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Grotesque self-pimping!

Hello! I just got an email from my lovely editors at New Smut Project letting me know the anthology I’m featured in (as Melissa Snowdon) got a really nice review from Adriana Ravenlust at Of Sex and Love! And in fact got singled out for attention (okay, okay, she singles most of the stories out for attention because it’s a great anthology full of inventive fiction and such but let me have my moment).

Which I hope stands as further encouragement to, if you haven’t already, grab yourself a copy of Between the Shores and enjoy; and/or pick up Heart, Body, Soul which I didn’t write anything for but which does feature a story by a friend of mine.

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Comparison: Travel Chopsticks

Once upon a time, the author of this blog was an undergraduate at university. They lived in a hall of residence and shared a kitchen with twelve other people, about four of whom were thieving fucking bastards who continually nicked their bloody cutlery and just casually used it like it was theirs. Such are the perils of communal living.

Being opposed to starting fights that aren’t winnable when the kitchen is already a warzone (some joker at admissions had put Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the same corridor, sharing the same kitchen, and Opinions Were Aired Loudly, although not loudly enough to drown out the girl on the floor below us who liked to practice the Imperial March from Star Wars on her trumpet at 3am most mornings) I adapted: on a trip to Yo! Sushi (which was a big deal from a lump from West Devon back in 2002) I got some of their retractable chopsticks and kept them in my wallet.

As a result of this solution to the thieving buggers in my halls I learnt how to eat everything up to and including ice cream using chopsticks, and when I finally lost the retractables I mourned their passing and tried to find suitable replacements.

This has proven more difficult than you might imagine. For one thing, the Yo! Sushi retractables are disposable by intention. They don’t clean well: once you’re no longer a student it’s not really appropriate to carry around some bacteria-infested spit-soaked wooden sticks. I mean, it’s probably someone’s fetish and I don’t want them to feel bad about it, but I have also worked cataloguing brain samples for a prion disease research project since then (never let anyone tell you that data entry does not provide you with access to some weird situations) and I’m somewhat more circumspect about what I put in my mouth now.

On the subject of the bacteria-laden wood-tipped telescoping Yo! Sushi disposables: it would be so easy to make these in something more durable and easier to clean. There is a gaping HOLE in the market here, if I were an entrepreneurial person instead of a massive whiner I could just march onto Shapeways and hire a designer and have these things in shops by the end of a year. I’ve studied the design! And because I’m really quite obsessed with this I’ve taken photos so you can too:


click on any of these images for a larger, closer look

travel chopsticks

click on any of these images for a larger, closer look


click on any of these images for a larger, closer look

As you can see, there’s a ridge and dent locking mechanism and the wooden part slides in through a hole at the top which on the intact one is plugged by a little plastic cap. If you were to make the thing in metal (with a rough bit on the tips to help with grip), you could just put in little rubber bungs in that spot – easy to remove so you can completely dismantle both the tube and the tip in order to give it a thoroughly good wash/autoclaving depending on your level of obsessive sterilisation. Also the rubber would grip more firmly and prevent the bun from coming out the way the cap’s popped off these.

On a dull night at work I even sat and tried to draw a diagram, that's how obsessed I am.

On a dull night at work I even sat and tried to draw a diagram, that’s how obsessed I am.

One set of perfectly good telescoping sterilisable/dishwashable chopsticks to a design that ALREADY EXISTS. WHERE ARE THEY?

To save you the weight of my wrath, here are all the goddamn replacements I’ve bought and been dissatisfied with, and why.

The Current Chopstick Winners: Monbento Flexible Retractable Chopsticks

What’s Right With Them: They’re compact, they fit into their own handles, the connecting module is firm, the little chopstick stand that also keeps them together when they’re folded away is handy and cute, they’re easy to wash, and the tips are ridged for keeping a decent grip on your food. They also come in a range of colours.

What’s Wrong With Them: They’re expensive, because they’re Monbento and because delivery from everywhere seems to add an unbelievable additional cost; they’re not telescoping which means there are more pieces to get lost, and the cap is very good at getting lost indeed; and they don’t actually fit in my wallet.

The Not Winners:

Generic Tableware.

The whole kit.

How the chopsticks work.

What’s Right About Them: Cheap as hell, come in a convenient case, ridged ends for food grip, relatively firm connection, are easy to clean.

What’s Wrong About Them: That case will break, and before it does you will be obliged to wrap the chopsticks in a paper towel to stop them from rattling against each other and the cutlery; they don’t fit in my wallet; the screw connection comes undone occasionally in use; no means other than the case of keeping them together; clinkclinkclinkclink; they don’t telescope so when undone you have more pieces to keep track of.

Terra Nova Lightweight Collapsible Chopsticks

Image is misleading: these slot together with a divot, and the tips are made of wood.

What’s Right With Them: Precious little. The case keeps them together and under those circumstances they are quite compact. That’s all I can say in their favour.

