Thoughts on the RWC. You’ve got to care about the outcome to have a successful tournament

I know we’re all meant to be excited about the Rugby World Cup. There’s been some great rugby played by Japan, Georgia, and Scotland. I’ve liked having more rugby on TV. Good chat on the pod at work as well.

My favourite minutes haven’t been technical. They’ve been about belief and the ability of supposedly lesser teams to operate under massive physical and mental pressure. Japan getting over in the corner. Scotland scorning what I hoped would be a winning try. Massive Georgian hits. Some great Fijian offloads. Canadian guts and skill vs France. Romanian passion, and skill especially in the tight

Of course the big boys have provided some too rugby and entertainment. NZ look ominous. The Bokke coming back through direct play. Great Australian breakdown work and handling. Even the Argies showing a few years playing top rugby has taken their game to new heights.

The broadcasting has been good, without touching greatness. It’s been close to being a greatest hits of what the BBC, ITV, BT Sport have to offer. Inverdale is a smooth, professional host. He must have left his rose c&nted glasses at home. Ben Kay is a perceptive analyst of the game. There’s a few ex pros I’ve missed. Brian Moore and Jonathan Davies either weren’t invited or  turned it down. A personal highlight has been David Flatman’s commentary, which matches the knowledge of a pro, with a dry wit and sly humour of a malevolent imagination. I suspect a night out on the beer with Flats would be awesome but would necessitate a few days of recovery.

BUT

I missed the semi final because I didn’t really care. I might / not see the final, depending on what the family are doing on Sunday. This is coming from a man that got BT Sport so I could watch rugby every week.

The thing is, the (national) teams I care about, England and Ireland, were never at the races. It was apparent that neither side had what it took to beat the Southern Hemisphere Giants. This is why I took joy in the performances listed above. When those teams were beaten however, there was the empty realisation that the teams I follow, in a sport I love, simply don’t have what is necessary.

It’s worse because England have fallen a long way, and Ireland consistently don’t live up to their abilities at the RWC. This makes it hard to care, which in turn makes the RWC less important.

When it comes to it, I don’t watch sport to stroke my beard and admire the technicalities. Whether that’s a rolling maul, a topspin backhand, an uppercut or a forward defensive, I want to care about the people that make the shot / pass / tackle / combination.

I watch sport for the developing narrative that grips the soul. That’s why the Scottish loss was so devastating, because that most dangerous of emotions had entered the house. Hope. (One for Guardian cricket obo readers).

For me, the RWC was lacking a crucial ingredient to be a real success. There just wasn’t enough hope to realistically believe my teams stood a chance.

And what made it worse? The players looked like they knew it too.

Restaurant Review; A Tale of two burgers, Purley

this article first appeared in the Croydon Citizen: http://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/restaurant-review-tale-two-purley-burgers/

In the 13 years I’ve lived in the borough, I’ve always been surprised that despite the significant wealth within walking distance of Purley town centre, eating and drinking options were limited.

This began to change a few years ago. Now there’s good options for steak at Beunos Aires, an excellent Turkish / Eastern Med restaurant and a few others that I’m sure someone more qualified than this author will review in the future.

Purley also has is two excellent burger restaurants, which are so different to each other as to almost negate direct competition and instead qualify for a compare / contrast article. (Says the author justifying his editorial suggestion)

Blacks burgers was originally born out of a restaurant that used to be based in Wallington, that moved and decided that it wanted to be a burger joint. (There’s also a branch in Epsom) It’s a big space on the highstreet. Airy and light; very much a family friendly fast food vibe going on. Comfortable chairs, tables for 2 / 4 / 6. Plenty of high chairs for young kids, colouring pencils etc, with a warm and genuinely friendly welcome from the staff. It’s what Wimpy could have been if they’d managed to make it into the 21 Century and had the enthusiasm and charm of the Black’s front of house team. Fundamentally British ethos and atmosphere serving American fast food.

The classic British fast food environment is mixed with a menu and aspiration of a regular watcher of US TV food shows, “Diners, Driveins and Dives” or “Man vs Food”. The menu is the sort of thing you’re more likely to see in the U.S. than this side of the pond: http://blacksburgers.co.uk/menu/main-menu/ All sorts of additions to the basic burger, some of which you’d never think of if you were doing your own burgers at home. They also have a GIANT burger called the beast which has to be pre ordered and paid and to my cynical eyes has all the hallmarks of a PR stunt.

