Wednesday 17 February 2016

Hakata Senpachi and some stuff about sake

This is drinking food. It’s quick-grab, slurp, suck, re-lick your fingers food. It’s unlikely stuff on a wooden stick (eel, pork belly) and genius (salted, crispy-fried chicken skin, also on a stick) food. It’s so-fresh-you-hardly-taste-the-fish food; and the eel, not the one that came on the stick but the one that came last, the one on the plate, is as fatty as foie gras in terms of other food, food.

This is ‘What’re they eating over there I'd like some of that’-food, and ‘Can I try a bit of yours’-food. It’s ‘You need to try this’-food and ‘Can we have more of that one’-food. It’s lots of ‘What’s this?’-food and, ‘Try combining this with the one over there’-food. All of it’s ‘Way better than when we went to that expensive place’-food. It’s hungover food.

And we drank slow-brew sake that tasted like chocolate. 

Here's some stuff you might like to know about sake:

  1. To turn rice into sake, brewers use a yeast called Aspergillus oryzae.
  2. In Japanese, the word 'sakeis used to refer to any alcoholic drink. The Japanese call what we call sake nihonshu which means 'Japanese alcohol' . 
  3. There are several types. These are differentiated by the manner in which the rice was milled.
  4. Milling is to do with the rice polishing ratio, i.e., how much of the outer husk and core of each rice kernel has been ground away. To get to white rice from brown rice, you need to polish it to about 90% (i.e. you polish off 10%).
  5. A sake with a higher polish (between 50-70%, so that's 30-50% polished off) is generally more expensive. This is because it requires more rice and processing to make the same amount of liquid.
  6. Ginjo and Daiginjo sakes are considered premium sakes. 
  7. Junmai is the Japanese word for 'pure rice'. Junmai is brewed using only rice, water, yeast and koji – i.e. there are no other additives. Unless a bottle of sake says 'junmai'  (純米), it will have additives.
  8. Some other useful words: amakuchi = sweet, karakuchi = dry, genshu = undiluted sake (most are diluted), honjozo = sake to which a small amount of distilled alcohol has been added,
    jizake = sake from smaller breweries or more artisanal brands.

Oh, and we were at Hakata Senpachi.

Illustration by Briony Crane.


Thursday 11 February 2016

The mysterious case of lattes to go and sportswear only nominally designed for sport

Ever since there was no real skiing this December because there was no real snow in the Alps, I’ve been wearing my hiking socks; something you’ll undoubtedly have your own thoughts on but hear me out. If more of us were wearing hiking socks, I figure, less of us would be bearing blue-grey ankles to the cold, which, even if not so cold, is cold enough to turn your exposed ankle blue. Maybe there would even be less of us wearing those clashing techno-coloured pink and fluro-yellow sneakers because these, you could argue to the evidently, even if not at first, obviously, fashion conscious, would clash with the grey. And it’s the sneakers, I suspect, which are the gateway. 

The gateway to lunching in Lycra and nipping out to the Albert Heijn to pick up the exact ingredients you need for tonight’s dinner and certainly no more unless, perhaps, there’s something in the bonus. The gateway, too, to putting on (worse) or remaining in (a little better) your yoga kit to ‘grab a latte’; though I appreciate this is an act that is also mercifully frustrated by the fact you live in Amsterdam, a city not set up for the to-go culture because, depending on how you look at it, is either 1) proud and independent, or; 2) incredibly slow on the uptake and, at any rate; 3) because its people are already ‘going’ on bikes, making lattes to go even less enjoyable than normal**. (Alternatives 1 and 2 are also, I think, factors frustrating the types who would, in a flash of neon, be swapping their lattes in yoga pants for brunch in full sporting regalia. It is, after all, very difficult to find decent brunch or even breakfast here).

And even if we could forgive the sneakers, and you could, I suppose, be forgiven for thinking they’re meant for running (ha) errands in organic stores — they’re comfy, after all, and the only thing alongside your expense account that’ll get you through New York — a form-fitting, phosphorescent, Dri-Fit T-shirt (i.e. blazingly bright gear designed to get men up mountains and not to the wine store before closing time) is harder to excuse. And at any rate, you just look silly; even if you do occasionally do actual exercise. 

**And by 'less enjoyable than normal' I mean not at all enjoyable given that even walking with one of those damp cardboard cups, let alone biking, all the while navigating people, curbs, cars and bikes while also trying to take, without spilling sips of an expensive, by-now— cold coffee that the barista took ages to make and which, in all likelihood, you probably did have the 3 minutes it would take to drink, hot, on the spot, is just not enjoyable.


Monday 8 February 2016

Breda, Amsterdam

It’s the kind of place that makes you wish that you, personally, and the nation, generally, had a deeply rooted lunch culture. Of course that’s only if you don’t already and also if by ‘lunch culture’ you mean more than a broodje kaas, which, even if not one to be admired, is as deep rooted a culture as any. Appropriate or deliberate, then, that the restaurant’s name is Breda, a town in the ‘Bourgondisch’, bistro-friendly, lunch-loving half of the Netherlands. 

