Monthly Archives: January 2013

Album No 4 from the savage swedish sleaze band

Crashdiet – January 2013 – The Savage Playground

Track List:

  1. Change The World
  2. Cocaine Cowboys
  3. Anarchy
  4. California
  5. Lickin’ Dog
  6. Circus
  7. Sin City
  8. Got A Reason
  9. Drinkin’ Without You
  10. Snakes In Paradise
  11. Damaged Kid
  12. Excited
  13. Garden of Babylon

Band:

Vocals – Simon Cruz

Guitar – Martin Sweet

Bass – Peter London

Drums – Eric Young

 

The band? Crashdiet. The history? Messy. The album? No. 4.

They’re a band with a story and a long line of singers as well as being known for their dedicated, if often overly so, fan-base. Vocalist Simon Cruz comes with a strong image and a mouthful of swear words that have wound their way into almost every song on The Savage Playground. Starting out with Change The World, it feels like they’ve taken the Riot in Everyone riff from album no.1, chewed it up and spat it out again. Yes, it’s anthemic and rather infectious but it also feels rushed and a little uncontrolled. A strong start, however. The single Cocaine Cowboys has a western theme; it’s catchy, contagious though the “corruption of the suit and the ties” idea is getting a little old. It’s one of Cruz’s stronger vocal performances though, so savour the moment.

The album incoherently jolts through the subsequent tracks. There’s too many effects and layering, producing a chaotic and messy sound. At times, the riffs are barely recognisable, the melodies lacking in Crashdiet’s old punching memorability. It almost feels like they’re trying to be ballsy and riotous but we’ve been there before with GG Allin, Motley Crue – and Crashdiet even! It’s not about how rebellious anymore, it’s about how new, how different. It all feels a little amateurish. Lickin’ Dog, smack full of insults, sounds like Sweet and Cruz’s personal animosities growled out amidst silly effects and the solo is lacking in skill or style. Circus is much better; it’s original and the tight, clipped vocals emulate the “standing in line” lyric. There’s a much better balance with the rawness of the guitar and the vocals. If they can emulate the musical breaks live, it’ll be brilliantly effective. The veiled backing vocals too work well, not too high or weak like on Damaged Kid. Speaking of which, why is there always a song about a girl ending up as a prostitute? The music’s not hard or dirty, despite the fast pace, though it’s more fluid than some of the other tracks. Sweet comes out of his shell a little on Snakes in Paradise but the track doesn’t sit well within the coherency of the album. Garden of Babylon was a strange song to end on, especially at 7 minutes long. Too many effects cloud the sound but I do like Cruz’s voice here – strained but in a gut-wrenching way: memorable.

The bass was lacking throughout and the cymbals were too high on most tracks. The band said before the release that they wanted a more raw sound, like a live performance. Well, it’s raw, but not in the sleazy, punky way you might have hoped for. It has neither the rawness of Rest in Sleaze nor the diversity of Generation Wild. There’s a mix of the evil and emotional lyrics along with some poignant and unusual ones too. For me it was a disappointment. Some if it will stick to you with the strength of the band’s hairspray. Other bits you’ll never want to listen to again.

 

 

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Crowne Plaza Hotel: right royal prices mar an otherwise enjoyable evening

Crowne Plaza Hotel:  Fieldhouse Lane, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7 1LU

The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Marlow is an sprawling expanse of pink and grey concrete set in the heart of an industrial estate. The Glaze Restaurant itself is a scrubbed up version of most chain hotel offerings, such as Ibis or Novotel. The colour scheme is striking but unobtrusive, a mix of artworks spattering the walls.

Our party of three was assigned, strangely, a rather large table for 5 but the staff were quietly attentive from the outset, despite leaving us with only one menu until we asked for more. The cuisine is a standard modern British mix with a “from the grill” section of main courses too. It was a little strange to see confit duck leg and twice baked soufflé nestling up to rib-eye steak and chargrilled chicken breast, and it gave the impression that this restaurant doesn’t know quite where it sits. Almost as if the executive chef Stuart Hine is pushing for the fine dining label but the hotel chain is anxious to appear to the tastes and price range of all customers.

