Archive for April, 2007

Chew and Chow

Monday, April 30th, 2007

Peter asks:

This is a little way off your Greenwich patrol, but do you know anything about recent changes at Chew and Chow ?

Chew and Chow has been a small licensed Spanish cafe in Charlton Church Lane, just up the hill from Charlton station, serving simple but good quality food for the last 10 years or so. The interior and furniture define basic, but its always been a treat to have a neighbourhood cafe providing authentic Spanish fare using excellent ingredients. Charlton Church Lane probably isn’t the best location for an enterprise of this type and in recent years the cafe scaled down to weekend only opening.

We went there for lunch today first the first time for a few months. The menu still offer the same tapas dishes and salads as before, but there is also a “Thai Tapas” menu. The Spanish breakfasts have gone from the menu, as have the omelettes and filled rolls, but there is a new short listing of Thai curries on the menu. We ordered our favourites from the tapas menu and the quality of ingredients and cooking was pretty much the same as before.

So my questions are;

Has anyone else eaten there since these changes and what was their experience ?

What’s the storey behind the changes ? Is it now a partnership between the previous and new operators, or has the previous owner sold on the business and recepies ? And if so has the previous owner set up somewhere else locally that would be worth knowing about ?

Peter, I don’t know this place, but it sounds intriguing. I will review it asap and find out what I can…

In the meanwhile, I bet someone else here has tried this place and can give you an opinion…

The Dead of Summer

Monday, April 30th, 2007

Camilla Way, Harper Collins

Book Two in my Great Greenwich Fiction Readathon, The Dead of Summer is the most recent novel set here – it’s only just out. I read an interview with Camilla Way in The Guide (the only local mag I have much time for) and thought she looked interesting. From this, her debut novel, I’d say she probably is.

Set in the long, hot summer of 1986, The Dead of Summer is the story of three misfit pre-teenagers – the mercurial, dangerous, Kyle and his loyal followers, fat, slow Dennis, and “skint paki” Anita, through whose eyes the story unfolds. Right at the beginning, where, some years later, Anita is recounting the story to her doctor, we realise that something went very badly wrong that summer “There were four of us, now there’s only one.” We know that some terrible event will happen before the end of the book, but I challenge anyone, even up to the last chapter, to work out what that event will be.

There is a heavy sense of foreboding through the heat and the dry sunshine of Greenwich Park, the chlorine stench of The Arches swimming pool, the steep slog of Point Hill – even on the bus from Brockley (where the kids actually live.) As we follow the unstable Kyle and his two cohorts through the park, looking for the tunnels under the hills (yes – you know the rule – if there’s a book set in Greenwich it MUST include a reference to the tunnels under Greenwich Park…) we begin to feel that not everything is right or even particularly wholesome in any of the children’s lives.

There are a couple of really chilling moments, though I’m not going to give you any spoilers here. But in a Wasp-Factory-esque, Curious Incident of the Dog-ish sort of way, expect not to get what’s going on until it’s far, far too late.

In the Guide interview, Camilla Way says she was a magazine sub-editor, which to some extent explains why this book keeps its taut, flat, emotionless tone throughout – she is the person that cuts the fat out of other people’s writing, so presumably she’s quite good at editing-out her own flabby material, sticking to the story in hand (Ironically, I did notice at least one typo in the interview. Tut, Guide subs – you’ll never get a book published now…)

This is not a long read. But The Dead of Summer’s bitter taste lingers long after the last page…

The Harvest of Heads

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

Ok, so if you’ve been paying attention (sit up straight at the back, there!) I was talking about Duke Humphrey’s Tower recently – you know – the one that stood where the Observatory is today.

If you remember, Our Humph was a hero of Agincourt, who did very nicely, thank you, building palaces left, right and centre, until a new king came to the throne. Humph and his wife were accused of dabbling in The Black Arts against nutty King Henry VI and everything went horribly wrong. Humph died in mysterious circumstances and his wife was convicted of sorcery. They got off lightly – his followers were hanged, drawn and quartered.

Right, so now we’re up to speed…

Not everyone was delighted by this, and one Jack Cade (his real name, John Mortimer, just didn’t have that swashbuckling feel to it…) led a rebellion – The Men of Kent – against the king. It’s uncertain how interested Cade actually was in the issues but he was an adventurer who was looking for an excuse to swagger around in a red outfit, make speeches and lead an army of men into the history books. All togged-up in his scarlet clothing, he led his motley crew (some accounts say 46,000 of them) onto Blackheath and camped there in 1450 – not dissimilar in many ways to the Wat Tyler’s Peasants Revolt 70 years beforehand.

