Alternative Eating

Yesterday I talked about Greggs, and Alert Readers will have seen from the picture of the Earl’s Court outlet that next door is the Paul Café.

Paul is for people who think that going to Greggs is infra dig. I discovered Paul one day when the line of Greggs customers ran out the door into the street (in pouring rain), and not interested in waiting that long for a pastry I went next door instead.

As the decor suggests, Paul is more up-market, and unlike the Britain-only Greggs, they’re an international organization. (In the U.S., they’re in the Washington D.C. area, Dade County FL and Greater Boston, as I recall.) They’re all over London, I noticed, although I never went into any outside Earl’s Court.

Also unlike Greggs, which is more of a kiosk than a restaurant, Paul is a more Parisian kind of place: more relaxed, more comfortable and more expensive (and in rush hour just as busy, unlike what the pictures below would suggest).

However, if it’s French-style food you’re wanting — and I do, almost all the time — Paul has you covered like a king-size duvet:

Good grief. This is yet another place where I could eat breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner for a week and not get close to trying all the dishes available. And everything — everything — is freshly baked, like Greggs. Unlike Greggs, where the ovens are right behind the counter, Paul’s bakery rooms are either upstairs or in the basement — that steel door on the left of the pic isn’t an oven but a dumbwaiter which drops off fresh merchandise every few minutes, as the sales numbers from the registers indicate turnover. It’s a very efficient system and as a one-time retailer, I applaud it.

Oh, and one more thing: I think that Paul’s coffee is better than Greggs’s coffee, although not by much. Greggs’s tea, in contrast, is much better, perhaps because the Brits know more about tea than the Frogs. And as the pics indicate, Paul’s seating is more comfortable — in the smaller Greggs stores, come to think of it, there are no tables at all.

I love Paul. Now this is a store which I do wish would open in Plano, if only for the reason that inexplicably, we have nothing of its kind in the area (sorry, La Madeleine doesn’t count). There are a couple of near-misses, but if Paul opened here, I’d have to walk five miles a day instead of my customary two, just to avoid the Zeppelin syndrome.

Another thing I like about Paul is that their outlets aren’t cookie-cutter lookalikes. Here’s the South Kensington shop:

The outside tables and chairs are, I think, an act of purest optimism given the typical London climate, but you have to give them kudos for trying to make the place more Parisian.

The next time you go Over There, don’t leave Paul off your list. As I said earlier, they’re all over London so there’ll probably be one nearby wherever you find yourself.

No need to thank me; it’s all part of the service.

No Surprise

When I got back to London after my trip to South Africa, the very first place I went to immediately upon getting off the Tube train from Heathrow was the Greggs bakery on Earl’s Court. It’s right across the road from the station, and despite (or perhaps because of) the gloomy weather, it was a beacon beaming its seductive Siren call [sic]: “Cup of hot tea! Sausage roll! Nom nom nom!”

I never stood a chance.

Greggs has come a long way, as recounted here, and one could easily make the case that they’re Britain’s answer to McDonald’s — in fact, they sell more sausage rolls than Mickey D sells hamburgers — and they’re opening hundreds of new branches each year.

Greggs serves my two favorite British “junk” foods, the ubiquitous sausage roll — and in retrospect, theirs is better than the offerings from any of the gourmet bakeries and boulangeries — and my recent discovery, the “steak bake” (meat pie). It took me a while to discover the latter because whenever I’ve gone into Greggs it’s to get a sausage roll. But one day the Devizes branch was out of sausage rolls (it happens sometimes, while the fresh batch is still being baked), and Impatient Kim said what the hell and ordered a steak bake instead.

Now I order whichever of the two delicacies is on the shelf — it’s when they’re both on the shelf that I hop from one foot to another in the agony of indecision.

I haven’t tried the chicken bake (the empty shelf on the bottom left) because… well, because I don’t much care for chicken pies, and anyway, why give myself a choice of three yummies when I have enough trouble with two? Brit friends of mine, by the way, swear by different Greggs pies — the steak & cheese and the cheese & onion each has its own supporters, to mention just two. Aaaargh.

Don’t even get me started on the sweet pastries:

There is not a single one of those that isn’t an avalanche of taste sensation, particularly if (like me) you have a sweet tooth. Like Warren Beatty, I’ve had ’em all, and all of ’em are wonderful.

Some guy wrote an article about how he ate solely out of Greggs (breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner) for a day. Hell, I could do that for a week and still not have tried everything I wanted to. The choices are astonishing, the quality superb, and there’s something for absolutely everybody (except vegans of course — there’s butter in every Greggs item — but the hell with them).

And yes, I’d have to spend the hours outside Greggs exercising just to prevent myself from assuming Zeppelin proportions inside a few days, but I’ve found that if I contain myself to just one sausage roll or one steak bake or one pastry a day, then I don’t put on weight at all. (The several miles I walk per day when in London may also have something to do with it.)

There’s a part of me that wishes Greggs would open an outlet here in Plano, while another part of me hopes they don’t. It’s one of my totally-not-guilty pleasures when visiting Britishland, and it should be everyone’s. So put it on yer “must-do” list on yer next visit to Britishland — and if you’ve never been Over There before (for shame), I should point out that Greggs offers a welcome respite from London’s sky-high prices. A meal for two with coffee/tea, for under $6? It’s Greggs, for the win.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about its neighbor.

