Saturday, 1 December 2012

Planet Hollywood

Before any of you jokers say anything, I know, ok? I know.

How on earth can it be, I hear you ask, that someone as refined as me, someone with a palate touched by the very hand of the food-Gods, has come to dine in a place such as Planet Hollywood?

Like I said, I know.

Except, I don’t know. Why we went, that is.

Now, I want you to brace yourselves, I have something to tell you. As the entire world is aware, I am fabulously wealthy, and only pretend to be flat-broke so as not to alienate myself from you (as if I could!), the average Joe on the street.

Or Joe my part-time chauffeur.

Having said all that, Geraldine is not one to pass up a great offer and recently purchased a Tastecard through these marvellous people at Groupon. And would you ‘Adam and Eve’ it, Planet Hollywood offers Tastecard customers a 2for1 deal, excluding weekends.

I must admit, I haven’t been surrounded by that many celebrities – all personal friends of mine of course – since my 149th birthday several years ago. But first, the food (that IS what you come here to read about, isn’t it?)

Where to start?

Ok, the starters. Onion rings, tender, not too greasy, ok I s’pose. Seafood sauce dip? Untouched.

Spicy chicken dippers, very meaty, crunchy spicy coating fair to middling, accompanying sauce (not sure what it was) left untouched. Shredded carrot ridiculous, practised our knot tying with it.

My chicken fajita main course was huge, it came with four (or was it five?) fajitas, I could barely manage three. Chicken was meaty and tender (not bad for a battery hen, poor thing), spicy rice was lovely – reminded me of a boil in the bag rice my mother cooked me when I was little – but the huge side of cheese was awful. I’m no cheese fan anyway, but this cold, grated gloop was not welcome on my plate, particularly when vying for space with my mayo and guacamole dips.

My wife’s ribs (insert your own wife rib joke here!) were apparently “meaty, sticky and very tasty, best I’ve had in ages” (insert your own wife best I’ve had in ages joke here). The children had burgers with fries, all apparently very good (looked good I have to say), followed by huge American sized desserts (sorry for lack of pic).

As you can see from the picture of my paper place mat (paper??), Arnie, Bruce and Sly very kindly printed pictures of all my Hollywood chums from way back when, as an apology for not being able to be there in person to say hello to me.

Bloody Americans, so unfriendly!

Still, who should show up right at the end of our forgettable meal, none other than Mr Bond himself, Sean Connery. I warned him that he shouldn’t really go around waving a Walther PPK at people anymore, not in the current climate, and certainly not the way the Arab spring is shaking out, but he remained uncharacteristically quiet, just sort of stood there, in Bond-pose.

He silently indicated that he is miffed that the Scottish independence thing is taking so long, but that’s hardly my fault now, is it? Personally, I think he’s still got a bee in his scots bonnet that Roger Moore was so terrific in The Spy Who Loved Me and that Carly Simon sang the theme tune for it.

I used to go out with her you know …….

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Hymie breaks the bad news

Hymie is playing cards.

His pal, Abe, bets £5000, loses, and dies of a heart attack. Hymie volunteers to break the sad news to his widow. His friends say he must be diplomatic.

Hymie rings the bell and tells Abe's widow; "Your husband lost £5000 at cards and he's too scared to come home".

"Tell him to drop dead", she replies.

"Right", says Hymie.

Sunday, 27 May 2012


When I was much, much younger, someone once gave me a Yuletide card that went something like this;

Money’s tight, times are hard
Here’s your ****** Christmas card.

Of course, their card didn’t have lots of little asterix between ‘your’ and ‘Christmas’. No, it had a naughty word instead, one I wouldn’t dream of replicating here.

But the point is, all these years later, times are indeed hard and money is a tad tight. As a result, I have been eating out far less this past month. I appreciate, however, that you do not come here to read excuses – you want reviews!! Well ….. reviews and the occasional joke.

