Friday, June 21, 2019

Foodie Friday – (Not so) Guilty Pleasures

A survey was published in the UK last week rating the country’s favourite indigenous foods – healthy, nutritious, organic and green didn’t get a look in.

According to 6,367 adults polled by political opinion specialists YouGov – taking a break from the cocaine fuelled Conservative Party leadership race – England’s favourite dish is the savoury batter, Yorkshire Pudding, usually served as part of a traditional Sunday lunch but for many, rated as a full meal.  Rounding out the top five – all of which were liked by 80% plus of respondents were:
2)  Sunday Roast with all the trimmings,
3)  Fish & Chips,
4)  Full English Breakfast (fried egg, sausage, bacon, tomato, mushrooms and toast),
5)  Bacon Sandwich.

70% of respondents voted for:
6)  Bangers (sausages) and Mash,
7)  Cottage Pie,
8)  Shepherd’s Pie,
9)  Cauliflower Cheese,
10) Cornish Pasty
making up the Top Ten.

I was disappointed to see Lancashire Hotpot and Black Pudding scorned – but I must admit the Full English Breakfast on the morning Virgin Rail Service from London to The Lakes is the only edible meal on the train all day.


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

At last. A Wellbeing Budget.

Chapeau Chapeau to Jacinda and her Wellbeing Budget (a world first).  Spending increasing substantially more on mental health (the scourge of our times) and child poverty.  A ‘surprisingly obvious’ creative way of reframing government decision making (another scourge of our times).

The New Zealand Prime Minister has emphasised measuring social disadvantage as well as economic progress.  Yes!

As she said “Nobody wants to live in a country where, despite a strong economy (thank you John Key and his National Party – I said that, not Jacinda) families are homeless, where our environment is being degraded and people with mental health issues do not receive the support they need”.

At last a 30 something year old mother and leader realising it’s about and/and, not either/or.  (UK and US parties to note – stop choosing retreads and invest in a youthful leader.)

Keep the economy growing and take responsibility for bringing everyone along on the journey.  Work hard, be happy, live longer, live better.

Now I’m unconvinced by Ms Ardern’s plans for sustaining economic growth and developing New Zealand’s entrepreneurial skills, but I’m on board with her compassionate leadership.

She is committed to increasing spending on mental health by NZ$ 2 billion over four years, including serious money for suicide prevention (yet another scourge of our times, particularly in New Zealand) and a 10 year target to halve the number of children living in poverty.

The government also factored in other Wellbeing indicators, such as life expectancy, education levels, air qualities and a sense of belonging.

(Now let’s hope the All Blacks threepeat in Japan at the Rugby World Cup – where New Zealand’s happiness/wellbeing index will go through the roof!!)


Friday, June 14, 2019

Foodie Friday

A few days ago, Trudy and I were sitting at the two-seater Kitchen Table – interacting with chefs, waiters and sommeliers at Restaurant Konstantin Filippou in Vienna – and loving it.  An eight-course tasting with brilliant Austrian wines – and we couldn’t help but pile right in – living in the now – and the now was all about food, history, produce, trends, wines.  And we got to talking about how many good times we have over food – and how many stories start in restaurants, cafes and bars.

Trudy suggested we add some structured storytelling to our food experiences – rather than just ad-hoc scribblings – see recent posts Le Tour de Yorkshire, A Star is Born (II).

So here we go – the launch of Foodie Friday.  Every Friday I’ll post something Food / Foodie related.