The thing is that under the funky toppings, Blacks does serve a tasty burger. Beefy, salty goodness, with a lower fat / grease content than is currently fashionable in Central London market leaders such as Meat Liquor or Dirty Burger. It’s also a pretty hefty patty or you can order bigger for not much extra. I’m not saying it’s healthy and if you order medium rare there’s a lovely juicy bite, but as a bearded chap, I’m delighted to find a burger where I don’t need to shower afterwards. The buns are great too, as they hold the juices of the burger without falling apart or being ever so trendy brioche. Top stuff.

The sides are also great, really crispy / fluffy fries, and dry crunchy onion rings. There’s a perfectly sized kids portion and possibly best of all a great range of freshly made up ice cream milkshakes, with trad flavours and funky mixes like Oreo or Nutella.

I’ve been 5 times with my kids and we’ve always had a great time. In and out in 45 mins, well looked after by the front of house team and well fed from the kitchen. It’s a great addition to the area’s eating options.

Dexter burger is different. It’s straight outta Shoreditch, somewhere I know well after 6 years working on Folgate Steeet E1. A small shopfront has about space for 20 or so and there’s a bar with 4 stools. Exposed brick and wood beams abound. The light fitings and furniture feels like recycled industrial. It feels trendy, an impression continued by great local Cronx craft beer, including its outstanding single hop series’s further Shoreditch points are scored by the frozen margaritas.

There’s a much shorter menu here http://www.dexter-burger.com as the focus is on the beef itself – the name of the restaurant is shared with a rare breed beef cow that makes great steaks. Grass fed rare breed etc etc. the burgers are great, very much on trend with a high fat content and its served medium rare, on the rare side, so you really taste the beef.

Sides / condiments were outstanding and showed talent in the kitchen. Truffled Parmesan chips were properly tasty; the funky taste of truffle really did go with the deep beef flavour of the burger. What also worked was the bearnaise sauce on the burger. It was proper stuff as well, with a tang of acid and tarragon. The sauce did a funny thing. It made a mouthful taste less of “burger” and more “steak”; the bearnaise touching my tastebuds and memory of steak frites with bearnaise. Yum.

If I’m honest I wanted a bigger burger. It was really tasty, and the fries were great, but I’m a greedy 6ft 1 14 and a half strong bloke. My wife also had a hot dog special the size of my forearm that took her twice as long to eat as my burger. The sausage and bun was outstanding, the BBQ sauce was well flavoured but too sweet for me – although I should point out it tasted as the chef wanted it to. It is meant to be sweet, a well known style in U.S. BBQ.

Just like Blacks the service is friendly and personal and you’re in and out in less than an hour. The milkshakes are also awesome. My boy couldn’t stop drinking his strawberry shake, to the point he had to have it taken off him.

Purley is lucky to have two great burger joints. I use both for different reasons. If I was just with Mrs B, we’d go to Dexter, drink cocktails and craft beer and enjoy great burgers in a slightly trendy atmosphere. If our kids are with us, or we’re meeting mates and their kids, it’s Blacks every time for equally great burgers in a more relaxed comfortable setting.

This isn’t to say that Blacks full of kids all the time, or Dexter wasn’t really great with our kids, it’s just the way we’ve worked it out. You might do the opposite, but whichever place you go, you’ll have a great meal.

Restaurant Review; Tigris, Waddon

This article first appeared in the Croydon Citizen: http://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/restaurant-review-tigris-fiveways-junction-waddon/

I’m sure my fellow residents of Waddon would agree we have always been poorly served for sit down restaurants within walking distance of the station. Many years ago there was a better than it had to be curry house on Stafford Road opposite the Waddon Pub that specialised in South Indian fish, but that went the way of the dodo in the mid 2000s, as it wasn’t really a traditional post pub curry house. Of course there are the good Cantonese / Sichuan / Indo-Chinese options in Wing Yip, but there’s nothing else.

Now we have something new, and it’s something really quite exciting.

Tigris appears to be a kebab shop, situated on Fiveways junction. Two donner / shwarma in the window confirms this first impression. A second look however suggests something else. There’s a fairly wide and deep seating area. It’s nice and airy, with sympathetic lighting, smart tables and cutlery. There is a a juice bar in the back. A sound system plays Arabic dance music. Then there’s the name. The Tigris is one of the world’s ancient rivers, the cradle of a great civilisation, home to imaginative Eastern Mediterranean style cuisine.

What we have here is an Arabic restaurant set up to look enough like a kebab shop to serve two markets. That it does both well is a Very Good Thing for my fellow waddonians.

I’ve been twice, both visits were excellent. The first I was on my own quite late on a Friday evening. There were a number of fellow diners, showing the varied ethnic and socio-economic mix that is typical of our borough. There was a relaxing hum of contented conversation. Everyone was enjoying their food. A good first impression.

