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Why I am sad about Brexit

29 Sep

Of course I am depressed. Anyone who isn’t screaming or crying every time they hear the news right now is just not socially aware.
Sadly, it is now acceptable to be openly racist. Next it will be sexism and then misogyny. We are going back to the 1950s. We will have gone full circle. What little progress women made in the last 70 years will be eroded.

 Scotland will have another referendum and leave the UK, then join the EU, taking with it its vast natural resources. We will be left with fracking and nuclear power. Northern Ireland wants to split from the UK as well. Property prices will fall, but don’t applaud that because businesses in the UK who rely on European workers and contracts will go under meaning huge redundancies and recession – there will be no industry in England and Wales.

What was predicted has come to pass. Boris Johnson will be our PM. Donald Trump will be the leader of the free world. Together they will rail road the TTIP into existence and the UK will be powerless against it. The environment will suffer, the NHS will be privatised and ripped apart, our food and drink will be contaminated with hormones and chemicals by the huge drug companies. Large multi-nationals will be able to sue governments for trying to prevent them ravaging the world and its resources and repressed peoples. Rupert Murdoch’s right wing media will continue to peddle hatred and fear in the press and on TV. Everyone will hunker down and become more selfish, less compassionate and less humane. The whole world will go to hell.

So well done UK voters. Good luck with your decision. 

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Wagyu-tastic

28 Jul

Yet another birthday, yet another fantastic dining experience. My friends know me well!

CUT at 45 Park Lane is part of the Dorchester Hotel.  But stuffy it is not.  Instead we found a tasteful, calm, reassuringly elegant spot for a birthday celebration.  Yes, we probably disturbed some rather intimate date nights, but no-one seemed to notice or mind.

Surrounded by original Damien Hirst paintings on the walls and some intriguing sculptural art works in the foyer, I was invited here in order to sample one of the must have foods on the planet – real deal Japanese Wagyu beef.  The cows are massaged and listen to music during their lifetimes, leading to some superbly tasty and satisfying meat.  The small portion I had, alone, cost £140 but it was oh-so worth it.  I could cut it with a spoon, even cooked medium rare.  The taste was almost like butter, but not oily, creamy with a very deep rich meat flavour.  I loved it.  I would recommend it.  Save up if you have to.

Starter was Scottish scallop cerviche.  One of my favourite ways of eating seafood.  Decorated with edible flowers, again, it was like no other cerviche I had tasted – and I’ve been to South America!  Lastly, I had to have dessert because the one thing that caught my eye was yet another dish I have never had, despite being a 70s child – Baked Alaska.  I was not disappointed.  Why did this dish fall out of fashion?  It’s fantastic.

The staff at CUT are wonderful.  Polite, attentive but inobtrusive. Friendly even.  After choosing a bread roll from the basket, the waiter then remembers which one you chose and asks you later if you want another of that specific roll. I found that amazing. Maybe I was drunk.  As for the wine – our personal Sommelier asked each of us what we had chosen to eat and then suggested the perfect wine accompaniment.  And he was not wrong.  Yes, he did suggest I try a £1000 bottle but I was honest and said “no way!” and he did then point out a £55 bottle which I agreed to and which was divine anyway. Just goes to show.

Captain Corelli’s Cephalonia

28 Jul

This little Greek island in the Ionian Sea is still riding on the coat tails of the infamous book and with good reason.  With a turbulent history of constant invasion and natural disasters, the solid unchanging mountain at its centre seems to hold the whole island together and provide its unique identity.  Yet it’s from the book that most people recognize it.

It seems to have the best of both worlds – an unspoilt, laid back, wildly beautiful landscape and draw dropping scenery, but with excellent wifi and plenty of tavernas and cocktail bars!  No fish and chips or roudy nightspots, just proudly traditional places that will cater to any cheese addict’s needs and small but chic bars often with stunning views across the cool calm seas to another one of the islands in this archipelago (usually Zakynthos or Ithaca) which is just perfect for sipping a pre-dinner creation that looks like something Del Boy would choose.

Aside from the amazing catering facilities, the island is easily navigable by tiny car up and down hair-raising roads with sheer cliffs on each side.  The little towns of Sami and Skala on the east coast are beautiful.  Even in peak season it was quiet and the few tourists we saw couldn’t hope to fill up every spare chair in every taverna, of which there are a huge amount in every town.  Usually perched on the edge of a pretty harbour, they’re a wonderful place to sit and envy the visiting boating fraternity and their impressive yachts.  It’s even better to get out on a boat cruise and dive into the warm turquoise waters and swim across to beaches only accessible by sea.  Argostoli and Lixouri on the western side are not quite so atmospheric or pretty.  You won’t miss anything if you don’t venture there.  Ithaca is remote and serene and probably why John Hurt and Rowan Atkinson own villas there; whilst Russian oligarchs own whole islands.  I certainly would if I could!