The last few days found us in:
·       Scotts in Mayfair – one of my all-time favourites.  Richard Caring owned nowadays, London’s fifth oldest restaurant, originally opened by fishmonger John Scott as an Oyster warehouse / bar in 1851 – and infamous now as the place Charles Saatchi and wife Nigella Lawson had their much publicised physical contretemps.  Great seafood, good wine list and two magnificent private rooms.  Terrific Sunday lunch spot too.
·       A hidden gem in Knightsbridge, a one Michelin ‘secret pleasure’ Gatsbyesque jewel from Alfredo Russo – and cosy bar with garden – The Franklin.  We dined there with Fernando Guedes and the Sogrape Board – tasting some of their Liberty Wine partner wines – and the Bar has 22 types of Gin!
·       Yorkshire – see earlier this week for two one-star experiences in the Yorkshire Dales and Moors.
·       And two unforgettable, yet contrasting experiences in Vienna.  Restaurant Bauer – fronted by owner Walter since its opening 30 years ago.  No frills, nothing fancy, no gimmicks, just a straight-forward Viennese classic.  Highest standards, quiet conversations, excellent old-school service – starting with a traditional complimentary slice of Leberkäse with a delicious onion mustard.  Housed in a small listed old building in the old town.  Michelin starred since the 1990’s – deservedly so.
And so back to where we started – Restaurant Konstantin Filippou’s masterpiece.  A passionate, crazy, half-Greek / half-Austrian owner and chef.  Pure passion.  Pure pleasure.  Brandade with caviar, mussels, Zander with truffles, Croatian langoustines, incredible desserts, brilliant Sommelier (Alex) and interactive fun, joy, surprise and delight.  Grab the two-seat Kitchen Table if you can.  Fabrizio (a young waiter) brings Sicilian brio to the experience and look out for budding 22 year-old chef in the making – Pascal.

Happy Weekend.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A Tour de Yorkshire

Almost 600 years ago England was embroiled in a 30 year civil war between the Red Rose of Lancaster and Yorkshire’s White Rose, resulting in an eventual victory for the Red Rose as the House of Tudor prevailed.  (That’s the way we see it in Lancashire and especially from my old school Lancaster Royal Grammar School which was founded in 1235.)

Despite the history, we Lancastrians have a gracious attitude towards our less fortunate Eastern neighbours and often refer to ‘What’s the best thing Yorkshire has to offer?’.  The answer (of course) – the road to Lancashire!!

Last weekend we took that road in the opposite direction and did a whistle stop tour of York, Harrogate (picking up two pieces of Bob Dylan’s original art at The Castle Gallery – who knew!!) and Scarborough – a great castle and quaint harbour.

If you’re heading that way, make sure you drop anchor in two Michelin starred pubs.  The Yorke Arms – a restaurant with rooms – in the heart of the Nidderdale Valley in the North Yorkshire Dales.  Stunning rural setting – Frances Atkins at the helm in the kitchen – one of only six female Michelin starred chefs in the UK.  An 18th century coaching house beautifully refurbished.  Creative, locally sourced tasting menu, and a quirky suite at the top of the pub – The Rhubarb Suite.

Then, don’t miss Tommy Banks’ The Black Swan at Oldstead (stay in one of the new Garden rooms).  The restaurant offers one menu, a tasting experience of ingredients grown or foraged around Oldstead.  Very good indeed.  Amazing cocktails using local produce.

Now – if only the poor Yorkies had a decent football team ….


Friday, June 7, 2019

Back on the Highway

June 14 sees the release of The Boss’ first studio album in five years.  Three tracks are currently available on I-tunes – Hello Sunshine, Tucson Train and There Goes My Miracle.

Springsteen himself calls it ‘a jewel box of a record’.  It’s a brilliant hybrid – not acoustic, not E-Street stadium – just Bruce telling stories.  As he says ‘it’s full of character driven songs and sweeping cinematic orchestral arrangements’.

A great treat.

The perfect way to follow the epic Springsteen on Broadway triumph.

Saddle up on June 14.


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Binge Viewing 2019

More trans-Atlantic flights, more Ipad entertainment courtesy of Netflix, Amazon Prime and iTunes.  Here are some of the shows I’ve been watching.

·        Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In
My favourite TV series from the 60’s, 140 episodes from Beautiful Downtown Burbank – first aired as a pilot on September 9, 1967 – and a celeb tribute just aired on Netflix.  I’m watching them all, show by show – a great commentary on those seminal 60’s/70’s years.  The hosts, Arte Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, Lily Tomlin, Jo Anne Worley – all produced by George Schlatter (CFG – as he was referred to on set – which stood for Crazy Fuckin’ George!).  Making me feel young again.  Thanks Amazon Prime.

·        Delhi Crime
On Netflix.  Making me feel old again.  Based on the 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape case.  A fascinating look into the realities of life in a fascinating country.

·        My Brilliant Friend
iTunes.  From Fremantle.  The first of four Neapolitan novels exploring female friendships – created by Saverio Costanzo.  The second series, based on Ferrante’s second novel ‘The Story of a New Name’ has just been confirmed and commissioned.

