Blueprint Café

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Grouse grouse mate! Who remembers “grouse”? When I was growing up in a south-west WA surfie town in the 80s the word was nearing the end of its life. Gone the way of many recycled words, back into the compost. To say something was grouse was to say it was knarley, cool, or these days, way mad. Well, I think, but these things change from year to year and place to place, and I’m getting a bit long in the tooth to keep up. Fully sick mate, says Kat, bloody Westies. There’s a word that needs some context: Westie. I’m talking Sydney’s western suburbs, but from a geographical perspective I’m far more westie than anyone from, say, Penrith. And what can all this mean to someone in London anyway! Let alone any other part of the world.

On with the topic! On Saturday we were hunting game, unfortunately this was with a web-browser rather than a shot-gun. You got game? The game restaurant in London appears to be Rules, but when I tried to book the response was that I was about a month too late to book at this time of year. So we hunted… Eventually finding ourselves with a reservation at Blueprint Café. Some note has to be made regarding the process of booking here. It was all done via a web-site called D&D London, which handles several other popular London restaurants as well. How very modern and convenient. But I don’t really like it, I tried booking over the phone first but got a message saying to try the website (this was at 11AM). This web lark takes some of the fun out of booking a table at a decent restaurant.

So at 18:00 we rock up. The game on offer was not extensive, less prevalent than on the online menu (but game supply is unpredictable). We caught a couple of game dishes, a mallard entrée and, the pièce de résistance, grouse.

Kat didn’t order an entrée, as it transpired this was a wise decision. I, on the other hand, couldn’t resist the Salt Mallard served with raspberry conserve, quince paste, and watercress. The mallard was exquisite, cold medallions of deep red breast flesh. Maybe the raspberry and quince flavours (and sweetness) were a bit much for it, but since they were “on the side” this was a small concern. I mopped up remains with some bread, no worries!

For main course I had the Welsh Blackface Mutton. The mutton was perfect, baked to succulent tenderness, but the “parsley and mustard crust” was far, far too mustardy. As if they were trying to hide the fact that the mutton tasted like mutton!

Kat’s main course was grouse. A baked bird served with handmade crisps, salad leaves, raspberry sauce, and traditional giblets-on-toast (grouse on top). Alongside was a bowl of “bread sauce” which I can best describe as a lumpy and sweet béchamel, this complemented the grouse well. Grouse is described, by Hugh Fearlessly-Eatsitall, as having “a unique, herby, heathery flavour”. I’m not familiar with heather, but “herby” is spot on, this was one tasty bird. Tender, pink-red, and a real pain in the butt to eat! Kat made a great effort then I took over and did what I could with the carcass, it’s a complicated meal but well worth the effort. I even found a piece of lead shot in one of the legs! (Do you think they deliberately leave it in, or insert one just in case even?). I wasn’t keen on the crisps (maybe if they were parsnip I’d be happier) and the pile of what seemed like fried bread-crumbs. But really, everything in addition to the bird is just fluff. It was good.

A warning that the grouse would take three times as long to eat as the mutton would have been appreciated.

We were advised to order sides with our mains, in my case this was warranted as all I had with my mutton was a few leaves. Kat certainly had no need of a side, her meal already came with plenty of cress. She ordered a mixed leaf salad, which was fine. I ordered Purple Broccoli Spears, which were a bit too mushy for my tastes.

Dessert? We had to. I had a Quince and Apple Shortcake, it was too sweet and not quincey enough. More quince and normal cream instead of the sweet muck and it would have been much better. Kat had Orange Polenta Cake with Vanilla Bean Icecream and Poached Pear, hard to go wrong with this one, perhaps on the sweet side again. On sweetness I must note that we both very rarely eat sweet foods, so we may be over-sensitive to sweetness.

We had some wine too, “Primitivo” from Puglia at 5 quid per glass. Good eating wine.

In the end the meal cost us 90 quid, including 15 quid for three glasses (175ml) of wine and 10 quid for “12.5% discretionary service charge”. (The service was good, though maybe a little thin on the ground.) This is quite reasonable for London eating, I expect to pay over 100 quid for a night out at a London restaurant. Kat didn’t have an entrée, though she did have the most expensive main course on the menu, 22 quid, this is around what you’d expect for grouse.

