Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
- John's Journal / Blog
- John's Pictures
Main Index (text only)
- John's Travel
- Other Related Sites:
Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
Drinks with a New Starter
Fortnum and Mason Champagne of the Month and Chinatown
Michelle's Housewarming Party
Bavarian Night and Booking a Holiday
St. Blaise's Day
Curios of Olde London with Dad
Udon at Koya
- [Friday 11th February 2011]
Not much to report really. I seem to have developed a cold, which in an odd kind of way I've found a bit of a relief, as I have this strange notion that somehow it will clear out whatever had been causing my sore throat over the last month-and-a-half. There's probably very little medical credibility in that, but I had felt like my sore throat was going away at the start of this week, and so fingers crossed this will be one final disruption before normal service is resumed.
I only went very briefly to the usual beer-and-pizza thing at the end of the day today, my cold seemed to have put me off the taste of beer a bit, so I only had about a third of a bottle then left the rest. I then headed home for the evening and made dinner for myself, as Chie was out with people from work for the evening. I really like Sacla's olive and tomato sauce, which tonight I had with spaghetti, a bit of broccoli, some Quorn fillets and a bit of grated cheese on top. A fairly lazy sort of a meal but I rather enjoyed it nonetheless.
- Coffee Tasting
- [Thursday 10th February 2011]
I'd made the mistake of sharing a list of what I considered to be good places for coffee in London with a colleague from the office who is clearly at the cutting edge of coffee geekery. He had poured scorn all over my list, and had determined to take me and a few other people from work today for a "field trip" to Notes Music & Coffee where they'd arranged for us a coffee tasting of four different coffees, each using a different bean and prepared by a different method - first a paper filter, then a cloth filter, then a complex contraption with a sort of bunsen burner which I think was just called a "syphon" (see the picture) and then one more which I wasn't really paying attention to as by that point I was in a caffeine induced haze (I'd rather stupidly forgotten this was happening today, and had a couple of espressos at the office before we came). They'd chosen different types of beans to suit each piece of apparatus, and went about the whole process with an impressively scientific rigour using stopwatches and thermometers - water temperatures had to be in a strict range, and the timings for both steeping and draining were also done to a precision.
I'm not even nearly enough of a coffee connoisseur to appreciate the coffees we had to their full but it certainly was a fun experience - it's always great to see this level of obsession over food and drink. I did particularly like the second coffee though - the one with the cloth filter - which had a really great oily feel to it - something you'd lose with a paper filter, and perhaps just wouldn't notice as much with the silt you get in a cafetiere.
In other news I phoned up to get my blood test results this afternoon, and it sounds like I probably don't have glandular fever. The sore throat had seemed to actually be going away the last few days, but then today I felt a distinct twinge again. That said, I also started to get a runny nose (and over the next couple of days I definitely developed a cold) so maybe it was a new unrelated sore throat?
In the evening Chie was out at her evening class again, so while I was waiting for her to come back I made curry - three different curries in fact: a vegetable balti, some saag aloo, and some mutter paneer. This all came out rather well I'm pleased to report.
- Drinks with a New Starter
- [Wednesday 9th February]
Went for a few drinks after work with some people from work - not the usual suspects (who are all out of the country at the moment - bah humbug), but instead some people working on related projects to mine. The original purpose of the evening was to welcome a new starter, who hadn't actually started yet.
We went to one of the closest pubs to the office, which I'm generally not a big fan of, but it does seem to have improved a bit recently - we were able to get a seat which helped (albeit in the funny little room upstairs) and they had Timothy Taylor's Landlord on tap, which in the last couple of years has probably become my favourite real ale.
- Blue Sky
- [Tuesday 8th February 2011]
The weather has been consistently grey and rather dreary recently, so I was very pleased when I woke up this morning to be greeted by a vivid blue sky. It obviously wasn't actually warm, given the time of year, but it was rather glorious nonetheless.
At lunchtime I was keen to get out of the office for a stroll around given the weather, and wandered over to a cafe near Channel 4's headquarters, where they do very cheap pizzas. I sat eating my very cheap pizza looking across to Channel 4, and enjoying the blue sky.
In the evening we finished off the leftovers from our Chinese meal yesterday, which felt very frugal.
- Fortnum and Mason Champagne of the Month and Chinatown
- [Monday 7th February]
Chie and I have been making a habit of trying to go out and do something fun on Mondays, which can otherwise be a bit dreary. So tonight we thought we'd head over to Fortnum and Mason and sample their Champagne of the month.
The Champagne of the month for February is Gosset. We hadn't bothered to go last month as, to quote Upstairs Downstairs "It's only Moet". Gosset, however, is not hugely well known - I'd only had it once before (just the rosé) and so I was keen to try some more.
As always it's £30 for a flight of 3 which seems like a particularly good deal this time considering the per-bottle retail prices of the three Champagnes (all around £50).