The bread basket held three different varieities – a flaky, olive studded roll (a little too papery), a moist cheese-infused bread and finally a very good wholemeal roll. To start we sampled pumpkin, thyme and garlic soup – a creamy, well-seasoned soup topped with slices of pumpkin that retained their texture. The dollop of mozzarella didn’t sit well as a thick blob and might have been better swirled in, both presentation and taste wise. It was, rather swiftly, removed. Scallops with chorizo foam and pea puree were beautiful, almost like dressed up dolly mixture on a plate. Yes, really that small. Despite the portion, the flavours went well, the chorizo offsetting the scallops and the sweetness of the peas. Finally, the rabbit and pancetta terrine was served with a hot piccalilli puree and toasted soda bread. The bread was a bit black and well, cold, but the terrine smooth and strong.

We chose a selection of the mains on offer. First, the 6oz Rib-Eye Steak: a tasty cut of meat though nothing to rival the Bar and Grill in Marlow’s high street. The chips were overly greasy with no satisfying crunch as you broke them apart to reveal a not-so fluffy inside. They were more like oven-cooked chips that had been reheated. The vine-tomatoes were standard and the dumping of watercress on the plate made the whole dish lack finesse or creativity. Would a greater variety of salad hurt? The hollandaise sauce (despite us asking for béarnaise) was just fine. The confit duck leg, spinach ball, potato cake, poached pear and red wine glaze was an interesting assortment of elements that didn’t always work well together. The red wine glaze was smeared across the plate in one of these paintbrush strokes that seem to be going out of fashion. No wonder, they look like a skid mark on your plate. The duck leg itself was succulent and juicy with almost crispy skin though the poached pear often overpowered it. The spinach ball was a little soggy though added some much needed greenery. The potato cake was creamy though lacked seasoning. The last dish was a thick sea bass fillet served on a rich crab risotto with a tasty spiced crab ball. The tomato and chervil butter sauce was a welcome accompaniment. The star dish, no wonder it’s pictured on their website eh? The wine for £23 was notably unremarkable.

Desserts were not worth the cost. A bitter chocolate soufflé we were told would take 20-25 minutes extra. A dessert that has its own waiting time? Fantastic. Well, it came out after 15 minutes and the centre was luke-warm and a little hard. Oh the temptation to say that awful word: microwave. It wasn’t particularly bitter either and the honeycomb ice cream was rich but lacking in flavour. The thimble-sized vanilla crème brulee was more successful though the blueberry garibaldi accompaniment was actually two dry, soft biscuits, one of which actually part of it crumbled away.

The main problem here was the value. It was two courses for £25 or 3 for £30 which brought our total to £139 including drinks: not the most impressive bill and meal. The desserts, especially, were disappointing. Hine has some interesting ideas though it all feels a bit dated, the different components of the meal aspiring to make it classic and almost minimalistic yet doing neither. A staunch effort, however. The waitress said she would pass our comments onto the chef and that hopefully, everything would be perfect for us next time. Well, we’ll never know, will we?

 

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No, horse isn’t beef. But what’s the real problem?

This week saw Tesco wipe £300m worth of market value from the company after an examination into some of the Everyday Value range beefburgers were found to contain up to 29& horse meat as well as pig DNA. The contaiminated products, sold in UK and Irish supermarkets, were thought to be produced at two processing plants in Ireland. Professor Alan Reilly, the FSAI chief executive, said there was “no clear explanation” for the presence of horse DNA in beef burgers: “In Ireland it is not in our culture to eat horsemeat and therefore we do not expect to find it in a burger.”

Now, there’s your point. “We do not expect to find it in a burger.” Now, in England, it’s not our culture to eat horsemeat either and when a supermarket, like Tesco, list the ingredients including “90% beef” or whatever the figure is, that is what you expect to consume. Both the FSA and Professor Reilly made the point that there was no risk to public health. The problem is not in what meat was found, but in that it had misled consumers unknowingly. I commend Tesco’s apology and the action they have taken, but isn’t there a deeper question to be asked?

What’s wrong with horsemeat?

Wild horses were an important source of food in the Paleolithic era and are still widely consumed in South America and Central Asia today. On average, it is thought that the top 8 countries for horse meat consume 4.7 million horses a year. Ok, so there’s your first major problem. Like any animal, it is not a renewable source, except through breeding and possibly GM animals. On the whole, we are being encouraged to become more veggie-friendly, with campaigns such as Meat Free Monday actively inspiring households to swap one carnivourous meal a week for something a little more earthy.

