Saturday, July 27, 2013

Eating, drinking, shopping and cooking

One of the joys of being out of the country is that the quality of the meat, fish, chicken and vegetables is really top class. You can spend as much or as little as you want on ingredients. With such good ingredients available, we make it a point to try and cook as much as possible when in London.

We do not have access to a full kitchen not do we have more than the very basic tools to cook with. Just a stove, an oven, basic pots and pans and a few knives. So cooking is limited to less elaborate dishes. This is really neither a constraint nor a problem in London. You have more than enough ingredients available to buy, process and cook at home.

We do like having an evening of what we call `meat and cheese’. This comprises of a small cheese platter with cheese from La Fromagerie and excellent Cheesemonger on Moxon Street in Marylebone. They have a dedicated, humidity and temperature controlled cheese room with extremely knowledgeable sales staff. You can approach cheese buying from many angles. You could tell them that you plan to drink a certain Red wine, or a certain white wine or even a sparking. Then they recommend different cheeses that would complement the wine. Or you could tell them that you want a mix of cheeses, a hard, a washed rind, a soft and a blue as a general indication and they will select some for you. Or you could go the country route, for example, I want a French a Swiss or an English cheese. Or you could say you want a cheese made from a certain type of milk. The salesmen are helpful, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. With the cheese we have a few `cold cuts’ that we buy from a delicatessen. A few thin slices of a San Daniele ham, or some Pate or a Terrine, or a few slices of a fresh cooked ham or some salami. If we are really enthusiastic a few slices of a heavily smoked Salmon is also bought. A small tub of mixed olives to have with our drinks and, of course, decent bread. All this is washed down with a bottle of wine bought from Hedonism, the most fantastic wine shop I had written about earlier. None of this involves any cooking, but the comfort of having a meal at home with music purring in the background with such good quality food and drink is a real pleasure. More often than not, we have left over’s. No problem, we have them the following night with a fresh bottle of wine. Pleasure is undiminished.

Brie with a layer of Marscapone and Truffle

A fresh ready to eat Saint Marcellin

A Salami

Half a loaf from Poilane

A small artisinal bread from the Market

At times we actually cook. This is a meat and potato kind of meal. To start with we visit a butcher, Macken Brothers are a reputed butcher and they have an outlet nearby. British meat is good, Scottish as good, but what we like is American. There is a reason for this. American cattle are grain fed; grain is not a natural food for cattle. So they tend to put on weight. Then the cattle are grass fed. With British meat the cattle are only grass fed. Macken Brothers sell USDA Prime meat, and the Rib Eye is truly fantastic. So we buy a couple of USDA Prime, Rib Eyes weighing about 200-250 grams a piece. Yes I know we are being silly buying American meat in Britain, but we really do like this. USDA Prime is very difficult to get even in the USA. A very small proportion [about 3%] of meat is graded as `Prime’ by the USDA. This category means that it is of the highest quality with a lot of intramuscular fat – marbling. This makes the steak more juicy and tasty. The meat is dry aged for 28 days to achieve even more flavour. This is a real treat. Along with the steak, we get a packet of frozen Roast Potato made by McCain. These are cooked in Goose fat. All you need to do is pop them in the oven and you have delicious potato, crisp on the outside and almost soufflé like on the inside. A ready cleaned and bagged Salad of mixed leaves with a Lemon to dress the salad with. To make a sauce to go with the Steak we buy some Beef Stock that is sold by the Butcher or even at the supermarket. It is a simple matter to reduce the stock to a Demi Glace add some seasoning and it is good to go. The steak is cooked on a super hot pan which emits a fair amount of smoke. I am always worried that the fire alarms will be triggered. Rest the steaks, pour on the sauce plate up and have a great meal with a good bottle of wine.

The brilliantly marbled `Prime' Dry Aged Rib Eye

Cooked. Demi Glace, Roast Potato and a Lamb Lettuce Salad

Sometimes, we substitute the steaks for some fresh sausages. It’s a pleasure to walk to the butcher and buy one each of 4-5 different sausages. This time after we chose 3 sausages (Cumberland, Pork and Sage and Toulouse) we asked the butcher to recommend his favourite sausage to make up our batch of 4. To our surprise, he suggested we try the Chicken and Apricot. Unusual for a butcher t recommend a non pork sausage but we went with his suggestion and were not disappointed. We placed the sausages on a hot pan and cooked them through on all sides and ate them with some potatoes and sautéed spinach. Perfect. Fresh, delicious sausages which are absolutely impossible to buy in India. Both of us agreed the Chicken and Apricot was the most flavourful and moist sausage of the four! So the next time, listen to your butcher.

