Wok! Wok! Wok! Coffee, Cheese, and Cow!

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Or: Our Friday trek into London to resupply in Chinatown and potter around Borough Market. Leading to our return home: well caffeinated, wok-enabled monkeys looking forward to an evening meal of dead cow’s leg.

On Friday we made a trip into London to grab some supplies from Chinatown and raid Borough Market. Chinatown in London seems rather small to me, I’m sure the area in Sydney with the “Chinatown” label is much larger. But maybe there are additional wings of London’s Chinatown we have not yet discovered. Our destination: the large and, reassuringly, slightly chaotic supermarkets. And now I have a wok! Wok! Wok! Wok! Such a great word. Thirteen cold hard inches of pressed steel. We also picked up supplies of various essentials such as miso paste, shoyu (aka soy sauce), mirin, rice vinegar, and wasabi (trying out a powdered version for the first time). Much of this is to fuel Kathlene’s sushi-making.

After our oriental shopping extravaganza we had good ristretto at Caffé Vergnano 1882 on nearby Charing Cross Road. We then had lunch consisting of some rather uninspiring Korean at a place on the other side of the road called Corean Chilli. They do not represent good value for money, I don’t recommend them. I increasingly find that I don’t want to bother with Oriental food in the UK (Asian here implies Indian); I’ve been spoilt by the Sydney standard and everything here in a normal price range is Sydney food-court-class.

Next Stop: Borough Market. This market is just around the corner from London Bridge tube station and is the best market I’ve seen, measuring by variety of produce. In contrast to the very single-purpose nature of Billingsgate and Smithfield markets, Borough Market is a true one-stop-shop destination. A retail rather than a wholesale experience. The various stalls stock all the fruit and vegetables you’d want; there are butchers with every normal cut of meat plus a wide variety of game meat; fish mongers with, uh, fish; many cheese/salami/olive sellers; and loads of options for lunches, snacks and sweets.

Fungo! Fungo!

Fungo! Fungo!

We first homed in on what I think of as the “mushroom place” (where I previously obtained key Mushroom Pasta ingredients). The “mushroom place” a fruit and vege stall located in the mouth of the northernmost alley off Stoney Street. We came away from here with bags of fresh shitake (for miso soup) and oyster (for a risotto) mushrooms. Next we picked up a wedge of absolutely beautiful Parmesan from the Parmesan Cheese Company stand, it is worth visiting their website to read all the interesting information about Parmesan (the people pictured on the site actually run the stall). On our way out we found ourselves drawn to the Farmer Sharp stand, mmmmm meeeaaaaat. Again, the dude on the website is the dude behind the counter. Reaching meaty gravity-well escape-velocity only cost us 1.5kg of osso bucco – dinner for the following couple of nights!

The last time we were at Borough Market we found unexpected good coffee at a small stall that seemed to have vanished. How distressing! It turned out to have just moved (we surmised) to a big permanent space across the street… however their website indicates that they’ve been in this location since 2001. We must have missed it last time and the new look of the fittings may just be a sign of very good cleaning! (Or maybe they were renovating?) It is Monmouth Coffee that I write of, in summary: damn fine espresso.

Kitty Under the Sideboard

Kitty Under the Sideboard

When we move into London-proper, an inevitable future, Borough and surrounds is high on the list of desirable locations. It is a satisfying picture: living near Borough Market with Billingsgate market and Chinatown only a couple of tube stops away and the whole of London city within what I call “walking distance” (but there’s always the tube). Picking up good produce from markets in the city costs no more than Tesco (major supermarket, like Coles), in many cases markets can cost a lot less (especially Billingsgate), and the quality is incomparable. We’ve stopped getting fruit and vege from Tesco already, since the little, local greengrocer (the greengrocer is quite large actually, but his shop is small) has better produce, better prices and less bloody plastic packaging. We tended to buy “organic” produce from Tesco and the problem Tesco have to solve is “How do our checkout dudes know an organic red onion from an in-organic red onion?” – the answer is to wrap organic red onions in plastic socks, with copper end-fasteners and polypropylene labels. Returning to the topic of price, even the coffee at Monmouth is cheaper than the local, far inferior, coffee options in Ricky. Unfortunately travelling between the city and Ricky costs more than 10 quid for both of us, so London doesn’t work out so well for groceries while we’re out here, certainly not for the sake of cost alone.