Ruled at one time or other over the last 2000 years by every European nation it seems, the Cephalonians must have a very mixed heritage.  The population plummeted after the last big earthquake in 1953 and never really recovered.  Perhaps that’s why is feels so very empty.  Tourism is its main trade, with olive oil probably coming a close second.  The trees were planted by the Venetians 400 years ago and they are wonderfully ancient, craggy and twisted.  The oil they produce is like nothing I have tasted before.  Beautiful.

Villa hire is popular here and they are dotted all over the island’s coastline.  Perched up high they often offer fantastic views, but beware walking down to the beach, only to have to walk up the sharp inclines in intense sunshine and heat later!

A visit longer than the week we chose would mean venturing further afield – Fiskardo in the north and over to Olympia on the mainland.  Next time perhaps…

I loved Cephalonia, just as I loved Zakynthos 13 years ago.  It seems that the Ionians have found the perfect recipe for the prefect holiday destination.  Efharisto Cephalonia.

 

Claridges

28 Mar

The very word conjures up the phrase “quintessentially English” for most of us.  All maiden aunts and old money ensconced in over-stuffed Liberty print.  But Claridges is actually style, elegance, comfort and taste sitting proud and beautiful in classy Mayfair.

The art deco interior is exquisitely preserved and finished with black and white photographs of the building’s famous and infamous clientele over the decades.  Enjoying Afternoon Tea in the Foyer served on the signature crockery is the perfect way to spend a Sunday,  being perfectly attended to by polite, liveried waiters, and charmed by the pianist and her muse treating us to a brilliant Bowie playlist.

From the long tea menu I chose a Darjeeling from a plantation that boasts two resident Bengal tigers. Served black it tasted like Champagne.  A compliment to my glass of ice cold Laurent Perrier.  To eat we started with delicate finger sandwiches made with traditional soft white bread, from a time when white bread was a culinary sensation.  Scones, clotted cream and ‘gelee’ followed and then sweet, sweet pastries hand made daily by the master chefs.   Those we couldn’t finish we carried off in the world’s chicest doggie bags. (Take that, Sketch!)

The whole experience really is a timeless institution.  A rare combination of refined consumption in calm, elegant surroundings.

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Dishoom

2 Mar

All hints of the industrial seedy past of Kings Cross have been sandblasted to oblivion a bit like Docklands. It’s sterile cleanliness now make it a pleasure to wander around the illuminated water features and the bare bones that remain of the old warehouses to find a tiny speck of India imported from a Bombay railway goods yard to be the Dishoom Kings Cross Godown.  A fusion of station waiting room, train shed and Raj country club, the food is part street, part local curry house but with intensity of flavour that take it just the right side of kitsch.  Lamb, chicken, prawns and veg, the staples of all Indian cooking, are expertly delivered in a fairly large selection of fairly dainty dishes.  Just order as much as your tiny table can handle, ditch anything non-essential, and get your hands dirty. The drinks are everything from twisted versions of old favourites such as Bollybellini and Chaijito, Bhang Lassi (laced only with rum) all the way to Malabar Monsoon coffee and the infamous chai.

If you like a curry but don’t want to wade through yet another suburban Tikka Masala and want to experience a little bit of the crush and hubbub of the sub-continent, stop off at Dishoom.

I’m intending to try the bacon naan roll one day, if I can get up early enough.

The story so far

13 Feb

2015

It seems I have taken a bit of time off. Probably recovery from the excitement and commitment of the Marathon.  To be frank I was surprised, firstly that I made it and secondly that I enjoyed it so much.  But as was pointed out to me, I had never missed a training run and had done all that I could in preparation.  I had unfinished business with that race which I finally, erm, finished, and now I’m looking for the next challenge – NYC and an ultra.

But in the meantime, in the summer I hit Croatia.  Perfect weather, delicious food, stunning scenery.  What else can you ask for in a holiday.  I can’t believe it isn’t as well known as Spain or Greece, because it is so much better.  Probably because it was a victim of its own bitter civil war not so long ago and the locals consider it a far too recent tragedy.  That aside, I found a largely untouched and unspoilt but clearly European country with huge ambitions and I’m glad I made it there.

 

Next stop, Chiltern Firehouse for my birthday.  I was star spotting of course, but there were no stars to spot, luckily for them.  But naturally, the food was what you would expect from one of the best restaurants in London right now.  We had brunch which is not known as the best time to visit a restaurant but who cares, it’s the funnest meal and we had the funnest time.  The waitresses were all gorgeous models deigning to serve the scummy mortals that we felt like.  But the waiters were lovely and friendly. They even took photos of us, like the bunch of tourists that we were, but having had a couple of the lavender gin cocktails who cares?  Everything was amazing.  If I had to imagine my ultimate fantasy restaurant I think Chiltern Firehouse would nail it.  The building itself, the decor, the location, the beautiful people whether staff or clientele within, the food.  Oh dear God, the food.  Gimme more….

