Food Of India

The phrase ‘celebrity chef’ is one that has become firmly established in describing that breed of national treasure renowned for being great at cooking, owning a string of restaurants (usually in the South of England) and having a personality suited to the multi-tasking requirements of being able to engage a TV audience in bon homie while creating a mouth-watering dish against a backdrop of rolling hills, lolling lagoons or a sweeping moutainscape. The current trend for well known chefs and restauranteurs to travel the globe while sampling the local cuisine and then conjuring up their own representations of the same food which might also appeal to the English palette began in the 1980s with the seminal series Floyd On France where the late Keith Floyd travelled seemingly haphazardly through the French landscape begging, stealing and borrowing, as he put it, kitchens and kitchen equipment and this style of ‘on the road’ cooking captured the imagination of the British Public who enjoyed the mix of food, travel and personality as millions tuned into the series and the accompanying book sold in bucketloads. Since then, other chefs have continued the trend as they seemingly attempt to outdo each other in visiting more and more out of the way and off the beaten track places to find the sort of food which would appeal to our travel and food lust; Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein being the most adventurous in traveling the world with seemingly nothing more than a collection of shirts, hats and TV crew.

The formula shows no sign of abating. About 6 weeks ago, Rick Stein’s new book, Rick Stein’s India appeared on our bookshelves without fanfare and caused some murmuring as to where was the accompanying TV series. Then, 3 weeks ago the first episode of the series of the same name began on BBC2 with Rick beginning his latest Odyssey in a region of the sub-continent seeing him visiting back streets and slums in search of the perfect curry. Apart from the great food we see being cooked in back street kitchens one of the main talking points is Ricks perspiration which sees him bedecked in long-sleeved Ralph Lauren linen shirts which at certain points of the episodes look as if he’s just been caught in a flash monsoon but the drying air has yet to reach his back and arm-pits. Nevertheless, the series is engaging and the food he discovers and cooks himself looks amazing. The enduring popularity of the travelling TV celebrity chef is evinced by the immediate disappearance following the first episode (and to this day) of Rick Stein’s accompanying book from our local book shop shelves. Luckily C managed to track down and buy a copy last weekend to add further filler to our already overflowing shelves of cokkery books and writing.

Here’s Rick, the genial restaurateur on the cover of his latest book who made his name with his famous seafood restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall and his subsequent TV series extolling his passion for fish and seafood.

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It’s a great series too; part food programme, part travel programme and Rick definitely strays off the beaten path, usually finding a local English speaking guide and then tramping his way through the slums of India which, we learn are home to many of the city elite who choose to live relatively cheaply in a shack where they can be close to their job rather than pay exorbitant local city centre property prices. It all reminds me of Vikram Seth’s amazing novel A Suitable Boy which took me a year to read and describes life in post war India for all classes and castes.

So to the recipes…we chose as our initial effort a squid curry and ended up buying frozen squid tubes from a fish monger (it was all he had) whereas we could’ve bought the fresh stuff from a supermarket had we visited there first. Rick clearly likes his chillies so we made the paste with 2 red ones and the sauce with 3 green ones making it pretty hot. We bought fresh coconut and I used a hammer to get to the flesh which needed to be grated into the dish. I have packets and jars of whole spices which in some cases I’ve had for years but they still have their individual aromas so in went cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, coriander, mustard seed, funugreek, cumin and garam masala. It was hot, spicy and sweet but overall delicious. I would have preferred to use fresh squid but the result was still excellent, served with steamed basmati rice.

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Food Of Lebanon

There is something always particularly exciting about the discovery of a new region to draw your cooking from and so in recent weeks I have been on a culinary journey which began approximately 12 months ago in Spain, crossed the strait of Gibraltar to Morocco and leapfrogged its way into Lebanon. Of course, the journey does not see me wander much further than my kitchen and dining table but thanks to anecdotal comments many enlightened cookery writers place alongside their recipes cooking a meal can be the equivalent of a cultural experience to bring the tastes and flavours of a middle eastern market street food outlet into your own living room.

The Lebanese Kitchen by Selma Hage is a cookbook published by the wonderful Phaidon which is enhanced by the unusual way they have cut zig-zags into the edges of each of the 260 odd leaves which make the pages of this wonderful book of recipes.