Shakespeare doesn’t think much of The Men of Kent – he describes them as “the filth and scum of Kent, mark’d for the gallows” – though of course you do have to remember which side of Shakey’s bread was buttered a hundred-odd years later.

It does seem that Cade himself was a bit of a meathead, into dressing up in his fancy clobber, beheading people and causing general terror everywhere he went (presumably if he were alive today he’d be found glassing someone outside the Meantime Nightclub on a Friday night) but not all his followers were rabble – there were lots of respectable men who had real grievances. Many of them were from Greenwich, loyal friends and servants of Duke Humphrey who were convinced he’d been murdered.

It all got really nasty when Cade killed the leader of the King’s party, then led the gang into London itself, beheading and destroying as they went. The Lord Treasurer got his head chopped off and Cade’s mob destroyed sundry property documents, declaring themselves for universal equality – pretty radical stuff for the fifteenth century. Cade struck the London Stone and declared himself Lord of the City.

It didn’t last of course. The king brought out the army and, offered a pardon of sorts (they were forced to beg for it on their hands and knees wearing nothing but their shirts) many of rebels backed down. Some of them were still executed but pardoned in death and allowed to be buried. The repercussions rippled through Kent with executions all the way to Rochester, where nine men were beheaded.It became known as the Harvest of Heads. Heaven Only knows how many people were decapitated on both sides by the time it all started to calm down.

Cade was hunted down and hanged, drawn and quartered, bits and bobs of him brought back to Blackheath to go on general display. It’s not clear which bits and bobs of him we got, but presumably they flapped around in the wind on the bleak heath as a warning to anyone else who fancied their chances. It didn’t work – two years later, the Duke of York amassed an army there as The Wars of the Roses really began in earnest.

Cade’s always been remembered as a bit of a romantic hero, however thuggish he might really have been. There’s a road named after him – Cade Road – and Blackheath Cavern, underneath Point Hill and which I will talk about another day, is also known as Jack Cade’s Cavern.

There’s a good article about Jack Cade’s rebellion at:

http://www.fantompowa.net/Flame/jack_cade_1450.html

Gourmet Burger Kitchen

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

45 Greenwich Church St, SE10

I must be getting super-professional. I actually remembered a notebook for this one AND made notes. Whatever next, eh…

Many people will be finding it rather hard to forgive the Gourmet Burger Kitchen chain for buying-out the much-loved traditional Goddards Pie Shop, and I confess that I went in with a slight grump about me. “Ok, Gourmet Burger Kitchen,” I thought, “show me what you’ve got…”

It’s not Goddards. Gone are the days when you could scoff pie, mash & liquor, guzzle a Tizer, finish it all off with a cherry pie and still have change from a ha’penny. The burgers here will set you back the best part of eight quid a piece. But at least they are tall enough to rival Canary Wharf…

If you’ve eaten at any of the other GBKs then you’ll know the drill, but for anyone who hasn’t, here goes…

It’s all painted very tastefully in discreet greeny-grey -’olde-worlde’-yet-somehow-youthful-and-thrusting fashion. They’ve retained Goddards many-paned windows and the lighting is so discreet from the outside that approaching it we weren’t actually sure whether it was open yet.

Inside it’s all white -painted, leaving the odd tasteful bare beam, with inoffensive colour photos of nothing-in-particular downstairs, inoffensive black &; white photos of 1950s nothing-in-particular upstairs. The floors are the ubiquitous laminate.

It’s all order-at-the-bar, but they weren’t busy so a terribly sweet waitress who spoke virtually no English at all offered to take our orders.

There’s a large selection of good-quality burgers to be had – very little else – but there are vegetarian options which are interesting (no veggie-burgers, though, just giant portabella mushrooms and goats-cheesy options.) They arrive stacked so high – I’m not exaggerating when I say they’re a good 17/18cm – that they have to be staked through the middle with a wooden skewer.

We stupidly ordered chips as well (nice enough, and of the fat variety, but rather pale and insipid in comparison to, say, those at The Hill) but ended up being far too full to manage them too. I think you’d need to have a huge appetite to manage chips AND a burger here.

The chilli burger isn’t hot – it’s more of the variety that comes with chilli salsa. It was good juicy (organic) steak and came with enough tangy relishes and extras to be a really tasty, satisfying meal for £ 6.65.