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But next, it was back to the Olympics.  The Newham 10K to be precise. The last couple of hundred metres was spent running round the iconic track that was gazed upon by billions three years ago. Now here I was sprinting down that famous home straight to the finish line in the footsteps of legends.  That was pretty awesome. In the real sense of the word.

 

Followed by (literally) a run for the trees in Madagascar.

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Then on a warm sunny Friday in September Jane and Jamie got hitched.  Almost all of us from work were there to see our beautiful lady walk down the aisle and then we danced the night away at Buxted Park.   A perfect day for sure.

 

Next came the highlight of my year – a sub-zero white Christmas.

Work done, the year nearly over, I got on a plane and headed due north, 200 km beyond the Arctic Circle to Kiruna in northern Sweden.  After spending four days hanging out with huskies, reindeer and Swedes in the dark, stark, frozen wilderness we got to sleep in the Ice Hotel at minus 5 while outside was minus 15.  It was an experience and I earned myself a certificate for enduring five hours of uncomfortable and restless sleep, due mostly to being too hot in the survival-grade sleeping bag.  I loved the experience although it wasn’t as cold as it usually gets up there.  What was unexpected was the darkness.  There was no sunlight, just a weird sort of twilight between 10 am to 2 pm and the rest of the time it was pitch black.  My SAD symptoms did manifest themselves after five days of that and so I am convinced I couldn’t make it through a whole winter let alone a lifetime in the far north.

But what took my breath away was the Aurora.  I was unbelievably lucky enough to get to experience this totally natural phenomenon on my last night.  I can only describe it as one of the most magical moments of my life.  I felt humbled, and ecstatic and emotional and everything in between.  I have seen nature show off before, but that night she was insane.

 

Here’s to the new year and to new adventures…

 

 

“Sophie for the Olympics!”

19 Apr

After six months of 5 days a week training, 6 am starts, rain, aggressive dogs, rude car drivers, friendly fellow runners, envying cyclists, protein shakes, sports massages, snow, hurricane winds, ice, running blogs, articles, forums, new kit, broken headphones, failed apps, lost GPS signals, blood, tears, energy gels, loss of social life, bramble scratches, nettle rash, hill sessions, tempo sessions, intervals, fartleks, stretches, foam rollering, kale smoothies, medicinal G&Ts, painkillers, advice from friends, support from everyone, high-fiving kids, blisters, skittish horses, runner’s trots, a pre-race Half, afternoon naps, minus temperatures, intense sunshine, a Christmas morning, swimming, cross training, being a running bore, scheduled rest days, training schedule scrutiny, route planning, segments, CRs, g-map, Garmin, Strava, Instagram, compiling playlists, llamas, mud, sweat, ITB, ligaments, Compeed plasters, Deep Heat, always taking the stairs, maranoia…

It all comes down to four hours and forty six minutes of actually running the marathon.

Cote, Brighton

5 Apr

The building used to house Brighton’s library of great historical archives, and now it houses a chain restaurant but it’s not all bad. Semi art deco decor, lots of dark grey and bentwood chairs. Francophiled waiters. Good food. Had a great front window position from where to witness the passing Brighton eccentrics.

The sourdough bread basket is glorious. The light lunches are a good idea when on a client schmooze. Good choice of fish, steak frites, chicken any way you like, some veggie dishes. Dark chocolate mousse good enough to dive into. Very extensive wine list but free filtered water. So all in all, not bad for a chain.

Paris House, Hove

27 Mar

Le Pub. A nod towards all the other French inspired shops in this area.

The name outside. The artsy black and white shots of Jane Birkin in Paris on the walls inside. Then the French theme abruptly stops and you realize it’s really just another boozer. Bare floorboards. Bar. Tiny stools at a few tables. Someone murdering Mama Cass tunes with an Atari keyboard in the corner.

Cheeses and meats on a platter are enough to share. Tasty and filling. Nice homemade pork pies. Other bar snacks available. Not stylish. Just simple. This is where no frills comes for a Wednesday night out.

Merrie Harriers

26 Mar

http://www.merrieharriers.co.uk/

Quaint, probably horribly expensive, Sussex village. Check out the old red phone box which is now a library, an information booth and someone was giving away iris tubers in a box! Only in England…

This pub is the only one for miles around but it is still fab. A cosy snug with log fire, typical pub-décor dining bit (dark wood, horse brasses, maroon wallpaper), a function room and a massive garden looking out over the Wealden countryside and miles of electricity pylons. Ignore those. It’s beautiful.

The food is great. We only had lunch there on the first day of spring. Huge doorstops and a mountain of filling, plus chunky chips and salad. Scrummy. Other satisfied diners were tucking into venison stew, onglet steak and pheasant and partridge pie. Could have been happily ensconced for hours but we were rambling so we had to walk off our lunch. Go in spring or summer to sample the great outdoors, not only of the pub, but the surrounding countryside. You won’t want to visit a city centre Wetherspoons ever again.