With this in mind, I am posting a review of a place I last ate in a few weeks back and which happens to be one of my very favourite places to eat. It’s a tiny (like, tiny) Lebanese restaurant called Meza, and is found on one of the least romantic stretches of pavement you could hope to stumble down. It’s on Trinity Road, heading away from Tooting Bec (SW17) towards Wandsworth Common and it looks like this;

The proprietor is a splendid chap who goes by the name Hekmat.

Hmmm, yes, I know, I’d never heard the name before either, but trust me on this – he is just about the most genial host you could hope to meet in a restaurant.

Or anywhere else, come to mention it. 

Lebanese beer? ' don't mind if I do.

I asked an Italian friend the other day if she really cooks pasta for her family, day in, day out, ad infinitum? She rolled her eyes as if to say, “another Englishman, asking the same question”, before saying that yes, actually she does cook pasta every day. But it’s the way she cooks it, she continued, that made her cooking special. Jokingly I retorted that you just had to follow the cooking instructions as to how long you had to cook the pasta for – 8, 10 or 12 minutes, depending on the level of ‘al dente’ you were hoping to achieve.
I finished this statement off with a hearty laugh, and patted her humorously on the shoulder, but she clearly wasn’t having the best of days, as she just rolled her eyes again and walked off, muttering something short and sharp under her breath. I think it was probably some sort of recipe.

Anyway, the point is, when you go to Italy, you eat pizza, or pasta! Or risotto I s’pose, but that’s beside the point. I'm not being ....... Italianist – that’s just the food they serve - and bloomin’ delicious it is too! (The best pizzas? Napoli, no question. The fishing port of Castellammare di Stabia on the Bay of Naples to be more precise, but that's another post for another day).

In a similar fashion, when you go to Lebanon, you eat pretty much the same food in every single restaurant, be it the brightly lit, glitzy five star place in Ashrafiyeh, East Beirut, or the small roadside shack famous for it’s deep fried kibbehs and falafels, on the main road up into the mountains, on the way to the Bekaa Valley.

I’m not knocking it – far from it, I LOVE Middle Eastern food, Lebanese in particular, but again, I’m merely highlighting that much of it is very similar. (note; “similar”, not “the same”).

And so it is with Meza, from the thick and creamy yoghurt (labne) to the fresh zingy parsley salad (taboulleh). From the deep fried minced lamb with pine kernels (kibbeh) to the smoky, flame grilled mashed aubergine that is baba ghanoush (or betenjine).

That's my son's hands above, getting well and truly stuck in to his 'taboulleh / houmus mix'. Great taste buds that lad, far more refined than mine (it's the reason I take him with me!)

From succulent and tender lamb kofte ....

... to er ... succulent and .... erm ... tender chicken shish taouk.

Ah yes, the wine, of course, the wine.

Perhaps very sensibly, for now, Hekmat has opted not to stock wines that would stretch ones wallet or purse strings too much. They are Lebanese wines as you would expect, but all around the £15 - 20 mark. Whether or not he plans to introduce Ksara and Chateau Musar to his wine list, I'm not sure, but more expensive or not, I think that he should; his restaurant deserves to have them on show and filling people's glasses.

We have entertained some very important people at Meza. In no particular order they include family members, close friends, Godparents of our children and their families, business bods, men of the cloth and so on, and none of these found fault with the food, the restaurant, the owner or his staff.

And why would they? I can't find fault with it, after all!

Having said all that, if I had to find one thing that doesn't sit quite right, it would be this; thanks to the CD player being broken, the radio is tuned to *swallows hard* Heart radio!

I mean for crying out loud, sort it OUT man!

I've said it on many occasion, Lebanese food and ambience do NOT naturally pair with the hits of the 80's (although the Eurythmics came on the other day - Sweet Dreams Are Made of This is STILL a cracking tune, I don't care what anyone says!)

We finish, as always, with Lebanese coffee. Oozing cardamom it is strong, sweet, and very difficult to stop at just the one.

(I only put that to sound tough - look at the size of the cup, that's almost to scale, that picture!!)

Anyway, to sum up, seek out Meza. Find Hekmat, he really is a smashing guy and he will look after you, trust me. He won't let you order too much just for the sake of making an extra pound or two - he often stops us if we get too carried away. Sadly, I thought my family and I were the most important customers that ate at Meza, but that was just because he is so good at making you feel very special. When we last ate there, I realised he makes everyone feel that way - I could see it in the other customers eyes, in their body language.