What’s Wrong With Them: Everything. They have wooden tips which absorb grossness and cannot be easily cleaned; the metallic finish on parts of it comes off in flakes; they’re hard to get out of their case with any great ease and when assembled aren’t secure (I’ve had bits fall off when I’m using them); they don’t telescope; they don’t fit in my wallet; they’re not hygienic; they’re awkward; and to top it all off they’re expensive.

Muji Travel Chopsticks: No longer available online.

What’s Right With Them: Cheap, and plastic so easy to clean. Come with their own case.

What’s Wrong With Them: Not in any way collapsible; do not fit in wallet as a result, no form of grip on the tips so especially with the glossy finish of the plastic it’s actually very hard to eat a lot of foods, including noodles, rendering them pointless not only as travel chopsticks but as chopsticks in general.

Nice eShop Knife & Fork Chopsticks

An admitted deviation from my stated search.

What’s Right With Them: While these were clearly not going to be what I was looking for, they’ve proven handy so far: the contrast section is easy to handle, they work as chopsticks and as cutlery (Although I don’t link them up as demonstrated), and the tips are abraded enough to have a decent grip.

What’s Wrong With Them: Aside from very obviously not being travel chopsticks I’d add that the slot in the fork predictably gets clogged with food and can actually be kind of hard to clean properly.

Coloured Travel Cutlery Set

The configuration took a while to master.

What’s Right With Them: I’d place these as second to the Monbento. They’re not too expensive, they have their own case, the fork and spoon are also pretty useful, there is a rough patch on the tips for grip, they’re easy to clean, and the connection point is firm.

What’s Wrong With Them: They don’t fit in my wallet, they’re not telescopic – the usual problems. Also they’re ugly as all hell, although that doesn’t rank particularly highly in my list of requirements.

Coresmart portable chopsticks.

What’s Right With Them: In theory there’s plenty going for them: I got them from eBay very cheaply; they look cute; the case is more compact than the option above; the connection looks straight forward, they’re easy to assemble–

What’s Wrong With Them: They literally broke the first time I used them. Fuck off. The connection snapped right off. This is not what I call a reliable set of anything.

Ones I Haven’t Been Able To Test:

Brunton FlipSticks

Not telescoping but removing the “extraneous bits will get lost” issue.

These look like they could be the business (although the wooden tips trouble me for hygiene reasons) and I question how well I would be able to grip the arch. Of course that is not a problem as I can’t get these. Not only are they Not Available from the US Amazon site, when I’ve found them on eBay the postage costs have been so prohibitive, so insane, that the idea of trying them out seems like playing Russian roulette with my bank balance, as if I will pay for these and my job will immediately fire me in an act of hubris to punish me for spending so much money on something so stupid.

It’s not rational but neither is charging me £20+ for shipping some chopsticks, eBay. Get bent.

Collapsible Compact Chopsticks.

I mean it becomes immediately apparent where these aren’t acceptable: they’re not telescoping, for one thing, but on the whole they’re pretty alright in every other area. Can’t see the tips to see if they have grip, but the package looks sound and the chopsticks rest as a means of keeping them together is a nice touch even if it increases, ultimately, the number of parts which can go missing.

Have you been to the link and seen how much they cost? Because when I wrote this post it was in the region of £60.

Pray excuse me while I cackle disbelievingly all the way to hell no, a street in the vicinity of a town known as What Am I, Made of Money?

Nameless Japanese telescoping chopsticks

The holy grail.

These are they.

Here they are: The holy grail. These are they. The thing that I want. Ridged ends for grip. Telescoping. Maybe wallet-sized? Metal! Clean! Compact! Perfect! Beautiful! Why don’t I own them?

Because they’re Not Available on Amazon, I’ve been able to find this Japanese import literally nowhere else, and during the brief period they were available they were MORE THAN A HUNDRED POUNDS. And listen, my quest is great. My obsessive need for telescoping, hygienic, durable, wallet-sized chopsticks is mighty. My endurance is beyond calculation. But my bank balance is as feeble and as ephemeral as the fluttering petals of spring cherry blossoms and even if I were possessed of, oh, even a whole twenty thousand pounds a year instead of my current stipend of “you literally cannot live on this without a partner”, I would not be putting that kind of money into acquiring them.

This is vexacious. Something must be done.

But in a twist!

Because I like to end with irony: I finally found eating implements that fit in my wallet and are easy to clean and light-weight. And they’re not chopsticks.

Droog Credit Card Cutlery


Okay, the cost of shipping them put them at an embarrassing price for some bendy bits of plastic. Okay, I’d probably have been better off with something like this if I was going to insist on fiddly stupidity. I am however beyond shame now. I have weird, bendy plastic cutlery in my wallet and I’m not afraid to use it to scrabble futilely at salads.

But one day I will have those telescoping chopsticks, I’m warning you.

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Bao Soho

On Tuesday I took a break from behaving like a sensible adult and went on a brief binge around Soho and Chinatown, which ended not so much in disaster as in Primark on Tottenham Court Road, buying slippers, but that is another story.

What’s more important is that Bao in Soho was, for all that we had to queue outside in the street forlornly and then huddle around a tiny table, entirely worth the privation.