Maybe if we moved to somewhere around Borough we’d save a few quid on shopping… to make up for the fact that rent in London is nightmare-high. Scanning some adverts tells me that a place similar to what we’re in now in/around Borough would be at least twice the rent, something in the order of £2k to £2.5k per month. We can’t afford that until visas are sorted and we can both work properly, or I get a higher-paying London-city-job (damn those banks pay a lot, to make up for the jobs being insanely boring from what I hear). We do have more space than we need in our largish 2-br apartment and could easily downgrade to a one bedroom place and maybe, barely, a large loft or studio style place. No entertaining, no dinners for friends or huge pizza parties – when living a world away from close friends entertaining space isn’t required. Share-housing is always there as a cost-cutting route, but we don’t know anyone in London well enough to count share-housing as even a remote option (unless anyone we know thinking of moving here? ;).

Well, one can speculate on future plans endlessly. We’ll be in Ricky for the foreseeable future: for as long as current company engagements continue. Eventually things must draw to a close though, then it’ll be time to consider the options.

Briefly back to Borough Market, I have to mention: Brew Wharf. There is even excellent beer nearby! I tried a dark beer from Meantime and their own “Brew Wharf Best” last time we visited the market, they were both very good. What more could you ask for?

Yvan’s Sydney-Coffee Rating System

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

My Sydney-Coffee Rating System is what I use to “score” a coffee house. It is simply a comparison to well known Sydney coffee houses. The comparison is to either an espresso or a ristretto (where they understand the term) and is considered based on use of the “house” coffee blend (i.e. Woolloomooloo for Toby’s). It should also be noted that my image of coffee places is typically circa 2005/2006 – prior to my being exported to the UK. This list may grow a bit over time, as I need to remember new comparison points to match places I find outside of Sydney. As a result this document will occasionally float to the top as my edits alter the date.

First, I should clarify ristretto and why it is my preferred coffee. The term ristretto is basically Italian for “restricted” and when applied to coffee can simply (and inaccurately) be thought of as: espresso with half as much water (really half to three-quarters, and extraction time is also important). In my mind, and that of many more qualified coffee lovers (but there is some disagreement!), the ristretto gives the best flavour of the coffee. Just enough water to to miss out on stronger flavours overriding more subtle and interesting nuances, just enough to get more flavour and less bitterness and acid. I wont go into any further technical details, the old ‘net is already packed full!

  • Good ristretto information: Espresso Mini-FAQ
  • Rancilio Silvia, the machine I want to buy when I buy a machine (but not the matching grinder), no coffee at home for me for now though. This page also has good information on making espresso and ristretto and an indication of the variability of opinion on size (I’m at the smaller end of the scale): Rancilio Silvia Espresso HOWTO
  • Amusing and cynical ristretto article on coffeegeek.com (not a bad site in general, a lot of noise though), it really does sum the whole “thing” up though: Coffeegeek Etiquette & The Ristretto Shot
  • Beware, there is a lot of shitty information out there. The Wikipedia entry on ristretto is, at this time, pretty terrible.

Asking for a ristretto also gives a good early indication of the quality of the coffee house. A very good coffee house will attract coffee lovers who order ristrettos – and thus the baristas will know what this is. It is almost always good sign when asking for a ristretto passes without comment or question (except when they’ve misheard you and bring you a latte, it has happened). It simply isn’t worth ordering a ristretto from a big-chain store, you wont enjoy the experience, if I really need a “coffee” from such a place I get it watered down: americano style.

All in all you don’t really want a ristretto unless the coffee, grind, machine and barista are all just-right – only when lent a lot of confidence by the atmosphere of the place will I try to order a ristretto without having first sampled the default espresso of the house. In the UK, if you’re game and some of the factors seem okay you can, at a stretch, ask for: espresso with half as much water. This works okayish because on most café machines (especially in the UK) the pre-set espresso volume is set very high, in fact in many places “half the water” will give you a reasonable espresso volume rather than ristretto. For this reason I’ll try to wrangle this sort of pseudo-ristretto out of many more places than I expect a real ristretto from. Beware: It is possible to cause mental damage to the typical base-class barista you find in the average café and chain-store if you go off the plot.

Last note: Add milk to coffee and you’ve got something that isn’t coffee. My rating of a coffee place has nothing to do with milky stuff and good ristretto doesn’t imply good latte (but it is possibly a safe bet).

