I've always been rather fond of the
Trago Lounge in Portswood. The main day-to-day menu is functional, but
what made it special was the quality of the Specials Menu. It changed
monthly and my partner and I would spend sunday afternoons, eating fine food
and reading the Sundays.
For various reasons, we missed last
months specials, so were really looking forward to this weeks sojourn.
What a disappointment. I can't
believe this is the same chef that floored me with the black pudding
spectacular a couple of months back.
What was listed as Roasted Ham Hock,
Mashed turnip and buttered cabbage with a mustard sauce was, on the face of it,
just that. The problem was that it was *only that*. The ham hock
was wasted by being undercooked and - tragedy of tragedies - had no crispy
crackling, rather a flaccid and visually unappealing skin; the buttered cabbage
was virtually raw and cold; the mashed turnip was potato and possibly cheese,
either way it was unpleasant, and the sauce appeared to be made with lamb stock
and rosemary. No mustard in sight.
What seemed quite telling was that where
normally the staff are usually chatty and come to see if everything is okay
several times throughout the meal, we saw no one. Some surly guy dumped
the food on our table and ran.
My partners food was equally
disappointing. A Salt Marsh lamb hotpot should have been a thing of joy,
but it was thin insipid and flavourless. With four minuscule pieces of
lamb, under cooked turnip and a wealth of potatoes, (for £12!!) this was not a
triumph. Ironically, my 'mustard sauce' tasted more of lamb than the lamb
hotpot and why it was served with potatoes when the main constituent of the
hotpot was potato anyway is baffling.
Trago used to be capable of such wonders
but this left an appalling taste in the mouth, literally and figuratively.
We would have complained but the staff were nowhere to be seen.
Now, a steamed sponge pudding is a thing
of beauty, as is the magnificent Bakewell Pudding but someone - probably the same guy who
thought langoustines on a starry gazy pie was a good idea - thought it would be
a splendid wheeze to meld the two for no real discernible reason. What
might have been a triumph turned into something fascinatingly awful.
Take a sponge pudding, flavour it with
almonds, stud it with some cherries that aren't maraschino but taste as weirdly
artificial, smother it with raspberry jam and then steam. Then freeze.
Then microwave until it's just on the point of burning in its centre and
the top has become so dry and crunchy it's *almost* pastry.
Turn out onto a dish that's way too big
and serve - and here is the final insult - with a minuscule jug of chilled
Now any one of these elements would have
been good; the idea of a steamed almond sponge has me considering making one at
some point over the winter, a steamed cherry sponge would be great, too but all
of this disparate elements together on one plate was tragic. It served no
purpose but to alienate fans of both puddings.
I love Starry Gazy Pie. It’s a
traditional Cornish pie, which, as you may or may not know, has the heads of
the fish cooked beneath the pastry poking through it to ‘gaze at the stars’.
While on holiday, Andy and I went for a
pub meal and on the menu we saw ‘Starry Gazy Pie’. Odd for Norfolk, I
thought, but it turned out it was a chain pub and the menu was probably in
countless pubs up and down the country. No matter, lets give it a look:
“The unique feature of the Cornish
starry gazy pie’, says the blurb, ‘is they usually have fishheads protruding
from the top so they appear to be gazing skyward.
So far, so good:
“We think you are worth way more than
these fish and have opted for a whole Scottish Langoustine, instead.”
You’ve defined what a Starry Gazy Pie is
and then completely changed it? Why?
If you don’t the heads of the fish
showing, don’t do Starry Gazy Pie! If you are going to replace the
major constituent of a classic pie, call it something else! Don’t
insult an entire county by calling it Starry Gazy Pie and then replacing
it’s uniqueness with something not only from a different county, but a
different COUNTRY! How much of an insult is that to the people and traditions
of Cornwall is that? You dare to call it a Cornish product and
identify why it is unique and then state that the fish in it isn’t good enough,
“here have a langoustine, that has some value” you patronising arse!
What angers me about this is that I can
see some brewery executive marketing meathead sitting in a boardroom somewhere
thinking “Fishheads? Eyouw! We’ll have to change
that! No one is going to buy something with fishheads on it.
I know! A langoustine! They’re posh! It’ll make
our cheap knock off pie seem luxurious!”
Newsflash. Starry Gazy pie
isn’t meant to be luxurious. It’s peasant food, moron. It relies
entirely on cheap and tasty fish, not luxuries from the other end of the UK.
Watching the Great British Bake Off is
always a mixed joy. The episode on pies was particularly interesting but
threw up one of my absolute culinary pet hates.
Some had the gall to make something she
called a pie but was far from it. It was essentially a stew with a
pastry hat added later on. This was a catering short cut that I first saw
in the 80’s and, heaven help me, I actually did when I was working in The
Porter Cottage in Sheffield. It basically meant you could put two items
on the menu but have to cook one. All you did was make a stew and bake a
load of puff pastry circles. If someone wanted stew, you gave them stew;
if the wanted pie, you gave them stew and chuck a pastry circle on top.