However, in many cultures, consuming horse is rather taboo. Along with our own concerns about it, the US, Ireland and the Jewish culture all don’t eat meat. Spain, too, though strangely they export “on the hook” horses for the French and Italian markets. Why are we this way? Well, Pope Gregory III (732 AD) banned it in the name of the Roman Catholic Church – the ban is still in place in some countries today – and, possibly, we converted to using sheep and other animals more widely because they produce more meat than a horse when fed the same amount of grass. Of course, the most obvious reasons are totemistic. That is, that horses have played, and continue to do so, a role close to human life and one that is often considered a relationship. In ancient Scandinavia, the horse was a symbol of a man’s status and a working creature, important for livelihood. In the UK, horse was consumed more openly during wartime shortages (as was whale meat), though you can see where symbols such as Black Beauty and Babe have got us. Equally, horses continue to be pets, used in therapy, for leisure and for work and while other consumed animals, such as pigs and chickens, are often kept as pets, a distinct line hasb een drawn.

Nutritionally, it’s a wonder we haven’t opened up to horse more recently. The obesity crisis is upon us and horse, per 100g, has a lower fat and calorie content than beef, as well as more iron and the same amount of protein. Adversely it has 10mg more cholesterol.

Horse meat is eaten across the world. From zhaya (smoked hip meat) in Kazakhstan to Belgium steak tartare and from fried stallion meat in Malta to Swedish hamburgerkött – a cold cut of smoked meat. We are a minority when it comes to the taboo of consuming horse meat but with dwindling animal numbers, who’s to say we shouln’t be? I can’t see us welcoming it with open arms anytime soon but if you had to choose, I bet you’d prefer eating horse over whale.

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Las Iguanas: vamos a comer! indeed

Las Iguanas: thehub: mk, Witan Gate, Milton Keynes

It’ll be 21 years old this year but from the way the company Las Iguanas go about their service, food and business, you would think they were the tiny passionate Mexican just opening in Bristol. They’ve come a long way from that, with restaurants nationwide, serving a mix of Latin American food as well as a wide range of cocktails. Milton Keynes may not offer the sunshine of the Copacabana but inside Las Iguanas, you’re a world away from the grid of concrete.

thehub: mk is home to several different restaurants and bars including Strada, The Turtle Bay and Jury’s Inn, all facing out onto a clean paved expanse decorated with twinkling pale blue Christmas lights. Inside Las Iguanas the atmosphere is lively; huge prints of South America are splashed across the walls and the decor and furniture is simple, casual and inviting. Our waitress, Hannah, provided exceptional service throughout: she was friendly, polite and helpful without being intrusive as well as having a good sense of humour. That said, all the staff were sincere and good-humoured in their service and this is one of the many reasons I’ll be going back.

The menu is large but inviting. There are the Mexican Classics including burritos, chimichangas and fajitas as well as some less well-known dishes catergorised by their place of origin such as bahia moqueca – a sweet coconut curry from Brazil – and a honey-mustard glazed lamb shank from Chile. While we tried to decide where we would dine that night, we picked from a board of bread and olives. The two types of bread, a seeded wholemeal and a soft, chewy ciabatta were nothing special, though the balsamic and oil dip had a spicy hint that was very moreish. The Peruvian olives were fat and plump, though again, standard fare.

To start, we opted for the sharer Taco Tray with the fillings of spiced shredded lamb, amarillo prawns and oven-dried tomatoes, feta & herb chimichurri. The accompanying corn and wheat tortillas were beautifully served in miniature: soft, supple and strong enough to stuff in the fillings! The lamb was a little mushy in texture though tasty; the herb chimichurri packing a punch of its own, exuding garlic and basil. The prawns came in a yellow chilli sauce, something that felt like it stripped our tongues of all feeling. The prawns were fat and juicy and the dish would have been perfect had the sauce not overridden the other flavours. Accompanying the lot was queso fundido (a thick and creamy concoction of hot salsa and melted cheese), sour cream and pink pickled onions. A great sharing board with some wonderfully creative fillings to try not found elsewhere – I’m up for the coconut butternut squash and spiced beef and raisin hash next time! We also tried the mollettes – yep, it’s beans on toast Mexican style! Toasted ciabatta turned soft with garlic butter and topped with black refried beans and melted cheese. It wasn’t the prettiest of pictures I’ll give you that, but served on a wooden board and sprinkled with chopped radishes and grated pink pickled onions (the fiery taste is a great addition) and the presentation matched the unique flavour.