And finally, the rating “scale”, ordered from “coffee utopia” to “coffee purgatory” (I dare not venture beyond):

Rating: Toby’s Estate aka Toby’s

Typically: ristretto

Location: A few, but I always went to the Woolloomooloo café on Cathedral Street.

Description: The highest honour. I’ll go well out of my way for a Toby’s ristretto and they consistently make it just-the-way-I-like-it. Toby’s is the place that taught me to like ristretto the way I do and the first place I started experimenting with tasting different single-origins (thanks to them having a two grinders, one for the standard blend and one for a “single origin of the day”). I will emphasise at this point that my rating of coffee houses is, clearly, based on detailed personal preferences. While I place Toby’s at the top of my list a good friend and fellow ristretto drinker back in Sydney preferred TBA’s offering (see next) – based upon personal tastes adjacent ratings in my scale could easilly be swapped around in somebody else’s eyes.

Rating: Ten Buck Alley aka TBA

Typically: ristretto

Location: Bourke Street near William Street corner, Darlinghurst

Description: Very close to Toby’s (physically as well as coffee rating). Dave at TBA knew how I liked my ristretto and when he made it it was good, possibly they have somewhat of an advantage here since they were the closest good coffee to the office in Sydney and I had coffee there a couple of times every day! The only significant point that puts TBA below Toby’s is my preference for Toby’s earthier blend. It helps that that every barrista at Toby’s did my ristretto just right, but with Dave almost always at TBA that was rarely a problem. TBA’s and Toby’s are both well above the Sydney standard, let alone London, and a place comparable to either is likely to be worth a trip for the ristretto alone. (When it comes to food TBA wins without competition, Toby’s advantage is that they’re really only about the coffee. But this is only about coffee.)

Rating: New Orleans Cafe (omission of acute their own) aka New Orleans

Typically: espresso

Location: Corner of Pacific Highway & Willoughby Road, Crows Nest

Description: A funky café in Crows Nest, this was the closest good coffee to us back when we lived in Sydney, in Wollstonecraft. In the coffee “ball park” a level below Toby’s and TBA, New Orleans offered a consistent, though slightly too long, espresso with good, though slightly too acid, flavour. A New Orleans standard coffee stands out as excellent in London.

Rating: The Bathers’ Pavilion aka Bathers’

Typically: espresso

Location: Balmoral Beach

Description: One of those trendy destinations that I love to hate. In truth they do some pretty good food and usually provide an entirely adequate dining experience. The coffee is what one would expect of a good Sydney restaurant, consistent, a little dull and always too long. A place to have coffee because it isn’t bad and happens to be in a beautiful spot. A Bathers’ coffee is merely adequate, this is still a reasonable achievement however and can be said to be “above average”.

Rating: Gloria Jean’s aka GJ’s

Typically: espresso or americano

Location: Every-bloody-where.

Description: Chain coffee. The lowest grade coffee and only Sydney chain-coffee I’ll drink, if I’m after a coffee more for the caffeine than for the taste this is it. In fact I’ll often order an americano just “to be on the safe side”. GJ’s biggest problem is their size, the roast isn’t terrible and is actually above average (of all coffee the average is pretty low) but with a high rotation of young staff you’ll rarely get a decent barrista who can make the coffee into an espresso that is worth drinking. Places like Nero and Costa in the UK get a GJ’s rating. A rating of “not even GJ’s” can be interpreted as: You’d be better off getting a diseased cat to drink it and regurgitate it back into your cup before touching the stuff; places that deserve this rating are unfortunately common, especially in the UK.

Caffé Vergnano

Caffé Vergnano 1882 on Charing Cross Road

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Caffé Vergnano

Caffé Vergnano

Coffee House: Caffé Vergnano 1882
Address: 62 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0BB
Rating: Hovering above New Orleans (Sydney-Coffee Rating)
Website | Map

Caffé Vergnano 1882 on Charing Cross Road has a sign out the front claiming “Coffee Shop of the Year 2005/6″. It honestly isn’t too bad, but it is not in the same league as Monmouth or The Coffee Plant.

No questions when ordering a ristretto – on both my visits the same girl was operating the machine and she’s Italian, so no ristretto problems here. Both times the coffee has been a little on the watery side, but with good flavour. Possibly the roast isn’t fresh enough (I don’t know where they roast, their flash-based website leaves me disinclined to investigate further) or, more likely, the head was packed too loosely (or, honestly, one of many other possible errors).