·        Killing Eve
I guess you’ve all seen this.  Series Two is on air in the US.  Brilliant acting from both leads.

·        True Detective
Series Three on iTunes and HBO.  The best so far – amazing performances from Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali.

·        The Highwaymen
Thinking of True Detective got me thinking of Woody Harrelson.  He stole the show in Netflix’ Bonnie & Clyde movie based on the true story and seen from the viewpoint of the former Texas Rangers Frank Hamer and Maney Gault.  I liked watching the two old grizzlies Costner and Harrelson having fun.

Three Netflix international series have passed away the miles for me:
·        Carlo and Malik - A fun Italian cop/buddy series with a twist on racism.
·        Wild District – a Colombian series showing the seamy side of government corruption – interesting not least because I’m off on my second trip to Colombia in November – to Cartagena and Medellin to speak at a WOBI World Economic Forum.  I enjoyed my last visit to Bogota four/five years ago and I believe progress continues to be rapid.
And finally:
·        When Heroes Fly – set in Colombia again – but made in that edgy creative hotspot, Israel.
I love watching these international dramas with their different cultural, photographic and pacing approaches.  Production-wise, they’ve mastered doing more with less.

Finally, new series of The Bureau, Goliath, Berlin Station, The Son are all worth a go.

Can’t wait for Deutschland 86, and Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  (And a guilty pleasure – Keanu Reeves in John Wick 3.)


Thursday, May 30, 2019

A Star is Born (II)

As Michelin would say, here’s a place that’s worth going out of your way for.  The thriving Simon Rogan led Lake District Dining Revolution – led by The Lake Road Kitchen and the Old Stamp House – now has a third leg.  Wabi Sabi (a Japanese expression meaning Nothing is Perfect, Nothing is Permanent, Nothing is Completed).  A form of Kaizen – continuous improvement.

So meet a new Culinary Star – BING (and his wife Cara).

A dreamer, an artist, a scientist, a magician, a chef, an innovator, a creator, and a graduate of Lancaster University!!!!

His restaurant has no windows, hardly any tables (12 seatings per night), no staff except the two owners, no razzamatazz, no precedent.  Japanese flavours, Lakeland produce, simple presentation, complex taste, art and science – Japanese food has never tasted so ‘accessible’, so ‘local’ and so real.

Bing is humble, passionate, focussed, disciplined and committed.  And he delivers a beautiful game (if Pep Guardiola were a chef, he’d be Bing!).

Give Wabi Sabi a go – it’s worth the drive!!


Monday, May 27, 2019

The Game They Play in Heaven (Part III)

A couple of days ago I wrote about how many things in Rugby haven’t changed or have progressed since I wrote my first column in NZ Rugby World magazine in 1997.  Today I want to refer to two issues I didn’t cover then and which are both very threatening.

Two huge social issues have dominated the worlds of Sport and Rugby this month.

Religion and Racism.

One of the most exciting players in world Rugby, Israel Folau, promised sinners an eternity in hell – targeting drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves and atheists.  This created a furore in social media throughout the world, and his employers, Rugby Australia, confirmed they intended to terminate his contract for breaching his contractual social media guidelines.

The line driving the most comment is point number 2 (homosexuals) which is the latest in a number of anti-gay attacks from Folau along the lines of ‘hell awaits gay people unless they repent’.

A fellow Tongan Christian and all round good bloke (who certainly has enjoyed a beer or two), England No. 8 Billy Vunipola has joined the debate by liking Folau’s original Tweet and stating (in a more measured tone) his fundamental belief in the natural procreation based unity of male and female.

What a storm this has created.

Rugby is a sport where diversity, inclusion and tolerance have always been core to its growth, and its popularity.

I hope the governing bodies do not take the easy, obvious way out and simply lash out and punish the two men involved.  Instead I hope they seek to listen, understand, and then work with all constituents so those involved can come to a more rational, more open, more modern, more global and more tolerant understanding of the issues – and their roles as public figures.

Humanity, patience, forgiveness and a commitment to find a way forward (from all parties) is what is needed to protect the values of our great game – not just dark threats, immediate retribution and hardening of positions.  Education as well as punishment is the way forward.