Here is a photo story:

There were three of us and this is what we had:

Pig blood cake
Trotter nuggets
Guinea fowl Chi Shiang Rice
Aged Beef Rump Cap, Aged White Soy Sauce
Classic (Bao)
Confit pork (Bao)
Fried chicken (Bao)
House pickles

And just out of sight:

Sweet potato fries.

Fried chicken Bao.

Confit pork Bao

Trotter nuggets.

Aged Beef Rump.

Sweet potato fries with pickled plum ketchup.

guinea fowl

Guinea fowl Chi Shiang rice, photo by ossifier.

pigs blood

Pig blood cake, photo by ossifier.

classic bao

Classic Bao, photo by ossifier.

The portion sizes are tiny, the prices less so, but this does allow for multiple visits and sharing is encouraged. The tiny sizes also help to let you try absolutely everything without turning into an enormous balloon of food, and if you want a massive steamed pork bun, Chinatown is less than a mile away and will sell you sodding enormous ones full of dubious ground meat purporting to be pork for £1.70: in Bao you get one tiny one filled with definitely-gloriously-wonderfully-tasty pork which you savour for as long as you can.

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Reviews: Rainshader Umbrella

As a British person, certain problems obsess me. One is the weather: there are few truer steretotypes than the idea that the Briton is continually preoccupied with meterology. Explanations to the effect that our weather is robustly changeable have been tendered. Personally I think the complete lack of decent heating makes me reluctant to be caught in the rain, but the fact stands: I’ve spent a dog’s age trying to find a umbrella that meets with my requirements.

  1. I can carry it about, while not in use, without my hands. There is no point in having a brolly which incapacitates me, especially one which I will almost inevitably leave on a bus or on the tube when I need it most.
  2. It doesn’t immediately slow me down by acting as a bloody sail and turning itself inside-out constantly. I’ve missed trains before through trying to struggle to the station without becoming a solid collection of waterlogged clothes, as my arsehole of an umbrella celebrated every intersection by trying to escape my clutches and dance off down the street. A lot of brollies bill themselves as windproof, but few actually are.
  3. City-dweller special: in the name of all that’s holy, I need to be able to both see where I’m going and not jab people in the eyeballs with a selection of metal spikes.
  4. I’ve owned a clear plastic dome umbrella before so my further requirement is that any prospective umbrella does not tear, bend, puncture itself, or render itself unusuable as quickly as possible.

This does seem like quite a reach. I’ve looked at all kinds of peculiar geometry, pocket umbrellas, the Nubrella in which one  just encases one’s head and shoulders in a bloody bubble for the hands-free carrying experience… I’ve had a Fulton Dome knock-off that punctured itself, a light-up handle one like out of Bladerunner which almost instantly went out of alignment, a clear orange one which melted by a radiator, a pocket one which got kicked the length of Kings Cross Station and abandoned after its persistent shenanigans made me miss the train home after work… umbrellas and their bitchy attitudes, losability, and failure to umbrell have been the bane of my pedestrian existence, in short.

Enter Rainshader, a British umbrella company who specialise in umbrellas for festivals and sporting events.

The Panoramic Model

They’re dome-shaped, allowing others nearby to exist in harmony with their eyeballs still in their sockets, reducing the lip under which the wind can intrude, and channelling rain and wind abruptly downward.

They’re clear at the front, meaning I can see where the goddamn hell I’m going, and to the side just by rotating the umbrella a little in my hand, even when I’ve pulled the thing down low over my head. As an added bonus, as I discovered while trying to wrestle with my phone at the Kyoto Garden at Holland Park, you can also balance them on your head and stay dry, which is more than can be said for the conventional umbrella.

They’re vented, meaning that wind that does get under the canopy gets out again without causing strife, and have a handle fitted to your hand so that the likelihood of being divested of your brolly in a gust is dramatically reduced.

They come in a sheath that has an adjustable strap, allowing you to wear it across your back like a flipping sword, and meaning you can combine hands-free with active badassery.

On the downsides, my stupendously massive rucksack sticks out the back of the tidy circumference of the brolly and gets wet, and the scooped-out front means that wind occasionally blows rain directly into my legs. Delightful Boyfriend complains that he feels like Michael Keaton in the Batsuit when turning his head at road crossings, but overall Rainshader, at twenty-five quid, is at the perfect intersection between utility and affordability.


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Tiny Product Reviews

Things have been busy. I passed my probation at work, which is nice, so here is some of the stuff I’ve been spending my money on:

Blender Bottle Go Stak Starter Pack

As part of my mission to hunt down the most convenient and least space-consuming equivalent of a bento box, I acquired these. Enormously useful: one helping of yogurt will fit into the second-largest pot a little TOO exactly. So far so good: easy to clean, easy to transport, leakproof, easy to dismantle.

