A series of anecdotes with or without any connection to the running of a restaurant.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Under the weather...

This evening I went to work at 5pm. I sat in the office sneezing and shivering. At 7pm, I decided to go home.
I went to Asda, got myself some medicines... Notice the pack of Sudafed
in the bottom right corner?
I decided to go the whole hog and cure myself totally.
A Sirloin Steak, a baguette, some olive oil, a bottle of St Emilion and a bottle of South African Shiraz and some Camembert.
I am a great believer in traditional medicine.

A dash of olive oil in a very hot pan. Two minutes on either side. A pinch of salt, a pinch of American Barbecue Spice....

The end result is smashing. I like my steaks medium-rare, leaning towards the rare side.

You know what? Them Sudafed tablets have begun to work because I am starting to feel great.
Shame, I can't go back to work! I'm already over the limit...Ahhhhh....
I might as well watch the new Dr Who...

Friday, March 30, 2007

I am sailing...

I know, at least by sight, most of the customers who frequent my restaurants. After all, I have met some of them while they were still being carried in their mothers bellies...

Two couples have been coming to our restaurants EVERY FORTNIGHT for the last TWENTY YEARS bar holidays. Is this a record? I am honestly very flattered, but what kind of a life can it be when you know exactly what is on your agenda every other week?
What happened to spontaneity?
There are also those customers who come to celebrate their anniversary and insist on the same three-course meal every year. "I stick to what I know!"
What happened to the sense of adventure?

One has to really keep an open mind when running a restaurant. After all, if you really dissect the whole concept, it is like inviting strangers into your dining room, day in day out.
The only difference is that they are paying customers who can afford to be critical if your food or service are not up to scratch. On the other hand if they are complimentary, then it means that you've done your job.

My motto has always been:
"The customer is always right...until he's left!"

Within the confines of the restaurant, this has to be the only rule. The worst thing one can do is antagonise a customer. If I am told that a fillet is tough(!?!?) then the fillet is bloody tough and I am changing butchers in the morning!
All that unhappy customers want is to be proved right in front of their partners or guests. And all you need to do is agree with them this once and you've won them for life.

On the whole, over the last twenty two years I have met some great people, from all walks of life, all corners of the Globe... I believe that if you remember to put yourself in the customer's shoes, you are half way there.

The one single thing that sometimes spoils a good evening is when someone says:"So, where do you keep your yacht, then?"
I feel like saying: "If I had a yacht, I'd be on the Med right now, instead of listening to you!" but instead I just smile as I put the money in the till.
I think I should keep a copy of the above photo in my pocket for the next time someone asks that question.
But honestly, when things are right and the sun is shining inside my heart, my job is plain sailing...
Love it!!!
(The Royal Yacht Britannia on her way down the River Clyde. Copyright Scottish Media Newspapers)

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Slaving over a hot stove...

There are days when I enjoy running restaurants as much as a trip to the dentist's.

Yesterday was one of them.

Our 22 year-old French 3rd chef rang me:
"Je ne peux plus travailler dans des conditions pareilles!" (I can't work under these conditions!)

He explained that there was a horrible atmosphere in the kitchen between the head-chef and the second-chef.
The former, an old friend he has been working with me for the last 11 years, while the latter 7 years. A bit of an achievement when you consider that catering staff are some of the most nomadic workers in the world.

I went over to the restaurant and listened to all three chefs.
The problem had started Saturday lunchtime.
The restaurant had been very busy but at 2pm the head-chef got changed and left the others to get on with preparing 21 desserts, a job that took over half an hour.
The second-chef got even more irate when the head-chef arrived back at work at 5.50pm instead of 5.30pm.
"No respect! I am sick of this!"

What do I do?

Shall I scream and curse and stamp my feet?
Shall I kill one of the chefs and get back to the stove myself?
Shall I sell up and go on an extended holiday?

Argh, decisions, decisions!!! I abhor confrontations.

Needless to say, I think I defused the situation by listening to all the arguments in a mixture of English, French and Algerian...and then suggesting that they sit down and work it out among themselves.

I doctored this photo of the Alhambra and added a ray of sunshine...

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Where the North Sea Meets the Med...

Saturday night. The bar before the onslaught.

Sunny Sunday Morning. The restaurant before the onslaught.

