Saturday, 30 April 2011

A right Jersey Royal weekend

Though the union flags are down from frantic waving and we’ve peeled ourselves from the telly, we still have a few glorious days ahead of us to embrace that nationwide hangover. I’m certainly ready to adopt the weekend that’s as long as the working week.

The first crop of Jersey Royal potatoes arrived last week.

I don’t know who’s not partial to these regal things, freshly dug, all sweet and smooth and waxy.

A big bowl of earthy, just-cooked Jersey Royals is a welcome addition to the indoor/outdoor barbecue.

Whether guest or host can I suggest that these are part of the festivities as well as the Pimms.

Scrub off that soft mud that clothe the spud. They cook terribly fast - you want to watch them - give them less than ten minutes in salted boiling water. Sprinkle finely chopped spring onions which will wilt beautifully over the heat of the potatoes and a smatter of sea salt crushed with your fingers. Coat them in a light olive oil - nothing too strong.

Present with a lamb chop or a glazed steak hot off the barbecue, or perhaps a whole trout. Watch as your guests help themselves to large spoonfuls of spuds and, if they aren’t already, become right Royalists.

Thank you to Phipps and Jersey Royals

Sunday, 10 April 2011

New York Tales: 2. The Burger Brunch

Forget eggs benedict and fancy fries. When your insides are wincing from margarita pain - the burger’s where it’s at.

I’m a maximalist when it comes to the burger. I once had a month’s stint in Australia, where avocado and beetroot is packed in just about everything, after which I was purist no longer. Pickle, onion, fried things, bacon bits. You know the score.

Think thick slabs of meat, wedged in bun and made sloppy with enough condiment to drip from your hands. Cheese? Oh go on then. Melt it.

That was the tonic after a night out at Industry in Hell’s Kitchen - a pulsing gay club, newly opened, box-fresh and quite frankly, too much.

I’d spent the morning-after dazedly wandering the art galleries of Chelsea, all Andy Warhol polaroids and sad artists. But by midday I had a purpose. Brunch with my friend Barry had been booked at the Mercer Kitchen in Soho and burgers awaited. Just the anticipation of eating was making me shake.

The Mercer Kitchen is a fine place - airy and busy up top, but the floor underneath in its Christian Liaigre glory is clandestine - dark with wenge-wood. You may think it's a dear place as it's a Jean-George Vongerichten number (who's just opened Spice Market in Soho, London. Read Jay Rayner's review here) but with burgers at $15 a pop, I don't think that's bad at all.

Barry chose the Niman ranch burger, adorned with only aged cheddar. Mine was called the Mercer (which surely allows the kitchen to dress it up with as fancy ingredients as possible) fussy with tart pepperjack cheese, avocado, creamy Russian dressing and crispy onions. All this glorified cheeseburger was missing was the crunch of salty bacon. Simple golden fries were served charmingly in a flowerpot.

I’d learnt to love Brooklyn Brewery lager over the weeks (the Draft House in Battersea stocks the lager and the ale) which was a handsome thing to swig with mouthfuls of chargrilled meat.

Now, the Mercer is not the best place to chow down burger in New York City. But as far as fussy burgers and good chat go, this place has the winning combination.

It’s the place to talk the morning after the night before. The place where you can avoid smug bright eyed shoppers. The place to hide from the stream of sunbeams when your eyes aren’t quite used to daylight.

I’m all for the burger brunch. Are you?

The Mercer Kitchen
99 Prince St.
New York, NY

Mercer Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

New York Tales: 1. The art of eating alone

I grew up on London suspicion.

“Don’t talk to strangers”
“Men that come up to you will kidnap you” (primary school aged six)
“Don’t answer the doorbell especially on Hallowe’en”

I’ve been slowly unpicking these axioms from my life (perhaps the last one not so much).

And then I go to New York City. Everyone’s yapping. No one's moody at you. No huff of an impatient brute in your ear on Oxford Street if you walk too slow. Nor constipated silence in the reluctant intimacy of a train racketing its way to work.

It is a joy to be in New York on your own. Almost every bar of every decent restaurant will have ownsomes drinking, eating, and if they could only smoke, they would.

It’s not an opportunity to leer, it’s not a no-mates statement.

In London it’s unheard of to see people alone for those brunch or dinner occasions. Lunch and coffee perhaps. And rarer still to see strangers talk to each other unless they want to pounce on each other. Perching up at the bar without a companion exposes them as being ON THEIR OWN and WITHOUT FRIENDS.

My friend Kate, a Brit who lives in New York, once rocked up to The Fat Radish to meet a friend only to realise she’d misread her diary and was frustratingly sans mobile. Undeterred, she ordered supper, armed herself with a glass of wine and a paperback. A full member of the ownsome club, she went back for supper with her friend the next day unembarrassed and knowing what to order.

And so I have twenty minutes at the Mercer Kitchen in NY’s Soho on my own. Yearning for a burger brunch that will make friends with some beers and margaritas from the night before.

My friend is late. And that is fine. Trouncing up to the bar, greeted by lovely white-teethed smiles, I snatch a high chair next to someone going at his egg-white omelette with his fork.

I order a cucumber martini.

He looks at me like I’m his kinda girl.

And that’s it. I learn about his trade - broking for marigold yellow cabs. He tells me most people like to rant about them. I don’t, and from there it’s freeflow.

It’s acceptable to be on your own, to wait. My friend Barry comes along, picks me up and there’s no obligation to keep talking. We politely exchange goodbyes. My interlude with a stranger has not ended in kidnap, but a richer appreciation of the yellow cab. Though to be fair – he didn’t come up to me, I bothered him. Perhaps he should’ve been suspicious of me, the Londoner instead.