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I have already cooked a few recipes from the book but this weekend saw us go truly Lebanese crazy as we drew on it for both our Friday and Saturday night meals. Friday saw us opting for Mother’s Milk with lamb; a fairly simple recipe of minced lamb cooked in a sauce made of yogurt, water and cornflour with lots of garlic thrown in for pungency and mint for sweetness. Mixed with rice, the meal was a riot of flavour with the flavour of the lamb buttressed by the tart acid of the yogurt. This was one of those meals where every flavour played its part as the meat, garlic, yogurt and mint vied for position to come out tops but overall it was a tie with all four flavours crossing the line in dead heat.

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I confess, it has a look of porridge about it but I can assure you it tasted wonderful served with slices of grilled aubergine (egg plant).

So successful was Friday night’s dish that we stayed in Lebanon for a further night opting for a fish dish of fried cod with caramalized onions and rice. We nipped out in the afternoon to buy the fish and elected to buy an alternative white fish instead and chose pouting, not least because it was substantially cheaper than the cod and no doubt more sustainable too.

The dish required the slow cooking of two thinly sliced onions with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar until it was practically caramalized which was then mixed with cooked basmati rice. A sauce was made out of capers, tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice and parsley which was spooned over the pan-fried pouting fillets sitting on the caramalized onion and rice mix. This was the first time we had tried pouting and although not as strong in flavour as cod, it’s delicacy was enhanced by the sweet sauces of top and below. We also threw in a handful of broad beans which gave it a bit of additional colour.

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I think we’ll stick around in Lebanon format least another week or two and perhaps hop over to Morocco to give the tagine a run out in between but now we’ve discovered the flavours of Lebanese cooking I suspect it will become a region that we shall visit, at least culinarily, quite often!

Grillstock…Meat/Music/Mayhem

I’d never heard of Grillstock before I read an article in the June edition of Lonely Planet magazine advertising it as one of the ‘must attend’ events during the month. Having never knowingly attended a ‘must attend’ event I entered it onto our radar and C duly bought tickets for us to attend the Manchester event on Saturday June 8th. The weather had been set fair all week and this weekend was no exception so it was lightly garbed that we set off on a walk to St Annes-On-The-Sea station to catch the train to Manchester Oxford Road via Preston. The train was running about 20 minutes late but we arrived in a very sunny Manchester at around 1.45pm before walking in the direction of Albert Square for the BBQ event of the year. C looked great in her new Italian silk frock from T K Maxx, I was in a Ralph Lauren shirt, Armani 3/4 length shorts and Keen sandals (for those who care about such things!).

We could smell Grillstock before we could see it as the aroma of barbecued meat wafted breezily towards us to herald the pleasures which awaited us. C had bought E tickets for the event which worked fairly efficiently but within a minute of queuing we were in amongst what was clearly a well attended local event.

We both experienced an immediate sensation of information overload as our visual, hearing and smelling senses were bombarded by a smoregasbord of sound, smells and sights with people milling around, drinking booze, chomping on meat and the aroma of succulent meats tantalizing our senses. After a walk round we both queued up at a tent run by a group of friendly South Africans and we definitely chose the right line to join as they kept us tempted by feeding us pieces of just cooked rib and chicken as well as engaging us in friendly chat about what they were doing and how they were cooking. Just as we reached to head of the queue, I gave C my order for pulled pork and barbecued corn while I went off to a little wine outlet selling New Zealand winf from Marlborough and bought us a glass each (£4 per glass). We sat on the steps under the statue of one of Manchester’s founding fathers as I tucked into my pulled pork, corn and slaw. It was a reminder to me how superior overseas coleslaw is the tasteless creamed vegetable stuff we tolerate when you taste a slaw made up of subtle flavours and the tang of red wine vinegar. The pulled pork was amazing; tender and full of the flavours it had been marinated in and C’s ribs were tender and sweet. Great food, great wine and blazing sunshine with the soundtrack of sweet soul music playing live in the background; what could be better?

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After the wine and food it was off to the beer tent for a pint of
Brooklyn lager and a glass of Chardonnay for C as we lay back against the plinth if the statue and drank in the atmosphere. After another drink we decided to go for a bit of a wander around Manchester City centre; the city was abuzz with people many in attendance for the Rod Stewart and Bon Jovi concerts also taking place in the city tonight and the ParkLife event at Heaton Park just outside the centre. We had a pee in House of Fraser and a mosey around Harvey Nics and Selfridges – C tried on some blue lipstick much to our amusement and another drink at The Mitre. We then had a walk down to Canal Street in Manchester’s Gay Village which always has a great vibe about it and we had a couple more drinks, sitting outside, manoeuvering ourselves to catch the last glimpses of the sun peering between the buildings.