On quite a few occasions, especially during spring or early summer we buy top quality Asparagus. This is when it is in season and is delicious. Simply boiled and topped with some butter, lemon and shavings of Parmesan is heavenly. If you want to splurge you could get some San Daniele ham and eat that along with the Asparagus. Sometimes when we see great Tomato in the market we buy a few different types and make a salad. This is just sliced Tomato with a simple Vinaigrette and a herb, either Basil or Thyme. To complete the meal we have Ravioli. Good quality Ravioli with a variety of fillings, Pumpkin, Meat or Mushroom is what we get. Boil it and drizzle some olive oil and the same Parmesan results in a top class meal. If you like you could get yourself some ready sauces, Pesto or Tomato and use that with the Ravioli.

It is not all eating out for us. Buying great ingredients and eating them as is, or cooking them is such an immense pleasure. For one single meal we will often visit upto 5-6 different specialty shops or artisanal purveyors and let me tell you, it adds to the pleasure of putting together a great meal. No point walking into a supermarket and getting all the ingredients from there if there is better stuff available outside. And no, this is not because we have the luxury of time when we are in London. We are exactly the same even in Mumbai. We trudge from store to store and often to different parts of Mumbai to buy the best ingredients for our meals. It’s not about convenience, it’s about the pleasure of a good meal.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Zucca, as the name suggests is an Italian restaurant. This is not a pizza – red sauce pasta kind of place and neither is it high-end Italian. Zucca, in my view sits slightly below the expensive Italian restaurants that for some reason, seem to thrive in Mayfair. Zucca is in Bermondsey which is almost down at Canary Wharf. I did not realise quite how far it was when we made the booking.

Joining us for dinner was our friend the Doctor Businesswoman, who also ate with us at Le Gavroche. She had just returned from India the previous evening. She said that she would fetch us and we could all go to Zucca together. At the appointed hour she turned up in her little Red [well Maroon actually] car and armed with directions scribbled by her on the back of an envelope we made our way to Zucca.

The restaurant was quite full when we entered; we had been warned when the booking was reconfirmed, that we would have to surrender the table in 2 hours. The rectangular restaurant had a glass fronted window running down its entire length so it was bright and gave a feeling of space. Tables were close to each other, no carpeting so there was more than a buzz in the restaurant. Not the place for a romantic meal.

Zucca does not have a fixed menu. Apparently the menu changes every day and you can request the day’s menu by sending an email. I did, and promptly got the menu. The cuisine is traditional Italian and built around 4 components, the Anti Pasti, Pasta, Mains and Dessert. The breads and ice creams are `home made’.

The home made bread.

We ordered 3 Antipasti, all of which were excellent. A delicious Fried Pumpkin Fritter was what came first. I had not thought you could make a `pakoda’ of `Bhopla’ but here it was. Then came, San Daniele, Yellow Beans & Almonds. San Daniele is a cured ham, very similar to Parma Ham, except that it comes from a different region of Italy. The ham is thinly sliced and came plated with some salad and Almonds. It was a fairly standard dish, and being ham, there was really nothing that the restaurant had done to enhance it. No need for a photograph either. The third starter was interesting. It was Cresia Di Polenta, Ciauscolo & Lardo. Cressia Di Polenta turned out to be, simply, a `Makkai Ki Roti’. Polenta is corn flour widely eaten in Italy. They made a flatbread, grilled it and brushed Olive Oil. It was very similar to `Makkai Ki Roti’. Ciauscolo is a type of salami and Lardo is cured Pork Back Fat. Eating the three together was a good combination.

The excellent Pumpkin fritters

Cresia Di Polenta, Ciauscolo & Lardo

For the main course, the Doctor Businesswoman ordered Roast Cod, Courgette, Peas & Mint. Looked good and she pronounced it as scrumptious. HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered a Tagliatelle, Summer Vegetables & Watercress which was also really nice. I went traditional and boring with Corda, Pork & Fennel Ragu, Ricotta. Corda of being a pasta shaped like a rope. This too was very good. All the food was hot and very well seasoned.

