Wednesday 28 April 2010

Soupe de Passion

It arrived with a flourish. A steaming tureen with a ladle poking out from a slit in the lid, little bowls of cheese, croutons, a red coloured mayonnaise and bread... but what really caught our eye was that all this was for one man. Then, after filling a bowl, the waiter just left the tureen. My brother and I were young, pre teen, we just stared, unable to imagine anything more perfect. We continued to watch, mesmerised as a very French looking man spread mayonnaise on the croutons, popped them in the soup, then sprinkled the lot with cheese. We ordered it on the spot and at every other spot we found it for the rest of the holiday.

Today was pleasantly warm, first time really this year. Always a good excuse to play 'being on holiday'. It's a relatively easy game for me involving a jar of soupe de poissons plus accompaniments and a bottle of rose. There are a thousand recipes for rouille. My recipe is: 2 crushed cloves of garlic, a tablespoon of harissa, 2 egg yolks- mash it all together in a mortar and pestle then add olive oil a drop at a time, stirring, as for mayonnaise. When it's very thick thin it down with the juice of half a lemon. Season.

The rose came from the Co-op for the remarkably reasonable price of £4.79. It's pretty good too, very much a food wine, but I'd definitely buy it again.

For a few glinting moments I'm transported back... to the Quayside in Sete, chuckling into our glasses as Parisian gangsters drive by playing hip hop. Or, in Marseille, flicking a finger to the guys on scooters who smile to reveal cellophane wrapped crack between their teeth. Ahh, the glories of the Med. Unfortunately the view tonight wasn't quite so colourful.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Vive Le Difference

We got it bad, you don't know how bad we got it. You got it easy, you don't know when you got it good...

Wouldn't it be good to be on your side, even if it was for just one day...

Actually the French know they've got it good, even to the point of smugness, but why not? They're living in a country boasting every desirable form of terrain and have mastered the art of getting the best out of it.

There are however, a few achilles 'eels... the French get a bit embarrasing when drunk, they're crap at pop music and most of them can't dance.
French people tend to drink a lot without getting drunk. In fact they're so good at it, if you're a cirrhosis doctor you'd be daft working anywhere else. It's a long term soaky sort of boozing, not the binging variety at which we excel. When the French binge, the rest of the world cringe... you can almost guarantee they'll start trying, and failing, to pull each others pants down just before flinging themselves into the nearest fountain.

Now it's not like other countries don't behave abominably when drunk, it's just that normally the French are so bloody schwet, seeing them drunk, or dancing, or best of all, both, is to realise that there IS much justice in the world.
Anyway, I'd better stop now, before an angry mob from the Larzac turns up to blockade my street and set fire to cheese outside the window.

Here's a wine even the French recommend drinking to excess and after a few nights of experimentation, I can vouch for their advice. It came as part of a mixed case from Yapp.
Saint Pourcain 2009 is, to pinch a word they're fond of in the Yapp catalogue, a 'judicious' blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay. I'd say it's glugalicious and versatile. So far it's gone well with garlicy chicken, a nice tuna steak and it also goes down rather too easily on it's own. Oh well, if you can't beat them join them... but never mind the trousers, make sure it's the blinds you pull down before attempting the lastest refreshingly cool French dance craze Tecktonik...

Saint Pourcain comes as part of a mixed case from Yapp costing £85 including delivery. Well worth it.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Through Savage Europe

Spotted this lurking in the travel section of a second hand bookshop. A quick flick through and I was transfixed.

Harry de Windt told it as he saw it... and he saw it as an Edwardian gentleman from the Garrick Club. It's absolutely riveting.

This made me chuckle. An early version of Ewan McGregor and his chum heading off to the middle of no-where with nothing but a throbbing engine between their legs. What must their wives have thought?

Amusingly, despite numerous photographs, none are actually attributed to the 'canny' Mr Mackenzie. Maybe they fell out before publication?

Harry's main obsessions on the journey were a very critical approach to the local women coupled with a continual quest for 'comforts'.

In another memorable paragraph he describes the women of Montenegro as "acceptably pretty in youth though inclined to portliness in later years". Caveat Emptor!

An early reference to Zinfandel.
Well, imagine my surprise, as they say, while hanging around Waitrose looking to pick up something in the wine section...

They're currently discounting a range of wines including a few from in and around the Balkans. One is now my new favourite town name...