We walked back to Albert Square, stopping on the way at a Tesco Express to purchase a bottle of Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc which I stuffed into my deepest pocket before flashing our ‘pass out’ stamps to the stewards and returning to Grillstock. We found a position under our statue again, the barbeques and stalls were still going strong and the music had changed to reggae. C found some plastic glasses and we slowly drank our bottle of sav blanc. There is nothing quite like being with the person you love, totally relaxed, drinking good wine with music, food and happy people all around. Perhaps it could only have been bettered had we been on a beach instead!? The next question was what food to try next as we wandered round the stalls some tempting us with their cooking smells, others with the site of their food. I chose a spicy sausage sandwich which I smothered in the spiciest chilli sauce I could which probably wasn’t a great idea and C had one herself. We had another drink each before fatigue and satiation got the better of us and with the last band still playing we made our way back to Piccadilly station. We still have time for another glass of Peroni before catching the train back to St Annes via Preston at the end of a quite fantastic day.

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Blackpool

Blackpool is the town adjacent to where I live. It’s the largest town on Lancashire’s Fylde Coast with a population of approximately 142,000 but also one of the most deprived towns in Britain. Historically, Blackpool was the holiday destination of choice for much of the population of greater Lancashire including the North West region and Glasgow in Scotland. From further afield in the East Midlands my own parents used to speak in glowing terms of visits to Blackpool in the 1950s staying in boarding houses and B&Bs where the landlady was king and the Blackpool Tower was the enduring symbol of fun and freedom for the last pre-war generation and the working class baby boomers. That was then. Today I cannot help myself referring to Blackpool as a shit-hole. Old hotels and guest houses have become magnets to itinerant jobless where a once thriving holiday resort is now home to a community in which in large parts is both morally and socially bankrupt. A recent TV documentary series entitled 999 Emergency focused on the unending work of the emergency services in Blackpool and the repeat offenders and social misfits who cause such a drain on both emergency and social services. Most towns and cities in the UK have their particular problems but with one of the most dense populations in the country where many flock for the easy accommodation and life on benefits, Blackpool’s challenges are more prevalent than most. That is not to say everything is bad in the old town. Sure, a bulldozer to push it into the Irish Sea would be the start to a much needed programme of regeneration but the local council have spent £millions on sprucing up the tourist areas and although many of Blackpool’s visitors are the day trippers and overnight or weekend stag and hen parties at least the central sea front area is modern and attractive providing a handsome veneer to the grim realities of what lie just a few streets behind.

This week the sun came out in Blackpool and much better than usual it looked too. Blackpool is home to The Pleasure Beach Resort with one of the biggest rides in the world: The Big One. Here it is, I have still yet to take a ride upon it…it’s aptly named!

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C and I walked further along the promenade and saw a helicopter taking off from the beach and giving people willing to pay a flight around the tower. It was proving a popular attraction!

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And lastly, here is the beach with the tower in the distance.

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I want to be optimistic about Blackpool’s future and gradually improvements are being made. But for every step it takes forward there seems to be some issue causing it to take a massive leap backwards. It looked nice on this bank holiday Monday and as we continued our walk and the crowds on the beaches expanded at least I felt that we were enjoying Blackpool, it’s doing its best and it still has plenty to offer. It has a long way to go and there are many good people here, I just hope it makes it one day and becomes a town that people on this coast can really be proud of.

Filthy Lucre

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.

It’s an oft repeated quote by Mr Micawber from the oft read book David Copperfield which I finally got round to completing last year. I find it very apt because no matter how hard I try I repeatedly find myself in resultant misery due to month on month over expenditure. I sat down with my Moleskine (an extravagant purchase?) last night and listed all my regular monthly outgoings.