The regular NV was boozy, grapey (yes I know - it's wine!) and had a big mouth feel. The rosé one of the palest and most delicate rosés I've seen. An elegant nose of yoghurt with (black?) cherries. The Grand Millesime 1999 was like a dessert wine, hints of Sauternes; lots of raisins. Presumably a high dosage in 2nd fermentation to get all that sweetness in there? Or is that just an effect of aging? I don't think I've had a Champagne which is more than a decade old before.
After this we thought we'd go and have some Chinese food for dinner, so headed in the direction of Chinatown. I have to admit I've never really been able to find a reliable favourite in Chinatown. I really like Joy King Lau for dim sum, but the evening menu - from a vegetarian point of view at least - is a bit boring. There are a couple of places I used to go before I lived in London that I've now gone off. So we thought we'd try somewhere new, and after a bit of searching decided to give the New Mayflower a go. Reassuringly it was full of Chinese people - perhaps because of the Chinese New Year. The vegetarian options on the menu didn't look too exciting to begin with, but we made a few special requests which the waiter seemed very accommodating of - I noticed the table of Chinese people next to us seemed to be ordering lots of things that weren't on the menu either. The food was pretty good in the end - although we ordered far too much, having already nibbled at Fortnum and Mason - so ended up taking the rest home in a couple of takeaway boxes.
We'd started fairly early so by the time we finished dinner it seemed a bit early to just go home, so we went for a drink at the Coach and Horses in Soho, wherein I was delighted to discover they had an impressive four ciders on tap. Two of them seemed like more permanent fixtures (Cotswolds and Stowford Press) and looked a bit more like the sort of mass produced ciders you'd normally see as a token offering in a pub (but still, having a choice of two is good nonetheless by London standards). However, most excitingly they had two guest ciders: the Orchard Pig Dry and Medium Sweet. I'd had Orchard Pig with Dad the other day at the Bree Louise, and it has immediately become a firm favourite, with all it's wonderful stiltony flavour.
- [Sunday 6th February]
Another pretty lazy day in the daytime, just headed out to the supermarket towards the end of the afternoon and that was about it.
- Michelle's Housewarming Party
- [Saturday 5th February]
My friend Michelle was having a housewarming party down in Kent this evening, so after a fairly slothful day indoors, just after 5 we headed out to Victoria station, by way of Sainsbury's, and got the train down to West Malling.
I've known Michelle for over a decade now, and so know quite a few of her friends too, and so there were quite a few familiar faces there, which was nice. In particular we spent a lot of the evening chatting to Mike and Clare (Clair? Claire? I'm never sure how to spell it) who it turned out we had a lot in common with - primarily Reading University and vegetarianism(!).
So we had a jolly nice time, it was a fun crowd, I had some very nice ciders (which I'd brought with me I should add - and most people still seem to look at the stuff with fear and suspicion!) and some excellent locally grown jacket potatoes, and some also excellent but probably not locally grown vegetarian sausages.
We left to get the last train back to London at 11, and as I was leaving Michelle thrust into my hand a plastic cup with some Highland Park in, which she was determined I was going to have some of. We were already a bit late for the train so I had the odd experience of jogging down the road whilst sipping HP. Must have looked a bit odd. On the train we were entertained by a succession of Carry-On-Film-esque characters, who were presumably heading into London as the pubs were closing wherever they lived.
- Bavarian Night and Booking a Holiday
- [Friday 4th February 2011]
TGIF, the end of the week beer-and-pizza thing we have at work, had a special Bavarian theme today in honour of the village of Oberstaufen (I shall leave you to figure out why). So there were Bavarian beers, Bavarian nibbles (of which I just ate the pretzels) and an accordion player. There was even a bit of dancing and German karaoke towards the end. All very enjoyable.
I left around 8ish, taking home a couple of slices of cake and a pretzel for Chie.
We'd been recently mulling over the idea of a late winter / early spring getaway to warmer climes, and having recently read about Noel Coward and Le Train Bleu, and also having recently watched Hors de Prix (Priceless) again, I'd come to the conclusion that I wanted to revisit the Cote d'Azur (where we went for a summer holiday in 2009). Particularly given that it had been, if anything, too hot the first time we went to visit, and I'd read that the prime season for the "train bleu" set (the English aristocracy in the 1920s and 30s, including Noel Coward and chums) was between November and April.
Rather than just mull it over ad nauseum I thought some decisive action was required, so this evening we booked the trains for a (very) long weekend in March. The rough plan is as follows:
Wednesday afternoon: Eurostar to Paris. Dinner at Le Train Bleu restaurant in the Gare de Lyon, and stay in a hotel nearby.
