable, but have always stood out for me as not really belonging, like Dairylea on a cheeseboard or Angel Delight on a dessert trolley. Similarly, shrimps. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a shrimp, and a good potted version is a thing of beauty, but unshelled they are fiddly little buggers, and unlike some, I just don’t like them when they’re crunchy, so they need peeling. These were particularly delicious, with a wonderfully nutty taste, but in the end, well, I simply couldn’t be bothered and left the majority – presumably to go to waste, which is a shame for such lovely produce. 

I think the secret in future, is going to have to be the perfect customised personal seafood platter, and I am very much considering gearing my fictional retirement towards the pursuit of that ideal. Holding the whelks and shelling the shrimps is certainly a great place to start. Hey – it’s my fantasy, and if I want to employ a specialised shrimp-sheller, you can’t stop me.

While I spiralled off into seafood dreamland, my wife very sensibly ordered the skate wing with capers, buttered spinach and mash. This is another of the restaurant’s classic dishes and this was simply beyond reproach. I have not tasted a better version anywhere.The only mild downside to the whole experience was that they served Perrier Fines bulles – a slightly less fizzy version which I thoroughly disapprove of, as does my daughter who presently spends most of her time at the dinner table shouting ‘BUBBLES!!!’ when she’s not getting herself around a faultless children’s portion of salmon linguine.

Sadly, they had no tarte tatin, and some floating islands were perhaps a slightly richer dessert than the meal required, but then I’m pretty sure my protein heavy main course had left me a couple of calories to play with, and the crème anglais was rather good. A lemon meringue tartelette and a chocolate mousse were both predictably faultless.

Daughter, disgusted,

There are few greater, or rarer, pleasures in life than planning something you really enjoy, and then reality playing out as if your imagination was in charge. It is not something that happens often, and when it does, you must cherish it. Should you wish to experience something similar, I can only advise jumping on the Eurotunnel. The sense of massive release you will achieve by leaving Folkestone, will only be heightened by the drive to Le Touquet, and even the parking was free. Leave Europe? Are you insane? I’m pretty sure I’m going to retire there – I just need to find myself a butler and the right sort of chair.


June 2019

Havana Bar, Wellington

And so to Wellington for the final leg of what has been a wonderful festival. A few of us had been here earlier in the run to perform at The Opera House for the Gala, which was something of an honour in itself. I don’t care who you are – getting up to show off in front of a capacity crowd in a proper old venue should never be commonplace, even if it is where you’re lucky enough to ply your trade. My circuit doesn’t tend to take in that many opera houses, but it’s an absolute delight when it does.

The other place we visited on our brief trip was Havana Bar, a Cuban tapas restaurant introduced to us by the lovely Ben Hurley – an excellent Kiwi comedian who also had the honour of being my tenant when I sublet him my Battersea flat during the 2009 Edinburgh Festival. I’m pretty sure that was easily as big a highlight of his comedic career as becoming a TV star in his own country has been since. The food was exceptional and we – Mr and Mr Sinnerman and their hanger on – vowed to return.

Two funky-coloured wooden buildings lead you up a little path between themselves to a plaque on the door that says ‘Nothing Historic Ever Happened Here.’ After this meal, we beg to differ. Last time out, we had worked from the bar menu – a selection of about 9 separate tapas dishes that I’m pretty sure we ordered in their entirety, and between about 6 comics they did not last long. This time we were offered the a la carte, which we perused before asking after a number of things we remembered from the bar menu and missed very much. Whilst I am entirely sure the larger main courses on the menu would have been excellent, the small plates were what we were after and I’m afraid you may have to be prepared for a degree of hyperbole in what is to follow. Essentially we ordered almost all the small dishes from the a la carte, plus extras, plus desserts. Paul and I had Bloody Marys. They were also exquisite. We simply have not had a finer meal, certainly in New Zealand, possibly anywhere.

First up was a delicious Maori potato bread, with onion butter – a twist on a Kiwi kids classic as I understand it, which involves making a dip from butter and onion soup. Beautiful bread, surprisingly light, with pleasantly rich, oniony butter. But still at heart bread and butter. I like bread and butter, but then the fireworks really started.