My regrets are dessert, mushy broccoli, and the mustardy crust. But the evening overall was a success thanks to the duck and the grouse. There’s something to be said for the location too. Above the Design Museum (though that doesn’t excite me much) and right next to the Thames. If you’re near the glass frontage, we were right against it, you have a view of the dark glittering expanse of the Thames (which would be a view of the green murky and debris covered expanse of the river if it were daytime). Downriver the Canary Wharf skyline dominates as the river curves down to Isle of Dogs. Upriver the nearby Tower Bridge steals the show. If you can get a seat by the window Blueprint Café is a perfect restaurant for the sight seer.


Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Waitrose, a supermarket, yes, most exciting. Why? Well a Waitrose just moved to Rickmansworth and is now our closest supermarket. Previously Ricky had the choice of just a medium sized Tesco and a small sized Marks & Spencer (and “Iceland”, if you count a frozen-goods store as a supermarket). We became Tesco shoppers, since the local M&S’s stock range is too limited to be of much use. M&S became the useful “cold meat and cheese stop” as it is only about 3 minutes away, while Tesco, a 10 minute walk, did for our weekly shopping.

Here in the UK supermarkets seem to have a class structure. Tesco is pretty much right in the middle, while M&S and Sainsbury’s position themselves as pretty classy. At the bottom of the class ladder are Morrisons and Aldi, while, at the top, Waitrose seems to lord it over the rest. So now Ricky has a high-class supermarket, if such a thing can exist (real class is not having to care about the shopping, let alone how or where it is done). This is all rather different from the situation back home in Australia where, generally, a supermarket is a supermarket with either Coles and Woolies being it, though there is a light sprinkling of “budget” chains like BiLo mostly to be found in less metropolitan areas (all owned by Coles or Woolies anyway).

It seems that Waitrose is now going to be our supermarket of choice, we’re just so bloody classy. Not only is it just across the train tracks from us (a one minute stroll aided by an overpass) but it also has brilliant variety! Though smaller than the Tesco-extra in Watford, which we had to stop shopping at when we dumped the car, it still seems to kill it on variety. One prime example is game meats, today we tallied up farmed venison, duck, and goose; plus game birds of pheasant, partridge, wood pigeon, and mallard! At a supermarket. They have a good range of “fresh” seafood, some good beers (including some of the St Peter’s range, though not any of our favourites), and more “foreign muck” than you can point a stick at. The only department they fail in a little is wholefoods, but they’re at least as good at the local Tesco on that front.

The vegies and general meats look decent too but I’ll stick to the little high street Chris Blake Butchers (chain) and Mark’s Fruits for these needs. So long as they can provide what I want I prefer to stick to the small guys, I’ll leave Waitrose for the occasional exotic ingredient.

The sudden existence of this new supermarket has me pondering local retail economics. How will this affect the Tesco and M&S? I assume the Tesco will suffer a decent drop in revenue as it was formerly the only resonable general supermarket in town. At the same time, I don’t think it’ll be as much as one might expect. While Waitrose was packed last Sunday this Sunday it was really rather quiet, I think a lot of people looked around and saw the same old stuff they get at Tesco and a whole load of stuff they don’t care about. Waitrose prices tend to be a little higher than Tesco prices, though I think the goods are a bit better in many cases, and people set a lot of importance in differences even as low as 5 quid per week. I think Waitrose is in a convenient position, but I live right in the middle of town and don’t have a car, anyone who drives isn’t going to care either way. The M&S could suffer quite a lot, I think it previously only really had any point due to it’s central location. Having a new “classy” supermarket nearby that is 5 times the size might be bad for it. I’d expect to find that many of the customers attracted to Waitrose will actually come from a local pool of people who drive to Watford for their groceries (as we did when we had a car), thus not having so great an impact on the local stores.

I do fear for the small High Street veggie shop and butcher though. Waitrose easily outdoes them on range, maybe on price. Like I said, I’ll stick to the little shops (everything’s a one minute walk away) but for many the convenience of the supermarket may overrule.