I have been taking a few photos to update one of my restaurants website.

The bar is decorated in North African style with lot of arches and the restaurant is airy Mediterranean with columns and bright tiles for dado rail and lots of wrought iron.
The chairs are also wrought iron and rattan. Very heavy and rather uncomfortable for old ladies bums, I have been reminded. We keep a couple of cushions behind the bar for those sensitive backsides.

Cosy seat...

Sunny North Sea...

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

We welcome your valued opinion...

I have had visitors' books in my restaurants for over twenty years. At the beginning, I insisted on using the pre-printed kind like the ones found in guesthouses.
They proved inadequate, as the comments part was tiny, and they were quite costly.
Nowadays, I simply buy cheap lined notebooks then print and laminate the cover myself as in the photo below.

Our waiting staff usually place the bill inside the book to encourage customers to leave comments on their visit to our establishments.

Every now and then, some of our younger customers get hold of the pen while the parents are paying the bill and let their inspiration dictate the contents.

Aside from this kind of funny interlude, I ALWAYS welcome constructive criticism as it helps me tweak things as we go. Many businesses in general and restaurants in particular do not listen to their customers and then wonder why these have stopped coming.

Friday, March 23, 2007

TGIF mowers...

This morning, I arrived at my office to find that most of the parking spaces outside the restaurant were being hogged by a queue of petrol lawnmowers...

I nearly asked the council workmen whether there was a lawnmower rally planned.
I don't think that I would've got a sensible answer out 0f them, so I just grabbed my mobile phone and snapped them before they took off in a cloud of Saharan dust for the Paris-Dakar...

Thank Goodness, it's Friday....

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Shaggy Blog Stories...

It arrived this morning.

It feels like the first grouse to touch my plate...

The first drop of Beaujolais Nouveau to wet my palate...

Right I am off to the loo for a couple of hours!

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Snow problem, really... Spring is here...

Yesterday, snow caused havoc on the roads with at least eighteen car crashes around the region and many injuries.

Today I managed to take a few photos as the sun came out and began melting it away.
Is this the start of our Spring?


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Thyme flies...

This morning as I was tidying my office I came across a ten-year old photo album. It depicts various stages in the construction of my second restaurant, a bistro-pizzeria.

Two of the workmen enjoying their first pizza for lunch...

The finished project... October 1997

Just as with Casa del Mar , over a year ago, I really enjoyed producing mosaics, tiling, putting up coat hangers, etc...

For me, setting up the restaurants has always been the easy bit...
The hard bit comes with opening the doors to customers.
Every lunch and every dinner becomes a live performance.

There is no stopping, no going back.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Smother me...

Tomorrow is Mothering Sunday.
One of the three busiest dates in our restaurants calendar.

Can you guess the other two?

Yep, the other two busiest dates, as most of you have guessed, are Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve...
The latter slowed down a bit after 2000 when some restaurants and taxi firms charged over the odds. I closed my restaurants on that occasion and went to a great Millenium party.
Valentine's Day is still THE most popular date of the year.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Red Nose Day

A compilation of 100 amusing tales from the UK blogosphere has now been published to help Red Nose Day.

My "Algerian Haggis" couldn't have been funny enough to be included.
Click on the book cover (Designed by Lucy) to order your copy!

Mine is already on its way...

UPDATE: Order acknowledgement... The power of the internet!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Diet? What diet?

In January I went to Carcassonne (France) with my friend Didier. He and his wife were looking to buy a property, something like a house and a couple of gites or a guesthouse. We travelled 1000km looking for the ideal place.

Every day we ate a copious breakfast, a three-course lunch and a three-course dinner. The last two were always accompanied with industrial quantities of wine. Foie gras featured at almost every sitting...

We dreamed of chucking the lot back home and staying in France. Opening a cookery school. Taking our English regulars on culinary tours of the region. Teaching them a few dishes, sitting for dinner with them... Eating and drinking the night away...

I took my camera with me but only managed to take a few photos of bridges.
Being a water sign, I love the sea, rivers, wine...

Didier has now changed his plans and decided to remain in England where he has just taken over the kitchen of a small hotel in our town.

Yesterday, for lunch I sampled his Guinea fowl in Port.