To begin – prawns sautéed in chilli and garlic. Here goes. I think these may have been the best prawns I’ve ever had. These are apparently an ever present on the menu and they are perfection – beautifully seasoned with a sublime balance of heat and herb, combined with a juicy springiness that can only come form the freshest of shellfish and the deftest hand at the pan. We ordered another plate. Next, beef tongue chips, breadcrumbed and served with smoked onion mayo, a very lightly pickled ginger and a dusting of Parmesan. These were a favourite from the bar menu which Paul has consistently said were the best thing he’s eaten in New Zealand. They did not disappoint a second time, so we ordered a third.

Pan roasted mushrooms with a pumpkin seed cream were an outrageously luxurious whack of comfort eating, spread thickly on thinly sliced, crisp toast that I think was another very welcome example of the potato bread. A few fronds of dill added another yet dimension to indicate this really was a kitchen working at the very top of its game. A raw beef tataki with Jerusalem artichoke crisps and vinaigrette was so good I am simply running out of superlatives. If anything, its more delicate flavours meant it won out over the chips for red meat dish of the day for me but that is a tough call. Like comparing Pele and Maradonna, you’re never going to be happy with whoever comes out on top. (It’s Pele, as he never knocked us out of a World Cup by cheating, but it seems pretty clear the Hand of God wasn’t far away from the stove at Havana.)

Another signature is the Grilled Cubano! I like to consider myself something of an aficionado of the grilled ham and cheese sandwich with mustard and pickle – I find it very hard to walk past Selfridges without popping in to The Brass Rail for a Reuben, I would happily fly to New York just to have the Katz’s Deli version and have you been to Northern Soul in Manchester? These easily bear comparison. We had ordered them last time around, and while it may sound wrong to order a sandwich halfway through a meal of this size and quality, it wasn’t.

And just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, we had our socks blown off by a vegetarian dish – yeasted butter poached cauliflower florets doused in aged cheddar and a sauce made with prune, shitake salt and that most over-used of ingredients – truffle. Here it was added sparingly, and unarguably. This, with all due respect to the good people of Partick Duck Club, is the best cauliflower dish I have ever eaten. We ordered another. Obviously.

That was, of course, quite enough food. There was no need for dessert. Absolutely no need, and we set our minds against it. But then there was no need for the second order of beef chips, prawns and cauliflower either. The rum baba Olly and I ordered was perhaps a slightly heavier end to the meal than was ideal, but I just wanted to taste it and it did not let me down – shards of toasted coconut meringue, boozy raisins and a sprightly lemon curd to cut through all that richness. Paul pronounced his chocolate mousse excellent and we asked for the bill before any more damage could be done. I’m not sure if the fan at a neighbouring table who came over to ask Paul for a selfie had noticed what we’d eaten, but if she had that might explain the note of surprise in her voice when she congratulated him on how svelte he was looking.

The final surprise was the bill. The entire meal, including a tip for our South African waitress, who seemed to warm to us the more we ate, came to just under £50 each. That is spectacularly good value for food of this, well – brilliance can be the only word.

To quote Paul, word for word, Havana is “Right up there as one of the best restaurants I have ever been to,” and he’s a Chaser and they know their stuff.

Me? I’m just looking to find out out if there’s a comedy festival in Cuba next year. 

May 2019

Auckland

I’ve never been to New Zealand before. It’s wonderful, as if someone had towed Scotland somewhere nice. It is, undoubtedly, a long way from home, but I had the pleasure of incredible hospitality from The New Zealand International Comedy Festival and especially Scott Blanks and everyone at The Classic Comedy Club. I was also lucky enough to be sharing the trip with several old friends, including Paul Sinha and his fiancée Olly, who were kind enough to act as my surrogate family when it became clear my wife was unable to join the trip for heavily pregnant reasons.

I have known Paul for twenty yearsand he is a superb, craftsman of a comedian, though still better known to the general public as ‘The Sinnerman’ from ITV’s enduringly popular daytime quiz show ‘The Chase’. He is a general knowledge fiend, who delights in pointing out when jokes contain factual inaccuracies (I know there are homegrown exhibits in The British Museum Paul, but it really doesn’t help the punchline.) What I don’t think any of us realized is quite what a sensation ‘The Chase’ is on New Zealand TV. It’s on every day. Often twice. Most of us spent our first few days getting over jetlag – Paul spent his getting over how famous he is.