Corda, Pork & Fennel Ragu, Ricotta

 Roast Cod, Courgette, Peas & Mint. [Sorry about the slightly blurred photo]

Tagliatelle, Summer Vegetables & Watercress

It was a most enjoyable evening with interesting conversation and good food. Zucca is well worth visiting. The food is reasonably priced and of a high standard. Just remember to make a reservation as the restaurant is very popular. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

One O One Fish Restaurant - Fine dining or a Pub? Who knows?

We do like eating fish when in Europe. You get a wide variety of fish which is treated with the dignity it deserves both as far as preserving and storing it but also in cooking. Rarely will you get fish that has been boiled to death in an over spiced curry or fried within an inch of its life in a heavily spice batter.

So, it seemed that One O One Restaurant would be a good choice. The restaurant has a highly acclaimed Chef Pacsal Proyart on the stove, and, if you believe in awards, it has been voted Britain’s fifth best restaurant in 2012 by the venerable London Times.

The restaurant is located in the horribly ugly by any standards, Sheraton Park Tower, in the heart of Knightsbridge. We have had mixed experiences with restaurants located in hotels. Pierre Koffmann in the Berkeley is outstanding. Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester and Galvin Windows at the Intercontinental had good food but were disappointing experiences overall. Helene Daroze at the Connaught and Restaurant St. John at Hotel St. John were a disaster. In India, all restaurants in hotels are disasters, the sole exceptions being some of the ITC signature restaurants.

We arrived at 7.30 the time we had booked and were welcomed in. Blazing summer, no overcoats to be whisked away, we were offered a table and sat down. The restaurant looked lovely from the inside. It was well lit, modern decor, almost Art Deco like, and the chairs were very comfortable. You felt good. Champagne was offered and accepted. One single menu with four sub sections was given as well as a wine list. We stuck with the a la carte.  We were asked if we had any allergies to anything, to which our answer was no.   

While waiting we got an Amuse Bouche of Salmon in a Marie Rose Sauce and a Melba toast. A sort of Prawn Cocktail. Pleasant though unremarkable. Three types of bread were offered, a Focaccia, Brown and White along with an unsalted butter and butter flavoured with Seaweed. Nice touch, I thought and good butter too.

The Amuse Bouche

The Seaweed Butter in the top right. Unsalted butter bottom left

HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered Yellowfin Tuna Tartar with Crispy Soft Shelled Crab Tempura, Sushi Rice and Wasabi Sorbet, Wakame Salad. A knockout of a dish if you ask me. Absolutely brilliantly conceived and beautifully presented. Totally Japanese in ingredients but completely French in execution. Tuna Tartar is raw Tuna dressed with Onion, Lime and Herbs. A crisp soft shelled crab gave the crunch and the heat in the dish. A roll of Sushi Rice with a Pipette of Soy Sauce which was squeezed and topped with Wasabi Sorbet. Do you not eat Sushi by adding some Soy and a hint of Wasabi? To complete the Japanese concept you had cubes of Gari Jelly the Japanese pickled Ginger. Stunning dish.

Yellowfin Tuna Tartar with Crispy Soft Shelled Crab Tempura, Sushi Rice and Wasabi Sorbet, Wakame Salad. 

I ordered a more ordinary starter.Scallops with Quail Eggs, Summer Truffle Potato Mousseline and Jus Gras, Crispy Pork Belly. Well cooked Scallops and soft boiled Quail Eggs combined well with the crisp salty Pork Belly. The Potato Truffle Mousseline which was a very liquid foamy mashed potato flavoured with Truffles went very well. Again, a good dish but nowhere as stunning as HRH the Queen’s dish.

Scallops with Quail Eggs, Summer Truffle Potato Mousseline and Jus Gras, Crispy Pork Belly

For our main course we had decided to have a whole Seabass Baked in a Crust of Brittany Sea-Salt, Shellfish Champagne Butter Sauce, and Sea Lettuce Mash. This was a dish for 2 people.  A whole fish covered in sea salt was brought to the table. Our plates were kept on the side. On the plates was a Razor Clam shell filled with Clams and other Shellfish with the Champagne Butter Sauce. Running parallel to the Razor Clam was Mashed Potato. You had three spinach leaves with small Orange and Lemon segments.