As for Waitrose, my fear is that very few locals will be interested in the items they stock that excite me. If nobody buys game birds they’ll stop stocking them and stock more bacon or something instead. Yay. Time will tell, I think Waitrose stock variety will be an interesting observational study (what kind of nerd am I?).

Enough of this dullardry! It’s just a bloody supermarket. (With game birds!)

Regulated Up The Backside And Back Again

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I come from a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, where unpasteurised cheeses and charcuterie (salamis, etc) were made illegal to “protect people”. Want to move to Australia? Remember to say your fond farewell’s to the likes of Roquefort! Australian Camembert is to a good French unpasteurised version as chewing a candle is to a bite of good vintage cheddar.

In essence, moving to the UK has been a real experience when it comes to unpasteurised meat and dairy products! If I was to move back to “The Antipodes”, as some Poms inaccurately label my homeland, I’d have to a) first learn charcuterie and cheese making, and b) move to a farm. (Actually, this sounds like my dream life! The problem with dreams is always the practicalities.)

This is all a digression leading up to the main point: tonight I found this article.

A sad story of proposed EU guidelines that may make life very difficult for some, requiring restaurants to place detailed ingredient lists on their menus (frankly, beyond the important bits, I just don’t need to know) and probably mostly kill random preserves at markets. It just isn’t necessary, if you’re allergic to something stay away from unlabelled foods. It’s like some the fabled idiot with an acute sesame allergy who goes to a thai restaurant and dies. Don’t punish the restaurant, this is natural selection at work! How it is that governments form these nanny-state rules that most individuals would think are ridiculous?

I hope the current exemptions hold. I hope, dearly, not to see the UK or EU adopt rules that subtract a little joy from the lives of many for the sake of a very small minority. If anything is to be done I’d propose sticking great big warning labels to food with slogans like: “Unpasteurised Food May Harm You”, “This Cheese Could KILL YOUR BABY”, “Unlabelled Food May Be POISION”. It’s how they handle the cigarettes. Seriously, if buying cigarettes and alcohol can be legal then why not a bloody unpasteurised cheese?

C’mon EU, what the bloody hell are ya?

British Uselesscom

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

BT, oh BT! I called them today, after three redirects to the “right department” the fourth person was able to tell me they have no record me trying to cancel two accounts a month ago. I have arranged cancellation again, effective from today. They said final bills will be in the mail shortly.

We’ll see…

Every time I try to get something done with these morons it’s the same damn story. They have no record of previous attempts, the reference numbers I have are meaningless, let’s try it again. Another near-hour of my life consumed by BT!

An attempt to have the lines redirected early in the year was aborted after five calls, several “reference numbers” (one of which I was assured couldn’t possibly be a BT reference number), and almost a full day’s worth of hours. I think I ranted about that at the time.

I don’t understand how a company can be so completely incompetent? It is beyond belief. The individuals I speak to on the phone all seem very friendly and helpful (and often apologetic), I’m always assured that it has been looked after and given one or more reference numbers. Then, it is as if it never happened. Thi is their business service.

Alas, my BT shenanigans are not over for the day. Now I have another account to try and track down, this time Openzone, who’re sending wireless roaming bills to who-knows-where while charging me late fees and not accepting calls. What’s more, the support number listed on their website is a toll-number! Utter bastards! (Yay for

Death of Captain Midnight

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Capi: 1986-2007
Capi on the verandah at Thomas Street, Busso, in 2000.

Today I heard the sad news of a death in the family. I still remember the day we bought “Captain Midnight” at the pet shop round back of the cinema in Busso. It was my choice of kitten and my choice of silly name, but I was only about 6 at the time. It wasn’t long after we learnt that “he” was a “she”, the name “Capi” stuck but there was never any agreement on what it was short for, if anything. Her death is not unexpected, she was old, a recurring topic of conversation on my infrequent calls home was “So, Capi still around is she?”

Capi lived through many an interesting time, children trying to bathe her, at least 5 house moves (between rural and urban settings), dislocated hip from a fall (cat’s don’t always land gracefully), and maybe even a snake bite? Not sure about that last one. Like many pets she racked up the vet bills over the years (starting with the fact that it costs a lot more to sterilise a female than a male). She out-lived some; Minty, our other cat, lost twice but rediscovered the first time after an absence of many months; Zeus, a German Shepard we inherited from an employee who moved away, he died in his sleep one night. And will be outlived by many, all the humans in the family, thankfully, and Ollie, a German Short Haired Pointer and youngest in the family.