Unfortunately it's definitely not my new favourite wine. Because the Pinot Grigio from Jeruzalem Ormoz is just ok, in a home made sort of way, tasting of unripe fruits: apple, grapefruit, pineapple... with a slight spritz. It's a refreshing aperitif for £6.66, but even at that reduced price, I wouldn't buy it again. As for the £6ish Zinfandel look-a-likey 'Plavac Mali' from the Croatian island of Hvar, well, it may have been prettier in youth. Now though, it's gone to seed, all fat and blowsy. You would, but only if there was nothing else left.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

If only all Tuesdays could be like this...

As locations go, it seems this one went. A flattened post industrial landscape just beyond Shields Road underground station. Fortunately, a bit more wandering revealed it was just a glitch with the internet map.

There were few clues on the outside as to what lurks within, just a hint in reception that this place may not be a purveyor of industrial widgets.

We were here to see the 'Shooting Gallery' exhibition and in particular the work of Kevin Hunter, artist brother of Adrian who manages Pete Doherty.

I spotted the bar. Well it was hard to miss and so disproportionately huge and 'proper' looking that I seriously thought it might be an installation.

Still, I had a punt anyway, "What's in it?" I asked the barman..."Mainly rum", and he laughed as I tried to pay. He wasn't kidding, after two pieces of fruit I was merry, half way down the drink I was anyones.

Soon after a man introducing himself as Scott stood up to say a few words. He explained about the art, the exhibition, forthcoming attractions and then, I began to start thinking there was more in my drink than just rum. Because Scott started saying this place was also a training college for 'mixologists', the creme de la creme of cocktail shakers... "P P P P Pardon??"... "Am I hallucinating?".. I was trying to take in this googly when he bowled another... there were in fact two bars that would be serving all manner of delicious drinks all night for free. Then he pointed upwards...

"Up there, behind the DJ, you'll find the Bourbon bar". Christ, and I nearly drove... result!!!

There was about quarter of a bottle of Makers Mark in this Old Fashioned. Wow, the olden days must have been some place. A bit of enjoyable chat was followed by two absolutely cracking whisky sours.

Then it really was time to go. Quite apart from the fact that I was seriously considering coming to live here permanently, there was 'We Have Band' to see at The Captains Rest...

They were bloody brilliant.

Click here for details of the Shooting Gallery artists.

The exhibition was run by the LA Group.
You can contact them and it's Managing Director Scott Gemmell at: / 0141 429 8989. I'd recommend doing so.
Click here for their website.

Click here for the marvelous We Have Band.

Monday 5 April 2010

Prawn Again

Easter Weekend, I think it's fair to say, saw me burn the candle at both ends and in a few other places too. In need of revitalisation I settled on a bottle grapefruity juice from Waitrose...

Figured Tosca would be just about right while the wine kicked in. Then step up to a nice Kitsune 4 once the 'edge' had been sanded.
I labour under the delusion that the right food can cancel out all excesses, it's my parents fault... not specifically, just generally. Anyway, the right food for me is always seafood. Especially hungover. When combined with a spot of eastern promise and a lot of green, it is, in my head, edible yoga.

A relatively straightforward recipe, but I couldn't help a bit of faffing.

Can't waste prawn skins. That's where most of the flavour is. Fried these with garlic then added water and simmered for 20 minutes. A few tablespoons of the resulting liquor went in my satay sauce dressing.

After eating this I felt like I could climb a hill, but settled for a spot of telly and tuned into a fascinating documentary about the family life of the Scottish artist John Bellany.

By now I'm so revived that I'm tucking into a lip smacking Loire red...

Just as the film reveals that Bellany's fondness for drinking resulted in liver failure and almost certain death... downer.

In hospital, drifting in and out of consciousness, Bellany heard the sound of an accordion. Soon after, Rolf Harris appeared at his bedside playing it. Incredibly, it wasn't an hallucination. Even more incredibly, whereas either one of these visitations would have finished me off for good, it seems they gave John the strength to carry on.

Twenty years ago he was an early recipient of a liver transplant... and is still painting. Recuperating from the operation he drew a self portrait, and still considers it his best drawing.

An engaging film, made by one of his sons, but not really one to enjoy a drink with.

Both wines came from Waitrose:
-Domaine Ventenac, Chenin Colombard 2008, a sharp reviver, but not worth £6.99.
-Saumur 2007 Les Nivieres, thirst quenching blackcurranty brilliance, worth every penny of £6.99.