The Hostess then started to remove the salt crust, remove the skin and fillet the fish tableside. Job was done skilfully. The fish fillets were placed on the leaves. The fish was totally perfectly cooked; it was steaming hot and very moist. Eating the fish as is was entirely possible. The Champagne Butter Sauce strictly was not needed but then the fish would have been just a steamed fish. I put some Champagne Butter Sauce on my fillets and ate. Beautiful, really really good food. The sauce was just so lovely, light and foamy that I mopped up the remaining sauce with a piece of bread. The Orange and Lemon segments combined with the fish was a touch of genius, and, so correct, citrus goes extremely well with fish. Here was an example of a quality ingredient, skilfully cooked and served. No fancy masala to hide dodgy fish, no deep frying, no bones. A whole fish baked in a salt crust. Work of skill. You have no idea if the fish is cooked. Master at work in the kitchen.

Deserts were essential after this. HRH the Queen of Kutch chose a Chocolate Soufflé with a Vanilla Crème Anglais and a ghastly Grapefruit Sorbet. The Soufflé was nice the Sorbet almost un-edible. I ordered a Lemon Tart with an Ile Flottante or Floating Island. You do not normally get these together but what the heck. Decent, though I have to say that HRH the Queen of Kutch makes a far better Lemon Tart, tangier, more lemony and altogether better.

So, all in all some great food. The Chef is really good. But there was a problem, a big problem. The restaurant is part of a Hotel. This means that any and every punter who is a guest in the hotel can expect to come to the restaurant, without a reservation, without any sort of dress code and without a care in the world. No rules apply to hotel guests eating in the restaurant. The results are quite a disaster. We had an Oriental family with daddy in shorts, keds [trainers as they are called in the UK] and no socks. There was a table with two Russian moms and two daughters. The daughters were 12 -15 years old if not older. They wanted to eat pizza and pasta in a fine dining fish restaurant! Incredibly, they were given a children’s menu with Pasta Bolognaise, Fish and Chips and other child food! These were my dining companions while HRH the Queen and I ate high end fish! Very upsetting, to say the least. As the number of children increased the demands on the service staff mounted. Here was a restaurant hostess who had skilfully carved and served us our Seabass in Brittany Salt Crust explaining to guests in the same restaurant that yes she could give them Spaghetti Bolognaise! I mean this was not a f**king pub, this was a really good restaurant with fine wines, finer food and a brilliant Chef and service staff being reduced to the level of a pub. The Oriental woman shook off her flip-flop crossed her legs and waved her bare foot around! In a 150 pound a person restaurant? To make matters worse, while the lovely serving staff were running around apologising for no pizza, etc, we had to sit with empty wine glasses for over 10 minutes while our wine sat in a wine cooler by the bar as there was no one to attend to us! Just not on folks. We complained. HRH the Queen has shot off an angry email to the Chef. As I write, no response.

In conclusion, great food, but atmosphere and fellow guests with the tastes and clothes befitting a Pub. Go at your own risk.       

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Readers will know that our lunches are always frugal and light. No lavish meals for lunch. Lunch is needed to keep energy levels up not to pig out on. A favourite lunch for me is a Chinese Noodle Soup. A bowl of clear broth, some fine noodles and a portion of either Crispy Pork Belly or Char Sui Pork as garnish is a thing of joy for me. A sandwich with plain white bread - none of the fancy Panini’s, Rolls or Wraps - is what hits the spot for me. At home if I am out of the house an Idly or a Masala Dosa is what I look for. If getting that is an issue, and I am near a mall, I think that a Burger from MacDonald’s is perfect. It is hygienic, cheap and fast to eat. No French Fries and Cokes, just a burger.

Just before leaving, I saw a show on TV where David Chang the American Korean Chef ate at various Ramen bars in Tokyo. I thought why not slightly shift lunch from China to Japan. After all, Ramen are close cousins of Chinese Noodle soups. The Vietnamese Pho is similar. Why not have Ramen for lunch instead of the Chinese Noodle soup. HRH the Queen happily concurred.

What is a Japanese Ramen soup? The dish has 3 broad components, Noodles, broth and toppings.

The word `Ramen’ actually means noodles. These are made in the usual way with one important change. An alkaline salt, usually Sodium Carbonate or Potassium Carbonate, is added to the water used to knead the noodle dough. This results in a distinctly yellow colour to the noodle. The alkali also has one more effect. The texture of the noodle changes and they get somewhat bouncier, chewier, version of `al dente’. The noodle also holds the liquid much better. The noodles themselves can be thick, thin, ribboned or wrinkled.

The broth is what makes this dish. Broadly, you get four types of broth. The most popular and difficult to make is `Tonkotsu’. This is a pork bone based broth, where the bones as well as other ingredients are boiled for hours and hours. Think Black Daal Punjabi style cooked 4 times longer. The result is that the broth turns milky white, is intensely flavoured, totally Umami and extremely tasty. The second broth is `Shoyu’. This is a clear broth based on chicken bones and coloured with Soy Sauce. It is much lighter, simpler to make and cooks for far less time. `Shio’ is another broth that is even simpler, just a few bones for flavouring with salt as the main taste giver. `Miso’ as the name suggests is a Miso based broth that is often thicker and intensely flavoured.

The last component is the garnishes. Ramen are almost always Pork based, either the broth is or the garnish are. Pork Belly thinly sliced is a favourite garnish. `Nitamago’ or a seasoned soft boiled egg is a must as garnish. Eggs are soft boiled and then marinated in a mix of Soy, Mirin, Ginger and other condiments. The egg is halved any you get a half in your bowl. Other garnish include, `Nori’ – dry seaweed, pickled Mustard Greens, pickled Bamboo, Scallions or Green Onion, Sesame Seeds, Bean Sprouts and a special roast garlic sesame oil that is black in colour. 

On the tables you have a selection of condiments to dress up your soup. The ordinary Soya Sauce, Chilli Oil, Chilli Flakes to the more unusual Garlic Presses with Raw Garlic. Apparently, the Japanese love to crush raw garlic into the Ramen.

Our first Ramen was at Tonkotsu at Dean Street. This was great introduction. We ordered one Tonkatsu style Ramen and one Shoyu style. Both were excellent. Melting Pork Belly, tangy Bamboo and the most delicious Egg. Totally satisfying. The bouncy noodles were a treat. We came away very happy.   

Soy sauce base, pork and chicken stock and medium thick noodles topped with mirin and soy marinated pork belly, half a seasoned soft-boiled egg, menma and spring onions

Rich, sea salt-based pork stock and thin noodles topped with slices of melt-in-the-mouth pork belly, half a seasoned soft-boiled egg, menma, bean sprouts and spring onions

Squid with Salt Pepper

The condiments. Note garlic press and bowl of raw garlic.

Next we went to Wagamama. Several years ago, Wagamama hit London and the UK. The first Wagamama was started by Alan Yau in 1992 in a basement. Alan Yau achieved great fame and fortune as a restaurateur. Along with Wagamama, he owned Hakkasan, Busaba Ethai, Yauatcha and more recently Cha Cha Moon. Over the years he sold his interest in the restaurants and now, generally speaking, these are owned by private equity companies.

Anyway, back to the story.

Wagamama was modelled on the ramen bars of Japan. Large open rooms, community tables, plain wood decor, a limited menu, brightly lit and food quickly prepared and dished out by a team of young waiters. Boy oh boy, it was a rage. I have had many meals there in the past; I had innumerable photos of my face covered drinking from a large bowl of soup. This image became the cover of the book which just had to be published with the recipes of Wagamama. Then, with the passage of time, prices went up, Wagamama became a huge `tourist trap’ and I became more fussy and, dare I say, more knowledgeable about food. I had not been into a Wagamama in years.

We went in were seated and HRH the Queen decided to have a salad. I could not let myself down so I ordered what they called a Pork Ramen. HRH the Queens salad was a warm Salmon Salad with Miso mayonnaise dressing. It had lots of lovely greens – rocket, pea shoots, Wakame [seaweed] and came garnished with Sesame Seeds. Decent, to put it mildly. A dash of Soya Sauce livened it. The pretentious Wagamama offers low sodium Soya Sauce!! My Pork Ramen was a mess. Instead of a lovely seasoned soft boiled egg – the  `Nitamago’, I got a horribly overcooked hardboiled egg complete with green ring around the yolk. To cover up the cock up, they served the egg yolk down. The noodles were not bouncy but seemed to be normal noodles. The garnish of bamboo was acceptable, the broth a weak chicken broth and the pork was a barbequed belly. To be fair, this was as it was described on the menu – well, except the overcooked egg. The whole dish was absolutely pathetic. Nowhere close to the real thing, almost a sham. But, I say again, it was as described on the menu. A waste of time, money and most importantly, calories, which could have been used to eat something worthwhile. Rubbish.

