Category: Food

Lockdown lunch

Lockdown lunch

Look what our next-door neighbour gave us, a lovely lockdown lunch. Pizza, humous, gorgonzola, salad all combined with special chili sauce. We gobbled it down, sat in our garden, on a perfect Spring day with the mercury registering a sizzling 25C. How great is that? Thanks Frank, that’s so kind. Almost made me forget what we’re living through.

One thing about C19 is that London life has got significantly smaller and restricted. Social distancing, shielding, self-isolation; everyone now lives a little London life.

We are about to enter our third week of lockdown and so far, the Preen Team are in good health and good spirits. No respiratory complaints; no major fights just living with the new reality. Rusty the dog, who runs on the wolf-pack mentality loves having us all around. Not sure how she’ll cope when we go back to work.

The weather, as mentioned, is now beautiful, which is great, but many are flouting the government’s restrictions on freedom of movement. I went on a bike ride to Battersea Park and the place was mobbed and today I learn that Brockwell Park is closed as 3,000 people visited yesterday.

And talking of freedom of movement, a phrase straight out of the Brexit playbook, it got me thinking that we only seem to deal with a single massive news story these days. We moved effortlessly from Brexit, the great slavering news monster that consumed everything to coronavirus which also won’t allow the squeak of another story to get past it.

Panic buying

Panic buying was the big story two weeks ago, with supermarket shelves apparently stripped by a plague of locusts. This seems to have calmed down somewhat, but it made me realise the power of the supermarkets and the fact that most of the population shop nowhere else. We have a butcher up the road fully stocked with delectable meat products, Andy the fishman still comes all the way from Grimsby on Thursdays and I’ve been toddling up to New Covent Garden to see Alf, Steve and John to get our fruit and veg. No iron rations here.

One bizarre aspect of panic buying is the almost complete absence of flour, particularly bread flour. Imagine my delight on finding it for sale in our local SPA. Gold dust!

Journal of the plague year

I’ve been reading Daniel Defoe’s ‘Journal of the plague year’ and there are spooky resonances. Obviously, what we’re going through now is bad, but during the plagues of the 17th Century somewhere between a third and half of Europe’s population died. A mortality rate off the scale to what we’re facing now.

When it hit, the wealthy escaped to their second homes, sending the country servants back to the city to look after their London houses. Something you can imagine they weren’t too thrilled about. Then there’s isolation. If a member of a household contracted the plague a large red cross was painted on the front door and no one was allowed to leave. Two watchmen (One for the day and one for the night) were posted outside to make sure no one left. Well as you can imagine if you’re closeted with a plague victim then generally the rest of the house contracted it, and everyone died.

Many either bribed their watchman to look the other way or beat the shit out of him and made good their escape. Outside London in places like Walthamstow, then a separate town, they barred those fleeing from London to enter in an effort to halt the spread of the distemper as Defoe calls it. The result was that many died of starvation in the countryside. The rich also holed up in their boats, taking on board massive supplies and not allowing anyone off or on. I haven’t heard this to be true, but you have to imagine there are oligarchs and the like cruising around the Med, with full fridges, living their best lives.

Received wisdom has it that rats spread the plague, no so apparently, it was us. Scientists now believe it was a combination of airborne transmission (droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes) and fleas and lice that lived on humans and their clothes. At the time they thought it was cats and dogs and thousands were killed.

Shutting down the office

Three weeks ago, we packed up our offices in Holborn and all went to work from home. I was one of the last to leave and was chatting with one of the young lads who work with me. He said: “Yeah me and my mates, we call it the Boomer Remover.’ Gulp, did he mean me?

Can an app save the high street?

Can an app save the high street?

Ian C Jones CEO of LoLo Rewards thinks it can

 LoLo stands for Local Loyalty and is the brainchild of an itinerant Australian now living in Kennington. Jones has worked all his life with small and medium sized businesses and thinks he’s found a way for individual shops and services to take on the might of the giant online retailers. It’s based on loyalty discount tokens and is an app that sits on your phone.

