Bah Humbug

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Mid November is far to early for Christmas decorations in DonQui’s opinion.

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At least the, far too early, London decorations are reasonable tasteful.

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None-the-less, if he hears a Christmas carol playing any where before December he will trot sharply away.

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DonQui enjoys Christmas but he does so on the 24th-26th of December, not on the 16th of November.

Good eating in London

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It is easy to eat well in London if one has lots of dosh.

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It is even easier to come away from an eating establishment feeling either ripped off or having had to make do with sub-standard food of dubious origins and even more dubious cooking techniques.

If you know where to go, this wonderful cosmopolitan city offers an incredible variety of fantastic foods influenced by every country around the globe.

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DonQui is a bit of a francophile and if push comes to shove, he has to admit that French food and style are almost always his first choices. There are plenty of good French restaurants in London, partly down to the hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen and women who have made London their home in recent times. This is not a new phenomenon. French exiles came to London in their hundreds of thousands at the time of the Huguenot exodus in the 17th century. Kettners in Soho (which sadly closed earlier this year after 149 years) was founded by Napoleon III’s chef in the 1800s while the French House, just around the corner, was the unofficial headquarters of de Gaulle and the French resistance during the Second World War.

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For a simple, high quality, meal in the west end of London, Prix Fixe is DonQui’s first choice. On Dean Street in the heart of Soho it offers French brasserie style food and ambiance at very reasonable prices. The pre-7pm menu has 2 courses for just over £10 while the later fixed menu has 3 courses for £25. DonQui has eaten here many times in the past and tonight he is delighted to find that the quality and ambiance remains as good as ever.

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Being a notorious gourmand, DonQui opts to shell out the £3 supplement for the foie gras terrine starter and he feels that it is worth every extra penny.

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Another supplement (£6 this time) lands him with a main course of entrecôte steak frites. Ordered medium rare the steak is beautifully seared on the outside while remaining pink and juicy in the middle. The frites are proper French fries — thin and wonderfully crisp while still soft on the inside. DonQui’s only complaint (and this is his finicky taste buds rather than a mistake in the kitchen) is the mustard dressing on the lovely green salad. Unfortunately DonQui has a near allergic reaction to mustard.

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Washed down with an excellent glass of Côtes du Rhône and finished off with an adffogato (an Italian classic rather than a French one) DonQui once again enjoys a wonderful meal in a relaxing atmosphere while watching the streets of Soho come to life as night falls.

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When it comes time to pay the bill, DonQui feels that he has had great value for money. He will come again.

The Earth’s Bounty

It would be no exaggeration to say that DonQui has been feeling utterly depressed and dejected since the results of the UK’s referendum to leave the EU. He knows he must pick himself up, dust himself off and get on with the business of living in the present even if he worries for the future.

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The earth carries on producing without regard to politics so DonQui goes up to the allotment to do a bit of weeding to get his mind off the referendum and to sort things out after his week away in Spain.

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He is amazed at the progress. The curly kale is ready for cropping and the strawberries are producing more fruit than ever before.

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DonQui only picks the ripest strawberries but the crop is overwhelming. There are as many or more which will be just as fully ripe tomorrow and the day after.

After a week in central Spain, about as far as it is possible to be away from the sea in that country, DonQui feels like having some fish for dinner. He also wants to use some of his maturing kale and decides that Salmon would go best.

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He is rather proud of the result — Salmon baked with tarragon from the allotment (the tarragon that is, not the salmon) lemon, olive oil and white wine. This was simply put in the oven at 180º, covered with tin foil and baked for 20 minutes. The kale from his allotment was boiled for about 4 minutes and then drained and stirred with butter. Being young and tender the leaves did not need more than this. Later in the year the kale will need cooking longer. Other accompaniments were cherry tomatoes (also baked in the oven) and fine green beens.

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As for the strawberries they were for desert with lashings of cream and DonQui will have some of the rest for breakfast.

The English soil is still producing excellent results even if the electorate are not.

No Tarts in Bakewell

DonQui has been travelling around quite a bit this past week. On Saturday he found himself in Bakewell — gateway to the Peak District if you are coming up from the south.

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It is a pretty town with an ancient feel to it although DonQui learned that the many grey stone buildings only date back to Georgian times when they replaced the old medieval timber framed houses. The bridge over the River Wye is, however, truly old. It dates back 700 years and is built on Roman foundations.

DonQui had heard that Bakewell was famous for its tarts. This made his ears perk up until he learned that they were of the baked variety and even then they were not properly tarts at all. In Bakewell the almond paste, jam and pastry confection is a pudding. According to the Bakewell Pudding Shop the original recipe was a mistake when a cook, making a strawberry tart, poured the egg mixture over the jam instead of mixing it into the pastry.

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To be truthful Bakewell puddings or tarts are not high on DonQui’s list of favourites. He was in need of something a little more refined. Stopping off at The Peacock for an afternoon pint of the local ale he ascertained that he would not be having dinner there. Although the food looked good the prices did not. He thought that £15 for a burger would make even a Panama accountant’s eye’s water.