Here’s the list:

YMCA Junior Football Club Subscription – £16.00
TV License – £12.12
Home Insurance – £37.74
Son’s School Bus Pass – £44.50
Mortgage – £109.08
Sky TV/Phone/Broadband – £111.02
Loan – £179.38
Bank Charges – £6.00
Life Policy – £35.40
Water – £37.07
Electricity – £40.00
Gas – £82.00
Spotify Premium – £9.99
Mobile Phone Subscription – £34.00
Contents Insurance – £15.76
Gas Service Charge – £20.11
Car Lease – £151.99
Council Tax – £136.00

Total = £1078.16

This total represents 65% of my monthly income although in May I make my final mortgage payment so that’s a reduction in outgoings of £109.08. My wife pays for all the food that comes into the house for our family of 4 (as well as my gym subscription). I’ve looked at this list and wondered where I can make savings. Perhaps looking for new insurance providers, cancelling my landline phone or even reducing my Sky package – but I would miss the football (why do I have to pay for so much crap from Sky before I get what I really want – the football or soccer for the benefit of my American readers?)
The rest goes on an allowance for my son, petrol amd mostly other miscellaneous spends which I don’t really plan for but tend to be made on impulse. The loan is going to last for approximately another 5 years after I finally decided to consolidate my credit card debts which I’d had for years but never managed to get on top of until recently.

The question is, how can I improve the quality of my life and the quality of my family life by adjusting my spending and outgoing? I’m not looking for specific answers, in fact I’m probably doing and writing this as a means of self-help to, like my debsts, consolidate my thoughts and find the solutions myself. I like travelling, near, far and wide, eating great food (which we largely do at home) and drinking great wine. I can see the Moleskine becoming a receptical for a flurry of ideas after this as the answer lises in lists, planning and not being lazy. The first list is what lies above, the second one will be the plan for the next adventure!

On becoming 50

On 15th April 1963 I emerged into the world by the hand of nurse Murray in the Parish of Keyworth in the house where my parents still live today on Laurel Avenue, Nottinghamshire. Dr Annesley pronounced me a boy and the boy is now me fifty years on. Well, at the time of writing, 50 years and 2 days…I’ve been busy! I don’t really feel like I’ve got to this age and done anything particularly profound, I haven’t achieved anything of worth either academically or career-wise and if I’m being honest with myself I’ve made a succession of wrong choices at some of the most pivotal times of my life prompted by laziness, indecision, fear, procrastination and ignorance. I am not by any means dissatisfied with where I am now because with my son, wife and family I am quite content and do what I can for them. However, as a teenager I had no specific vision of where I wanted to be when I grew up other than be a drummer in a rock band living out of the back of a van if it came to it but I allowed myself to be persuaded this was a non-starter and that I should strive to obtain a minimum of 5 ‘o’ levels at school and get a job. I did get 5 ‘o’ levels, failed my ‘A’ levels (I couldn’t be arsed) and ended up in office jobs dreaming of getting better educated, buying a Premier drum kit, travelling the world, moving to London etc etc without taking the slightest steps to achieve these dreams. And to this date I still do this sort of work and detest it. So much for dreams.

Of course I know in many ways my life is very good. I have a wonderful son and a loving wife – my second wife; my first wife and mother of my son died of cancer 9 years ago – and 3 super step-kids. I have a house which is paid for, a car I love and we do great stuff together like go on holidays, eat great food and love one another. But I just reached 50. I feel in fact as if I’ve reached a mid-way point. Not that I expect to live to be 100 because I would expect to be running out of faculties even if I did live that long but I rather feel that I’ve reached the end of the incline and now begin the descent into decline. Not immediate decline but a slow gradual decline which will ultimately culminate in death and whatever that brings. But for some reason I feel more optimistic now than I did 10, 20 or even 30 years ago because this is me now, this is who I am, I know and understand me now after all this time and although the opportunities are more limited to me than they were when I obtained my 5 ‘o’ levels more than 30 years ago I feel that I am sufficiently placed and confident to realise what dreams I now have or will have and achieve them. I am finally in control.

I have the Internet which is more of a guide, a source of education and inspiration than any teacher who ever taught me at school. And also, I have to be honest here, more than my parents who in spite of their loving well-meaning intentions directed me in ways that I was ill equipped to succeed in or prosper. If I had perused my own dreams of being a drummer I may well have failed but I would have failed on my terms but I allowed myself to fail on somebody else’s. Sometimes I can surprise me such as when I paid for myself to obtain an FA Coaching badge, pushed myself forward to coach a junior football team which I have noe been doing with great pleasure and (dare I say it?) success for the past 6 years. I have a blog, a Moleskine notebook a Wunderlist account and a wife who shares and inspires ambition in me to travel. When C (my wife) reaches the same aged milestone as me in December 2020, we plan to take a 12 month career break in 2021 and travel the world. I am yet hoping I do not suffer the heart attack my dad did at the age of 56 or the stroke he suffered 2 years later or the angina he developed 2 years after that or require the triple heart by-pass operation he had 2 years after that – although at 83 and in rude health he is a great advert for the National Health Service! Luckily my job is not stressful, I have not had a cigarette since my first wife’s funeral, I eat pretty well, go to the gym but do probably drink too much along with C at weekends. But travel is a wonderful goal to achieve and following our recent trip to Berlin we have so much to look forward to enjoying together because travel can be a walk down the road hand in hand or a far off journey to somewhere yet to be discovered. And my wonderful son who I can watch grow older, encourage him and nurture him to follow and peruse his dreams.