But this and the fact that everyone running the place originally comes from there, is probably Restaurant Breda in Amsterdam’s strongest link to Breda, Breda. Not that one cares. Not when one is sitting on a beautiful green couch with one’s wine glass reflecting outside’s high grey skies and you consider, finally out of the wind, what a marvellous thing it is to have a proper lunch. A proper lunch on a Friday afternoon in a proper, high as those grey skies-ceilinged, dining room. One that is elegant (the light fixtures are stunning) without being fussy (you might be out for lunch but this is still Amsterdam) and built around a long bar (important). 

Our reservation was for 1 p.m. but with last night’s not nearly as chic dinner feeling only hours away, we chose for the 3-course menu (€29.50) over the 4 (€36.50) or 5-course (€42.50) options. And that, and the name of the wine in your glass (unfortunately vin naturel only comes by the bottle) is all you are to choose; the object being to settle yourself back down on that couch and enjoy watching the chef, whose other restaurant, Guts & Glory, bases its menus on one animal at a time, exercise his skill and new-found freedom in cooking with all kinds of beasts (fin, feather, shell) at once. 

Thursday 4 February 2016


The buttered side of one’s proverbial piece of (nowadays probably sourdough) toast hitting the floor has made wisdom status, but what about when you water the plants, already late, on your way out the door, now very late, and they start dripping and your floor’s wood? Or when you take out the bin, don’t put a swizzle-thing thing on it like you’re supposed to, you know you are, because you’re going to take it down immediately, sure you will, ok, so, just for a second you put it down in the hall, making, of course, sure it’s balanced and when you’re back, 1.5 seconds later, ok maybe more, it’s all over the place? Or what about when you’re vacuuming and see there’s all kind of crap on the windowsill because who even cleans there, think hell, I’ll give it a quick swoop, aren’t I good, but darned if I’m going to move all the small pieces of sentiment, memory and oddly shaped love-token-rocks before I do so, I’m not that good, and you swoop and SWOOP, there go your memories, whizzing around in the vacuum cleaner bag. How about that quiet morning to yourself, no one home, you in bed reading the papers, a coffee cup balanced on your mattress - a balancing act so obviously impossible to anyone else that one should read ‘impossible’ as ‘forbidden’ - and then the cat jumps up, cute purr purr cute, and there’s coffee all over the bed just as you warned would happen to everyone but yourself, because somewhere deep inside you think you’re just that little bit better or at least more in control of the universe? 


When you’re thinking your darkly prejudiced thoughts like that, coffee and cat all over the place, you obviously forgot the time you vacuumed (a different time) and then dropped three bags of sugar, or all those times you just had to sample whatever you were cooking you were so hungry and of course it was way too hot and you knew that but you did it anyway and you burned your mouth so you could no longer taste dinner which was ready a whole three minutes later, and you certainly haven't  paused to consider the way in which lentils have a tendency to take a dive off your fork (you are once again sampling at the stove) once it’s reached its zenith, the fork I mean, and of course they all roll teeny-weeny into all the places you not only cannot reach but you JUST CLEANED.

It’s a good thing I don’t really eat toast. 

Wednesday 3 February 2016

If you like the idea of drinking rubies drink Sébastian Riffault "Raudonas" 2011

I like drinking wine out of plastic cups more than probably most anybodies. I like my wine cloudy, unstable and fizzling and if it’s a really good day it’ll be all three plus red and cold. Give me rough and unsettled or watered down with spritzy water to drink during the harvest time, wine. But I also like wines that make you 


cus they're so clean.

Wines as crisp as the sound of you biting into an Autumn apple straight from the tree crap-bit-of-juice-got-in-your-eye can be; precise as we think the Germans to be. Patrick Bateman ebony handled razor blade sharp and also just normal sharp. 

Last week I drank Sébastian Riffault’s "Raudonas". I say my god but here I’ll say my gosh because this was definitely something made on earth and I don’t think the earth gets enough credit. You could taste it. The earth I mean. Earth and flint (Sancerre, Loire), spice, cranberries and rubies. Like Thanksgiving but better or at least easier. Singing almost singeing — sides of your tongue gettin’ all juicy — acidity, a long finish and whistling Indian arrow straight purity. In a word, for the sake of adding one more word: 


And no, I don’t drink everything out of plastic cups.


Sébastian Riffault "Raudonas" 2011
Pinot Noir


Monday 1 February 2016

Mana Mana

There was enough vinegar on the grilled vegetable salad for even me to comment which will only mean something to you if you knew how every salad is a battle between me and the rest of the world, me being on vinegar’s side. But we'll get there.

The last time I’d been to Mana Mana was maybe a year ago, maybe less, I don’t exactly remember. What I do remember is that we’d passed the place when it was still at its previous place (Hemonystraat) a million times and wanted to eat there for another million. It was, however, always shuttered up but for the one time, which is how I knew it was a restaurant to begin with and not the shutters of a person with the good fortune of having their family crest being a big steaming pot (see their logo). I remember being in a very bad mood and going was meant to be both a surprise and to cheer me up. It did. 
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