Caffé Vergnano Chocolate Wrapper

Caffé Vergnano Chocolate Wrapper

The café is small and you’ll be lucky to find a seat when busy. Their branding is everywhere, this gives the place a strong “chain feel” which I find can colour my enjoyment of a coffee (it is a chain though). I’d recommend visiting just to have a look at their Elektra Belle Epoque coffee machine, a visually magnificent beast! All coffees are served with a small square of dark chocolate. Too gimmicky in my mind but it is a good bittersweet 70% cocoa chocolate so there is some feeling there. Unfortunately chocolate and coffee are only a good combination when making desserts and I don’t particularly want a chocolate with my ristretto. They also add a small glass of own-brand bottled water, this is a welcome addition since it certainly doesn’t taste like London tap water.

A good, drinkable ristretto makes Caffé Vergnano 1882 worth dropping into if you’re in the area but not worth going out of your way to visit.

With only two visits this review isn’t entirely complete, especially since I’ve had the same barista both times. Vergnano has potential to be upgraded and we’ll certainly revisit since it coincides with our Chinatown shopping trips. Watch this space.

Monmouth Coffee at Borough Market

Monmouth Coffee at Borough Market

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Monmouth Coffee at Borough Market

Monmouth Coffee at Borough Market


Coffee House: Monmouth Coffee Company
Address: 2 Park Street, Borough, London, SE1 9AB
Rating: Toby’s Equivalent (Sydney-Coffee Rating System)
Website | Map

The first time I visited Borough Market I found a little coffee stall hiding next to the greengrocer with the fungi. The coffee stall was labelled “Monmouth Coffee Company” and had an alluring selection of roasts. My eyes were drawn to the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, one of my favourite singles from Toby’s back-home. I decided to risk a coffee and ventured so far as to ask for a ristretto. To my surprise I wasn’t asked to repeat myself or auto-corrected to espresso. My ristretto came almost as short as a Toby’s ristretto. It was good.

I was at Borough Market again today but the coffee stall wasn’t there! Damn! However all was not lost, we noticed that there was a large Monmouth Coffee café outside the market on the corner of Park and Stoney streets. Having not seen this premises last time I was in the area I assumed it must be new, everything looked shiny and clean, but according to their website its been there since 2001. Maybe they were renovating? The hole-in-the-wall stand I had found before had a small sideboard and a handful of stools. This time I found sideboards and stools galore as well as a central, communal table spread with help-yourself (and pay at the counter) breads and jams. Good atmosphere, great ristretto, and loads of customers.

Kathlene and I both went ristretto doppio, served without query or correction just like the first time. It may seem that I make rather a big fuss about the whole ristretto thing. It comes down to this: a place with good coffee will attract coffee lovers who will order ristretto, if the staff understand what you’re after when you ask for one it is a good sign. An interesting “proof by failure” case is Costa’s coffee chain. Costa’s actually has ristretto on their menu but almost 100% of the time the staff will need to be pointed to the menu before they’ll believe this (right above their very heads) and then need to be told what it is.

Essentially Monmouth has the roast/grind/machine/barista profile close enough to my version of “right” that their everyday coffee is, so far, the best I have had in the UK. It is a close call between Monmouth and The Coffee Plant on Portobello Road. I think that it is down to the roast, Monmouth’s coffee has an earthier hint that I find preferable to the strong tang of the coffee at The Coffee Plant.

According to their website, Monmouth has been doing it’s thing since 1978 at their site in Covent Garden. I have yet to visit that location but I must in the near future since they have a “sampling room”. The only drawback of the Borough Market shop was that they only offered their house blend for espresso (oh how I miss Toby’s “single origin of the day”). I would have loved to try their Yirgacheffe roast, unfortunately I’m not equipped to make coffee at home.

If you love your coffee and you’re in London you must visit a Monmouth café, especially if you prefer coffee that hasn’t been destroyed with milk.

Grand Avenue, through the middle of the Smithfileld Meat Market.

Market Quest: Billingsgate & Smithfiled one Friday Morning

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

We awaken at 04:45 on Friday morning. It is dark, below zero and foggy outside. By 05:30 we’re up at Rickmansworth tube station, the first steps of our quest behind us. Plan? Get to Billingsgate Fish Market before 07:00 then move on to Smithfield Meat Market by 09:00. Inventory? One backpack containing two small umbrellas, a London street map, a camera and two large blocks of ice wrapped in plastic bags and tea-towels. Goals? Fresh fish (sashimi grade) and Reindeer (or Elk) steak.

