Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Tamarind – The second best Indian Restaurant in London?

As I did before in my last restaurant review – the context. This is my third visit to a restaurant of this class ever. We’ve been to Benares twice, both on very special occasions, and yesterday for our third anniversary we decided to try Tamarind.

This year’s Michelin Guide left Tamarind without the Star they have held for a good few years. The comparisons to Benares on the reviews we checked while researching the most expensive dinner for two we’d ever eaten were generally favourable, and the Michelin inspectors agreed, Benares retaining theirs in the 2009 guide, but what went wrong at Tamarind?

We have no idea of course – we don’t know how good Tamarind used to be, but based on the expectation that they’d be trying extra hard to impress the customers and any potential inspectors, as well as making sure they offered extra special value, so the time was right.

We checked the online menus, and the prix fixe deal looked just right. Two good looking courses, with all the trimmings, and a bottle of wine per table, (Minimum 2, maximum 6) for £28 per person. How mad is that? If you are heading there with 4 of you – make sure you sit in two tables of two – as otherwise, you’ll have to share a bottle of the finest Viognier we’ve ever tasted – (Viognier is my favourite wine for 2 reasons, one – it tastes great, and two, with its distinctive aroma of apricots, you might actually be able to tell what it is if tested (that’s a wine fact people!) and you wouldn’t want to share something that good.

The prix fixe menu had to be requested (and they ceremonially removed the brass plates we had in front of us in an attempt to shame us into going for the a la carte...) but along it came, and was exactly as on the website (always nice to know that the online descriptions are accurate) so we were easily able to order swiftly – the wife had the veggie option, (Potato cakes, followed by grilled paneer)I had the meat. Chicken thingies – they were kind of like little chicken dumplings, with micro herbs and for my main, (after checking that the three items listed on the more interesting part of the menu were indeed a course, and not a further choice. I was briefly tempted by the chicken tikka masala (sold a bit more interestingly than that, but that is what I imagined it would be) but instead chose the supreme of chicken, lamb kebab, and broccoli kebab.

Coming with naan, rice, lentil sauce (dhal? you can tell I’m not an expert can’t you!) and superb mixed vegetables (I let the wife pick out the cauliflower, but I was happy with the rest) this seemed far more “authentic” than Benares – when I say authentic, I’ve not been to India, but I’ve been to Brick Lane, Tooting, and Birmingham, and this was more like a souped up curry house experience, than a posh restaurant with a spicy twist, which was my impression of the other place (as we carefully referred to Benares under our breath when within potential earshot of the staff...)

Of course – being a two course set menu and not three, we were presented with the desert menu and being careful to not order the selection below the one I did order – mine was an £8 glass of dessert wine, above an £88 bottle of dessert wine – I chose to add to the copious amount of alcohol already consumed, while she had a delicate sweet carrot dish (which we’ve seen referred to as Carrot Fudge on other menus) and we did a small amount of swapping (they bought me an extra spoon – it would have been rude not to use it), and finally, before the bill, petit fours of mint leaves dipped in white chocolate, and cashews dipped in dark chocolate (my non-chocolate eating wife forced a mint leaf down, but I was left to “suffer” the rest – wow!)

As I paid (used the joint account card to pay) the bill, Mrs Evergrowingbrain checked out the little girl’s room, then with a flourish and a pinch of fennel seeds as we left, our third anniversary was duly celebrated.

At £88 for the two of us, including the totally worth it service charge – they were excellent – always there, but never there too much – it still isn’t the sort of thing we’d be doing every week (or every month) but as a special occasion, it was certainly special, which is just what you want from a restaurant, that – in this armature reviewer’s opinion, will not be out of the Michelin guide for long.

Personal taste, and a bottle of wine in place of a couple of desserts, were all that separated the two restaurants, if I was taken out next week - it would depend what I wanted - a curry - Tamarind wins as the best example of the genre, but Atul's flair for "Modern British Indian" will have me visiting Benares again too.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

2 more runs till the big one

I thought I’d better write about running again, as it is both the most interesting thing I’ve done for a little while, and also the fact that I have recently publicised this blog on my running club’s website! All very well, but if they have to dig down to find something running related, underneath all the rest of the drivel you have to put up with.