Sometimes I thought of Capi as “my cat”, but this is disingenuous as over the years it was Mum who fed her and put up with her. After all, I moved to school when I was 14 and barely lived at home again after that (there was that year between high-school and Uni I guess). So in the end I was part of Capi’s household for less than half her life.

Capi was always there, on every one of my semi-annual trips home. Often the first person I’d meet when I got home. Every year a bit scrawnier, this year more a bag of bones than anything. We knew it wouldn’t be long. It’s hard to imagine she won’t be there next time I visit though. I always liked to believe that she remembered me, but I guess this is unlikely.

Clean Swarm

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

There’s been an increasing density of news from the robotics front in the tech media over the last year, it’s even been spilling over into mainstream news. Much of the interest is, of course, in humanising of robotics. The latest two-legged walking robot, the cutest robot, etc. The more interesting news is in areas like unmanned exploratory robotics (those amazing Mars Rovers but more autonomous), and context-aware machinery. Generally, it looks like we’re moving towards far more capable robotics.

Beyond all the cuteness, humanness, industrial efficiency, and extreme exploration there’s something I really want out of robotics: a cleaner.

It seems a less horrendous problem than making a machine like a human, but there are probably difficulties I’ve not imagined. I’ve been thinking about swam robotics a lot in recent times, though not many stories report on it. I’d have thought that swarms would be more robust and flexible in many situations, especially exploration. You could have a generic chassis plus some specialisation and you’d have redundancy. I guess the problems are in connectivity and co-ordination, and energy density. So maybe we’re waiting for advances in power and mesh-networking technologies to make this sort of thing feasible. Another approach would be a “queen bee” that mothers a swam which are the queen’s eyes, ears, hands, etc. Maybe this could mitigate the power and control problems by adding some centralisation? I guess if it comes to exploration there’s also the chance a shark might eat your swarm-bots! 🙂

Aaaanyway… cleaning swarms? I’m terrible when it comes to cleaning, and only slightly better than Kat :-p so our place can generally get pretty chaotic. I’m often heard to exclaim, much exasperated, about my inability to keep the kitchen in a state that doesn’t resemble a pig sty. (Yet I cook in there, to some extent, almost every day — and am yet to have given either of us a case of food poisoning.) Now chaos I don’t actually mind, it’s the dirt and grime that breeds within the chaos that gets my goat. My thought is that you could have a small swam of ‘bots that have simple cleaning functions. They don’t do anything pointlessly complex, like stack stuff in the dish-washer, rather, they clean everything in-place. Dishes, utensils, surfaces, everything.

They have little brushes and mops and scuttle around washing dirt off everything. Biological recyclables go in one bucket and everything else in another (that might be a hard one to implement). There’ll be a dump-station where they empty their little rubbish accumulations. A central command computer, leaving the ‘bots themselves requiring minimal intelligence of their own. And a maintenance station where they can charge up (power, cleaner), self-clean, and change any consumable parts when required. They’re only active when there is no non-‘bot activity in the room, if a human enters while they’re active they scuttle to the corners and stop, so long as they can’t get in the way (maybe ‘bot-holes?), otherwise they just stop (and work themselves out if manually relocated).

Yeah, there’s a lot of difficulties. How hard to scrub? What to scrub? What is mess and what is something left on the bench for later? What about if you’re interrupted by a phone-call in the middle of preparing dinner and the ‘bots clean away your “mess”?

It’d be a great area to work in. One of the many things that makes me wish I was at, or able to go back to, Uni.


Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Believe it or not, there are Calories in beer. So while you’re being careful with that poached chicken and steamed vegie dinner[1] the two beers you wash it down with might double your Calories! [2]

Alcohol is much more a carbohydrate than a protein or far and for nutritional purposes you can count it as such. Note however that alcohol gives you 7 Calories per gram, rather than the 4 from normal carbs. Most beer will also contain sugars which contribute to Calories. The unfortunate thing is that brewers don’t have to put any nutritional information on their beer (nor wineries on wine for that matter). Luckily for us we can get a vague idea of the damage we’re doing to our careful planning from the alcohol volume. In some beers (much more so for wines) the sugar content is much less significant a contribution to Calories than the alcohol, although others can have a fairly high carbohydrate contribution from sugars. So alcohol-only derived Calories are a minimum and the true calories could be higher still (some examples of alcoholic Calories versus published Calories are given below).