Make the trip there and see what you think. If you enjoy it, get in touch and tell me I was right. If you don't, I'll have the Sunday Times reimburse you, no problem at all.*

Regardless of all that, the main reason I eat at Meza is the anonymity afforded to me there.

Well, that's what I thought, but stone me, who should walk in the last time I was there? Omar Sharif, my old chum, whom I first met when he starred in Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand. Crikey, that ruffled some feathers, I can tell you. The last time I saw him was in 2003 after he'd been arrested in a casino in Monte Carlo for head-butting a police man. He said he'd blown all his cash at the roulette wheel and could I loan him the $1700 bail that had been set?

Well, what are friends for if you can't ask to borrow a bit of cash every now and then, eh?

Of course, I should've seen it coming but no sooner had our coffee cups been cleared away, does Omar turn to me and tell me he's misplaced his wallet, and could he possibly borrow a few quid, possibly even add it to the seventeen hundred that he's never gotten round to paying me?

I sighed and paid up. After all, what are friends for, and he really is a splendid chap.

We've been pals for years.

34 Trinity Road
SW17 7RE
07722 111299

* = complete tosh

Monday, 14 May 2012

Hymie tries for free sex

A petrol owner puts up a sign; Free Sex with every fill-up. Hymie pulled in, filled his tank and asked for his free sex. The owner told him to pick a number between 1 and 10.

"If you guess right, you'll get the sex".

Hymie said, "Eight".

The garage owner respnded. "Ooh, close, but it was seven".

A week later, Hymie pulled in again, this time with his friend Abe. He filled up with petrol and asked for the free sex.

This time Hymie guessed, "Two".
The owner said, "Sorry, it was three".

As they drove off, Hymie said to Abe, "I think that game is rigged. He doesn't really give away free sex at all".

Abe replied, "No, it's definitely genuine. My wife won twice last week".

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Fresh Falafel

If you’re anything like me, you will have cooked many meals, both for yourself and your family. I thought I was doing an ok job of it, until M – my lovely wife – bought me a “cooking experience” at a place in Fulham. Hmmm …. perhaps my own cooking wasn’t all that great then? Anyway, it was fun and I enjoyed spending time with a Michelin starred chef, and making several dishes to take home. It was he, the French chef, that casually mentioned the fresh fish shop on North End road, which sits between Fulham Broadway and Earls Court. On Saturdays, one end of the road is a market, specialising in fruit and veg’, but as much of a bargain some of it seems (a whole tray of Braeburn apples for £2.50), much of it doesn’t last much past Sunday evening, ending up in the compost bin.

The fish shop, however, turned out to be something pretty special. I bought several items for a paella I was cooking for my Dad’s birthday, as well as two fairly healthy sized crabs for my children to ‘try’.

It was while visiting the market for the aforementioned fish, that my generously proportioned nose caught a whiff of something rather delicious. Following my nose, so to speak, I happened upon a tiny falafel stall, cunningly whittled out of the inside of a metal shed and painted red. As I approached, I inwardly groaned at the distinct lack of a queue - not a good sign for any street food vendor. Regardless, I stepped up to the 'stall', and briefly chatted with the two gentlemen that were stood behind the business bit of the stall.

While agonising over whether to order a medium or a large falafel wrap (it was always going to be large - the agonising was just for effect), Ali and Mahmoud introduced themselves, and what a likeable couple of guys they turned out to be. Having gotten talking, they explained that they are Palestinian by birth and live in the West Bank; well, I nearly swooned. Could it be true? A street food stall, selling one of my favourite 'snacks' (when they're made well, naturellement), who just happen to be from an area of the world that is one of my favourite topics?

Anyhoo, I ordered, they made – by the way, the falafel mix is already made up, but they scoop up the required amount and drop ‘em in the oil “fresh”, if you know what I mean – and I stood and ate, as did wife and child 1 (child 2 being averse to anything that’s for sale in the same vicinity as freshly chopped tomatoes).