This is how it works: Download the LoLo app on to your mobile and you are immediately given twenty loyalty tokens. One token equals one pound. Via the app you now search for a shop or service you are interested in and for the sake of argument find a restaurant that you’d always meant to try. You take your partner out for dinner and at the end of the meal get a bill for £100. On that bill is a QR code. You open your LoLo app, zap the QR code then through the magic of modern technology the telephone talks to the card reader. You decide to use all your twenty tokens, so your bill now comes to £80 with you enjoying a 20% discount. You leave and as you’re walking down the street your phone beeps and you find the restaurant has gifted you £16 new tokens. (As part of the agreement with LoLo the minimum they can give is 5% in tokens however some will accept up to 50%). The restaurant will then likely ask you to write a review of your meal for which they agree to give you another five tokens. So, you started out with 20, spent those and got a 20 % discount and now have a further 21 tokens on your app to spend at the restaurant or with any of the other retailers who are part of LoLo.LoLo Local Loyalty

Jones adds: “Unlike a frequent flier programme where you’ll use all your points at one go, ours you’ll never run out. Ours only accumulate, you can transfer them to friends and family, but every time you spend them you end up getting back at least 10% more than you consumed. That’s what’s unique about it.”

The App also tells you how many tokens you currently hold and how much cash you’ve saved by supporting local businesses.

When a business signs up with LoLo they are given a whole stack of QR codes that are unique to their business. These are printed on cards for staff to hand out to their customers.

As Jones says: “If I had a coffee shop, I’d be standing at the door handing out the cards to everybody coming in saying download the app.”

He makes the point that if a retailer gives you a discount then that money disappears into the wider world, but with a token that money stays local.

But how do LoLo make money out of this? It’s very simple they harvest 3% of any transaction that goes through a card reader. So, going back to our notional restaurant LoLo receive 3% of the £80 spent by the customer.

Jones also sees the possibility of businesses, perhaps a florist, restaurant and dry cleaner, working together to cross promote their products to increase footfall and ultimately sales.

Jones’ mantra is first shop locally, then regionally, then nationally and if all else fails go to Amazon. He has high ambitions: “We want to make (LoLo) operate on every small business in the UK. Individually no small business can compete with the strength of online, but collectively they can. They’ve got some power so what we’ve done is given them a platform to be stronger.”

Amazon, Deliveroo, Uber Eats; they’re all disrupters and are playing havoc with our high streets. Can a humble app turn the tide on the big boys? Only time will tell, but why not sign up and be part of a revolution, there are tokens waiting for you.

Click here if you want to be part of this.


 

Cable Café: Back on track

Cable Café: Back on track

Following my blog about poor service being dished out at Cable Café on Brixton Road I received a response from the owner Craig O’Dwyer.

‘A friend passed me your article about our coffee / service. I would like to apologize for that day, we were all a bit grumpy having worked non-stop to pass a health and safety inspection just minutes before you passed by. I’ll speak with staff and give them a clip round the ears, they should have behaved better. I’m glad you liked the coffee.’

Apology accepted and I did like the coffee and will continue to buy it. A health and safety inspection must be pretty gruelling.

I’m passionate about supporting local businesses but if they fall short you should let them know. If you just shrug your shoulders and never go back everyone loses. But if your criticism is valid and they listen and improve then everyone wins.

Go to the Cable Café, you may well see me there.


 

Cable Café: Must try harder

Cable Café: Must try harder

I love to support local businesses; goodness knows I blog about them enough. Like many people I’m worried about the future of the high street and want to do my bit to keep our local stores alive and thriving. Figures just released show the number of shops lying empty soared by more than 7,500 last year, with one in ten shops in UK town centres now unoccupied.

Retailers, especially small retailers, have to be at their best to attract and retain customers; service has to be tip-top. So, for all kinds of reasons, it really grates when it isn’t.

We usually buy our coffee from a small coffee roaster in York. The quality is excellent but in our continued efforts to buy local Mrs Preen suggested I pop into the Cable Café on Brixton Road and buy some of their coffee. They roast their own and we’d heard good things about it.

I went in at around 2pm when the place was just opening up. There were three staff putting out tables, sweeping the floor and generally getting the place in order. I called out and asked if I could buy some coffee.

A man at the sink said: “Sorry we’re closed, but you can buy it from our other café down Camberwell Road.”

Now here’s the thing, I was looking at the bag of coffee I wanted to buy which was sat just the other side of the bar. So, I persisted and said look it’s right there, it’ll take a second for me to pay and go.

One massive sigh and eyeroll later the bag of coffee and cash machine are banged down in front of me. I tap the card on the reader and receive not a word of thanks.

I was so surprised and irritated by their behaviour that I actually said: “What’s going on here?” But answer came there none, just glum silence.