I never promised a specific subject for this blog – it’s just what’s on my mind at the time – and very much – if I don’t have anything worth saying, then I won’t say anything at all.

I’m just back from a 9 mile run – my normal route home from work. As some of my longer marathon training runs have been deviations from this route, with extra bits added on to the beginning, so I might do five miles round the city, before doing the remaining 8 miles home on the normal route – doing it this way, I’m not as tempted to give up half way round – as half way round is still 6 miles from home, I’m not home and having to run past the front door – and keep on going. The other good thing about ruining this way, is that when I only need to do the 9 miles, if feels pretty easy – by the time I was getting to Stockwell, I was exhausted before – now it is barely 4 miles in, so I’m feeling chipper, and can sprint over the junctions, instead of taking the excuse to stop and walk.

I am loving the fact that I can run 9 miles and hardly notice – I’m going to be making sure I keep enough of a level of fitness that I’ll be able to run home once or twice a week (when I’m not cycling to work of course).
It’s not the best way to think about things, but I weighed myself just now – I’m floating around the 12 and a quarter stone mark – not quite down to the 12 mile “fighting weight” I was hoping for, but close, and I’m still off buying chocolate for lent. (I’m off buying chocolate – if others offer to buy me chocolate, or I find chocolate lying around the place, that is fair game – waste not want not. The 2 massive chocolate chip cookies I ate today, were both valuable for me for the run, and stopped me needing a (far too common) second packet of crisps in the afternoon. If the dreadful hardship of jogging home once in a while means I can eat massive amounts of crisps and chocolate – then bring it on.

I’m quite happy with how the training has gone – I’ve been more mindful of my body this time round, taking care not to become sick, which was very much the problem with my first marathon (Paris 07) and my third (London 08), illness meaning I missed big chunks of vital training, including not as many long runs as I should have completed. This time though – I’ve been more consistent, and my only missing period was about a week ago during my taper time, so I’m not overly worried about that. I’ve done 261.5 miles so far this year, and with 7 miles on Sunday, and a run from work half way home on Tuesday (I can’t do the full 9, as that would be too much in the week before the big one) and I’ll be ready for Paris.

I’m not convinced I’ll get the sub four hour time – but I’m very confident I’ll get a massive PB – and I’m focussed on pushing appropriately hard all the way round – pacing myself properly, never walking through laziness, and above all remembering.

This is what I’ve trained for. This is all that matters. If I feel awful, can’t walk, or don’t run for a month afterwards, but I get my target time, then it was worth it.

And don’t drink the wine they offer at 23 miles. That won’t help at all.

We’re starting to get our lives back now too – with time for the family (mummy’s visiting once we get home from Paris, and big bro is visiting this week). I’m also going to tell you about a fab day out I had with my dad last week too – but another time.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Conspiracy Theory

When I got my new bike, I had a call from my step dad, suggesting that I shouldn't get the clip-in pedals where you attach yourself to your bike, enabling full 360degree (why is there no degree symbol available on the keyboard?) power, not just pushing down on the pedals, but pulling them round. My wife, brother and best mate have all had issues falling off bikes (at zero speed, just embarrassingly not being able to put the foot down) due to being clipped in.

Slight tangent – I’ve not been able to get a proper definition when referring to cycle pedals. Officially I’m getting “clipless” pedals, referring to pedals which don’t have a toe clip, a toe clip being a sort of cup/strap affair which you clip your toe into enabling the pulling up on the pedal as well as the pushing down.

Normal pedals (like on every other bike) don’t exist in the cycling world, otherwise they would be “clipless” (I think they are actually known as platform pedals or something like that) therefore pedals where you actually “clip” yourself in to the pedal, using special shoes with plastic attachments screwed into the sole, (and you know you are clipped in, as you hear a clip sound and you feel all clipped in) are known as “clipless”. I believe this is so that proper cyclists can feel superior to muggles in having their own, contrary language to speak which makes completely no sense to the casual listener.