We have eaten very well. Regular haunts have included our local Asian food court, just down the road from us on Queen St, where Hanoi Corner do a particularly good pho. Unfortunately I had to pay for it, unlike Paul, who ordered from the Indian/Chinese next door and received his food gratis simply for being The Sinnerman. If you want a decent burger, you could do a lot worse than ‘Burger Fuel’ – a cracking Kiwi chain that needs to expand to England, although it might be worth sending Nandos with it, as the New Zealand outpost is not a patch on the UK version. There are any number of decent Koreans, a fantastic Szechuan (Yummy Dumpling House, indeed) opposite the hotel, a wonderful Japanese (Tanuki’s) right next door to The Classic and even a coffee chain (Colombus) who do a breakfast/brunch menu so good it would get them kicked out of Crouch End for unfair business practices.

There have been some higher end highlights. In the first week, as we walked up the popular K Road, past the excellent Thai Street Food restaurant where we’d somewhat over-ordered lunch the day before, we came across Coco’s Cantina. This was a superb Italian, offering a limited range of unimpeachable dishes, which we realized as soon as we looked at the prices, but by that time – well, we’d sat down. There was a little confusion until we worked out the best course of action was to divide a ‘date menu’ between Paul and me whilst Olly ordered a couple of separate dishes. This is perhaps not a move that would go down awfully well with most couples, but if I was being a terrible gooseberry, they were both far too polite to mention it.

There were beautiful breads, a wonderfully rich chicken parfait, goat’s cheese with pear, charcuterie, and an excellent mushroom pasta (I think – it was Olly’s and I didn’t wish to intrude any further than I already was.) I also had broccoflower for the first time, which is exactly what it sounds like. There was a very creditable Scotch fillet with salsa verde and a fig leaf ice cream and rhubarb semifreddo to finish. The produce and cooking was of the highest order, chosen from a menu limited by authenticity rather than any sense of parsimony. There was also a complimentary grappa, but unfortunately we were unable to secure anything further on the strength of our celebrity companion. We did, however, get the entire kitchen staff coming to the table for selfies with him. They were charmingly polite about not having the faintest clue who Olly and I were, which was both thoroughly charming and completely understandable. Although Olly is the eleventh ranked quizzer in the UK and I did completely sell out my festival run, for future reference. (A younger person would probably put a winking emoji here.)


The best part of a trip to the island of Waiheke may well have been Scottish comedian Chris Henry yelling ‘The Chase is on’ as Paul ran for a late ferry. Luckily the captain waited until we’d all stopped laughing hysterically to allow us on board, which we thought might have been professionalism, but turned out to be because he was a massive Chase fan too. Waiheke is a delight. I have never been offered ‘wine tasting and archery’ before (what could possibly go wrong?) Nonetheless, the trips through the vineyards were both stunning and…refreshing. The Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant is an Auckland institution that really deserves a blog all of its own, but I’ll just say I had A LOT of oysters followed by a stunning venison dish and I want to go back. Repeatedly.

Today is Sunday, and to celebrate our last day in Auckland, at lunchtime we went to the Grand Harbour Chinese Restaurant for Dim Sum. This is a must visit destination – a huge, bustling dining room with enormous lobsters in tanks and floor staff criss-crossing the floor as though they were driving demented mobility scooters loaded with goodies. We were found a table remarkably quickly, which I think is testament to the efficiency of the operation rather than their nascent celebrity guest.

That level of professionalism also extended to the food, which is probably the best Dim Sum I’ve ever eaten. From crispy chilli chicken wings to shell-on tiger prawns, there wasn’t a false move, and we were constantly updating our order from the passing trolleys. I couldn’t work out why a green bean dish was quite so tasty, until I came back to the hotel and Googled it to find out the lip-smacking umami hit came from pork and olive mince, which is a new one on me. There were beautiful, plump dumplings bursting gelatinous skins to reveal generous fillings of prawn and spinach. Pork bao buns, a cold chicken dish I didn’t think I was going to like but did, and probably the highlight of the whole meal, roast pork. As Paul pointed out, this should surely be the signature of this type of restaurant, and it did not disappoint. Imagine the best pork belly you’ve ever tasted got married to a crispy duck and you were eating the result. Perhaps not a brilliant metaphor, but a sensational piece of cooking. I even had my first Chinese dessert – an oozing custard tart that gave Portugal’s version serious competition. I still think I prefer the slightly more caramelized tones of a Nata, but it was a close run thing. Our overall bill came to just over $150, which was nothing short of an absolute steal.

Tonight, we went to see Paul’s extra show at the 700 seater SKYCITY Theatre with a lot of the other comedians here and we could not be happier for him. I know how much he loves his quizzing, but he also takes his comedy equally, if not more seriously. Which is why, despite a wonderful performance to a capacity crowd, I still think his highlight of the trip may well have been the waitress at Grand Harbour, who approached the table to say,

“I know you. You’re that comedian, aren’t you?”

Auckland has been awesome, I know all of us can’t wait to come back. I just think next time a lot of us need to start appearing on one of ITV’s enduringly popular daytime quiz shows to really get our numbers up.

The Sinnerman Selfie queue, post show at SKYCITY 19/05/19

May 2019

St John Bread & Wine, Spitalfields

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in need of a good lunch could do far worse than being fed by Fergus Henderson. It’s also a great deal more exciting to read a slating than a rave, so you may be disappointed by this in a manner I wholly wasn’t by an unplanned trip to East London.

As someone who occasionally auditions unsuccessfully for the opportunity to flog unwanted items to an unsuspecting public, I found myself in Hoxton attempting to convince a bunch of aging creatives I could take their YouTube video viral in a manner totally at odds with the size of fee on offer. I was ushered into offices that would have been open plan, were it not for enormous rounded Perspex screens that resembled Kubrick’s vision of the future circa1965. These are presumably vital for keeping app developers and cereal influencers separate and preventing artificial turf wars breaking out across the floor. However, it did make for an odd environment in which to be filmed pretending to be covered in food from a faulty food blender which did not exist. As anyone who has been through the ridiculous process of attempting to appear in adverts will tell you, the one thing you invariably leave at the door is your dignity, which is made even more agonizing when you have a personal shopper and a Bitcoin entrepreneur staring at you quizzically through the walls of their adjacent pods.

Having sold my soul (very cheaply,) I bid farewell to my perfectly amenable tormentors, certain I had failed to convince them of their fictional blender or my air-driving skills, mainly because I had failed to convince myself of them either. Nonetheless, I departed with a spring in my step, partly because my ordeal was over, but also on account of the weather, which seemed to be putting on a much better show than I had just managed. I ambled towards Spitalfields with lunch on my mind, and no particular plan of how to achieve it.

Crossing Brick Lane is often said by those in the know to be the best way to avoid disappointment, which is perhaps a little unfair, especially if what you’re after is a bagel, but in retrospect, I think I knew where I was going. I’d like to pretend my life is a bohemian whirl of chance discoveries, but for most of us, when it comes to lunch, there is little that recommends itself like certainty.


Unsurprisingly enough, I found myself in front of St John Bread and Wine and did what any sane person would do. I went inside. Like its slightly better known sibling up the road, there is something enormously comforting in the unfussy minimalism within. A more waspish diner might throw the words ‘Victorian workhouse’ at the décor, but between the wooden tables and chairs, the blackboards and the glimpse of a kitchen that is clearly a place to work rather than show off, there is a simple utilitarian aesthetic at work.

This also translates into an easy confidence on the part of the staff. They know they do what they do very well, and they invite you to share in it with them. If you are not impressed by St John, that is your loss, not theirs. A simple A4 sheet lists the dishes on offer, with a few specials chalked up on the blackboard. These are not all ingredients you would expect to find on every menu, but they are of a part with the quiet revolution in British cooking Mr Henderson has presided over for the last couple of decades.


As such, it would have been remiss not to begin with the dish that best encapsulates that ethos, the effectively holy roast bone marrow on toast. The late Anthony Bourdain described it, unimprovably, as ‘God’s Butter.’ Nonetheless, when dealing with food this famous, one is always tempted to see if the fuss is still justified. The answer is yes, it is. I had almost prepared myself for disappointment, until the crisp of the thinly sliced sourdough toast was dampened with the comforting richness of the marrow and perked back up with the zing of caper, parsley and onion, and that sense of magic filled both mouth and brain. It made me very happy, and you can’t ask for much more from a plate of food.

There was the usual exceptional selection of wines by the bottle and glass, but unfortunately I needed my wits about me later in the afternoon, which is the only area where lunch veered away from the sublime. This did at least allow me to concentrate on the food. My main course was a special of rabbit offal with radishes and a quince jelly that appeared determined to ask redcurrants outside for a fight, and then leave them there looking foolish. Radish tops made excellent mops for soaking up a delicate sauce made with sherry vinegar and chicken stock – I also ordered some greens, and was about to get a little grumpy at cabbage costing £5.20 until I tasted it and then I just wasn’t. I also wondered about portion size, but the combination of the rich, iron packed offal, the sweetness of the jelly and the soothing qualities of the sauce all worked so beautifully together, I finally understood why the phrase ‘an elegant sufficiency’ was invented.

The main reason it was invented was, of course, to leave room for dessert. Having recently forsworn chocolate as part of an innovative ‘fitting into some of my trousers’ regime, I had made it to April in slightly better fettle than I had approached January. As such, I was in the mood to reward myself. My wife replied to the picture I posted of my lunch online with the suitably tart, “Is that pudding simply a slab of chocolate?” to which I responded with, “It is a chocolate terrine with a brandied prune. So basically yes. With a brandied prune.” I may not have been drinking but there is certainly no law against sherry sauces or fruit pickled in the finest sense of the word. This was pure, decadent indulgence, and if anything made me grin more widely than my starter, which can’t have been a pretty sight.

This was not an everyday meal, even if an unshowy restaurant selling sourdough and Eccles cakes across the counter made it almost feel like one. Which is really St John’s greatest triumph – they make the wonderful almost mundane, were that not to damn them with faint praise. It is not every day I spend almost fifty quid on lunch, and if it was, I’m pretty sure it would not be long before I would have to start searching for a new wife, without the good fortune which is, according to Jane Austen, a fundamental requirement of finding one. It is probably best at this point I resist the temptation to mangle her words any further. She doesn’t deserve it and anyway, you shouldn’t mess with perfection. As St John Bread and Wine understand. Perfectly.

April 2019

Hart’s, Nottingham

Well, this is tedious. In Nottingham for the weekend playing the excellent Glee Club. Despite having attempted to check into the Jury’s Inn they used to book us into, (and having paid to use their car park) it turned out I was actually in another hotel nearer to the gig but further away from my car. After a smashing show on Friday night, the next morning I went for a stupidly long run having not had any breakfast, thinking I would treat myself to a Nando’s protein and vegetable blowout for lunch, as that is often my fallback failsafe eating option when on the road.

None of this was the tedious bit, even if it reads like it. What happened next was – I Googled ‘restaurants near me’ on the off chance there was something more exciting than Peri Peri chicken to be had nearby, and came up with Hart’s, approximately 100 yards from my hotel. I walked up there and was sat at a table within minutes, had an excellent lunch and then walked back to my hotel. Absolutely nothing else to report, which I think we can all agree, in blogging terms, is tremendously dull.

Hart’s is, in reality, what a favourite restaurant should be. A small independent, in this case attached to a hotel, serving exemplary food at reasonable prices in a manner that, whilst relatively unshowy, lets you feel like you are treating yourself. There was an interesting à la carte of what used to be called French themed dishes, but as it was written in English, let’s just call it classic restaurant cookery, and try not to be too Brexity about it. There was a lot of roasting and hearty looking things going on with starters hovering around the high single figures and mains dotted around the twenty pound mark, but mostly above. In an effort to placate my wife I opted for the set menu at £24 for three courses. This did not work, as I discovered soon afterwards when she saw my subsequent Instagram post, although I’m really not sure what she was doing looking at her phone when she was meant to be enjoying a fun weekend of solo childcare back in Hertford (*Runs for door*.)

What arrived was, in the words of The Cure, simply elegant. I decided on a butternut squash soup as I wasn’t in the mood for goat’s cheese and I didn’t know what a crottin was, although I bet it’s like fried toast. I’m very glad I did. This was exquisite – silky, smooth, almost sweet with a little slick of oil through it and a slight bite from chopped chives. Genuinely one of the best soups I’ve ever had, mainly because I rarely order soup in a restaurant as it’s generally not as exciting as the other things on the menu. Thanks to some rather nice sourdough, this plate went back to the kitchen cleaner than it was before they put soup in it.