Perhaps they hate their jobs, perhaps they just hated me, but where is the incentive for me to return? I paid £12 for a bag of coffee and the transaction took perhaps thirty seconds. What was so hard about that?

Anyway, I went home fuming and made myself a cup of their coffee. It was delicious. But do I love it enough to overlook the utter contempt with which I was treated?


 

The Oval Cook Book

The Oval Cook Book

Fed up with Brexit Britain? Had enough of Little England? Well here’s an idea, go buy a cookbook, more specifically The Oval Cook Book. As the author, Veronica Parker, says in her introduction: ‘In 2016 when we voted very narrowly to leave the EU, it felt as if all sorts of divisions had been opened up in our society.’ She wanted to heal those divisions where she could and set about creating a diversity cookbook which celebrates the lives and recipes of Kennington residents who have come from the four corners of the world.

Meet Akin Mustafa, originally from Cyprus, who runs the electrical shop on Clapham Road. He studied electrical engineering but fled the island after partition. Akin can fix anything from a toaster to an old VHS video machine and he can also fix a ‘Turkish Bean Salad’.

There’s a fine picture of Jasvir Singh receiving an OBE from Prince William for his services to social cohesion. His parents are both Punjabi Sikhs and the recipe he contributes to the book is ‘Turka Dhal’, that wonderful Indian dish with red lentils at its heart.

Walk down Coney Lane and you’ll come to Ashmole Stores run by the Patel brothers Bav and Prash. They came to the UK when Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of Ugandan Asians. The brother’s parents, together with their two sisters, moved to Leicester, then came to London and set up their shop in 1984. Bav is a Millwall supporter but don’t hold that against him. Their recipe is for ‘Curried Meatballs’.

Now you’re already getting hungry and wondering where this nourishing book can be found, which leads me to Jeanne Joyce who runs the gift shop Max & Melia. Jeanne was brought up in Normandy, came to England as an au pair and made London her home. Her recipe is for ‘Tomato, Onion and Hearts of Palm Salad’.

In 2018 Max & Melia was named London Gift Retailer of the Year. The book is on sale at their store and costs eight pounds. Five pounds of every copy sold is donated to the Triangle Adventure Playground just off Claylands Road. So far £1400 has been raised to support this excellent cause.

There are fascinating life stories in this book, which go into far more detail than is contained here. Find out more about the lives of immigrants who have made Lambeth their home. We are lucky to have them, and now we are lucky to have their recipes.

Oslo Court Restaurant

Oslo Court Restaurant

I love the crazy places of London. The places that seem improbable but exist anyway. How come a flying saucer with mushrooms in the ceiling landed in Knightsbridge was named Albert Hall and became one of our favourite concert venues?

Why are men currently throwing themselves into the icy grip of Hampstead Men’s Pond when they could be tucked up at home with a hot drink and a good book? Who knows but I’m glad they do even though I’m going nowhere near the place until the Spring.

I want to introduce you to another crazy place that I’d never heard of until friends took me there last Friday. It’s the Oslo Court Restaurant in St John’ Wood.

Its location is, to say the least, unusual. Walk down Prince Albert Road and turn into Charlbert Street and you’re met with a handsome art deco apartment block. Build in 1937 it boasts 125 one-bedroom flats many with balconies on to the park. Out front there’s a small sign that gives a clue that it also boasts a restaurant. Apparently in days gone by posh blocks often had restaurants but that fashion has disappeared.

Walking into reception a smartly dressed attendant directs you through a small unmarked door and suddenly you are in the pinkest restaurant in the world. It’s like falling into flock of flamingos and is something of a psychedelic shock as you reel towards your table. You are at a pink festival on Pink Day in Pinkland.

The owner, Tony Sanchez, has been running the joint for more than 35 years. The place definitely has a period feel. The single rose in the silver vases, the rich fabrics, the melba toast with vegetable croutons creates a time-machine that catapults you back to the 70s. There is nothing minimalist about Oslo Court. There’s no steel and glass here; it’s sumptuous.

Now describing a restaurant as having a 70s vibe will be about as welcome to the management as an outbreak of norovirus. Food in 70’s London was terrible, I know I lived through it, but I was poor at the time and I guess places like this must have existed for those with money.

Let’s get to the food. I started looking at the menu which as you’ll see has Dover Sole, Crab and Prawn Salad, Duck and Chicken Liver Pate, Salmon with Hollandaise sauce and sundry other 70’s delights though not (Tut Tut) Black Forest Gateaux or Prawn Cocktails. Suddenly a waiter arrived bearing news of at least twenty specials. I love a special.