Thursday: Leave Paris in the morning to get the train down to Nice, which arrives a little after 3 in the afternoon. This time I booked our tickets via the TGV Europe site which lets us choose what kind of seat we want. It's a duplex train and I've got us in first class, on the upper deck, in a pair of solo seats facing each other with a little table. This should be great for enjoying the views on the way down, particularly as the whole journey will be in daylight. From Nice we take a short trip along the coast to Èze, the little village perché high up on a promontory overlooking the Mediterranean where we'll spend the first night - probably at the Chateau de la Chevre d'Or.
Friday: not sure yet - maybe one of the towns we didn't visit last time - Villefrance or Beaulieu - or perhaps somewhere on the Cap-Ferrat?
Saturday: on to Monaco. The weather had been really oppressively hot in the daytime when we'd visited last time, and it had been a Sunday so pretty much everything was closed, and it felt a bit deserted. So I'm hoping to get a chance for slightly more relaxing wander around this time - particularly would like to see the palace and some more of the old town, and I'm guessing Chie would appreciate the chance to have a wander around the shops. For dinner I rather like the look of Il Terrazzino - an Italian restaurant I've read some very good things about, or perhaps Alain Ducasse's new La Trattoria, or maybe even the Louis XV in the Hotel de Paris...? We'll probably stay at the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel again - despite being very modern and worryingly having the word "resort" in the name this was a great place to stay last time - the room, the service, the swimming pool and the breakfast were all fantastic. Plus it's one of the hotels owned by the state of Monaco, so it comes with the card giving you free entry to the Casino and so on.
Sunday: back to Nice in the morning, lunch there, afternoon train to Paris, hopefully time for a quick dinner there, then late evening train back to London.
- St. Blaise's Day
- [Thursday 3rd February 2011]
Got up early this morning to be first in the queue at the Doctor's. My sore throat still hadn't gone away, after over a month, so I was going back to see if they had any further thoughts on it. They seemed to think glandular fever was the most likely cause at this stage, so told me to have some blood tests done. This involved going to a separate clinic elsewhere in SW1 - a funny little place where they had a department which seemed to do nothing but blood tests. They had a sort of ticketing system like you'd get at the cheese counter in a supermarket. That was all over and done with pretty quickly, and I should get the results back some time next week apparently. Apparently glandular fever can linger on for several months, but if it's only as bad as it has been the past month that's not such a big deal - mainly I really just want to know what the actual problem is.
Conveniently the clinic where I gave the blood samples was just around the corner from the Regency Cafe, and as it was still fairly early in the morning I decided a restorative breakfast would probably be wise. So I had my usual hash browns, mushrooms, beans and "bubble" (as in bubble and squeak) with a cup of tea. Excellent as always.
Today was St. Blaise's Day, a minor saints day which I've been a fan of for some time, mainly because of the indirect association it has with Ye Old Mitre. Both Ye Old Mitre and St. Etheldreda's Church just round the corner were originally built as part of the London estate of the Bishops of Ely, and St. Etheldreada's Church is noted for marking St. Blaise's Day with a "blessing of the throats" ceremony, in which people with throat complaints can go and be blessed. Not being a Catholic, I've never been to the ceremony (although this year it would have been rather appropriate) but I do seem to have got into an annual habit of at least visiting the church on February 3rd, albeit that I usually go in the evening and can't get inside.
Of course after briefly paying my respects there I then feel compelled to avail myself of the hospitality at the nearby Mitre, and this is exactly what I did this evening. At the Mitre I met up with my friend Al, and we actually stayed for quite a while - I don't really know why, but for some reason I almost always just stay for one quick drink when I come to the Mitre, so it was great to properly linger for a change. We then rounded off the evening with a quick dram at the Whisky Society - conveniently just around the corner - so it had to be done.
- Japanese Food
- [Wednesday 2nd February 2011]
Not much to report really - I had my usual late meeting as it was a Wednesday, after which I headed home. Chie usually goes to yoga on Wednesday evenings, but had already made a start on dinner before she went - having made a couple of Japanese dishes ("okazu" - little side dishes to go with rice): something with Jerusalem artichoke and a dish with hijiki - a kind of seaweed. I added to this mix a dish with some large soya chunks marinated in ginger, garlic, mirin and soy sauce, plus I cooked some rice. So we had a pleasing mixed bag sort of a Japanese meal, which was very much a joint effort.
- Curios of Olde London with Dad
- [Tuesday 1st February 2011]
Dad was passing through London today on his way back from Guildford to North Wales.
We met at Temple tube at lunchtime, and I started our afternoon's tour of "curios of olde London" by quickly showing Dad the Old Roman Bath tucked down a little alleyway nearby. Apparently Charles Dickens had bathed here.