Warm flaked Salmon with Wasabi Rocket, Carrot, Pea Shoots, Spring Onions and Goma Wakame seaweed with a Miso Mayonnaise dressing. garnished with Hijiki and Sesame seeds

Noodles in a Miso, Ginger and Chicken soup topped with barbecued pork, a tea-stained egg, Pea Shoots and Wakame. served with a Korean barbecue sauce and garnished with Menma and Spring Onions - Please note the overturned egg.

How pretentious. No raw garlic but Soya Sauce with less salt !!

Next up was Shoryu Ramen once again in Soho on Denman Street. This place is run by the same guys who run the Japan Centre Canteen out on Regent Street, so one assumes they know what they are doing. Yes, indeed, they know what they were doing. One order was their signature dish, the Shoryu Ganso Tonkotsu, the milky pork broth with some Miso added and the usual garnish. The other order was Tokyo Ramen which had Soy based broth with barbecued pork and a garnish which included a Fish Cake. Both dishes were outstanding. The broths were top quality and the noodles bouncy as promised. This was a good meal. In fact we were so pleased that we went back the next day. I ordered the Yuzu Tonkotsu. Yuzu is a Japanese Cotrus fruit. Chilli we all know. So what they did was make a paste of Green Chilli and Yuzu. This tasted almost exactly like `Mirchi Cha Thecha' which a good Maharashtrian household makes. Also we were tempted by the deep fried Shoft Shell Crab Tempura. 

Shoryu Ganso Tonskatsu

 Tokyo Ramen which had Soy based broth with barbecued pork and a garnish which included a Fish Cake

Yuzu Tonkatsu - The green paste on the left of the egg is a Chilli Yuzu [A Japanese Citrus Fruit much like a Lime]

Soft Shell Crab Tempura

A brilliant Chicken Karrage in a Chinese Bun at Shoryu Ramen

Each seat had a number. So waiters, even a new waiter would not get confused. Sensible touch I thought.

I was indeed disappointed at how ordinary Wagamama really is. But, I presume it is catering to a different market, a less sophisticated palate and generally a tourist. If you want the real thing, do go to one of these Ramen Bars. If not, get a noodle soup at any Chinese restaurant. Wagamama is way off the map.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Rolling Stones - Hyde Park 13th July 2013.

5th July 1969, two days after the passing of Brian Jones, the Rolling Stones held a free concert at Hyde Park. At this concert Jones’s replacement Mick Taylor was introduced. Before the Rolling Stones' set, Mick Jagger read excerpts from “Adonais” a poem by Percy Shelley about the death of his friend John Keats. Jagger wore a white frock dress when reading the poem. That was the last time the Rolling Stones played a concert at Hyde Park.

Almost every summer, live concerts are held at Hyde Park. Major stars perform, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers released a double CD of their concert at Hyde Park.

The Rolling Stones have been commemorating 50 years of their existence. Word goes that despite the problems and small stages at Glastonbury, the Rolling Stones were persuaded by their children to play at Glastonbury this year. They did, albeit a pared down version of their usual stage show. The Rolling Stones agreed to play a special show at Hyde Park on 6th July 2013, 44 years and one day after their last show. The demand was so overwhelming that the organisers announced one more show on 13th July 2013.

The Barclays British Summertime Festival at Hyde Park had 6 days of live music spread over two weekends. Major groups like, the Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Elton John, Chic, Lionel Ritchie, Jennifer Lopez, the Beach Boys, Elvis Costello, Ray Davies, Al Jarreau and Nick Lowe performed. 

The ticket
A large section of Hyde Park on the Park Lane – Marble Arch side was cordoned off for this festival. It was brilliantly organised. On each concert day gates opened by noon and you could go in with a picnic blanket chairs and an umbrella and set up camp. There was a real carnival atmosphere with merry go rounds, Ferris Wheels and other rides for kids. Row upon row of food and drink stalls. All manner of food was available, from Pasta to burgers to Fish and Chips to Barbeque Ribs and Chicken, all manner of sandwiches. All manner of drinks were available, at reasonable prices, a pint of Fosters beer cost GBP 4.50 which is not much more than what you would pay for one at the pub. Wines, Pimm’s and Gin and Tonic were all on offer. In short if you wanted to make a day out in the park, get a sun tan and eat and drink, this was a very attractive proposition.