Oslo Court RestaurantI opted for six oysters to start, served with an excellent sauce of Balsamic vinegar and garlic, then Beef Wellington (perfectly cooked and this is not an easy dish to get right) and for afters Lemon Meringue Pie with a side order of raspberries and vanilla ice cream. To finish up we had Petits Fours and coffee. A moment ago I described the atmosphere as sumptuous; the same goes for the portions. I then ordered a wheelbarrow to get me out of the place.

In the seventies, in between leaving school and going to University, I worked in a restaurant that boasted silver service. This is when the waiter serves your vegetables from a silver salver grasping the spuds and cauli between a spoon and fork and placing it effortlessly on your plate. Frankly I found it tricky and carrots typically ended up in the lap of some unsuspecting patron.

Silver service is now about as rare as a dodo, but not at Oslo Court where the waiters are dishing out the veg left and right while dressed in natty bow ties and dinner jackets.

This is a destination restaurant and if your destination factors in power cuts, a 3-day week, Ted Heath as PM it’s the place for you. The food is generally excellent but it’s not cheap; lunch comes in at £36 and Dinner £47. My only quibble was the vegetables were overcooked, but hey that’s the way we liked them 40 years ago.


Reservations: 020 7722 8795

Chalbert Street, NW8 7EN


 

Basqueing in the late summer sun

Basqueing in the late summer sun

This blog has decamped to France, so you are now reading Une Petite Vie Francaise or something like that. No doubt I’ve got the gender wrong and I’m certainly lacking a cedilla because I can’t find it on this computer keyboard. Sticklers among you will now be saying well that’s very nice for some, but what has this got to do with London which is supposed to be the blog’s USP. The answer to that perfectly reasonable question is not much, barely anything, but not absolutely nothing if I’m allowed to veer off into the double negative.

We are staying in Biarritz which is set deep in the heart of Basque Country. I know it’s Basque Country because I’ve discovered a desert called Gateau Basque. This is a pleasant cake-like thing made from ground almonds (probably) and in the case of the one I’m wading through right now, is stuffed with cherry jam. It may not be up there with the great French dishes such as Bouillabaisse or coq au vin but I seem to be able to eat it quite happily for breakfast, then as a desert for lunch and supper. Say what you like about Gateau Basque, it’s versatile.

Biarritz was once popular with the Beau Monde who came here to gamble and party, particularly in the early part of the last century. There is still a grand casino, large Art Deco hotels and wide sandy beaches which are now sought after by surfers rather than the crowned heads of Europe.

Come the sixties the better weather in Nice and the attraction of Brigitte Bardot and her ilk meant the money moved a little further South East to the Mediterranean and away from the more stormy pleasures of the Atlantic seaboard.

Miremont Biarritz
Miremont Café Biarritz

For breakfast we ventured, en famille, to a rather grand cafe called the Miremont. On the outside window there is a photograph of King Alfonso XIII visiting the Miremont with his ‘young’ wife. I’m not fully boned up on Alfonso V13, nor entirely sure which country benefited from his beneficent rule, but it looks to me like this might be Mrs King II, or the younger trophy wife.

The maitre d’, told us proudly that Biarritz was once the ‘Queen of resorts and the resort of Kings’ and that it was once said that at teatime there were ‘fewer pastries than Queens and fewer rum babas that Grand Dukes’.

Well the Preens are not easily intimidated, so barging a few Barons out of the way and treading a couple of Earls underfoot, we made our way to our table. The thing about mixing with The Quality is that it doesn’t come cheap. The creamy rich cafe au lait came in at €5.90 a pop while the croissants were a bank busting €2.20 and the daughter’s orange juice or fruit presse was €6.60. But Grand Dukes don’t complain about l’addition and neither do the Preens when the food is this yummy.

The Miremont prides itself on its ‘cosy charm and grand style’ which is a tricky combination to pull off. As we are leaving the maitre d’, who the daughter described rather unfairly as an old goat (vielle chevre), told us that King Edward VII, used to stay every year at the Hotel De Palais, while ‘remaining faithful to the Miremont’s confections’ and of course remained faithful to the wife who cost him the throne. We were also shown the Royal Coat of Arms that was bestowed on the Miremont by Queen Victoria who apparently used to send Albert down to pick up the buns.