Life’s good and getting better. Here’s to the next 50 years!

 

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Berlin: Day 1

C informed me some months ago she was planning on taking me abroad somewhere as part of my impending 50th birthday celebrations but the window of opportunity of when and where we could go was limited due to it having to coincide wither her son’s school trip to Normandy and my son being able to be packed off to my b rother’s and parents’ for a few days (both 13 years old). C mentioned she’s booked the flights a few weeks ago but wanted tit to. Be a surprise but being unable to contain myself I teased it out of her and discovered we were heading for the capital city of Germany; Berlin. At first I was only mildly disappointed that we weren’t heading for my favourite country; Italy but as my research of Berlin increased I became gradually more and more excited at the prospect of visiting what appeared from the guide books, Internet sites and word of mouth on Facebook quite a happening and vibrant city. And so, as I made my lists, packed all my clothes in a rolled up sausage, dropped my son off in Nottingham following a 284 mile round trip and 6.30am return to my home town we set off to Liverpool John Lennon Airport in my Fiat 500C for a 12.50pm flight in the knowledge that Berlin was being affected by a Siberian weather front and we may face snow and temperatures as low as -11 degrees C.

I had overcome my laziness for this trip by being more utterly prepared than I ever had been for a trip previously. I had bought 2 pocket guide books on Berlin, one by the ubiquitous Lonely Planet and another I picked up in Manchester Waterstones by Wallpaper*, published by Phaidon in a plain brown cover, simply called Berlin.

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I highly recommend the Wallpaper* books; they had an array of them set out on a table in Waterstones and they looked quite a site with there psychedelic range of coloured covers like a block of tiles but they make recommendations of restaurants, sites and hotels slightly off the beaten tourist track but with a more artful theme and for the restaurant on out 1st night, did us proud. As well as that, C has a friend on Facebook called The Social Traveller who is currently in Berlin and describes how he fell in love with the city (C’s brother went on a charity tandem bike ride with him through Thailand dressed in sailor suits!).

I like looking at other peoples’s travel experiences to pick ideas from to hopefully enhance my own travelling experience and I certainly pinch some suggestions from the very brilliant web presence of Sara Rosso who has blogs here there and everywhere. It was her idea I nicked to have an espresso at the airport, post security with a snack so I chose a slice of carrot cake to go with my espresso from the Ritazza coffee stall. My previous experience of Ritazza coffee was a cappuccino from Preston train station which was pretty grim and this attempt was equally as poor. The espresso was Luke warm at best and the cake had seen better days…quite a few days from the first bite. Still, here’s a glimpse of the coffee and cake which I chased with a glass of tap water provided gratis free.

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One great thing about about having hand luggage only is that you don’t have to check bags in and queue up for ages although we were hit with quite a queue for security having to remove shoes, coats, the lot; but after a coffee the timing was pretty good because we were called to the flight practically straight away and I was on board reading my copy of Q Magazine and we were off!

C treated us to an over-priced on flight Easyjet snack and a small can of beer/wine and as I perused my magazine and saw photos people had sent in of themselves in worldwide locations reading the Q Mag, I wondered against which Berlin landmark I should have my photo taken to submit and hopefully get published in the magazine!

The flight was largely comfortable and in eventful apart from some young German who clearly didn’t like taking instructions from the female cabin crew and made a bit of an arse of himself to the point where after we landed the Captain came out and gave him a severe bollocking and rightly so!

