Vietnamese soup simmeringBÚN BÒ HUE

serves 2


Beef stock: can use cubes or condensed but best to use pork/beef bones, oxtail, chopped into chunks, simmered  down for 2-3 hours and skimmed of the majority of fat, you need about 3 pints stock.

Ideally, should also have Vietnamese staple, (pungent) shrimp paste, but I’ve substituted for slightly more available oyster sauce.
500g beef, e.g. bavette (from between ribs) steak

Rice noodles

1 cinnamon stick

3 garlic cloves

2 star anise

A thumb sized chunk of ginger

3 red chillies

2 sticks lemongrass

1 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp soy sauce

Half red onion

Handful of holy basil

1 lime


Place cinnamon stick and star anise in large saucepan

Chop finely the garlic, the ginger, 2 of the chillies (remove seeds and rinse chillies under cold tap before chopping to reduce heat), slice the red onion, peel the outer skin of lemongrass stalks and finely chop the whiter ends. Add all of this to a tbsp of rapeseed oil in the sauce pan. Let it sizzle for 30secs then add stock. Add majority of torn holy basil leaves, leave a handful for garnish.

Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

7 minutes in, taste, add soy sauce and oyster sauce at discretion, remove cinnamon stick and star anise. Add rice noodles.

Slice the beef into thin strips, about two inches long and no thicker than a quarter of an inch, thinner if possible.

Place the uncooked beef into serving bowls.

Ladle hot soup into these bowls, divide the noodles into both.

Provide a side dish with optional garnish of half lime, bean sprouts, some finely chopped red chilli and holy basil leaves


Prince at King’s Place, 1st show, 14 February 2014, live review

It is par for the course on Valentine’s day to hearken keenly to breathless hints, succumb to whispers, be deliciously led to the summits of delight by teasing promises, promising teases.

This time, when I was almost certain, I ran, heart pounding, straight into a cab. Enduring a torturous journey with a friendly driver keen to discuss communism, while I was texting and checking the latest messages, yearning to be where my heart lay. I arrived to stand alone in uncertainty and longing which came to slow relief as I queued for an hour and a half in wild and restless wind and rain to see Prince play in King’s Place.

We had been catching hints on social media, finally following them when they suggested something true. My friend arrived to the queue only five minutes after I did and was about 80 people behind me. We thought it uncouth to jump the queue though it transpired he was 8 people away from getting in to the first show. A girl got booed by the 300 people she passed to then settle in with her friends, gulping away the shame with a fag and a can of beer.

The queue was nervous but friendly, there was an air of mystery to the night which led the man in front of me to be convinced I was wearing my hood up to disguise myself from paparazzi, he thought my voice sounded famous. I told him ’thanks, I can assure you I’m nobody, I’m wearing this because of the rain’, but he gave me a narrow eyed look suggesting he thought I must be bluffing.

Once inside and with my ticket, one final obstacle between me and Prince, acoustic, in a tiny room! I had to go to the bathroom, another man and I stood side by side, each of us impatiently cursing aloud at the slow will of nature keeping us bound to the porcelain.

Then I dashed in to the venue, to the sound of acoustic guitar and the unmistakable vocals of the man himself.

The room was warm and intimate, on stage he and the band were at once tight and playful. The musicians responded to his lead, so too the flow of the evening, which gave everything a professional but ever so slightly chaotic feel, as if anything could happen. After us dancing away to an acoustic ‘You Got the Look’ he suggested we sit while he and 3rdeyegirl jammed together and we dutifully did. What was particularly enjoyable was being in such close proximity that one could see clearly the expression on his face change, from passing notes of slight annoyance at a very rare misstep, to the contentment, joy and abandon upon his face as he sang and played.

We enjoyed first an acoustic set, where his raw talent was clear and bright to witness, featuring several remarkable covers. Particularly a lively and soulful take on the Clash’s Train in Vain, a dirty, funky, Bill Withers’ ‘Who is he and what is he to you?’ and a beautiful Crimson and Clover, soft and low, with the women in the audience providing a backing refrain of ‘over and over’ to the song’s end. He then segued into an electric set, funky and raw. Beginning the wild ride with him at the keys covering Billy Cobham’s Stratus.