Back to the step father - he thought I’d also end up falling off and damaging myself (potentially under a bus), but I want to give myself every option of becoming a mediocre cyclist (I’m currently firmly in the “poor” category). I thanked him for his concern and advice, and promptly visited the cycle shops of London in an attempt to buy pedals and shoes.

Evans Cycles Clapham were shocking - the guy I spoke to didn't have a clue, but seemed too proud to admit this (he was a mountain biker) and ask his colleagues to assist, or admit to me he wasn't the best person to advise me. They probably had suitable equipment, but I didn't buy them, as he'd all but talked me out of it.

Bikestore at London Bridge were lovely, offering excellent advice, and telling me just what I needed to get. after sending the girl upstairs to check stock 4 times, we discovered they didn't actually have any shoes (not in my size anyway) so I left empty handed again.

Evans Victoria were very good - I tried some shoes on and they were too small, and they didn't have the size up, but now I’d make the decision, I was able to go mail order.

Wiggle came up with the goods, and a box containing shoes and pedals arrived at work only a couple of days later.

While my enormous brain was pondering this state of events, I worked out that my step dad must have contacted every cycle shop in London, ensuring they came up with plausible reasons not to sell me dangerous shoes. He even kept the reasons varied, and as planned, I gave up without anyone needing to repeat a story.

Step dads however have no power over the internet (I’m guessing he's sent photos of me to all the shops, but the internet never saw my face) and I thwarted his plans.

I've been out on the pedal/shoes combination a few times now, and the closest I came to falling off left me leaning gently on a parked VW Beetle, and all was well. I fell off twice while not attached to the bike, so the pedals must be a good thing.

As you'll be aware - I’ve entered a triathlon. I need to improve my cycling and my swimming (my running is beyond help) hence the mad shoes, the carbon fibre bike, and the occasional trips to the local baths.

Unfortunately, it seems the stepfather has decided I shouldn't swim either. My risk of drowning is too great for him to allow me to train for the triathlon.

Last week, he arranged for a ladies only aqua aerobics session to be taking place exactly as I wanted to visit for my lunch hour.

This week however - I arrived an hour ago and noticed no lanes marked out and no-one in the pool. I got to reception and found a concerned staff, who asked if it was my intention to swim - I said yes, with a knowing "but you aren't going to let me are you" tone to my voice, and she kindly explained that they weren't sure when the pool would be re-opening. I smiled and told her I’d return on another day.

As I left - I noticed the fire doors were all open, and two more staff members were walking towards the water's edge carrying buckets and sponges.

I checked the timetable (that I took following the aerobics based thwarting) and noticed that 11-12 was OAPs only.

My step dad is retired, although he's not over 60. He’s quite unwell and lives over 100 miles away.

Did he really bribe a pensioner to make my leisure centre un-usable? I wouldn't put it past him.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

10 Friends is plenty

I read an article on the BBC about how social networking is changing the way we interact with our friends. There are people claiming 700 or more FaceBook friends, and a socialite who held a party for 800 of her closest friends.

I recently culled my FaceBook friends – and got it back down to around a hundred. I’m going to have another round, and get it down further – there are still people on there who I worked with many years ago, and all I get from them are messages about them hiding Easter eggs on each others’ profiles (so they are next).

The BBC article reckons most people can count their true best friends on their fingers. I did a ready reckon, and I think I’ve got it down to the fingers of one hand and another finger. My brother, Dan, My mum and my Dad, my friend Pam, and my stepdad Pat. I defined it like this – If a week went by and I didn’t hear from them – I’d be very worried. Between me speaking to them on the phone, texting, emailing – and twitter/FaceBook, I pretty much know where they are on a daily basis, and I’d miss it if I didn’t. The wife doesn’t count – as she’s above all that.
The next level down is just – friends – and is basically the other 3 boys I lived with at uni, and their wives, one old workmate, and 2 school friends of Lisa’s and one of their husbands (the other isn’t part of a couple, but there is no way of defining that in the way I just did) one whole family who've always been close to ours, – and I’d probably add the rest of mine and Lisa's extended families in there too (but family is a bit different too – there are obligations there. I love all my cousins, but I hardly have any contact with one side, and if I wasn’t related to the other half, I doubt we’d be friends (very little in common, but that makes it all the more fun when we’re together).