For mains, we spread ourselves across the continent. First there was the Las Iguanas special of The Extraordinary XinXim from Brazil. It was lime chicken in a crayfish and peanut sauce served with rice, green beans and a bowl of dessicated coconut. The flavours actually came across as very delicate, bland even and we were disappointed. The plantain though, served in two fat wedges, is worth buying this dish for. From the Barbacoa section of the menu we went for the Blazing Bird – a monster of a dish, even just the half chicken! Out of the three marinade choices, the spicy barbecue jerk sauce was definitely a winner. Sticky and spicy, it covered the chicken from beak to wing and was cooled nicely by a dollop of creamy coleslaw. Curly fries were homemade – some of the best I’ve had, they were crunchy, cut irregularly (it’s always more fun) and bursting with fluffy insides. I saw many people ordering them as side dishes too, so don’t miss out. Finally, we had the Churrasco Fiasco and picked the honey-glazed rump steak over the honey-chilli chicken. The steak was skewered in succulent chunks, sandwiched between mixed peppers and red onion. The paprika and cumin marinade was strong but scorched to give a certain welcome dryness and the steak was blackened slightly for that charred flavour.

To round it off, though with these portions it’s really not necessary, we chose the new pecan caramel sundae. Standard vanilla ice cream topped with a rather sickly pecan butterscotch sauce and finished off with two nut-encrusted tortilla slices. This was a novel idea, stamping shards of pecans over baked tortillas though we agreed it was still too savoury, the tortillas too weak to substitute for wafers. Overall, a rather disappointing end.

However, the restaurant is great value. The Blazing Bird, by far the biggest dish of the evening was £9.70 for half a chicken and a generous portion of fries. The food is not Michelin-starred but neither is it flashy, I’m not sure I’d even go for polished. It’s rugged and fun but has culinary flair and imagination as well as a decent shot of destination injected in. Match that with the impeccable service and you have a truly wonderful high-street dining destination.

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starting 2013 as I mean to go on: with a shot of chocolate and a slab of cake

Rumsey’s Chocolaterie of Wendover: The Old Bank, 26 High Street, Wendover, Bucks, HP22 6EA

There is nothing like a hot chocolate and a slice of cake on a cold day! And what better way than to kick off 2013?

Rumsey’s has been creating chocolate since 1991, but the Wendover branch was opened in 2004. It’s a lovely environment in which to sit and relax and you can even see the chocolates been handmade through the glass windows into the catering unit downstairs. It’s always a lively and busy shop, where tables are much sought after, and the food even more so!

The menu includes soups, salads and small main dishes but we were here for cake. The house espresso hot chocolate is a neat shot of dark chocolate, subtly spiced with orange, ginger and other warming flavours. The texture was thick and rich, wonderful for dipping in the coated chocolate gingerbread wafers served with it. The regular hot chocolate with whipped cream is better for those who like their drink a little sweeter, matched by a dark chocolate leaf draped over the rim of the cup to melt into the cream – a beautiful touch.

The cake list is extensive and comprehensive, combining fruity flavours of the lumberjack cake (apples, dates and a coconut topping) along with chocolate torte, blueberry cheesecake and lemon tart. The chocolate banana bread was a thick slab of moist sponge. It was more of a cake than a bread but very light and the chocolate flavour allowed the sweetness of the banana to come through still. A hot chocolate brownie was dark and velvety, but typically sweet, with a slightly hardened topping that caved in under your fork to reveal a gooey, spongy centre stuffed with walnuts. The nuts added great texture to what is often too soft a dessert, but this brownie held its form wonderfully. A scoop of vanilla ice cream, studded with vanilla seeds, was rich, creamy and melted into the dark chocolate sauce, lifting the intensity brilliantly. A definite addition! Finally, came a coffee and walnut cake. A classic, and something that doesn’t include Rumsey’s favourite ingredient. It was tall and majestic, topped with a large walnut half-dipped in chocolate. The sponge was light and subtly exuded coffee, though it was slightly dry. The icing was thick and sweet, sometimes a little too much, but the texture was like liquid satin, the walnuts crumbling and crunching within it. Perhaps not as successful, but certainly delicious!