Safe To Eat

I’ve always been skeptical about health warnings on canned foods, especially as I’m somewhat familiar with the canning process (which basically renders food bacteria-free). Now my suspicions have been justified by SCIENTISTS:

Microbiologist Richard Page, of Alliance Technical Laboratories, looked for a host of nasties, including the potentially deadly bacteria E.coli, salmonella, listeria and Clostridium perfringens, as well as for yeasts and moulds, which affect food quality but aren’t necessarily unsafe to eat.
Then food technologist Brian Smith, of Booth Smith Food Technology, analysed the results — and reached a very surprising conclusion.

There’s a reason canning has been a popular way of preserving food for the best part of two centuries. Canned food is subjected to a very high heat process to kill bacteria, and once sealed the contents are effectively sterile.
Sterilisation means heating to very high temperatures, killing all microbes. In 1974, tins of food from the wreck of a U.S. steamboat that sank in 1865 were tested. There had been a deterioration in appearance and vitamin content, but scientists found they were safe to eat.

“All of the best before dates you are looking at would absolutely not be for bacterial risk. The reasoning behind them would be due to quality,’ says Richard Page. “It may be the manufacturer knows that after a certain period of time there is a certain degradation in the taste or the flavour, colour or smell.”
Or it might just be because they want to sell more pineapple chunks.
Meanwhile, Brian Smith says food manufacturers do give “quite a margin of error” when setting best before dates — in some cases as much as 50 per cent.
So while “use by” dates should always be adhered to, “best before” is more an indicator of quality than a health alarm bell.

I remember eating some of my Y2K canned goods nearly ten years later, and none — I mean not one — tasted any differently than if I’d bought them the same day. Ditto some of my SHTF Grab ‘N Go supplies, just a couple years back. Most of the warning dates are just in case some guy eats 30-year-old corned beef hash he found in Nana’s pantry, and keels over — but even then, while the fats in the food might have caused the taste to deteriorate, the health risk is close to zero.

Read the article for all the details. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the kitchen to make me some food:

Nom nom nom…

The World’s Greatest Snack Food?

Some background: in German, the word “Imbiss” is loosely translated in to English as “snack bar”. One of the best examples was this one (apparently a temporary structure because a friend looking for it later couldn’t find it):

It was located at the beginning of the Graben, Vienna’s premier pedestrian mall in the Old City (Altstadt), just across from St. Stephan’s Cathedral (Stefansdom). (I’m translating so that future visitors can find them on a map or on signposts, because this is how they’re commonly listed.)

Anyway, what set this particular Imbiss apart from all the others was their bratwurst hot dog sandwich — not so much for the food, although it was delicious, but for its preparation. Allow me to explain.

The footlong (or whatever that is in metric) buns are kept warm in a steam oven, just as they are in the U.S. What’s different is that when it’s time to put the brats into the bread, they aren’t slit open lengthwise, oh no. That would make it a messy sandwich, which would be unerträglich to the neat ‘n tidy Austrians.

Instead, the bun is impaled on a very hot spike, which does two things: it makes an opening for the bratwurst to be inserted, and it toasts the bun on the inside.

Now for the bratwurst. It’s not just any old sausage, oh no; it has great hunks of cheese embedded in the meat, and the brats are heated on rollers similar to the one you see at 7-11 — only these rollers are really hot because the cheese melts inside the sausage, in some cases even bursting through the skin, making a crust of burned cheese around the sausage. (Are you drooling yet?)

The vendor will ask you if you want the burnt cheese scraped off (the answer of course should be “Nein, nein! Bitte lassen Sie die Käse!”), whereafter he will insert the sausage into the roll after first squirting some wondrous German mustard down inside the opening.

What you will have (as Daughter exclaimed loudly upon tasting her first one) is the world’s greatest hot dog, and quite possible the world’s greatest snack food, period. It also makes no mess when you eat it — unless you bite into the brat too quickly, which will make melted cheese and sausage fat run down your chin. Here’s the finished product (from the excellent Philosophy and Madeleines blog), but I’m afraid the pic just doesn’t do it justice:

(And of course, keine Coca-Cola, bitte; you have to eat it with a beer — sold at the same outlet.)

I have no idea whether this is a Viennese style of preparation or a common German one. I do know that I’ve never found its like anywhere I’ve looked, whether in southern Germany, the Rhineland or even in Salzburg.

I would hesitate to recommend visiting Vienna purely to experience this wonderfully-delicious snack, but then again there are about a thousand equally-good reasons to go to Vienna. Just add it to the list of things to experience in the Austrian capital, one of my top three favorite places in the whole world.

Next time: Gulaschsuppe and where to find it.

Enter The Food Nannies

Here we go again:

Britain is set to be put on a nationwide diet from March this year as public health officials impose new calorie caps.
Lunches and dinners are to be cut to 600 calories at fast food outlets and on ready meal shelves at supermarkets, in new guidelines from Public Health England (PHE).
Breakfast portions will be cut down to 400 calories as the government aims to stop Britons overeating and combat high obesity rates.

FFS; is there no area of our lives that is exempt from this busybody we-know-what’s-best-for-you bullshit? (My advice: if the nu-meal seems inadequate, buy two instead of one. That will do two things: stick it in their eye, and end your stomach’s growling.)

But it gets worse, O My Readers. From the same article:

A separate study by researchers at Oxford University also found that current alcohol guidelines may be too generous.

As one of my heroes once put it:

As any fule kno, I’m on a diet at the moment. But when I see shit like this, I want to go to a pub, eat a double portion of fish ‘n chips, and wash it down with five pints of Wadworth 6x. Here’s the starter:

Or, if this bullshit ever comes to this side of The Pond, take down a couple-three family buckets of KFC (Original Recipe) with a dozen Classic Cokes.

Now, this wouldn’t be a pretty sight. But it would be a lot prettier than the alternative: