The first drink
This introduction is being written in a pub. My publishers would expect nothing less I have decided. Plus I fancied a pint. But more importantly I fancied looking around at other people, and wondering what they hell they are doing here at 11.14 on a Tuesday morning and why they are not at work (like me).
Can I claim this beer on expenses do you think?
“I’m writing a book on pubs, you know.”
“Yes love,” replies the barmaid.
“And Dave over there is a rocket scientist.”
I may be wrong but I suspect she’s taking the piss. But then pubs were probably invented so we had somewhere to take the piss out of each other. It’s a British obsession, right up there with updates on the weather and endless cups of tea. And where better to start a book on the unwritten rules of pubs than with rule number one? You can, generally speaking, take the piss out of people in a pub to an extent you could never get away with on the street. However, like all rules of grammar, there are exceptions, and in these cases piss-taking should be avoided.
- If the other person is bigger than you.
- If you are wearing a cravat.
It’s 11.58 and two builders have just walked in. At least they’ve been to work first, unlike Dave and the other people sitting at the bar.
“Can I claim this second beer on expenses do you reckon?” I ask them.
“I’m writing a book on pubs, you see.”
“Sure,” says the big one.
“And Dave over there is a rocket scientist,” says the one wearing a cravat.
“Hang on, hang on, I’ve used all that material already. How am I going to complete this book if I am using the same stuff already?”
They ignore me.
I decide I should hang around a bit longer. Just so this intro is authentic, you’ll understand.
The builders have downed their beers and left already. Good old swift ones. Swift ones are not so much a rule as a custom. Me? I’m not much of a swift-one type of guy; pubs are to be enjoyed, savoured. I can sort of accept people like the builders who are on a short break and fancy a quick pint, a packet of crisps and a check on the cricket score. But what’s with those people who come in order a double vodka and have downed it before their change is out of the till? I mean, that’s just mainlining alcohol. What’s the point? You might as well just keep a bottle in your draw at work.
It’s 1.26 and a few people have come in for lunch. The special is pork chops, mashed potato and vegetables.
“Would you like a receipt for that pint love,” asks the barmaid (her name’s Clare she tells me; I think I might have pulled).
“For your expenses?”
She’s now warming to the idea of this book, especially as I just bought her half a lager, and I now know Dave is actually a life insurance salesman and Tuesday is his day off. He apparently comes in every week, has breakfast, reads his Telegraph, disappears to put his bets on and comes back to do some work (Clare thinks so anyway, because he’s always on the phone and writing notes). Later he just talks rubbish, plays darts with his friends and gets drunk.
In Dave’s day off I have found the perfect summary of why us Brits love pubs. Ah, thank goodness I stayed here. Everyone knows pubs are central to life in Britain and Dave’s shows why. In just one day his local is his restaurant, his library, his office and his social meeting place. If he’d just put some money in the jukebox and pull the barmaid (not Clare, she’s too nice for Dave) then he’d never need to leave the pub at all.
We Brits do pubs better than anyone, let’s be honest. In fact, apart from the Irish and the odd enclave dotted around the English-speaking world, we are pretty much the only ones who do pubs at all. Elsewhere it’s all pavement cafes, bistros and bars. But to really enjoy a pub you have to know how it works. You have to know what pubs you can and can’t go in, where you can and can’t sit, what to drink, who you can and can’t talk to, and, most importantly of all, which urinal you can pee in.
I’ve got a Colombian friend, Carlos, who reckons British pubs are like foreign islands in what (to him) is already a foreign island. Bit like Guernsey maybe.
“In Colombia,” he says, “we also meet friends and have a drink. But I can’t work your pubs out. It’s all a bit confusing to understand what’s going on.”
Be confused no more. Pubs are run by a set of complex rules but over time they can be understood. It’s not a set of rules you will find on the wall; they are unwritten. Well, at least they were until I started this book.
Sorry, must go, Clare’s smiling at me. Think I’ll stay for one more.
Daniel Ford, Greenwich, London, 3.27pm, one Tuesday afternoon.
Greenwich Visitor January 2013
There are a few good reasons to like Green Chillies in Blackheath Road. The staff is always friendly for starters, and the food consistently hits the spot (Green Chillies was highly commended in the takeaway category in the Greenwich Curry Club Awards 2012). But they also care about the community in which they operate. They have been involved with supplying freshly cooked food to homeless people in London for some time and now they are looking to link up with some organisations on their doorstep. Bench Outreach, a Christian charity in Deptford, work with alcoholics, drug users, ex-offenders and homeless people, and many of these could soon be enjoying some tasty Sub-continental meals.
“We hope to be working closely with Bench Outreach to supply hot meals where the need is identified,” said the Green Chillies’ manager Ali Ibn Tawhid. “We are particularly pleased that this is a multi-faith initiative [Green Chillies is a Muslim-run takeaway]. After all, I don’t think someone who is hungry and in need is really going to care about the chef’s religion. We have the knowledge of food – we are thinking healthy biryanis and dhals – and Bench has the on-the-ground knowledge, so we hope this will be a great partnership.”
Meanwhile discussions with the Salvation Army, also in Deptford, have led to an interesting possible link-up beyond supplying food for the needy. The community church has identified a problem with obesity in the area so the Green Chillies staff could soon be providing information and guidance to some of the less privileged families the church works with on how to cook healthy but affordable meals.
Do you get the blues on a Monday? A sure-fire fix for curry lovers is to head to the Viceroy in Charlton (10 The Village) where it’s banquet night and for just £10.95 you can enjoy a starter, a main, a side dish, rice, naan, ice cream and coffee. Not surprisingly it gets packed so it might be an idea to book. Tel 020 8319 3436.
Curry to Go is the latest incarnation of the curry takeaway at 106 Blackheath Road (it was previously called Medina). The new owners will be open every day from 5pm-11pm and will be hoping to tempt you with dishes such as Balti Duck Tikka Masalla (£8.50) and King Prawn Jalapeno (£9.50) as well as old-school favourites that start from just £3.95 (vegetable) and £4.45 (chicken). There is free delivery over £12 (within 3.5 km) and a free side dish if your order is over £15 and you collect. Tel: 020 8692 2423.
Chaat! (British Curry Club magazine) 2012
My friend suggests a whisky bar he knows just a short walk from the station. I’ve just arrived in Aberdeen and the wind blowing off the North Sea feels capable of biting even into the solid Granite that built the city. A couple of warmers later and we’re heading off for a curry, a smart new place he’s heard about that’s just up Market Street.
Whisky followed by fish seems appropriate in Scotland, but strangely we end up with a fish that’s been imported from Bangladesh – a whole tilapia, spiced. It’s not bad but a bit dry. As we are. We down our Cobras and order a whisky. The choice is from the region of Speyside, the small but prolific whisky producing area that is famous for its mostly gentle style of the drink. My friend wants gentle so as not to over-power the fish but goes for something slightly oily to help the dryness. It’s got a taste of pepper too. Three cheers for my clever curry-whisky friend and we’re soon happily off back to the whisky bar to discuss the merits of importing a fish from the freshwaters of Asia to the north of Scotland.
Whisky and curry go together remarkably well. The spicy notes – cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, pepper, cloves among others – are central to the aroma and taste of many whiskies while a host of the other tastes you associate with your favourite curry can be found too. In whisky you’ll also find creamy smoothness (Korma dishes), smokiness (Tandoori), sweetness (Dhansak), vanilla (Kulfi), nuttiness (Pasanda), zestiness (Achari) aniseed (Goan fish dishes), as well as saltiness, fruitiness and slight oiliness.
There are two approaches to pairing food and drink. One is to complement the dish by choosing a drink with the same or similar tastes and aromas; the other is challenge the dish by adding new tastes to the equation.
Master of Malt John Lamond is firmly on the side of the former. “The whisky you choose has to complement the food. I’d say always do this, but particularly with Indian dishes which are so complex. They’ve been carefully put together to create a range of different tastes and the last thing you want is to choose a whisky that upsets that and blows the food’s taste out of the water.”
But Lamond also warns it works both ways due to the power of some curries. “The art, or magic, is in the marriage of the flavours of the whisky with the flavours of the food so that each complements the other, rather than one swamping the flavours of the other. The more highly flavoured, such as Vindaloo blast the taste buds and make tasting almost anything alongside them almost impossible,” he advises.
“Creamy masalas would go with youngish (up to 15-year-old) Speysides – Glenfarclas, Aberlour, Mortlach, Glenfiddich for instance. Jalfrezis would work with Ardbeg, Black Bottle, Big Peat or Caol Ila, even Springbank or Johnnie Walker Red or Black. Some would also fit well with tandoor cooked dishes, but they would have to be quite heavily flavoured and a lot of the flavour in curries is down to the contents of the dish rather than the way it has been cooked, such as perhaps a Gosht.”
Pairing whisky and curry works, but ultimately it’s about experimenting and having fun.
There’s a lot of snobbery associated with whisky (as with wine) but just as you don’t choose your favourite beer with an elaborate performance of swirling, staring and sniffing nor do you have to do so whisky either. See the boxes for some ideas of Indian dishes and whiskies but don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works for you. A few select whiskies and a selection of dishes from your favourite takeaway can make for a great night at home with friends.
As Lamond mentions, curry has plenty of complex flavours so give your taste buds a chance! I’d advise trying the whisky and the dish you want to pair it with before loading extras like pickle on to your plate. Keep the rice and bread dishes as plain as possible (plain or pillau rice and plain nan or chapatti); you’ve got enough taste stuff going on without introducing lemon rice and garlic nan into the equation as well.
Ultimately, have fun discovering which whiskies work with which curries, but always tread carefully with powerful tastes, as Tom Morton, BBC broadcaster and author of the whisky books Spirit of Adventure and Journey’s Blend warns.
“Matching curries with whisky is really about the post-prandial hitching of a dram to the aroma left behind by a curry. A Glenfarclas 105 after a nice wee korma can cut through the cream and coconut. But you have to be careful. A cask-strength Talisker on the back of a ferocious Jalfrezi may leave your throat or oesophagus in tatters.”
Classic dishes and popular whiskies
• Butter chicken, with its creamy, tomato base works well with the vanilla smoothness of America’s favourite, Jack Daniel’s. No Coke!
• The strong and powerful smokiness of popular blend Johnnie Walker Black is needed to compete with the extra hot spiciness of Lamb madras.
• Famous Grouse combines spiciness with sweetness (from its fruit tastes) something that fans of a Prawn Dhansak will recognise and enjoy.
• Biryanis are dry but highly aromatic and need a light and sweet whisky that will not fight the subtle aromas of whole spices used in the dish. Go for a Bell’s.
• Kormas or Pasandas, with their creamy and nutty tastes both work well with the easy, smoothness of Ireland’s triple-distilled Jameson. Any wonder it’s a favourite for Irish coffees?
Advanced tasting menu
Starter: Onion bhaji and Glenkinchie 10 Year Old. A classic, simple starter of sliced onion and gram flour that deserves a gentle accompaniment and this Edinburgh whisky is light but has a touch of spice and ginger.
Lamb: Lamb tikka and Caol Ila (pronounced Cal-le-la). The tandoor-cooked lamb needs something as strong and smoky as the single malt Caol Ila (it’s the lead whisky in Johnnie Walker Black) with its hint of pepper and spice.
Chicken: Achari chicken and Tullamore Dew. This Irish blend offers spicy and lemon flavours, ideal if you like your chicken cooked in tangy pickles.
Vegetable: Motor paneer with Wild Turkey. The smoothness of the cheese needs a smooth whisky and this famous Kentucky Bourbon provides that, but also adds hints of spices including cinnamon.
Fish: Goan prawn curry and Bowmore 12 Year Old. The great texture of this shellfish is popular but their taste of origin is often lost in the cooking process. Go for a whisky that was matured by the sea. Islay whiskies are well known for their salty, seaweedy flavours.
Dessert: Kulfi and Johnnie Walker Gold Label. Have a bit of fun with this creamy, soft dessert. Take a mouthful and let it freeze for a few seconds then enjoy a nice amount of this creamy, honeyed blend.