Bubi bottle

Roll-up silicone bottle with clip and retainer. So far okay. It doesn’t retain fizz in carbonated drinks and imparts a slightly weird taste, and has leaked a couple of times presumably due to the weight of liquid pulling the bottle out of the closure ring: I have yet to test claims that it is a) microwaveable, b) flame-resistant, c) great as a cold or hot compress, d) good for waterproofing electronics. I would be more confident doing that had the aforementioned leaking not occurred. On the plus side, it rolls up when empty to take up almost no space and the 400ml one, which I have, fits in a pocket in that state.

Compleat Foodbag

A massive disappointment. It might very well be a great, waterproof way of transporting your food which packs down small and doesn’t let things get crushed. I wouldn’t know. I haven’t been able to get the strap around the to to remain closed over the fold when there is anything inside it whatsoever, thus rendering it pretty much useless.

Skorpion Skates.

I have Quadline Street Skates, as mentioned in this brief update, and I am increasingly pleased with them as I get better at using them. The suspension leads to a weird noise, and they do take some getting used to, particularly if you’re used to skates with a toe stop; but so far they’ve been durable, comfortable, not too hard to get the hang of, and easy to put on and remove. Sooner or later I plan on using them to get to and from the station on my way to work, but that’s definitely going to have to wait until I’ve figured out hill stops and am not so stymied by uneven paving slabs.

Skorpion Skates


Aromhuset drinks flavours, coffee flavours, sweetener.

The answer to my perennial and evolving question: how can I make drinks taste better without consuming any extra calories? Elderflower and sucralose added to sparkling water gives me elderflower presse as sweet or not-sweet as I want it and is pleasantly portable; the range of coffee flavours works just as well in tea or hot chocolate. The coffee flavours come with a pipette; the entire business fits into a tiny kitchen drawer and causes no further bother. Exactly what I was looking for.

Lekue Cooking Bag

Lekue? Yes, I’m sorry, I’m middle-class and occasionally that fact refuses to remain as discreetly hidden as it ought. We shall not dwell upon what horrors I have acquired in the tiny kitchen my flat is equipped with, but this is not the only Lekue item I own.

It isn’t bad: the primary use so far as been to marinade fish, which could be easily achieved in a bowl, I suppose. Also to cook fish after marinading them in, in the microwave, for which it is very convenient. I rather hear it’s good for freezing things as well, giving rise to the possibility of removing something from the freezer, defrosting it, and cooking it (and probably eating it) all from the same silicone bag. Not so bad.

Nothing But… (fig and apple)

I’d already tried their savoury snacks – the sweetcorn and pea, the peapod and red pepper, and found them a conscience-salving alternative to crisps, even if the sweetporn and pea packs were somewhat difficult to eat at times. Freeze-dried vegetables are all very well, but freeze-dried fruit struck me as a lightweight way to satisfy a sweet craving and potentially just story fruit until I was ready to eat it.

I was right about that: this is delicious, weighs less than a bag of crisps, and in combination with a GoStak section full of yogurt and a couple of hours in the fridge at work the fruit rehydrates as if fresh and I have a tasty, healthy snack. Strongly recommended. I shall report back on the beetroot and parsnip chips when I have the opportunity to try them.

Bear Fruit Yoyos

I discovered recently that the name for the stuff these are made out of is “fruit leather”, which is a wildly unappetising term for what is in fact a wholly delicious substance. It basically tastes of highly concentrated fruit, because that it what it’s made of, and has a chewy, tacky texture. It comes in rolls – like the old-style liquorice “Catherine Wheels”, and keeps me both entertained and fed on 2-mile walk back to the station at around 6am after work. Frankly, I could ask for little more, but apparently one packet also constitutes one of your 5-a-day and frankly I could very easily eat five packets a day of these.

Kid-Stop Adult Strap On Heelys

Easy to resize, easy to put on, fun to look at, FLASHING LIGHTS. Downside: they are going to take a lot of practice to get used to – heel skating is something I have no experience with and unlike conventional skates there is no axle give so you can’t really steer by throwing your weight around.

Obviously as someone who loves throwing their weight around, this presents rather a challenge!

EatWater Slim Pasta Penne

I love pasta. Loved pasta, I should say, since I basically never get to eat it now except in witheringly tiny quantities. It’s a staple food for a lot of reasons and one of those is that it imparts a lot of energy, which is great if you’re working in a field all day and less great if you a sedentary PR monkey who spends their life either swearing at the news or finding new ways to avoid movement. EatWater doesn’t sound like a very appetising brand and when I first tipped these out of a packet I’d bought from Holland & Barrett my initial response was “slugs”.

However. They cut down on the cooking time of ordinary pasta-and-sauce significantly, and mean that I can have a much more tasty sauce than I would ordinarily be able to (pro-tip: add a Knorr stock pot to pasta sauce while you’re cooking it), and when thoroughly cooked in the sauce – well, the texture isn’t too dissimilar to well-cooked pasta. Granted, I prefer pasta more al dente, but I liked it enough to buy another five packets.

Other products I should be able to review soon include the Tube Vault, the Charge Card, and maybe even the DL58 bluetooth printer if I can ever get the stupid thing to cooperate with any of my devices. If you’ve a strong desire to see me review something in particular and help me out at the same time my Amazon wishlist is here and here and here. If you have products you’d like me to review (in more depth) then get in contact at [myname]


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BurgerBurger, A Concept Brought To You By Insomnia

Everyone is, I assume, already aware of the bitter burger battles. Waged between ones’ friends, the apparently ceaseless and bemusing as hell wrangle over In ‘N Out vs Habit burger joints has spilled out of California where it belongs and spread to encompass Five Guys, as typified by a spread in A Popular Marvel Comics Title which had Clint Barton and Spider-man squabbling about the relative burger benefits. Even a Kiwi friend of mine has pitched in, blurting that Murder Burger is the best selection of additions to a patty of minced meat that the planet can offer.

I’m growing kind of tired of burger chains. Years ago I was briefly excited by the first Byron Burger place, because the burgers were genuinely a cut above the usual glurge, and Hache’s gourmet burgers are worthwhile, but since then everything has either been “okay” or “why are you wasting my time with this rubbish”, and nothing has lived up to the hysterical Twitter hype.

Recent months have seen the aforementioned spat movement into comics, a disappointing visit to the much-lauded Shakeshack in Covent Garden, and a report from Delightful Boyfriend that Five Guys was “nothing to write home about”. I’ve quizzed the sparring Californians (North vs South, of course) and the Kiwi and the other burger noisemakers and much to my perennial disgust have discovered that none of them are even arguing about the burgers.

They’re arguing about the “fixings”. The accoutrements. About Animal Style. About beetroot. About sauces. About, in short, Not-Burger. Personally when I’m squandering precious calories on burger, what I care about is the burger, but this kind of meat puritanism is, I am assured, the province of Beard Hipsters With Stupid Tattoos Who Care Too Much About Cow Lineage.

This suits me, as but for the shocking lack of testosterone and agricultural college qualifications, I am a Beard Hipster With Stupid Tattoos Who Cares Too Much About Cow Lineage.

Tuesday night my brain/melatonin levels hadn’t quite recovered from the rigours of a week on night shift being disappointed by the national press in exchange for coins, and I was awake between the hours of 1am and 5am inclusive, pondering the nature of existence and, repeatedly, burgers.

Pop Up London

A thing has happened in recent years, to my city.

The rents have turned into the kind of deranged joke that boggles the fucking mind and which ought to be left on April Fool’s along with ideas like “UKIP Majority”; it’s murdering Chinatown, done away with Food For Thought (a forty-year-old vegetarian restaurant in Seven Dials), and will probably hasten the end of Soho if property developers and Crossrail don’t nail the coffin shut first.

Because the denizens of this rat hole are historically enterprising and inventive people, we’ve gotten around the impossibility of renting a permanent food-making space without being an actual nation with our own GDPs each, and done it by acquiring an unceasing flow of pop-up eateries.

Here one day, gone in about three months, they rock up in warehouse spaces and converted double-decker buses, in food stalls and markets, out of the back of cars, on scooters. The foodie militia. The concept corps. They’ve come and they’ve pushed Gloucester Old Spot sausages with silly names and vegan brownies that you can only find once a month and everything has a tie-in blog and half of them have an app and all of it requires more organisation than someone like me can muster.

On the one hand, I applaud wholeheartedly the response to the rent bullshit and the problem of money in this city (the problem being almost all of it is in the hands of complete pricks); there’s an adventurous feeling in blundering through rows of stalls in an alleyway in search of comestibles new, a victorious pioneer sensation in uncovering some new delicious vendor. However – and I realise this is very fuddy and non East-London of me (because I don’t live in East London) – sometimes I want to eat the same thing twice.

I’d like to be able to take a leisurely approach to eating, or take an occasional visitor to the metropolis out for dinner to somewhere I know is good and have it still be there. Leisurely is, now, expensive. Haste is cheap. Well, cheaper. This is, after all, one of the most expensive places on earth.

Frustrating though the pop-up scourge occasionally is, it is exactly the right low-risk climate for what I have in mind regarding burgers. Maybe the space in Granary Square that recently hosted the Winter Sun bar.

Mongolian Barbecue, Tiger Lil’s, Have It Your Own Bloody Way

It seems to have gone out of fashion now, but about ten years ago there was a time-slot approach to all-you-can-eat buffet cooking. You took your bowl, you dumped whatever you wanted from a vast line of options into it, and you left it with a cook, who either shovelled it across a hot plate with massive flat knives at the Mongolian Barbecue, or pranged it about a wok at Tiger Lil’s. You gorged yourself, and you went back for more as many times as you physically could in your two-hour time slot.

The possibilities were endless. Customisability at its height, the choice economy in glorious food formation. I think I put on about three stone in one evening.

BurgerBurger; Hipster Pop-up Meat Heaven

The background laid, here is the brief:

I want a fully-customisable, assembly-line burger place that focusses on the meat. I want to be able to go in and make my selection from a variety of bowls of naked mince (lean, fatty, extra lean), of different meats (beef, pork, ostrich, kangaroo, llama), of different breeds (longhorn, Hereford, Highland), to different amounts (small, medium, large, custom-charged-by-weight). To be able to set how much egg is used to bind it (or what egg substitute), what is added to the patty (onions, capers, chives, spices, chopped garlic), then select how I want it cooked (rare, medium, well done, basically-steak-tartare, cinderblock, no-thanks-just-bag-it-i’ll-cook-it-myself-at-home), then a bun (plain white, wholemeal, granary, ciabatta, brioche, gluten-free, tortilla, no thanks), then hot toppings (egg, bacon, portabello mushroom), then cold toppings (salad leaves of several types, tomato, gherkin, cheese of several types, beetroot, pineapple, cucumber, whatever). Then take the damn paid-for construction to a sauce table for eating-in (ketchup, relish, mustard, mayonnaise, djionnaise, that disgusting liquid cheese people like, ranch, salad cream, hoisin) or squirted in before it’s dumped in a bag.

I mean you can go somewhere else for fries. Get your stupid can of Coke from the fridge. But I think it is a bit weird that there’s all these Exciting Burger Chains that are fixated on fixings, crazy about chips, mental over their milkshakes, and not one of these fuckers that I’ve seen has taken the obvious, sensible route of ensuring their burger is brilliant before they start plastering it in everything else. Where is my red-centred tennis-ball of Special Cow Parts?

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A Little Tootle On My Own Trumpet

I’m sure it is gauche to link to one’s own reviews but I am equally sure that I don’t get many reviews and this one is lovely:

Brown Bread, Boys, reviewed by Laura Munro.

Brown Bread, Boys is available to buy on and Amazon.

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Places to Eat in London: Around the World in Three Meals

Welcome back to my continuing mission to be the unpaid tourism board for my city.

Central London has a baffling amount of places to ingest food, most of which are good, none of which are cheap, the majority of which appear these days to be in Kingly Court at the expense of, variously, the Soho Book Exchange and any kind of shop.

Yesterday I plunged into the waters of London Cuisine to bring you a report on places to eat on the fringes of Soho: covering Japan, Mexico, and India, with a small detour into Anglo-French; looking at the deli, the chain take-away, the tea room, and the informal/haute restaurant. All of the following places are within easy walking distance of both each other and the tube. No main dish will cost you more than £20, and most of them cost less than £10.

1. The Deli: The Japan Centre, Shaftesbury Avenue.

Closest Underground Station: Piccadilly Circus is less than a minute away from the entrance.
Price range: Most dishes are under £5

Photo courtesy of Deserted World, click on image for their post

Photo courtesy of Deserted World, click on image for their post

The Japan Centre is fundamentally a deli counter and tiny food court in the middle of an import supermarket. It is accessed via a mirror-lined escalator which is just wide enough for one person, through a kind of straits between two take-away stands selling takotaki and and buns, and a row of shelves threatening you with cheap donburi bowls and cat-glazed sake cups.

Your options on arrival are to either browse the cold shelves for pre-prepared sushi, sashimi, donburi bowls, assembled throwaway bento boxes, etc, or to go up to the deli counter and ask for food from the array there, which can be heated on request. You pay at the tills, along with the people buying from the supermarket section, and get red tape on your eat-in purchases to assure staff you’re not just arbitrarily eating things off the shelves without paying for them.

As this is a food hall, don’t expect much in the way of lavish comfort. As this is a deli, also don’t expect to pay a fortune – I took a chicken katsu onigiri from the fridges, a piece of pork tempura, and a shiso salmon stick from the counter for my brunch and the whole thing came to less than ten pounds. The onigiri wasn’t even £2. You come here for food which is quick-to-immediate, very affordable, and excellent value: everything I bought was straight-up delicious and exactly the way I wanted to start my day.

Given that you’re in the middle of a supermarket there’s also pretty much an endless array of choice if you want to supplement your hot & cold purchases with packet desserts or cold puddings: the dessert fridge contains a huge selection of fresh cheesecake pots, individual mochi, and just next to it is a freezer full of tiny ice cream tubs.

Definitely the place to go for cheap Japanese food: don’t waste time and energy trying to find a branch of Yo!Sushi (similar price range) when you can come here and have something a hundred times better and spend, often, less.

2. The Take-away Chain: Chipotle, Charing Cross Road

Closest Underground Station: Mid-way between Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road
Price Range: A standard burrito is about £6.50, with guac around £8.70 (who eats burrito without guac anyway)

Photo courtesy of FluidLondon, click on image for their information/reviews

Photo courtesy of FluidLondon, click on image for their information/reviews

A warning to visitors from North America (Americans, Mexicans, Canadians): this is probably not what you’re expecting when you suffer from a burrito craving and decide to go and avail yourself of one. “It costs more than two dollars!” you cry, angrily, outside the grey frontage. “Where’s the limitless soda pump? Why isn’t this fifteen tonnes of grease and corn syrup? I QUIT.”