Artfully arranged, a plate of perfectly cooked, crispy skinned cod was a delight, translucent flakes resting (as you do) on a bed of diced chorizo and leeks, with a delightfully truffled cauliflower puree whose only fault was there wasn’t quite enough of it for my ‘taste’, by which I mean ‘greed’.

I’ve been off sugar since the start of the year, so when I have some, it is a genuine treat, and a yoghurt and lemon parfait with poached rhubarb was superb, especially with an added quenelle of unadvertised rhubarb ice cream. This was already doing a heavenly little dance on the taste buds, but a scattering of candied hazelnuts added further texture (SUGAR!!!) and what can only bedescribed as an all singing, high kicking chorus. Rarely have I eaten three plates of food one after the other that have better fulfilled their job descriptions: starter, main, dessert. Bish, bash, bosh. Done. Simple perfection.

Service was efficient, friendly, and while there may have been a slightly longer wait for a couple of dishes than I might have liked, that is only to be expected from a busy kitchen turning out dishes of this quality. With a bottle of sparkling water and a tip, the bill came in at £30 for a really rather memorable lunch. Rather unexcitingly, I had absolutely no complaints whatsoever, and walked back to the hotel in a fabulous mood. Luckily the England rugby team soon put paid to that by getting stuffed in Cardiff against all expectations, and nothing is more tedious than that. I was very tempted to go back to Hart’s for dinner just to cheer myself up again.

 

Feb 2019

Lily’s Ashton

January is of course the time for reinvention, when you spend a good fortnight or so pretending you’re going to become some better version of yourself that rarely makes the transition to February. I’d like to say I’m adopting a healthier lifestyle, but what I’m really trying to do is get into a couple of suits that appear to have shrunk somewhat in recent months. We can all pretend we’re committed to a new regime for its own sake, but what generally pushes us over the edge is the more mundane sight of catching oneself in the mirror from an unusual angle and wondering why there’s a darts player in your bedroom.

I’m not doing Dry January, although I haven’t had a drink in 2019. I just don’t want to set a time limit on it, although I realize that is sacrilegious to the martyrs of brief abstention and their self-congratulatory Just Giving pages. However, if you want to lose an inch or two off your waist, a Guinness moratorium is not a bad place to start. I’m not doing Veganuary either, although I did consider it for about thirty seconds until the reality of organizing it set in and, you know, ham. Nonetheless, I have tried to cut down on meat and dairy, to the extent I now have almond milk on my cereal in the mornings which I would have laughed at in the way my father still does a few years ago. It would probably be a good idea to give up dairy altogether, but, unfortunately, cheese.

Someone who is a better person than me in these respects is teetotal vegan comedian Justin Moorhouse, who, as he describes in his excellent new show ‘Northern Joker’ is not your stereotypical idea of an alcohol-free herbivore. I’ve known Justin since I started in comedy, and he’d been promising to take me for a meal in Manchester for ages. There is much good food to be had there, but it is quite something that a city as funky, cosmopolitan and downright fab as Manchester doesn’t have any Michelin starred restaurants. This weekend, however, that was not what we were after, as Justin had promised to take me to his favourite – Lily’s, in Ashton, just outside the city.

We drove out of town with Justin’s daughter and niece and he told me a bit about the place. A former café set up next to the local Asian supermarket by the eponymous Lily in the early70s, it seems to have been full for the last four and a half decades. As a result, they recently moved a few yards away to a bespoke new restaurant, opened in a grand ceremony by a local celeb, one Mr J. Moorhouse. Lily is sadly no longer with us, but her entire family clearly still is, and they welcomed us all, and Justin in particular, into the restaurant as one of their own.

It was mid-afternoon, but the brightly lit, charmingly muralled room was already buzzing with customers, waiters and some seriously good smells. We were placed in a booth just inside the door to the neighbouring shop where various ice creams, pastries and Indian sweets were lined up in display cases, and we got to grips with what I can only describe as an exhaustive menu.

A couple of admissions – firstly, I’m not sure my opinions of a lot of the food count for much as it was clearly made by people who are experts in a cuisine I simply don’t know enough about. Secondly – I have a tendency to binge (which may explain both the ill-fitting suits and my decision to knock booze on the head for a while.) Luckily, we found a positive solution to these potential pitfalls by getting Justin to order. And he did. A lot. So it wasn’t my fault.