If there is a lull during the night (or at the end of the shift if it’s particularly busy) the staff in a curry house will take a break and eat their own meal. But for them there is no pondering about whether it’s to be Chicken Tikka Masala, Lamb Vindaloo or a Prawn Bhuna. The chef will already have a pot bubbling away so there is no messing about when the time comes for the staff to eat. What’s in the pot is what the staff get to eat. The curry (if that’s what it is) is commonly called the Kitchen Curry (although some might say Staff Curry). Very few places actually advertise it on their menu (Memsaheb on Thames near Crossharbour DLR, a place Delia Smith has raved about, is one that does) but quite a few places will dish it up if you ask and there is enough to go round. The Kitchen Curry will change every day and will more than likely be a dish that is popular in the region that the chef or staff originate from. Memsaheb’s menu says the Kitchen Curry (£7.95) is, ‘Usually fairly hot, sometimes very hot, meat is always on the bone.’ You want authentic? The Kitchen Curry is the place to look.
There’s more of what is promoted as authentic Indian food on offer for those of you visiting your broker or investment banker soon, or more likely if you work in Canary Wharf. A new kiosk has opened up just outside the entrance to the Jubilee Line (opposite Smollensky’s) serving Indian street food. Perfect for lunchtime, but expect a queue, and remember not to spill any on your new suit.
My favourite fish supplier, Lockie’s Shell Fish (in the Lord Hood Pub garden on weekends) has been expanding its range lately, which is great because fish curry lovers cannot live on whelks and cockles alone. The red mullet is a must try and it’s easy to rustle up a spicy snack. Take half a tsp each of coriander seeds and cumin seeds, a quarter tsp of black peppercorns, a couple of dried chillies and a pinch of salt and cinnamon powder. Crush it all up and rub into the flesh and leave for at least an hour. Then on a high heat fry the flesh side for two minutes and the skin side of the fish for one minute. Eat with a pickle of your choice.
Being surrounded by beautiful things when your eating a good curry really can make a difference to a night out. @Benb111 (a regular tipster for Curry Corner) has unearthed a gem at Ladywell Tandoori, where beautiful murals of Indian scenes (by artist Gill Golding) go hand in hand with great food. The Murg Achari (£6.95) is recommended while you enjoy the artwork on the walls.
So now we’ve got great food and great art how about some music? My favourite curry songs are Korma Chameleon, It’s Chappati and I’ll Cry if I Want To, and Oh Dhansak Boy, the Pipes are Calling. Of course, if you don’t like those you must be Sharp Dressed Naan so maybe you can Tikka a Walk on Wild Side?
The Mighty Mitre Burger
It stands at a wobbly 17cm tall and includes nearly a kilo of beef (two pounds) – hungry people, please welcome Greenwich’s biggest burger.
Inspired by his favourite TV show, Man versus Food, Matt Lannon, manager at the Mitre Hotel, has set his customers a challenge of his own: eat the Mighty Mitre Burger (and chips) in 20 minutes and you’ll get it for free.
Having witnessed the first one being cooked and plated I’d say chef Ed Lorryman will have as much trouble getting this monster to stand up straight as customers will have of actually eating it. But should you fancy your chances at the challenge here’s what you’ll have put away… one Italian brioche bun (plus a middle bit of bread), four 225gm (or eight ounce) beef patties, every one topped with cheese, bacon, a battered onion ring and Naga Bhut Jolokia peppers from India. The peppers, nicknamed ghost peppers, supposedly because the heat sneaks up on anyone who eats them, was named the hottest pepper in the world by the Guinness Book of Records in 2007 (although it’s subsequently been out-hotted). Add a side order of chips.
“Don’t forget the lettuce, tomato and onion we top it off with,” says Matt, “we want to make sure there’s some healthy stuff on there as well.”
The burger is priced at £15 and all in all weighs in at approximately 1.25 kilos (2.8 pounds) uncooked and that’s not including the chips.
Most of you will have come into triathlon from one of the three disciplines it incorporates – for most people this is running or cycling. You have some experience of racing in ‘your own’ sport, consider yourself to be fit and want to start stretching and testing yourself a bit further.
Then comes the crunch. Not only do you have to start relearning two other sports (most of us have had some experience of all three disciplines at some time, even if it was way back in our school days) but you have to discover how to combine all three and start treating them as one sport.
Now matter how fit you consider yourself to be, you will benefit from improved technique in all areas of triathlon. A few simple technical improvements in your swimming, cycling and running will help shave valuable seconds and minutes off your race time but most importantly will harness your fitness and energy in the right way.