The elements which make this Not A Real Burrito Ugh Omg according to my American informants are however the elements that make me enjoy it.The brand here appear to be committed to fresh ingredients: the lettuce certainly is crisp and the steak chunks came to me fresh out of the fryer because the servers didn’t like the look of the ones that were already waiting in the basket. The servers: not me. Another blow for the culture of complaint! Similarly, the whole thing isn’t swimming in relentless grease, doesn’t taste of HFCS, has normal rice in it, and in general looks fairly wholesome both in its assembly and consumption. Also: is a sizeable meal for the hungry without being a watermelon-sized monstrosity. For the sake of completion I’m letting these two paragraphs stand: I was given the impression by a loud, disgusted complaint of being unimpressed as we passed the TCR branch that said American was talking about the UK iteration of the US chain (as regional variants are pretty common in chain eateries), and based on my own sad experiences of American food I filled in the gaps: she’s since explained that actually it’s Chipotle in general that fails to fuel her fire. For all I know, there’s no difference at all. There’s always Wahacca!

An ethos of fresh/vaguely healthy food isn’t for everyone – indeed, if you’re suffering from the acute need for something dirty and satisfying Chipotle probably isn’t the place for you, but there is fortunately a greasy pizza stand every three metres in this part of London so you shouldn’t despair. As to the rest of us: sit down on one of the squashy-topped stools at the brushed steel counters or stroll out onto the street with your fat burrito baby and enjoy a hot meal.

2.5 The Tea House: Camellia’s Tea House, Kingly Court

Closest Underground: Oxford Circus
Price range: a pot of tea or hot chocolate will set you back £3.50, afternoon tea is more.

In terms of ambience and cheerful, friendly service Camellia’s is a solid winner, tucked away on the top floor of Kingly Court and stuffed to the rafters with pretty tea ware, attractive cakes, tins of different teas, and helpful staff. A clear winner with the Afternoon Tea crowd, we spotted two tables of separate groups of young ladies Instagramming their towers of cake and sandwiches: as well they might, because the array was highly attractive.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of going to a speciality tea house and ordering a hot chocolate, which arrived watery and badly-mixed, with the chocolate grounds lurking malignantly in the bottom of the cup no matter how hard I stirred. This was unfortunate, as the pistachio macron I ordered with it was an exercise in restrained heaven. Caveat emptor, then, and stick to what they’re good at: tea. Though I heard no complaints about the coffee, either.

Instagramming our own tea adventure.

3. The Restaurant: Cinnamon Soho, Kingly Street

Closest Underground: Oxford Circus
Price range: around £20 maximum for a main, £8-10 for a cocktail, under £10 for a starter.

Image courtesy of the restaurant's website

Image courtesy of the restaurant’s website

No flies on Cinnamon Soho. Part of a brand which includes far more upmarket and haute cuisine offerings from the subcontinent, the Soho branch is significantly more relaxed and informal without compromising on décor (slick, black, minimal, comfortable, and intimate) or, importantly, taste.

Being somewhat full after a day of tramping around London consuming chocolate and doriyaki every three steps, the restrained portion sizes at Cinnamon were distinctly welcome, as was the unexpected two-for-ten-pounds offer on the cocktails. I opened with tandoori salmon (tender, thoroughly-cooked, crisply-spiced, served with pea purée), moved on to spinach dumplings made with paneer, in a tomato & fenugreek sauce and served with rice (crisp and delicious, with just the right amount of sauce to keep the dumplings and rice moistened but not enough to swamp them: a scientific proportion I am sure has been worked out carefully through experimentation), and finished with an excellently-poached peer served with rice kheer (which I haven’t had since I lived in the country 25+ years ago but apparently still miss) and cinnamon ice-cream, plus the mandatory smears of coulis which I can’t bring myself to mock because they genuinely did add to the flavour.

Accompanied by a long, cool Garden Martini (elderflower and cucumber, as I vainly try to guilt summer into happening), the only snag was that I’d ordered Masala mash and didn’t receive – although as by that point I didn’t have room for it and we weren’t billed for it I’d say that wasn’t as much of a problem as it could have been, and certainly not worth complaining over. Great service, from affable and unintimidating waiters (certainly compared to our last dining-out experience at Wilton’s, which was frankly too frightening to write about!), and a timely and unhurried meal was just right to wrap up a long day savouring the delights of Soho.

Save Soho

On a sadder note, a day in Soho has made it all the clearer that the area is being blasted into nothingness. There are already gaping holes in a once-familiar skyline, blank shutters on Berwick Street, and nothing new or similar to replace the emptiness. Many moons ago, ahead of the curve, The Correspondents lamented, “Oh, no, what’s happened to Soho… oh no, where did all the reprobates go?” and now the rest of the arts fraternity have caught up:

Save Soho

Don’t let a unique and important part of London turn into yet another slew of luxury investment flats for people who fail to so much as live in them.

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Tiny Product Reviews

Interim post while I try to get my head around a more complex post. Here are some new things I tried recently and what I thought of them, etc.

Tragically I have lost the packaging for this drink but it’s for the best

Something or other “Buzz”. Came in a small bottle, free, from a man at Wimbledon station who was handing them out to disinterested passersby, and to me, who bounded over shouting “FREE STUFF?”, as two years of working near Liverpool Street station conditioned me into accepting any promotional food or drink as Bonus Breakfast.

