Archive | February, 2011

New Years Day

24 Feb

My natural alarm clock woke me up at a fairly reasonable hour in the morning. However, due to the noisy party next door to us preventing me from getting to sleep the night before, that fairly reasonable hour in the morning did mean that I had to rush to get ready for breakfast before we would be forced to check out of the York and Albany. Good thing I was so looking forward to my first meal of 2011 – the benchmark to the success of the rest of my year.

Scraping my greasy hair into a ponytail I trotted downstairs into the trendy bar area and took a seat to face the window in order to view 2011 in all it’s glory and also do a bit of people watching. As the breakfast was included in our dinner and hotel deal, I was tempted to order the most expensive dish just to get my money’s worth. In the end I went for Eggs Benedict as with my strong belief (superstition) that your year will carry on based on how it began would surely mean that I would spend 2011 being sophisticated and lapping up hollandaise sauce. I encouraged Mark to order some french toast because I also wanted to start the year with a bit of that.

I was distracted while I was waiting for my breakfast by the girl sitting next to us who I took an instant disliking to. Quite the opposite to me, dressed expensively in casual glamour, she took odd nibbles out of her bowl of muesli in between bursts of furious texting on her blackberry. I couldn’t help but think of how her poor choice of breakfast would end up being an entirely unfulfilling year for her. However, I refused to let this bother me, and with an ‘ahem’ and a holier-than-thou smile I gently gestured towards my plate of eggs with my cutlery and promptly dived in.

Eating utensils hovering above my plate, I waited for the customary flood of sunny yolk to spill out of my eggs a la Roast, yet I appeared to be stuck waiting. It probably took me half a minute to realise that there was going to be no food theatrics and my first bite confirmed an overcooked poached egg. My second bite included some ham that, call me pedantic, tasted just a bit too hammy of the supermarket basics variety. I am fussy with pork in general and can never exactly pin down exactly which piggy products I do not enjoy, but hammy ham is definitely one of them. I wish I could say that the hollandaise managed to wipe out the flavour, but it had no kick to it at all, and the creaminess meant that the whole dish was too rich and bland. I could feel the smug glare of the girl next to me as she registered my disappointment, yet she could not see through my soul at my full despair I was feeling inside as I tried to come to terms with the fact that 2011 would surely end in misfortune for me. Mark’s french toast was sweet and sumptuous, though he struggled to finish it. At least his year will be filled with joy.

Luckily, I didn’t have to feel too sorry about not getting my money’s worth as Mark’s complaint about the noise the night before meant that they knocked 25% off our total bill when we went to check out.

A couple of hours later we ventured towards Finsbury Park in order to meet my good friend Frances for a spot of lunch. We had grand ideas of eating some aubergine bread in a local pub that she had tasted and fallen in love with a few weeks prior, but along with everything else on Stroud Green Road it appeared to be shut. Our only choice was Pizza Pappagone. My two previous experiences there ended in me being booed for not biting the top off a banana positioned suggestively between two profiteroles, and another embarrassing disaster of a combination of two bottles of cava and a spinachy pizza mess both consumed within 20 minutes. Pizza Pappagone’s only saving grace was that it was open and according to a friend it is okay if you order pasta.

As soon as we entered we were engulfed by the noise of many screaming children. They probably weren’t screaming, but if you have so many children in one place at the same time, the noise that spouts forth always seems to be one to make my skin crawl. We accepted a table anyway and perused the menu. I wasn’t particularly wowed over by anything, so I half-heartedly ordered some sort of veal and cream sauce tagliatelli affair. I don’t know why I thought that was a good idea. I suppose I was just preparing myself for the year of disappointment I was destined for after my depressing breakfast experience.

It tasted of absolutely nothing. Just a selection of textures in a bowl. No seasoning at all and even with a vigorous shake of the salt dispenser it remained a selection of textures that were just slightly salty. Frances had the winning dish which tasted vaguely of tomatoes, but Mark’s tasted of nothing much as well. I could have cried right there and then.

After contemplating whether to leave a tip or not (we did, it wasn’t the fault of the waiters) we left, knocking children aside as we lunged for the exit. Waving a mournful goodbye at Frances, Mark and I headed off back to his. I was in a sombre mood during the car journey, watching flecks of drizzle hit the windows. Mark acknowledged that though my year had not started off in the brilliant way I had expected it to, we did have a jolly walk through Primrose Hill and Camden and it is always nice seeing Frances… so maybe, just maybe, 2011 won’t be as awful as I expect it to be. I took in what he said and nodded my head. For in the face of disappointment I will keep my head held high and take joy from anything else in my life. And there is always next year to look forward to.

Pizza Pappagone
131 Stroud Green Road, London, N4 3PX
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New Years Eve

14 Feb

When it comes to celebrating New Years Eve I usually try to make it as much of a non-celebration as possible. I hate the pressure to have fun just because January is fast approaching. I don’t like the idea of new starts that everyone feels they should have because why wait till January to change something? Why not the beginning of the financial new year? Or the new school year? Or next Monday? Saying that, I have a firm belief (more like irrational superstition) that the success of the rest of your year will depend entirely on how the first day of the year pans out. This means I do not want to wake up mid-afternoon, hung over and trying to piece together the night before.

That is why I decided to end 2010 in style – feasting at the York and Albany in Camden and waking up refreshed in a four-poster bed in one of their superior rooms, breakfast included. All for a small (ahem) fee. With such a successful start to the year, 2011 would surely be a blast.