Sheer guts and determination can overcome poor technique to some extent (although more often than not this will lead to injuries) but good technique can achieve the same results – meaning you have your strength stored up for when you need it most.
Simply put, do you want to be an athlete who trains to the limit then falls over the line exhausted in a disappointing time or do you want to train smarter and smoother and see real results on race day?
Use this section to get the basics correct for your two ‘weaker’ disciplines, but also revisit your strongest discipline to look for any improvements you can make. Remember you now have to train across three disciplines, which means the time previously dedicated to your sport will be reduced. So, for instance, if you came into triathlon from a running background you may now find yourself out on the road only two to three times a week instead of five or more because of the time you need getting your swimming and cycling up to scratch. Good technique can counter this drop in quantity.
And there can be no better place to get things right than at the transitions. Progressing from the water to your bike and later from your wheels to your feet can make or break your race. It’s not only the time you lose by fumbling around at transitions but the momentum you lose as a result. A nice, smooth transition that goes as planned, can act as a mental boost and keeps your mind focused on the real job at hand.
For most of us new to triathlon, swimming is the least favourite part of the race. Concentrate on a smooth stroke and getting your body position, leg kick, hand entry and breathing right and swimming, even in open water, needs hold no fears.
Cycling offers many opportunities to improve your technique so take time to look at all the aspects you will encounter, from hill climbing to downhills, to cornering to drafting (when allowed). Save a few seconds at every corner, every climb and every descent and your race times will tumble. Again, smoothness is everything, so work on your pedal stroke and eliminating the ‘dead spots’ (see pages 42-45) at the top and bottom of each pedal cycle, which waste so much time.
As you tire, an efficient technique becomes more and more important. As you enter the running phase of the triathlon, confidence in your technique will help you overcome fatigue and carry you home. Work on the small elements of technique during your running training and learn to listen to your body to see works for you. Keeping your style loose and relaxed is the key, and it will hold you in good stead as you approach the final, gruelling part of your triathlon.
From a busy lifestyle to race day
It’s pretty simple: if you do not train consistently you will not see the improvements or get the results you want in your running. The biggest obstacle you can face in getting consistent runs under your belt is a busy lifestyle. But it’s not impossible to go from thinking you don’t have time to even breathe to training hard, entering a race and, who knows, even hitting the infamous ‘wall’ yourself one day.
In general most people have to fit their runs in around family and work. This is where you have to be creative. Many runners get their long Sunday runs out of the way before anyone else is up so not to impact on their family life. Even if you do run early, as long as you eat properly after training you will feel great for the rest of the day. Other tips are to run into work, or if you live too far for that then get off the bus or train en route to work and run in the rest of the way. If you pick your children up from school, try to go early so you can run near to where you are picking them up. If you take them to after-school clubs take your running shoes with you. Get your training days established with gentle jogs before you start the running programme. You will soon discover there is time to run.
In simple terms be organized. Have your running kit and everything else you need prepared the day before. Know what is provided at the race and what you will have to take (you will need pre- and post-drinks and food, and for the long races a comfy pair of shoes to put on after the race). Have all this in your running bag so there are no late panics.
If you are racing away from home and need any accommodation make sure it is pre-booked and you know the logistics of how you are getting to the race line, where you leave your running bag, where you are collecting your bags from, and how you are getting back. The big events are incredibly well organized but if you have 30,000 runners heading towards one start line, there will always be some problems getting there. Allow plenty of time to get to the start as you do not want to be stressed before a race and use
up valuable energy.
For the half- and full marathons a warm-up will not be necessary as you should start slowly and build your pace gradually. For 10 km runs you will need a good 15 minutes warm-up, building up to race pace for the last few strides. Add a gentle pre-stretch and then you will be ready for the off.
Hitting the wall
When you were worried about your busy lifestyle, you never thought this would be a problem did you? In reality the wall should only be a problem in the marathon. In simple terms, hitting the wall happens when your glycogen levels (carbohydrates once they have been converted) start running out. Glycogen is your main source of energy when running endurance events and once this is depleted your body will revert to using fat stores as energy, which can leave you feeling very flat and unable to perform at the same intensity. This typically happens at about the 30 km (about 19 mile) mark because a body can only store approximately 2,000 kcal of glycogen, which runs out at about this distance.