The legs are boned, stuffed with a wild mushroom farce and then roasted. The breasts pan fried. The whole lot is served in a rich port sauce made with the bird bones and a tiny bit of redcurrant jelly...

No, the salad days aren't over... Just having a break before I turn into a rabbit...


Monday, March 12, 2007


We come to them every minute of our day.
Tea or coffee…
Cereals or toast…
Black trousers or jeans…
Crème caramel or cheese…
Drink or abstain…
Scream or whimper…

Most of the decisions we make are not life-changing...unless we do drink gallons of coffee and wine and eat tons of cheese, and then we may end up with clogged-up arteries.

Lately a thought has been going through my mind every minute of my day:

I KNOW I am not living my REAL life…

Am I hallucinating?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Guelbi Yabghik...

It is one of those days when I would like to share something with my friends.

I often drive with this song blasting in my car, along with Leonard Cohen's "Take This Waltz."

It is quite dear to me for many reasons. Cheb Mami is one of the few Algerian singers who have broken into the international music scene, some of you may remember his participation in Sting's song Desert Rose.

The Algerian words in Zucchero's Cosi Celeste may not make sense but here they are:

"Guelbi yabghik entiya, ma ghir entiya..." and "Hadiya eddiniya, li nabghih ma yabghini"

"My heart loves you, only you...." and "Sometimes in this life, those we love may not love us..."

Do you listen to music in your car?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Smelling of roses...

This morning was my first day back at the gym since before Christmas.

Actually, it was exactly December 22nd, so the receptionist blurted out very loud!

A fraud! That's how I felt.

I got changed and quietly slid into the pool.

"Hello, Cream! Happy New Year!" One of the regulars screamed. She never misses a thing.

Actually, it's Merry Christmas!" I bubbled under water.

"And what's your excuse, then?"

Before I could begin to embroider a feeble reason for my absence, an old dear floating behind me, came to my rescue:

"You haven't been in since you slipped on the ice and hurt yourself, have you?"
Mon Ange Gardien!

I looked back at the younger woman and smirked:
"See, there you are! That's my excuse!"

Some people seem to land in s... and come up smelling of roses.
The drawing shows that I have reluctantly started back on my salad diet!


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Friday, March 02, 2007

One bird flew...

I’ve just had a brainwave!
I post a cartoon and you have to think of a caption:
A Caption Competition.
But the catch is that you will have to be the judges!
The caption with the most votes will win an autographed print!

Come on blogfriends! Get your brains working!

Hint: the bird flying in is the one with the punchline!
Cream News Network

The winner is

Other entries:

Hayden :"OK, nothin' to look at, keep movin!"

SpanishGoth : "I hate queuing for fish, can't we just follow a trawler?"

Lettuce : "I dunno. What do you want to do?"
OR "I can't swim today. I've got a letter from my Mum".
OR "I love these All you can Eat fish buffets."

OR "Well, it was very dark... I didn't get a good look at his face, but I think it was the one on the end, Officer."

Daphne Wayne-Bough: "Which of you jokers said plenty more fish in the sea?"

Suggestions for Gigi who’s still thinking:
"I hate these ea
rly morning flights..."
"I always bloody miss the trailers."
"Customs asked where I'm migrating to."
"Crumbs! All the best plaices have been reserved!"

Caribbean Colors : "See ya later alligator.No rest for the wicked."

Brian the Mennonite : "Right...here comes Lenny. Make like you don't see him."

Edvard Moonke: the two birds nearest to us are talking:'Fred's off to loiter outside the chip shop again. Wanna follow him?''Nah, I'm in the mood for a curry tonight.'

Homo Escapeons: “One day Jonathon Livingston finally just gave in to all of the Pier Pressure.”

LDahl: "It was a Lunar eclipse, NOT a Solar one...sshhht, you bird-brains... and it's over now!! You missed it, and now you're just burning your beady little eyes out!!! "

My Marrakech, kj and Mary are still thinking...

Guyana-Gyal: "Eat, ship, sleep; eat, ship, sleep, there must be more to life than that.”

Cherrypie: " Gordon arrived too late. Now he'd never be able to save them from the anti-vangull paint."
" Maverick prepared for another surprise flypast. Top Gull would always be his favourite film."

Ale: "You guys stay here I'll go see where global warming is coming from."

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