Another year, another poll – San Pellegrino’s Top 100 restaurants, same food, usual suspects. No, I have not been to Noma and I still have not made it to El Bulli or the Fat Duck for that matter. A word of warning – I have been disappointed by 8 restaurants in the top 100. That said, my best meals for the last 3 years are featured at numbers 31, 55 and 32 in this year’s poll. What does that tell you? Like all else that is sound and fury – it signifies nothing.
Today, we begin a series of random thoughts on the movies of Wong Kar-Wai and first of these is about the idea of home. Thomas Wolfe famously wrote that you can’t go home again – in the sense that you would have changed in the interim and things at home would have also changed. Wong Kar-Wai takes this further and sounds a warning – bad things can happen to you when you leave home.
In Days of Being Wild, the protagonist Yuddy runs away from home in search of his real mother and dies in the process. The ill-starred lovers in Happy Together go on holiday and things begin to fall apart. In Ashes of Time, the narrator Ou-yang Feng is forced to flee from his ancestral home by scandal and has to eke out a living by arranging low life “hits” in the desert. Along the same lines, the neighbours in In the Mood for Love are driven out of their homes by their adulterous spouses and you just know there can be no happy ending to this story.
That said, home is not necessary a happy place for some of these characters. Yuddy has to deal with his adopted mother’s infidelities and inconsistencies, Ou-yang Feng leaves his hut in the desert amidst a standstorm and a deep sense of foreboding – all these make you wonder they had a “real” home to begin with.
Then there are the bit part players – the hotel keeper’s daughter in 2046 who spends her days on the roof of the hotel and the good time girl Lulu (she appears in a number of his films) who seems to have no fixed abode and only very loose attachments. Their lack of a conventional home is matched by their increasingly tenous grip on reality as things develop.
It’s been said that Wong makes movies about misfits but I’m not sure if that’s always the case – there are some very odd characters like the Canned Pineapple Man who appears both in Chungking Express and Fallen Angels – it might be more accurate to say the common thread that runs through these characters is not homelessness but a thwarted yearning to belong. If that can be also expressed as a search for a home then maybe that’s a little closer to the truth.
So why do they leave? In the words of Policeman 6117 in Days of Being Wild – “if you are bored and a little frustrated, it’s good to get away for a little while” … but you can never go home again.
Best meal we had in South Africa – hands down. Le Petite Ferme had a better view, Terrior was more charming and Le Colombe was snazzier but the cooking was better here. Inventive use of ingredients, pushing the envelope at times – most dishes had about as many flavours as they could take without overcrowding the plate or overwhelming the palate, just about. I had to taste everything more than once – first time around on its own and then in varying combinations. Everything was excellent, a few things outstanding – the cooking was bold and ambitious without being stupid or overly fussy. More importantly, it all worked.
We had the five course menu and different things for each course so we could sample ten dishes rather than having the same eight course tasting menu. In terms of courses, two which stood out for me were the Pig’s Trotters and Sweetbreads Salad and the Braised Lamb Neck but if I had to pick single thing I enjoyed the most, it had to be the aubergine souffle which came with the Roasted Wildebeest.
Cooking aside, the dining room was a touch too noisy (sound bounces off a hard floor) and lighting could be better – as in brighter, I always like to be able to see my food. The service was a little hesitant and while the wine list was absolutely enlightened by Franschoek standards, I suspect the sommelier would have struggled to find two wines to go with every course. That said, this was possibly the best meal we had this year.
We’re back from South Africa – a week of wine, sunshine and food. Oh, the food. So many restaurants, so little time. On the other hand, there is only so much fine dining you can do in the space of seven days – we had chicken mee sua for dinner last night and that was comforting. Pictures are up on my Facebook page – restaurant reports and wine tasting notes to follow.
Miele has just published its list of top Asian restaurants for 2009/2010. Porco disagrees with some of the rankings but more of that later – hot off the press, Bloomberg’s food critic made an interesting comment on the paucity of Asian restuarants in that list.
For the most part, I agree with what Richard Vines has to say but you’d also have to admit Asian restaurants are great for food and flavour but not so hot on presentation and ambience. The best Chinese meal I’ve had in the last few months was at Made in China in Beijing but by the end of the meal, the table looked like a war zone complete with body parts strewn on the lazy susan. The other problem with Asian restaurants is the quality of the serving staff – too often you get moonlighting students or illegal immigrants who have no idea what you are eating or even if you are getting the correct order. Which is why, for Porco, the most impressive thing about Iggy’s is the service – unobtrusive, understated and unbelieveably professional.
Turning to the list, a couple of things don’t make sense. The two Robuchon L’Ateliers which top and tail the best 20 are, for me, very much the same if not identical. The differences could only be down to one of them having a bad day when the judges visited. For my money, I would put Robuchon a Galera in Macau in first place – classic plates, full-sized and incredible value. Plus a wine list that would put most telephone directories to shame. I would also argue if you walked into Yung Kee, you would be hard pressed to justify its lofty status on the list. You’d get a better meal at T’ang Court at the Langham.
I am a huge fan of Zanotti in Bangkok and think it deserves a place at least six rungs higher. Then there are the omissions. I think Nicolas Joanny and his eponymous establishment deserves a mention as does the black pepper crab at Eng Seng. Time to make more than tweaks at Miele where the worthies have fallen in that age old trap of thinking tradition, astronomical prices as well as white table cloths equals quality, innovation and good eating. In case you’re wondering … miele means honey in Italian.
If you had asked a year ago if I could imagine spending hours pedalling on a quiet road in the early hours of the morning, I would have simply laughed and poured you another drink. The stuff on two wheels started as part of the fitness thing but it has taken on a life of its own. Sure the fitness helps and you can only enjoy the rest of it if you’re not killing yourself trying to pedal at a constant 25km/h. So, if you spare the pun, its a cycle – you ride to get fit and the fitter you are, the better the ride. In the same way, the tight cycling clothes really only look good if you are good and vice versa.
That said, there’s the other stuff – the philosophical bits. Did you really think it was just about two wheels on a frame, a bit of chain and some aluminium things?
First, if you are pedalling along and minding your own business, there is no guarantee a taxi won’t come from behind and knock you over. Shit happens – that’s life. Next, a bicycle is an inherently unstable thing – deal with the instability. Cycling is about balancing. It helps if you pedal faster but you can’t do that forever, sometimes you have to get off the bike. Finally, know that you will fall over sometime. If your cleats are still attached to your pedals, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Just hope a taxi doesn’t come by when that happens.
What a weekend! Getting used to the cleats and pedals took a bit of time on Saturday – the first 30 minutes were really bad but it got better. The only casualty was the left pedal which was quite scratched from my feeble attempts to flip, kick and jam my left foot in – but we got there and no accidents.
Sunday was a totally different matter. There was a time trial on the coastal road so I decided to go through the park not realising there were two different runs taking place along different stretches of the park. Moving onto the road was initally much better until I got to a stretch of one way traffic and a speeding van weaving its way past parked cars and bikes on both sides. It was looking too close for comfort so I tried to get on the grass verge – managed to get my left foot off before the bike went from under me. Amazingly, the right foot freed itself and I managed to stay on my feet as well as leaping over a small drain in the process. Total damage done was a slightly twisted handlebar and a ripped velcro strip on one shoe.
Things could have been better but then they could also have been much worse.