Friday, March 05, 2010

Abode with me, and other stories

The baby is due on Sunday, so I've been doing my own personal variant on nesting. This involves waddling about doing all the food-based activities I can, just in case the little fella doesn't like going to restaurants.

Yesterday began with a vigorous judging session for the Northern Hospitality Awards, in the company of guidemeister Peter Harden, chef John Benson-Smith and Peter Banks, the MD at Rudding Park. There tends to be something refreshingly no-nonsense about panels that comprise chefs as well as industry observers, and we exchanged a few low-level profanities as we worked our way through a huge pile of entrants for our allocated award. I emitted a swear when Mr H aired his theory about cooking in the east of the country being far superior to cooking in the west, but I quite enjoyed his unique calling card - he gives copies of Harden's away instead of business cards - and his use of the term 'old cove'.

Then, in case they call off the Amazing Graze offer between now and June and mindful of the fact that the Chester hotel opens soon, it was straight to Abode for the twelve quid lunch, beloved of anyone who has a pulse, a palate and pockets with averagely deep bottoms. The things we expected to be good - the excellent bread basket, the food generally and the fish in particular - still are. Chef Ian Matfin is very good at what he does, and the slow-poached salmon with watercress puree and chopped duck egg was really lovely, a sophisticated but not clever-clever take on an egg and cress sandwich - and I say that as someone who hates an egg and cress sandwich almost as much as she hates a banana. Mum's guinea fowl dish was pretty strong too, as was a simple boudin of chicken served with a herb puree and a couple of wild mushrooms.

But. I don't mind the restaurant being in the basement, I don't mind the crappy, cheap looking logo that cunningly combines an M with an @ symbol (Michael Caines at Abode, innit?), but I do mind the service. For a team that have been in place long enough for me to recognise most of them, they're still, with one or two exceptions, incredibly stilted and cackhanded and seem hidebound by procedure ("two for lunch and you haven't booked? Let me check with chef despite the fact that the restaurant is almost empty") while not able to follow basic bits of it, like having someone at the desk. Grrr.

A few hours' break and it was on to Dilli. I have always held its Ayurvedic principles, or perhaps the way various PRs have gone on about them, against it, but I bloody love its potato cakes, with their herby green insides and swirly dressings of tamarind, chilli and yoghurt. We also had an extraordinarily light spinach curry, some seafood in a rich, yellow coconutty sauce, and a classy variation on a lamb bhuna. You can see the kitchen from a few of the seats, and I began to feel that with naan like theirs, I could happily go into labour without another dinner. Then I remembered that there are a few other places I want to get done before Sunday, baby permitting. Watch this space for either outcome, kids.

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