The being together bit is very important. Whenever (and it isn’t often) we do meet – whether for a holiday, down the pub, or just passing and dropping in for coffee – it is as if we’ve always been best friends and everything is groovy – that’s what being friends is all about. Work colleagues are included here too.

There are of course another class – as Homer’s bar buddies referred themselves – well wishers, cronies, chums and acquaintances. Many of my running club buddies will fall into this category – when I see them we’ll have a great time (particularly at the social events) but if they were gone – I’d not miss many of them. I’m overanalysing here I know – and as I’ve just publicised the running aspects of this blog on the Windmilers message board, I’m considering if this should be published. I don’t want to upset anyone who considers me a closer friend to them, than I consider them to me. (Joanne, Michelle – you know I love you both. I’m generalising here).
The big question is the next level. Here we have the people I wouldn’t call ever, people who’s funerals I wouldn’t go to, but still people I’d be u[set if they died. The most important criteria of course, when I culled this lot, was whether I would be upset if they did the same thing to me. As I’ve blogged before – there are people on FaceBook who’s updates I thoroughly enjoy every time. There are old friends I love to hear from if only in an “I’ve been playing footy” or “I’m playing a computer game”. It is great to know they are happy and doing ok. And I’d miss them if they weren’t letting me know this. I like to think they’d miss mine too, and none of the ones I culled last time seemed to notice (I certainly didn’t get any upset comments, or requests to be friends again, so if they were upset – they didn’t whinge about it to me.

That’s also why twitter (a new addition to my social networking) is so good – I like Stephen fry, so I watch his updates. Stephen Fry doesn’t know me from Adam, so why on earth would he be interested in mine? He’s recently offered to start following his followers, if you ask him to. He has over 300,000 followers, and he’s now following over 55,000 of them. Therefore, he’s not watching their feeds, or anyone else's. He knows he’s using it for his own publicity – I’m not vain enough to want that – I’m pretty vain of course, but without cause. Is it possible to be vain and famous? Or is does fame mean you don’t have to worry about being vain – your vanity is justified.

If someone wants to watch me, but I don’t want to watch them – this is possible. I believe FaceBook might be working on a one way process in the same way, but until then, I’ll risk upsetting people. Sorry to pretty much everyone I went to primary school with, and anyone I worked with years ago, but don’t work with now.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Builders Breakfast/Hoisin Duck

What they've done with the Builders Breakfast crisps, is taken a pack of smokey bacon crisps, and stuck a lable over them with "builders breakfast" and relied on the power of suggestion to add a hint of sausage and beans (apparently - I listened to steve wright in the afternoon when they launched this whole concept) to the overall mix.

Maybe the fact that i've had a cold since 1997 doesn't make me the best person to be taste testing these crisps. we went on a wine tasting afternoon at Vinopolis at new year, and i was having a particularly snotty day, so didn't really appreciate all the subtler nuances of each bouquet... i still sneeze approximately 19 times each morning, and have a pack of tissues within reach at all times, (although i'm not as bad as my dad - who has absolutely no sence of smell - he's great come baby changing time, not so great when the electric shower has smoke belching out of it).

Hoisin duck tasted of neither duck nor hoisin. actually - it is Crispy Duck and Hoisin, as i've just noticed on the crumpled pack (filled with snotty tissues) still sitting on my desk.

they were vaguely meaty, with a very slight barbecue sauce flavour. basically - if they'd slapped a crazy label on a pack of BBQ crisps - and told me it was crispy duck and hoisin, then i'd have been fooled.

I guess the fact that i'm going on about it means they've won, i've bought them, and now i'm talking about them - marketing excec puts a big tick in the box.

two more to go - onion bhagee and chilli and chocolate... i'm scared.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Fish and Chips

Walkers fish and chips flavour is very odd - pleasant enough, but certainly not reminding me of fish and chips. of course it has been a while since i've had fish and chips, but i've stolen the odd chip when they come into the office, and i have an imagination.

bizarrely I licked my fingers about an hour after eating the crisps, and they tasted exactly like licking my fingers after eating fish and chips.


i had "builders breakfast" the other day too - i'll tell you about that soon.