Passage through Schonefelde Airport was easy enough and pre-preparation and notes made in the back of my Wallpaper* Berlin guide cribbed from our hotel’s website made it easy to find the train station which was the 2nd leg of our journey into Berlin. We bought a couple of 48 hour travel passes (note UK transport operators, 48 hour, not 3 day) and made the short walk to the S Bhan station where the train was already standing. With no bags to wait for we were quickly on the RB14 (or was it the RE7?) heading for the Zoologischer Gardens. For the first and only time throughout our trip, our tickets were checked by a guard on the train which we had necessarily validated before we got on board and after making good progress through the outskirts of Berlin we then found ourselves winding our way through the centre as landmarks made familiar by the guide books suddenly stood alongside out passing train as a foretaste of what was to come. Having arrived at the Zoologischer Garden station, we alighted for the next leg of the trip which was a no. 100 bus to Lützoplatz. The bendy-bus arrived after a few minutes but during the wait we were already applying scarves, hats and gloves as we were hit for the first time by the cold Berlin air before we hopped on. I haven’t really been on a bus in the UK for quite a while but not wishing to stereotype German efficiency, as soon as the bus passed a stop, the next one was electronically displayed so we knew exactly when to stand up and ring the bell. Right as planned, we found ourselves in Lützoplatz knowing our hotel was only a few steps away at Lützowufer 15. At this point I made my first tourist faux-pas trying to read a map while standing in a cycle lane and I was nearly knocked over by a cyclist walking his dog alongside…a narrow escape! C spotted the hotel and we walked to The 5 star Grand Hotel Esplanade with its huge and equally grand lobby. We were attended by a friendly English Speaking receptionist but as I was feeling a little tired and travel weary, in spite of her charm I just wanted to get the key and get into our room to chill out for a while. We were given the key card for room 505 which on opening was quite fresh until I noticed a window was open and after closing it the room soon warmed up. The room was spacious with a huge bed and modern bathroom plus ample cupboard and drawer space. I had a bath and checked in on Facebook.

We didn’t have long to relax though because C had booked us in for a tour of the Reichstag at 7.30pm so after a quick change we were soon hopping into one of the several taxis parked in the drop-off point and on our way. By the time we arrived at Germany’s seat of power it was already dark and to enter the building we had to pass a security check point that thankfully wasn’t as excessive as Liverpool airport and we picked up our free Audi guides to begin the tour. The tour begins as you enter an area covered by the huge glass dome with a circular photo-montage of the history of the Reichstag in words (English as well as German) and pictures. Without wishing to ‘mention the war’ this was my first encounter with Berlin and its National Socialist past, something I have an interest in as a period of history I studied at school and continue to read books about. The words were honest and appropriately critical of the 12 grizzly years when Nazi-ism held way in Germany with a particularly ugly photo of a meeting of SA members in their ghastly moustaches and uniforms. The audio piece was already over my ear and to reach the summit of the dome you have to walk up a spiral concourse which runs along the edge of the structure at which point the audio magically begins to start…in English. The audio talks about many of the buildings in view of the Reichsatg as well as its own architecture but unfortunately, as it was dark we were unable to see many of the landmarks it referred to. However, it was great to appreciate the juxtaposition of both the old architecture of the Reichstag against the modern glass dome, designed as much else of the building, by an Englishman …which I thought was ironic. As you walk up the ramp much of the inside of Reichstag reveals itself to you, particularly the main chamber of government, the German equivalent of our House of Commons but with cinema style purple chairs in receding crescents.

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At the summit you are literally in the dome as more of the functionality of the architecture is described through the audio including recycling the hot air and a huge sail which revolved with the sun to provide shade in the chamber. All good stuff but the chamber seemed to lack the authority of the House Of Commons and looked a bit dreary with its uniform seats and bland walls. Nevertheless, I was pleased to see the flag of the EU flying high alongside the German national flag as it is a reminder there are many good social aspects borne out of the EU.

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And so we left the Reichstag with a view to finding something to eat. I’d found details of a restaurant called Lokal recommended in my Wallpaper* guide which had only received 5 reviews on Trip Advisor all scoring 5 out of 5. On arrival in Berlin I decided to pay a fee of £5 per day to receive unlimited 3G Internet access and the Trip Advisor app really came in useful here as you find the restaurant and it points you in the right direction and tells you how far you have left to travel. In spite of the cold we decided to walk to Lokal and I think it was something like a mile away on Linienststraße (love using the German ß for double ‘s’. I was wondering if there were reasons for this symbol such as an avoidance of using SS and its sinister connotations?). Our walk took us along the banks of the River Spree and across a bridge and was pleasant if rather cold but most of the snow appeared to have been very efficiently ploughed from the centre to the edges of the pavements so there was no difficulty in walking at all. There are a few other boutiques and bars in this area recommended in ‘Berlin’ and as we walked along Linienstraße there seemed some fine looking shops which had we had more time we would liked to have discovered during daylight opening hours. I even saw a shop selling Moleskine notebooks and reminded myself I wished to buy one (thanks again Msadventuresinitaly.com) and as we passed other attractive looking bars and restaurants we eventually arrived at Lokal.