Obviously, being freshly cooked, they were lovely and warm, the salad was delicious and looked as if it had also been recently prepared. I’m a big fan of khobbez bread as it is, and again, this was slightly warmed before the falafels were squished down into it. A pre-requisite squirt of tahini sauce, a brief “no thanks” to the offer of chilli sauce, and the wrapping could begin.

Wife, child 1 and myself agreed that they were delicious; the falafels perfectly cooked, the lettuce crunchy, the tomatoes juicy, the pickles sharp, just wonderful. And all of this service with a bit of friendly banter from the gentlemen behind the jump.

I admit I’m still getting used to asking the world to wait while I take photographs of my food to share with you, so these aren’t the most adventurous pics, granted. But you get the idea right? Small shack in an ordinary street market, selling tasty food that they’re proud of – a little bit of their heritage? – and selling it with a smile.

To top off this wonderful new discovery, who should happen along just as I was taking a picture? Well, see for yourself, my old friend Roger Moore. He was researching his new role as a Chelsea pensioner and was wearing some of his wardrobe from the set, just up the road. There he is, look, in the red cardigan. I think he’s perfected the walk already.

Marvellous actor, we’ve been chums for donkeys years!

North End Road
(Saturday market)

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Hare & Tortoise

I can’t actually remember the very first time we ate here; we’ve eaten here a lot over the past 10 years. It’s almost the very last shop/restaurant as you head out of Putney towards Cheam. It’s one of a small chain and I do know that my monster-in-law ate in the Kensington branch, saying it was very good, and that “the sushi was very fresh”.

We always try to get there as close to midday on a Sunday as possible, as it gets very busy. Also, if you get there just that little bit too late, you end up with one of the two tables in the window – the huge, plate glass window that welcomes the sun all afternoon, dazzling you throughout your meal. We always ask for whichever free table is furthest into the restaurant towards the back of the large room.

The staff are, according to reviews of the restaurant elsewhere, stereotypical insofar as the females are polite and occasionally smile, whereas the males are gruff, unsmiling, bordering on rude. I must say though, that no behaviour has put us off going. Yet.

When we eat here, we are subconsciously saying “let’s eat something delicious but familiar. We always eat the same thing, but we love the place for that. Why order something else when what we get is so tasty?”

Experience has taught us that just because you order in the order you would like to eat – you state your starter first, then your main course - doesn’t mean that’s the order this meal will come in. In fact, it doesn’t even mean that you will all receive you food at the same time.

I should apologise, even at this early stage, for my photographs. They look a bit washed out, a bit pale. I’m not entirely sure why this has happened. My camera, albeit a point and shoot, normally makes my food look far better than this. I think I’ll blame that sunlight I was complaining about earlier.

M and I both ordered green tea, water for Annabel (her favourite drink, honest!) and Carrot and Apple juice for Joseph.

Come to think of it, my son has more refined taste buds than me, so I will report what he had to say about his thirst quencher.

“Mmm …. delicious”.

Our order went something like this. We ordered a mixed sushi box, which consists of 7-8 pieces of sushi, along with 6 maki rolls. Although the sushi box option works out cheaper overall, I really think we have to start looking at other alternatives. Allow me to explain. With M being allergic to egg, I get the omelette sushi by default. The children love the fish eggs which sit upon the ikura, so that piece looks a bit sparse by the time they’ve finished with it. The eel goes to M, thanks to my main course being entirely made up of exactly that. Add to this the fact that Annabel likes the maki rolls and BANG, what am I left with? A bit of tuna or a piece of salmon which are a bit everyday, although delicious, admittedly.

My main course, as I’ve touched on, is Unagi Don, or curried eel. If you’ve ever eaten in a pie and mash shop and hated the jellied eels, trust me, these are nothing like those. The eel is served on a large bowl of sticky rice, with pickles and covered in (I believe to be) kabayaki sauce and a small covered bowl of miso soup. No surprises but consistently delicious. Superb.