Cajun Squirrel

We finally found the kerrrayzee new crisp flavours on sale in reasonable size bags, and I kicked off the taste test with "Cajun Squirrel".

Unfortunately, no squirrels were harmed in the making of these crisps, which is a shame, as it both meant there are more squirrels around to dig up our garden (and attempt to poison themselves by eating our bulbs) and it also meant Lisa could try them too.

Result - sort of like a watery version of the chilli flavour ones - no discernable squirrel flavour at all, and not spicy enough to be truly cajun. pleasant enough though - I'll eat the second pack, but i was expecting more. I remember Hedgehog flavour - now they were far nicer. 4/10

Saturday, 7 March 2009

general update

Tried a long run home last night, but wore the wrong shoes, got from the office to the thames to westminster bridge to tate modern to oval, but then got the same blisters as before - all the way down the right side of my left heel. not fun. i jumped on the tube in pain, and got back home and picked it all off - it will be fine to run again tomorrow, and was fine for cycling today (did 24 miles - to richmond park, round the park twice (once in each direction) and home again.

I'm enjoying the cycling, we had dan and Kev with us too, and they left me for dust (as did lisa as usual!) i need to get out more, and start cycling to work more often too. 18 miles a day (9 there and back) would get me used to it. I'm definately "all the gear - no idea" at the moment, but i'll improve - that was only the third time i've been on a bike with drop handlebars and clipped in pedals (i've still not fallen off - my main problem is getting myself attached)

I'm upping the distance for tomorrow to 11 miles, which should be peasy! my total for the week will be 23 then, which is fine based on my hard week/easy week philosophy. next week i have to do 17 on thursday, which will be my last long run before heading to paris.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Music to slit your wrists to.

“No-one listens to me – I might as well be a Leonard Cohen album” Neil the Hippy.

I know when Lisa’s annoyed – I can tell by looking at her iPod (and she let slip this morning too) and seeing if she’s listening to “The Holy Bible, by the Manic Street Preachers.

When I was younger, and living with parents, it was useful to have a method beyond the usual slamming of doors (occasionally punching holes in them) and shouting about how much I hated them (I didn’t really) to show how upset I was. I’d generally put on my 7inch single of Alice Cooper’s “Poison” – at full blast. Later I graduated to Bon Jovi (I know) and eventually Nirvana. Anything loud and shouty seemed to extend my own anger and share it with the world. This is not, it seems, how Lisa sees it – as she isn’t a 14 year old on the top deck of a bus (walking along in the street, sitting on a park bench) she doesn’t play her music loud on her phone for the world to hear – neither, as she said she would certainly do when she first moved in with me, does she hide in her room with it on the stereo at full blast. No. Headphones are fine – this is personal anger, and this is how she deals with it. This morning it was cancelled trains, and arriving at work to meet the new boss an hour later than planned, and I imagine, not as well prepared as she might have liked.

Meanwhile, I locked myself out of the house this morning – with only my car key for solace – no phone, no money, no axe (I tried a brick to the window – basically my home insurance is only going to be useful for fire damage – no-one is getting in without the key. I ended up driving to Kingston to meet my father in law, who found the spare key they have (thank goodness) which I then used to get in. I was frantic and fuming and generally in a right old state – I tried putting the radio on, but DJs don’t know how I’m feeling and nothing seemed suitable (the kooks when you are pissed off are even more annoying than when you are in a good mood!) so it went off again.

I needed something hyper – something loud and fast and funky, a soundtrack to my frantic quest for the spare key – music to drive a mini round the streets of south London with a mission to. I’m thinking Pendulum, the Propellerheads, or the Prodigy (who all begin with a P – so do the Pet Shop Boys, but they wouldn’t have been right for the moment).