You can get your glycogen levels up with sports drinks and gels. The general rule of thumb is to take a sports drink before the race and a gel every 6 km (about 4 miles) or so. However you must try this in training (your long runs are an ideal time to practice) and carefully follow the instructions on the gel pack. They all vary on frequency of use, some have caffeine in, which may not agree with you, and you will need to drink water soon after consumption for most gels.
The other way to prevent your body hitting the wall is through training. By training aerobically for long periods of time your body will adapt and get used to using fat as an energy source earlier. This will then enable you to preserve some of the glycogen stores for longer.
The City that Knows How to Dance
Second only to Brazil’s Sãu Paulo when it comes to largest populations in South America, the greater metropolitan area of Buenos Aires is a huge 13 million and counting.
The city itself, though, is a much more agreeable three million or so. Large it may be, but Argentina’s capital is far from a sprawling Sãu Paulo. In fact first-time visitors to the city, used to the clichéd impressions of South American cities are struck by just how stylish Buenos Aires is.
And is it any wonder really from a city smack in the middle of the region that gave us the sensual tango dance? Although there have been adaptations and variations of the tango, Argentina (and Uruguay) remains the home of the dance. Visitors to the city can enjoy displays of the dance in venues all over the city or go one step further and learn from the masters. Courses of varying lengths are on offer twinkle toes…
In fact you are going to need nimble footwork while staying here, if only to cross the massive Avenida 9 de Julio. There are so many lanes that pedestrians have to cross in stages via various safe crossing islands. Now you know what those frogs in the early PC games felt like.
When not dancing the tango, or crossing Avenida 9 de Julio, you’ll be needing a beer, which is handy because Argentina produces the very agreeable Cerveza Quilmes. For popular and busy nightlife areas head to San Telmo and Puerto Madero.
The city has a stylish café scene that will remind you of France or Italy and these cafés are a great place to start off the afternoon or evening because this city parties late. Try a mate (an infused drink enjoyed through an elaborate ‘straw’) or if you fancy something stronger simply ask for a aguardiente (firewater). Hey, now you’re dancing…
A Beautiful Life
Life’s pretty good for Capetonians. Nestled against the imposing Table Mountain and flanked by the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean, visitors very quickly declare that this is a city that has it all.
Beautiful warm summers, plentiful rains, an abundance of wine farms nearby, good-quality restaurants, a vibrant nightlife, sandy beaches and beautiful scenery, international sporting events, excellent shopping, affordable prices, and it has to be said, very beautiful people. It’s not a bad list is it?
The locals even put a positive spin on the wind that can whistle down the streets with ferocity sometimes, dubbing it the Cape Doctor because it blows away all the germs and keeps the city healthy. It’s no wonder that so many visitors end up staying or buying holiday homes in the city.
The V&A Waterfront, an ever-growing complex of shops, offices, restaurants and bars, is a magnet for tourists who enjoy the waterside location, the working harbour and the relaxed, cosmopolitan atmosphere. This is said to be the busiest tourist attraction in the country and it’s easy to see why. It is from here that you can get ferries to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other leaders of today’s South Africa were imprisoned as they fought to free the country from apartheid.
Heading away from the city, you will find wine farms till your vino heart’s content in the Stellenbosch, Constantia, Paarl, Robertson and Worcester areas.
Popular city beaches are Camp’s Bay and Clifton, while Bloubergstrand, Noordhoek and Boulder’s Beach (where you can sometimes swim with penguins) can be found further out.
Curry Bard 2011
Daniel Ford has been named Curry Bard 2011 by the National Curry Week following a countrywide poetry competition. His poem about curry included some of the places he’s eaten the food…
It’s early, it’s early
Very early and it’s breakfast time
The Delhi train rattles us on its way
A hawker’s fruit slice. A metal thali tray
The curry day is ready
It’s midday, it’s midday
Exactly midday and it’s lunchtime
The sun hits us sharp on the Durban sand
A bunny chow’s the order in this land
The curry day is underway
It’s afternoon, it’s afternoon
Dark wraps us up and it’s dinner time
Smart jackets here in Bermuda don’t you know
Masala’s the choice but the red is for show
The curry day is full on
It’s late, it’s late
Stars are our guides and it’s supper time
London’s partying’s all done
Closing time choices. Madras won
The curry day has ended
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