I’m under-dressed for the temperature, as usual, and eagerly await the arrival of the day’s first Metro-line train. The temperature is -3°C and I can’t feel my nose anymore. The train arrives and, thankfully, it’s warm inside. Twenty-five minutes later we alight at Finchley Road to swap to the Jubilee line. The Jubilee line train is cold, it seems the city tube trains are not fitted with heating like the outer suburbs ones are. Thirty minutes on this frigid train gets us to Canary Wharf. I wonder if the name comes from the area being a cannery? Having been the centre of London’s seafood supply for a very long time makes this seem plausible, and there is an area to the north-east called “Canning Town”. Relying on areas having been historically spelt “correctly” here doesn’t get you very far. However, an area to the south is named Isle of Dogs, so there lies an entirely different potential namesake.

From the bowels of Canary Wharf tube station we make our way to the surface, pleased that the temperature seems somewhat warmer. Then we step outside. Ouch. We step into a freezer, a freezer that looks entirely unlike what I expected. Being a “wharf” I expected an industrial look; what we get is skyscrapers, bank buildings, we’re on Bank Street. A short stroll down Bank Street takes you over a canal, past a rather extreme security check point (can’t let the terrorists demolish the banks maybe?) and to Billingsgate Market. In fact, you find yourself on the outside of the ten foot high fence that surrounds the market. You look around: to the south is a security check point, to the north is a busy highway, to the west the highway continues around a bend, and to the east the Billingsgate fence continues alongside the highway and fades into the foggy distance. E. After ten minutes following the fence we reach the end and rather than walk another 100 metres to the road junction we follow the reverse path of a man who climbs over a low hedge. He’s 6’6″ and built like a bouncer, black, dreadlocked, well dressed in a designer trench coat, and carrying a black plastic bin bag pregnant with heavy looking objects. Not what you want to see jumping over a hedge ahead of you in the fog. After a moment of concern my cold-slowed brain catches up and realises that what we have is just a happy seafood shopper taking a short-cut.

Short-cut behind us, we wander through the Billingsgate carpark and up to the markets proper. It’s 07:00, below zero and foggy outsize. We step into the market hall, I think it’s still below zero, it’s a large hall filled with stands and packed with shoppers. It’s the Friday before Christmas day, we wonder if this means the market is busier than usual or if this is a normal morning. I recall the Sydney Fish Market: a sleek, albeit fishy, shopping mall compared to Billingsgate. Where in Sydney there is more a collection of fish shops than a market, at Billingsgate there is the seeming utter chaos of a real market. Now we’re cook’n with fire. Photography is prohibited unless you have first obtained a permit from the management. It’s a busy business environment, I guess they want to try to avoid having it clogged with insomniac tourists and other ad-hoc and amateur photographers. No photos for us!

Pink Porgy

Pink Porgy

Our fishing takes longer than expected, there is a lot to choose from and a lot of knowledge we lack when it comes to picking fish suitable for sashimi. In the end we purchase four beautiful little red snapper for £10. We also pick up a pack of 13 frozen salmon steaks, two boxes of frozen baby squid (1kg) and two boxes of frozen king-prawns (1.4kg). It all squeezes into the backpack. We set off only 30 quid lighter.

Mistakes do happen, the next thing we did was step into the foul dimension of the Golden Arches. It is 09:00, below zero and foggy outside. The trap lies immediately outside the Billingsgate gates. I have not touched the evil wares of this terrible place for years, and even then it was only for fries. Maybe it has changed? Maybe after all the recent hype they’re better? They have bagels on the menu! OK, a bagel with cheese, egg, and sausage – does that sound so bad? I should have known better, I should have realised that evil ways never change. The mistake was made, I learned my lesson, how many years will it be before I must learn it again? The coffee? Not bad if all you want is something to warm your hands.

Grand Avenue, through the middle of the Smithfileld Meat Market.

