Monday, September 30, 2013

London musings

In the words of Busybee, a few stray thoughts and random observation, all my own work.

Earlier this year, I had written about the sad fact that HMV, was shutting down. Well, the company was declared bankrupt and placed in the hands of Administrators. These guys shut down many of the stores, consolidated the existing stocks of CD’s etc. and started to sell the stock. If you went to the store you had rows of empty shelving. It was sad to see the state that vibrant store was reduced to. Then, in April 2013 a purchaser, Hilco, bought HMV for 50 million pounds and set about restoring HMV. In July the HMV store at Oxford Circus was alive, thriving and literally crammed with merchandise and customers. CD’s were being sold at realistic prices [read the same prices as online stores]. I was thrilled. Then, on 28th September 2013, HMV opened a new store on Oxford Street in the same premises it first opened in 1921. I hope HMV stays alive.

It seems to me, and I am not an economist, that things are getting much better in London. Though it is not tourist season, shops seem to have lot of people buying things. I am continually amazed at how many people, not just women, but men are simply sitting around in cafes drinking coffee. Be it a Starbucks or a Cafe Nero or a Costa Coffee or one of the literally thousands of cafe that seem to dot every building, people are drinking coffee. If they are not drinking coffee sitting down, then they have a paper cup or glass which they carry taking swigs from it as if they would lose all their bodily fluids if they did not. All this costs money - much money. I can assure you that seeing the number of people drinking coffee, London is doing well. In fact, when we go into the kitchen sections of big stores, everybody seems to be buying coffee machines. There are rows upon rows of machines on sale with smart salesmen extolling the virtues and features of every machine. Coffee is big here and dam fashionable.

Ferran Adria the Chef, part owner of the really legendary El Bulli was the subject of an exhibition at Somerset House. Frankly, he has in the last 20 odd years had a dramatic impact on food. El Bulli was a small restaurant in Roses in Catalonia in Spain that Adria joined in 1984 as a chef. El Bulli was named as such not after a bull, but after the pet bulldogs that the previous owners of the restaurant had. Adria bought the restaurant along with Juli Soler who was in charge of front of house. The restaurant won 3 Michelin stars and was regularly voted as the best restaurant in the world. Anthony Bourdain, whom I quite like, has a beautiful way with words. I reproduce what he wrote about Ferran Adria - "His book is a shockingly beautiful catalog of his latest accomplishments here… Pastry chefs everywhere—when they see this—will gape in fear, and awe, and wonder. I feel for them; like Eric Clapton seeing Jimi Hendrix for the first time, one imagines they will ask themselves 'What do I do now?' The man completely changed textures, flavour combinations and in many cases rules relating to food. His use of revolutionary techniques, jellies and foams, nitrogen have been deeply influential.

The beautiful  Somerset House where the exhibition was.

The exhibition was absolutely fascinating. Many videos showed what he did; the tools and the equipment he used were on display. It was really fascinating. On the day the restaurant closed a large bulldog was made out of meringue and a sugar as a sort of tribute. This too was on display. Absolute intricate work which must have taken such effort to make.

What also fascinated me was the deep research; experimentation detailing that was done before a dish was finally ready to be served. Many clay models of the food were made. These were then drawn on paper and placed in a plate to achieve the correct effect. Unbelievable. Have a look at his thought process that is shown on the chart.

The hundreds of clay models 

On the left a plate with clay models, on the right a drawing of how it should be plated

Once again, on the left a plate with clay models, on the right a drawing of how it should be plated

The thought process of Ferran Adria. Wonderfully illustrated.

I written about the fact that burgers are the absolute rage in London. We went to have a burger for lunch, beats the Maharaja Mac Chicken by a mile, at Tommi's Burgers in our old haunt Marylebone. We reached at 11.45 and got a place to sit. By 12 noon the place as jammed, a line snaked out of the door. I had a Steak Burger with Cheese and Bernaise while HRH The Queen had a Cheeseburger. They were totally brilliant. A day or two later when we were in Soho walking past a Burger and Lobster, which I had written about earlier, there was a line of people getting in. Such is the popularity of burgers in London. 

Tommi's Burger with a line at 12.15 after we finished

`S' for Steakburger - please note no fries!! No plates either.

The deliciously juicy Cheeseburger

The Steakburger 

Line outside Burger and Lobster

That’s all for now folks. More blogs, more food and more rants soon...      

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