Joseph and Annabel both take prawn tempura; 3 very large prawns in a deliciously light batter, albeit a little greasy, and is served with a dipping sauce. Both agree this is, “delicious”. I agree this is the same adjective as Joseph used for his drink but to be honest, I don’t manage to get a great deal out of them when they’re hungry. It’s for the best.

M is the one person among us who often orders slightly differently but not this time; Singapore noodles with no egg. Unfortunately, no comment came from her general direction, but this should be taken as a good thing. I must admit to not taking a single shot of M’s dish for your reflection for which I apologise. However, I can report that she thinks her dish had, “the right balance of tang and spice”.

As you can see, tasting and describing food comes easier to my wife than it does me. I did ask if she would be kind enough to tell you all about our eating out experiences but she is a tad busy right now.
Perhaps next time.

Or the time after that.

As we were finishing, my good friend Michael Caine and his wife Shakira stopped in – I told them we’d be there – and astonishingly, they ordered exactly the same dishes as us.

Their verdict?


296-298 Upper Richmond Road
SW15 6TH

Sunday, 11 March 2012

"Beyond belief"

So, why this separate extension of my ramblings then? Why not just stick it all in the one place?

Let me answer these very valid questions individually.

Firstly, dunno.

Secondly, nope, dunno that one either.

Right, now that’s out of the way, let’s get on with it. I know that by highlighting my less-than-secret admiration for Mr Winner (oh, come one, he’s hilarious!), people will automatically rev up their ‘assumption-o-meters’ and start making, erm … assumptions about me.

Ooh, well he regularly reads Michael Winner’s column does he? Well, he must read the Times then, or the Sunday Times at least. Hmm, ok then, he must be a Tory supporter (boo, hiss OR splendid chap, depending on your politics). Well, don’t assume anything – I like Michael Winner, alright? He makes me laugh, he’s no nonsense, he’s sarcastic, cutting, honest. He pretends to live beyond his means, that he’s up to his eyeballs in debt, meaning, therefore, that he is swanning around the world on credit, running up his Platinum American Express or his Coutts Personal Banking card.

I mean, as if that could happen eh? People projecting wealth when really they’re broke, driving flash cars they can’t afford to run, doing things they can’t really afford to do!

As if an economy would allow that!

Anyway, it’s a nonsense – Mr Winner’s loaded, plain and simple. In fact, the next time I’m invited to his house for tea, I shall question him directly and let you all know, just to put it to bed once and for all.

Regardless of all that, whilst chuckling through his weekly review last week, I got to thinking; you know something, I thought; if Michael Winner can review food and eating establishments, anybody can. This isn’t being disrespectful – he has said as much himself – and I would put my taste-buds on par with his; poor to middling at best.

There are a million web pages maintained by people who do know what food should taste like; these pages aren’t like those pages. I like eating (so does Mr Winner), I like writing (so does Mr Winner), you can read my pages for free (but you have to subscribe to the Times in order to feast your eyes upon Mr Winner’s OR buy the ST, of course).

If I were one of those who currently swans around as I’ve mentioned above, I could post lots of restaurants here but I’m not. The food will be few and far between. Our musings will be kinda similar, but without the regular appearance of Sir Michael Caine or Roger Moore.

But the other reason I want to post here, is that each week, Mr Winner ends his column with a joke. It can be any old joke but, being Jewish, he inserts the name ‘Hymie’ as the star of the joke. It’s clearly tickled others too, as readers are invited to send in their own Hymie jokes.

In fact, I laughed so hard at the corker of a joke this week, it was the reason for me deciding to replicate them here.

Hymie is involved in a terrible car accident and when he finally comes round, the doctor says to him, “Mr Cohen, you’re ok, you’re alive, but unfortunately you lost your penis in the crash and we couldn’t find it anywhere. Your insurance company has agreed to pay out £9000. We can make you a new penis for £1000 per inch. Why don’t you consult with your wife, see what size she’d like, and we’ll talk about it later?”

Hymie agrees and discusses it with his wife, Becky.

Later that day, the doctor stops by and asks, “so, what did you decide?”

Hymie replies, “We’re having granite worktops”.