Sunday, 10 November 2013

croque of shit.

starbucks, utrecht central station
november 10th, 2013 

it's generally assumed of me that because i "like food"* i also like exploring the towns we visit on tour and seeking out the most exciting food available. this is unfortunately not the case: (a) because i'm a coward; and (b) because i usually have no better company than myself, who i can't stand, which leads in an unfortunately circuitous route to the fact that i don't ever want to do anything at all ever. as a result of this i spend almost all of my free time by myself in shitty hotel rooms refreshing twitter. yes, i hear you say, but what about le joie de vivre? i don't know, dawgue (that's french for dawg).

this is the elevator door outside my hotel room in the nh hotel. i don't know much about life, but i know that elevator doors shouldn't expound populist wisdom. especially not when their smily face is merely the cover for a thirteen-storey drop.

anyway, so... on my way out to find some breakfast i stepped in the lift and met a friendly dutchman. i smiled broadly at him, instantly won his friendship, and invited him out with me to explore.

"friend! you, me, pancakes...?"

"why, yes, of course! that sounds like an excell-" he said, screaming uncontrollably while violently jabbing the emergency alarm.

after he'd climbed out of the lift somewhere between the twelth and thirteenth floor, i realised i had to fend for myself once again.

and so i ended up at starbuck's in the central station.

there was a period recently when, living on the whitechapel road in east london, my only real option for a quick bite to eat and a coffee was starbucks. i didn't like it, but i didn't like walking futher more, so i settled for mediocrity***. they did a passable toasted marmite sandwich, and although i failed to get used to the tone of burnt faeces in their coffee, i appreciated the speed and personal touch of their service.
what's your name?
ed--*clears throat*--sorry, it's edwin
great, aaron, it'll be ready in one minute
the truly remarkable thing is how they manage to maintain such quality control across so many thousands of cafes around the world. a starbucks coffee in utrehct tastes precisely as disgusting as a starbucks coffee in whitechapel. it really is a marvel of globalised business excellence.

anyway, that's a croque monsieur in the foreground. i figured because i was in american-owned dutch coffee-shop that they would do good french food, and i was right! toasted on one side, strangely damp on the other, filled with a single slice of plastic ham and a dousing of liquid cheese, with no  bechemel in sight--it was, quite frankly, a croque of shit.

*do i? or do i hate it all?**
**by eating it
***settling for mediocrity: an autobiography, available in all your local bookshop soon

Thursday, 7 November 2013

the nature of things

TAP0358 london heathrow - lisbon
nov 29th, 2013

q: when is an apple not an apple?
a: when it has to tell you it's an apple.

i believe the apple doth protest too much.

because, uh, it's not really an apple, is it? it's a plastic bottle filled with the blood of an apple--in fact, several apples.
it might seem pedantic, but i've been reading a bit recently about the dangers of fructose in fruit smoothies and juices. i ain't no scientist, so here's the lowdown:

in essence, it's best to avoid essences. the fibre in the skin and the flesh is the good stuff, and bound up with the natural sugar it makes for a tasty few and fairly nutritrious mouthfuls. but extract the juice, discard the rest, multiply by and you have a killer enzyme-busting hit.

there's no such thing as essential fruit. and it is not a goddam apple. 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

the worst croissant in the world

gate 12, lima international airport
april 8th, 2013

i'm often asked: "edwin, where in the world is the worst croissant?"

yesterday i think i found my answer.

it's hard to represent just how sad and stunted they were. pasty, pale pastries, half the size of their european cousins. retarded still births, wrinkled and ruined. were they starved of air?

i'm no bully, so naturally i took pity and ordered two. i had a mouthful, delicately spat it out, and slipped the rest in the bin. no sugar! sweet nothing. this is no way to start the day. admittedly it wasn't the start of the day; the day had started, and was traipsing along behind me without much enthusiasm, but that isn't the point, and no airport cafe should ever deign to think to challenge it.

the funny thing is that the cafe seemed to pride itself on its home-made batch cooking. a staff member pulled a tray of freshly-baked gnomes out of their oven in sight of us all. all tiny and all terrible, as if this ain't nuthin'. perhaps they are a local speciality; perhaps my eurocentrism should back off and accept them for what they are: not-croissants, uncroissants, crassoints. perhaps not.

by a strange quirk of fate i managed to 1-2 myself, buying in mid-transferred desperation an overpriced and ineffective neck pillow. this design was, i promise, the least offensive on offer. regardless, it just didn't fit, and i'm sure my neck isn't thinner than most. it was weedy.

here they are together--bastard bed-fellows.

a bad day.

Thursday, 11 April 2013


this is the first morning of a nine-week north american tour. the first of 67 mornings. the first of 67 breakfasts! and i'm going to write about all of them!