Grand Avenue

We follow convoluted pathways to the nearest DLR station, Blackwall. On the platform I take my first photos for the day, squeezing in two shots before the camera claims “low battery” and packs it in. The battery was fully charged but has reached that age where Li-Ion batteries tire, the freezing temperature kept the electrons in their beds. The light rail train arrives and takes us to Tower Hill station and we change to a Central Line train to get to Barbican. To the Meat Market we go! But alas! The time is around 10:00 and we’re far too late, the providores of flesh are packed up and shipping out! Across the street a lone butcher shop of a more retail presentation remains open. All is not lost. The small side window of S.C. Crosby presents us with ducks, pigeons, rabbits, partridges, pheasants (two hanging from the wall still had their feathers attached) and huge tongues. We sadly bypass these delicacies to purchase 2kg of of boned, rolled and dressed venison shank. It’s not reindeer, but at least it is deer. Having had the battery in my pocket for a while to warm I squeeze in a few photos.

The core tasks of our quest complete, we trundle down Cowcross Street towards Farringdon tube station. Along the way we pass a total of three Starbucks spaced less than 100 meters apart. We righteously shun these and fetch merely-not-sickening espressos from Costa. I wonder if these chain stores have replaced independent cafés with more character, it is likely. The Costa double espresso serves an additional function of warming my camera battery a little (I put it under the cup, not in the coffee).

Harrow-on-the-Hill

Harrow-on-the-Hill

From Farringdon we catch a Metro-line train heading homewards. The train is in no hurry and after we’re out of the tunnels we watch foggy outer-London slowly pass by. At Harrow-on-the-Hill (hyphens official) we must alight, await and aboard. Another train, the final leg home. It is around 13:00, below zero and foggy outside.

We’re home and it’s time to stash goods and clean snapper. A freezer draw full of fishy goods, 2kg of deer in the fridge and four red snapper on ice in the sink. Filleting fish takes me back, a task I haven’t attempted for a long time. Luckily I seem to remember how it is done, with some hints along the way from Kathlene’s sushi book. Cleaning fish gives good motivation to clean your kitchen, once you’re done you’ll be finding errant scales in every corner (even though I used a covering bag while scaling, it is really a task best done outdoors). The snapper looks excellent but we’re uncertain of its sashimi potential. We play it safe and boring and don’t sashimi, it would not be ideal to start off a holiday with food poisoning. I wish I knew enough to be confident in obtaining fish for raw consumption. My promise to Kathlene: when we’re in Western Australia next year we’ll do some fishing. When we’ve just caught the buggers we’ll have all the confidence we need that the fish is fresh.

Filleted Porgy

Filleted Porgy

Four snapper fillets for dinner and four for the freezer. After a coffee trundle to Cinnamon Square and some general relaxation it was time for dinner. A simple affair: snapper pan fried in butter with capers and spring onions, served with garlic sautéed vegetables. Possibly one of the best dinners I have ever cooked, perfect food as simple as it should be.

Twenty hours since first awakening it is time for bed. It is dark, below zero and foggy outside.

Rasal Brasserie – Bangladeshi & Indian Cuisine

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Seemingly the best Indian in Rickmansworth. Rasal is our choice for those Calorie-sinful Indian take-away occasions. They have one of the more extensive menus I’ve seen at an Indian place, and so far we’ve never had a dud. The Jalfrazi and Vindaloo are excellent, if you measure the goodness of such curries on a scale of pain. The pain inflicted whist dining and also that inflicted somewhat later.

Alas, however, it isn’t a perfect picture. Dining-in at Rasal is a risk we’ll never again venture. On two previous occasions it has been impeccable, the staff do their jobs and aren’t a bother. On our third, and most recent, visit something terrible happened. A table of foul humans of the female persuasion chose to have fags with their curry. Sorry, but if you’re the type to suck on a fag over dinner I’d prefer it if you dived into a vat of acid. Cigarettes inside a restaurant – it’s like stepping back into some barbarian era. The UK still has a way to go to join a more civilised modern age, where stinking smokers can bloody well just hang around in the cold. Where they’ll hopefully die of hypothermia.

Something must also be said of their bonus Christmas calendar. Nothing says “come and eat our curry” like a photo of your restaurant that happens to have, dead centre, an extremely overweight woman going for the papadams.

With the negative out of the way, we recommend: the Naz Special, Acchar Chicken (tangy!), and Imad Special. You even get a bonus spiced mango yogurt sauce and an onion salad when you order take-away.

Excellent stuff, but exclusively take-away in future.

Morning Training

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I caught the train yesterday. 9 quid. That’s 45 quid per week, as far as I can see there are no discounts for buying weeklies, or even monthlies.