My boyfriend, Mark, and I arrived at the hotel mid-afternoon to get our money’s worth. This did mean that we needed something to eat  immediately and after much umming and ahhing over ringing up room service our nerves got the better of us and we decided make a trip next door to Nonna’s Deli –  related to the York & Albany through their daddy Gordon Ramsey. We told the staff that we were hungry but we would be eating a lot of food in a matter of hours so please feed us adequately room number 5 please. We were then told that we didn’t need to waste our time by visiting them – why didn’t we just ring up room service? On returning to our room we bumped into the lady on front desk who also explained to us that was what room service was for. Feeling a little sheepish, we accepted our plate of salad gratefully and enjoyed sharing it in the privacy of our own room where no one could see our red faces.

As expected, half a plate of salad would not close my hunger gates for long, and when the clock hit half 8 my belly gurgled in delight and desperation. Our table was right by the kitchen which was great. I expected it to be really noisy with the cooks accidentally dipping their hands in vats of boiling oil and then cutting of their fingers with huge Global knives just to be shouted at by the egotistical head chef for not seasoning the parmesan foam enough. I was wrong. It was all very calm and ordered and quiet but still really interesting to watch. Especially the head chef’s disdain over one particularly irritating waiter.

No amuse bouche or canapes – what a blow. Especially because I had been studying the NYE menu religiously for weeks so as not to pick the wrong courses, so a little snacky surprise would have gone down a treat. ‘Stop moaning and just order’ my stomach grumbled so I went for some foie gras. I don’t really like foie gras actually, I find it a bit uninspiring which either makes me unsophisticated or so sophisticated not even overpriced liver from an overfed duck or goose will satisfy me. Mark ordered the vegetarian starter (psh) of pumpkin ravioli with a beurre noisette. I’ll be honest, I was actually tempted to order that as well but I didn’t want to get the same thing as him so begrudgingly went the other way. Luckily I won the starter competition. My foie gras was quite nice and it came with some sort of apple chutney that was sharp and cut through the richness just so. Mark’s was nice too but lacking in the flavour department.

There was a choice of either venison or beef for the main course, and probably a plate of vegetables for the non-meat eaters but I paid no attention to that one. I was swayed to the beef because it looked so beautifully pink and moist perched on top of an island of mash, while  the venison came with wet polenta. I realised the other day that I have never tried polenta so there is no reason for me to believe that it is not for me. I am sure it is to do with the actual words ‘wet polenta’, like a cruel nickname given to the frail anaemic girl with thinning hair at primary school. Mark’s feelings were very much the same so rather than risk disappointment we both went for the beef. The glistening, juicy, rare beef. Red juices spilling out with every cut of the knife and staining the smooth, creamy mash. I really really love beef. If I were a celeb on Saturday Kitchen my food heaven would be beef. In fact, I found myself warming to Katie Melua last week when she selected the very same heaven.

Needless to say, I practically inhaled my main course. My belly thanked me with an appreciative roar and swelled with pleasure, threatening to rip my dress open with every breath… that is if the cheese course didn’t do it first. There was no cheese trolley to be wheeled out for us to awkwardly pick and choose from as if we actually knew anything about cheese other than we like it. Just a simple plate of a few slices accompanied by some chutney and crackers. No one offered any description of the cheeses and I was too scared to showcase my ignorance by asking so I only recognised a couple as being a robust cheddar and a mild goat’s cheese. There was one I couldn’t even begin to guess at that tasted purely of floor polish. Don’t get me wrong, I love a strong cheese, but this was something different. Not just strong, medicinal as well and unpleasant to say the least.

‘I wouldn’t put that in me again’ my belly suggested, so I took its advice and waited for pud. A moist custard tart with a scoop of ice cream. I love eggy dishes, there is something so comforting about the taste of yolk and I usually don’t trust people who don’t like it, along with people who don’t like cheese. The tart was wonderfully wibbly and smooth. It wasn’t as good as the custard tart Mark once had at Marcus Wareing which still makes me wonder how something could be so wet and yet solid, but I was pleased enough and it didn’t stop me from scoffing the lot. The flavour of the ice cream was not listed on the menu so I have no idea what it was meant to be, but it tasted just like guava Rubicon. And as I am partial to a carton of Rubicon from time to time I certainly did not find the ice cream to be unpleasant.

By this point I was tipping sideways off my seat, the weight of my belly keeping me off-balance. The irritating waiter that the head chef wasn’t so fond of asked us if we would like tea and we asked to take it in our room. He didn’t seem to like this but said it would be sent up anyway, so we dragged ourselves up the stairs to wait for Jools Holland to count us in to the new year. A wedding happened to be going on in a function room right next to our room so we listened to them drunkenly sing along to Dancing in the Moonlight while we waited for our hot bevvys. And we waited. And waited. And waited. In the end I had to do the terrifying thing of ringing up room service to ask where it was – they obviously didn’t know, but they sent the tea up shortly after that.

Finishing 2010 at the York and Albany was definitely a high point, ending the best culinary year of my life with a delicious and most importantly filling meal was fitting. I went to bed in the early hours of the morning thinking about what January 1st 2011 would bring me. If dinner was anything to go by breakfast should be a treat, thus securing the rest of my year to be filled with edible delights. Unfortunately, I had to think about this for a lot longer than intended as the wedding didn’t seem to want to end with rather hysterical renditions of Shaking that Ass blaring through our door. Mark had to ring the dreaded room service one more time to ask ‘errrr, will this ever end’ and the celebrations to finally come to a halt before I could sleep and wake up to my first meal of 2011.

The York and Albany
127-129 Parkway, London, NW1 7PS
http://www.gordonramsay.com/yorkandalbany/