25 degrees, hollywood, los angeles
april 9th 2013

i woke up with a start at 7am, orientated--remarkably orientated. it wasn't strange that there was another bed, unoccupied to my right, nor that all the lights were on. the wind was still whistling... through... something, but what? and so what.

i'm thinking: layers of crunch: lemon curd, greek yoghurt, any berries. damn, i'm thinking of tina's.fantasies abate, and i'm downstairs, wandering around. i like this place because it doesn't provide the usual canteen buffet-style community-vibe "let's-have-a- goddam-conversation-about-it" breakfast. i have to walk all the way next door to a diner, sit down by myself, and look at a menu: a simple, peaceful, devastatingly lonely transaction that suits this capitalist child. there's men at the bar, hunched backs, a bored waitress smeared in lipstick, and me.

"hihowarrrreyou" she drawls, eyes akimbo. i don't care how i am, but that doesn't seem appropriate, and the one thing i've learnt in the US is that questions are only social graces.

tepid coffee. i'd go so far as to say lukewarm. the saving grace of american "drip" coffee is that it is weak enough to have no real effect, taste or energy-wise. it's harmless, like weak lager. the danger is you hit it with a dependency weened from euro-espresso, and three or four are needed to get that hit, and your gut is left reeling. needless to say i just can't resist. two cups down and i'm warming to it, just as it is cooling to me. the second cup is chilled; the third downright cold.

finally my eyes have opened, and a tiger wood press conference appears in focus to my left eye, a wild fishing documentary to my right. third eye zoning out on some kind of inane americana indie music on the stereo. 

i order "scramble #3": queso fresco (possible name for my future good-time wedding-party jam band), scallions (wyld scallions?), avocado, some kind of salsa... mezzo secco jack, whatever the hell that is. perhaps this was a mistake from the off. i like scrambled eggs, but i'm not sure anything else deserves the indignity. what exactly is a scramble? not quite a blend; not a mash so much as a mush; certainly not a measured mix. i'd venture to say it's just a mess.

scrambled egg works because there are just two parts to be messed: the yellow, and the white. you start adding to that and you're not much more than a four year old in the kitchen with a big ol' wooden spoon.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

perfect peach


people often ask me: "edwin, what's your favourite mid-price london-based eaterie?"* and to them, i say, "why, it's bocco di lupo, dimwit". it's like tapas, but, liiike, italian, and, to cut a long story short, it serves the best most weird food you could ever hope for. pecorino here, pomegranate there, and untold lashings of strange meats. best of all, there's no pizza.

i've been three times, and every time has been "a delight", as they say. nothing on the menu is familiar (and some of it is actually quite unpleasant), but it's all entertaining. sort of like the best kind of holidays. and when i go out for dinner in soho, my wallet bulging with leftover €5 notes, that's exactly what i want.

last time i went, straight from heathrow, i'd neglected to remember/become aware of the fact that soho had been heavily vandalised during the day's gay pride proceedings. plastic, and worse, littered the streets. i was scandalised! no, obviously i wasn't, but it took a good while to cut through the crowds to where i wanted to be.

what's my point? my point is cheeeese.

although this kind of meat 'n' cheese platter is a bit boring, really, isn't it, even if the meat is lamb proscuitto, sliced 'pon palatine hill fresh from its mother's wooly womb, and drizzled nonchalantly with quadruply virgin olive oil or something. it was nice, though. nice. nice...

ideally, of course, you get a seat by the kitchen, so you can watch swarthy men throw things around with aplomb and wonder at the ease with which food moves from plastic tub to polished plate. and as it's a sort-of tapas place, the most fun is to be found in ordering as many small things as possible. to this end there is an entire section in the menu devoted to crostinis and bruschetta-- essentially "stuff" on toast. some are more radical than others--why have tomato and basil when you can have spleen and ricotta?

spleen! SPLEEN! i don't even know what spleen is! it does something like rid the body of noxious toxins, no doubt, like most of the lesser known organs. and i bet it doesn't taste very nice most hours of the day. but softened with ricotta and drizzled nonchalantly etc it's a fucking mouthful and a half.

the downside to this is that some of the curios are plain disgusting: battered tripe, for example--jazzed up on the menu with lemon, mint, chilli & p-p-pecorino, but inevitably just tasting like a drowned man's fatty back.

i'd never eaten tripe before, partly because i think my mum was so tormented by it as a child that she kept us well away, and partly because of a simpson's episode that i can't remember very clearly. i won't be eating again--by which i mean i probably will be. still, it said what it was on the menu, and i only brought it on myself (and upon my long-suffering friend meliana).

on the up-side there was this octopus and pea combo:

and the highlight of the whole meal: orecchiette with something called "'nduja", an extremely spicy salami that was presumably used in a moderate enough quantity to leave the dish not-extremely spicy. the sauce was like that archetypal italian pasta sauce that everyone raves about: more flavour than seems humanly possible. slurrrrp.

just excuse the photo! i'm not sure what i was trying to achieve... as beautiful as the spoon's handle is.

