Mondays

April always conjures up images of the Masters golf tournament for me. The first major of the year, from anachronistic azalea-clad Augusta from the deep south in Georgia. A symbolic start to the summer.

Monday is back to work day. The start of a challenging week, psychologically hard enough at the best of times but exacerbated by a particularly fun weekend, or after a  routine-busting holiday.

By Sunday lunchtime that invisible, but weighty, cloak drapes itself around your shoulders. So uplifted on Saturday morning, they sag now as you chomp your way through Yorkshire puddings, thinking about that long to-do list facing you tomorrow, or wondering whether another sad jumper will delay the already painful commute to the office.

Monday is inextricably linked with hard graft. School, college, work. Inescapable for the first 60 years of your life. Joined at the metaphorical hip, like Crackerjack and 4:55 pm. Or the Queen’s Speech on Christmas Day, just as you wilt from the festive excess.

But not for me any longer. Friday was my last day at work – possibly ever – and I wrote this in bright early September sunshine, at 11 am Monday morning on a park bench by the bowling green, in the shadow of Guildford Castle. My Monday agenda was making sure a friend’s birthday present was safely en route to France; sorting out a few technical issues on my new phone; a walk around London’s Westminster & Whitehall areas; and seeing an intriguing new musical Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse.

All a far cry from business meetings, financial forecasts, cash flow projections and tax compliance.

Mondays will hopefully forever be brighter from today. And Sunday’s roast will taste even better.  And my shoulders won’t droop.

Restaurant review – Koshari Street

Stumbling across Koshari Street in St. Martin’s Lane last week was one of those finding a £20 note in an old pair of trousers moments.

We were in the Big City for the Wednesday matinee performance of Shakespeare in Love. Yes, Wednesday afternoon. Still milking the newly-retired feeling before it becomes the when-do-I-have-to-work-next stage.

The main culinary event of the day was supposed to be an early supper at Hawksmoor, the uber-posh hand-reared corn-fed OMG-steak place. But in many ways, the cheap but oh so healthy & tasty Koshari Street Egyptian street food place, directly opposite the Noel Coward theatre, usurped it.

The proposition is very simple: enjoyed by thousands daily, this humble and healthy yet outstandingly tasty vegetarian dish of lentils, rice and vermicelli, topped with a spicy tomato sauce, chickpeas and caramelised onions, comes from the heart of Egypt and is a national dish sold on road side stalls and restaurants in Egypt.

The tomato sauce can be mild, hot or mad, the chickpeas and onions add good texture variations.

At just over £10 for 2 medium sized pots of Koshari, with all the trimmings, and some mini crispy pitta breads and hummus, this was amazing value for a kiss in a bowl, to plagiarise the bald, fat bloke from Masterchef.

We ate inside, teetering on top of stools in the narrow space. Definitely more a takeaway experience rather than a sit-down restaurant, but that doesn’t detract from the  enjoyable surprise we had at Koshari Street. A healthy, warming appetiser to a Shakespearian main course.

JR rating = 19

  • Food = 8
  • Service = 7
  • Ambience = 4

A Testing Walk

Test walkers

River Test

Conceptualised by Simon Ware and executed by Gill Morris of justpoppingout.com, courtesy for one day only of fancyfreewalks, we enjoyed a fun cross-border walk by the gentle River Test in Hampshire last week.

 Setting sail from Godalming in leafy Surrey at the workmanlike hour of 9 o’clock, adventurers Simon, Gill, Alex Overington and I started out at peaceful Wherwell, fortified by caffeine & sugar supplies at the excellent Caracoli in picture-perfect Alresford.

Simon had been seduced by the meandering Test when recently passing through and wanted to explore more closely. The rest of us, newly retired, fancied a day out and didn’t mind humouring him in his worthy quest.