And in the midst of all this, the whole racism issue is escalating in Football, and Rugby could be next.  Supporter abuse towards players of colour is on the rise in Football club grounds everywhere and in international stadia too.  Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling has been forthright in his anti-racism stance and has been supported internationally by the public, players and the media.  But the abuse continues.  More and more supporters are subjecting black players to the worse kind of abuse.

This is a societal problem, not just a Football issue, in many European countries and the recent rise in popularity of nationalism politics has exacerbated the problem.  Nations will have to tackle it.

My particular concern here is Rugby related.  I am worried that if racism does raise its ugly head – if players are abused for the colour of their skin, then it will be cancerous for our open, inclusive, global game – which is open to all shapes, sizes, genders and races.

So, keep your eyes open.

Be on full alert.



Friday, May 24, 2019

Playing Hooky

Am in NYC all week and I snuck off work to trek up to 92nd St and 5th – to The Jewish Museum (my first ever hooky day at any museum!!!) – to see a fantastic three floor exhibition featuring 40 artists’ commissions on Leonard Cohen.  (A hero I’ve written about a few times previously here.)  Four hours spent soaking up his words, songs, poems, thoughts – with “cheerfulness” inevitably breaking through.

I spent 56 glorious minutes living in George Fok’s amazing portrait of Leonard (Passing Through), using live footage beamed on to three walls of the Gallery with amazing sound.

See if you can steal a couple of hours – even if you play hooky.  It will be worth it.

Showing through September 8.

         There is a crack in everything
         That’s how the light gets in.


Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Game They Play in Heaven (Part II)

I’ve been writing a column for NZ Rugby World since its debut in April 1997 as NZ Rugby Monthly.  My two-page article was entitled “All’s not well in the North”.

I was bemoaning the moribund style of play in the Northern Hemisphere and suggesting a 10-point plan to get the game back on its feet, including:

1)   The Unions must secure control of the players,

2)   A meaningful, top-class Northern Club competition must be developed,

3)   Unions need to limit the number of foreign players,

4)   The Rugby season should be switched to the Northern Hemisphere Summer,

5)   Italy should be admitted to the Five Nations,

6)   NZ coaches should go across to lift standards.

What happened?

1)   Ireland led the way and it shows as they are ranked Two in the world today.

2)   The Heineken Cup is a great tournament.

3)   Fail.

4)   Rugby League got in ahead of us.

5)   Done.  Now we need promotion / relegation to encourage Georgia, Germany, Spain, Russia and Portugal.

6)   Done.  Henry, Hansen, Schmidt, Cotter etc etc etc.

(I also suggested – Inga Tuigamala’s two sons should be given English passports to lift England’s 2015 RWC prospect, Will Carling should marry Jonah / Christian Cullen’s sister and father two pacey Backs – to take care of RWC 2019, Steinlager should sponsor England – mother’s milk to great Rugby players, and all Northern Hemisphere refs should spend two years in NZ to understand ruck/maul/tackle laws.)

None of these radical ideas took hold (!!!), but other initiatives – mainly tv money driven – have come to pass and we are looking at a world in 2019 where England, Ireland and Wales are ranked ahead of all Southern Hemisphere nations (except New Zealand of course).

How has this come about?

1)   Nearly all the top coaches are from the Southern Hemisphere – Eddie Jones, Joe Schmidt, John Mitchell, Warren Gatland, Vern Cotter, Scott Johnson etc.

2)   All Northern teams have Southern Hemisphere players qualified by residence – Kiwis, South Africans, Aussies, Samoans, Tongans and Fijians abound … despite the incessant, historical (hysterical ?) whining of Stephen Jones about our Island players.

3)   Ex All Blacks have gone across at the end of their careers and raised standards of game management, handling skills and mental toughness across the board.

4)   England has woken up – and is finally adding some creativity to its muscular Forward power.  Owen Farrell at 10 is a warrior, May, Daly and Nowell / Watson are an All Black-like Back 3 – and Itoje and Sinckler are fast becoming world-class.

5)   Wales has invested in youth, pace and belief.  Ireland has Joe Schmidt, Andy Farrell, Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray – and Scotland has given the reins to Gregor Townsend, who thinks different.

So, we have a world game again – and a Rugby World Cup to be played on neutral territory.

I haven’t been as excited as this in the 22 years I’ve been writing about our Beautiful Game.