Appearance: dark brown liquid. Energy effects: Who cares, this stuff was remarkably horrid.

I mean that. I won’t say I’m a connoisseur of energy drinks, but I’ve done a lot of very boring jobs in my time and consumed a wide variety of caffeine-based fluids in order to prevent myself from snoozing on my keyboard, not to mention my years as a club casualty, and this is objectively the worst-tasting caffeinated beverage I have ever put in my mouth.

Taste: initially I thought it was like flat cola, which would have been fine I guess since that’s basically what Fentiman’s Cola is, but no. No, after a second cautious sip it produced a burning sensation as well. I think on reflection the best way to describe the taste is “highly concentrated cola syrup mixed with bleach, with a soupçon of God’s wrath and the overwhelming sensation of regret”.

Verdict: please love yourself and don’t touch this shit.

EDIT: A put-upon friend who received the same freebie but luckily didn’t drink it informs me the brand is “Buzz Shot”, although Amazon claims this is actually a beer pong game.

Baxters Meal Pots

In my eternal mission to find hot food that will keep me alive in my trek through the wastelands of high-volume night work without causing me to bloat up into an angry sphere of lard, scorch my taste buds off with salt, or lead to me wishing that they had due to the unspeakable vileness of the product, I am profoundly grateful to have run across these.

Pros: they’re incredibly compact and will fit in my bag. They take about 2 minutes to microwave and the design is such that there’s no opportunity for spattering the inside of the microwave with crap. They’re pretty conservative on the calorie front, which means I can also alleviate my paid torment with crisps and not become a pork balloon.

Oh, and they taste pretty nice too.

Cons: I am persistently terrified that the metal can lid keeping the contents fresh will spring up and either cut me or cover me in goo when I open them. When heated in the microwave the pot is just hot enough that carrying it back to my desk becomes an exciting challenge. And at around £2.50 a pot they’re somewhat pricy compared to the alternatives.

The site show four flavours (Italian Style Sausage and Beans, Malaysian Inspired Chicken Laksa, Mixed Mixed Bean Chicken and Quinoa, and Vegetarian Three Bean and Chipotle Pepper), all of which I’ve tried. The Malaysian “Inspired” Chicken Laksa, so-called I suspect because if it was merely called Laksa the entire nation of Malaysia would rightfully rise up as one person and call bullshit on it, is a welcome change from the more tomato-based dishes and full both of tiny noodles and little slices of baby corn, in addition to the usual. I’m not a huge fan of quinoa but the stuff doesn’t actually ruin the one it’s in either.

Verdict: surprisingly nice for canned lunches, low-calorie, robust packaging, would prefer it if they were about 50p cheaper but we can’t have everything. Looking forward to seeing how/if they expand the line.

Realm & Empire (T E Lawrence Sweater)

This is I admit a bit of a swizz because the specific product I’m talking about is sold out pretty much everywhere, but I’m going to take the quality of this as an indicator of the rest of their products.

I’ll also be honest and say I bought this from eBay for £29 as opposed to the recommended price of £75 and probably wouldn’t spend £75 on a sweater unless I’d won the bleeding Lottery, but some of the rest of the people on the internet have rather higher incomes than me.

Print quality: pretty good. I’ve grown used to sublimated prints recently thanks to their popularity in high street clothing, so it’s noticeable when something is a surface print now.
Clothing quality: good. Really good. It’s so soft and warm and thick and the stitching is really robust and excuse me I will just hide inside this forever.

In an ideal world the Realm & Empire badge on the yoke wouldn’t be there as it looks out of place and detracts from the rest of the garment but on the whole: Fantastic.

It’s not a good picture but you get the idea.

And now I shall return to grappling with the less frivolous post. Adieu!

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What on earth have I been doing?

Well, I finished writing the first draft of another book, which took up a lot of my brain power if not strictly speaking all of my time (and which I may have used as an excuse not to do a great deal else).

I’ve had a collaborative work published, by someone who isn’t me, at a place where people can read it for free rather than having to pay out their hard-won beer tokens to judge me.

I’ve finally seen 2001: A Space Odyssey at the BFI’s NFT1 (for the acronym-allergic: the British Film Institute’s National Film Theatre 1 – there are three at the Southbank arm of the Institute). I have to say I’m not overly impressed. It was very pretty, but I think I’d have enjoyed it more if more of popular culture hadn’t gone in with the idea that it is in some way a narrative rather than three arthouse movies stitched together for no discernible reason. The movies in question: Tapirs In Africa (Yeah Okay Then); Space Travel Is So Boring Even Computers Go Mad (With Preceding Conspiracy Drivel That Goes Nowhere); and finally I Took Acid Let Me Tell You About It For An Inexcusably Long Time (The Universe Is A Baby I’m Deep).

However, it was not an entirely wasted trip – the view on the walk to the BFI from King’s Cross was beautiful, and the BFI Riverfront bar have brought back their exemplary Hot Apple Pie cocktail.

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