Next he treated us to his exhilarating electric guitar: He has a great voice, is an accomplished pianist, but I’ve never seen anyone play electric guitar as well as Prince. It’s not just his technical ability, the complete mastery and assurance, which is staggering, but also the artistic musical invention on the fly. Stunning flourishes of melody and rhythm that burst forth, captivating and spectacular as fireworks in the night.

In contrast to his guitar playing, the Q and A element was interesting but slightly awkward, he gave self-effacing answers to effusive fans. The question on everyone’s lips could be surmised as ‘why are you so great?’, but when someone asked him basically this, he just rolled his eyes, soaked up the laughter, and went back to the music. Later on, in the midst of the electric set, one questioner rambled on with a densely worded question full of fan-knowledge about Prince’s remarkably diverse English influences: ‘I know you know Gary Numan…’ Prince did not quite answer the question, but shortly after, nodded to it somewhat by playing a very beautiful instrumental version of Roxy Music’s More Than this on electric guitar. I was rapt, because it was lovely and a marvellous synthesis of two musical worlds that I admire deeply. From a place without myself, I slowly became aware that I was literally on the edge of my seat, grinning, with a heart brimful of warm happiness.

In his longest response he told about how he found Jesus through Larry Graham, and while this could have been cloying, it was actually quite touching and added to the sense of proximity with him as he shared something obviously so personal to him, with wit and without preachiness.

Then he returned to the rock and the funk, we all danced, it was loud, fervent and mesmerisingly good. He seemed to be enjoying himself along with the rest of us. Partly, I wanted him to play my favourite songs, but this did not detract from enjoying his new material. The whole gig had an organic flow to it, it was extraordinary, stripped down, raw and scintillating. It may all have been cynical marketing for a new album, but last time he toured the UK he sold hundreds of thousands of tickets and played a huge stadium night after night. He could easily have done this again, yet he had chosen to do something completely different.

Maybe this was him seeking a particular experience for himself, not only us, perhaps trying to recapture some connection with music and the audience that he may have lost as his stardom has escalated stratospherically, carrying him far beyond the simple world we inhabit into the awesome but lonely and distant dark night full of stars. At one point he gestured to someone in the front row for a swig of their drink, they apologetically offered up an almost empty pint glass and Prince declined the dregs, but he had a playful grin on his face that seemed to indicate that he was amused, happy and comfortable.

After an hour and a half, there was a crescendo of music and then he asked if we wouldn’t mind leaving so the 500 people waiting outside – ‘our brothers and sisters’ could come in from the cold. I didn’t want to leave, but I was happy to, he had created a warm and loving atmosphere and made us all feel not just witness to, but part of, something very special.

Personally I feel very lucky to have seen him in such a modest space, it was a great (though expensive) privilege to watch him close up, playing in a relatively uncontrived and inventive way for so few people. Outside, I saw my friend at the front of the crowd ready to go in for the second show. I made some appreciative hand gestures that attempted to express the joy I felt but could not hope to. Maybe some types of joy can only be communicated through music I thought to myself as I put my hood up, turned my phone back on, and went back to being nobody in the rain.


I recently returned from a small Island off the coast of Vietnam where I had a motorbike accident.  I had hoped the serenity of the island would help me focus on writing, but the only writing I did was on the back of an envelope just after my accident. 

It’s somewhat disjointed (the writing, not the foot) but I was probably still in shock, I reproduce it here nonetheless:

I’m lain on a gurney in a tiny Vietnamese hospital. I’ve just had stitches to close a gaping wound in my foot after a motorbike accident. 

A woman is dying noisily in the room behind me.

Another, even more serious accident is in the cubicle beside me.

A man name ‘Luck’ translated for me. He’s the general manager of where I’m staying. He sat with me, “you’ll be fine”, he said – but he left during the stitches, looking queasy.

Luck! A one armed, few toothed man just wandered into the hospital, selling lottery tickets.

My blood was spurting out on the red clay road.

I tumbled and slid on my right hand side.

My Frankenstein monster foot, in stitches.

I was a boy the last time I had stitches. 

Foot feels weird, taut, numb.

Will the pain return?

Oh, the people I love.  I love them.

A man staunched my wound with a ripped open cigarette, the nicotine leaves sopping up my blood and stinging into my system. 

“What can I do?” I asked myself on that red clay road.

Life is not to be taken for granted.

I love you. If ever I have loved you. I love you.


Buen Ayre, restaurant review

Being a vegetarian is in some ways commendable, the reduced Carbon footprint for instance. But the downside is – no meat.