I must stress that I did this under
As far as I’m concerned, a pie lives or
dies at the point where pastry meets filling and cooks together. The
layer of gravy laden pastry dough topped by crisp buttery pastry is the sublime
joy of the pie and – I’d goes so far as to say - it’s raison d’etre.
Divorce the pastry from the filling during cooking and you get a sterile
This leads to realization. Fray
Bentos pies in a can are actually pretty good. Given that the joy
in a pie is the point where filling meets pastry, Fray Bentos leads the
pack. If you are going to by a pre-made pie, it has to be Fray
Bentos particularly if it’s been stored upside down; the filling having soaked
through the pastry to produce a tin of the point of a pie. The filling
may be extraneous – and often unpleasant, but the meeting of meat and dough is
possibly the best ever canned food.
Of course, being a terrible food snob,
I'd never actually admit to buying them . . . <cough>
I've just been watching University Challenge and there was a set of questions about dinosaur skeletons - which (unlike the team) I got completely right.
Anyway, this sparked a memory from when I was about 5. Like every small boy, I was obsessed with dinosaurs and had a particular fondness for the stegosaurus. I had many models and pictures of the stegosaurus and desperately wanted to meet one, imagining them to be gentle creatures sort of like elephants in temperament.
When, one day, my folks took us to London Zoo, I was unbearably excited and couldn't wait to go because I would at last see a stegosaurus!
When my folks finally told me I'd never see a stegosaurus and why, it was far more traumatic than, say, learning that Santa didn't exist. At least stegosauruses had existed. I was inconsolable for days and completely ruined the visit to the zoo, screaming and demanding to see a stegosaurus!
In principle, I'm not against a 'Jurassic Park' like scenario. . .
Mostly, my job has been rubbish. The people are fine, but I'm simply not given enough to do and most of what I am given to do is of little consequence.
I'm actually relieved that it my last day on 16th and I look forward to whatever the temp bank throw at me next.
However, throughout all of the boredom and erosion of confidence that this job has caused, there have been moments that I've really enjoyed.
I seem to work well with people in distress; show me a student in trouble and I"ll move heaven and earth to help them out. Even if it's actually kind of their fault - I'm thinking specifically of people who don't sort Council Tax out and find bailiffs knocking at their door. The point is, the helping out is the thing.
Sometimes, students that I've helped write and say thanks, and this is great. Sometimes, I'll be given thank you gifts. Chocolate has been especially welcomed!
Mostly, the stuff I do is sort of invisible and relevant to one person only but recent, the situation in Libya has thrown up a lot of distress for some of our students. Many have vanished - temporarily - only to come back and tell tales of helping family escape from the troubles which is amazing. Such courage and resolve.
Turns out, I played a part in this. A few of my students have requested letters proving their status as students and where some staff have put things on the back burner as not important, when ever Libyan student came in, I made sure that the letter for the Embassy were done straight away and that the students got them, preferably by the end of the day they requested them, but definitely within 24 hours. This appears to have been a major act of kindness, as far as the students were concerned - it shouldn't be, it should have been something done automatically but many requests to other staff members fell on deaf ears - and allowed them to leave the UK and return with parents. Some couldn't get their parents here and have found themselves in the USA, France, etc., although the students will be returning to University here soon.
Today, I bumped into one of my Libyan students who told me that my actions and kindness had actually managed to get a not unsubstantial number of students back into Libya and out again. Moreover, they'd all met up in a club in Tripoli, my name had come up and they had saluted, toasted and sang songs about me.
I had songs sung about me in Tripoli like I was some kind of folk hero.
This is a sentence I never thought I'd ever write, or speak!
I feel humbled but proud, not because of the folk hero status, but because I did something that mattered in a very real way.
Before I went to university, I got my teeth sorted as I knew I wouldn't be able to afford dental care while I was a student. I had so many fillings and root canals it was unreal.
Fast forward one year after university and my face is exploding. Turns out that my previous dentist was a bit of a cowboy. On my back four teeth on the right side, he did the unthinkable and half filled and half crowned them all. Apparently, you only either fill or crown them. One or the other. The reason you don't do both is that bacteria will grow on the join between the crown and filling and essentially cause a huge build up of pressure and disease. My gums are in a right state. On the other side of my face, he attempted to do a root canal on a tooth that, apparently, you are not suppose to be able to do a root canal on.
Anyway, I lost a filling some time ago. Finally got round to seeing the dentist about an and as soon as he saw my teeth he said 'you saw Dr."X", didn't you?' My previous dentists notoriety precedes him. I have what could be a two year programme of dentistry to correct the mistakes made by this asshole. The majority of this 'fixing' is likely to be the removal of the teeth. I had the first one out on thursday.
It didn't go well. Apart from the remainder of the tooth having micro fractures that mean the tooth shattering as it was pulled leading to most of it being drilled, the root was hooked, so when it was finally pulled, it tore my gum open. Yay stitches! And the gum remaining, despite two different antibiotics, has become infected and is throwing out pints of pus from the wound. My mouth is a place of joy. I feel constantly sick and the pain and bleeding that would 'last a few hours' is about to start it's third day.