I love The Prodigy – when you are in the right mood, they are the perfect soundtrack. I was once late for work in Bristol as I was so carried away by their noise and their beats (at full volume in the car with me singing along – the Fat Of The Land album) that I missed my turning on the M4 and had to go an extra 10 miles to the next one, before doing a U turn and doing another 10 miles back. I loved it.

I usually like my music to reflect my mood – when I’m in a good mood. Pendulum are great for open road driving – or walking to Upton Park on match day. Does it Offend You? Yeah? Likewise.

However – when I’m feeling depressed – I don’t reach for the Cure, Leonard Cohen, or the quite superb White Lies (a fantastic album about death and its associated subjects, murder, suicide, the afterlife). Recently I’ve been far more likely to reach for Lily Allen’s “it’s not me, it’s you” with its jaunty beats, happy melodies, and jolly subject matter such as having boyfriends who don’t satisfy her in bed, or “fuck you” which kind of speaks for itself. I want music to change my mood, to bring me round. Not to enhance my feeling of gloom or anger.

One album I keep coming back to is My Chemical Romance – “The Black Parade”. Not a duff track on it, and every song is a rock anthem about what its like to be young, having no-one understand you, deliberately upsetting parents (Mama is my favourite track – “mama – we’re all gonna die, mama – we’re meant for the flies, and right now they’re building a coffin your size, mama – we’re all gonna die” ) its loud for when I’m angry, it’s funny for when I’m happy, and I love it because it can take me between one and the other – which is exactly what I want it for. Cracking stuff.

Usually – I listen to music because I want to listen to it specifically – I very occasionally will use the shuffle feature on the iPod, but if something isn’t high on my agenda, I’ll skip it, and skip the next one until it plays something I want to listen to – by which time I could have scrolled through and found something myself. Apple’s Genius feature is pretty good though – analysing your and other’s listening habits, it creates a playlist based on a song of your choosing – listen to Belle and Sebastian, and it suggests Franz Ferdinand (also from Scotland) Camera Obscura (also mellow and indie) Los Campesinos (also someone no-one else has heard of) and others of a similar nature. It will (if you let it) also recommend other music you might like, although if I bought everything I liked I’d have rooms full of unlistened to CDs, and no money.

Originally I was going to use this to review a certain album, but we’ve had a glut of good ones recently, and the concert season is underway soon too – starting with Franz Ferdinand on Monday in Hammersmith. See – I do do things other than running – I’m trying to focus on some of them too – otherwise this will just end up as another running blog – but I’m more interesting than that. I hope.

Monday, 2 March 2009

yay! 20 miles v2 - done!

20 miles round the Isle of Thanet - Done.

i'm happy enough that i finished and very happy that i got round in 9 and a half minute miles - pretty consistantly. I'll need to go faster than that for my sub four hour marathon... another 30 seconds off each mile? i have 5 weeks more training - 2 weeks of hard work, and 3 weeks taper.

I think i can still lose a tiny bit of excess weight - (before you tell me not too - when did you last see me with my shirt off?) which i could feel wobbling while running. however, based on the fact that when i was going past the 19 mile mark, i noticed a chap who had already finished (in his shorts, medal round his neck) and he was about 16 stone, and was smoking a cigarette?


I'm 12 and a half stone - haven't smoked since a crafty one while very very drunk in hong kong (and that was a marlboro light - smoking one of them is only the equivalent to being in the same room as a joss stick) and i've been running for 4 years... (properly)

i know i still need to push myself more, and my most important aspect for the Paris Marathon is making sure i make every step count. never giving up, and RUNNING the whole thing.

but still - another step in the right direction - i'm not too bothered that i was a bit slower than 2 years ago over the same distance, as it was really hilly on the new course, and i think i did both my long training runs too fast before my first marathon.

i'll find a way of doing another massive run in a couple of weeks - i don't have any more races, but i enjoy the long ones home from work, dodging the tourists and bothering the taxis at crossings.

i'm sitting here with a glass of Cava, and about to watch a silly film. no running tonight - we're doing a speed session tomorrow, and i have a long one on thursday planned. add in a bit of cycling, and maybe a swim on wednesday, and i'll be a proper adonis before you know it.