The calculation is simple, but if you try to find information on the ‘net you mostly seem to get not-so-useful “select number of drinks” weekly calculators, where the drink classifications may or may not be relevant to whatever you’re guzzling. (“Red Wine” hey, 10% or 14% alcohol volume?)

My example is an Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer. A 330ml bottle at 6.6% alcohol volume.

The calculation:

  • Calculate millilitres of alcohol, 6.6% of 330ml:
    • 0.066 x 330 = 21.78
  • Calculate weight by multiplying millilitres by the specific gravity of alcohol:
    • 21.78 x 0.789 = 17.18442
  • Calculate Calories by multiplying by Calories per gram of alcohol:
    • 17.18442 x 7 = 120

So, there are at least 120 Calories in a bottle of Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer.

Another useful number to know is the number of Calories in a “standard unit” of Alcohol, in the UK and Australia this is 10ml:

  • 10 x 0.789 = 7.89
  • 7.89 x 7 = 55

This is a very useful number to know, no matter where you are you just need to know that your alcoholic Calorie intake is: <std-drinks>x55! Though that might be a bit hard to deal with after eight pints of larger.

So, food for thought:

A pint of Guinness, 568ml at 4.3%:

  • 0.043 x 568 = 24.424
  • 24.424 x 0.789 = 19.270536
  • 19.270536 * 7 = 135

The official figure for a pint of Guinness is 210 Calories, as you can see there is a good number of Calories from other sources.

A 187.5ml (¼ bottle) of 12.5% wine:

  • 0.125 x 187.5 = 23.4375
  • 23.4375 x 0.789 = 18.4921875
  • 18.4921875 x 7 = 129

Average figures available on the ‘net for “dry white” are around 140 Calories for this volume.

40ml of Lagavulin 16yo single malt whisky at 43%:

  • 0.43 x 40 = 17.2
  • 17.2 x 0.789 = 13.5708
  • 13.5708 x 7 = 95

So there you go, maybe you’ll hold that third beer now? Regretting those 6 pints of Guinness every Friday after work, and maybe a few other days too?

[1] 200g chicken breast, 100g broccoli, 7.5g olive oil, plus herbs and spices: 320 Calories.

[2] It is a somewhat unusual convention that “Calories” with a capital “C” represents “kilo-calories”. A Calorie is enough energy to raise the temperature of one litre of water by one degree, a calorie is enough to raise the temperature of one millilitre of water by one degree. Almost always when you see calories discussed in the context of nutrition (even with lowercase “c”) people are talking about kilo-calories.


Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I’ve added commenting. It’s likely not at all worth the effort involved, but eh. Maybe now I wont have to try and remember corrections/observations that people send my way via email, once or twice a year. Minor spam protection is in place, but no registration/captcha … for now (let’s see how long that lasts). Not quite sure what’s proper for this sort of thing, the comment form ends up in the RSS — maybe that’s wrong? Doesn’t seem to be normal. Existing comments also end up in the RSS version of entries, but do not have their own RSS feed and the UUID isn’t altered so there isn’t an RSS way of tracking them (that’d really not be worth bothing with!).

Along the way I had troubles getting LWP to work. The reason being that I run apache in a gaol (being a tech-term I guess I should use “jail”?) and it didn’t quite have the full set of required files. Anyway, strace is your friend in these instances. Error along the lines of:

500 Can't connect to (Bad protocol 'tcp')

Caused by lack of /etc/protocols and /etc/ Or:

500 Can't connect to (Bad hostname '')

Caused by lack of /lib/

Example of inventorying the files required for something like LWP:

:; strace lwp-request 2>&1 | 
    grep '^open' | 
    grep -v ENOENT | 
    cut -d'"' -f2 | 
    sort -u | 
    grep '^/(etc|lib)'