Whether you are herbivore or carnivore, fire is dangerous, okay? But the combination of meat and fire, well hats off to the furry and primitive Blumenthal who came up with that one.

Buen Ayre is found at 50 Broadway Market in hackney. It’s a small place where they put fire and meat together. It’s a little expensive for what it is, but the meat is fantastic. Great slabs of Argentinian beef blushing pink from modesty at how delicious it is. The wine list is good too.

The sort of place a cro magnon man or a gourmet would both be happy. I recommend it.

Food: 8

Service: 8

Ambience: 7

Value: 6

Total = 7.25

Location:E8 4qj


Asa Kusa, Mornington Crescent, is my favourite Japanese restaurant in London.

Maybe it is the pokey nature of the interior layout, the shabby decor, the service which is often inattentive. Or maybe it is just the excellent, delicious, food.

Whatever it is, I like it.

Anyway, if you ever go there, I recommend the deep fried oysters and…well…everything else.

Sushi is seemingly healthy, although I’ve been told it damages your liver. (Further reading suggests that this seems to be a problem relevant specifically to South East Asia)

Boo hoo.

Sushi is great.

Except when it is DESTROYING THE WORLD like a big fishy Godzilla.  Make sure your Sushi is sustainable.

Bluefin tuna is particularly eco-unfriendly, and swanky Sushi chain Nobu is being boycotted by fish and Earth lovers alike because of its bluefin desecrating menu.

1000 months

I am sat in a cafe watching the spiral galaxy of milk cool into being in the black night coffee before me.

I imagine a ballerina in a music box, sparkling, swirling; a segue into a memory faded in the sun and rain.

When it has settled, the liquid in the cup takes on a donkeyish colour, dun and homely.

I taste bittersweetness with a silent tongue.

And I take my time.

I am passing time.


How much do you get?

Fewer than a 1000 months.

I am wasting time.

Joanna Newsom

Live review:  Joanna Newsom, Royal Albert Hall, 28 September 2007
When I was asked to go to this concert, I was trepidatious, even reluctant.  I had heard her name mentioned before and I had attempted to listen to her earlier works, but her naif screechy voice had completely horrified me, if I am honest.  I could not get beyond the broken glass voice that scraped and scratched against the pristine elegance of the harp.  But I was convinced to go, nonetheless.
So, in the prestige of the second tier of the Royal Albert Hall, we took our seats, directly opposite the stage.  We had opted to enjoy a meal rather than see Roy Harper, which may have been a mistake, it was a good meal, nonetheless, and I prepared to be aurally assaulted by screech owls for an hour.
She came onto the stage with a winsome humility, and she spoke in a friendly and unassuming way to the audience.  And then, with a guitarist, a violinist and a drummer she began to play.
And from the first bars of music, ‘Bridges and Balloons’, the sound swelled up and around the vast hall and I found that I was crying.  Not out of sadness, but because of how utterly – overwhelmingly – beautiful the merging sounds and lyrics were.  In the living, breathing, soaring music was something that I had missed, there was an honesty and a fragility that was so compelling that it was impossible to not feel it.  And from that point on I was completely mesmerised. I think that when she played Sawdust and Diamonds I felt that I had actually travelled to a forgotten land.  It was, in the end, one of the most memorable, beautiful and suprising concerts I have ever had the good fortune to attend.
I expected to be assaulted by screech owls, but instead I was lifted from the ground by a fleet of a hundred rainbow plumed parrots, and flown to a beautiful place.

(guitar tab of Bridges and Balloons to go here, shortly)

Sashimi-meeny miny mo

I am on a quest.  I can’t claim it has the profundity of a search for the Holy Grail or the philosopher’s stone, but to my tongue and stomach, it is a quest of far greater importance. 

It is the quest for the best sushi in London…

oyster shells 

The Japanese food known to us as sushi is to some a strange and unappetising idea. 

The idea of munching on raw fish makes their faces scrunch up in disgust, ‘raw fish!’ they exclaim, ‘how frightful!’ and then their monocle falls into their sherry.

But the ‘fishy’ taste that most people associate with our delicious, silvery, gilled aquatic friends, is actually caused by decay – fresh fish does not smell ‘fishy’.