The walk into the performance area. The gates are under the green arches

And we are in

The carnival atmosphere

The Rolling Stones are one of my favourite bands. We had seen them live when they came to Mumbai a few years ago. Our Friend Philosopher and Guide in London, procured tickets and thus here we were at the height of the English Summer to watch the second show of the Rolling Stones on 13th July 2013 at Hyde Park. 

From our apartment room we could hear sound checks every day. This whet our appetites. On the day we walked across to Hyde Park at about 5 pm and found a spot. The Rolling Stones were to come on at 8.30 pm. We settled down and soon the hot British sun got to us. We needed urgent cooling. We made it to the bar and got a Beer for me and a Cider for HRH the Queen of Kutch. Now let me tell you something here. There were an estimated 80,000 yes eighty thousand people at the concert; of them probably 60,000 were drinking some sort of beer. The beer I got was cold, properly cold; no rubbish of touch the glass. Try getting a properly cold beer at a bar in India.

The bars in the background

We watched and heard various opening acts go thru the motions. Not many in the audience were interested, many were drinking, many just hanging about many just chilling. It was a hot day. As the sun went down the crowd’s mood improved. People were getting genuinely friendly and excited. I was surprised to see the age of the people around me. Well into their late 30 and many in their 60’s and 70’s. Very few under 25’s. A well heeled, well behaved and knowledgeable crowd. The lights dimmed and people got a bit more excited.

Proof that we were there

With friend philosopher and guide. My `bade bhaiya' in London

Suddenly you heard the sound of `pip’ `pip’ `pip’, remember the sound the radio made just before the news, loud over the PA system and a documentary started to roll on the screens. 5 seconds later it was magic. In massive blast of firecrackers and a stunning bright light, the opening chords of Start Me Up hit us. They were on!!!! No announcement no fan fare, just a very bright light, a huge thunder flash and the music started. As I said it was magic, it was stunning and the first 5 seconds were worth the entire ticket price. I tend to get quite emotional at such times. Yes, a few tears did roll down. Makes me sentimental. But that was soon gone, the tears and the sweat all mixed and I was soon singing tunelessly at the top of my voice along with almost everyone around me. Everybody knew the songs everybody knew the words. The Stones could sing a song from the 60’s or the 70’s or the 80’ or the 90’s or even the 2010’s and everyone knew the words. The set list included the classic like Start Me Up, Tumbling Dice, Honky Tonk Women, Miss You and the new hit Doom and Gloom The set closed with the very singable Cant Always Get [What You Want] and Satisfaction. This is the true magic of great bands. Hit makers for the last 50 years.

The prelude

This is not a 1000 word picture. Nothing can describe the start of the show.

Mid way thru the show, in a throwback to 1969, Mick Jagger put on a white dress, made some jokes about it fitting despite all this time and launched into a song. Soon Mick Taylor was brought on to play both Midnight Rambler and the encore which had to be Satisfaction. That was touching. At the final bow Mick Taylor joined the remaining 4 Stones. Then, he withdrew and the 4 took the very final bow. Grace and dignity. That is what it was.

The show ended with the crowd being sprayed with paper Red Poppies. Was this a statement of sorts? I do not know. I caught 3 of them.

The show was superb. The energy and the calibre of musicians on stage is superhuman. These chaps are all 65 years old. All of them have led lives which would render a mortal like you and me `Hors de Combat’. Leave that aside, each one of the Rolling Stones weighs less than me, has not an ounce of fat on their bodies and is fit as a horse. But all that is another matter. They are extraordinary human specimens.

One particularly charming moment for me was the `Case of the Little Girl In The Red Dress’. There was this child, barely 4 carried on her dads shoulders. She was just so happy watching the show, clapping, dancing and thoroughly enjoying herself. That was just so charming and endearing. 

The audience was in such fine form, in good singing voice and in excellent humour. The `woo hooo’ chorus of Miss You became the sort of catch praise, if I could use that term, for the rest of the evening. People sang it in unison and that brought a smile to everyone’s face. I know that as I write, many of you will not know what I am talking about. Do not worry; this is no reflection on you. I was just so happy at the end of the show that I am probably not making much sense. Forgive me.

This was really a top experience. Something I will remember all my life.

I saw the Rolling Stones live in Hyde Park one very hot summers evening. I will probably forget the date and the year, but the night will be burned in my mind for ever.