The poppadums arrived first and that was when the good news began. We’ve all sat around sickly mango chutneys, tired onion salads and icky lime pickles. I have eaten many, many poppadums in my time, and the condiments here were the best I have ever had. Each with it’s own punchy flavor, and as far from a jar of Sharwoods as it’s possible to travel. This could have been lunch and I would’ve been happy. Then the first wave of proper food began.

Justin ordered so much we didn’t actually have space for any more on the table, and these were only the starters. Delicate little chaats – crispy yellow lentil flour shells filled with boiled potato, brown chick peas and a delicate mint pouring sauce were a hit with me and Justin, if not the girls. Crispy okra was a crisp yet chewy sensation, and a whole selection of samosas and bhajis kept coming, with various dipping sauces. Pretty sure we had some Lentil kachoris (a kind of spicy lentil pasty,) and Bateta wadis (spiced potato dumplings in a gram flour batter) but I may be wrong. It was getting quite hectic by now. There was a lot of chilli going on, but that delicious kind of heat that is a catalyst, rather than the flavour itself. And if things got too much, there was plenty of yoghurt about to cool you down (not vegan admittedly, but then again, neither am I.) To give you an idea of the taste explosions going off all over, I didn’t even think about meat, and if your idea of a meal out has to involve bits of animal, in a rather neat reversal, I’m afraid it is you who are missing out.

A number of uneaten bhajis and samosas were put into a doggy bag and greatly appreciated in the ComedyStore dressing room later on – as often happens with Indian food, the flavours were, if anything, more pronounced when eaten cold. But back at Lily’s we were working our way round our main courses. These included some spectacularly fragrant rice, slippery chilli tofu and a smooth and flavoursome spinach and mushroom curry. I’d ordered a naan as I’m clinically unable not to. We had two types – plain and garlic, chilli and coriander – which were a further delight for mopping up everything else, as well as some rotis. Having spotted one on another table, the girls also ordered an uttapam – an enormous rolled lentil pancake containing, oh, you know, some really tasty vegetable stuff. I was eating, not taking notes. One dish stood out above all others though, and that was the Gobi Manchurian from the Indo-Chinese menu – stir-fried battered cauliflower florets that we actually ended up fighting over in a very polite way. By this point, the odd dish may have remained unfinished, but these bronzed little nuggets stood no chance.

Slowly, we eased to a stop, like some sort of overladen steam train. Somehow the girls managed to find space for a couple of ice creams, but obviously that would have seriously screwed with my diet. As it was, I had eaten my bodyweight in vegetables, and as we all know, on the calorie front, that simply doesn’t count. Service was beyond wonderful, and I get the impression that would be the case whether you attended with the chief ribbon cutter or not. Rarely have I felt so welcomed, or so satisfied after a meal. I’d like to give you an idea of the price, (I know that it was very reasonable from the pricing on the menu) but I can’t tell you the exact figure, because Justin very kindly picked up the bill.

You can give up whatever you want for the New Year, but it’s perfectly possible to be more positive, and find something new to do instead. Next time I’m in Manchester, I’m pretty sure I’ll take the tram up to Ashton and pay Lily’s another visit. Obviously I’ll see if Mr Moorhouse is available to escort me, partly because I owe him lunch, partly for a little reflected North West celebrity gold dust, but mainly because there is no more fun place to be a teetotal vegan for the afternoon at any time of the year.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Jan ‘19

Justin is taking ‘Northern Joker’ on tour which even includes dates in the South. You can find venues and tickets here: https://justinmoorhouse.seetickets.com/tour/justin-moorhouse

Spielburger, Barnet Everyman

I hate horror movies. I just don’t particularly like the sensation of being scared, weirdly. That is why Hal Cruttenden took me to watch Halloween 2 as part of an idea we had for a podcast, which presently consists of two middle-aged men bitching at each other for six hours in search of an editor. The Barnet Everyman is a cracking cinema – a tastefully decorated art deco number with enthusiastic staff and a lovely vibe throughout. Hal bought us a couple of excellent burgers at Spielburger on our huge expense account beforehand, and then we headed to the auditorium.