In ‘Berlin’ Lokal is described as being at the forefront of Berlin’s farm-to-table movement serving local fare available at market which they publicise daily on their blog http://www.lokal-berlin.blogspot.com with updated menus. We found Lokal on the street corner and opened a white door into an ‘L’ shaped room full of mainly young people sitting in rows at tables tucking into their meals with the din of conversation adding to what appeared a vibrant and confident atmosphere. We were hailed by an English speaker behind the bar and asked for a table for two. He directed a waitress over to us who again spoke excellent English and was a little doubtful at first whether she could offer is a table but luckily another couple were 45 minutes late so we were offered the only available table which we duly accepted, it being exactly the one photographed in ‘Berlin’ with a rustic wooden table and chairs, the one C sat in covered in what appeared to be an animal pelt (sorry vegetarians). The restaurant is run by Berliner Maren Thimm and American chef and Marem’s partner Gary Hoopengardner who I assume we had the pleasure of meeting on mout arrival. The waitress provided us with German menus but translated for us the fare being seasonal meats and vegetables with game and offal to the fore. C chose steckrübensuppe karottengrünpesto which translates into turnip and carrot soup with green pesto while I had kalbsbries and leber bacon, spitzkohl aioli, topinamber karottengrünpesto which was sweetbreads with liver and sauces which was superbly cooked and tasted amazing. We also enjoyed a bottle of Reisling! I’m not going to continue to show off by using the German versions of our main course although you can read them on my Trip Advisor review here: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g187323-d2721174-r156089422-Lokal-Berlin.html

However, C chose white fish which we thinks was whiting, it was beautifully cooked and sweet white fish, I ordered Perlhuhn which is…guinea fowl. The presentation ofmthismwas quite amazing because the chef had taken the skin off, crisped it up and manipulated it into an egg shell shape with the top cut off and packed it with the guinea fowl meat with what I assumed was carrot purée in it to resemble a yoke against the white of the meat…superb. The dishes were served with seasonal veg and it appeared beet and fennel were to the fore. The meal was excellent as was the Lokal which if I could own my own restaurant would resemble it. A vibrant informal atmosphere serving Michael star quality local produce, no wonder the place was full of Germans enjoying local German food!

After Lokal we walked back in the direction of the city centre, took a few wrong turns and a u-bahn for a couple of stops and walked into a German bar called Alt-Berliner Kneipe – Treffpunkt Berlin (I’m getting the name from my Facebook timeline check-in). I liked this place because as soon as you walked in there was a line of German men sat at the bar with their beers in bulbous glasses with empty shot glasses adjacent to them, it felt like walking into an authentic German environment where these guys come for their social maybe once or twice a week or maybe every night to while their evenings away. The place was still servicing food and there were a few Brits and Canadians in too. We had a couple of blonde beers, very refreshing, and people watched for a while noting how some people look exactly like some of the people we see who regularly frequent pubs back home. After a couple of beers we walked back down a couple of streets before happening across a bus stop with a familiar number 100 on it and lo and behold a bus turned up within seconds and we were on it headed back to Lützoplatz and our hotel.

Exhausted, I had been awake since 5.30am, we hit the sack to discover the double bed had 2 single duvets (or continental quilts as my mum calls them) so assumed this was a German thing and went fast asleep.

Our first day in Berlin and what a day. Great food, great wine, architecture and history, a couple of beers in a German bar and a walk along the safe and snow lined streets. Ich bin ein Berliner?

Berlin

Tomorrow C and I are off to Berlin for a 2 night City Break. Already booked a table for Thursday evening at the number 1 rated restaurant in Berlin on Trip Advisor, Restaurant Heising and have a tour of the Reichstag booked for tomorrow. I’ve got the day off today as well to sort things out and prepare and my lists are playing a blinder! The excitement is cranking up and tonight I’m driving to Nottingham to drop my son off while I’m away – he’s staying with my parents and also my brother’s family while C’s son is on a school trip to Normandy in France. Hope to post some great photos and travelogue. Watch this space!