and... that's that.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

wilcox, arizona, pt. 2

on the long-haul drive from coachella to houston we stopped over at a motel in wilcox, arizona. bedraggled but spirited, the sun was shining, and we were delighted to discover that we were early enough to catch the complementary breakfast, served in a complementary room by a complementary woman overlooking the complementary unheated pool. delight quickly tturned to despair, of course, which just goes to show that there's no such thing as a free compliment: this place completely stunk.

approaching it pragmatically, there's no way to survive an american breakfast without first loading up on oatmeal. it's the only thing at the buffet that won't immediately shorten your lifespan or at least leave you bleeding out of your arse the next day. everything else is fried, and dried, and will make your waist... wide. donuts--really? for breakfast? not to mention the triple-dipped bacon rind. but oatmeal: enough to line the walls of even the most harrowed belly. i admire how brutally simple it is: mixed with water, with the sugar and fruit optional. even on the hardiest of blighty's mornings i've always made porridge with some milk.

this technique is similar to preceding a big mac with a a couple of hash browns and five packets of preserved apple slices, i.e. exceptionally effective but impossibly unappealing.

so, how would you like your eggs? oh, i'll have them hot, wet, and oh-so-lonesome please.

there's no two ways about it: these eggs looked like the swollen face of an albino clown. and, no, that's not a good look--at least not for eggs. well, that wasn't my choice; i asked for "regurgitated."

whose face is that? i feel sorry for the bugger. no, actually, it just looks like scrambled egg. but the presentation isn't exactly confidence-boosting. i imagine the sound of these hitting the plate in an otherwise empty kitchen to have been something like a reverberated "plop."

eggs are eggs are eggs, right. the staple of american civillisation, and nigh on impossible to fuck up, despite how badly they and their mother hens are treated. right! wrong. cook them in cheap margerine, and they taste like death: a death caused by overconsumption, most likely, of cheap margerine. and that isn't a good taste. i had two mouthfuls and hit a wall, greasily.

i wonder why.

the eggs at seattle-tacoma's best western at the beginning of this tour were actually a lot worse. they hadn't been scrambled; they'd been stirred, and then sort of... baked. imagine one of those big bath sponges, but imagine it made entirely of egg, quadrupled in size, heated up to around 80 degrees, and left sitting around for three hours. then, if you choose to adopt the persona of the hotel staff briefly, invite your guests to scoop spoonfuls of it onto their plate. remarkably, they actually charged money for the stuff.

back to wilcox. this might speak for itself:

on the plus side, the coffee was hot, if not necessarily "coffee", and there were some yoghurts hanging out suggestively. there was, eventually, nothing for it but to go for a walk. and so i present here a journey through wilcox.


*what's the deal with fat-free, intensely sugary yoghurt, especially in a place like this? of all the foods to strip of its most flavoursome ingredient, why pick on the poor innocent yoghurt? i can think of more worthy targets--like, say, everything

Sunday, 17 April 2011

wilcox, arizona

ah, the age-old "where the fuck do we eat in this shit-hole of a town?" dilemma.

note pizza hut in the distance. there was, in the other direction, a mcdonald's and a kfc.

it would be an injustice to the american way to suggest that these places only offer chain restaurants--there was, just next to the hotel, a place called "plaza restaurant", its menu enthusiastically offering up bistro-style platters of home-made dogshit. this brings to mind an axiom of independent american dining: that it is invariably awful, and you're better off ordering a pocketful of blueberry muffins from the nearest starbucks.

it'd also be an injustice to call wilcox, arizona a shit-hole of a town; it's more like a shit-hole of a truck-stop, with a few houses scattered around tentatively around its perimeter. but, truth be told, i'm a big fan of shit-holes, and an overbearingly enthusiastic fan of american ones, specifically. in the spirit of charlie brooker i'd assert that there isn't much to say that's interesting without outrageously prejudiced negativity--just like no-one ever gets the hots for a nice girl.

the best thing that can be said about these places is that they're close to mexico. naturally, mexican food is the chomping man's saving grace: it's healthy (provided you avoid menu items described as "smothered"), it can usually be covered with chilli, and it's cheap as figurative chips. in a place of astonishing barrenness, plates of guacamole, peppers and onions are like edible oases.

see: salsa fiesta! the cheeky little pepper, its eyes boggling with joy. and the colours! a spa of vim and vigour by another name, surely.

oh, yeah, and the sign cheerfully advertising mexican and chinese food: crassly, craply, cross-continental--but in a place like this not much less than an advertisement for ambitioned ambidexterity.

as if things could possibly get better, this was the salsa bar:

why an entire bar is set aside for self-service salsa is beyond me, particularly as it seems to requires a lakeful of imported ice to keep its imperishable chilli contents perfectly, er, chilled. well, whatever. "howdy" to you too, you spreadeagled, cross-eyed, platypus... chick.

here's a shot of my taco salad. i'd already eaten twice in the day by this point, in mid-afternoon, so i wanted something light, and... you know, based on lettuce.

and there it was. and here it was, ten blearly, unfocused minutes later:

draw your own conclusions, i guess.