Great value for money and the staff are friendly, helpful and always willing to recommend their favourite from the menu! You can also buy chocolates, shortbread, cakes and other goodies to go, so if you ever get the chance to pop in either at Wendover or Thame then don’t hesitate to do so!

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rustling up a roast turns out to be not so easy after all…

The Russell Arms: 2 Chalkshire Road, Butlers Cross, Bucks, HP17 0TS

The Russell Arms boasts of its locally sourced fare and ability to cater for groups from wedding parties to simple suppers. What we were looking for, on New Year’s Day, was obviously a little bit outside of this remit then. By no means, a failure or disaster, but we couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed and, while our bellies were full, neither our wallets nor our minds felt wholly satisfied.

The pub is simply beautiful; a quaint building that started out as a coaching house in 1763 before becoming a residence for servants serving at the Prime Minister’s country house, Chequers. The decor inside is green and white, woodland-themed patterned wallpaper mixing with basic green wooden walls, all brought together by the rustic low beams and stone and wooden floors. The condiments on the tables add to the rural, country feel though the acoustics at time can make the small pub seem noisy.

The team is very friendly and subtle in their service. Sometimes things were a little delayed, and the disruption of a raucous fire alarm didn’t exactly add to the atmosphere. There was a slight insincerity about the service at times, more so from the owners; the smiles and chit-chat didn’t come across as genuine, more perfunctory, and even a little smug.

The menu was Sunday-lunch style and the food described as “honest” and “home-cooked.” For the prices, you expect something more polished and refined; scrubbed up pub-fare. Unfortunately, the food languishes in-between, with the ideas and pursuit of fine dining fare, counteracted by over/underdone food, poor seasoning and a somewhat thrown together presentation.

The butternut squash, ginger and garlic soup was overwhelmed by the ginger and lacked in seasoning, especially salt. Devilled whitebait was tasty; the mustard  chilli was spicy though the tarragon aioli was a little oily. The third dish, a coarse pork terrine was meaty but under-seasoned, served with a small salad and thin toast. Some bread for the table would have been a nice addition, especially with the whitebait and soup dishes. The bread served with the soup was thickly cut wholemeal and just slightly chewy in the crust – a nice texture.

Main courses included locally sourced pork, lamb and beef, along with a mushroom risotto. Roast beef with celeriac fondant was a generous serving of thinly sliced roast beef – tender, juicy and silky smooth. The carrots and green beans were undercooked, the poor Yorkshire cooked to a knife-blunting crust. The roasted parsnips were fine, if bland, and the celeriac fondant was well, celeriac fondant. The horseradish sauce was rich and spicy and a good accompaniment. Roast pork with braised swede was served with a small bowl of cubes of crackling. The crackling, seeming to have been cooked separately, lacked in the meaty flavour of the pork juices and, though crunchy, was rather bland. The pork itself was tender and of good quality and very well cooked. Carrots and green beans were undercooked again, the swede overcooked. The cauliflower with mustard cheese sauce was enjoyable but there was only two pieces of cauliflower and a stingy dribble of sauce. The roast potatoes, a star of any roast dinner, were woefully soft on the outside and just a bit limp. Though our plates were full, our foodie satisfaction was left hungry. Bigger plates, or smaller portions, may also have had a more positive effect on the rather cluttered presentation; placing the vegetables in a separate dish would have been more pleasant also.

We declined dessert at £6 a head, the selection being marmalade bread and butter pudding, local ice cream, chocolate fondant or a cheese board. They were pleasantly served but up until then we hadn’t been blown away or even impressed.

The Russell Arms serves up good quality local food, especially the meat, but the cooking lacks imagination and, sometimes, basic skill, leaving small mistakes that turn the dish from a success to below par. We enjoyed our experience overall but generally felt the managers lacked interest in our thoughts, rarely asking us how our food was and not asking at all when we paid the bill. The pub obviously has its loyal customers and fans though I can’t see us returning anytime soon.

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