The good vibe continued with the bustling, charming owner. I ordered and we chatted a little as I was born in the Middle East and have worked around it for some time. Very fresh tabbouleh was zingy with lemon. I also had bouncy, juicy kibbeh, which had a crunch of pine nut and subtle spicing. These were very tasty and and very authentic starters. Top quality Arab coffee with cardamoms finished what was a very exciting first experience.

My second visit was with my wife, our three year old son and our baby daughter. A genuine personal welcome was supplemented by real warmth with the kids.

The food was genuinely outstanding. A tarragon and sumac flavoured chickpea soup was a lovely amuse bouche. A mixed mezze plate was excellent. Silky, rich hummus and smoky, earthy babaganouj were complemented by great bread that was the perfect combination of fluffy and crisp. Crunchy salads with eye widening dressing that could be the dictionary definition of “fresh”. Felafel that were crunchy on the outside and smooth on the inside, given a little extra by the addition of toasted fennel seeds.

We shared a mixed grill that was about as good as it gets. Lemon and sumac chicken wings with a BBQ char. Minced lamb kebabs with thyme and garlic. Chicken kebabs with a deep, rich marinade of cumin, lemon garlic and yoghurt. Bread soaking up the juices and a nice counterpoint to all the protein provided by BBQ roasted peppers, onions and tomatoes.

This is seriously good food, at a price a fraction of what one would pay in SW London Lebanese restaurants. When combined with lovely family run service, a light and comfortable atmosphere, great coffee and an unlicensed BYO policy, Waddon has got a real dining gem. Let’s hope we can keep it.

Restaurant Review; McDermott’s, New Addington

This article first appeared in the Croydon Citizen http://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/restaurant-review-mcdermotts-fish-chip-shop-new-addington/

Restaurant review: McDermotts, New Addington

As a Waddonian for 14 years who grew up in Wallington, I’d always heard of New Addington but had never really been. It might as well have been Bromley or Cheam. I knew they existed and where they were; but I didn’t know anything about them, other than generalisations and cliches that we’ve all heard before and are generally best ignored.

Then in 2012 a foodie mate tweeted me with the news a Croydon Chippie had won a national fish and chips award. The Chippie in question was McDermott’s, which is located in New Addington in the Forestdale Centre. Well, that was my reason to go and see New Addington because Fish & Chips is in my top 5 dinners. Especially sit down fish & chips with a pint of decent beer (more of which later) and good company.

First impressions are interesting. It’s situated in a concrete shelled parade of shops that serves a nearby estate that shows its age. The 60 space car park is a great example of Croydon’s cheek by jowl nature where some of the richest in the country live next to the polar opposite. £100k Range Rovers are parked next to rusty escort vans and I reckon McDermott’s is the reason.

I’ve eaten fish & chips in Whitby and Cornwall and Sydney in celebrated places. They aren’t as good as McDermott’s. There’s a takeaway shop that has a queue at all hours separate to the main restaurant which is one and a half deep shopfronts. Nicely lit, big open windows, plenty of tables for 2, 4, 6 or more. It’s comfortably utilitarian but with a brilliant service team that hustles about with a smile for everyone. It’s an affordable, if not cheap (Fresh ethically sourced fish cannot be cheap) dinner out for anyone that can spare £15-20+ per head. There’s a loyalty card which gets you a free meal every now and again.

The reason they hustle is because they’re always busy and you often have to wait 10-15 mins for a table for 4. Half of Croydon seems to eat there. Warm bread with prawns and pate are plonked on the table as you sit and look at a classically simple menu.

Cod, haddock, plaice, skate and rock with chips is your choice. There’s probably some chicken and other options, but I don’t know why you’d bother. Quite simply the fish and chips is brilliant. Crisp dry batter cracks to reveal clean pearly white perfectly cooked flaky fish. The chips are dry on the outside, fluffy on the inside and taste of potato.

If you can take your nose away from the trough you meet the eyes of fellow diners and exchange a smile. It’s a communal environment. We’re all happy to be there. Builders sit next to teachers who are by some lads that work in the City, who sit next to a table of 8 with 3 generations celebrating a birthday. The team are great with kids. My two love it there and my oldest asks to go.

You can drink fabulous locally brewed Cronx Kotchin beer with your fish and it’s a truly great combination. The dry hoppy beer is refreshing, complements the fish and manages to cut through what is quite a rich meal. You’ve got to come hungry and for those with big appetites there’s the “King Size” which is more food than one should morally order.

I’ve had it three times. King Size + 2 Kotchin = a very happy Croydonian.

Don’t you dare go. You might stop me and my family getting a table.

Farewell to Waddon

Sometimes numbers don’t tell the true story.

Says the man paid the make a narrative out of numbers; who is supposed to find human interest in pounds, dollars and roubles.

So perhaps I’m trained to see the romance in the spaces between the numbers. I’m sure anyone reading this wouldn’t find anything interesting in the following numerical sequence: 2, 2, 2, 4, 13

Indulge me for a second as I wind my way through a very personal blog, filling in the gaps between the numbers, and finding my own story in these numbers.

13 / 2

I’ve lived in Waddon for 13 years in two flats. It was always a marriage of convenience. Both flats, 50 odd yards apart were never where I particularly wanted to live. I never really knew where I wanted to live, but I didn’t think it was going to be here, stuck on the dirty, unloved arse end of Croydon, cheek by jowl with the A23 and the railway line. Next to a well known rough boozer, an annoying schlep into Croydon, with buses I knew were crap because I’d relied on the same busses most of my adolescent and nascent adult life.

Ready for the but? The railway gets me into London Bridge, Victoria or Shoreditch very quickly. It runs early and late. Croydon is but a snap of the fingers away, with good shopping and better food that has improved over the years. The A23 is a useful artery to have close by, and Waddon itself is straightforward suburbia, no better or worse than anywhere else. We’ve got a great new Arab restaurant that I reviewed here (link) the famous and excellent wing yip Chinese / Far Eastern centre and a very good new leisure centre where my son Aidan is learning how to play rugby.

Waddon has been a base of operations, a bunker where I’ve been safe from the slings and arrows of the outside world. It has given certainty, something that for quite a lot of the 13 years I didn’t have.

4

I’ve had 4 jobs in my time in Waddon. Waddon and its certainty has helped provide the psychological base to build a career, of which on a sunny day I think I can be proud. From nervous steps into IR and silly City drinking to post soviet capital markets, nasty oligarchs and “cheeky pints” to straightforward British old school financial comms, long lunches and a Kazakh sojourn and now a very different grown up job at one of the world’s largest PR firms; the constant has been my base. “Where are you going back to?” Has always been answered with “Waddon… It’s a small place just outside Croydon before you get to Wallington”. Waddon has been safety. Waddon has been a constant. It’s been home.

2

It’s also been home to 2 children. Aidan and Hannah will be known to most readers of this as they’ll have seen photos in my social media streams. Waddon will always be the place Kirsty and I started our family. A safe, nurturing environment with 2 great parks within walking distance, where we both felt rooted enough to take a life changing step and change each others’ lives for good. They won’t remember it, but it was in Waddon where they had their first swings, their fast play in parks, their first smiles and giggles. We will remember it and it will always make us happy.

2

As most of you will know, I’m on my second marriage. 2 major relationships in 13 years in the same place (although the first predated the move to Waddon) has seen an awful lot of change. Ups and downs, genuine bliss combined with embarrassing drunken self obsessed post relationship behaviour. I’m not going to linger here other than to say that I don’t regret anything and I’m happy to say everyone is now where they should be in life, and that the experience has again cemented Waddon into my soul.

************

There’s more. “But of course there is” I hear you say with a smirk. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of meals cooked in a couple of kitchens. Hundreds of chicken thighs, roasted in a tray with lemon, herbs, seasoning and served with anything, but I’m a fan of carrots, spuds and cabbage. Curries so hot I’ve paid for it later. Roast dinners that are never quite cooked at the right time. Risotto   with crab, mushroom, chicken or just herbs and lemon. I’ve become a big fan of Sichuan food and I’ve made my first goes at it in my little Waddon kitchen.

Then there’s the booze, either in company or alone. Craft beer. Real ale. Crap lager. Red wine from the Rhone, Italy, Lebanon and not many other places. Vodka in martinis or just out of the freezer with a twist. Champagne, mostly good but some bad. Booze has always been a passion, and a constant of my life in Waddon. Mostly controlled. Never regretted.

*******

Finally sometimes you only know you love something if you lose it. I’ve lived part time on a boat and travelled a lot to some strange parts of the world, which can on occasion be stressful. Waddon welcomed me back and offered me a blissful norm to balance life as a corporate nomad.

And now I’m leaving. We pack tomorrow, and leave Friday. I’m looking forward to the next step but that doesn’t mean I’m not a little sad. Waddon has given me a lot and I’ll always look back fondly.

Thanks Waddon.