To our surprise, we were enthusiastically greeted at the entrance by a man with an extravagant moustache bellowing ‘I told her I first saw this TWENTY YEARS AGO and she had NO IDEA WHAT I MEANT!!!’ at us. Being English cowards, we both nodded politely, walked round him and sat on our comfortable sofa before turning to each other to question what we’d just seen. We soon found out, because our moustachioed friend added greatly to the atmosphere with helpful comments from the back like, ‘Well THAT wasn’t very nice!’ as Michael Myers sprayed gore across the screen. Nothing ruins the tension of a decent piece of cinema like a bellend commentating on it, and this was brought to something of a head when he strolled down to the front row (with his bottle of wine,) sat down and addressed a few more well chosen remarks to the screen. Eventually, some poor, hapless, (and considerably braver than us) teenager was dispatched by the management to ask him to vacate the room, at which point he stood up, declared us all to be ‘C*NTS’ and swept out with an enormous amount of dignity for someone who didn’t appear to have any.

The upshot of this is we were offered free tickets to a future Everyman screening as recompense for the extra entertainment, and being a generous soul, Hal gave me his. I took advantage of these on a rare date night last week to take my wife to see ‘The Favourite’ which was very good, although not quite as good as it thinks it is. I mean, if you can’t win an Oscar for playing a gout-ridden, bulimic, lesbian monarch who has a stroke in the final act, you probably shouldn’t be allowed in movies anyway. I could have won an Oscar doing that. But that is not why we’re here.

I’m on a bit of a January health kick/detox/Christmas cheese belly removal program at the moment, so I had essentially starved myself all day in the expectation of another Spielburger, and we arrived with plenty of time to sit down in the ‘distressed diner’ surrounds of this rather good little burger joint attached to the foyer.

I was going to have the ‘House’ burger I had last time – basically a good old fashioned cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato and a choice of cheeses and/or bacon. Having ordered blue cheese, the waiter mentioned a special version with French mustard and onion chutney, so I went for that with sweet potato fries, while my wife had the House with gruyere and regular fries. The menu is pretty sparse otherwise, but I did notice some padron peppers while we were waiting and added these to our order.

Everything was excellent. Succulent, tasty burgers, although I wish I’d had the House, or someone had stuck some lettuce and a slice of tomato on my special. They also had jars of Beaver Coney Island Hot Dog Mustard which seems to be a kind of American Piccalilli I advise you to go out and buy immediately. The fries were exemplary, especially the sweet potato version in their salty, crispy skins and the peppers were faultless, even if you do have to be going some to screw them up. They were, however, served in a cup and there were maybe ten of them. I have a pack from Sainsbury’s in my fridge – there are fifteen and they cost £1. The Spielburger Ten (two more than The Hateful Eight, two less than The Dirty Dozen,) were £5.50. We also had a bottle of mineral water each, and the bill for our meal came to £35. That is quite a sum I’d not quite realized Hal had spent on me. I must remember to thank him, and possibly not complain so much about having to spend a similar amount on my wife. BUT – that is A LOT of money for two burgers and fries. Yes, they were very good, but I’m not sure any burger is that good.

For years I have been annoyed by the mark up on food at cinemas and the ridiculous deals involving vats of popcorn and litres of sugary drinks, and I know it’s really where they make their profits, but this does seem excessive, even for much better food. I’m just really glad we didn’t have to pay for the film, otherwise, with babysitter, a Tuesday night at the pictures for two would have cost £90. Plus petrol. That. Is. Mental.

I love Everyman. I love the way they look, the way they present the films, the sofas, the fact you can take a drink or even food into the auditorium, the enthusiasm of the staff etc etc. But I’m sorry to say, next time, I probably won’t go the extra mile to Barnet. I’ll do the classic Hatfield Odeon/Nando’s run and still have change out of £60. I can’t blame Everyman for the cost of the babysitter, and I can’t really fault Spielburger for the quality of the burgers. I’ll just have to make sure every time I go there from now on, Hal Cruttenden buys dinner and there’s a nutter in the auditorium as well as pricing the menu. And with prices like these, who needs horror movies?



Jan ‘19

Hal is presently on tour, which he rarely mentions. If you go along, he’ll probably buy you a burger. Tickets are available here: https://www.halcruttenden.com/tour/