I decided we should go and have lunch at Simpson's - as Dad doesn't come to London very often it seemed a waste to have lunch anywhere that wouldn't be particularly memorable. It seems to be relatively quiet at lunchtime in the week so we had no problem getting a seat. The vegetarian option was, again, surprisingly pretty good (considering Simpsons being famous for roast meats etc), as it had been last time - I had a very nicely assembled plate of baked mushrooms, with artichokes, tomatoes and some other vegetables. Oh and a cheese and potato bake on the side, which was very good too. Dad had a sort of shepherd's pie but made with venison, which I don't think he enjoyed quite as much as what I had, as it turned out - I think he likes his game to be a bit more rugged and challenging - this looked as though it may have been designed for gentlemen of very delicate palates who don't necessarily have their own teeth. We shared the mixed dessert platter which I think went down rather well, and had a bottle of Nyetimber with the meal - the Queen's favourite English sparkling wine. The grand setting and gratifying decadence of a rather extravagant meal on an otherwise insignificant Tuesday, at lunchtime, was all rather fun.
Next, on to Temple Church, which I'd been wanting to visit for some time (as much to see some of the courtyards and passageways of two of the Inns of Court - Inner and Middle Temple - as the church itself), but it only opens to the public now and again, and typically Monday to Friday in the daytime. Fortunately it was open this afternoon, and knowing Dad is also a bit of a fan of church architecture it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was a little more modern looking than I was expecting - I think it was damaged during WWII and may have undergone some fairly extensive repairs - but it was still interesting nonetheless.
From here, we walked North along Chancery Lane to Lincoln's Inn - another of the Inns of Court - and again, another place you can't really visit unless you're free in the daytime Monday to Friday. The grounds are rather superb - with the sort of grandeur of an Oxbridge college - and yet it's a place many people who live in London don't even know is there.
This then led us on rather nicely to the Seven Stars - which I believe to be the oldest pub in London - and indeed part of the reason for it's longevity is the way it nestles close to the ancient and largely unchanging Lincoln's Inn. Although I'd taken Dad to lots of my favourite pubs in London before, he'd never been here before. The Seven Stars certainly doesn't try and make a big deal out of its antique status but there is, quite naturally, a definite sense of history here, and it isn't that great a leap of the imagination to picture yourself supping an ale with Pepys and Dr Johnson.
After leaving the Seven Stars we headed in the direction of Holborn tube, across the impressive Lincoln's Inn Fields, witha brief detour by way of the Old Curiosity Shop - just to take a glance at the building itself, as it is a rather impressive survival (dating back to 1567 - 35 years before the Seven Stars even).
At Holborn we took the tube to Bond Street, so that we could briefly pop in to Selfridge's (we had clearly departed from the old London curios theme by this point), as Dad wanted to buy some sugar free chocolates for Janie. This was pleasingly efficient as the Food Hall at Selfridge's is on the ground floor, near one of the entrances - so there's no need to wade through perfume counters etc in order to get to it.
From there we headed on to Royal China on Baker Street for some late afternoon dim sum (sort of an early dinner) - and got there just in the nick of time, as apparently they stop serving at 4:45. It was probably a little too soon after lunch to eat again, but as Dad would be stuck on a train from 7 until 11 it seemed important to have something. I don't think I'd ever been for dim sum with Dad before, so this was fun.
Dad's train was going from Euston, we considered getting the tube from Baker Street to Euston, but as it was now getting into rush hour, and we still had plenty of time (not to mention some dim sum to walk off) we decided to go there on foot instead. So we had quite a pleasant stroll through Marylebone to Euston.
We rounded off the afternoon with a drink or two at the Bree Louise, which is conveniently located very close to Euston, and is more or less the unofficial headquarters for CAMRA in central London - somewhat fitting as Dad was one of the founding members back in the 70s. I could see his heart gladdened by witnessing a real ale pub like this thriving three-and-a-bit decades on, absolutely packed to the gills on a Tuesday, albeit that I think he would quite have liked somewhere to sit down! A particular hit here was the Orchard Pig cider which had a wonderful sharp and intense quality that strongly reminded me of blue cheese - particularly stilton.
After that we walked to Euston and I waved Dad off. It had been a very enjoyable afternoon.
- Udon at Koya
- [Monday 31st January 2011]
Chie really wanted to eat udon tonight, so after a bit of procrastination we decided to go to Koya in Soho. Chie had been before, it was my first time.
I had the "kinoko atsu atsu" - the udon with mushrooms. Here atsu atsu means both the udon (the thick noodles) and the soup are hot - apparently the preferred ordering style for non Japanese people. Japanese people, I'm told, are more likely to order hiya atsu where the udon are served separately, cold, with a hot soup on the side. This is what Chie went for, and her dish also came with a selection of tempura. Mine came with a little dish of kurumi miso (miso paste with walnuts) to add in to taste. All very nice - if anything this was better than going to an udon place in Japan for me, as it would be nigh on impossible to find a vegetarian version there (the stock in particularly being the sticking point as always).