The aubergine and goats cheese one seemed a bit overblown to me. The goats cheese was rolled in breadcrumbs, which although giving it a satisfying crunch, also gave it an added flavour and richness that somewhat overwhelmed the rest of the ingredients. Nonetheless it was tasty, filling and enjoyable. It should be at £ 7.20…

The standard is generally high, so if the prices aren’t quite justified, you do feel you’re a step up from Burger King. There’s a tiny bar upstairs, but it’s really only to service the restaurant – you wouldn’t go there for a drink (the beer, btw, is £ 2.75 a bottle.) The various food options are on a blackboard, though without their prices which is either absent-minded or sneaky since you really do need to be aware before you order that you are Not In McDonalds Now. No 99p cheeseburgers here. It’s pricey, but you do get a lot of burger for your money. It’s clean, pleasant and bright.

Two caveats.

1. The claim that the juices are ‘freshly-squeezed’ is a lie.

2. Don’t be duped into ordering extra sauces. Our burgers came with plenty of interesting relishes and there are those great ketchup bottles in the shape of tomatoes on the tables. They don’t immediately tell you those extra sauces will set you back £ 1.25 each.

I could mourn Goddards forever. Or I could just get on with my life. GBK, although a chain, is a more or less welcome addition to the Greenwich roll of eateries for me.

Quandary

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

Here’s a poser for you.

Last night I was walking past the power station towards the Royal Naval College, when a woman streaked past me, running as though her life depended on it. A microsecond later a scary-looking burly bloke ran past, in hot pursuit. I turned to watch, as I thought she might be in trouble.

About 25 metres up the road he caught her and started beating her up. It was clearly ‘a domestic.’

My question is this. What do you think I should have done next?

Wade in and risk getting a beating myself? It was still light, but in a side street, pretty much deserted and the bloke was a real nastylooking type.

Call the police – who might not get there until it had all finished, but might at least prevent it happening again or even press charges?

Taken no action – after all – it was none of my business – it was between them and judging from the look of her it wasn’t the first time it had happened?

I’ll tell you what I actually did (or didn’t do) in a couple of days. In the meanwhile, opinions, please…

John Roan School

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

Mr Snnib asks:

Is anyone as concerned as I that our only secondary school within walking distance of the Cutty Sark is to be relocated to thepeninsular? First our hospital and now our secondary school… what nextthe Fire Brigade and Police!Further details are available at

http://www.johnroancampaign.com/

The Police are going – Westcombe Park Police Station is already on its way out.

Mark Steel

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

Greenwich Theatre

Mark Steel is probably my favourite contemporary comic. In these days of social homogeneity; a climate where apathy rules over any kind of satire, Mark Steel dares to be angry – and to channel that anger into a humour that is both accessible and human.

It’s profoundly unhip to be Marxist these days, yet somehow Steel manages to carry it off in a way that’s almost impossible to dislike. He’s been a member of the Socialist Workers Party for-virtually-ever which should turn the kind of audiences that were at Greenwich Theatre last night right off (fewer students than I expected; rather more suits – and ties – than he had expected.) But his humour isn’t the kind of in-yer-face-kill-the-bastards violent variety. This guy really wants to understand the world we live in today where, as he pointed out, even the leader of the British Army is politically left of Tony Blair.

What makes his material work, even for people who don’t necessarily agree with him, is his unique way of combining his modern stuff with a real in-depth knowledge of historical events.

Last night was loosely (very loosely) based around The French Revolution, and resembled closely his wonderful Mark Steel Lecture series. The OU took quite a leap of faith getting him to present these – but they are a tour-de-force – light years away from beardy blokes in sandals and jazzy shirts standing in front of graphs. The lectures are hardly PhD level, but contain the enthusiasm and spark that can hook a potential scholar – a fantastic introduction to the subject.

He manages to draw out the quirky stuff, the things that make the people involved human beings rather than Historical Figures, and then, with a final flourish, create modern parallels which make you think.

I don’t get hatred from Mark Steel. He wants to understand the people who do things he disagrees with, and if he’s angry, it’s with systems, not individuals. He adores human frailty and gets great fun from finding the wonderfully contradictory facets of human nature. He was on (almost) home territory in Greenwich (he’s from Swanley, which he admits gets a cheap laugh every time from London audiences.) He was clearly using well-honed material throughout, and the Sarf London gags, I suspect, were also not on their first outing, but who cares when it’s so confidently delivered? Lots of jokes about antique markets and Maze Hill, these age-buffed Greenwich gags rubbed shoulders effortlessly with off-the-cuff things that came to him on the spot. That kind of delivery only comes from years on the coalface of comedy.