Note that while these files are used by the command they’re not all necessarily required. That final grep is just to trim down the list, which is otherwise quite a flood from /usr/lib/

The Coffee House on Watford High Street

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

The Coffee House on Watford High Street
The Coffee House on Watford High Street

Coffee House: The Coffee House
Address: The Parade, High Street , Watford, WD17 1LQ (inside the Presence gift shop)
Rating: Between New Orleans and Bathers’, tending to the former on good days (Sydney-Coffee Rating System)

When we first spotted The Coffee House in Watford we puzzled over whether or not it was part of a chain. It seems that it is not; but, just like Cinnamon Square in Ricky, a lot of effort has been put into the finishings, so much so that it seems like a franchise kit. Chain or not, they do a pretty good attempt at an espresso.

The Coffee House came into existence some time after we moved to Rickmansworth and is a welcome addition to Watford’s[1] retail centre. Previously the best we could do for espresso was dreary old Starbucks, yeah, that bad. There are a few small coffee shops around the town centre, I doubt we’ve tried all of them but the ones that we’ve tried (the more inviting ones) have all been a disappointment (i.e. Starbucks beats the lot).

"The Coffee House" branded demitasse.
“The Coffee House” branded demitasse.

So what’s distinctive about The Coffee House? Well, first of all, you can easily miss the place — out the front there’s a small cluster of chairs with in a branded enclosure that doesn’t look associated with any nearby café, a very small sign, and a chalked swing-board. What makes the place really easy to miss is that the entire shop-front is one of those kitschy gift shops and The Coffee House is tucked away up the back of the shop. Other distinctive features include: plenty of comfy leather sofas, free wireless, fresh roast coffee (relatively), and their self-description as Watford’s finest coffee bar.

Crema? Like light cloud cover.
Coffee House coffee

What about the espresso? Welllll… it isn’t close to excellent, and isn’t worth travelling to Watford for. That aside, it is easily the finest espresso we’ve found in Watford over the last 18 months. On the Sydney scale it certainly betters Bathers’ (i.e. it’s much better than typical Sydney restaurant coffee, which is not to be mistaken for the swill English restaurants call coffee) but isn’t quite up to the New Orleans Cafe standard. Crema is often very light and short-lived, but the wide demitasse and typical over-volume of water is probably more responsible for this than anything else. On the flavour side, they seem to use a well balanced blend and they claim that it’s recently roasted (on November 10th they had a sign up to say the coffee was roasted on November 5th, maybe getting old by Toby’s standards but certainly far from long in the tooth). I think there’s a lot of potential to be unleashed here, if I was there more regularly than fortnightly I might work up the motivation to have a chat about pseudo-ristretto.

In conclusion: Watford’s not all bad, there’s a place to hide on a comfy sofa, with free wireless and rather decent espresso. The espresso isn’t free! But no worries at 155p for a double[2]. If you’re in Watford town centre and you feel the urge for some short black indulgence you probably can’t do better than The Coffee Bar.

[1] Watford is the closest major shopping-town to Rickmansworth, where we live. The one advantage of the Metro line always being “maintained” during weekends is the free bus trips to the not-very-conveniently-located Watford tube station. If it wasn’t for the frequent free transport we’d probably go to somewhere only a single tube trip away, like Harrow, Finchley, or London proper.

[2] Ever noticed that as the espresso gets better the price goes down? 1.85 quid here, 1.70 at Cinnamon Square, 1.20 at The Coffee Plant, and 1.00 at Monmouth … curious. As far as I can recall a similar pattern exists in Sydney.
Well, given the correction on the price below this pattern doesn’t seem to hold. That said, since a couple of people left Cinnamon Square the coffee wasn’t as good anyway, so maybe it balances out. Of course, for the inner London places economies of scale must play a part too.

Wont Wont Wont

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Gah, I can’t help it. I just cannot put the apostrophe in wont. This isn’t a subversive political movement against the word, though I (clearly) don’t particularly care much about language “purity”. So, as I am wont to do, my wonts will probably remain wonts no matter what. (Yeah, I could s/wont/won’t/g. Or, as wont is a word I rarely use, I could just blacklist it from my spell-checker.)