Benefits:

  • Reliable (?) 30 min train + 10 min walk (car is 45 mins at best at our usual leaving time, and often hits 60 minutes).
  • Can read and even use laptop on train.
  • Train doesn’t stress me out.
  • Don’t have to worry about being killed by an idiot driver (no level crossings, btw).
  • Follow my own schedule, can catch a 07:00 train, be at work by 07:45 and leave work before 18:00.
  • More time with Kathlene in the evenings.

Costs:

  • 25 Great British Pounds per week (driving 5 times in 3 weeks works out as about 20 quid of fuel per week).
  • That’s ~£1200 per year (assuming I’m stuck in this place for time measurable in “years”, I hope not).
  • And ~£2160 per year counting the full £45 fare, a rather distressing % of income.

It’s a question some money versus a lot of positives. But we operate on a rather tight budget at the moment and this “little bit” of money means removing something else from the budget sheet. Maybe eating out once a month instead of twice, scrapping the usual bottles of wine we get weekly, and a few other frills. Context: if we buy 3 bottles of decent red wine in a week we’ll pay about 15 quid, add in a few bottles of decent beer and we’ll hit 20 quid. So, in England the weekly cost of catching the train (£45 for a half hour trip) relative to the local cost of alcohol is significantly higher than in Sydney (where a weekly ticket for a 30 minute journey will cost at most 2 bottles of wine of similar quality).

Everything will be easier when I finally get our visas sorted out and Kathlene doesn’t face the impossible task of getting a developer job while on a Working Holiday visa. I’d drink to that day, but toasting isn’t quite the same with a glass of water.

Commuting is Poo

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Because I car-pool with two colleagues I tend to not leave town until 08:15 or even as late as 08:30. Then we trek on congested roads for around 45 minutes to get to work, in the worst cases more than an hour. Yesterday it took 30 minutes just to get from a roundabout on the outskirts of town to the office, this takes 5 minutes in good traffic but rarely takes less than 20 at around 09:00. Frankly, it is poo.

Today two of us left town at 07:00, not a problem for me on any day since I usually wake up at around 06:00 (05:00 today since it was a gym morning). So before leaving for work today at 07:00 I had time to pop out to the gym with Kit (the gym is part of the apartment complex, so very close), make porridge for us both, shower, have a cup of tea, pack lunch and gym kit for the day and browse over the nights emails from the US and AU, even replying to a couple. We left town at 07:00 and got to the office at 07:30! The office is nice and quiet and already I’ve got more done in the first hour of the day than I’d normally get done in the first two hours.

Unfortunately I think we probably can’t convince the third member of the car-pooling trio. Not car-pooling would be a bit of a drag, it’s nice not having to drive every day. Also nice saving around 25 quid in fuel costs a week (may as well catch the expensive train if not driving). 25 quid is a bottle of reasonable whisky and I’d rather be drinking it than feeding it to the car, not that I could drink a bottle of whisky per week!

So what to do? Must think on it over the weekend.

Another drag is that although I’d be getting to the office at 07:30 I think I’d still be leaving at 18:30. Which isn’t all that bad, back to typical Sydney hours really :) just starting and leaving earlier!

Another thought for the day: Windows Vista reminds me of KDE. I don’t like KDE. I’m GUI-retarded so that’s not saying much, I don’t like Gnome either and I use ion2 by preference. Funny though, since I recall that when KDE first came out it was always being accused of being too much like Windows.

Pumpkin Soup

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I’m always trying to do a pumpkin soup like Mum’s Thai Spiced Butternut soup – I never get it quite right though. This soup I made is completely different! :) But it turned out very well.

Vegetables:

  • 1 kg – Carnival Pumpkin (Butternut should do)
  • 1 medium – Brown Onion
  • 1 medium – Red Onion
  • 4 small – Parsnips
  • 2 large – Carrots
  • 5 cloves – Garlic

Spices:

  • 3 stars – Star Anise
  • ½ tbsp – Ground Allspice
  • ½ tbsp – Hot Chilli Powder
  • ½ tbsp – Ground Coriander Seed
  • 1 tsp – Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp – Ground Cumin Seed
  • 1 tsp – Ground Turmeric
  • 10 – Cardamom Pods
  • 10 – Kaffir Lime Leaves
  • 80g – Coriander Leaf

Liquids:

  • 3 tbsp – Peanut Oil
  • 1 400g tin – Coconut Milk
  • 2 litres – Chicken Stock

As usual with soup the process of manufacture is simple:

Boil some water in a kettle and pour over kaffir lime leaves in a teacup.
Peel garlic cloves and slice. Peel where necessary and chop vegetables into ~1 inch chunks.
Heat oil in a large pot, when a little hot (not really hot or you’ll end up with burnt spices) stir in all the dry spices. Should be aromatic, not burning!
When spices nicely mixed through the oil throw in the onion and garlic and sautée until translucent but not browned. Then throw in all remaining vegetables and toss until well coated with the oil.
Tip in coconut milk (reserve a little for later), kaffir lime leaves (with water) and the stock so that stock covers about 1 inch over vegetables (more stock = thinner soup, so add more/less as you prefer). Bring to boil then reduce heat to a simmer.
Cover and simmer until vegetables are soft, around 30 minutes should be fine.
Turn off heat and let cool (another 30 mins should do).
Fish out kaffir lime leaves, cardamom pods and star anise (or don’t – I only bothered fishing out the leaves).
Purée in batches in a food processor.
Finely chop the coriander and stir through the soup, keep a little for decoration. At this point add salt “to taste”.
Serve with a sprinkling of coriander and a swirl of coconut milk.

This recipe made us about 10 medium serves of soup. (We make soup on weekends and have soup for dinner three days a week, usually there are two types of soup in the freezer at any given time.)

Gobble Bog

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

One difference between Sydney and England is that you’ll find a lot of turkey in the supermarket here; whole turkeys, turkey breasts, turkey escallops , turkey drumsticks, and turkey mince… the list goes on. By comparison turkey is rather rare in Australia, I wonder why. As a result I’ve never really thought of cooking it much – in my mind turkey is one those things that traditionalists had for Christmas dinner (I don’t recall having it myself, but we probably did one Xmas or another).

It turns out that turkey actually makes for a decent meal, it has a distinctive and pleasant taste. What’s more it can be very low in fat (lean breast) and high in protein, it also contains a smattering of beneficial vitamins and minerals. Turkey mince tends to have a similar fat content to beef mince because it usually has skin/fat minced in with it, but good turkey breast mince will have less fat than typical lean beef mince. It is mince I’m working with today (2006-11-19), I decided to try a bolognaise style pasta sauce using turkey mince (those who know my various renditions of bolognaise will recognise that this is a pretty broad “style” in my world of bog).

So, without further adieu, here’s the ingredients:

All fine chopped:

  • 2 – Medium Brown Onions
  • 1 – Red Pepper
  • 5 – Medium Chestnut Mushrooms
  • 3 – Small Carrots
  • 2 – Sticks of Celery
  • 4 – Cloves of Garlic
  • 2 – Small Hot Chilies

The rest:

  • 500g – Turkey Mince
  • 1 tbsp – Light Olive Oil
  • 1 tbsp – Dried Oregano
  • 2 stars – Star Anise
  • 1 tbsp – Plain Flour
  • 1 tsp – Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp – Ground Coriander Seed
  • ½ cup – Dry Wine
  • 2 tins – Chopped Tomato (Organic if you can get it)
  • 1 litre – Beef Stock

Seasoning:

  • 4 tbsp – Fine Chopped Parsley
  • Pecorino Romano (or similar)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt/Pepper

Heat the oil in a decent sized saucepan (about 28cm wide by 28cm high in my case), when hot put in the turkey mince a bit at a time to break it up. Cook this on high heat until dry and browning, it’ll take a while to evaporate out the water content. When slightly browned add the wine and dry herbs and spices, again cook this until the liquid is evaporated.

When all excess liquid is evaporated add in the chopped onion, garlic and chillies. Cook until onion becomes translucent then put in the rest of the vegetables. Cook this, tossing often, for about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle on the flour (this works as a thickening agent) and toss through the mixture then add the tinned tomato and stock. Amount of stock may need adjusting, the liquid should cover about an inch over the settled solids. Mix well and reduce heat so that the liquid is just simmering, let simmer in this way for about an hour – stirring every now and again.

When the hour is up take off the heat and boil an appropriate amount of spaghetti (we used a very nice wholemeal spaghetti). Stir most of the fine chopped parsley into the bolognaise and serve on top of spaghetti, sprinkle with remaining chopped parsley, freshly grate some percoino romano over it, grind on some black pepper and drizzle with some good extra virgin olive oil.

Gobble gobble gobble!

This recipe created us two large sized serves with two more in the fridge for another day.