There’s comedy on all week at Greenwich Theatre, but I can’t see anything eclipsing Mark Steel’s amiable Angry Man. Let me know if you see anyone else…

The Hill

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Royal Hill, SE10

I’ve heard and read very different opinions and reviews of this pub. I rather wonder whether those who don’t like it miss the old Barley Mow, (not that I ever went in it – it didn’t really appeal to me. Presumably, if it closed, it didn’t appeal to anyone else either.) What is it, by the way, landlords don’t like about pubs called The Barley Mow? Gordon Ramsay’s new place, The Narrow, used to be The Barley Mow, too. Maybe there will be a backlash – like, thank God, there seems to be with pubs called stupid names in the 80s and 90s reverting to their original titles – witness The Frog & Radiator’s ‘new’ name The Ship & Billet.

But I digress (again…) Back to The Hill.

Personally – I like it. It’s not a drinker’s boozer, really, better described as a gastropub. It does Adnams Bitter but not much else other than the usual lagers. Sometimes the waiters forget to mention the bitter, so if you don’t order at the bar, then at least go there in case there’s anything else that’s been forgotten.

Outside it’s been tarted up with white paint, the Victorian tiles highlit rather nicely. Inside, it’s all stripped floorboards, pale walls and candles – which I don’t dislike – and the main eating area is up a couple of steps at the back, with a small dividing wall containing an old stained glass window. Outside there’s a little garden with the omnipresent decking – not wildly exciting, but then so many pub gardens aren’t. I wish more of these places would put a bit of effort into making their gardens as nice as their interiors.

The food has always been good when I’ve been there, though rather pricey for what it is – a salad I had the other day was definitely a bit thin on the plate.

I particularly enjoy the fish and chips – especially the rosemary chips, which I’ve been known to order as a standalone meal. Juicy and fat, and excellently cooked, they’re definitely the best thing about The Hill.

The service varies. I’ve not found the waiters bolshy or inattentive, more absent-minded, really. They’re usually friendly and eager to please but they can be a bit hap-hazard – they’ll take ages to bring your meal, forget to mention special items (or beer) on the menu then ask three times if the food’s ok.

The Hill is somewhere I return to on only an occasional basis, but always look forward to doing so.

The Spanish Galleon

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

Katja asks:

Does somebody know what is going on with Spanish Galleon pub in the heart of Greenwich town centre? It has been closed for few days and there is clearly some building work going on, but haven’t got a clue what’s happening.

The Spanish Galleon is a Shepherd Neame pub, so unless it was doing stupendously bad business (unlikely) I doubt if it’s gone for good, or that Our Frank has got his paws on it. My best guess is a refit before the tourist season is truly upon us. I confess I hadn’t noticed its being shut – not been to the market in the past week or so due to vast numbers of visitors (not tourists, my own visitors, I mean…) I tried to call them but to no avail. I’ll send them an email and ask. That often does the trick…

Cleaners

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

Jo also asks:

Admittedly through a haze of guilt at my own laziness, can anyone recommend a good cleaning service? There’s an ongoing battle about who our house belongs to, the spiders are winning and I need re-enforcements.

God, I’m being rubbish this morning. Sadly the cleaning in this particular household still gets done by our own fair hands so I can’t recommend anyone from personal experience.

Presumably what you’d really like is “a treasure” – your old-fashioned cocker-ney char, complete with flowery turban and frilly apron, mop and bucket in hand, ready to make your house sparkle, always happy to sit down with a cup of tea for a good old gossip… oops – sorry – just went off into a little personal fantasy there….

I believe they’re still around (you only have to see that ghastly “How Clean is Your House” for that – why do people choose to show off on telly the pigsties they live in through their own laziness?) but the very fact that they are treasures makes people rather jealous of theirs.

I get all sorts of hand-printed leaflets through the door from individuals wanting to clean my place (not so sure they’d still want to if they actually saw it) which could unearth someone fantastic – though the chances of references are presumably lower and it’s a very personal thing, letting someone you don’t really know into your house.

That leaves cleaning companies. They at least come with things like insurance and guarantees, but they do have drawbacks. You never know who you’re going to get – and since turnover is high it’s possible you’ll never get the same person twice – and, of course, you’ll pay more.

I confess I’ve not even considered a cleaning company since I read Nickel & Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, where she goes undercover (albeit in The States) as a minimum-wage worker in various menial jobs and gets treated appallingly. Ok, ok, this was America, but I’ve become a bit suspicious anyway. Not only do some American companies treat their workers terribly but they essentially rip-off consumers too (one trick that sticks in the mind was spraying heavily-scented furniture polish into the air so that a consumer will think a room has been cleaned.)

Perhaps all British companies are perfect and I’m being unduly suspicious. Maybe people here can reassure me? And help Jo find someone to make her spiders pack their suitcases…