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Archive for December, 2010

Mmmm, biscuits!

Thanks to Flowery for this recipe. I burned them a bit, but hey, it’s all about the tacky decorations.

Gingerbread

250g Lard (I used white flora)
650g Plain flour
1 tsp bicarb
1 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg (ground, freshly or otherwise)
3 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves (i left this out)
250ml treacle (about 1 tin)
145g golden castor sugar

1. Melt the lard in a pan.
2. Sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl
3. Stir treacle and sugar into the lard
4. Pour the wet mix into the dry ingredients, and stir well, until it comes together into a dough. Turn it out (there will still be some dry mix there) onto a board and need until it all come together (there will be some slightly alarming looking lumps of flour in the dough, but they don’t take long at all to kneed out).
5. Divide into three balls, and roll out each ball on a baking sheet.
6. Cut out shapes on the baking tray, and remove the excess, recombining to form a new ball.

bake in a pre-heated oven for 13-15 mins at 190C, 375F, Gas Mark 5, or until lightly brown.

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Yesterday was the boyfriend’s birthday, and I’d booked a table at the new Hawksmoor in Seven Dials. Man, I was excited about it – we’d been longing to go since it opened, and even before, although the trek to Spitalfields always seemed a bit of a big ask, even for steaks that are widely regarded as the best in London.

We were a little disappointed, when we arrived in the gorgeous basement bar, to discover that it was too full to sit down and have a cocktail from the amazing (and again, seriously well reviewed) list, but thought, no matter – we’d sit down and have one at our table, which was ready early, before wading into the steaks. Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I must say that too-close-together tables in restaurants are a pet hate of mine. When we ate at Les Halles in Manhattan I made the poor staff move us twice before we got a satisfactory table, and I realised before we sat down that I’d be asking to be moved again here. In my opinion, if you’re closer to the person at the next table than you are too your dining companion, the tables are too close together. If the table has to be moved aside for you to squeeze into your seat, the tables are too close together.

Alas, this was a Saturday night in December, the restaurant was fully booked and there was nowhere for us to move to, except the last table for two, which was sandwiched in between a group of eight and one of ten. Determined to press ahead and enjoy the evening, we ordered our cocktails – a dry martini for me and a Silver Bullet the boyfriend. The martini wasn’t as dry as I’d have liked, but excellent nonetheless (we subsequently discovered that the head bartender is the lovely Richard, formerly of Mahiki, whom I interviewed for a magazine a couple of years ago), and the Silver Bullet delicious – a really unusual, clever combination. But the drinks took their time arriving, and before they did the table to my right was cleared, cleaned and filled again, with two young guys who seemed determined to engage the hostess in long conversations about mobile phones and difference between chateaubriand and porterhouse. Totally reasonable – but owing to the proximity of the tables, it was impossible for us to have a conversation whilst this was going on.

I could feel myself getting edgier and edgier, and of course I transmitted my edginess to the boyfriend. It was becoming clear that the evening was not going to be a success. When one of the chaps at the next table, applying lemon juice to his oysters, unwittingly squirted the boyfriend in the face, we decided to cut our losses. (If this can happen, restaurateurs, your tables are. Too. Close. Together.)

By this stage we were, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty pissed off. We asked to pay for our drinks and explained that we were leaving, and why. What followed was a lesson in dealing with unhappy customers. The manager, Christian Gaskell, couldn’t have been more charming – he offered us another cocktail on the house, and found us a seat in the bar, where we were able to relax and enjoy our drinks with a bit more elbow room. He listened, sympathised, and apologised. He turned a disaster of an evening into a story to dine out on, and of course to blog about.

We’ll definitely go back to Hawksmoor – on a weeknight, probably, perhaps in January. I’m sure their steaks are fantastic, the room is beautiful and they deserve huge kudos for their customer service. Obviously no one is in the restaurant business for love – covers have to be filled and money has to be made. But squeezing too many tables too close together (especially tables for two, where people are likely to be hoping for a more intimate evening) just feels a bit cynical to me, and this makes me sad. Still, we could have left disappointed and furious, vowing never to return, but we didn’t – we had a lovely evening, wandering down the road to Sophie’s Steakhouse for burgers in the end, so the birthday boy didn’t have to go hungry – and that makes me happy.

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