Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Branson's pickle

I know, I know...

I've already had a good moan about airline food before, but I reckon I could take a few lessons from a recent Virgin Airways passenger, who wrote this magnificent letter of complaint to Richard Branson.

Apparently the Bearded one rang up the passenger in person to apologise and has offered him/her the opportunity to help select the menu for future Virgin flights.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Some Dutch Cuisine

After the high and low culture of Amsterdam, the Dutch trip turned into a jaunt around the provincial towns of Eastern Holland. In the snow. Utrecht was pretty, as were the pokey cobbled streets of Zutphen. Apeldoorn was dull, but not as dull as Ede. Wageningen was dark. Arnhem was frankly a bridge too far.

I learned a few things about Dutch food along the way. Culinary factoids which wouldn't fit in my other posts:

Broodjes are filled baguette-like sandwiches. Paling (eel) is the speciality filling of choice, although sadly Bryans Brasserie in Zutphen had run out, so I had to make do with lashings of smoked salmon. I recommended Bryans Brasserie if for some bizarre reason you find yourself in Zutphen.

Cone of Friets / Chips are available everywhere, but you get what you pay for. 2 Euros will buy you a cone of insipid little french fries, but 4 euros will get you a monster portion of heroically thick cut chips. Lashings of mayonaise and ketchup all over, or you could opt for patat oorlog (chip war!) chips topped with pretty much everything they can find in the kitchen.

Dinner at a friend's house in Arnhem was an excellent bowl of boerenkool stamppot (mashpot). This is essentially a mash up of rookwurst (smoked sausage), potatoes and curly kale, served with a spot of mustard on the side. Simple comfort food that was perfect for the sub-zero conditions.

I have to concede that they know a thing or two about cheese in the Netherlands as well. I'd previously mocked Dutch cheese, having only being exposed to Edam and the odd block of Gouda. I thought that the only defining feature of these cheeses was their ability to travel well without losing any of their blandness, hence appearing in supermarkets across the world. I was very, very wrong though, and very, very impressed to see market stalls and specialist cheeseshops in every town bulging with marvellous mature cheeses of every possible configuration. Not only that, but Dutch cheesemongers even know a decent British cheese when they taste one - something the rest of continental Europe still hasn't caught up with.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Michelin 2009 List Leaked.

Those of you who give a toss may already know that the 2009 Michelin list was leaked over the weekend.

The Guardian website's food section has enjoyed this, with heavyweights Jay Rayner and Matthew Fort (Oh, and Tim Hayward, with his pet Otaku) chipping in column inches. Much of the debate centres around whether or not the whole Michelin star system is meaningful, or useful, or too French.

I've had the privilege to eat at a couple of Michelin star places: Midsummer House in Cambridge (two stars) and Martin Berasategui's Kursaal Restaurant in San Sebastian (one star). While I enjoyed the food - the excellent food, and of course the company of Mrs Jiffler, neither restaurant left me feeling like I'd had some sort of epiphany. We ate excellently cooked, slightly Frenchified food in an inoffensive environment (although the waiting staff at Midsummer House were a bunch of ballsacks). That is all.

An aging colleague once advised me that the best way to eat a mango was "in the shower with a beautiful woman". Good advice, but I'll settle for eating one underneath a tree in the tropics, scooping out the flesh with a penknife. There is no way any chef, not even Gordon Ramsay (what is it with ballsacks?), is going to improve on that.

This is probably why the Michelin system doesn't make sense in the UK, or for that matter, much of the rest of the world. It represents something which, while held aloft as the pinnacle of refinement, has actually become something of a tired culinary backwater. It is hard to access because it's expensive, narrow in its predominantly French stylings, and has a somewhat formal and beige atmosphere. Status symbol eating for wealthy bankers - and we all know by now that they've got no idea what they're on about.

The exceptions prove the rule - St John received its first star this year for its robust, masculine British cooking. Yet critics and other chefs have been salivating over St John for a decade. The Fat Duck in Bray has three stars, but I think we'd all know about Heston Blumenthal's kitchen magic without Michelin's acknowledgement.

Most restaurants in Britain, and indeed the rest of the world, don't conform to Michelin's boring standards. Think of all the great Chinese restaurants, grubby little curry cafes, Turkish grills, bowls of pho, fish suppers, and mangoes eaten under trees that transcend anything in the Michelin guide. It is here where you'll find energy, excitement, and FUN.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Restaurant in de Waag

The folks at the recommended Restaurant Beddington are not answering the phone, and we decide that Restaurant de Kas is too far from the hotel, so settle for the Restaurant in de Waag (weighhouse). The interior is pleasingly rustic-Dutch (no, I've no idea what I'm on about either ,it is lit entirely by candles though, which I suppose is quite good), and service is efficient from a cheerful fellow who looks like a miniature viking. The menu is interesting, but the current 1:1 Euro-pound exchange rate is frankly frightening. We go for today's special menu, and try not to think about the fact that it still costs more than the set lunch at Gordon Ramsay's place in Claridges, which has a Michelin star, and posh curtains and things.

Scallops arrive which, while tasty themselves, are totally over-powered by a pile of mixed leaves dressed in a pungent mix of garlic and dill. Somebody is a bit heavy handed in the kitchen. We munch the scallops and push the salad around the plate a little, saving our hopes for the main course.