The walk was 9 1/2 miles of gentle strolling  by or near the river, with the following highlights:

  • Longstock Park, with water gardens acquired in 1946 by a certain John Lewis. The Waitrose theme continues as they manage the gardens and the nearby nursery, as is the nearby Leckford Farm shop
  • Longstock village, with thatched cottages aplenty and the fine – if somewhat upmarket – Peat Spade Inn
  • the wide, open Hampshire skies….a distinct contrast to the more wooded Surrey Hills vistas
  • the gloriously named Spratt and Winkle railway line, now disused but running alongside the river and its swaying, bankside reeds
  • lunch at the riverside Mayfly pub in Fullerton. The vast clouds of mayflies that hatch in May and June sustain the fish that make the Test the most perfect fly fishing chalk stream in the world. We saw plenty of trout as evidence, but there are also grayling and salmon
  • Wherwell village, another thatched & timeless beauty – church, houses, pub and river joining forces to enhance its attraction to residents and to interlopers from across the borderMayfly

We enjoyed a brief embrace with our neighbouring county but headed home to Surrey, our enduring love, where we will soon be justpoppingout again.

Restaurant review – Hawksmoor Seven Dials

Remember that first date with someone which went so well you thought: maybe, just maybe, this could be the one ? And the frisson of excitement anticipating the second….only to be left with a hollow feeling of back to the drawing board after a disappointing rematch ?

I’d been to Hawksmoor Seven Dials just a few weeks earlier, with my brother and his two lads, to celebrate Paul’s BIG birthday. You know, one of those mad, alcohol-fuelled weekends where eating at a vegetarian restaurant just wouldn’t cut the mustard.  We needed meat. And the good stuff. So we went to Hawksmoor, and devoured the rib-eye and the Chateaubriand…and then told everyone we’d eaten the best steaks ever.

So when I wanted to celebrate retirement with my wife Gill, Hawksmoor seemed the perfect accompaniment to a Wednesday afternoon performance of Shakespeare in Love.  Decadence piled on decadence. I am a great eater of beef and I believe that does harm to my wit (Master Shakespeare – Twelfth Night)

Hawksmoor plays the shy coquette. The sign is barely visible in Langley Street, one of those narrow Covent Garden alleys a far cry from the tourist-strewn Piazza. And the image of a Prohibition speak-easy continues as you descend into the subterranean meat-pit, all exposed brickwork and subdued lighting.

The service is nicely informal, but slick. First name terms as you’re passed from ground floor reception to the downstairs speak-easy front-of-house , and then a smooth affability from the waiter when you reach your table.

We hit the cocktails to embrace the sense of midweek bravado. The slug of alcohol from the Bitter State concoctions (Appleton Rum, apricot liqueur, Campari & lemon) bludgeons us between the eyes, and sharpens the appetite  in an instant.

At £24 for 2 courses and £27 for 3, the Express Menu is a relative snip. Well, we are eating into our pensions now. And the pre- and post-theatre options look attractive enough for star-crossed lovers with not long to live.

Gill’s Doddington Caesar Salad and my Potted Mackerel are accomplished first acts, but the main player of the drama – our 250 gram rib-eye steak – should have been better prepared, and fluffs its lines. It’s cooked medium rare, although slightly too rare for my taste, with more blood than Lady Macbeth’s dastardly dagger. The quality is good enough but the main villain is the chewy, sinewy edges. A disappointing performance after the theatrical hype.

The extras are multi-textured beef dripping chips, and buttered spring greens – cabbage and overly chewable, tough spinach that do little to upstage the flailing central character. Thank goodness the Argentinian Malbec has played its part in perking up our spirits.

I mentioned our meaty disappointment to the waiter, exacerbated by the outstanding recent performance I’d enjoyed so much. An off day? Complacency? Forgotten lines? No matter, his reaction was word-perfect….an abject apology and immediate offer of free desserts, despite my genuine insistence that wasn’t necessary.

The final acts of peanut butter shortbread and white chocolate cheesecake with strawberries did much to recover the happiness of the occasion, and Hawksmoor’s image in our eyes. But you’ll always come away wanting more if Hamlet has messed up, no matter how good Henslowe’s small contribution was.

JR rating = 21

  • Food = 6
  • Service = 9
  • Ambience = 6