Brasserie Vachein Croydon

I dare you to look at this menu and not want pretty much anything on it.

Click to access Main%20Menu.pdf

I’ve been eating at BVC for years now, both in its current and more stripped back “Fish and Grill” incarnation. Probably 50 meals, and never a duff one. Many have been excellent. This is an exemplary restaurant, and I’m very happy to live 10 mins from it.

The guvnor, Malcolm John is clearly a talented and versatile chef. He’s worked at a number of very highly rated Central London restaurants and started on his own in Chiswick with a reportedly (haven’t been gets great reviews) excellent up market French restaurant “Le Vacherin. He then set up in Croydon and Sutton and after having a fine dining and a stripped back grill in Croydon, he has combined both to form BV.

The thing that makes this place so excellent is that the vision of a classic brassiere menu is so well executed. There’s not too much guff about ingredient provenance, which is quite refreshing. I’ve never seen the fetishisation of suppliers as has become the norm in London in France. The key is the technique in the kitchen.

Take my baked Vacherin starter. The truffle and almond crust could very easily have swamped it. But it didn’t. The side salad of bitter endive with a subtle dressing is a perfect accompaniment and a statement of intent. Something that is very simple, but the dressing is perfectly emulsified and it’s flavour complements the leaf and cheese. Many local and some rather more famous places don’t do this as well.

It’s dull having steak at a place like this, as the other dishes are so good, but if you can persuade another person on the table, the chateaubriand and trimmings has always been brilliant. I had the rabbit in mustard sauce with some great crispy chips and some excellent buttered samphire, and it was near faultless. Well seasoned, perfectly tender and moist, creamy but punchy sauce. My mum’s fish stew was probably the best thing anyone had. Lots of different fish, perfectly cooked so it was just done, in a lovely broth. Gut feeling is it’s just raw at the pass and get to the table just cooked. Brave but brilliant.

Then there’s the desert. I often don’t nowadays as my son Aidan has only so much patience. I still dream about a plum and almond tart they used to do with creme anglaise which really showed the skill in the kitchen. It wasn’t just very good (like everything else) it was the sort of food you’d comment on being good somewhere with a far higher reputation. Short pastry with a frangipan filling and roast plum that wasn’t purely sweet, but a little tart as well.

Add to this a wine list that doesn’t try too hard, Chateau du Brieul Calvados and attentive, friendly and professional service that makes you feel welcome and you’ve got an excellent local restaurant.

A word on cost. It’s not cheap, but it shouldn’t be for this quality. It’s good value and one can box clever and eat there regularly (as I have done), or it can be something of a destination restaurant and the boat can be well and truly pushed out for treat.

Kirsty and I had wonderful nights falling in love there at a corner table for four they let us always have. We now go there with Aidan and a lot with various members of our families. It’s my standard response if anyone ever asks “does Croydon have a properly good restaurant?”

As you probably tell, I love this restaurant, long may it last.

Lies, damn lies & politicians

I’ve worked in various sorts of communications consultancies since 2002. It’s been a mix of Investor relations, public relations, public affairs and international relations. For an industry that is based on crafting language to persuade an audience, accusations of dishonesty are only ever a word or pregnant pause away.

I’ve only ever been accused of lying twice.

The first time was in jest. A prospective client came to my team many years and a number of employers ago as he was impressed with the media coverage we had gained for a client. “How have you persuaded the world that X is a nice guy?” He asked. “You must be great liars”, he finished, whilst laughing.

The point is, he knew we weren’t “liars” but that we managed the client’s communications with a lot of care. He was looking for the same service.

The second time was less fun. A journalist who must remain nameless accused me of lying as I had refused to confirm his theory. The next day he insisted events had proved him right and me a liar. I suggested to him that he was still factually incorrect and that whilst he may morally have had a point, legally he could not write what he wanted to.

I am therefore well aware of the careful line communicators have to tread.

So the Prime Minister’s comments today at PMQ have left me annoyed. Not surprised per se, just anger combined with boredom at the pantomime that is UK politics. Cameron was responding to criticism over the sale of Royal Mail. He said that the same process had been in the Labour Manifesto.

But it had not.

A number of labour tweeters got on the case ASAP (including my boss) to make this point. No one used the word “lie”.

I don’t know for sure, but I think that’s because the political world is comfortable with falsehood than many others. Parliamentary Privilege exists to facilitate debate that could be strangled by threat of legal action and is a Good Thing. However it could be argued this safety net has now stretched beyond the House and has created a permissive attitude to lies if they are politically expedient.

In other industries, particularly regulated capital markets, there are consequences if you lie. Falsifying oil reserves. Pretending you had more customers that was the case. Both quite simple lies. Both major corporate scandals. Both punished.

I’d love to say positive things about my clients with the understanding that I wouldn’t be punished for it. It would make my life an awful lot easier. Or would it? Would I just lose any trust I’ve built up over the last decade?

So here’s my point, politicians lie with impunity because it has become a rule of the game that they’re all allowed to do, no matter what the party. It’s like diving it football. Please don’t think this is coming from a partisan POV. Blair, Brown and Miliband are just as culpable. Is it in any way connected that the UK has a serious problem with democratic deficit and respect for the political class because such a small proportion of the population votes at many of the elections in the last 10 years – especially if we compare our % to those of France? Of course there are other systemic issues, but if I had a quid for every time I’ve heard a variation on “they’re all the same, bastard liars” I could take Kirsty out for a great dinner.

I’m sure my PA colleagues will accuse me of chronic naïveté and I should be more respectful of the rules of the game. Others might suggest I remember how fundamentally unethical investment banks and wider capital markets have been seen to be, and that I should consider my own community before criticising others.

However I just can’t get my head around the simplicity of this particular lie. Either he knew, did it consciously and is therefore not to be trusted, or he didn’t know and he’s incompetent. Either way, he’s broken the 11th commandment, something I’d prefer it if our Prime Minister didn’t do. As an ex PR guy himself, it’s deeply unimpressive.

It’s not the reason why I won’t vote Tory. It is emblematic of why I despair of British politics and I hope that it doesn’t become SOP in my corners of communications.