Tenderloin Steak arrives medium, although we didn't have the option of ordering it any rarer, on a little ginger swamp of 'oven dried tomato risotto' with courgettes. Courgettes are 'A French vegetable' according to the little viking waiter. Cheers Erik, there I was thinking courgettes were a natural mutation of marrows introduced from the Americas or something.

But lets forgive clever Erik for now though, as we might need someone to clear up after we've thrown our plates at the chef for thinking that 'oven-dried tomato risotto' is a good thing to serve with steak. Especially a risotto that is cooked as haphazardly as this. Thankfully the steak itself is tender with a encouragingly livery taste.

Creme brulee gives way with an appropriate crunch, but these short-term thrills are let down by an overly eggy flavour, which fails the world famous Mrs Jiffler creme brulee test ("There's nothing worse than eggy creme brulee").

Then the bill. Christ on a bike! Brits: cancel your holidays to Europe.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ban this sick filth

This place, with dozens of branches throughout Holland, is a fecking disgrace. Named FEBO after Ferdinand Bol apparently. Can you hear that? It's the sound of Bol spinning in his grave.

You put your money in the slot, you take the disgusting thing out of the window, then you're supposed to eat it.

De Lekkerste? Smerig more like.

Friday, January 09, 2009

2009: A Dutch Odyssey

The British Airways business class lounge at Terminal 5 is ace (although no complementary copies of the Guardian, only the right-wing rags). You can eat as many bacon sandwiches as you like, before leaving your beloved flat-cap on one of the comfy sofas and not realising until arriving in Amsterdam.

Having never been to Amsterdam before, I've high hopes that the city adds up to more than it's reputation as a continental Blackpool. we arrive in cold, drizzly weather, but that doesn't dampen my spirits. This kind of weather is ideal for exploring a city, as you don't feel too bad about lingering over coffee, or ducking into a cheesemongers to warm up a little.

The tacky touristic part of town is as expected: hazy stag-parties giggling outside coffee shops, and rough looking sex workers jiggling inside windows. In the drizzle it feels like a cross between a crap Norfolk seaside town in the winter and a kinkier version of Camden. The eating options are grim, with gaudy chinese restaurants, fast food joints, depressing Italian restaurants and, for some reason, dozens of Argentinian steakhouses.

On the plus side, the rest of Amsterdam is marvellous. The network of concentretic canals makes for picturesque rambling around the city, pausing occasionally to admire the architecture, peer into an antique shop, or make way for a cyclist. The Rijksmuseum is just small enough to prevent the onset of museum fatigue, although I reckon that Rembrandt fellow was overrated. I can appreciate the whole light and shade thing, but next to Vermeer, or de Hooch it all looks a bit souless. A bit like he was painting for the money. Anyhow, the best thing to follow a traipse around the Rijksmuseum is coffee and a waffle, eaten in a freezing shed by the nearby ice skating rink:

Our Dutch cousins do a great cup of coffee, and that waffle provided 120% of the recommended calorific intake. Check out the plate though - I haven't seen one like that since staying in my Auntie Edna's static caravan in the early 80's.

I miss my flat cap.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Festive Flu

After spending much of December looking forward to some festive cooking with Jiffler senior, the Jiffler household was struck down by an evil flu. Christmas over-indulgence was thwarted for a good 6 days as we all slumped on the sofa, staring into the middle distance, drinking hot Ribena.

Thankfully there was some good pie-related news. A food highlight of the superb wedding breakfast at B & C's Boston wedding was the chicken and ham pie, served by a cast of volunteer chefs, complete with chef's hat.

I shall wear that hat for all future pie-making adventures.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Looking back over the year

Perhaps this is just lazy blogging, but the British newspapers like to do end of year round ups, and I quite enjoy reading them. So apologies for the sense of deja vu, normal service will resume shortly.

I've been blogging on jifflings for three years now, and 2008 had a really different feel to it. This wasn't through design, more a change of circumstances. The first year or so had me living in Manchester, commuting to see Mrs Jiffler in North London, and cooking up all sorts in the kitchen. It was in some ways a more personal kitchen diary. After a few months hiatus in 2007 I got back on the jiffle-wagon with a strange report from Morocco, which kind of set the tone for 2008's restaurant reviews and culinary travelogue. Jifflings is still food first, but a travel element has crept in and made itself at home.

2008 saw posts from London, Cambridge, Anglesey, Dakar, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Kigali, Nairobi and Lisbon. Street food, a michelin starred restaurant, one of Gordon Ramsay's eateries, and even a garden centre came under scrutiny. I also started Dakar Restaurant Reviews, and the bizarrely popular Kigali Restaurant Reviews, which featured on the Guardian Website.

I'm not sure I can keep all this travelling up in 2009 (although I'll be kicking off in Holland, and am going somewhere really weird in Feb), and there simply isn't time to review every restaurant, write up every recipe, or rant every rant. This year I'd like to start a new project I've been thinking about called 'In defence of British cooking' (George Orwell won't mind I'm sure). Since I've already three sites on the go I might have to limit this to a monthly post on jifflings along with all the usual stuff. New year's resolution is to put more photos up on Jifflings. Let's see how it goes.

Anyhow, big thanks for reading in 2008. Happy new year.