On his way back from strolling along the river, by happy chance he passes Riley’s Restaurant. Menu looks interesting. He sticks his nose inside the door, Nicely decorated. It is mid afternoon and the lunch crowd has long moved on. A pleasant young man comes over and asks if he can help. DonQui decides to reserve for dinner.

IMG_7128.jpgLater that evening DonQui had one of the best meals he has had in a long time. A bowl of muscles in a delicious coconut lime broth to start, followed by a most exquisite dish of sous-vide lamb rump with a medley of spring vegetables.

DonQui has heard of the sous-vide cooking method before but has never tried it. Basically it seems to involve putting the meat in a vacuum sealed bag and cooking it for many hours by immersing it in moderately hot water. The result is evenly cooked, tender and utterly delicious. The medly of vegetables included asparagus, sprouting broccoli, pea shoots, peas and finely sliced radishes. Together with the juice from the lamb it had a wonderfully fresh, crisp, spring-like taste.

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Duchess had half a lobster which was also delicious.

DonQui liked the ambiance and he liked the staff, all of whom were friendly, cheerful, helpful, and clearly proud of their establishment.

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The chef also has a good sense of humour. DonQui considered trying out ‘Spam in a Can’ but didn’t— maybe next time.

The Other Don Qui

DonQui Oaty is quite excited. He is in Stratford — the ‘upon-Avon’ variety, not the east end of London, nor Ontario for that matter — and he is going to see a play with carries a misspelt version of his name as its title.IMG_6864.jpg

He is reliably informed that the original (a book not a play) was written by a Spanish chap who died 400 years ago in 1616. Apparently another person, quite famous in Stratford-upon-Avon, died that same year. The story is all about a donkey called Dapple who goes off on all sorts of adventures accompanied by two fairly hopeless humans called Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.IMG_6857.jpg

Duchess treats DonQui to a delicious pre-performance dinner at the theatre’s Rooftop Restaurant which, at £19.95 for two courses or £24.95 for three, is excellent value. The staff keep an eye on the show times and hold desert for us to enjoy in the interval washed down by a snifter of calvados. IMG_6862.jpg

DonQui has a great seat right against the stage which juts out into the audience.

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He thinks the play is great fun: imaginative, witty and moving, with great acting, well timed comedy and some ingenious puppetry. Sancho Panza (Rufus Hound) is a great crowd pleasing showman. Don Quixote (David Threlfall) a Gandalf look-alike, anti-hero, switches from being completely bonkers to holding himself with quiet noble dignity in face of adversity. The Duchess (Ruth Everett) chillingly floats around the stage like a Dalek, her false smile hiding her cruel intentions. Even the horses have hilarious character, the actors taking turns to give them different emotions ranging from downtrodden to cowardly to camp.

The only criticism DonQui has is that the Donkey hero Dapple (who saves Sancho Panza near the end) should have had more lines.

Don Quixote is on at the Swan Theatre Stratford-upon-Avon until 21 May.

A Corner of Italy in London

By now readers will be well aware of the large role breakfast plays in DonQui’s life. When he is in London, his breakfast of choice is often a croissant with fresh pressed orange juice and a large milky coffee at Il Molino on Battersea Park Rd.

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With the world being colonised by identikit coffee shops DonQui is very happy whenever he finds a good independent. The furnishings are a delightful mishmash of distressed wood tables (none of them matching) with a bar under the window covered with newspapers and a few seats outside. Various Italian food stuffs are stacked on shelves around the walls both for decoration and purchase.
The staff are young, friendly, and mostly Italian. They approach their work and customer service with that typical southern European insouciance which DonQui rather likes. There is none of this ghastly American: ‘how may I help you’ or ‘have a nice day’ — or worst of all when the servers tell DonQui their name in hope of getting a better tip. Not likely – it only makes him more curmudgeonly!

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Il Molino, therefore, is not a place to come if you are in a rush — there are plenty other places for those who prefer cold efficiency or saccharine over-exaggerated friendliness. Il Molino is a place to come and have something to eat and drink, read the paper, watch the world go by or maybe get the laptop or pad out to do a little work. Just like in France or Italy, for the price of a single coffee you can stay all day.
The coffee is excellent as are the various pastries. They also have a deli counter with items more suitable for a light lunch. These look good but as DonQui has not yet sampled any, he cannot vouch for them. There is music in the background but not too loud. With the likes of the Who, Pink Floyd, and Rolling Stones on the play list last time he was there, it is the kind of music DonQui approves of.
Although it has a youngish, slightly trendy vibe the customer base is as eclectic as the furniture. They may be an old man sitting in the corner with a paper, a couple of yummy mummies with tots in tow, an urban professional playing with his iphone, and workers dropping in from a nearby building site. No bearded hipsters, however — after all, this is Battersea not Shoreditch.

The Most Beautiful Bridge in London

In DonQui’s opinion it is not Tower Bridge – although it is pretty impressive.

It is certainly not London Bridge, which is in Arizona.

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Neither is it Waterloo Bridge, despite the Kinks’ eulogy and the rather magnificent views.

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In DonQui’s view it is Albert Bridge which has to take top spot

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He always feels inspired whenever he sees it or crosses between Battersea and Chelsea

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And if he is trotting along with others he is always careful to break step – after all he would not want to cause it to fall down.