‘Sushi’ actually refers to the sticky vinegared rice that accompanies the variety of seafood.’Sashimi’ is the sliced, fresh raw seafood.  And Sashimi is served very fresh, and expertly filleted.

There is also Bashimi, which is raw horsemeat, but I can’t say that my tongue and stomach want to accompany me on that particular quest.

So, where is the best place to get sushi in the grubby, noisy, glittering city of London?


Asakusa,  NW1 1BA

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This place offers delicious food at very reasonable prices.  It is authentic and unpretentious, but be sure to book ahead as it is also very popular.  And don’t let them put you in the basement, I hear it is awful.

This is quite possibly the best sushi restaurant of this list.  The food is exceptional. But don’t expect glamour.

Food: 9
Service: 8
Ambience: 7
Value: 8

 total = 8

Bento Cafe, NW1 7PG

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This restaurant in Camden’s Parkway, near the Jazz Cafe, is a little wonder.  The food is a slight step away from the traditional, with a flourish that makes it even more tasty.  I am heartily addicted to it.  I highy recommend the soft shell crab starter, and the white tiger rolls.

When I first started coming here I was wary of the service as I had read reviews that gave a bad impression, but having been here many times now the staff are very friendly and helpful and familiar.

They do an exceptionally good value lunch menu, also. 

Food: 8
Service: 8
Ambience: 8
Value: 7.5

total= 7.8 

Ichi Riki, SW1P 2HY

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So what if it has a slightly comedic name?  Victoria suffers from a dearth of decent eateries, and this little place is a haven of good Sushi. In a pokey little underground booth.

Food: 7
Service: 7
Ambience: 6
Value: 7

total= 6.75

Ten Ten Tei, W1F 9TJ

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Soho’s Brewer street, just up from Picadilly has several sushi places, and this is probably the best.  It is good, solid Japanese fare at a reasonable price for central London.  But there is not much atmosphere.

Food: 7
Service: 7
Ambience: 6
Value: 6

 total= 6.5

Ichiban, SW9 8PY

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I would not recommend eating here.  It is small and not very good value, and the sushi inauthentic and pedestrian.

Food: 5
Service: 6
Ambience: 6
Value: 6

total= 5.7

Edokko, WC1R 4PF

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The internet.  Do not listen to it.  It doesn’t know what it’s talking about – I think it might be drunk.

I thought I’d have a look and see what the internet thought the best sushi in London was and it referred me to a forum where some people were praising a place called Edokko, on Red Lion Street, Holborn.

Now, I tried to book a table at Asa Kusa first, but they didn’t have anything until 9.45, so I thought why not give this place a go and booked a table there.

It doesn’t look much outside, nor downstairs, but upstairs you take your shoes off and sit at very Japanese and authentic low tables.  The atmosphere is quite pleasant, and the service very attentive.

The sushi and sashimi, however, is preposterously expensive.  Tekka Don, for example, is rice with some tuna slices on it.  A fair price might be no more than ten pounds.

Twenty five pounds is Edokko’s reckoning.  Twenty five pounds for a bowl of rice (£1.50/2) and some tuna sashimi (£7-8).

The food is not even *that* good.  I ordered the black miso cod – a rip off of the Nobu recipe that has become commonplace nowadays and it was inferior not only to that available at Bento Café in Camden, but also inferior to a version my girlfriend once cooked.  The cod was slightly underdone.

We had deep fried oysters (£10) which were good, the oyster remaining plump and moist in its crisp shell, and the sushi was not bad, but really not great, and worse than that of Asa Kusa.

I ordered some Toro, which was melty and tasty, as it should be for £3.50 a piece.  But the sea bass and sea bream was not as good as Asa Kusa’s.

This is an inferior and expensive place that caters to homesick Japanese people who assumedly haven’t got the hang of the exchange rate yet. 

Thanks internet.

Food: 5
Service: 7
Ambience: 8
Value: 2
total= 5.25


Honorable, and admittedly unrelated mentions:

Oriental city was a magical place in Colindale, Brent (that’s right) where you could get a Kimono, a glow in the dark godzilla or a gelatinous pancake with things in it…in fact anything (oriental) that your heart so desired.

I had the best roast duck I have ever had at a restaurant there.

But sadly, as of 1 June,  it has gone.   Which is a shame as it was an authentic oriental food palace (warehouse) far removed from the seedy crime front of much of Leicester square’s Chinatown.

Oriental city, we salute you!